By Cindy Carroll
High-school juniors and seniors are all about first impressions. They know in a nanosecond whether a cellphone makes it or is way less than cool. The look of a backpack or a pair of jeans can divide the known world. And at first blush, the gateway of a college campus can immediately put off any further discussion or begin an affair of the heart that lasts a lifetime.
“Studies show that sixty-two percent of high-school seniors say their first criterion in choosing a college is the appearance of buildings and grounds,” says Linda Collins, a biology professor and chair of the Landscaping Committee for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Taking those numbers to heart, UTC did some important exterior decorating, with smashing results.
Beginning on East Fifth Street and ending in Heritage Plaza, an inviting walkway carries visitors into a circular space bordered by the University Center, Grote Hall, and Lupton Library.
Where once a mishmash of unattractive picnic tables sat atop uneven concrete and dirt, people now meet and gather in a park-like area of charm and pleasing proportion. Large planters hold seasonal flowers. Shrubs, trees, and vintage-style street lamps help define a sense of place. Brick pavers accent the shared experience of being there.
“This is a special place to show prospective students and their parents,” says Yancy Freeman, director of admissions and recruitment. “It’s easy to see the potential of this central outdoor gathering space. And underfoot, there’s a precious history lesson for these future alumni.”
Medallions installed in the spring of 2007 handsomely tell the story of UTC to those who walk through Heritage Plaza. They document the institution’s unique history—as a private school for 83 years, then as a public university in the UT system for 39 years.
Since the recent completion of Heritage Plaza, several memorable student events have taken place there. Last April students gathered to remember those who died in the Virginia Tech shootings.
“Heritage Plaza served as a place for those who empathized with the students of Virginia Tech to begin their own healing,” Freeman said. “The beauty of the location allowed busy students walking from class to class to stop for a moment and unite with the campus community. It was powerful.”
Happier times returned to the plaza when students celebrated Welcome Week in the fall of 2007. Krystal provided lunch, and students had a chance to learn about campus organizations. When October brought cooler weather, another exciting annual event changed its address and moved to the plaza, according to Jayne Holder, UTC alumni director.
“Traditionally, our homecoming pep rally was celebrated downtown or at UTC Place, but last fall we brought it to the heart of campus,” Holder says. “Our cheerleaders and the UTC band infused the campus with excitement. Community leaders and students rallied the crowd. We had super student participation in events leading up to the homecoming game at Finley Stadium.”
No matter the season or the event, the plaza provides an inviting gateway to campus and a gathering place that defines the spirit of UTC.
A Lasting Bond with UTC
Heritage Plaza moved off UT Chattanooga’s wish list and into campus life with the help of Brenda Lawson, co-chair of the Campaign for Tennessee, the university’s billion-dollar comprehensive fundraising campaign.
Lawson, a member of the UT Development Council, is the founder of Brenda Lawson & Associates LLC, chief executive officer of Railcar Custom Leasing LLC, and president of M&B Jewelry Company LLC in Chattanooga.
The Cleveland, Tennessee, resident may not be a UTC alumna, but she harbors genuine affection for the campus.
A beautiful example of that bond, the $3.2-million Brenda Lawson Student–Athlete Success Center, will open in August 2008. In addition, Lawson is on the UTC Foundation Board of Trustees and the UTC Advisory Board for the College of Business. She was a 2004 UTC College of Business Entrepreneurial Honoree and 2006 Entrepreneur of the Year.