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Inspire Leadership: Kertesha Riley  

Kertesha Riley’s day-to-day routine can vary but her mission remains the same: help students figure out what they wanted to do with their lives. As the STEM Career Consultant in the Center for Career Development, she helps students from engineering, nursing and the sciences look at career options, job and internship search strategies, graduate school planning and transitioning to life after UT. But Riley is looking to take her career in helping students a step further.

Head shot photograph of Kertesha Riley

“The more time I’ve spent on college campuses, the more passionate I’ve become

about college student mental health,” said Riley. “I really wanted to get a better picture of what mental health looked like on a college campus and be able to do research around that or contribute to the knowledge base.”

Riley soon enrolled in the counselor education Ph.D. program through UT, noting the tuition waiver available to UT employees, and their families.

“The educational benefits we get as employees here is amazing. Why not utilize that?” Another benefit for Riley was becoming a member of an organization she’d join while pursuing her master’s degree, Chi Sigma Iota (CSI).

“CSI is the leadership honor society that is within the profession. I was a part of it even as a master’s student. If you’re serious about the profession and you want leadership opportunity, you join CSI. It made sense that when I started the doctoral program that I would continue in the society.”

Through the society, Riley has been able to take on more leadership and will be taking on more in the next few months.

“After hearing about the leadership development program in CSI and wanting more support in developing as a leader within the counseling profession, I decided toapply and was awarded a fellowship that starts next year.”

This fellowship is awarded to ten society members each year to participate in mentoring programs, projects, and working with CSI on an international level.

“I was so nervous to apply because it’s really competitive and a chapter can only nominate two people. I’m glad I had the support of faculty members and the chapter advisor. They really helped encourage me and gave me the confidence to try it. I can’t wait until we officially start, I’m so excited!”

Her advisors weren’t the only ones who were in support of this fellowship. Riley talked about her supervisor, Stephanie Kit, always being in favor of pursuing leadership opportunities.

“Our director Stephanie Kit has always been really supportive anytime any of us want to pursue leadership opportunities in various professional organizations. She will sit and talk us through any concerns we have about getting stretched too thin.”

Kit isn’t the only one who can see the value in taking those chances when they are presented to you.

“You can be a leader on your own terms. I would think about myself, ‘I don’t look like the person who wins awards and I can’t be a leader if I don’t do exactly what they do’ and that’s just not true.”

She encourages her peers to start­– that’s her biggest piece of advice.  She says to start but you can start small– talk with leaders of organizations they’re interested in or volunteer at a conference.

“I encourage everyone to think about what their strengths are and play into those,” said Riley. “Figure out what you’re interested in and where you want to make an impact and go for it on your own terms.”

In whatever way you feel comfortable pursuing those leadership opportunities, take Riley’s advice, and just start.


In the Inspire Leadership series, we are celebrating the leaders within our Student Life community to spark inspiration.

Do you know someone who has inspired leadership in your department?  Nominate their experience to be featured by emailing us at ocm@utk.edu.