Pellissippi State names Kellie Toon new vice president for Academic Affairs

Kellie Toon headshot
Associate Professor Kellie Toon is Pellissippi State’s new vice president for Academic Affairs.

Associate Professor Kellie Toon, most recently the director of the Pellissippi Academic Center for Excellence, has been chosen to serve as Pellissippi State Community College’s new vice president for Academic Affairs. 

Toon was one of five finalists for the position, which was last held by interim Vice President Kathy Byrd, who retired in June after 29 years with Pellissippi State. 

“This wasn’t about a career change for me; it was about Pellissippi State,” Toon said. “This community has been good to me: the people, the relationships I’ve formed, the friendships, the way we come together. I have been able to grow so much – not just professionally, but personally.” 

A native of Tyler, Texas, Toon earned her bachelor’s degree in Political Science with a minor in Spanish at the University of Texas at Austin.  

“I never wanted to be an educator,” Toon explained, laughing. “I come from a long family line of teachers, and all through undergrad, I wanted to go to law school.” 

Toon immersed herself in the legal field until the last semester of her senior year, when she started substitute teaching high school Spanish. 

“My favorite quote is, ‘A person often meets his destiny on the road he took to avoid it,’” Toon said. “It didn’t take me long to find my calling once I was in the classroom.” 

Toon discovered her affinity for higher education while teaching classes as a graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and learned about Pellissippi State after moving to Knoxville with her family in 2007. Although she had owned a tutoring franchise for two years in Amarillo, she missed the classroom. 

“Everyone kept telling me, ‘You’ve got to look into Pellissippi State,’” Toon remembered.  

Armed with a strong teaching background, Toon came on board in 2008 as an adjunct instructor of Communication Studies and joined the college’s full-time faculty in 2010. At the time, Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr. was serving as vice president for Academic Affairs, she noted. 

“Dr. Wise was the VP that hired me, and now it feels like it’s come full circle,” Toon said. “It’s an honor to serve as his vice president.” 

Toon moved into administrative roles with Pellissippi State in 2014, first as the director of the college’s Quality Enhancement Plan and later as director of the Department of Education Title III Strengthening Institutions Program Grant. She earned her Ph.D. in higher education administration from the University of Tennessee in August 2019. 

Pellissippi State’s vice president for Academic Affairs is responsible for “the academic side of the house,” Toon explained – working with faculty, deans and academic support staff. It’s a role Toon relishes, having ushered in 125 new faculty through the New Faculty Academy since 2014, first with the Quality Enhancement Plan and then with the Pellissippi Academic Center for Excellence, which provides support for Pellissippi State faculty through training and professional development. 

“At PACE, it was my vision to create something somewhere on campus so that faculty had a space just for them,” she said. “I am so proud of what the PACE team has done. They are extraordinary, and even though I’m not leaving, I’m going to miss working with them. I know I’ve just moved down the hall, but it feels like a long hall!” 

Toon already is hard at work in her new position, and she is excited about what the future holds, as is Pellissippi State’s president. 

We have important work to do over the course of the next several years at Pellissippi State as we strive towards greater equity in our outcomes,” Wise said. “Dr. Toon’s experience as a faculty member and a leader at the college give her insight into what we have done and what we need to do. I am excited to see where leadership takes our students, faculty and staff in the days ahead.” 

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East Knoxville, Pellissippi State celebrate longtime Magnolia Avenue Campus Dean Rosalyn Tillman

Retired Magnolia Avenue Campus Dean Rosalyn Tillman, center, with the sign naming the campus courtyard in her honor June 30, 2021
Longtime Magnolia Avenue Campus Dean Rosalyn Tillman, center, stands in the campus courtyard that was named in her honor at a retirement celebration June 30, 2021. Celebrating with her are, from left, her husband, Sheadrick Tillman IV; Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr.; Tillman’s sister, Barbara Phinisee; Tillman; Tillman’s daughter Danielle Tillman; Vice President for Student Affairs Rushton Johnson; Tillman’s daughter Nichole Tillman Carter; and, in front, Tillman’s grandson, Xavier Carter.

The East Knoxville and Pellissippi State Community College communities came together Wednesday, June 30, to honor Rosalyn Tillman, dean of the college’s Magnolia Avenue Campus from when it opened in 2000 until her retirement this spring. 

