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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Pellissippi State’s Magnolia Avenue Campus celebrates 20 years of changing lives

Students gather in the Magnolia Avenue Campus courtyard in pre-pandemic times.
Pellissippi State students gather in the Magnolia Avenue Campus courtyard in pre-pandemic times.

Pellissippi State Community College’s Magnolia Avenue Campus will celebrate its 20th anniversary in a socially distanced way, in keeping with the challenges of marking milestones during a pandemic. 

The celebration will take place noon-1:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 4, over Zoom. Those who would like to attend should RSVP to tltrivette@pstcc.edu or call 865.329.3100 to receive the Zoom link for the event. 

Magnolia Avenue Campus Dean Rosalyn Tillman, who has served as dean since the campus opened, will oversee the celebration, which will include speakers sharing what Magnolia Avenue Campus did for them. 

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

Among the students who have passed through the halls of Magnolia Avenue Campus over the years, one stands out in Tillman’s mind: a nail technician who came into the office 30 minutes into her first college class. Tillman recalled the student telling her, “I can’t do this. I’m too old,” but the Magnolia Avenue Campus staff encouraged her to stick with it.  

That student ended up getting her degree in education. 

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

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

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Pellissippi State gives canceled Big Ears Festival new life with livestreamed concerts

A jazz band plays on stage while Pellissippi State faculty and students record them
Pellissippi State student Channing Huskey, not pictured, took this photo of Pellissippi State faculty and students recording a recent concert at the Bijou Theatre.

Pellissippi State Community College’s Media Technologies faculty and students are directing, filming, recording, photographing and engineering Sites & Sounds from Big Ears, a series of intimate concerts at the historic Bijou Theatre. 

The new livestreaming initiative fills a gap left when Knoxville’s Big Ears Festival was canceled due to coronavirus. The next concert, with the top-tier contemporary jazz trio The Bad Plus, will premiere at 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 9. 

Tickets are $15 in advance and $17 on the day of the livestream. Those who purchase their tickets in advance or during the livestream also have access to a recording of the concert that will be available until 11:59 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 11.  

Big Ears Festival Executive and Artistic Director Ashley Capps reached out to Assistant Professor Mischa Goldmanwho has served as production manager for Big Ears at the Bijou for many years, to brainstorm how they could support artists and venues that had suffered severely due to COVID-19 closures. 

What they landed on isn’t your typical livestream, where the viewer experiences the concert from a fixed perspective, far from the stage. 

“Ashley wanted to make this very personal and engaging for the audience,” explains Goldman, who serves as program coordinator for Audio Production Engineering at Pellissippi State. “There wasn’t a concrete vision of how he wanted to do this, but I believe we were able to translate and capture Ashley’s desire to present a unique streaming experience.” 

Sites & Sounds from Big Ears livestreams concerts in a single take with a Steadicam — taking viewers down Gay Street, viewing the marquee out front, into the empty Bijou Theatre, backstage and, ultimately, up on stage with the artists. 

“It’s like a first-person experience,” Goldman explained. “You are up close with the artists, not sitting far back, and they break down the fourth wall, talking to each other and to the camera between tunes.” 

Big Ears and Pellissippi State piloted this approach during Sites & Sounds from Big Ears’ first concert – musician R.B. Morris on Aug. 21 – and received rave reviews from viewers. 

“A lot of streaming is flat,” Goldman said. “We got comments like, ‘I didn’t expect this. Wow.’ You are seeing the concert through the eyes of someone invited on stage with the musicians, and that provides intimacy.” 

Filming a jazz trio on stage at the Bijou Theatre
Pellissippi State faculty and students bring livestream viewers on stage with artists during Sites & Sounds from Big Ears at the historic Bijou Theatre. (Photo by student Channing Huskey)

Because of COVID-19 restrictions and concerns for safety, Sites & Sounds from Big Ears utilizes a very small crew. Big Ears Festival Managing Director Aaron Greenwald joins Capps as a producerGoldman is serving as producer and audio mastering engineer and is joined by Pellissippi State Instructor Jonathan Maness, recording and mixing engineering, and Adjunct Matthew Caldwell, director of photography/Steadicam operator and video editor. 

