Pellissippi State Community College’s Magnolia Avenue Campus will celebrate its 20th anniversary in a socially distanced way, in keeping with the challenges of marking milestones during a pandemic.
The celebration will take place noon-1:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 4, over Zoom. Those who would like to attend should RSVP to email@example.com call 865.329.3100 to receive the Zoom link for the event.
Magnolia Avenue Campus Dean Rosalyn Tillman, who has served as dean since the campus opened, will oversee thecelebration, which will include speakers sharing what Magnolia Avenue Campus did for them.
“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,” Tillman remembered. “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.”
Among the students who have passed through the halls of Magnolia Avenue Campus over the years, one stands out in Tillman’s mind: a nail technician who came into the office 30 minutes into her first college class. Tillman recalled the student telling her, “I can’t do this. I’m too old,” but the Magnolia Avenue Campus staff encouraged her to stick with it.
That student ended up getting her degree in education.
“That always has stayed with me because she was so devastated that day,” Tillman said. “We have been able to change people’s lives.”
For more information about Pellissippi State, visit www.pstcc.eduor call 865.694.6400.
Pellissippi State Community College has announced it will not hold an in-person Commencement ceremony in Decemberdue to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Instead Pellissippi State’s summer and fall 2020 graduates are invited to participate in a Virtual Commencement, which will premiere at 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 18, on the College’s Facebook page and YouTube channel.
“Students, we know this has been a challenging time for you, and we are so proud of the strength and dedication you’ve shown throughout the year,” Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr. said in a video announcement emailed to students and their families on Monday.“Thank you for being a prime example of what it means to be #PellissippiStrong.”
While Pellissippi State has only had 31 reported cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, according to the Tennessee Board of Regents System COVID dashboard, the College continues to conduct most classes and student services virtually out of an abundance of caution. Masks are required for any faculty, staff and students who do report to campus.
With 303 summer 2020 graduates and 503 graduation applications for fall 2020 already received ahead of this weekend’s deadline, the College’s graduation committee decided a Virtual Commencement would be the safest option.
To participate in Pellissippi State’s Virtual Commencement, summer 2020 graduates and those students graduating this semester should submit a photo of themselves or a 5-second video of themselves via this form by Sunday, Dec. 6. Only a single file of 100 MB or smaller can be uploaded per graduate.
Students do not have to wear a cap and gown in their photos to participate in the Virtual Commencement, but those who want to should order their regalia as soon as possible to ensure the cap and gown arrive in time.Students who need financial assistance purchasing regalia should email Beth Correro at firstname.lastname@example.org and put “Cap and Gown for Graduation” in the subject line.
For the first time, 100% of Pellissippi State Community College’s graduating Nursing students have passed their national licensing exam on their first attempt.
The National Council of State Boards of Nursing released the results of the NCLEX-RN exam last week. All 70 of Pellissippi State’s spring 2020 Nursing graduates passed the exam, which each nurse in the United States and Canada must pass to become a registered nurse.
“This is the first time a graduating class has achieved 100% pass rate since the inception of our Nursing program in 2011,” said Dean of Nursing Angela Lunsford, noting the College achieved a 99% pass rate in 2019. “I am very proud of our faculty, staff and students. They worked through a very demanding curriculum, put in 540 clinical hours during their program and graduated during a global pandemic.”
Lunsford also stressed the difficulty of the NCLEX-RN, which tests a Nursing graduate’s ability to think critically, use clinical judgement and perform in a safe and ethical manner when caring for patients.
“The exam is a computer-adaptive test, so questions get harder or easier depending on how the candidate performs,” she explained. “Students are given situations and must use the knowledge acquired in the program to select the best response. These are not yes-or-no questions.”
Another aspect of the exam that makes it challengingis that the test can be as few as 65 questions or as many as 245 because the test continues until the computer decides the candidate is safe or not safe, Lunsford added.
“The candidate can finish in 45 minutes or they may be there for up to four hours, depending on how they perform,” she said. “When the computer cuts off, the candidate has no idea if they have passed. They have to wait 24 to 48 hours for the results.”
The national pass rate for those associate degree graduates taking the exam for the first time is 84%, according to NCLEX statistics.
“Our faculty and staff work closely with our hospitals and clinical agencies to ensure Pellissippi State students get the experience needed to be safe professional nurses,” Lunsford said.“Our program is extremely rigorous and requires students to spend 20 to 30 hours a week on their studies. All of these factors are what makes achieving a 100% pass rate something of which to be very proud.”
Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr. echoed his pride in the College’s spring 2020 graduates.
“To have 100% of graduates pass the NCLEX in the best of times is an outstanding achievement. To do so in the midst of a curriculum change and pandemic is quite remarkable,” he said. “Our faculty and staff did a wonderful job preparing the students for success, and our graduates have demonstrated excellence across the board. They will serve as outstanding nursing professionals in our community for years to come.”
Pellissippi State Community College alumnus Randy Martinezwas honored on Veterans Day by his alma mater and by the Tennessee Board of Regents, the system that governs the state’s 13 community colleges and 27 technical colleges.
Martinez, who graduated from Pellissippi State in 2017, received the Chancellor’s Commendation for Military Veterans, which was accompanied by a Challenge Coin from Chancellor Flora Tydings.The TBR and Tydings established the new commendation as a system-level award to honor the service, bravery and sacrifices of military veterans in the campus communities.
Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr.presented Martinez with the coin, which carries a strong history of military tradition associated with loyalty, unity and commitment.
“I am glad a small number of the Pellissippi State community could gather on campus today to recognize and honor the sacrifice military veterans and their families have made on behalf of our country,” Wise said. “Of special significance today is the opportunity to recognize alumnus Randy Martinez with the Chancellor’s Commendation for Military Veterans. He was a decorated soldier during his time in the service and an engaged learner and leader while at the College. We are grateful for Randy and pleased to honor him today.”
The Veteran Support Committee of Pellissippi State recommendedMartinez for the commendation, which he received during the College’s Veterans Day Commemoration on its Hardin Valley Campus.
Martinez served in the U.S. Army for eight years, earning the rank of Specialist 4th Class. He served in the United States, Korea and the Middle East and was awarded the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Army Commendation Medal twice, the Unit Commendation Medal twice, Good Conduct Medal, Meritorious Unit Commendation, National Defense Service Medal, Korean Defense Service Medal and the Army Service Ribbon.
As a student at Pellissippi State, Martinez served as a New Student Orientation leader, a Veteran’s Affairs work study, an officer with the Student Veterans Club and a mentor for new student veterans. He was deeply involved in volunteer activities supporting homeless veterans at the Mountain Home Domiciliary in Johnson City,as well as assisting with several massive clean-up projects at Sharp’s Ridge Veterans Memorial Park in Knoxville. Martinez also is a gifted cook and provided many delicious meals to studentveterans, staff and faculty while he was a student at Pellissippi State.
“Randy’s caring nature, easy humor and innate kindness made him a favorite across the College,” said Rachael Cragle of Pellissippi State’s Veteran Support Committee. “We are proud of his accomplishments and pleased to call him one of our own.”
Martinez earned his Associate of Science degree, Tennessee Transfer Pathway in Business Administration at Pellissippi State. He transferred to King University and earned a Bachelor of Business Administration. Martinez now works as a member of the quality control management team at C.R. Barger & Sons, Inc. in Lenoir City, with plans to pursue a master’s degree in project management.
“Pellissippi State has a great support structure between the faculty and staff, and the Veteran Support Committee was just phenomenal,” Martinez said. “Without them, I know for a fact that I would not have graduated. And as an alum, I was able to come back and still get help; these people were still willing to sit with me and do the tutoring. There is so much Pellissippi State offers, not just to veterans but to all students, that it would be silly not to take advantage of it.”
For more information on Pellissippi State, visit www.pstcc.edu or call 865-694-6400.
Pellissippi State Community College has recognized Leila Howell as winner of the 2020 Peggy Wilson Volunteer Alumni Award, sponsored and announced this year by Discovery, Inc.
This honor highlights an outstanding graduate in recognition of extraordinary service to the Pellissippi State community.
“At Discovery, being purposeful and doing the right thing are two of our Guiding Principles and core to our DNA,” said Vikki Neil, executive vice president and general manager forDiscovery’s Digital Studios Group.“We are dedicated to giving back in communities where we live and work and value the importance of volunteerism and recognize the passion and commitment volunteers bring to an organization. We are honored to partner with Pellissippi State and sponsor the 2020 Peggy Wilson Volunteer Alumni Award and honor Leila Howell, who is incredibly deserving of this award.”
Howell’s story is one of persistence. She started her education at Pellissippi State more than 20 years ago, but then put college on hold when she became a mother to five daughters. She returned to Pellissippi State in 2011 and earned her general Associate of Science degree in 2013.
