UT's summer involvement program Ignite has expanded to three camps, boosting the accommodation ability from 300 to 1500 students.
UT administrators encouraged the expansion after realizing its correlation to retention rates. Ninety-four percent of Ignite students persisted to their sophomore year, nearly 15 percent more than non-participants.
"Once we were able to show those numbers off to the chancellor's numbers office, they were on-board and said 'we'll expand the program, we'll fund the expansion,'" Jessica Copeland, a graduate advisor for the Center for Leadership and Service, said. "So they challenged us to reach our goals and expand the program as much as possible."
Samantha Herold, a freshman in logistics, exemplifies the model of an Ignite participant. After attending the Ignite Summit program last summer, she has become involved with several organizations on campus, including Impact and Ignite itself.
She'll return to be an Ignite Leader this summer.
"I went to Ignite and it convinced me that UT was not just the place I was going because it was the cheapest, but because it was where I truly belonged," Herold said. "I wanted to pass that feeling on to other freshman that were coming up."
This summer's group will have a choice between three different programs.
At Ignite Summit, a three-day retreat at Coker Creek in Tellico, Tenn., helps students network and improve their leadership capability.
"We do awesome team-building exercises with our groups, it's like a super cheesy Western-themed summer camp and it's the best experience ever," Herold said. "It's Western-themed every year ... it's just kind of their vibe so we just go with it."
The two new programs, Ignite Serves and Ignite Outdoors, take aim at involving students with specific interests. Serves will allow 800 incoming freshmen to move in five days before the official move-in day.
Copeland, whose work in the CLS focuses mainly on Ignite, said the service will include an environmental day and will introduce students to a variety of non-profit organizations, such as Habitat for Humanity, Knoxville Area Rescue Mission, AmeriCorps and more.
"If you have a non-profit, we may be helping you," she laughed.
The Ignite Outdoors program offers an adventure-based leadership experience. Copeland said it was designed to attract the large population of students at UT who are interested in the outdoors.
"They're still going to talk about leadership programming, conflict management, and networking ... but they also are going to be able to do skills like hiking and climbing," she said. "For outdoor programming, a lot of that is about overcoming your fears and working with a team to kind of build those skills that are transferrable to college life.
"They may not seem — on the surface — like backpacking has anything to do with college life, but it's problem solving."
As of Thursday, the enrollment had reached 270 students. Though the CLS hopes to increase that number to full capacity, Copeland explained that many students will be hooked during orientation. TV screens in the University Center display Ignite promos, and a display case will feature the programs. Copeland said they also offer breakout sessions during orientation.
"People know about it, it's just a matter of getting people excited about it," she said. "We're trying to rely on the help of our past participants to do that too, to make sure that they're telling seniors that they know about the program."
Some of those past participants include former SGA president Adam Roddy and current SGA president Jake Baker, both of whom also continued on to serve as Ignite Leaders.
For current Ignite Leader Herold, the program has been the highlight of her college experience.
"Ignite is the best thing that upcoming freshman can do," she said. "It was the best decision I ever made because it made me want to get involved."