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group photo with staff members from UT at SACSA

Southern Association for College Student Affairs (SACSA) Award Winners

The Division of Student Life is proud to announce several members of the Volunteer family received honors and awards during the annual Southern Association for College Student Affairs (SACSA) conference earlier this month.

Dorian L. McCoy, an associate professor of higher education in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, was awarded the Ted K. Miller Award for Excellence in Assessing Student Learning and Development.

“It’s a fairly prestigious award so I am truly humbled to be a recipient,” said McCoy.

image of orange and white cake

photo courtesy of Abigail Brumfield, Office of the Dean of Students

He joins an immensely impressive group of predecessors, such as Laura Dean and Ralph Johnson, who are highly successful in the student affairs profession.  McCoy continues on to say “To be in their company is truly humbling and I recognize that it is a significant recognition and I am just humbled.”

McCoy explains that UT historically has had a large footprint in SACSA, with more than 35 faculty, students, and practitioner-educators attending this year’s conference. Over the years, UT has continuously been a leader in the association.

Tanisha Jenkins, director of Multicultural Student Life, presided over this year’s conference as SACSA president, a position that several UT associates have achieved over the last years. Past presidents include former Dean of Students Melissa Shivers, former University Housing staff member Matt Varga, and Knoxville Ph.D graduate Ellen Neufeldft.

Luke Sciulli and Madison Merrifield, graduate assistants in University Housing, finished first in the case study competition with a focus on creating the best environment for a student identifying as transgender on a small liberal arts campus.

“Winning the case was confirmation that UT is preparing us well to help students,” said Sciulli. He said this also confirmed that student affairs professionals need to find ways to help LGBT students no matter their role on campus. Fellow UT students

Graduate Assistants holding certificates at SACSA

photo courtesy of Aaron Dixon, Center for Student Engagement

Karis Hill, a graduate assistant in the Center for Leadership and Service, and Olivia Stevens, a graduate assistant for the Dean of Students, also competed in the case study competition and finished second.

Other accomplishments include:

  • Jheri Wills, graduate research assistant in Multicultural Student Life, served as the first SACSA Presidential Intern and chaired the Graduate Student Symposium.
  • Chris Ndiritu, former graduate assistant in University Housing, chaired the Undergraduate Symposium.

SACSA is an independent, regional, and generalist association designed for the professional development of practitioners, educators, and students engaged in the student affairs profession.



Student Life staff serving hotdogs

Opportunity for Student Life Staff to Serve on Staff Engagement and Development Committee

We are seeking staff members to join the newly developed Staff Engagement and Development Committee (SEDC). The SEDC will bring together the work of our existing committees, Professional Development and Recognition, but will also add a focus on Social Engagement and Service. The Senior Staff team developed this new model based on feedback we heard from you about ways we can better engage, recognize, and develop the people who make up this Division.

While this might sound like a big change, the plan is to keep a fairly similar structure to the previous committees, with the sub-committees that focus on Professional Development, Recognition, and Social Engagement & Service carrying out the work of each focus area. The big change is that these groups will collaborate strategically throughout the year under the umbrella of one committee. To learn more about the SEDC, visit this page.

We are now looking for staff to serve on the committee and sub-committees. It will involve planning events, trainings, service opportunities, and finding ways to engage and recognize our outstanding staff throughout the year. There are about 6-10 positions on each sub-committee, so there is space for many of you to get involved. We also need chairs and co-chairs for the full Staff Engagement and Development Committee and the sub-committees.

If you are interested in serving as a member of the SEDC or if you would like to nominate a colleague, please fill out this form. While we will do our best to include everyone who is interested, we will also try to balance exempt and non-exempt staff, staff of different career levels, and staff from different departments so that the Committee is representative of the Division.

Thank you to those of you who will join us in leading this effort.

Please direct questions to Melissa Goldberg at or 974-0839.

Division Welcomes Two New Members to Leadership Team

The Division of Student Life is delighted to announce the appointment of two members of the Student Life leadership team.

Dr. Jill Zambito has been appointed Assistant Vice Chancellor for the Division of Student Life.

