When Joseph Mazer thinks about what makes him nervous as dean of the University of Tennessee‘s College of Communication and Information, it always comes back to student opportunity.
Mazer wants to make sure that every student in the college has access to meaningful connections that expose students to real-world experiences, whether that’s through internships, hands-on classroom experiences or networking.
Now, because of a one-of-its-kind industry partnership with a world-class Knoxville agency, students in the college’s advertising and public relations programs are guaranteed to get a taste of the real world before graduating.
The University of Tennessee at Knoxville and Tombras are coming together to expand and enhance the College of Communication and Information’s advertising and public relations school.
“This vision, and this gift, actually makes me less nervous, because I know that we are going to be providing those opportunities to students so that they could move through and excel,” Mazer said in an exclusive interview with Knox News.
The new name is a first for the university. While UT has some academic colleges named for prominent Tennessee figures — the Haslam College of Business, for example — this is the first school within a college to be named.
“That’s the beauty of these partnerships, is that we all grow together to be committed together to the mission of the university,” Chancellor Donde Plowman said at a packed dedication Friday. “Thank you so much. It’s such a validation of the important work that we do here to get a gift like this.”
The university did not disclose how much money Tombras was giving to the school.
Not only will the partnership provide industry experiences for current and upcoming advertising and public relations students, but it also will prioritize recruiting historically underrepresented students from high schools across the state of Tennessee, fostering an industry that is more representative of the state and the nation.
“There’s a lot of companies … that are trying to do the right thing and have a more diverse workforce. What we’re doing is going to be so impactful because it’s addressing the root problem of getting more talent into the system, through the system, and trained up,” Dooley Tombras, president of the agency, said in an exclusive interview with Knox News. “The long-term impact on that really could change the status quo in the advertising industry.”
The partnership was announced Friday. Here’s what it means for the future of the school.
Recruitment at the high school level
One of the school’s goals is to double the number of underrepresented minority graduates in the advertising and public relations programs at UT.
This starts with connecting with students while they are still in high school and helping them understand what a career in advertising or public relations could look like before they even step foot on campus.
“We’ll have a real grassroots, hands-on approach going into high schools, particularly Flagship high schools across Tennessee, and really get the message there and have it on their mind to start thinking about what a career in advertising and public relations would look like,” said Beth Foster, the director of the school.
There are 38 Flagship high schools across the state. Students accepted into UT from these high schools receive a scholarship that, when combined with the Tennessee HOPE scholarship, covers tuition and mandatory fees for up to eight semesters.
The work has already started. This week, high school students from Fulton High School, the Knox County Schools communications magnet school and a UT Flagship high school, explored different areas of the college and learned about programs, including advertising and public relations.
“If we wait to start trying to make changes in the industry until our students are already here, we are late,” Mazer said.
Expanding the faculty
More students means more faculty will be needed at the school, but UT and Tombras are already anticipating that need.
One is the Charles Tombras professor position. This role, named after Tombras founder Charles Tombras Sr. who graduated from UT in 1936, will be a key player in recruiting students to the school.
“I’m grateful to… the Tombras family for decades of support,” Foster said. “The doors they’ve opened for students are innumerable, and thinking about the impact they’ve already made and the impact they will make it, it’s overwhelming.”
Employees at Tombras have and will continue to serve as adjunct faculty within the school as well, providing students with networking opportunities in the classroom.
“I think it’s really unique to have a partnership like that between a major business and a university,” Dooley said. “And I think that it’s disproportionately important for advertising and public relations versus other industries because our industry has been disrupted dramatically with digital technology and data. It continues to evolve so much.”
Solomon Trapp, a senior in the school and current project manager intern at Tombras, said the faculty’s commitment to diversity will open up opportunities to succeed for all students.
“We are a predominantly white institution,” Trapp said. “We want to work together to grow this community and make sure we get the right opportunity to succeed. I had a great experience, and I hope other minority students have the same experience I had.”
Creating innovative classrooms
The school hopefully will see renovations and upgrades to classroom spaces and technology.
The school plans to eventually expand its physical footprint in the building and upgrade faculty offices, classrooms and meeting spaces. The renderings feature collaboration hubs, production labs and modern office-style rooms that reflect a similar environment that students might be walking into when they graduate.
“The Tombras School is doubling its square footage in the building. And it’s going to be state-of-the-art in terms of learning laboratories and facilities that mimic the agency environment,” Mazer said. “I would hope a year from now that we would be in the middle of renovation on that project, pending state approval.”
About UT’s Tombras School of Advertising and Public Relations
The University of Tennessee’s School of Advertising and Public Relations launched in 2003, but public relations and advertising classes had been offered at UT since 1914.
It’s part of the university’s College of Communication and Information which offers undergraduate and graduate programs in advertising, communication studies, information sciences, journalism and electronic media and public relations. The college is home to about 70 faculty members and currently has 1,500 enrolled students.
Tombras is a full-service independent agency based in Knoxville. The company has offices in Atlanta, Charlotte, Washington, D.C., and New York City. Staffers create advertising strategies for more than 50 different clients, including Zaxby’s, MoonPie and Orangetheory.