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The images are searing. Scenes and stories from Ukraine as Russian forces continue to wage war have gripped the globe.

For Takeo Suzuki, the executive director of the Center for Global Education at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, a firsthand account from a former student about the dire situation in her home country was a call to action.

"Yes, the reaction was quick, and the decision seemed very clear, that we can do something assist," Suzuki said in a phone interview earlier this week.

So Suzuki and the Mocs powers that be redirected the UTC Global Response Assistantship to Ukraine applicants. The UTC program offers full tuition, room and board and a $600 monthly stipend for two students who are pursuing their master's in public administration, business administration, computer science or engineering management.

The hope is that those two future master's degree holders will take their knowledge back home and help Ukraine with the arduous tasks of rebuilding the war-torn country.

"We've talked to quite a few people on campus, and no one was against it," Suzuki said. "In fact, we got full support from the campus and the student leaders. The biggest question was, 'Why are we only doing two, can we do more?'"

More, of course, would mean more money. More help. More aid and assistance, and Suzuki and his fellow program leaders are quick to ask for help. Not unlike passing the hat at a charity picnic, every dollar can help, he said.

Even if the number stays at two, Suzuki said there are still ways to help.

"UTC is committed to provide pretty much everything [school-related], but we have to provide more financial support," he said. "There are the plane tickets and so much more for these two students.

"That would be amazing [to have four], yes, but two is a big commitment from a school like UTC, and we have a big number of applicants."

Suzuki is the first to lead the Center for Global Education, launched six years ago to recruit international students to UTC and to provide study abroad experienced for UTC students, but he knows the efforts of the mission and the specifics of this aim for Ukrainian assistance is monster Blue-and-Gold effort.

"I do not want this to be viewed as a Takeo program; it is so much more inclusive and bigger than that," he said. "Once we learned that there were [Ukrainian] students looking for ways to learn and help and grow, everyone was on board.

"I talked to Chancellor [Steven] Angle, Dr. [Yancy] Freeman and Dr. [Jerold] Hale, the provost, to make sure this was OK, and they could not have been more supportive. I spoke to the student government for 20-25 minutes [about] why UTC should do this, and they were on board. We met with UTC faculty and graduate students, everyone felt the same about trying to find a way to help."

In fact, while Suzuki and everyone involved in the assistantship program would love to expand as soon as possible, the opportunity to be focused on one area of the world that needs highly educated natives to return home and help could be a map for the future of the program in some ways.

"This helps our campus to become more culturally rich, but at the same time, our students understand and embrace the empathy that is becoming strong as these students want to make a difference in the world," Suzuki said. "After this, it would be great to continue to support students in need, whether that's in Haiti, the Sudan, the Ukraine, wherever."

Wow, a global commitment for better. Two students at a time.

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6273. Follow him on Twitter @jgreesontfp.

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Jay Greeson
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