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First-Gen JEM Student Lexie Martin Awarded White House Correspondents’ Association Scholarship

Lexie Martin’s family likes to joke that she was predestined to attend the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, as her older brother was such a fan of Vol sports he would dress his little sister up in Tennessee orange all the time. Little did they know that baby would grow up to be not just a Journalism and Electronic Media student at UT, but also a 2022 White House Correspondents’ Association Carter Holland Memorial Scholarship recipient.

Getting this scholarship meant a trip to Washington, D.C. to participate in a scholarship luncheon, as well as the annual White House Correspondents’ dinner, which was attended by several celebrities and featured President Joe Biden as a speaker.

“Actually getting to be there in person still doesn’t feel real. Overall the experience was so amazing and I got to meet so many amazing people,” Martin said, noting that she was brushing elbows with the likes of Kim Kardashian, Gayle King, and Drew Barrymore.

While being at the same event as so many high-profile people was definitely surreal, Martin said the real benefit was meeting the White House correspondents who gave their time to advise and mentor the scholarship recipients. Her real celebrity fangirl moment occurred while attending a staged White House briefing, and she thought someone would just be filling in as a fake White House Press Secretary. Instead, White House Press Secretary Jenn Psaki took the podium and fielded questions from the attending students.

This was the first year UT was included in the WHCA scholarship, which involved a rigorous and competitive process to join the ranks of 10 other universities that receive it. WHCA pays half of the $4,000 scholarship and UT pays the other half, which allows students to travel and stay in Washington, D.C. to attend the dinner and other events. JEM Director and Professor Catherine Luther was the driving force behind acquiring the scholarship for UT in the hopes of inspiring journalism students to “to pursue impactful stories involving politics and democracy.” The scholarship is available to JEM students on an annual basis, with faculty nominating outstanding students who will then submit materials for evaluation so Luther can select the final recipient.

While receiving this scholarship would be an impactful experience for any journalism student, the honor holds a little extra weight for Martin, who in May will be the first person in her family to graduate with a college degree. Her family has been a source of strength and support for her over the past four years and they treasure every one of Martin’s accomplishments—which are many. Her mom even has a scrapbook that starts with Martin’s high school graduation photos and UT acceptance letter, and will end with her college commencement photos.

“Every time I go home she’s added new things to it and some of them I’m like, how did you get this? It makes me happy to see how proud she is of me, and she’ll tell me about my dad going to work and telling people things about me,” she said. “I wouldn’t be where I’m at now without having them as part of my support system. They’ve seen me through a lot and they’re still going to see me through so many different things throughout my life. I feel blessed and lucky to have them and that they’re supportive as they are, they don’t want anything but to see me happy and see me succeed.”

Martin chose UT for its journalism program and because it was close enough to her hometown of Murfreesboro that she could still easily visit her family. Now, she says, she couldn’t imagine having attended any other school. She was homesick at first, but soon became involved in organizations across campus, taking on the following roles: event management chair for the Campus Events Board Arts and Culture committee, writer for the Daily Beacon, peer mentor for a year, UT Lead participant, Tri Alpha member (a first-generation student honors society), and working for two years as a resident advisor.

“My experience at UT has been extremely positive because of the connections I’ve made and the opportunities I’ve had, which I don’t think I would have gotten at any other school. I don’t think I’d be as successful as I have if I’d gone anywhere else. UT is a place where you can really grow and flourish, which is definitely what I feel I have done because I am a different person than I was when I came to UT,” she said.

As for Martin’s future, which she hopes is just as bright as her time at UT has been, she’s still sorting that out. Her JEM major combined with a political science minor has her heading down the path of political journalist, but she’s taking the next year to teach English in South Korea and to think about her future career. Regardless of what she does or where she goes, Martin said she knows she has both the support of her family and a wide network of connections that will give her the tools she needs to succeed.

“I’ve met so many amazing people through orgs, classes, and my job. I know I’ll stay in contact with them and if I can help them in any way I will, and vice-versa. I think that’s one of the true meanings of the Volunteer Spirit, helping people out, and that’s what me and my friends have always done and it is something I’m going to take with me,” she said.