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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‘The future is in their hands’: Fulton High School students learn hands-on machining at Pellissippi State

Fulton grads show President Wise and Project GRAD executive director what they've learned at ACE boot camp
2021 Fulton High School graduates Krishev Patel, left, and Alexander Gaspar Manuel show Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr. and Project GRAD Executive Director Ronni Chandler what they’ve learned during a hands-on machining boot camp June 11.

Five Fulton High School teens – three 2021 graduates and two rising seniors – were among the first high school students in the country to participate in a hands-on boot camp to learn machining at Pellissippi State Community College last week. 

The five-day boot camp was part of the America’s Cutting Edge (ACE) training program developed by IACMI – The Composites Institute and University of Tennessee Professor Tony Schmitz, who was teaching the same boot camp to students and adults at UT. 

Pellissippi State and Oak Ridge National Laboratory are partnering with IACMI and UT in the U.S. Department of Defense-funded program, which is designed to teach essential machining skills and address the nation’s growing manufacturing workforce gap. The program kicked off in December 2020 and already more than 1,450 students from across the nation — including future manufacturing engineers, machine tool designers, entrepreneurs, machinists and more — have taken the online course that preceded these hands-on trainings, where students produced the components necessary to create an oscillating air engine by machining and assembling four parts: base (aluminum), piston block (aluminum), valve block (printed polymer) and wheel (steel). 

“This is an exciting time; manufacturing is not what it used to be,” IACMI CEO John Hopkins told the five Fulton students at Pellissippi State on Friday. “I hope you’ve learned what manufacturing is, what machining is and that you will build on this and share your experiences.” 

Associate Professor Mark Williams of Pellissippi State’s Mechanical Engineering Technology program agreed that manufacturing suffers from a misunderstanding of what machinists do. 

“The image that manufacturing was dark and dirty – that’s not true anymore,” he said. “We have to change that image, and a big part of that is getting students in here, hands on, and getting them interested.  

“When the kids started Monday, they hadn’t even used a hand drill before, and I thought, ‘That’s perfect!’” Williams added. “Now they’re doing things they didn’t think they could do. They’ve learned they can do this, they can overcome obstacles, they can achieve this.” 

Training the next generation of machinists is imperative as Baby Boomers in the industry, those born between 1946 and 1964, retire in large numbers. Combined with a growing manufacturing sector, young machinists are in high demand, noted Andy Polnicki, MegaLab director for Pellissippi State. 

“Jobs4TN has over a dozen machinist listings right now, plus a dozen listings for CNC (computerized numerical control), all within a 25-mile radius of Pellissippi State,” he said. “Local manufacturers have job openings for entry-level machinists beginning at $20 an hour right now. With the level of knowledge these kids have gained this week, they could almost go get a $20 an hour job – that’s $40,000 a year – to stand in front of these machines and run them. 

“We’ve spent decades telling people they need a four-year college education, but parents should know the highest paid people in my plant were the tool and die and maintenance people, and they were taking home more money than I was as the plant manager – and worked fewer hours than I did,” Polnicki added. 

The five Fulton High students – 2021 graduates Joselynne Orta, Krishiv Patel and Alexander Gaspar Manuel and rising seniors Kaylee Nava Sabino and Alexandria Russell — showed off their new machining skills Friday to Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr., Project GRAD Executive Director Ronni Chandler and Knox County Diversity Development Manager Darris Upton, as well as IACMI leaders. 

“Every one of them has done an excellent job running the machines,” said Jose Nazario, an instructor with Pellissippi State’s Mechanical Engineering Technology program. “It’s been really impressive.” 

Joselynne Orta shows Darris Upton a part she made at ACE boot camp
2021 Fulton High School graduate Joselynne Orta, left, shows Knox County Diversity Development Manager Darris Upton the part she just finished making on a computer numerical control (CNC) machine at Pellissippi State June 11.

As Orta ran one machine Friday, Nazario explained that the same work done by hand would take hours, whereas the CNC machine Orta was using only took eight minutes. Upton noted how the students were able to run machines at Pellissippi State while their instructors explained the processes to Friday’s guests. 

“These programs are very important, and the reason is two-fold,” said Upton, who graduated from Pellissippi State in 2015. “If you’ve never been exposed to this kind of work, you might not even know that these career opportunities exist. And it also helps our local employers like DENSO that need workers, people who have the skills that our manufacturers are actually using. They need folks who can do this.” 

