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.”
When Victoria Williamsstarted studying to be a certified nursing assistant in high school, she inspired her dad, Robert, to enroll in Pellissippi State’s Nursing program. Robert graduated from Pellissippi State in 2017, the same year Victoria graduated from high school. Now, four years later, Victoria has also earned her A.A.S. in Nursing from Pellissippi State!
During her first two years at Pellissippi State, Victoria was a tutor in the Academic Support Centeron the College’s Blount County Campus, where she helped fellow students with their science classwork.“My co-workers in the tutoring center became like family,” recalls Victoria.“We would all help each other with our different subjects, since many of the other tutors were taking classes too. It’s like a little family in there.”
Victoria also spent her time in college working at Village Behavioral Health Treatment Center, an adolescent health facility, where she will continue to work parttime after graduation. She has accepted a full-time position at Peninsula Hospital in their child psych unit as well. Victoria plans to eventually get her Master of Science in Nursing with a concentration in psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner for children and adolescents.
While Victoria has many fond memories from her time in college, she will always be especially grateful for the community she found at Pellissippi State. “The faculty and staff are just so active in the students’ lives, and they are there to help them,” shares Victoria. “Even during the pandemic, my teachers and classmates were all about having Zoom meetings and keeping that camaraderie between everybody. I felt like the community is very special at Pellissippi State. They put so much effort into making sure students don’t feel alone, even before and especially during the pandemic.”
Becoming a part of a community made Victoria’s experience special and she encourages everyone to jump right into that community. “Pellissippi State is different from high school,” she says. “When you go to Pellissippi State, you are doing school in that community. You don’t just go to school, hang out with friends and then go home. Your friends are at school, and you do your homework at what feels like a home. You build into this community and you become a part of it. Dive in, get involved and be a part of that community!”
Meriam Panganiban has her alarm set so thatshe 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 MaydetteZiatdinov, 43, 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,” Ralphsaid. “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,” Maydetteshared. “It’s like my second home.”
Maydettestarted her educational journey at Pellissippi State two yearsafter 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 Ralphoften would carpool to Pellissippi State together, theynever 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.”
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 – Maydettein 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,” Ralphnoted. “Everyone from the security guards to the cafeteria workers toFacilities staff– they’ve all been so nice and helpful.”
His mother agrees, listing Associate Professor Amy Caponetti,Professor Lisa Fall, International 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.
“Wedon’t have a family here in Tennessee, so Pellissippi State is our go–to 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.”
Ten Knox County high school students will don their caps and gowns three weeks before their classmates, as they graduate from Pellissippi State Community College with their associate degrees before they earn their high school diplomas.
This is the fourth and, by far, largest class of dual enrollment students to earn their associate degrees at Pellissippi State while completing high school at Career Magnet Academy, a public high school located on the college’s Strawberry Plains Campus. No students are zoned for CMA, and any Knox County student who wants to make significant progress toward an associate degree, at little to no cost to their families, may apply.
“I knew CMA was a good fit for me because I knew (Advanced Placement) classes would stress me out and I wanted something more tangible as an end result,” said Sophie Trent of south Knoxville, who has earned her Associate of Arts degree and is transferring to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville to study biology. “Also, I knew I wanted to be a doctor, and this is a really big head start on that.”
Rondhea Martin of east Knoxville also said he chose CMA because he already knew what career path he wanted to pursue.
“I came for business-related purposes and got to take my first college-level business class my junior year,” said Martin, who has earned his Associate of Science degree and is transferring to Middle Tennessee State University to study publicrelations.
Most of the 10 CMA students who are graduating from Pellissippi State together grew up in different parts of town and went to different elementary and middle schools – but at CMA,they say they found their people.
“Here everybody fits in,” said Kynlea Waldrop of west Knoxville, who has earned her Associate of Arts degree and plans to double major in marketing and recording industry, musicbusiness at MTSU. “You can come from anywhere and make friends.”
Having only 53 students in their senior class contributes to that “tightknit” “family” feeling the teenagers describe – but the 10 students who have earned their associate degrees have also formed a bond through the unique experience of finishing community college and high school at the same time.
