Celebrating the Volunteer 40 Under 40

Category: News

An Olympic track star, award-winning singer–songwriters, the Tennessee teacher of the year, and a biomedical engineering expert devoting her knowledge to protecting our military—these are just a few of the impressive alumni who were honored at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Volunteer 40 Under 40 award event held April 29 in the Pilot Company Ballroom of the Student Union.
The alumni honored at the event have excelled professionally and personally. All before the age of 40, they have left a Volunteer mark on their respective fields and the communities where they live through their servant leadership, creativity, and collaboration. They have stepped forward to lead and to serve early in their careers, from law to veterinary medicine to music, and they are lighting the way for new alumni.

“When I learned about receiving this honor, I was so excited,” said Brittney Mitchell (’08). “My mom also attended UT. When I told her she said ‘I knew it!’ Carrying on our family tradition and being honored by UT just makes me so proud.”

“Being a recipient of the Volunteer 40 Under 40 award was a big surprise, especially since I’m only 31,” said Rachel Herwick. “This is such an honor, and a lot of my family came to town just for the award presentation.”

Provost John Zomchick thanked each of the honorees at the afternoon event, with the recipients’ friends and families there in support, prior to the award presentation made by a number of current students. The provost congratulated them on their many achievements earned early in life and for their exemplary Volunteer leadership.

“We are so grateful to you, our alumni, for your support of UT, our home sweet home, and your commitment to hold high the torch and light way for others so that together we advance and create better lives for everyone. For all your achievements, congratulations, and we are so proud. It is truly great to be a Tennessee Vol!” – Provost John Zomchick

“You are the leaders that spread our mission, leading in your communities,” said Zomchick. “We are so grateful to you, our alumni, for your support of UT, our home sweet home, and your commitment to hold high the torch and light way for others so that together we advance and create better lives for everyone. For all your achievements, congratulations, and we are so proud. It is truly great to be a Tennessee Vol!”

Here are just a few of the recipients honored that afternoon:

Justin Gatlin (’03)—Olympic Gold Medalist and Team USA Track and Field Athlete, Nike
Justin Gatlin is one of the winningest athletes in the nation’s history for track and field, even beating Usain Bolt for the 100m in Bolt’s final appearance in individual competition in London’s 2017 IAAF World Championship. His international competition career boasts a total of nine gold medals, nine silver medals, and two bronze medals. He also held the world record for the 100m in 2006 with a time of 9.77m and then went on to break this personal record in 2015 with a time of 9.74. At UT, he helped win the 2001 team championship at the NCAA Track and Field Championships (Indoor and Outdoor) for the first time in a decade. At these events, he also became the first athlete since 1957 to win consecutive NCAA titles in both 100m and 200m.

Drew (’03) and Ellie Holcomb (’05, ’06)—Award-winning singer–songwriters
The dynamic duo has earned their share of recognition for the beautiful music they have made together and as individual artists. An Emmy Award winner, Drew Holcomb has released a number of critically acclaimed albums with songs you might hear on your favorite TV show or blasting from a student’s speakers on UT’s campus where the couple got their start. His latest album, Dragons, is his most collaborative thus far, with several artists featured including his wife. One of his philanthropic projects is his Moon River Music Festival, an annual event benefiting local and national nonprofits. The couple just released their own album, Coming Home (2022), with some new music they wrote together as well as some old favorites featured. Ellie’s first solo debut, As Sure As The Sun (2014), landed her a GMA Dove Award for New Artist of the Year, and her latest full-length release, Canyon (2021), has been well received. She is also an award-winning author. Ellie has written a devotional, Fighting Words, and two children’s books, the second of which was accompanied by an album that earned her a Dove Award for Children’s Album of the Year in 2020. After a pandemic hiatus, the Holcombs are on the road again touring as a family for shows around the country.

Kami Lunsford (’06)—Music Teacher, 2020–21 Tennessee Teacher of the Year, Knox County Schools
Kami Lunsford’s pedagogical approach was learned from her instructors at UT, following an interest in teaching that ignited when she joined the Pride of the Southland Marching Band. It’s her student-focused approach that has launched the careers of other teachers, musicians, and artists. Winning the talent show that Lunsford established at Karns Middle School in Knoxville inspired the music career of Emily Ann Roberts, runner-up on the ninth season of NBC’s The Voice. Hannah Berkley (’17, ’19), one of Lunsford’s first students, has gone on to teach as a choir director at South-Doyle High School in Knoxville because of Lunsford’s class. Lunsford also operates before- and after-school programs that seek to expose students to disciplines, careers, and opportunities in the arts. Above all, she uses music to help students find their place in middle school and promote personal and academic success. Two-time Middle School Teacher of the year for Knox County Schools, she actively supports Tennessee teachers as an evaluator and mentor.

Adrienne Madison (’06)— Chief, Musculoskeletal Injury Prevention and Protection Team, US Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory (USAARL), Fort Rucker, Alabama
Adrienne Madison keeps our soldiers safe through her work as a subject matter expert on head supported mass, commonly referred to as HSM, and vibration exposure. Her engineering expertise allows her to test and ensure that ground and air soldiers’ helmets and helmet systems do not contribute to mission performance decrement or increased risk of spinal injury. Through biomechanics research, she and her team helped establish helmet guidelines for soldiers on the ground, guidelines that had only previously existed for aviators. With so many devices using helmets as a mounting platform (from night-vision goggles to displays to masks), it’s a science determining how best to place and distribute the weight in a way that is still useful to the solider but won’t cause injury or detract from a mission. Helmets weigh between two and five pounds and sit on soldiers’ heads for hours at a time, sometimes in life-threatening situations, so the research Madison carries out truly saves lives.

Meet all of the recipients of the Volunteer 40 Under 40 award.