It’s been said that 2020 can be summed up this way: January, February, lockdown, December.

The year certainly has seemed to pack in more than just 12 months of challenge—a real “annus horribilis,” for all you Latin scholars.

But what about silver linings? Has it been possible to see through the dark clouds of 2020 to something for which we can be more or newly grateful?

We posed that question to University of Tennessee at Chattanooga faculty and staff, and these are the responses received.


Loren Bass

Recruitment and marketing coordinator,

the Graduate School

This year made me newly grateful for health. I had VSG (vertical sleeve gastrectomy) this summer when hospitals began to open back up for surgeries, and now I am in better shape than I was in during college from 2005-2009.

My journey also has kept my close friends mindful of their health. With COVID being worse for people with preexisting conditions, we were all committed to eliminating what preexisting conditions we could through exercises and better eating.

I am no longer on high blood pressure medicine, nor do I have sleep apnea. I completed the C25K (couch to 5K) app with my friends, and I am now ending the year with a boxing workout. Although it’s hard work and daily decisions to stay healthy, I had the time to focus on my health as work and the economy went through adjustments, and it’s been an amazing journey.

My memory box and vision board allow me to be grateful for those around me but also to give myself grace. It’s so easy to forget what you did in April by December, so keeping small things throughout the year was very important to remind me that I still lived my life this year; it kept me out of depression. I also was able to accomplish goals within this shutdown thanks to looking at my vision board daily.


Reid Belew

Marketing manager,

Center for Urban Informatics and Progress

 I think, primarily, I’m most thankful that I was able to be home with my daughter. She was born in late August, and in the first three to four months of her life I’ve been home with her every day. I feel so grateful that I am able to be a fully hands-on dad—late nights and all. I’m confident that being immeasurably fortunate enough to work from home has made me a better father than I would’ve been otherwise. It’s hard to state the value of that.






Amber Burdsall

Chief of staff,

College of Engineering and Computer Science

I enjoy (and maybe prefer?) Zoom meetings: The ability to share images and information easily; meetings can be back-to-back; I can multitask if it’s warranted; we can meet with external partners much more easily.

Virtual appreciation events and team builders have been fun. We did a “guess the picture” game, and it was a great way to get to know each other a little better. Emails are sent around with funny and inspiring images to keep us connected.

There were many points this year in which I stopped to realize just how fortunate I am to be healthy and safe, and how much I want that for all my family, friends and co-workers. Kindness and slowing down to appreciate everything that makes up a day is an absolute necessity.



Lisa Burke-Smalley

Guerry Professor of Management,

Gary W. Rollins College of Business

 I am certainly thankful for more time with my husband on morning walks and lunch at home, for colleagues to exchange critical teaching-related ideas with (e.g., Shari, Mark, Randy, Katherine), for students who’ve persevered with a positive attitude in an uncertain context, and for all the frontline workers in our society who’ve done much for the rest of us.






Bengt Carlson,

Coordinator, Experiential Learning

Walker Center for Teaching and Learning

All the roots grow deeper when it’s dry.-David Wilcox

One thing I am grateful about amidst the disruptions of 2020 is some of the ways people are willing to think about others. Some of this is in the simple gratitude I have when I see people I have not seen for a long time. In a mysterious way, the “gap” of not seeing people makes each conversation with someone in person especially meaningful.

Faculty have shared about ways they have gone deeper into the more central needs with community partners. Students have been ready to share what is really going on and think more about each other and, especially, how different this semester has been for our students new to UTC.

Staff, who normally are focused on other folks, have found myriad new ways for interacting with, supporting and encouraging others. Although I certainly wouldn’t wish this difficult season on any of us, there is much to be grateful for in the ways that people have not just turned inward but found new paths outward.



Michelle Deardorff

Department head and Adolph S. Ochs Professor of Government,

Department of Political Science

I teach courses primarily on political theory and constitutional law. My hope was to make it to retirement without teaching online. I have been so pleasantly surprised to discover that, with the new option of synchronous online teaching, there are tools useful to engage students even when I get back into the sweet spot of teaching fully face-to-face. I am actually really excited about my hi-flex course on Black Political Thought this spring, where students will be taking the course face-to-face or synchronous online simultaneously. Who would have thought?

