When Lori Strode came to Tennessee Tech University, she found herself overwhelmed within her first semester. She was dealing with an illness in her family, she wasn’t sure what career she wanted to work toward and her grades had fallen so much that she was in danger of losing her scholarships.
When she visited the academics office to talk about her impending academic probation, she was on the verge of quitting college completely. However, the woman sitting across from her in that office listened carefully to her struggles and helped her figure out how to get back on track.
“I did fine from there on out,” Strode said. “She had probably had, I don't know, 50 to 100 of those interactions that day, and I just happened to be one of them, but it totally shifted my trajectory back to where it needed to be. You know how a pebble can change the direction of a stream? You don't know when you are that pebble for someone – when you're that person or that interaction that sends someone on a new path.”
Strode had this in the back of her mind when she graduated from Tech with a degree in elementary education and headed out into the world to teach math and language arts to seventh and fifth graders. Though she loved this kind of teaching, she soon realized that she wanted to provide another kind of help – the type of help she had been given back when she had been an overwhelmed college student.
“What I saw in the classroom is that students dealt with so much that couldn't be addressed inside the classroom. There's just not the time to address all of those emotional needs,” she said.
She decided she wanted to become a pebble in the stream of these students’ lives. Strode returned to Tech to earn her master’s and education specialist degrees in counselor education and now works as a counselor for juniors and seniors at Cookeville High School, where she’s been since 2015.
“Tech helped prepare me to be a counselor. Not only through just the classes that I attended, but the relationships that I that I made both through undergraduate studies and in my graduate studies,” she said.
During Women’s History Month this March, Strode is remembering all the women in her life who have supported and inspired her. In addition to her teachers and mentors at Tech, she also recalls her aunts as well as her mother, who was the first black woman to graduate from nursing school in Murfreesboro and the first and only black nurse at Plateau Mental Health for many years.
Strode herself was recently one of two honorees of Cookeville IMPACT’s annual banquet which recognizes African Americans in Putnam County who have had major impacts in their community.
“When I heard that I was an honoree for IMPACT, I was quite humbled,” she said. “I've never felt like I've done anything major. I will credit myself with doing some small things, like maybe trying to adjust someone's path or offering a little tidbit of information, such as, ‘If you would try this, it might result in this outcome,’ and making sure that I connect them with someone who can help with their particular situation.”
Though there are hard days in her job when she grieves when she is unable to help a particular student correct the course of their life, she focuses on striving to give every student the resources they need to overcome their struggles.
“The best part of being a high school counselor is seeing the kids at the finish line,” Strode said. “Knowing the struggles that they've overcome, where they started and where they are now. My very favorite part is seeing them at the end, seeing it all come to fruition.”
And her advice to all of them?
“Do something,” Strode said. “My advice is always do something. Take a step – whatever that small step might be. Success is at one end of the continuum and not-success is at the other end. What are you doing today to move in either direction? Are the choices you’re making taking you toward a not-so-successful future or are they taking you toward success? You don't have to have all the answers. The path will open up in ways that you can't even imagine. So, keep moving. Keep going. And just don't give up.”