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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pellissippi State alumnus Atherton gives back to school that got him started

Rick Atherton Jr.
Pellissippi State recently honored Rick Atherton Jr. with the the 2021 Peggy Wilson Volunteer Alumni Award.

First-generation college student Rick Atherton Jr. has worked his way up from general laborer to facilities manager and senior project manager for the commercial division of Schaad Companies, but he’s still found time to give back to his alma mater and the students who are following in his footsteps. 

Pellissippi State Community College honored Atherton, Class of 2011, with the 2021 Peggy Wilson Volunteer Alumni Award at a virtual event April 16. The award, which highlights an outstanding graduate in recognition of extraordinary service to the Pellissippi State community, was announced and sponsored again this year by Discovery Inc. 

At Discovery, we value the communities where our employees work and live. It’s important to us to be purposeful and do the right thing,” said Vikki Neilexecutive vice president and general manager of Discovery’s Digital Studios Group. Encouraging our employees to volunteer has always been core to our DNAThat’s why Discovery is proud to honor Rick, who has gone above and beyond by continuously giving back to his community and his school. We extend our heartfelt congratulations and gratitude to him.” 

Atherton earned his associate degree in Engineering Technology/Civil Engineering from Pellissippi State in 2011, followed by a bachelor’s degree in project management from Bellevue University in Nebraska. He also is a certified project management professional through the Project Management Institute, where he is active in both the local chapter and the global organization. 

At Schaad Companies, Atherton directs all capital improvement projects, tenant improvement projects and facilities maintenance for 1.6-million square feet of commercial lease space, as well as overseeing all new commercial construction projects. 

“My parents had taught me to always work hard, and good things would come my way,” said Atherton, noting he first got interested in construction when he and his wife, Staci, decided to build their own home. “I thank God for everything He has provided for me, including the opportunity of being a part of a great school like Pellissippi State.” 

Since 2015, Atherton has served on Pellissippi State’s Academic Advisory Committee, where he helps recommend and approve new curriculum for the Civil and Construction Engineering Technology program with Program Coordinator Sami Ghezawi. 

“Pellissippi State offered the classes and hands-on learning I needed to advance in my career,” Atherton said. Dr. Ghezawi and (Retired Professor) George Cox made learning interesting and helped foster my desire for continuous learning, so I’m proud and honored to be able to give back by volunteering with the advisory committee now. 

Atherton also has visited Pellissippi State classes to give overviews of his latest projects and volunteered to clean the Construction Materials Lab and Computer Lab to prepare them for student use. He recently assisted in review of an endofprogram assessment for the college and, in collaboration with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, facilitated a student tour of model homes created using sustainable building methods. 

Pellissippi State relies on the influence and service of our alumni to further institutional goals,” said Britney Sink, director of Alumni and Donor Engagement for the Pellissippi State Foundation. “Rick Atherton has demonstrated an ongoing commitment to the college by sharing his expertise and doing whatever is needed to ensure student success. We are proud to honor him with this volunteer award. 

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 About Discovery 

Discovery, Inc. (Nasdaq: DISCA, DISCB, DISCK) is a global leader in real life entertainment, serving a passionate audience of superfans around the world with content that inspires, informs and entertains. Discovery delivers over 8,000 hours of original programming each year and has category leadership across deeply loved content genres around the world. Available in 220 countries and territories and nearly 50 languages, Discovery is a platform innovator, reaching viewers on all screens, including TV Everywhere products such as the GO portfolio of apps; direct-to-consumer streaming services such as discovery+, Food Network Kitchen and MotorTrend OnDemand; digital-first and social content from Group Nine Media; a landmark natural history and factual content partnership with the BBC; and a strategic alliance with PGA TOUR to create the international home of golf. Discovery’s portfolio of premium brands includes Discovery Channel, HGTV, Food Network, TLC, Investigation Discovery, Travel Channel, MotorTrend, Animal Planet, Science Channel, and the forthcoming multi-platform JV with Chip and Joanna Gaines, Magnolia Network, as well as OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network in the U.S., Discovery Kids in Latin America, and Eurosport, the leading provider of locally relevant, premium sports and Home of the Olympic Games across Europe. For more information, please visit corporate.discovery.com and follow @DiscoveryIncTV across social platforms. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pellissippi State hosts Remake Learning Day on May 22 with DENSO, ORNL, more

Brian Davis of Danny Davis Electric, right, shows students how to run electrical wire at Pellissippi State's Blount County Campus
Brian Davis, right, of Danny Davis Electric shows students how to run electrical wire at Pellissippi State’s Blount County Campus during a spring break exploration camp in 2021. The Blount County Campus will host a free Remake Learning Day on May 22 for children and their parents to explore career readiness, science, technology and construction.

