Overstreet named State Star by Tennessee Small Business Development Center network

Laura Overstreet headshot
Under Laura Overstreet’s leadership, the Tennessee Small Business Development Center in Knoxville assisted clients with $11.3 million in federal disaster assistance in 2020 and $15.3 million in federal disaster assistance in 2021, to date. The Center also assisted in retaining 1,348 jobs in 2020 and 847 jobs in 2021 so far.

Pellissippi State Community College’s Laura Overstreet, director of the Tennessee Small Business Development Center in Knoxville, has received the state’s highest honor from her peers and was celebrated this week at America’s Small Business Development Center’s annual conference. 

The State Stars, who were chosen by their SBDC networks, are among the best of the best – those who demonstrate exemplary performance, make significant contributions to their networks and are deeply committed to the success of America’s small businesses. 

“I am honored, but it takes a team,” Overstreet said. “I depend on them heavily, and they are fantastic. You have to have a very well-oiled machine to pull off what we pulled off this last year.” 

The Tennessee Small Business Development Center in Knoxville is hosted by Pellissippi State, although its office is located in Market Square. Overstreet joined the Center in 2013 as a business specialist, after owning and operating her own retail business for 17 years. 

“I opened the first legal liquor store in the town that temperance built,” Overstreet explained, referring to Harriman, Tennessee. “I was a self-made entrepreneur. I went from zero sales to $2.5 million at peak. I went from leasing a space to owning a shopping center.” 

Along the way, Overstreet received the Athena Leadership Award and the Sam Walton Business Leader Award and served on several community boards, including chairing the capital campaign to restore the historic Roane County Courthouse.  

Overstreet sold her business in 2010, but found her retirement to be premature, she said. A job posting for the Tennessee Small Business Development Center in Knoxville piqued her interest. 

“I thought, ‘Isn’t that the perfect thing for me to do?’ because I received so much help from the community when I started my business,” she said. “It sounded like the perfect opportunity to give back.” 

America’s nationwide network of Small Business Development Centers provide one-on-one consulting and training services to new and existing businesses, “at no cost to clients for the life of the business,” Overstreet noted. The SBDCs are funded in part by the U.S. Congress through a partnership with the U.S. Small Business Administration. Pellissippi State provides the rest of the funding for the Knoxville Center. 

Since joining the Tennessee Small Business Development Center in Knoxville, which serves seven counties, Overstreet has assisted small businesses in generating over $29 million in capital formation and has helped 85 entrepreneurs start a business. She has earned her Certified Export Specialist designation as well as her Certified Global Business Professional designation, which allowed her to represent Tennessee’s marine equipment manufacturing industry at an international trade show in Amsterdam two years in a row, pre-pandemic. 

“95% of the market for marine equipment is international,” she explained. “We just happen to have a lot of marine equipment manufacturers in Tennessee, and this helped them get leads all over the world.” 

When the coronavirus pandemic hit East Tennessee, Overstreet and her two staff members shifted to “100 percent disaster relief,” she said, helping clients navigate the Paycheck Protection Program, the Economic Injury Disaster Loan, the Shuttered Venues Operations Act, the Restaurant Recovery Fund and more. 

“Our phones rang and rang and rang, seven days a week,” Overstreet remembered. “It was heart-wrenching. The rules for everything were changing constantly. Changes would come out every night around midnight. I felt like I read the Encyclopedia Britannica cover to cover. The three of us worked seven days a week from March (2020) through June (2020).” 

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, allowed Overstreet to hire nine part-time consultants, which she called “a huge relief to the team.”  

Under Overstreet’s leadership, the Tennessee Small Business Development Center in Knoxville assisted clients with $11.3 million in federal disaster assistance in 2020 and $15.3 million in federal disaster assistance in 2021, to date. The Center also assisted in retaining 1,348 jobs in 2020 and 847 jobs in 2021 so far. 

“Our work during the pandemic has been rewarding, but really hard,” Overstreet said. “It was emotionally taxing, but we couldn’t not answer the phones. We had to help.” 

In nominating Overstreet for the award, Overstreet’s team recognized her dedication and commitment to her community, witnessing her expertise, professionalism and willingness to learn in an effort to serve more individuals. 

