I Heart My School: University of Tennessee–Knoxville

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To give you the chance to tell the world why you love your school — and help you pay for it — we offer the I Heart My School Scholarship essay contest. Last week, we announced our fall 2016 winner: Cornell Jones Jr., from University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. This week, we wanted to share our second-place essay all about the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, by Erin Bailey Crittenden.

Scroll down to see a few of Erin’s pics from the Knoxville campus and read about why she loves her school so much.

If you love your school, you can learn more and apply for our upcoming spring scholarship here.


It is astonishing to me how our life plans rarely unfold how we anticipate, and yet, somehow, we wind up exactly where we belong. If someone were to have asked me where I pictured myself going to school four years ago, the University of Tennessee at Knoxville would have been out of the question. An exclusive liberal arts school, isolated atop a mountain, and centered around intellectual growth was the only environment that I could envision allowing me to thrive in my academics. However, UTK offered an opportunity that liberal arts schools did not: a nationally ranked college dance team.

After competitively training in all genres of dance for 15 years, by my senior year of high school, I felt compelled to continue my dance career and auditioned for the leading college dance team in the nation. Earning a spot of the University of Tennessee Dance Team finalized my decision to become a Vol in the fall of 2015. While this experience my freshman year was remarkably fulfilling, a part of me still yearned to become a scholar. As these aspirations grew stronger, I chose to retire from my dance career and dedicate myself psychology and Hispanic Studies. The door was opened to completely rediscover what my school had to offer.

With my freshman year behind me, I was ready to dive deep into the research opportunities that the University of Tennessee provided. Surprisingly, I learned the university receives research funding for almost any branch of psychology I could imagine. I was taken under the wing of Dr. Elledge, who studies child aggression and bullying, an area of psychology in which I can potentially see myself making an impact. What makes working in his lab one of the most unique aspects of UTK is how he and the graduate students are sincerely dedicated to preparing the research assistants for achievement in their psychology career.

My fellow assistants and I are constantly entertaining new hypotheses to test with the graduate students, gathering research for their literature reviews, and witnessing first hand accounts of what it’s like to be responsible for your own projects. Dr. Elledge dedicates time out of his hectic schedule to meet with the lab assistants about their future career plans and offers professional advice about how to make our dreams a reality. To work in an environment that is solely designed to yield success for every team member makes me one truly lucky student.

It was clear that my luck had not ceased when I was to be taught by the finest professor I have had in college thus far. Always having been an admirer of poetry, I enrolled in an introductory class out of curiosity for the intellectual growth it afforded. On the first day of lecture, in walked a man who sensed the awaiting challenge of instilling the value of poetry into students who solely needed the elective credit to satisfy their major’s requirements. Despite this, Dr. Brouwers embarked on the metaphorical journey lead by poetry and spoke of the art with such conviction that no one could free their attention from his grasp. Everyone comes to class eager to witness his exploration of delicately crafting language to precisely capture the essence of human emotion. It’s fascinating that Dr. Brouwers has transformed our class into believers of poetry and how it adorns the world of literature.

Along my scholarly expedition, allowing my mind moments to pause and regain balance is a priority I take as seriously as my schooling; this balance is best found when I am in the presence of nature. It just so happens that the most captivating sight in the city is located across the street from my apartment. After a mile hike through the undisturbed forest, one finds oneself at The Bluffs, a clearing at the end of the path that provides a flawless, 180-degree view of Knoxville. I often retreat to this spot when I am in search of peace and restoration of strength to persevere through the demands of college. I am thankful that my home includes this hidden treasure that encourages to me continue learning what I am passionate about.

Although it sounds as if I am strictly business, Knoxville’s newest downtown concert venue, The Mill & Mine, brings out the vivacious side of my personality. Since the beginning of my sophomore year, I have attended four unforgettable concert experiences. What has made them so special is that, because the bands were so eccentric, I had to find the courage to show up as a party of one. I was the only person in my friend group who had ever heard of the bands, let alone listened to their music religiously, but could not bear to miss hearing their music live. For every show, I situate myself front and center and absorb all the sounds and energy the music emits. These nights have been groundbreaking for my well-being and self-concept, and, low and behold, they happened just five minutes outside campus.

What I hold most dear, however, is what allowed me to realize that Rocky Top is where I am meant to be: the dance team. I became a member of the athletic dynasty that gives UTK its rich history and status. Running through the infamous T at football games and winning the 2016 National Championship title are memories I will always cherish as a reminder that my very first dreams came true. Deciding to depart with dance and discover my life’s remaining purposes was a decision that I dreaded regretting in the years to come, but as time goes on, it has only lead me to be increasingly proud of myself everyday. Without it, I would not be able to say that my college experience has been like no other. With all this being said, it’s uplifting to know that I have two and half years left to lengthen my list of reasons why I heart the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

— Erin Bailey Crittenden, University of Tennessee at Knoxville