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Student Spotlight – Kenna Rewcastle

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It seems as if I’ve come full circle.

In my mind’s eye, I can very clearly see myself sitting at my desk four years ago with my hand guiding the computer cursor to the submit button on my application to UT. Had I successfully condensed myself, everything about who I am, into a 250-word essay? I hesitated, got cold feet, and leaned back in my chair for a few minutes, thinking deeply. Senior year is a time of holistically reviewing the past four years of your life, tying significant experiences together, and making grand conclusions about how you’re going to use those seized opportunities to take you places. Now, as I’m leaning back in that same desk chair, I’m contemplating my college career, and it’s clear that the influence of the Chancellor’s Honors Program and my fellow honors students have left a distinct signature on nearly all of the experiences that brought meaning to my development. The Honors program expects much from its students, but they don’t leave you without the tools to get there.

“The Honors Program expects much from its students, but they don’t leave you without the tools to get there.”

The first tool the Chancellor’s Honors Program gave me was a team. Attending a lecture on campus given by a notable economist was eye-opening and thought-provoking, but I extracted exponentially more from attending that lecture after discussing its concepts with my friends in the honors program on the way back to our dorm. The Honors Learning Community introduced me to a group of people with whom I learned, discussed future plans and problems, goofed off, and grew. Some of my best friends to date are those that I met freshman year in the Honors LLC. My honors professors were my coaches, and my honors courses were my training schedule.

kenna4-200x300The CHP provided perspective for my college career, a perspective that I wouldn’t have been exposed to elsewhere. While making the gigantic UT community feel smaller and more intimate, being a member of the Honors program also showed me how big the world is. In classes with fellow honors students, I was given the opportunity to learn from and with students that think differently than I do. Scientists think differently than humanists, than do artists or businesswomen and men. Bringing these perspectives together in collaborative efforts produced spectacular feats of academic achievement. My Honors professors and the CHP staff members encouraged me to study abroad, and my semester in Copenhagen, Denmark, not only allowed me to explore different cultures and continents but also enabled me to hone in on what impact I wanted to make on this great big world and how exactly I hoped to do that.

An eclectic mix of honors classes filled the schedules of my first few semesters at UT. My interests oscillated around their ultimate resting point, and after switching my major several times, I settled on an interdisciplinary approach. I crafted a degree program through College Scholars that combined courses in soil science and ecology to build a foundation in ecosystem ecology upon which I planned to launch my research career.

“The CHP staff and associated professors encourage and require students to take their academic journey outside of the classroom, and I quickly figured out why. My research has brought purpose to my education, among other things.”

It was in an effort to further prepare myself for a career in research that I dove into an undergraduate research project (or three). The CHP staff and associated professors encourage and require students to take their academic journey outside of the classroom, and I quickly figured out why. My research has brought purpose to my education, among other things. I’ve applied all of those chemistry, biology, and physics classes to a study of carbon flux in the Swedish Arctic in the face of climate change.

What better time to apply my critical thinking and problem skills than when a dilute herbicide solution is spewing out of a broken pump onto my lab coat? My research started as a connection between myself and course material I was being taught in an honors class; it grew into a scientific endeavor that has taken me to China, Denmark, Sweden, and Switzerland. In the lab, I’ve experimented with soil samples as well as what specific topic I want to spend my life addressing. I’ve reported my findings on that study of my future in several nationally competitive scholarship applications, including the Udall Scholarship and a Fulbright Fellowship proposal to fund my return to northern Sweden.

kenna1-225x300So now, four years after submitting my application to the Chancellor’s Honors Program at the University of Tennessee, my mouse cursor is hovering over the submit button on a slew of different applications. In contemplating how I’ve grown and changed over the past four years, I can’t help but be grateful for the program that helped me get here.

College, for me, has been like climbing a colossal mountain. When the climb has grown precarious, I’ve stopped to catch my breath; I’ve been comforted by looking back and seeing all that I’ve accomplished, and I’ve been challenged and inspired to keep trekking by a glimpse of a peak in the distance. Sometimes the trail has forked, and several mentors have helped me choose one direction over another. Sometimes I’ve simply trusted my gut. You can imagine what a relief it is to find myself at the top now, but I promise that what the view looks like from up here is unimaginable.

It’s with this kind of sappy reminiscence that I decisively review what the Chancellor’s Honors Program has done for me. With my team at my back, my perspective enlightening my future, and my purpose driving me forward, I plan to continue to be the agent of change that the Chancellor’s Honors Program has trained me to be. I’ve spotted my next mountain peak in the distance, and I’ll soon be clambering up its slopes. To those behind me, I wish you nothing but happy climbing. As they say, college is the experience of a lifetime, an experience made infinitely more valuable by membership in a program that

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