Peyton Schultz spent the summer of 2023 as a student writer in the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Division of Communications and Marketing, completing her bachelor’s degree in communication with a minor in psychology. She is a 2020 graduate of Soddy Daisy High School.
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As an intern in the Communications and Marketing department at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, I have spent the last 12 weeks writing about UTC students, faculty and staff and their accomplishments this summer. From research programs to new job prospects to exciting summer internships, I discovered there are many people on campus with great experiences to share.
My first year at UTC began in the fall of 2020. I officially graduate on Aug. 12, nearly three years later. Thanks to dual enrollment in high school and several summer classes, I am graduating about a year ahead of schedule.
As my college career comes to an end, I have reflected on my experiences as a student who began her college journey amid a global pandemic. Like several of the students I spoke to about their summer internships, I also have an internship that is coming to a close and a story to tell.
I graduated from Soddy Daisy High School in 2020, the year COVID-19 made its debut, meaning I spent most of my last semester as a high school student behind a computer screen at home.
My last day on campus was March 13. My friends and I skipped school after our first period, wanting to get a head start on our two-week vacation. Over the next few days we realized there would be no coming back; no prom, no senior celebration, none of the traditions that we all looked forward to.
Our graduation occurred late in the summer and felt hurriedly put together. Because of the pandemic, graduates could only invite a few guests, meaning many students’ family members were unable to attend.
At the time, I was not too upset over the events I was missing out on. As someone who is more introverted, I took advantage of the time off. I didn’t realize how much of a toll the overextended break took on my well-being until I began college.
After my first few weeks of school, I found myself feeling very lost. I felt like a character in a video game, moving on auto-pilot, unaware of what to do, say or think.
I never got the experiences that signify the “end” or “the beginning.” Everything blurred together and now I was here.
As an aspiring photographer, I chose to major in Photography and Media Art. Not being much of an artist, the prerequisite art classes and the immense talent I saw from other students intimidated me. My anxiety got the best of me and I started skipping a few classes here and there.
I have always been an over perfectionist, sometimes to a fault. The worst thing in my mind that could happen, happened: I made several Bs. I was no longer passionate about school and my mental health began to slip. I don’t remember checking my student email more than three times during my first semester.
My advisor sent a couple of strongly worded text messages urging me to register for the Spring semester. Meanwhile, I was drafting the perfect text message to tell my parents I was dropping out of school.
After some contemplation, however, I was willing to give school a second chance. I changed my major to “undecided” and took a semester of general education classes until I found where I belonged.
Many times throughout that semester I scrolled through the list of UTC’s majors and course catalogs, hoping to find something that interested me. I came across the Department of Communication, which I was not familiar with.
After doing more research on what a communication degree had to offer, I knew it would be something I could potentially excel in. There were several areas of study that I could explore, all of which sounded appealing, so I decided to officially declare it as my major.
I quickly fell in love with my first few communication classes and I specifically gravitated toward media writing. It was fun to have a story idea, connect with people and organize their words to form a cohesive narrative.
It reminded me of photography. Instead of taking photos to tell someone’s story, I was using someone’s thoughts and words.
During my sophomore year I began writing for The Echo, UTC’s student newspaper. I continued up the ladder of media writing classes and took every class available to advance my skills as a writer.
Now as I finish up my last few stories for the Communications and Marketing department and as I prepare to graduate from UTC, I can look back at all of the people I had the pleasure of interviewing. I spoke with faculty from many different departments at UTC, members of the UTC community who have unique stories and students from around the world.
My experiences gave me the opportunity to learn about UTC and the diverse group of talented people involved on campus, which I didn’t get the chance to do at the beginning of my college career. I even had the chance to attend part of an in-person student orientation, which I missed out on before my freshman year because of COVID-19.
I learned that there are so many opportunities in college, especially at UTC, to find your footing. There is truly a place for everyone. Maybe I was not where I belonged at the beginning of my time as a student, but after some adjustments I found my niche with students and professors who welcomed me with open arms.
My advice to incoming students and those who many have not discovered where they belong yet is to keep exploring, try new things and become familiar with change. Take advantage of the resources and support that is available on campus. Relish in the traditions that shape your college experience.
By doing this, I became much happier and felt a sense of community around me. I am proud to have been a student at UTC and am looking forward to where the experience will continue to take me.