“Pellissippi State, the TSBDC network and our clients are very fortunate to have someone of Laura’s caliber leading our Center,” said Teri Brahams, executive director of Economic and Workforce Development for Pellissippi State. “She’s a great advocate for our area’s small businesses, an extremely competent business advisor and an exceptional leader. I’m extremely pleased she is part of my team.” 

For more information about the Tennessee Small Business Development Center in Knoxville, visit www.tsbdc.org/pscc/ or call 865-246-2663. While the Center is located in Market Square, staff meet clients one day each week at the Farragut West Knox Chamber of Commerce and at the Blount County Chamber of Commerce and one day each month at the Cocke County Chamber of Commerce. 

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TBR honors Richard B. Ray, Blount Memorial Hospital for support of higher education 

Richard Ray at lectern, accepting Regents' Award on Aug. 17, 2021
Richard B. Ray of Knoxville, a co-founder of tnAchieves, accepts the Regents’ Award for Excellence in Philanthropy at Pellissippi State on Aug. 17.

Richard B. Ray of Knoxville, a co-founder of tnAchieves, and Blount Memorial Hospital were honored this month by the Tennessee Board of Regents for their longstanding support of education. Both were nominated by Pellissippi State Community College President L. Anthony Wise Jr. 

Ray received the 2021 Regents’ Award for Excellence in Philanthropy at a Ribbon Cutting Celebration for Pellissippi State’s Bill Haslam Center for Math and Science on Aug. 17, while Blount Memorial’s chief executive officer Don Heinemann and board vice chair David Pesterfield accepted the 2021 Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Philanthropy at a Blount Partnership event Aug. 25. 

Established in 2001, these awards honor individuals, companies and organizations who go “above and beyond” to donate their resources, finances, and personal time to TBR’s 40 community and technical colleges. 

Wise nominated Ray, co-founder and chief financial officer of 21st Mortgage Corporation, for his commitment to tnAchieves, the college scholarship and mentorship program that pairs volunteer mentors with incoming college students who receive the Tennessee Promise scholarship.  

Not only did Ray found KnoxAchieves, the precursor to tnAchieves, with fellow Knoxville businessmen Randy Boyd, Bill Haslam, Mike Ragsdale and Tim Williams in 2009, but Ray is one of only four tnAchieves volunteers across the state who has served as a mentor every single year. Over the past 12 years, Ray has mentored over 60 students. He drives from his home in west Knoxville to the Carter community in east Knox County to meet with his mentees, and he volunteers every year to teach budgeting at tnAchieves’ Summer Bridge Program at Pellissippi State, which helps incoming students start on a more college-ready level, both academically and socially. 

“Rich Ray was the first in his family to graduate from college,” Wise writes in nominating Ray for the award. “Growing up in east Knoxville, Rich worked his way through the University of Tennessee. He remembers the challenges of working to pay tuition and navigating higher education without a mentor to guide him. Rich says, ‘If you are the first in family to ever go beyond high school, you need someone to tell you it is possible, that you can do it.’” 

Ray and his wife, Jane, also have supported Pellissippi State since 2017, with gifts to the Student Opportunity Fund, which helps the Pellissippi State Foundation assist students in crisis, and to support the expansion of the Strawberry Plains Campus library. The couple also has committed a planned gift to Pellissippi State to continue their support of community college students into the future. 

“Jane and I have been fortunate to contribute to wonderful organizations, but we do focus on education,” Ray said when accepting the award from Regent Danni B. Varlan on Aug. 17. “We firmly believe that to have a better quality of life for our kids in Tennessee, they must be better educated. That begins with K-3 and continues all the way through getting their degrees either at a university or a community college or developing a trade at TCAT, so thank you for this recognition. I appreciate it.” 

Blount Memorial Hospital chief executive officer Don Heinemann, second from left, and hospital board vice chair David Pesterfield, third from left, accept the Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Philanthropy on Aug. 25, 2021
Blount Memorial Hospital chief executive officer Don Heinemann, second from left, and hospital board vice chair David Pesterfield, third from left, accept the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Philanthropy on Aug. 25, from Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr., left, and Regent Danni B. Varlan.

