Steven Kempster spent four days working on his final project for a life sculpture class, but he just wasn’t pleased with the shape it was taking. He decided that modifications were not helping, so he returned the human face to its original form, a lump of clay, and started over. In three more hours, he had the foundation of the art piece he had envisioned all along.
The Pellissippi State Community College student, who graduates on May 6, approaches life much as he does his art: with a healthy mix of persistence and vision. An Illinois native who had wanted to return to college for five years before he actually could do it, Kempster plans to transfer to the University of Tennessee to continue his studies in art.
The degree Kempster has earned from Pellissippi State is an Associate of Science rather than an Associate of Arts.
“I could have gone for an Associate of Arts degree,” he said, “but I’m so stubborn that I stuck with the science track and supplemented my Associate of Science degree with art classes.” He plans to combine his interest in science and his love of art in an instructional setting, working ultimately as an art teacher or an art therapist.
Kempster, who came back to school in his mid-40s, is one of the growing number of ‘non-traditional’ students returning to college. According to the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, 54,662 students ages 25-39 and 17,731 students ages 40-64 were enrolled in Tennessee postsecondary schools in 2005, the most recent year for which NCHEMS data are available.
Like many others who return to pursue their studies, Kempster sought flexibility and support. He found both at Pellissippi State.
“When I started Biology I,” said Kempster, “I thought it would be impossible to memorize the pictures and special language. But the support here is fantastic—there’s tutoring and many study groups.” Initially, he enrolled in only one class at a time. He then began taking two degree-oriented courses and, of course, one art class each semester when his personal schedule allowed.
His love of art is not surprising considering Kempster’s family background.
“My Grandma Florence painted with oil and loved to play music, my mother is a professional musician, and my younger sister is a literary artist,” he said. “Me, I’m into visual art. I recently felt lost inside a project. I haven’t felt that way in years.”
Kempster speaks with excitement when discussing his plans to combine art with science in his future career.
“Lots of time in life you know what you don’t want to do. It’s rare to find what you want to do. Taking the different classes at Pellissippi State made it all tie in for me and finally click. Getting to go to college really changes your life.”
Pellissippi State’s Commencement ceremony is scheduled for 7 p.m. at UT’s Thompson-Boling Arena.
For additional information regarding the ceremony or Pellissippi State, call (865) 694-6400 or visit www.pstcc.edu.