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IWD 2016: Why I Took My 4 Year-Old Daughter to the SheBelieves Cup

Mother and daughter at the SheBelieves Cup in Nashville, Tenn.

By Carolyn Spellings, PhD, CSPS Monitoring & Evaluation Coordinator

For the record, this is not something I would have normally done.

Spend almost $75 to take my 4 year-old-daughter to a sporting event she knows nothing about? No way. Too impractical.

Skip a family lunch with parents and siblings for a game? Really? That is so not like me. I love my family and making memories together.

Plus, my daughter doesn’t even really understand soccer. She doesn’t have a favorite player or position. She doesn’t know the rules of the game or what it means to be on a sports team. She doesn’t understand the concept of “country” or nationalism. In fact, at one point during the game we were cheering for all of her imaginary friends. So, why then? Why would I make such an impractical decision?

Because it was about showing her that women can be skilled enough in their craft to captivate an audience—male and female, young and old, seasoned and first-time fans. It was about exposing her to a world of possibilities and pointing her to successful women to look up to, role models. It was about letting her know that she can be whoever she wants to be because women have gone before her, blazing a path for her to follow. As research shows role models can foster resilience and generate a positive sense of self-worth among children and youth. And women who exemplify success in a particular field are key motivators for young girls to strive for similar levels of achievement.

Women sharing their dreams during a session at the Zaatari Refugee Camp

Attending the SheBelieves Cup was also about laying the foundation for future discussions. It was about giving her a context one day to tell her the story of the 1996 U.S. Women’s Olympic Soccer Team and the way they forged a pathway for women’s soccer and fought wage discrimination within the U.S. Soccer Federation. It was about giving her a context to understand how successful female athletes all around the world are fighting injustice and giving back by investing in their communities. Women such as an Egyptian national basketball team player who turned in her sneakers to start a school for under-privileged children, a Jordanian badminton champion who strives to provide opportunities for play and physical activity for Syrian refugees, a mountaineer from Bangladesh who climbs the highest peaks to raise awareness for gender discrimination, a Danish Paralympic swimmer who creates sporting opportunities for children with disabilities, a Kenyan soccer official using her platform to provide women and girls a chance to learn a technical skill and a pathway to a better life, and many, many more.

Over the past year I have followed 17 of these women; interviewed them, emailed with them, and learned from them. Over the past year these women have mobilized more than 3,300 volunteers and coaches to use sport to empower women and girls. Approximately 2,000 people have participated in community development, sports-based programming organized and led by these women. What incredible stories. What incredible role models.

So, what do I say to my daughter if she asks why we attended the SheBelieves Cup? I say, if you work hard enough, you too may be able to play on that big soccer field one day. You too may have thousands of fans cheering your name. But even more importantly, regardless of your natural athletic talents and abilities, you can strive to make your community better, more equitable and inclusive for all.

You can work to provide educational and employment opportunities for those who would otherwise not have them. You can advocate for the right to play, the right for all to be heard, seen, and valued. You can do this because you have role models right in front of you. You are connected to hundreds of women all around the world who are using sport and physical activity to empower others—to make their communities better for all who live in them. You are connected to women who are committed to making a positive change in the world, regardless of the cost. And you are connected to the young girls all over the globe these women inspire.

Three girls in the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan

It is my hope that our afternoon spent at the SheBelieves Cup will not only broaden my daughters’ expectations of what she can be, but also ignite a passion in her to begin to consider what she can do for others. How she can one day be a role model to the next generation of young girls.

And that is something I wouldn’t miss out on for the world.

Celebrating Random Acts of Kindness Day

File Feb 16, 11 04 19 PM

By Alicia H. Malnati, PhD, CSPS Program Assistant

Out on the PGA Tour, where my husband Peter Malnati plays, I see kindness everywhere.

I see kindness on the faces of thousands of volunteers who give their time to support important causes. I see kindness in the hands of Tour players when they toss balls to eager kids during tournament rounds. I see kindness in the millions of dollars donated to charity every year.

Today, Random Acts of Kindness Day, we at the Center for Sport, Peace, and Society celebrate the depth and breadth of kindness that makes life a bit more beautiful. We recognize and appreciate that no act of generosity, humility, kindness, or caring is ever wasted.

