Shannon Russell was a freshman at Roane State Community College in 2001 and was well on her way to an associate’s degree.
But life happened. “Everybody has to find their own way,” she said, “and my decisions led to a house full of children.”
It also led to a variety of intriguing jobs, including two years at Tiger Haven, a sanctuary in Roane County where lions, tigers and other big cats that have suffered abuse “can live out their lives in peace,” Russell said.
She’s trained as a veterinary technician and has worked for several emergency response agencies. Her husband, Mattlock Russell, is a flight paramedic for UT-Lifestar, and Shannon Russell currently works part-time for Arts In Motion, a dance studio in Roane County.
Now that her children, Tyler, 16, Keegan, 11, and Alanna, 9, are bigger, Russell said she has returned to Roane State.
“I decided my kids were old enough that I could go back to school,” she said.
She’s a Tennessee Reconnect student, part of a program in which residents 24 or older can begin or resume their studies tuition-free. That was a big factor in her decision to return to college.
Russell is again pursuing an associate’s degree in science with an emphasis on wildlife and fisheries, and is on track to graduate next fall.
She’s taking what she calls a “bare minimum” of classes because her children are involved in numerous activities, from Boy Scouts to dance lessons.
Long term, Russell said she would like to go to Tennessee Tech and obtain a bachelor’s degree, also in wildlife and fisheries, but that’s another distant goal. “I’ll have to wait until my kids are able to handle me being gone for longer periods of time,” she said.
For now, Russell said she’s very happy being a Roane State student again. “I love it,” she said. “It was a little bit of a challenge, but Roane State has made it easy for more to transfer from the ‘old school’ way of paper and pencil to digital.”
“It wasn’t stressful to get back into college,” she said. “If I had questions or concerns, they were very helpful to get me on the right track.”
Russell said she has had several classes that she’s enjoyed. “I don’t think I’ve had a single bad class,” she said. “I’ve had some challenging ones, but none of them bad.”
Roane State is a two-year college providing transfer programs, career-preparation programs and continuing education. Founded in 1971, the college has campuses in Crossville, Harriman, Huntsville, Jamestown, Knoxville, LaFollette, Lenoir City, Oak Ridge, Wartburg and Clinton.