Today Howell is a human resources manager at Integrity HR Services and is pursuing a master’s in organizational leadership at Trevecca Nazarene University.
Despite working full time, taking classes and raising her daughters as a single mom, Howell still finds the time to be an active member of Pellissippi State’s Alumni Association. For 2019’s Pack the Pickup food drive, she led a campaign to support both the Pellissippi Pantry and the college’s Clothes Closet — promoting the needs of students, setting up her workplace for drop-offs and personally picking up donations around town.
Howell also volunteers at student events and mentors Pellissippi State students through Tennessee Achieves.
“Volunteering means a great deal to me,” Howell said.“I have always harbored the philosophy that when we are blessed, we should bless others in return. My father, a sage man, once told me that anyone could give money, but not everyone can give time and talent. This is an idea that has followed me, with merit, through my adult life.”
“The Foundation is proud to honor Leila Howell’s passion for serving Pellissippi State through the Peggy Wilson Volunteer Alumni Award,” said Britney Sink, director of Alumni and Donor Engagement for the Pellissippi State Foundation.“Supporting our community is vital, and we encourage our alumni to get involved and give back.”
For more information about Pellissippi State Alumni, visit www.pstcc.edu/alumni or call 865–539–7275.
Pellissippi State Business and Community Services is offering a new Welding for Artists class this summer, taught by a graduate whoused herWelding Technology degree to start a creative business.
Liz Headrick, Class of 2017, is teaching the noncredit Welding for Artists twice this summer: 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, July 18, and Saturday, July 25, at Pellissippi State’s Strawberry Plains Campus, 7201 Strawberry Plains Pike, Knoxville.
As a lifelong learning class, Welding for Artistsis open to the public, though some welding knowledge and beginner experience is recommended. The cost is $89.
“I hope people taking the class will get a cool experience and the opportunity to create something they never would have thought about previously or never had the equipment to make,” Headrick said. “Everyone will get to create a one-of-a-kind piece they can take home and show off.”
Headrick discovered her interest in welding at just the right time. Shortly after taking a welding class at a community college in California, Headrick moved to Knoxville and enrolled in the newly formed Welding Technology program at Pellissippi State.
“My husband bought me a welder as a graduation present,” Headrick noted. “At first, I didn’t have anything that needed welding, so I just took random nuts and bolts lying around the garage as an excuse to do something with it, and it stuck.”
When Headrick began posting photos of her work on Facebook and Instagram three years ago, people started to reach out to her, wanting her to make custom pieces for them. That’s when Headrick’s business, Fabuliz Fabrication and Welding,took off.
“It’s almost to the point now where my full-time job gets in the way of being at home making creative pieces,” she joked.
Using recycled scrap metal has always been a part of Headrick’s work. She repurposes materials — nuts and bolts, old saw blades, chains, spark plugs and more — to create one-of-a-kind metal art and décor.
“I like finding materials that people were throwing away or areconsidered as junk and using those materials to make something interesting or something you wouldn’t have thought to use it for,” Headrick said. “People throw away so much! I’m able to find a lot of materials from yard sales and eBay.”
To register for Welding for Artists or any other Pellissippi State lifelong learning classes this summer, contact the Business and Community Services office at 865.539.7167 or visit www.pstcc.edu/bcs.
Lifelong learning classes are following new safety precautions in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Masks or face coverings must be worn by all instructors and students for the duration of the class. Classes also are being held in larger classrooms to ensure that participants can maintain 6 feet of distance between each other.
Pellissippi State Community College has recognized Curt Maxey of Curt Maxey Technologies as its Distinguished Alumni Award winner for 2020.
The award, sponsored this year by FirstBank, is given to an individual in recognition of significant professional achievement, service to the community and support of the college and the Pellissippi State Foundation.
FirstBank also is the presenting sponsor for the college’s 2020 Alumni Program.
“We’re happy to be partnering with Pellissippi State to support the great work this school is doing in our community,” said FirstBank Knoxville Market President Brent Ball, who announced the award in a video. “As a longtime resident of East Tennessee, I know how important Pellissippi State is to residents of this area, and we’re proud to contribute to their alumni and students’ success.”
Maxey, who retired from Oak Ridge National Laboratory in 2015, was the first in his family to go to college. Maxey worked his way through school, first as a janitor for restaurants and later as an electronics technician, graduating with his Associate of Engineering Technologyin 1979.