“A magnificent leader and community influencer,” “one of the pillars and matriarchs of our community,” “a role model,” “a woman of integrity and standards” and “an advocate” were among the words speakers used to describe Tillman at the retirement celebration, held at the Magnolia Avenue Campus. They remembered her tenacity and commitment to making the Magnolia Avenue Campus, the fourth of Pellissippi State’s campuses, a “gleaming institution” for the community. 

“Dean Tillman set a standard for what she wanted this campus to be,” said Phyllis Nichols, president and CEO of Knoxville Area Urban League. “We were not going to be a site sister in East Knoxville. We were going to be a shining example on Magnolia. … The students were going to be proud to walk in these doors.” 

Originally from Chicago, where she taught elementary and middle school, Tillman began her career at Pellissippi State as a math instructor in August 1991 and later served as program coordinator for developmental math, attaining the rank of associate professor of Mathematics. When Pellissippi State purchased the former Knoxville Catholic High School building on Magnolia Avenue, Tillman became the new campus’ first – and only – dean. 

“This was the only east campus (of Pellissippi State) when we opened 20 years ago, and we had the opportunity to serve this community in a way that they had not been served before,” said Tillman. “There was a reluctance at first to come inside a college door, but now they had a place in the neighborhood, and we tried to make them feel comfortable.” 

Not only did Tillman make sure the students who attended the Magnolia Avenue Campus had the same resources and opportunities as those who attended the college’s other campuses, Tillman made sure students knew they could succeed. 

Jan Sharp, now director of Pellissippi State’s Academic Support Center, reflected on what it was like to be a nontraditional, first-generation student at the Magnolia Avenue Campus in spring 2005 with four children at home. 

“On my first day, Rosalyn Tillman comes in with a group of faculty members, and they’re all dressed in full regalia,” Sharp said. “The point of her coming in dressed in that attire was to prove to us that (1) if we work hard enough, graduation was just right around the corner; (2) nothing was going to be handed to us; and (3) we should always ask for help if we need it. … She told us where her office was and to come get her anytime we needed to talk or if we needed assistance with anything. If we couldn’t find something, she would walk us to where we needed to go. And I really looked up to her for that.” 

Tillman remembered a nail technician who came to her office 30 minutes into her first class, complaining, “I can’t do this. I’m too old.” Tillman talked to her, and the student ended up going on to get her degree in education. 

“That always has stayed with me because she was so devastated,” Tillman said. “We have been able to change people’s lives.” 

Longtime Magnolia Avenue Campus Dean Rosalyn Tillman addresses the crowd at her retirement celebration June 30, 2021
Longtime Magnolia Avenue Campus Dean Rosalyn Tillman addresses the crowd at her retirement celebration June 30, 2021. Tillman served as dean of Pellissippi State’s Magnolia Avenue Campus from the time it opened in 2000 until her retirement this spring.

In addition to serving as dean at the Magnolia Avenue Campus, Tillman served as Pellissippi State coordinator for Project GRAD Knoxville, which brings Austin-East and Fulton high school students to campus each summer to offer students a glimpse of college life. The program has helped boost the average high school graduation rate for Austin-East and Fulton students from 50% to 83%.  

“We give them all kinds of experiences they wouldn’t ordinarily have so that they will think, ‘I can do that,'” Tillman explained. “When they get back (to high school), school isn’t ho-hum. It changes attitudes.” 

Just under 3,000 students have participated in the Project GRAD summer institute under Tillman’s guidance and direction, said Tanisha Fitzgerald-Baker, program and analytics director for Project GRAD. 

“Dean Tillman is so committed and dedicated to the outcome and excellence of our students,” Fitzgerald-Baker said. “The expectations are very rigid, and now right under 3,000 students understand what they can be, where they can be and how they’re going to do it. 

“Even though you try to be behind the scenes, it’s very hard to dim a light meant to shine as bright as you,” she added, to a chorus of “Amen!” from the audience. 

The Rev. Renee Kesler, president and CEO of Beck Cultural Exchange Center, agreed, noting she has lived in the community her entire life and knows the area “like the back of my hand.” 

“You lit up something,” Kesler said to Tillman. “There was some darkness, but you brought the light.” 

Kesler compared Tillman to an unnamed wise woman in the Bible who uses her voice to stand up for her community and save her city from destruction in 2 Samuel. 

