Veronica Epps Lee, 33, had worked miscellaneous jobs for years as she kept her children fed.
With her long-sought college degree in hand, she can now feed other passions in life as well as others. Her association with Hinds started when she attended the now closed Hinds Agricultural High School on the Utica Campus.
“I was going to Hinds AHS in 2005, just before it closed,” Lee said. “My classes were fine but I didn’t pass the state test for English. Then I got pregnant and ended up working retail and customer service-type jobs.”
Better jobs required more credentials, which made for a breaking point of sorts three years ago when she hit her 30s.
“A job I had applied for needed either a GED or high school diploma, so I took a home school program and got one through there,” she said. “When I decided to come back to college, that diploma wasn’t accepted.”
She enrolled in the MIBEST program at Hinds, which allows students to complete an accredited high school equivalency program and train for a career at the same time. For Lee, it was one of her varied side jobs and a love of creating in the kitchen that fueled her current career path.
“I helped run a food truck selling sno-cones, nachos and hot dogs,” she said. “I figured if I could make this much money selling hot dogs, imagine what else I could do if I expanded to different items.”
In 2019, as she worked her way to earning an Associate in Applied Science in Business Office Technology, she opened a small standalone restaurant in Utica, SNR Kitchen, selling comfort food essentials cooked to order fresh, but with new twists, like loaded nachos and special hot wings.
Now, Lee is among 1,358 earning credentials from the college this month. Of those, 187 are graduating cum laude, 97 are graduating magna cum laude and 120 are graduating summa cum laude. Hinds Community College is not having the usual fall ceremonies because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now a mother of four children aged five to 15, Lee balances running the restaurant with a work-from-home night job in customer service. She said her pursuit of a degree in business machines was essentially a combination her love of cooking and a desire to make more money to support her family. She earns that first AAS this month and plans to return to Hinds in 2021 to pursue another credential, in accounting.
“I employ three people while running the business by myself,” she said. “By taking accounting, I’ll be able to do all my own books myself, without any errors or bumps.”
Lee also got involved in student organizations, specifically Phi Theta Kappa honor society and Alpha Beta Gamma group for business majors.
As president of leadership in PTK, Lee participated in Utica Outreach Day and shared her story with those who visited with others in the organization.
“Veronica is a very tenacious and hardworking team player,” said Beverly Trimble, faculty adviser for the chapter. “She was nominated for All-USA with the chapter last year and was placed on the second team as result of her determination and eagerness to succeed.”
Her ultimate goal is to open a larger eatery, one that she owns lock, stock and barrel. “I’m going to keep going, get my finances where they need to be, then I won’t need my night job anymore. I won’t say I’m surprised to finally be finished, but I’m just overjoyed.”