Pellissippi State, Rocky Top Wine Trail partner on new grape and wine industry apprentice program

Jacob Lindsey and Nick Gipson sign papers to start grape and wine industry apprenticeship
Pellissippi State alumni Jacob Lindsey and Nick Gipson, seated, sign papers to become apprentices in the grape and wine industry. The registered apprenticeship, a new partnership between Rocky Top Wine Trail Inc. and Pellissippi State, kicked off June 1 with a signing ceremony celebrated by (standing, from left) Todd Evans, director of workforce solutions and program manager for apprenticeships at Pellissippi State; Teri Brahams, executive director of Economic and Workforce Development at Pellissippi State; Michael Coombs, winemaker for Hillside Winery, where Lindsey works; Don Collier, owner of Rocky Top Wine Trail Inc.; William Grogan, winemaker at Mountain Valley Winery, where Gipson works; Chris Milne, a Pellissippi State biology professor and vintner who teaches classes for Viticulture Enology Science and Technology Alliance (VESTA); and Kane Barker, dean of Natural and Behavioral Sciences for Pellissippi State.

Those who want to advance in their careers with the grape and wine industry can now do so through Pellissippi State Community College. 

Pellissippi State’s Business & Community Services has partnered with Rocky Top Wine Trail Inc. to begin the first registered apprenticeship program in East Tennessee for those interested in a career in the grape and wine industry. 

Pellissippi State alumni Nick Gipson and Jacob Lindsey, both of whom earned their associate degrees in fall 2018 and are currently employed by wineries, began the 12- to 18-month apprentice program as cellar workers June 1.  

The new grape and wine industry apprentice program, registered through the U.S. Department of Labor, combines online classes and testing with hands-on practice and training. Once they complete the program, Gipson and Lindsey will become journeyworkers at the wineries where they work. 

“This partnership shows the strength of Pellissippi State’s resources to best support and grow the changing needs of a well-trained workforce in East Tennessee,” said Todd Evans, director of workforce solutions and program manager for apprenticeships at Pellissippi State. “We listened to the needs of our client and developed a program that utilizes Pellissippi State faculty as well as hands-on supervision by Rocky Top Wine Trails’ assigned coaches and mentors, all while meeting state and federal requirements.” 

The Rocky Top Wine Trail, Tennessee’s first and most visited wine trail, was established in 2008, with three local wineries. There are now five participating wineries throughout Sevierville and Pigeon Forge, enabling guests to sample more than 70 wines by the time they have completed the Trail.  

Apprenticeships such as Gipson’s and Lindsey’s support the development of the people powering the local wine industry and its growth as an economic driver in this area. 

“We have been very pleased with the partnership with Pellissippi State for not only developing our current team members, but also for the future apprenticeships and workforce training they can provide,” said Jonathan Ball, chief operating officer for Rocky Top Wine Trail. “Our ability to grow as a company and as an industry will rely on the current and future skills of our team members. Pellissippi State not only listened to our needs, but presented a training and development plan aligned with our business goals in a flexible and cost-effective strategy.” 

Business & Community Services collaborated with Chris Milne, a Pellissippi State biology professor who has a Ph.D. in plant and soil science, and the Viticulture Enology Science and Technology Alliance (VESTA) to create the grape and wine industry apprentice program. Milne noted that VESTA also offers apprentice programs in Assistant Winemaker, Industrial Maintenance Technician, Production Technician, Tasting Room Associate, Vineyard Worker, Vineyard Foreman and Vineyard Manager. 

“Students who are interested in these classes sign up through VESTA, but we also have made it so that every one of these VESTA classes can be applied as Prior Learning Assessment for credits toward an Associate of Applied Science in General Technology with a focus in Viticulture, Enology or Wine Business Entrepreneurship at Pellissippi State,” said Milne, a vintner who teaches Botanical Viticulture for VESTA, a national grape and wine education program that combines the flexibility of industry-validated online instruction, instructor-guided education from industry professionals and hands-on mentored experiences at vineyards or wineries. 

Pellissippi State’s new apprenticeship program for the grape and wine industry, which Milne has been working on for two years, is set up to allow students to focus their studies on Viticulture (grape growing), Enology (wine making) and Wine Business Entrepreneurship. And because Pellissippi State’s courses that support VESTA’s apprentice programs are taught online through Zoom, students from across the state and the country could earn their degrees from Pellissippi State. 

“Last fall I had eight students through VESTA, and all of them were out of state,” Milne said. “That’s one of the really cool things about the program: it’s not just limited to Tennessee students.” 

Another benefit to apprenticeship programs is that apprentices are paid by their employers while they are going through the program, Milne added.  

“The goal is not only to train the apprentices, but when they finish, they will get a bump in pay,” Milne said. 

Nick Gipson, left, and Jacob Lindsey show off wines
Pellissippi State alumni Nick Gipson, left, and Jacob Lindsey show off a couple of the award-winning wines produced by Rocky Top Wine Trail Inc., where they are apprenticing in the grape and wine industry.

Lindsey and Gipson jumped at the opportunity for more education in the grape and wine industry when Ball offered to send them through the VESTA program on scholarship. 

“I am hoping to gain more knowledge of the grapes in the vineyard so that I can fully understand the process and start to develop my own style and ideas,” said Lindsey, who is the cellar master at Hillside Winery in Sevierville, where he has worked for two years. “I’m trying to learn everything I can from the winemakers who are here now. Eventually I’d love to work at a small winery in the country and be able to make new and exciting blends and flavors.” 