“She said, ‘Let me handle this,’ but she didn’t do it by herself – she knew she couldn’t,” Kesler said. “A wise woman knows that if I’m going to be great, I have to surround myself with other great people. And the Bible says she went back to the people, and she had a collaboration meeting. And that’s who you are: the collaborator. You know to bring people together to get it done.” 

Longtime Magnolia Avenue Dean Rosalyn Tillman with her administrative assistant, Patti Rogers
Newly retired Magnolia Avenue Campus Dean Rosalyn Tillman takes a moment with her longtime administrative assistant Patti Rogers at a celebration June 30, 2021. Rogers spoke on behalf of the Magnolia Avenue Campus faculty and staff that Tillman led for 21 years.

Not only will Tillman be honored with a memorial brick at the Beck Cultural Exchange Center, Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr. unveiled Wednesday a sign naming the Magnolia Avenue Campus courtyard in her honor. 

“You sought so many ways to connect the college to the community and the community to the college,” he said. “Not only are we naming the courtyard in your honor, but we will be renovating it and making it accessible to the whole community as a teaching space and learning space. Thank you for giving us your very best.” 

Tillman, who prefers to stay out of the limelight, humbly shared her successes at the Magnolia Avenue Campus with her small but dedicated staff and called her work for Pellissippi State not only her pleasure, but also her passion. 

“I just want to be remembered that I did some good for somebody,” she said. 

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Pellissippi State psychology professor selected for higher education leadership program

Head shot of Assistant Professor Antija Allen
Pellissippi State Assistant Professor Antija Allen has been selected for the Maxine Smith Fellows program that begins later this month.

Assistant Professor Antija Allen of Pellissippi State Community College is among 21 faculty and staff from colleges and universities across Tennessee who have been selected to participate in a year-long leadership program. 

The Maxine Smith Fellows program provides professional development, training and advancement opportunities for participants from traditionally underrepresented groups at the community and technical colleges governed by the Tennessee Board of Regents, as well as those working at Tennessee’s locally governed public universities. 

“I like that the focus is on diversifying leadership positions, which can reach beyond TBR,” said Allen, who has been teaching psychology at Pellissippi State since 2017.  

It’s a topic dear to Allen, whose book with co-editor Justin T. Stewart, “We’re Not OK: Black Faculty Experiences and Higher Education Strategies,” was accepted for publication by Cambridge University Press and will be released by August 2021. 

“We have a book coming out later this summer that focuses on faculty representation, mental health, inclusion and retention, and I thought, ‘Wow! This is what our book is all about!’” Allen said, reflecting on the Maxine Smith Fellows program. “This is the feeling of TBR investing in us.” 

College and university presidents nominate eligible faculty and staff from their campus for consideration for the program. 

“I am so pleased Dr. Allen was selected to participate in the Maxine Smith Fellows program,” said Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr. “It is an outstanding opportunity for leadership growth and development for someone who has demonstrated a deep commitment to professional learning while at Pellissippi State.” 

In addition to the professional development of class members, the program stimulates increased collaboration among institutions, development of a statewide network for program participants, and an overall increase in the diversity of ideas, thoughts and experiences within senior leadership ranks at Tennessee public higher education institutions.  

“Maxine Smith Fellows alumni have advanced to senior leadership positions, including seven Fellows who have gone on to serve as presidents at colleges and universities in Tennessee and in other states,” said Wendy J. Thompson, the program’s administrator and TBR vice chancellor for organizational effectiveness. “Many of them have said that the Maxine Smith Fellows experience contributed to their success.” 

A native of New York City, Allen has been teaching in higher education since 2004. She earned her doctorate from Columbia University three years ago. 

“Columbia is known for churning out changemakers, and that’s what I’ve been doing,” Allen said.  

Assistant Professor Antija Allen teaches General Psychology at Pellissippi State in 2019, before the pandemic.
Assistant Professor Antija Allen teaches General Psychology at Pellissippi State in 2019, before the pandemic.

In October 2020, Allen was awarded a TBR grant to help her and two colleagues create free learning materials for Pellissippi State students who take General Psychology. 

Allen has been serving as champion for Pellissippi State’s emotional intelligence cohort, one of several professional development tracks the college offers for faculty and staff, since 2019. She also is finishing a two-year term as Pellissippi State’s faculty fellow for the high-impact practice of First-Year Experience, helping lead other faculty through the Pellissippi Academic Center for Excellence. 

