UT fall commencement ceremonies are being held this week. We take the opportunity to recognize and celebrate our recent Public Safety graduates—adult learners who achieved this accomplishment while balancing work and family responsibilities.
Aaron Lee, a hazardous waste specialist in UT Environmental Health and Safety, earned a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Management from Columbia Southern University. The degree was a natural follow up to his associate’s degree in environmental health and a way to advance his career.
“I see things daily that my education helps me recognize in the hazardous waste realm,” Lee said. “What I found interesting is that my daily work also helped me along the way in my classwork as well. I was able to use my experience here at the University of Tennessee in several assignments along the way to graduation.”
The support of many Environmental Health and Safety colleagues was instrumental in his degree journey—from his director who told him about the university and gave him the gentle push to complete the degree to his direct supervisor who suggested ideas for creative projects and asked regularly about his progress.
“That was extremely motivating for me to keep pushing through the tough times,” Lee said.
The work-life-school balance was sometimes difficult.
“How did I manage? With the love and support of my family and friends is the only correct answer,” Lee said.
His wife was his rock throughout the education experience and cared for their two sons, which allowed him the space to tackle assignments and deadlines. He also organized a veteran suicide prevention hike with assistance from his coordinating team. They helped keep the hike on track when he had assignments due.
With graduation, Lee can shift focus to making more memories with his wife and sons. He also plans to officiate and play ice hockey. He may enroll in a master’s degree program in the future.
As for UT employees who are interested in pursuing a degree?
“It is never too late to find something that is worth your time and effort to further your career, or life in general,” Lee said. “I am 37 years old and was able to graduate with my bachelor’s degree. The hard work, late nights, and spellchecks are worth it in the end.”