JEM Alum Ravyn Towns Gives Back to Grow Students’ Worlds
Ravyn Towns (‘14) wanted to give back to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, from the moment she graduated with her bachelor’s degree in journalism and electronic media.
Her experiences on campus and at the College of Communication and Information (CCI) provided Towns with a foundation that has held strong through numerous challenges in her life. She developed relationships that continue to bring her great joy and support.
“I take being a Vol for Life very seriously because UT cultivated that in me. Even as a minority student, I never lacked community,” Towns said. “I decided a long time ago that being a Vol for life means I am making a financial contribution to my school because it gave me so much.”
Towns Gives Back Through Endowment
Towns, 31, didn’t want to wait until she was older to put the wheels in motion. The Memphis native wanted to help others as soon as possible.
After researching her options, Towns developed a scholarship for CCI students to study abroad called Seeds today. Sunflowers tomorrow. UT Knoxville Alumni Tri-Star Scholarship Endowment.
The Tri-Star Scholarship Program helps Tennessee residents access the Volunteer experience through three scholarships: UT Promise, Flagship, and the Tennessee Pledge.
To help transform the lives of students through scholarships, signed pledges of $12,500 or more are honored by a one-to-one match toward any new UT Knoxville Alumni Tri-Star Scholarship Endowment.
Towns studied abroad in the summer of 2013 with six other UT students in Nicosia, Cyprus, where they worked on a documentary about a sausage native to the Greek diet. The group spent five weeks abroad learning about Greek culture and meeting students from other universities, including someone Towns now considers to be a best friend and speaks with daily.
In order to make the trip possible, she received support from family, friends, CCI, the Diversity Student Leaders Society, and the Black Cultural Center.
“Studying abroad changed my life,” Towns said. “It broke so many barriers and it allowed me to face so many fears and brought so much goodness to my life. I want others to get that same experience.”
The name of the scholarship has a special meaning to Towns.
A Life-Changing Event
In 2015, Towns was caught in crossfire and shot in her left forearm, left abdomen, and left buttocks.
“They said my chance of survival was very slim and I was very shaken,” Towns said. “I was getting a lot of gifts like flowers and get well cards and I remember sunflowers gave me this burst of happiness. I can’t explain it.”
As she recovered from her injuries, Towns noticed sunflowers began appearing at important times in her life. Photos of them lined the hallways at her occupational therapy appointments and she would meet people with sunflower tattoos, the one she has on her left arm.
On the day her father died in 2018, she encountered sunflowers that comforted her and helped her deal with the grief.
“They always find me and they let me know that I really am going to be OK,” Towns said. “It shows me that things get greater later. It’s very profound.”
The name of the scholarship also doubles as a guide to help students along their journey.
“I really want students to understand that it takes hard work in order to keep it,” Towns said. “Because 1) The harvest is guaranteed when you nurture the seeds you have sown. 2) Growing an abundant garden happens only when you are committed to doing the work. 3) The priority is accountability to understand that you reap what you sow.”
Finding Ways to Grow Education
Sarah Barclay, associate director of advancement at CCI, first met Towns at the School of Journalism and Media’s 75th anniversary dinner. Barclay helped Towns find her seat when she arrived. As she was leaving, Towns thanked Barclay and mentioned she wanted to start a scholarship.
The two reconnected a few months later in Towns’ hometown of Memphis and discussed the ways that would be possible.
“I’m impressed by her motivation to give back and support others,” Barclay said. “She’s setting a leadership example for other young alums and showing others what it looks like to stay engaged with your alma mater. She is just really passionate about UT and recognized how much of an impact scholarships have on students.”
As she learned more about Towns through their discussions, Barclay was even more moved by her acts of philanthropy.
“She has really been through a lot personally and I think it really shows her resiliency,” Barclay said. “She is always putting other people first and staying positive despite all the things that life has thrown at her.”
Towns, who obtained a master of public service degree from Clinton School of Public Service, has returned to UT this year as an enrollment management operations communications coordinator. She also plans to teach a first-year studies course in the fall.
“I love being able to strengthen communications for our campus partners so they can better serve our students,” Towns said. “I get a great sense of fulfillment when we are at campus events and a campus partner might say, ‘Because of your email, we got a 60-percent increase versus last year when we did this event.'”
Towns is happy she didn’t wait until she was older to help CCI students at UT. She hopes other young alums realize they can make a difference by giving back.
“I think about my life and how everything happened and I never saw any of this coming,” Towns said. “I want to inspire other people to follow that voice in their head and the voice in their heart because everything has really fallen into place.”
Anyone interested in learning more about the Tri-Star Scholarships program can contact Sarah Barclay at email@example.com
Written by Rhiannon Potkey