The University of Tennessee announced Friday the formal start of a $1.1 billion fundraising campaign.

Fundraisers already have been quietly at work, as is common, since 2012. About $814 million has been raised or pledged so far, leaving a little less than $300 million to go.

The campaign is dubbed "Join the Journey". It's the largest in the university's history, according to Chancellor Beverly Davenport.

UT alum John Tickle, an engineer, businessman and campus benefactor, and his wife Ann were on hand for the announcement at the newly opened Strong Hall along with student and Peyton Manning Scholar Cody Sain and Davenport.

The Tickles are co-chairing the campaign. Manning, a UT graduate and retired NFL quarterback, is honorary chairman and was to appear later Friday at a closed celebration in the Knoxville Convention Center.

"Today is a celebration of you," Davenport said, addressing students in the crowd. "It's a celebration of this past, but it's a celebration of where we're going forward."

According to the university, more than half of the gifts received so far were $100 or less. About 82,000 individuals and corporate donors have taken part, according to UT.

Public money is just a small part of what helps UT operate. Private support can help boost UT to its goal of becoming a top 25 public research university, the chancellor said.

According to the university, Join the Journey focuses on five areas: Undergraduate scholarships, graduate fellowships, faculty support, athletics, and strategic unit priorities centered on each of the colleges’ large initiatives.

UT's endowment stands at more than $640 million.

Tickle, for whom the Tickle College of Engineering is named, said he began giving more than 50 years ago. Tickle said he and his wife were proud graduates of UT and are eager to raise awareness of what the university has become.

He wants people to respond with "Wow" when they learn someone has attended UT, he said.

"It's a 'Wow" university," Tickle said.

He continued: "I have always believed that education is what fuels success -- not just our own success but the success of our state."