Tanisha Jenkins, of Clinton, didn’t realize she would be introduced to her life’s work when she was a Presbyterian College student. Jenkins served as a student assistant in the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs during her freshman and sophomore years at PC in 1998 and 1999.
Her work then foreshadowed the work she does now as the director of Multicultural Student Life at the University of Tennessee. Jenkins has served as the director since 2012.
Jenkins has been named a 2019 Outstanding Young Alumna for her work. The honor is presented to an alumna under 40 years of age, as the award year begins, for early competence within the chosen field of endeavor and exceptional promise of future achievement.
“I never look to receive awards for the work that I do,” Jenkins said. “I simply try to be the best person I can be and help others be their best selves, as well.
“It is very humbling to be recognized by my undergraduate institution that instilled so much in me and means so much to me.”
The Outstanding Young Alumna Award follows two other honors that Jenkins has received for her exceptional work.
Earlier this year, the Knoxville News Sentinel named Jenkins to its 40 Under 40 list. According to the newspaper’s website, the list “recognizes leaders with a passion for making Knoxville and its surrounding areas better communities through professional and philanthropic efforts.”
And, four years ago, students at the University of Tennessee honored Jenkins by creating an award in her name, the Tanisha L. Jenkins Beacon of Light Award. Jenkins was the first recipient of the award, which recognizes outstanding contributions to diversity and multiculturalism at the university.
“My ultimate goal is to leave a lasting legacy, where I have positively impacted the lives of others and helped them reach their full potential,” Jenkins said. “Having the students surprise me with this honor reminded me that the work that I do is important and that I'm on the right track to leaving that legacy.”
While at PC, Jenkins was heavily involved on campus and was a member of many organizations, while also working in the Office of Student Life. Still, the idea of making it a career never dawned on her back then.
“We kind of joke about it in the world of student affairs and student life,” she said. “You’re so involved as an undergraduate student that you don’t realize that it could be a career, that you could actually go on and do this great work as a professional.
“Even though we have these great student life professionals employed on our campuses doing impactful work, it never occurs to you that you can do this too.”
The great people Jenkins worked with at PC included Sheila Hill, who served as the director of Multicultural Student Life, and Joe Nixon ’62, who was the dean of students and vice president for student affairs.
Jenkins earned a degree in business administration and then went in human resources when she graduated.
“My goal was to go work for a Fortune 500 company where I would do corporate recruiting,” she said.
She worked in human resources for six months before landing a position in student affairs in higher education.
She went on to earn a master’s degree in counseling from Clemson University and is completing a doctorate of philosophy in educational leadership and policy studies from the University of Tennessee.
In a way, her work began on the second floor of Douglas House, during a time and place she least expected.
“I definitely appreciate my experiences at PC that have now turned into a lifelong passion in my professional life,” Jenkins said.