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Freshman trio, transfer are truly sold on coming t...

Freshman trio, transfer are truly sold on coming to MTSU

They are definitely planning to attend MTSU starting this fall. They really liked what they saw and experienced on campus visits pre-COVID-19.

These incoming freshmen and transfer students are firmly committed to the Murfreesboro university. They are sold on MTSU.

Entering freshmen Audrey Lauerhass, Brian Johnson and Jillian DeGrie and rising junior transfer Sesaleigh Whitaker come from different backgrounds and hometowns. Each has their own interests in areas of study and career paths.

Audrey Lauerhass, left, Brian Johnson, Sesaleigh Whitaker and Jillian DeGrie are new students totally sold on coming to MTSU.(MTSU photo illustration by Jimmy Hart)

Audrey Lauerhass, left, Brian Johnson, Sesaleigh Whitaker and Jillian DeGrie are new students totally sold on coming to MTSU.(MTSU photo illustration by Jimmy Hart)

As the university continues preparing to resume some level of in-person classes for fall semester, these incoming students are thrilled about new beginnings, living in campus housing, meeting fellow students and experiencing college life.

One common thread for Lauerhass, DeGrie and Whitaker is they will be a part of the University Honors College community — Lauerhass and DeGrie as two of 20 incoming Buchanan Fellows and Whitaker as one of 30 Transfer Fellows — through highly coveted scholarships awarded annually.

Dr. Laurie Witherow

Dr. Laurie Witherow

Laurie Witherow, associate vice provost for Enrollment Services, has years of firsthand experience in chronicling students entering MTSU. This one is different.

“I think both groups (freshmen and transfers) are sold on MTSU,” Witherow said. “What they’re worried about is whether they will get the MTSU experience they’d envisioned. I want to reassure them that they will.”

“We have lots of folks — from the academic deans, faculty and advisers to the student activities’ and organizations’ staffs — who are busy designing activities to enrich their semester, connect them to the university and involve them in the MTSU community,” Witherow added. “It may look a little different, but we will still be MTSU and ‘True Blue’.”

Witherow noted that this incoming freshman class is entering a truly unique situation. Even as the university’s goal is to return to modified in-person classes, what that resumption looks like in reality will hinge on the latest public health guidance surrounding the ongoing pandemic.

“They are about to encounter a situation no one ever has, so there aren’t friends, family members or counselors who can say for sure what the fall will be like,” she said. “They’re apprehensive. But I’m also seeing them doing all of the things I’d expect — introducing themselves, reaching out to form friendships, pick roommates and make connections with one another.”

Meanwhile, transfer students are bringing a positive “track record they can draw on for the confidence they need,” but they also “have to be open to a new way of life.”

Witherow said students are looking for “quality academic programs, value in the education they’re getting and for student life activities that will add to the experience. I have no doubt they will get each of those at MTSU.”

A look at what made the university appealing to the newcomers and why, when there were other options, they remain firmly loyal to MTSU.


Incoming MTSU freshman Audrey Lauerhass of Baxley, Ohio, visits with Lightning during her visit to campus in February for the Honors College Presidents Day Open House. The Honors Buchanan Fellow plans to study forensic science and forensic anthropology, and be a part of the equestrian team. (Submitted photo)

Incoming MTSU freshman Audrey Lauerhass of Baxley, Ohio, visits with Lightning during her visit to campus in February for the Honors College Presidents Day Open House. The Honors Buchanan Fellow plans to study forensic science and forensic anthropology, and be a part of the equestrian team. (Submitted photo)

Audrey Lauerhass

Age: 18

Hometown: Baxley, Ohio

Class: Freshman/Baxley High School graduate

Major: Forensic science/forensic anthropology in the College of Basic and Applied Sciences

“I’m excited for the next chapter of my life,” said Lauerhass, who will combine her academic pursuits with riding on the MTSU equestrian team, eventually preparing for graduate school.

The combination of the Buchanan award, MTSU’s forensic science program and the horse science program “having one of the nicest barns you can find” completely sold her on coming to Murfreesboro. She actually enters MTSU as a sophomore, having successfully passed many advanced placement classes.

A musician (viola), she will consider playing in a community group. Other interests in high school were as a golf team member and playing ultimate Frisbee. She has worked this summer at a doggie day care and boarding facility.