“These three roles I’ve had are ending, and the Maxine Smith Fellows leadership program will help me answer, ‘What’s next?’” Allen said. 

The Maxine Smith Fellows program is named in honor of the late Maxine A. Smith, who headed the Memphis Branch of the NAACP for 33 years and was a member of the Tennessee Board of Regents from 1994 to 2006. The Class of 2021-22 is the program’s 15th cohort. 

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Graduate spotlight: Mother and son from the Philippines graduate together

Maydette and Ralph tossing their graduation caps in the air on Hardin Valley Campus
Maydette Ziatdinov and her son, Ralph Panganiban, celebrate their upcoming graduation from Pellissippi State. The two will participate in the college’s Commencement ceremony at 4 p.m. Saturday, May 15.

Meriam Panganiban has her alarm set so that she can be wide awake and glued to the computer at 6 a.m. Sunday, May 16. 

She may be more than 9,000 miles away in Sydney, Australia, but she wouldn’t miss watching her daughter and grandson graduate from Pellissippi State Community College together! 

“My mom is very, very emotional because I promised her I would finish school,” said Maydette Ziatdinov43, who previously worked as a kindergarten teacher in Japan. “I had a lot of fear because this is a new country for me, but I knew something was missing. This is for my husband, my son and my mom – but it’s also for myself, this accomplishment.” 

Maydette, a native of the Philippines, will graduate at 4 p.m. Saturday, May 15, with her associate degree in Business, with a concentration in Management. Her only son, Ralph Panganiban, will graduate during the same Commencement ceremony with his associate degree in Computer Information Technology, with a concentration in Programming. 

Ralph, 22, started Pellissippi State in 2017 after graduating from Bearden High School. He had to take English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes before he could start his core curriculum, having only moved to the United States in 2015, when his stepfather, a scientist, took a job at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. 

“When I went to high school, most of my friends suggested I go here because they have good courses,” Ralph said. “What really impressed me is that all of the services here are free: computer labs, libraries, tutoring center. That was really amazing to me.” 

“The tutoring center is like family to me because I would spend all day at school studying,” Maydette shared. “It’s like my second home.” 

Maydette started her educational journey at Pellissippi State two years after her son, much to his chagrin. 

“My friends would say, ‘Is that your sister?’ and I’d say, ‘No, that’s my mom!” Ralph said, cringing good-naturedly at the memory. 

For me, it was a compliment!” Maydette said, laughing. “I love it!” 

Ralph joked that he “just wanted to run away” when he would see his mom on campus, but then admitted that going to college with a parent had its perks. 

“If I saw her in the cafeteria, she would pay for me!” he said. 

Even though Maydette and Ralph often would carpool to Pellissippi State together, they never were in the same class – although they had some of the same professors. 

“We both loved Dr. Shaquille Marsh’s class and his way of teaching,” Maydette said of Public Speaking. “English is our second language, and we felt nervous about speaking in front of our classmates, but he gave us pointers. He has been one of our best mentors.” 

Maydette and Ralph pose in caps and gowns
Maydette Ziatdinov and her son, Ralph Panganiban, are ready to graduate from Pellissippi State, where they both were involved in organizations such as the International Club.

Both also joined Pellissippi State’s International Club, where Ralph served as president and Maydette handled public relations. The two had a really good time planning the International Culture Festival in fall 2019, where they highlighted the fashion, food and music of Pellissippi State’s international students’ home countries. 

“That was a really big deal for me because I never had been president of a club before,” Ralph said, thanking his mom for her help. 

More recently, Maydette has been interning with Pellissippi State’s Human Resources office and has chosen HR as her next career. 

“I have eight years of good memories as a kindergarten teacher, but I wanted to do something more flexible at this age,” she explained. “I like helping people – that’s just me – and even if it’s a small company, someone has to do the administrative work.” 

Even though the duo now has earned their associate degrees, they plan to stick around Pellissippi State a little while longer to take more classes – Maydette in preparation to transfer to King University for a bachelor’s degree, and Ralph to add a second Computer Information Technology degree, this time with a concentration in Systems Administration and Management.  

