Pellissippi State plans outdoor in-person Commencement ceremonies

Eustace in cap and gown with diploma
Eustace Muriithi built on the diploma in electrical engineering he earned in Kenya by graduating from Pellissippi State with a degree in Electrical Engineering Technology in December 2020.

Pellissippi State Community College will celebrate its 2020 and 2021 graduates in a series of smaller, outdoor Commencement ceremonies this May. 

The college has not held an in-person Commencement since December 2019, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Eight separate ceremonies, capped at 85 graduates and two guests per graduate, are planned for Thursday-Saturday, May 13-15. Each ceremony will take place in the Hardin Valley Campus Courtyard, 10915 Hardin Valley Road. 

All Commencement ceremonies will be livestreamed to allow family and friends who cannot attend in person to celebrate with graduates.   

Students who graduated at any point during 2020 are welcome to join ceremonies at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Thursday, May 13. 

Those Pellissippi State students graduating in spring 2021 with Associate of Arts, Associate of Fine Arts, Associate of Science or Associate of Science in Teaching degrees – typically those students who transfer to four-year institutions – may choose to participate in ceremonies at 1, 4 or 7 p.m. on Friday, May 14. 

Those Pellissippi State students graduating in spring 2021 with Associate of Applied Science degrees – the two-year career programs to prepare students to enter the workforce – will be celebrated on Saturday, May 15, with Nursing students at 10 a.m., Engineering and Media Technology students at 1 p.m. and Business and Computer Technology students at 4 p.m. 

“It is well understood that students may not be able to attend the ceremony for which they are scheduled due to personal or family obligations,” said Dean of Students Travis Loveday. “In that case, 2021 graduates may attend any ceremony that has openings. 

Registration for all ceremonies opened at 8 a.m. Friday, April 16, on Eventbrite, and registration is not only for those graduating. Faculty, staff and guests should register for the ceremony they plan to attend, as all seats are reserved on a first come, first served basis: 

In the event of inclement weather, ceremonies and graduates will move inside to the Clayton Performing Arts Center. While social distancing guidelines would prevent guests from joining graduates in the CPAC, guests would be able to view a live stream of the ceremonies from the Goins Administration Building. 

For more information about when to check in for the ceremonies, where to enter campus and park, and what graduates and guests will need to do to follow Pellissippi State’s COVID-19 safety protocols, visit www.pstcc.edu/graduation 

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Pellissippi State professor honored for eLearning experience

Sociology Professor Margaret Choka has been recognized for her years of experience teaching online classes for Pellissippi State Community College.
Sociology Professor Margaret Choka has been recognized for her 20 years of experience teaching distance education classes for Pellissippi State Community College and the Tennessee Board of Regents’ TN cCampus.

A Pellissippi State Community College professor who was an early adopter of technology in the classroom recently was named a 2020 Distinguished eLearning Educator by the Instructional Technology Council. 

Professor Margaret Chokawho has been a full-time sociology professor at Pellissippi State since 1988, was one of only nine distance educators nationwide honored at the council’s annual conference March 24. 

“I started teaching online with a dial-up modem,” said Choka, who has been teaching distance education since 2001. “We have come a long way!” 

As a sociologist, Choka realized early on that distance education is a tool that can be used to reach the older coal mining and farming communities in Tennessee. In 1999, Choka began educating herself on the principles of distance education, computer technology and the then-emerging World Wide Web. She read journals, attended conferences and sought advice from the college’s information technology staff. She explored how technology could be used to supplement sociology classes and help students master their learning objectives. 

“Dr. Choka is an extraordinary educator who cares about equal access to quality higher education, particularly for the underserved nontraditional working students of Knoxville and surrounding rural counties of Appalachia,” Adjunct Instructor Marion Orrick writes in nominating Choka for the award. 

Choka started with a complimentary webpage for her courses. She worked tirelessly with textbook publishers to access free, online supplemental materials and fought for instructor resources in the classroom as well as student use of computer labs. She mastered learning management systems, designed courses, trained other instructors, created student skills assessments and online training videos, collaborated with other departments and linked students with tutors and librarians. 

Choka now has served as both the lead course developer for Pellissippi State and for the Tennessee Board of Regents’ TN eCampus since 2001. 

