Deborah Hale, age 50
Early Childhood Education Major
For over 20 years, I had the privilege of fulfilling my life-long dream of being a wife and stay-at-home mother to four wonderful children that includes a son and three daughters. I was so grateful that God had blessed us with the necessary resources that enabled me to spend my days volunteering at our children’s school, and striving to meet the needs of our very busy family. I was especially grateful for the three years I was able to homeschool the girls, and will forever treasure the time we spent together.
Three years ago, my circumstances changed dramatically. Following an unexpected divorce, I attempted to re-enter the workforce. I quickly realized that I lacked the skills necessary to acquire a position that would not only provide adequate income to support myself and the daughters who were still living with me, but also allow me to save towards the purchase of a new home for my family, and gain greater financial security.
I wasn’t sure how I was going to accomplish it, but I knew in my heart that I needed to overcome my fears, and feelings of inadequacy so that I could pursue my other dream of going to college to become a teacher. I’ve spent many years teaching preschoolers and elementary children in different capacities. I’ve worked in Mother’s Day Out programs, filled in as a substitute teacher at my children’s school, and currently teach a classroom full of 4- and 5-year-olds at my church. I often refer to my Sunday School classroom as my happy place and I want to experience that same feeling every day, surrounded by children who are full of life and curiosity.
Eva Milligan, age 41
Wellness & Fitness Leadership Major
As a wife and mother of two children, ages 9 and 14, I have been interested in fitness and weight training since I was 12-years-old when my older brother taught me how to lift. I went to work straight out of high school and worked my way up in the company by whom I was employed. After I married, I quit my job to become a stay-at-home wife and mother for the last 18 years.
Since my children were older and in school, I was ready to go back to work but had no idea where to start. My husband had been suggesting that I go back to school to get a degree, but I was always worried about the expense of college. It was at this time that I looked up Chattanooga State to see what degrees they offered and found out about TN Reconnect. I had always told my husband, if I could go to school for free, I would go back in a heartbeat. I never dreamed a program like TN Reconnect would come along. It has been a blessing.
The financial part was well taken care of, but then fear set in about the workload, studying, and being a 41-year-old woman in college. Of course, it is nothing like I had imagined it would be. The workload and studying are very time consuming, but it is not as bad as I thought it would be after being out of school for so long. Being on a college campus has not been uncomfortable at all. I’ve been mistaken for a professor a few times, but the younger students I’ve worked with have been great and treat me like any other student. The professors and staff at Chattanooga State have been amazingly patient and helpful, which has made my college experience so much better.
James Fry, age 52
As I watched each of my four children graduate with various degrees each from different universities, I was so proud of all that they achieved. As parents, we were proud too, knowing that we have helped give our children the gift of education that is so important in today’s society. Although I was glad for my children, I felt a deeper emotion, a nagging feeling at each celebration, knowing that I had never graduated from college. Thirty-five years ago, I enrolled in college, but my father’s illness and other responsibilities proved to be too large a barrier, so I left school and never imagined returning. Meeting and marrying a wonderful and nurturing wife, raising kids and working more than full-time, I was proud of what I was able to accomplish; however, I always knew it would have been easier with a college degree and I would have had the ability to pursue more choices in my career path.
At each of the graduations for my children, I had always said aloud, “if I could do it all over again, I would...”, and last year, after attending the fourth and last graduation ceremony as my youngest daughter graduated, I decided to take a huge step and return to college. I selected History as a major, and with my family’s support, I have begun a life-changing journey that has led me to a renewed sense of purpose, pride and a new community through attending Chattanooga State Community College. Most importantly, through Governor Haslam’s “Drive to 55,” the Tennessee Reconnect grant has made it possible for me to attend tuition-free and focus on these new goals I have set for myself.
Al Sands, age 46
Accounting Major, TN Transfer Pathway
I reenrolled in Chattanooga State Community College after dropping out some 20 years ago. It took a lot of courage for me to make that move to return, but with the support and encouragement of my family, I reenrolled in the Fall of 2015.