Two of the 2021 Fulton High graduates – Orta and Patel – already are enrolled in Pellissippi State this fall: Orta to study Business and Patel to study Web Technology. The other, Manuel, is enrolled at UT for fall and plans to study Computer Engineering. 

“I really enjoyed this class, and now they even want me on the Pellissippi State Motorsports team,” Orta said, adding she plans to join the Pellissippi State students who build race cars for Formula SAE competitions like the one in Las Vegas this week. “I like cars, and I like this too.” 

The rising seniors, Russell and Sabino, also said they found the boot camp “interesting” and showed off the parts they made featuring their initials on one side and the acronym ACE on the other. 

“This week has let them touch the future in an accessible way,” said Chandler, with Project GRAD, holding a part the students created on the machines Friday while she and other guests watched. “They weren’t afraid. The college took a chance on letting high school students use this multimillion-dollar lab, and the students saw that they can be here. It’s been future changing. The future is in their hands.” 

For more information on ACE, which includes a six-hour online curriculum before hands-on training, visit www.iacmi.org/ace. 

For more information on Pellissippi State’s Mechanical Engineering Technology program, visit www.pstcc.edu/mechanical-engineering/. 

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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. 

Graduate spotlight: Twins earn Electrical Engineering Technology degrees, ORNL internships

Matthew, left, and Austin Allison beside a tree
Fraternal twins Matthew, left, and Austin Allison have completed the same degree at Pellissippi State, will intern at ORNL together this summer and will transfer to UT this fall.

As fraternal twins pursuing the same degree, Austin and Matthew Allison have a built-in study buddy. Even though they have each other, they also attribute their success at Pellissippi State to building good relationships with their teachers, finding a support system with other students and some good, old-fashioned hard work.

“Going to school with my brother has been incredible,” says Matthew. “We’ve also been able to connect with a lot of other students who have the same work ethic we do. It’s been great having each other, and it’s also been great getting to connect with the other students we’ve met.” 

Both Austin and Matthew are graduating with a 4.0 GPA from Pellissippi State this month with their A.A.S. in Electrical Engineering Technology and will transfer to the University of Tennessee in the fall to complete their bachelor’s degrees in Electrical Engineering. They were also accepted into a summer internship at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the Robotics and Intelligence Systems group.

“At ORNL, we’ll be working on robotics and additive manufacturing, a form of 3D printing,” explains Austin. “We’d really like to get into robotics as a career, because it combines the best parts of electrical engineering, programming and mechanical engineering.” 

Austin and Matthew chose Pellissippi State because they wanted a more personal experience with their professors.

“My dad encouraged us to go to Pellissippi State because the classes are small and you get more interaction with the professors,” says Austin. “We’ve had an awesome experience at Pellissippi State, and all the professors have been great to work with. We can tell that they really have our best interest in mind and they want to see us succeed.”

The brothers are grateful for the relationships they built with their teachers at Pellissippi State.

“We still stay in touch with a lot of our professors and have a good relationship with them,” shares Matthew. “I think that community orientation is a lot different from what you’d get at a bigger school, and that’s one of the reasons I’m really glad we started at Pellissippi State.”  

The brothers are no strangers to hard work and perseverance. While going to Pellissippi State, both Austin and Matthew also worked for their family’s landscaping business.

“We’ve had to do so much behind the scenes on top of college classes,” shares Matthew. “In the summers, we would work 60-80 hours a week landscaping while also taking classes. In our first semester at Pellissippi State, we had a crew mowing 40-50 yards a week. The other two guys working with us quit right before our finals started, so we were working three days a week to mow all those yards and then going to school three days a week for finals. But we just did what we had to do and we got it done.”  

“Regardless of your background or what you think you know, going into college with an optimistic mentality and putting in the hard work can take you far,” says Austin. “There were some classes that were really hard, but we put in the hard work and made an A. I’ve learned to work hard and not be afraid to ask questions. And, finding that group of people with your same values and work ethic can really help motivate you and keep you on track.” 

While going to college with your twin may be fun – and yes, they did try switching seats in class a few times – Austin and Matthew have learned the value of hard work and the importance of building relationships that will last far beyond their years at Pellissippi State.

“I’m so much better as a student and a person because of my experiences at Pellissippi State,” says Matthew. “These are things that will stay with me the rest of my life.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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GIVE grants to help Pellissippi State expand information technology, construction and advanced manufacturing training

Instructor standing in Strawberry Plains Cyber Defense lab
Instructor Charles Nelson, standing, tells visitors about Pellissippi State’s new Cyber Defense lab on the college’s Strawberry Plains Campus on Sept. 10, 2019.

