Pellissippi State addresses community’s COVID-19 job losses with free training program

Student in Electrical Engineering TechnologyPellissippi State Community College is launching a free, noncredit training program designed for individuals whose finances or job outlook were negatively impacted by COVID-19.  

The two-part Reimagine Your Career program is for anyone who, at any time since March 2020, has been let go from a job, laid off permanently or temporarily, experienced a reduction in hours or wages, or has had to take a new job that pays less, due to the pandemic. 

Reimagine Your Career features foundational career skills as well as career-specific training. Participants choose the career track they’d like to pursue from options such as customer service, information technology and manufacturing. 

“We focused on career tracks that had the greatest need in the Knoxville area and tracks that would allow someone to fully complete the training and earn an industry-recognized credential in a fairly short amount of time,” said Teri Brahams, executive director of economic and workforce development for Pellissippi State. 

Pellissippi State has partnered with over a dozen local businesses that are actively hiring positions within each Reimagine Your Career track, including Keurig Dr Pepper, Avero Advisors, Timken, Flowers Foods and more. At the end of the program, participants are guaranteed an interview with at least one of the partnering businesses. 

“This is a great opportunity for both the individuals in our community that were impacted negatively from the pandemic and for the businesses that make up our local economy,” Brahams said. “There are people who are seeking a meaningful career path and financial stability, and there are businesses that need people with certain skillsets to fill their open positions. It’s a win-win situation we’re helping provide.” 

students in electrical engineering technology in 2020While the Reimagine Your Career program is provided at no cost to the participants, there is an investment of time. The career foundations training is a 36-hour commitment, while the training in specific career tracks vary from 36 to 140 hours. 

“We know that people are often juggling multiple responsibilities from parenting to working part-time or full-time jobs to taking care of family members, so it was important to us to offer several options,” Brahams said.  

Fall sessions are scheduled at the following times and locations:  

  • Tuesdays & Thursdays, Sept. 7-Oct. 14, 5:30-8:30 p.m. at the Blount County Campus 
  • Tuesdays & Thursdays, Sept. 7-Oct. 14, 5:30-8:30 p.m. at the Hardin Valley Campus 
  • Wednesdays & Fridays, Sept. 8-Oct. 8, 8 a.m.-12:30 p.m. at the Magnolia Avenue Campus 
  • Tuesdays & Thursdays, Nov. 2-Dec. 14, 5:30-8:30 p.m. at the Blount County Campus 
  • Tuesdays & Thursdays, Nov. 2-Dec. 14, 5:30-8:30 p.m. at the Hardin Valley Campus 
  • Wednesdays & Fridays, Nov. 10-Dec. 10, 8 a.m.-12:30 p.m. at the Magnolia Avenue Campus

For more information or to apply for the Reimagine Your Career program, visit www.pstcc.edu/reimagine or call Business and Community Services at 865-539-7167. 

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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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Graduate spotlight: Debbie Bonds achieves lifelong dream of college degree at 70

Debbie Bonds headshot
Debbie Bonds finally had the opportunity to start college at 68 years old, after her parents made her drop out of high school at 16. She graduates from Pellissippi State this week at 70!

When Debbie Bonds parents made her drop out of high school at the age of 16, she thought her dreams of going to college and becoming a teacher were over. Debbie went on to get married, work a full career and raise her children as a single mom for many years 

When she re-married in 2013Debbie’s new husband asked her if there was anything that she’d always dreamed of doing but never gotten to. Debbie told her husband she wanted to go to college. Debbie started Pellissippi State in 2018 and will graduate this month, at age 70, with her general Associate of Science degree 

“College changed me,” Debbie says. “It opened up a whole new life for me at 68 years old, and I really would love to see every adult experience it.” 

When she started considering how to go to college as an adult learner, Debbie discovered Tennessee Reconnect, for which she says she is wholeheartedly grateful.  

I really want to see more adult learners take advantage of what’s available to them,” she says. The first time my tuition was paid for by Tennessee Reconnect, I was beside myself! I think about all the adult learners that it could make a difference for. If they don’t do this, they’re missing the boat. If I had done this when I was 30 years old, it would have changed the whole trajectory of my life. Everything would have been different.”  

