Joshua Trimm recently graduated from East Tennessee State University. Originally from Kingsport, Trimm shares some of the hurdles he had to overcome to get his computer science degree. Trimm now works for Eastman Chemical and his story is one of perseverance and determination to work for a better tomorrow.
What was your university experience like?
My university experience was long. There were several phases: first, the Northeast Community College, then undergraduate and graduate studies at ETSU. I never intended to get a master’s degree or even a bachelor’s degree; it just happened.
From the beginning, I had some financial difficulties to overcome. During my first semester, I destroyed my car. There was minor damage, but it was still enough to render the car undriveable.
It’s funny to look back now, but that moment defined the rest of my college career. I had two choices: spend what little money I had on a car that might break down the next day, or save my money, keep riding my bike to work at the fire station, and drop out of college.
It was winter 2016 and I only had $900 to buy a car. I found a white Nissan Sentra that was so loud it would blow your mind driving down the road. When I picked up the car it was leaking oil as fast as we could fix it! Needless to say, I had to learn to be a mechanic on a budget. And let me tell you, after many hours of trying to fix a car with the wrong tools, the only thing that gets you through is determination.
Now, if I didn’t have a car to drive to the northeast, I would have missed classes and lost my scholarships and grants before I even started. I was lucky the car held out until I could trade it in. Without government scholarships, grants and financial aid, I would not have survived. I still worked as hard as I could serving tables and doing freelance web design, but it was just enough to get by.
When I came to ETSU, the financial aid I received gave me more financial stability. It allowed me to focus all my attention on my studies, and I needed it! There’s a reason ETSU’s computer science program is one of the best in the state: it’s hard. But because of this academic rigor, companies know they can trust the caliber of students coming out of the program. The program takes dedication, and it’s not for the faint-hearted. It was tough back then, but man, I’m so grateful for those handwritten coding tests that forced me to understand the complex structures of computing.
During my first semester of graduate school, which was in the fall of 2020, I was dual-enrolled as an undergraduate student with 16 credit hours. Six of those credit hours were with Dr. Phil Pfeiffer, one of my favorite teachers. Dr. Pfeiffer is known for the high expectations he has of his students, but I am grateful to him for that.
In his two classes, I read a book a week and filled out a hand-written answer. It was another one of those moments that can make or break you, but I was still determined to succeed. As a dyslexic person, I had to push myself to succeed. And today, I read a lot of books a month because of these habits that I learned.
I am very proud of ETSU. My experience there opened my mind and pushed me out of my comfort zone. Northeast gave me a solid base to start with, and I think one without the other would have made my trip very different. When I think of all the people at these schools who have helped me throughout my journey, I realize that no amount of money or recognition could repay them for what they have done for me. I am eternally grateful for the knowledge they imparted to me.
There’s no getting around it, college is hard. But statistics and my personal experience tell us that poverty is harder.
What is the most valuable thing you learned in college?
Moose is your friend. It never seems like you’re going anywhere at first, but you gain speed over time, just like a snowball rolling down a hill. The problem with momentum is that you have to start somewhere and it’s often difficult to get things moving in the right direction. But once you start, if you stay determined, you can change your life.
What was the hardest part of your college career?
By far the most stressful thing is being poor and trying to figure out how to make things work. I’m really lucky to have succeeded. I saw many others failing to do so and it was really sad. It wasn’t for a lack of drive, skill or knowledge on their part, they simply didn’t have the financial backing to succeed.
What do you plan to do with your degree?
I am already putting my degree to good use in several different projects. My biggest commitment is my day job at Eastman Chemical as a software engineer working in their digital product team and helping develop an application called Core. I also work with a local startup called Blue Sky Cyber, a security company that focuses on protecting home device networks. When I have free time, I also work on my personal project TrimYard, which is a blockchain automated payment solution for lawn care professionals.
Where do you hope to see yourself in five years?
If I’ve learned anything from my beautiful partner, Dr. Mariam Alawoki, it’s to take life one day at a time. I used to try to plan everything out, but it never really worked out. So I’m going to take his approach and work hard, be more empathetic and see what doors open for me.
Learn more about Joshua’s experience at ETSU at https://bit.ly/3y1qFUm.º