The photographer behind the iPhone

Knoxville-based travel photographer Corey Wolfenbarger worked on four continents with several popular companies. He still does not understand how he earned his opportunities.

“Sometimes you do not know how these things happen,” Wolfenbarger said.

Wolfenbarger, 24, visited the University of Tennessee Wednesday, Jan. 31 for a talk in Lindsey Young Auditorium at John C. Hodges Library. He shared his photography journey and a few photo editing tips from apps on his smartphone.

Wolfenbarger got his start on Instagram and Tumblr in 2012. Now, his portfolio contains photos from companies like TOMS, Urban Outfitters and Holiday Inn.

Equipped with only his iPhone 5, he set his sights on the Blue Ridge Mountains and took as many photos as possible.

“I was sharing them on Instagram and getting twenty likes,” Wolfenbarger said. “Nobody was hyping my stuff but I was still really hyped on it.”

Wolfenbarger’s life revolved around photography during his college career. He often skipped class.

“I decided that if I took photos at sunrise or sunset then my photos were going to be way better,” Wolfenbarger said. “So, I would make the executive decision to not go to class anymore.”

In 2014, he decided to drop out of college. He moved in with his parents and turned his scope to the Great Smokey Mountains. Almost every day, Wolfenbarger took trips to the mountains. His photos gained popularity on social media.

New Year’s Eve 2015, something clicked to Wolfenbarger.

Surrounded by talented and successful photographers, he knew he could make a living by taking photos.

“I saw that if I work as hard as I can and stay humble and realize that I don’t know everything… give it my all and that I can do this and people will pay me eventually,” Wolfenbarger said. “If it was little at the time or whether it as nothing. I can make a living with this.”

By 2016, Wolfenbarger’s popularity increased, and he received requests to take photos. All he had at the time was his iPhone.

“I just had an iPhone,” Wolfenbarger said. “I was not going to out myself so I would make up some obscure excuse why I could not do it.”

He decided if he wanted to receive serious pay-work, he should buy a DSLR camera. New technology became a setback for Wolfenbarger because he only shot photos from his iPhone prior to requests. He knew he needed to progress.

“The DLSR was terrifying for me,” Wolfenbarger said. “I did not know how they worked. I did not know how I was going to edit my photos.”

Wolfenbarger initially struggled to learn the basics like aperture and shutter speed.

“When it clicks for you, it’s the most beautiful moment of all time,” Wolfenbarger said.

Wolfenbarger received many opportunities to work with companies in 2016, a “dream year” full of travel and unexpected chances.

Wolfenbarger continues to learn and strives to improve his photography. He is currently working several booklets and plans to travel to Yosemite National Park.

“It is very frustrating and it does have a lot of setbacks, but it is where I am at in my work right now in my photography,” Wolfenbarger said. “I don’t see myself leaving anytime soon.

Edited by Chelsea Babin

Featured Photo by Sage Davis

International conflict mediator shares strategy for countering extremism in Syria

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Violence will not stop terrorist extremism in Syria, according to international conflict mediator and international law attorney Samar Ali.

Ali presented a lecture titled “Countering Violent Extremism in Syria and Beyond” on Monday, Feb. 29 in the Howard Baker Center.  Her lecture discussed the Syrian conflict over the past decade and strategies for countering violent extremism in the Middle East.

Ali stated that there are now 13.5 million refugees as a result of the Syrian Crisis.  As a result, 40 percent of youths in the Middle East are unemployed, which makes them targets for terrorist recruitment.

“[Terrorist groups] prey upon grievances, and they understand what those are,” she said.  “The smart thing for us to do is to provide alternatives to those grievances.”

Ali stated that these “grievances” that make individuals or communities vulnerable to violent extremism recruitment are predominately conditions like physical insecurity or the inability to provide for oneself or one’s family.  But sometimes there are mental factors as well, such as feeling valued or having a “higher purpose.”

Ali’s solution is to implement strategies that improves living situations for at-risk populations.  Some strategies included promoting human rights, expanding economic and political opportunities and avoiding harmful generalizations about entire groups of people.  She concluded by suggesting that there is a global responsibility surrounding these strategies that cannot be left to just the Middle East.

“The majority of Muslims want to live the same lifestyle that everyone in this room is living right now,” she said. “These people are people, just like anybody else, and they have had historical realities that have pushed them into a very unfortunate time period.  This is a global security matter where we all hold a certain level of responsibility, and if we rise up to the opportunity, we will conquer violent extremism.”

Grace Rotz, a senior studying technical communications attended the lecture. She appreciated the reminder that it is crucial to be well-informed before forming opinions about groups of people, especially during a time when the United States is seeing large numbers of Syrian immigrants enter the country.

