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Haslam Scholar Deanna Riley

Deanna Riley (’22), is a Haslam Scholar, which allows her to participate in service–learning opportunities at Pond Gap Elementary School.

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Riley has a very clear goal for her life, but that doesn’t mean she’s on a narrow path.

A rising junior, Riley is studying neuroscience and Hispanic studies with the intent of becoming a pediatric physician. When she’s home in Spring Hill, Tennessee, she utilizes her interpersonal communication skills and Spanish-language skills at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville.

Described by herself and others as a happy and eclectic person, Riley enjoys crocheting, singing, and dancing. Her primary goal in life is to increase human connections and continue to develop her perspectives of the world around her.

Deanna Riley talks with two of her friends
Riley talks with two of her friends.

“I’ve wanted to be a pediatrician since I was about 12 years old,” Riley said. “At the time I read Gifted Hands, by Ben Carson, and I was heavily influenced by my own pediatrician, Dr. Baggett, when I made the decision. As a kid I realized my brain allows me to be imaginative, creative, and have goals in my life. As a pediatrician, not only will I be able to find solutions to improve neurological disorders so that I can help children embrace all aspects of their childhood to the fullest extent, but I will also be able to help them grow and develop into happy, healthy, and unique individuals.”

Moving to Tennessee from Columbia, South Carolina, proved to be a transformative experience in Riley’s life. That was around the same time she set her sights on becoming a pediatrician.

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“I’ll definitely look back on these four years with gratitude for the opportunities I received, and I hope to be an alumna who strengthens her community.”

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“I had never lived anywhere else, and this new environment in Tennessee felt really different to me,” Riley said. “For a long time I tried to fit in at school, but eventually I learned that fitting in wasn’t the best choice for me. I got the confidence to actually just be myself, and while I like to refer to myself as ‘different’ or ‘weird,’ I don’t think those are bad things. They are just characteristics that are special to me.”

Part of what makes Riley unique is that she combines many different passions and isn’t afraid to be multifaceted. She learned to be that way from her parents, David and Charee.

“When I was growing up, my mom pursued multiple career paths,” Riley said. “She was a police officer when I was born, and later a paralegal, and is currently a kindergarten teacher. From her, I learned to not be afraid to try new things and pursue various interests. My dad got a job right out of high school and actually received his college degree within the same month that I graduated from high school. Seeing him do that, while raising a family, showed me the value of perseverance.”

When Riley visited UT during her college search, she found a place that unified her passions and provided a space where she could be herself.

“UT really made me feel like an individual, and I also love the Volunteer spirit and just knowing everyone is trying to help one another,” Riley said.

Being a Haslam Scholar has allowed Riley to participate in service–learning opportunities at Pond Gap Elementary School. She is also a resident assistant with University Housing and has found herself becoming enthusiastic about wearing orange and cheering on the Vols on game days.

“I never thought I was that type of person, but I really enjoy it because everybody has huge college spirit, especially on game days,” Riley said.

She is also particularly grateful that with private scholarship support she has been able to come into her own personally and professionally without fearing the future.

“I’m only 20 years old, and so I don’t have everything figured out,” Riley said. “UT has definitely helped me navigate those waters and removed the stress of student loans and added costs.”

Riley’s other activities include research in a chemical engineering lab and participation in the Honors and Scholars Multicultural Inclusion Council and Student Alumni Associates.