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Service is who we are as Volunteers

By Chancellor Donde Plowman

The University of Tennessee’s first Extension agent was a former schoolteacher who began rural outreach in 1910.

Virginia Moore was a fearless pioneer. She led food preparedness efforts during World War I and taught thousands of young women how to grow and preserve their own food. She leveraged her expertise and her position at the university to completely transform education and agriculture across the state of Tennessee.

More than a century later, I am inspired by her service and her stunning example of the impact we can make—as an institution and as individuals.

Virginia P Moore at a sealing contest with students..

Sealing contest at the Tennessee State Fair, 1912. Virginia P. Moore is on the far right.

This week, we mark our university’s 225th anniversary. Founded as Blount College on September 10, 1794, the University of Tennessee has a rich history and a bright future.

The centerpiece of our celebration throughout the year will be service, because leadership through service has always defined what it means to be a Volunteer.

Students, faculty, staff, and alumni will log the service they provide to their communities this year so we can capture a snapshot of the impact Volunteers are making in Tennessee and beyond. We are also establishing new partnerships in our communities and offering more service opportunities for students.

Placing service at the forefront of our celebration makes sense. It’s always been at the core of our work at UT. It’s our identity and our legacy.

It’s even in our name.

We are Volunteers.

Virginia Moore may have been an early example of this commitment, but she isn’t alone.

Professor Philander Claxton advocated for state support of public education in the early 1900s, which led to the creation of four teacher training schools and a boom in the number of public high schools in Tennessee.

Professor Emeritus Bill Bass revolutionized forensic anthropology when he created UT’s Anthropological Research Facility—the Body Farm—where discoveries about how the human body decomposes have transformed the ability of law enforcement to solve cases and find justice for victims.

For more than 20 years, Distinguished Service Professor and Chancellor’s Professor Susan Reichert has run a program that delivers hands-on science projects to classrooms across the state. Assistant Professor of Nursing Rebecca Koszalinski created an app that gives a voice to patients who can’t speak.

Students and faculty in the College of Architecture and Design are working with communities along the Tennessee River to create a 652-mile recreational and economic corridor.

As Tennessee’s flagship land-grant university, UT has a mission to spread knowledge, discoveries and ideas that make the lives of Tennesseans better. As Volunteers, we are committed to sharing our talents, our time and our passion for helping others.

This name, like the legacy of service that comes with it, doesn’t belong just to the state’s university. It belongs to all Tennesseans.

It didn’t take long for me to catch the Volunteer spirit the first time I moved to Knoxville. As a new faculty member in 2007, I taught piano at a local music school for young students who couldn’t afford lessons. I was joined by other volunteers, some from UT and others from the broader community.

It was a small act every week. But the connections that formed each time I sat at a piano with an eager student reminded me of the value of volunteering—and hopefully made the student’s life a little bit better.

Whether you enter a career of military or public service, volunteer with a local nonprofit or church, or mentor young people, all service matters.

Service—stepping forward to help make a difference—is what makes our communities stronger and what makes us more compassionate, thoughtful citizens. It drives our work at the state’s flagship land-grant university, and it’s what will make Tennessee’s future brighter for everyone.


UT 225th anniversaryThis story is part of the University of Tennessee’s 225th anniversary celebration. Volunteers light the way for others across Tennessee and throughout the world.

Learn more about UT’s 225th anniversary