Pellissippi State Video Production Technology team wins Bronze in national competition

Media Technologies majors Josh Wilson, left, and Tom Sidorski outside the Bagwell building with video camera
Pellissippi State Media Technologies majors Josh Wilson, left, and Tom Sidorski brought home the Bronze medal for Television (Video) Production at the SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference this summer.

As the world prepares for the Tokyo Olympics later this month, two Pellissippi State Community College students already have brought home a Bronze for their skills in video production. 

Media Technologies majors Tom Sidorski and Josh Wilson were awarded the Bronze medal for Television (Video) Production at the SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference this summer. 

Despite this being the first year Pellissippi State has participated in SkillsUSA, Sidorski and Wilson also won Gold at the state competition in March. 

“We are very proud, but not surprised by our students being recognized at the state level and nationally,” said Matthew Spraker, director of Student Engagement and Leadership for Pellissippi State. “Pellissippi State has bright and creative students producing amazing work, and it is great when we get to share that with the rest of the world!” 

Founded in 1965, SkillsUSA is a nonprofit partnership of education and industry that helps students develop necessary personal and workplace skills along with technical skills grounded in academics, according to the organization. 

For the state competition in March, Sidorski and Wilson were given the prompt to create a video that would persuade students to join a Tennessee Board of Regents institution. TBR oversees the state’s 13 community colleges and 27 colleges of applied technology. 

“During the pandemic, a lot of people were dropping out left and right – no one was continuing to go to school,” Sidorski explained. “Josh and I had to formulate how we could get this to make sense visually, and we had to show what Pellissippi State was like before the pandemic, which was a challenge because we didn’t have a lot of people on campus this spring.” 

Making the assignment even more challenging was a short deadline. Video Production Technology Program Coordinator Katie Lovette, who has been teaching at Pellissippi State for 15 years, said she wasn’t sure Sidorski and Wilson would be able to complete the task on such a tight schedule – but they got right to work. 

“I just jumped on and wrote the script throughout the day,” said Wilson, who drew from his own experience as a 31-year-old returning student. “I focused on a message of ‘It’s not too late to chase what you actually want to do,’ and emphasized that, with both online classes and lower-capacity in-person classes, this was actually a good time to jump in.” 

When Sidorski arrived on campus later that Friday, the team shot all the video. Sidorski recorded the voiceovers and edited the video over the weekend. 

Despite the rushed timeline, Sidorski and Wilson’s project took home top prize in the state competition, which they found out during a virtual awards celebration April 5. 

Video Production Technology program coordinator Katie Lovette, center, with Josh Wilson and Tom Sidorski inside the Bagwell building
Video Production Technology Program Coordinator Katie Lovette, center, said the demeanor, attitude and maturity of students Josh Wilson, left, and Tom Sidorski compelled her to ask them if they’d be interested in participating in SkillsUSA.

“Tom and Josh walked in and won Gold after having just had the weekend to produce it,” Lovette said. “This was an amazing team. These two worked together wonderfully, and they made history.” 

The national competition put all the state winners on equal footing – giving each team the same footage and music to produce a video in eight hours. In fact, Sidorski and Wilson cannot share their Bronze-winning project because the assets provided to the teams by SkillsUSA are copyrighted. 

“Tom’s and Josh’s performance at the state and national level is a testament to their grit and professionalism and reflective of our VPT program’s quality at Pellissippi State,” said Dean of Students Travis Loveday. “Like professionals in the field, they needed to perform at their peak under tight deadlines and navigate ambiguous situations in these competitions. Pellissippi State has prepared them to meet, overcome and excel through these challenges. Both Tom and Josh have bright futures ahead of them, and we are very proud of their accomplishments.” 

With SkillsUSA behind them, Sidorski and Wilson are staying busy in the field, with Sidorski interning at The Production Hive in logging and digitizing and Wilson working as a production assistant at O’Malley Productions, which is producing “Food Paradise” for the Travel Channel.    

It’s a good fit for both students, who did not know each other before meeting at Pellissippi State but each grew up making movies. 