“Public policy and international policy deals a lot more talking with the people and not just assuming political rhetoric is always correct,” Rotz said.  “We can’t assume that Americans know everything about Syria or that Syrians know everything about America.  We need to know both sides of the story.”

Ali’s lecture was held by the Howard Baker Center’s Global Security Program, which offers many related events year-round that are free and open to the public.

For more information about events at the Howard Baker center, click here.

Featured Image by The Tennessee Journalist

Edited by Jessica Carr

Chancellors Cheek, Hall sit with Commission for LGBT People

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Chancellor Jimmy Cheek and Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion Rickey Hall met with the Commission for LGBT People on Monday, Feb. 1 in Hodges Library Room 605.

Cheek discussed recent bills that he and Hall cited as ones of concern for the University of Tennessee. One bill Cheek cited was SB 1902, the amendment that would cut funds for diversity and multicultural programs in half.

Cheek also discussed an amendment that would restructure the Board of Trustees for the university system, completely eliminating the current board. New members would be appointed by the governor, the House and the Senate.

Two students and two faculty would also be appointed should the amendment be passed.

Cheek said there is a proposal to create a committee to examine diversity at UT, a move he considers helpful. He also said he has been in talks with the Legislature regarding the bills and what is right for UT.

“Diversity is a key, central component of the university,” Cheek said.

The meeting was opened to questions from those in attendance. Members of the audience were handed copies of the agenda, which had suggested questions for the chancellors on the back of the sheet.

When asked about the Legislature’s relationship with the university regarding the diversity programs, Cheek cited other universities in the country that are dealing with their state lawmakers, including the University of North Carolina and the University of Wisconsin.

“If you look at what’s going on nationwide, we are not unique,” Cheek said.

“A lot of it is cultural,” Hall said about Legislature’s reaction to diversity efforts. “A lot of it is due to a lack of education.”

Hall said he believes businesses should be speaking up for diversity at UT as well.

“Are they having these conversations?” Hall asked.

The Pride Center was also a topic of discussion during the meeting. The Pride Center is located in Melrose Hall, a building that is scheduled for demolition. According the center’s director, Donna Braquet, the center has no budget or full-time staff, but is constantly working.

“When you look at what other centers are doing, we are doing far more with far less,” Braquet said.

Hall responded that the challenge for the center’s location will be finding a new space that is “highly trafficked” like the current Melrose space is.

Several members of the audience also brought the topic of gender-neutral bathrooms on campus and the change from labeling them as “Gender-Inclusive” to “Family-style” on the Interactive Maps website. Currently, there are less than 20 “Family-style” bathrooms on campus.

Kristen Godfrey, the graduate assistant of the Pride Center, said she believed the name of the bathrooms is important to students who need them to feel safe.

“When we take away this language, we are erasing these identities,” Godfrey said.  

The next Commission for LGBT People meeting will be March 7 at noon, in Hodges Room 605. More information about the commission can be found online.

Edited by Ben Webb

Featured image by Thomas Delgado 

Profile: Nothing small about assistant hall director’s impact

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One of the first things you notice about Rashad Small’s office is the number of messages, thank you notes and creative drawings on the walls.

Some are funny, some serious, but they all share the same theme: students saying thanks. All of the handmade, artsy gratitude is fitting of what Small, the assistant hall director at Reese Hall, has given to other students.

“I just use my creative skills elsewhere when it comes to problem solving for students and helping them in the best way I can,” Small said.

Those creative skills originated in Georgia, where he grew up. After his parents divorced when he was three, Small split time between his mother and father. Throughout high school, Small would stay with his mother in Norcross, a city just outside of Atlanta, one of the most diverse cities in the state. In the summer or on holidays, he would travel to a rural town in South Georgia named Collins, home to about 500 people, to live with his father. The difference in lifestyles opened his eyes toward the future.

“It was very beneficial because in the environment where my father was, a lot of people there would get pigeonholed into doing things that I wouldn’t want to do, necessarily,” Small said. “And then being in Atlanta, I was exposed to so many things and opportunities in the school system there where I was at.  And having those different environments really pushed me and prepared me for college and after.”

Small said he fell in love with art and photography in high school.

“I really found the passion for that through a lot of different things and how it relates to my life, like problem-solving, critical thinking and thinking outside of the box,” Small said.

Although he found that passion, he was hesitant to commit to it because of stigmas that said artists make little or no money while not doing anything worthwhile. After taking a year off to figure out what direction he wanted to go in life, Small decided art was still his passion and was accepted to the Savannah College of Art and Design. However, the tuition was a little too high for his liking. He reassessed where he wanted his debt to be after college and chose to enroll at Georgia Southern University for his undergraduate studies.

His time as a resident assistant at Georgia Southern opened his eyes to a new world. Small said he was a bit shocked when he first arrived at GSU, but resident assistants were there to help him out. He said their support, along with student affairs, helped shape him into who he is today.