Gipson, who works as an assistant winemaker at Mountain Valley Winery in Pigeon Forge, noted that the VESTA courses would help fill out the knowledge he’s gained on the job. 

“The schooling will definitely help me in understanding the science behind winemaking,” said Gipson, who has been working in the industry for about a year and a half. “It’s been fun and exciting so far. I’m learning as much as I can because I’m pretty open right now about where I want my career to go.” 

Pellissippi State’s apprenticeship programs aren’t just for wineries. Using assessments and individualized consulting, Business & Community Services helps local companies determine where performance and skills gaps exist in their workforce. From there, Business & Community Services staff work with employers to develop a strategy, creating and delivering custom workforce solutions to employers based on how their company does business, tailored to their specific needs and scheduled to fit their timeline. 

For more information about apprenticeships or what Business & Community Services can do for your company, contact Todd Evans at jtevans@pstcc.edu or 865-539-7164. 

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Centro Hispano and Pellissippi State partner for open house on Division Street Campus

Division Street campus exterior
Centro Hispano and Pellissippi State invite the community to an open house 3-7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 19, to check out the nonprofit’s new space on the college’s Division Street Campus, 3435 Division Street, Knoxville.

Centro Hispano, the leading resource for and about East Tennessee’s Latino community, is expanding its services onto Pellissippi State Community College’s Division Street Campus. 

Centro Hispano and Pellissippi State invite the community to an open house 3-7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 19, to check out the nonprofit’s new space. Pellissippi State’s Division Street Campus is located at 3435 Division Street, Knoxville. 

The open house will include music, food and tours of the coeducational space, which includes not only classrooms for Centro Hispano students to receive instruction from Centro Hispano staff and volunteers, but also a dedicated classroom for children of Centro Hispano students as Centro Hispano and Pellissippi State seek to serve entire families. 

“This collaboration is vital because it paves the road for so many Latino adults and their families to become acquainted with spaces of higher education,” said Centro Hispano President and CEO Claudia Caballero, who is Honduran-American. “We want people to see the pathway to higher education and have the opportunities to build relationships with staff at Pellissippi State.” 

Caballero added that moving Centro Hispano classes onto the Division Street Campus also can help foster a sense of belonging by taking the unknown out of Pellissippi State. 

“We want to walk into these spaces and see ourselves [Latinos] here,” she said. “We are home in East Tennessee, and we want to feel a sense of belonging here at Pellissippi State.” 

Pellissippi State’s mission is to provide a transformative environment fostering the academic, social, economic and cultural enrichment of the individual and the community. That mission is guided by a set of institutional values including Community and Civic Engagement and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. 

Pellissippi State’s partnership with Centro Hispano was underway before the pandemic. The Division Street Campus has been closed since March 2020, but will reopen on Aug. 2, said Division Street Dean Esther Dyer. 

“At Pellissippi State, we take our obligation to serve our community to heart,” said Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr. “This partnership with Centro Hispano allows us to serve a growing Latino population by providing new opportunities for learning on our Division Street Campus and by illuminating new pathways to postsecondary education. I can’t wait for these classes to begin in a few weeks.” 

By providing Centro Hispano with a larger learning space, Pellissippi State can help Centro Hispano provide not only workforce development classes for the Latino community, but also children’s programs. 

“A Centro team member has always wanted a post-secondary degree, but life, raising children and working a full-time job made it seem impossible to achieve,” Caballero said. “Because of this partnership with Pellissippi State, she can do it all. Her story reflects that of many, and we hope that this project serves as a model for other communities across the Southeast.” 

Classes will begin in Centro Hispano’s new space the week of Aug. 23. For more information on Centro Hispano programs at Pellissippi State, contact info@centrohispanotn.org or call 865-522-0052. 

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Pellissippi State Video Production Technology team wins Bronze in national competition

Media Technologies majors Josh Wilson, left, and Tom Sidorski outside the Bagwell building with video camera
Pellissippi State Media Technologies majors Josh Wilson, left, and Tom Sidorski brought home the Bronze medal for Television (Video) Production at the SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference this summer.

As the world prepares for the Tokyo Olympics later this month, two Pellissippi State Community College students already have brought home a Bronze for their skills in video production. 

Media Technologies majors Tom Sidorski and Josh Wilson were awarded the Bronze medal for Television (Video) Production at the SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference this summer. 

Despite this being the first year Pellissippi State has participated in SkillsUSA, Sidorski and Wilson also won Gold at the state competition in March. 

“We are very proud, but not surprised by our students being recognized at the state level and nationally,” said Matthew Spraker, director of Student Engagement and Leadership for Pellissippi State. “Pellissippi State has bright and creative students producing amazing work, and it is great when we get to share that with the rest of the world!” 

Founded in 1965, SkillsUSA is a nonprofit partnership of education and industry that helps students develop necessary personal and workplace skills along with technical skills grounded in academics, according to the organization. 

For the state competition in March, Sidorski and Wilson were given the prompt to create a video that would persuade students to join a Tennessee Board of Regents institution. TBR oversees the state’s 13 community colleges and 27 colleges of applied technology. 

“During the pandemic, a lot of people were dropping out left and right – no one was continuing to go to school,” Sidorski explained. “Josh and I had to formulate how we could get this to make sense visually, and we had to show what Pellissippi State was like before the pandemic, which was a challenge because we didn’t have a lot of people on campus this spring.” 

