Freshman Diaries


What are UT freshmen like?

There are more than 4,000 answers to that question.

We asked a group of UT freshmen to tell us a bit about themselves. They come from different backgrounds and different places and have different goals. Yet, it’s pretty clear they have something in common—the potential for a very bright future.

Corey Fussell

30-year-old freshman from Georgia

Age: 30
High school: Edmund Burke Academy, Waynesboro, GA
Major: College Scholars
Favorite movie: The Civil War by Ken Burns
Favorite book: Culture of Make Believe by Derrick Jensen
What’s on my iPod: It’s pretty eclectic—rock, hip hop, electronica, alt-country.
Our world’s biggest problem: There has yet to be a global realization that we are all in this together.
What I brought to campus to remind me of home: Photos and the afghan my late grandmother made for me when I graduated from high school.

Corey Fussell admits that being a 30-year-old freshman has its drawbacks.

“Most people tell me I look like I’m about 23, but my peers—most of whom are about 18—shy away when they learn my age,” he said. “I haven’t made tons of friends.”

But then again, he’s done some things that a lot of other freshmen haven’t done, including climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, going on safari in Africa, and visiting the Great Wall of China. In fact, he’s visited five of the seven continents.

After high school, Corey—whose parents had worked at Savannah River Site, a nuclear materials processing center in South Carolina—landed a job with a U.S. Department of Energy contractor that designed and operated instruments to analyze defense waste. It was a good job that paid well, so he sidestepped college.
The desire for a career change brought him to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Corey, who has decided he wants to be a pediatric neurosurgeon, began his studies in the summer of 2008. This fall he took chemistry, biology, African studies, and speech communications.

“I haven’t found it that difficult, although I expect it will get more challenging as I go on,” he said, adding that compared to the long days he was accustomed to working, the rigors of college have seemed pretty manageable so far.

Corey lives off-campus in his own apartment. He’s involved with Alpha Epsilon Delta, the national premedical honor society, and he also works for the athletic department as a note taker for learning-disabled athletes. He said he’s thinking of applying to be a residence hall assistant.

Despite the challenges of being an older-than-average freshman, Corey said he wouldn’t have played his cards any differently.

“I don’t regret the experiences I had in my 20s at all—the nu­clear business paid well and I was able to travel the world.”

Octavia Johnson
16-year-old freshman from Chattanooga

Age: 16
High School: Tyner Academy, Chattanooga, Tenn.
Major: hotel, restaurant and tourism management
Favorite movie: Shawshank Redemption
Favorite book: Dante’s Divine Comedy, the Inferno
What’s on my iPod: don’t have one yet
Our world’s biggest problem: people who think our world has no problems
How has the semester gone: The year’s been tough at times, but I am finding my way. I am determined. I will be successful.

Octavia Johnson may be young, but she’s blazing new trails in her family.

She and her sister, Brittany Johnson, who will graduate from Miller-Motte Technical College in Chattanooga in 2010, are the first members of their family to go to college.

Always a good student, Octavia skipped more than a full grade of middle school, which brought her to UT at only 16 years old. Despite being younger than most freshmen, Octavia said she feels like an average student.

“I have been able to get along fine—with the exception of not being able to see a few R-rated movies,” she said. “The most difficult part can be dealing with my peers, once they understand there is a slight age difference between us. I have had someone mock me because of my age, but I think that was due to the fact that they were young-minded.

“Overall, college for me is no different than for any other incoming freshman. I am enjoying it so far and look forward to the challenges that lie ahead.”

Chelsea Knotts
Haslam Scholar and member of Lady Vols track team

Age: 18
High school: Ripley High School, Ripley, W.Va.
Major: Exercise science (pre-med)
Favorite movie: Stardust, P.S. I Love You, Dragonfly; anything Disney (especially Wall-E and Beauty and the Beast); Ghost, Dirty Dancing, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Down to You, V for Vendetta, Sweeney Todd, RentGladiator; anything with a plot or a love story
Favorite book: The Perks of Being a Wallflower, A Child Called It, Twilight Series, the Harry Potter series, The Christmas Shoes and anything by Nicholas Sparks or Mary Higgins Clark—I LOVE to read.
What’s on my iPod: everything—rock, pop, R&B, techno, rave, indie, punk, contemporary Christian, Southern gospel, oldies, country, rap, soundtracks, classical, etc.
Our world’s biggest problem: selfishness

Despite her busy schedule, Chelsea Knotts—Haslam Scholar, pre-med student, and a member of the Lady Vols track team—is actually finding the rigors of college life a bit easier than high school.

