Chattanooga State’s Nesmith Named DREAM Scholar

February 10, 2022 | Betty A. Proctor | Internal Press Release

woman in forest with words in a box

Zennia Nesmith, on track to graduate from Chattanooga State Community College in spring 2022, has been named a 2022 DREAM Scholar by Achieving the Dream (ATD). As one of eight students chosen for this honor nationwide, Mrs. Nesmith will engage with community activists, education leaders, peers and DREAM Scholars alumni.

Zennia’s journey began at the tender age of seven when she became inspired by the compassion and humanity exhibited by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. She loved finding solutions to problems and helping others but did not have the support needed to achieve her academic goals.

During Zennia’s early adult life, her goal was to make a livable wage. Once she became a wife and mother, that changed to providing for her daughter and later when her daughter suffered a traumatic brain injury from a car accident, it became keeping her head above water. “I worked a job to provide for her and made a decent living, but all the while, I knew I needed to go to college and get an education so I could help others heal from trauma,” said Mrs. Nesmith.

Although she did not complete high school, Nesmith completed her GED and enrolled at Chattanooga State more than two decades later. Now fully understanding her life goals, she said, “My life has trained me to help women and children with trauma, and I am pursuing a degree in psychology to do exactly that.” 

Fully immersed in academia and college life, Zennia shares her own inspirational story with HISET adult education students twice a week. “I wanted them to know that I sat in their seat trying to figure it out too, and that it was OK.” Later, when she began experiencing difficulty retaining information in two of her classes, she was diagnosed with severe ADHD, and had to extend the same grace to herself that she advocated to others. “These experiences related to my career goals of making available more resources in our communities and promoting healthy mental health initiatives,” she shared.

“DREAM Scholar is an amazing opportunity to learn from the best; however, it is also a gift to teach the country’s best educators about what is working from a student’s perspective,” said Zennia. “Dr. Maya Angelou said it best: ‘When you learn … teach.’”

The DREAM Scholars Program is experiential learning opportunity for community college students designed to enhance leadership, critical thinking and networking skills. Mrs. Nesmith and her cohorts will receive customized programming and extensive networking sessions that align with their future goals. All selected scholars will engage in a learning process that culminates in attending DREAM 2022 conference. DREAM programming will focus on building stronger pathways to and through postsecondary education, adopting a holistic, equity-focused approach to community vitality, eliminating systemic barriers to student success, fostering a sense of belonging through teaching and learning excellence and leveraging data and analytics for institutional and community well-being.

“I am so proud that Zennia was one of eight students from around the country selected to be a DREAM Scholar. She is the first DREAM Scholar from Chattanooga State, and her selection makes the entire campus community proud,” stated Dr. Rebecca Ashford, Chattanooga State president. “Zennia’s personal story and leadership on campus have inspired all of us who have had the opportunity to work with her. She may be our student, but she has taught us so much.”