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.” 


Pellissippi State named a ‘Voter Friendly Campus’ by national nonpartisan organizations

Voter Friendly Campus seal 2021-2022Pellissippi State Community College has been designated a “Voter Friendly Campus” as part of a national initiative led by nonpartisan organizations Fair Elections Center’s Campus Vote Project and NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. 

The initiative recognizes colleges for planning and implementing practices that encouraged their students to register to vote and to vote in the 2020 elections and in the future. More than 230 campuses in 37 states and Washington, D.C., achieved the designation this year, and it is valid through December 2022. 

Pellissippi State was one of six Tennessee colleges to earn the distinction – and the only community college in the state to do so. The other Voter Friendly Campus designations in Tennessee went to Belmont University, East Tennessee State University, Maryville College, Middle Tennessee State University and Tusculum University. 

“Community and civic engagement is a core value of Pellissippi State,” said Matthew Spraker, director of Student Engagement and Leadership. “The office of Student Engagement and Leadership is committed to educating our students on their role as responsible citizens while providing opportunities to affect change.”  

As part of Pellissippi State’s effort to be designated a Voter Friendly Campus, the college developed an action plan in July 2020 and created a civic engagement coalition. Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that saw most Pellissippi State students taking classes remotelythe coalition pivoted to online opportunities to encourage informed and active participation in government. 

Pellissippi State never supports or opposes candidates, political parties or political positions. 

One significant accomplishment in 2020 was the implementation of the TurboVote online engagement tool, thanks to a mini-grant from Students Learn Students Vote. TurboVote tracks elections at all levels, guiding users through voter registration and requesting absentee or mail-in ballotsas well as sending text and email reminders about upcoming elections. This proved to be a successful tool for helping Pellissippi State students register to vote, Spraker said. 

In addition to a civic engagement webpage on the Pellissippi State website and a robust voter registration campaign on social media, the college also was able to promote voter registration and TurboVote at socially distanced campus events including two drive-in movies and a drive-up car wash. 

Pellissippi State went beyond voter registration information to help educate students about elections as well. For example, the college’s Student Engagement and Leadership office hosted a mock debate and discussion on constructive and critical debating on Zoom, as well as a Beyond the Protests interactive panel discussion about other ways to make a difference. 

For more information about Pellissippi State’s civic engagement and volunteerism efforts, visit more information about Voter Friendly Campus, visit  


Former Pellissippi State president J.L. Goins, wife Martha receive TBR award for philanthropy

Martha and J.L. Goins accept the Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Philanthropy at their Friendsville home on Dec. 11.
Martha and J.L. Goins accept the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Philanthropy at their Friendsville home on Dec. 11.

J.L. and Martha Bond Goins were born to parents whose education ended with early elementary school. Neither had the financial support from home to attend college, yet they became lifelong educators who continue to support students during their retirement. 

J.L. Goinsformer president of State Technical Institute at Knoxville — now Pellissippi State Community Collegeand Martha Goins, who worked as a counselor at Oak Ridge High School until her retirement, received the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Philanthropy for 2020 at their Friendsville home Dec. 11. 

The award honors individuals, companies and organizations who go “above and beyond” to donate their resources, finances and personal time to a Tennessee Board of Regents institution. 

Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr. nominated the Goinses as “career educators with a focused passion for career and technical education.” 

“J.L. and Martha Goins know first-hand the importance of educational access for a family and a community,” Wise said. “Their passion for career and technical education was evident in their working years and has continued to drive their commitments today.” 

J.L. Goins grew up attending Blount County schools, the middle of seven children in a poor family. 

“As a youngster, I picked and sold blackberries, hoed cantaloupes and watermelons, built fires for the school – just about anything to earn money to help the family,” he explained. “At age 15 and a sophomore at Everett High, I began washing dishes at Blount Memorial and started saving what I could for college. It took a long time at 50 cents an hour!” 

Martha Goins is from rural Campbell County and spent two years in a coal mining camp in Claiborne County. She was put in touch with a Lincoln Memorial University representative who explained she qualified for scholarships, grants and work study. She later transferred to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and was able to graduate early with honors. 

J.L. Goins chose Maryville College because he had no vehicle and could walk to school. At no point did he receive any financial aid. Despite working full time, he went on to become the college’s top graduate in Business Administration and received a $50 savings bond for that honor. 

“I promptly went out and spent $27 on a suit for graduation and job interviews, so when I graduated, I had $13 to my name,” he said. “I never had any help, but I vowed I would help others.” 

Throughout his time in education, J.L. Goins never lost sight of the need for preparation for employment.  

