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Meet Stacy Lightfoot

Stacy Lightfoot
Vice President, College and Career Success
Chattanooga-Hamilton County Public Education Fund (TN)

How did you become the vice president, college and career success, at the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Public Education Fund?
Since 1999, I have used my skills and expertise in non-profits to help students see college as a worthwhile possibility. Coming from a low-income, single-parent home, I understand the importance of education. Since graduating from my master's program in London, I have worked with college access programs locally and nationally; and, currently work for the Public Education Foundation as the vice president of college and career success Initiatives. I started my career as the career development director at a local non-profit, then transitioned into college counseling in Chattanooga public schools.

Currently, at PEF, I oversee community-wide programs and high impact summer programs, for example Camp College. With my background in college advising and passion, I am able to work with students from all socio-economic backgrounds to ensure student success. Last year, I was instrumental in the launch of STEP-UP Chattanooga, a robust high school internship program that connects low-income students to Chattanooga’s top companies and organizations. In my role at PEF, I collaborate with countless community partners to organize high impact events that attract hundreds of participants.

What made you decide to get into this field?
As a low-income, African American female, statistics suggested that I would continue to live in poverty, work a low-wage job, and not obtain a college degree. My mother was a single parent who made less than $12,000 a year. However, she made sure that throughout my life I was surrounded by trusted adults and positive role models. These adults also made sure I was involved in extracurricular activities and participated in high-impact programs that honed my leadership and academic skills and built my confidence.

As a result, I knew the importance of education. However, I was only familiar with my local options- a community college and a state school. DePauw University isn’t a college that many Tennesseans attend, especially low-income, African American public school students from Chattanooga. Once again, it was a trusted adult that changed my life. My college counselor, a former SACAC board member and NACAC committee chair, Susan Chipley (her name when I was in high school, now Susan Street) led me to research this jewel of a campus in the cornfields of Greencastle, IN. I didn’t have money to attend college and knew I would have to depend on grants, scholarships and loans to make college a reality. Ms. Chipley knew my family situation and steered me in the right direction—to a perfect college that matched my personality and learning style, a college that met my family’s financial need, offered study abroad programs, and had various majors from which I could choose. It was the perfect fit.

My decision to work in the world of college and career advising stems from the support I had as a high school student. If a poor, black girl from the east side of Chattanooga can overcome barriers to attend college on full financial aid package and study abroad in Italy, other students can do it, too. Because of one knowledgeable advocate, the trajectory of my life changed for the better. She is the reason I now give back to my community. 

What was your favorite moment on the job?
In May 2015, I was invited to testify before the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions for the US Senate on what consumers needs to know to make informed decisions about college choice.

When you aren’t working, what do you like to do?
Travel the world! 24 countries and counting.

If you could be any fictional character, who would it be and why?
Claire Huxtable from The Cosby Show because she had a mean side-eye game. And she’s smart, strong, bold and successful.

Describe yourself in five words.
A relentless advocate for students.

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