Making the assignment even more challenging was a short deadline. Video Production Technology Program Coordinator Katie Lovette, who has been teaching at Pellissippi State for 15 years, said she wasn’t sure Sidorski and Wilson would be able to complete the task on such a tight schedule – but they got right to work. 

“I just jumped on and wrote the script throughout the day,” said Wilson, who drew from his own experience as a 31-year-old returning student. “I focused on a message of ‘It’s not too late to chase what you actually want to do,’ and emphasized that, with both online classes and lower-capacity in-person classes, this was actually a good time to jump in.” 

When Sidorski arrived on campus later that Friday, the team shot all the video. Sidorski recorded the voiceovers and edited the video over the weekend. 

Despite the rushed timeline, Sidorski and Wilson’s project took home top prize in the state competition, which they found out during a virtual awards celebration April 5. 

Video Production Technology program coordinator Katie Lovette, center, with Josh Wilson and Tom Sidorski inside the Bagwell building
Video Production Technology Program Coordinator Katie Lovette, center, said the demeanor, attitude and maturity of students Josh Wilson, left, and Tom Sidorski compelled her to ask them if they’d be interested in participating in SkillsUSA.

“Tom and Josh walked in and won Gold after having just had the weekend to produce it,” Lovette said. “This was an amazing team. These two worked together wonderfully, and they made history.” 

The national competition put all the state winners on equal footing – giving each team the same footage and music to produce a video in eight hours. In fact, Sidorski and Wilson cannot share their Bronze-winning project because the assets provided to the teams by SkillsUSA are copyrighted. 

“Tom’s and Josh’s performance at the state and national level is a testament to their grit and professionalism and reflective of our VPT program’s quality at Pellissippi State,” said Dean of Students Travis Loveday. “Like professionals in the field, they needed to perform at their peak under tight deadlines and navigate ambiguous situations in these competitions. Pellissippi State has prepared them to meet, overcome and excel through these challenges. Both Tom and Josh have bright futures ahead of them, and we are very proud of their accomplishments.” 

With SkillsUSA behind them, Sidorski and Wilson are staying busy in the field, with Sidorski interning at The Production Hive in logging and digitizing and Wilson working as a production assistant at O’Malley Productions, which is producing “Food Paradise” for the Travel Channel.    

It’s a good fit for both students, who did not know each other before meeting at Pellissippi State but each grew up making movies. 

“I used to shoot a lot of shorts and sketches with my brother, and I would edit them and put them on YouTube,” said Wilson, who previously worked in insurance after earning a degree in business management. “After realizing I didn’t want to go in day after day and do something I hated, I thought I’d come back to school and learn how to do VPT legitimately.” 

Sidorski, 20, said he planned to pursue a degree in chemical engineering until he saw the VPT curriculum at Pellissippi State. 

“Since 2010, I’ve been making videos, and in high school, I would do videos for people,” he explained. “That’s what I took pride in. I thought, ‘I’m good at the video stuff; I should do this.’” 

Sidorski is on track to graduate from Pellissippi State in fall 2021 and Wilson in spring 2022. Both students find themselves drawn toward the editing/post-production side of VPT, they said, and would encourage other Pellissippi State students to participate in SkillsUSA in their fields. 

“This was really good professional experience in that we were given a deadline and certain criteria to follow to the letter,” Wilson said. “It will look really good on a resume, too.” 

For those competing in Television (Video) Production, however, Sidorski shares a word to the wise: “Get your speed editing skills down!” 

For more information about Pellissippi State’s Media Technologies program with a concentration in Video Production Technology, visit www.pstcc.edu/mdt/vpt. Those students who are interested in participating in SkillsUSA for Pellissippi State in any area should contact Student Engagement and Leadership at seal@pstcc.edu 

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Pellissippi State opens gallery for student art show

Student paintings on display
Painting: Methods and Materials focuses on oil and acrylic painting on canvas with an emphasis on personal content through expanded methods and mediums.

Pellissippi State Community College is ushering back art exhibits with the work of students who took Painting: Methods and Materials in June. 

The show is on display until Aug. 6 in the Bagwell Center for Media and Art Gallery on the college’s Hardin Valley Campus, 10915 Hardin Valley Road. Everyone is invited to view the exhibit for free 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday. 

Painting: Methods and Materials focuses on oil and acrylic painting on canvas with an emphasis on personal content through expanded methods and mediums. 

Student work in gallery

“This is a very creative and eclectic group, ranging from realist still-life to broken glass and gold leaf abstractions to strange and wonderful painting/sculptural explorations,” said Associate Professor Herb Rieth, who taught the class. 

Pellissippi State’s Hardin Valley Campus is fully open, with no COVID-19 screenings or masks required. The college does encourage those who are not vaccinated to continue to wear masks to protect themselves and others. 

For more information about Pellissippi State, visit www.pstcc.edu or call 865-694-6400. 

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Pellissippi State names Kellie Toon new vice president for Academic Affairs

Kellie Toon headshot
Associate Professor Kellie Toon is Pellissippi State’s new vice president for Academic Affairs.

Associate Professor Kellie Toon, most recently the director of the Pellissippi Academic Center for Excellence, has been chosen to serve as Pellissippi State Community College’s new vice president for Academic Affairs. 

Toon was one of five finalists for the position, which was last held by interim Vice President Kathy Byrd, who retired in June after 29 years with Pellissippi State. 

