By Chandra Harris-McCray
Three scholarship students talk about their motivation—and their gratitude.
UT College of Law student Brad Vaughan considers the title of Baker Scholar an honor like no other.
Brad Vaughan has heard about UT law graduate and former U.S. senator Howard H. Baker Jr. all his life. “My parents have always talked about his resilience in public policy. I learned about his leadership role in the Watergate hearings in school,” Vaughan says.
So when Vaughan was asked in 2004 to be part of the inaugural class of Baker Scholars, he jumped at the opportunity. Supporting and enhancing the goals of the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy, Baker Scholars are UT Knoxville’s brightest and most politically engaged students.
Vaughan received other scholarships to attend the university, but he has a special appreciation for the title of Baker Scholar. “ ‘Baker Scholar’ is the first line on my resume. It’s an honor that I am always eager to talk about,” says Vaughan.
The Crossville, Tennessee, native received a bachelor’s degree in economics and political science in 2006 and now is a UT law student and managing editor of the Baker Center Journal of Applied Public Policy.
“It seemed surreal that absolute strangers would invest in me and care about my journey through college,” Conley said as she recalled dinner with the Morrises. “I want to do something for them to say thank you. But they just want me to be the best student that I can.”
Conley is part of the university’s first-year class of Haslam Scholars and the first student to benefit from the M. Steven and Laura Capps Morris Endowed Honors Scholarship, awarded to an outstanding student each fall. The Morris Endowed Honors Scholarship was established in partnership with the university’s premier scholarship effort created by UT benefactors Jim, Natalie, Jimmy, and Dee Haslam. The Haslam Family Scholars Program Endowment provides each Haslam Scholar with a laptop, a study-abroad stipend, and other benefits, while individual scholarships, such as the Morris Endowed Honors Scholarship, provide funding to recruit the brightest students.
Conley says she will keep in touch with the Morrises, who are from Franklin, Tennessee, where she was reared. She calls them a godsend and says she hopes someday to be able to help someone else as they have helped her.
Rachel Edwards counts her blessings every day. She always thought she would go to college in her home state of North Carolina. But after a visit to UT Knoxville, “I knew this is where I wanted to be,” Edwards says. “My heart was set on UT. I felt like the staff and professors wanted me here.”
She began stocking her closet with orange-and-white paraphernalia. But the elation she felt upon being accepted to UT was countered by a more practical concern: how she and her family would pay for it.
Edwards was in tears after learning she was on a financial-aid waiting list with dozens of other students. Her tears of disappointment turned to joy when she received a phone call weeks later informing her that she had been chosen to receive the Andrew D. Holt Scholarship, named in honor of former UT president Andy Holt. The most generous scholarship awarded by the UT Alumni Association provides $20,000 ($5,000 per year for 4 years) at UT’s campuses at Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Martin. At the UT Health Science Center the stipend varies by college. Along with the financial support, UT scholarship winners are invited to be part of the prestigious Chancellor’s Honors Program.
“Before I stepped on campus as a freshman, so many people at UT were there to help me,” says Edwards, who is a senior in communication studies. “Not only did the gift of the scholarship motivate me to do well academically, I knew I wanted to give back immediately and pay back the kindness and investment that was made in me.”
In her sophomore and junior years, Edwards was a resident assistant, hoping to “encourage freshmen the way others had done for me,” she says. Edwards, who plans to do graduate work at UT, is active in Student Alumni Associates and Campus Crusade for Christ.
“Just like so many have invested in me, I want to spend my life investing in others,” she says.