“When I stepped onto Pellissippi State’s ‘State Tech’ campus on Liberty Street in 1976, I was a fun-loving young man fresh out of high school with a life-long passion for science, but little sense of academic direction,” Maxey said. “I could not have foreseen what that education would enable me to achieve as I worked with industry, joined a National Laboratory, completed my engineering degree and worked on programs of international significance.
“At this stage of my life and career, I am pleased to be a very ordinary man who has been privileged to make some extraordinary contributions,” he added. “There is no question that I am where I am in 2020 because Pellissippi State was where it was in 1976.”
Maxey started his career at Philips Consumer Electronics, where he met his wife, Helene, before moving on to ORNL while finishing his bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering. As a longtime research and development staff engineer, Maxey was awarded 15 patents andearned multiple awards of national and international significance, including three R&D100 awards, DOE’s Outstanding Mentor Award, ORNL’s Inventor of The Year and multiple technology transfer awards.Maxey also served as the lead technical consultant for the West Tennessee Solar Farm near Memphis.
Since his retirement, Maxey has started a consulting business, where he works with clients in the chemical processing, nuclear power, automotive, advanced materials and textiles industries.
Despite his lengthy list of professional accolades, Maxey insists that hisgreatest achievement of his career was the opportunity to mentor students.
“I have 15 patents, but would be hard pressed to name three; by contrast, I can tell you the name of every student I trained and, for most, I can to this day tell you where they are geographically and within their careers,” Maxey said.
Recognizing the important role Pellissippi State has played in their lives, Mr. and Mrs. Maxey set up a scholarship at Pellissippi State in 2018 to help others realize their dreams as well.The Curt and Helene Maxey Scholarship recognizes that, regardless of grade point average, there are many students who will go on to accomplish great things if they are given encouragement and assistance.
“The Foundation is pleased to support the Distinguished Alumni Award, the highest honor presented to an alumnus of the college,” said Britney Sink, director of Alumni and Donor Engagement. “Curt Maxey is a perfect example of a Pellissippi State graduate making significant contributions to his profession, community and the lives of others.”
For more information about Pellissippi State Alumni, visit www.pstcc.edu/alumni or call 865.539.7275.
Employees and friends of FirstBank in Knoxville recently raised $3,000 to help Pellissippi State Community College supplement the food in its Pellissippi Pantry during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Pellissippi Pantry provides access to healthy foods for members of the Pellissippi State family who may be experiencing food insecurity. Every other week, participants may pick up orders that include prepackaged food and fresh organically grown produce from the Hardin Valley Campus Garden.
With the coronavirus pandemic causing shortages at local grocery stores, FirstBank employees stepped up and helped Pellissippi State supplement the food the collegehad on hand to distribute to more than 75 Pellissippi Pantry recipients the first week of April.
“The work of Pellissippi State’s food pantry is vitally important to supporting the student community, and we’re happy to see our FirstBank family rally around a cause that helps people build a better future,” said FirstBank Knoxville Market President Nathan Hunter.
Pellissippi State set up distribution tents on three of its campuses – Blount County, Hardin Valley and Magnolia Avenue – and announced times during which Pellissippi Pantry recipients could pick up their food. Volunteers from the college placed the boxes and bags of food in each recipient’s vehicle for a contact-less delivery.
This was just the latest way FirstBank, the third largest bank headquartered in Tennessee, has partnered with Pellissippi State in 2020.
In March, Hunter presented Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr. with a $60,000 donation — $50,000 to help build the new Bill Haslam Center for Math and Science on the college’s Hardin Valley Campus and $10,000 to sponsor Pellissippi State’s annual Alumni and Friends Luncheon, which celebrates accomplishments of past Pellissippi State graduates.
“We’re happy to be partnering with Pellissippi State to support the great work this school is doing in our community,” Hunter said. “As a longtime resident of East Tennessee, I know how important Pellissippi State is to residents of this area, and we’re proud to contribute to their alumni and students’ success.”
FirstBank’s $50,000 gift to the Pellissippi State Foundation will help the college complete its new 82,000-square-foot Bill Haslam Center for Math and Science on the Hardin Valley Campus, which is now under construction and expected to open for classes in fall 2021.
The new building will help Pellissippi State, the largest community college in Tennessee, meet demands for classrooms and lab spaces that have increased due to Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect, last-dollar scholarships that provide two years of tuition-free attendance at a community or technical college in Tennessee.