Wise nominated Blount Memorial Hospital for the Chancellor’s Award for its longstanding support of Pellissippi State students. In 2001 the hospital established the Blount Memorial Nursing Scholarship, which is awarded annually to a Nursing student from Blount County. The hospital later funded the Nursing simulation lab at the college’s Blount County Campus, helping establish the college’s Nursing program in 2010. More recently Blount Memorial pledged $100,000 to help build the Ruth and Steve West Workforce Development Center on the Blount County Campus, which is now underway and is scheduled for completion in 2022. 

While Blount Memorial sponsors clinical rotations for Pellissippi State’s Nursing students, last year Pellissippi State helped the hospital train 61 of its medical-surgical nurses in COVID-19 patient care, allowing the hospital to use the Nursing simulation lab on the Blount County Campus to practice scenarios based on actual COVID-19 cases. These COVID-19 trainings were just the beginning of what Pellissippi State and Blount Memorial envision being a year-round partnership, including the possibility of launching a nurse residency program. 

Blount Memorial’s support of Blount County and its people, however, dates to its founding in 1947, when local physicians and philanthropists partnered with ALCOA Inc. to realize the dream of a community hospital. 

“Blount Memorial Hospital is committed to care for the health and well-being of any individual who needs assistance, regardless of their ability to pay,” Wise writes in nominating Blount Memorial for the award. “This ethos permeates the organizational culture, from the greeter at the welcome desk to the most skilled surgeon. As healthcare challenges increase, so does Blount Memorial’s commitment to care for all who need assistance: every child, every senior, every hurting or sick individual, regardless of circumstance.” 

 “It’s truly an honor for Blount Memorial to receive the Chancellor’s Award,” said Heinemann, the hospital’s CEO. “Our work with Pellissippi State is something we’ve cherished over the years, and we’re committed to continuing our efforts to support Pellissippi State students who are planning careers in health care. As we saw just in the last year, our collaboration with Pellissippi State helped us ensure our team was prepared to handle the influx of COVID-19 cases in our community. In a pandemic – or any other time – that’s a win-win for us.” 

Fall classes are now underway at Pellissippi State. For more information about the college or the Foundation, visit www.pstcc.edu or call 865-694-6400. 

To apply to be a tnAchieves mentor for the Class of 2022, a commitment of about one hour per month, visit www.tnachieves.org/mentors 

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Pellissippi State Video Production Technology team wins Bronze in national competition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pellissippi State Motorsports finishes sixth in national competition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pellissippi State alumnus Atherton gives back to school that got him started

Rick Atherton Jr.
Pellissippi State recently honored Rick Atherton Jr. with the the 2021 Peggy Wilson Volunteer Alumni Award.

First-generation college student Rick Atherton Jr. has worked his way up from general laborer to facilities manager and senior project manager for the commercial division of Schaad Companies, but he’s still found time to give back to his alma mater and the students who are following in his footsteps. 

Pellissippi State Community College honored Atherton, Class of 2011, with the 2021 Peggy Wilson Volunteer Alumni Award at a virtual event April 16. The award, which highlights an outstanding graduate in recognition of extraordinary service to the Pellissippi State community, was announced and sponsored again this year by Discovery Inc. 

At Discovery, we value the communities where our employees work and live. It’s important to us to be purposeful and do the right thing,” said Vikki Neilexecutive vice president and general manager of Discovery’s Digital Studios Group. Encouraging our employees to volunteer has always been core to our DNAThat’s why Discovery is proud to honor Rick, who has gone above and beyond by continuously giving back to his community and his school. We extend our heartfelt congratulations and gratitude to him.” 

Atherton earned his associate degree in Engineering Technology/Civil Engineering from Pellissippi State in 2011, followed by a bachelor’s degree in project management from Bellevue University in Nebraska. He also is a certified project management professional through the Project Management Institute, where he is active in both the local chapter and the global organization. 

At Schaad Companies, Atherton directs all capital improvement projects, tenant improvement projects and facilities maintenance for 1.6-million square feet of commercial lease space, as well as overseeing all new commercial construction projects. 

“My parents had taught me to always work hard, and good things would come my way,” said Atherton, noting he first got interested in construction when he and his wife, Staci, decided to build their own home. “I thank God for everything He has provided for me, including the opportunity of being a part of a great school like Pellissippi State.” 

Since 2015, Atherton has served on Pellissippi State’s Academic Advisory Committee, where he helps recommend and approve new curriculum for the Civil and Construction Engineering Technology program with Program Coordinator Sami Ghezawi. 