Pellissippi State Community College has been awarded two Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education (GIVE) grants, Gov. Bill Lee announced Nov. 7.

The funding, $999,874 for Knox County initiatives and $998,416 for Blount County initiatives, will be used to address workforce needs: information technology careers in Knox County and construction and advanced manufacturing careers in Blount County.

“We are proud to work with the General Assembly to pass the GIVE initiative and expand career and technical education for Tennessee students,” Lee said in a press release last week. “These funds directly support our workforce development efforts in distressed and at-risk counties and are a key component of our strategy to prioritize rural Tennessee.”

Both the GIVE Knox County Career Collaborative and the GIVE Blount County Career Collaborative established by the grants will address:

  • barriers to education/training access, including a lack of understanding and awareness of viable career choices and training options for high-demand fields;
  • insufficient early postsecondary education and training opportunities;
  • insufficient student support services; and
  • misalignment between education and workforce needs.

“With the number of new jobs coming into Blount County specifically, we have to do everything we can as a college to help train the next generation workforce,” said Teri Brahams, executive director of Economic and Workforce Development at Pellissippi State and project manager for the GIVE Blount County Career Collaborative. “Engaging our students from middle school through high school and college is crucial, and helping them understand pathways to college and careers is one way to do that.”

In Knox County, the Career Collaborative will focus on increasing the number of students who enroll in and complete Information Technology-related degrees and certifications in Pellissippi State’s Computer Information Technology programs, which include concentrations in Cybersecurity, Networking, Programming and Systems Administration and Management.

The grant also will be used to boost enrollment in and completion of the Computer Information Technology Technical Support Specialist, IT Network Support Specialist, IT Network Security Specialist, IT Systems Support Specialist, and IT Systems Coordinator options at Tennessee College of Applied Technology-Knoxville (TCAT).

“Training a workforce that is not only skilled in computer technology but, perhaps more importantly, is able to adapt those skills as new technology emerges is vital to all of East Tennessee,” said Business and Computer Technology Dean Michael Wolfe of Pellissippi State, who is serving as project director for the GIVE Knox County Career Collaborative. “This grant will provide the support to help students in Knox County do just that. Working together, the grant partners will immerse students from middle school through college in work-based learning environments, develop innovative pathways that result in industry-recognized credentials and increase the number of potential employees that possess a college degree.”

In Blount County, the Career Collaborative will focus on increasing the number of students who enroll in and complete advanced manufacturing and construction-related degree and certifications in Pellissippi State’s Engineering Technology program, which includes concentrations in Manufacturing, Industrial Maintenance and Civil Engineering, as well as in Pellissippi State’s Electrical Engineering Technology program.

The grant also will be used to boost enrollment in and completion of the Industrial Maintenance/Mechatronics Technology, Pipefitting and Plumbing Technology, Industrial Electricity and HVAC Technician options at TCAT.

Pellissippi State chose to address information technology, construction and advanced manufacturing careers because these local industries are struggling to meet demand.

Tennessee employed 174,346 information technology workers in 2018, a gain of more than 3,797 jobs from the year before, according to a study by the Computer Technology Industry Association. Between 900 and 1,000 openings are projected in information technology in the Knoxville region between 2020 and 2026, according to data from Jobs4TN and the Tennessee School Boards Association District Data Dashboard.

“It is evident that the projected information technology workforce needs in the region are significant, and the enrollment and graduation rates for the related education and training programs are not sufficient to meet the projected needs,” Wolfe said, noting there have been only 26 graduates in the past three years from the four associate degree program concentrations at Pellissippi State that prepare students for positions as customer support specialists, programmers, data/computer systems analysts, cybersecurity analysts and systems engineers.

Meanwhile, the average age of Tennessee construction and manufacturing workers is 56, but only one worker is replaced for every four that retire, according to the Associated General Contractors of America. A Jobs4TN Area Profile projects that manufacturing and construction industries will post 2,650 openings in East Tennessee alone between 2016 and 2026.

“Unfortunately, interest in the pursuit of construction and manufacturing-related occupations has been on a steady decline,” Brahams explained. “Misperceptions about wages, career pathways and the elimination of many vocational programs with the push for students to obtain four-year degrees have compounded the problem. Young people are considering these occupations less frequently, and parents and counselors have become equally reluctant to discuss these career paths. As a result, supply and demand gaps widen.”