The Bill Haslam Center for Math and Science will include 18 classrooms, six computer labs and nine science labs, as well as a teacher education center for the college’s Early Childhood Development and Teacher Education programs. An Adjunct Faculty Suite in the building will be named in honor of FirstBank’s generous contribution.
“Each contribution we receive for the new Bill Haslam Center for Math and Science allows us to offer greater access to required labs in the sciences,” Wise said. “This new building will also include much needed classroom space for mathematics and teacher education as well as spaces for faculty and student collaboration. We appreciate our partners at FirstBank seeing the value of what we’ve proposed here and contributing to that vision.”
FirstBank also will contribute $10,000 to Pellissippi State’s annual Alumni and Friends Lunch, which was scheduled for April 8 at the Foundry on the Fair Site but has been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The winners of the college’s Distinguished Alumni Award and the Peggy Wilson Alumni Volunteer Award, both selected by members of the Alumni Steering Committee, will be honored at the lunch.
Those award winners have not been announced.
For more information on Pellissippi State, visit www.pstcc.eduor call 865-694-6400.
Nashville-based FirstBank, a wholly owned subsidiary of FB Financial Corporation (NYSE: FBK), is the third largest Tennessee-headquartered bank, with 73 full-service bank branches across Tennessee, Kentucky, North Alabama and North Georgia, and a national mortgage business with offices across the Southeast. The bank serves five of the major metropolitan markets in Tennessee and, with approximately $6.2 billion in total assets, has the resources to provide a comprehensive variety of financial services and products.
It’s been 45 years since Pellissippi State Community College opened as State Technical Institute at Knoxville, with 45,000 square feet of floor space, to an inaugural headcount of 45 students.
Now the largest community college in Tennessee, with five campuses and 10,694 students, Pellissippi State is celebrating its 45th anniversary with 45 Days of Giving, a push to finish out Pellissippi State’s campaign to build two new buildings, expand its Media Technologies programs and support students financially.
“There will never be forests in the future if we don’t plant the seeds today,” said Ronni Chandler, a Pellissippi State alumna who serves on the college Foundation’s Board of Trustees. “This campaign is about doing our part to ensure that current and future students have the facilities and resources they need to be prepared to succeed and to lead.”
Pellissippi State launched the campaign Feb. 1, outlining a lofty goal of raising $10 million. So far the Foundation has reached 99% of that goal, and construction of the Bill Haslam Center for Math and Science on the college’s Hardin Valley Campus is underway.
The college expects to break ground on the Ruth and Steve West Workforce Development Center on the Blount County Campus in spring 2020.
“Every part of this campaign — from the new buildings to the Student Opportunity Fund — will benefit our students,” said Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr.
For example, the new 82,000-square-foot Bill Haslam Center for Math and Science will help Pellissippi State meet demands for classrooms and lab spaces that have increased due to the Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect scholarships while the new 53,000-square-foot Ruth and Steve West Workforce Development Center will be used by Pellissippi State and Tennessee College of Applied Technology Knoxville to help fill the area’s need for highly skilled, college-educated employees.
Pellissippi State’s Student Opportunity Fund also will benefit from the campaign. Created in 2018 to help break down the barriers that keep students from staying in school, the Student Opportunity Fund has provided a total of $55,115 in assistance to 153 students since its inception last year.
“Many people believe the cost of an education at Pellissippi State is now paid for by the state,” explained Campaign Chair Tom Ballard, who established the Student Opportunity Fund with his wife Diane and support from Marty Adler-Jasny and Norm and Ann Naylor. “That is true for things like tuition, but it doesn’t pay for incidentals or unexpected expenses for a student whose car breaks down or computer dies. Those are expenses that many of Pellissippi State’s students cannot absorb.”
To complete the campaign before the end of the calendar year, Pellissippi State is celebrating 45 Days of Giving. 45 Days of Giving will continue until Dec. 31 and will include Giving Tuesday on Dec. 3.
During these 45 days, Pellissippi State faculty, staff, students, alumni and the community are encouraged to donate to Pellissippi State at https://giving.pstcc.edu.
Five alumni champions – one for each decade the college has existed – are challenging their fellow alumni to see which decade’s alumni can raise the most for the campaign. Champions include Curt Maxey, Class of 1979; Randy Merritt, Class of 1989; Ronni Chandler, Class of 1994; J. Travis Howerton, Class of 2002; and Candace Viox, Class of 2013.
