Tennessee Alumnus

Education Changes Lives

Education Changes Lives

As Debbie Ingram, UT Alumni Association president, travels to events, she solicits stories of how education has positively influenced the lives of UT alumni. Though their stories are different, Kayvon Sadrabadi and Paige Pettit credit education with altering their lives.

Kayvon Sadrabadi: Challenge Was Worth the Struggle

A good education is important, but would you travel halfway around the world for it? Kayvon Sadrabadi did. And the trip has proved more than worthwhile.Sadrabadi (Chattanooga ’87, ’93) came to the U.S. from Tehran, Iran, when he was 15 “for a chance at a better education.” He attended high school in Virginia before coming to Chattanooga and earning two degrees while working full time.

Today he is a manager at Unum in Chattanooga and president of the UT Chattanooga Alumni Board. Sadrabadi says he would have been educated if he had stayed in Iran. “Iran has a variety of schools I could have attended.” He even says he might be better off financially if he had continued his craft–restoring antique rugs. But his two UTC degrees–a bachelor’s in engineering and an MBA–both challenged and fulfilled him.

“It helped me build character,” he says of the years when he was a full-time student with a full-time job. He worked for UTC alumnus Charles Pierce, who not only urged his young employee to complete his education but also put in a plug for being active in alumni work. Pierce served on the UTC Alumni Board too.

“It was definitely a challenge,” Sadrabadi says of the concurrent work-education lifestyle. “At one point, I worked two jobs seven days a week and also went to school full time. What that meant was not much time for homework!” he jokes. Sadrabadi calls education a tool, an enabler. “You can dig a hole with a spoon or a shovel,” he says. “The determination and desire you as an individual bring to the table cannot be taught.”

Sadrabadi has volunteered with various events at UTC, including the homecoming golf tournament. He is a member of the UT Alumni Association Board of Governors. He believes the challenges he overcame during college helped forge his character. “I had a different perspective than some of the traditional students. I wanted the education, and I was willing to work hard,” he says. “I respected the education I was receiving enough to deem it worthy of a ‘struggle.’ I believe this has made me a better person, and lord knows I had plenty of room for improvement!”

Paige Pettit: Conquering Despair with Purpose

In May of 1996, Paige Pettit found herself in despair, facing what should have been one of the happiest times of her life. She was 23 years old, had taken a semester break from college, and was 8-months pregnant when her husband died suddenly.

“The moment I learned that my husband had died, I felt like a part of me died too,” said Pettit. “I struggled with being joyful about the baby while my life had just fallen apart. After a year of struggling with the aftermath of my husband’s death, I was forced to make a decision. I had to decide to live, or I had to decide to die. I looked at my son’s beautiful face and decided the only choice was to live. I made the decision to return to college then.”

She completed an associate degree in 1999 at Dyersburg State Community College and a bachelor’s in communications at UT Martin in December 2001. She spent the years from 2002 through 2005 as a Dyersburg bank sales and marketing representative. While considering career advancement to increase finan­cial stability for her son, Pettit returned to her initial interest–­nursing. She chose an accelerated nursing program at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, that allowed her to earn a Bachelor of Science in nursing in 12 months. “The schedule did not leave much room for anything but class, clinical, and studying,” she said. “My mother and father helped with my son.”

She began her second career as a Dyersburg Regional Medical Center nurse. She later joined Regional Hospital of Jackson. In November she accepted a Lauderdale County Health Department RN position. Her life the last 11 years has been harsh at times–single-parent stress, major financial hardships, depression–but her commitment to her son pushed Pettit. She also credits her parents and sister with providing a network of support.

“I think the adversity made me a stronger, more determined person and fueled my desire to succeed,” she said. “As a college freshman at UTM, I was unsure of what the future held. Now, I am still not sure of what the future holds, but I know I have what it takes to get through any obstacle I have to face.”