Moll Anderson’s early struggles have transformed into her greatest gifts to others. Following a divorce as a young adult, she became the single mother of a two-year-old. The experience of trying to fill the role of two parents and put food on the table left an impression. “I tried to keep life as normal as possible for my son, but it was a struggle,” Anderson says.
Settled in Nashville, Anderson started a new job in a furniture store. Her first interior design client led to more work and soon she launched her own highly successful company. “I’d never had the opportunity to go to design school, but what I didn’t know actually served me,” she says. “For example, I didn’t know you couldn’t design a 3,000-square-foot house in three months, so I went for it.” She became known for interior design that was both quick and cost-efficient.
Early in her new career, Anderson met Kitty Moon Emery, a successful Nashville businesswoman with a host of accomplishments to her credit. An acquaintance recommended that the new designer make a connection with Emery, one of the most powerful women in Nashville. When Anderson ran into the legend at a meeting, she recounted the recommendation that they meet. “She replied, ‘I think you’re right.’” Emery invited Anderson to her office, listened to her ideas, and offered warm encouragement. “She gave me the ability to believe in myself, make mistakes, and go for it,” says Anderson. “She was a wonderful mentor.”
With Emery’s encouragement, Anderson’s career continued to flourish. She landed a book deal and has since released three more titles on interior design topics and become a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author.
Since she’s so involved with its students and programs, most people assume that Anderson attended the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, but her love for the institution grew out of love for her husband, Charlie Anderson (HCB, ’76).
Soon after their marriage in 2004, Moll was asked to serve on the dean’s advisory board and became familiar with the college, its faculty, and students. Since then, the couple’s work has included establishing the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Haslam. “We’re both entrepreneurs, so being involved with the center has been very meaningful,” says Moll. “We’re passionate about it and want other people to get the kinds of chances we’ve had.”
They also created the Moll Anderson Scholarship, an endowed scholarship earmarked for single parents. For Moll, the fund has been a way to turn her own experience into helping others. The primary aim of the scholarship is to give students a leg up on changing their lives through education.
Building A Community
When the Andersons established the scholarship program, Moll wanted it to be more than just a monetary donation. She made an effort to connect with each recipient. “There had never been a scholarship for single parents before, so it was new territory,” she says. “Once I realized what a difference it was making, I wanted to get more involved.”
Over the past several years, she has built relationships with many of the recipients, primarily young moms. She’s hosted them
for meals, invited them on trips, and played a supportive role in their lives through the ups and downs of college life. “I get so much more out of this than they possibly could,” Moll says. “They are beyond smart, and it’s amazing how strong they are, doing what they are doing and achieving what they are achieving. They are all extraordinary.”
When 19-year-old Renée Maggart discovered she was expecting a baby, she made a firm decision to finish college as soon as possible. About halfway through her program, she
was selected as a Moll Anderson Scholarship recipient. “A huge burden was lifted,” she says. “When you are responsible for the life and health of a child, the ability to graduate without student loans is a game-changer.” Maggart has since graduated with her master’s, found a job, and created the home she wanted for her son.
She appreciates Moll’s commitment to thoughtful giving. “She asks questions and wants to know what she can do to help other single parents in the college,” Maggart says. “She is fully invested in changing the lives of not just the scholarship recipients, but every student who is raising a child on their own.”
Recently, Moll scheduled a series of Zoom calls to check in with the scholarship community and keep the encouragement flowing during the COVID-19 pandemic. The group calls are open to both current and past scholarship recipients like Kelsey Love Caughron (HCB, ’11). Moll, she says, fosters a community between the students. “We all understand the challenges of balancing children, college, and work, and come together to learn from each other whether we’re still in school, looking for a job, or thriving in a career,” Caughron says. “This scholarship is a great reminder that we’re not alone.”
Hannah Axley (HCB, ’16, ’17) appreciates Moll’s openness. “She’s the most down-to-earth person, yet she’s powerful and inspiring,” says Axley. “When I returned to college after having my son, I knew I lacked the self-confidence to finish. Looking back now, having earned two degrees and a professional certification, I can say that knowing Moll believed in me was the push I needed to succeed.”
Kimberly Smith (HCB, ’11, ’16) also draws strength from Moll’s encouragement. “She motivates me to live up to the potential she recognizes in me,” says Smith. “Because of support from her and other sponsors, I now have a wonderful career that I love and the ability to impact my community.”
Moll is a staunch believer in the power of mentorship. “It’s one of the most important gifts we can give,” she says. “We all have something we’ve struggled with and overcome. We all have something to share.”