In the two years Steve Anderton has been a student at Pellissippi State, he’s had six different addresses, gotten married and divorced, experienced homelessness and suffered two major illnesses. But through it all, Steve’s professors kept telling him not to give up.
“All the way through, the most common message I heard from the school was ‘just don’t quit’ — keep trying, do what you can and just don’t walk away,” shares Steve. “If it wasn’t for those people who were in my corner cheering for me, I probably would have walked away a year ago.”
Steve was born and raised in Australia and moved to the States with his father after high school. After working in retail for years, he was happy working at a small, mom-and-pop computer store. Everything was going great until the store was held up in an armed robbery and Steve realized he didn’t want to work in retail anymore. His girlfriend encouraged him to apply to Pellissippi State, where they ended up taking classes together for a semester before she graduated.
Steve and his girlfriend got married and moved into student housing at the four-year university where she had transferred. Unfortunately, the marriage didn’t work out, and Steve’s wife asked him to leave their apartment the week of finals.
“It’s been an interesting journey. If you’ve ever been through a divorce or relocation, your life kind of blows apart,” shares Steve. “I had really bought into the dream of being a full-time student, and then I had nothing. So here I was — unemployed, homeless and struggling.”
Steve emailed his professors to explain he was homeless and jobless and unable to finish his finals. All were encouraging and did what they could to help him finish with good grades.
“They all asked me what do you need, what do you have, what can I do?” he says. “One of my professors encouraged me to find some way to take my finals and my response was, ‘I wish I could!’ I have greater things to worry about right now, like it’s cold outside and I don’t want to sleep in my truck and where’s my next meal coming from. You know, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – I’m far from self-actualization at this point!”
Everyone Steve knew at Pellissippi State reached out and told him not to quit. He found support and help in many places, including Student Care and Advocacy, Counseling Services and TRiO.
“The Student Care and Advocacy office really helped carry me through,” Steve says. “They came up with some money to help me pay my rent, gave me Food City cards so I could eat. They really put a lot out there to help me through the really, really tough times.”
Steve also began going to counseling every week with Pellissippi State’s Counseling Services.
“They were extremely helpful,” he shares. “It was great to be able to sit down and talk with someone, and they pointed me in the direction to get more assistance.”
And Steve found support and encouragement in TRiO, which offers one-on-one support for students who are first-generation, low income or who have a disability.
“TRiO has always been there for me,” he says. “They’ll even text and check up on me if I haven’t showed up in the office for a couple weeks.”
Despite monumental challenges, Steve never gave up and will be graduating from Pellissippi State this May with his Associate of Science degree. He plans to go back to Australia after he graduates to be with his mother and hopes to continue his education at a university in Sydney.
“There’s so much help here,” he says. “There are people waiting to help you right this very moment in any way they can. When you’re thinking you’re helpless and hopeless and not good enough, there’s someone at this school waiting to tell you that you are good enough, that there is hope, that there is reason to continue – and they’re going to show you how to do it. You just have to ask for that help.”
With the help of his professors and student services at Pellissippi State, Steve overcame extreme obstacles and found the support he needed to finish strong.
“I didn’t overcome all these things because I’m any kind of miracle worker or anything special,” says Steve. “I overcame it because of all the help this school gave me.”