Jennifer Dabney of Maryville had three good reasons to be at Pellissippi State Community College’s spring 2022 Commencement: her husband, her daughter and her son.
Tim Dabney, 41, and his stepchildren Lexi Douglas, 24, and Zane Douglas, 22, earned their associate degrees at Pellissippi State, walking across the stage May 7 to a cheering section that included two sets of parents, an aunt and several friends.
“My wife was the first to notice that we had the opportunity to finish our programs at the same time, and she pushed us to do it,” said Dabney, who met his stepchildren when they were 3 and 1 years old and married their mom when they were 8 and 6. “She said, ‘We’ve got to have a party, and we’re all going to the ceremony.’ She was the one who recognized how unique this was and a big deal.”
Dabney and Zane started Pellissippi State together in fall 2018, taking advantage of the Tennessee Reconnect last-dollar scholarship for adults who never finished their college degrees and the Tennessee Promise last-dollar scholarship for college students coming straight into higher education from high school.
“For Zane and me, it had a lot to do with economics,” said Dabney, who works as a team leader at DENSO. “We knew we could get our associates for free, plus having a campus here in Blount County helped, too.”
During their first semester, Dabney and Zane had English 101 together, but after that, they didn’t cross paths at Pellissippi State. Dabney was taking night classes in Business Management while Zane was studying Mechanical Engineering Technology.
“I was apprehensive about going back to school at first, but it honestly wasn’t that bad,” said Dabney, who has been in management at DENSO for about 11 years and wanted to get his associate degree to open future opportunities with the company. “I was able to pull from both my experience at DENSO and the courses I’ve taken here at work. Time was the hard part.”
That meant long days for Dabney, who gets up at 4 a.m. to be at work by 5. Attending classes after work meant late nights, driving home having not had dinner and falling asleep just to start over again. Dabney eventually moved to taking his classes fully online his last couple of semesters.
“That scared me to death at first, but it worked out really well,” he said.
In the meantime, a couple of things happened in their household: Zane left Pellissippi State for a full-time job before he finished his degree, but Lexi came to the community college after having started at Maryville College.
“The second I talked to the advisors here, they said I’d only have to finish a couple of semesters to have my associate degree,” said Lexi, who also is employed by DENSO. “I was really impressed with the professors here, they were so nice and clear, and Will Buck in the Blount County Campus library was always helpful, too.”
Zane resigned from his job so that he could finish the degree he started, which put all three of the family on track to graduate. Dabney earned his Associate of Applied Science in Business Management, Lexi graduated with a General Associate of Science and Zane completed his Associate of Applied Science in Mechanical Engineering Technology.
“It was a great idea to try to finish together, but it was a little bit hectic,” Dabney said, laughing.
Degrees in hand, Dabney and Lexi are still employed with DENSO, and Zane’s goal is to get on with the company as an engineering tech, he said. Lexi added that she is using her job as a DENSO associate to help her pay for a bachelor’s degree in marketing or business analytics in the future.
“Going forward, if either of us decide to finish our bachelor’s degrees, DENSO has programs that will help us pay for that,” Dabney noted.
Right now, however, Dabney has his eye on a different level of education: K-12. He’s running for Maryville City Schools Board of Education in August.
“Now that the kids are grown and I’ve finished my degree, I have more time to serve the community,” he said.