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KNOXVILLE — It’s not enough to increase access to the university; we must help these new students succeed.

Punam Patel, Nykia Babb, Rickey Moore
Punam Patel, Nykia Babb, Rickey Moore
That’s the philosophy behind the UT LEAD Summer Institute, a five-week pilot program that’s now under way at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Fifty-five incoming freshmen, most Promise Scholarship recipients, were selected to attend the UT LEAD Summer Institute. The participants were chosen by undergraduate admissions officials based on a variety of factors, including academic achievement, their status as first-generation college students, and challenges and concerns indicated in the personal statements submitted with their admissions applications. The students are living in Greve Hall and taking English 101 (English Composition I) and Counselor Education 212 (Career and Personal Development). All costs are being covered by UT, and participants receive grants of $300 per week for expenses, for a total of $1,500 for the full session.

The students involved rave about the program, saying it has allowed them to get acquainted with campus and preview what classes and homework assignments will be like. It also has allowed them the opportunity to make a group of friends who can be their “support system” when the school year begins.

Octavia Johnson, a graduate of Tyner Academy in Chattanooga, knows that will be important to her.

Johnson is only 16 years old, having skipped more than a full grade of middle school. She and her sister, who attends Miller-Motte Technical College in Chattanooga, are the first members of their family to go to college.

A year ago, Ashford Smith of Cherokee, N.C., wasn’t even thinking about going to college. He figured the military was where he’d land after high school. But after UT admissions staff went to Cherokee to meet with students and their families, Smith decided to visit the Knoxville campus. And he was hooked.

“I love it,” he said. “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 75 — “and that was the biggest class on record!” — he’s worried he may not be as well-prepared as other incoming freshmen.

Thanks to UT Lead Summer Institute, he feels like he has the jump-start he needs.

During the 2008-09 school year, UT LEAD will continue by assisting students through academic counseling, first-year seminars, leadership development programs, academic success workshops and other learning opportunities. The program will focus on students who have received the Pledge and Promise scholarships, as well as students who are continuing on the African American Achievers Scholarship (AAA) and African American Incentive Grant Program (AAIG). UT LEAD’s goal is to help these students achieve academic success and fulfill the grade requirements of the scholarships.

UT LEAD will be administered by the Student Success Center. Open since 2005, the center groups many services and resources — like tutoring and advising — into one location. The center one day will be housed next to the main Hodges Library in the former Melrose Hall as part of a comprehensive hub of academic services.

LEAD — an acronym for “Leadership in a diverse world,” “Excellence in all endeavors,” “Achievement through academic success,” “Diversity as a core value in education and society” — is modeled after several successful programs designed to boost retention and success at other flagship research universities.

LEAD adds to a full range of services at UT that are designed to improve student performance and connectedness to the campus, both of which play major roles in student retention.

Retention is one of the primary measures of institutional success. The best public universities have high retention rates, and UT Knoxville aspires to be counted among them. High retention rates are also a sign that a campus is doing a good job educating its students.

UT’s retention rate for first-time, full-time freshmen who began classes in fall 2006 increased to 84 percent. That’s an improvement over the past rate of 81.7 percent and rates that hovered between 75 percent and 80 percent for the decade prior to 2006.

UT LEAD is just one of UT Knoxville’s efforts to further enhance its accessibility in light of increasing applications and selectivity. Other efforts include adjusting the income guidelines on the Pledge Scholarship to provide financial assistance to more low-income students who qualify for admission; increasing the number of seats set aside for students whose admission was deferred until spring; and allowing both deferred-entry students and Tennessee Board of Regents Community College graduates who transfer to UT to remain eligible for both the Pledge and Promise scholarships.


Amy Blakely, (865) 974-5034,