Alumni Eric and Tyra Haag Embrace the Volunteer Spirit in Their Work and Beyond
There are Vols For Life and then there are spouses Eric (’03, ’04) and Tyra Tucker (’04) Haag, who, along with their three children, sleep, eat, and breathe Tennessee orange. While Tyra is an inductee into the Big Orange fandom, Eric was the one who pulled her into the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, fold. Both graduated from the College of Communication and Information, and now, both have established high-level careers at UT.
Eric is the executive director of alumni relations for UT’s Office of Alumni Relations, and Tyra is the director of news and information in UT’s Office of Communications and Marketing. Every day they get to talk to students, alumni, faculty, and staff about the unique experience it is to be a Volunteer, and neither would have it any other way.
“There’s power in a college degree and I tell my story to everyone I meet. My time at UT truly prepared me for what I’m doing now, and completely changed the trajectory of my life. I’m forever a Vol and grateful to call Rocky Top home,” Tyra said.
A UT Degree
Eric grew up going to UT football games with his father and hasn’t missed a Vols home game since 1999. Not only was his father, Allan Haag (’72, Haslam College of Business), an alumnus, but his mother, uncle, two aunts, a cousin, brother, and sister-in-law all proudly call UT their alma mater. His parents met during college, at Carrick Hall, and their family is steeped in Big Orange traditions.
“I had my sights set on Rocky Top at a very early age and never had any intention of applying anywhere else. I took the ACT, got accepted, and did my second-best recruiting job ever to get Tyra to follow suit,” he said, noting his first-best recruiting job was getting his now-wife to date him.
Tyra was a year behind Eric and followed him from their hometown of Hendersonville, Tennessee, where they became high school sweethearts at the age of 17. She visited him enough times at UT that the campus became a familiar place, but there was one moment that really sealed the deal.
“My very first football game was fall of ‘99. UT played Auburn and had a shutout win, and it was something I’d never experienced before!” she exclaimed.
While Eric had initially thought he wanted to be a sports announcer, perhaps the next John Ward doing play-by-play announcing for UT, a high school marketing course piqued his interest in public relations.
“I loved the writing aspect and the behind-the-scenes work with public relations, and the front-facing work. So that was sort of in the back of my mind; when I got into UT and CCI, I had a shift in thought in what I wanted to do. I didn’t really want to go to a small town and be a minor league baseball broadcaster and move around a lot. Fall of my freshman year, I changed my mind and decided to pursue public relations. I never looked back,” he said.
There was less of a clear academic path for Tyra, who changed her major three times before landing on a major in communication studies before her junior year—and even then, she double-majored in Spanish. As a first-gen student and an avid learner, it was difficult for her to find her place and narrow down her interests. But it was an easy decision to declare her major after sitting down with Associate Professor John Haas, then-director of the School of Communication Studies, who took the time to listen to her and answer all her questions.
“Once I was in the program, he was dedicated to ensuring my success and finishing the second half of my academic journey at UT. I credit him with helping me make some halftime adjustments. I graduated on time in four years with honors and with two degrees,” she said. “Now UT is a national leader in personalized approaches to student success. Our Division of Student Success has multiple programs dedicated to supporting every student scholar to enrich their student experience and improve outcomes.”
Both alumni also kept themselves busy with other UT endeavors while they were students. Eric won first place in a public speaking competition and earned his football letterman status by working as a football equipment manager, graduate assistant, and full-time football operations assistant.
Tyra was a member of the communication studies honor society, Lambda Pi Eta, the Communication Studies Club, and was invited to participate in the National Communication Association’s Annual Convention for her senior research paper. In addition to her academics, she was the 2003 UT Miss Homecoming runner-up, the 2004 Greek Woman of the Year, and a member of the Alpha Omicron Pi sorority.
Of course, neither of the Haags’ UT adventures ended there. Eric was set on attending graduate school at the Tombras School of Advertising and Public Relations, and once again had no other institution he wanted a graduate degree from besides UT.
“It really prepared me well, I enjoyed all my classes, I enjoyed my professors…The things that stick out from my time in grad school are the importance of attention to detail, being clear and concise in your communication, balancing that behind-the-scenes work and getting in the weeds, but also being front-facing and interacting with people,” he said.
Senior year for Tyra was a busy one, as she and Eric set their wedding just one week after she graduated.
“I really wanted to go to graduate school but couldn’t find a way to make it work. I now have my eye on CCI’s online master’s program in strategic and digital communications. Several of my colleagues have gone through the program and had incredible experiences. The interdisciplinary curriculum is right up my alley and would enrich my current role,” she said.
After graduation she dove right into two local internships, one at the area’s number one TV station and the other at a marketing and communications firm downtown.
By then, the Haags felt fully ready to start the careers that would lead to where they are today.
A UT Career
Eric has worked for UT in some capacity for the past 17.5 years, with the first couple of years at UT Athletics and the last 14 in alumni relations. He couldn’t imagine a more suitable job than to interact daily with people who are passionate about UT.
“It’s a great place with great people—it’s really about the people. The university itself is buildings and sidewalks, but there’s something about it when we’re there that makes it more than just a place. It’s an atmosphere that you really can’t describe until you’re there,” he said. “In my role, I get to interact with people who maybe only come back to campus once or twice a year, and seeing how just being on those sidewalks and on campus makes them feel, it gives me a reminder all the time to not take it for granted and to understand how important it is to so many people.”
After she graduated, Tyra honed her communication skills at her internships and then began working as the project director for a nonprofit drug abuse prevention agency. After working there for four years, she became the communications director for a boutique PR firm in Maryville for six years before finding her way back home to UT.
She started at UT as a public relations specialist before moving into her current role as director of news and information, where she oversees the university’s media relations efforts and leads a team of public relations professionals. The team’s job is to promote and protect the university’s reputation through news content strategy, pitching faculty experts, and building and maintaining relationships with local, state, national and global media outlets. Additional responsibilities include planning for, mitigating, and responding to issues; curating and distributing key internal communications; and shared spokesperson duties.
It’s a lively job where no day looks the same, and there’s been exciting highlights along the way, such as managing media relations for the Today Show’s visit when the Guinness World Record was set for forming the world’s largest Power T; the famous homemade t-shirt a young Vol fan in Florida made; First Lady Jill Biden’s visit to campus; and Peyton Manning’s announcement that he would be a professor of practice at CCI.
“You never know what you’re going to get in this role,” she said. “I definitely don’t take for granted how privileged I am to get a front-row seat to watch and learn from Chancellor Plowman, especially, and the other incredible leaders across this campus like Vice Chancellor for Communications Tisha Benton, Vice Provost for Student Success Amber Williams and Associate Vice Chancellor for HR Mary Lucal, to name a few. I appreciate collaborating with them and working with people like (CCI) Dean Mazer, whose leadership I greatly appreciate and whose bold vision for the college is incredibly exciting,” she said.
While the Haags continue to flourish in their careers, their dedication to UT and CCI has never wavered. Both are proud donors and encourage other alumni to give back to UT to help support the next generation of Vols. Tyra also serves on the School of Communication Studies Advisory Board. And—despite spending their working hours at UT—they enjoy tailgating in Circle Park each fall and still attend every home football game. Tagging along with them to these events are their three sons, Noah (15), Brenton (13), and Eli (10), all of whom have been thoroughly entrenched in the UT spirit since birth and have already expressed their own desires to attend their parents’ alma mater.
“The Volunteer Spirit means everything to us. UT is such a huge part of our lives, it’s way beyond a job for both of us. It’s really a calling. We’re blessed to be able to do it,” Eric said.