“It has certainly been difficult,” said Josie Maynard of south Knoxville, who has earned her Associate of Science degree and plans to work as a licensed certified nurseassistant until she transfers to the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga in August. “I personally have not had a summer break in three years! It is a lot of work, but it is worth it.”
Eli Elgin and Forrest Hamilton agreed. The two students from northeast Knoxville have been friends since third grade, and both have earned their Associate of Applied Science degrees in Welding Technology.
“I’ve been taking six classes for the last few semesters, and it’s tiring,” said Hamilton, who is transferring to Ferris State University in Michigan to study welding engineeringtechnology. “Trying to keep on track with things while also having a life outside of school could be difficult.”
Elgin recalled one semester that the two friends were on campus 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. two days a week, due to the timing of their high school and college classes.
“I go to school four days a week, and then spend two or three days a weekend working in landscaping,” he added. “But now I’m ready to go straight into the workforce, and that was the point.”
Meanwhile, unlike a lot of students coming straight from high school, theCMA graduates who are continuing their education at four-year universities will know what they’re in for.
“Traditional public school is very rigid and structured,” said Dylan West of Farragut, who has earned his Associate of Science degree and is transferringto the Colorado School of Mines to major in petroleumengineering. “When we started our Pellissippi State classes, there was a period of transition from having teachers stay on you about assignments to being self-reliant.”
Arwen Roach, who lives nearKnoxville Center Malland has earned her Associate of Arts degree, found that her greatest challenge was her own shyness – and taking Pellissippi State classes helped her conquer her fears.
“It was really just my timidity being around adults,” said Roach, who is transferring to UT to study psychology and neuroscience. “But once I got over that, it was great.”
Her classmates agreed.
“I really enjoyed having classes with adult students, actually, because I found them more interesting to talk to,” said Nathan Parker of OldNorth Knox, who has earned his Associate of Science degreeand alsois transferring to UT to study psychology.
Jessamine Reckard, who lives near Johnson University, said the Pellissippi State class that touched her the most was American Sign Language.
“I have cochlear implants – I’m hard of hearing – so to be immersed in that class and get to learn the language was amazing,” said Reckard, who has earned her Associate of Arts degree and is transferring to Lipscomb University to study mechanicalengineering. “Going to Tennessee School for the Deaf and getting to work with deaf kids is one of the most surreal and best experiences of my life.”
While most of the CMA seniors took their Pellissippi State classes on the Strawberry Plains Campus, some had the opportunity to take in-person classes at the Hardin Valley Campus as well. Once the COVID-19 pandemic hit, however, most Pellissippi State classes moved online.
That didn’t stop the CMA seniors, who overwhelmingly said they “loved” asynchronous classes that they could take on their own time.
“We could work more to save money so that we can transfer to a university,” Waldrop noted.
The CMA students also raved about Pellissippi State’s tutoring center on the Strawberry Plains Campus.
“These children are so amazing, and their perseverance is incredible,” said Ann Orpurt, the CMA guidance counselor who helped the students choose their classes. “They had to take extra classes in the mornings, in the evenings and in the summer to make this happen.”
A majority of CMA students graduate with between 24 and 45 college credit hours, which is no small feat, she added.
“Kids typically want to takeas many classes as they qualify for,” Orpurt explained, noting CMA students no longer are confined to choosing a particular pathway but can take any Pellissippi State class offered. “These children did extra, but the other children at CMA are just as amazing.”
Eight of the 10 CMA seniors will walk at the 7 p.m. Friday, May 14, Commencement ceremony on Pellissippi State’s Hardin Valley Campus while Elgin and Hamilton will walk at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 15, with their fellow Welding Technology graduates. CMA will hold its graduationonJune 5.
“This is a monumental moment for these 10 remarkable students and for those at Pellissippi State and in Knox County Schools who have worked so hard to make Career Magnet Academy an option for students,” said Spencer Joy, dual enrollment specialist at Pellissippi State.
The 10 friends may be heading in mostly different directions – two are transferring to MTSU and three to UT – but they won’t forget where they got their start. Waldrop summed it up for the group:
“I tell everyone I know to come to CMA!”
