Caroline Parish isn’t shy about being a leader. So, it fits that this sophomore political science major from Huntingdon enjoys the distinction of being among the first to participate in two high-profile UT Martin programs tied to leadership development: WestStar’s RisingStar Program and the new Ned McWherter Institute for Collaboration and Innovation.
Caroline is the only child of Donald and Cathy Parish. Her father attended Jackson State Community College, completed his bachelor’s degree at UT Martin and then earned his law degree from the UT College of Law. He serves as judge of the 24th Circuit Court for Benton, Carroll, Decatur, Hardin and Henry counties, while her mother is a stay-at-home mom and holds a Bethel University degree.
Caroline attended Huntingdon schools, and at Huntingdon High School, she was a member of the yearbook staff and served as student government president. She credits her high school years for establishing a foundation for learning leadership skills. UT Martin wasn’t among her choices as she considered which college to attend. Then, she was nominated to participate in the first-ever RisingStar Leadership Summit during fall 2011 of her senior year. The university’s WestStar Leadership Program sponsors RisingStar, now in its third year.
RisingStar is a two-day program for West Tennessee high school juniors and seniors who show leadership potential at their schools. She participated in a leadership and etiquette dinner the first night, which was her first major experience on a college campus. “And I was amazed at how many people were here to teach me about leadership, and they were passionate about me and about me growing personally,” she said. “They were able to light that flame inside of me that really confirmed that I was a leader and that I could make a difference one day.”
The RisingStar experience sealed Caroline’s decision to attend UT Martin. Political science was her chosen major, largely influenced from the many days spent in her father’s law office. “I really believe that political science will give me the basics I need to learn about the study and the practice of law,” she said. “UT Martin has a wonderful political science program here, and I really believe it will lead me in the right direction when I choose to go to law school.”
In fall 2013, another leadership-development opportunity surfaced as she was chosen to participate in the first class of the Ned Ray McWherter Institute for Collaboration and Innovation. The McWherter Institute, made possible by a lead gift from philanthropist Clayton McWhorter, features a three-year, progressive, interdisciplinary program that pairs participants with faculty managers. “The purpose of the institute is for the innovators to become the most sought-after people or individuals for their particular job positions,” Caroline said, adding, “In the (McWherter) institute, we really focus on mentoring, personal coaching, personal leadership, planning, professional skill training, etiquette training – we have a lot of exposures to cultural events and domestic and international travel experiences.”
The McWherter Institute has already provided Caroline with valuable experiences, including a trip to the Volunteer Leadership Awards Dinner on Nov. 8, 2013, in Knoxville. The group attended a reception and dinner and added to their networking experiences. “I met a lady there the night of the dinner, and she contacted me later on in December, and she said that she wanted to have a conference call with me and talk about some of the things we had talked about at the dinner,” Caroline said. “So it was a really good place to network and get our McWherter Institute name out there.”
Many more experiences lie ahead with the McWherter Institute as she has two years left before graduating with her UT Martin degree in May 2016. She wants to follow in her father’s footsteps and attend the UT College of Law. Her ultimate goal is to become a prosecuting attorney and work for the district attorney general’s office, where she served an internship in summer 2013.
Her dad’s profession probably had the largest impact on her career direction, although he’s never pushed her to the legal profession. Instead, he advised her to “do whatever makes you happy.” She added, “I love, actually love, going to court with him. When he was a lawyer, I didn’t ever go much because I was younger, but now that he’s a judge, it’s wonderful going to court with him and seeing how he works and seeing what he does.”
Caroline has simple advice for college success: take advantage of opportunities. and learn how to manage time. “I would not be where I am in my leadership skills and my experience here at UTM if it wasn’t for the opportunities I had taken here.” As for managing time, she added, “Learn how to manage your time. …Time is the most precious commodity we have here.”
Opportunities keep coming quickly for Caroline Parish, and she seizes each one as she grows to be the leader she knows she can be.