Reflections on the Alumni Board of Directors’ Past Year

Category: News

J Phenise Poole
J. Phenise Poole (’95) shares reflections on her tenure as president of the Alumni Board of Directors during the 2021-22 fiscal year.

The best-laid plans seldom follow a straight line. If you have tried planning any sort of trip recently, I’m sure you’re very aware, but I’m not referring to travel. I’m referring to our personal lives, mental and physical health, business relationships, careers, academic calendars, essentially life in general. Delays, detours, speed bumps, traffic jams, and other obstacles have been the norm for all of us. I’m proud to say that we did not get derailed along the way. We rose to the occasion.

As if a global pandemic hasn’t been enough, we’ve been auditing a master class in getting through a difficult journey. We find ourselves navigating mass shootings, the war in Ukraine, social inequity, social unrest, inflation, the great resignation, economic uncertainty, supply chain issues, and political discord. All have weighed on us individually and collectively, personally and professionally.

But our dedication, resilience and commitment to each other has remained steadfast and strong. I want to thank each and every one of you for your incredible work, dedication, and service over this past year. As alumni, we’ve made a positive impact in the lives of our students, faculty, and staff. Despite it all, we’ve found a way to cope with new challenges and come out a stronger and prouder family of Vols!

Part of that strength comes from recognizing that we need to support our Vol family in times of crisis and rising to the challenge. The Big Orange Pantry and Food for All programs have made a true difference in supporting our students, staff, and faculty this year. Your generous donations help continue the work that is so greatly needed. As the needs of our Vol family continue to change, we have been willing to work collaboratively to make sure that no one is being left behind.

We continue our work with our college/unit engagement survey to improve and continue engagement among our board and the various colleges and units on campus. After developing a needs assessment, we worked to better understand their needs as it relates to alumni and student engagement across campus. We all see the importance in continuing to support our dear Rocky Top.

The Alumni Board continues to be a strong supporter of the UT LEAD program. The mission of the UT LEAD program is to promote undergraduate success, academic excellence, and persistence to graduation for first-generation college students at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. UT LEAD focuses on Leadership, Excellence and Achievement, and Diversity – all first-generation students are invited to participate.

In support of the UT LEAD Initiative, we continued our Alumni Speaker Series and connected with LEAD program students to share advice and counsel on everything from life to networking and making the most of their time at UT. We also hosted a virtual networking session for all first-generation students at UT. I’m proud to say that we made connections with close to 100 students.

Continuing the phenomenal work of our immediate past President, Phil Jacobs, we made huge gains to increase funding for our Alumni Board of Directors Vols-Pay-it-Forward UT Knoxville Alumni Scholarship Endowment. Our hope has always been that the endowment will provide more scholarships to support students in the UT LEAD program. To date, we have raised $120,000 in commitments to the endowment. I know this is endowment will continue to grow and we look forward to awarding students for the first time this coming fall.

As if that generosity wasn’t enough, we made significant contributions to the Big Orange Give annual day of giving event with 100% board participation.

As I pass the torch to Gary Beard, class of ’80, I do so knowing that what got us to today will be very different from what will get us to tomorrow. Our journey will include detours, obstacles, and unexpected twists and turns. We may need to stop along the way, catch our breath, and lean on another Vol for support, and that’s perfectly fine. After all, we’re Volunteers and our board is filled with the best men and women in the nation. Gary is the right leader to move us forward and he will be working with an awesome alumni affairs team.

Our foundation is steady and true—whether we’re talking about our stellar academic success or championship sports programs. We have adapted in ways large and small and are leading the way to what comes next. Just look at all that we’ve accomplished. We have invested not only our resources, but also ourselves, in building something that will stand the test of time. Donde Plowman, Randy Boyd, Duane Wiles, and the Office of Alumni Affairs have constructed a solid foundation and, regardless of the ongoing uncertainty, I will forever feel anchored to UT. I hope you feel the same way.

Thank you for the opportunity to lead. It’s been a true honor.

Go Vols!

J. Phenise Poole (’95)