Tiffany Bellafant Steward engages with education leaders and cohort members during a CTLI convening.

“To whom much is given, much is expected.”

I recall first seeing this quote by baseball hall of famer Satchel Paige when I was in high school. Because I choose to live my life seeing the glass half full rather than half empty, that quote quickly became my personal mantra.

As a native Tennessean and first-generation college graduate, much has been given to me. Because of that, it has become my life’s passion to offer others the same opportunities afforded to me. When I was invited to join the 2019-2020 cohort of the Complete Tennessee Leadership Institute (CTLI), I seized the opportunity and approached the work with that “glass half full” attitude.

When I attended our first CTLI convening in November of 2019, I was working on student success at a public Historically Black College/University (HBCU). That first CTLI meeting was focused on Equity and Quality of Access, and it broadened my understanding of how my institution and other stakeholders contributed to the state’s efforts to increase postsecondary attainment. I realized that my work was part of a larger effort in our state supported by higher education policy reforms.

When I returned to work after that meeting, I reviewed strategic plans for both my unit and the university overall to ensure our alignment with Tennessee’s higher education policies. With a new equity lens, I also reviewed assessment data related to retention, persistence, and completion. By breaking down the data, I was able to identify student populations that were lagging in their progress. I met with my team to identify strategies and employed case management software and specialists to address barriers to student success. These efforts reinvigorated our team and instilled a renewed focus on success for all students, especially those who face the most difficult challenges.

By the next CTLI convening in January of 2020, which was centered on Supporting Postsecondary Student Success, I was prepared to absorb even more. As I heard from resource experts who were higher education practitioners, postsecondary partners, and business and industry leaders across the state, it was eye-opening and inspiring to see how our work is connected. I could sense the strong spirit of collaboration we shared to achieve success for our students. 

In March of 2020, my in-person CTLI experience was cut short due to the pandemic. However, both SCORE and The Hunt Institute pivoted to provide an exceptional virtual experience. I was fully immersed in our convenings from my dining room table — even with cohort colleagues and thought leaders appearing in tiny boxes on my laptop screen. Despite the circumstances, those smiling faces, eyes of intense concentration, and voices of wisdom intrigued and inspired me to face the challenges of our state and nation with vigor and resiliency.

CTLI gave me broader knowledge and understanding to improve student success and also inspired me to seek opportunities to further impact postsecondary attainment. That led to my new role at the Tennessee Board of Regents, work that allows me to impact student success more broadly across the state.

CTLI has empowered me to increase opportunities for Tennessee college students and support them in pursuing a postsecondary credential. Do you know someone who should be in the next cohort? SCORE and The Hunt Institute are seeking nominations for CTLI through July 30. Nominate someone — even yourself — to join the growing network of advocates who are working to transform higher education in Tennessee.

Tiffany Bellafant Steward, director of advising and first-year initiatives at the Tennessee Board of Regents, was a member of the 2019-20 CTLI cohort.