On this day, we honor the life-changing work of global leaders like teenage Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, who advocates, in some of the most vulnerable parts of the world, for the right of girls to attend primary and secondary school. We honor the efforts of everyday heroes like Richard Joyner, who revitalized rural Conetoe, N.C. with a youth-led community garden, and Dr. Jim Withers, who offers free, quality healthcare to homeless individuals in Pittsburgh. Today, we also honor those small, often fleeting, moments of kindness and the people who bring them to life: the stranger who holds the door, the friend who shares a treat, the colleague who offers a helping hand.

But, so what?

Why do random acts of kindness matter, and why should I care?

CSPS Director Sarah Hillyer comforts a woman at a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan

Acts of kindness not only contribute to the Butterfly Effect – the idea that one small act can inspire chain-reactions that lead to substantial change elsewhere – but research shows that spreading kindness can actually boost happiness.

Happiness is the inner joy that emerges from knowing you’ve inspired someone else’s good day. It appears as a sense of calm from remembering that relationships still matter and people still care. Happiness might be the much-needed reminder of goodwill amid the chaos of our crazy world. Importantly, random acts of kindness reveal the power of the human connection, bring novelty to the mundane, and tug on our heartstrings when we need it most.

These acts of kindness – large and small – remind me of the work that KIND Snacks, one of Peter’s new golf partners, celebrates. They dub these kindness-spreading, happiness-sharing, smile-inducing, paying-it-forward champions of joy #kindawesome. They believe in the power of “being kind to your body, your taste buds, and your world.” They believe that making kindness a state of mind can help communities flourish. They believe that kindness can make the world a better place.

Here at the CSPS we believe in that, too.

Every year, we empower new generations of international change-makers to leverage the intersectional power of sport, education, and media to tackle some of the world’s most complex issues. The results of more than 20 years of work in the field of sport for development and peace can be seen in the progress of our alumnae.

In Jordan, Batoul Arnaout empowers underserved children to become sports champions through outdoor activity. In Mexico, Cecilia Vales works tirelessly to end cycles of poverty for girls through soccer. In Indonesia, Hanna Fauzie challenges gender imbalances through sports journalism. In India, Nungshi and Tashi Malik empower women and girls through mountaineering and outdoor adventure. In Kenya, Veronica Osogo enriches the lives of children and works to alleviate poverty in Kibera slums through tennis.

Batoul Arnaout, founder of BOOST, with a woman at her annual 100KM Cycling Challenge in December to empower female athletes and benefit underserved communities in Jordan

Through acts of kindness and generosity, these women selflessly give their hearts and minds to confront issues in their communities. They enter uncharted arenas with boldness and vision. They dedicate themselves to improving the lives of others despite the surrounding risks and chaos. They show unwavering commitment to growth and development with compassion and love.

On this special day, we proudly highlight their efforts to spread and celebrate kindness across the globe.

We think they’re #kindawesome.

Pat Summitt, CSPS Directors Work with Iraqi Women’s Basketball Featured by ESPN

 We Back Pat Sarah Ash_Fotor

A story of international friendship between Pat Summitt, CSPS co-directors Sarah Hillyer and Ashleigh Huffman, and an Iraqi women’s basketball coach was released by sports media giant ESPN over the weekend.

The story, produced for the espnW platform, was intentionally aimed for the lead-up to the Lady Vols basketball game against South Carolina on Big Monday (the story and video can be viewed here)

“The network thinks this is one of the incredible stories about Pat Summitt that we haven’t heard before, and it is amazing to be able to share it,” said Lynn Olszowy, a feature reporter and producer for ESPN.

Last week Olszowy was in Knoxville shooting interviews with Tennessee coach Holly Warlick, visiting Iraqi basketball coach Rizgar Tawfeeq, and Drs. Hillyer and Huffman.

 In 2007, Hillyer, director of UT’s Center for Sport, Peace, and Society, traveled to Sulaymaniyah in the Kurdish region of Iraq to host the first women’s basketball camp in the country’s history. After learning of the serious need for basketballs and other equipment, Hillyer and Huffman, assistant director of the CSPS, approached Summitt during one of her basketball camps to ask for help.

“We were supposed to be coaching 60 girls with only four basketballs, and we thought, ‘Where in the world are we gonna get 60 basketballs?” said Hillyer. “Then we thought, ‘Who cares more about empowering girls and women through basketball than Pat Summitt?’

“When we asked, she immediately called over her team managers and told them: ‘Anything these ladies need to get women’s basketball started in Iraq.'”