The Pellissippi State Video Production Technology and Photography faculty also selected four students to join them: Channing Huskey, still photography, and Logan MaddoxMichael Moore and Grant Robinson, assistant cameras. 

The students are receiving class credit for their participation. 

“This gives students real-world experience of how to put together a production like this: how to gather assets, how to work within the restraints of technology, how to work on tight deadlines,” Goldman explained. “The students have been very professional. They understand our safety protocols and have worked well with the artists.” 

Capps, the founder of AC Entertainment, which produces the annual Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester in addition to the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, is pleased with the result. 

We’re thrilled, in this most uncertain moment for the arts, to be able to work with artists about whom we care deeply, in venues that are part of the fabric of our city, and with the indispensable faculty and students from Pellissippi State Community College, an East Tennessee treasure, he said. 

For more information on the jazz trio The Bad Plus or to purchase tickets for the livestream, visit www.bigearsfestival.org/thebadplus. 

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Pellissippi State employee tests positive for COVID-19

Pellissippi State Community College was made aware today that a Pellissippi State employee has tested positive for COVID-19. 

The employee was on campus Friday, June 26, at which time the employee was not showing any symptoms. The employee was on the second floor of the Goins Administration Building and in the Facilities reception area on the Hardin Valley Campus. 

The College has consulted with the Knox County Health Department and is following its recommendations. Pellissippi State has blocked off the areas for cleaning by its Facilities staff, and the College has notified all the people who were in extended contact with the employee on campus. 

The Health Department has deemed this a low-risk exposure. The employee wore a mask and practiced social distancing while on campus. Because the virus only lives seven days on surfaces and the areas the employee visited will be cleaned, the Hardin Valley Campus will reopen to the limited number of employees and students who have appointments on Monday, July 6, as scheduled. 

Pellissippi State honors outstanding faculty and staff

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

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

Professor Kathleen Affholter
Professor Kathleen Affholter

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

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

Instructor Cristina Carbajo
Instructor Cristina Carbajo

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

Career Specialist Jennifer Cozart
Career Specialist Jennifer Cozart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pellissippi State’s director of talent management selected for elite leadership program

Portrait of Elizabeth Ross at Pellissippi State
Elizabeth Ross of Pellissippi State is one of only 12 human resources professionals chosen for the CUPA-HR Wildfire program. More than 120 individuals applied.

Elizabeth Ross, director of talent management at Pellissippi State Community College, is one of 12 College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR) members selected to participate in the 2020-21 CUPA-HR Wildfire program, a 12-month leadership development experience designed for early-career higher education human resources professionals.  

This year’s program received more than 120 applications. Participants were selected based on their HR strengths and areas for development identified on the program application as well as their interest in and commitment to the program. 

“With a background in training and organizational development in the private sector, I am excited about joining the 2020-2021 CUPA-HR Wildfire program to usher me into the world of higher education,” said Ross, who joined Pellissippi State in January. “While I am tasked with allocating professional development resources for others at Pellissippi State, this program will provide me learning and network opportunities to ensure my growth is just as important. I am looking forward to the connections I will make in this program, knowing it will strengthen me in my role at Pellissippi State.”  

Ross and the other CUPA-HR Wildfire program participants will develop their professional skills through tailored learning experiences including mentorship, learning events and courses, and the completion of a year-end project highlighting the insights they gain throughout the year. CUPA-HR’s Wildfire program is made possible in part thanks to support from HigherEdJobs. 

“CUPA-HR’s investment in these early-career professionals is one of the best things we do as an association,” said facilitator Mark Coldren, associate vice president for HR at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York. “The Wildfire program is helping develop passionate and talented higher education HR professionals as leaders on their campuses and within our organization. I am so excited to be working with the new cohort.”  

Headquartered in KnoxvilleCUPA-HR offers learning and professional development programs, higher education salary and benefits data, extensive online resources and just-in-time regulatory and legislative information. 

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

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Pellissippi State announces phased plan for returning to campus

Pellissippi State sign at entrance to Hardin Valley Campus
Pellissippi State will allow a small number of employees and students to return to the college’s Hardin Valley (shown here) and Strawberry Plains campuses starting Monday, May 4.

