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Cancer diagnosis didn’t stop Spurling from finishing her degree

Nicki Spurling at graduation

Nicki Spurling graduated from Pellissippi State in December 2022 despite a breast cancer diagnosis in September 2021 that threatened to put her education on the back burner.

Nicki Spurling transferred her job from Georgia to Tennessee to be with her husband. After a few years, however, she felt she’d been putting her education on the back burner for too long, and it was time to go back to school.

“I really want to do it,” she told her husband, who took the initiative and applied to Pellissippi State for her. He knew exactly what she wanted in a school: classes she could take on her own time that also were small and personable. Pellissippi State was the perfect fit. 

 At first, Nicki didn’t think a degree in Business with a concentration in Management was something she really needed for her job selling commercial playgrounds. “I was already doing that,” she explains. But it wasn’t long before she had a whole new mindset about her career.

After a Project Management class with Assistant Professor Brandi Funk, it dawned on Nicki: “I’m not just a sales rep; I’m a project manager,” she says. “I sell them, I help design them, I coordinate the installs … the whole works, from start to finish. I really opened up my mind to my own job that I’ve been doing already for two years.”

Juggling school, family and a full-time job would be enough for pretty much anyone, but in September 2021, a breast cancer diagnosis threatened to put Nicki’s education on the back burner once again. But with the support of Funk, Associate Professor Amy Caponetti and Business and Computer Technology Dean Michael Wolfe, Nicki was able to stay in school.

“They really worked with me with my schedule,” she says. “Dr. Caponetti was there at the drop with anything that I needed. She was just an email or a message away.”  

Now, with the support from Pellissippi State and her family, Nicki is the first person in her family to earn a college degree. She took six classes in fall 2022 to make sure she crossed the Commencement Ceremony stage in December because she didn’t want to overshadow her son, who graduates from high school in May.

“I didn’t want my graduation to be in the same month, so I took six classes this semester while working full time and raising two teenagers to make it happen,” Nicki says.  

“Pellissippi State helped lift my drive and my desire because I wanted to be successful, I wanted to succeed,” she adds. “Pellissippi State showed me the pathway of how to get there.”

— Interview and photo by Jessie Tipton, visual media coordinator for Pellissippi State; story by Sam Comer, writer for Pellissippi State