“I don’t want a student to land on our campus and not feel like they belong. I want to ensure that every student understands that there is a place for them and a reason for them being here. I want to create pathways for these students whose college is literally in their backyard.”
— Kimberly R. Hill, Project Excellence director and CEHHS Community Engagement Coordinator
The bond between the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, College of Education, Health & Human Sciences (CEHHS) and the Knoxville community has grown even stronger since Kimberly R. Hill joined the staff as director of Project Excellence and Community Engagement Coordinator. In her role, she will make introductions and facilitate relationships within the Knoxville community—with community agencies, high schools, potential research participants, and more. In other words, Hill’s goal is to build a bridge and help community members walk across it, making initiating and growing relationships more comfortable for everyone involved.
Hill is a natural connector, and she strives to make sure that our work and programs become more accessible. By sharing our work in the community and spreading the word with residents and agencies, mutually beneficial relationships between CEHHS and communities can grow and flourish. This work is especially important to Hill, who grew up in Knoxville, because the university is right in the backyards of so many underrepresented communities and people.
“We want to be good stewards and good neighbors to help build the bridge for new and continued opportunities,” said Hill.
As Community Engagement Coordinator, she is putting her expertise into action, working collaboratively with feeder schools in the area to recruit new students and build stronger connections to the college within these communities. Hill also works closely with Kristina Gordon, CEHHS Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and Engagement and director of the Gordon Couples Research Lab, building relationships with different entities across campus and communities to help share the college’s mission of being an inclusive and inviting environment.
This new role allows Hill to establish programs that breach the barriers many students face during the transition from high school to college. Focusing on fostering mental and physical wellness and academic success, Hill hopes that she can help each student find their place within CEHHS or any other college or university they choose. As a non-traditional student, herself, Hill wants to make sure that students are academically prepared, socially and emotionally prepared, and that they know where to get the help and support that they need.
Before being appointed to this new position, Hill served as one of the first instructors in the Undergraduate Leadership Studies Minor, a program within the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies (ELPS). She soon enlisted the Leadership Studies faculty and community partners—Project Grad, A-1 SMART Institute, and Austin-East High School—in her vision to create a leadership education initiative for the youth of Knoxville. Together they imagined, and after three years launched, the Project Excellence pilot program with Kimberly as the lead instructor and now its director.
In this program, Hill works with 11th and 12th grade students from Knoxville to explore their leadership strengths, learn leadership concepts, and identify their personal values, vision, and mission while pursuing their academic goals. In fact, this innovative model offers these high school students up to five college credit hours in Leadership Studies and other CEHHS departments a pathway to serve and engage the neighboring communities. Through this work, she guides and mentors the students to be self-advocates and not let minor barriers derail their goal of attending college. As a result of the program, three students in the cohort from Austin-East High School were surprised, last spring, with being named as the first three students accepted into the Class of 2026 at UT.
“I hope to help create more of these pipeline programs that will enable more students in the community to see college as their path,” said Hill. “To ensure their success, we want to make sure they know where to get help and support as a student. I can’t always fix whatever they’re going through, but I can assist them in finding someone who can help.”
This semester, Hill expanded both the breadth of her work with Project Excellence and the college’s potential impact on local communities by spearheading the creation of the Distinguished Community Leader Lecturer position. This role provides CEHHS departments with access to leading professionals and practitioners from the Knoxville community, allowing faculty and students to learn about the work being done related to their areas of study from the people actually out in the community doing it.
The inaugural Distinguished Community Leader Lecturer is Pastor Daryl Arnold, founder and senior pastor of Overcoming Believers Church and passionate Knoxville community leader. Arnold will teach an ELPS course during the Fall 2022 semester for the second cohort of Project Excellence students, as well as provide invaluable insight to the students within the Leadership Minor. Learn more about this position and how it will benefit both the college and the community.
Hill is graduate of Austin-East High School and Knoxville College (’96), and she is a triple UT Volunteer (MEd ’01, EdS ’10, and PhD Candidate ’23). Her previous work has included work in the juvenile and adult justice system, K-12 educational system, and various pre-college programs. She is currently a doctoral candidate in Higher Education Administration. Her special interests include, grant writing, pre-college access programs, and research on the retention of underrepresented students at higher education institutions.
Through its eight departments and 12 centers, the UT Knoxville College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences enhances the quality of life for all through research, outreach, and practice. Find out more at cehhs.utk.edu