“The most bittersweet part of graduating isn’t going to be missing my classes,” says Maria Urias, a senior sociology major from Lenoir City, Tennessee. “It’s going to be the memories of the friends I made and the work we did through organizations like the Jones Center to genuinely make a better UT for everyone. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without these experiences.”
Before arriving on Rocky Top as a first-year student, Urias participated in Ignite Summit, a three-day extended orientation program organized by the Jones Center for Leadership and Service. Introduced to concepts of student leadership that are at the heart of being a Volunteer, Urias applied to become an Ignite team leader and wound up serving four times in this capacity to support up to 150 incoming students. She also got involved with VOLbreaks—local and national service trips that explore social issues such as immigration, economic and food insecurity, and discrimination, with students working alongside community organizations in the places they serve.
“I went on a fall trip to Memphis, where we worked with a refugee center and after-school youth groups on the theme of youth marginalization,” Urias says. “I learned about issues in Tennessee I wouldn’t have known about otherwise. It changed my view of service–learning.”
Since April 2020, Urias has deepened her involvement. She serves as a VOLbreaks student director, helping to recruit students, plan community meetings, and organize retreats for student leaders.
Veronica Webb, a senior marketing major from Lebanon, Tennessee, became involved with the JCLS through another of its programs: Leadership Knoxville Scholars. The two-year program is run in partnership with Leadership Knoxville and provides juniors and seniors one-on-one mentorship from a community leader, hands-on service and excursion opportunities, and academic classes on servant leadership and civic engagement.
Webb also participated in a 2019 VOLbreaks trip focused on advocacy and support for LGBTQ+ organizations in Columbus, Ohio.
“Getting involved with the JCLS is probably one of the best things to do on campus,” Webb says. “It’s a safe and inviting space for everyone. It’s a place people can feel like home.”