After a challenging year for education, Remake Learning Days Across America returns this spring in more than 17 regions, with family-friendly learning events designed to engage caregivers, parents and children around the country.  

Remake Learning Day in Blount County will take place 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, May 22, at Pellissippi State Community College’s Blount County Campus2731 W. Lamar Alexander Parkway, Friendsville.

This free, in-person event is designed for parents and caregivers to learn alongside their kids and offer relevant and engaging educational experiences for youth (pre-K through high school).  Remake Learning Day is an interactive fair designed to help develop kids’ sense of creativity and curiosity.

This year’s event highlights the learning themes of career readiness, science, technology and construction. Some of the local businesses and organizations involved include DENSO, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Home Depot and Pellissippi State 

For more information, contact Joy McCamey at jlmccamey@pstcc.edu or visit https://remakelearningdays.org/knoxville 

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Remake Learning Days Across America is led by Remake Learning, a network that ignites engaging, relevant and equitable learning practices in support of young people navigating rapid social and technological change. National partners of RLDAA include PBS Kids, Digital Promise, Common Sense Media, Learning Heroes and Noggin. RLDAA is generously supported by The Grable Foundation, The Hewlett Foundation, Schmidt Futures and Carnegie Corporation of New York. Visit remakelearning.org for more information or follow RL on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. For more information specifically on Remake Learning Days Across America, visit remakelearningdays.org or follow RLDAA on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and the hashtag #RemakeDays. 

Graduate spotlight: 10 high schoolers graduate from Pellissippi State this week

CMA seniors who are graduating from Pellissippi State around a painted rock on their high school campus
A pandemic didn’t deter these Career Magnet Academy seniors from finishing their associate degrees while earning their high school diplomas. From left are Arwen Roach, Kynlea Waldrop, Sophie Trent, Eli Elgin, Forrest Hamilton, Dylan West, Nathan Parker and Rondhea Martin. Not pictured are Josie Maynard and Jessamine Reckard.

Ten Knox County high school students will don their caps and gowns three weeks before their classmatesas 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 public relations. 

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, music business 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. 

CMA grad Josie Maynard
Josie Maynard is one of 10 Career Magnet Academy seniors who has earned her associate degree while completing high school.

“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 nurse assistant 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 engineering technology. “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, the CMA 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 transferring to the Colorado School of Mines to major in petroleum engineering. “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 near Knoxville Center Mall and 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 Old North Knox, who has earned his Associate of Science degree and also is transferring to UT to study psychology. 

CMA senior Jessamine Reckard in front of Sunsphere
Jessamine Reckard of Career Magnet Academy will graduate from Pellissippi State on Friday with seven of her high school classmates. Two will graduate Saturday in a ceremony for Welding Technology students.

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 mechanical engineering. “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 take as 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 graduation on June 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. 

Eight Career Magnet Academy seniors who are graduating from Pellissippi State
Eight of the 10 Career Magnet Academy seniors who will graduate from Pellissippi State with their associate degrees this week include (front row, from left) Rondhea Martin, Dylan West, Eli Elgin, Nathan Parker and Forrest Hamilton; and (second row, from left) Arwen Roach, Kynlea Waldrop and Sophie Trent. Not pictured are Josie Maynard and Jessamine Reckard.

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.orgThe application deadline is July 2. 

For more information about CMA, contact CMA Magnet Facilitator Cameron Molchan at 865-622-3800 or cameron.molchan@knoxschools.org. 

For more information about other dual enrollment opportunities at Pellissippi State, visiwww.pstcc.edu/admissions/dual. 

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Graduate spotlight: Water Quality Technology’s first two graduates are workforce ready

Brad Bales holding a vial of water in front of the periodic table
Brad Bales says he has liked the idea of working in a lab since he was a child and has found Water Quality Technology to be a good fit for his personality.

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 program in 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 sciencebut 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.” 

