As a student success manager for the newly launched BlueSky Tennessee Institute, Melissa Graham believes the role is a natural fit with her gift for connecting with others.
And part of her life’s assignment.
“Every role has felt like part of my life’s assignment,” Graham says. “I benefited from so many programs, resources, and people who led me to not only be a first-generation college student, but to success in my life, career-wise and personally.”
BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee has partnered with East Tennessee State University to create BlueSky Tennessee. The collaboration will provide qualified Tennessee students the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree in computing in just 27 months.
These students will also gain hands-on, real-world experience by learning and working at the BlueCross headquarters in downtown Chattanooga, progressing to paid internships and potential job offers as they develop their skills.
BlueCross and ETSU are placing a special focus on identifying and recruiting high-potential students from Hamilton County’s most challenged high schools.
Tennessee has roughly 4,100 technology job postings per year and only 1,000 qualified graduates to fill them.
As student success manager of BlueSky Tennessee, Graham will develop, implement and coordinate support services and resources for the program.
Graham and BlueSky Executive Director Bradley Leon visited seniors at Chattanooga-area high schools this past December to notify them of their acceptance to the program’s inaugural class of around 15 students this coming August.
As a child growing up in the inner city of Memphis, Graham knew she wanted to apply her talent for connecting with people, but wasn’t quite sure what that looked like. After graduating high school, she took a leap, moving five hours away to attend the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga on an academic scholarship. There, her commitment to counseling students developed.
After graduate school at UTC, Graham spent 12 years working with Hamilton County Schools in counseling and student support roles, and eventually served as coordinator of community schools. She also worked with a nonprofit organization to mentor young mothers as they navigated parenting and high school.
She currently serves as a United Way Volunteer Advocate, a member of the Girls Leadership Summit steering committee, and sits on the board of the nonprofit GirlStance.
Graham says part of her life’s assignment is planting seeds for student success.
“I have to be intentional in planting those seeds, watering them and helping them grow into confident young adults,” she says. “I see the amazing characteristics in others, and I want them to see their potential, as well. Working with that has put me in a place where, as long as I can continue to plant and water those seeds, I’m where I’m supposed to be.”