“So far, it’s honestly been easier to balance things in college than it was in high school,” she said. In high school, “I was involved and held leadership positions in eight or nine clubs plus dance, cross country, track, and cheerleading.

“My biggest challenge will be in the spring because I’ll be gone for track meets most every weekend,” she said. But she has a plan. “I have an agenda to keep track of things. Obviously my academics come first, followed closely by track and community service.”

Chelsea is part of the inaugural class of Haslam Scholars, UT Knoxville’s premier honors program. “The most significant thing about being a Haslam Scholar for me was reaching a goal that I had set a long time ago,” she said. “When I was a freshman in high school, I decided I wanted to go to UT, and I didn’t want to pay for it. Becoming a Haslam Scholar was the first step in achieving that. It’s really been a great opportunity for me.”

Chelsea said she gets a lot of encouragement from her family, and her parents were college graduates. “My mother used to be a nurse, but when I was born she went back to school and became a nurse anesthetist. My biological father, Chris Humphreys, was a pilot. He died the day after I was born, of a brain tumor.

“My stepfather, Steve Knotts, whom I call Dad, is also a pilot and worked for the West Virginia State Police until he retired last fall. All my parents were in the Army or National Guard, and my stepfather flew in Desert Storm,” she said.

She’s finding college a place where she can meet new people and learn new things. “Tennessee has such a diverse group of students that it’s been an amazing experience for me getting to know people who don’t come from the same place or have the same background or beliefs,” she said.

Ashford Smith
Undecided freshman from Cherokee, NC

Age: 18
High school: Cherokee High School, Cherokee, N.C.
Major: undecided
Favorite Movie: Facing the Giants
Favorite Book: the Bible
What’s on my iPod: any country song
Our world’s biggest problem: too much greed
How has the semester gone: Certain classes were harder than I expected while some were the other way around.
My most pleasant surprise: meeting people with a personality like mine

Even in high school, family problems led Ashford Smith to strike out on his own. With some assistance from his aunt and others, and by working a variety of jobs, he managed to live on his own.

Despite his situation, Ashford was the salutatorian of his senior class, played on the football team, and wrestled. During football and wrestling season, when he was too busy to have a job, friends came to his rescue. Someone invited him over for dinner most every night.

A year ago, he wasn’t even thinking about going to college. He figured the military was where he’d land after high school. But encouraged by his aunt, he decided to visit the UT campus.

“I love it,” he said of being at UT. “I can’t just say ‘I like it’ because I love it.”

Still, he said he expects college to be tough. Having come from a graduating class of 74—“and that was the biggest class on record!”—he’s worried he may not be as well prepared as other incoming freshmen.

He was chosen to attend UT LEAD Summer Institute, a prep-for-success pilot program, for five weeks this summer; and, thanks to that, he feels like he knows campus pretty well.

“But I don’t want to have a false sense of security,” he said.

Rachel Underwood
Global Volunteers team member

Age: 18
High school: Fred J. Page High School, Franklin, Tenn.
Major: undecided
Favorite movie: Glory Road
Favorite book: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.
What’s on my iPod: John Mayer, Jack Johnson, Coldplay, Hillsong, Brooke Fraser, Shawn McDonald, the David Crowder Band
Our world’s biggest problem: A lack of concern for our neighbors, both across the street and around the world.
How has the semester gone: Classes are going well; I just need to finish out strong here at the end.
My biggest challenge: balancing 15 hours a week of school and 16 hours a week working, and then fitting in some more enjoyable stuff, too

While some students might spend the summer before their freshman year having one last fling with high school buddies, Rachel Underwood spent three weeks helping children and adults in Pommern, Tanzania.

She traveled with a service agency called Global Volunteers. “I was with a group of 18 people, ranging in age from 14 to their late 50s, five of whom were college-aged students—one from a university in Mexico City and others from Brown University, the University of Miami, and West Virginia University.

“The mission of a Global Volunteers team is to go into the village and work with the local people to figure out what they need. I was able to help teach kindergarten, teach in the primary school, paint dormitories and the mess hall at the secondary school, and cement the floor of the mess hall.” Through the close interaction with the local people, Underwood said the volunteers began to feel like they were part of the village.

Although she has taken other mission trips, including one to do hurricane relief in Florida and another to help people in the Cumberland Mountains, this was her first trip abroad.

Her trip has made her think more about study abroad and finding alternative break options for the academic year. She’s already looking at the possibility of making another trip next summer.

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