Jill most recently served as the Director of Student Involvement and Leadership Development at Northern Illinois University.  Prior to this position, she served as the Director of Off-Campus and Non-Traditional Student Services from 2007-2011.  She previously worked at North Central College as the Director of Student Activities and Orientation (2003-2007).  She thoroughly enjoys her work with the diverse and unique student populations that she and her staff support.  She has a Doctorate of Education from Northern Illinois University, a Master of Science in Education in Student Affairs in Higher Education from Colorado State University and a Bachelor of Arts in Speech Communications and Spanish from Baldwin-Wallace College, in Berea, Ohio.

Jill officially joins the Volunteer family on July 16.


Kelly Rubin has been appointed Associate Dean of Students.

As a first generation college student, Kelly received her Bachelor of Science in Sociology from Southeast Missouri State University and her Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology from Immaculata University. Kelly has dedicated the past eight years working in Higher Education, placing a focus on supporting students in need of mental health and substance use disorder services. As a licensed professional counselor, she spent over six years working in counseling and psychological services at Florida Gulf Coast University where she provided direct clinical services, outreach and prevention education, filled the role of supervisor to graduate level interns and served as an adjunct faculty member.

Kelly most recently worked at Radford University where she served as the Director of SAVES (Substance Abuse and Violence Education Support services) and as the Director of Student Counseling Services. In these roles, she continued to advocate for students having access to quality clinical services and providing outreach and education to the campus community. Kelly’s professional passion includes building an inclusive support system for students in recovery from substance use disorder – believing all students deserve an equal chance to strive towards academic success in a safe and supportive environment.

Kelly officially joins the Volunteer family on July 2.

Courage to Climb Winner – April 2016

The Division of Student Life would like to congratulate Corinne Tandy on being selected as the winner of the 2016 Courage to Climb Award. Corinne is a PhD student in Comparative and Experimental Medicine with a concentration in Epidemiology and Infectious Diseases from Knoxville, TN.


Because of the interdisciplinary nature of her program, her research perspective spans across several disciplines but the primary focus is on vaccine preventable diseases. Her research focuses on Tennessee’s demographic risks for pertussis. Commonly referred to as whooping cough, pertussis is a respiratory disease that can be fatal to infants. The study outlines three stages: analysis of demographic factors of pertussis patients, the demographics of vaccinated and unvaccinated Tennesseans, and a qualitative study asking Tennesseans about their vaccination attitudes. This information will help with public health efforts to increase vaccination coverage and understand vaccination attitudes. Her findings will directly influence the campaigns and messaging regarding pertussis and other vaccinations. Currently, there is no qualitative research on this subject.


She has been a member of the UT Student Outbreak Rapid Response Team (SORRT), a partnership between the Tennessee Health Department and the University of Tennessee. This team works closely with outbreak scenarios. Corinne worked with 12 of these events, primarily involving Salmonella. In addition, Corinne serves as a member of the Knox County Health Department initiative to improve vaccination rates for human papilloma virus (HPV) .


Corinne served as the Graduate Student Senate Comparative and Experimental Medicine department representative and served on the UT Student Health Advisory Council. She is also a member of Pipeline: Vols for Women in STEM.
When asked what makes this student unique, Corinne’s nominator stated that she “literally wears her interests and passions.”

Courage to Climb Award Winner – March 2016

The Division of Student Life would like to congratulate Nathan Kabir on being selected as the winner of the 2016 Courage to Climb Award.  Nathan is a third-year studying civil engineering from Algood, TN.


Nathan has been engaged across campus serving as a Pride Ambassador, Peer Mentor, Welcome Leader, Orientation Leader, and Emerging Leader.


From his first-year serving the office, he connected with the Office for Diversity and Inclusion. Nathan mentions that his involvement with the Pride Center is one of the most impactful experiences he has had at UT and has allowed him to discover his true passion for educating students. The Pride Ambassador program allowed him to engage with students in dialogue around challenging issues, including facilitating Safe Zone training. He believes strongly that opportunities for growth and acceptance stem from one-to-one dialogue. Nathan was also asked to serve on the Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion’s Student Advisory Board.


Nathan applied to serve as an Orientation Leader because he wanted to make every student feel welcome. When asked what he wants all incoming students to know, he stated, “They have a place at UT.”