Pat Summitt and Team_Fotor

Drs. Hillyer and Huffman with Pat Summitt, Rizgar Tawfeeq, and the girls from Serwane Nwe Basketball Club in Knoxville

The relationship grew even deeper in 2009 when Summitt invited the girls from Serwane New Sports Club, where Tawfeeq is the head women’s basketball coach, to one of her camps in Knoxville.

“Coming here, you see this huge arena, the big screen and all these parents bringing their kids from all over just for the chance to be with Pat Summitt,” said Tawfeeq. “To me, it meant Coach Pat’s program must be amazing and that women’s basketball is important to this community.”

Tawfeeq was so touched by the reception his team received from Summitt and the Lady Vols basketball team that he credits it for completely changing his coaching philosophy.

“Pat Summitt is like my big sister and I want to be just like her,” said Tawfeeq. “She taught her girls to be better women off the court and, at the same time, on the court they were winning championships. She changed lives through basketball, and I want to do the same.”

After Summitt was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and stepped down from coaching, Tawfeeq organized a We Back Pat basketball tournament in Sulaymaniyah. Hillyer and Huffman traveled to assist with the tournament, where girls wore We Back Pat shirts and created a banner with personal messages thanking the coach.

In addition to the ESPN piece, Hillyer and Huffman are working with filmmakers on a documentary about Summitt’s work to inspire women’s basketball in Iraq, which will be released in April.

Martin Luther King Day Reflections: Service-Learning and the VOLeaders Academy

The 2015-16 VOLeaders Academy class

The 2015-16 VOLeaders Academy class

By Janine Al-Aseer, CSPS Research Assistant & PhD Student

As we reflect on the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., we are reminded of a long-standing commitment to service for the community. MLK Day of Service is a transformational time to empower our communities with the spirit of Dr. King’s life and teachings. Accordingly, today over 200,000 Americans are anticipated to contribute their time toward service projects around the country.

At the Center for Sport, Peace, and Society (CSPS), our team understands, endorses, and contributes to service-learning projects locally, domestically and internationally. Service-learning in the sport-related disciplines is sometimes confused with community service. Although both are incredibly valuable in varied settings, service-learners are change agents and have a distinct responsibility to engage and support the community, while also remaining respectful of local culture. This requires a delicate balance between the traditions and needs of the community and the academic knowledge of the service-learners.

Regard for local culture is a cornerstone of our practice. Traditionally working with international audiences, the Center has hosted more than 275 women on sports-based exchanges with goals of advancing the rights and participation of women on a global scale. This involves careful navigation of cultural issues in diverse contexts. Relatedly, the Center simultaneously engages University of Tennessee (UT) students at a local level in service-learning opportunities that grow their intellectual, interpersonal, and leadership capacities.

Last semester, the Center partnered with UT’s Center for Leadership and Service and the Department of Athletics to engage our campus community with service-learning through the VOLeaders Academy. This program consists of hand-selected, principal student-athletes who participate in curricula surrounding the impact of service in the community. Principal student-athletes, or VOLeaders, learn how to positively impact their team while using their passion of sport and their influence to enact positive change that transcends athletic success.

Leadership development was the focus during the fall VOLeaders Academy class. VOLeaders continue with the academy this semester in a Sport for Social Change course, shedding light on how to use their positions of athletic prominence for community good. The final piece of the VOLeaders academy is a 10-day service-learning opportunity in Brazil, assisting communities in preparation for the 2016 Rio Olympic and Paralympic Games.

At the Center, we understand that service-learning must be enacted as a reciprocal relationship between the university, the student practitioner, and the community itself. By allowing communities to choose issues that are important and relevant in their own cultural contexts and providing them with safe spaces to brainstorm possible solutions, community participants can perceive themselves as empowered solution-makers. It is our hope that service-learning can be used in wide application to raise successful—and culturally sensitive—programmatic execution for this year’s VOLeaders Academy class.

Just a few days ago the VOLeaders academy was awarded the NASPA 2015-16 Gold Award for outstanding contributions to the transformation of higher education through exceptional programs, innovative services, and effective administration. We know that receiving this award is just a small indication of the amazing work that is to come from our servant leaders.

We truly look forward to seeing how our first VOLeaders Academy class impact their communities both locally this semester and in Brazil this summer. We know they will do great things—for their team, their school, and for others. As you reflect on MLK day and its long history of service, keep in mind the words of Dr. King, “Life’s most persist and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?