“I saw the need for decent jobs that would mean a decent quality of life,” he said. “Education is America’s equalizer. If you have a relevant education and a willingness to work, you have an equal opportunity for success.” 

But education doesn’t necessarily mean graduating from a four-year college or universityJ.L. Goins stressed. 

“Academia and many parents are in love with the idea that everyone needs a four-year college degree,” he said. “In fact, many jobs in America don’t require that, but need appropriate technical and other related job skills. It is classic mismatch of workforce educational needs.  

J.L. Goins set out to change that. In 1964, hbegan his career in education with Oak Ridge Schools, establishing its first marketing and cooperative education program. Less than two years later, he moved to Chattanooga Public Schools, serving as principal of the system’s adult education center and eventually developing the state’s largest adult education program.  

J.L. Goins went on to become technical education director for a cooperative effort by the Maryville, Alcoa and Blount County school systems. He was recognized by the American Vocational Association as the Southeast’s best. 

In 1981 J.L. Goins was appointed president of State Technical Institute at Knoxville, which evolved to Pellissippi State Technical Community College in 1988. As president, J.L. Goins promoted and supported a wide variety of programs such as fine arts and college transfer classes. During this period, he also oversaw the construction of the Hardin Valley Campus and expanded Pellissippi State into Blount County.  

Before J.L. Goins retired in 1993, Pellissippi State’s enrollment had more than tripled from 2,500 students when he came to State Tech to about 9,000. 

J.L. Goins spent time promoting technical programs in area high schools and making sure those classes articulated to Pellissippi State. He also worked with the University of Tennessee to help fill UT’s pipeline with Pellissippi State students who could transfer to the university as juniors. But he didn’t stop there. 

“The whole focus of my time in education was students,” J.L. Goins said. “As president, I spent as much time supporting economic development as I did supporting the college so that our students would have jobs when they graduated.”

Martha Goins made her mark in education as well. After working as a technician in the Biology Division at Oak Ridge National Lab for almost four years, she began her career in education as a junior high science teacher and later was a counselor at Oak Ridge High School, from which she retired. One of Martha Goins’ goals was to help her students become employable by being prepared for jobs that would be both satisfying and provide economic stability.  

In addition to guiding those students who chose to attend various universities, Martha Goins guided others who went straight into the workforce, those who chose the military and other options. She was recognized locally, regionally and at the state level for her innovating programs. After retiring in 1995, she volunteered for 20 years in Blount County Schools. 

In retirement, the Goinses have continued to support Pellissippi State through consistent and generous donations to the college’s Foundation. 

Pellissippi State’s plans to construct the Ruth and Steve West Workforce Development Center on our Blount County Campus fulfill J.L.‘s lifelong dream: a center where high school students, technical education students and community college students can study side-by-side, in pursuit of a credential, a job and a career that can support a family,” Wise said. 

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


Pellissippi State math students take top honors in Southeast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tennessee Board of Regents honors Pellissippi State alumnus veteran with commendation

Randy Martinez accepts a challenge coin from Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr.
U.S. Army veteran and Pellissippi State alumnus Randy Martinez, left, accepts a Challenge Coin from Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr. on Wednesday. Martinez is the first Pellissippi State recipient of the Tennessee Board of Regents’ new Chancellor’s Commendation for Military Veterans.

Pellissippi State Community College alumnus Randy Martinez was 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 recommended Martinez 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 StateMartinez 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 student veterans, 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.  

Up close shot of the challenge coin for the Chancellor's Commendation for Military Veterans
Randy Martinez shows the Challenge Coin he received Wednesday, when he was honored with TBR’s Chancellor’s Commendation for Military Veterans, a new system-level award to honor the service, bravery and sacrifices of military veterans in the campus communities.  

“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 or call 865-694-6400. 


Pellissippi State, Discovery honor alumna for extraordinary volunteer service

Leila Howell in front of a black backdrop
Leila Howell, a 2013 Pellissippi State graduate, has been named the 2020 Peggy Wilson Volunteer Alumni Award winner by the College and Discovery.

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 for Discovery’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 or call 8655397275. 


Pellissippi State student named 2020 Coca-Cola Leaders of Promise Scholar

Moriah Hall
Moriah Hall, a New Student Orientation leader at Pellissippi State, has been named a 2020 Coca-Cola Leaders of Promise Scholar.

Moriah Hall, an Accounting major at Pellissippi State Community Collegeis one of 207 Phi Theta Kappa members named a 2020 Coca-Cola Leaders of Promise Scholar. She has received a $1,000 scholarship from the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation 

“The Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation has a long history of providing financial assistance to outstanding students at community colleges,” said Jane Hale Hopkins, president of the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation. “We are proud to partner with Phi Theta Kappa to make it possible for more deserving students to achieve their educational goals and support tomorrow’s leaders of the global community.” 

