Following in Their Footsteps

Local Professionals Inspired by Their Parents

 

Photography by Ross Kimbrell

 

For many folks, discovering the career they find most fulfilling is a long journey full of trial and error. For others, that journey began much earlier in life as they accompanied their parents to work as kids, or watched them grade papers in the evenings, or listened to them talk about how much their work meant to them. Here, we talked with six locals who were inspired to be just like their parents – at least when it comes to their jobs.

 

 

 

Jay Caughman

 

President, Caughman & Caughman Architects

 

Which family member inspired you?

As far back as I can remember, I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps, J. Wayne Caughman.
What do you admire most about your father when it comes to his career? His ability to sketch.

 

“As a kid, I remember watching his hands while he was sketching conceptual plans. He made it look so easy.”

 

Jay Caughman and his father standing with him after proudly following in his footsteps.

 
Do you have any favorite memories together?

Touring his buildings that were under construction and seeing the construction methods, how materials join together. Seeing him interact with clients, general contractors, and subcontractors. Seeing him treating the subcontractors respectfully, valuing what they bring to the project and listening to their opinions. Feeling a sense of importance knowing I was “with the architect.” And seeing how his super loose early sketches came to life.

Was there a particular moment when you realized your job was right for you?

In high school, an architect came to visit and speak to a group of us who thought we might want to be architects. One of the tools he used to illustrate a point was whether we could close our eyes and envision the room we were standing in. What color was the carpet? What kind of lights were in the room? How far were the windows above the floor? Without looking, I could see all of that stuff. I mean really, I never wanted to be anything else besides an architect, but this was a moment I remember.

What do you love most about your work?

I’m glad that I can use the few talents that I have to help people. I did really poorly in high school, so to find an area I excelled in, and actually enjoyed, was exhilarating.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced on the path to your career?

A global recession in 2008 wasn’t all that fun. But I have found that if I treat people fairly and do what I say I am going to do, I keep a good reputation. And with a good reputation, as long as there is work to do in Chattanooga, I stay busy.

Is there any advice you would give someone else pursuing a career in your field?

If you can see 3D spaces in your head, and manipulate them in your head, you can do it.

 

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Vicente Mejia, MD, FACS

 

Surgeon, University Surgical Associates & University of Tennessee at Chattanooga College of Medicine

 

Which family member inspired you?

My father was a veterinarian. I used to go and help him out in his clinic and on farms. He had a cool job, but I thought I’d like to deal with human beings instead of animals. I never saw myself doing anything else.
What do you admire most about your father when it comes to his career? His commitment and his ethics.

 

“My father was one of the most honest people I’ve ever known.”

 

Do you have any favorite memories together?

He was the vet for the zoo at one point, so going into the lion cages was pretty cool.

What drew you to the job and made you want to pursue it?

I grew up in Colombia and was a very active kid, so I was always in the hospital with some kind of problem, like needing stitches in my head. In Colombia, the number one cause of mortality in the younger population is trauma. Seeing people going into the ER with these horrible injuries and seeing the doctor being so cool and collected – I thought it was great, and I wanted to do that.

Was there a particular moment when you realized your specialty was right for you?

In Colombia, surgeons are mostly just technicians – they only do the surgery – so I thought about going into medicine. I had the fortune of coming to Chattanooga and Erlanger, where I did my internship, and I saw that doctors here operated and took care of patients, especially the surgical intensivists. So I said, I want to be able to operate because I know I have the hands for that, and I also want to take care of patients.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

My motivation has always been my three children. I think one of the highlights of any career is when one of your kids at least considers going into medicine. They know better than anyone else how much time you spend at the hospital and how hard it is, and they still want to go into that because you’ve done something right. One of my kids is doing that right now – she might change her mind, and if she does, that’s okay, but just considering it is a great recognition of what I do.

 

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Steve Davis

 

Estimator, Adams Masonry

 

Which family member inspired you?

My father. He went from being a brick mason to being a manager and eventually became co-owner of a masonry company. I didn’t realize until I got started in the industry what an impact my father made on others.
What do you admire most about your father when it comes to his career? I also admire his immense construction knowledge.

 

“I admire his honesty and the reputation he had for treating everyone equally.”

 

Has your father taught you any lessons or given any advice that you’ve carried into your own career?

My father taught me the golden rule, to treat others the way you want to be treated, and to never look down on anyone.

Do you have any favorite memories together?

I always loved laying brick together on weekends when we were building our houses and hobby farming on the land we purchased together.

What drew you to the job and made you want to pursue it?

I loved the idea of working outdoors and that every job would be different, and it also offered good pay. My father told me that the job was a hard but honest way to make a living, and he was right. It’s been a good life.
What do you love most about your work? I enjoy the variety – every job is different. Sure, they use the same materials, but the designs are never the same.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced on the path to your career?

When I worked for my father’s company, being the boss’s son was challenging because you’re always held to a higher standard than everyone else, and you have to really prove yourself.

Is there any advice you would give someone else pursuing a career in your field?

Being a brick mason is a trade you can take with you anywhere. There’s always room for advancement if you apply yourself.

 

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Ranita Scruggs

 

Assistant Principal, Ooltewah Elementary School

 

Which family member inspired you?

