April 1, 2014 UT Launches Smart Communities Initiative with Cleveland Tennessee

The city of Cleveland, Tennessee, has been chosen as the first partner city for UT’s new service-learning program, the Smart Communities Initiative. The partnership begins this fall.

“Through the Smart Communities Initiative, we’re going to partner faculty and students with cities, counties, special districts, and other municipal groups to engage in real-world problem solving aimed at improving the region’s economy, environmental sustainability, and social integrity,” said Kelly Ellenburg, campus coordinator for service-learning within the Provost’s Office.

SCI projects could be part of a course or form the basis on an independent study project. Faculty would receive funding to support the projects and needed travel.

The goals of the SCI are to help students gain real-world experience and make valuable contacts in the community. It will be a component of UT’s new Quality Enhancement Plan, which in turn is an important part of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commissions on Colleges reaccreditation process.

Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor Susan Martin said the SCI magnifies UT’s outreach and engagement mission. It also provides students with a unique opportunity to put their classroom learning to the test on significant projects that benefit the community and advance new knowledge for the university.

“We think these projects will enhance student engagement, help with retention efforts and also advance UT’s engagement with the community. For these reasons, SCI fits perfectly into our Top 25 efforts,” she said. “There are multiple other benefits. Faculty who oversee SCI projects will get to work alongside UT’s best students and leaders from the community on challenging projects that add to their own expertise and research. At the same time, our municipal partners will benefit from the work our students and faculty do, and also have the opportunity to network with talented young professionals who will soon be entering the workforce.”

Cities within ninety miles of campus were invited to submit proposals to become UT’s first SCI partner. The cities were asked to demonstrate support from city officials and their ability to help fund projects, and also to suggest projects in sustainability, economic viability, and social integrity.

Cleveland has outlined nineteen possible projects. They range from a housing condition survey for a downtown neighborhood to a marketing and branding plan for the community to a brownfield development.

Ellenberg said she’ll be trying over the next few weeks to find faculty and courses that are good matches for the projects. Faculty who are interested in participating can get more information about SCI and the Cleveland projects by visiting the website.

The Cleveland City Council recently approved investing up to $100,000 for their participation.

Cleveland Planning Director Greg Thomas said being part of SCI will allow cities to take on projects that they may not have had the time or capacity for and consider a variety of innovative approaches.

“A lot of these things seem to probably gel with architecture or engineering … but there could well be a lot of other things involved. I know there are some community survey designs and some other things like that. Things that might fall into an IT world and things that would fall into social sciences, even advertising and community relations,” Thomas said in a Cleveland Daily Banner news story.

For more about the project, see visit the Service-Learning website.

C O N T A C T :

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034,

Kelly Ellenberg (865-974-9577,