- Feb. 2 — Veronica Peebles, Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority (CARTA)
- Feb. 9 — Stacy Lightfoot, Public Education Foundation
- Feb. 16 — Dionne Jennings, Tennessee Valley Credit Union
- Feb. 23 — April Lomax, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee
- March 2 — Ben Gibbons, U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
- March 9 — Moreland Wilson, Chattanooga Police Department
- March 23 — Doug Brown, UBS
- March 30 — Dr. Shewanee-Howard Baptiste, UTC associate professor of Health and Human Performance
- April 13 — Dr. Linda Frost, dean of the UTC Honors College
- April 20 — Patrick Miles, La Paz
- April 27 — Ken Jones, EPB
- May 4 — Nicole Brown, UTC adjunct professor of Communications
Jennifer Johnson had a four-year scholarship to college and a well-defined pathway before her.
Then she stepped off the path, deciding she wasn’t going to college.
“I thought I was too cool,” she says with a grimace.
At 19, she gave birth to a little girl and, for the next few years, worked minimum-wage jobs to make ends meet. But she knew she couldn’t go on like that forever with a child to raise.
“I don’t ever want to tell her ‘No’ because I don’t have the money,” she says.
In 2012 at age 23, Johnson enrolled at UTC, eventually graduating with a bachelor’s in business administration: accounting. On the advice of a professor, she took several accounting courses while in school and now works at Elliott Davis as a tax staff accountant. “I didn’t find accounting; accounting found me,” she says.
Johnson opened up her life on Friday, Jan. 26, to five eighth-graders, all girls and all in the Student Leadership group at Orchard Knob Middle School. Johnson and a trio of other Elliott Davis employees came to talk about accounting, its ins and outs, pros and cons, ups and down.
Set up by Dr. Mo Baptiste, UTC’s executive director of Student Development, the Elliott Davis group is the first in a series of professional speakers scheduled at Orchard Knob every Friday to discuss careers that students may never have considered or — as was the case with accounting — never even heard of.
“I don’t want you to limit yourselves to the same old ‘I want to do hair’ or ‘I want to do nails’ and whatever else,” Baptiste told the Orchard Knob students. “Ladies, you are destined for greatness, but you gotta believe it.”
Over the series’ 13 weeks, representatives from BlueCross BlueShield, Tennessee Valley Credit Union, the Chattanooga Police Department, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and many others will give presentations at Orchard Knob. Several UTC officials also are part of the series.
“I think many of the educational and industry leaders of Hamilton County would agree that we need to do a better job of preparing and keeping loca
l talent here in the greater Chattanooga area,” Baptiste says.
The end goal of the series is to create what he calls “Chattanooga Community Pathways to Success.”
“I say pathways versus pipelines because, unfortunately, many students fall through the cracks of society and go unaccounted for. By creating pathways, we can better monitor and lead our young people to opportunities. And if they happen to get off the path, we can help guide them back.”
Another UTC alumni, Deja Walker, came with the Elliott Davis group. A senior accounting advisor, she graduated in 1998 with a bachelor’s in accounting.
Walker, who’s black, as are the five Orchard Knob students, said it’s important for someone like her to talk about her life in front of the students.
“Knowing and seeing people who have been through things similar to you, people who look like you, I think is inspiring to let you know: This is how I did it. Because it’s one thing for people to say, ‘Yes, I made it,’ but people need to know how they made it. They need to know those steps and the direction to take.
“I think it’s important to share your story and to be able to understand: How do I get there?’ ”