KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — University of Tennessee students taking are taking their studies outside of the classroom and gaining real-world experience as the first-ever hospitality ambassadors at the Big Ears Festival in downtown Knoxville.

Six students from the Department of Retail, Hospitality, and Tourism Management in the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences were chosen by faculty to take part following a multiple-step application process. Dani Netherland, Sydney Hughes, Sarah Cornelius, Paul Vaughn, Rosemarie Poplin, Helen Johnson and Jack Babb are each getting the chance to take part.

Back Row (L-R) Dani Netherland, Sydney Hughes, Sarah Cornelius, Paul Vaughn / Front Row (L-R) Rosemarie Poplin, Helen Johnson, Jack Babb (RHTM PhD Candidate) (Photo via UT)

“Our students continue to be interested in event and festival management and what an incredible honor it is to partner with Big Ears to provide them with this unique ambassadorship,” said Stefanie Benjamin, associate professor in RHTM. “Through this volunteer experience, our students will build their resumes and network with people worldwide.”

At the festival, the students will work in one of three areas: VIP and donor relations, artist transportation and coordination, or artist hospitality. The university says learning opportunities like this give students the chance to gain experience in festivals, event planning and customer service.

“Big Ears is excited to welcome advanced HTM students into our festival production for the first time,” said Tom Welsh, Managing Director of Big Ears. “ They will get real-world professional experience in the fast-paced environment of one of the world’s most unique music festivals.”

This year’s festival will run from March 30 – April 2 with over 140 artists from various genres. Big Ears began in 2009 and has grown to draw attendees from all 50 states and dozens of countries. The festival will be spread out across downtown with more than a dozen venues ranging from intimate clubs to historic theaters to repurposed industrial spaces.

“Having such a world-renowned festival in Knoxville continues to open doors to new partnerships, experiential learning opportunities, and research collaborations for our Volunteer community,” said Benjamin.

In addition to offering real-world learning to undergraduate students, Jack Babb, a Ph.D. student in retail, plans to use the festival as a research opportunity to collaborate with Casey Fox on dissertation data related to connectivity and well-being at the festival. Fox is the festival’s director of development.