MTSU rising freshman Brian Johnson of Murfreesboro, Tenn., will study mechatronics engineering when classes begin in August. The Middle Tennessee Christian School graduate enjoys building robots and programming. (Submitted photo by the Johnson family)

MTSU rising freshman Brian Johnson of Murfreesboro, Tenn., will study mechatronics engineering when classes begin in August. The Middle Tennessee Christian School graduate enjoys building robots and programming. (Submitted photo by the Johnson family)

Brian Johnson

Age: 18

Hometown: Murfreesboro, Tennessee

Class: Freshman/Middle Tennessee Christian School graduate

Major: Mechatronics engineering in the College of Basic and Applied Sciences

As to what sold Johnson on attending MTSU, while considering one other school, he said he “grew up around here. I always liked the campus, always liked Murfreesboro and MTSU has a great engineering degree. I’m still coming. I’m looking forward to the opportunity.”

“I’ve always like robotics,” he added about choosing MTSU. “Some of my brother’s friends are in mechatronics. It’s the degree to go with robotics. I enjoy building robots and programming.”

Johnson and his family — parents Drs. Carol and Gordon Johnson are chiropractors and older brother Chris attends the University of Tennessee-Knoxville — live near campus.

Brian Johnson plans to ride his bicycle when his classes meet. “It seems like a good idea — more efficient use of my time,” he said.


Rising MTSU freshman Jillian DeGrie of Brentwood, Tenn., will study studio art and art history in the College of Liberal Arts starting this fall. The Honors Buchanan Fellow and Brentwood High School graduate signed her Honors College Buchanan Fellowship agreement during her February 2020 visit during the Presidents Day Open House. (MTSU photo by Marsha Powers)

Rising MTSU freshman Jillian DeGrie of Brentwood, Tenn., will study studio art and art history in the College of Liberal Arts starting this fall. The Honors Buchanan Fellow and Brentwood High School graduate signed her Honors College Buchanan Fellowship agreement during her February 2020 visit during the Presidents Day Open House. (MTSU photo by Marsha Powers)

Jillian DeGrie

Age: 17

Hometown: Brentwood, Tennessee

Class: Freshman/Brentwood High School graduate

Majors: Studio art and art history in the College of Liberal Arts

“The whole atmosphere” sold DeGrie on MTSU. “Everyone (students, faculty and staff) seemed genuine and nice when I toured. Everyone seemed excited to be there. I felt welcome.”

“I’m very excited about coming to MTSU,” she added. “Once I toured the campus and heard about the Buchanan (the top scholarship offered by MTSU and the Honors College), it wasn’t that hard of a decision.”

Her parents, MTSU alumni Royce DeGrie and Eve DeGrie, are graphic designers. Jillian DeGrie “has had an art interest since a young age. My parents encouraged me to be creative. I have been considering art as a future career since I’ve been a student at Brentwood High.”

DeGrie’s hobbies include crocheting, reading and art. She paints and sells pet portraits.


MTSU rising junior Sesaleigh Whitaker of Knoxville, Tenn., is a transfer from Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville. The Honors Transfer Fellow will study animation in the College of Media and Entertainment. (Submitted photo by the Whitaker family)

MTSU rising junior Sesaleigh Whitaker of Knoxville, Tenn., is a transfer from Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville. The Honors Transfer Fellow will study animation in the College of Media and Entertainment. (Submitted photo by the Whitaker family)

Sesaleigh Whitaker

Age: 20

Hometown: Knoxville, Tennessee

Class: Junior/transfer from Pellissippi State Community College

Major: Animation in the College of Media and Entertainment

The recruiting process eventually wooed Whitaker to Middle Tennessee. While considering a school in Florida to pursue animation, Whitaker said she “heard about MTSU having one of the top animation programs in the country. I started looking into it and the rest is history. … I really enjoyed the atmosphere and aesthetic of campus.”

Whitaker has been fascinated with Disney films and anime — hand-drawn or computer animation originating from Japan — since she was 7. “There’s a couple of anime I really admire,” she said. “It’s very creative. It makes it peaceful and calm.”

Her interests are travel and foreign language. She learned to speak Korean, traveled study abroad to Korea with Pellissippi in May 2019 and hopes “to be in an Asian club I can immerse myself into (on campus). I love traveling the world.”

MTSU offers ‘MT Tuition Free’ path

For prospective students,MTSU recently began heavily promoting its MT Tuition Free— an opportunity where first-time freshmen paying in-state tuition and attending full time can attend tuition freeif they receive the Tennessee Education Lottery (HOPE) Scholarshipand the maximum federal Pell Grant.

Eligible students could have no out-of-pocket costs for tuition and fees, and no student loans would be required. To learn more about MT Tuition Free, visit https://www.mtsu.edu/tuition-free/.

For incoming freshmen for the fall 2020 semester, MTSU also has three options for guaranteed academic scholarships. These awards require a minimum high school GPA of 3.5 for first-time freshmen and an ACT of 23 or higher. Students must apply by Aug. 14 to be eligible.

—Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)


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