Torchbearer is the highest honor the university gives to its students. Recognition as a Torchbearer reminds us all that those who bear the Torch of Enlightenment shadow themselves to give light to others.
As a freshman, Natalie Bennett volunteered in a Department of Nutrition laboratory where cancer research was being conducted. Over time she became one of the researchers, and she has already helped author two peer-reviewed articles. A Chancellor’s Honors Program student from Brentwood, Tennessee, she plans a career in medicine and created a College Scholars major in cancer biology and cellular metabolism. She has gained experience by volunteering at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center. “In my time in academics, I have met no student with the curiosity and drive that Natalie has shown over the last several years,” a faculty member said. In her extracurricular life, Bennett is president of the Campus Events Board, which has a budget of $570,000. She has also served as vice chairperson of the Issues Committee. Further, Bennett has been committed to helping other students by training them in the lab and encouraging others to get involved in campus organization leadership.
Savannah Clay, of Ooltewah, Tennessee, wasn’t admitted into the College of Nursing as a freshman. She channeled her disappointment into hard work and defied the odds to gain admission the following year. Today, she is an accomplished nursing student committed to providing culturally competent care and eliminating racism in health care. She has worked with underserved Knoxvillians through the Volunteer Ministry Center and the Lost Sheep Ministry. She has also reached out to Knoxville-area Arab Americans and developed an interactive simulation to teach her peers how to provide culturally congruent care for that community. Clay was inducted into the local chapter of the International Honor Society of Nursing and has served on the College of Nursing Dean’s Advisory Board. She has also been active in the Student Nurses Association, the Student Government Association, Student Alumni Associates, Minority Enhancement for the University of Tennessee (ME4UT), the Multicultural Mentoring Program, the Black Cultural Programming Committee, and the Campus Entertainment Board.
A highly honored record-breaking quarterback of the Volunteer football team, Joshua Dobbs has been one of UT’s most visible ambassadors—and he’s carried out that role in a way that embodies the Volunteer spirit. Dobbs, of Alpharetta, Georgia, is also an accomplished aerospace engineering student. Despite his hectic academic and athletic schedules, he has found time to give back to the community. He’s spoken at a number of events, including UT Day on the Hill and the 100 Black Men of Greater Knoxville Gala. He’s visited patients at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital and Children’s Hospital at Erlanger, making a special point of reaching out to youngsters with alopecia. He also volunteered in the wake of the Gatlinburg area wildfires. Athletics staff say Dobbs routinely goes out of his way to comfort others, assist those in need, or simply make someone’s day by offering an autograph—without ever viewing himself as a star.
Carson Hollingsworth, a public administration major with a minor in leadership studies, has used his leadership acumen to serve the campus. The Germantown, Tennessee, native is currently president of the Student Government Association, representing UT’s 27,000 students on the university, local, state, and federal levels. Guiding SGA during the transition in campus leadership and through challenges associated with diversity funding changes, Hollingsworth “remained poised and offered a listening ear to his peers to ensure he was representing the student body as a whole,” one staff member wrote. Hollingsworth has held leadership positions within his fraternity, Delta Tau Delta, and with the Interfraternity Council and the United Residence Halls Council. He served as an orientation leader and has been involved with Ignite and the Leadership Knoxville Scholars program. Through his campus affiliations, he’s volunteered at a variety of community organizations including Habitat for Humanity, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and Random Acts of Flowers.
Elisabeth Logan, of Walton, Kentucky, started college at the age of 16. She was very involved in campus activities during her time at UT and still managed to graduate a semester early, in December 2016. She has held various positions with the Student Government Association and served as president of the Panhellenic Council and as a student alumni associate. She worked with the Center for Leadership and Service’s Spark program as a facilitator and then director. She also worked with New Student and Family Programs, first as an orientation leader and later as part of the student director staff and a family ambassador. A classics major and member of the Chancellor’s Honors Program, Logan focused her undergraduate research on better understanding bystander intervention programs within the sorority community. Since graduating, she has continued to serve UT as a professional intern in the Dean of Students Office.
An aspiring dentist, Monil Mehta, of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, is president of the UT Student Dental Association. He founded a nonprofit organization, Global Services Projects, to address health disparities. The group is currently working with Remote Area Medical to coordinate a dental and medical camp in India. As a Baker Scholar, he is conducting public policy research regarding issues that affect the dental profession. He has also completed internships with the National Institutes of Health and the Knox County Health Department. A student in the Chancellor’s Honors Program, Mehta has been an undergraduate research assistant and is active in Alpha Kappa Psi, a professional business fraternity. He has helped new students transition to campus as part of VOLMentors and earned recognition from the Center for Leadership and Service for his volunteer service at a variety of organizations, including Remote Area Medical, Zoo Knoxville, and Ronald McDonald House.
Haslam Scholar and physics major Louis Varriano has excelled in his own research while also seeking novel ways to interest others in science. The Memphis native has received numerous awards for his academic prowess—as a freshman he was named Outstanding First-Year Physics Student, as a sophomore he received the department’s Talley Award for Outstanding Undergraduate Leadership, and last year he received the national Society of Physics Students Award for Outstanding Undergraduate Research. Varriano has put his knowledge to work in the community. As president of the UT chapter of the Society of Physics Students, he spearheaded the creation of Saturday Science Club, which sends volunteers to Pond Gap Elementary School to do science experiments and demonstrations that pique young students’ interest in science. Thanks to this effort and Varriano’s leadership, the chapter received a Chancellor’s Citation for Extraordinary Community Service and the national organization’s Blake Lilly Award.