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Austin-East seniors Charlie Smith, Zakeyous Houston and Darius Jackson with the Herbert College of Agriculture's Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Craig Pickett and Dean David White.

On Wednesday, Feb. 8, Austin-East Magnet High School juniors and seniors gathered in the school’s auditorium for what they thought would be a speech on leadership. Instead, seniors Charlie Smith, Zakeyous Houston and Darius Jackson were called to the stage and surprised with admissions offers from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

“It’s really great that I’ve been accepted to UT,” said Jackson, who hopes to study graphic design and explore his passion for art. “Having a full-tuition scholarship will help me worry less about saving extra money or student debt.”

Austin-East is one of 38 Tennessee high schools whose students are eligible for the Flagship Scholarship, which covers tuition and mandatory fees for up to eight semesters when combined with the HOPE Scholarship. All admitted first-year students who graduate from a designated Flagship high school are eligible for the scholarship.

Jackson is thankful he attended a Flagship school like Austin-East. The school provided him with numerous resources, including hands-on guidance from the UT Writing Center and the opportunity to participate in Project Excellence, an initiative that gives high school juniors and seniors an opportunity to earn college credit while building on their existing leadership skills.

“This event is great for the Austin-East community,” said Jackson. “It’s exciting to see all of this today.”

Austin-East students are not the only ones who received surprise admission offers. Six seniors from two other Flagship schools—Fulton and Central high schools, both in Knoxville—were welcomed to Rocky Top by Chancellor Donde Plowman, Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor John Zomchick and members of UT’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions during their classes last November.

“It’s rewarding and exciting to be able to provide a student with the opportunity to change their life,” said Redrick Taylor III, director of diversity recruitment and outreach in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. “It has been super important for us to invest in our Flagship schools to break down the invisible barriers that may exist between students and the university.”

Admitted Students

Austin-East seniors Charlie Smith (agricultural sciences and natural resources exploratory track), Zakeyous Houston (university exploratory track) and Darius Jackson (university exploratory track) were welcomed to the Class of 2027 in front of their classmates and families in their school’s auditorium.

Central seniors Amani Patel (kinesiology), Jack Sipe (elementary education) and Jalen Smith (computer science) received a Big Orange welcome during their classes.

Fulton seniors Regis Okungu (elementary education), Dayshaira Summeour (nursing) and Elijah Ball (university exploratory track) were surprised in their classrooms with their admissions offers.

Admitted students have until May 1 to confirm their enrollment.


Maggie Palmer (865-974-3993,