By Cindy Chamber, PR Director
Dr. Arrita Summers is living proof that learning – combined with commitment and a drive to succeed – will take you anywhere you want to go.
Recalling her early years, the former Navy Brat says she’s “from a bit of from everywhere.” But after a childhood spent moving all over the country, her father’s retirement led the family to settle near Fort Campbell.
Arrita’s last 34 years have been spent in the Middle Tennessee area, and her soft Southern accent suggests she’s found her way home.
Driven to succeed from a very young age, Arrita earned her cosmetology license while still in high school. Although she applied to two colleges — and received full scholarships to both — life had other plans. She married, worked as a hairdresser until she was 24, and then enrolled in a cosmetology instructor program in Paris. It was there she found her niche. When the cosmetology instructor retired from the Tennessee College of Applied Technology in Dickson, she was hired to head it up. Little did she know that she would someday serve as the director of the college, overseeing satellite campuses in Ashland City, Clarksville, Franklin, and Dickson, while managing 14 full-time and special-industry programs.
As a teacher, she knew first-hand that education was the key to continued growth. So, despite a challenging job and three young children at home, Arrita enrolled at Volunteer State Community College, where she earned a degree in General Technology in 2003. “I gained a lot of skills there, and that proved helpful,” she recalls. “But I desired to move into an administrative position, and I knew I needed a bachelor’s degree.”
That’s when she learned about Bethel’s Management and Organizational Development program.
“Since I was raising a family and working full time, quickly transitioning from an associate degree to a bachelor’s was appealing to me,” she says. Shortly after enrolling in the one-night-a-week program in Nashville, she was offered a position in recruiting and campus coordination at TCAT. Bethel’s accelerated format made it possible to juggle professional, educational and personal responsibilities without missing a beat.
“I really loved the Bethel program. Another young lady I worked with enrolled with me, so I had the advantage of not only being with a strong cohort group, but having a friend to share the experience with,” she says. She and Arrita graduated from what was then Bethel College in August of 2005. Her entire family was supportive of the commitment.
“My children knew I had married young and never really taken the opportunity to fulfill my academic dreams. During my course of study, they were very understanding and patient,” she recalls. “My husband Ron worked nights, but did his part to help oversee a lot of the kids’ activities, and we’d pitch in to cook dinner together. There were lots of volleyball and football games where I would sit with a textbook in my lap!”
When the position of assistant director opened up at the Tennessee College of Applied Technology in Nashville, Arrita jumped at the chance for more responsibility — and more learning.
“Tennessee State wasn’t far away, so I enrolled in their year-long master’s program in Educational Administration and Supervision,” she says. As a student, she saw others struggling with the depth and pace of instruction. But Bethel, she says, “left me very well prepared for the rigors of graduate work.”
Graduating in 2007, she went right into TSU’s doctoral program in Educational Administration, earning her EdD in 2013. It was the culmination of a lifetime of commitment.
Now back in Dickson for a full year, Dr. Summers says she’s “come full circle.”
“I’ve been with the TCAT system since 1994. Now I’m back home and really enjoying the fact that, through my education, I gained more knowledge that led me from teaching, to student services, to administration, to being director of the college. Bethel is really the gateway that made those things happen.”
But she admits it wasn’t always an easy journey.
“If I’d had to complete a traditional four-year bachelor’s degree, I would never have gotten to the doctoral level. Going from my associate to my doctorate took 14 years from beginning to end. That’s a long time to stay committed to a goal, and it sounds easier in retrospect than it was at the time. It definitely had its moments,” she says with a smile, “but it was well worth the effort.”
Last year, former TBR Chancellor John Morgan praised Dr. Summers’ work as “influential and significant,” writing that she “expressed her commitment to student success, and we expect to see that commitment reflected in her leadership.”
Indeed, commitment is critical to success, as Dr. Summers has proved. Commitment – and educational opportunities designed to help make that journey to success just a little bit easier.