“This wasn’t about a career change for me; it was about Pellissippi State,” Toon said. “This community has been good to me: the people, the relationships I’ve formed, the friendships, the way we come together. I have been able to grow so much – not just professionally, but personally.” 

A native of Tyler, Texas, Toon earned her bachelor’s degree in Political Science with a minor in Spanish at the University of Texas at Austin.  

“I never wanted to be an educator,” Toon explained, laughing. “I come from a long family line of teachers, and all through undergrad, I wanted to go to law school.” 

Toon immersed herself in the legal field until the last semester of her senior year, when she started substitute teaching high school Spanish. 

“My favorite quote is, ‘A person often meets his destiny on the road he took to avoid it,’” Toon said. “It didn’t take me long to find my calling once I was in the classroom.” 

Toon discovered her affinity for higher education while teaching classes as a graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and learned about Pellissippi State after moving to Knoxville with her family in 2007. Although she had owned a tutoring franchise for two years in Amarillo, she missed the classroom. 

“Everyone kept telling me, ‘You’ve got to look into Pellissippi State,’” Toon remembered.  

Armed with a strong teaching background, Toon came on board in 2008 as an adjunct instructor of Communication Studies and joined the college’s full-time faculty in 2010. At the time, Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr. was serving as vice president for Academic Affairs, she noted. 

“Dr. Wise was the VP that hired me, and now it feels like it’s come full circle,” Toon said. “It’s an honor to serve as his vice president.” 

Toon moved into administrative roles with Pellissippi State in 2014, first as the director of the college’s Quality Enhancement Plan and later as director of the Department of Education Title III Strengthening Institutions Program Grant. She earned her Ph.D. in higher education administration from the University of Tennessee in August 2019. 

Pellissippi State’s vice president for Academic Affairs is responsible for “the academic side of the house,” Toon explained – working with faculty, deans and academic support staff. It’s a role Toon relishes, having ushered in 125 new faculty through the New Faculty Academy since 2014, first with the Quality Enhancement Plan and then with the Pellissippi Academic Center for Excellence, which provides support for Pellissippi State faculty through training and professional development. 

“At PACE, it was my vision to create something somewhere on campus so that faculty had a space just for them,” she said. “I am so proud of what the PACE team has done. They are extraordinary, and even though I’m not leaving, I’m going to miss working with them. I know I’ve just moved down the hall, but it feels like a long hall!” 

Toon already is hard at work in her new position, and she is excited about what the future holds, as is Pellissippi State’s president. 

We have important work to do over the course of the next several years at Pellissippi State as we strive towards greater equity in our outcomes,” Wise said. “Dr. Toon’s experience as a faculty member and a leader at the college give her insight into what we have done and what we need to do. I am excited to see where leadership takes our students, faculty and staff in the days ahead.” 

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East Knoxville, Pellissippi State celebrate longtime Magnolia Avenue Campus Dean Rosalyn Tillman

Retired Magnolia Avenue Campus Dean Rosalyn Tillman, center, with the sign naming the campus courtyard in her honor June 30, 2021
Longtime Magnolia Avenue Campus Dean Rosalyn Tillman, center, stands in the campus courtyard that was named in her honor at a retirement celebration June 30, 2021. Celebrating with her are, from left, her husband, Sheadrick Tillman IV; Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr.; Tillman’s sister, Barbara Phinisee; Tillman; Tillman’s daughter Danielle Tillman; Vice President for Student Affairs Rushton Johnson; Tillman’s daughter Nichole Tillman Carter; and, in front, Tillman’s grandson, Xavier Carter.

The East Knoxville and Pellissippi State Community College communities came together Wednesday, June 30, to honor Rosalyn Tillman, dean of the college’s Magnolia Avenue Campus from when it opened in 2000 until her retirement this spring. 

“A magnificent leader and community influencer,” “one of the pillars and matriarchs of our community,” “a role model,” “a woman of integrity and standards” and “an advocate” were among the words speakers used to describe Tillman at the retirement celebration, held at the Magnolia Avenue Campus. They remembered her tenacity and commitment to making the Magnolia Avenue Campus, the fourth of Pellissippi State’s campuses, a “gleaming institution” for the community. 

“Dean Tillman set a standard for what she wanted this campus to be,” said Phyllis Nichols, president and CEO of Knoxville Area Urban League. “We were not going to be a site sister in East Knoxville. We were going to be a shining example on Magnolia. … The students were going to be proud to walk in these doors.” 

Originally from Chicago, where she taught elementary and middle school, Tillman began her career at Pellissippi State as a math instructor in August 1991 and later served as program coordinator for developmental math, attaining the rank of associate professor of Mathematics. When Pellissippi State purchased the former Knoxville Catholic High School building on Magnolia Avenue, Tillman became the new campus’ first – and only – dean. 

“This was the only east campus (of Pellissippi State) when we opened 20 years ago, and we had the opportunity to serve this community in a way that they had not been served before,” said Tillman. “There was a reluctance at first to come inside a college door, but now they had a place in the neighborhood, and we tried to make them feel comfortable.” 

Not only did Tillman make sure the students who attended the Magnolia Avenue Campus had the same resources and opportunities as those who attended the college’s other campuses, Tillman made sure students knew they could succeed. 

Jan Sharp, now director of Pellissippi State’s Academic Support Center, reflected on what it was like to be a nontraditional, first-generation student at the Magnolia Avenue Campus in spring 2005 with four children at home. 

