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ABOUT GEAR UP: GEAR UP UTC's goal is to increase the number of students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary programs.  These college conversations were coordinated by the GEAR UP program.

ABOUT THE PANELISTS: The panelists are current college students from The University of Memphis, Jackson State University, and  Chattanooga State Community College.  They all participated in the UTC GEAR UP program in high school.




DeVeonte Overton
Hometown: Chattanooga, Tennessee
High School: Howard High school
College: Jackson State University 
Year in College: Class of 2023
Major: I have had a few major changes in the past first with Accounting and then Sports Management. Now my focus is Speech Communications.
DeVeonte’s Places: I am involved in the Alpha Beta Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc. I am the first Generation Greek member in my family coming from the Power Divine Nine. I also have met many people on campus at our wonderful plaza.
Reach out to DeVeonte on Twitter and Instagram: @dev_overton



Laniesha Gatewood
Hometown: Chattanooga, TN
High School: Howard High School
College: Chattanooga State Community College
Year in College: Class of 2022
Major: Biology (Pre-med)
Laniesha’s Places: I was a cheerleader, basketball team manager and I also help manage facilities with IMC recreation.
First Gen? Yes
Reach Out to Laniesha on Snapchat : model_gorgeous



College Conversation Breakdown

Hashtag Directory: #WhoIs #background #highschool #people #places #mentalhealth #anxiety #family #collegesearch #collegeselection #gearup #mentor  #FAFSA #payingforcollege #financialaid #essay #impostersyndrome #homesickness #transition #stress #transfer #collegeprep #timemanagement #badgrades #gettinghelp #greeklife #studyabroad #communitycollege #dreamjob #uncomfortablemoment #race #partying #alcohol #weekends #joyfulmoment

2:22 - Laniesha describes her HS self. She says she wouldn’t describe herself as “popular” but she was very friendly, outgoing, laid back, and a lot of people knew her. She did well in the classroom and took honors classes.  #WhoIS #background #highschool

4:12 - The others chime in about Dev. Dev describes himself in HS. He says he was a “popular loner” He liked being by himself but was usually in a position where he was in the spotlight.  #WhoIs #Background #Highschool

5:49 Diamond describes her HS self. She was always part of something, often a leader. Dev chimes in and reveals that they’ve known each other since the 6th grade and went to prom together.  #highschool

9:39 - Diamond talks about her family background. She is the youngest of 5. In 5th grade her mom had a stroke and died. She has always been smart and good at school. When her mom passed away, she lived in a car while going to school trying to get into college. She went into foster care and lived with an all white family. She ended up graduating as the salutatorian of her class and all the essays she wrote were done in her car. She got a full ride to the University of Memphis.

Diamond continues saying she went on the news and that gear up got her story into the newspaper. She says she only did it to help other people and let them know that you can get through tough times. She says it’s still hard, the other day she had a breakdown because she realized neither of her parents would be at her graduation. She mentions she’s in a sorority and that her friends will be there for her. Harlan recaps that she graduated #2 in her class while living in her car and got a full ride to University of Memphis. She says she’s still working 2 jobs. She works at a hotel and she’s a peer mentor for freshmen. #WhoIs #background #highschool #people

13:30 Harlan asks how Diamond got through all those tough times mentally. Dev chimes in and says “pray” and Harlan mentions that Dev was probably there with her along the way too. She says now, since so many bad things have happened to her she is kind of numb to it, so it’s rare that she really feels sad now. In HS she had her friends as support.  #highschool #mentalhealth #people 

15:10 - Harlan asks Dev about his family background. He says he didn’t really know his dad and didn’t have the greatest relationship with his step dad. Losing his great grandma and grandpa had an effect on him too. His mother had heart problems. She is a big motivating factor for him. He says he over thinks a lot and tries not to get too attached to people because he says he’s also very giving and will give the shirt off his back to help a close friend. He mentions he’s also in greek life like diamond. He’s in a fraternity and his brothers help him stay on track. Harlan highlights the importance of people and places.
#family #people #places