Debbie jumped right into college life and got involved in the National Society of Leadership and Success as well as the Student Government Association at Pellissippi State.  

“I’ve enjoyed my time in those organizations a lot,” shares Debbie. “I chose the organizations that I wanted to be a part of because I knew I couldn’t do everything. There are many great student organizations at Pellissippi State, and I advise every student to become a part of at least one organization. It’s part of that college life that everyone needs to experience. 

It’s never too late to gain an education,” Debbie adds. Every little bit of knowledge can never be taken away from you. Even if you have to do it part time, if you have to do it one class at a time, do it. However you have to do it, do it! 

Debbie, congratulations on achieving your dream of graduating from college! You are #PellissippiStrong! #PSCCgrad21 

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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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Pellissippi State student appointed to Tennessee Board of Regents

Carlos Gonzalez
Carlos Gonzalez, a student at Pellissippi State Community College, has been appointed Student Regent for the Tennessee Board of Regents.

A Pellissippi State Community College student has been appointed by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam to serve as Student Regent for the Tennessee Board of Regents.

Carlos Gonzalez will represent the students of the 40 community and technical colleges governed by TBR, the largest system of higher education in Tennessee, for a one-year term that ends June 2019.

“I will be talking to student leaders throughout the state, both trying to convey messages from TBR to students and also hearing from students and letting TBR know what they think,” said Gonzalez, who previously served as a New Student Orientation Leader and as a mathematics and Spanish tutor at Pellissippi State.

Gonzalez, 29, was nominated for the position by Gayle Wood, director of Access and Diversity at Pellissippi State. Gonzalez works for Access and Diversity, where he helps his fellow adult learners transition into college.

Gonzalez started Pellissippi State in fall 2016, almost 10 years after an unforeseen setback thwarted his plans to attend college after his high school graduation.

“I always liked school, but when I was applying for college, I found out I was undocumented, and my dream of being a math teacher went poof,” explained Gonzalez, a native of Guerrero, Mexico, who has lived in Knoxville since he was 4 years old.

Unable to attend college as an undocumented immigrant, Gonzalez joined the family business, handling the accounting and managing the finances. He married in 2012 and applied for his Permanent Resident Card, also known as a Green Card.

The Green Card Gonzalez received in March 2016 opened the door for him to start his college education but, like other adults considering enrolling in college for the first time, he was nervous.

“When I came here to Pellissippi State, I was scared because life had been putting me down,” Gonzalez said. “But being here was a breath of fresh air. It brought life back to me. It revived my dream of being a teacher.”

Wood remembers her first meeting with Gonzalez, who she described as “anxious, fearful, unsure and insecure — characteristics of many adult learners as they begin the process of enrolling in college.” Gonzalez participated in Pellissippi Achieves for Adult Learners, a mentoring program for adult learners who are first-generation college students and first-time freshmen, and has never looked back.

“Carlos’ accomplishments are enormous: he has soared academically; he is a sought-out tutor for math and Spanish; he volunteers at the Admissions office as a translator; he has been guest speaker for a UT instructor’s class; and he introduced the guest speaker at the 2017 Convocation,” Wood said. “Although Carlos is a student, he is also a student advocate. His personality, character, contagious spirit and willingness to help fellow students, faculty and staff make him the ideal TBR Student Regent.”

Gonzalez is double majoring in accounting and mathematics at Pellissippi State. He plans to graduate in spring 2019 and continue his education at the University of Tennessee. Gonzalez’s goal is to return to Pellissippi State as a math professor.

“That’s another reason I applied for this position as Student Regent for TBR,” he noted. “I want to know what goes on behind the scenes, to understand the policy decisions that affect community college students.”

Being Student Regent involves traveling throughout the state, not only to TBR meetings, but also to meet with student leaders from other schools. Still, Gonzalez is taking 12 hours of classes this semester and cannot say enough about his experience at Pellissippi State.

“The professors here are accessible to you and really try to make that connection with students,” Gonzalez said. “That’s why I want to come back and teach here.”

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Pellissippi State gem class compliments traditional Valentine’s Day gifts

Do you ever wonder why one diamond is priced more than another? And how do you know which one to select? Pellissippi State Community College is offering a noncredit class that will teach you the ins and outs of diamonds, pearls and gemstones.