“On my first day, Rosalyn Tillman comes in with a group of faculty members, and they’re all dressed in full regalia,” Sharp said. “The point of her coming in dressed in that attire was to prove to us that (1) if we work hard enough, graduation was just right around the corner; (2) nothing was going to be handed to us; and (3) we should always ask for help if we need it. … She told us where her office was and to come get her anytime we needed to talk or if we needed assistance with anything. If we couldn’t find something, she would walk us to where we needed to go. And I really looked up to her for that.” 

Tillman remembered a nail technician who came to her office 30 minutes into her first class, complaining, “I can’t do this. I’m too old.” Tillman talked to her, and the student ended up going on to get her degree in education. 

“That always has stayed with me because she was so devastated,” Tillman said. “We have been able to change people’s lives.” 

Longtime Magnolia Avenue Campus Dean Rosalyn Tillman addresses the crowd at her retirement celebration June 30, 2021
Longtime Magnolia Avenue Campus Dean Rosalyn Tillman addresses the crowd at her retirement celebration June 30, 2021. Tillman served as dean of Pellissippi State’s Magnolia Avenue Campus from the time it opened in 2000 until her retirement this spring.

In addition to serving as dean at the Magnolia Avenue Campus, Tillman served as Pellissippi State coordinator for Project GRAD Knoxville, which brings Austin-East and Fulton high school students to campus each summer to offer students a glimpse of college life. The program has helped boost the average high school graduation rate for Austin-East and Fulton students from 50% to 83%.  

“We give them all kinds of experiences they wouldn’t ordinarily have so that they will think, ‘I can do that,'” Tillman explained. “When they get back (to high school), school isn’t ho-hum. It changes attitudes.” 

Just under 3,000 students have participated in the Project GRAD summer institute under Tillman’s guidance and direction, said Tanisha Fitzgerald-Baker, program and analytics director for Project GRAD. 

“Dean Tillman is so committed and dedicated to the outcome and excellence of our students,” Fitzgerald-Baker said. “The expectations are very rigid, and now right under 3,000 students understand what they can be, where they can be and how they’re going to do it. 

“Even though you try to be behind the scenes, it’s very hard to dim a light meant to shine as bright as you,” she added, to a chorus of “Amen!” from the audience. 

The Rev. Renee Kesler, president and CEO of Beck Cultural Exchange Center, agreed, noting she has lived in the community her entire life and knows the area “like the back of my hand.” 

“You lit up something,” Kesler said to Tillman. “There was some darkness, but you brought the light.” 

Kesler compared Tillman to an unnamed wise woman in the Bible who uses her voice to stand up for her community and save her city from destruction in 2 Samuel. 

“She said, ‘Let me handle this,’ but she didn’t do it by herself – she knew she couldn’t,” Kesler said. “A wise woman knows that if I’m going to be great, I have to surround myself with other great people. And the Bible says she went back to the people, and she had a collaboration meeting. And that’s who you are: the collaborator. You know to bring people together to get it done.” 

Longtime Magnolia Avenue Dean Rosalyn Tillman with her administrative assistant, Patti Rogers
Newly retired Magnolia Avenue Campus Dean Rosalyn Tillman takes a moment with her longtime administrative assistant Patti Rogers at a celebration June 30, 2021. Rogers spoke on behalf of the Magnolia Avenue Campus faculty and staff that Tillman led for 21 years.

Not only will Tillman be honored with a memorial brick at the Beck Cultural Exchange Center, Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr. unveiled Wednesday a sign naming the Magnolia Avenue Campus courtyard in her honor. 

“You sought so many ways to connect the college to the community and the community to the college,” he said. “Not only are we naming the courtyard in your honor, but we will be renovating it and making it accessible to the whole community as a teaching space and learning space. Thank you for giving us your very best.” 

Tillman, who prefers to stay out of the limelight, humbly shared her successes at the Magnolia Avenue Campus with her small but dedicated staff and called her work for Pellissippi State not only her pleasure, but also her passion. 

“I just want to be remembered that I did some good for somebody,” she said. 

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Pellissippi State Motorsports finishes sixth in national competition

Pellissippi State Motorsports founder Christian Boone drives the team's 2021 race car on the college's Hardin Valley Campus June 7.
Pellissippi State Motorsports founder Christian Boone drives the team’s 2021 race car on the college’s Hardin Valley Campus June 7. The team was nearly finished with the car and demonstrating it for supporters at a send-off celebration before the competition in Las Vegas the following week.

Pellissippi State Motorsports headed out to Las Vegas with a car about 110 pounds lighter and 60 horsepower faster than the first one the students designed and raced two years ago. 

They were betting the team’s new car would finish better than their first one did at Formula SAE Michigan in 2019, and they were right. 

Pellissippi State Motorsports finished sixth at Formula SAE Nevada held June 16-19.  

“There were 36 teams, and we finished sixth overall, as well as sixth in the Acceleration event,” said Christian Boone, who was a Pellissippi State student when he founded Pellissippi State Motorsports in 2018 and now serves as an engineering lab technician at the college. He is finishing his Mechanical Engineering degree at the University of Tennessee. 

Pellissippi State was, again this year, the only community college in the competition that brings university undergraduate and graduate students together to compete with small, formula-style vehicles that they have conceived, designed, fabricated and developed themselves. The team finished ahead of larger four-year universities including Purdue, West Virginia and Mississippi State, among others. 