Nathan and another student founded UT’s chapter of oSTEM, Out in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, in summer 2015, where he serves as the vice president. The organization supports students in those majors who are members of the LGBT+ community. This organization has served as a professional and personal support network for students. The group has connected with Oak Ridge National Labs and created a mentoring program to connect members with current employees. Nathan is excited to enter the engineering workforce and share his valuable lessons from UT.


He is currently working on research with Professor Shashi Nambisan and others within the Center for Transportation Research. Where they are studying seat belt usage in several nearby counties with plans is to engage the general public and students in local schools about seat belt usage. Through presentations and the use of “The Convincer”, which is machine that allows its riders to experience the feeling of a 5 to 7 mile per hour crash.


Nathan is thankful for the relationships he has made on campus. He said that “there are people on this campus who care about me and it means the world to me.”

Courage to Climb Award Winner – February 2016

The Division of Student Life would like to congratulate Colleen Ryan on being selected as the winner of the 2016 Courage to Climb Award.  Colleen is a third-year Haslam Scholar and Baker Scholar from Cookeville, TN majoring in Global Studies with a concentration in Politics and Economics.

Colleen is a co-chair for Sexual Empowerment at Tennessee and has been involved with the organization for over two years. SEAT’s mission is to “strive to foster a comprehensive and academically-informed conversation about sex, sexuality, and relationships with the purpose of educating the UT student body and the Knoxville community through innovative, collaborative, and entertaining programming and events.” Colleen commented that her involvement in the group, especially her work with sexual assault prevention, is one of her most impactful experiences at UT.

Colleen started an organization on campus called the Student Peace Alliance. The mission of the organization is to empower and educate students about issues of structural and physical violence in the Knoxville community. The group organized a speaker series, which highlighted topics of solitary confinement, mass incarceration, and the death penalty.  Colleen’s internship with the Knox County Public Defenders’ Community Law Office sparked her interest in mass incarceration policies.

While studying abroad in Northern Uganda, Colleen researched gender-based and sexual violence in the post-conflict period; through this, she became especially interested in how the country’s anti-homosexuality laws affect access to health care for survivors. Colleen plans to apply for Fulbright Scholar Award to return to Uganda and more thoroughly research this topic.

Colleen currently works with the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance at the US Agency for International Development and will be interning with USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives in Washington, D.C. in Summer 2016. Colleen’s passion is post-conflict reconciliation and plans to study the topic in graduate school. She would like to work for the US government and influence policy to be more sensitive to cultural context. When asked about how she approaches these challenging topics around violence, she said “peace has also existed in humanity since the beginning of time.”

Leadership Knoxville Scholars

Leadership Knoxville Scholars (LKS) is an innovative approach to leadership education through community partnerships. The program targets rising junior leaders in a cohort style model in collaboration with Leadership Knoxville. LKS is a two-year commitment and highlights of the program include:

  • Two 3 credit-hour leadership courses
  • One-on-one mentorship from graduates of Leadership Knoxville
  • Alternative Break Experience
  • Career Workshops
  • Leadership retreats
  • Service-learning opportunities in the community

Applications and interview sign-ups will be available online from February 19 – March 11. Applicants must be rising juniors, maintain a minimum of a 3.0 GPA and a record of leadership & service experience. An application, interview and personal reference are required for acceptance into the program.



More information available at:

Questions? You can also email specific questions to or please call 865-974-1039.

Courage to Climb Award Winner – January 2016

The Division of Student Life would like to congratulate Utsala Shrestha on being selected as the winner of the January 2015 Courage to Climb Award.  Utsala is a Ph.D. student from Kathmandu, Nepal studying Plant Sciences.

Utsala began her work in horticulture in Nepal as a Horticulture Development Officer in the Ministry of Agriculture. Her journey at UT started as a master’s candidate in Landscape Architecture but she later joined Department of Plant Sciences to pursue doctoral degree in Plant Soil and Environmental Sciences. She began her research with Dr. David Butler in sustainable agriculture, organic farming, and disease suppression.

Utsala’s research works specifically with anaerobic soil disinfestation (ASD), a technique that suppresses soil borne diseases. ASD is a non-chemical alternative to methyl bromide fumigation, a chemical that was banned due to its harmful effect on the environment. The use of ASD is a new trend in her field, specifically applying it to specialty fruits and vegetables. Utsala plans to present her research results at several scientific meetings in 2016, including the Southern Division American Phytopathological Society meeting.

