The Interview USA
University of Tennessee Knoxville
Vice Chancellor for Student Life

Frank Cuevas

In a world where education opens the gates to opportunity, ensuring equal access to higher education for students of all backgrounds isn't just a matter of fairness – it's a necessity for societal progress. This understanding is central to the mission of the University of Tennessee Knoxville, and its Vice Chancellor for Student Life, Frank Cuevas.

In today’s conversation, Interview Co-Host Max Webber met with Frank to discuss topics ranging from the significance of extracurricular engagement in student life to the secret for fostering a community where students can engage with diverse viewpoints in a respectful environment.

Frank's Journey

Max: Let’s start with a quick introduction to yourself and your institution.

I'm the Vice Chancellor for Student Life here at the University of Tennessee Knoxville. We are the flagship land grant institution for the state of Tennessee. I've been here for about 14 years now. It’s a great time to be here at Rocky Top – we’re growing in leaps and bounds in enrollment and the physical campus itself is undergoing a huge transformation. We have 36,000 students enrolled here, and we’re looking forward to welcoming a record number of new students next year, as well. That’s really encouraging at a time when people are beginning to question the value of a degree and the cost of higher education. As a land grant institution, our mission is to help improve access so that people can come here and get an education that will empower them to serve their community.

Max: What led you to pursue a career in higher education – and student life more specifically?

I often tell students I stumbled into this field. As a first-generation student, I always imagined myself doing something different; I studied political science, and I was interested in practicing law or getting involved in public policy. However, because of the connections I made on campus, I realized I could pursue a career working in a college environment. That would allow me to have an impact on the next generation of students and make it easier for them. I still wasn't quite sold on the idea; I tested the waters in other areas after I earned my undergrad before I decided to pursue a graduate degree and enter higher education as a career path. I haven't looked back since then, and I’ve enjoyed every minute.

Max: You mentioned your university’s success in attracting new students to the institution. What measures have you implemented to help improve access for students of all backgrounds? 

It has to do with coming out of the pandemic. I stepped into this role in January 2020, and in March 2020, we had to send students home. It was a difficult time, but we realized we needed to continue engaging with our students and helping them become successful. We wanted them to feel that they were still connected to the University of Tennessee. So during that time, we called all 28,000 students just to check in on them and ask: “How are you? Do you need anything?” We had students from rural parts of the state who didn’t have WiFi, so we offered support to help them get connected. When students began returning to campus, it was our priority to keep them engaged – scaling activities and events to help them feel that presence here on campus. It’s about creating an environment in which you matter, with a culture of respect, and where you can find your community. No matter where students come from, they should be able to feel like they belong here. We want to teach students how to be engaged in a community, so when they leave here they can go out and pay it forward. 

Max: The political climate is becoming increasingly polarized. How can we encourage students to engage with opposing viewpoints in a respectful manner?

We're very fortunate that we have the Baker School of Public Policy and Public Affairs on campus. That helps to teach students about the art of listening. We’re working hard on engaging students as we try to draw them into the community. For example, we host a variety of events that provide opportunities for people to come and socialize, bringing people of all different backgrounds together. As leaders, we have a responsibility to role model that behavior. To find solutions to problems in life, you're going to have to compromise on some things. So we need to focus on how we can move forward, and that’s not about finding winners and losers, but about looking at the way we have commonalities. Sometimes we're just going to agree to disagree, and that's okay. After all, there is more that unites us than divides us. 

Max: What’s the key to keeping students engaged outside of the classroom?

First of all, we’re blessed to have students who are very passionate about being here. They're proud to work for the orange. They're proud to be part of the volunteer family. And I think that we need to engage with those campus communities – whether it’s a Greek letter organization or an engineering society, we need to invite people in and create opportunities to come together. Through informal interaction, you can start building trust with students and create dialogue. Post-COVID, we understand that students want to be engaged: they want to be part of something, and it’s our duty to help them find their community, whatever that looks like.

Max: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received in your career? 

I am in this field to help grow the next generation so they can go out and make a difference. That starts by paying it forward, and accepting the responsibility to give back – whether that’s helping a student learn, or supporting a colleague in their growth. 

Curious to see what the future of training looks like?
Max Webber
Max works closely with people leaders and change-makers in our professional services markets. If you're looking to feature on The Interview, or simply want to learn more about GoodCourse, then get in touch at

The future of training is here, are you ready for it?

Tired of chasing your learners to complete dull training? Let's speak today👇
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.