by Kevin Webster
Elizabeth Hagler has a unique personal story that revolves around her lifelong passion: running. “Running provides a means for me to connect with the present moment. It gives me the sense that I can do anything, and it provides me with grit,” she said. Yet running is more than a hobby for her; it is the common thread that intersects her experience with the Haslam Scholars Program, service to her community, and the University of Tennessee at large. She, along with her best friend and Haslam Scholar peer Chelsea Knotts (2008 cohort), was a four-year member of UT’s track team.
During her time as a Haslam Scholar, Hagler served on the board of directors for Redeeming Hope Ministries, a nonprofit organization whose mission and goals were to end homelessness in Knoxville. Through the organization, she and her peers developed a running and physical education program for individuals experiencing homelessness in the Knoxville community.
“Running was a way to provide them with some physical activity and help get them into shape. I developed relationships with the people directly affected by the program. I provided this service because I felt so incredibly privileged, and it seemed like a waste to use my talents and that privilege on myself,” she said.
At the time, the members of the Haslam Scholars Program organized their first annual 5K that benefited Redeeming Hope Ministries for the program’s community service engagement project. Hagler reported her time spent on the board of Redeeming Hope Ministries as one of her greatest accomplishments. As an undergraduate student, she organized fundraisers, served as the assistant to the director, and wrote articles for the Amplifier, an independently operated street paper that benefited the homeless in Knoxville.
Fittingly, Hagler—who began running when she was just 11 years old—has accumulated several accolades and awards for the time she dedicated not only to athletics but also to academics and service. She received the Helen B. Watson Female Scholar of the Year, the Dr. Jack Chesney Award for Community Service, the Chancellor’s Award for Outstanding Student Athlete, and the UT Athletics Board Academic Achievement Award, to name a few. These honors reflect her commitment to improving herself and her community.
Hagler completed her bachelor’s degree in public administration and Spanish. She then harnessed the nonprofit skills she had accumulated as an undergraduate to complete a Master of Business Administration with a concentration on nonprofit management at UT. Soon after, she and her husband relocated to Longmont, Colorado, where she assisted several service organizations, including serving on the board of directors for the Boulder Track Club.
“While in Colorado I worked for various organizations such as the Open Door, an English as a Second Language program, and the Outreach United Resource Center (OUR), which provides resources and human services towards the prevention of homelessness,” she said. “I helped the OUR Center develop a culinary arts program for the homeless and jobless.”
After three years in Colorado, Hagler and her husband packed up and returned to Knoxville in February. “My husband and I both love Knoxville, and we have really found our community here,” she said. Not surprisingly, Hagler serves on the board of the Knoxville Track Club,
bringing her love of running and community leadership to the center of her life.
Hagler also serves as a financial counselor with 21st Mortgage, where she provides education and assistance to people who need help with their finances. She has been helping homeowners affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma navigate their finances.
“It is interesting to see real-world applications of all the finance principles I learned in school. I get a sense of satisfaction from helping those who may have difficulty finding lenders to buy a home.”
When asked to reflect on her time spent in HSP, Hagler declared that HSP “provided immediate community, and it pared a large university down to a manageable level. HSP provided me with my first international experience, which I would not have otherwise experienced.”
The program also provided her with a framework to consider service in her life: “I think being a Haslam Scholar means having a collective shared responsibility. We are here to make a difference and to go out and be the best version of ourselves that we can be.” She leaned on faculty mentors for this personal growth. “Dr. Dandaneau [then associate provost and director of HSP] encouraged me to stretch myself, seek my potential, and be reflective about what I wanted my future to look like. He was so encouraging and illuminating about the limits I placed on myself. He encouraged us to look bigger and go beyond,” she said.
Hagler offers some words of advice to current Haslam Scholars: “Do not get hung up on the questions like, ‘Where am I going to be one, two, or three years from now?’ Think about what is going on right now. Do not get hung up and do not get distracted by the current moment.” In a bout of honesty, Hagler admitted, “I felt like I lost a lot of the present moment during my senior year because I was so obsessed about what was coming up next.”
Perhaps this need to focus on the now is the very reason why Hagler has such a passion for running “Running provides a means for me to connect with the present moment. It gives me the sense that I can do anything.”