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BETS: Opening Doors to Business Education

The 2015 BETS Program will be held June 18-27, 2015

“Prospective partners want to know how much we care before they care how much we know,” said Tyvi Small, Director of Diversity and Community Relations in the Haslam College of Business. “We have to be able to demonstrate that we have the same mission, vision and goals that they do.”

Business Education for Talented Students (BETS) is a one-week residential program designed to introduce high school students from under-represented and under-served communities to the various business fields. More than 150 high school students have participated in BETS, 64 of whom have gone on to enroll at UT, with 40 of those majoring in business.

“We get a lot of support from across the state and really, throughout the Southeast,” said Small.  Schools and other programs have become increasingly eager to promote BETS as well. “If a community group doesn’t get our flyer, they call!”

0 saved-for-web-THIS-ONE-FOR-FEATUREOne way BETS ensures ongoing success is a daily survey of participating students. When surveys show something isn’t working, BETS adapts. For example, the “Marketplace” or business simulation portion of the program originally occurred in the evening, so that students could apply what they’d learned that day. Student presentations delivered during Marketplace were excellent, which seemed further to demonstrate the effectiveness of this approach.

However, said Small, “sometimes we think we know best, but that’s not always the case.”

Student surveys uncovered an overwhelming dislike for the Marketplace’s time slot. After a full day of programming, students said they were tired and no longer felt fresh or creative. In response, BETS staff rescheduled Marketplace several hours earlier in the afternoon, and students love it.

Small has also learned a lot about community partnering in his years at UT.  His best advice? “You’ve got to listen.” Community partnerships are “not just build it and they will come,” but require actively engaging with everyone involved, including students and even their parents. “We touch every facet of the community.”

“Don’t be afraid of having conversations with those you wish to serve,” advises Small. “They’ll tell you what they need, tell you what they want.”

After BETS ends each summer, Small’s staff continues to follow every student. Email and mailing information participants have shared goes to UT’s admissions office, and BETS staff follow up directly as well, sending emails in the fall to remind students of upcoming college and scholarship application deadlines. BETS alumni also follow up with Small and his staff, who make sure students have their contact information, too. “They include us as part of their college application process,” Small said.

400x277-AtriumIt is clear that BETS students remain important to Small. Seven years ago, he said, “I started this program from scratch with 10 students, and didn’t know what came next.”

And does he ever hear from that first class of students? Small smiles as he reaches for their pictures. Of course he does.

Gerrica Caldwell, after earning both an undergraduate and master’s degree in the Haslam College of Business, is now employed as a talent specialist at Pilot. Keong Min Yoon also graduated from UT with a business degree, and is currently studying law at Emory. And Tony Smith came to UT where he studied communications, but remained very involved with business programs and competitions throughout his undergraduate career. Smith now runs a successful graphic design business in the Knoxville community, as founder and president of InHouse GFX.

Small received a letter from another BETS alumna just a few days ago. The young woman went to another university, but hadn’t forgotten her time at BETS. “She said, ‘I just wanted to thank you guys. You gave me confidence in myself.’ And that was pretty neat, pretty cool.”

BETS invites its alumni back to engage with current students. BETS students tend to make strong connections with each other, which Small likes to encourage. The alumni clearly feel proprietary too, as they like to point out program improvements for which they feel responsible. “Hey, the reason you have things this way is because we told them!”

“It becomes a little family,” said Small.



Tyvi Small (974-5185,

Elizabeth Burman (865-974-8363,



BETS was nominated as a Partnership that Makes a Difference. Click here to read more.