ake chances. Jackie Cavnar (BS/PR ’94) gives this short answer to the question – What advice would you give students today? “Never underestimate the power of volunteering,” Cavnar states. “Working in smaller organizations quickly develops more of your skills and allows you to develop strategic and leadership abilities which are the key to earning a seat at the table.”
Reflecting on her years at UTK, Cavnar is grateful for the education she received as a Public Relations major. “Writing skills are very valuable in today’s workplace,” said Cavnar. “The excellent background I received while doing my undergraduate work at UT continues to help me on a daily basis.”
When she took the time to inventory her life, Cavnar says the most influential people and the ones she most admired were all tied to her University of Tennessee experiences. As a result, she and her husband, Steve, decided to make a planned gift to the College of Communication and Information (CCI). This gift reflects her desire to continue the tradition of giving back so that future students from ordinary backgrounds and of ordinary means will have the same educational experiences available to them as they were to her in the early ‘90s. Cavnar also hopes this gift will set an example for her daughter of what it means to give back.
“We are committed to being involved with the college in the long term to help meet the needs of students regardless of the changes that take place in this dynamic industry,” said Cavnar. “Creating the Cavnar Visiting Faculty Endowment will allow CCI to remain on the cutting edge by using visiting professionals and scholars to enhance the educational experience received by future generations of public relations, journalism and advertising students.”
“Jackie and Steve’s decision to invest in the future of the college and its students is incredibly important,” said CCI Dean Mike Wirth. “As state funding for public universities declines, gifts such as this from our alumni and friends ensure that we will be able continue to provide UTK students with educations of the highest quality. We are very grateful to the Cavnars for their generous gift!” (UT’s development staff helped the Cavnars plan their gift to provide funds for the visiting professor endowment along with allocating additional funds to be distributed at the discretion of CCI’s dean to meet the most pressing needs of the college and its students).
Today, Cavnar works for Lifepoint Hospitals in physician recruitment. Lifepoint operates 54 hospitals in 18 states in 4 time zones. For Cavnar, this translates into a lot of non-traditional work hours in order to reach prospective doctors at times convenient for them. This requires her to communicate effectively at a moment’s notice often at odd hours in environments outside of controlled office settings. She is also called upon to make many formal presentations, both oral and written, as part of her job. Her time at UT taught her that effective public speaking and writing skills are a direct result of knowing how to organize thoughts and ideas so that you can be heard and understood.
Cavnar’s passion for UT, communications and the medical field began while she was growing up in Greeneville, TN. Her interest in medicine began at age 14 when her mother insisted she volunteer at the local hospital as a candy striper if she didn’t participate in sports. Her interest in communications began in middle school when she decided to start a school newspaper. In high school, she could not wait until her junior year (as required) to work on the school newspaper, so she ”bugged” the teacher until she was allowed to work on the paper. Her decision to pursue a communications career was solidified when she attended a week-long summer journalism camp at UT and was inspired by the camp instructor, Bonnie Hufford. The week was memorable enough that Cavnar decided to attend UT and major in Journalism.
Without scholarships or a handy trust fund, Cavnar had to earn her college tuition the old-fashioned way: by working three jobs! Her college jobs included writing a weekly article for a Farragut paper, a co-op job working at the GE manufacturing plant in PR, and working on weekends at the Crown Plaza. Between working and going to class, Cavnar didn’t have much time for “fun,” but she was well prepared to pursue her dream of a career in public relations when she graduated.
Her first job after graduation was with BOHAN in Nashville where she worked for a number of years with CCI Board of Visitors member David Bohan. When her daughter was born, she left BOHAN and did freelance work through the PRSA Nashville chapter and part-time volunteer work with non-profits. All of Cavnar’s work and volunteer experiences, along with her undergraduate (at UTK) and graduate (MBA at Lipscomb University) degrees prepared her for her job at Lifepoint Hospitals.
Jackie Cavnar has followed her own advice and taken many chances in her life. The result has been a successful career and life characterized by hard work, determination and a willingness to volunteer and give back.