KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is working with the Change Center to increase college access and educational opportunities for middle and high school students in East Knoxville.

The partnership is planned to include regular events and programming led by UT faculty, staff, and students in partnership with the Change Center. These programs include back-to-school bashes, tailgates, college nights, and educational awareness and community service projects

“It is important to me personally, and to our university, that UT is not only a place for people to come, but also a place that serves the people of Tennessee in their own communities,” said Chancellor Donde Plowman. “This partnership with the Change Center puts UT in the heart of East Knoxville, doing important work that makes access to the kind of life-changing opportunities that higher education affords easier for young people who live within arm’s reach of our campus.”

The Change Center, which grew out of the Save our Sons Initiative, is a space for teens and young adults that encourages a positive community transformation through work and play. The Change Center has a skating rink, arcade, climbing wall, and other entertainment for teens and young adults to have a positive atmosphere.

The center also employs 25 area high school students with the goal of preparing them for successful college and professional careers. The center also has an entrepreneurial program to help young adults start their business and provide mentorship throughout the process.

“It’s one thing to invite folks to UT,” said Matthew Best, executive director of the Change Center. “It’s another for UT to be here, inviting folks into a space they already know and trust.”

Other events that have been discussed are workshops to help students understand financial aid and scholarship opportunities. Austin-East, Fulton, and Central high schools are three of the 28 flagship schools statewide. Students who graduate from these schools are awarded a scholarship that covers eight semesters of tuition and fees.

The goal of the partnership is not only to help youth get to college, but to prepare them for success once they are there. According to Best, the collaboration will help prepare students for what’s next once they arrive on campus and help parents come around them to support their children’s success.

The day-to-day work of the partnership will be managed by the Office of Community Outreach and Engagement. According to the press release from the university, UT is one of 28 American universities designated as community engaged with high research activity by the Carnegie Foundation. This distinction sets it apart for its teaching, scholarship and public engagement.

“It’s important that we use our experience and expertise to build a mutually beneficial partnership with an organization so vital to our community,” said Tyvi Small, vice chancellor for diversity and engagement. “The center can be a linchpin for helping the university connect with highly talented and motivated high school students and give them opportunities that can change their lives while also providing the university a home off campus to make a deeper impact through engaged scholarship.”

The first event in this partnership will be a Family Fun Day. UT will host the back to school event from 12:30-2:30 p.m. at the Change Center. Local students will receive school supplies, and there will be free roller skating and a bounce house. The Change Center is located at 203 Harriet Tubman Street.