17:25 - Harlan asks Dev if there were other opportunities he could have taken besides the college route and why he ultimately chose the college route. He says he definitely had other opportunities and everyone does, it’s mind over matter. Harlan digs a bit deeper and asks how even in early high school how Dev managed to avoid bad influences and got on the path to college. He says he’s always been musically inclined and it’s what people know him for. His dad was a very talented singer and musician. He played 7 instruments growing up. He uses that as his escape. With all of that, came a lot of mentors to keep him focused. Harlan asks for an example of a time where Dev may have stepped off the path and a mentor helped him. Dev says after his grandma passed he stopped playing football, he stopped focusing. But a mentor named Clayton Mason stepped in and helped get him back on the path. He credits him as the reason he is where he is today. Clayton took him to his first college visit to Jackson State. He met people on the visit he still knows today. It was the first time he drove on the highway. It’s clear that he has a lot of great memories of him. Sadly he passed away and his death really impacted Dev the most, especially because he couldn’t be there for his funeral. He says he knows he’s still with him spiritually, and even though he still has a lot of questions he needs answers to, with him not there to answer - he said he had a choice to lay down and give up or keep going. He asks everyone watching to get back up when things get bad. Dev clarifies that Clayton was a gear up advisor/teacher. Harlan asks Laniesha if she knew Clayton as well. She says her younger sister did but she herself didn’t get to know him as well as Dev and her sister did.  #collegesearch #collegeselection #people #places #gearup 

25:30 - Harlan asks Dev about GEAR UP. He explains that it helps show you the best opportunities for college. He said that while he had mentors that helped direct him, there was a lot to learn as far as what it means to actually be in college and what comes with it. They let you live in the dorms, give you a taste of what the classes are like. It breaks it down step by step, the schedule, application, what things cost, things to look for like scholarships, mentorship. #gearup

26:57 - Diamond talks about Clayton. He was also her GEAR UP Counselor but he was also her cousin! She backs up what Dev said about him. He was taken at a young age when he died. Harlan highlights what a legacy Clayton has had - evident in the stories the panelists tell. #people #mentor #gearup

28:28 - Laniesha talks about growing up and her path to college. She admits to being a bit of a “difficult child” and argued a lot with siblings and parents. She says she had a lot going on that people didn’t know about. She didn’t get along with her mom. She went to live with her dad. She says she has a strong personality and isn’t passive or submissive. 

She mentions she is a first gen college student. She saw college as her way out and away from a lot of things. She always knew she was going to go to college. She got worried about how she was going to pay for college. #family #background #payingforcollege

33:00 - Harlan asks Dev if money was a concern for him. He says he didn’t have a lot of money but he was fixated on his goal of going. He says he’s a go getter and a hustler so when he wants something he goes after it. It really drove him to put a lot of energy into his music to try and get a scholarship. #payingforcollege #scholarships 

34:13 - Harlan asks Dev for specifics and how he found the money to pay for college. Dev reminds watchers that the FAFSA opens up tomorrow. He also mentions work/study is a good thing to look into. He explains what work/study is. Laniesha chimes in that work/study is an option for low income students. #FAFSA #payingforcollege #financialaid 

36:44 - Harlan asks Laniesha to go into detail about the money she got. She talks about using her mother’s income on her application so she got more money on her Pell grant. She graduated with more than a 3.0 gpa so she got the Hope Scholarship. Tennessee Promise does a lot to cover the remaining balance of tuition that previous scholarships don’t cover.
She goes on to reveal that she got scholarships for other schools that she didn’t go to because she didn’t want to leave home at first. She says she wasn’t in the mental state to go away to college so she went to Chattanooga State. Everyone talks about grades not being a reflection of intelligence. #scholarships #payingforcollege #financialaid #collegeselection

41:20 - Harlan asks Dev where he got some of his scholarships from. He says the Boys and Girls Club of Chattanooga, alumni scholarship from his HS. He got a left handed scholarship - 500 bucks. He says there are a lot of scholarships that not a lot of people apply to so there’s a chance you might get it if you do. He remembers writing a short 1 page essay and getting awarded just because the application pool was low. #scholarships #payingforcollege #essay

43:25 - Laniesha takes a moment to encourage students that might feel imposter syndrome that you are on the same level as everyone else. She brings up an Elon Musk quote “I didn’t go to Harvard but the people that work for me do.” #impostersyndrome

44:40 - Diamond talks about paying for college. She echoes Laniesha’s story saying that even though she was salutatorian, once she got to college she met so many other people at college that were the tops of their high school classes so that humbles you. Everyone starts at 0 in college. She says they had a scholarship class in school. They would bring them a stack of paperwork to do for different scholarships. She realized the formula of the process for a lot of them and started sending in similar essays tweaking them to fit the application. Her biggest scholarship is from Girls Inc. she got 20,000 from them. The rest ranged from 1000 to 5000. A lot of them were community scholarships. #scholarships #payingforcollege #essay

47:50 - Diamond’s connection starts to break up again. Harlan asks if she’s able to move for a better signal and continues on with Dev and Laniesha.  

