Growing up in Flushing, Michigan, the only connection Leighton Chappell had to Tennessee was watching Pat Summitt coach the Lady Vols on ESPN. Now as the student trustee for the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees, Chappell, a UT Martin senior management major with a concentration in sport business, proudly advocates for the thousands of UT students and says he is trying his best amid the COVID-19 pandemic to present their needs to the board.
While Chappell serves in a non-voting role on the board, he knows how important his position is as a representative of the student body and hopes he can help make a difference for the University of Tennessee System.
“I would just really like to … leave the UT System better than when (I) first joined,” Chappell said. “As student trustee, I realize it’s not like I’m the president; I can’t just make things happen (just) like that. But if I could just make it slightly better in some way or some form, whatever that could be, that’d be awesome. That’d be successful for me.”
UT Martin Chancellor Keith Carver says he is excited to have a Skyhawk representing students on the board.
“It is an honor to have a UT Martin student chosen to represent the University of Tennessee student body, and I am proud of how Leighton has served in this position so far,” Carver said. “I am confident he will continue to represent the more than 50,000 UT students statewide in a positive and professional manner.”
Selections for the UT Board of Trustees student representative rotate between campuses each year and must be nominated by the provost. The student trustee serves on the board for a year, beginning July 1.
Since his term began, Chappell has enjoyed connecting with students from each campus in the leadership position to understand what improvements he can help make for the UT student experience. One benefit he has advocated for is including breaks during the accelerated semester to help students, faculty and staff receive relief during an already stressful time.
“I try to pride myself on always listening and just making sure that I’m being objective, and I’m doing whatever’s best for the students,” he said.
Chappell is also using this opportunity to learn life lessons and professional skills from the trustees to help him succeed in his future career. While pursuing a degree in management and a focus on sport business, Chappell hopes to serve in an administrative leadership position in the future and knows having the chance to learn from statewide leaders will benefit his career.
“What I want to do is understand why leaders make their decisions, the processes, all of that behind the reasoning,” Chappell explained. “Being the student trustee allows me to be around all of these other trustees who are very successful people, very successful professionals and absorb their knowledge. To me, that’s pretty invaluable. I think I can … apply that with sports management later on.”
Chappell will be the first to say that he never expected to be chosen as the student trustee, much less attend college in Tennessee, but he is thankful to have the opportunity to serve the system he has grown to love. As a triplet, when his sister committed to UT Martin to play soccer in 2017, he and his brother were excited to find programs at the university for them as well.
Just as his family took a chance on UT Martin and he took a chance with the student trustee position, Chappell encourages students to make the most of the opportunities they have while in college.
“Just make the most of your opportunities,” Chappell said. “Go embrace people; go embrace your opportunities; just make the most of it. … UT Martin is definitely going to prove to you that it’s worth the experience.”
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