Gemology Certificate with Jewelry Television is a 12-hour class that the college is offering in partnership with Jewelry Television in Knoxville. The class will teach you how these raw materials are formed, mined, identified, graded and priced.

As an added bonus, if you register for a gem class before Feb. 15, you will receive a coupon for 15 percent off your entire regular priced purchase at the Gemstore by Jewelry Television. There is not an expiration date, so the coupon can be used at your convenience for an entire regular price purchase. The Gemstore is located at 9933 Kingston Pike.

Hobbyists, artists, jewelry lovers and anyone looking to explore a career in the industry will enjoy this series.

“This class is an opportunity to learn extremely technical gem information in an easy-to-understand and enjoyable environment,” said instructor Hillary Spector. “Participants get to touch and feel product and use high-tech lab equipment to identify gems.”

Spector, a graduate gemologist and former Gemological Institute of America (GIA) instructor, has more than 25 years of experience in the gemological industry and is presently the instructional specialist for Jewelry Television.

Classes are held at Jewelry Television’s Jewel School Institute in West Knoxville March 5-8, and sections are scheduled mornings or evenings, from 9 a.m.-noon or from 6-9 p.m. You may register for individual sections or for the full four-day lineup. Cost is $395 for the full four-day session or $99 per class.

For more information about non-credit courses at Pellissippi State, visit www.pstcc.edu/bcs or call 865-539-7167. To request accommodations for a disability for one of these classes, call 865-539-7401 or email accommodations@pstcc.edu.

Pellissippi State launches Weekend College

Pellissippi State Community College — extending its outreach to adult and nontraditional college students — will launch a Weekend College starting with the spring 2018 semester.

Weekend College will include credit courses and free non-credit classes. Registration for spring credit classes opens Oct. 30.

“This semester, Pellissippi State paved the way for adult students to come to college free of tuition, but we understand that finances are not the only hindrance to adults enrolling in college,” said Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr. “For adults and working students, traditional class times simply do not fit the bill.”

Weekend College is part of Pellissippi State’s ongoing outreach to adult students, which includes the launch of Reconnect Now this fall. Reconnect Now is a last-dollar scholarship that covers the cost of tuition and mandatory fees for qualified adults. Students who participate in the program at Pellissippi State this year may roll into the Tennessee Reconnect program when it launches in fall 2018.

“Weekend College opens the doors to more adult and nontraditional students. Saturday classes will make earning a college degree from Pellissippi State easier than ever,” Wise said.

All Weekend College classes will be offered at the college’s Magnolia Avenue Campus, 1610 E. Magnolia Ave.

Weekend College will launch with general education and other courses, from English Composition and Survey of Math Principles to General Psychology, Introduction to Electronic Health Records and Social Welfare. Through weekend-only classes, students can earn a general transfer degree or an associate degree in Early Childhood Education, Accounting, Business Administration or Social Work.

This semester, Pellissippi State piloted free lifelong learning (non-credit) classes at its Magnolia Avenue Campus, including options from Women’s Self Defense to Smart Cycling Traffic Skills, presented with the Jeff Roth Cycling Foundation. This spring, the college will offer more free non-credit classes each Saturday.

For more information about Weekend College at Pellissippi State, call 865-694-6400. To request accommodations for a disability for one of these classes, call 865-539-7401 or email accommodations@pstcc.edu.

Pellissippi State increases adult enrollment, sets new records

L. Anthony Wise Jr.

“Finding out about the free tuition program at Pellissippi State — a year before everyone else had it — was the reason I came back to college,” said Lara Mechling, a newly enrolled adult student at Pellissippi State Community College. “I started college after high school, but the timing wasn’t right. Because of Reconnect Now, I can begin again.”

Mechling, a 29-year-old recent mother, and around 2,500 fellow adult students qualified for Pellissippi State’s Reconnect Now scholarship initiative this semester. Reconnect Now is a last-dollar scholarship, funded by the college, for qualified adults. It allows adult students to attend the college tuition-free.

Of the approximately 2,567 students who qualified for Reconnect Now funding, 1,598 students have received funding so far. Of those, 1,100 students are new to the college and 498 are students who were previously enrolled. In short, nearly 23 percent of Pellissippi State’s current student population are new adults who qualified for Reconnect Now, and students who received Reconnect Now funding make up nearly one-seventh of the college’s total enrollment.

