Freshman Honors Student Spent Part of High School Days Homeless

For some freshmen, moving into a residence hall on a university campus can be a daunting experience.

For Randall “Jordan” Brown, moving into Fred Brown Residence Hall was both exhilarating and comforting.

It is, finally, a place he can call home.

07-40407-01Brown, a freshman from Maryville, Tennessee, was homeless off and on throughout high school. Since January, he’s bounced from friend’s home to friend’s home. The summer found him sleeping in a city park for several nights.

Through it all, Brown managed to excel at Maryville High School. He entered UT with a 33 ACT score and racked up more than 30 AP credits, enough to be classified as a sophomore from the onset. A Chancellor’s Honors student, he’s majoring in physics and is already talking about going to graduate school to earn his PhD and work in a research lab.

“I’m going to do something I really love,” he said.

Sarah Hunter, associate director of UT’s Honors and Scholars Program, said Brown has worked hard to overcome a difficult situation and find success.

“He was fortunate enough to have high school counselors who knew his story, recognized his potential, and helped him maneuver his way through our application process,” Hunter said. “We’re excited to see him put his mark on UT for the next four years.”

Brown said both of his parents have health issues that have made working difficult.

“You stop wanting to work when you don’t want to move,” he said.

In January, after his family was evicted from the place they were living, he decided to strike out on his own. He figured it would be easier for everyone, since his parents still had his younger sister to care for.

“So my parents went one way, and I went the other,” he said.

As a low-income student, Brown was able to eat a free breakfast and lunch at school. He worked part time at a music store to have a little spending money.

“High school pretty much has been my outlet,” he said. “I had nothing else to do, and it’s something I’m good at.”

Not only did he excel in class, he was active in student council, science and math competitions, and the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. He sang in the school choir and played in a band with friends.

Brown knew he wanted to go to college and after visiting campus, he knew UT was where he wanted to enroll.

“This is an amazing campus,” he said. “I’m very into leadership roles. I saw how active UT is (in promoting leadership), the Vol lifestyle. I’d like to try to make a difference because of the life I’ve led.”

Brown’s college costs are covered by a variety of merit and need-based scholarships.

After moving into a four-person suite in Fred Brown Residence Hall, Brown got involved with Ignite, a program that allows freshmen to learn about opportunities for involvement and life outside the classroom while meeting other new students and developing their leadership skills

“It feels good to be here and take everything into my hands,” he said. “Finally, I have some control over my own life.”

How has he managed to persevere and find success?

“When I’ve been at my worst, I just wake up and keep going,” he said. “I try to do a little better today than I did the day before.

“For all of my misfortunes, I’ve had a much more blessed life than I could ever hope for.”

CONTACT:

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034, ablakely@utk.edu)