Initially I enrolled for one class just to get back in the groove of things, to make sure I could manage working full-time and attend college. As I increased the number of my courses, I soon found myself taking out a student loan to help cover my tuition, which I didn’t want to do, but I so wanted to graduate this time around. In the Fall of 2017 I applied for Tennessee Reconnect grant to assist with my tuition cost.
The Tennessee Reconnect grant has help me financially to continue my education without the burden of student loans. I am set to graduate in December of 2018 with my associate degree and have plans to transfer to a four-year university. Thanks Tennessee Reconnect!
Garrett Espy, age 27
Criminal Justice Major
I consider myself an unconventional graduate of Chattanooga State Community College. My journey through life and the pursuit of a higher education degree began when I graduated high school in 2010. I, like many people, was unsure of what I wanted to do for my future career. I knew that I wanted to go to college, but I was afraid that I would make the wrong decision and end up regretting my choice. I always believed in the saying, “chase the job that you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life,” so I decided to go into the workforce instead and save money for school until I figured it out. At the time, my family was unable to send me to college and warned about acquiring student loan debt, so I decided to save enough money for my first couple of semesters at college, which involved working a full-time job along with living in an apartment on my own. It was a challenging time in my life, but it taught me responsibility and the importance of a college education.
After three years of working, I had saved enough money and at the urging of wise friends and family, went back to school at Chattanooga State. Luckily, Chattanooga State offered a flexible schedule, so that I could still work full-time and take my classes part-time. Knowing my journey would be long and challenging, I was determined to succeed after finally discovering I wanted a career in criminal justice. Through the guidance of God, family, and friends, I came to the conclusion that I was meant to help and protect the society in which I lived and it strengthened my resolve.
Rosanna Walker, age 39
Nursing Transition Major
I attended college directly after high school, but I didn’t finish my degree for a number of reasons. While working as a Certified Nursing Assistant, I decided that I wanted to become a nurse. After getting married and having two children, I went back to school and graduated as an LPN in 2011. I went on to have a third baby. I enjoyed working as an LPN, but I always felt that I could do more. I was also motivated to earn a larger salary, more respect, and greater job security as a Registered Nurse. With the help of Tennessee Reconnect, I have been able to take classes online and on campus through Chattanooga State. I have been accepted into the LPN to RN transition program, and at 39 years of age, I will graduate in May 2019 with an associate degree in nursing.
Going back to college is a temporary sacrifice for both my family and me, but it will be worth it. I work full-time night shifts on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and I attend classes during the week. My husband works during the week and is studying for a degree in computer science. I order groceries online and leave piles of clean laundry around the house for my family to help put away. Our life is not perfect, but we are team. My three children see us getting up, rushing around, working hard, and reading books every day. I believe this will instill in them a strong work ethic and inspire them to pursue higher education. I sometimes imagine my children watching me walk across the stage and cheering me on as I receive my degree. This motivates me to keep trying. In just one year, my dream will become a reality.
I encourage adults like you to look into going back to college. With the financial assistance, advising, and part-time flexibility that Tennessee Reconnect offers, now is the time to invest in your future and your family’s future.
Adrianne Blackwell, age 33
Registered Nursing Major
I am the mother of two boys. In 2014, I decided to earn my GED and go to college. When I made that decision, I thought I would already have a degree and joined the workforce by now, but with the burden of paying for classes that did not happen. After I applied for financial aid, I learned that I only qualified for a loan, no assistance other than that.
I have had so many people tell me that they are still paying back student loans. With my oldest son graduating high school in a few years and starting college himself, taking out a student loan for myself was not a good idea. With the TN Reconnect program I can finally attend college at a pace that is going to help me reach my lifelong goals sooner than I anticipated. This program is perfect for adults like myself who do not qualify for financial aid, yet do need assistance paying for college. I am so excited to start this fall at Chattanooga State!