My mother, Cheryl Glenn, inspired me to go into the field of education.

What drew you to the job and made you want to pursue it?

From an early age, I wanted to be a teacher. I was intrigued by my mother as I watched her prepare lessons for her students and saw the positive, long-lasting relationships she had with them. I grew up in her classroom. I had so many positive experiences and interactions with my teachers, and I wanted to foster those same experiences with my students.

 

“I watched her prepare lessons for her students and saw the positive, long-lasting relationships she had with them.”

 

What do you admire most about your mother when it comes to her career?

I admire the professionalism and longevity of my mother’s career, and the various capacities she served during her time in education. She retired after 31 years, and during her tenure, she taught kindergarten, first, and second grades and served as an instructional coach in the later years of her career. Upon retirement, she worked in an early childhood setting with pre-K students, and she currently tutors one of her former students from her pre-K class.

Has your mother taught you any lessons that you’ve carried into your career?

My mother has taught me to respect others’ beliefs and celebrate their differences, to be fair, and to treat others in the manner in which I would like to be treated. The greatest lesson she taught me is to be true to myself and never waver from my beliefs and values.

Do you have any favorite memories together?

My favorite memory would be spending my afternoons in my mother’s classroom after school and helping set up and organize her classroom before each year. This is where I got to play “school” in an actual classroom.

Was there a particular moment when you realized your career was right for you?

At the beginning of my first year of teaching, I assessed my students to see their current levels, and again after the first quarter to see the progress that was made. I was blown away by their growth over such a short time span – it confirmed that I was indeed doing something right in my classroom as a first-year teacher. The feeling when students “get it” is indescribable. It’s the moment where you realize all of your hard work has paid off.

 

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Jordan Middlebrooks

 

Senior Firefighter, City of Chattanooga Fire Department

 

Which family member inspired you?

My dad, Nathaniel Middlebrooks, is a Battalion Chief in the Chattanooga Fire Department. I was drawn to the atmosphere at a very young age while visiting my father at the fire hall. I witnessed lessons taught, lessons learned, positive connections, and the camaraderie and service to the community for many years.

 

“I witnessed positive connections and the camaraderie and serviceto the community.”

 

Did you always want to follow in his footsteps?

I’ve looked up to my dad my entire life. His footprints are large, and his strides are even larger. I am not surprised that we both chose careers of service.

What do you admire most about your father when it comes to his career?

The thing that I admire most is his sense of calmness. As firefighters, we experience many storms that life brings – life can literally change in minutes – and his steadiness under stress has really helped me and other firefighters.

Has your father taught you any lessons or given any advice that you’ve carried into your own career?

I’ve received countless gems from him throughout my life – many of which I had to grow into – that make me so thankful for the person he is. He taught me that sacrifices will pay off in the end. He continues to give useful advice and demonstrates what a good person should be. The older I get, the more I understand the life lessons he was teaching.

Do you have any favorite memories together?

Some of my favorite memories include him teaching me how to cook – that has also been helpful within the fire department. The last thing that you want is to prepare a bad meal for fellow firefighters.

What do you love most about your work?

The camaraderie is incomparable. The knowledge that I continue to acquire and the relationships that I’m building are matchless. Although I am very early in my career, I’ve been exposed to a collection of great people who have shared their knowledge and encouraged me. Everyone within the fire department has the best intentions for each other and the community.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

 I also have an amazing mother who has been a consistent and positive presence in my life, a true shining example for me to witness and learn from. Some words I live by that my grandfather used to say are, “Love somebody today.”

 

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Angie Wood

 

Professor, Social and Behavioral Sciences, Chattanooga State Community College | Interim Director of the Global Scholars Honors Program

 

Which family member inspired you?

My mom, Sue Evans, is my inspiration for being an educator! She was a middle and high school math teacher for her entire career and now continues as a tutor in her retirement.

What do you admire most about your mother when it comes to her career?

My mom didn’t see being an educator as her career – it was who she was.

 

“She lived and breathed being a role model, mentor, safe space, and most of all – a mom.”

 

Did you always want to follow in her footsteps?

Absolutely not! In fact, I was the typical teenager who wanted to do anything in the world that wasn’t what their parents did for a living. I was determined to always live in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, be single, never have children, and be a CEO. Thank goodness dreams don’t always come true, because I am living a life even more amazing than I dreamed. Now I am married to the love of my life, have a son and daughter-in-law that I couldn’t be more proud of, and after a short stint as a CEO, I am quite happy being the CEO of my own classroom.

Has your mother taught you any lessons or given any advice that you’ve carried into your own career?

Both of my parents have led by example. They both taught my sister and me that you have to work hard and take pride in what you do. You need to be kind, understanding, strong, and always be the best you can be.

What do you love most about your work?

William Cowper wrote “variety is the very spice of life,” and that is what I love about my work. As a geography professor, each day brings new leaders, religions, languages, and information I can learn with the students as we work to be better global citizens.

Is there any advice you would give someone else pursuing a career in your field?

Don’t quit! If you have a calling to education, follow it. You may not see the difference you’ve made until years from now, but that’s okay. Think of all the things in the world that weren’t built overnight but have altered the course of history – you can make that kind of impact as an educator!

 

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