Middle Tennessee State University’s annual True Blue Tour student recruiting effort swept through the Midstate over the last two weeks boasting record attendance, plenty of “True Blue” spirit and $265,000 in distributed scholarships.
MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee, along with top university administrators and staff, wrapped up the stops Tuesday, Oct. 3, in Nashville after visiting Clarksville on Sept. 28 and Franklin on Sept. 25.
McPhee headlined the events with his signature passion for all things MTSU, showcasing everything the Blue Raider campus has to offer during appreciation luncheons for high school and community college counselors and staff and evening receptions for prospective students and their families.
“When we say we are Tennessee’s university, we are saying we provide opportunities for the average Tennessean,” McPhee said in his addresses. “Your family doesn’t have to be the wealthiest. We want to make a difference in the lives of all Tennesseans … (and) we have one of the most comprehensive and the most generous scholarship packages in the state. This year we have the highest number of first-time freshmen in all of Tennessee (among locally governed institutions).”
McPhee outlined everything from the university’s diverse community, more than 100 full-time academic advisors to support students, $1.6 billion in new construction since his tenure began in 2000 and top academic programs such as audio production, nursing and literacy education.
“Our audio production is the top program in the country,” he said. “We have 37 alumni and faculty who have won multiple Grammys, and we take students to the Grammys every year…. (top executives of) two of the four construction companies who won contracts for the new Titans stadium (in Nashville) are graduates from our Concrete and Construction Management program.”
Record scholarships, attendance
McPhee kicked off the tour last month announcing that MTSU is giving away $2,500 scholarships to each in-state high school and community college that sends at least one staff member to the tour luncheons this year.
“The word is out,” McPhee said during the Midstate lunches, noting a 60% increase in attendance at the events.
So far, the university has awarded $265,000 in scholarships to 98 Tennessee schools with five more in-state tour events still to come.
Jackie Collins, a counselor from Nolensville High School in Nolensville, Tennessee, whose son is also an MTSU freshman, was one of the many first-time attendees looking to take advantage of the new scholarship program.
“I was like, ‘Oh, I can get a scholarship for one of my students. I would love to go,’” Collins said, adding that she and her son really enjoyed MTSU’s Scholars Academy, which supports incoming freshmen with a two-week early arrival program to get them better acclimated to campus before the start of classes.
Counselors Sonja Chilcutt, Tonya Sherman and Serena Kerr from Clarksville High School in Clarksville, Tennessee, echoed this sentiment of MTSU’s supportive environment.
“With you guys having the … support on campus for some of the first-generation (students), or we have a lot of students that have … disabilities, that can really help them to not only apply and attend but be retained and actually come out with something at the end of the whole experience,” Sherman said.
Scholarships were not limited to counselors — prospective students, best friends and seniors at an immersive program at another Midstate university, Zaniyah Williams, Aniah Kidd and Jaden Rakestraw were shocked when all three won $1,000 scholarship drawings at the evening reception.
“I want to try something different … so I think that’s what really drew me to Middle Tennessee State University,” Williams said, her friends nodding in agreement. “We want more exposure, new experiences.”
Rakestraw and Kidd were also interested in the nursing program.
Forming ‘True Blue’ legacies
Several prospective students and their families cited not only affordability and location as MTSU’s main draws but also family connection.
Anand Raju, a senior at Page High School in Franklin, Tennessee, attended with his parents Praseeda Raju and Raju KS and said he wants to follow in older sister Sandy’s footsteps and become a Blue Raider.
“My sister goes there, and she likes it,” Raju said. “(Also) I’ve heard about the great music program itself like music production, mixing and sound design, and I’ve been there (campus) and performed with our high school band. And I love the … energy there and just the facilities. It looks great…. It’s a great option for me right now.”
KIPP Nashville Collegiate High School senior David Castro arrived with parents Marta Pu and Pedro Castro to learn more about the Mechatronics Engineering program.
“I heard about (the event) from my sibling, my older sister,” Castro said about his sister who graduated in psychology and now works at his school. “She went to MTSU, and she said that MTSU has a great program for engineering.”
In addition to offering the burgeoning mechatronics program, MTSU currently has a $74.8 million applied engineering building under construction.
“I heard that the community is great,” Castro added. “They hold a bunch of events and stuff like that and also MTSU’s just an hour away, so it’s very convenient.”
Kirsten Pigg’s journey to MTSU seems almost kismet. The Mt. Juliet (Tennessee) High School senior plans to embark on the same education and career path as her mother, who accompanied her to the event — majoring in animal science in the School of Agriculture to become a high school agriculture teacher.
“My dad taught there for 40-plus years, Dr. Cliff Ricketts,” said Mitzi Pigg, Kirsten’s mom, who has been an agriculture teacher now for 25 years. “He was the agriculture educator,” she added, noting that she took classes taught by her own father.
Retired since 2016, Ricketts became internationally known for his alternative fuel research during his time at MTSU.
“Just having grown up around it, I don’t want to leave it,” Kirsten said about continuing her family’s Blue Raider and agriculture traditions.
The True Blue Tour is headed out of state for its upcoming stops at the Origin Lexington Hotel in Lexington, Kentucky, on Tuesday, Oct. 17, and the Louisville Marriott East in Louisville, Kentucky, on Wednesday, Oct. 18. Those wanting to attend should RSVP for any future stop at https://www.mtsu.edu/schedule-a-visit/special-events.php, though walkups to the event are also welcome.
— Stephanie Wagner (Stephanie.Wagner@mtsu.edu)