“Our biggest surprise for everybody (in 2019) was not that we were the only community college in the competition, but that we were a first-year team,” Boone said. “The chief design judge said our car was the best first-year car he had seen.” 

An issue with the engine, however, tripped up the team in 2019, and Pellissippi State Motorsports finished 95th of 109 teams that year, with an overall score of 181.4. This year’s car finished with an overall score of 378.7, an improvement of nearly 200 points. 

Boone said from the moment the 2019 competition ended that the team’s main objective moving forward was to reduce the weight of the race car from 578 pounds with fuel/without a driver. With the 2020 competition canceled due to COVID-19, the team regrouped and started working on the 2021 car in August, despite the ongoing pandemic. 

“We’re down to 465 pounds now by incorporating lighter materials and being more careful with the choice of hardware we make (internally),” Boone said at a send-off celebration for the team June 7. “We also have a launch traction control that will help us get off the line quicker.” 

“This team took what they learned from their first car and adjusted, and it looks great,” Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr. said June 7, checking out the new car. “It’s going to be exciting to put it on the track.” 

The 2021 competition was hot – literally. After temperatures reached 115 degrees in Las Vegas and several competitors passed out from the heat, Formula SAE Nevada revised the schedule. Instead of teams having 7:30 a.m.-7 p.m. each day to get their cars to pass tech and safety checks and then complete the competition’s four events, the window was shorted to 5:30 a.m.-2 p.m. after the first day, said Associate Professor Lynn Klett, the team’s faculty advisor. 

“They did great despite the oppressive heat and aggressive schedule,” she said. “Temperatures were 115 and higher every day.”   

The shortened schedule knocked 14 teams out of competition, as their cars never made it out of tech, according to the Formula SAE Nevada results. Tech includes about a 15-page inspection, Boone explained. 

The Pellissippi State Motorsports club at competition in Las Vegas in June 2021
Pellissippi State Motorsports and their faculty advisor, Associate Professor Lynn Klett (third from right on the back row) take a minute to pose with their finished race car at Formula SAE Nevada in June. The team finished sixth in the competition.

“For Formula SAE, you design the car around a set of rules, and Formula SAE goes through everything to make sure your car is rules-compliant — everything from the firewall and the seats to the chassis and every critical fastener,” he said. “We came prepared and got through our tech inspection really quick.” 

Pellissippi State wasn’t spared all the effects of the Las Vegas heat wave, however. During the Acceleration event, which measures the time it takes each car to travel 75 meters, Pellissippi State’s fan broke, causing the car to overheat after one run on the Acceleration course.  

While Pellissippi State’s time of 4.5 seconds still netted the team a sixth-place finish in the Acceleration event, that 4.5 seconds was only 4/10 of a second away from a first-place finish, Boone noted — and the car had been testing at 4.1 seconds on the college’s Hardin Valley Campus. 

“I think we could have won if we had another run, but we had to let the car cool down,” he said. 

Pellissippi State fixed the fan and went on to compete in the other four events: Skid Pad, which tests each car’s cornering capability on a figure-8-shaped course; Autocross, which tests how fast each car can make it around an open course; and Endurance and Efficiency, which test each car’s overall reliability on a 22-kilometer closed course, as well as how much fuel is used during the run. 

“When we got there at 6 a.m., it was already 95 degrees,” Boone said. “We were worried about the temperatures, but we managed to keep the car 5 degrees below where the ECU (engine control unit) would have cut off the engine.” 

In the end, Pellissippi State was one of few teams in the competition that got to finish all the events, which made Boone proud. 

“With the car we had, we did the best we could have done,” he said after the team returned from competition. “There were some technical things we did with the car that we could do differently next time, but this was a good team with good organization and good communication at the competition. Everyone had a job to do.” 

Pellissippi State students attending the competition this year included Daniel Ray (powertrain performance), Daniel Rasmussen (composite materials specialist), Ethan Crisp (electrical capstone student) and Zachary Koller (co-captain).  

They were joined by UT students Clayton Hickey and Charles Brush, both of whom previously attended Pellissippi State, as well as UT students Charlie LindeJeff Cargile and Cooper Jenkins. Cargile and Jenkins designed the race car’s aerodynamic package as their senior design project with fellow UT Aerospace Engineering student Gavin Jones. 

All UT students who serve on the team do so as volunteers and pay their own way to competition. 

Other Pellissippi State Motorsports team members who worked on the car but did not travel to the competition this year include George Johnson IV of Pellissippi State and Forrest Hamilton, a dual enrollment student who completed his Associate of Applied Science in Welding Technology while completing high school at Knox County’s Career Magnet Academy. 

“A lot of it has not been easy, but it was definitely a great experience,” Hamilton said. “There was a lot of going to school and going to work and then coming here and welding for six to eight hours, but it feels good to see so much of it finished. A lot of welding is not small diameter tubes so this has given me so much more confidence.” 

Pellissippi State Motorsports is a college-sponsored student club that could not do what it does without additional help from sponsors such as Barton Racing, Daycab Company, Norm and Ann Naylor, Gene Haas Foundation, Dave and Lynne Blair, Morlind Engineering, BHS Corrugated and Endeavor Composites. 

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Apply by July 31 to start Pellissippi State’s Nursing program in January

A group of nursing students stand in lab holding IV tubes
Pellissippi State Nursing students learn how to hang IV fluids in a skills lab at the college’s Strawberry Plains Campus in January 2020.

