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Inaugural Volunteer Impact Academy Creates Connections

Volunteer Impact Academy icon with image of a torchMore than 50 first-year students participated in the inaugural class of the Volunteer Impact Academy, or VIA, an immersive four-year experience for students who embody what it means to be a Volunteer. Created through a partnership between the Clay and Debbie Jones Center for Leadership and Service (JCLS) and the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, the academy equips participants with the skills to improve themselves, the campus, local communities, and the world beyond.

“The program was created to provide students with a scaffolded leadership and service experience that aligns who we are as Volunteers and complements existing programs within the Jones Center for Leadership and Service,” said Brooke Squires, JCLS coordinator. “It offers a unique opportunity for students to acquire the foundational skills to build on their personal strengths and improve our campus, local communities, and beyond from the moment they step foot on campus. It is a great way to get involved and build community with other students that share an interest in leadership development and service engagement.”

Creating these connections has shown to help the first cohort of 56 students feel a strong connection to the university, involving them in other student organizations and campus leadership opportunities.

“I definitely think that the academy has helped me connect with the university,” said Mya Perez, an elementary education major with a minor in global studies from Texas. “I also feel like VIA has helped to connect me with the Knoxville community because being from out of state, I was not familiar with many of the service opportunities in Knoxville. After beginning the requirements of the academy, I have familiarized myself with some of the service opportunities and people of the Knoxville community, which makes it feel more like home.”

Kyla Thornton, a business management major from Memphis and member of the UT Knoxville chapter of the NAACP, said the VIA helped her expand and build upon her extensive volunteer experience.

“Growing up, volunteering is always something I knew I wanted to take part in,” said Thornton. “During high school, I did different volunteer events through the organizations I affiliated with. When going through the college application process, I knew I wanted to be somewhere that held volunteering true to their core values. That is why I chose UT. When I ran across the Volunteer Impact Academy, I knew it would be a great fit for me. I knew that this organization was going to hold me accountable for volunteering in my community while also guiding me in making a positive impact for Knoxville and my peers.”

Volunteer Impact Academy cohorts participate in different service and leadership opportunities throughout their time in VIA, in addition to hearing presentations from campus leaders and administrators. 

  • Ignite, an opportunity to serve the community and get to know UT before classes begin in the fall
  • A 25-hour service requirement
  • A course from the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies
  • CliftonStrengths, a strengths-based talent assessment that encourages students to be intentional about their leadership, academic, and professional development
  • MLK Jr. Days of Service
  • Catalyst, a one-day program for emerging student leaders to connect with others and discover their own leadership story

“The activity I enjoyed the most was where we had to create a headline for what we would like to be known for,” said Thornton. “It allowed us to look at ourselves in a positive light and allowed our peers to understand us and our goals. I also enjoyed writing down our goals by answering different questions to dive deeper into what we want to achieve for ourselves and the community.”