Phi Theta Kappa is an honor society that recognizes the academic achievement of students at associate degree-granting colleges and helps them to grow as scholars and leaders. Coca-Cola Leaders of Promise Scholars are selected based on scholastic achievement, community service and leadership potential. Nearly 700 applications were received, and a total of $207,000 was awarded. 

“I made the decision to join Phi Theta Kappa to take advantage of the extracurricular learning, leadership and scholarship opportunities, and I am beyond grateful to have been chosen for the 2020 Coca-Cola Leaders of Promise scholarship!” Hall said. “This scholarship will aid in paying for my textbooks and other school supplies, giving me a chance to focus on maintaining a high GPA.” 

The funds provided by the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation not only aid college completion, but also give students the opportunity to engage in PTK programs and develop leadership skills to become future leaders in their communities.  

“Research shows that Phi Theta Kappa members are four times more likely to complete a college degree than their peers,” said Monica Marlowe, executive director of the Phi Theta Kappa Foundation. “The Leaders of Promise Scholarships recognize students for what they have achieved already and assure that financial need isn’t an obstacle to achieving their academic goals.” 

Hall, a homeschool graduate, is on track to graduate in spring 2021 and plans to transfer to East Tennessee State University to pursue her bachelor’s degree in Accounting. 

I chose to attend Pellissippi State because I appreciate the small campus environment,” she said. “The small class sizes make it very easy to form a personal connection with my professors and classmates, which I greatly enjoy.” 

For more information about Phi Theta Kappa, For more information about Pellissippi State, call 8655946400 or visit 


Pellissippi State names Curt Maxey its distinguished alumnus of the year

Portrait of Curt Maxey
Curt Maxey, Class of 1979, is Pellissippi State’s distinguished alumnus of the year.

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 Technology in 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 and earned 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.  

Curt and Helene Maxey with scholarship recipient Tabitha Wyrick
2020 Distinguished Alumni Award winner Curt Maxey, right, and his wife, Helene, left, visit with Curt and Helene Maxey Scholarship recipient Tabitha Wyrick at the 2019 Donor and Scholars reception at Pellissippi State.

Despite his lengthy list of professional accolades, Maxey insists that his greatest 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 or call 865.539.7275. 


Pellissippi State honors outstanding faculty and staff

At the end of what may have been the strangest semester in the college’s 45-year history, Pellissippi State Community College honored outstanding members of its faculty and staff with a virtual awards ceremony. 

“We made it through because we had essential employees on campus and essential employees off campus doing whatever needed to be done to support the college, support the community and, most importantly, to support our students,” said Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr., in a segment of the ceremony recorded from his home. “We are Pellissippi Strong.” 

Professor Kathleen Affholter
Professor Kathleen Affholter

This year’s Roger Crowe Excellence in Teaching Award went to Kathleen Affholter, a full-time professor for physical and environmental sciences. Affholter, whose students call her “Special K,” has a passion for geology that she passes along to her students through hands-on learning such as conducting experiments at nearby Cherokee Caverns and exploring the great outdoor classrooms found throughout East Tennessee. Affholter has been using experiential learning her entire teaching career, as her main goal is to teach students how to solve real-world problems using scientific data. 

Pellissippi State’s Innovations Award, established by former Pellissippi State President Allen Edwards, recognizes the demonstrated success of creative and original instructional and learning support activities at the college. This year’s award went to the team of Professor Minoo AskariProfessor Susan McMahonLaboratory Technician Kristen KoverInstructional Media Technician Leslie Owle and Instructional Media Technician Gary Hinshaw, who created an online accessible microbiology lab manual. More than 789 hours were devoted to the creation of these resources – written exercises, videos and assessments – and grades improved significantly after students began using these tools. This unique resource is free to all microbiology students, who previously had to purchase the manual. 

Instructor Cristina Carbajo
Instructor Cristina Carbajo

The Gene Joyce Visionary Award recognizes Pellissippi State employees who make positive differences in the community through leadership, technologically oriented projects and/or other community involvement. This year’s recipient, Instructor Cristina Carbajo, serves as the program coordinator for Pellissippi State’s Water Quality Technology program, the first of its kind in Tennessee. This program, which was funded by a National Science Foundation grant, addresses a major employment crisis, with 50of the workforce set to retire within the next five years and more than 75of certified operators older than 45. Carbajo collaborated with local utility districts to get their advice before creating, on her own, course materials and hands-on laboratory experiences designed to prepare students for the workforce. 

