After 26 years and more than $11 million secured for Student Support Services, Director Shirl Gholston is ready to relax.

Student Support Services Director Shirl Gholston Photo Courtesy: Kaili Spears

“I want to retire on a high note,” said Gholston., “I’ve had an amazing journey for 26 years, and I just want that legacy to stay as perfect.”

Gholston was the director of Student Support Services at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and, using the federal grant program, TRIO she helped increase the retention and graduation rate of under-represented students, including low-income students, students with disabilities and first-generation students.

“Retaining the grant in which for 26 years … to help with retention of students is what I’m most proud of,” she said.

Assistant Vice Chancellor for Student Success Stacie Grisham said Gholston didn’t just reach her annual goals of continued student success but exceeded them.

“Shirl exceed all grant objectives by +20% margins and boast high student success rates… She consistently goes above and beyond in her job duties, Grisham said. “Our Student Support Services program has again and again been awarded the highest grade for their efforts and outcomes.”

Gholston started working in higher education as a spinoff of the civil rights movement, hoping to make a difference like her heroes.

“My heroes, because I grew up in the ’70s, were people who were fighting for civil rights, like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X. My favorite was Angela Davis, a professor on a college campus.”

Her initial job in higher education was working as a career coordinator for California Polytechnic State University students, but that wasn’t her true calling, she said. Her path always led to working with under-represented students.

“I never really got to fulfill my passion until I became the director of Student Support Services,” she said.

There isn’t one student story or success story that stands out for her at UTC. There are too many to specifically name, she said. But she can hit an overall high point: Students who were close to dropping before Student Support Services stepped in and helped bolster their confidence, giving them the help they needed to make sure they graduated.

“There’s been hundreds of them, thousands, but 100 that I can say, ‘Oh, gosh. I am so proud of that student.’ They not only graduate, some of them go on to get terminal and professional degrees—master’s, Ph.D.’s.”

While saying that “I’ve accomplished everything that I need to accomplish,” she admits it will be hard to leave UTC.

“I’m going to miss just working with students and the high that I get from seeing them succeed, making a difference in the lives of these students who have gone on and been productive citizens and giving back to society in a very positive way.”

But she knows it’s time to enjoy the simpler things, including a greenhouse in her back yard to grow vegetables and herbs. She’s already picked it out on Amazon.

“While I’m in good health and my mind is still good, I want to retire on a high note because, like I said, I’ve had an amazing journey for 26 years, and I just want that legacy to stay as perfect.

“And I appreciate UTC allowing me to direct this program and providing the support that it has.”

Media Relations Contacts: Email Shawn Ryan or call 423-425-4363.

10 Comments » for UTC’s Director of Student Support Services, Shirl Gholston retires

    We are so proud of you and miss you here at SSS!

  2. Regina Stokes says:

    As a first generation college student, being apart of the Upward Bound and Student Support Services’ TRIO Programs gave me the tools to have a successful high school and collegiate experience! I’m so grateful to have met you, Mrs. Gholston and wish you all the best in your retirement!

  3. Susa Smith says:

    Awesome soror!! Congrats and enjoy your retirement! You definitely earned it!!

  4. Rosite Delgado says:

    Congratulations on your retirement, Shirl! Your impact will continue to create powerful ripple effects for generations to come. A truly great legacy!

  5. Bryan Samuel says:

    Mrs. G., Students like me will never forget how you supported us through it all. Thanks for caring. Dr. Bryan D. Samuel, SSS Alumni

  6. Donna Cooper says:

    Shirl, I am proud to have been able to work with you for UTC students. Whenever I called you with a student in need, you never asked first if they were in “your” program. You always reached out. You left some amazing shoes to fill. Thank you for all that you have done for UTC students!

  7. Lisa Tarr says:

    Congratulations, Shirl. So enjoyed working with you. The work you started here will continue because of the efforts you put in. My best!

  8. Nancy Neal says:

    Shirl you are Awesome….Thanks for the many exceptional years of service that you have provided to our UTC students. You have been able to successfully assist high school students through the educational path leding to some students receiving their doctorate. What a wonderful legacy.

  9. Peter Glass says:


    You were truly amazing and an exceptional role model to us young students. You will be missed Mrs. Gholston (Mrs. G to us)!

    Best Regards,

  10. Angel Ulmer says:

    Shirl, this is awesome!! SSS is an amazing program, as TRIO was my gateway into working in Higher Education. You have helped many dreams become realities. Rest and enjoy your greenhouse!! Much love and congratulations!