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Caitlin Priester loves a good challenge.

As a child, when her family finally let her get a dog, she picked a cantankerous shelter hound who disliked most other dogs and people but came to love her unconditionally.

As a fifth grader, when her parents finally let her take riding lessons, she volunteered to train a horse “that nobody wanted to touch because he was so ornery.” Today, she said, that horse is beloved by barn patrons.

Priester’s next challenge: starting classes at UT.

Priester is one of this year’s 15 freshman Haslam Scholars, the university’s premier honors program, which features an exclusive curriculum, a collaborative study abroad experience, interdisciplinary seminars, and community service-learning, all culminating in a senior thesis.

Priester, of Arlington, Tennessee, is majoring in animal science. She aspires to be a veterinarian and has special interests in animal prosthetics, neurology, and veterinary surgery.

“I’ve loved animals since I was a little girl,” she said. After that shelter hound dog, Copper, died two years ago, her family adopted two “rambunctious, playful, and loving” border collie puppies. “I’ve also owned numerous fish as well as two hamsters and a cat with no tail named Hailey.”

She began taking horse riding lessons in fifth grade and has been hooked ever since.

“I found out early on I wanted to ride English style and jump instead of barrel race,” she said.

“I never bought my own horse because . . . I liked switching to different horses every week. I enjoyed the complexity each horse possessed and liked having to figure how to best work with them to get the right result,” she said. “

When she met B. B., “He was a mean horse that no one could ride,” she said. “I volunteered to train him, starting with groundwork and lunging—a drill to build the rider-horse connection—before attempting to ride him on my own. It was a long, hard process, but he is now one of the most loved and used horses at the barn.”

Two years ago, Priester expanded her animal knowledge by getting a job at Arlington Pet Hospital in Arlington, Tennessee. She started as a kennel worker, busying herself walking, feeding, bathing, and caring for dogs and cats boarding at the facility. A year ago, she moved to the Pet Hospitals in Lakeland, Tennessee, where she worked as a veterinary assistant and was able to check animals’ vital signs, give vaccines, and help with X-rays, annual examinations, and injury treatment.

“About a year ago, I also started volunteering at Memphis Zoo,” she said. “I would sign up to work different stations in the zoo, such as the elephants, giraffes, and stingrays. It was mostly about interacting with people. My favorite place to volunteer was Stingray Bay, a huge pool of stingrays where I monitored and taught children how to touch them correctly and told them a little bit about them.”

“It’s very interesting and surprising how technologically advanced veterinary medicine has become, catching up with and even exceeding human medicine in some cases,” Priester said. “My overall goal in my future career will simply be to help animals receive the best and most sound care —and push the envelope for how to achieve that high level of care.”

Priester said she hadn’t seriously considered coming to UT until she visited campus during her junior year in high school.

“I fell in love with the mountains, the people, and the sheer amount of opportunities that would be presented to me here as a student,” she said. She’s eager to study abroad, take classes with her fellow Haslam Scholars, and reside in the Haslam Scholars Living and Learning Community in the Fred D. Brown Residence Hall.

“I’m looking forward to meeting new people and strengthening my friendship with my old friends, many of whom are also going to UT,” she said. “I’m also excited to hike, eat lots of good food, and just grow as a person.”


Amy Blakely (865-974-5034,