KNOXVILLE, Tenn.— The University of Tennessee’s College of Communications unveiled a new partnership between the School of Advertising and Public Relations and the Tombras Group at a press conference held in Circle Park on Friday.
Together, UT faculty and Dooley Tombras, the president of the Tombras Group, announced that the school would be officially named the Tombras School of Advertising and Public Relations after a $5 million donation to the school, making it the first named school at UT, the first named school of advertising and public relations among all land-grant institutions in the country and the first of its kind in the SEC according to Wednesday’s press release. Joseph Mazer, the dean of UT’s College of Communications and Information, believes that this partnership is important to the growth of UT’s advertising and public relations programs.
“Well, whenever we see a large gift like this, what it does is it shows to the community, to the state, to the world, that there’s a vision in the college that people are wanting to get behind,” Mazer said. “I think that’s one of the most exciting things about a partnership like this is people see the vision, they see the reality, they see something great coming alive, and they want to get involved.”
The name change follows a long-standing history between the Knoxville-born Tombras Group and UT and the donation made to the school intended to help fund the enhancement and expansion of advertising and public relations education.
Despite the long history, the new partnership with the Tombras Group was bigger than anticipated to Dr. Beth Foster, the director of the newly named Tombras School of Advertising and Public Relations.
Tombras School of Advertising and Public Relations temporary signage unveiled at Friday’s press conference.
“It’s the biggest event of my career and it’s one I couldn’t have even dreamed of when I first got started,” Foster said. “On the other hand, it was an immediate goal of mine when I became director, and we had these great partnerships with local agencies, and I saw tremendous opportunity to better leverage those.”
The partnership between the Tombras Group and UT is set to bring along more changes than a school’s name. With the donation, the College of Communications and Information plans to completely change the status quo of advertising and public relations in higher education.
“A lot of time students come to universities and aren’t really aware of what advertising and public relations really are…hopefully this will make the school more visible earlier on,” Foster said. “We’ll be able to provide more opportunity for (current students) like scholarships and study abroad and things … New faculty, new classes, (and) we’ll modernize our curriculum and development.”
The Tombras Group’s donation also involves working with the Tennessee Promise to put a Tombras professorship at UT that will not only put a Tombras professor in the school but will send them to the flagship inner-city schools around the state to provide more visibility to the advertising and public relation majors, something that has been lacking at UT.
In the past seven years, UT’s School of Advertising and Public Relations has averaged 390 students enrolled per year, with a high of 413 students in 2016. The school’s partnership with Tombras Group hopes to improve these numbers with increased visibility.
“When you look at national data on naming opportunities and enrollment, what you see is a very sharp line up and to the right, meaning that the naming opportunity has a positive effect on enrollment,” Mazer said. “Prospective students see a named school and that school is elevated in terms of quality and many want to learn more about it and apply and come to the school. Those opportunities increase the relevance of the program…and people see that and want to be part of it.”
The newly named Tombras School of Advertising and Public relations plans to make big changes to its academic facilities. With the donation, the school will be expanding with more labs, classrooms and workspaces in UT’s communications building, with the goal of giving students an enhanced professional experience.
However, the school hopes to change more than just its own program.
“This could become a model for other industry-academic partnerships across the country and especially if we all work toward the common goal of diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Foster said. “I hope we can be a role model program and provide a blueprint on what that can look like.”
The Tombras Group and UT partnership could start a new trend at universities across the country, not only showing off its importance to UT, but to the entire academic world.