Pitts graduates in three years from UTM

At least one of the UT Martin graduates who received their diplomas on May 4 started their college career while still in high school.

Jameila Pitts (first name pronounced “jah-MEE-la”) received a degree in health and human performance and plans to pursue a master’s degree in occupational therapy.

Pitts earned her degree in three years on the UT Martin campus after taking 27 hours of dual enrollment courses at Halls High School in Lauderdale County.

Pitts is from the city of Halls, and she said there are mixed feelings about leaving UT Martin.

“My senior year has been great, but it’s kind of sad because I don’t want to leave,” she said. “Most people say your senior year is really stressful, but I feel like my senior year has been easy – just school and going to work (at the Office of Student Life).”

Pitts is the first vice president for the Eta Xi Chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. and is a member of Women of Excellence, the Ned Ray McWherter Institute, Black Student Association and SHAPE Club (Sport, Health, Athletics and Physical Education).

She is also a senator-at-large for the Student Government Association for the College of Education, Health and Behavioral Sciences, served as a student supervisor in the Office of Student Life and was a PEP Leader for the fall 2022 and fall 2023 semesters.

“I’ve always been somebody who has to stay active and busy – even in high school – so I just continued that in college,” she said. “When I’m able to join an organization, I join it – I’m a member and I help out.

“I love it! I have to stay active because if I don’t stay active, I’m going to get bored.”

Pitts said being a part of these organizations has helped her to develop and grow.

“Every organization that I’ve been a part of has helped me become the woman that I am, the woman that I am slowly becoming,” she said. “I feel like being in a sorority has its benefits. I have gained great sisters, and it has taught me so much. It has given me the ability to show my leadership skills and enhance them, and I am grateful for that.”

Pitts said she tells new students that UT Martin is a good place for them to be.

“I tell people like incoming students that it has been fantastic, but I also think you have to get involved and do things for your college experience to be fun and fantastic,” she said. “I’ve been busy all three years that I’ve been here. I’ve worked at the Office of Student Life as well as with First-Year Initiative, and I’ve been a part of various organizations.

“My major keeps me pretty busy. It’s always fun going out and meeting new people. I’ve met great people such as Chancellor (Yancy) Freeman and (former) Chancellor (Keith) Carver as well as meeting all the great people on campus.”

Pitts said she enjoys helping first-year students by sharing her experiences to help them navigate their way through their years at UT Martin.

“I’ve seen so many people who are first-generation college students,” she said. “My mom actually has her bachelor’s degree and her master’s degree and she’s going to get her doctorate. So, seeing those new students navigate how to get to college and then wanting to stay here and be the first in their family to graduate is very inspiring.”

Pitts said her time spent at UT Martin has helped her to mature in preparation for life after graduation.

“I have to figure out what I’m going to do after graduation,” she said. “I have to apply to grad school, then I have to find a job. Graduating from high school, I knew I was going to college – I was accepted by UT Martin. I think I’m the same ‘me,’ but I’ve grown. I’ve gained more leadership skills and experiences that will help me navigate in the future.”

Pitts was a first-year student at UT Martin once, and she said the people who helped her navigate her way to graduation – the organizations, the student work and the people she knew and associated with – are what she will miss the most.

“I’ve enjoyed my college life, but I’m actually sad because I’m going to miss the campus and the organizations I’m in,” she said. “I’m definitely going to miss working in the Office of Student Life. I have a great boss, Lindee McCurley (assistant director of the Boling University Center and assistand director of Campus Event Services).”

Pitts has been named to several awards, including the Emerging Leader Award, Who’s Who Among Students at UT Martin honors and the University Service Award for amassing more than 150 community service hours in her three years on campus.

“I was given the opportunity to be a part of the Ned Ray McWherter Institute as an innovator,” she said. “I never knew about that program, but thankfully, somebody who worked here nominated me, and it’s been a great experience.

“This past spring break, my cohort went to Sweden over spring break, and it was a very fun experience, to go out of the country for the first time.”

Pitts said she would like to eventually work in the occupational therapy field in sports or pediatrics. She is applying to master’s programs at a number of schools, including the UT Health Science Center in Memphis, Milligan University in far East Tennessee and three schools in Missouri.

“Unfortunately, UTM does not have a program for me to continue my education in this field, so hopefully, I can move from here and go to UT Health Science Center and stay in the UT System,” she said.

Pitts said she had thought about coming to UT Martin ever since she came to the campus as a first-year high school student for a cheerleading camp.

“I fell in love with the campus,” she said. “My mom is also a University of Tennessee at Martin graduate, so I thought I would come here when the time came. I met people that she went to school with here or her high school friends who work here, and they’ve really helped guide me and motivate me and teach me to strive for the best while I was here, and I am so grateful for that.”

Photo: UTM graduate Jameila Pitts poses on the UT Martin quad prior to the commencement ceremony on May 4. After taking part in the dual enrollment program in high school, Pitts graduated after three years at UT Martin.

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