Born and raised in the small South Florida town of Pahokee, Tyvi Small became a first-generation college student at the University of South Florida with a plan to attend law school. Warm and friendly, Small got involved with campus organizations and eventually became student body president.
Even as an involved student, he didn’t recognize higher education as a possible career path. It was at the urging of a mentor that Small applied for a job as an admissions counselor at the university and began working on multicultural recruitment and scholarships.
Small had no connection to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, when he heard about a job opening in diversity and community relations at the Haslam College of Business, but he took the plunge and joined the team as the college’s coordinator for diversity initiatives in 2007.
For the next 11 years, Small poured his energy and enthusiasm into the college’s diversity efforts and into mentoring countless students. “I’ve had the pleasure and honor of building this office and creating something that’s going to outlive all of us,” Small says. “It’s been a wonderful experience.” Along the way, he met his wife, Tammi, who is associate director of undergraduate programs at Haslam.
Small created a number of Haslam’s outreach programs and connected with local nonprofits such as ProjectGrad and the Urban League. He spearheaded efforts to connect with corporate partners as well, channeling their gifts to create programs such as the Leadership Development Program, AIM Academy, and Business Education for Talented Students (BETS). “That corporate support has allowed us to do some meaningful, impactful work around diversity and inclusion in the business school,” he says. College administrators also consistently recognized the value of diversity work and threw their support behind it. “Everyone stepped up and did what they needed to do.”
Former student Pamela Sanchez says she and other students thrived under Small’s leadership. “He allows students to be vulnerable with him and comfortable with who they are and what they bring to the table,” Sanchez says. “He pushed me to figure out what I really wanted to do and was ready to help me reach those goals.”
Another former student, Derrick Thompson, recalls Small’s gift for connecting with others. “He’s able to talk easily to people of all ages and backgrounds,” Thompson says. “And his interest is genuine. He always followed up to see how I was doing, and to this day, we still stay in touch.”
In 2019, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, named Small the permanent vice chancellor for diversity and engagement after his interim stint in the role. “Now I get to help foster a culture of inclusion and support throughout the campus,” says Small. “Ultimately, I want this to be a place where everyone knows they matter and they belong.”