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UT’s Smart Communities Initiative Honored by Southeast Tennessee Development District

SCI program was honored by the SETDD boardThe University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Smart Communities Initiative was honored today by its past and continuing partner, the Southeast Tennessee Development District.

CEE’s Dr. Jenny Retherford was on hand for the events, since CEE has been one of the most engaged departments in the program.

Through SCI, which kicked off during the 2014-15 academic year, UT connects faculty and students with Tennessee cities, counties, special districts and other governmental organizations to engage in real-world problem solving aimed at improving the region’s economy, environment and social fabric. SCI is a key component of Experience Learning, the university’s initiative that emphasizes experiential learning.

Last year, SCI partnered with the Southeast Tennessee Development District. Faculty and students in 20 courses worked on 22 projects ranging from researching Cherokee Indians who walked the Trail of Tears to developing proposals for water quality improvements across the region.

At the end of the year, it was announced that SCI would continue to work with the Southeast Tennessee Development District as a partner while also engaging in new partnerships that can include small and rural communities. This year’s partner is Lenoir City.

“UT’s SCI program has been selected to receive the Flame Award from the district,” said Chuck Hammonds, assistant executive director of the Southeast Tennessee Development District.

“Our agency holds a full board meeting every two years and presents some awards for outstanding projects in our area. The Flame Award is the overall agency award and is named because of the symbolism of a flame or spark that kindles or starts a fire,” he said. “We are recognizing the SCI program because of the university’s commitment to engage the community to solve real-world problems and to ignite the imagination of our future leaders.”

The award was presented at today’s annual district board of directors meeting.

Kelly Ellenburg, director of UT’s Office of Service-Learning, which oversees the SCI, attended the event to represent the SCI and UT. She was joined by faculty members Brad Collett, Jennifer Retherford and Deb Shmerler.

“We’re thrilled to receive this award from the district. Our partnership with them was— and continues to be—very beneficial for all involved,” Ellenburg said. “The district represents a large area and has provided a wealth of opportunity for our faculty and students to create impact with the community by brainstorming ideas, doing research, and developing strategies to help resolve difficult and complex issues. We really appreciate that the district is recognizing the work we have done together.”

Mayors from across the region as well as elected officials at the state and national level attended the event.

“To be honored in front of so many public officials from across the area provides great exposure for the Smart Communities Initiative, our faculty and students, Experience Learning and the university as a whole,” Ellenburg said. “We hope some of these leaders learn more about our program and reach out to explore future partnerships.”