“Pellissippi State offered the classes and hands-on learning I needed to advance in my career,” Atherton said. Dr. Ghezawi and (Retired Professor) George Cox made learning interesting and helped foster my desire for continuous learning, so I’m proud and honored to be able to give back by volunteering with the advisory committee now. 

Atherton also has visited Pellissippi State classes to give overviews of his latest projects and volunteered to clean the Construction Materials Lab and Computer Lab to prepare them for student use. He recently assisted in review of an endofprogram assessment for the college and, in collaboration with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, facilitated a student tour of model homes created using sustainable building methods. 

Pellissippi State relies on the influence and service of our alumni to further institutional goals,” said Britney Sink, director of Alumni and Donor Engagement for the Pellissippi State Foundation. “Rick Atherton has demonstrated an ongoing commitment to the college by sharing his expertise and doing whatever is needed to ensure student success. We are proud to honor him with this volunteer award. 

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 About Discovery 

Discovery, Inc. (Nasdaq: DISCA, DISCB, DISCK) is a global leader in real life entertainment, serving a passionate audience of superfans around the world with content that inspires, informs and entertains. Discovery delivers over 8,000 hours of original programming each year and has category leadership across deeply loved content genres around the world. Available in 220 countries and territories and nearly 50 languages, Discovery is a platform innovator, reaching viewers on all screens, including TV Everywhere products such as the GO portfolio of apps; direct-to-consumer streaming services such as discovery+, Food Network Kitchen and MotorTrend OnDemand; digital-first and social content from Group Nine Media; a landmark natural history and factual content partnership with the BBC; and a strategic alliance with PGA TOUR to create the international home of golf. Discovery’s portfolio of premium brands includes Discovery Channel, HGTV, Food Network, TLC, Investigation Discovery, Travel Channel, MotorTrend, Animal Planet, Science Channel, and the forthcoming multi-platform JV with Chip and Joanna Gaines, Magnolia Network, as well as OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network in the U.S., Discovery Kids in Latin America, and Eurosport, the leading provider of locally relevant, premium sports and Home of the Olympic Games across Europe. For more information, please visit corporate.discovery.com and follow @DiscoveryIncTV across social platforms. 

Former Pellissippi State student named Georgia Tech’s top engineering senior

Lily Turaski at Georgia Tech
Lily Turaski of Blount County, a former dual enrollment student at Pellissippi State, has been awarded the highest honor from Georgia Tech College of Engineering.

Former Pellissippi State Community College student Eleanor (Lily) Turaski of Blount County has been awarded the Tau Beta Pi Senior Engineering Cup, the highest honor from the Georgia Institute of Technology’s College of Engineering, recognizing academic excellence, leadership and service.  

Turaski was selected from approximately 2,000 graduating engineers for this honor and will receive an engraved cup and $5,000 in recognition of her accomplishments. 

During high school, Turaski took multiple classes at Pellissippi State through the College’s dual enrollment program, which allows high school students to take college classes for credits they can then transfer to four-year institutionsIn addition to taking dual enrollment classes, Turaski was a member of the College’s Science Club and participated in a research project with other Pellissippi State Chemistry students 

Turaski also participated in many academic contests sponsored by Pellissippi State for local middle and high school students — the Math Contest, the Science Bowl and the Science Olympiad. She said she is grateful Pellissippi State offered so many opportunities for students interested in science, technology, engineering and math fields. 

“The courses I took at Pellissippi State gave me a strong foundation to be successful in my STEM classes at Georgia Tech,” said Turaski, who was homeschooled through high school and graduated in May 2017. “I am so thankful for professors Patricia Zingg and Rachel Glazener who made learning Chemistry fun!” 

“Lily was an outgoing and inquisitive student from day one in my course,” said Glazener, an associate professor of Chemistry. “It was a joy to have her in my class and field her array of questions about chemistry. I have no doubts that with her dedication to the STEM field she will do great things in life!  

Turaski won a full scholarship to Georgia Tech, where she is a Stamps President’s Scholar graduating in May 2021 with a 4.0 GPA. She is majoring in Materials Science Engineering with a minor in Chemistry.  

