“High achieving” doesn’t begin to describe three students who will earn their associate degrees from Pellissippi State Community College during Friday’s Commencement ceremony. Unlike the other graduates walking across the stage to receive their diploma, these three have yet to graduate from high school—though they’ll accomplish that, too, later this month.
Although difficult to imagine, Andrew Jerome, Haley Folsom and Savannah Keck will earn their college degree almost simultaneously with their high school diploma. Each student has invested years of hard work, determination and self-motivation to reach this milestone.
“I’ve always been up for a challenge. I started taking classes that interested me, and before I knew it, I only had one class left to earn a college degree,” said Folsom, 17, who attends L&N STEM Academy.
“How many high school students get to say they’re graduating from college at the same time?” asked Keck, 17. “It has been an amazing experience.”
“We look forward to celebrating the success of these exceptional students at commencement,” said L. Anthony Wise Jr., president of Pellissippi State. “They have excelled as dual enrollment students and demonstrated they can succeed in a rigorous academic environment. I have every confidence they will do well as they transition to their chosen four-year institutions.”
These students have been able to accomplish this by taking a combination of advanced placement and dual enrollment classes alongside their regular high school courses. They also took additional classes during the summer. Taking these classes allowed them to earn college credit while still in high school. Pellissippi State offers a wide range of dual enrollment courses in both high schools and on the college’s campuses.
“I heard about dual enrollment classes at Pellissippi State and starting taking them in 9th grade,” said Jerome, 18, and a home-schooled student under the umbrella of Christian Academy of Knoxville. “In my junior year, I realized that I would soon earn a college degree.”
Jerome began taking classes at the Hardin Valley Campus when he was just 14. He started out with one Spanish class. His older brother, also a dual enrollment student, showed him where to go and what to do during that first semester.
“It was weird at first because I was younger, but I got used to it. I’ve enjoyed the experience,” said Jerome. “I don’t think many have known that I’m a dual enrollment student. Those who have found out were surprised, but they didn’t treat me any differently.”
Folsom agreed. “Age wasn’t an issue. Some of my best friends were adult learners.”
“I found dual enrollment to be a lot of fun. It’s a great opportunity to get ready for attending a college,” added Jerome.
Keck is a student at Career Magnet Academy, which is located on Pellissippi State’s Strawberry Plains Campus. The two schools have a partnership in which CMA students take dual enrollment classes through Pellissippi State and then earn their associate degree after they graduate from high school. This month CMA will celebrate their first graduating class. Keck is not only a part of that class, but she is the first CMA student to complete high school and an associate degree simultaneously.
“It has been a crazy, amazing experience,” says Keck. “I love going to a high school located on a college campus. The standards are higher; it’s more challenging. And I love being taught by actual college professors. The CMA teachers work with you one-on-one. They trust us to be more responsible and give us more freedoms.”
Keck even found time to participate in Pellissippi State’s student clubs and work in the summer as a New Student Orientation leader who helps new students acclimate to the college.
“Savannah Keck’s success is a great example of what we believe the partnership between Pellissippi State and Career Magnet Academy can produce. We are taking the time to celebrate the success of all the students in the school’s first graduating class and to develop new opportunities for student achievement moving forward,” said Wise.
Folsom took classes at the Hardin Valley Campus and online. She says that dual enrollment gave her more opportunities than were available at her high school. She often took classes that her high school didn’t offer, such as American Sign Language. She said that this allowed her to get used to a college environment and to meet new people.
Folsom will attend Georgia Tech in the fall and major in neuroscience. After earning her bachelor’s degree, she plans to continue her education to become a brain surgeon.
The next stop for Keck is Michigan State University where she will study criminal justice and international affairs. She will be part of James Madison College, a residential college at MSU where students and faculty examine the major political, legal, social and economic issues affecting our world.
“It’ll be a big change, but I’m looking forward to it,” she said.
Jerome will attend the University of Alabama in the fall and major in computer science. He plans to study German and participate in the college’s competitive and challenging Two Steps Ahead International German Student Exchange Program, which will allow him to spend a year studying in Germany.
All three students said that they would recommend dual enrollment classes to other high school students as a way to get ahead in their college courses and careers.
Pellissippi State’s Commencement ceremony is Friday, May 4, at 7 p.m. at Thompson-Boling Arena on the University of Tennessee campus.