Anna Catherine Davenport (’04) learned a lot during her time as an advertising major at the College of Communication and Information, and she’s taken that with her all the way to where she is now, as executive assistant to the commissioner at the State of Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration. One of her major takeaways from both her college and career is that communications knowledge is applicable in every arena.
“It’s one field that literally touches all others. Whether you’re in the specific profession where you majored or doing something completely unexpected, like myself, it will serve you in good stead,” she said.
It has served her so well that she is on the recently released University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Volunteer 40 Under 40 Class of 2022. It is an honor she said has been fun and surreal.
“First off, I’m sitting there reading the list and seeing an Olympic athlete and all these super impressive people and there’s the question, why me? But on the other hand, it was very fun to see some familiar faces. It’s fun to see people that I knew when I was in college on the list with me,” she said.
While she may have had a moment of impostor syndrome, there’s an extensive portion of her resume that belies one of the reasons she’s on the list: the Volunteer Spirit. That spirit was lit when she organized UT’s very first Relay for Life event, which raises funds for saving lives from cancer, and her fire to volunteer is still going strong.
Her leadership and involvement in Relay for Life led to her first job out of college as a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, which in turn led to her second job. She met Bob Corker during that time in her career, during his 2006 campaign for his first bid to become a U.S. Senator. He hired her to be a fundraiser on his campaign and she subsequently worked for him in Washington, D.C., in constituent services.
After working for Corker for four years, Davenport knew it was time to come home to Tennessee, so she moved to Nashville and began working for Governor Bill Haslam. In all, she’s been working for the State of Tennessee, for 11 years, and is thriving in her career. When she went to college, she had no idea what she wanted to do, and when she left college, she had no idea she’d have a longtime career in government work. But no matter where she is, she has found that good communication combined with patience and understanding goes a long way.
“A lot of what one does in government is communicate: you communicate with constituents, with other government employees, with other stakeholders, and having that base and understanding of how to effectively communicate with people is so important. Understanding that words matter and how to effectively utilize messaging matters, it makes a difference,” she said.
It’s this approach that informs some of her volunteer work, as well. Most recently and notably, she served as president of Women in Numbers in 2020.
“Women in Numbers is a non-partisan organization that seeks to get women involved in the political process, and that was a big thing for me, to be able to support women in a field where women are really underrepresented,” she said. “The Volunteer Spirit I developed in college stayed with me. The torchbearer says it all.”
One person who inspired Davenport to take up that torch was Bonnie Hufford, a lecturer for the School of Journalism and Electronic Media. Hufford’s battle with cancer was ongoing, as she went in out of remission several times. Her passion and positive attitude left a lasting impression on Davenport.
“She was in our first survivors walk and she was a major source of support and encouragement and enthusiasm for our first Relay for Life events. The passion that she spoke with about fighting cancer was just so inspirational,” Davenport said.
It was people like Hufford and experiences like organizing the Relay for Life that evoke memories of how significant her undergraduate years were. She’s made, and kept, friends for life from her time at UT.
“It’s such a special place with people who really do care about you and want you to succeed in life so throw yourself into the experience, as cliché is it is, you really do get out what you put in,” she said.
To view the other 2022 class of Volunteer 40 Under 40 award-winners, visit: tiny.utk.edu/dK8TD.