Pellissippi State recognizes distinguished alumna

posted in: Alumni, Awards | 0

portrait of female in red with blonde hairPerseverance and a passion for helping others are the defining traits of Pellissippi State Community College’s 2014 Distinguished Alumni Award winner. Rhonda Lee, who graduated in Paralegal Studies with the Class of 2004, is a mother, grandmother, cancer survivor and attorney.

Lee was 42 when she began classes at Pellissippi State after a career in real estate and home building.

“I decided to follow my passion in my 40s,” said Lee, now a practicing attorney in Knoxville, “and I faced criticism and hardship as an older, working woman with children. But that was my passion. It’s what I wanted to do.”

After graduating from Pellissippi State, Lee attended the University of Tennessee Knoxville and UT Chattanooga, completing her bachelor’s degree in legal studies in 2006. She capped off nearly a decade of studies when she earned her Juris Doctor from Nashville School of Law in 2012—and she put nearly 130,000 miles on her vehicle in the process.

Lee now owns her own law firm, where she specializes in criminal defense but also practices family and general law. Her particular interest is in serving marginalized and indigent clients.

“I have a passion to make a difference in people’s lives. Our constitutional rights are the greatest rights we have, and being in law is a way of making sure that people’s liberties are protected. I see that every day.

“There can be a lot of injustice in the justice system, because people don’t always have representation. I work to make sure that no one is overlooked, that they always have adequate representation.”

Lee understands falling through the cracks. While she was working full time in Knoxville and commuting to Nashville for law school, she was diagnosed with cancer. She didn’t have health insurance at the time, and she struggled to find treatment.

“So I figured I would just go to school until I died,” Lee said. “But I thought that if I was going to die, I would go out doing what I had always dreamed of.

“My goal was to get through one more set of classes, and that got me up every day. That got me across the stage at graduation and through the bar exam. Now I have my own law firm, and it’s a dream come true.”

Lee’s work as an attorney is not the only way she finds to help people. She also supports the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the Cancer Support Community of East Tennessee, East Tennessee Legal Aid and the Tennessee Cancer Coalition.

She has drafted legislation in several states, not just Tennessee, that will change the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse, making it easier for victims to pursue justice. Lee balances all of this with time supporting her children and grandchildren and serving as a caretaker for her aging parents.

And she continues to take on more. She plans to return to Pellissippi State as an adjunct faculty member teaching law classes in the fall.

“I love Pellissippi State, and I’m really excited to go back and teach there, because if it wasn’t for that foundation—for getting a hands-on, personal touch while I was a student there—I wouldn’t be where I am today. I want to be that person for other students.

“Pellissippi State makes it possible for anyone, at any stage of life, to get an education. If you want to succeed, they help you get there.”

Pellissippi State’s Distinguished Alumni Award is given to an individual in recognition of significant professional achievement, service to the community, and support of the College and the Pellissippi State Foundation.

For more information about Pellissippi State, including its programs and giving opportunities, visit www.pstcc.edu or call (865) 694-6400.

From professional paintballer to youngest assistant director, Pellissippi State graduate aims for success

posted in: Alumni, Students | 0

Kevin-Fillers-jpgKevin Fillers thought he would spend his career aiming a paintball gun at opponents, but with the help of Pellissippi State Community College, he’s aiming instead for a career in business.

Fillers, who earned an Associate of Science degree from Pellissippi State in 2011, was the top graduate from the University of Tennessee’s college of business administration in December 2013.

“I had an unusual path into college,” Fillers said. “When I graduated high school, I wanted to become a professional paintball player, and I eventually was offered a contract and played professional paintball from 2005 to 2008. But I could see that it wasn’t going to remain a long-term career option, so in 2006, I started taking occasional classes at Pellissippi State.”

Fillers, who graduated from UT with a 4.0 grade point average, attributes his success to those early classes at Pellissippi State.

“If I’d had to deal with traditional class formats,” he said, “I probably never would have started going to school.

“Because of how much I worked and how much I traveled, the only class options open to me were the online, one-night-a-week or two-night-a-week classes. That nontraditional path gave me an entirely new perspective on my future, and allowed me a new start.”

Fillers began taking full-time classes at Pellissippi State in 2010, while also working full time at the Gamma Beta Phi Society’s national headquarters in Oak Ridge.

He worked his way up from a minor position in Gamma Beta Phi, a national honors and service organization for college students, to the finance director and, ultimately, the assistant director position. He is the youngest-ever assistant director of the society. He also owns his own paintball company and school, The Bizniss.

Fillers began his classes at Pellissippi State with the intention of earning a mechanical engineering degree, but he switched to business classes when he realized he wanted to work more closely with other people.

His next academic goal is to attend UT starting fall 2015 in pursuit of an M.B.A. or J.D.

“Kevin was a nontraditional student who was not quite ready to attend college right out of high school,” said Jonathan Lamb, associate professor of Mathematics, “but he entered Pellissippi State when he was ready, and he has thrived ever since.

“I am thrilled for him, and I think he is an excellent example of how well Pellissippi State prepares students for transfer to four-year colleges.”

Fillers says he credits his early academic success specifically to Pellissippi State’s offerings that are geared toward working adults.

“I’m so grateful to Pellissippi State, because I got the start on my new career path here. I have worked really hard for the past seven years, working full time and attending school, and I’m proud of how much I’ve accomplished.”

He also recognizes his work ethic as an inheritance from his father, Fred Fillers. The elder Fillers earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree while serving as a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard, working for the U.S. Department of Energy, and raising a family.

“Now, I understand how hard my father worked to make the best life for himself and to give us every opportunity that he could,” the younger Fillers said.

For more information about how Pellissippi State can help you succeed, visit www.pstcc.edu or call (865) 694-6400.

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