Tombras and University of Tennessee Team Up for Ad School

By Kyle O'Brien 

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s ad program is renaming itself the Tombras School of Advertising and Public Relations. Partnering with independent Knoxville-based advertising agency Tombras, the university will create a program and investment plan to modernize and expand advertising and public relations education—and bring more diversity to the industry.

The goals of the Tombras School of Advertising and Public Relations are to double the number of graduates of color entering the industry from the university—and to make the advertising and public relations industries’ demographics more representative of state and national populations, according to the agency.

“We believe it is our duty to give back and lead the advertising and public relations industries into a more equitable future,” said Dooley Tombras, president of Tombras, in a statement.


Tombras went on to say that the biggest opportunity for the school is to solve the problem of getting more diverse talent into the industry. “Once a student is enrolled, we’re ensuring the facilities are state of the art and the Tombras School faculty is supported in creating the curricula. That along with access to real-world practical experiences will produce graduates who are among the most competitive in the country.”

The school will measure its effectiveness in three primary areas: an increase in underrepresented students in the Tombras School; an increase in overall enrollment of advertising and public relations majors, therefore adding new faculty lines; and supporting historically underrepresented students with opportunities for scholarships to study abroad, intern in a large city and meet technology needs.

The goals will be met through the Tombras Touchpoints, a series of visible initiatives to demonstrate the school’s commitment to DEI and academic excellence.

“When I meet with industry leaders across the state and beyond, the one thing companies tell me is that they need more diverse talent,” said Donde Plowman, chancellor of University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in a statement. “They want their workforce to reflect the diversity of their consumers. Investments like this one are a game-changer—not only for the students who will graduate from the Tombras School of Advertising and Public Relations, but for the people and communities across Tennessee who benefit when we are able to meet the needs of our industries.”

The Tombras School is the first named school at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and, according to the university, the first named school of advertising and public relations among all land-grant institutions in the country and the first of its kind in the SEC. It will be housed in the College of Communication and Information. Beth Avery Foster will serve as the director. The school honors the legacies of Charles Tombras, Sr. and Charles Tombras, Jr.

There will be a professorship named after Tombras founder Charles Tombras Sr. to be held by a faculty member who actively recruits students of color, generates industry reports and informational communication materials that promote DEI in higher education and the industry, and champions efforts of the school.

In addition, competitive summer fellowships will be offered for high school students, prior to starting at University of Tennessee, to engage in professional development. Plus, summer opportunities will be developed for Tombras School faculty to host boot camps on current industry topics for students and teachers at the Tennessee target flagship high schools.