By Emily Diehl, sophomore HSP student in industrial engineering, 2015 Cohort
Every year, the Haslam Scholars Program Retreat offers a time for relaxation and bonding for the scholars, staff, and friends of the program. As a sophomore, I have already completed the program’s three-semester course sequence and graduated from the Haslam Scholars living and learning community. However, with additional and more intentional study this year, it has been more difficult to keep in touch. The annual retreat and bus ride to the Clyde Austin 4-H Center Lodge in Greeneville, Tennessee, gave me the opportunity to reconnect, network with other scholars, and find out how their semesters were going. The time spent reconnecting means a lot to me because the cohort model of the program is one of the major aspects that drew me to the Haslam Scholars Program.
I love being surrounded by so many students whose lofty ambitions encourage me to excel simply by being around them.
When we arrived at the 4-H Center, we gathered for dinner and soon began HSP’s annual tradition: cohort trivia. If you have never seen the students of the Haslam Scholars Program play trivia, you should. It rivals Volunteer football games in terms of competitiveness and overall intensity. There are heated debates, students sprinting to our associate director, Dr. Turner, to hand in answers, and enthusiastic cheers accompanied by disappointed moans when the answers are finally revealed. It is an exciting and exhausting event. This year, the 2014 Cohort was crowned the winner and awarded the coveted trivia trophy.
The retreat gave us time to relax and spend time with members of other cohorts while roasting marshmallows for s’mores, playing basketball or football, or simply watching other scholars show off their “skills.” Throughout the evening, there were sounds of laughter, the crackling of a fire, and a general release of tension—which was much needed and well deserved at this point in the semester.
The following days were filled with both enlightening and entertaining activities. An integral experience at the retreat is exploring of the core pillars of our program. This year we participated in a poverty simulation led by Clint Cummings, a staff member at the UT Institute of Agriculture. The purpose of the simulation was to help us expand our understanding of the effects of poverty on families. During the simulation, we were each assigned a role as a community member in a town where the primary employer went bankrupt. We then simulated what three years of our lives would be like without the job security we had previously experienced.
For me, the simulation was one of the most powerful parts of the weekend.
It made me more aware of the lives, circumstances, and experiences of some of the families and communities with whom we partner in the Knoxville area. The experiences that we shared and the knowledge that we gained during the poverty simulation reminded us of our obligation to pursue opportunities for positive change within our communities even after we leave UT.
The retreat also included seminars led by UT faculty and staff. This year’s seminars were different than I expected but will be extremely useful in my professional development. I enjoyed lectures by professors on topics not typically taught at UT, such as “How to Start a Record Collection” by Dr. Hulsey and “MMMM (Moving Mindful Meditative Mix)” by Dr. Cantin. These informal and unconventional lectures allowed me to explore topics that I typically would be unable to study because of my major courses.
One of the more intimidating aspects of the Haslam Scholars Program is the high expectation for each of us to achieve great things during and after our time at the University of Tennessee. The seminars reminded us of the humanity of the scholars and professors we admire and helped us realize that we could become like them after graduation. This humanity not only enables us to connect on a personal level but also helps us develop our professional relationship skills.
The opportunity to speak with the lecturers about their passions and interests in a less formal environment allowed us to learn about our own value and gain the confidence to approach professors in the future.
The retreat gave us the opportunity to extend our learning outside of topics typically discussed in the classroom and a time to recuperate and reinvigorate ourselves for the second half of the semester. It reminded us of the values and ambitions of the program in a setting where we are surrounded by a group of scholars with the same standards of excellence and grand ambitions.
Our final day at the retreat came faster than expected as we found ourselves packing up and boarding the bus on an overcast day. Many of us reflected on the value of creating a community through shared interactions, which is one of the most important aspects of our program.