“As more students have begun to rely on smartphone technology to access online coursework, Dr. Choka continues to educate herself on how best to meet student needs in higher education, ensuring that the newest and most effective design techniques are incorporated into the online courses,” Orrick writes. We are fortunate to have an outstanding eLearning instructor like Dr. Choka who, over the course of 20 years, conquered the technology of the 21st century and used it to improve higher education rates in Tennessee. 

Choka lists many things she likes about teaching online – from designing dynamic courses to providing an atmosphere of collaboration and socialization for studentsfrom creating engaging activities using current “hot topics” to encouraging students to use “sociological imagination” to see a bigger picture of the society they’re studying. 

Underpinning it all, she says, is a strong compassion for students’ success and well-being. 

“Dr. Choka is an outstanding faculty member, and I’m glad she’s being recognized for her dedication to supporting student learning,” said Kane Barker, dean of Natural and Behavioral Sciences at Pellissippi State. 

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Engage little ones with activities led by Pellissippi State Early Childhood Education students

Pellissippi State Early Childhood Education student surrounded by children
Pellissippi State’s Early Childhood Education faculty and students are spearheading a week of activities April 12-16, celebrating the the Week of the Young Child.

Pellissippi State Community College Early Childhood Education faculty and students invite those who care for young children – whether at home or at a place of business – to participate in activities April 12-16 in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Week of the Young Child. 

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, most activities will be offered virtually this year. 

“This is community based,” said Associate Professor Hope Denny, program coordinator for Early Childhood Education. “We will be sending out our lesson plans to local child care facilities, but they also are open to anyone who wants to participate.” 

Each day has a theme, explained Assistant Professor Elizabeth Kelly: 

  • Music Monday, April 12: Pellissippi State’s Early Childhood Education students will demonstrate via video how to create handmade musical instruments with materials that are easy to find around your house; children are invited to join a “virtual band performance” with their handmade musical instruments at 10 a.m. on Zoom; 
  • Tasty Tuesday, April 13: Students will demonstrate via video healthy snack recipes to make with children while Knox Association for Children’s Early Education representatives will share nutritional information; 
  • Work Together Wednesday, April 14: Pellissippi State’s Early Childhood Education faculty will create a storytelling chain on Facebook while KACEE will teach how to pull together a “prop box” with items to encourage imaginative play; 
  • Artsy Thursday, April 15: Pellissippi State will display murals made by children throughout the area for a drive-through art show on the College’s Hardin Valley Campus; those who come by may choose to contribute to a large chalk art mural on site and/or stay and picnic with their families by the pond in circles that will be marked to maintain at least 6 feet of social distancing; and 
  • Family Friday, April 16: Families will have two opportunities to participate in virtual scavenger hunts with their children, searching for items in their house that fulfill instructions such as, “Find me something that is red” and “Find me something that you might eat with.”  

“This gives us an opportunity to take our activities outside the classroom to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Week of the Young Child,” Denny said, noting events are being programmed by Pellissippi State students in Early Childhood Curriculum, Safe and Healthy Learning Environments, and Family Dynamics and Community Involvement classes. “Our goal is to get the word out about our Early Childhood Education program while also engaging the larger community. We want to have a presence in leading early childhood education efforts locally.” 

Those who would like to participate in the Week of the Young Child activities should follow Pellissippi State’s Early Childhood Education on Facebook or Instagram or email eced@pstcc.edu. 

For more information about Pellissippi State’s Early Childhood Education program, one of the programs that will move this fall into the new Bill Haslam Center for Math and Science on the Hardin Valley Campus, visit www.pstcc.edu/eced. 

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Pellissippi State’s new math and science building opens this fall, more classes planned for on campus

Bill Haslam Center for Math and Science under construction in December 2020
Pellissippi State’s new Bill Haslam Center for Math and Science is underway on its Hardin Valley Campus and will open for classes this fall.

Pellissippi State Community College will welcome more students back to campus this fall, with the new Bill Haslam Center for Math and Science opening in August. 

The new 82,000-square-foot building on the college’s Hardin Valley Campus has been under construction since May 2019 and is on track to open for fall 2021 classes, as was planned before the pandemic. It will include 18 classrooms, six computer labs, nine science labs and a teacher education center for the college’s Early Childhood Education and Teacher Education programs. 