Among the major strategies Pellissippi State plans to employ to meet the goals of its GIVE Knox County and GIVE Blount County Career Collaboratives are

  • enhancing and expanding career pathway programs utilizing a stackable credentials approach;
  • developing and implementing a collaborative, meaningful and structured work-based learning continuum that begins in middle school and continues through completion of postsecondary credentials; and
  • expanding access to industry recognized certification preparation and testing.

“Local employers, all three Blount County school systems, the Blount Partnership and Pellissippi State have been working together to address the workforce needs of our community, and this grant will allow us to go to the next level with our efforts,” Brahams said.

In Knox County, Pellissippi State will continue to partner with the Knoxville Chamber, the East Tennessee Local Workforce Development Board, TCAT, Knox County Schools and multiple employers.

“We’ve worked together for years to identify and address regional workforce needs and skills gaps, but this grant brings new focus to expanding career pathways and implementing a structured continuum of work-based learning experiences in Knox County,” Wolfe said.

Click here for more information on the GIVE grants announced by Gov. Lee last week.

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

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TBR honors Blount County Economic Development Board for philanthropy

Fred Lawson accepts matted and framed TBR Chancellor's Award
Blount County Economic Development Board Chairman Fred Lawson, center, accepts the Tennessee Board of Regents’ Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Philanthropy from Pellissippi State Community College President L. Anthony Wise Jr. and Regent Danni Varlan on Thursday.

The Blount County Economic Development Board was honored Thursday with the Tennessee Board of Regents’ Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Philanthropy.

The board was nominated by Pellissippi State Community College for its early pledge of $1 million on behalf of Blount County and the cities of Alcoa and Maryville to support the Ruth and Steve West Workforce Development Center that will be built on Pellissippi State’s Blount County Campus.

“The Economic Development Board was founded as the Blount County Industrial Development Board more than 50 years ago with the vision to attract good jobs so that young people wouldn’t have to leave Blount County,” said Regent Danni Varlan before presenting the award to Economic Development Board Chairman Fred Lawson at Blount Partnership. “With shared space for high school dual enrollment, Tennessee College of Applied Technology, Pellissippi State and incumbent worker training, the Ruth and Steve West Workforce Development Center will ensure that students are ready to enter the workforce with great local employers such as Arconic, Blount Memorial Hospital, DENSO and Clayton Homes.”

The $16.5 million Ruth and Steve West Workforce Development Center is being funded by a public-private partnership: $5.5 million raised by the Pellissippi State Community College Foundation, $5.7 million from TCAT Knoxville capacity expansion funds and $5.3 million from the state.

“This is a different path than most of our projects take,” noted Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr. “State building projects usually wait on a list for about 18 years. The conversations we’ve had with business and industry leaders and (Blount Partnership CEO and President) Bryan Daniels indicated that, with the job growth in Blount County, we were pretty sure we didn’t have 18 years to wait.”

Varlan agreed.

“Blount County is just rocking it,” she said. “Since 2012, Blount County has added 6,000 new jobs and $2.9 billion in capital investment.”

In addition to receiving the Chancellor’s Award, the Economic Development Board got a sneak peek at plans for the Ruth and Steve West Workforce Development Center on Thursday. The plans by BarberMcMurry Architects have not been shared publicly because they will not go to the state building commission for approval until October, Wise explained.

“The principal layout is large open teaching spaces, similar to our MegaLab at the Strawberry Plains Campus, because we wanted to build in flexibility,” Wise said. “When students walk out to train, they get the feeling they are walking out onto the floor at one of our industry partners. That flexibility is important because my guess is that advanced manufacturing won’t be done the same way 10 years from now.”

Varlan praised the flexibility reflected in the plans and connected that flexibility with how higher education has changed over the years.

“It’s very important to us at TBR to make sure our workforce is competitive,” she said. “The whole idea of our community and technical colleges is to be open and nimble. We don’t know what’s coming down the road, but we have to be ready to teach it. Now we ask communities, ‘What do you need?’ The whole point is that our students can get out of school and get a job.”

Blount County Economic Development Board with Chancellor's Award
Several members of the Blount County Economic Development Board were on hand at the Blount Partnership Thursday for the presentation of the Tennessee Board of Regents’ Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Philanthropy. From left are Bob Booker of DENSO, Monica Gawet of Tennessee Marble, Joe Dawson, Regent Danni Varlan, Blount County Economic Development Board Chairman Fred Lawson, Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr., Greg Wilson of First Tennessee Bank and Matthew Murray of the University of Tennessee.

