Graduate spotlight: 10 high schoolers graduate from Pellissippi State this week

CMA seniors who are graduating from Pellissippi State around a painted rock on their high school campus
A pandemic didn’t deter these Career Magnet Academy seniors from finishing their associate degrees while earning their high school diplomas. From left are Arwen Roach, Kynlea Waldrop, Sophie Trent, Eli Elgin, Forrest Hamilton, Dylan West, Nathan Parker and Rondhea Martin. Not pictured are Josie Maynard and Jessamine Reckard.

Ten Knox County high school students will don their caps and gowns three weeks before their classmatesas they graduate from Pellissippi State Community College with their associate degrees before they earn their high school diplomas. 

This is the fourth and, by far, largest class of dual enrollment students to earn their associate degrees at Pellissippi State while completing high school at Career Magnet Academy, a public high school located on the college’s Strawberry Plains Campus. No students are zoned for CMA, and any Knox County student who wants to make significant progress toward an associate degree, at little to no cost to their families, may apply. 

“I knew CMA was a good fit for me because I knew (Advanced Placement) classes would stress me out and I wanted something more tangible as an end result,” said Sophie Trent of south Knoxville, who has earned her Associate of Arts degree and is transferring to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville to study biology. “Also, I knew I wanted to be a doctor, and this is a really big head start on that.” 

Rondhea Martin of east Knoxville also said he chose CMA because he already knew what career path he wanted to pursue. 

I came for business-related purposes and got to take my first college-level business class my junior year,” said Martin, who has earned his Associate of Science degree and is transferring to Middle Tennessee State University to study public relations. 

Most of the 10 CMA students who are graduating from Pellissippi State together grew up in different parts of town and went to different elementary and middle schools – but at CMA, they say they found their people. 

“Here everybody fits in,” said Kynlea Waldrop of west Knoxville, who has earned her Associate of Arts degree and plans to double major in marketing and recording industry, music business at MTSU. “You can come from anywhere and make friends.” 

Having only 53 students in their senior class contributes to that “tightknit” “family” feeling the teenagers describe – but the 10 students who have earned their associate degrees have also formed a bond through the unique experience of finishing community college and high school at the same time. 

CMA grad Josie Maynard
Josie Maynard is one of 10 Career Magnet Academy seniors who has earned her associate degree while completing high school.

“It has certainly been difficult,” said Josie Maynard of south Knoxville, who has earned her Associate of Science degree and plans to work as a licensed certified nurse assistant until she transfers to the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga in August. “I personally have not had a summer break in three years! It is a lot of work, but it is worth it.” 

Eli Elgin and Forrest Hamilton agreed. The two students from northeast Knoxville have been friends since third grade, and both have earned their Associate of Applied Science degrees in Welding Technology. 

“I’ve been taking six classes for the last few semesters, and it’s tiring,” said Hamilton, who is transferring to Ferris State University in Michigan to study welding engineering technology. “Trying to keep on track with things while also having a life outside of school could be difficult.” 

Elgin recalled one semester that the two friends were on campus 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. two days a week, due to the timing of their high school and college classes. 

“I go to school four days a week, and then spend two or three days a weekend working in landscaping,” he added. “But now I’m ready to go straight into the workforce, and that was the point.” 

Meanwhile, unlike a lot of students coming straight from high school, the CMA graduates who are continuing their education at four-year universities will know what they’re in for. 

“Traditional public school is very rigid and structured,” said Dylan West of Farragut, who has earned his Associate of Science degree and is transferring to the Colorado School of Mines to major in petroleum engineering. “When we started our Pellissippi State classes, there was a period of transition from having teachers stay on you about assignments to being self-reliant.” 

Arwen Roach, who lives near Knoxville Center Mall and has earned her Associate of Arts degree, found that her greatest challenge was her own shyness – and taking Pellissippi State classes helped her conquer her fears. 

“It was really just my timidity being around adults,” said Roach, who is transferring to UT to study psychology and neuroscience. “But once I got over that, it was great. 

Her classmates agreed. 

“I really enjoyed having classes with adult students, actually, because I found them more interesting to talk to,” said Nathan Parker of Old North Knox, who has earned his Associate of Science degree and also is transferring to UT to study psychology. 

CMA senior Jessamine Reckard in front of Sunsphere
Jessamine Reckard of Career Magnet Academy will graduate from Pellissippi State on Friday with seven of her high school classmates. Two will graduate Saturday in a ceremony for Welding Technology students.

Jessamine Reckard, who lives near Johnson University, said the Pellissippi State class that touched her the most was American Sign Language. 

“I have cochlear implants – I’m hard of hearing – so to be immersed in that class and get to learn the language was amazing,” said Reckard, who has earned her Associate of Arts degree and is transferring to Lipscomb University to study mechanical engineering. “Going to Tennessee School for the Deaf and getting to work with deaf kids is one of the most surreal and best experiences of my life.” 

While most of the CMA seniors took their Pellissippi State classes on the Strawberry Plains Campus, some had the opportunity to take in-person classes at the Hardin Valley Campus as well. Once the COVID-19 pandemic hit, however, most Pellissippi State classes moved online. 

That didn’t stop the CMA seniors, who overwhelmingly said they loved asynchronous classes that they could take on their own time. 

“We could work more to save money so that we can transfer to a university,” Waldrop noted. 

The CMA students also raved about Pellissippi State’s tutoring center on the Strawberry Plains Campus. 

“These children are so amazing, and their perseverance is incredible,” said Ann Orpurt, the CMA guidance counselor who helped the students choose their classes. “They had to take extra classes in the mornings, in the evenings and in the summer to make this happen.” 

A majority of CMA students graduate with between 24 and 45 college credit hours, which is no small feat, she added. 

“Kids typically want to take as many classes as they qualify for,” Orpurt explained, noting CMA students no longer are confined to choosing a particular pathway but can take any Pellissippi State class offered. “These children did extra, but the other children at CMA are just as amazing.” 

Eight of the 10 CMA seniors will walk at the 7 p.m. Friday, May 14, Commencement ceremony on Pellissippi State’s Hardin Valley Campus while Elgin and Hamilton will walk at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 15, with their fellow Welding Technology graduates. CMA will hold its graduation on June 5. 

“This is a monumental moment for these 10 remarkable students and for those at Pellissippi State and in Knox County Schools who have worked so hard to make Career Magnet Academy an option for students,” said Spencer Joy, dual enrollment specialist at Pellissippi State. 

Eight Career Magnet Academy seniors who are graduating from Pellissippi State
Eight of the 10 Career Magnet Academy seniors who will graduate from Pellissippi State with their associate degrees this week include (front row, from left) Rondhea Martin, Dylan West, Eli Elgin, Nathan Parker and Forrest Hamilton; and (second row, from left) Arwen Roach, Kynlea Waldrop and Sophie Trent. Not pictured are Josie Maynard and Jessamine Reckard.

The 10 friends may be heading in mostly different directions – two are transferring to MTSU and three to UT – but they won’t forget where they got their start. Waldrop summed it up for the group: 

“I tell everyone I know to come to CMA!” 

CMA can accept 125 freshmen each year, and there are still 60 slots open for fall 2021. The school accepts older students as space is available. Those interested in attending CMA can apply now at https://transapp.knoxschools.orgThe application deadline is July 2. 

For more information about CMA, contact CMA Magnet Facilitator Cameron Molchan at 865-622-3800 or cameron.molchan@knoxschools.org. 

For more information about other dual enrollment opportunities at Pellissippi State, visiwww.pstcc.edu/admissions/dual. 

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