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2015 Torchbearers

Torchbearer is the highest UT student honor. This distinction reminds us all that those who bear the Torch of Enlightenment shadow themselves to give light to others. Honors graduating seniors for academic excellence and service to the university and society at large.

Rilwan Balogun

Rilwan Balogun

Rilwan Balogun, of Antioch, Tennessee, is a senior in journalism and electronic media. He has gained media experience through working as an editor and video photographer with WBIR-TV, a reporter and anchor for UT Today, and a news intern for the national morning Today show, where he assisted producers on field shoots and live in-studio segments.

Balogun is president of the National Association of Black Journalists, vice president of the Volunteer Channel, and a member of the Volapalooza 2013 marketing team. He has been an active member of the Black Cultural Programming Committee since 2012 and is currently serving as vice chair. He has gained a wealth of leadership skills by serving as a resident assistant for two years.

His most notable work, however, is with the committee to advocate for the UT LEAD Summer Institute. He and four peers engaged administrators to share thoughts about the value of the program designed to help students overcome academic challenges as they enter college.

Matthew Barnett

Matthew Barnett

Matthew Barnett, of Signal Mountain, Tennessee, is receiving his bachelor’s degree in architecture this spring, but his design skills have already improved the lives of several people.

Barnett is a leader locally and nationally in the American Institute of Architecture Students’ Freedom by Design program, which creates meaningful improvements through design and construction solutions for low-income and disabled people. Barnett’s work has placed first at local competitions. Several of his designs were built and are improving the lives of Knoxville residents. Notable projects include wheelchair access and home renovation for a boy with centronuclear myopathy, a remodel of the home of a mother and daughter with mental and physical disabilities, and the construction of desks, stairs, and ramps for an elderly woman with physical and financial limitations.

Cierra Burdick

Cassidie Cierra Burdick

Lady Vol fans around the world know that Cierra Burdick is a leader on the court. Her fellow students know her as a leader in the classroom and the community. “Excellence is her standard in everything that she does,” said Brian Russell, associate director of the Thornton Athletics Student Life Center. “Her future as an alumna of Tennessee and leader in the sports and professional worlds is unbelievably bright.”

A communication studies major from Charlotte, North Carolina, Burdick is an executive member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and a member of the Provost’s Student Advisory Committee. During her “down time” from the Lady Vols, she’s won four gold medals while competing with USA Basketball. She spent last summer interning for Robin Roberts at Good Morning America in New York City while completing her classes online.

In 2013 Burdick founded the DREAM Team, a group of student-athletes who work with local schools and nonprofits to mentor youth and help them stay free of drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and violence. She also led the charge for the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee to work with Water Angels Ministries to adopt a local family struggling to meet their everyday needs.

Connor Dugosh

Connor Dugosh

Connor Dugosh is a senior in English from Murfreesboro, Tennessee. He’s welcomed more than 12,000 new students and their families to the Volunteer family during summer orientation. He has served as an orientation leader and student orientation coordinator, preparing students for the transition to college.

His nominators noted that Dugosh’s approach and ability to connect with students make him one of the most “genuine and authentic” student leaders on campus.

Dugosh served this year as the Student Government Association vice president, overseeing Freshman Council and the Senate. He is also active with the Interfraternity Council and has served as vice president of recruitment and Greek leadership initiative director.

Kelsey Keny

Kelsey Keny

Kelsey Keny is a senior in journalism and electronic media from Lewisburg, Tennessee. It’s no surprise that the student body president knows how best to reach fellow students. She’s had plenty of training as a reporter and producer for the Volunteer Channel, UT’s official television station.

As SGA president, Keny has devoted time and energy to make sure our campus atmosphere is welcoming to all students. She has also encouraged others to share open and inclusive dialogue throughout campus. “She is fearless, humble, and always dedicated to doing what is right, regardless of how challenging that may be. She constantly reminds me of what it means to be an authentic student leader and a dedicated public servant,” her nominator stated. Keny has served in a wide range of student organizations, including the UT Singers, the Student Alumni Associates, and Alpha Delta Pi sorority.

Valerie King

Valerie King

Valerie King is a senior in sociology and global studies from Mount Juliet, Tennessee. She is known as a bridge builder in her roles as volunteer, researcher, and student organizer.

A Chancellor’s Honors Program student and Baker Scholar, King has received the Extraordinary Professional Promise Award and was named an Oxfam America CHANGE Leader. She created the Oxfam America Club at UT and led initiatives to engage the student body on food justice issues.

Her studies have taken her to Switzerland and China, and she has worked as a research assistant at New York University. Her interest in understanding immigration and border control issues in a global context has guided her research to look further at narrative criminology and the criminalization of migrants.

King spearheaded the “Perspectives on Structural Violence” series, focused on social justice, leading to an interdisciplinary collaboration between the Global Studies program and the geography and sociology departments that will continue after her graduation. She has volunteered at the International House, Legal Aid, the Humane Society, and refugee assistance programs.

Kenna Rewcastle

Kenna Rewcastle

Described as a “true maverick,” Kenna Rewcastle has a passion for research and field experience that has taken her to Costa Rica, China, and Denmark. Through the College Scholars program, Rewcastle, of Apison, Tennessee, created her own major—in ecosystem ecology and biogeochemistry—to investigate ecosystem ecology in the face of climate change.

Early on, the Haslam Scholar set her sights on high-level research at UT and beyond. Her research work abroad positioned her perfectly for a leadership role with the Undergraduate Research Student Association. Rewcastle’s environmental and ecological research led to her being named a Fulbright finalist and a nominee for the nationally competitive Udall Scholarship.

Rewcastle’s research experiences dovetail well with her personal interests. She is an avid outdoorswoman and loves to travel. Her work with AmeriCorps involved coordinating backpacking trips on the Appalachian Trail while assisting with trail improvement projects. Rewcastle is active in SPEAK—Students Promoting Environmental Action in Knoxville—and her work with the group led her to Washington, DC, to raise awareness about climate issues. She penned the “Under the Microscope” science column for the Daily Beacon, among other literary pursuits.

Julia Ross

Julia Ross

Julia Ross, a senior in economics from Atlanta, is described as a change agent. She’s accepted several challenges to lead various efforts at UT and on the national level.

Ross is the founding director of UT’s Roosevelt Institute Campus Network, which engages students in progressive activism. Her leadership within the Haslam Scholars and Baker Scholars programs helped prepare her for the opportunity of a lifetime—a public service and leadership internship at the White House last semester.

“Julia not only elevated her leadership skills, sharp intelligence, and intuitive grace to the next level, she elevated it to the very highest level possible for one committed to service,” said her nominator. She has conducted economics and political science research and served as editor in chief of Pursuit, the university’s journal of undergraduate research.

Christopher Smith

Christopher Smith

Christopher Smith’s legacy will be felt on campus as early as this summer, when about forty incoming freshmen participate in the UT LEAD Summer Institute. Smith was active in sharing his and other students’ views on the value of the student success program.

An English major from Antioch, Tennessee, Smith is looking forward to graduate school this fall. He hopes to teach high school English and ultimately work in education policy.

Smith is president of the Multicultural Mentoring Program and is involved in Black Educators of Tomorrow, Student Alumni Associates, and Minority Enhancement for UT. Last fall, he was selected by the Office of the Dean of Students to be the university’s first student honorary football coach.

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