The 51,000-square-foot Ruth and Steve West Workforce Development Center will include proposed Pellissippi State programming for Computer Information Technology, Culinary Arts and Engineering Technology concentrations such as Automated Industrial Systems and Industrial Maintenance.

The building also will house a Corporate Training Center that will be available to businesses who want to train their workers off site, for training Business and Community Services provides to local employers and to the community for events.

“It can be divided into three areas for smaller groups, or we can open it up with theatre seating for 234 or round tables for banquets accommodating around 210,” noted Teri Brahams, Pellissippi State’s executive director for Economic and Workforce Development.

TCAT’s portion of the building is slated to include programming for Industrial Electrical Maintenance, Machine Tool Technology, Pipe Fitting and Welding to start, Wise said, while dual enrollment opportunities with Alcoa, Maryville and Blount County schools will continue to grow.

“We’ve done a lot and had a lot of conversations about this, and one of the things that’s exciting is now it’s time to execute that planning and have something really special here in Blount County,” Wise said. “It’s going to be a great facility to teach in, to learn in and to work in.”

Pellissippi State plans to break ground on the Ruth and Steve West Workforce Development Center this winter and fully occupy the building by fall 2021.

“We wouldn’t be here without the support of the people in this room,” Wise said.

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

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DENSO grant to benefit Pellissippi State’s Electrical Engineering Technology students

DENSO presents IndustryReady 2.0 grant on Blount County Campus
An IndustryReady 2.0 grant from DENSO North American Foundation will provide Pellissippi State with the necessary supplies and modules to build three instrumentation and process control training systems, similar to the one shown in the background here, for the college’s Electrical Engineering Technology students. From left are Jack Helmboldt, president of the DENSO North American Foundation; Assistant Professor Kristi Leach; Emilie Denson, section leader for Human Resources at DENSO; instrumentation instructor Lane Whiteside; Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr.; and Brian Crawford of DENSO’s North American Talent Acquisition Team.

A $48,125 grant from DENSO North American Foundation – the philanthropic arm of DENSO, the world’s second largest mobility supplier – will help Pellissippi State Community College students become the highly trained workforce this region needs.

The IndustryReady 2.0 grant will provide the college with the necessary supplies and modules to build three instrumentation and process control training systems for Pellissippi State’s Electrical Engineering Technology students.

“Blount County is one of the fastest growing counties in Tennessee in terms of job growth per capita, and employers in the county are adding hundreds of jobs each year, increasing the demand for highly skilled, college-educated employees,” said Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr. “Pellissippi State is working to fill that need, and support from partners like DENSO helps us to provide the high-tech equipment necessary for talented students to complete their education and fill these jobs.”

The DENSO funding and this new equipment is expected to:

  • Enhance the development of essential skills necessary for Blount and Knox county workers to succeed in today’s workforce;
  • Enhance the college’s capacity to offer training that is closely aligned with industry standards; and
  • Address the high-demand for Engineering Technology, Industrial Maintenance and Automated Industrial Systems workers in the region.

“Investing in tomorrow’s workforce is critical to ensuring we have individuals who are equipped to help DENSO fulfill its vision of creating software and products that enhance safety and reduce environmental impact,” said Jack Helmboldt, president of the DENSO North American Foundation. “Through these grants, we hope to create a generation of innovators who inspire new value for the future of mobility.”

This grant, which DENSO officials presented to Wise on Wednesday, Aug. 28, at Pellissippi State’s Blount County Campus, builds on a $25,000 IndustryReady grant awarded to the college last July.

That DENSO funding allowed Pellissippi State to purchase one instrumentation and process control training system (IPCTS) that provides realistic pressure, level and flow training experiences for the college’s Electrical Engineering Technology students with an automation concentration – the very students who often go on to work at DENSO.

Pellissippi State Assistant Professor Curtis Holmes, center, supervises students in the Integrated Robotics class as they use some of the DENSO-funded equipment on the college's Blount County Campus on Aug. 28, 2019.
Pellissippi State Assistant Professor Curtis Holmes, center, supervises Integrated Robotics students as they use some of the DENSO-funded equipment on the college’s Blount County Campus on Aug. 28, 2019.

The college’s two instrumentation classes began using the equipment during the 2019 spring semester.

“Before we had a lot of sensors – to test for levels, pressures, etc. – that worked separately,” explained Assistant Professor Kristi Leach. “This system is tying everything together, and it can connect to our program logic controllers.”

Leach said she had wanted this equipment since she started teaching at Pellissippi State in 2011. The expense was prohibitive until DENSO chipped in.

