Meet the Sanders, a Family of CCI Alumni
Siblings Ford (’20) and Cara Sanders (’16), aren’t just fourth generation Volunteers, but they’re second generation College of Communication and Information alumni who followed in the footsteps of their mother, Cindy Sanders (‘86). Drawn by a love of storytelling, Cindy earned her degree in public relations with a minor in journalism, and her children have also found their niche in the field, as well.
Cindy Sanders & Storytelling
Cindy started out at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, as an architecture major. As much as she loved the idea of being an architect, she quickly realized her skillset wasn’t suited to the profession.
“I had to reassess what I wanted to do and realized I really like telling other people’s stories. I had a couple of friends who were in communications and talking to them and about their classwork, I would think, well that’s really interesting. I like to write, I like to tell stories, so at some point I thought, ‘I think I can do this!’” she said. “I wanted to do something where I could excel and not just be mediocre.”
She landed in exactly the right college, because Sanders immediately hit her stride in her Tombras School of Advertising and Public Relations courses, coupled with a minor in journalism. She recalls how pivotal her classes were with the late School of Journalism and Electronic Media Associate Professor Jerry Morrow, who she described as an “old-timey newspaper guy” who may have been a little sarcastic and gruff but also a very encouraging teacher and mentor.
Once she graduated, she was offered a job at Nashville’s afternoon paper, the Nashville Banner, but at her stepfather’s encouragement also approached the Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau to see if they were hiring. Sure enough, the bureau was looking for a public relations person and hired her for the job.
“The Banner job paid $12,000 and this job paid $17,000 and I thought, phew, I’m rich,” she said with a laugh. “The reason I got the bureau job is because, between my internships and hands-on projects at UT, I had enough of a portfolio to show them and that made a big difference.”
She stayed with the bureau for almost 15 years, becoming director of the communications department, but began looking for more flexibility in her work life after she had her second child, Ford. That’s when she began writing for Nashville Medical News, which she eventually bought with a business partner in 2016 and sold in 2022.
While she has cut back on working, Cindy still freelances—and has even worked for her own daughter, Cara Sanders, who is an editor at Livability.
Cara Sanders & Online Communications
Cara Sanders knew CCI was her home when she visited it with her mother during her junior year of high school. Like Cindy, Cara chose to get her undergraduate degree in public relations and minored in journalism with a business concentration. While a student, she worked at the Daily Beacon as an online editor and absolutely loved it.
“I cannot say enough good things about the college, it was the best four years. I had the best professors and mentors,” she said.
Part of this was how deeply involved she became in various campus organizations and professional groups, including the sorority Alpha Delta Pi. It was through both classes and the sorority that she connected with Tombras Associate Professor Courtney Childers, someone Cara calls “amazing” and who has stayed in touch with her over the years. And, being in that sorority is yet another commonality she has with her mother.
“We laugh about it because, ok, so I’m just really following in your trajectory, that’s great,” Cara said.
After graduation, she worked at a Washington, D.C. lobbying firm, which she loved, but it was too far from home. So she returned to Nashville and started doing some seasonal work at Livability, an online resource centered on the best places in the country to live, work and visit.
“They had some extra things for me to do, and I was trying to figure out what my next step was. Now, I’m the managing editor and director of digital marketing, and I’ve just really grown my career at Livability,” she said.
While there are plenty of similarities between her and her mother and brother, Cara is the first one to point out that a CCI degree is flexible and can send one down a variety of career paths.
“We all had really different and unique experiences, and I was able to pave my own way,” she said.
For her brother, Ford, his way was in television broadcasting.
Ford Sanders & Pure News
While Ford initially wanted to go into sports management, he watched his mother and sister pursue their careers in communication and realized he shared their passion for enhancing communities via storytelling. But for him, he knew he wanted to be an anchor delivering “pure news” to local residents.
Ford enjoyed how his CCI courses started out with a broad overview of communication and journalism, and then began narrowing down to his specific interests. Like his mother and sister, he took advantage of the experiential learning offered at CCI, and worked a part-time job with the SEC Network via VFL Films, and also completed a broadcast internship with WVLT in Knoxville.
“There were tons and tons of opportunities; there were so many I had to turn some down,” he said.
One of the most impactful classes Ford said he took was taught by WVLT news anchor and JEM lecturer Brittany Tarwater.
“She taught JREM 411, which was the most identical to a newsroom as you can get; we were turning stories like you would in the real world. On top of that, she is a news anchor at WVLT news where I was working. I’d see her in the classroom and then I’d see her at work applying what she taught us,” he said.
His hands-on work experience coupled with his education helped him land a job at a news station in Greeneville, North Carolina, despite it being the start of 2021 and the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. He eventually moved up in the ranks there and became a morning reporter and a fill-in anchor, but like his sister, he had an itch to at some point in his career be closer to home — and to work in a larger market. He accepted a position working as a reporter for WHAS11 in Louisville, Kentucky at the beginning of 2022.
“The news here is a lot bigger, a lot harder, but it’s definitely been great,” he said.
Most recently, Ford was offered and accepted a job in his dream city: Austin, Texas. He will begin as a reporter for KVUE News in the Texas’ capital starting in October. As a sister station of his current shop now, Ford says he is excited to remain in the TEGNA and ABC News family in a city like Austin.
Vols For Life
Cara and Ford’s great-grandmother, Hazel Denton, was the very first person in the family to graduate from UT. Cindy said it was somewhat scandalous at the time that her grandmother left the family farm with her younger sister in order to pursue higher education, but she set a precedent that has lasted for generations. So while being a Volunteer may have been in the cards for all three Sanders, none of them could have predicted the amazing experiences they had during their time at CCI and UT—or how it would continue to be an orange thread that runs through their lives and careers.
“I think the traditions of the UT Volunteers are really important. I’m sure people with deep ties to other schools also feel that way, but there are so many foundational principles at UT that I think do carry through life, and certainly the volunteerism carries through that,” Cindy said. “UT instills that sense of being part of something bigger than yourself, and that by pulling together, you can really make a difference.”
One of the things Cara loves about the UT traditions and school spirit is that it extends around the globe, like the one time she saw a Tennessee shirt in a Palms Spring airport.
“I am obsessed with UT,” she laughs. “Every time I go back to Knoxville, I’m like, this is the best place ever. I just really loved it and try to go to alumni events when I can. Many of my friends went to UT or are connected to UT, and you really can find Vols everywhere.”
Ford expressed similar sentiments, noting that being a CCI graduate means lots of networking opportunities that he wouldn’t otherwise have.
“When I compare with my friends who are in journalism, it’s one of the best communication colleges you can go to in terms of academics, but also the networking is insane. I’ve met so many people in high-level roles who are alumni. It’s very well-connected,” he said.
So while the Sanders may have used their CCI degrees to go down very different roads, there’s one thing Cindy said they all certainly share: “We are Volunteers through and through.”