In addition to excelling in the classroom, Turaski has seven semesters of research experience in two Georgia Tech labs and has presented her research at four national conferences. For her research acumenTuraski was selected for the prestigious Goldwater Fellowship in 2019, which recognizes the top students across the country participating in STEM research. 

“I have really enjoyed my classes at Georgia Tech,” Turaski said. “Georgia Tech is a special place, where you are surrounded by incredibly talented and diverse people. I have learned so much not only from my classes and my professors, but also from my peers.” 

As a sophomore at Georgia Tech, Turaski created an undergraduate leadership team for Women in MSE (Materials Science Engineering) to integrate with the graduate team, and she served as the first undergraduate president of the group. She also was instrumental in revitalizing the Material Advantage chapter at Georgia Tech, which was named one of the top five chapters globally in 2020.  

In 2019, she founded the MSE Peer Partners Organization, which works alongside the Materials Science Engineering advising staff to help students with course scheduling, applying for internships and finding undergraduate research opportunities. 

“She is a dedicated, thoughtful student, one who strives to build community and advocate for STEM women to magnify their voice,” said Mary Lynn Realff, associate professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Georgia Tech. “Turaski stands out among the thousands of students that have passed through my hands over the years just by how effective she has been in making the School of MSE and Georgia Tech a more inviting, inclusive and diverse community.” 

Shortly after being named the winner of the Senior Engineering Cup, Turaski received a competitive fellowship from the National Science Foundation, which will pay for her to continue her studies at the graduate level. She will begin a Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering at Stanford University in the fall, where she will focus on electronic materials. 

Turaski is the daughter of Steven and DeeDee Turaski from Friendsville, Tenn. Her mother is a longtime adjunct instructor of Biology at Pellissippi State. 

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Pellissippi State honors 2021 Distinguished Alumni this Friday 

Headshot of Vivian Underwood Shipe
Join Pellissippi State and presenting sponsor FirstBank this Friday in honoring Vivian Underwood Shipe as the College’s 2021 Distinguished Alumni Award winner.

Coming off the most challenging year Pellissippi State Community College has faced in its 47-year history, who better to recognize than an alumna who is helping educate and vaccinate at-risk populations during the COVID-19 pandemic? 

Vivian Underwood Shipe, class of 1991, will be honored Friday by the Pellissippi State Community College Foundation at Pellissippi Strong: A Virtual Celebration. The free event, 11:45 a.m.-12:45 p.m. online, is open to the public and includes door prizes, networking and an exclusive Q&A with Allison Page, president of Magnolia Network, the joint venture between Discovery Inc. and Chip and Joanna Gaines’ home and lifestyle brand. 

Presenting sponsor FirstBank will present Shipe with Pellissippi State’s 2021 Distinguished Alumni Award, which highlights an outstanding graduate in recognition of significant professional achievement and service to the community. 

“FirstBank is happy to partner with Pellissippi State to support the great work this school is doing in our community,” said Brent Ball, Knoxville market president for FirstBank. “As a longtime resident of East Tennessee, I know how important Pellissippi State is to the residents of this area, and we are proud to support their alumni and students’ success.” 

Shipe, who earned her associate degree in Marketing from Pellissippi State at 41, has stayed active in the community since retiring from the U.S. Postal Service in 2018 after 35 years of service. She is founder and chief executive officer of I AM the Voice of the Voiceless, a nonprofit dedicated to providing education and resources for vulnerable populations, as well as a founding member of Faith Leaders Health Initiative and the state’s pre-arrest diversion task force. 

Shipe also serves on the boards of the Mental Health Association of East Tennessee, Elder Abuse Task Force of Knoxville/Knox County, Knoxville Community Health Fair and many other community organizations. 

“Vivian Shipe is a strong advocate and champion for people often marginalized,” writes Vrondelia (Ronni) Chandler, executive director of Project GRAD Knoxville, in nominating Shipe for the award. “Vivian firmly believes we are only as great as the least of us. She lives by two scriptures: Proverbs 19:17 and Matthew 25:40, ‘The King will say to them, I assure you that to the extent you did it for the least of these brothers of mine, you did it for Me.’” 