“The Bill Haslam Center for Math and Science will help us meet demands for classrooms and lab spaces that have increased due to the Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect scholarships,” said Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise JrAnd with more classes meeting on campus and more student services open in person, we are hopeful that fall 2021 will feel more like fall 2019 than fall 2020.” 

Pellissippi State plans to offer more in-person classes in fall 2021, although the college will continue to offer classes in other formats as well. 

“Our No. 1 priority since the pandemic began has been providing a safe environment for our students and employees,” Wise said.  “We feel like we’ve been able to do that thanks to technology and the flexibility and dedication of our faculty and staff, but we look forward to seeing more faces on campus this fall.” 

Pellissippi State’s emergency management team, which has been handling decisions during the pandemic, will continue to meet and determine what protocols to put in place before fall semester begins Aug. 23. The college will continue to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and as well as local health department guidance for preventing the spread of COVID-19 on campus. 

“By limiting the number of classes taught in person during the pandemic, we were able to ensure that our students who opted for on-campus classes had the space necessary to practice social distancing,” Wise said. “Even as we offer more in-person options this fall, our faculty and staff are working together to ensure that classes are staggered in a way that still allows for social distancing not only inside our classrooms, but also in our buildings’ common spaces in between classes.” 

Students who prefer online courses still will have a variety of classes to choose from. Pellissippi State’s online enrollment had been growing even before the pandemic began as students chose options that allowed them to learn from home on their own time instead of meeting with their instructors and classmates at a set time. 

Pellissippi State offers 62 pathways that will transfer to four-year universities in addition to its 27 programs that prepare graduates to enter the workforce in two years, all for about $2,100 in tuition per semester for a full-time student.  

Registration for summer and fall 2021 begins April 5. To learn more about Pellissippi State, visit www.pstcc.edu or call 865-694-6400. 

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Pellissippi State math students take top honors in Southeast

Jingxing Wang
Jingxing Wang, a senior at Knoxville Catholic High School who is taking dual enrollment classes at Pellissippi State, was the top scoring individual in the Southeast in the 2019-2020 Student Mathematics League competition. (Photo courtesy Jingxing Wang)

Pellissippi State Community College not only finished first in the Southeast in the 2019-2020 Student Mathematics League competition, but also had the top individual in the region — a dual enrolled student who is still in high school. 

Jingxing Wang, a senior at Knoxville Catholic High School, finished first in the Southeast. Wang, who has completed 10 hours of college credit at Pellissippi State, is taking Calculus-Based Physics this fall and is registered for eight hours of classes this spring. 

“I like to do any type of math competitions, and this one was quite similar to the other ones I’ve taken,” said Wang, who is applying to four-year colleges now with his sights set on University of Chicago. “I don’t know what I will do when I grow up, but I really enjoy theoretical physics and cooking. I also want to write a book. 

“He is truly remarkable,” said Spencer Joy, dual enrollment specialist for Pellissippi State. 

Pellissippi State has a tradition of math excellence, having finished first in the Student Mathematics League competition in Tennessee every year since 2009 and having had two other students finish first in the region: Lily Turaski in 2016-2017 and Trevor Sharpe in 2011-2012. 

This is the first time the College has placed first in the Southeast, however. 

“We were 20th nationally, which also is the highest we have been,” said Associate Professor Robert “Bobby” Jackson, who coordinates the annual competition for Pellissippi State. 

“This speaks volumes about our professors and our students,” addeJudy Fethe, interim dean, Mathematics. 

The Student Mathematics League competition is sponsored by the American Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges and is comprised of two rounds: one in the fall and one in the spring. 

The competition is open to any Pellissippi State student, Jackson explained, and close to 100 students usually participate. Those who compete have one hour to answer as many of the 20 questions as they can. Questions may involve precalculus algebra, trigonometry, synthetic and analytic geometry, and probability. 

“These are very challenging questions,” Jackson said. “It’s hard to answer all 20 questions in one hour.” 

Pellissippi State held the second round of the 2019-2020 competition on March 13, the last day students were on campus due to the pandemic. They tested in the Goins Building Auditorium and another classroom so that they could adhere to social distancing guidelines, Jackson noted. 

