The Extraordinary Campus Leadership and Service awards recognize graduating students who are extraordinary campus leaders for their significant service to others.
With a customized major in neuroscience, neurolinguistics, and French through the College Scholars program, Alexandra Brito has studied how late-stage learning of French leads to physical changes in the brain. She has volunteered at UT Medical Center’s Cole Neuroscience Center, learning about the impact of dementia. At Knoxville’s Pond Gap Elementary School, she has taught French, led French-themed field trips, and participated in the Saturday Science program. She is a member of the French Honor Society and the student representative to the Alliance Française of Knoxville. Her nominator wrote, “Alex is the most extraordinary student I have had the pleasure to know since I began teaching at UT over 20 years ago.”
A College Scholars senior focusing on policy, politics, and gender, Alina Clay is a Thomas R. Pickering Fellow in Foreign Affairs—the first student in UT’s history to receive this prestigious award. She is also a Chancellor’s Honors Scholar and Baker Scholar. As a sophomore, Clay won the SGA’s Student Services Member of the Year Award and Student Ally Award for her accomplishments as co-director of Diversity Affairs. She is an executive member of the Undergraduate Student Research Association and research editor for Pursuit: The Journal of Undergraduate Research at the University of Tennessee.
McKinsey Patterson is a senior in nursing. She has served as both a member and a two-time executive board member of the university’s Leadership and Service Ambassadors program, helping to provide resources to the campus and community at large. She was a resident assistant and served this year as student body vice president. Actively involved in the College of Nursing, Patterson is a social justice advocate who has a passion for stemming rural health disparities.
Sophia Rubio has served as a student assistant in the Office of New Student and Family Programs, an Ignite team leader, an orientation leader, a member of the Student Government Association, and a student alumni associate. A senior in recreation sports management, she has held internships with Cornerstone of Alcohol and Recovery and with Knox County’s program for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. One of her nominators wrote that Rubio has “directly impacted the lives of thousands of new students and families, all while growing personally, succeeding academically, and serving the campus and local community.”
Enkeshi Thom is a doctoral candidate in sociology whose dissertation focuses on the ways in which race and racial identity have shaped Knoxville. On the strength of her dissertation proposal, she was awarded a National Science Foundation dissertation improvement grant, one of only 12 awarded nationally. Thom is a founding member and former vice president of the Multicultural Graduate Student Organization. She works as an advising liaison between the Department of Sociology and the College of Arts and Sciences, recruits minority sociology students, and is an advocate for the political and economic rights of the residents of East Knoxville. Her nominator wrote that Thom “is an intrepid and fully engaged contributor to the improvement of our departmental culture and wider issues of social justice and diversity both in the academy and in the community.”
A doctoral candidate in biomedical engineering, Guru Venkatesan founded the Tech CarniVol, a science and engineering festival that has drawn more than 500 high school and UT students, and he serves as a peer mentor in his department. He was the graduate mentor and lead engineer for teams in two national medical device design competitions; one took first place with a novel orthopedic cast. Venkatesan has served as president of UT’s Indian Student Association and organized a cricket game to raise funds for victims of the 2015 Nepal earthquake. An artist whose works have been showcased in Knoxville-area businesses, he organized a photo contest to sponsor student researchers.
Shalini Yerukala, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology, has published articles in scholarly journals and presented at academic conferences. She was president of her department’s graduate student association, where she organized the Science Day forum for students to share ideas and experiences. She was the first international student to be elected president of the UT Graduate Student Senate, and she is an advocate for more women in leadership positions. Yerukala volunteers in the local community and promotes her field of study in ways that are curious and fun, such as the Buggy Buffet, an event where people sample edible insects. Her nominator wrote, “Shalini is an outstanding leader and an inspiration to students.”