“I never complain about the teachers here, but it’s not just them,” Ralph noted. “Everyone from the security guards to the cafeteria workers to Facilities staff – they’ve all been so nice and helpful.” 

His mother agrees, listing Associate Professor Amy Caponetti, Professor Lisa FallInternational Club advisor Patricia Higgins and Access and Diversity Director Gayle Wood among those who have been part of an amazing support system at Pellissippi State. 

“We don’t have a family here in Tennessee, so Pellissippi State is our goto family,” Maydette said. “If I had a picture of myself on my first day of school until now, you would see a totally different Maydette.” 

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Graduate spotlight: Professors’ support helped Abigail Dishner succeed

Abigail Dishner says professors' support is one thing that makes Pellissippi State special.
Abigail Dishner says professors’ support is one thing that makes Pellissippi State special.

Even though Abigail Dishner didn’t have a specific career goal in mind when she came to Pellissippi State, she eventually found a major she loved and realized it’s OK to take things one step at a time.  

“You don’t have to know exactly what you want to do,” says Abigail. “Just taking the next step and keep taking the next step is what keeps us going.”  

Abigail has followed her own advice, using her time at Pellissippi State to explore different career options, and will graduate in May with a degree in Early Childhood Education. Abigail currently works for Knox County Schools as a special education instructional assistant and plans to continue working there after she graduates.  

“It’s really cool getting to know those kids and how they see life,” she says. “Seeing it from their perspective is really inspiring.”  

Abigail grew up in Harrogate, Tennessee, where she was still living when she started classes at Pellissippi State.  

“I was driving an hour and a half to go to my classes,” she recalls. “I chose Pellissippi State because I was an early high school graduate and wanted to take advantage of the Tennessee Promise scholarship. Once I started, the professors were all great. They’ve been so awesome to work with.” 

Abigail believes one of the things that makes Pellissippi State so special is the professors’ support 

There’s an extra understanding of mental health,” she says. The professors have empathy, and they understand that real life happens even while you have classes full time. They acknowledge your struggle and take their time to help you through that.”  

Abigail remembers a time this past year when she experienced that support and understanding firsthand.  

I struggled last year with keeping things straight,” she explains. I’m a multi-passionate person – I want to do everything all the time – and, and when you’re taking full-time classes and most of them are online, it’s hard to stay focused. My professors made themselves available for me to talk to them, and that’s been the biggest thing in helping me be successful.”

Abigail knows that her experiences at Pellissippi State will stay with her far beyond the classroom.  

Although I don’t exactly have a specific dream job or goal in mind right now, I pray that the knowledge and skills I’ve gained throughout this degree help me to better serve young children and families in the mission field – whether that be in my own neighborhood or across the world,” she shares. I want them to know that they’re loved more than they can imagine. If the discipline and moments of struggle in college have helped me learn how to serve others better, then I think it’s been worth it.”  

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Pellissippi State employee’s research shows microbes reduce natural carbon emissions

Kate Fullerton with water samples in Costa Rica
Kate Fullerton shows some of the water samples she gathered in Costa Rica for her research on microbes in this 2017 photo courtesy of Katie Pratt and the Deep Carbon Observatory.

When people talk about ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, many suggest driving their cars less or planting a tree. But there may be an important group of organisms too tiny to see with the naked eye that are also making an impact. 

Bacteria found in hot springs in Costa Rica are helping reduce the amount of global warming-causing carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, according to research by Pellissippi State Community College Instructional Systems Specialist Kate Fullerton. 

Fullerton’s thesis work was published April 22 in Nature Geoscience, a monthly journal about Earth sciences research, and featured in an April 22 story in Science magazine. 

The publication comes almost two years after Fullerton earned her master’s degree in microbiology from the University of Tennessee and started her job with Pellissippi State as a lab technician on the College’s Strawberry Plains Campus. 

“I knew I enjoyed microbes and what they do in the environment,” said Fullerton, who earned her bachelor’s degree in biotechnology from Rutgers University in her native New Jersey. “And carbon cycling is really interesting and dynamic because carbon comes in a lot of different forms.” 

Costa Rica was a perfect spot for researching the relationship between microbes and carbon dioxide because the country is in a subduction zone, where tectonic plates floating on Earth’s molten center clash and one slips beneath the other. 

