Jamaal Quiñones confidently walked to the podium to talk about University High, thanking everyone at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga “who has allowed this program to commence.”
“It has not only allowed me and my peers to get this opportunity to get a sense of direction and what we want to do with our future, but to also connect and make a connection with like-minded students.”
These days, Quiñones is a sophomore at East Ridge High School. Come this fall, he will be one of 56 students in the initial cohort of University High—a joint initiative between UTC and Hamilton County Schools.
University High, headquartered on the UTC campus, will serve students and their families at no cost.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony on Thursday, April 27, officially launched the new two-year program designed to help Hamilton County High School students get a head start on a college degree.
The capacity crowd of students and their families attending the University High celebration event included a panel discussion about the program and an introduction to numerous dignitaries from UTC and Hamilton County Schools.
The first cohort of University High students—coming from 10 different Hamilton County schools—also had the chance to meet their future classmates, teachers and advisors.
“This event is an opportunity for all of us to come together as a community and recognize this newly created, brilliantly collaborated, long-awaited and life-changing University High, a new opportunity for high school students to build relationships, find relevance and engage in rigorous learning through Hamilton County Schools here on the campus of UTC,” said Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Engagement Stacy Lightfoot, the event emcee. “These students are the future of our city and the future of our country, and we are proud to have them represent University High.”
UTC Chancellor Steven R. Angle lauded the collaborative work of Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Justin Robertson, Hamilton County Schools Director of Innovation and Fine Arts Grant Knowles and UTC Vice Provost for Academic Outreach Shewanee Howard-Baptiste in his welcome remarks before addressing University High’s first cohort.
“We are so delighted that the students have taken a chance on something new like this,” Angle said. “You think, ‘What’s it going to be like?’ Well, you’re going to help us figure it out. You’re going to help us make it better as we go along. And next year, you’ll be here to help and welcome the second class as they come in and help them transition.
“We want you to feel comfortable at UTC. When I finished high school and I was looking at what to do, I thought I should be a truck driver. My mother said, ‘No, you’re going to go to college.’ Nobody in my family had graduated from college. You won’t have the apprehensions I had. You’ll know you belong. You’ll know how to succeed.”
University High program highlights will include a daily structure dedicated to advisory, college prep, experiential learning and support; on-campus experiences via learning labs across UTC departments to build pathways toward continued higher education; and place-based learning and internship opportunities within the community.
After two years in the program, University High students will earn 14 to 20 college credit hours. Courses will prepare students for future UTC classes while meeting high school graduation requirements.
“University High is directly aligned with our mission in Hamilton County Schools to provide opportunity by design for each and every student in Hamilton County,” Robertson said. “We are excited because this starts you on a path toward a four-year degree; for many of you, you might be the first person in your family to earn that four-year degree.”
University High students will have full access to all UTC student support services and engagement opportunities, including University Health Services, the UTC Library, the Center for Career and Leadership Development, the Aquatic and Recreation Center, and on-campus events.
The next class of high school juniors will arrive at UTC in fall 2024, with the campus supporting 100-plus students at that time.
“We want to thank UTC and Hamilton County Schools for giving us a vision and trusting us,” Howard-Baptiste said, “and you as parents, families and community members, thank you for trusting us with your most prized little babies on our campus. Thank you for allowing us to share this opportunity with you.”
Said Knowles, “What we are building is unique. This is a true partnership with UTC: the spaces, the personnel, the wraparound support.”
Knowles and Howard-Baptiste introduced the University High faculty, including Catie Sanhueza—a 2014 UTC graduate and current East Ridge High School English teacher.
“I have always loved UTC and I’m really excited that I’ll be back on campus. I never would have imagined that this could be real,” Sanhueza said.
Sanhueza, who received a bachelor’s degree in English and American language and literature before pursuing a master’s degree in education from Lipscomb University in Nashville, said she tossed her name in the ring for a University High position “on a whim.”
“A bunch of our students applied,” she recalled, “and one of my students asked for a recommendation. I wrote him one and thought, ‘I’ll just apply, too.’ There was only one spot (for an English teacher), so I knew the chances were slim. Then I ended up getting it. I was surprised and shocked.”
One East Ridge High School student who will join her at University High is Kevin Avila, who already has designs on learning more about the Gary W. Rollins College of Business.
“I did some research during my freshman year and I noticed it was a pretty good business program,” Avila said. “When they announced you could have an opportunity to go to UTC for your last two years of high school and get to be more interactive with the career you want to do in life, I was like, ‘I hope I can get accepted.’”
Avila plans to be the first in his family to attend college.
Being the first “would mean a lot, especially after all my parents have gone through to even give me this opportunity to be here in the first place,” he said. “It would mean me saying, ‘After everything you’ve done for me, I can repay you.’”
When the students met with the University High staff for their first advisory session, parents were able to ask questions at a panel discussion that included Knowles, Howard-Baptiste, UTC Provost Jerold Hale, UTC Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs Yancy Freeman, UTC Assistant Director of Admissions Stephanie Orr and Hamilton County Schools Deputy Superintendent Sonia Stewart.
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What some of the other students had to say:
“I’m very excited. When they first brought up the idea, I was very drawn in; I automatically knew this was what I wanted to do. I liked everything that they were talking about and it sounded really good. I’m ready to start this new journey with all my classmates who have also worked hard for this.”
Brooklynn Wilkins, The Howard School
“I think it’s going to be really fun and intriguing. I’m especially excited about the ‘no dress code.’ It’s amazing. The academics will be really good because I’ve heard that we can share some classes with college kids.”
Catherine Holl, Chattanooga High Center for Creative Arts
“I’m nervous and excited because this is something I never experienced before. I want to know how college life is and what the program brings to everybody.”
Tamara Williams, The Howard School
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