Meet Sidney Williams, a Winner of the Nashville Area Chamber Complete College Scholarship

By Sidney Williams, WGU Tennessee student
Courtesy of WGU Tennessee

I was an extremely bright student growing up. My parents were proud, but they had no expectations for their children to go to college. As a teenager, I didn’t know of anyone in my family who had earned a college degree. Hard work was all we knew.

I’m proud to say that, on Aug. 1, 2015, I enrolled in WGU Tennessee’s Bachelor of Science – Human Resource Management program and committed to becoming the first person in my family to earn a college degree. And, with the help of a scholarship and some personal sacrifices, I’m able to say something few adults who have gone back to school at other universities can say – I’ll be graduating debt-free.

While my older sisters and I have all led successful careers, we were never taught the true value of education. Rather, working and eating were valued in our household. If you’ve ever read The Grapes of Wrath, my family reminds me of the Joads. Poor, uneducated, willing to work hard, but riddled with a lot of bad luck. My parents would have had no problem with my going to college, but – having never been themselves – the encouragement and guidance just weren’t there.

I landed my first HR job from a temporary assignment in 1996 after realizing the technical degree I had earned to become a travel agent wasn’t getting me where I wanted to go. In July of this year, I accepted the role of benefits manager at Delek US Holdings in Nashville after spending 10 years with Logan’s Roadhouse, Inc., as benefits coordinator, supervisor, and then manager.

I’ve experienced enough growth in my career that I think my colleagues assume I have a bachelor’s degree. I’m not embarrassed to let people know that I don’t, however, because I want to be an example for others who are in my boat.

I started looking into schools and was able to get on WGU Tennessee’s email list. That’s when I realized that, at WGU Tennessee, I could use what I already knew from my career in HR to accelerate through my coursework. After that, the other schools were out of the running.

I got to have my cake and eat it too. Shortly after I enrolled, I was awarded WGU Tennessee’s Nashville Area Chamber Complete College Scholarship, which I was eligible for because Delek is a member of the Nashville Area Chamber.

An incredible inspiration throughout this entire process has been my daughter, who’s in her third year at the University of Tennessee–Chattanooga, and expects to graduate this May (yes, three years!) and, even better, debt-free. She’s already working on her applications to grad school.

So, we’ve managed to create a new family legacy of future college graduates. We’re thrilled to be joining my adult nieces and nephews, all of whom have earned degrees ranging from a bachelor’s to a doctorate. And I’m thrilled that this degree will get me one step closer to my goal of becoming director of benefits and, one day, VP of benefits and compensation.

Through the Nashville Area Chamber Complete College Scholarship, WGU Tennessee is awarding up to $300,000 in funds to 100 applicants employed by the 2,200 members of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. Applications are being accepted until Nov. 30, 2015.

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