“That process basically recycles the sedimentrock and organic material on that plate, removing carbon from the (Earth’s) surface, which is a good thing,” Fullerton explained. “Some of that carbon is recycled back into the Earth’s core, but some of it comes out of volcanoes during eruptions. And some of it bubbles up naturally in these hot springs around the volcanoes.” 

As part of UT Associate Professor Karen Lloyd’s lab for Deep Subsurface biosphere research, Fullerton completed two two-week field exhibitions to Costa Rica and Panama. The data published April 22 covers 24 hot springs Fullerton visited in Northern Costa Rica during 2017. 

“Our first goal was to try to determine how the microbial diversity varies on a regional scale because past research tended to focus on a single location at a time,” Fullerton said. “Second: is there evidence that microbes in these hot springs are affecting the greenhouse gases coming out of them?” 

Fullerton and a team of fellow researchers from several international institutions already knew that bacteria can eat greenhouse gases, but they set out to discover whether they could experimentally show that microbes in these hot springs are eating these gases and therefore reducing the amount of carbon dioxide released back into the atmosphere. 

Kate Fullerton with water sample in Costa Rica
Kate Fullerton‘s research on bacteria found in hot springs in Costa Rica showed microbes were consuming between 2 and 22% of the carbon released from these hot springs. (Photo courtesy of Katie Pratt and the Deep Carbon Observatory)

“We needed to isolate (and concentrate) the bacteria from the water, so we attached filters to large syringes that would collect the bacteria,” Fullerton explained. “We would repeat this process until we had filtered a total of 2 liters of water at each sample site, which could take anywhere from 10-15 minutes to an hour, depending on how clogged the filter was getting with particles.” 

Then it was back to the lab for “bench work,” which included extracting DNA from the microbe-filled filters, then sequencing it to identify “who” was there. Fullerton also counted the number of microbial cells in each sample using flow cytometry and a small laser.  

Using Fullerton’s data and geochemical data collected by her colleagues, the team built a computer model that predicted that the microbes were consuming between 2 and 22% of the carbon released from these hot springs.  

“I know that’s a large range, and a lot of work still needs to be done, but this is the first time someone has tried to quantify the effect of the microbes on such a large scale,” she said. 

At 27 years old, Fullerton still has plenty of time to build on her research, should she want to one day follow that path. In the meantime, she’s “fallen in love with Tennessee” and is enjoying her work at Pellissippi State, where she transitioned to a support role with Educational Technology Services in November 2020.  

“I love learning, and I have taken several classes at Pellissippi State,” Fullerton said. “I am hoping to pick up some adjuncting as well because I discovered early on in graduate school that I love teaching. 

You can read Fullerton’s work on microbes in its entirety in Nature Geoscience or a story that explains the science in more layman’s terms in Science magazine. 

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Pellissippi State moves annual student art exhibition online, faculty featured in downtown gallery 

Charcoal drawing of skeleton
Pellissippi State student Rebeca Ortiz‘s charcoal drawing Macabre Royalty is Best in Show at this year’s Juried Student Art Exhibition.

Those who never have made it out to Pellissippi State Community College for an art exhibition have a unique opportunity to view a variety of works from the comfort of their own home this year. 

Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Pellissippi State is offering its Annual Juried Student Art Exhibition online through May 3. This is the first time the exhibition has been held virtually. 

Art Professor Jennifer Brickey built the exhibition in Microsoft Sway, which allows viewers to see the student works as a slideshow, with the ability to choose whether the works stay on screen anywhere between 3 and 60 seconds. Viewers also can take the exhibit off loop and click through the works manually. 

The options are visible to viewers by moving the computer’s cursor or mouse to the lower righthand corner of the screen. 

“This annual exhibition exemplifies the hard work of both the students and the Art faculty,” Brickey said. “This exhibition is even more unique because it demonstrates the hard work and perseverance of both our Art faculty and students during one of the most trying years. I am very proud of this exhibition. It is truly a testament to the strength of the Art department. 

Any Pellissippi State student who had an Art class during the last two years was welcome to apply for the exhibition. The works were chosen this year by Pellissippi State’s Art faculty: Professor Brickey, Professor Jeff Lockett, Associate Professor Caroline Covington and Professor Herb Rieth. 

Thirty-one works were selected for this year’s exhibition. Rebeca Ortiz was awarded Best in Show and $500 for her charcoal drawing Macabre Royalty. As is the tradition, the winning artwork was purchased by Pellissippi State for its permanent collection that is displayed on campus. 

