On days with good weather, April Ellis rides her bicycle to school.
Ellis, a Pellissippi State Community College student, doesn’t consider her transportation options to be a limitation, though. She simply rides her bicycle or takes the bus to the Magnolia Avenue Campus, where she’s pursuing an associate’s degree with the plan of going on for a bachelor’s in public horticulture.
A single mother who didn’t complete high school, Ellis enrolled full time at Pellissippi State last spring. Like many nontraditional students, the 29-year-old has to balance returning to school with a multitude of other responsibilities: working a full-time job, fulfilling a work-study commitment and raising a child.
“It’s been so crazy, but you make it work,” she said.
Ellis is taking courses to earn a general studies degree, and once she graduates, she plans to transfer to the University of Tennessee.
“Public horticulture has a wide variety of job opportunities, anything that integrates gardens and people,” she said. “Specifically, I’m interested in horticulture therapy.
“People go into gardens and feel better, and horticulture therapy brings that recreational therapy aspect into gardening. You can take a person who needs to work on an injury and say, ‘Let’s work with your weak hand grip by pruning these roses.’”
Ellis was a stay-at-home mother and housewife during her son’s growing-up years. When she began going through a divorce, she realized she needed and wanted a fulfilling job that could provide for her family.
“At that time, I didn’t even have a GED or any kind of formal education,” she said, “and I wanted to be someone that my son could look up to.”
She first attended classes at the Knox County Career Center, where she earned her GED, and two months later, in spring 2014, she began classes at Pellissippi State.
“Here, I’m not the odd person out,” Ellis said. “A lot of students here are nontraditional, so I’m not alone in those struggles about being in college and having a job and a family.
“And professors understand that, too, that you have homework and a family. Having that kind of nurturing, supportive environment has been crucial. People here have gone above and beyond to make sure I get more than just good grades.”
Pellissippi State supports its population of nontraditional students with a host of services, among them, alternative scheduling; cohort programs, in which students start and finish their coursework as a group; tutoring; workforce development; and career placement. The college even offers nontraditional students credit for previous military and work experience through what’s called “prior learning assessment.”
For more information about Pellissippi State and its programs and resources, visit www.pstcc.edu or call (865) 694-6400.