KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (Submitted) -- As a student at Knox County's Fulton High School, Christie Banks was introduced to her college options through Project GRAD, a program aimed to broaden access for center-city students to pursue higher education.
Project GRAD staff walked her through the college application process and were instrumental in Banks' smooth transition from high school to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville—an experience that inspired her to become an admissions counselor who now helps other high school students.
"Project GRAD really made me more comfortable going to college," said Banks, a 2007 Fulton High School graduate and 2011 UT graduate. "I didn't realize what a huge decision it was or how going to college really affects your future. I now see their vision of higher education and helping students become successful citizens and I agree with it."
UT is renewing its commitment to Project GRAD (Graduation Really Achieves Dreams) and will provide $150,000 each year for the next five years for the Project GRAD Summer Institute. Representatives from UT, Project GRAD and the Great Schools Partnership announced the continued funding for the partnership today.
This year will be the Summer Institute's 13th year at the university.
"We're happy to continue our support of Project GRAD," said UT Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek. "The program aligns with our and the state's goal of increasing the number of Tennesseans with post-secondary degrees. Project GRAD helps make the college experience more accessible and helps us to recruit students from under-represented groups."
The Summer Institute aims to increase high school graduation rates and post-secondary enrollment by offering incentives for students to complete education milestones to earn a scholarship. Every summer, students from Austin-East and Fulton high schools come to campus for a week to experience college life.
Taught by UT faculty, the residential workshop invites rising juniors and seniors to experience what it is like to live, eat and attend classes on a college campus. Courses focus on math, English, computer applications, ACT preparation and critical thinking skills. Students also choose a career-based elective class to learn more about a field of interest.
To be eligible for the institute, participants must have completed the Pellissippi State Summer Institute in a prior year. If the students complete two Summer Institutes and meet other Project GRAD requirements, they will qualify to receive a $4,000 scholarship to attend an accredited two-year or four-year college of their choice.
About 1,520 students have completed the UT Summer Institute, according to Project GRAD numbers. The program also has awarded 1,187 scholarships totaling $1.5 million.
"The UT Summer Institute, in partnership with Project GRAD Knoxville, has paved the way for a significant number of students from disadvantaged communities to persist to higher education," said Bob Rider, dean of UT's College of Education, Health and Human Sciences, the home of the Project GRAD Summer Institute. "UT has benefited greatly from the success of this initiative, given the high number of Austin-East and Fulton High School students who have matriculated here and graduated."
One former student described the program as a bridge that some students need. Jonathan Blair, a 2008 Fulton High and 2013 Purdue University graduate, is now pursuing a master's degree in business analytics at UT.
"UT's involvement lays a foundation and gives students the motivation to find necessary resources," he said. "The partnership connects students to the right people who can help maximize opportunities for higher education. Project GRAD and UT let you know it's possible to go to college."
To learn more about Project GRAD Knoxville, visit http://www.projectgradknoxville.org.