The five highest ranking teams, as well as the team and individual champions from each of AMATYC’s eight regions, receive plaques at AMATYC’s annual conference each fall, although this year’s event was held virtually. 

Meanwhile, the 2020-2021 competition has been canceled due to the pandemic. 

With most colleges in remote operation, we do not think it is possible to run the competition,” writes Student Mathematics League Coordinator Steve Hundert in the AMATYC newsletter. “For students looking for a challenge as well as some friendly competition, we will instead be running the AMATYC Online Challenge, which will be comprised of problems from past SML contests.” 

For more information about Pellissippi State, visit www.pstcc.edu or call 865.694.6400. 

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Help honor veterans by sponsoring a wreath this holiday season

Logo for Wreaths Across AmericaA group of Pellissippi State Community College students is spearheading a drive to provide 1,000 wreaths to decorate veterans’ graves in December, and you can help. 

Maya Billingsley, Celeste Christopher, Justin Hammack, Jake Harrell and Leslie Nokes are assisting Knoxwreaths, the local affiliate of Wreaths Across America, as their service-learning project for their Project Management and Design class.  

The group’s goal is to get 1,000 wreaths donated to the organization by Thanksgiving so that they can be placed on headstones at Knox County’s three veteran cemeteries at noon Dec. 19. 

Knoxwreaths needs 18,000 wreaths total. 

“This is very close to my heart – it’s very personal to me – because my father was a World War II vet and my grandfather a World War I vet,” Christopher explains in a video on the Knoxwreaths Facebook page. “Because I can’t thank them anymore in person, this is my way of contributing.” 

Assistant Professor Tracey Farr said this project picks up where a spring 2020 Principles of Marketing class left off. That class, taught by adjunct Mandy Summittmet with the United Veterans Council of East Tennessee to create a marketing plan for summer and fall 2020. 

“We are doing a lot of social media for them,” Farr said of the group of gentlemen who work with Wreaths Across America each year to provide wreaths for Knox County‘s three veteran cemeteries. “It’s a big goal, but we are hoping that the vast Pellissippi State community will contribute. 

Those who want to sponsor a wreath can do so on a Wreaths Across America webpage set up specifically for the Pellissippi State project. The cost of each wreath, which is crafted from balsam and hand-tied with a red velvet bow, is $15. 

There also is an opportunity to volunteer on the day the wreaths are placed at the cemetery, Farr added. 

“I would love to have a Pellissippi State team,” said Farr, who plans to participate with her own children. “It will be safe, with social distancing and masks, and even young kids can do this.” 

Volunteers are needed at all three veteran cemeteries. Those who are interested can sign up to volunteer at the site of their choice through the website or can email Farr at tefarr@pstcc.edu. 

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Pellissippi State breaks ground for long-awaited workforce development center in Blount County

Eight officials with shovels in front of a bulldozer
Among the dignitaries celebrating the groundbreaking for the Ruth and Steve West Workforce Development Center are, from left, state Rep. Jerome Moon, donors Steve and Ruth West, Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr., Tennessee College of Applied Technology Knoxville President Kelli Chaney, state Sen. Art Swann, state Rep. Bob Ramsey and Blount Partnership CEO Bryan Daniels.

Pellissippi State Community College broke ground today on its new Ruth and Steve West Workforce Development Center, a joint project with Tennessee College of Applied Technology Knoxville. 

The 51,000-square-foot building on the College’s Blount County Campus will help fill the area’s need for highly skilled, college-educated employees. Blount County has experienced $2.8 million in new capital investment and announced 5,500 new jobs since 2011, according to the Blount Partnership. 

Named for longtime Blount County Campus benefactors Ruth and Steve West, the workforce development center will include space for Pellissippi State’s Computer Information Technology, Culinary Arts, Electrical Engineering Technology and Electromechanical Engineering programs while TCAT will have space for its Engineering Technology program, giving that college its first footprint in Blount County. 

Steve and Ruth West in front of artist rendering of new building named for him
Steve and Ruth West stand in front of an artist rendering of the Ruth and Steve West Workforce Development Center that is being built on Pellissippi State’s Blount County Campus.

“I was on the Blount County Industrial Board for 20 years, and we brought a lot of diverse companies in and continue to do so,” said Mr. West, longtime owner of West Chevrolet and a former mayor of Maryville. “But it’s not like it was when I was young. A good attitude and willingness to learn, while important, are not enough in today’s economy. We need more specialized training to fill these jobs.” 