While Pellissippi State Art students have their works displayed online this year, all four Pellissippi State Art faculty have works on exhibit at the UT Downtown Gallery through April 30. 

Lockett, Covington, Rieth and Brickey are featured in Community of Eight with full-time Art faculty from Roane State and Walters State community colleges. 

“Pellissippi State and University of Tennessee Art faculty have always had a strong partnership, and both institutions play a significant role in cultivating the next generation of artists in our region,” said Covington, who serves as the Art program coordinator for Pellissippi State. “The Community of Eight exhibition demonstrates that we’re not just faculty — we’re also working artists. The skills we teach are integral to our own artistic practices, and I am so grateful to be a part of a show that showcases all of those skills in one place.” 

The UT Downtown Gallery is a contemporary art gallery exhibiting professional work through funding and support from the University of Tennessee. The gallery is located at 106 S. Gay Street, and all events are free and open to the public. Hours are 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays and 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays. 

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Pellissippi State professor honored for eLearning experience

Sociology Professor Margaret Choka has been recognized for her years of experience teaching online classes for Pellissippi State Community College.
Sociology Professor Margaret Choka has been recognized for her 20 years of experience teaching distance education classes for Pellissippi State Community College and the Tennessee Board of Regents’ TN cCampus.

A Pellissippi State Community College professor who was an early adopter of technology in the classroom recently was named a 2020 Distinguished eLearning Educator by the Instructional Technology Council. 

Professor Margaret Chokawho has been a full-time sociology professor at Pellissippi State since 1988, was one of only nine distance educators nationwide honored at the council’s annual conference March 24. 

“I started teaching online with a dial-up modem,” said Choka, who has been teaching distance education since 2001. “We have come a long way!” 

As a sociologist, Choka realized early on that distance education is a tool that can be used to reach the older coal mining and farming communities in Tennessee. In 1999, Choka began educating herself on the principles of distance education, computer technology and the then-emerging World Wide Web. She read journals, attended conferences and sought advice from the college’s information technology staff. She explored how technology could be used to supplement sociology classes and help students master their learning objectives. 

“Dr. Choka is an extraordinary educator who cares about equal access to quality higher education, particularly for the underserved nontraditional working students of Knoxville and surrounding rural counties of Appalachia,” Adjunct Instructor Marion Orrick writes in nominating Choka for the award. 

Choka started with a complimentary webpage for her courses. She worked tirelessly with textbook publishers to access free, online supplemental materials and fought for instructor resources in the classroom as well as student use of computer labs. She mastered learning management systems, designed courses, trained other instructors, created student skills assessments and online training videos, collaborated with other departments and linked students with tutors and librarians. 

Choka now has served as both the lead course developer for Pellissippi State and for the Tennessee Board of Regents’ TN eCampus since 2001. 

“As more students have begun to rely on smartphone technology to access online coursework, Dr. Choka continues to educate herself on how best to meet student needs in higher education, ensuring that the newest and most effective design techniques are incorporated into the online courses,” Orrick writes. We are fortunate to have an outstanding eLearning instructor like Dr. Choka who, over the course of 20 years, conquered the technology of the 21st century and used it to improve higher education rates in Tennessee. 

Choka lists many things she likes about teaching online – from designing dynamic courses to providing an atmosphere of collaboration and socialization for studentsfrom creating engaging activities using current “hot topics” to encouraging students to use “sociological imagination” to see a bigger picture of the society they’re studying. 

Underpinning it all, she says, is a strong compassion for students’ success and well-being. 

“Dr. Choka is an outstanding faculty member, and I’m glad she’s being recognized for her dedication to supporting student learning,” said Kane Barker, dean of Natural and Behavioral Sciences at Pellissippi State. 

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Engage little ones with activities led by Pellissippi State Early Childhood Education students

Pellissippi State Early Childhood Education student surrounded by children
Pellissippi State’s Early Childhood Education faculty and students are spearheading a week of activities April 12-16, celebrating the the Week of the Young Child.

Pellissippi State Community College Early Childhood Education faculty and students invite those who care for young children – whether at home or at a place of business – to participate in activities April 12-16 in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Week of the Young Child. 

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, most activities will be offered virtually this year. 

