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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — There seem to be as many reasons for attending the University of Tennessee-Knoxville as there are undergraduates — that’s more than 19,000 this fall.

Not even in a small poll of first-time students could a consensus be found.

For one student, it was UT-Knoxville’s proximity to home. For another, it was a question of affordability. A third enrolled because the campus matched his dream of ”going away” to college.

Brock Thomas, enrolling from Chester County High School on a prestigious Whittle Scholarship, remembers making up his mind on a campus visit.

”A food service worker noticed a book I was reading and we ended up in a long, serious discussion,” Thomas said. ”Little things like that happened all the time. It opened my eyes to the whole campus.”

Malcolm D. Earle, a graduate of Treadwell High School in Memphis, made three visits to the campus, although he was sold on the first trip.

”I came back home after the first trip and said, ‘That’s where I want to go,”’ Earle recalled. A Bicentennial Scholar, Earle was influenced by the reputation of the College of Engineering.

Earle also appreciated that the campus was away from home, ”but not too far.”

For Frances Kirkland, whose brother was a past student government president at UT-Knoxville and whose father is president-elect of the UT National Alumni Association, the choice of UT-Knoxville might have seemed a foregone conclusion. It was not.

Kirkland, another Whittle Scholar, said choosing UT-Knoxville meant deciding not to go to a smaller institution where she could play sports at the collegiate level.

”I decided it was time to put my emphasis on academics,” Kirkland said. A Jackson resident, she is looking at pre-medical studies or engineering.

Allison Murphy’s mother earned the doctoral degree at UT-Knoxville, but the Alcoa High School graduate chose UT primarily because she knew the campus well and many of her friends would be there too.

A Tennessee Scholar, Murphy plans to major in English, although she studied math when she attended the Governor’s School here a couple of years ago. She’s also a football fan.

The advice of a faculty member at Cleveland State Community College led to Amy Renner’s decision to finish her journalism education at UT-Knoxville.

Renner didn’t know at the time that Cleveland State alumnus Steve Holland had followed the same path to become White House correspondent for Reuters, the London-based news service.

”My advisor just said UT was the best place in the state to study journalism,” Renner said. The recipient of a Phi Theta Kappa scholarship, she is a junior this fall.

Another transfer student, Pellissippi State’s Robin Davis, said it was important to stay in Knoxville, but fortunately the accounting program at UT is one of the best in the United States.

”I want to become a certified public accountant,” said Davis, who has been awarded a Lawler Scholarship based on academic performance and financial need.

Katrina Russell’s twin sister is a freshman this fall at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, but UT-Knoxville seemed to her a better fit.

”I liked UT’s campus a lot better,” said Russell, a graduate of Nashville’s Hume-Fogg High School. ”When I visited in the spring, people didn’t wait for me to say I was lost. They just asked where I needed to go.”

A Chancellor’s Scholar and recipient of an African American Achiever’s Award, Russell plans to major in political science in preparation for law school.

”I went to a fairly small high school of only 500 or 600 students,” Russell said. ”I wanted a change and at a large college you can do more things.”

Dr. Marian Moffett, UT-Knoxville’s interim dean of admissions and records, said that although the first-time students represent all parts of the state, they share one attribute.

”They are all high ability students, coming to UT for all the right reasons,” Moffett said. ”They will do well here.”

First-time students won’t notice the change, but this year all residence hall rooms now come with access to the computer Internet.

”Last year we were able to provide network access to any student who wanted it,” said Faye Muly of the Office of Information Infrastructure. ”Now we can provide that access to any student in any residence hall, as well.”

Elsewhere on campus, department and open computer laboratories have been added or updated.

”More than 1,000 new computers have been made available to students,” Muly said, ”and upgrades for 24 more computing laboratories are scheduled in the coming months.”

The computer and computing infrastructure gains have been made possible by a student technology fee, which was approved for the campus by the UT Board of Trustees.

UT-Knoxville has spent more than $5.6 million in the past two years on computing improvements, with another $5 million planned in 1998-99, Muly said. ”We needed the fee, and the students agreed, to stay competitive and to meet the computing needs of the campus,” Muly said.