Jaden Goodman at Plateau Utility District
Jaden Goodman works at Plateau Utility District in Wartburg, Tenn. He says he likes using chemistry and engineering skills on a daily basis.

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 use different 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.” 

Brad Bales runs tests on water at West Knox Utility District's Williams Bend conventional treatment plant in April 2021
Brad Bales runs tests on water at West Knox Utility District’s Williams Bend conventional treatment plant in April 2021.

Meanwhile, Goodman got hired by Plateau Utility District part time just 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 the rigorous Grade III and Grade IV state certification tests. The Grade IV exam has between a 0 and 40% pass rate, Carbajo notedwhich 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,” said Cohort 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.” 

Jaden Goodman runs tests on water at Plateau Utility District
Jaden Goodman runs tests on water at Plateau Utility District in April 2021.

Between the Pellissippi State classes and the required three-to-six site visits per semester to 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 careerHere at Pellissippi State we are training students to be set up for leadership roles in the industry, and this is a lifelong career.” 

A new cohort for Pellissippi State’s Water Quality Technology Program starts each fall. To learn more, visit www.pstcc.edu/water-quality or contact Carbajo at cmcarbajo@pstcc.edu or 865-694-6427. 

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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.

Pellissippi State welcomes walk-ups to vaccination clinic

Cars lined up at Pellissippi State's vaccination clinic on April 9
Drivers line up for their COVID-19 vaccinations at Pellissippi State’s drive-thru vaccination clinic on the college’s Blount County Campus on Friday, April 9. When the clinic reopens Friday, April 23, Pellissippi State will welcome those without an appointment starting at 1 p.m. each day the clinic is open, in an effort to not waste any leftover vaccine.

Pellissippi State Community College will welcome those without appointments to its drive-thru vaccination clinic starting at 1 p.m. each day the clinic is open. 

Pellissippi State’s vaccination clinic will be held 9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays on the college’s Blount County Campus, 2731 W. Lamar Alexander Parkway, Friendsville. The clinic is administering the Moderna vaccine starting Friday, April 23. 

While Pellissippi State encourages you to sign up for an appointment herethose without appointments are welcome to drop by the vaccination clinic at 1 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays to receive a shot if vaccine is available. The college is committed to not letting any open vials of vaccine go to waste.  

Vaccinations are free, and you must be 18 years old to receive the Moderna vaccine. Those who register for appointments in advance only need to schedule your first dose of Moderna. Pellissippi State staff will schedule you for your second dose when you arrive for your vaccination. 

Second appointments will be set 28 days after the first vaccination is given. 

For more information about the college’s vaccination clinic, including forms Pellissippi State asks that you fill out and print in advance of your appointment, visit www.pstcc.edu/vaccine. 

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Pellissippi State to reopen vaccination clinic Friday, April 23

A young man receives a COVID-19 vaccine on Pellissippi State's Blount County Campus
A young man receives a COVID-19 vaccine on Pellissippi State’s Blount County Campus on Friday, April 9, the first day the drive-thru vaccination clinic was open.

Pellissippi State Community College will reopen its drive-thru vaccination clinic on its Blount County Campus Friday, April 23, with the Moderna vaccine instead of Janssen/Johnson & Johnson. 

The clinic will be closed this weekend as the College prepares for the shift to a different vaccine. Those who had appointments scheduled for Friday, April 16, and Saturday, April 17, are being notified by Pellissippi State staff. 

Pellissippi State staff waited to cancel this weekend’s vaccination clinic appointments until after the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which provides guidance to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, met Wednesday afternoon to discuss data involving six reported U.S. cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot in individuals after receiving the Janssen/Johnson & Johnson vaccine.  

The committee delayed a decision Wednesday, continuing the hold on the Janssen/Johnson & Johnson vaccine for at least 10 more days to allow further review. 

Because the Moderna vaccine requires two shots spaced four weeks apart, Pellissippi State is retooling its appointment software to allow for this changeFor more information about the College’s vaccination clinic, including a link to register when the software is updated, visit www.pstcc.edu/vaccine. 

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Pellissippi State honors 2021 Distinguished Alumni this Friday 

Headshot of Vivian Underwood Shipe
Join Pellissippi State and presenting sponsor FirstBank this Friday in honoring Vivian Underwood Shipe as the College’s 2021 Distinguished Alumni Award winner.

