2023 was a banner year at UT

Published 11:21 am Friday, January 12, 2024

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University of Tennessee

From record student retention to unprecedented growth in research and academic partnerships, from millions of viewers tuning in to watch Big Orange sports to Volunteers leading the way in service and leadership, 2023 embodied the very best of what it means to be a Vol. Take a look back at another banner year for the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

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The new year brought high spirits as the Vols toppled Clemson 31-14 at the Orange Bowl. Students paused to celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. with a variety of campus events and service activities. Three faculty members from the College of Arts and Sciences were awarded prestigious Humanities Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The month closed with the dedication of the new AT&T 5G Lab at the UT Research Park at Cherokee Farm, part of a partnership to advance high-speed technologies for Tennesseans.


Ten students with the Big Orange Combine went behind the scenes at Super Bowl LVII in Glendale, Arizona, to see firsthand how professionals in business, sports and marketing collaborate during the weekend of festivities watched by millions worldwide. UT Medical Center and the College of Nursing announced their partnership for the Nursing Scholars Program to ease regional nursing workforce shortages. The College of Communication and Information launched the Information Integrity Institute to conduct research in areas including misinformation, disinformation, trusted data and identification of quality information. Later in the month, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced funding of $2 million a year for five years for the Center for Freight Transportation for Efficient and Resilient Supply Chain through its University Transportation Centers Program. The new center addresses innovations to advance national and global supply chains.


The McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture was awarded a grant of $145,000 from the Terra Foundation for American Art in support of its exhibition “A Sense of Indigenous Place: Native American Voices and the Mound at University of Tennessee.” Eleven seniors were named Torchbearers, the university’s highest undergraduate honor. The month concluded with the second annual “Listen. Learn. Lead.” Week, devoted to protecting free speech on campus and encouraging diverse viewpoints.


Members of the campus community came together to talk openly, support survivors and learn how to help prevent sexual violence for Sexual Assault Awareness Month. In mid-April, Vol football fans were treated to the Orange and White game with a Vol Village Music Festival, food trucks and other celebrations at Neyland Stadium. The month concluded with Staff Appreciation Week, a time for employees to enjoy themselves and reflect on the accomplishments of the past academic year. Faculty, staff and students were celebrated for research, teaching and learning, and contributions to campus life during the university’s annual honors banquets.


Chancellor Donde Plowman and former Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam taught the first Leading with Courage class, offered through the university’s new Institute of American Civics as part of the University Honors curriculum. It examined how Tennesseans from across generations, industries and communities found the courage to be bold and decisive leaders. Eleven commencement ceremonies were held May 18-20, welcoming more than 5,000 graduates into UT’s alumni family. At the end of the month, UT and Volkswagen Group of America Inc. announced plans to accelerate their long-standing research partnership through new programming.


The Vols and Lady Vols recorded their best performance in the classroom for a single semester in the university’s history. The spring semester saw UT student-athletes achieve a record cumulative grade-point average of 3.38. The new Center for Advanced Materials and Manufacturing received $18 million in funding from the National Science Foundation to develop sophisticated artificial intelligence and computational tools. The university celebrated the groundbreaking of Innovation South, an 85,000-square-foot multiple-use facility at the UT Research Park at Cherokee Farm. The facility will be the new expanded home of UT’s Fibers and Composites Manufacturing Facility. At the end of the month, NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan visited campus to announce a major research award and celebrate the launch of TEAM TN, a statewide initiative to advance mobility, led by UT and funded by the agency.


Three new academic units were launched on July 1. The Howard H. Baker Jr. School of Public Policy and Public Affairs, the College of Music, and the College of Emerging and Collaborative Studies will further the university’s goals of supporting students, expanding access to education and meeting the state’s workforce needs. The Athletics Department reflected on a historic year and shared a compilation video of the accomplishments of its athletes and significant sporting moments on Rocky Top. The university celebrated a new milestone with a record number of donors making more than $264 million in contributions.


The campus welcomed more than 36,000 students, an enrollment record reached in part because of record retention rates, growth in the number of graduate and professional students, and innovative student success initiatives. The College of Communication and Information appointed Peyton Manning a professor of practice. The UT Creamery opened its doors to the public, offering a nostalgic ice-cream parlor atmosphere with a modern twist. The College of Nursing and UT Medical Center celebrated the opening of the BSN Scholars Facility with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at UT Research Park.


The university premiered a new halftime spot that focused on the people and programs that have Rocky Top on the rise. President Joe Biden presented the Medal of Honor to Larry Taylor, a 1966 graduate of the university. Chancellor Donde Plowman delivered her fifth annual Flagship Address to campus and community leaders, using the moment to celebrate a year of record achievements and urge the campus to continue building on that success. The Army and Air Force ROTC programs highlighted the growth and accomplishments of their programs. The Baker School of Public Policy and Public Affairs hosted a policy research symposium and ribbon cutting to launch two new research centers – the Center for National Security and Foreign Affairs and the Center for Energy, Transportation and Environmental Policy.


The Institute of American Civics, housed within the Baker School of Public Policy and Public Affairs, partnered with University Honors for the semester-long Tennessee Grand Challenges Fellows program. Homecoming brought past, present and future Vols together to celebrate the university’s history and traditions. This year’s theme was There’s No Place Like Neyland, honoring the iconic stadium that has stood on UT’s campus for over 100 years. Al Wilson served as the parade grand marshal.


The university hosted and won the second annual SEC Machining Competition, going up against teams from Mississippi State University, Texas A&M University, the University of Florida and the University of Missouri. Rocky Top hosted a variety of Veterans Day events to celebrate and show appreciation for those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces and those who continue to serve. It was announced that Gene Wojciechowski will join the College of Communication and Information faculty in August 2024 as a full-time professor of practice in the School of Journalism and Media. Twelve seniors from Austin-East High School, 25 seniors from Central High School and 10 seniors from Fulton High School received Big Orange surprise welcomes into the Class of 2028 through UT’s Flagship Scholarships. Iconic musician and philanthropist Dolly Parton led Neyland Stadium in singing “Rocky Top” at the end of the first quarter during the game against Georgia. The College of Music announced a new partnership with Pellissippi State Community College for students to expand on the skills they gain in Pellissippi State’s media technologies/audio production engineering program and broaden their expertise in music and the music business at UT.


The Forensic Anthropology Center received two grants totaling over $580,000 from the National Institute of Justice, the research, development and evaluation agency of the U.S. Department of Justice. UT’s student section was recognized by ESPN as the best student section of the year at the 32nd annual College Football Awards. The College of Emerging and Collaborative Studies welcomed more than 50 leaders of industry for “Higher Ed and Industry: A Vision for the Future,” an event to discuss how higher education and industry can partner to prepare students for employment. Six UT faculty were included in Clarivate’s prestigious Highly Cited Researchers class of 2023. Approximately 1,960 graduates were honored during fall commencement ceremonies held Dec. 15.