During this Thanksgiving season, sisters Dallas and Anika Sutter have a lot to be thankful for.
The siblings are very close in age, separated by just 13 months, and both are students at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. They are very close—period—joking and laughing as they finish each other’s sentences. They even share an apartment a short distance from campus.
These days, everything appears calm and peaceful. But their pre-UTC time wasn’t always tranquil.
As they navigated their way through high school, the Sutter sisters knew that going to college would be problematic. The academic part wasn’t an issue; both excelled at Fairview High School, a school of approximately 700 students located 30 miles southwest of Nashville.
Good grades don’t pay the bills, though. The sisters needed the ability to afford college tuition and expenses.
“We’ve never been comfortable – if you know what I mean,” said Anika, a junior majoring in business marketing. “Life growing up for us was hard. Our mom was the sole person bringing in money, and that was on a small income. She was working the third shift overnight.”
Their mother, Giselle, came to America in her teens from Trinidad and Tobago to go to college. Her dream was to become a nurse, but she didn’t finish her schooling until Dallas and Anika already were in high school.
“She had her own loans and debt to worry about,” said Dallas, a senior double majoring in finance and accounting. “She graduated five months before I graduated high school and wasn’t in a financial situation to help me pay for college. We also have two younger sisters (9-year-old Tiana and 7-year-old Gabrielle), a house payment, car payment, those kinds of things. There was no way she could help us.”
Dallas came to UTC as a freshman and attempted to make ends meet. She had saved the money she earned working through high school and learned to budget. “It’s good that I went into finance and accounting because it helped me understand things,” she said. “How much do I use for groceries? How much do I use for ‘fun time’ with friends? There was a lot of penny-pinching, but it was good.”
Before sophomore year and her younger sister’s arrival on campus, Dallas had to sell her car to cover growing costs. “That’s when I got really serious about applying for scholarships,” she said. “I put a lot of time into it, reading the questions and becoming comfortable enough to open up about our financial situation.”
From that point, the Sutter sisters truly learned the gift that financial assistance brings. Both are funding 100% of their education via scholarship support.
“I think it’s really cool how many scholarships there are available through the Gary W. Rollins College of Business,” Dallas said. “We review the things that we submit for scholarships. Do they make sense? Are they able to understand where we’re coming from? It’s insane how blessed we are that we’ll be able to graduate debt-free.”
Dallas has been the recipient of the Dean’s Advisory Board Scholarship, the Joe and Rachel Decosimo Scholarship, the Marvin Anthony Scholarship and the SunTrust Foundation Scholarship. Anika has received General Business, Dean’s Advisory Board and Marvin Anthony scholarships.
“I think from a very young age, the independence idea was instilled in us from our mom,” Anika said. “Me, probably more so than Dallas, just because that’s more my personality. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t want to ask for help; I want to be able to do things by myself. I guess in our situation, without my mom being able to provide financial support, it was a motivator for me to get out there and apply for these scholarships.
“I have a role model to look up to in my sister, and I saw her applying for all of those scholarships. Since I arrived here, I’ve met all these incredible, amazing people who come with open arms and say, ‘Let me help you.’ I did choose UTC initially because my sister was here, but now I’m here for my own experiences.”
And both are here because of the scholarship assistance they have received. The Sutter sisters also are very thankful.
“We’ve been super-blessed,” Anika said. “Scholarships have been essential to us, and not just from a financial aspect. We’ve found mentors in which we’ve been able to build relationships beyond the college campus. The connections in the community that we’ve been able to build have been amazing.”