Contributing to a Better World

As UT’s academic foundation, the College of Arts and Sciences is the largest contributor to all aspects of the university’s mission of instruction, research, and service to society. One major impact is in graduate education. We offer more than 50 graduate programs and produce the largest number of academic doctoral degrees at the university.

Our priority in graduate education is to recruit well-prepared students from diverse backgrounds and educate and mentor them effectively. We offer strong curricula across all our programs. Faculty mentors provide thoughtful and responsible supervision of students’ progress in areas of research and creative activity. As a result, graduates of our college are innovate citizen leaders who pursue path-breaking research and creative expression to enrich lives and seek solutions to society’s problems.

Jonathan Cox, a graduate student in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, researches how the loss of the Eastern hemlock affects salamander populations in East Tennessee. A native of East Tennessee, Cox spent hours exploring the natural areas in and around Knoxville. One course in environmental science shifted his career path from chemistry to a focus on how ecology, geology, and climatology interact with each other in various ecosystems. His research provides clues about the overall health and condition of East Tennessee’s ecosystems, which can help as scientists face increasingly complex environmental challenges. Read more about his story.

Reagan Yessler, a graduate student in the Department of Geography, focuses on an emerging research concept in cultural geography called counter-mapping, which reclaims the cartographic process and uses it for social justice by revealing the realities and knowledge of oppressed groups in society. By expanding the concept of geography beyond a linear set of symbols and icons, Yessler demonstrates how alternative media, such as art, photography, and theater, can be equally important in orienting viewers to the creator’s experience in time and space. Yessler’s research efforts represent the concept of counter-mapping as a tool of resistance. It challenges the established social contracts and draws attention to the experiences of underrepresented minorities. Read more about their story.

Brittany Zepernick, a graduate student in the Department of Microbiology, researches Microsystis aeruginosa, the organism that caused the 2014 water crisis in Toledo, Ohio. Zepernick, a native of Ohio, was a freshman at Bowling Green State University at the time and wondered if there was a connection between the bacteria her parents used to check the news for each summer and the unsafe drinking water. Her curiosity led her to Steven Wilhelm’s Aquatic Microbial Ecology Research Group where she researches harmful algal blooms. Zepernick hopes to contribute to a better understanding of the algal blooms and increase knowledge of water quality and microbial communities. Read more about her story.

Whether they go into academia or industry, the government or private sectors, our graduate students embrace the Volunteer spirit and amplify the spirit of selfless leadership for the common good.