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Service Learning and Connecting to History

By Josh Maine

As a freshman studying mechanical engineering, I was excited about my recent opportunity to participate in a local service trip with the 1794 Scholars Program. Service is a critical part of what it means to be a Tennessee Volunteer. Likewise, it is one of the main pillars that the 1794 Scholars Program at UT is built around. When the community flourishes everyone benefits, and as students we should be the ones leading the charge. To make our communities better, we must first start in our own backyards. I can think of no better activity than being a volunteer in my community, and on the anniversary of UT’s founding, September 10, our group did just that.

Our job for the day was to do maintenance and upkeep at the local historic Blount Mansion, located in downtown Knoxville. We started our day around two o’clock in the Baker Center parking lot. There we were introduced to the staff who were going to lead our trip: Assistant Director Dr. Stormer, Honors Advisor Ms. Stepanov, and 1794 graduate assistant Mr. Rochell. Since this was the first-ever 1794 event, we also took a few minutes to get to know each other.

After the introductions and some time to get everyone organized, we all piled into vans and headed out to our work site. I did not know how far Blount Mansion was going to be from the Baker Center, but before I knew it we were already there. As a Knoxville native, I was surprised to learn that it is only a few miles from our campus. We got there and everyone got out of the vans and assembled around the yard in front of the Visitors Center, where we were greeted by the Executive Director of Blount Mansion, Mr. David Hearnes.

After Mr. Hearnes introduced himself, he began to list the things that needed to be done around the mansion. We were allowed to choose the job we wanted to do, so I opted to help move some old cabinets and lumber that needed to be disposed of. I was with a group of about 12 and our task went by surprisingly quicker than we had expected, which allowed us to help out the other groups. As each group finished its initial task, we joined together to clean out empty flowerpots. With the combined effort of all three groups, we succeeded in cleaning, drying, and stacking every pot on the grounds.

After we completed our service, we all ate dinner in the Visitors Center, which housed some old artifacts and paintings from Knoxville’s early years. There, Mr. Hearnes was happy to answer questions about the history of Blount Mansion as well as questions concerning that time period. It was fascinating to learn about how the mansion served as the territorial capital of Knoxville as well as the living space for not only William Blount—the original owner of the mansion and a signer of the Constitution—but also other prominent families and governors.

Once we had finished eating we packed up the tools, got into our designated vans, and went back to the Baker Center. When we got back we said our final farewells and went on our separate ways. That concluded the inaugural Founding Day of Service.

It was a rewarding experience as a 1794 Scholar to be able to serve the community on the day the university was founded—September 10th. Working on the day of the university’s founding is special to me because of the parallel I can draw to the man who founded our university. In the same way that founder Samuel Carrick began the college, we as the inaugural 1794 Scholars Program class are working to establish our program. Moreover, the historic Blount Mansion showed what life would have been like for the original students at Blount College.

Serving and learning alongside my fellow 1794 Scholars was a fantastic experience I hope to take part in again. Between juggling my hectic school schedule and my job, working on a service project was a nice outlet to make connections and meet other students in a relaxed environment. I enjoyed meeting new friends and getting to know friends I had already made even better. The time I got to spend with the 1794 staff was also good as it helped connect me to my program and increased my desire to be a leader in 1794.