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LOM cake

When freshman Mason Davis contemplated what he’d do for his Life of the Mind project on this year’s common reading selection, Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight, two things came to mind: cake and chocolate.


Mason’s mother, Vickie Davis, owns a baking business in Harriman, and he enlisted her help to create an edible homage to the book—complete with a chocolate shuttle cake topper.

Their cake was delivered to the First-Year Studies office, and Mason and his mom took the topper to a campus breakfast, where they showed it to astronaut Scott Kelly. Kelly was on campus to join Leaving Orbit author Margaret Lazarus Dean, a UT associate professor of English, at the Life of the Mind celebration on Monday.

Mason graduated from Harriman High School last spring. During his junior and senior years, he took college classes at Roane State Community College as part of the inaugural Middle College program. When he graduated, he received both his high school diploma and his associate’s degree.

He plans to earn his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at UT and then stay to pursue a master’s degree in automotive engineering. His goal is to work for NASCAR.

Mason, 18, said he really didn’t know much about the US space program before reading Leaving Orbit, and he enjoyed learning about it through the book.


“I liked how [Dean] told the story from a normal person’s point of view,” he said.

For this year’s Life of the Mind program, freshmen were asked to read Leaving Orbit, complete a creative response to the book, participate in a discussion session, and attend Monday’s event featuring Kelly and Dean.

Other students’ projects took many forms, including essays, poems, paintings, sculptures, and photography.

Associate Provost Ruth Darling said Mason’s project might be a first for Life of the Mind: “I don’t remember an edible entry in fourteen years,” she said.


Amy Blakely (865-974-5034,