Mary Anne Hitt
Director of the Beyond Coal Campaign for the Sierra Club
Written by: Lorena Roberts, Honors Council Public Relations Committee
Mary Anne Hitt (Class of 1997) was an undergraduate student at The University of Tennessee in the mid-1990s. She started on her journey to where she is now by creating her own major through UT’s College Scholars program. With “no undergraduate environmental majors to choose from,” Ms. Hitt went her own route: pursuing an undergraduate education by combining the fields of environmental science and policy. Additionally, since there were no environmental groups on campus, she co-founded SPEAK (Students Promoting Environmental Action in Knoxville), which still tribes on campus to this day and carries on her legacy! The force she felt driving her into a position of leadership was an experience that has had an impact on shaping her life, as well as her career, she said.
After graduating from UT, she continued her education by pursuing a M.S. in Environmental Studies at the University of Montana, where she graduated in the early 2000s. This graduate program grabbed her attention because it offered a unique, interdisciplinary opportunity and allowed her to study the areas in which she was interested. Studying areas such as environmental law, science, policy, communications, history, and nonprofit management would benefit her later on in her career.
She says that the Honors experience she had during her time at UT served as wonderful preparation for graduate school. Being an Honors student helped her realize what it was about being an advocate that she loved so dearly, and her Honors experience spurred her to find the graduate school with just the right fit.
Although the Honors program back in the mid-1990s was not named the Chancellor’s Honors Program like it is now, it was still very much prevalent at our University. Ms. Hitt came to UT as a Whittle Scholar, and, she and her peers “had endured a rigorous application process, studied together, and took care of one another. I feel like I had a small family in the midst of a very large university.” She says that from her perspective, the Honors program had lots of support from the leadership of the university and says she felt “very fortunate to be a part of it.”
Almost twenty years after she graduated from Rocky Top, the friends she finds herself keeping in touch with are almost all from the Honors program. In addition, she says the contributions they are currently giving to the world are astounding and the family she gained when she came here has provided an incredible network for her following graduation.
While an Honors student at UT, Ms. Hitt says she discovered the foundation for leadership. She says, “I learned that when I saw a good idea that would make the world (our campus) better, I could be the one to step up and provide the leadership to make it a reality.” In her opinion, she’s been stepping up and making world a better place ever since. Her passion for protecting the Appalachian Mountains, people who are harmed by pollution, and our planet is what gets her out of bed day after day. She says she’s fortunate to have made her calling for environmental advocacy a career.
If she could give today’s Honors students a piece of advice, she would tell them to “consider pursuing a career or other pathway to help make the world a better place.” In addition, she urges current Honors students to consider what they can contribute to the UT community, as well as take advantage of being a part of our Honors community. Her hope for us is to have a great time together while we’re students here, and continue to network and nourish our friendships following graduation.
The one UT tradition Ms. Hitt wishes she could have been a part of is the Pride of the Southland Marching Band. A four-year band veteran in high school, Ms. Hitt wasn’t a part of “The Pride” during her time here on Rocky Top. But, she says “forming that ‘T’ on the field at Neyland Stadium must be the experience of a lifetime—not to mention getting to hang out with Smoky!”
Thanks to Lorena Roberts (Class of 2018, Major: Business Administration, Honors Council Public Relations Committee) for contribution to this Alumni Spotlight.