My sister, Amy, works overseas and has spent more than a decade traveling throughout the countries of Asia. She has been “COVID-ing” with David (my husband) and I since March. It has been a joy to spend time together and, since she makes us have regular happy hours, as a bonus I have a better work/life balance. I haven’t spent this much time together with her since I was a child and it is much more fun now.



Terry Denniston

Chief of staff,

Office of the Chancellor

In all my time at the University, I have been thankful for our facilities crew—those who keep our buildings and grounds clean, safe, beautiful and maintained no matter what conditions. These people are here all the time and they always answer the call.

During the pandemic, I have been even more thankful for them. They did the jobs that no one else wanted to do. They are the true heroes in my book, and I wish I could hug every single one of them.




Vicki Farnsworth

Vice chancellor,

Information Technology

 I am constantly amazed and thankful for the level of caring that the UTC staff shows students. A lot of campuses say, “Students First,” but UTC puts action with those words. It is so refreshing and something that makes me love this campus.

I am so lucky to have joined into an executive leadership team that is cohesive, thoughtful and so creative. They have welcomed me with open arms, and there is no ego behind how we interact.

Lastly, my team has been so welcoming and patient with me as I have come up to speed on understanding campus. They care deeply and work hard to make me successful.




John Freeze


Center for Professional Education

 I have always understood the value of relationships and partnerships with regard to accomplishing great things or making a meaningful impact. This year, more than any other I can recall, I have seen the power of those partnerships realized in truly meaningful ways.

There are a lot of folks on our campus and in our community who are working tirelessly to find solutions to a myriad of challenges. Many are working quietly, with no fanfare, but making a huge difference. In some examples, I’ve been fortunate to be a part of some of those efforts. In others, I have discovered them unknowingly and been awe-inspired as a result. There are a great number of unsung heroes in our community, exemplifying servant leadership in a whole host of inspiring and meaningful ways. They are our better angels.



Linda Frost


Honors College

 What unexpected good has come out of 2020 and particularly at UTC? That many of the things we say we just can’t do—for a gazillion very good reasons—we suddenly find ourselves doing, whether it’s teaching primarily online, changing a schedule in the 11th hour or instituting a new practice that will make life on campus safer, smarter and more fulfilling for everyone.

As Walt Disney once said, “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.” While little about 2020 can be called fun, it is certainly true that we have shown ourselves that some of what we thought was impossible was really just very hard.

Always good to move that bar when we can.



Carole Geter


Facilities Management

This year has reminded me not to take life for granted. I never have, but that’s more important to me than ever this year.

What’s happened with this COVID makes you think about how quick your life can change. It’s scary—something in the air we can’t see or know it’s there that is so dangerous. You have to pray for your family and friends, and I’m grateful for my faith.

We’re all going through this, and we really are all in it together. I pray that we all see we really have to be there for each other and learn to love each other and continue to be there for each other in the years ahead.



Jeff Grant

Marketing coordinator,

Center for Professional Education

 2020 has made me incredibly grateful for relationships—friendships, coworkers, family members. During the isolation periods, I had time to reflect on these relationships and how thankful and appreciative I am to have a network of people who support me. When I get going and have my eyes set on a goal, I can get lost and forget to check in on those who matter the most to me. I still struggle with this at times, but 2020 has made me realize relationships are fundamental to living a happy and full life, and we should never take those who we care about for granted.





Irene Hillman

Manager of career services,

Gary W. Rollins College of Business

2020 has made me thankful for:

  • Recognizing the caring and collaborative colleagues in my work group
  • The flexibility and resilience of students
  • The Walker Center staff

Stepping back to recognize what I can take off my plate without sacrificing what is important to make more space in my life has been a very focusing experience. I know 2020 is going down in infamy, but it was a very clarifying year for me.




Susan Lazenby

Budget and planning manager,

Information Technology

First, I am thankful for Dr. Angle and our leadership team. When the pandemic hit, I was so scared about what that looked like for our work situations and how we would make it through. I respect the fact that they looked at the science and data behind what was happening and made swift but thoughtful judgments on how UTC could continue to do business.