Misty May, age 38
Business Administration Transfer/Accounting Emphasis Major
My story begins more than 20 years ago. After graduating from High-School in 1998, I enrolled in college to pursue a degree in accounting. I married shortly thereafter, and after obtaining a job related to the field I was majoring in, I decided to quit college. I focused on my family and worked full-time. A few years later, I was blessed with a son, then a daughter. I had the opportunity to stay home with each child until they started school. When my youngest child went to school, I began to rethink my decision to quit college many years earlier. I went to work part-time to fill my days with a local Head Start Agency. Head Start is a big supporter of education and improving your life, along with the life of your family. I noticed that many of the people I worked with had obtained their degrees later in life, and they were great at what they did!
I started to think about returning to college, but there were factors that had prohibited me from returning in the past. The first was a matter of convenience. Getting to campus would be tough. Then Chattanooga State expanded their Kimball Site. It was close to where I live and work. The number of classes available online had also increased over the years. My other issue was the tuition. I did not want to rack up student debt to go back to college. Then I heard about Tennessee Reconnect being revised and learned that I might qualify for tuition costs to be paid. I checked into it, and I did qualify. Now all the reasons that once kept me from returning to classes were gone. The only thing standing in my way was myself. I decided to get past my fear of failure and go for it. I was out of excuses.
Business Administration Major
As a re-enrolled graduate of Chattanooga State, I once struggled as a single parent raising three small children by myself. As a good parents wanting the best for their kids - you sacrifice, but you always keep your goals prioritized. I always said that once my children were near adulthood, I would come back for additional education. Thank goodness I have a daughter that graduated from Tyner High in 2016, a son who graduated from STEM School of Chattanooga in 2017, and my youngest child that is currently a junior at McCallie School. Currently, my oldest child and middle children attend college here at Chattanooga State, which explains that determination is contagious--- especially when you have a single mom that encourages, participates, and understands goals and strengths.
Education is never a joke in my household based on the fact that I never actually got a high school diploma. I’ll never forget when I got my GED at Chattanooga State, an advisor asked, “Where are you going?” I said, “Catching the bus because I dont’t have the $15 to enroll.” She yelled at me to come back, gave me the enrollment fee, and said, “You will make it, and I know this!” I’m so proud that someone saw my glow for success. I graduated in 2006 from Chattanooga State with a certificate in Business Systems Technology. This is one reason why I shine brightly for education around everyone, no matter what age, race, background, etc.
Donna Pickering, age 62
Digital Media Design & Production/Media Technologies Major
I used to think I would never have the opportunity to go back to school and earn a degree. My father passed away when I was 15 and my mother, being Japanese and reserved about her English in social circumstances, was not very involved with our education as far as consulting with teachers or other activities. My younger sisters had an easier time, but being the eldest, I always had to fight for everything. I really didn’t have any mentors to help guide me along a career path while I was growing up, and I had to learn everything the hard way.
I was extremely shy back then, but I did know that after Star Wars came out, I wanted to be a special effects makeup artist, and no matter how much people thought I could never do anything like that, I was determined to prove them wrong.
I saved my money, moved to Los Angeles, worked several jobs to support myself, and had many exciting adventures. I had the opportunity to talk with Frank Westmore (who came from a family line of Hollywood’s most famous makeup artists), and he referred me to an apprenticeship program. It was a year-long waiting list, however, and since life continued to happen, I ended up on a different path and sacrificed my dream.
Now, forty-two years later, and thanks to the Reconnect Program, I’m back in school and having the time of my life learning all about television production, radio broadcasting, and more, as I’m finally working towards an A.A.S. degree in Digital Media Design and Production.
I’m not sure what kind of opportunities are out there for someone my age, but I do have a dream of getting a camper/RV and traveling around the country filming my own documentaries.
The Reconnect Program has been a great blessing and for those involved, I can’t thank you enough for giving me a purpose and goal in life once again. I no longer feel useless, trying to find something to do with myself. Every morning, I look forward to getting up and going to my classes, and unlike high school, I have a 4.0 grade point average (so far), which I hope to maintain and am just thrilled about!
Thanks again, to all those involved with the Reconnect Program, for giving me this great opportunity!