More than 20 years ago, Gaylord Entertainment – a hospitality and entertainment company that owns and operates upscale hotels and legendary music venues like the Grand Ole Opry – established a scholarship program for children of its employees.

Each year, the Gaylord Entertainment Scholarship Program awards seven $1,000 scholarships, renewable up to four years, to graduating high school seniors. Last year, Kaitlin Cottle was one of the deserving recipients.

Kaitlin’s mother works for Gaylord Entertainment as an administrative assistant and mentioned to her daughter that she thought the company sponsored a scholarship program. Kaitlin jumped on the opportunity to get additional money for school.

Kaitlin says winning the Gaylord scholarship – as well as the Tennessee HOPE Lottery Scholarship and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Provost’s Scholarship – is helping her pay for her tuition and housing fees at UTC and is saving her from having to face the burden of student loans.

“[Winning these scholarships] reduces financial stress on my family,” said Kaitlin. “I would’ve gone to college regardless [of the scholarships], but it wouldn’t have been as positive an experience.”

When it comes to her education, Kaitlin knows what she wants and is not afraid to take the next step to accomplishing her goals. Unlike many college students who are overwhelmed by the task of choosing a major, Kaitlin declared her major in her first semester at UTC.

As part of a service-learning program during her senior year, Kaitlin spent two semesters working in her high school’s special education classroom. This experience, she says, inspired her decision to study special education at UTC’s School of Education.

“These kids really depend on us,” said Kaitlin. “I was really good at it and I enjoyed it. I fell in love with it.”