Top Stories of 2015: Personal Tales, Campus Changes Make Big News

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The past year has been full of exciting changes, innovative research, and powerful personal stories at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

The Media Relations team in the Office of Communications and Marketing looked at stories that struck a chord with media, logged the most online hits, and made a lasting impression on many.

The result is this list of ten of our most memorable stories from the past year:

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Richard Long, UT regional admissions counselor, delivers an honorary offer of admission and a basket brimming with UT items to Noah Hays at Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Honorary Admission Given to Sixteen-Year-Old Cancer Patient in North Carolina: Sixteen-year-old Noah Hays of Charlotte, North Carolina, got a Big Orange surprise in October. The high school junior and lifelong Volunteer fan, who has an aggressive and rare cancer of the muscle and bone marrow, received an honorary offer of admission to UT. Noah was on campus in November for the Homecoming parade and to attend the game. Seventeen magazine, along with local newspapers and television stations, shared Noah’s story.

Study Compares Active Video Gaming to Unstructured Outdoor Play: The increasing use of video games is often blamed for children’s lack of interest in physical activity, but a study by UT’s Healthy Eating and Activity Laboratory, published in June in the Games for Health Journal, suggests that active video games may actually be a source of moderate or intense physical activity in children five to eight years old. More than 200 media outlets reported the findings, including Bloomberg and Yahoo! News.

UT Now Ranked 47th in 2016 U.S. News and World Report Rankings: Improvements in graduation rates helped pave the way for UT’s three-spot rise in U.S. News and World Report’s 2016 undergraduate rankings, released in September. UT is now ranked 47th among all public universities, up from 50th last year.

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The first phase of the Student Union was opened to the public in June.

First Phase of UT’s Student Union Opens: The cornerstone of UT’s ongoing campus transformation opened in June with a formal ribbon-cutting event in September. The 142,000-square-foot Student Union is the new central hub for students, faculty, and staff to meet, eat, and relax. The building provides much-needed space to enhance services for the university’s more than 27,000 students. The project took three years to complete.

Dog’s Best Friend: Being Smokey’s Handler: Jared Bruhin and John Edwards might have two of the most coveted jobs on campus. They’re Smokey’s handlers and his best pals. Bruhin and Edwards are responsible for everyone’s favorite bluetick coonhound while he’s on campus for game days and other appearances. A video created by the Video and Photography Center in UT’s Office of Marketing and Communications has been viewed more than 30,000 times on YouTube.

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Bill Nye speaks to a crowd of more than 8,000 people at Thompson-Boling Arena on October 29.

Inaugural Mossman Lecture Features Bill Nye the Science Guy: Bill Nye, a scientist and comedian best known for his passion for science, spoke to crowd of more than 8,000 people at Thompson-Boling Arena in late October. Nye’s lecture is the first in the Ken and Blaire Mossman Distinguished Lecture series, part of an alumni estate gift from the late Ken and Blaire Mossman. The gift also endows a scholarship in Romance languages and supports students involved in intercultural and multicultural initiatives. UT’s new science and laboratory building, now under construction on Cumberland Avenue and Thirteenth Street, is named in the couple’s honor. The article was the top-performing news post on the Tennessee Today website for the year.

IACMI_logoWhite House Picks UT to Lead National Composites Manufacturing Institute: President Barack Obama announced in January that UT will lead the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation, or IACMI, a $259 million public-private partnership. The institute reflects a $70 million commitment from the US Department of Energy and $189 million from IACMI’s partners. In February, BBC News came to Tennessee and interviewed faculty and students for a story on the state’s role in new manufacturing techniques like those developed at the institute.

A Place Like No Other: Faculty Member Reflects on Designing the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial: For Julie Beckman and Keith Kaseman, now faculty members in the College of Architecture and Design, September 11, 2001, started as a typical Tuesday morning in Manhattan. But the terrible events of that day forever changed the course of their lives and careers, leading them to create the Pentagon Memorial, dedicated in 2008. The News Sentinel and WBIR were among the media outlets that shared Beckman and Kaseman’s story.

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Newly admitted Dobyns-Bennett High School students pose with Chancellor Cheek in front of the bus in Kingsport.

Chancellor’s Big Orange Bus Tour Spreads Vol Cheer at Nine High Schools: The Chancellor’s Big Orange Bus Tour traveled more than 1,300 miles to visit nine high schools in eight cities across the state. Seniors who applied to UT in early August were among the first to be admitted to the Class of 2020. Joining Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek in welcoming the newest Vols to the Big Orange family were Provost Susan Martin, Vice Chancellor for Student Life Vince Carilli, Vice Chancellor for Communications Margie Nichols, and Interim Associate Provost Kari Alldredge. Media across the state turned out to a slate of events for students and alumni. See more moments from the journey on Storify.

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Freshman Honors Student Spent Part of High School Days Homeless: For Randall “Jordan” Brown, moving into Fred Brown Residence Hall was both exhilarating and comforting. It was, finally, a place he can call home. Brown, a freshman from Maryville, was homeless off and on throughout high school. Before starting at UT in August, he bounced from friend’s home to friend’s home. The summer found him sleeping in a city park for several nights. Brown’s amazing story touched many people and the news of his accomplishment spread with coverage from WATE and WBIR.

Among the most-visited pages from the Tennessee Today website are the Big Orange emojis, with more than 130,000 visitors checking out and copying a set of adorable campus-specific icons for social media, and Big Orange Love Stories, a Valentine’s Day feature about couples who met or married on Rocky Top. Our campus community also was very interested in changes to parking and news about the demolition of Apartment Residence Hall.