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Me + the CHP: The Shaping of a College Experience

Written by Jasmine Blue (2019)

Major: Political Science

UT’s Chancellor’s Honors Program (CHP) has been integral to my experience as a Volunteer.  From living with my peers during my first year to participating in honors coursework and using my experiences to craft an honors thesis, the CHP has shaped each step of my college journey. Deciding to live in the CHP’s Living and Learning Community (LLC) as a first-year student was one of the best decisions I could have made for housing. I quickly became friends with students of a multitude of backgrounds who were each actively pursuing and co-creating their own path at UT. By providing a shared space for community building among honors students and incorporating fun activities, the LLC allowed me to form bonds that have lasted my entire college career.

During my freshman year, in addition to the LLC, I engaged in two honors opportunities that helped me begin to see myself as a change agent. My honors service learning course helped me to better understand education inequality, the academic achievement gap, and holistic remedies for bridging the gap. Taught by Robert Kronick, education professor and advocate for the University-Assisted Community Schools (UACS) in Knox County, the in-class content focused on the academic achievement gap and barriers under-served students face in school. Outside of class, we served at Pond Gap elementary, a Title I UACS school. Having hands-on experience with students allowed me to better understand the affects of inequitable education and avenues for remediation. Additionally, I took an honors public writing course that allowed me to pursue my interest in education equity by researching a Civil Rights issue in Knoxville. This class allowed me to translate my knowledge of education to action as I wrote a letter to the editor in the Knox News Sentinel, wrote a mock grant, and created a mock nonprofit website.

After these courses piqued my interest in education equity, I continued to expand my knowledge by serving as a research assistant for my First Year Studies 129 professor. As an active participant in class and an honors student, my professor reached out to me to research with her after I expressed interest in conducting my honors thesis work with her. I spent second semester of sophomore year coding her research and went on to present our preliminary findings alongside her at UT’s Black Issues Conference. Working on this project introduced me to qualitative research and furthered my understanding of how to be a successful change agent.

By the end of sophomore year, I had finished my research and began to consider my path to fulfilling the CHP’s Ready for the World requirement. To continue my Spanish language acquisition, I chose to enroll in a semester long program in Barcelona, Spain. While in Barcelona, I enrolled in a Political Economy of European Integration course and wrote a research paper comparing the Spanish city’s affordable housing crisis to that of Nashville’s. I learned how Barcelona’s large tourism industry contributes to the gentrification in the city and about the policies the mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, is implementing in order to help Catalans afford to live there. My research abroad served as inspiration as I planned my alternative fall break trip to Nashville focusing on community development.  Along with another CHP student, I co-lead the service trip where we served with organizations like Habitat for Humanity, Second Harvest Food Bank, and Youth Villages. We also learned about Nashville’s affordable housing crisis and homelessness during a walking tour with Open Table Nashville, a nonprofit organization that looks for long-term housing solutions for people experiencing homelessness. Our trip focused on the intersectionality of housing-related issues and was directly related to the research paper I wrote in Barcelona.

Additionally, my research in Barcelona helped me launch the blog Just Eats. Just Eats aims to combat the negative impacts of gentrification by spotlighting restaurants intrinsic to communities of color across Tennessee. I developed the idea after talking to a friend about Nashville’s affordable housing crisis while I was abroad. Once I returned, I gathered a team of contributors to carry out the Just Eats mission. Together, we spotlight restaurants on our social platforms and blog while encouraging others to support them. The goal of the blog is not to pretend to know all the answers or have all the solutions, but to demonstrate passion for the communities we live in and to bring others together through food.

As I begin to plan for the next stages my life, I am incredibly thankful to the CHP for all of the opportunities I have had to learn, research, serve the community, and pursue my interests during my undergraduate career. As a prospective student considering UT, I could not have anticipated all of the opportunities the honors program would expose me to, not only because of its requirements, but because of the way its staff goes and above beyond to help students. Without the financial and advisory support of the CHP, I would not have had the opportunity to partake in seminal events of my college career. Their intentionality and support demonstrates their concern for all students who wish to achieve more in their college career.