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Start acknowledging academics at UTM

Published (Volume 76, No. 4)

There are huge differences between UT Martin and many larger, state-run universities. I hear about them all the time from students and faculty alike. I myself have written many an opinion complaining about these differences.

Last week, in Campus Quotes, nearly all of the students polled responded that the reason they attended UTM was mainly due to the close proximity to their homes. Obviously this isn’t a random poll and can’t be used to say that the only aspect of coming to school here is how close to home it is, but it does make a statement.

Most students seem to come here because it’s next to home. These students would probably come here regardless of the school’s reputation. Why do we press the fact that students should come here to be close to mom and dad? Can’t we take it for granted that these students are already going to come here? Better yet, can’t we give them a better reason? Shouldn’t our administration be concerned that students don’t pick UTM for its academic opportunities? I think so.

This is a small town school with a small campus. There are far fewer extracurricular activities here than there would be in Knoxville. The parties are dominated by frats and the weekends are marked by a mass exodus of students going back home. The only coffee house in Martin is practically closed down, the movie theater is poor, the grocery store has crappy produce and the bars all seem to have potholed garage floors. This much we all seem to know.

What are we bragging about as a school? How small a campus we have and how beautiful it is. A pretty campus is nice, kind of like a garden is nice. I wouldn’t pick a house based on its garden though, and I don’t expect students to pick a campus based only on its scenery. If this is a great strength of our school, then I’m not impressed.

What we need to emphasize are the good points of having a small campus. It’s all about the faculty.
Students here have a unique opportunity to work closely with professors. Compared to a large university, where you practically have to be a graduate student to work with a real professor, we are leaps and bounds ahead. You don’t even have to be in the same major to work alongside the faculty here.

Working with your teachers may not sound like fun, but since college is a springboard into life, and often into graduate school, having the chance to earn a letter of recommendation from a teacher that actually knows you is invaluable. And a letter of recommendation is only the beginning.

International Studies majors can work one-on-one with Theatre professors on a play. History majors can work on Psychology research. Engineering students can get advanced experience in their field. There are trips that go all over the world, all leaving from Martin.

If you are willing to do extra work, you can usually get involved in all kinds of academic projects with faculty. Students at UTM can do research in their field. Ask a junior at Knoxville if they are working with the head of their department on a research project that will get them into a great graduate school and the answer should be no. All you have to do here is ask a professor to work with you.

The bottom line is that all you have to do is ask a professor for help and you can get it. If you are willing to ask a professor to get you involved in something, they can do it. You don’t have to be in the top of your class, you don’t have to be on academic scholarship. You know why? Because there aren’t enough students trying to get involved. All anyone has to do is ask.

If this campus cares at all about academics – which we should, since we are a school – then maybe we should be talking about the academic opportunities here. Maybe we should spend more of the money from Student Affairs on academics. In the meantime, we can at least recognize that there are great faculty here who are willing to do much more than professors on almost any large state university.

Steve Helgeson is a junior History major from Chico, CA.