Raising the Bar

Valerie King

Entering UT, the standard set for Valerie King was to graduate, on time, well-prepared for a career. Not surprising to those who know Valerie, she raised the bar.

Now, four years later, she will graduate in May 2015 with a resume of accomplishments that is impressive by any measure. She is the quintessential example of a student who has made the most of every opportunity available at the university, including participating in the Chancellor’s Honors Program, the Baker Scholars Program, and pursuing a double major in Honors Sociology and Global Studies.

Valerie has immersed herself in academic and community-based work with a focus in human rights, international law, and social justice. She has studied abroad in Switzerland, taught English in China, and presented a paper she wrote at the International Critical Legal Conference in the United Kingdom. She was selected as one of only fifty students across the United States to participate in the Oxfam America Change Leaders Program. In her senior year she was UT’s nominee for the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship and named Torchbearer, the highest student honor conferred by the University of Tennessee. Valerie says it is because of professors and mentors like Michelle Brown, associate professor in sociology, that she has been able to achieve beyond her own expectations. “Professor Brown encouraged me to pursue my passion for social justice. She taught me not only to think critically about the world around me but also to reflect on my own experiences within it. On top of that, she continuously supports my efforts to confront social problems and to seek solutions within the community. When I decided to create an Oxfam America Club on campus to solve poverty, hunger, and injustice, she willingly served as my mentor.”

Professor Brown, recipient of UT’s Excellence in Teaching Award, says what she finds most compelling in working with undergraduate students is often an eagerness to have a discussion about the lived experience of social problems. “Opening up the difficult conversation and creating the space to ask and debate questions of all kinds is at the heart of my teaching approach,’ she said. “I have found that just pointing to the unequal conditions of life and the manner in which so many human lives endure within and resist contexts of extreme marginalization—is a powerful way to demonstrate to students (and myself) the possibilities for social change and better forms of justice. Valerie’s work in her own research and community service reflects this social justice commitment in every way.”

“When I cross the stage at Commencement, I will be proud of my time at UT,” Valerie said, “and certain that my experiences have helped me not only to be ready for the world but also to create my own place within it.”

When she graduates, Valerie is setting the bar high once again. She plans to pursue a doctorate in Criminology, Law and Society to prepare her for an academic career in a research university or international research institute.