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Project GRAD students get to experience college life at UT

For an entire week, 60 students will stay in one of the University of Tennessee's newest dorms and take classes just like a real college kid.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Sharon Sharp is 17 years old, a senior at Fulton High School, and after graduating from high school she'd like to become a Volunteer. 

"Everybody wants to be a Tennessee Vol around here so and it's always been my dream," she said. "Going to home football games, it would be fun."

Sharp and her friend Ariana Smith are in Project GRAD, and for the next week, they'll get to live out their dream on UT's campus but not without a few nerves.

"I guess I gotta get used to it because this is what we're gonna be doing next year, for a long time," she said. 

Prepping for next year is what the UT Summer Institute is all about.

"They are going to be college students, taking college classes, staying in the dorms and having fun activities in the evenings," Project GRAD team leader Kensey Zimmerman said. "Getting to have these students on a college campus this early is huge for them."

But Zimmerman believes it is not just about staying on campus because four of the Project GRAD students will get help paying for college.

"If students attend two summer institutes and get a 2.5 GPA, we give them $4,000 they can take to any accredited school in the country," Zimmerman said.

For Arianna Smith, this just adds to why she loves UT so much. When she found out she was going to the summer institute, her emotions got the best of her.

"I cried," she said. 

Both girls said they owe this moment to the organization that got them here.

"That's why Project GRAD is so good because it shows kids at our school you can go to college and it's here for them," Sharp said. 

By the end of the week, Sharp and Smith believe they'll be ready to embark on their senior year. But not without the hope of one day being a Tennessee Vol.

"I want to have the feeling of wanting to come back and I want this to feel more like home than anything else," Sharp said.