Justin Spencer

Environmental Science Major, age 38

My first attempt at college in 1999 was less than successful for a number of reasons. I wasn’t yet equipped with the mental fortitude to tackle the workload of being a full-time student while simultaneously working to support myself. During my fourth semester at MTSU, my younger sister suffered a brain aneurysm at age sixteen and passed away. It was then that I decided to return home to help support my family.

I had been working in kitchens as a part-time job during school and continued to cook after I left Murfreesboro. I loved the creative process of being a chef, as well as the fast-paced and quick-thinking aspects of restaurant work. I rose through the ranks to sous chef at a restaurant in Nashville, loving every minute of it. My friends and family noticed my passion for the culinary arts and suggested culinary school, which I quickly took to and moved to Portland, OR. Fast-forward 17 years and that career took me across the country several times and as far away as Portugal and India for work.

I moved to Chattanooga in 2016 with the hopes to eventually open a restaurant. After two years of running a small kitchen on the south side, I was let go because of creative differences with the owner. I was beyond devastated, to say the least. My entire identity had been wrapped up in being a chef for almost two decades. Luckily, my partner and some friends suggested I look into returning to school to finish my degree. Tennessee Reconnect was a new program to help adults like myself to reintegrate back into academia.

I decided to visit Chattanooga State to discuss my options with an admissions counselor and in one afternoon, everything changed for me. I enrolled at Chattanooga State to study Environmental Science and I haven’t been this happy in years. I have taken full advantage of this second chance at school, diving head-first into any and everything that ChattState has to offer. I got a job in the math department during my second semester and have rekindled my love for numbers. I have been a member of the math club, science club, social justice club, adult student club and several others, while keeping my GPA at 3.89 throughout.

Tennessee Reconnect has not only funded my classes, but also covered my expenses for books and fees for the last four semesters. The Reconnect program gave me an opportunity not only return to school to complete my degree, but an opportunity for community that I hadn’t ever considered. Chattanooga State is a diverse campus. The faculty and staff are compassionate and hard-working, and there are limitless possibilities for connection on campus. The time is now. You got this!