Skip to content

Developing Signature Experiences

The traditional view of the college experience we see in the popular media usually involves undergraduates arriving from high school bright-eyed and a little nervous to be on the main campus. They live in dormitories and eat in dining halls. They are 18 to 22 years old. They attend classes where faculty members lecture. Students study hard and go to the library between classes.

If that traditional view was ever accurate, the times have surely changed. Students of all ages attend college. Their living conditions vary dramatically. The old model of a professor lecturing and students sitting passively is a dinosaur. Now, students may have a semester abroad or in an internship. They might be taking some classes online. There are service learning courses and experiential learning. The menu for college has changed.

Many students are proactive in seeking unique or engaging experiences in their undergraduate (or graduate) careers. We are committed to helping students create or enjoy what we are calling “signature experiences” by constructing their academic program and building their profiles. This year, we started a fund to raise money for these signature experiences to help students realize their ambitions. We also joined forces with the Baker Center to help students find their individual niche. Some of the signature experiences that we support are study abroad programs in London and Siena, Italy; Model United Nations; Speech and Debate Team; and the Mock Trial Team. Read more about each one below.

Study Abroad – London

Each year Professor Ian Down leads a group of political science students to London for a five-week program exploring the British political system and political culture. This year, the government, somewhat inconsiderately, called an election and disbanded Parliament immediately before the students arrived, throwing into disarray the meetings with party representatives. Nevertheless, the program included a host of excursions and an extension in these helped mitigate the situation.

Students visited the Tower of London to see the Ceremony of the Keys (before the Tower opened to throngs of tourists), toured Parliament, Windsor Castle, Hampton Court Palace, Banqueting House, Westminster Abbey, the Royal Courts of Justice, the Cabinet War Rooms, the British Library, and other sites of political significance. For more information, visit the London Summer Program website.


Westminster Hall – London 2017 students in Westminster
Hall, Houses of Parliament

Hampton Court Palace

Study Abroad – Italy

For the second straight year, Professor Richard Pacelle took political science students to Italy. Last year it was Urbino; this year was a trip to Siena in Tuscany. Siena is a college town that time seemed to forget. It had been the Paris of Italy in the 1300s before a plague almost destroyed the city. Today it is one of the beautiful cities in Italy and a popular tourist destination.

Students took two political science courses: Political Theory and Art and Politics. Students were also in Siena for the Palio, which began in Medieval times and culminates in a horse race between the local contrada (neighborhoods). In addition to enjoying the majesty of Siena and learning about its secrets, students took organized field trips to Florence, Pisa, and Rome. In Rome, the group had guided tours of the Coliseum and the Vatican. Another group will be visiting Siena in the summer 2018. For information, contact Professor Pacelle.


Model United Nations

Model United Nations (MUN)Model United Nations (MUN) is a team of students who travel around the United States to discuss and debate international topics with other top college and university teams. Members are assigned specific countries or government officials to represent and conduct research in the weeks leading up to each conference. At UT, we have a team comprised of two distinct, but overlapping parts. The first is our “Tennessee Travel Team” that represents UT at collegiate conferences. The second is the staff of Volunteer Model United Nations (VolMUN) that hosts a high school conference every February here in Knoxville.

The Tennessee Travel Team represents UT at three to five conferences per semester at some of the top universities across the United States. Over the course of the 2016-2017 season, we sent teams to places such as Georgetown University, the University of Virginia, and Emory University to represent Rocky Top. This past season, the team broke into the top 100 rankings by winning individual awards at each of the seven conferences it attended over the academic year, including at third place finish for first-year Grant Peterson at the University of Chicago Model United Nations, which is ranked as the most competitive crisis committee on the circuit.

“Over the past year and a half our entire team has worked tirelessly to build a foundation for success,” says Tristan Smith, president of MUN and head delegate of the travelling team.

Volunteer Model United Nations (VolMUN) is a three-day conference hosted over the course of President’s Day weekend here in Knoxville. Over the past three years, this conference has grown from hosting roughly 30 high school students in 2014 to hosting almost 200 students last February. VolMUN serves not only as a major fundraiser for the team, but also a chance for members to continue to practice parliamentary procedure and debate style with one another.

Each year, the VolMUN staff partners with a student advocacy group on campus to raise awareness and funds for an international issue over the course of the weekend. Last year, VolMUN partnered with representatives of the Rohingya Project to raise awareness about human rights violations in Myanmar.

“What began as a small conference with no theme or direction only three years ago has quickly grown into a regionally respected and exponentially growing conference known for its creative approach to engaging and improving delegates,” says Gus White, the secretary-general of last year’s VolMUN.

Speech and Debate Team

Speech and Debate Team (TSDS)

The Speech and Debate Team (TSDS) finished the 2016-17 academic year on a high note with a successful stint at the International Public Debate Association’s National Championship Tournament held at Arkansas Tech University. Out of nearly 400 competitors, the team returned with a slew of season-long awards.

TSDS concluded yet another prolific year, picking up two more national championships. The team’s two national champions were Mickayla Stogsdill and Symantha Gregorash, who finished as Junior Varsity and Novice national champions, respectively. This is Mickayla’s second national championship in two years. Combined with the success of the two champions, the team also earned with a third place finish in Scholastics. The Scholastic award is given to teams who earned the highest point totals in a combination of the Novice, Junior Varsity, and Varsity divisions. This is a nine-spot improvement from the 12th place finish last season.

Team members improved in virtually every category they competed. The complete list of awards won over nationals is as follows:

  • Third place, Scholastic
  • Fourth place, Founders (192 different universities competing)
  • Third place, Novice Squad (192 different universities competing)
  • First place, Novice Season Long (492 students competing)
  • Third place, Novice Squad (100 different universities competing)
  • First place, Junior Varsity Season Long (191 students competing)
  • Fourth place, JV Squad (72 universities competing)
  • Fourth place, Varsity Season Long (416 students competing)
  • Ninth place, Varsity Squad (104 universities competing)

These awards amount to the team’s fourth consecutive National Championship! TSDT is the only program that is solely alumni-funded and operates without the presence of a fulltime coach. The team’s successes are the result of gracious supportive alumni and a devoted group of students!

Mock Trial Team

Mock Trial team

The Mock Trial team is a student-run organization competing in mock trial competitions across the nation. The purpose of this organization is to educate undergraduate students at UT in the areas of public law, speaking skills, critical thinking, and argument ability – and have fun doing it.


Individual Award Winners: Taylor Massey (left) and Harrison Williams

The organization is entirely student-run and student-coached, with a member-elected executive board leading the organization. The team generally consists of 25-40 UT students after the fall tryouts, which the team hosts every fall in late August and early September. Students selected for the team compete throughout the academic year. In the fall, they attend private invitational tournaments, and in the spring, they compete in the American Mock Trial Association Championship Series.

In the 2016-2017 season, the Mock Trial Team took second and fourth place trophies at the annual Middle Tennessee State University invitational, competing against teams such as Vanderbilt, the University of Alabama, and the University of South Carolina. As individuals, they took home awards in both attorney and witness roles during the invitational season continuing into formal competition season.

The flagship campus of the University of Tennessee System and partner in the Tennessee Transfer Pathway.