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Student Member of UT Board of Trustees No Stranger to New Challenges

UTHSC’s Kenneth Packer said he hopes to be a voice for students, as he begins his term as the student trustee on the UT Board of Trustees. (Photo by Allen Gillespie/UTHSC)

New adventures are old hat for the recently appointed student representative to the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees.

Kenneth Ian Packer, 29, is a Doctor of Nursing Practice student in the Certified Nurse Anesthetist program in the College of Nursing at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. He has already done a four-year stint in the Navy, during which he was a medical/surgical nurse, a critical care nurse, and an En Route Care Nurse on a V-22 Osprey for a medical evacuation team with responsibility for military hot spots in Africa.

When he received word he was selected as the student trustee for the newly reconstituted 12-member board, Packer first thought it was a mistake. “I’m really nobody special,” he said

But when he considers the skills acquired from his military training, he is ready to tackle this new opportunity.

“I think often the military, at least in my experience, gives you these big roles. They say, ‘you are going to do this and here are the expectations,’ ” Packer said. “Having expectations that are really high and kind of overwhelming, I think generally people will rise to them.”

A self-proclaimed Navy brat, Packer grew up in Collierville, Tennessee, where his family settled shortly before his teen years. He did his undergraduate studies at UT Knoxville, and received his Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from the University of Tennessee College of Nursing in Knoxville.

He had no interest in joining the Navy, until his senior year of nursing school. The Navy Nurse Candidate Program helped him through that last year. In return, he owed four years of active duty that took him to Rhode Island, Virginia, Alabama, and southern Spain.

When he ended his active duty in 2016 with the rank of lieutenant, Packer decided to turn his attentions to becoming a nurse anesthetist. He chose the College of Nursing at UTHSC.

“Honestly, I looked at other schools,” he said. “UTHSC had a great reputation. Probably the biggest reason I came to UTHSC was that Memphis is really a gem of a medical city. We have a Level 1 Trauma Center here, which is one of the busiest trauma centers in the nation; St. Jude (Children’s Research Hospital) is a world-renowned research leader in oncology; you have Le Bonheur (Children’s Hospital); and the list goes on and on and on.”

He felt UTHSC’s College of Nursing offered the strongest clinical profile, he said. “I think it can compete with anybody when you consider these clinical sites, and it’s all here in Memphis, so you don’t have to travel, and that was very attractive. The small class size here, the professors are wonderful, and the pass rates are great. I just thought this seemed like the best fit for me.”

Packer is in his second year of the nurse anesthetist program. He plans to graduate in May 2020.

Nurses are natural problem solvers and critical thinkers who serve boards well, said UTHSC’s College of Nursing Dean Wendy Likes, PhD, DNSc, APRN-BC, FAANP. “Kenneth’s unique background made him the ideal student to nominate from our College of Nursing for this distinction. We are proud of Kenneth and honored to have a nursing student selected to serve in this important capacity for the university,” she said.

“We were so pleased that the College of Nursing nominated Kenneth for the position,” said Lori Gonzalez, PhD, vice chancellor of academic, faculty, and student affairs at UTHSC. “He has served his country with honor as a naval officer. We look forward to him serving the students at UTHSC and the other UT institutions through his membership on the UT Board of Trustees.”

Packer said he is “very honored and humbled” to be on the board. He has been preparing for the board meeting in Knoxville Friday. The student trustee position is a non-voting slot that will rotate among the campuses each year. However, the student trustee is a voting member of the Education, Research, and Service Committee.

“I hope I can bring transparent and honest insight as a former undergraduate student at UT Knoxville, and I hope I can bring some sort of insight to the board as a current graduate student,” Packer said. “I would hope just to be a voice for the students.”