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Deep Student Engagement

Research indicates that “high-impact educational practices,” such as study abroad, internships, and undergraduate research, provide transformative effects for students’ personal development, career readiness, and overall success while on campus. By ensuring every undergraduate, no matter their background or circumstance has access to transformative, career-building experiences, UT will produce one of the most robust and talented employment pipelines in the nation with student scholars who are ready to take on the challenges of a diverse, global world.

Our vision is that every undergraduate UT student scholar will have the opportunity to participate in at least one sustained, deep engagement opportunity before graduation. To support this goal, while also ensuring that scholars are having intentional opportunities to make meaning of their learning and how it can translate to post-graduation goals, UT is designing the Vol Edge Program.

The Vol Edge Program, guided by the Volunteer Experience committee, will be a flexible menu of learning and engagement activities that foster well-being and purposeful life-career readiness preparation, guiding students through content and experiences to set them up for success. To complete the Vol Edge Program, each scholar will engage with career preparation activities and an experiential learning opportunity individualized to their interests and career goals.

What is the Vol Edge program/what will it entail for students, faculty, and staff? 

The university has set forth a bold vision for our future through the strategic vision. Today’s undergraduate students want to be active participants in their educational and career journey.  We aim to ensure UT graduates are better-suited for a career and as better people—volunteers for life.  

Regarding career readiness, students can sometimes be fearful and anxious. The future may seem fuzzy—some know their path and push forward confidently, while others don’t know which direction to turn.  On top of that—the student’s experience can be drastically different for each student, be it their class year, major, or first generation, and these differences can impact a scholar’s feeling included and prepared or anxious and disconnected.  We are developing a program that will challenge our students and develop systems and programs to support them—thus, our graduates will be successful, confident, and thrive.  

The Vol Edge will be a co-curricular grounded in the NACE Competencies, a list of key skills and abilities employers seek today, generated by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. There are four requirements: 

  1. Engaging in self-paced learning on wellbeing, preparing for a global workforce, leadership, and teamwork, and more.   
  1. Every Vol Edge participant will engage in at least one meaningful Transformative Experience before graduation: internships, research, global learning, or service learning.  
  1. Intentional and Ongoing reflection. Vol Edge participants will engage in pre- and post-activities to determine the skills they hope to gain during their experiential learning opportunity and to help them name the skills they obtained and put them into a resume and other assets.      
  1. Professional feedback about articulating their strengths, skills, and stories with prospective employers and graduate school committees.  Students will practice telling their stories.    

Scholars don’t have to do this, but we hope scholars will want to do it.  We are hoping to build something worthwhile and valuable for students.  Along the way, students will reach real milestones and attain a sense of accomplishment.  There will be both short-term and long-term payoffs and incentives.  

Role of Faculty/Staff/Students/Alumni/Employers

This program is built from the bottom up.  It will never be complete—and will constantly evolve and change based on the student, faculty, and employer feedback.  Diverse perspectives are welcome because there is no such thing as one size fits all regarding the student experience. This is a program designed for all.  

When will it be launched?  

A small pilot will launch in 2023-2024. The program will then roll out in phases over the next three years, with sophomores being invited into the program in the Spring of 2025 and each new phase rolling out subsequently until all stages of the Vol Edge are available in the Fall of 2027.    

What are its goals? 

UT Knoxville is already proud of the positive career outcomes of our current scholars. Just last year, 90% of the students who reported their plans after graduation indicated they had successfully gained employment or entrance to graduate school within six months of graduation. In alignment with the priorities of the UTK strategic vision, we hope to continue to lift this already impressive number.  

Program Goals: 

  • Harness the power of our students’ strengths, promote their well-being, and produce graduates who are self-motivated, resilient, confident, and driven by service.  
  • Increase the number of scholars involved in transformational experiences by deepening their campus engagement through meaningful integration between academic and co-curricular activities that impact their academic, personal, and career goals.  
  • Further engage employers in the life-career readiness process.  

How is this program unique to UT? 

Based on our research, we don’t know of any other university that’s developed a comprehensive life-career readiness program at the scale we envision.  We believe we will be the first by incorporating well-being, transformational experiences, intentional reflection, and active feedback from professionals.  

By ensuring every undergraduate, no matter their background or circumstance, has access to transformative, career-building experiences, UT will produce one of the most robust and talented employment pipelines in the nation, with student scholars ready to take on the challenges of a diverse, global world. Area businesses and employers also benefit from a student base more prepared to engage in the search process. 

UT students are unlike any other. Assertive, driven, and confident, nothing gets in the way of a University of Tennessee student. This program gives students that exceptional edge – on campus and in the workforce.