Secondly, I am thankful that my department in IT was able to let me work from home and learn new things. I love doing Zoom webinars for the folks at the University. If the pandemic and 2020 hadn’t happened, I don’t think that is something I would have been able to do. It has really given me the opportunity to make an impact on our surrounding community.

Because of what I am doing, departments can still have conferences, guest speakers and events. I feel so thankful every day for this opportunity. Each time I work with a department to assist them, I get a window into all the work they put into their areas of expertise. I can see what care they have for the students, faculty, staff and the Chattanooga community.

Even though I am working from home, I feel deeply connected to the people I am helping. I have developed relationships with a whole new group of people at UTC. Although 2020 has been difficult, I feel I have grown as a person and a UTC employee. I am looking forward to 2021, but what I am doing now wouldn’t have happened without the growth from 2020.



Theresa Liedtka,

Dean, University Library

2020 has been a challenging year, and I know I am one of the lucky ones and that my challenges were insignificant compared to those faced by many individuals and families due to COVID, social unrest, the economy, climate change and our larger political environment.

I am thankful for weekly family Zoom calls, my walking friends, my driveway friends and my many UTC colleagues who have helped keep life in perspective over the past nine months.

I am thankful to UTC for the stability, opportunity and good will it provided to so many people.

Finally, I am most thankful for my local tribe: Patrick, Gus and Marmalade for keeping life interesting and putting up with me during a pandemic.




Andrea Lyons

Interim assistant vice chancellor,

Office of Alumni Affairs

 To say that 2020 has been an unprecedented year is an understatement. We’ve experienced the loss of loved ones and admired celebrities, PTSD from tornados, social injustice, political rhetoric … and let’s not forget the pièce de résistance: COVID-19. As I reflect over the last several months, I am amazed at the little things for which I am truly grateful.

My home and yard: I have lived in my home for nearly 22 years, and my husband does most of the yard work and maintenance. It was not until this year when we nearly lost it during the Easter tornadoes that I developed a new level of appreciation for my little corner of the world. We were fortunate, but it could have been different. I planted a flower bed in the place of an uprooted tree in my front yard which I call my “gratitude garden.” I have never planted anything before in my life. Even though its summer blooms have faded, it is a constant reminder of the grace my family has been shown.

Electric and internet service: In the aftermath of the tornadoes, our area was without power for two weeks and without internet service for nearly a month. Trying to work remotely from home without either was truly a challenge. I appreciate knowing that now, when I flip the switch or turn on my laptop, the power is flowing.

A simple hug: Most of my family and friends live in the Chattanooga area. We are used to seeing each other often and always greet one another with a hug. We really can’t do this now to keep one another safe, especially loved ones in high-risk groups. I make sure I get at least one hug from my husband every day, but I miss that family connection.




Meredith Perry


Office of Research and Sponsored Programs

 2020 has been a year of unforeseen challenges, but I’ve been consistently impressed and grateful for the resilience, courage and can-do attitude of my UTC colleagues. There are so many things to be grateful for, but these are among my top two:

  • I have been inspired by the grace and compassion I have observed colleagues from across campus extending to one another. It has been a difficult year in so many ways, and I feared that the physical isolation of remote work and social distancing would erode teamwork. However, I have witnessed the opposite. Even though we aren’t physically together, I feel like we are united perhaps more than ever before.
  • I have been humbled by the resilience and determination of our faculty and staff to push forward with their research goals, even when the odds seemed stacked against them. Faculty also have found creative and innovative ways to keep their research moving forward despite the challenges. My staff has assisted with a record-shattering number of proposals throughout 2020.



Keilan Rickard


UTC Counseling Center

 I have grown to appreciate my sense of smell. Fortunately, I haven’t contracted COVID. I love the smell of autumn hikes, my shampoo, food. Even the pungent industrial smell of downtown Chattanooga in the morning makes me glad my olfaction is intact.