Total enrollment of adult students is 3,464 this year, reflecting the highest adult enrollment at the college since 2013 and a reversal of a seven-year downward trend in adult enrollment.

This increase in adult students contributed greatly to Pellissippi State’s overall jump in enrollment. The official headcount enrollment for fall is 11,168 students — an increase of nine percent over last year and the highest headcount since 2011. The college remains the largest community college in the state.

Pellissippi State did realize a number of enrollment firsts this semester. The college saw its highest-ever population of first-time freshmen — those who have never before attended college. Online student enrollment was up nearly 45 percent, making Pellissippi State’s online “campus” second in popularity only to the college’s Hardin Valley Campus.

“We’re excited to welcome the largest freshman class in the history of the college,” said President L. Anthony Wise Jr. “We are committed to providing the support necessary to give each and every one of our students the best possible chance of success at Pellissippi State and beyond.”

Other record highs were seen among Dual Enrollment students, who can earn college credits while still in high school, and for enrollment at the college’s Strawberry Plains Campus.

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

Pellissippi State has record enrollment in fall 2017

Students in Courtyard

Pellissippi State Community College will see record enrollment this fall.

When classes begin August 28, approximately 11,571 students will walk onto Pellissippi State’s five campuses — which reflects an increase in enrollment of about 10.4 percent over the same day last year.

This fall, the college launched Reconnect Now, a last-dollar scholarship for qualified adult students that covers tuition and mandatory fees. About 2,706 students are eligible for Reconnect Now funding.

The college’s previous record high enrollment was 11,260 in 2011. Pellissippi State has been the largest community college in Tennessee since 2015.

“Our pilot of Reconnect Now has proven that adults in Tennessee have waited for an opportunity like this,” said Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr. “Pellissippi State is proud to open the doors of education to everyone.”

Headcount enrollment is up at all five of Pellissippi State’s campuses in Knox and Blount counties, and is up almost 50 percent online.

“Covering the cost of tuition and fees does not meet all of the needs of adults with jobs, families and lives outside of school,” Wise said. “We have expanded the classes and programs we offer online, in the evenings and on weekends to fit adults’ schedules, and we’re pairing adult learners with support services like free child care for qualified single parents, credit for prior learning and even an academic fresh start if they’ve tried college before unsuccessfully.”

Pellissippi State’s Reconnect Now program will last through summer 2018. Next fall, qualified Reconnect Now students at Pellissippi State will transfer into the state’s Tennessee Reconnect scholarship program.

The official enrollment numbers for the semester will be determined and released on September 11.

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

Pellissippi State student earns CyberCorps scholarship for service

Joshua Wilson
Joshua Wilson

Joshua Wilson, a Pellissippi State Community College student, has earned a CyberCorps Scholarship for Service award to attend Tennessee Technological University.

 “I returned to college as a non-traditional student,” Wilson said. “After eight years as a Marine and traveling to 28 countries, I took advantage of the GI Bill and wanted to pursue something I enjoyed. I’ve always loved computers and technology, so that’s what I chose.”

Wilson has been in school full-time since 2014, and will graduate this May with two degrees: an associate degree in Computer Science and an associate of applied science degree in Computer Information Technology with a concentration in Networking. He then plans to transfer to Tennessee Tech.

“I’ve really enjoyed it here at Pellissippi State. I like all my professors — you can tell that they care about what they’re doing and want to help you. With the small classes, you get to know your professors and can learn at a manageable pace,” Wilson said. “And for me, the Veterans Club has helped me find a place to fit in. We’re really close.”

The CyberCorps Scholarship for Service program is administered through the federal Office of Personnel Management. Its intent is to increase and strengthen the cadre of federal information assurance professionals that protect the government’s critical information infrastructure. CyberCorps provides scholarships and stipends that typically cover the full cost of tuition and fees. The scholarships are funded through grants awarded by the National Science Foundation.

The scholarship not only will pay for Wilson’s final year at Pellissippi State and his bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity, but also will pay him a stipend to allow him to focus solely on school. For three years after graduation, he will work for the federal government in a cybersecurity post.

“Cybersecurity is becoming a more and more important issue, and there simply aren’t enough people in the field,” Wilson said.

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