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Four students pose in front of a mural depicting birds flying through the sky in Worlds Fair Park in downtown Knoxville.

Leadership Knoxville Scholars Celebrates a Decade of Community Influence

One impactful Student Life program is celebrating ten years of leading students and building current and future world-changers.

Leadership Knoxville Scholars is a leadership development and community immersion program. It is very selective with each cohort only accepting 25 students. During their two years in the program, students experience one-on-one mentorship with community leaders who are themselves enrolled in the Leadership Knoxville program. Students complete two academic courses alongside their participation in the program; the first focuses on servant leadership and the social change model of leadership development, and the second focuses on professional competencies and civic engagement
following graduation.

Every student in Leadership Knoxville Scholars completes a community action project with a small group. The purpose of these projects is to build a productive relationship with a community partner in which the scholars serve a specific set of needs aimed at creating positive change within the organization. Each student serves 60 hours with a partner over the course of two semesters. Last spring, seven community partners—including The Bottom, Knoxville Leadership Foundation, Amachi Knoxville, and University Assisted Schools—were supported by Leadership Knoxville Scholars.

Madison Payne, a communication studies graduate, said, “The Leadership Knoxville Scholars program brought together individuals from different backgrounds, majors, and experiences. We learned that our differences are assets, and we must embrace diversity to create inclusive and welcoming environments. This program taught us how to foster an environment of respect, understanding, and collaboration. Even if we don’t agree with each other on everything, we are always open to listening to each other’s perspectives.”

Students also participated in excursions to various areas of Knoxville, like Legacy Parks Foundation and Bush’s Baked Beans. Students were immersed in spaces where innovation and impact were the focus of the efforts of large teams. Twelve guest speakers from the Knoxville community also shared with the cohort class, imparting lessons in leadership, struggle, triumph, creativity, and values.

“The excursions showed us that Knoxville is so much more than just a college town, or a scruffy little city. It is a city rich with culture, history, art, and a strong sense of community,” adds Payne.

Emily Morgan, who studied Appalachian community wealth development through the College Scholars program, noted that “whether or not this cohort realized it, we were building a home in Knoxville. The tenants of this program allowed us to understand how our city works from all angles. There was something to learn from every speaker and each excursion. Even in moments of disagreement, I was deeply thankful for my cohort mate’s critical perspective because it allowed me to love Knoxville even more fiercely than before because now I know how to make this place better.”

Students participating in Leadership Knoxville Scholars

Participating in community service on the local level and receiving guidance from established community leaders has guided many Leadership Knoxville Scholars to their own path of impactful leadership in their various disciplines. Currently, one graduate is pursuing a PhD in biomedical science at the Mayo Clinic and one graduate is pursuing a PhD at the University of Kentucky in psychology. Another graduate is attending the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy and helping run Lynne Fugate’s campaign for the city council. One student is now a full-time staff member at The Bottom, a Knoxville non-profit the cohort visited that emphasizes the importance of safe spaces for marginalized communities.

Payne shared her final thoughts on the program during the spring’s closing ceremony, saying, “The Leadership Knoxville Scholars program has been a transformative experience for us all. It taught us valuable lessons in leadership, diversity and inclusion, community engagement, and the importance of ongoing learning and development. We will carry these lessons with us for the rest of our lives and use them to make a positive impact in our community and beyond.”

The spring 2023 graduating cohort has a long list of accomplishments:
– Two English Teaching Assistantship Fulbright Awards, with recipients impacting education in Taiwan and Czech Republic
– Three Torchbearers and two Chancellor’s Honors Citations, one for extraordinary leadership and service and one for extraordinary community service
– Four service medallion recipients who completed 100 hours or more of community service
– Two top collegiate scholars who graduated with the highest GPAs in their college
– Two Volunteers of Distinction who exhibited extraordinary academic achievement, professional promise, or excellence in research