Nursing Instructor Dannisha Davis knows what it’s like to be working full time, taking classes and raising children.
That’s what her life was like as a Pellissippi State student 15 years ago.
“I can relate to being the student with a whole life outside of school,” said Davis, who joined Pellissippi State’s full-time faculty in August after nine years of working as a nurse in both hospital settings and in public health. “I did my homework when I got out of class at night. I studied on my lunch break at work. I studied at the dinner table. I studied on campus before the classroom doors would open.”
It was hard work, for sure, but it beat the alternative.
“I was working at a factory opening boxes for eight hours a day and putting them on an assembly line,” Davis explained. “It was so mind-numbing.”
She had been there only a few weeks when a coworker she barely knew asked Davis what her plans were.
“I told her I had two children and I really needed to work full time to afford things for them,” Davis remembered. “She told me, ‘You shouldn’t be here. You should try Pellissippi State.’”
Davis wondered how she’d ever afford college, but she applied to Pellissippi State, was accepted and secured some financial aid. She still needed to work full time to support her children, but she found a job with another factory that allowed her to work in quality control during the day and take college classes at night.
Davis started at Pellissippi State in 2004 and found it to be a great fit for her.
“I loved the small class sizes,” Davis said. “Because of the class sizes, I felt that the quality of my education was better. I heard from my friends who went to university that they sometimes had 300 people in their classes. But my professors knew me.”
She also found mentors along the way, including retired Dean of Students Mary Bledsoe and Gayle Wood, director of Access and Diversity.
“Gayle introduced me to a lot of resourceful clubs and activities,” Davis remembered. “She was always there when I needed to vent or scream. She was definitely my motivator.”
Davis graduated with her associate degree in 2007. She immediately transferred to East Tennessee State University to finish her bachelor’s, at the urging of her Pellissippi State advisor.
“I had a really good advisor who helped me pick out all my classes,” Davis explained. “She laid out what it would look like to finish at UT, ETSU and other schools. She said, ‘A lot of the hospitals are going to four-year degrees. Push through, and it will be beneficial on the back end.’ I don’t know how she knew that back then. She was ahead of the trend!”
Even when she moved her children to Johnson City for two years to finish her bachelor’s degree, Davis stayed in touch with the friends she’d made at Pellissippi State – and those connections paid off.
“When I took my first job in public health, one of my Pellissippi State people was my supervisor!” Davis noted. “I’m still friends with a lot of people I met when I was a student here.”
Davis graduated from ETSU in December 2009 and took her board certification exams. By mid-January 2010, she was back home in Knoxville, working as a nurse.
Along the way, she taught clinicals for the Nursing program at Pellissippi State from time to time.
Now Davis is teaching full time at the college that helped transform her from a factory worker to a nurse. In her three skills and simulation classes on Pellissippi State’s Magnolia Avenue Campus this fall, she introduces Nursing students to everything from bathing patients to safely administering medication.
“To me, this is the most important part of nursing: laying the foundation,” Davis said. “What we are doing here is vital.
“It’s always nice to see the ‘aha!’ moments, when the light bulbs pop,” she added.
Davis is still juggling her Pellissippi State experience with parenting. While her older two children are now 21 and 17, Davis has a set of 2-year-old twins at home.
“I can so relate to these working adults who come into my class because that was me,” Davis said. “You really have to be realistic. You cannot look at what everybody else is doing. Just set your mind on what you want. Once your mind is set, really nothing can stop you.”