International Mentoring Day: The Value of Mentorship


On this special day, January 17, in commemoration of the 74th birthday of boxing legend and social activist Muhammad Ali, the Center is honored to participate in the first International Mentoring Day.

At the Center, we cannot overestimate the powerful role played by mentorship in our lives. Our entire team has been touched deeply by mentors — parents, coaches, teachers, friends, colleagues — who support and guide us in the moments that we most need it. This comes across in our work, from the service-learning classes taught by Drs. Hillyer and Huffman to the four years we’ve spent proudly implementing the U.S. Department of State and espnW Global Sports Mentoring Program (GSMP).

Lonnie Ali, the wife of the former heavyweight champion, said, “Mentors are gifts to the world. They encourage, motivate, reinforce, and guide others to reach individual greatness. Mentors have the power to change lives.”

We agree wholeheartedly.

Watch the video below to see what mentorship means to the dozens of our closest friends and partners: the women who have taken part in the Global Sports Mentoring Program since 2012

In addition to the video collage, we want to share the words of six women who we’ve been fortunate to know through the GSMP. These are some of the top women in marketing, business, sports administration, and many other fields, who have dedicated time to supporting emerging leaders around the globe. They are sources of knowledge, encouragement, strength, and connection, and we are very grateful for the amount of passion they’ve poured into this program.

What they have to say about mentorship…

“It is so incredible to me that after four years of doing the GSMP, it just continues to get more powerful for me. I don’t get tired of it. I look forward to it every year. It brings me the opportunity to learn stories about women — and meet them firsthand — who are making change in their countries in such significant ways. As a mentor, I want to give them the tools to go home and tell their stories in a meaningful way, to get the message out about their cause, to move people to help and create the movement they’re looking for.”

– Joan Coraggio, Group Communications Director – Brand Integration, Saatchi & Saatchi LA

“One of the things that I have really focused on as a mentor is making sure that I spend more time, more focus and more of my own personal credibility to make a difference, whether that’s in Cincinnati, India, or Brazil, or wherever my mentees live. Because I really do believe that one person, or a small group of people, can make an extraordinary difference in girls’ and womens’ lives.”

– Julie Eddleman, Global Client Partner, Google

“As a coach, my professional goal is to win soccer games for the University of Central Florida. But, at the same time, my personal goal as a coach is for my players to be successful in life. My teaching goes way beyond the soccer field. Really, I’m using soccer as a tool to achieve that bigger goal.”

– Tiffany Sahaydak, Head Coach, UCF Women’s Soccer

“The most interesting part of a mentor is when they tell you their own stories because those are stories of hope and inspiration and they can help you as you continue to move on through your own career.”

– Marina Escobar, Vice President of Visual Technology, ESPN

“As a mentor, you need to be curious. You should want to learn all the time and be very resourceful and very interested in asking questions. Anyone can be a mentor as long as they’re willing to give their time and give something back to somebody.”

– Ann Wells Crandall, Chief Marketing Officer, Big East Conference

“The women I’ve mentored make me want to be a better person and a better mentor. We’ve heard it over and over again from our emerging leaders that the GSMP gives them this feeling of knowing they’re never alone. Even in their darkest moments, they know that any time of day or night, when they’re feeling they can’t go on, there’s always somebody that they can pick up the phone and call. This program has built such a phenomenal support system for women around the world to help them support making change.”

– Gwen Conley, Group Media Coordinator, Saatchi & Saatchi LA

Mentorship is not carving an hour out of your schedule once a week to sit down and lecture someone. It is not easy being a mentor. It is time-consuming. It requires you to open up parts of your life and learn things about others that can be uncomfortable. And, on the other hand, it is not easy being mentored at times either. To allow a person to speak into your life and challenge you requires a level of vulnerability that can be difficult to summon. But, we know from experience, when a true mentorship connection blossoms, it revitalizes your spirit and opens up your mind and heart to a whole new world.

Nneka Ikem, a sports journalist and special advisor within Nigeria’s Ministry of Sports, participated in the inaugural GSMP in 2012 and perfectly summarizes one of the many reasons we believe so strongly in mentorship: “When you change one person’s life, you change the life of a whole community. Changing my life has changed the lives of hundreds of girls in Nigeria. For that reason, the GSMP means the world to me.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. So, here’s to mentors everywhere: we are grateful for you and celebrate you today. Happy International Mentoring Day!

