Throughout “one of the toughest periods of this decade,” Valara Sample’s extraordinary leadership ensured that residential students’ needs were met and progress continued on one of the largest-scale innovations to the student experience ever implemented at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. For those efforts and more, Sample has been named a 2021 University of Tennessee President’s Award winner.
Sample joined UTC as assistant director for Residence Life in 2005 and was named executive director for Residential Education and Campus Life in 2020. She is this year’s winner in the “support” category of the annual President’s Awards that recognize exceptional contributions by faculty and staff statewide in the areas of education, research, outreach and advancing diversity, in addition to the category of support for the institutional mission.
Fall semester 2021 brings the launch of “Cohort 2025,” so named to signify that the incoming freshman class will be the first to complete all four undergraduate years as members of cohort groups. Residential colleges—in which students pursuing degrees from the same college, such as Arts and Sciences, are housed together—are a big part of the cohort experience.
Sample not only played a critical role in establishing residential colleges at UTC, she developed the first “faculty-in-residence” program in which select faculty live in campus housing to better support students, Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs Yancy Freeman wrote in nominating Sample for the award.
“Successful programs are the essence of this approach because they facilitate living and learning in a cohort and community environment for students and faculty, and Ms. Sample’s leadership and engagement with students and the campus community has transformed our thinking about how we use our residential resources to bring people together,” Freeman wrote.
A nominating letter from Assistant Director for Residence Education Jessica Watts praised Sample as “committed to being a support system for those within her department and the Chattanooga community” and a leader confronted with “extremely tough decisions” during the COVID-19 pandemic. “While making those decisions that impacted staff and students, Val would always have the best interest of those impacted as her priority.”
Taking the 2020 pandemic into account, Freeman said Sample “has served as the leader during what will likely translate into one of the toughest periods of this decade.”
Sample came to UTC in 2005 from the University of Memphis, where she had been an area coordinator since 2002, following serving as an area director at Indiana State University from 2000 to 2002. Sample has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Mississippi State University and an education specialist degree from the University of Memphis.
Sample’s 2021 UT President’s Award includes a commemorative plaque and a $3,000 cash award.