Donald Mitchell’s path to graduation hasn’t always been straight. In fact, the Nashville native discovered the University of Tennessee at Martin after what could be called a real-life “twin swap.”
Mitchell had originally been accepted to attend Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., while his twin brother, Albert, was offered a scholarship to play UT Martin football. Albert visited the UT Martin campus as a high school junior, and Donald came along for the ride. But, as luck would have it, Albert ultimately signed with Samford University and Donald, in an unexpected twist, fell in love with UT Martin and the wildlife biology program.
“I loved the small-town feel and how different it was from my hometown of Nashville,” he said. “As I began my senior year of high school, I decided I wanted to go into wildlife and forestry. When looking at colleges, I found that UTM had a very strong wildlife program, and I decided there was no better fit for me than to be a Skyhawk.”
Mitchell started off in the wildlife biology program, but the road took another turn when he discovered a stronger love for business and changed his major accordingly. He will graduate May 6 with a bachelor’s degree in business management with a minor in legal studies.
“After a management class with Dr. (Sean) Walker in the spring of 2016, I decided to meet with him as my adviser, and that was probably the best decision of my college career,” said Mitchell. “We developed a very good relationship, and he has been a fantastic mentor for me as I make this transition from college to the real world.”
“Transition” may be an understatement, as Mitchell’s first post-graduation experience will be a flight to Alaska and a water landing at the remote Angry Eagle Lodge and Outfitters in the Bristol Bay region. Mitchell will serve a once-in-a-lifetime five-month internship with the lodge, where his skills as both a businessman and an outdoorsman will be put to the ultimate tests.
“The number-one job in Alaska is managing the guest experience. I will be assisting the general manager and the lead guides to help with fishing trips, hiking trips and kayak trips, as well as fueling planes and any other assistance that is needed,” said Mitchell. “This experience will take me out of my comfort zone and place me in a challenging environment where any mistake could prove costly.”
Mitchell ultimately hopes to return to Tennessee and start a human resources career in the health-care industry.
“UT Martin has taught me and prepared me to push through adversity and has forced me to use and grow my skills into tools to help me excel in the business world,” he said. “My fondness for the University of Tennessee at Martin has been as much about the community as it has been about the great education. The professors know who you are and are extremely willing to offer you guidance if you simply make the effort to ask for their wisdom.”
Mitchell also offers a few parting words of advice to the students remaining at UT Martin, including the admonition to remain true to yourself, even when it may be the unpopular choice.
“Don’t sacrifice who you are in order to please others. College is a challenge, but it’s much more enjoyable when you can look in the mirror every morning knowing that you are doing the best you can and are not sacrificing your personal morals or beliefs to fit in,” he said. “At the end of the day, you are here to get an education that will propel you into the career that you desire to hold. There is only one name on that diploma when you walk the line, and it’s yours. Don’t sit in your room every night alone, but don’t let your grades suffer because you decided a social life was more important than that test on Monday morning. … Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone. Most times, your greatest achievements will rise out of the most difficult situations and decisions.”
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