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Pamela Sanchez

Sanchez, coordinator of TakeOff, Haslam’s yearlong program for first-generation students, was a first-generation student, too.

Diversity & Community Relations - Staff

Each fall, Pamela Sanchez welcomes a special group of students to the Haslam College of Business. As coordinator for retention and education in the Haslam Office of Diversity and Community Relations, Sanchez coordinates TakeOff, Haslam’s yearlong program for first-generation college students.

The program is geared toward students who are the first in their family to attend college, providing extra development and leadership opportunities to help students acclimate to the University of Tennessee and Haslam.

“It’s great for students who come from an environment where they might not know what to expect in college,” Sanchez says. “It helps show them what’s available.”

The unique experience of a first-generation college student is one with which Sanchez is familiar. Originally from New York, Sanchez became interested in UT when her family moved to Ooltewah, Tennessee, while she was a high school student. 

“My parents are immigrants and were very supportive of my desire to attend college, but they didn’t know how to help me with the college application or financial aid process,” says Sanchez. 

Sanchez navigated the application and FAFSA process on her own. “It was a lonely process,” she says. “I didn’t yet understand the concept of higher education support.” 

It was as an accounting student in Haslam that Sanchez found the support she needed. She was a member of the Venture Living Learning Community, spending her time with a cohort of students and building a community. She also connected early with the Haslam Office of Diversity and Community Relations and former director Tyvi Small (now UT’s vice chancellor for diversity and engagement) and Randy Bradley, associate professor of supply chain management and advisor to the UT chapter of the National Association of Black Accountants, where Sanchez served on the executive board.

“The Office of Diversity and Community Relations provided me with a very strong support system,” says Sanchez.

As Sanchez approached graduation, she felt a strong pull to help students and began exploring recruiting careers in higher education.

“Helping underrepresented students like myself fueled me,” she says. “When I went through the accounting recruiting internship process, I didn’t see many people like me, and I wanted to change that.”

After graduation, Sanchez began working with UT Office of Undergraduate Admissions, recruiting in Philadelphia. When an opportunity opened in Haslam, Sanchez returned to Knoxville and the place that has given her so much support – the Office of Diversity and Community Relations. 

“This is a full circle moment for me,” says Sanchez. “The things I do for students and the programs I advise, I try to pour as much into them as was poured into me as a student.”

Sanchez draws on her personal experiences as a first-generation student as she builds programs and advises her students.

“I try not to be too critical or too hard on them,” says Sanchez. “I was a student in Haslam who got a lot of opportunities through the Office of Diversity and Community Relations. I had to work three jobs to support myself and sometimes struggled in class. I see a lot of myself in these students. I try to share my experiences with them, so they can relate and learn from my mistakes.”

This year’s TakeOff cohort includes 18 first-generation students. Sanchez will work with these students this academic year and check on them as they continue their academic career.

“Haslam does a very good job of building a sense of community for our first-generation students,” says Sanchez. “It feels like a family. The students know there are people to support their journey from day one.”