You don’t have to be Pellissippi State alumni – or, indeed, affiliated with the College in any way – to change the lives of Pellissippi State students.
Lynda Newton is a prime example of that.
Newton and her late husband, Glyn Ed, spent most of their careers in Alabama, but when they retired to Knoxville, the couple knew they wanted to give women returning to school a “hand up,” she says.
The Newtons got connected to Pellissippi State through a fellow Rotarian who worked for the College. Since 2013, the Lynda and Glyn Ed Newton Scholarship has been providing $500 per semester to five female students, at least 25 years old, taking classes at Pellissippi State.
“It is for women who are a little more mature, who find themselves back in school while supporting themselves, often with children,” Newton explains.
The Newtons modeled the scholarship after a similar one offered by PEO International, a philanthropic organization that helps educate women.
“The PEO scholarship gets me in contact with young women who can do it all and who come up with these great ideas,” says Newton, a member of PEO and past president of one of its chapters. “We were interested in replicating this with Pellissippi State.”
Pellissippi State has awarded 45 students a total of $25,500 via the scholarship, and each year Newton looks forward to meeting the women the scholarship supports at the Pellissippi State Donors and Scholars Reception.
“I like the opportunity to meet the young women to whom we give the scholarship, to see how they are using it,” she says. “While tuition is now free for many returning students through Tennessee Reconnect, not all of college is free. There are books and other expenses.”
Sometimes Newton forges a connection with scholarship recipients, as was the case a couple of years ago with a young lady who worked at Bonefish Grill.
“She would always come up and give me a hug,” Newton notes. “I love knowing where they are, and I love helping women who are working so hard.”
But no Donors and Scholars Reception changed her life as much as the one where she met her future grandson-in-law, a Pellissippi State student who was dating Newton’s granddaughter, Molly Ridgeway.
“Molly said I had to get run by the family before I was her steady boyfriend,” remembers Joshua Anderson, a Pellissippi State alum who is now a student at University of Tennessee College of Law. “I was more nervous about meeting Mrs. Newton than I was about meeting my donor.”
The couple met through the campus ministry InterVarsity while Joshua was a student at Pellissippi State and Molly was a student at Maryville College. Joshua, who was Council of Student Advocates liaison at Pellissippi State, joined Molly at Maryville College after earning his associate’s degree.
“Josh is a very intelligent young man, and he got a very good education at Pellissippi State,” Newton says.
“Pellissippi State allows students to figure out in an affordable way what you want to do with your life and bridge into whatever is next,” Joshua explains.
Joshua and Molly ended up following in Newton’s footsteps: identifying a student need and then determining how they could help meet that need.
While students at Maryville College, Joshua and Molly worked together as part of the Tennessee Intercollegiate State Legislature – a mock General Assembly for college students – to write a bill advocating for the Tennessee Board of Education to adopt rules for textbooks and curriculum that would allow American Sign Language courses to satisfy foreign language requirements.
“I have a nonverbal disability – I can hear, but I cannot talk – so I use different ways to communicate, including ASL,” explains Molly, who now works with Blount County Schools students with disabilities to help them secure employment and transition into the workforce via Project SEARCH.
“We were doing research into why sign language was not counted (toward foreign language requirements), and we wrote a bill correcting that,” adds Joshua, who started learning ASL after his first date with Molly. “This was important to us, and (Newton) was a big support, as was Pellissippi State’s ASL, Please! student club.”
A bill based on the one Joshua and Molly wrote unanimously passed the Tennessee General Assembly in April 2017. Bolstered by its success, the couple went a step further and penned another bill that requires Tennessee’s public colleges and universities to adopt policies allowing ASL to satisfy foreign language requirements for admission into undergraduate degree programs by July 1, 2019.
That bill was signed by former Gov. Bill Haslam in March 2018.
It was quite an accomplishment for the young couple, who graduated from Maryville College in May 2018 and married a month later. And it’s just another example, Newton and the Andersons say, of how Pellissippi State is giving students a solid foundation – even when the ground underneath them seems shaky.
“When people hear about Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect, they may think these students have a free ride at Pellissippi State, but what a lot of people forget is that those are last-dollar scholarships,” Joshua stresses. “Pellissippi State is still reliant on getting donors involved; it’s imperative when there are students who are hungry, who don’t have clean clothes, who have trouble paying their bills.”
While Molly never attended Pellissippi State herself, she witnessed the diversity of need when she was on campus with her grandmother, Joshua and friends.
“I saw a lot of people who were struggling with different things while they were students – money, family problems – and Pellissippi State was a great support for them,” says Molly, who still has a lot of friends at the College and is often mistaken as a Pellissippi State alumna.
“Pellissippi State is still reliant on getting donors involved; it’s imperative when there are students who are hungry, who don’t have clean clothes, who have trouble paying their bills.”
“I think that’s what’s impresses me the most: when I meet people at Pellissippi State, there is so much concern for the individual students,” Newton agrees. “Pellissippi State has just got to be one of the best.”