Vols Start Back

For many students who signed up for the “Vols Start Back” program from the Division of Student Success in August, the initiative seemed too good to be true. All that it required was that students show up to various campus events and complete modules on Canvas, and in return, students would receive $50 for signing up and $200 for completing the program.

But around Oct. 15, the original date when money was to begin making its way to students, either through a direct refund or a credit on MyUTK, students began reporting that they had not gotten any money. Some took to social media to decry the delay and ask Student Success why they had not yet followed through on the central incentive of the program.

According to the Division of Student Success, the delay was the result of the abundance of students who signed up for the program and the difficulty of determining whether students completed all of the program requirements, which included quizzes and short written responses to various campus events.

A week after students raised questions about the delays, Leonard Clemons, who oversaw the program as associate vice provost for Student Success, said the program began to get money to students.

“Students began receiving their awards Tuesday, Oct. 19, and should continue to receive them through the end of the week, either as a direct refund or by applying it to their student balance,” Clemons said. “Although this date was after the anticipated Oct. 15 disbursement, it was necessary to take additional time to review all participants’ activities to ensure students receive the proper award due to the unexpected popularity of the program.”

Student Success was not fully prepared for how enticing the $250 offer was. Over 4,000 undergraduate students signed up and participated in the program, which exceeded the division’s expectations. Part of the difficulty of managing this number of students was the limitations on in-person events.

“We did underestimate the popularity of certain events,” Clemons said. “This excitement about the programs caused some events to meet their capacity earlier than expected. We attempted to accommodate these situations with virtual options, when available.”

Other technicalities besides event modalities have led to frustrations among certain students. Some graduate students participated in the program, not realizing it was not open to them.

Despite delays and a handful of students miffed at the requirements of the program, Amber Williams, vice provost for Student Success, said the program succeeded in its goal of being a sort of orientation for upperclassmen who were disoriented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Students who participated reported feeling more confident to accept formal and informal leadership positions, better equipped both academically and socially, more aware of campus resources and better supported by the university and campus community,” Williams said. “In fact, I met one student that shared she met some new friends because of an event attended through Vols Start Back. Overall, we believe the program met the needs of students and was a great success.”

Though the Division of Student Success has taken down the web page for “Vols Start Back” since the program ended, the office has created an email where students can voice concerns or questions about the program or report any further issues with the money reward.

“The well-being of our students is a top priority for the university, and we strive to create a variety of experiences that enhance a student’s ability to succeed inside and outside of the classroom,” Williams said. “Students who have questions about their awards or the Vols Start Back initiative should email volsstartback@utk.edu.”

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