Jorge Carlos Marcano tells people he meets at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga to call him by his middle name because most pronounce his first name “George.”
Jorge is pronounced “hor-hey” and, while it’s the Spanish version of George, for Marcano—born and raised in Puerto Rico—the English version just doesn’t register.
It’s not a big deal, said the rising sophomore majoring in mechatronics.
“It’s just easier that way. People can’t really mess up the name Carlos.”
His parents both work for American companies in Puerto Rico and raised Marcano, his twin brother and their older sister speaking English almost exclusively. He speaks both languages fluently, sans accent.
But Marcano might not be at UTC if his written Spanish were better. He planned to attend the University of Mayagüez, two hours away from Dorado, his hometown, but couldn’t pass the school’s Spanish proficiency test.
The ironic setback pushed him to explore other schools on the mainland. He ended up choosing UTC for its burgeoning mechatronics program.
“It’s really cool. It is mechanical, electrical and computer engineering all rolled up into one thing,” he said.
Marcano has found community on campus as a member of “Cohort 2025,” the inaugural freshman class of UTC undergraduates organized into groups based on their majors, on-campus housing, extracurricular or other interests.
He’s part of an academic cohort that includes other students majoring in engineering, some of whom also lived in Stophel Apartments like Marcano.
He enrolled at UTC before ever visiting, although he had been to Nashville to visit his “abuela,” or grandmother, who moved there to live with his aunt and uncle after Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico in 2017.
Still, moving to Chattanooga was a leap of faith for Marcano. He and his dad breathed a sigh of relief when they finally checked out the campus and the city a few months before the big move.
“I thought this place looked strikingly similar to Puerto Rico and my dad agreed. You can see mountains and hills from all around,” Marcano said. “It’s not a carbon copy…but it was definitely comforting.”
The actual move was a bit different.
“I was excited and a little nervous because this was my first time living all by myself. I didn’t have any friends nearby. It was like a complete reset, which is cool but also scary,” he said.
It’s all going as planned, though.
Cohort connections: New program
Marcano came to UTC straight from his hometown in Puerto Rico without knowing a soul.
He arrived fall semester 2021 and, just a semester later, he’s the “fifth roommate” in a group of classmates-turned-buddies from the College of Engineering and Computer Science. They all live in Stophel Apartments on campus, and they’re all into video gaming.
That’s not a happy accident. It’s by design.
Marcano is a member of “Cohort 2025,” the nickname for the fall 2021 freshman class that is the first to experience UTC’s new focus on grouping incoming students around one of three main pillars: What they study. Where they live. What they like to do.
Living in resident housing also helped him find an academic groove for his challenging coursework in the College of Engineering and Computer Science.
The technical side of the cohort model is almost invisible to students because it’s woven into the curriculum, the student housing infrastructure, campus events and the University’s network of clubs and associations.
But the impact is obvious. Students get a customized support system, mentorship and more opportunities for professional development and personal growth.
The model was first adopted by the UTC Honors College in 2013 and later championed by Chancellor Steven R. Angle, who announced the campus-wide initiative in 2020, saying it would help define the UTC experience moving forward.
In fall 2022, a group of 20 students will make their home on “Music Row,” a new cohort being introduced in Decosimo Apartments. Students don’t have to be music majors to live there, just members of one of the music ensembles at UTC.
The College of Arts and Sciences, the biggest at UTC with 13 academic departments, launches its cohort initiative in the fall, too.
Professors, some of whom actually live on campus alongside students as part of the Faculty in Residence program, play an important role in the cohort model.
From providing career advice to cooking family-style meals to trips to the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera, the experiences provide rich yet casual points for students to connect with faculty.
Research indicates students prosper when they’re connected in this way. For UTC, the cohort model helps with recruitment goals and ensure students reach graduation.
This is an updated version of a story that first appeared in the spring 2022 issue of The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Magazine.