This post is a contribution to the SCORE Sheet from Mary Hall and Stephanie Kolitsch.

Every school has them—those students who have the talent to succeed or even excel, but who, for one reason or another, do not realize their potential. Many times these students are overlooked by school programs, which often focus on the most talented and highest achieving, or the most at-risk students. This is even more critical in rural areas, where funding for programs is extremely limited.

We worked with the WestStar Program at the University of Tennessee at Martin to develop a program that targeted middle school students who have the potential to succeed. The one-day program, called the FutureStar Leadership Summit, was held March 16 at UT Martin. Nineteen students from Weakley County were chosen by their school counselors to attend.

These students participated in leadership and diversity exercises, as well as individualized tours of the campus. The tours allowed each student to explore their interests and were led by college students majoring in those fields. Lunch featured a speaker who gave a personal story of growing up and succeeding in spite of personal hardships. His message to look beyond the exterior of a person to see the personality beneath made an impression on almost every person in the room.

In the short time these students were on campus, they were able to see the leadership potential in themselves. School counselors commented that the summit opened a world of possibilities and allowed the students to see themselves as college students.

The summit also changed those of us who arranged and led the sessions. We realized the potential we have to impact people’s lives simply by believing they’re worth the effort. We, too, learned to look beyond the exterior of a person and appreciate the personality and possibilities underneath.

These students were excited that someone cared enough about them to put this together. Our hope is to get others involved so that we can expand the FutureStar Leadership Summit, county by county, until we reach all of West Tennessee.



Dr. Mary Lee Hall is the Dean of the College of Education and Behavioral Sciences at The University of Tennessee at Martin. Prior to her appointment as Dean, Dr. Hall served as Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Studies and Director of Teacher Education at The University of Memphis.  She also served as Student Teaching Placement Coordinator for the College of Education at The University of Memphis.




Stephanie Kolitsch is a Professor of Mathematics and Director of the West Tennessee STEM Center for Learning at the University of Tennessee at Martin. Stephanie is active in both local and state organizations for mathematics teachers and serves as the Chair of the Tennessee STEM Education Leadership Council. Stephanie has a Bachelor’s Degree in Mathematics from East Texas State University and a Ph.D. in Mathematics from the University of Texas at Austin.