Nurses were, without a doubt, one of the breakout heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic. Do you have what it takes to be a hero? 

Pellissippi State Community College has started a spring Nursing cohort that begins January 2022. The program is offered on the college’s Blount County, Magnolia Avenue and Strawberry Plains campuses. 

Applications are due July 31. You can find the steps to apply at www.pstcc.edu/nursing/apply. 

No previous medical experience is required, although the college offers a separate Bridge program that allows Licensed Practical Nurses and paramedics to “bridge” to Registered Nurse. 

By creating a spring cohort that begins in January, Pellissippi State can offer the same quality Nursing program to an additional 50 students. Applicants may indicate their preferred campus. 

Those Nursing students who begin in January 2022 can expect to graduate in December 2023. The 22-month program is primarily Nursing classes, with eight general education courses required. Students complete clinicals each semester of the program as well. 

After graduation, students sit for the NCLEX-RN exam, which each nurse in the United States and Canada must pass to become a registered nurse. All 70 of Pellissippi State’s spring 2020 Nursing graduates passed their national licensing exam on their first attempt, the first time the college has achieved a 100% pass rate since the Nursing program started in 2011. 

“Most Nursing students, I’d say 98 or 99%, have secured a job prior to graduating,” said Dean of Nursing Angela Lunsford. “We have hospitals calling us all the time to recruit. They need people.” 

Criteria used to assess candidates are: 

  • Overall GPA in required general education courses (minimum 2.5 GPA)  
  • HESI A2 nursing entrance exam scores 
  • Extra weight will be given for required math and science courses completed with a grade of B or higher 
  • Extra weight will be given for any higher education degree earned previously 

To learn more about Pellissippi State’s Nursing program, visit www.pstcc.edu/nursing. 

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Pellissippi State psychology professor selected for higher education leadership program

Head shot of Assistant Professor Antija Allen
Pellissippi State Assistant Professor Antija Allen has been selected for the Maxine Smith Fellows program that begins later this month.

Assistant Professor Antija Allen of Pellissippi State Community College is among 21 faculty and staff from colleges and universities across Tennessee who have been selected to participate in a year-long leadership program. 

The Maxine Smith Fellows program provides professional development, training and advancement opportunities for participants from traditionally underrepresented groups at the community and technical colleges governed by the Tennessee Board of Regents, as well as those working at Tennessee’s locally governed public universities. 

“I like that the focus is on diversifying leadership positions, which can reach beyond TBR,” said Allen, who has been teaching psychology at Pellissippi State since 2017.  

It’s a topic dear to Allen, whose book with co-editor Justin T. Stewart, “We’re Not OK: Black Faculty Experiences and Higher Education Strategies,” was accepted for publication by Cambridge University Press and will be released by August 2021. 

“We have a book coming out later this summer that focuses on faculty representation, mental health, inclusion and retention, and I thought, ‘Wow! This is what our book is all about!’” Allen said, reflecting on the Maxine Smith Fellows program. “This is the feeling of TBR investing in us.” 

College and university presidents nominate eligible faculty and staff from their campus for consideration for the program. 

“I am so pleased Dr. Allen was selected to participate in the Maxine Smith Fellows program,” said Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr. “It is an outstanding opportunity for leadership growth and development for someone who has demonstrated a deep commitment to professional learning while at Pellissippi State.” 

In addition to the professional development of class members, the program stimulates increased collaboration among institutions, development of a statewide network for program participants, and an overall increase in the diversity of ideas, thoughts and experiences within senior leadership ranks at Tennessee public higher education institutions.  

“Maxine Smith Fellows alumni have advanced to senior leadership positions, including seven Fellows who have gone on to serve as presidents at colleges and universities in Tennessee and in other states,” said Wendy J. Thompson, the program’s administrator and TBR vice chancellor for organizational effectiveness. “Many of them have said that the Maxine Smith Fellows experience contributed to their success.” 

A native of New York City, Allen has been teaching in higher education since 2004. She earned her doctorate from Columbia University three years ago. 

“Columbia is known for churning out changemakers, and that’s what I’ve been doing,” Allen said.  

Assistant Professor Antija Allen teaches General Psychology at Pellissippi State in 2019, before the pandemic.
Assistant Professor Antija Allen teaches General Psychology at Pellissippi State in 2019, before the pandemic.

In October 2020, Allen was awarded a TBR grant to help her and two colleagues create free learning materials for Pellissippi State students who take General Psychology. 

Allen has been serving as champion for Pellissippi State’s emotional intelligence cohort, one of several professional development tracks the college offers for faculty and staff, since 2019. She also is finishing a two-year term as Pellissippi State’s faculty fellow for the high-impact practice of First-Year Experience, helping lead other faculty through the Pellissippi Academic Center for Excellence. 

“These three roles I’ve had are ending, and the Maxine Smith Fellows leadership program will help me answer, ‘What’s next?’” Allen said. 

The Maxine Smith Fellows program is named in honor of the late Maxine A. Smith, who headed the Memphis Branch of the NAACP for 33 years and was a member of the Tennessee Board of Regents from 1994 to 2006. The Class of 2021-22 is the program’s 15th cohort. 