CMA can accept 125 freshmen each year, and there are still 60 slots open for fall 2021. The school accepts older students as space is available. Those interested in attending CMA can apply now at https://transapp.knoxschools.org. The application deadline is July 2.
When Debbie Bonds’ parents made her drop out of high school at the age of 16, she thought her dreams of going to college and becoming a teacher were over. Debbie went on to get married, work a full career and raise her children as a single mom for many years.
When she re-married in 2013, Debbie’s new husband asked her if there was anything that she’d always dreamed of doing but never gotten to. Debbie told her husband she wanted to go to college. Debbie startedPellissippi State in 2018 and will graduate this month, at age 70, with her general Associate of Science degree.
“College changed me,” Debbie says. “It opened up a whole new life for me at 68 years old, and I really would love to see every adult experience it.”
When she started considering how to go to college as an adult learner, Debbie discovered Tennessee Reconnect, for which she says she is wholeheartedly grateful.
“I really want to see more adult learners take advantage of what’s available to them,” she says.“The first time my tuition was paid for by Tennessee Reconnect, I was beside myself! I think about all the adult learners that it could make a difference for. If they don’t do this, they’re missing the boat. If I had done this when I was 30 years old, it would have changed the whole trajectory of my life. Everything would have been different.”
Debbie jumped right into college life and got involved in the National Society of Leadership and Success as well as the Student Government Association at Pellissippi State.
“I’ve enjoyed my time in those organizations a lot,” shares Debbie. “I chose the organizations that I wanted to be a part of because I knew I couldn’t do everything. There are many great student organizations at Pellissippi State, and I advise every student to become a part of at least one organization. It’s part of that college life that everyone needs to experience.
“It’s never too late to gain an education,” Debbie adds.“Every little bit of knowledge can never be taken away from you. Even if you have to do it parttime, if you have to do it one class at a time, do it. However you have to do it, do it!“
Debbie, congratulations on achieving your dream of graduating from college! You are #PellissippiStrong! #PSCCgrad21
Even though Abigail Dishner didn’t have a specific career goalin 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 fulltime. 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.”
They’re 10 years apart, from different cities and with different experiences – but this month they become Pellissippi State Community College’s first two Water Quality Technology graduates.
Brad Bales, 31, of Jefferson County, Tenn., and Jaden Goodman, 21, of Scott County, Tenn., are the first members of Pellissippi State’s original Water Quality Technology cohort to complete the program, the only one of its kind in Tennessee.They started the programin a cohort with five other students in fall 2019, four of whom are still on track to graduate in the next couple of semesters.
“Brad and Jaden have been excellent students academically, and this has been a really hard semester for them, with three Water Quality Technology classes, along with whatever other courses they needed to graduate, and a 20-page research paper and a 30-minute oral presentation for their capstone course,” said Program Coordinator Cristina Carbajo. “It is very impressive, considering all the obstacles they’ve had to face due to the pandemic. They both managed to adapt immediately.”
Bales came to the program with more than one degree in science, but no water or wastewater treatment experience.
“Ever since I was a kid, I’ve liked the idea of working in a lab,” he said. “I’ve always been interested in the practical sciences, and the quiet monotony of a lab is enjoyable for more introverted people like me.”
Goodman, on the other hand, came to Pellissippi State only a year out from high school, but already was familiar with the industry because his father works for Plateau Utility District in Wartburg, Tenn.
“Water Quality Technology is a very good choice because the number of certified operators is dwindling as people retire,” Goodman said. “Not only will this field give me the opportunity to use on a daily basis the chemistry and engineering skills that I enjoy, but that demand means excellent job security.”
That demand is also why industry partners such as Drexel Heidel, general manager of West Knox Utility District, wanted to partner with Pellissippi State to start a program to train the next generation of water and wastewater treatment operators.
“I am still as excited about the program now as I was when we started it in 2019,” Heidel said, noting he already has had two operators retire and has another retiring in June.
Carbajo added that all the students in the first Water Quality Technology cohort already have gotten jobs in the industry, before they graduate from Pellissippi State.
“That’s the name of the game: get people trained and then get them employed,” Heidel said.
