The day before Valentine’s Day, four friends sit around a table in the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s Guerry Center, decorating paper hearts.
“Ooooh,” says Emily Hemingway when she sees neon-pink, green, yellow and orange markers in front of her. Sydney Ellis and Jesse Hayes examine a sheet of paper listing Latin words and their meanings in English. Carissime: Dearest. Paulo corde: Little heart. They copy the Latin words onto paper hearts
Shriya Purohit quietly draws a heart within a heart within a heart, alternating pink and yellow markers. Just a group of college students enjoying each other’s company between bouts of studying for Honors College classes. One sophomore and three freshmen.
One of whom is a freshman student at 15.
When she tells people at UTC that she’s 15 years old, a Brock Scholar and a freshman in business analytics, she says usually gets one of two reactions. “Some people are: ‘Oh, that’s cool. Great for you,’ and other people are like ‘Whaaat!!?’” she says with a laugh.
“I thought, ‘Wow!’” Hayes says. “I have a 15-year-old sister who is not able to be in the Honors College.”
“She didn’t act like I assumed a 15-year-old would act like, and she didn’t gloat about the fact that she’s a 15-year-old in the Honors College,” Ellis says.
That she was homeschooled and graduated from high school at age 14 also draws a mixture of admiration and disbelief, Shriya says, but it’s all good. “People are really supportive. I didn’t expect it to be bad, but I didn’t expect people to be so understanding, just nice and making me feel welcomed,” says Shriya, whose coffee skin and long, jet-black hair are visible signs of her Indian heritage.
“You kind of feel nervous coming in at my age and wondering how people will act. I thought it would be really hard for me to adapt to such a new thing, but it wasn’t hard at all. It’s been surprisingly smooth, the transition.”
The reaction from students and faculty wasn’t her primary concern before she arrived from her home in Florida. Hers was more functional: Would college be too much for her, academically? She thought: Will I be able to do it? So far, so good. Majoring in business analytics is working out, although she’s added a computer science minor “as kind of a backup.”
Shriya is a student in Joseph Jordan’s Introduction to the Humanities class, and the assistant professor of English says her age “is not something I even think about anymore.” Jordan’s students read classics by Homer, Plato, Anton Chekhov, Shakespeare and others, that “are challenging for adults,” he says. “This is a very intensive class; they have to turn in a lot of essays. Shriya is always the person who has her essay completed in advance, who asks me to talk about it in advance. The quality of her thinking is just incredibly wise,” he adds.
Classmate Emily Hemingway says she and Shriya discussed some of the books being read in English 1010 and Hemingway thought, “Oh my gosh, she’s so much smarter than me.”
In her free time, Shriya enjoys golfing with her father, a private equity investor, but she does that just for fun and says she has no intention of joining the UTC women’s golf team. In between her college studies, she’s also squeezing in time to learn to play the sitar and harmonium, traditional musical instruments from her family’s home country of India.
“It’s really cool to be connected to my culture,” she says.
Why did you choose UTC?
One of the main reasons I chose UTC was because of its close proximity to my home in Chattanooga. Because of my age, my parents and I weren’t comfortable with me staying in a dorm. Another factor was having the opportunity to apply (and be accepted) to the Honors College. Knowing that, as an honors student, I would have a community to support me really persuaded me to choose UTC. The beautiful campus is also a perfect size; it’s not too big or small and, overall, everything just went into place!