Southeast Success Story: Lisa Marie Patterson
Middlesboro, KY – At age 41, Lisa Marie Patterson of Dorton Branch Hollow found herself at a crossroads. Her three children John, Taylor, and Joseph were now grown and self-sufficient, and she needed to find a fresh purpose.
“One of my friends said, ‘Well, you’re smart. Why don’t you go back to school?’” says Patterson. She discussed the idea with her family, and most, but not all, were supportive. Ultimately, her children inspired her to go for it. “I wanted to show my kids that I could do it,” she says. Although more than 20 years had passed since she earned her GED, she enrolled in classes at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College (SKCTC.)
Patterson admits that in the early days, she was wary of the unknown. “I was scared. I didn’t think older people went to school until I got here, but here they are,” she says. Her outgoing personality served her well, and she found that she enjoyed meeting new people. Also, she says that Southeast helped her brush up on her writing and study skills. “The college gave me the get up and go to finish what I start. The classes taught me what I needed to know.”
All was well until the beginning of the 2016 spring semester when Lisa lost her father to a rapidly-growing form of carcinoma. If that were not devastating enough, two weeks later Lisa was diagnosed with the same cancer.
“I had carcinoma cancer on my face, my nose,” she says.
Patterson underwent surgery at UK Medical Center. While the surgery successfully removed the cancer, it also removed most of the cartilage in her nose. Just recently, she suffered from a collapsed nasal passage and was forced to undergo a second surgery, re-breaking her nose to straighten the airway and rebuilding the structure. Now, she says, she feels better than she has in years.
In May 2018, Patterson graduated from Southeast with an associate of arts degree, and she is currently enrolled in the EKU Criminal Justice program on the Middlesboro Campus.
“The EKU classes are pretty challenging,” she says, “but I love it.” She also says that SKCTC prepared her well for the challenge. “At Southeast, we had that one-on-one interaction with faculty. That level of support gave me the confidence I needed. My teachers helped me understand what I was doing, and if I needed help, someone was always there.”
Patterson plans to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in December 2019 and continue on towards a master’s. After that, she aspires to work in a federal prison. “The benefits and pay are attractive,” she says. “I feel like a teenager over in class thinking about my goals.”
When asked what advice she would give to others who consider going back to college, she has a ready answer: “You give 110% and don’t have it in your head that you’re going to fail. Don’t quit. If someone tells you you can’t, you go ahead and do it. As sick as I’ve been— I’ve dragged through these halls—if I can do it, anybody can.”
Patterson hopes to inspire her grandchildren, six-year-old twins Baylee and Brylee and four-year-old Jackson, to one day pursue their dreams. (She also has another granddaughter due in December.)
“It just makes you feel better about yourself,” says Patterson. “Once you graduate, it feels like you’ve run that big marathon.”