Tia Freeman (pictured) steps into the
glowing light of candles. Around her, voices sing, "On a hallowed hill in Tennessee, like beacon
shining bright, the stately walls of old UT rise glorious to the sight."
Freeman lights her candle and joins in. In that moment, Freeman's love
for the University of Tennessee (UT) ignites.
Freeman is one of
1,000 incoming students at UT who participated in the school's Ignite Program.
The Ignite Program is a unique opportunity for freshmen students at UT
to learn about the university and the ways to be involved on campus, both inside and outside of the
classroom, while meeting other new students and developing leadership skills.
"It's an extended orientation program for incoming freshmen. Ignite
participants learn all about getting inVOLved and making a difference as a student at the
University of Tennessee," said Jessica Blanford, the assistant director of the Center for
Leadership and Service at UT.
Blanford said incoming freshmen
have been participating in the Ignite Program for 10 years, but this year, the Center for
Leadership and Service expanded the program.
made the decision to help back the program financially and it has allowed us to serve more
students," said Blanford.
Last year, only 300 incoming students
participated in the Ignite Program. This year, participation grew to 1,000.
"That's right at a quarter of the freshman class," said Blanford. "We've
grown by 700 students in 10 months. To have that many, it's impressive."
Blanford said the university has found that students who participate in
the Ignite Program are 14 percent more likely to be retained and come back for their sophomore
"We're very grateful that Chancellor Cheek has jumped
on board and bought in to what we do at Ignite," she said.
Through a partnership with Coker Creek Village, the Center for Leadership and Service at UT
has used the location in Coker Creek for both Ignite sessions and its LeaderShape program for
"We come to Coker Creek a lot," said Blanford. "We
really love it here. It's kind of like a second home."
Parish, the director of the Center for Leadership and Service, discovered Coker Creek Village
several years ago and the center has been coming there ever since.
"It's a great location, close to Knoxville, and in a beautiful area," said Blanford. "We have
plenty of cabins and so many activities and things we can provide for the students while we're
Blanford said the staff at Coker Creek Village has been
so welcoming to the program.
"They're wonderful," she said. "They
allow us to use the challenge course, training our student leaders to facilitate that. They also do
an amazing hoe-down on the first night of Ignite and teach the students line dances."
The Ignite Program is broken into three different sessions--the Ignite
Summit, Ignite Serves and Ignite Outdoors.
The Ignite Summit
is a three-day retreat that allows incoming students to network with student leaders, as well as
faculty and staff members from different areas of campus.
Ignite Serves is a five-day leadership and service experience, packed with service
opportunities, leadership programming and social events. Students learn more about the greater
Knoxville community and hear about campus resources and organizations to become involved in during
their time at UT.
Ignite Outdoors is an adventure-based
leadership program filled with outdoor leadership, friendships and unforgettable views and
memories. Outdoors serves as an introduction to life at UT, allowing new students to discuss their
hopes and fears, while completing outdoor adventures and learning about UT traditions.
The average cost to participate in an Ignite session is $135.
"We try to keep cost down as much as possible," said Blanford. "We offer
flexible and deferred payment plans, where students can sign up for the sessions but not have to
pay anything until September 2 when their grant aid, scholarships and loans are available to
Blanford said the center also has Ignite sessions
"Sometimes faculty members will offer to
sponsor a student...students who contact us and want to participate but can't really afford it,"
she said. "We try to work with them so that they're able to participate."
Ignite teaches incoming students the importance of being a Vol,
including the history of the university, the fight songs and traditions.
"We talk about what it means to be a Volunteer," said Blanford. "During
Ignite, a high-level administrator and the student body president talk to the group about the
moment they realized they were a volunteer and how the students have the ability to impact the
university in a huge way."
Faculty, staff and trained student
leaders/mentors lead Ignite workshops on a variety of topics, including leadership development,
personal values, diversity, stereotypes, economic status and respect.
"We use Ignite to help students ease their transition into college," said Blanford. "It's
students from all over coming together in their first experience with UT, meeting people involved
on campus who they can call on to help them if they need it their first year. To have their future
teachers and campus administrators do team building activities on a rope course or a hoedown with
them in a barn brings this massive university to a smaller level."
In addition, students divide into teams and discuss their hopes and fears going into
"They're able to find out others have the same fears
and hopes," said Blanford. "They're able to understand each other on a personal level before
For many students, Ignite reassures them they
made the right choice in enrolling at UT.
"UT will be the best
decision I will make in my lifetime and Ignite has given me a reason to believe it was the right
choice," said one student.
Blanford said the last night of Ignite
is often the most powerful for students.
"We lead them onto the
field and all the student leaders, faculty and staff get into the shape of a T," she said.
"Everything is candlelit."
Each freshmen approaches the T, lights
their candle on the Tiki torch at the entrance and walks into the T.
"The incoming students enter the T and fill in the middle of it while
everyone around them is singing the alma mater," said Blanford.
"So here's to you, old Tennessee, our Alma Mater true. We pledge in love and harmony, our
loyalty to you. What torches kindled at that flame have passed from hand to hand..."
Blanford said when all the students have lit their candle and stepped
into the middle, the T is complete.
"It's a really special night
where we officially welcome them into the Tennessee family and let them know they are a Volunteer
for life," she said.
To learn more about Ignite and how to
register, visit leadershipandservice.utk.edu/ignite or email