“For me, it’s all about giving back to other people,” Small said. “It’s been pretty cool to be able to give back in that way because students always need help with an event or something like that.”

His four years as a resident assistant at GSU gave him a passion for serving people. When he decided to come to the University of Tennessee for his graduate studies, he made sure to bring that passion with him.

“Rashad is one of the most personable people that I have known,” John Abernathy, a junior who has been a resident assistant under Small’s care for a year and a half, said. “He can communicate well. He is very caring towards everybody, including staff and non-staff members, and the best way to describe him is a warm character.”

It is not only the students under him who notice. His boss, hall director Terrance Jagrup, said that Small always has a smile on his face that rubs off on the students around him.

“I just think his personality is contagious, and once you get to know him, you just have to love him,” Jagrup said.

As someone who identifies as African-American, homosexual and a vegetarian, Small brings a little bit of everything to the table. He said that he uses his identity to teach students to be aware of the many minority students at UT.

“I make sure I let my RAs know that they can support LGBT students by doing different types of things in the building,” Small said. “You can support students who have disabilities by doing this; you can support minority students by doing that. And I think that’s helped out a whole lot because students are seeing that and are starting to change things when they plan out events.”

Even though he graduates in the spring, Small is unsure of his employment plans after graduation. One thing he does know, however, is what he will be doing.

“My goal is to — no matter what — help out college students,” Small said. “I really see value in that because [college] is a very crucial time in your life, and at least in my experience, you change so much in your college career.”

Featured image by Nathan Odom

Edited by Courtney Anderson



Film screening showcases love in autistic community

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Love is a way of life. Love is protecting and caring for someone. Love is finding your soul mate. Love is a force of attraction between two people. It is not visible or quantifiable.

These were the definitions of love given by audience members before the free screening of “Autism in Love,” shown in the Alumni Memorial Building on Thursday, Nov. 19.

The University of Tennessee’s FUTURE Post secondary Education Program, in partnership with Independent Lens and East Tennessee PBS, brought the screening to UT. William Isom, director of community outreach at PBS, and Tom Beeson, program coordinator of FUTURE, were in charge of setting this event up.

“I think a lot of people with autism feel isolated, and events like these can bring this community together, so they do not feel so alone,” Beeson said about having an event like this.

“Autism in Love” captures how the autistic community handles keeping romantic relationships alive, showing everything from the heartbreak to the joy of love.

Jonathan Sharpe, facilitator and founder of Mountain Empire Aspies, who is on the autism spectrum himself, enjoyed the movie.

“It was one of the best autism based movies I have ever seen,” Sharpe said.

A networking opportunity was offered after the film ended to discuss the documentary. Veronica Cordell, president of Autism Site Knoxville, said that the crowd seemed to be very moved and enjoyed talking about not only the film, but also about parts of the movie they could relate to.

Featured image by Ryan McGill

Edited by Courtney Anderson

UT alumna speaks on climate change at science forum

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Melissa R. Allen of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory spoke for the 2015 UT Science Forum “Climate Variability and Change: What Fundamental Science and Modeling Tell Us.”

Allen opened by talking about a common debate between climate scientists and detractors; whether or not human activity causes the climate variability that has been observed.

“The scientists, in all of the observations they’d seen and all the modeling they had done worldwide, had come to the conclusion that warming was unequivocal,” Allen said.

To expand on her statement, Allen went on to describe what climate change is.

“We have an energy balance between the Earth and space. The sun’s radiation is coming in as light. Light color or bright color, it will just reflect the light back into space,” Allen said. “The darker surfaces will absorb that radiation and then they re-radiate infrared radiation or long-wave radiation, and that gets trapped then by greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere.”

Allen also stated that some greenhouse gasses are good, and that there would not be life on Earth without them.

Her lecture included other topics, such as talking about Sen. James M. Inhofe’s vocal stance against climate change, the infrared absorption spectrum and the polar ice caps.

“Antarctica goes through this cycle every year, that some melts and some melts and some grows back,” Allen said. “The issue, though, is are we losing more ice than we’re gaining?”

She then directed the audience’s attention towards a new study that suggested that the ice caps were gaining more ice than they were losing.

“Turns out, though, that the study that had been done was looking at data from 1992 to 2008, and really all that study said was that increase in ice was constant. What it did not say was that the rate of the decrease in ice was increasing,” Allen said.

Allen closed her lecture by likening the climate change denial to that of an unhealthy individual who refuses to change their lifestyle.

“If we ignore this, we’re kind of like ignoring a doctor that tells us that if we don’t shape up and lose weight and stop smoking, we’re going to have a heart attack,” Allen said. “And we tell the doctor ‘I’m sorry, you’re a heretic because you can’t tell me when I’m going to have a heart attack.'”

Featured image by Benjamin Webb

Edited by Courtney Anderson