When Tragedies Affect Our Family: A Statement from the Center on Recent Events

Argentina Skateboarder

By Carolyn Spellings, PhD, CSPS Monitoring & Evaluation Coordinator

We at the Center for Sport, Peace, and Society are deeply saddened over the acts of terrorism that have recently occurred in Egypt, Lebanon, and France. We grieve over the many lives that have been lost, and the thousands who have lost loved ones and a sense of peace and security. Our hearts also break over the Syrian children and families who have fled the terrors of war and still do not have a safe place to lay their heads. Just this week, the United States Institute of Peace published a report that found that of all terrorism related deaths in 2014, 78 percent occurred in Nigeria, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. In addition, the report found that Boko Haram, not the Islamic State, was the deadliest terrorist group in 2014, killing more people than ISIS and other extremist groups (citing this report is in no way meant to reduce the horrific events that have recently occurred, but to remind us of how pervasively violence is used to promote some religio-political agendas).

At the Center, we feel a sense of unity with those who are impacted by war. It affects us because our own family has been affected. For the past four years, we have had the privilege of working with 66 women from 43 countries through the U.S. Department of State and espnW’s Global Sports Mentoring Program. One of the aspects of the program we stress each year is that these women are joining a global sisterhood of like-minded, passionate women who strive to create positive change in their home countries and communities through sports. We challenge the participants each year to rely on each other, support each other, and love each other like family. But they are also our sisters, our family.

As we sat glued to our television sets watching the horrific events of the past two weeks unfold and frantically checking social media for any indication that our sisters were okay, we saw a world perforated by violence, divisiveness, and hate. But we also saw hope. Hope because there are women – our sisters – who bravely step outside their homes each day, despite the risks, and work tirelessly to make the world better, safer for the next generation. Women who believe that guns can be replaced by badminton rackets, and bullets by basketballs. Women who see a world that offers the same opportunities to girls as it does to boys. Women who know that fear, aggression, and violence can dissipate in the face of compassion, respect, and dignity for all humanity. For us, they are the rays of light amidst the storms of oppression and terrorism.

In Pakistan, our sisters are using sports to encourage young girls to stay in school despite the cultural pressures to remain in their homes. In Lebanon, our sisters are using basketball to teach conflict resolution skills to mothers and their daughters, as well as teaching women leadership skills that can translate into job promotions and career advancement. In Egypt, our sisters are using sports to teach math and literacy skills to children of all ages. In France, our sisters are using roller derby to show women that they do not have to give up on their dreams, no matter what shape or how old they are. In Turkey and again in Egypt, our sisters are using soccer and taekwondo to make their societies more inclusive for people with disabilities. And there are many others. Sisters who face oppression and repression daily. Sisters who, despite the risks, look at their own families and say, “I am committed to empowering others. I am committed to a better world.” Their bravery is an inspiration amidst the chaos. Their bravery commands our respect.

We are proud of these women – these sisters. We are proud to call them family. And as the chaos and hurt and tragedy surrounds us, we are encouraged, knowing they will never give up because they are brave, strong and fearless.


A Reflection on Intergroup Dialogue from UT’s Diversity Dialogue Symposium

By Janine Al-Aseer, CSPS Research Assistant & PhD Student

When you work with so many outstanding women from all over the globe, it can be easy to get lost in their shared strength, intelligence and tenacity. In fact, that is an issue we at the Center for Sport, Peace, and Society (CSPS) come across on a regular basis. But, as important as recognizing their similarities, we understand it is equally important to note their differences. And that is not only limited to our global work through the U.S. Department of State’s Empowering Women and Girls through Sports initiative, for which the CSPS serves as the cooperative partner, but also to our presence at the University of Tennessee.

DivDiaSymposium2015On October 23rd at the Baker Center on campus, the UT Office for Multicultural Student Life hosted a daylong Diversity Dialogue Symposium focused on social justice, equity and access. The event, which I attended on behalf of the CSPS, provided a space for students, faculty and community members to discuss how privilege, oppression and social justice play into the college experience.

At the CSPS, we regularly partner with women working in the midst of situations of controversy nationally and internationally. It is part of the reason we feel so strongly about creating a safe space to dialogue about areas of controversy because it not only alleviates stress and fosters understanding, but also allows participants to collaboratively create solutions to the issues they face.

Some say that acknowledging differences is fracturing for the community, and can divide populations. Bridget Turner Kelly, Ph.D, keynote speaker for the symposium, claimed just the opposite.