Coming off the most challenging year Pellissippi State Community College has faced in its 47-year history, who better to recognize than an alumna who is helping educate and vaccinate at-risk populations during the COVID-19 pandemic? 

Vivian Underwood Shipe, class of 1991, will be honored Friday by the Pellissippi State Community College Foundation at Pellissippi Strong: A Virtual Celebration. The free event, 11:45 a.m.-12:45 p.m. online, is open to the public and includes door prizes, networking and an exclusive Q&A with Allison Page, president of Magnolia Network, the joint venture between Discovery Inc. and Chip and Joanna Gaines’ home and lifestyle brand. 

Presenting sponsor FirstBank will present Shipe with Pellissippi State’s 2021 Distinguished Alumni Award, which highlights an outstanding graduate in recognition of significant professional achievement and service to the community. 

“FirstBank is happy to partner with Pellissippi State to support the great work this school is doing in our community,” said Brent Ball, Knoxville market president for FirstBank. “As a longtime resident of East Tennessee, I know how important Pellissippi State is to the residents of this area, and we are proud to support their alumni and students’ success.” 

Shipe, who earned her associate degree in Marketing from Pellissippi State at 41, has stayed active in the community since retiring from the U.S. Postal Service in 2018 after 35 years of service. She is founder and chief executive officer of I AM the Voice of the Voiceless, a nonprofit dedicated to providing education and resources for vulnerable populations, as well as a founding member of Faith Leaders Health Initiative and the state’s pre-arrest diversion task force. 

Shipe also serves on the boards of the Mental Health Association of East Tennessee, Elder Abuse Task Force of Knoxville/Knox County, Knoxville Community Health Fair and many other community organizations. 

“Vivian Shipe is a strong advocate and champion for people often marginalized,” writes Vrondelia (Ronni) Chandler, executive director of Project GRAD Knoxville, in nominating Shipe for the award. “Vivian firmly believes we are only as great as the least of us. She lives by two scriptures: Proverbs 19:17 and Matthew 25:40, ‘The King will say to them, I assure you that to the extent you did it for the least of these brothers of mine, you did it for Me.’” 

Shipe is most proud of four recent projects: 

  • her collaborative work with other organizations in the development of a Safety Center as a jail alternative for the mentally ill,  
  • the successful passing of a $15 million state budget addition for prearrest diversion for the mentally ill,  
  • the shutdown of a nursing home charged with elder abuse and  
  • her ongoing work with the Faith Leaders initiative in the fight to educate and vaccinate during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

I believe in building relationships and communicating,” Shipe said. I try to bring out the best in everyone I meet and help them to develop or use their talents to help others. 

Whether helping create warming centers in area businesses and churches to protect the homeless in frigid temperatures to working with A21 to fight human trafficking, Shipe is a champion for Knoxville. 

As an advocate I speak at the local and state level for the most vulnerable, voiceless and those who fear retaliation,” Shipe said. I work to bring together those who need with those who have. 

Join Pellissippi State and presenting sponsor FirstBank on Friday in celebrating Shipe and her many contributions to the community. Register here for the virtual event, which will begin with networking at 11:45 a.m. and will wrap up by 12:45 p.m. 

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Nashville-based FirstBank, a wholly owned subsidiary of FB Financial Corporation (NYSE: FBK), is the third largest Tennessee-headquartered bank, with 81 full-service bank branches across Tennessee, South Central Kentucky, North Alabama and North Georgia, and a national mortgage business with offices across the Southeast. The bank serves five of the major metropolitan markets in Tennessee and, with approximately $11.2 billion in total assets, has the resources to provide a comprehensive variety of financial services and products. 

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Pellissippi State pauses vaccination clinic while Janssen/Johnson & Johnson vaccine on hold

Pellissippi State Community College is pausing operations at its Blount County Campus drive-thru vaccination clinic because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have recommended a hold on the Janssen/Johnson & Johnson vaccine for now. 

College staff will be contacting those who have made appointments to receive their vaccinations this Friday and Saturday. 

Pellissippi State is in contact with the Tennessee Department of Health and is awaiting further guidance as the CDC and FDA review data involving six reported U.S. cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot in individuals after receiving the J&J vaccine. 

In the meantime, College staff is exploring alternate solutions to moving forward with operating the drive-thru vaccination clinic that opened April 9. Pellissippi State vaccinated 190 individuals on Friday and 179 on Saturday.