Pellissippi State Community College announced Friday a multi-stage plan for a slow, limited return to campus following the coronavirus pandemic that closed the college to all but essential personnel this spring. 

While one of Pellissippi State’s campuses is located in Blount County, Pellissippi State has adopted the guidance for Knox County as released by the Knox County Health Department for all five Pellissippi State campuses. The college’s plan also incorporates additional guidance from the Tennessee Board of Regents, the American College Health Association and the Centers for Disease Control. 

“Our first priority is the health and well-being of our students, faculty and staff,” said Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr. As we return to campus, we will do so in a manner that follows the best guidance of local, state and federal authorities. Within that frame, we will work to create the kind of engaged academic and student experience members of our community have come to expect.  

Pellissippi State’s first stage starts Monday, May 4, but only allows limited access to two campuses: Hardin Valley and Strawberry Plains. 

Those campuses will be open to those classes necessary for students to finish coursework that must be done on campus – skills assessment and project completion – during finals week. These labs in career programs such as Welding TechnologyEngineering and Nursing will not be operating at full capacity, in keeping with social distancing guidelines of leaving at least 6 feet of space between individuals and 10 or fewer people in one room. For that reason, an entire class may not be able to work or test at the same time. 

Outside of Strawberry Plains Campus
Strawberry Plains Campus is one of two Pellissippi State campuses that will reopen Monday, May 4, to students who need finish coursework that must be done on campus – skills assessment and project completion – during finals week.

Stage 1 also allows employees who have been working remotely to access their officesby appointment only, to retrieve items they need. 

While on campus, everyone must wear a mask at all times and follow social distancing guidelines. Anyone who has been exhibiting any of the symptoms of Covid-19 as outlined by the CDC should not report to campus. All employees are asked to take their temperatures before reporting to campus, and students who report for labs will be asked three screening questions provided by the Knox County Health Department before they are allowed to enter campus buildings: 

  1. Have you been told to quarantine/isolate by a medical provider or the health department? 
  2. Have you had face-to-face contact for 10 or more minutes with someone who has Covid-19? 
  3. Are you feeling ill and/or experiencing any of the symptoms of Covid-19? 

Stage 2 is scheduled to start May 29 and opens Blount County and Magnolia Avenue campuses to essential employees. The college’s Division Street Campus will remain closed throughout summer, as in previous summers. 

Future stages will be announced at a later date. 

Pellissippi State previously announced that all summer courses will move online, with limited in-person instruction in the second summer term for lab sections.  

For more information about Pellissippi State’s coronavirus response, including an archive of the college’s daily updates to faculty, staff and students, visit www.pstcc.edu/coronavirus. 

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Pellissippi State moves online for rest of semester, postpones commencement

Pellissippi State sign at entrance to Hardin Valley Campus
Pellissippi State is moving its classes and student services online for the remainder of the spring semester.

President L. Anthony Wise Jr. announced Thursday that it is in the best interest of Pellissippi State Community College faculty, staff and students to move classes and student services online for the remainder of the spring semester, with very few exceptions. 

This serious decision was made after the White House and the Centers for Disease Control revised their guidance that social gatherings should be limited to 10 or fewer people, a challenge for any institution. 

To that end, all college events through May 11 have been canceled, effective immediately. Spring commencement and the Nursing pinning ceremony, originally planned for May 10, will be postponed until a later date, but will be held in person when it is safe to do so. 

We know this is not the semester you imagined. It is not the semester we imagined. But we will get through this together,” Wise said in an email to faculty, staff and students. “We have a dedicated group of employees working every day to ensure we cover all our bases so we can finish the semester Pellissippi Strong. This includes everything from offering advising and tutoring online or by phone to making sure our work-study students and part-time employees get paid, even if their jobs change to duties they can do remotely. 

Although classes are moving to an online format for the rest of the semester, at least one computer lab on each campus will continue to operate its normal hours. However, there will be a reservation system put in place after the college’s extended spring break ends March 29 to ensure that there are no more than 10 people in a lab at one time. The same is true for classes that need to hold labs on campus to complete the semester. Instructors may meet with nine or fewer students in a lab while practicing social distancing measures of leaving at least 6 feet between individuals. 

