When Nicole Smith crossed the stage at commencement last Saturday there was an extra special person cheering her on: her daughter, Brenleigh.

As a single mom Smith spent her days juggling classes, an internship and getting her daughter to soccer practice or dance classes, all with an hour commute to campus from her home in Etowah, Tenn.

The marketing major’s daily schedule was grueling, but Smith says she made it through because of her support system.

“I haven’t had anybody in my support system doubt me. They’ve always pushed me to do what I want to do and be successful in it. So they always help me and encourage me,” Smith says.



A couple of weeks ago one of Smith’s groups was in the campus library studying. Smith was already downtown with Brenleigh so she decided to just bring her along.

Her four-year-old daughter’s visits to campus are rare. But Smith says professors and fellow students are always understanding.

Smith and Brenleigh were at the library late into the night, cramming in some last minute work for the semester. When Brenleigh got a little loud, Smith started worrying about how fellow students within earshot were taking it, she says.

“She starts laughing and she can’t stop,” Smith whispers, with her daughter sitting beside her.

“Don’t talk about that,” Brenleigh interjects.

“So she just couldn’t stop and was snorting and loud and I had my hand over her mouth,” Smith says, mimicking how she reacted that night. She looks around, mouthing “I’m so sorry.”

“I walked to the garbage can to throw something away and this guy saw me and asked, ‘Is that your kid?’”

She was worried about what he would say next, she says. But, his kind words eased her nerves.

“She has just made my night. She reminds me of my little sister with her laugh. She’s just so cute,” he said.



With the help of Jaclyn Wooten-York, career services advisor for the College of Business, Smith landed an internship with Chattanooga nonprofit, The Momentum Network. For the past year she has worked with Momentum as marketing and communications intern.

Working with MOMentum, a support system full of resources for single moms in school, is giving her invaluable experience in the world of marketing.

“I’ve learned a ton about my field. It’s amazing how you learn a whole lot more when you’re actually in the professional setting rather than sitting at a desk,” she says.


As she graduates this weekend, Smith has these three tips for moms, especially single moms, considering going back to or starting school:


Get a good support system.

It’s hard to do it all, Smith admits. You can be a successful mom, student and employee; but you’ll need help along the way.

“You can go back to school. But, whether or not you’re going to be successful in school really depends on your support system,” Smith adds.

Make friends in class.

At first, Smith says she didn’t bother to get to know the people sitting in the desks next to her. She eventually learned that talking to them, being intentional about getting to know them, was the start of great friendships.

Talk to your professor.

After she had Brenleigh, Smith was ashamed to admit she was a single mom to some people. It’s not that she was wanting to hide her daughter away, she says. She was worried about the perceptions her professors, or anyone on campus, would have of her. That she wouldn’t be as good of a student. But she quickly realized that wasn’t the case.

“Professors want to help,” Smith says. “They want to help students and they want to help single moms. They want you to succeed.”

When they know that you have a child, she says, they want you to do well because you’re influencing someone else.








Photos contributed by communication senior,  Rachel Garcia. Visit her portfolio online here.

Media Relations Contacts: Email UTC Media Relations or call 423-425-5119.

Sarah ’14, ’16 earned an MA in English rhetoric and composition at UTC where she now works as staff writer; she enjoys hiking with her husband and two boys and spending time with her backyard menagerie of goats, chickens and ducks.

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13 Comments » for Student, mom, graduate: Balancing it all
  1. Maggie Hall says:

    What an inspiring story! Congratulations, Nicole! You are amazing and I know you will accomplish great things for you and your precious daughter! Wishing you all the best!

  2. Kathy Melton says:

    Beautiful story of a beautiful lady. I am so proud of you Nichole! Way to persevere and make your dreams a reality! Brenleigh is so blessed to have you and, through your example, has learned that you can do anything you set your mind to!


  3. Tiffany Mitchell says:

    Nicole, you rock! You were a great student and continue to be a fantabulous mom.
    I wish you all the best in the future. Congrats!

  4. Kisha Wheeler says:

    Nicole, thank you so much for sharing your story! You are my inspiration! Hopefully, I am not to far behind you, as I am a mother of 5 children and will be graduating in December. Could not have gotten this far without my amazing support system!
    Best of luck to you and congratulations!!!!!

    • Nicole Smith says:

      OMG KISHA!! 5?!?! GIRL, YOU ARE MY INSPIRATION!! You are amazing and that is so wonderful!! Congratulations and thank you for your kind words.

  5. Demetrius Ramsey says:

    LOVe Love LOVE this! Congrats Nicole! Soooooo proud of you!

  6. V Tripp says:

    Love this story. Maybe it will encourage UTC to support adult learners who are parents working full time, a little more.

    • Mary Lee Clark says:

      Amen!! I have been involved in several round table discussions about this very topic. UTC needs to step up their online, evening and Saturday course offerings to accommodate adult learners.

  7. Haiven says:

    This is so inspiring. As a young mom of 2, and starting back to school after a year off this fall, I’m so nervous. But I’m so excited. Thank you so much for sharing this story. I’m bookmarking it so I can read it over and over again for the next 3-4 years.

    • Nicole Smith says:

      You are going to do amazing things for your children!! I am so happy my story could encourage and inspire you!