Alumni Chapters Get Creative Throughout the Pandemic

Category: News

Large parts of the world may have ground to a halt during COVID-19 pandemic, but certainly not the alumni chapters of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. They have been as active as ever, with philanthropic activities ranging from a virtual golf tournament, a book club, a successful yard-sign fund raiser, and more. Driven by the desire to support scholarships and further UT’s mission and reputation, the university’s alumni chapters have proven themselves to be invaluable partners.

“Our alumni chapter members carry the Volunteer spirit from Rocky Top out into the world,” said Duane Wiles, associate vice chancellor for alumni affairs. “Their involvement is paramount to furthering the best education possible for Tennessee’s next generation and bringing research and innovation to the state. They make an enormous difference and have a lot of fun along the way.”

Golf for a cause

“ Our alumni chapter members carry the Volunteer spirit from Rocky Top out into the world. Their involvement is paramount to furthering the best education possible for Tennessee’s next generation. – Duane Wiles

Golf for a Cause

In August, the West Palm Beach UT Knoxville Alumni Chapter organized a virtual golf tournament and raised $6,725 for their scholarship endowment this year, nearly double what they’ve raised in other years.

The chapter celebrated its 20th year hosting a golf tournament, so nobody wanted to cancel due to COVID-19. By adopting a virtual format, the chapter expanded its reach in Florida and into Georgia. Participants could register as teams or individuals and purchase mulligans as a direct donation. Several sponsors signed on to support the chapter’s initiative, and chapter president Terry Condon (’80), who chaired the golf committee, said the virtual tournament allowed the chapter to fund its endowment this year.

“It also gave us an activity to promote over the summer months when most of the area was completely shut down,” Condon said. “Our golf tournament goes back 20 years and has been our primary fund raiser for our scholarship during most of that time. I hope next year to have the option of a live tournament, but many of the benefits of a virtual tournament are attractive as well.”

Participants in the tournament played a best ball scramble at a course of their choice and then sent their scorecards to the tournament committee. Proceeds from the tournament support students attending UT from the West Palm Beach area.

A Virtual Book Club

When the pandemic hit, the Knoxville alumni chapter sought opportunities to foster a human connection despite the circumstances.

At the suggestion of board member Samantha Lane (’07), they formed a book club with three titles by alumni authors. Those titles, Hung Up: Why You Should Put the Phone Down by Haley Evans (’11), Geezer Stories: The Care & Feeding of Old People” by Laura Mansfield (’84, ’92), and A Murder in Music City by Michael Bishop (’83), garnered so much enthusiasm that the book club now enjoys a permanent online presence.

Betty Sue Sparks (’69, ’81), who was instrumental in starting the book club, is an assistant professor of practice and principal-in-residence in the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences’ Center for Educational Leadership. When the chapter members discussed starting a book club, “it turned out that many of us had connections with friends who are UT alumni and also authors,” she said, adding that she interviewed the authors prior to the book discussions and moderated question-and-answer sessions.

“We quickly had more than 130 people signed up,” Sparks said. “Many of us used social media connections to advertise the event and, through the book club, I connected with sorority sisters I haven’t heard from in years!”

In the six-year history of the UT Knoxville Alumni Chapter scholarship program, over a quarter of a million dollars have been awarded to more than 350 students.

Yard Signs for Scholarships

Jeffrey Dillard (’05), president of the Southern Middle Tennessee UT Knoxville Alumni Chapter, floated the idea of raising scholarship funds by selling yard signs, and found his fellow chapter members were equally enthusiastic.

“We found that UT alumni in the area want to get more involved locally,” Dillard said. “A lot of the younger grads will go over to Nashville, but the older folks don’t always want to drive downtown. Rick Walsh (’91), from our chapter, messaged me that he was tired of seeing only Middle Tennessee State University signs in lawns around Murfreesboro, so we decided to do something about it.”

The conversation sparked in Dillard, who works at a print shop, a notion that yard signs could be a great driver for scholarship funding.

“The whole idea behind this is to help students from our area attend UT and also generate awareness and goodwill locally,” Dillard said. “Yard signs are foolproof, and when someone places an order it gives me an excuse to deliver it to their house and talk with them about staying involved with UT.”