The center will help fill that gap, with a unique, integrated approach to workforce development. In addition to Pellissippi State’s partnership with TCAT, the workforce development center also represents a K-12 partnership, offering dual enrollment classes for high school students, focusing on high-demand career skills. Meanwhile, a new corporate training center will give the College’s local industry partners extra space and opportunity to train their employees at Pellissippi State. 

“Our institutional mission at Pellissippi State is to provide a transformative environment that fosters the academic, social, economic and cultural enrichment of individuals and of our community,” said Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr. “The Ruth and Steve West Workforce Development Center is going to embody that mission in a tangible way, helping us prepare Blount County students for high-demand careers that will sustain them and their families economically and allow them to stay right here at home instead of leaving in search of well-paying jobs. 

For example, the new building will include a 4,890-square-foot Culinary Institute that will allow the College to expand its Culinary Arts degree program and industry-recognized certification programs, increasing the number of graduates ready to fill in-demand culinary positions at hotels, restaurants, farmsteads, breweries, wineries and resorts across Blount, Knox and surrounding counties.

Dignitaries with shovels in front of bulldozer
Also celebrating the groundbreaking for the Ruth and Steve West Workforce Development Center today are, from left, Blount County Campus Dean Priscilla Duenkel, Blount County Mayor Ed Mitchell, Jeff Weida of Arconic Tennessee, Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr., TCAT President Kelli Chaney, Louisville Mayor Tom Bickers, Don Heinemann of Blount Memorial Hospital, Bob Booker of DENSO and Maryville Mayor Tom Taylor. Not pictured is Alcoa Mayor Clint Abbott.

The workforce development center will also help us serve our industry partners by providing  more space to train their employees and offering individuals the continuing education that helps them move to the next level in their careers,” said Teri Brahams, executive director of Economic and Workforce Development for Pellissippi State. And with the flexible space located right outside our new Culinary Institute, the College can provide the community space to host events and have them catered by our Culinary Arts students. It’s a win for everyone.” 

Construction of the $16.5 million building, which was funded by the state of Tennessee and TCAT in addition to Pellissippi State, is projected to be complete in February 2022.  

The fundraising team with shovels
Among those who have been working hard behind the scenes are fundraising team members Joy Bishop and Sharon Hannum, Chuck Griffin of BarberMcMurry Architects, Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr., TCAT President Kelli Chaney, fundraising team members Christy Newman, Andy White and Mary Beth West, Raja Jubran of Denark Construction and fundraising team member Teri Brahams, from left.

The Pellissippi State Foundation raised $5.5 million for the workforce development center. In addition to the Wests, the center also received significant financial contributions from donors such as the Economic Development Board of Blount County Government, the City of Maryville and the City of Alcoa; Arconic Foundation; Blackberry Farm Foundation; Blount Memorial HospitalCare Institute GroupClayton Family Foundation; Clayton Homes Inc.; DENSO North America Foundation; and William Ed Harmon.  

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

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Pellissippi State’s spring registration starts Wednesday

Four Pellissippi State students pose on campus with masks on
Pellissippi State students have been wearing their masks, practicing social distancing and filling out daily COVID-19 screening questions before coming to campus in an effort to combat the spread of coronavirus and stay #PellissippiStrong.

Registration for spring 2021 classes at Pellissippi State Community College opens Wednesday, Oct. 21. 

Spring 2021 will look like fall 2020, with most classes not taking place on campus. In the spring 2021 schedule, students should look at “instruction mode” to see how classes will be conducted: 

  • Asynchronous online: students do the work on their own time; 
  • Synchronous online: students meet with their class at a set time via a platform such as Microsoft Teams or Zoom; 
  • Hybrid: students will be expected to come to campus at some point during the semester, often for hands-on labs or proctored tests, but most work will take place virtually; and 
  • In person: students will report to campus and meet with instructors and classmates in a traditional classroom. 

Students who prefer one of these modes of instruction over others can do a search by instruction mode in the College’s Schedule Planner. 

Current Pellissippi State students are encouraged to schedule an appointment with their assigned academic advisor using the Navigate app prior to registering. Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, advising is being conducted virtually and includes access through Microsoft Teams, Zoom, email and phone. 