49:05 - Harlan asks Dev how he picked Jackson State. He says he always knew he was going to go there. He got 36 acceptance letters but always knew Jackson was the place he wanted to go. He says it was difficult leaving home, the hardest process in his life was moving away from family, his mom. But he knew he had to do it and stay strong for her. #collegesearch #collegeselection #family #homesickness

50:48 - Dev explains the difficult parts of transitioning to college. He says time management was a difficult thing to learn. When he got to school he was in the band and found that it consumed his life to the point that he couldn’t enjoy other aspects of college and create meaningful experiences so he left the band. He got into a series of troubles with his car, popped tires, totaled it in an accident. He also got terribly ill during the December of his freshman year. He moved away for a little bit to ETSU and regretted it. It helped him realize what he really wanted, he wanted to be at Jackson State so he came back. He’s very proud of his school.  #transition #stress #transfer 

55:04 - Harlan digs deeper with Dev’s transfer out from Jackson State. He transferred because he started to really miss home especially as his mother was in and out of the hospital and so was he with his illness. He learned a lot about what he wanted while he was away. He emailed the president of the school asking to come back to JSU and he told him he’d find a way to make it happen. He even gave Dev a 5000 scholarship for coming back. #transfer #homesickness #scholarship

58:30 - Harlan asks Dev if he has advice for students that are struggling academically to make that first year transition. He says he would always overthink things and be a little paranoid about things and create anxiety for himself and he has trouble opening up and being emotionally open. He says to make sure to become good at those things you like and have talent for. Harlan points out that it sounds like he lost his people and places. He stopped being in the band which was his place. #people #places #anxiety #mentalhealth

1:02:00 - Harlan asks Diamond how she got through her first year. She disagrees with Dev’s sentiment that no one can prepare you for college. But Diamond went to a college prep school. She talks about how students from her school got picked on by all the others because they worked so hard and didn’t get to have as much fun and the environment was more strict. But she says they really got them to buckle down and prepare for college. She said the prep school she was at did a good job of simulating the college environment so when she finally got to college, it was familiar for her. Dev chimes in and says that still time management is something that you have to learn yourself. Dev says people always ask him about college “do I have time to party etc” and that yes you have plenty of time but the challenge is making sure you don’t get caught up in it. Being independent becomes the real test because there is no one forcing you to stay on task.
#collegeprep #timemanagement #transition 

1:05:55 - Harlan asks for time management tips. Diamond and Dev agree that a planner makes a big difference. Diamond says she uses a physical planner, not her phone. She also says she does her work a couple of days before it’s due. It’s better to knock it out as you get it. If you let it pile up you’ll just be stressed about how much you have to do. Dev says he’s a procrastinator but he also works really well under pressure and can get an A doing work at the last minute. Dev says he’s a bad test taker. He could study for 2 weeks and still do badly. #timemanagement 

1:08:03 - Harlan asks Diamond if she failed any classes. She says she never failed any classes but she did have a rough time going through some things last fall and got a D and that was the first time she ever got a grade like that. She said it was all down to a test. She did all her work but tested poorly. She tried talking to the professor to see if she could fix it but timing didn’t work out.  #badgrades #gettinghelp 

1:09:30 - Harlan asks them about their Greek involvement. Diamond says she always wanted to be a Delta since middle school. A lot of her mentors were Deltas. When she struggled and had tough times, other Deltas were the ones to help her. Tacora from Girls Inc was the name of a mentor of hers. #greeklife #people #places

1:11:54 - Harlan asks if Diamond can repeat some of the info she gave about her background again because her internet connection is so much better at this point. She talks about how when her mom got sick, things went downhill fast, her dad was in and out of prison. In junior year she was living with her aunt who kicked her out for no reason at all. She lived in her car. She used rec centers like YMCA etc. She lived in her car for about a month before she told her Girls Inc mentors. They encouraged her to look into foster care but she was resistant. She worked at Chattanooga Zoo and one of her coworkers offered to let her live with her. That woman became her foster mom.  Diamond encourages everyone to have mentors and reach out to people. It’s okay to not be okay. Pride can be a bad thing. She mentions again that she was salutatorian and got scholarships to pay for school. She also got to use them for things like studying abroad. #people #places #scholarships #mentor #background #mentalhealth 