Funding for grants such as this one is awarded through the Pellissippi State Foundation, which develops resources to support the educational goals of Pellissippi State. The Foundation provides scholarships and emergency loans to students, improves facilities and secures new equipment for the college.

For more information about the Pellissippi State Foundation, visit www.pstcc.edu/foundation or call 865-694-6528. For more information about Pellissippi State, visit www.pstcc.edu  or call 865-694-6400.

DENSO is looking to hire engineering talent across North America, particularly in Tennessee where it recently invested $1 billion as it continues its pursuit to shape and improve future mobility solutions for all. Positions are available in a variety of roles and locations. Those interested in working with new technologies and collaborating with global teams to create safe and efficient vehicles can apply at www.densocareers.com.

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Gene Haas Foundation awards $15,000 to Pellissippi State

The Gene Haas Foundation has awarded $15,000 to the Pellissippi State Community College Foundation to support the Engineering Technology program.

The grant will fund scholarships for students studying the Manufacturing concentration and pursuing the National Institute for Metalworking Skills machinist credential. The NIMS credential certifies the student’s skill against national standards. The credential commonly is used to recruit, hire or promote workers in the manufacturing industry.

This is the second time the Gene Haas Foundation has awarded a grant for scholarships to Pellissippi State. The grant goes through the Pellissippi State Foundation, which works to provide student scholarships and emergency loans and to improve facilities and secure new equipment. For more information about the Foundation, visit www.pstcc.edu/foundation or call 865-694-6528.

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

Female students earn engineering technology degrees through ‘Women in STEM’ grant

Makayla Edwards
Makayla Edwards
Tara Walker
Tara Walker

When Tara Walker and Makayla Edwards cross the stage at Pellissippi State Community College’s commencement ceremony on May 5, they will have a special grant, funded by NASA, to thank.

Walker and Edwards are two of 14 female Engineering Technology students at Pellissippi State to have earned scholarships funded through the Tennessee Community College Space Grant Consortium, which is part of the NSPIRES (NASA Solicitation and Proposal Integrated Review and Evaluation System) program. The grant funds are earmarked for women and other underserved populations in STEM programs.

“I have absolutely loved the time I have spent at Pellissippi,” Walker said. “The teachers I’ve had make me want to come to class every day because they are so enthusiastic about their jobs. I do not believe, as a whole, any school has better teachers than Pellissippi. They are truly here because they want to see us learn and help us in any way they can.”

“I wouldn’t be where I’m at today without Pellissippi State and my professors,” Edwards said. “Pellissippi introduced me to 3D printing, and that helped me start my own business.”

Edwards started AMTec Fishing (an abbreviation of Additive Manufacturing Technologies Fishing) at the end of 2016. She designs and 3D prints fishing lures, then has them mass manufactured. Edwards intends to transfer to Austin Peay State University this fall, where she will study mechanical engineering.

Walker will transfer to Tennessee Technological University, where she will study chemical engineering.

“I like the engineering field because I feel like it gives me the opportunity to apply the knowledge I have gained in math and science while in college in a practical way. Chemical engineering is a fairly broad field, and there are a lot of different directions I could go with it. I would really like to work on the environmental side of chemical engineering in waste water treatment,” she said.

Walker, who graduated from Hardin Valley Academy in 2013, was not always interested in STEM fields.

“When I was in high school, I wasn’t always a very good student. But in my senior year, something clicked and I realized I needed to do well to be successful. That success mindset has continued here at Pellissippi State,” she said. “I first enrolled in an education program, but I realized it takes a very special person to be an educator and that wasn’t me.”

Walker first came to Pellissippi State as part of the tnAchieves scholarship, the precursor to Tennessee Promise — as did Edwards.

“The tnAchieves scholarship was one of my biggest reasons for originally attending Pellissippi,” Walker said. “I wasn’t sure if I would do well in college because of my not-so-stellar academic performance in high school, so I didn’t want to go to a huge university.”

 “The NASA grant brought a lot of the female engineering technology students together,” Edwards said. “It’s nice to know you’re not alone when you’re studying in a traditionally male-dominated field. It also introduced me to the community; I was able to go to local middle schools and speak to students about STEM.”

The NASA grant funds more than just scholarships for the students who earn it. Pellissippi State students have traveled to the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama and to the Society of Women Engineers conference.

“At the SWE conference, I was able to speak to companies who wanted to hire female engineers,” Walker said. “Those contacts and the SWE organization may help me find companies hiring engineers when I graduate. Plus, it was amazing to see all of the accomplishments women in engineering are making.”

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