VOLeaders Academy Class of 2023-24 Announced

Tennessee Athletics recently announced its VOLeaders Academy Class of 2023-24. The program once again will be split into two cohorts that participate simultaneously.

The ninth annual collection of VOLeaders comprises 47 student-athletes that represent each of Tennessee’s 20 varsity sports. It is the largest class in the program’s history.

“Our strategic plan calls on us to be relentless in our pursuit of developing world-changing leaders, and the VOLeaders Academy is a best-in-class illustration of the transformative power of the student-athlete experience here on Rocky Top,” Senior Associate Athletics Director & Associate Provost Marshall Steward said. “As we welcome our ninth, and largest-ever, class of VOLeaders, we consider it an honor and privilege to continue to deliver on a vision that transcends sport in a meaningful way.”    

The year-long leadership curriculum begins annually starting with the Fall semester and concludes with an international cultural exchange trip in the summer.

Previous cohorts traveled to Vietnam, Brazil, Ecuador, Rwanda (twice) and Belize. The destination for this summer’s trip has yet to be announced.

The complete 2023-24 VOLeaders cohort includes: Lauren Anzalotta (women’s tennis), Angela Arora (women’s golf), Catherine Aulia (women’s tennis), Tobe Awaka (men’s basketball), Ben Bolton (football), Jamison Brockenbrough (softball), Reese Chapman (baseball), Laurent Desmarchais (men’s golf), B.J. Edwards (men’s basketball), Abby Ekeler (volleyball), Jordan Fusco (soccer), Vanessa Gilly (women’s golf), Kayla Holden (women’s golf), Jillian Hollingshead (women’s basketball), Austin Hunley (baseball), Bryce Jenkins (baseball), Ashllyn King (volleyball), Giulia Koutsoyanopulos (softball), Charlie Krone (men’s swimming & diving), Sheya Lavin (rowing), T’Mars McCallum (men’s track & field), Macaira Midgley (soccer), Julia Mrozinski (women’s swimming & diving), Taylor Pannell (softball), Kalib Perry (football), Brandon Pottinger (men’s track & field), Masai Reddick (football), Owen Redfearn (men’s swimming & diving), Paige Reymann (rowing), Grace Rickman (rowing), AJ Russell (baseball), Dylan Sampson (football), Sarah Schmitt (women’s track & field), Lance Simpson (men’s golf), Nick Stone (men’s swimming & diving), Sara Stotler (women’s swimming & diving), Karoline Striplin (women’s basketball), Rachel Sutliff (women’s cross country/distance), Katie Taylor (softball), Jourdan Thomas (football), Javonya Valcourt (women’s track & field), Tyre West (football), Lily Wetherell (women’s swimming & diving), Squirrel White (football), Kaiya Wynn (women’s basketball), Ally Zazzara (soccer) and Yordanos Zelinski (men’s cross country/distance).

“VOLeaders Academy provides our student-athletes with an incredible opportunity to develop as servant leaders for their communities, both here at Tennessee and beyond in their future endeavors,” softball head coach Karen Weekly said. “There is truly no other program like it in the country. The individuals selected as VOLeaders have demonstrated the desire and courage to lead. The lessons they will learn in the VOLeaders Academy will further enhance their leadership skill set and the positive impact they have on everyone around them.”

The University of Tennessee announced the inception of its VOLeaders Academy in July of 2015. The first-of-its-kind program is a dynamic partnership between the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences and Tennessee Athletics.

By using their platform in sport, student-athletes admitted into the VOLeaders Academy learn how to positively impact their team, campus and local and global communities. The program aims to inspire student-athletes to find ways to use their passion of sport and their influence to enact positive change that transcends their athletic success.

Since 1968, the Torchbearer—UT’s official symbol—has borne silent witness to the university’s Volunteer Creed: “One that beareth a torch shadoweth oneself to give light to others.” The VOLeaders Academy takes that creed in action by engaging its participants in the understanding and development of servant leadership.

Participants are enrolled in two three-credit-hour courses in the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences. An Emerging Leaders in Sport course provides students with an understanding of their individual leadership styles, the practice of leadership in collegiate athletics and equips them with the foundational skills necessary to lead their teams, campus and communities, while a Personal & Socially Responsible Leadership course teaches leadership principles, professionalism, critical thinking, and cross-cultural communication skills through sport-based service. Through a partnership with the department of Educational Leadership & Policy Studies, all three components of the program can be used by students interested in completing the Leadership Studies minor.  

The final component of the VOLeaders Academy is a 10-day international exchange providing applied leadership and service opportunities focused on community development and social change through sport. International destinations vary each year.

The expansion of the VOLeaders Academy in 2020 was made possible through the generous and servant hearts of 1980 Tennessee alums Donnie and Terry Smith from Rogers, Arkansas. The Smiths’ passion and vision was to infuse a foundation of servant leadership in a greater percentage of Tennessee’s student-athlete population. Their sincere and heartfelt leadership to make a difference in UT student-athletes will create life-changing opportunities for all that come through the VOLeaders Academy.

For more information on The VOLeaders Academy, visit the website HERE.

-UT Athletics

VOLeaders Academy / Credit: UT Athletics

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