The third time was the charm for Caleb Atkins. As a freshman, the Ringgold, Georgia, native entered two different colleges that just weren’t the right fit for him. Then he found East Tennessee State University.
“I was in a different situation than most, because by the time I went into my third semester, I was at my third college,” said Atkins, now a senior Honors-in-Discipline economics major with a minor in finance. “I got to experience coming into a new place as a freshman three different times – once at a school with 35,000 students in downtown Atlanta; another time in Dalton, Georgia, in a school with around 5,000 students, where there was someone from my high school in every class I was in; and then here, where I was an out-of-state student not knowing a single person. After having those experiences, and becoming involved in tons of student organizations, I felt like I could really relate to whatever a student’s going through coming into college.”
Atkins has taken those experiences and shared what he’s learned with prospective and incoming students as a Preview and Orientation Leader, an Expedition Leader, and a Buccaneer Involvement Guide (BIG), which is a student mentor embedded in a section of ETSU’s Foundations of Student Success course for freshmen.
From his own experience, Atkins encourages the prospective students he leads on campus tours to take the time to meet ETSU’s faculty while they’re here. “I’ve really felt such a sense of belonging, not just with other students, but with the faculty and staff in particular,” he says. “When you meet the faculty on a tour, you can see how much they care about you. They can tell you a lot more about your academic programs and career options and things like that than anyone else can, and you can see if it’s the best fit for you academically.”
Atkins also encourages freshmen to be active members of the campus community outside the classroom, and he leads by example. After coming to ETSU, he quickly became involved in the Student Government Association as a senator, and then became chief of staff and later secretary of state, which allowed him to play a leading role in planning Civility Week and Homecoming in the spring 2021 semester. He is also an officer in the RUF (Reformed University Fellowship) campus ministry and a member of Beta Upsilon Chi Christian fraternity.
“It’s great to be involved in things,” he says, “and you should, because your grades will improve if you are. That’s definitely important.”
In addition, Atkins has an interesting piece of advice pertaining to academic success that he never fails to mention to freshmen.
“Lie to yourself about due dates,” he says. “Tell yourself things are due earlier than they are, so that even if you procrastinate, you’re done a day earlier. I just make what I like to call alternative due dates and tell myself that if I’m not done by this day, I’m going to freak out. If I’m going to stay up all night to finish a project, I’ll do it the week before it’s due. You will do so much better in school if you can finish things not the night before.”
Atkins, who enjoys hiking, photography, travel and binge-watching television in his spare time, says his favorite thing about ETSU is its sense of community.
“It really just feels like home, and it’s a place that makes you feel so welcome and part of the community immediately. And I really love that anything you want to do, you can. If you have some weird research idea or if you want to start a new club, the faculty’s behind you. The possibilities are limitless here if you are willing to put yourself out there.”
In addition to working as a supervisor in ETSU’s Campus Recreation division, Atkins is an intern with the Sullivan County Public Defender’s Office and plans to enter law school after he graduates in May 2022 and perhaps become a public defender.
“My biggest goal for the future is just serving people in general – loving people and serving people,” he says. “My faith is a big part of my life, and I really think I’m called to dedicate my life to service. Whatever the best way to do that is – whether it’s through law or anything else – my goal is to try and help people and love people the best way that I can. And I think it would be awesome to have a family at some point in life, to have children and a wife.”