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