“This is community based,” said Associate Professor Hope Denny, program coordinator for Early Childhood Education. “We will be sending out our lesson plans to local child care facilities, but they also are open to anyone who wants to participate.” 

Each day has a theme, explained Assistant Professor Elizabeth Kelly: 

  • Music Monday, April 12: Pellissippi State’s Early Childhood Education students will demonstrate via video how to create handmade musical instruments with materials that are easy to find around your house; children are invited to join a “virtual band performance” with their handmade musical instruments at 10 a.m. on Zoom; 
  • Tasty Tuesday, April 13: Students will demonstrate via video healthy snack recipes to make with children while Knox Association for Children’s Early Education representatives will share nutritional information; 
  • Work Together Wednesday, April 14: Pellissippi State’s Early Childhood Education faculty will create a storytelling chain on Facebook while KACEE will teach how to pull together a “prop box” with items to encourage imaginative play; 
  • Artsy Thursday, April 15: Pellissippi State will display murals made by children throughout the area for a drive-through art show on the College’s Hardin Valley Campus; those who come by may choose to contribute to a large chalk art mural on site and/or stay and picnic with their families by the pond in circles that will be marked to maintain at least 6 feet of social distancing; and 
  • Family Friday, April 16: Families will have two opportunities to participate in virtual scavenger hunts with their children, searching for items in their house that fulfill instructions such as, “Find me something that is red” and “Find me something that you might eat with.”  

“This gives us an opportunity to take our activities outside the classroom to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Week of the Young Child,” Denny said, noting events are being programmed by Pellissippi State students in Early Childhood Curriculum, Safe and Healthy Learning Environments, and Family Dynamics and Community Involvement classes. “Our goal is to get the word out about our Early Childhood Education program while also engaging the larger community. We want to have a presence in leading early childhood education efforts locally.” 

Those who would like to participate in the Week of the Young Child activities should follow Pellissippi State’s Early Childhood Education on Facebook or Instagram or email eced@pstcc.edu. 

For more information about Pellissippi State’s Early Childhood Education program, one of the programs that will move this fall into the new Bill Haslam Center for Math and Science on the Hardin Valley Campus, visit www.pstcc.edu/eced. 

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Pellissippi State professor’s new novel explores race relations in rural Tennessee

Charles Dodd White
Associate Professor Charles Dodd White‘s new novel, “How Fire Runs,” is a literary thriller about what happens when white supremacists try to take over a small town in Tennessee.

Appalachian author Charles Dodd White didn’t have to search for inspiration for his fourth novel, “How Fire Runs.” When it comes to race relations in rural Southern settings, all he had to do was look around. 

“I was just paying attention to America, unfortunately,” said White, an associate professor of English at Pellissippi State Community College. 

“How Fire Runs,” published in October by Ohio University Press, is a literary thriller – a political page turner about what happens when white supremacists try to take over a small town in Tennessee. As residents grapple with their new reality, minor skirmishes escalate and dirty politics, scandals and a cataclysmic chain of violence follows. 

White, who was inducted into the East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame for fiction in 2018, started writing “How Fire Runs” in 2017, after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, led to one death and 19 injuries when a self-identified white supremacist deliberately rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters. 

White wanted to explore what might happen if white supremacists like those at the Charlottesville rally converged on a rural Tennessee community. 

“How Fire Runs” is marked by action and conflict, with characters both inside and outside of the law. Although a departure from White’s earlier works, the new novel repeats certain themes, including the importance of environment. 

“The book starts with an epigraph from Wendell Berry, noting that how we treat the environment and how we treat people are entwined,” explained White, who lives in Knoxville. “If we look at 2020’s reckoning on race, we can see our tendency to extract and exploit in this country. I am curious about whether we can do better as a people.” 

White knew “How Fire Runs” would be published shortly before the presidential election of 2020, and he believes that the book continues to be relevant. 

“Right-wing populism very clearly shares an ideology with a lot of people who seek power at any cost,” White said. “And those can be more dangerous when they’ve been repudiated or defeated.”  

“How Fire Runs” has been named a 2020 Okra Pick by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance, an early spotlight on books that are likely to “go national,” according to the organization.  

To order “How Fire Runs,” visit White’s website, www.charlesdoddwhiteauthor.com, which includes links to where you can purchase the book online.  

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