As Pellissippi State transitions to an online learning environment, students can submit questions and concerns about technology, coursework, and support services to our new PantherHelp team at this link. Pellissippi State will continue to update its website – www.pstcc.edu/coronavirus – with frequently asked questions, as well as new pages of resources for faculty, staff and students.  The college also will communicate with faculty, staff and students via their Pellissippi State email and Pellissippi State’s social media accounts. 

Meanwhile, Pellissippi State’s Business and Community Services has suspended all non-credit classes until further notice as well and is working with those instructors to discuss rescheduling options. Those with questions about non-credit classes should call 865.539.7167 or email bcs@pstcc.edu. 

“Although these are challenging circumstances, I look forward to the day when we can gather in community on campus once again,” Wise said. 

View Wise’s video message to faculty, staff and students today at www.pstcc.edu 

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Join Pellissippi State for Women’s History Month events

Jennifer Brickey at lectern, giving faculty lecture
Pellissippi State Associate Professor Jennifer Brickey gives a previous lecture to a packed house in the Goins Building Auditorium. Brickey is among the female faculty on Pellissippi State’s Fierce Women Steering Committee and is giving a Women’s History Month lecture on March 12.

Pellissippi State Community College is celebrating Women’s History Month throughout March with lectures, films and readings with a focus on “fierce” women.

All are free and open to the public.

“Women’s History Month is an opportunity to highlight and reflect on the contributions of women every day,” said Professor Toni McDaniel, interim dean of Liberal Arts and chair of the Fierce Women Steering Committee. “March was designated as Women’s History Month by Congress in the late 1980s. In the 1990s, when Women’s Studies were first introduced at Pellissippi State, the college had a big celebration during the whole month. We think it is time to reinvigorate this celebration for a new generation of women in a new century.”

The committee, comprised of 11 female faculty, has planned more than 20 events spread over Pellissippi State’s five campuses in Knox and Blount counties. Next week alone the community can check out these lectures:

  • Tuesday, March 10
    Associate Professor Teresa Lopez: “Short, Brown and Female: Overcoming Student Perceptions and Imposter Syndrome,” 12-2 p.m. in the Goins Building Auditorium on the Hardin Valley Campus, 10915 Hardin Valley Road
  • Thursday, March 12
    Associate Professor Jennifer Brickey: “Why We March: Art of Protest and Resistance,” 12:30-1:30 p.m. in the Goins Building Auditorium on the Hardin Valley Campus

For a complete calendar of Pellissippi State’s Women’s History Month events, visit www.pstcc.edu/events/womens-history. To request accommodations for a disability for any Pellissippi State event, call 865.539.7401 or email accommodations@pstcc.edu.

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Pellissippi State hosts Knoxville mayoral, city council candidates on Magnolia Avenue Campus

Several Knoxville mayoral and city council candidates will stop by Pellissippi State Community College’s Magnolia Avenue Campus to talk to voters Wednesday.

The meet-and-greet will be held 10:15 a.m.-noon in the lobby of the Magnolia Avenue Campus, 1610 E. Magnolia Avenue.

So far both Knoxville mayoral candidates, Indya Kincannon and Eddie Mannis, have confirmed their attendance, as have five of the eight city council candidates: Charles F. Lomax Jr. (At Large, Seat A), Janet Testerman (At Large, Seat B), Amy Midis and Amelia Parker (At Large, Seat C) and Charles Al-Bawi (District 5).

Thursday, Oct. 31, is the final day for early voting in the City of Knoxville regular election. Election day is Tuesday, Nov. 5.

“Even if you do not live in the City of Knoxville, please stop by and bring your questions,” Magnolia Avenue Campus Dean Rosalyn Tillman said. “The candidates have a wealth of knowledge about local government and will be happy to discuss issues with you.”

To view a sample ballot of the the City of Knoxville election, visit http://knoxvilletn.gov/UserFiles/Servers/Server_109478/File/Election/SampleBallot_2019_GeneralElection.pdf.

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