“It is important to register early for the spring term so that you can be assured to get the classes you need to keep you on track to complete your degree,” said Leigh Anne Touzeau, assistant vice president, Enrollment Services. 

Prospective students have a unique opportunity to learn what it’s like to attend Pellissippi State later this month. The College will host its first drive-thru Pellissippi Preview 4-6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 29, on the Hardin Valley Campus, 10915 Hardin Valley Road, Knoxville. Those who want to learn more about Pellissippi State’s academic programs, admissions, financial aid and student support services, all from the safety of their vehicles, are encouraged to reserve their spot at www.pstcc.edu/prsvp. 

“With five campuses and a variety of online and virtual classes, Pellissippi State remains ready to meet students where they are and help them get to where they want to go,” Touzeau said. 

Pellissippi State has staff standing by to assist prospective students with the registration process in its Virtual Walk-in Student Services platform. Prospective students with a camera-enabled computer or smartphone can access Admissions, Advising, Financial Aid, HelpDesk and other student services 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday via Zoom. Prospective students do not need an appointment, but should be aware that, just like walking into an actual waiting room, prospective students will be helped on a first-come, first-served basis.  

Prospective students also can learn more about Pellissippi State through a remote meeting, an in-person appointment or online information sessions. To learn more about these options or to sign up for one, visit www.pstcc.edu/admissions/tour. 

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

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Pellissippi State Theatre students perform radio plays, broadcast live, in lieu of in-person performances this fall

Poster for the double feature radio plays
Support Pellissippi State’s Theatre and Audio Production Engineering students by tuning in to live broadcasts of two radio plays later this month.

Theatre companies across the country have had to get creative during the coronavirus pandemic, performing plays over video communication platforms or in open outdoor spaces. 

But when brainstorming how Pellissippi State Community College could give its Theatre students the experience they need while still adhering to social distancing protocolsProfessor Charles R. Miller didn’t look to the future of theatre. 

He looked to the past. 

“Why reinvent the wheel?” asked Miller, who serves as Theatre program coordinator for the College. “Radio drama has been around for 100 years.” 

Pellissippi State will present a double feature of two short radio plays — “The Lone Ranger Redux” and the science fiction piece “Think Like a Dinosaur” — at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 17, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 18. 

The plays will be performed back-to-back by Pellissippi State students, broadcast live on the College’s YouTube channel and recorded for later listening by Pellissippi State’s Audio Production Engineering faculty and students. 

There is no fee to listen. 

“In the past six months, we have seen a lot of Zoom theatre, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t,” Miller said. “But radio dramas use the power of imagination. 

“The Lone Ranger Redux” is one of the original radio broadcasts of “The Lone Ranger” from 1933, with some updating by Miller and his Theatre students. 

“There will be some socially aware commentary in it, in that the characters will step out of the play to remark on current events, but in a humorous way,” Miller explained. 

For example, the character of Tonto, the Native American companion of the Lone Ranger, will react to outdated stereotypes and racial slurs in the script. Miller described the updated Tonto as “quietly, morally outraged in a way that’s also funny.” 

The second radio play, “Think Like a Dinosaur,” is based on the award-winning science fiction novelette by James Patrick Kelly. Set in the far future and centering on alien technology and alien races, the play resembles “an episode of a scifi series, but self-contained,” Miller said. 

“This play is a little more dramatic and thought provoking,” he added. 

It’s the first time Pellissippi State has produced radio plays, Miller noted, and they are challenging the College’s Theatre students in new and different ways. 

“You don’t have the distractions of the set, the costumes and the facial expressions, so everything you’re doing with your voice, your breath – that’s what the audience is getting,” he said. “It’s all you.” 

Because of restrictions on having guests on campus during the coronavirus pandemic, Miller limited participation in the radio plays to Pellissippi State students instead of opening them up to the community. Twelve students will be acting in the plays, two will be providing sound effects and two will be working on the audio recording. 

During technical rehearsals and performances, actors will be spaced 15 to 20 feet from each other around the perimeter of the Clayton Performing Arts Center on the College’s Hardin Valley Campus, Miller stressed. The additional distance between students addresses that actors and musicians can spread respiratory droplets farther than those who talk without projecting their voices, he said. 