“Hiding from controversial subjects is the opposite goal of higher education,” said Turner Kelly, a UT alum who specializes in racial identity development. “Intergroup dialogue acknowledges, honors and celebrates our unique racial and ethnic backgrounds.”

For Turner Kelly, like at the CSPS, intergroup dialogue is about inclusive discussion—not debate—regarding differences. And attendees to the symposium agreed.

“I think it’s important to acknowledge our differences,” said Sarah, a representative from the Knoxville Health Department. “It helps us learn more about one another.”

When we engage in dialogue about our differences, we create a mutual understanding that facilitates a growth in our knowledge base. This ensures students of varied gender, race, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic class and nationality receive an equitable college experience.

For intergroup dialogue to succeed, there must be a knowledgeable, open-minded facilitator who asks the group questions without volunteering an opinion. The facilitator organizes the dialogues and assists in guiding the responses, ensuring all voices are heard and comments are expanded upon. Intergroup dialogue is comprised of various facets that allow the facilitator to navigate this terrain. These include: awareness (examining belief systems and raising self-awareness), cognitive development (exploring topics and learning), attribution training (examining groups and their stereotypes), behavior modification (deciding whether behavior can or should be modified), and experiential learning (activities that give you a taste of what it is like in other groups).

I know from experience that discussing our differences can be discomforting. But that uneasiness can lead to reflection and change. It can serve as a stop sign to acknowledge issue of social justice and equity on the road ahead. And, with more than 100 attendees to the symposium, dialogue between diverse groups of people is clearly a topic of relevance to faculty, students, administration and the neighboring community.

The Office for Multicultural Student Life is moving forward with groups on intergroup dialogue at UT in 2016 with the hope of fostering a campus environment where students are free to discuss cultural differences. Through respectful dialogue, we can explore those differences and come to solutions and common understandings that can lead to change. We know from experience.

To see pictures of the event from the Office for Multicultural Student Life, visit the Diversity Dialogue Symposium album on its Facebook page

Exchange Program Provides Tennessee Experience for Venezuelan Coaches

Venezuela exchange coaches after a strength and conditioning session at UT

Venezuela exchange coaches after a strength and conditioning session at UT

“Time flies when you’re having fun,” the saying goes. But, for six Venezuelan coaches, the time flew even quicker than they had expected when they visited Knoxville and the University of Tennessee.

During the first week of September, the Center’s staff hosted the group for a four-day exchange program through Partners of the Americas and the U.S. Department of State that included sessions with university students, sports teams and local partners

“It was an unbelievable experience,” said Ernis Arias, a former baseball player and trainer who attended Olivet Nazarene University and served as the group’s translator.

“I was so impressed by the care that everyone took with us. We will take back to Venezuela so many new lessons on volunteering, education, leadership, and how sports plays a part.”

The coaches’ work focuses on how participation in sports can serve to inspire youth to create positive change in their communities and avoid the violence that affects much of the country. With reports indicating Venezuela currently has the second-highest homicide rate in the world, the task is monumental. But, the coaches are optimistic. Aside from Arias and baseball, the others represent a wide range disciplines, including track & field (Marcos Fernandez), swimming (Celia Palencia and Katy Ramirez), fitness and sports administration (Vanessa Pena), and mixed martial arts (Alberto Morles), that can be used to make a difference.

“I’ve already lived and worked in the United States, but for the rest of the group it was important to see how sport is handled here,” Arias said. “The exposure to a different culture and seeing it with your own eyes is much more meaningful than reading about it or seeing it on the television.”

On their first full day, the group visited Jefferson City High School. They toured the school and sports facilities with Mark Finchum, Ph.D., a friend of the Center and longtime social studies teacher at the school, and Athletic Director Randy Rogers. The coaches visit was documented by a local newspaper, The Standard Banner. Following the JCHS experience, the group toured the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and visited a local mixed martial arts gym to get a workout.

On their second day, the Venezuelans were the focal points of two classes at UT. In the morning, they were interviewed by journalism students and had the opportunity to share their stories of participating in sport and their hopes for the future of their country. After taking a tour of the Pat Summitt Plaza, Neyland Stadium, Regal Soccer Stadium, Sherri Lee Parker Stadium and Thompson-Boling Arena, the coaches participated in the special Sports and Leadership course that is a part of the VOLeaders Academy curriculum, one of our highly-prized partnerships at the Center. In the class, they listened to the experiences of the different student-athletes and shared cultural differences and similarities.