Utsala’s experience at UT as a graduate and international student has been very positive, noting the impact of the International House and the I-Navigators program that helps international students’ transition to life at UT. Utsala said that “UT feels like home.”

She previously served as the Nepalese Student Association president where she led the organization through success and hardship. The organization hosted a blood donation program at UT, participated at international festivals, and also responded to the April 2015 earthquake in Nepal and contributed $9,000 to the Red Cross Society, Help Nepal Network and other organizations.

Utsala received the 2013-2014 Chancellor’s Distinguished Graduate Fellowship Award and 2015 Organic Crop Improvement Association (OCIA) Research & Education Scholarship.

When asked what she wants people to remember about her work, Utsala stated her research focuses on three main principles: safe food, safe environment, and the overall safety of workers.

Courage to Climb Award Winner – December 2015

The Division of Student Life would like to congratulate Duncan Greeley on being selected as the winner of the December 2015 Courage to Climb Award!  Duncan is a senior from Knoxville, TN majoring in Materials Science and Engineering.

One of the main reasons Duncan choose to attend the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) is because of the collaboration between the university and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), which is one of the nation’s premier institutes for nuclear, environmental, and materials research.  Knowing that he wanted to get an education in a technical field, Duncan was attracted to the possibility of getting involved in groundbreaking research at Oak Ridge through UTK’s partnership.  His interest in Materials Science and Engineering was sparked by attending an ASM Materials Camp hosted by the Department of Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) at UTK the summer before his freshman year.  It was during this week-long educational experience that Duncan “discovered a field that was not only widely applicable but also was at the forefront of technological innovation throughout history [that] have helped propel society as a whole forwards.”  Due to the wide variety of advanced materials research taking place at UTK and ORNL, Duncan made the choice to pursue his degree in Materials Science and Engineering at UTK and, during his four years at the university, has taken full advantage of many academic and co-curricular activities during his time at the university.

Duncan has been heavily involved during his time at UT in research both on and off-campus.  As a research assistant at UT under the direction of Dr. David Keffer, Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, Duncan modeled polymer film behavior in molecular dynamics simulations and presented this research in poster format at several competitions and exhibitions, which were awarded two “Best Poster” awards.  In the summer of 2014, he worked at the U.S. Department of Energy Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship (SULI) at ORNL where he performed mechanical analysis and characterization of various carbon-fiber-reinforced polymer composites.  He presented a poster-presentation of his research at the 2014 ORNL Summer Student Poster Session.  In the summer of 2015, he was a Material Processes and Physics Engineering Intern at Boeing Research and Technology in Huntsville, Alabama.  This year, Duncan is currently working on metal additive manufacturing research with Dr. Suresh Babu.  As his nominator said, “Duncan has clearly demonstrated a commitment to research but he has also taken the next step to present and apply his research.”

In addition to his research endeavors, Duncan has also been heavily involved in the College of Engineering as a Student Ambassador and currently serves as the Ambassador Chair.  In his role as a Student Ambassador, he has assisted with recruiting prospective students by offering campus tours, attending college fairs at local high schools, and hosting informational tables at engineering events.  Duncan said that he “loves having the opportunity to engage personally with prospective high school students to share my love of engineering at the University of Tennessee.”  Duncan is also a member of UTK’s Tau Beta Pi, an engineering honor society.  Outside of his academic pursuits, Duncan enjoys the natural beauty of Knoxville and East Tennessee by running, hiking, and mountain biking.  Duncan also is an Eagle Scout and volunteers through the Chancellors Honors Program Community Service Committee.  In addition, he is a member of the UT Sailing Club and UT Model United Nations (UN) Club, where he served on the staff of the annual UT High School Model UN Conference since his freshman year.

Duncan will graduate with his Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in Materials Science and Engineering the spring of 2016 and during the summer complete another internship at Boeing Research and Technology.  In the fall of 2016, Duncan plans to enroll in a graduate degree program in Materials Science and Engineering focused on metals research.  We wish Duncan the best of luck in his very bright future!

Division of Student Life

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