“Doing it live creates the kind of energy that is important to actors, but we will record it so that it can be enjoyed later by those who are not available to listen to it live,” Miller added. 

To tune in to “The Lone Ranger Redux” and “Think Like a Dinosaur” live, visit youtube.com/PellissippiState at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 17, or 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 18. 

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Pellissippi State gives canceled Big Ears Festival new life with livestreamed concerts

A jazz band plays on stage while Pellissippi State faculty and students record them
Pellissippi State student Channing Huskey, not pictured, took this photo of Pellissippi State faculty and students recording a recent concert at the Bijou Theatre.

Pellissippi State Community College’s Media Technologies faculty and students are directing, filming, recording, photographing and engineering Sites & Sounds from Big Ears, a series of intimate concerts at the historic Bijou Theatre. 

The new livestreaming initiative fills a gap left when Knoxville’s Big Ears Festival was canceled due to coronavirus. The next concert, with the top-tier contemporary jazz trio The Bad Plus, will premiere at 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 9. 

Tickets are $15 in advance and $17 on the day of the livestream. Those who purchase their tickets in advance or during the livestream also have access to a recording of the concert that will be available until 11:59 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 11.  

Big Ears Festival Executive and Artistic Director Ashley Capps reached out to Assistant Professor Mischa Goldmanwho has served as production manager for Big Ears at the Bijou for many years, to brainstorm how they could support artists and venues that had suffered severely due to COVID-19 closures. 

What they landed on isn’t your typical livestream, where the viewer experiences the concert from a fixed perspective, far from the stage. 

“Ashley wanted to make this very personal and engaging for the audience,” explains Goldman, who serves as program coordinator for Audio Production Engineering at Pellissippi State. “There wasn’t a concrete vision of how he wanted to do this, but I believe we were able to translate and capture Ashley’s desire to present a unique streaming experience.” 

Sites & Sounds from Big Ears livestreams concerts in a single take with a Steadicam — taking viewers down Gay Street, viewing the marquee out front, into the empty Bijou Theatre, backstage and, ultimately, up on stage with the artists. 

“It’s like a first-person experience,” Goldman explained. “You are up close with the artists, not sitting far back, and they break down the fourth wall, talking to each other and to the camera between tunes.” 

Big Ears and Pellissippi State piloted this approach during Sites & Sounds from Big Ears’ first concert – musician R.B. Morris on Aug. 21 – and received rave reviews from viewers. 

“A lot of streaming is flat,” Goldman said. “We got comments like, ‘I didn’t expect this. Wow.’ You are seeing the concert through the eyes of someone invited on stage with the musicians, and that provides intimacy.” 

Filming a jazz trio on stage at the Bijou Theatre
Pellissippi State faculty and students bring livestream viewers on stage with artists during Sites & Sounds from Big Ears at the historic Bijou Theatre. (Photo by student Channing Huskey)

Because of COVID-19 restrictions and concerns for safety, Sites & Sounds from Big Ears utilizes a very small crew. Big Ears Festival Managing Director Aaron Greenwald joins Capps as a producerGoldman is serving as producer and audio mastering engineer and is joined by Pellissippi State Instructor Jonathan Maness, recording and mixing engineering, and Adjunct Matthew Caldwell, director of photography/Steadicam operator and video editor. 

The Pellissippi State Video Production Technology and Photography faculty also selected four students to join them: Channing Huskey, still photography, and Logan MaddoxMichael Moore and Grant Robinson, assistant cameras. 

The students are receiving class credit for their participation. 

“This gives students real-world experience of how to put together a production like this: how to gather assets, how to work within the restraints of technology, how to work on tight deadlines,” Goldman explained. “The students have been very professional. They understand our safety protocols and have worked well with the artists.” 

Capps, the founder of AC Entertainment, which produces the annual Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester in addition to the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, is pleased with the result. 

We’re thrilled, in this most uncertain moment for the arts, to be able to work with artists about whom we care deeply, in venues that are part of the fabric of our city, and with the indispensable faculty and students from Pellissippi State Community College, an East Tennessee treasure, he said. 

For more information on the jazz trio The Bad Plus or to purchase tickets for the livestream, visit www.bigearsfestival.org/thebadplus. 

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