Austin started at Tennessee Tech as a nursing student and had two and a half years of schooling under her belt before deciding to switch her major to agriculture

Cookeville – When Gracie Rae Austin graduates from Tennessee Tech University this Friday, she will be well on her way to earning two bachelor’s degrees in five years. Her first degree, which she just finished this spring, is in agriculture with a concentration in business. Her second, which she plans to finish within a year, will be in nursing.

Austin started at Tennessee Tech as a nursing student and had two and a half years of schooling under her belt before deciding to switch her major to agriculture. Because her family owns a cattle ranch and processing plant, Austin had decided she wanted to follow a course of study that would help her support the family business when they were in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’ve wanted to be a nurse since I was a little kid and so sitting down and making the change was very hard,” Austin said. “But the director of the School of Agriculture at the time, Bruce Green – he’s retired now – helped me make the transition. I had walked in, and I was still a little iffy, but I just wanted to see what they had to offer. After leaving his office, I had decided to change my major before I even walked out.”

Being a first-generation college student, Austin has made it a point to make the most of her college experience. In her time at Tech, she has been very involved with agriculture-based organizations like the National FFA Organization, 4-H, the Agricultural Council and the Lambda Alpha Sigma sorority, political organizations like College Republicans and Turning Point USA, and the faith-based organization Young Life.

She’s also a volleyball player and has been active in the Student Veterans Association.

“Tennessee Tech and the School of Agriculture has been very much like a home,” she said. “Every professor knows every single student in the school by name, whether they’ve ever had you in their class or not. They know what your concentration is. They know what your strengths and weaknesses are. Even the dean and director know all the students just as much as the professors do. And that’s just something that I’ve not seen much in other places. It makes a big difference.”

Because Austin was so close to having her nursing degree, she has decided to go back and finish her last year of schooling. Then, in addition to being able to contribute to the family farm, she hopes to also join the United States Navy Nursing Corps, either as active duty or as reserve.

“My family has been in the Navy for generations,” she said. “My grandpa served for 28 years and retired as a master chief and then my dad served for 22 years and retired as a senior chief. My cousin graduated the Naval Academy and he’s been a Seal for the past 15 years, and I’ve had two cousins who were World War II prisoners of war. Both my grandpas fought in Vietnam and I had a couple of uncles who were in the Marines. My dad had no boys. It’s just me and my sister, and I’m the oldest, so I just kind of feel like it’s my duty to carry it on.”

Dennis Duncan, professor of agriculture, said of Austin: “In my 29 years of teaching college courses, I have had very few students at the caliber of Gracie Rae. I have never worked with an undergraduate who has been so heavily involved in university service and given so much of their time to multiple national youth organizations. This level of success comes from her belief that integrity and a strong moral foundation should be the guide one follows each day.”

Though Austin is excited to walk across the stage at graduation, both the one this Friday and the upcoming one for her nursing degree, she says that final graduation is going to be bittersweet as well.

“I’m actually really sad. I don’t want to leave Tech,” she said. “I love this place. It’s been good to me. I’m leaving so many people behind. It’s going be hard. Tech has helped mold me into the person I am today.”

Photo courtesy of Tennessee Tech.

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