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A student and their family pose for a photo at Spring Family Reunion

Families Are Helping to Shape the Student Experience at UT

When a student attends UT, the Family Engagement team in the Office of the Dean of Students helps shape the student experience by providing support to the entire family. Parents and families serve as a support system for their student, and their involvement is a critical component of their student’s success. In the past year, the Family Engagement team enhanced the support provided to families to not only help students succeed while on Rocky Top, but to provide families with their own Volunteer experience.

A New Vision for the Tennessee Family Association

Beginning in fall 2021, Family Engagement restructured the Tennessee Family Association to remove a paid membership requirement, providing all families access to the Tennessee Family Hub, newsletters, the Family Guide, family events, and student scholarships. All parents and families need to know how they can support their student, and removing the membership fee helps ensure that all parents, family members, and supporters have the information they need to be the best champion for their student.

Additionally, the Tennessee Family Association added an ambassador program, providing parents and families the opportunity to serve as volunteers and representatives for the Tennessee Family Association. This volunteer experience is not only a great way for family members to engage with UT but provides the campus an opportunity to connect and hear directly from families about their student’s experience.

The Tennessee Family Council was also restructured to be more accessible. Previously, a $1,000 gift was required for a family member to serve on the council. This requirement presented a barrier to family members who have valuable input, who are engaged and connected and who could give back to the institution and the student experience. Instead, Family Engagement switched to asking for a gift of personal significance, allowing the member to decide the amount to give that is appropriate for their family. There is no gift that is too small, and the new approach creates an environment where all families have an opportunity to serve on the council.

Building a New Virtual Community

In April 2022, Family Engagement launched a new online platform, called the Tennessee Family Hub, designed to foster community among parents and families. The hub provides critical information to aid in student success, and allow families to personalize the communication they receive from UT. All family members have an opportunity to create an account in the hub,

and it has become a vibrant and timely source of information.

“The Tennessee Family Hub is going to be a game changer for families,” said Lindsay Davis, coordinator of Family Engagement. “As we continue to maximize this platform, we will start to see the hub serve as the one-stop shop for the information families need. Even though it just launched, we are already seeing a lot of activity and have received great feedback from families about the value it provides.”

As the Tennessee Family Hub continues to grow, Davis hopes to see families from different regions, states, or even cities connect with each other to develop their own connections and support systems.

Giving Families Their Own Volunteer Experience

During the 2021–22 academic year, Family Engagement increased the number of meetings offered to Tennessee Family Council members. The offerings included guest speakers so that families are not only hearing about the great things happening in Student Life, but they also learn about the successes of campus partners and learn how they can support these efforts. One notable guest speaker, Associate Vice Provost Leonard Clemmons, shared about the Vol Success Teams, how UT is supporting each student in their academic goals, and how families can partner with UT to help their student be successful. According to Davis, “a lot of the work that Student Success is doing with first-year students is so impactful. Having Leonard visit our meeting created an opportunity to make the advancements that Student Success has made more visible and more accessible to families.”

Family Engagement has also enhanced two on-campus events, Fall Family Weekend and Spring Family Reunion, to provide families the opportunity to see the student experience first-hand. Each event is carefully curated to include all the things students love about the University of Tennessee.

Fall Family Weekend 2021 welcomed 2,954 family members to Rocky Top to reconnect with their student as well as to experience the football culture at UT. The Family Engagement team incorporated opportunities for families to engage in traditions, highlighting the Vol Walk, and encouraging families to get to the game before kickoff so they see the Tennessee Vols run through the T. This fall, the Family Engagement team is seeking to expand the opportunities for families to experience the traditions and spirit on campus, including an event where students and families can paint the Rock. 

Spring Family Reunion occurs in the spring during basketball season. This year’s event included a pregame meal in the Rocky Top Dining Hall, so families could see what it is like to eat on campus before the game. Family Engagement also hosted an event in a nearby hotel that gave families the opportunity to mix and mingle, developing connections with each other. 

The broad selection of events gives families something to look forward to when they get to campus. In the future, Family Engagement hopes to provide more opportunities for families to experience Rocky Top, including a DIY Family Weekend. “Our goal is to offer a DIY option so that more families will be able to experience the energy of our campus and engage in the Knoxville community,” said Davis.

Sending a Piece of Rocky Top Home

This year, the Family Engagement team introduced Family Appreciation Boxes, featuring exclusive, limited edition UT Family swag and locally-sourced candles. After receiving feedback from ambassadors and council members, Family Engagement offered two different boxes at different price points, and $5 from each purchase was donated to the Parents and Families Endowment. At the end of Family Appreciation Week, $7,640 was donated to the endowment to support academic, leadership, and study abroad scholarships for students.