Career Specialist Jennifer Cozart
Career Specialist Jennifer Cozart

Jennifer Cozart, a career specialist for the Universal Pathways to Employment Program, took home the Staff Excellence Award. Funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, UPEP assists students with disabilities to obtain education credentials and employment after graduation.  Cozart’s hard work has brought Pellissippi State recognition at the national and international level by The Zero Project, which recognized UPEP with its 2020 Innovative Policy Award for UPEP’s promising outcomes in integrating academics and career services to increase college graduation rates and job placement for students with disabilities.  

The winners of these four awards, sponsored by the Pellissippi State Foundation, receive $1,000, a plaque and a medallion. They are chosen by the Employee Awards Committee and a committee comprised of three members of the Foundation Board of Trustees. 

Meanwhile, winners of the Outstanding Employee Awards receive $100 and a plaque. The Outstanding Employee Award winners for 2020 include:  

  • Adjunct Appreciation Award:  Tevin Turner 
  • Nina McPherson Award:  Judy Sichler 
  • Outstanding Adjunct Faculty:  Raul Rivero 
  • Outstanding Administrator:  Royce Jacomen 
  • Outstanding Contract Worker: Stefanie Decker 
  • Outstanding Full-Time Faculty:  Sue Yamin 
  • Outstanding Support Professional: Holly King 
  • Outstanding Technical/Service/Maintenance /S/M Worker:  Gail Maples 

The Adjunct Appreciation Award and Nina McPherson Award are chosen by the college’s Faculty Senate, while the Outstanding Employee Awards are chosen by popular vote of Pellissippi State faculty and staff. 

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



Pellissippi State wins international award for marketing lifelong learning classes

Two Business and Community Services staff holding award for marketing lifelong learning classes
Marketing Specialist Danielle Dreeszen, left, and Economic and Workforce Development Director Teri Brahams show the International Award for Excellence in Marketing that Pellissippi State Business and Community Services recently received for their e-newsletter about lifelong learning classes.

Pellissippi State Community College has won an International Award for Excellence in Marketing from the Learning Resources Network, the largest association in lifelong learning in the world.

“The workforce training and lifelong learning opportunities that we provide support both individuals and local employers,” said Teri Brahams, director of Economic and Workforce Development for Pellissippi State. “Being able to effectively communicate and market what we offer is integral to the success of our programs. We are honored to be the recipient of the Excellence in Marketing award at the international level.”

The award was one of only 20 given at LERN’s annual conference in San Diego attended by 800 professionals in lifelong learning from five countries. Marketing Specialist Danielle Dreeszen of Pellissippi State Business and Community Services accepted the award, the first Pellissippi State has received from LERN.

“This award is for innovation in the field of lifelong learning and serving communities,” said LERN President William A. Draves. “With more than 100 award nominations every year, gaining an International Award is an outstanding achievement.”

The staff of Pellissippi State Business and Community Services won the international award for their e-newsletter that launched fall class registration in August.

“Our e-newsletter featured each person on our team and focused on WHY we’re interested in classes vs. WHAT the classes are,” Dreeszen explained. “We also integrated each person’s feature on our social media accounts.”

For example, Solutions Management Director Todd Evans noted he was looking forward to taking Bucket Drumming: Introduction to Rhythm.

“I played the drums as a kid,” he said in the e-newsletter. “I would love to get into drumming, but in a different way.”

And Project Coordinator Angela Branson said she couldn’t wait to check out The Art of Glass Fusion.

“Years ago I took some classes in stained glass and mosaics, and I really enjoyed the classes at the time and getting to be creative,” she explained in the e-newsletter. “This sounds like a fun opportunity to get back into the art of working with glass.”

Other Business and Community Services staff shared the reasons they were looking forward to taking classes in Hobbyist Welding, Zentangle Noir, Working with Yarn: Knit and Crochet, Say Goodbye to Diets and Quick Pickin’ Mandolin.

The approach worked, as the e-mail newsletter achieved a 42% open rate and a 30% click-through rate, 10% higher than regular monthly email results.

The e-newsletter also generated 25 enrollments before the print class catalog even hit mailboxes.

“Email is the workhorse of marketing your program, second only to the print brochure in importance,” Draves said. “Pellissippi State introduced Staff Picks in their regular email newsletter. The technique introduced staff and made the program more approachable to potential participants. It was also effective in that people tend to pay more attention to what the professionals are interested in. LERN’s going to steal this idea, too.”

Registration for spring lifelong learning classes at Pellissippi State is open now. View a full list of spring classes or register for a class at

For more information about Pellissippi State’s lifelong learning classes, contact Business and Community Services at 865.539.7167.