“After being out of the workforce for 13 years and college for 20 years, I enrolled in the culinary program at Pellissippi State,” said Viox, owner of Water into Wine Bistro and Lounge. “My experience and the many supporters I gained there led to the conception, and ultimately the success, of my restaurant in Farragut.”
Even those donors who didn’t graduate from Pellissippi State are welcome to indicate which decade they want their gift to join. The winning decade will be the theme of the campaign celebration.
To keep up with 45 Days of Giving and the friendly competition between the decades, be sure to follow Pellissippi State, Pellissippi State Foundation and Pellissippi State Alumni and Friends on Facebook. Facebook profile frames to support the campaign are available here.
For more information about Pellissippi State, visit www.pstcc.edu or call 865.694.6400.
A recent Pellissippi State Community College graduate was the only student invited to participate in a staged reading of an original play in New York City.
Katharine Wilcox-Chelimsky, who graduated Summa Cum Laude in May with her Associate of Fine Arts in Theatre Arts – Performance, reprised her role as Emily in “Soft Animals” in the May 20 reading. The reading with professional actors, a form of theatre without sets or full costumes, was the culmination of Pellissippi State’s 2018-19 collaboration with The Farm Theater in New York.
“I am incredibly grateful to have been offered the opportunity to share the stage with talented people who are currently living out my dream of leading successful lives in the New York theatre scene,” said Wilcox-Chelimsky, a native of Knoxville. “This being my first professionally produced show, I made sure to observe what I could about the interactions between the cast and artistic staff as well as processes and methods everyone used to bring the characters to life and pull the reading together in such a limited amount of time.”
“Kat was really holding her own with the New York City actors,” said Associate Professor Grechen Lynne Wingerter, who directed the world premiere of “Soft Animals” at Pellissippi State in November. “If you didn’t know she was a student, you wouldn’t know she was a student. She was great.”
As part of its College Collaboration Project, the Farm Theater commissioned playwright Erin Mallon to write “Soft Animals” for Pellissippi State. Based on those initial performances last fall, Mallon tweaked the play, a comedy that explores the perceptions we have about physical appearances and our relationship with our bodies, for the production of “Soft Animals” at Arkansas State University in the spring. She completed additional rewrites of the script before the public reading in New York City.
“Overall, the story didn’t change, as far as the plot, but there were character clarifications and relationship clarifications,” Wingerter explained. “With one character in particular, her connection to the story became much clearer. She was so much on the outside it was hard to have sympathy for her before, but we knew that we should. Her arc is stronger now.”
Wingerter and Wilcox-Chelimsky traveled to New York City for two days of rehearsal with the professional actors before the public reading, which was held in a small studio theatre near downtown. The reading, which was directed by Farm Theater Artistic Director Padraic Lillis, was followed by a post-show discussion with the playwright and the cast.
“Erin says it’s still not finished,” Wingerter said. “Some playwrights say a play is never finished. Who knows where it will go next? But this was the end of the road for us.”
And what a road it was.
“This is unique for our students, to be the very first to bring a play to life,” Wingerter said before the November performances at Pellissippi State. “When you do the classics – say, ‘Romeo and Juliet’ or ‘Death of a Salesman’ – there are preconceived notions of how those plays are supposed to be done, and there always will be comparisons. With a new play, our actors are allowed to experiment, to explore character development, and they’re focusing on applying what they’re learning in the classroom to the stage.”
“Soft Animals” also was unique, Wingerter added after the New York City reading, because Mallon wrote the play with college students in mind.
“They were not asked to play 50 year olds, so they felt a little more ownership,” she explained. “This gave them the chance to develop their roles, and one of the reasons Kat was chosen is how she brought that character to life.”
Wilcox-Chelimsky said she felt an immediate connection with the character of Emily when she received the script last year.
“She has an innocence and this sense of naive bravery that reminds me of how I was feeling as I graduated high school and went on this brave new adventure that was college,” Wilcox-Chelimsky said. “An acting choice that I made in rehearsal ended up in the stage directions of the final draft we worked with in New York. The thought that that decision I made on Pellissippi State’s stage could potentially end up in a published script one day and maybe even influence future performances of this character just completely blows my mind.”
As a director, Wingerter also learned from Pellissippi State’s participation in the College Collaboration Project.
“I went to see the Arkansas State production, and I’ve never done that before – directed a play and then went to see it somewhere else,” she said. “It was interesting to see the different interpretations, but it’s still the same story. And that validates the story of the play and helps the playwright figure out, ‘Is this the story I want to tell?’ because if all these different people get it, she’s on the right track.”