Bales has interned at West Knox Utility District this spring, where he got the unique opportunity to work at two water treatment plants that usedifferent technologies: a conventional filtration plant and a membrane plant.
“A lot of people who have been operating plants for 30 years haven’t had that opportunity,” Heidel noted. “We wanted to get Brad exposed to both and cross trained to make his internship valuable.”
“To be an operator, you have to be a jack of all trades and know a little bit of everything – engineering, electrical, chemistry – and that’s fascinating to me because I like to learn new things and understand how things work,” Bales said as he ran multiple tests on the water at West Knox Utility District’s Williams Bend conventional filtration plant. “You have to know what to do when something goes wrong: what numbers to watch, which tests to run, listening to the different pipes and getting a sense of what is or is not going on.”
Meanwhile, Goodman got hired by Plateau Utility District parttimejust a year into the Pellissippi State program. He works second shift, running the same kinds of tests on that plant’s water.
“Learning about the contents of your drinking water is very interesting,” Goodman said.“Some people think there’s not a whole lot to it. There is way more than you can ever imagine.”
An advisory committee comprised of 11 utility representatives as well as staff from the Tennessee Association of Utility Districts and the state’s Fleming Training Center worked with Pellissippi State to create the Water Quality Technology program, which was specifically designed to prepare students to be able to pass therigorous Grade III and Grade IV state certification tests. The Grade IV exam has between a 0 and 40% pass rate, Carbajo noted, which means that some years no one passes the exam.
“This is a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) heavy program, with classes such as pre-calculus, microbiology, general chemistry 1 and 2,” saidCohort and Certificate Programs Specialist Brock Evans. “Some people struggle with that, but Brad and Jaden have been able to tackle all that STEM curriculum — and to do it under a pandemic? It’s not easy, and they’ve done fantastic. I think they’re both going to do great things.”
Between the Pellissippi State classes and the required three-to-six site visits per semesterto utility districts throughout the region, Bales and Goodman are ready to hit the ground running once their diplomas are in hand.
“Brad and Jaden have worked so hard to graduate in two years, especially in a pandemic,” Carbajo said. “People don’t realize that you can work anywhere in the world in water or wastewater treatment, and it’s an extremely high-paying career. Here at Pellissippi State we are training students to be set up for leadership roles in the industry, and this is a lifelong career.”
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1800789. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
So Min Lee, who grew up in a small town in South Korea, has always dreamed of being a teacher.
“I was educated in my country’s rather rigorous educational environment,” says So Min,“and that experience both positively and negatively influenced my educational philosophy.”So Min is studying early childhood education and will be graduating from Pellissippi State this May.
Before coming to the United States, So Min earned her bachelor’s degree in business management and worked for an overseas sales company. However, she realized that she really wanted to work with children instead of working in an office.
“I love the pure imagination of young children,” shares So Min, who chose Pellissippi State because of the theoretical and practical experience taught in the Early Childhood Education program. “I can’t forget the day I first visited this college,” recalls So Min. She says the people she met were so kind, she forgot her nervousness as an international student.
So Mincredits her college success to the professors, advisors and fellow students who helped her throughout her time at Pellissippi State. She felt especially supported during one of her virtual classes this past year, when she was nervous and froze during a presentation.
“My professor and classmates listened to my presentation carefully. After my less-than-perfect presentation, they gave me a lot of applause. This was a positive experience for me and made me feel confident in all my assignments after that. I already miss my classmates,” she shares.
So Min is thankful to have had teachers who made her laugh and shared their positive energy, which madeSo Min look forward to class every week. “I am grateful to everyone at the College who helped me,” shares So Min. “All memories are the best for me.”
After graduation, So Min would like to work at a preschool, and her long-term career goal is to manage a children’s center for low-income familiesin her country.
“I was sad that children from low-socioeconomic status families cannot experience quality learning activities,” says So Min. “As a children’s educator, I have learned that all children must be protected from danger and abuse and that they have rights to receive an equal education. If I go back to my country, I want to run a nonprofit children’s center where all children can receive an equal and developmentally appropriate education. There, I want to work with children and be a good influence on early childhood educators in my country.”