Future doctors, engineers, and business leaders. Athletes, performers, animal lovers, and advocates. Fifteen incoming students join the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s premier undergraduate honors program, the Haslam Scholars Program. Founded in 2008, the program was created with a generous gift from Jimmy and Dee Haslam and Jim and Natalie Haslam.
The 2021 Haslam Scholars cohort was confirmed in early May. Twelve members are from Tennessee; the remaining three are from Illinois, North Carolina, and Texas.
Up to 15 first-year students are admitted annually to the Haslam Scholars Program following a rigorous selection process. This year more than 1,000 prospective scholars applied, the highest number in the program’s history.
One of four university-wide honors programs at UT, the Haslam Scholars Program focuses on leadership, service, and scholarship. Haslam Scholars receive an endowed scholarship that covers the cost of tuition, fees, housing, and funding to support individual research. In addition, these students participate in an exclusive leadership-focused curriculum, a fully funded collaborative study abroad program, and a paid internship.
Since its founding, the program has produced three Rhodes Scholars as well as recipients of other prestigious awards such as the Fulbright, Goldwater, and Gates Cambridge Scholarships. Graduates have gone on to attend top graduate schools and hold high-profile positions in the private, public, and nonprofit sectors.
Meet the newest Haslam Scholars:
Sidney Bennett, of Brentwood, Tennessee, plans to study biology and wants to enter the medical profession. She has participated in STriVE at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, which allows high school students to play with young patients, learn to operate playrooms, and explore the medical field. Bennett’s participation fueled her desire to advocate for child life programs in underserved health care systems. She held leadership positions within the National Art Honors Society and Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and she was the captain of her school’s undefeated state champion girls’ cross-country team.
Andrew Bonsted, of Raleigh, North Carolina, plans to major in engineering with a minor in psychology. He has made a significant impact in his community, most notably with a math workshop he founded to help elementary school children in his neighborhood develop a passion for the subject. After a successful year of offering the workshop, he worked with the local parks and recreation department to expand it to a local school. He held leadership positions in both the Math Honor Society and the Latin Club and was active in theater.
Laura Dixson, of Knoxville, plans to major in ecology and evolutionary biology and minor in wildlife and fisheries. Passionate about conservation and education efforts, she volunteers with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and has been heavily involved in volunteering with Zoo Knoxville through roles on the Volunteer Advisory Board and as a volunteer mentor and Zoo Camp counselor-in-training. She enjoys practicing tae kwon do, in which she is a first-degree level one black belt and has won many awards.
Haylee Ferguson, of Eagleville, Tennessee, plans to major in animal science and eventually attend law school to advocate for agriculture. Growing up on a beef farm, she is passionate about supporting farmers and was president of her school’s Future Farmers of America and a 4-H regional all-star officer. She provided leadership at school both as class president for three years and as valedictorian. She was the starting point guard for her school’s basketball team and was named region MVP while leading her team to a state tournament appearance.
Amelya Fox, of Plainfield, Illinois, plans to major in biomedical engineering and pursue a career in medical research. She is passionate about gender equality and plans to develop programs to support women in STEM and leadership careers. She was president of her school’s largest student-run organization, the Wildcats Care Club, which partnered with the Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago to raise money for pediatric cancer research. She was captain of her school’s varsity dance team, volunteered as a tutor, and worked as a YMCA lifeguard.
Cassidy Griffin, of Franklin, Tennessee, plans to major in human resource management. She spent most of her high school years in Jacksonville, Florida, where she completed a rigorous AP Capstone program. A member of the leadership class at her high school, she was elected president of Junior Ladies, co-founded the Upperclassman Association, and served as the event planner for the Rays of Hope Club, which facilitates opportunities for its members to spend time with students in the special needs community.
Tim Held, of Cleveland, Tennessee, plans to major in business analytics and pursue a career as an operations analyst. He served as the Tennessee 4-H State Council president, representing youth and agriculture across the state and working with the Tennessee House of Representatives Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and the Tennessee Farm Bureau. Passionate about healthy living, he was a National Health Advisory Council member and hopes to remain in East Tennessee and continue to advocate for healthy living in the region.
Allison Hunnicutt, of Nashville, plans to major in prepharmacy and follow a career path where she can directly work with people to build personal connections, learn of the community’s needs, and address disparities in education and health care. She served as class secretary, co-founded a mentorship club, and played on both the varsity soccer team and a competitive club team. She plans to participate in undergraduate research both at UT and while studying abroad.
Abigail Lee, of Knoxville, plans to major in chemical engineering and eventually attend law school. She loves anything in which she can encourage others. She found such opportunities while serving as the president of her school’s student government and captain of the tennis team, as a student representative on the Knox County Board of Education, and as a volunteer at her church. She enjoys exercising, getting out to see the beauty of Tennessee, and spending time with friends. She is overjoyed to officially become a Vol.
Ella Miller, of Memphis, plans to major in global studies with a minor in Spanish and eventually become an immigration lawyer. She finds purpose in serving locally and internationally, both as a volunteer ESL tutor in Memphis and while teaching STEM summer classes at a school in Ecuador. She was involved in high school as the captain of both the girls’ golf and track teams and an executive member of Student Council, officer for multiple national honor societies, and president of various clubs. She was awarded the Memphis Business Journal’s Girls Who Mean Business Award and named a National Merit Commended Scholar in the past year.
Tyler Myers, of Brentwood, Tennessee, plans to double major in neuroscience and in biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology, and eventually pursue a PhD or MD–PhD. He combines a passion for science and a love of the outdoors with a desire to improve the lives of others. His involvement includes interning at Vanderbilt University’s Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, running cross-country, and serving as president of the Science National Honor Society. As an Eagle Scout, he promoted sustainability and education in STEM. As a board member of Bike Walk Brentwood, he has helped implement conservation-minded amenities and designs for disability-inclusive playgrounds. Myers’s favorite activities include camping, running, playing guitar, and Ultimate Frisbee.
Obinze Nwokochah, of Mount Juliet, Tennessee, plans to major in biology and pursue a career in the health care industry. He is a Nashville native, born and raised with Nigerian roots and culture instilled from his immigrant parents. He has led through involvement in clubs such as Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA), Science Olympiad, International Club, Save the Children, and as an officer in the Black Student Union. He also enjoys singing and producing songs, playing sports, being a member of his school’s nationally competitive show choir, acting in musicals, and creating social media content.
Natalie Smith, of Lebanon, Tennessee, plans to major in pre-medicine to become a thoracic surgeon and work toward a cure for lung cancer. She has excelled academically as valedictorian of her class, an AP scholar, and a Girls State delegate. She has been involved in her school and community through cross-country, theater, National Honor Society, and youth group. With the firm conviction that everyone deserves access to the resources they need to find academic success, she founded a peer mentoring program at her high school. For fun, she enjoys running, hiking, and driving around with her friends.
Olivia Upchurch, of Denton, Texas, plans to major in psychology to become a licensed professional counselor and incorporate equine therapy into her future practice. She was valedictorian of her class, captain of the varsity basketball team, president of the Spanish Honor Society, and a senior class officer. She loves serving children in need through volunteering and as a leader of her church’s youth group. She also enjoys riding horses and participating in hunter jumper shows, playing the piano, and camping.
Madison Williams, of Newport, Tennessee, plans to double major in psychology and communications and is interested in bringing equal opportunities to traditionally low-income communities such as her own. She served as president of her school’s Student Council and the Future Business Leaders of America. She played four years of varsity volleyball and was co-captain of the team her senior year. She enjoys working with kids in sports, in particular through her local Little League team. Williams hopes to one day give back to the community that gave so much to her.
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