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Graduate spotlight: Degree takes salon owner from nail design to interior design

Christy Pittman speaks at fall 2021 commencement
Christy Pittman knew what she wanted to say to her fellow fall 2021 graduates, who had continued their educational journeys despite a global pandemic: “This class did not quit.”

Christy Pittman can still remember the scent of her Daddy’s woodshop when she was young. 

“I’ve always loved the smell of sawdust, woodsmoke, paint and varnish,” remembers Pittman, now 53 and a grandmother of three. “That is where my love of design began.” 

Now, after 20 years as a nail technician and co-owner of a salon, Pittman has embarked on a new career, having graduated from Pellissippi State with her Associate of Applied Science in Interior Design Technology in December. 

“I had attempted college before, but this time I had a major in mind,” Pittman explains. “I knew I wanted to be an interior designer, and I wanted to do this for myself. I wanted to show myself I could complete a college degree.” 

Pittman didn’t just take her classes and go home, however. She also plugged in on campus, serving as a New Student Orientation leader and as a tutor with TRIO, a federally funded program that assists first-generation college students as well as low-income students and those with disabilities. 

Pittman did all this while taking a full load of classes each semester, cleaning houses, doing nails, helping take care of her 78-year-old mother and keeping two of her grandchildren four days a week! 

“My business partner, my (nail) clients and my family have all been amazingly supportive of my decision to go back to school,” Pittman notes. “My children did not choose to continue their education, but if I can do this, they can do it. I’ll be their biggest cheerleader.” 

In August, as Pittman embarked on her final semester at Pellissippi State, she also took her first design job with Tile Sensations. It’s a good fit for Pittman, who describes herself as “most passionate about kitchens and bathrooms.” 

“Sometimes people don’t know the difference between being an interior decorator and an interior designer,” she adds. “An interior designer creates layouts for accessibility and sustainability.” 

In November, Pittman was asked to speak at Pellissippi State’s fall Commencement. It was an honor she couldn’t pass up, even though “it was crazy preparing for this and still doing everything else!” But Pittman knew exactly what she wanted to say to her fellow fall 2021 graduates because she felt an affinity with these students who also had weathered the pandemic during college: 

“As students, each of us had to decide to either withdraw and wait for a return to ‘normal’ or to remain committed,” she penned. “COVID robbed us of our normalcy, our jobs and our stability, and we grieved those losses. Exhausted and determined, we confronted our circumstances and overcame obstacles. This class did not quit.” 

Pittman isn’t quitting now either. Next week she starts East Tennessee State University’s 2+2 program that will allow her to finish her bachelor’s degree in Interior Architecture on Pellissippi State’s Hardin Valley Campus. 

“Wherever our paths lead us, we began collectively at Pellissippi State during a global pandemic,” she told her fellow graduates on Dec. 10. “This is not the end, but a continuance of our extraordinary story.”