I have grown to appreciate my sense of time. My lived experience of time has shifted noticeably. A friend recently remarked that the COVID era has felt like a perpetual Tuesday. I’ve noticed that July feels like five months ago, yet five years ago at the same time. Clock time no longer carries the same meaning. Reporting to work has given me a newfound appreciation of the workday because it grounds me in time. I wake up at the same time, eat lunch at the same time and leave for home at the same time every day. Evenings and weekends, however, are a blur.

I have grown to appreciate good takeout. I’ve avoided eating inside restaurants, but I love restaurant food, so I splurge once or twice a week. Some restaurants have done a good job adapting to the demands of takeout. Others toss my food carelessly in a plastic bag where the fork and napkin get covered in sauce spilling out from the unattractive Styrofoam box. They put cold ingredients in with the hot, so that by the time I’m home, it’s “pukewarm.” Don’t they care? The good restaurants take packaging into consideration. The salad is separated from the steam in its own container. Sauces are isolated. Sogginess avoided.



Joanna Stephanos

Administrative coordinator,

Division of Administration and Finance

The care for my family. I realize we are fragile people at times. We should never take for granted the health that we have, and this virus has truly made me more aware that we need to care for each other, especially for our family and friends. I am more cautious and careful in how we live our lives now. I am grateful for the health care providers who risk their lives every day for us. I will no longer take them for granted as this has been such a long and exhausting job they have and will always face for others.

I am grateful that God has given us really smart people to create a vaccine that will hopefully cure this disease and when I wake up and see this beautiful city, I am so grateful for another day that has been given, as it’s truly a gift.



Lofton Stuart

Interim vice chancellor,

Division of Development and Alumni Affairs

 While COVID-19 has created many challenges, it also has created a number of unique opportunities. I came to work at UTC for what was anticipated to be a six-month or so appointment. I knew I would meet a number of staff, faculty and students but did not anticipate for such a short employment that those relationships would become very deep or meaningful. Was I ever mistaken.

COVID-19 has not only extended my service/employment, it has created an opportunity to work with others at UTC in a team effort that I have never experienced before in my over-40-year career in the University of Tennessee system. Staff have bonded in the common goal of service and safety for students and faculty. I have had the great privilege to work with some of the most amazing, professional and caring individuals I have ever known. My career—and my life—are enriched with these bonding relationships with both staff and so many campus and community supporters. I feel blessed to be a part of this team.



Takeo Suzuki

Executive director,

Center for Global Education

 Three things I appreciate more than ever before:

  • Opportunity to travel
  • Enjoying outdoors
  • Going to work






Jim Tanner

Faculty lecturer,

Department of Communication

 Since we began this strange journey in mid-March, there have been many things that I have missed. Nights out with friends and family, movie theaters, live music, handshakes and hugs. Those are just a few of the things that we’ve lost over this crazy 2020, and they are things that I look forward to getting back once we have contained this pandemic.

But there are many things to be thankful for. For me, I’m thankful for students who have made the extra effort to seek out help and make the personal connections with me in circumstances that make personal professor-student interaction difficult. During a semester filled with Zoom calls and no traditional office hours, it’s not easy for a student to reach out to faculty for individual help and instruction. Yet in every class, I have had students put in the effort to set up virtual meetings to discuss their work and improve in my classes. As a teacher, that’s something I’m grateful to continue to have that experience with students.

One student in particular stands out this past semester. I blocked off certain hours each week for “virtual office hours” to help students or answer questions. To access these office hours, I provided students a link to my online calendar, where they can schedule a 30-minute meeting. A few weeks into the semester, one student began scheduling a meeting with me every week. So each week, this young woman and I would meet online to discuss her work and progress in my class. In addition to discussing assignments and academics, we generally would discuss the pandemic and challenges of college life during the COVID era. I hope those meetings were helpful to that student, but I also am thankful for those brief weekly interactions. And there have been other students who made the effort to reach out and connect in a time when connecting is a challenge.

I know it is not as easy to do during this time, but those conversations and moments are an important part of the college experience for both students and faculty. I think I knew that before the pandemic, but it’s been made more evident during this time. I’m thankful for the students willing to go the extra mile to create those connections with me, and I hope they know how much it makes this work worth doing.



