By Jasmyne Clark
The Field of Study
When Conlan Burbrink toured UT Knoxville’s campus, he was treated the same as an athlete, walking into Neyland Stadium and onto Shields-Watkins Field. But his interest lay in not what happens on that field but in the field itself.
Little did he know all that he would accomplish from the minute his feet hit the turf to when he graduated in May 2020.
As a plant-sciences major, Burbrink says his transition from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio, to Knoxville was eye-opening. He had never stepped foot in a stadium as big as Neyland, and according to him, there is nothing else like it.
During his first semester in Knoxville, he landed a job with UT athletics as a groundskeeper tending to the soccer and softball fields.
Burbrink credits his professors and bosses for the skills and knowledge acquired in the classroom and out. According to Burbrink, applying what he learned in the classroom onto the field was “a unique aspect that a lot of places don’t offer.”
His learning included internships with Orlando City Soccer Club and the 2019 Cricket World Cup in England and Wales. He also tended to the field for the 2020 Super Bowl, working 122 hours that week to ensure the field was safe and maintained for the players. Burbrink says seeing how professional groundskeepers handled such a stressful situation made for a unique experience.
“The Super Bowl made me realize I love the industry I am in, and I wouldn’t have had that opportunity if I weren’t at UT,” says Burbrink.
Burbrink is attending graduate school this fall. He hopes to conduct and publish research pertaining to various fields’ effects on game outcomes.
A Citizen of the World
For UT Health Science Center May 2020 graduate Daniel Blanco, the level of collaboration he encountered during his academic career has allowed him to succeed as a global liaison specialist at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
When pursuing his Ph.D. in biomedical sciences, Blanco wanted to study at a university that had affiliations and relationships with local hospitals to provide him with the best educational experience he could have.
Prior to studying at UTHSC, Blanco worked in a fellowship at Mayo Clinic and discovered how biomedical research can provide him with opportunities to make differences in people’s lives.
To Blanco, a sense of collaboration is involved in everything he accomplishes. “Science is a field without borders,” he says.
Science has the power to change and save lives. That, Blanco says, is what he wants to be a part of.
St. Jude has launched St. Jude Global, a worldwide program designed to research improvements in the survival rates of children with cancer and other diseases. Blanco is working with fellow researchers across the world to make cancer information and education accessible to the patients and their families.
Blanco says he always felt the need to do work that would allow him to contribute to a global impact. Working at St. Jude’s is allowing him to do just that.
“I see myself as a citizen of the world,” he says.
Stopping the Spread
For UT Chattanooga graduate Rosa Cantu, the COVID-19 pandemic has increased her determination to help others.
In 2018, Cantu graduated from UTC with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and immediately pursued a master’s in public health, graduating with the first cohort in May.
Before the pandemic, Cantu worked for a nonprofit, but due to the financial stress of COVID-19, her job was eliminated.
“Thankfully, my freshly minted master’s in public health degree was quite helpful in opening doors to opportunities for employment,” Cantu says.
Cantu quickly found a job with the Hamilton County Health Department, working in the health sciences division with data management that corresponds with COVID-19 testing. Then, in July, she began working at UTC as the COVID-19 contact tracing coordinator.
“I hope to create a lasting positive impact on our campus by curtailing the spread of this horrible virus,” she says.
Her job will include working with contract tracers to track the spread of the virus on campus and to notify those who have been in contact with people who have tested positive for the virus.
Cantu hopes to obtain a doctorate degree in public health and, eventually, to create policy in matters of health safety.
As an undergraduate on UTC’s campus, Cantu volunteered and built relationships with the surrounding community.
With her new job, she is continuing to build relationships while ensuring the public-health safety of those in the community.
Following the Passion
Devin Majors walked onto UT Martin’s campus as a political science major with the intention of being a lawyer—a dream since he was 10.
In the fall, Majors will attend law school at UT Knoxville.
When Majors moved from his hometown of Nashville to Martin, he was surprised by the small, close-knit community. He joined campus organizations and became an activist in the Martin community.
“In order to succeed, you have to get out of your comfort zone,” he says.
While at UT Martin, Majors served two terms as the student government association president. Majors describes this experience as being stressful at times due to the responsibilities he held and the people dependent on him. Yet Majors took honor in being the main advocate for students.
“A lot of people struggle finding a passion, and for me, the light shined on the path I needed to take,” Majors says.
Majors decided on UT College of Law for several reasons, but the main one is the college’s Center for Advocacy and Dispute Resolution.
“I want to defend people who can’t defend themselves,” he says.
Internet for All
UT Knoxville graduate and Fulbright scholar Geghie Alayna Davis is learning new ways of using marketing and graphic-design skills to educate and inform people on the benefits of accessible internet.
Davis, an East Tennessee native from Union County, is the first in the county to graduate from UT Knoxville’s graphic design program. She also understands how the lack of internet access hampers education. Growing up, it was difficult for her to find accessible internet where she lives.
Now she hopes to lower the number of households in rural areas without internet so people can have more access to information and education. To do that, through the Fulbright program, she plans to research efforts the United Kingdom has taken to expand internet services to rural areas. Due to COVID-19, her studies at Northumbria University in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, have been postponed for the summer.
“If everything is good, I’ll go Sept. 7,” she says.
In the pause between her May graduation and leaving for the UK, Davis has been interning with RCN Technology, a Knoxville company, as a multimedia graphic designer.
After her Fulbright studies, she wants to develop a graphics campaign about the importance of internet for small communities.
“The biggest achievement you can have is helping others and being an influence,” she says.