1:18:38 - Harlan asks Diamond about studying abroad. Diamond says she studied in Florence Italy. Her scholarships were flexible as long as it paid for school related things and study abroad counted. She also encourages everyone to do it if they’re able. She says she was scared at first but after a week it was easy. She was jet lagged and the culture shock took some getting used to. #studyabroad 

1:21:11 - Harlan asks about asking for help and how people find it difficult. Diamond says asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness but a sign of strength. A weak person is too prideful to ask for help. It’s easy if you really want it. No one can help if they don’t know about it. You have to be open with people because there are a lot of people that want to help. #gettinghelp #mentalhealth

1:22:44 - Laniesha talks about going to community college at Chattanooga State. She offers the point of school being about education and focusing on what you want to learn. The name doesn’t matter so much. She got some backlash from teachers about going to a community college. Some would say “Why would you settle for that” etc. She mentions she also wasn’t in the right headspace at the time and was going through some things. She says even though she’s been there for a few years she still plans on transferring to a university and pursuing her dreams. #communitycollege 

1:25:30 - Harlan mentions curiosity about the issues that came up for Laniesha. She talks about dating a basketball player. She was getting distracted from her school work. She also had surgery which threw her off. 

1:27:35 - Harlan asks Dev about his dreams for the future. He says if he could be anything he’d want to be an actor or a model. He also says music will always be a part of him as well. #dreamjob

1:29:00 - Laniesha says her dream is to be a doctor. She hasn’t decided what kind of doctor, but she has thought about neurosurgery. She got to sit in on some surgeries and she learned that wasn’t for her. She wants to help people. She brings up considering being a police officer. She wants to own land. She wants to create generational wealth. #dreamjob

1:33:40 - Harlan asks about dealing with being a minority/being a woman and facing uncomfortable situations and people that are prejudiced. Laniesha says some people let it break them, when they come into the world with the odds stacked against them. She’s the type of person that if someone tries to put a stereotype or label on her she’ll do everything she can to prove them wrong. She could be the only black woman at her job and she uses that to her advantage because she knows all eyes are on her. #uncomfortablemoment #race 

1:36:16 - Dev says the greatest thing anyone ever told him was “you can’t” He uses that as motivation. 

1:37:00 - Harlan asks everyone about their most uncomfortable experience. Dev says his most uncomfortable experience was when he was at ETSU. He mentions he had seen a lot of movies of white college parties and how wild that was to see in real life. He couldn’t believe how crazy those parties were. He mentions he never had a drive for drugs or alcohol. He’s never fallen victim to peer pressure. Even though he’s in a fraternity he’s still his own person and hasn’t changed. #partying #alcohol #weekends #uncomfortablemoment

1:39:45 - There’s some back and forth as Diamond tries to think of an uncomfortable experience. She says she didn’t really have one in mind. She does say that University of Memphis feels like a family and everyone helps each other. She felt welcomed. There was a time she thought about transferring maybe even going to Jackson State because she was getting sick of Memphis, but she got into her Sorority so there wasn’t a point in moving after that.  Dev chimes in about Jackson State again with school pride. #greeklife #people #transfer

1:42:04 - Harlan asks Dev and Diamond what their most joyful experience was. Diamond mentions a camp for incoming freshmen where you have fun for 3 days and meet everyone. #people #places #joyfulmoment

1:43:30 - Dev says his most joyful experience was coming back to Jackson State the 2nd time. He felt popular, a very warm welcome back. He felt like he had a family.#joyfulmoment #people

1:44:24 - Harlan asks Diamond what advice she would tell her high school self. She makes a joke and says “stay away from football players” Dev laughs since he plays and they’ve known each other. She also would tell herself to branch out more and not isolate in her dorm freshman year. She was a little overwhelmed when she got to college with all the new people and taking classes with guys after going to an all girls school. #advice

1:46:30 - Harlan asks Dev what he would tell his high school self. He says “you won’t look like that for much longer.” He also thinks about the things he’s achieved and would tell himself to take basketball more seriously and to buy another baseball glove since he showed a real talent for it, and to keep taking music seriously. #advice

1:48:32 - Harlan asks if the panelists are alright with people reaching out.