Shipe is most proud of four recent projects: 

  • her collaborative work with other organizations in the development of a Safety Center as a jail alternative for the mentally ill,  
  • the successful passing of a $15 million state budget addition for prearrest diversion for the mentally ill,  
  • the shutdown of a nursing home charged with elder abuse and  
  • her ongoing work with the Faith Leaders initiative in the fight to educate and vaccinate during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

I believe in building relationships and communicating,” Shipe said. I try to bring out the best in everyone I meet and help them to develop or use their talents to help others. 

Whether helping create warming centers in area businesses and churches to protect the homeless in frigid temperatures to working with A21 to fight human trafficking, Shipe is a champion for Knoxville. 

As an advocate I speak at the local and state level for the most vulnerable, voiceless and those who fear retaliation,” Shipe said. I work to bring together those who need with those who have. 

Join Pellissippi State and presenting sponsor FirstBank on Friday in celebrating Shipe and her many contributions to the community. Register here for the virtual event, which will begin with networking at 11:45 a.m. and will wrap up by 12:45 p.m. 

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Nashville-based FirstBank, a wholly owned subsidiary of FB Financial Corporation (NYSE: FBK), is the third largest Tennessee-headquartered bank, with 81 full-service bank branches across Tennessee, South Central 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 $11.2 billion in total assets, has the resources to provide a comprehensive variety of financial services and products. 

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President of Discovery’s new Magnolia Network headlines Pellissippi State celebration

Headshot of Allison Page
Allison Page, president of Discovery Inc.’s new Magnolia Network, will headline Pellissippi Strong: A Virtual Celebration on April 16.

Join Pellissippi State Community College for a free virtual event featuring a Q&A with the president of Magnolia Network, the joint venture between Discovery Inc. and Chip and Joanna Gaines’ home and lifestyle brand. 

Pellissippi Strong: A Virtual Celebration will be held 11:45 a.m.-12:45 p.m. Friday, April 16, and also will feature door prizes, networking and the college’s annual alumni awards. Registration is free and open to the public. 

The virtual celebration represents a transition from our former Alumni & Friends luncheon to a new event encompassing all individuals in the community that have a vested interest in the success of the college and its students,” said Aneisa Rolen, executive director of the Pellissippi State Community College Foundation. We are focused on sharing the stories that bring our Pellissippi State mantra start strong, stay strong and finish strong to life. Next year, we hope to fully launch the redesigned event in person. 

The celebration, presented by FirstBank, will be held on Lunchpool, which allows participants to video chat around virtual tables for face-to-face networking if they choose. Participants also may choose to keep their cameras off, if they prefer. 

At noon, media sponsor WATE-TV’s Tearsa Smith will kick off the event with a Q&A with Allison Page of the Magnolia Network. The former president of HGTV and Food Network, Page joined Food Network in 2001 and spent many years developing primetime series for Rachael Ray, Giada De Laurentiis, Bobby Flay and Guy Fieri. Her efforts were key to Food Network’s record-breaking, double-digit, ratings growth and instrumental in the successful launch of Cooking Channel in 2010. 

She later served as general manager of HGTV, DIY Network, Great American Country and Travel Channel. Under her leadership, series such as Fixer Upper, Flip or Flop and Brother vs. Brother garnered record ratings for HGTV.  

Allison Page’s story of launching a new network during a pandemic is the perfect way to kick-off a conversation about how you start strong,’” Rolen said. Overcoming adversity takes determination and a clear vision of success. I look forward to hearing more about Allison’s leadership and lessons learned during this challenging time. 

Following the Q&A, Pellissippi State will present the College’s annual alumni awards. The Distinguished Alumni Award, announced by FirstBank, highlights an outstanding graduate in recognition of significant professional achievement and service to the community, while the Peggy Wilson Volunteer Alumni Award, sponsored and announced by Discovery Inc., highlights an outstanding graduate in recognition of extraordinary service to the Pellissippi State community. 

For more information about the event, including sponsorship opportunities, visit https://sites.pstcc.edu/foundation/pellissippistrong 

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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 wins regional Musical Theatre competition

Ethan Turbyfill headshot
Pellissippi State student Ethan Turbyfill of Maryville has won the Musical Theatre Initiative competition for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival’s Region 4 and is headed to the National Festival this summer in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Olivia Turbyfill)

A global pandemic may have canceled his opportunity to perform in Scotland in 2020, but Pellissippi State Community College student Ethan Turbyfill didn’t let that stop him from following his dream of musical theatre. 

