Rocky Top Institute Fellowship Program

by Michael Purdy
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Focus: The Rocky Top Institute Fellowship is offered to rising junior-level retail and consumer science majors in the Department of Retail, Hospitality, and Tourism Management within the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences. The fellowship is a two-year program providing hands-on experiential learning opportunities in product development, brand management, licensing, retail business, and marketing while strengthening leadership, creativity, and other important soft skills.

Partnership: The Rocky Top Institute was established in 2011 as a partnership between the Bryant family, which owns the song rights to “Rocky Top,” and the University of Tennessee’s Retail and Consumer Science Program. The fellowship program benefits students with a unique experience to learn real-world retail- related opportunities. A portion of the royalties from the student-designed Rocky Top products helps fund student scholarships and academic project initiatives. Fellowship students must meet prerequisites in retail, product development, and business-related class work and have a desire to advance their studies in understanding the consumer marketplace, the retail industry, and professional skills.


Structure: The program is a continuation of independent studies coursework to meet real business needs through lecture, professional-level assignments, collaboration with real business partners, and reflection for continuous improvement. An industry professional faculty member directs students in the concentration studies to help design, influence, and lead the Rocky Top brand.

Taught By: Students take an independent studies class with a retail industry professional. Among many distinctions, the faculty holds numerous business awards and two US and international patents.

Broadening Experiences: Rocky Top fellowship students major in retail and consumer science and automatically have a business minor. During the fellowship, students engage with national mass retailers like Walmart, Walgreens, and Kroger. Students also work with smaller retailers and boutiques, representing the brand as ambassadors at professional organizations and campus and community events across the state. Most fellowship students are also members of the National Retail Federation Student Association and are encouraged to take coursework focused on studies in the retail market in New York as well as international study abroad classes.

Originally published in Torchbearer magazine.