“I asked for the curriculum because I was so interested in what these student-athletes are learning,” said Palencia, a Ph.D. candidate and swimming coach at Universidad Central de Venezuela. “The connection between sport and education is very important to the work I do, and often in Venezuela young people are forced to choose between one or the other, and I think they are tied together.”

On their final full day in Knoxville, the coaches had the opportunity to meet and speak with 2x U.S. Olympic swimmer Kate Ziegler about the values that an be learned from sport and her journey as an elite-level athlete. That was followed by a nutrition course and strength and conditioning session courtesy of the UT Athletics Department. Their day ended with a trip to Girls Inc. of Oak Ridge, where they quickly earned the affection of the girls and participated in exercise and drawing activities.

It was sad to see the group leave, but for everyone involved this experience was nothing short of spectacular. You can visit the Center’s Facebook page to see pictures and read more about the trip.


Celebrating One-Year to Rio 2016 with Olympic Swimmer Kate Ziegler

The smell of chlorine fills the air inside the Allan Jones Aquatic Center, home of the University of Tennessee’s men’s and women’s swim teams. But, it doesn’t bother Kate Ziegler, a two-time United States Olympian who has spent the vast majority of her 27 years on this planet around the pool.

Since January, Kate, a former world-record holder in 800m and 1500m freestyle, has called Knoxville home. Emerging from an almost three year hiatus from the sport following the 2012 London Olympics, she now trains full-time at the aquatic center with a newfound rejuvenation, energy and purpose.

During her time away from the pool, Kate realized that she doesn’t want to be remembered by records or accomplishments or medals. She wants her impact to be greater than what can be measured in competition. And, even if her sights are set on the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil next summer, qualifying or not qualifying for the U.S. team will not be what defines her resurgence.

Recently, I sat down with Kate to talk about her time in Knoxville, her trajectory as a competitive swimmer, and the lessons she’s learned that she hopes to pass on to girls throughout the country.

Listen here:

Class Reflections: Service-Learning Transforms UT Students Views of Community Impact

Service-learning students get loose before class this spring

Throughout the spring 2015 semester, CSPS co-director Ashleigh Huffman—Dr. Ash, for short—sent students from her Service-Learning: Sport & Community class throughout greater Knoxville to work with some of our closest partners. After preparing for two months through in-class exercises, readings and discussion-based lectures, 21 students served as after-school volunteers with Emerald Youth Foundation, Girls Inc. of Oak Ridge, Girls on the Run of Greater Knoxville, and the YWCA Phyllis Wheatley Center, getting involved with everything from group exercises and discussion sessions, to leading basketball and soccer practices.

At the end of the semester, the students had an opportunity to reflect on the experience and how they felt service-learning impacted the community.

Emerald Youth Foundation

Emerald Youth Collage

“I am very happy to have taken the service-learning class this year. With other classes at UT I just memorize, or present information that is generally unimportant for my future career. It is not practical and can be very tedious and not enjoyable. The service-learning class forced me to come out and lead a group and step out of what I’m normally comfortable doing. I had responsibility beyond what is normal because what I learn in the classroom directly applies to what I do in the field. I am very happy that UT offers this course, as it has been very beneficial in increasing my confidence.”

– Aidan Williams

“The greatest lesson that I learned during this course is that sports can be used as a positive communication platform and have such an impact on people that it can entirely change their lives. I personally learned that there is hope in any of us; as dark as it might look, with a bit of guidance and positive power everything is possible. When we take obstacles as challenges and believe in the positive, positive outcomes will follow.”

– Filip Dzafic

“The greatest lesson I learned is definitely the power of showing up. I wasn’t sure the impact I would be able to have on these girls simply by seeing them a few times a week and teaching them soccer, but I was so wrong. The way they took to me and became some of my favorite friends speaks of the power in showing up and being consistent. They trust me because I am there when I tell them I will be there, and that has done wonders for my relationships with them. One of the lessons I learned about myself is that I can change the life of a child when I put time into it. I went in thinking I was going to do this for class and be done with it. Now, I have developed relationships with the girls and met their parents and I love to be around them.”

– Sydney Carden

“The teaching style in this class was great for me. I think I liked it a lot because it was very hands-on. Once we would learn something in class, we were given the opportunity to go into the community and really apply what we learned. At first, I will admit, it was challenging because I was not used to it. Once I got a grasp of the class goals I was extremely satisfied with it. This really made me stretch in a way because it wouldn’t let me stay in my shell. I had to go out and be creative and contribute to the class, which has not only helped me in a school setting, but in life as well.”

