Phil Jacobs (’77) Shares Reflections on the Alumni Board of Directors’ Past Year

Category: News

Phil Jacobs in NeylandThis time last year was the beginning of my term as president of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Alumni Board. In a year that will always be overshadowed by COVID-19—a pandemic that touched the lives and changed the dreams of everyone—we were fortunate to be part of an amazing institution of higher learning that adapted beautifully to unforeseen challenges. With our alumni base of nearly 260,000, we rallied to make this year one of great impact and one that will be remembered for touching the lives of our students, faculty, and staff for many years ahead.

Knowing we would meet only via Zoom for our board meetings, and wrestling with the fact that numerous annual events would at best be virtual and likely be canceled for 2020–21, our Alumni Board chose to rally together and focus on three key areas that would support the overall goals of the university and the alumni office and that would help enrich the lives of students through engaging alumni and friends.

The first initiative is a program we launched called #VolGreats. Every day and everywhere, we have remarkable alumni out in the world making a difference and making a positive impact. Of course, we have heard of some of those alums, like Peyton Manning, Min Kao, Tamika Catchings, and our very own board member Josh Dobbs. We wanted to begin recognizing everyday alumni—nurses, educators, social workers, ag extension folks, the engineers, the stay-at-home moms and dads—who are making a big difference in their community or even the world but do so under the radar as unsung heroes.

The second area focused on student success. The alumni office’s scholarship endowment program is constantly working to establish endowed scholarships in each alumni chapter area and with every special interest and diversity council. Increasing these endowments was a major goal for the alumni office, which set a target to grow from 64 to 80 endowed scholarships by the end of the fiscal year. To support the alumni office in this effort, the board helped establish nine new endowed scholarships. A Big Orange thanks to our Alumni Board for being proactive and generous and leading the way to help new students attend the University of Tennessee.

Our third area of focus was also directed toward student success—a new project we called the Vols Pay It Forward Campaign. The idea for the program came out of a meeting we had with Chancellor Donde Plowman, where I shared with her that our Alumni Board wanted to support an area of need that she felt was critical. As a result, we agreed to take on the UT LEAD program, which supports UT Knoxville’s first-generation students through intentional programming and initiatives emphasizing leadership, excellence, achievement, and diversity.

UT Knoxville has on average 1,400 first-generation students, and due to funding constraints only half are able to participate in UT LEAD. First-generation students have a retention rate that falls below that of the rest of the university’s students, and we want to help provide incentives and parity to increase their retention and success. Our board chose to establish an endowment to provide scholarships and incentives for first-generation UT students and also to share our time and experiences as speakers and mentors to help these students achieve success.

“This group of alumni epitomizes what being a Volunteer is all about—selfless, caring, full of love for the University of Tennessee, and full of Big Orange school spirit.” – Phil Jacobs (’77)

The Pay It Forward part is that each recipient will understand that through this scholarship incentive from our Alumni Board, they will be expected to be involved with UT after graduation and give back to the university to help other students in need. Vols pay it forward.

In a year of uncertainty, our Alumni Board chose to be proactive and difference-makers. This group of alumni epitomizes what being a Volunteer is all about—selfless, caring, full of love for the University of Tennessee, and full of Big Orange school spirit. To each of you on the board, please know how grateful I am for your support and friendship.

The university is in a fantastic place and is experiencing the beginning of the greatest decade in our history. With Randy Boyd as president and Donde Plowman as our campus chancellor, Rocky Top has never been so full of promise and accomplishments. Enrollment is at an all-time high, the partnership with Oak Ridge National Laboratory has global impact, and there is a lot of excitement with our World Series baseball team and so many other great women’s and men’s sports teams.

To my wife, Margo (’82 MS Education graduate), and my daughter Leah (’22 grad student in Mechanical Engineering), thanks for your love and support during a year of challenges, battles, and victories. And to all our alumni family, thank you for the opportunity to represent our University of Tennessee as the Alumni Board president this past year. I’m excited to pass the torch to Phenise Poole, Class of 1995, as she begins her year as president. Like me and previous board leadership, she is very fortunate to have an absolutely awesome team of alumni staff making programs happen like the Alumni Awards Gala, Senior Toast, Checkerboard Chats, and many more.

I can’t wait to see you at home on good ol’ Rocky Top this fall!

Go Vols!

Phil Jacobs (’77)