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‘The future is in their hands’: Fulton High School students learn hands-on machining at Pellissippi State

Fulton grads show President Wise and Project GRAD executive director what they've learned at ACE boot camp
2021 Fulton High School graduates Krishev Patel, left, and Alexander Gaspar Manuel show Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr. and Project GRAD Executive Director Ronni Chandler what they’ve learned during a hands-on machining boot camp June 11.

Five Fulton High School teens – three 2021 graduates and two rising seniors – were among the first high school students in the country to participate in a hands-on boot camp to learn machining at Pellissippi State Community College last week. 

The five-day boot camp was part of the America’s Cutting Edge (ACE) training program developed by IACMI – The Composites Institute and University of Tennessee Professor Tony Schmitz, who was teaching the same boot camp to students and adults at UT. 

Pellissippi State and Oak Ridge National Laboratory are partnering with IACMI and UT in the U.S. Department of Defense-funded program, which is designed to teach essential machining skills and address the nation’s growing manufacturing workforce gap. The program kicked off in December 2020 and already more than 1,450 students from across the nation — including future manufacturing engineers, machine tool designers, entrepreneurs, machinists and more — have taken the online course that preceded these hands-on trainings, where students produced the components necessary to create an oscillating air engine by machining and assembling four parts: base (aluminum), piston block (aluminum), valve block (printed polymer) and wheel (steel). 

“This is an exciting time; manufacturing is not what it used to be,” IACMI CEO John Hopkins told the five Fulton students at Pellissippi State on Friday. “I hope you’ve learned what manufacturing is, what machining is and that you will build on this and share your experiences.” 

Associate Professor Mark Williams of Pellissippi State’s Mechanical Engineering Technology program agreed that manufacturing suffers from a misunderstanding of what machinists do. 

“The image that manufacturing was dark and dirty – that’s not true anymore,” he said. “We have to change that image, and a big part of that is getting students in here, hands on, and getting them interested.  

“When the kids started Monday, they hadn’t even used a hand drill before, and I thought, ‘That’s perfect!’” Williams added. “Now they’re doing things they didn’t think they could do. They’ve learned they can do this, they can overcome obstacles, they can achieve this.” 

Training the next generation of machinists is imperative as Baby Boomers in the industry, those born between 1946 and 1964, retire in large numbers. Combined with a growing manufacturing sector, young machinists are in high demand, noted Andy Polnicki, MegaLab director for Pellissippi State. 

“Jobs4TN has over a dozen machinist listings right now, plus a dozen listings for CNC (computerized numerical control), all within a 25-mile radius of Pellissippi State,” he said. “Local manufacturers have job openings for entry-level machinists beginning at $20 an hour right now. With the level of knowledge these kids have gained this week, they could almost go get a $20 an hour job – that’s $40,000 a year – to stand in front of these machines and run them. 

“We’ve spent decades telling people they need a four-year college education, but parents should know the highest paid people in my plant were the tool and die and maintenance people, and they were taking home more money than I was as the plant manager – and worked fewer hours than I did,” Polnicki added. 

The five Fulton High students – 2021 graduates Joselynne Orta, Krishiv Patel and Alexander Gaspar Manuel and rising seniors Kaylee Nava Sabino and Alexandria Russell — showed off their new machining skills Friday to Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr., Project GRAD Executive Director Ronni Chandler and Knox County Diversity Development Manager Darris Upton, as well as IACMI leaders. 

“Every one of them has done an excellent job running the machines,” said Jose Nazario, an instructor with Pellissippi State’s Mechanical Engineering Technology program. “It’s been really impressive.” 

Joselynne Orta shows Darris Upton a part she made at ACE boot camp
2021 Fulton High School graduate Joselynne Orta, left, shows Knox County Diversity Development Manager Darris Upton the part she just finished making on a computer numerical control (CNC) machine at Pellissippi State June 11.

As Orta ran one machine Friday, Nazario explained that the same work done by hand would take hours, whereas the CNC machine Orta was using only took eight minutes. Upton noted how the students were able to run machines at Pellissippi State while their instructors explained the processes to Friday’s guests. 

“These programs are very important, and the reason is two-fold,” said Upton, who graduated from Pellissippi State in 2015. “If you’ve never been exposed to this kind of work, you might not even know that these career opportunities exist. And it also helps our local employers like DENSO that need workers, people who have the skills that our manufacturers are actually using. They need folks who can do this.” 

Two of the 2021 Fulton High graduates – Orta and Patel – already are enrolled in Pellissippi State this fall: Orta to study Business and Patel to study Web Technology. The other, Manuel, is enrolled at UT for fall and plans to study Computer Engineering. 

“I really enjoyed this class, and now they even want me on the Pellissippi State Motorsports team,” Orta said, adding she plans to join the Pellissippi State students who build race cars for Formula SAE competitions like the one in Las Vegas this week. “I like cars, and I like this too.” 

The rising seniors, Russell and Sabino, also said they found the boot camp “interesting” and showed off the parts they made featuring their initials on one side and the acronym ACE on the other. 

“This week has let them touch the future in an accessible way,” said Chandler, with Project GRAD, holding a part the students created on the machines Friday while she and other guests watched. “They weren’t afraid. The college took a chance on letting high school students use this multimillion-dollar lab, and the students saw that they can be here. It’s been future changing. The future is in their hands.” 

For more information on ACE, which includes a six-hour online curriculum before hands-on training, visit www.iacmi.org/ace. 

For more information on Pellissippi State’s Mechanical Engineering Technology program, visit www.pstcc.edu/mechanical-engineering/. 

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