Veteran Finds Community College "a Perfect Fit"

James Lombard at Graduation

Story and photo by Jessie Tipton, visual media coordinator for Pellissippi State

James Lombard III has the whole college thing figured out, but that epiphany didn’t happen instantly. He went to Eastern Michigan University right after graduating high school in Detroit, but “I didn’t know why I was there,” he explains. James tried again after he left the Navy, that time at the University of Tennessee. After a couple of years there, however, he still wasn’t sure what college really had to offer him.  

On the advisement of a faculty member at UT, James realized the ideal choice for him was an Associate degree from Pellissippi State. James recognized Pellissippi State as an opportunity to “get that accomplishment and feel what it’s like to achieve something,” he remembers.  

Pellissippi State was the perfect fit. The community college made James feel more like himself, he says, because his classes reinforced the tools he already has. “It felt like I was supposed to be there,” he says.

Although music has always been important to James, he realizes that music can be a difficult way to pay the bills. His entrepreneurial spirit drew him to a degree in Business. “I really plan to shift gears and focus on getting a business started and running that as effectively as I can,” he explains. “And I can’t just walk into those things without these basic skills. My management, accounting and math classes helped me look at the intricacies of a business.”  

James was determined to take ownership of his education. “I would say that I’ve Lone Wolfed this semester a little bit,” he admits. “I wanted to own all the burden and see how I could handle it.” But James was also able to build a network of faculty and fellow students in the Multicultural Student Leadership Group, where they discussed big picture topics and deep management principles outside the structure of the classroom.  

James did face one big challenge at Pellissippi State, but he looks at it now as a learning opportunity about conflict resolution. He got to see his management professor “not just talk the talk, but actually walk the walk … and man, that was so valuable,” he recalls. “Just watching her handle me while my hair was on fire was like, ‘I’m like taking notes on how I want to emulate that in the future.’”  

Ultimately, James says that his Pellissippi State experience has been incredibly fulfilling. “It’s made me feel like I can take the biggest bite out of this apple as I want,” he says. “It’s also encouraged me to stay a lifelong learner. I’m still going to be reading, I’m still going to be engaged and I’m still going to be trying to level myself up and grow.”

The College System of Tennessee is the state’s largest public higher education system, with 13 community colleges, 27 colleges of applied technology and the online TN eCampus serving approximately 140,000 students. The system is governed by the Tennessee Board of Regents.

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