IGNITE is the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s latest freshman program, and its participants are on fire. This freshman employment opportunity is landing students jobs and fostering community, all while developing skills for the professional world.
IGNITE teaches first-year students workplace skills through three methods. First, students learn through experience. When applying for the program, a student is also applying for a job with Campus Recreation. This can include working the front desk at the Aquatic and Recreation Center, helping with UTC Outdoors or even saving lives as a lifeguard.
Second, students learn through interactive sessions. The sessions are where a lot of the fun happens. Not one second is wasted in these meetings. Participants blaze through back-to-back team-building exercises, flexing their creative muscles and building camaraderie.
The final component of the program is mentorship. Each student has a wealth of available and dedicated mentors at their disposal, whether that is their individual bosses or one of the three faculty members who lead the program.
One such mentor is Craig Gosnell, the ARC’s assistant director of programs and engagement. Gosnell created IGNITE, modeling it after a program he was heavily involved in at Portland State University in Oregon. That program was started by a push to increase freshman employment, but it quickly became much more than just that.
IGNITE is not only about career development. It is also an orientation tool. Participants learn together through cohort-style sessions intended to create a sense of belonging and help first-year students who are in a new and often overwhelming place gain confidence.
Gosnell said he has always been passionate about working with students, especially college freshmen, and he tailors the program to the needs of the group. It’s not some rigid, textbook endeavor; IGNITE is extremely adaptable and changes to fits the needs of the students. The IGNITE of 2022 is a completely unique experience because it is crafted for the students participating today. Next year, it will be changed to fit the needs of future Mocs.
As of today, the student job opportunities are all within Campus Recreation, but most of the students are not majoring in Exercise Science or Outdoor Recreation. Instead, the students are an eclectic bunch with a wide array of interests and majors. As Gosnell put it, “It’s not about recreation. We’re using recreation as the medium, but it’s about teaching transferable work skills.”
Gosnell said he also plans to expand the program outside of Campus Recreation in the coming years, offering positions across campus.
Even now, while the available positions are limited, students can still pursue their passions through their work. Take Cash Hartley, for example. He is a graphic design major from Smyrna, Tennessee. His mother stoked his passion for art from Hartley’s childhood; by the time he was in high school, he started his own business selling his art in the form of handcrafted street apparel.
Feeding off the Nashville graffiti scene and influences like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, two street art pioneers and legends, Hartley created his own style and turned his art into a profitable commodity. He describes his style as “very messy, with lots of layers.” Even during his busy freshman year, Hartley is growing his online brand Out of Sight.
Though he has plenty of experience as an artist for his age, Hartley did not have much professional work experience. He said joining the IGNITE program has helped round out his experience and made him feel more at home at UTC. He works as a recreation assistant and has integrated his passion for design into his work.
Hartley is currently working on T-shirt designs for Campus Recreation and is even in the beginning stages of creating a mural for the gym.
The IGNITE program, Gosnell said, strives to find students who are passionate and driven, and Hartley fits the bill.
When reviewing applications and conducting interviews for IGNITE, Gosnell said he is not looking for students with the most relevant experience or those who nail the interview. Instead, he wants to find students who could benefit from professional development training. He is after a diverse group of motivated students to participate and take advantage of the program’s opportunities.
Sure, Hartley could have kept his head down, working the desk as a recreational assistant, but his passion to create drives him to put in the extra effort at his position.
When asked how he stays motivated, he said, “I like to speak to people with art, and it’s really satisfying to see a project come together.”
He is not the only self-motivated individual in the program. Gosnell said IGNITE’s first cohort of students is chock-full of talented individuals sharpening their professional skills.
Since IGNITE launched, Gosnell said it had emboldened students to step out and seize opportunities.
“IGNITE helps students build community transferable employment skills, obtain leadership positions and build confidence,” he said.
Click here to learn more about the IGNITE program.