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While many children were focused on their favorite television programs, playing kickball outside, or dressing up as princesses, UT graduate student Angelina Parrino dreamed of going to college.

Angelina Parrino
Angelina Parrino

“Growing up in an unconventional household, without cable TV and high-speed internet, I turned to school for comfort and excitement,” said Parrino, of Darby, Florida. “Knowledge became my trusted ally and closest friend, the most powerful vehicle for making a difference.”

Parrino is one of the first class of recipients of the Tennessee Fellowship for Graduate Excellence, a program aimed at helping UT recruit some of the nation’s best graduate students to study here.

At a young age, Parrino developed a curiosity for the world around her. She learned to dance, play piano, and cook, but the pastime she enjoyed most was painting.

Instinctual Drift
Instinctual Drift

“I like to think that I was raised as an artist. It was never a choice of major or profession; rather, art was reinforced as an integral part of my childhood in various shapes and forms,” she said.

She finds inspiration in everything around her. She calls it the “investigation of the bizarre paradox that is human existence.”

After finishing up her Bachelor of Fine Arts at the University of South Florida, where she earned a perfect 4.0 GPA, Parrino began to look for work. She didn’t want anything mundane.

“I received an out-of-the-blue phone call from a close friend who proclaimed to have found my perfect job—a position as an assistant visual arts instructor for the Prodigy Cultural Arts program at the Boys and Girls Club near my hometown.”

Wistful Thinking
Wistful Thinking

She applied and got the job.

Having worked there for nearly a year, Parrino said the job allowed her to share her passion for art with kids ages seven to 13. Meanwhile, they inspired her.

“They helped me remember what it was like to be youthful again, brave in my ideas and eager to take risks—free to create as I pleased. It was a transformative experience.”

Parrino says a desire to keep learning is what prompted her to pursue a Master of Fine Arts.

When she visited UT, “I was immediately drawn to the immense warmth of the faculty, the strength of the community, and the devotion this school has to the well-being and success of its students,” Parrino said.


“The pursuit of interdisciplinary studies and plurality of ideas is supported and encouraged with earnest—an appealing prospect for someone like myself,” she said. “While I am primarily a painter, I am also an interdisciplinary artist, a thinker, a writer, a romantic, and an idealist; I am many things that do not fit quite so neatly into a cookie-cutter box—I believe UT is a place that will embrace that.”

Parrino said the fellowship program has shown her that her hard work is paying off while reminding her to never stop trying.

The fellowship award—$10,000 a year for up to four years of study—has eased the financial burden associated with returning to school.

“It’s enabled me to pursue a level of higher education, allowing me to discard many of the worries that stand in the way of capable students,” she said. “It gives me permission to focus solely on a dedicated pursuit of my very best self and thrive within my passion.”


Lindsey Owen (865-974-0937,

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034,