– Ethan Stanley

Girls. Inc of Oak Ridge

Girls Inc

“Service-learning is a different type of community service. This service-learning class has pushed me outside my comfort zone, and I am thankful for that. I have developed a more outgoing personality, become more flexible, and learned to not sweat the small stuff. I have gained more confidence to speak my mind. I am more open to change, new experiences and new people.”

– Callie Brimer

“The impact that this class had on me was extremely great! I really grew in all aspects: emotionally, socially, spiritually, mentally. I enjoyed going to my site every week, but I also enjoyed the days that we met in class. The in-class discussions and reflective writings truly helped me emotionally. It was therapeutically stimulating for me. This class was different than others I’ve taken here at UT because the learning pertained to real life situations.”

– Lauren Santana

“This class helped me develop better communication skills by learning the way each individual understands and responds to the best. I also worked on my problem solving. Dealing with younger girls always helps with problem solving. One girl might not agree with the next, so being able to work through the issue and find a solution was a skill that I acquired. And I improved my responsibility by knowing when I needed to leave in order to be on time, what supplies I needed to get in order to make each day valuable and a lesson learned. Having a set lesson plan to make everything go more smoothly really helped me, as well as kept the girls attentive and interested.”

– Molly McDonald

Girls on the Run

Girls on the Run

“I feel very satisfied with what I achieved this semester. At the beginning, I kind of thought, ‘What did I get myself into?!’ but then after going to my first Girls on the Run practice, I felt so refreshed and proud of myself. It is unfortunate for me to say that if it were not for this class, I would have never taken the time to participate in something like this. I feel very lucky and thankful that I did not have a problem connecting with the girls on my team and having them become comfortable talking to me and listening to me. Personally and professionally I accomplished my goals of giving back to the community, learning how to connect with younger children, and also how to be a good role model for people who look up to me.

– Leeda Roshanfar

“From volunteering with Girl’s on the Run, I learned quite a bit about elementary school aged kids. I especially learned about those who have broken families and an unstable life. The girls were all desperate for a listening ear and a soundboard to process even the simplest things going on in their lives. Even though I am not especially skilled with kids this age, I found that if I pushed myself a little that I could communicate with them and even enjoy my time with them. As the semester progressed I feel as if I learned how to relate to these girls and made relationships with them. Going forward, I will try to be attentive to kids this age that really need someone to confide in. We all need that.”

– Emily Card

“I learned a lot from this class; how to be a friend, how to be a leader, and how sports can really change a child’s life in particular. It is different from other classes because you really get to build on yourself and with your classmates as well as with your site. This class really helped me grow as a person. It gives more meaning to your accomplishments when you can watch someone else achieve their goals rather than just doing a good job on an exam. It’s given me a whole different perspective on what achievement really means.”

– Avery Andersen

“Being in college, you always have to worry about yourself, but this class gave me something else to care about. This class is different because it forces you out of your comfort zone to accomplish something you may have been hesitant about in the beginning. For example, I was hesitant about Girls on the Run because I have never felt like a strong runner. But, to the girls, none of that mattered. The 5K ended up being my favorite part and I would have never even signed up for a 5K if it were not for that program.”

– Kaylin Merz

YWCA Phyllis Wheatley Center


“This service-learning class taught me a lot about myself and exposed me to new things. I was able to fully understand the importance of sports and how it has a major impact on a student’s life. I was able to put myself in an inner-city environment and learn from the students there. It opened my eyes to their lifestyle to understand their behaviors. This class is different from any other class I’ve taken at UT because I actually got the experience being in the Leader Role. I was the one being the mentor this time instead of being the mentee.”

– Kiera Crutcher

“I feel like this class addressed skills I can actually apply to my life. As fun as calculus is, I’m not sure I will ever use it again compared to learning how to interact with others and leadership skills that I feel I have learned in this class. We also actually applied what we learned in real life settings after practicing on one another.”

– Charlsey Bush

“This class had a huge impact on me. It brought several laughs, a few uncomfortable situations, new friends, and many memories. I will always remember my experience at the Phyllis Wheatley Center. This class allowed for so much more involvement and interaction within the classroom and in the community, unlike most of my classes where it is the lecture type setting where only the teacher provides information.”

– Chandler Mitchell

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