Comm Studies Alum John Tupps Comes Home to Knoxville and Lands on the Volunteer 40 Under 40
Caption: John Tupps, right, works as communication director for then-Florida Governor Rick Scott as they respond to storm damage in Pensacola in 2014.
School of Communication Studies alumnus John Tupps (’07) always knew that he’d pursue his higher education at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Even though he was an Army brat who spent the first 11 years of his life in Germany, Belgium, and Maryland, Knoxville held a special place in his heart as home since so much of his family resides in the city. He and his wife, Emily, and their two daughters moved back to Knoxville in July 2022, so being named as one of 2024’s Volunteer 40 Under 40 was particularly timely as he hopes to start connecting more with his alma mater and the current students at the College of Communication and Information (CCI).
“I was very excited to be recognized by the University of Tennessee, an institution I care so much about. It means a lot to me. I’m just really humbled because I’ve seen others on the list this year and in previous years, and you’re talking about some very accomplished alumni from this university,” he said. “Just to be able to be mentioned on the same list is an incredible feeling and something that I’m really proud of.”
There were many opportunities for him to get hands-on experience at CCI, Tupps said, including working at WUTK 90.3, UT’s student-run radio station. He worked closely with station manager Benny Smith and helped run the station, whether behind the mic as a DJ or ensuring shifts were covered. This experience helped him land a job before he even graduated, as a DJ and radio producer at South Central Radio Group.
“It was quite an interesting experience and I know it happens often, but to be finishing your degree while your foot is in the door with your career was quite the experience, on both ends. My professors and instructors understood I was starting a career and my boss at the time understood I was completing my degree. Balancing those was challenging, but something I am really happy I did,” he said.
Meeting his wife pushed him to move to Florida, which is where she was earning a master’s degree to become a licensed mental health counselor. That’s when his career really took off and in 2011, he began working in the communications office for Rick Scott’s new gubernatorial administration. Tupps would remain there for two terms until 2019, eventually serving as press secretary and communications director.
That role put all of Tupps’ communication and government affairs expertise to the test. No day was the same and there were plenty of demands, but it was also very rewarding, he said.
“Working in a government office for a state the size of Florida is hectic. I always saw my role as a storyteller, but also as a main conduit to help people understand some of the actions and decisions of their government, and that takes a lot of different forms. It can be ensuring constituents are heard and we receive their input and opinions, all the way up to ensuring everyone is prepared for a large hurricane,” he said. “Everyone wants to understand what the state is going to do about a wide variety of issues, and it’s your job as an executive of the state to make a lot of decisions. I’m really proud of the work we accomplished under then-Governor, now Senator Scott.”
That position segued into working for Visit Florida, the official tourism marketing organization that runs advertisements to encourage visitors to the state, as tourism is one of Florida’s largest industries. Then he began working for Scott again, who was elected as one of Florida’s United States senators, as state director. This meant managing operations for the senator’s offices in Florida and managing staff across the state.
“I always saw Floridians as both my boss and my customers. I was working with locally elected officials, ensuring they can break through in Washington if they’re having trouble getting decisions made or reaching a federal official. Really ensuring that, no matter who the Floridian is who called in or what issue they have, we worked to make sure we understood each issue, and that we listened. You can’t fix every problem people have but you sure as heck can try. You can really make a big impact on people’s lives,” Tupps said.
Whether it was helping someone who was having trouble with Medicare or getting a passport, or assisting a county mayor trying to land a federal grant, Tupps was there to help them. Throughout every one of these positions, the CCI alum said the common denominator was getting the opportunity to work with incredible people. Whether it was the constituents, mentors, or people he mentored, he said he’s thankful for the opportunity to have met and worked with so many amazing individuals. He’s a self-described people person and these front-and-center roles were a perfect fit for his personality.
“My role in public service has really taught me a lot about not taking my experience at UT for granted, and where I came from for granted. It’s taught me how to relate to people, how to have compassion for folks when they might have a government issue they’re having trouble solving, and that sometimes people just want someone to listen to them and for their government to show up and be responsive. So, I really relish that, and it’s something I carry forth with me in my current role now,” he said.
That current role is managing economic development for a clean technology company called Monolith, based in Lincoln, Nebraska. Tupps is passionate when he talks about how Monolith is finding solutions in manufacturing everyday products in a more environmentally friendly way. In his role he works with government agencies and elected officials to provide information they need from the company, and to ensure Monolith is well-represented throughout the entire value chain when it comes to public stakeholders.
For Tupps, a lot of what he does on and off the job always comes back to the Volunteer spirit—something he says isn’t just part of UT but exemplifies the region as a whole. It’s a big reason why he’s so happy to be back on his home turf.
“The Volunteer spirit is part of the fabric of being in East Tennessee. We know this is a very special place and we know how great it is to live in East Tennessee. One of the reasons I think people are so passionate about Volunteer sports is that it is uniquely ours, it is the University of Tennessee’s, it’s our alumni’s, and our students’, but it’s also Knoxville’s,” he said. “I think that when you put that together, you have a very tangible demonstration of passion for this community.”