As a Northeast State student and TRiO Club president, Sherri Epperson had a saying: “If you want your life to change, you have to change your life.”
Those words became actions as this Northeast State alumna pursued a dream of moving to Hollywood and working in the entertainment industry. While filmmaking may seem a far-off dream, Epperson made it a reality. In 2014 she moved to Los Angeles, starting working in show business, and is now a union member of the motion picture industry.
“While other kids idolized ballplayers, I idolized Steven Spielberg and Aaron Spelling,” she said. “I knew one day I was going to make movies.”
Epperson graduated from Northeast State with an associate degree in Advertising/Public Relations. She went on to graduate from East Tennessee State University getting her bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication with an advertising/public relations concentration and a minor in International Studies.
Like many non-traditional college students, Epperson enrolled in college after high school but life changed her course before she could finish. Still, she held on to the goal of earning her college degree.
Epperson was living in Johnson City and working full-time when she opted to return to college in order to improve her career opportunities and finally get herself to Los Angeles. Encouraged by the College’s reputation she enrolled at Northeast State in 2011.
“I knew about Northeast State and had friends who had attended there,” said Epperson. “
Like most adults returning to college, college courses – particularly mathematics – presented a challenge. She talked to a classmate who told her about TRIO and the tutoring opportunities available for students. She met with program representatives Jenny Wright and Tonya Cassell to improve her mathematics work and go forward. As a first-generation college student, she was accepted as a TRiO SSS participant and TRiO Scholarship recipient.
“I just can’t say enough great things about TRIO. They helped me in so many ways…especially the personalized attention and math tutoring,” she said. “The support I received from the program was a lifesaver.”
TRiO Student Support Services program at Northeast State welcomes students in need of academic and career advisement. The support paves the way for students – both traditional and non-traditional – to find success on their terms. TRiO helps low-income, first-generation and/or students with documented disabilities to successfully persist semester-to-semester, graduate, and transfer. Northeast State’s TRiO SSS program is funded by the U.S. Department of Education to serve 180 eligible students. All participants must qualify on the basis of income eligibility and/or first-generation college student status, and/or disability.
So how does an aspiring filmmaker with no great love for math wind up in accounting? A willingness to start on the ground floor. Epperson accepted an entry-level position in production accounting to get into the industry. In less than three years she’s worked her way up to Production Accountant. The job proved to be a blessing in disguise, according to Epperson.
“It’s been very beneficial to me because I’ve learned so many things I need to know as a Producer such as creating and working with budgets of shows/movies and what each department does and what is required,” Epperson said.
Epperson said a college degree did not guarantee automatic success. As in most jobs, new hires start out in entry-level positions. College graduates of all ages should expect rejections before that right opportunity opens up for them.
She earned her first job in the entertainment industry with Warner Brothers. During the past three years, she moved on to jobs with Sony Pictures, Legendary Pictures, ABC Studios, Netflix, and Dick Clark Productions. Her tenacity opened many doors. She has worked on several television and film projects including the TV show Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders.
“The college degree gives you an advantage when working your way up, it doesn’t give you a golden ticket to step right into an advanced position,” she said. “You just have to be patient and persistent and be willing to work your way up.”
For Epperson, her personal achievement has been living her dream and accomplishing so many of her goals. When she isn’t rubbing elbows with A-listers, she continues to build her own future as a producer and filmmaker. The competitiveness of the entertainment industry is intense, but she remains determined to succeed. She’s writing scripts on her own and with friends in the industry. She is also producing a variety of side projects to build her resume.
“Being a producer and living and working in Los Angeles is the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do,” said Epperson. “As a little girl, I was always fascinated with movies and entertainment.”
Epperson’s childhood dreams may seem ambitious. But her success boiled down to a simple fact: She refused to give up on it. Completing her college degree at Northeast State started the beginning of a new career and life.
“No matter what background you come from, you can do anything you set your mind to, you just have to believe you can,” Epperson said. “Don’t let anyone or any circumstance stop you from doing it.”