Story by Hannah Baker
Darrius Cole, a Florence, Alabama native and graduate of Chattanooga State Community College did not always know that he wanted to be in nuclear engineering. It wasn’t until 2009, while working at Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant as a contractor, that he realized his calling. In 2012 after doing some research online, he found out about an agreement that was made between Chattanooga State and TVA. He made it his mission to move to Chattanooga without knowing anyone and enroll in the Nuclear Engineering Technology Program at Chattanooga State. He later received assistance through the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), a federally funded employment and training program.
Cole considers coming to Chattanooga State to obtain his degree to be one of the most defining moments in his life. He used to be a very shy, reticent person, but having been a student at Chattanooga State brought him out of his shell. He now believes meeting and talking with people are among some of his best and strongest personal qualities.
“Chattanooga State was wonderful to me. I didn’t think it would go as well as it did, “says Cole. “It wasn’t much longer when I began to get to know people in my classes. Sometime during my first year, unbeknownst to me, a Chattanooga Times Free Press reporter met me after class one day wanting to do a story on me and my life. During the summer between my first and second year, I began interning with TVA at Sequoyah Nuclear Plant. After my internship, I began working again as a contract laborer just like had in previous years. I worked 75 hours a week and only slept three hours a day. I kept this job throughout the majority of my time as a student,” said Cole.
During his second year as a student, he was nominated and elected as president of both Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) Honor Society and American Nuclear Society (ANS) student chapter. Later, he was the recipient of the Presidential Excellence Award. On graduation day, he received a Nuclear Uniform Curriculum Program (NUCP) certificate for receiving all A’s and B’s in his degree program. He also represented Chattanooga State at conferences held in Orlando and Penn State for both PTK as well as ANS.
Personally, he considers his late grandfather to be the most influential person in his life. Cole grew up without a father and without hesitation, his grandfather adopted him at a young age. I am especially proud to be doing what I am doing because I feel like I am able to better honor his memory,” says Cole, “I know that he would be very proud of me.”
In addition, nuclear engineering technology program faculty Lisa Miller and Terry Newman and PTK advisor Rachael Falu spurred him on to keep going despite his hectic work and school schedule. “They inspired me; especially Mrs. Miller. She pushed me even when I was tired and didn’t feel like I had anything left in me. Newman, who has a background as a Senior Reactor Operator (SRO) at Watts Bar Nuclear Plant, showed me that I had leadership potential,” “When he told me this fact I was very humbled,” said Cole.
Cole was the first African-American to graduate in his class in Nuclear Engineering Technology at Chattanooga State. His degree enabled him to get a great paying job and more recently allowed him to move back to Chattanooga to accept a job at TVA. If there is one piece of advice he could share with others, it would be to not give up. “If you want it bad enough, go and get it. Go and chase your dreams. Just because it is hard does not mean it is not attainable. Instead, it Is a sign of being brave. Chattanooga State and TVA are two great places that are right here at our fingertips, and I have the heart to reach out to my community and teach about energy and science to younger students to help give back,” says Cole.