University of Tennessee

Student Involvement Proves Key in Launching New Graduate’s Career

June 2, 2020

For many college students, joining a campus organization is a great way to socialize or pursue volunteer opportunities. For some, like 2020 Haslam College of Business graduate Mary Jo Swearingen, these organizations also provide an important stepping stone to launching a career. Swearingen, of Ooltewah, Tennessee, credits the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management with doing just that.

“I got involved with UTK SHRM my sophomore year,” said Swearingen, who graduated in May with a bachelor of science in business administration. “I really feel like I am where I am professionally because of the support and opportunities given to me by the organization.”

Debbie Mackey, distinguished lecturer in Haslam’s Department of Management and Entrepreneurship and faculty advisor for UTK SHRM, has been impressed with Swearingen’s hard work and commitment to giving back.

“Mary Jo has been actively involved in SHRM and the community,” Mackey said. “She has been an asset to our program and will be successful in her HR career.”

Swearingen’s involvement with SHRM has included serving on the group’s executive team, being part of the winning SHRM business case team for the state of Tennessee, assisting with writing the SHRM Merit Award for National SHRM, planning programs and recruiting new members. Her college career also included volunteering with East Tennessee Children’s Hospital and Pedal for Alzheimer’s as well as completing a human resources internship at Tennessee Cancer Specialists.

In January, Swearingen was one of nine UT students who traveled to Miami to network and work behind the scenes at Super Bowl LIV. Mackey and Ashley Smith, director of student-athlete development for the Thornton Athletics Student Life Center, led the trip. The group met with members of the Miami Dolphins staff, visited Royal Caribbean headquarters, volunteered at the Super Bowl Experience and worked inside Hard Rock Stadium during the big game, an opportunity Swearingen described as incredible.

“I think that trip will go down as my favorite memory as a Tennessee Volunteer,” she said. “I will never forget watching all the confetti and celebration.”

The Miami trip came on the heels of another significant event for Swearingen. On January 17, after preparing with the help of the SHRM study group, she passed the SHRM-CP (Certified Professional) exam, a certification recognized throughout the HR field and achieved mainly by professionals. Only students who have completed 500 hours of internship and who are in good standing with a SHRM-aligned program may take the exam.

“The biggest blessing UTK SHRM gave me was the resources and help needed to pass my SHRM-CP as a college student,” Swearingen said. “Not only did it give me the confidence boost needed during the job hunt, but it helped set me apart from other candidates, eventually landing me a phenomenal job.”

In June, Swearingen will begin her new role as HR specialist in the office of the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury. Swearingen said she was drawn to the position because The Tennessean named the comptroller’s office one of the state’s top workplaces for four consecutive years.

“I am joining a great team that will allow me to deepen my knowledge of human resources by getting involved with different aspects of the job scope in order to find my niche,” Swearingen said.


Stacy Estep, business writer/publicist,