Keslin Moore was a student-worker in the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Division of Communications and Marketing during the spring 2023 semester. Moore, a Stophel Scholar in the Gary W. Rollins College of Business, is graduating in May with a bachelor’s degree in marketing and a minor in communication. She is a 2019 graduate of Bledsoe County High School in Pikeville, Tennessee.
Pikeville, the county seat of Bledsoe County, has a population of approximately 1,800 people. Bledsoe County High School has an enrollment of nearly 600 students in grades 7-12.
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I admit that I wasn’t ready for college when I first came to UTC. I knew I had to go to go, but I was dreading it.
I came from a small town where everyone knows everybody’s name. All of Bledsoe County has around the same number of people as our campus, so when I got here, I didn’t feel like I fit in. I thought to myself, “Just go with the flow. Go to class and get through it. It’s only four years.”
I don’t mean to get deep, but going into freshman year, I did have a lot of anxiety. I wish I had pushed past that and made myself do things and meet people, but I never got out of my comfort zone. I would sit in the corner at the University Center by the vending machines, really nervous and scared and staying within my bubble.
I had the mentality that once I got in the groove of college and found a good routine, then I would branch out. I kept thinking, “I can try that later in the year, or I can do that next year.” I had to feel comfortable first.
Just when I was starting to come out of my shell in February and March, COVID hit.
We were on spring break when it happened, and the news of getting to stay home for a couple of extra weeks was exciting. I didn’t have to worry about fitting in; I could figure things out later. I was thinking, “Right now, I can just stay home and hang out with my friends here for a little while.”
But those couple weeks kept going and going. Everything went online or hybrid for me for more than a year. I had to learn in a completely new way and I didn’t like it. I wasn’t growing. I wasn’t meeting new people. I felt kind of stuck.
The COVID year became a no-growth period, and everything I thought I’d do my sophomore year never happened.
I knew I had to get through it, though. My mom (Karla Moore) received her degree in accounting from UTC. Her sister (Karen Thomas) received her degree in interior design from UTC. My sister (Kalynn Ridley) did her undergrad here in exercise science and then went to physical therapy school for her doctoral degree. My cousin (Kailey Boynton), who is like a sister to me, received her biology degree from here. I didn’t know how long COVID would last, but I knew I would stick it out and get my degree from UTC.
I realize this sounds strange, but in a way I’m thankful for COVID. It was the wake-up call I needed. It forced me to take a good, long look at myself and say, “When you go back to Chattanooga, you have to do things different. Otherwise, the next two years will be the same as your freshman year.”
So when I came back to campus for my junior year, I was the most excited I’ve ever been to start a school year. It was overwhelming initially, but I knew I wanted to do everything possible. I looked into all these clubs. I looked at MocSync. I joined the American Marketing Association—where I’m now president, Mocs for a Cure and the Public Relations Club.
I also started in a position with Campus Rec and I was able to meet someone new every night for weeks on end.
Getting out and meeting more and more people was exactly what I needed. Instead of sitting in the corner by the vending machines at the UC, I made myself sit in the middle. I started hanging out at the library and the ARC. I didn’t hide, if that makes sense, and began immersing myself—and it made my college experience 100 times better.
I tell everybody from my high school who wants to go to college, “If you want to do it, go to UTC.” On our campus, you get back what you put into it. You can have the best experience and come out learning so much because it offers so many opportunities. I know a lot of people and a lot of friends that went to different universities that don’t feel that way.
I don’t want to sound cheesy, but over these four years, what I’ve learned most about myself is that I’m resilient. I never thought I would be involved in as many activities and know as many people as I do now. If I were to go back to my freshman year and do it all again, I would have made myself do this right from my first day on campus.
I’m really grateful for my time at UTC and don’t want to leave. It’s truly been an amazing experience.