Billy Weeks

Faculty lecturer/University Echo adviser,

Department of Communication

I am not sure what I expected when this semester started. I knew it would be different and challenging. All four of my courses this semester were mostly in-class and in-person. I teach photojournalism and storytelling, and that means dealing with people in person. The first day of class was a talk on safety. We talked about the requirement for not only being safe but also keeping our classmates safe. We started with basic cleaning skills. I am grateful that every student took responsibility for safety protocols. We had a clean classroom, and we had a clean building. I am also grateful for students who cared about their classmates.

The students produced outstanding work. Our storytelling class, Rising Rock, produced a 50-minute radio broadcast. The program was packed full of National Public Radio-like short stories reported by Rising Rock and Photojournalism 2 students. The show aired on WUTC-FM 88.1’s Scenic Roots. I am grateful to Ray Bassett for giving us the opportunity. I am also grateful for the Rising Rock student leadership.

I am also the advisor for the University Echo. The Echo had a major change this semester. We moved it from a printed product to online only. Haley Bartlett, the editor-in-chief, led the editors and encouraged the reporters. The Echo viewership increased, and I am confident we will be an online-only product going forward. I am grateful for the Echo editors.

I am also grateful for my department head in Communication. Dr. Felicia McGhee is always supportive not just to me, but all our staff and students.



Joel Wells

University registrar

I am grateful for thoughtful colleagues on our office party planning committee who pulled together a “Zoombie Ball” for Halloween and a “Jolly Zoombarie” for the winter holidays. Both were great fun and helped us stay connected in human ways with our work colleagues. I had no idea it was possible to play party games via Zoom before this year.

I am grateful for the tireless work of the Banner Systems Support IT crew who exist at the intersection of so many processes and have managed to keep a lot of administrative offices up and running with the crazy pace of changes we’ve made since March.





Sherese Williams

Assistant director,

Honors College

There are so many lessons that I think we’ve all learned from 2020. To value time and relationships, familial and personal. I’ve always valued these, but I have learned to appreciate me more in this season. To make it through this year has taken a lot of discipline and grace with a main serving of self-care.

In the early days of social distancing, I had to develop new routines that would prevent me from “bringing work home” while working from home. It involved creating new boundaries, carving out time to be physically active in my daily routines, and reacquainting myself with home. Yes, self-car can be considered getting manicures and pedicures, spa days and days of doing nothing, but it is so much more.

For me, it means ensuring that my mental, physical and spiritual health are above normal, and I’m consistently doing things to maintain these areas. Going to church— virtually, of course—reading and taking time to check in with the people who matter to me the most. In some cases, it’s giving myself grace for not accomplishing some of my tasks by the due date and reminding myself that despite what others think, things are different because of COVID-19 and it’s OK because no one has the answer.

A huge part of my self-care routine has been the continuation of “Sweet Tea with Sherese” sessions, which was made possible by the Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Honors College. It gives me the opportunity to connect with students and discuss topics that are relevant to them.





Media Relations Contacts: Email UTC Media Relations or call 423-425-5119.

Associate Vice Chancellor for Communications and Marketing at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

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4 Comments » for UTC community reflects on finding the good in this challenging year
  1. Madison says:

    Loving these messages of hope and encouragement! Thank you.

  2. Barbara Clarke says:

    I want to know what does this school plan to do about Chris Malone?? You allow someone with such racist views to work with student athletes & pretend to care about all of them? He was bold enough to show his true colors then pushed the send button to spew his bike thoughts & you choose to stand by him by not saying anything & hoping this goes away? What type of unv.. KNOWINGLY stands in unison with a racist?

    He’s a privileged white racist who knows the Univ isn’t going to do anything or make him accountable for his actions that’s why he pushed the send butyon

    • Gina Stafford says:

      “Yesterday (Jan. 6) Chris Malone, a UTC football coach, posted a Tweet regarding Stacey Abrams that was hateful, hurtful and untrue. Coach Malone is no longer a part of the University. UTC faculty and staff are expected to lead in a way that achieves and maintains a respectful, tolerant and civil campus environment. The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga does not tolerate and unequivocally condemns discrimination and hatred in all forms.”
      –Chancellor Steven R. Angle