Volunteers Rock the World! Are You Ready to Rock?

If you spend any time at all on the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, campus, you’re bound to encounter Ready for the World in some capacity or another.

“Ready for the World: The International and Intercultural Awareness Initiative” is part of a long-range plan that aims to transform the campus into a culture of diversity that best prepares students for working and competing in the 21st century.

“The world is changing every day in its complexity,” said Sarah Gardial, vice provost for faculty affairs. “This effort is not just a lofty academic goal; it is an absolute necessity to provide our students the education and experiences they need to thrive.”

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As such, Ready for the World has spurred changes and expansion in curricula, the recruitment of more international students and faculty, and an increased emphasis on study-abroad opportunities. To date, more than 100 Ready for the World grants totaling more than $400,000 have been awarded for projects and programs that promote intercultural and international awareness.

“Through these efforts, undergraduates will gain a worldview that recognizes, understands, and celebrates the complexity of cultures and people. They will gain competence in cross-cultural communication, both domestic and international; the capacity to think critically about international and intercultural issues; the understanding that knowledge is global; and a passion for lifelong engagement with global learning,” Gardial said.

To bring attention to the Ready for the World initiative as a whole, the university has spearheaded some awareness-raising campaigns. One that garnered a great deal of participation from students, alumni, faculty, and staff alike was “Where in the World is Smokey?” Participants could request a free T-shirt with Smokey’s picture on it; in return, they were asked to photograph themselves wearing the T-shirt “somewhere in the world.”

The highly successful campaign resulted in Smokey “visiting” all seven continents, all 50 states, and more than 50 countries!

“We were thrilled with the enthusiams about and participation in ‘Where in the World is Smokey?’” said Gardial. “We wanted to capitalize on the excitement that program brought to Ready for the World, and create a new campaign where we could take participation to the next level.”

That new campaign is “Volunteers Rock the World!” Like with “Where’s Smokey?” participants in “Rock the World!” request a free T-shirt, and they’re again asked to submit photos or videos of themselves wearing the shirt. But they’re asked to wear the shirt while they’re engaged in volunteer or community service.

Nursing students rock the world in Peru

The “Rock the World!” program ties in with this year’s focus of Ready for the World: “Our World in Need,” with a particular emphasis on poverty. Goals of the “Our World in Need” focus include:

  • Focusing on poverty in a way that will raise awareness, consciousness, and education about the role that poverty plays in the U.S. and in the greater global context.
  • Considering poverty as one type of diversity that impacts our intercultural and international assumptions and awareness.
  • Using curricular-based programs and initiatives to help students understand the role of poverty not only in the world and their perspectives, but in their chosen fields of study and potential career paths.
  • Helping students see poverty through a lens that engages them in deep understanding of its consequences for our world as well as creative thinking about solutions.
  • Creating meaningful activities for students at the department, college, and campus levels across academic units.

Both “Our World in Need” and “Volunteers Rock the World!” were launched in August 2009, and already there has been a great response from students and alumni who feel passionately about their service work and want to share their stories with others.

Jason Light, a freshman from Blountville, Tenn., majoring in electrical engineering, engages in several service projects, but he has a favorite: coaching his church’s youth league tee ball team.

“I have been a head coach for four consecutive years,” Light said. “The kids are truly inspiring—and quite comical.”

John Juancho “J.J.” Bautista, from Chattanooga, Tenn., found his own inspiration on a cross-country bike ride from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., to raise awareness and funds for people with disabilities. The senior in biological sciences dedicated most of summer 2009 to the ride and hopes that it will have a lasting impact both on people with disabilities and on others who might be inspired to help.

Ashley Siferd is a freshman from Lenoir City, Tenn. She doesn’t know for sure what she wants to major in yet, but she does know how she wants to spend a good chunk of her time. Since high school, Siferd has volunteered with Horse Haven of Tennessee, a horse rescue group that cares for abused and neglected horses with the ultimate goal of rehabilitating the animals and placing them in good, permanent homes.

Alumna Sandra DuBose Taylor (’66) now calls Augusta, Ga., home. She volunteers every Friday at the local offices of The Lydia Project, an organization that supports women dealing with all types of cancer, all around the world.

And alumnus Alan Cheatham (’73, ’77), of Knoxville, donates platelets regularly.

“Whole blood is extracted from the donor’s arm, platelets extracted, and the remaining blood returned to the donor’s arm,” Cheatham explained.

“The process is relatively painless—just a stick as the needle is inserted. I have donated over 50 times and over five gallons of blood. Platelet donation saves lives!”

Beyond individuals, groups are getting involved in the program as well. UT Knoxville MBA students have been volunteering with Habitat for Humanity for the past seven years through the Tennessee Organization of MBAs (TOMBA). This year, they made a video of their efforts for “Volunteers Rock the World!”

“Our principal goal in TOMBA is to spread awareness about our chosen field—and about the needs of our communities,” said Jon Epperson, a second-year MBA student and TOMBA president.

“The Habitat project is also fun because there are so many enthusiastic people who really want to help,” Epperson said. He said the group’s time-lapse video, made by fellow student and TOMBA philanthropy chair John Batey, shows the teamwork and combined effort required.
Epperson also said the Habitat project was an eye-opener for many of the students who participated.

“Five minutes away from campus, you can have a family in need,” he said. “It’s everyone’s responsibility to give back to people less fortunate. It’s important to give people the tools they need to succeed.

“We’re here for such a short time that it’s important to make an impact on the community while we can. This is a tangible impact we’re making by building a house.”

UT students and alumni—across campus, the state, the nation, and the world—are embracing the reality of global community and responsibility. Are you ready?

—Leigh Powell, Amy Blakely, and Bridget Hardy (’09) contributed to this story

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