Instead, the Maryville native asked his parents for a tripod and ring light for Christmas, knowing he was likely going to have to record himself for future auditions as COVID-19 raged on. 

The Christmas gift paid off, as Turbyfill’s iPhone-recorded audition landed him top prize at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival’s Music Theatre Initiative competition for Region 4, which is comprised of college students from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, southern Virginia, Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands. 

“I didn’t actually hear my name because my mom jumped up and started screaming,” laughs Turbyfill, who watched the regional competition at home with his parents and younger sister because it took place virtually this year.  

Turbyfill, who graduated from Alcoa High School in 2019 and will graduate from Pellissippi State in May, had finished in the top five of the regional competition in 2020, before the pandemic hit. Normally students submit three songs, but those who auditioned in 2021 were limited to only one. 

Turbyfill decided to go a completely different directionchoosing “I Miss the Mountains” from the Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical “Next to Normal.” The song is performed by the female leadwho is grappling with worsening bipolar disorder and being medicated for it. 

“I wanted to showcase emotion this time because I knew that auditioning on video meant the camera would be close to my face, as opposed to singing on stage, and I wanted to give a more nuanced performance,” Turbyfill explained. “It also was an unexpected song for a musical theatre tenor, and because I’m not a middle-aged woman, I gender-bent it. That took away some of the pressure of sounding like someone else.” 

It was a struggle, in a house with his family and four dogs, to get everyone quiet at the same time, and the perfectionist in Turbyfill wanted to perform the song over and over again – but his voice wouldn’t let him. 

“I was having a lot of vocal issues that week – I eventually had to go on voice rest – so my third take was the one I chose,” he noted. “That taught me about both stamina and being in the moment.” 

The audition piece got Turbyfill through three rounds of virtual competition. It wasn’t until he sat down to watch the competition with his family, however, that he realized he was the only male singer of the six finalists. 

“They played everyone’s performances, then they announced third place and then second,” Turbyfill remembered. “When I realized I hadn’t heard my name, I realized, ‘Wait! I did it!’”  

In a “normal” year, Turbyfill would be headed to the KCATCF National Festival in April, but this year it’s been postponed until August due to COVID-19. 

Ethan Turbyfill, left, in Hairspray at the Knoxville Children's Theatre in 2019
Pellissippi State student Ethan Turbyfill, left, plays teen idol Link Larkin in “Hairspray Jr.” at the Knoxville Children’s Theatre in 2019.

But that timing could work out for the best for Turbyfill, who underwent a tonsillectomy earlier this month to clear up the issues he was having when he recorded his audition in January. 

Thankfully my vocal cords are healthy, and the doctors said this would help me in the long run, as far as my voice is concerned,” he said. 

Turbyfill won’t let a pandemic or a tonsillectomy slow him down. While his voice is recovering from the surgery, he’s serving as assistant director for Pellissippi State’s upcoming production of “Love and Information,” which will stream on the College’s Facebook and YouTube pages April 16-18.  

“Ethan is one of those rare students who truly puts in the work to become a stronger performer,” said Associate Professor Grechen Wingerter, who is directing the play next month. He challenges and pushes himself out of his comfort zone. Plus, he’s quite simply one of the nicest people I know. I’m proud to have been his professor these past two years. 

For Turbyfill, who recently turned 20, putting in the work to become a stronger performer is something he’s been doing his whole life. 

“I’ve always known what I wanted to do,” said Turbyfill. “I’ve been singing since I could talk. I used to sing ‘God Bless America’ at Smokies (baseball) games when I was 2 or 3, the precursor for whoever was singing the national anthem. I played Michael in ‘Peter Pan’ at the Oak Ridge Playhouse when I was 7 or 8, and I performed with the Knoxville Children’s Theatre from 12-18. I want to be on Broadway, telling these stories to such a wide audience.” 

Weathering a pandemic during college, however, has helped equip Turbyfill with perspective and creativity. For example, after Pellissippi State’s trip to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland was canceled in summer 2020, the Theatre program pivoted to performing radio plays during fall semester.  

“I have continued finding ways to make art during COVID, and I want to do anything I can in the realm of art,” Turbyfill said. “I want to move to New York and see where life takes me.” 

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