“I used to shoot a lot of shorts and sketches with my brother, and I would edit them and put them on YouTube,” said Wilson, who previously worked in insurance after earning a degree in business management. “After realizing I didn’t want to go in day after day and do something I hated, I thought I’d come back to school and learn how to do VPT legitimately.” 

Sidorski, 20, said he planned to pursue a degree in chemical engineering until he saw the VPT curriculum at Pellissippi State. 

“Since 2010, I’ve been making videos, and in high school, I would do videos for people,” he explained. “That’s what I took pride in. I thought, ‘I’m good at the video stuff; I should do this.’” 

Sidorski is on track to graduate from Pellissippi State in fall 2021 and Wilson in spring 2022. Both students find themselves drawn toward the editing/post-production side of VPT, they said, and would encourage other Pellissippi State students to participate in SkillsUSA in their fields. 

“This was really good professional experience in that we were given a deadline and certain criteria to follow to the letter,” Wilson said. “It will look really good on a resume, too.” 

For those competing in Television (Video) Production, however, Sidorski shares a word to the wise: “Get your speed editing skills down!” 

For more information about Pellissippi State’s Media Technologies program with a concentration in Video Production Technology, visit www.pstcc.edu/mdt/vpt. Those students who are interested in participating in SkillsUSA for Pellissippi State in any area should contact Student Engagement and Leadership at seal@pstcc.edu 

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Pellissippi State opens gallery for student art show

Student paintings on display
Painting: Methods and Materials focuses on oil and acrylic painting on canvas with an emphasis on personal content through expanded methods and mediums.

Pellissippi State Community College is ushering back art exhibits with the work of students who took Painting: Methods and Materials in June. 

The show is on display until Aug. 6 in the Bagwell Center for Media and Art Gallery on the college’s Hardin Valley Campus, 10915 Hardin Valley Road. Everyone is invited to view the exhibit for free 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday. 

Painting: Methods and Materials focuses on oil and acrylic painting on canvas with an emphasis on personal content through expanded methods and mediums. 

Student work in gallery

“This is a very creative and eclectic group, ranging from realist still-life to broken glass and gold leaf abstractions to strange and wonderful painting/sculptural explorations,” said Associate Professor Herb Rieth, who taught the class. 

Pellissippi State’s Hardin Valley Campus is fully open, with no COVID-19 screenings or masks required. The college does encourage those who are not vaccinated to continue to wear masks to protect themselves and others. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pellissippi State Motorsports finishes sixth in national competition

Pellissippi State Motorsports founder Christian Boone drives the team's 2021 race car on the college's Hardin Valley Campus June 7.
Pellissippi State Motorsports founder Christian Boone drives the team’s 2021 race car on the college’s Hardin Valley Campus June 7. The team was nearly finished with the car and demonstrating it for supporters at a send-off celebration before the competition in Las Vegas the following week.

Pellissippi State Motorsports headed out to Las Vegas with a car about 110 pounds lighter and 60 horsepower faster than the first one the students designed and raced two years ago. 

They were betting the team’s new car would finish better than their first one did at Formula SAE Michigan in 2019, and they were right. 

Pellissippi State Motorsports finished sixth at Formula SAE Nevada held June 16-19.  

“There were 36 teams, and we finished sixth overall, as well as sixth in the Acceleration event,” said Christian Boone, who was a Pellissippi State student when he founded Pellissippi State Motorsports in 2018 and now serves as an engineering lab technician at the college. He is finishing his Mechanical Engineering degree at the University of Tennessee. 

Pellissippi State was, again this year, the only community college in the competition that brings university undergraduate and graduate students together to compete with small, formula-style vehicles that they have conceived, designed, fabricated and developed themselves. The team finished ahead of larger four-year universities including Purdue, West Virginia and Mississippi State, among others. 

“Our biggest surprise for everybody (in 2019) was not that we were the only community college in the competition, but that we were a first-year team,” Boone said. “The chief design judge said our car was the best first-year car he had seen.” 

An issue with the engine, however, tripped up the team in 2019, and Pellissippi State Motorsports finished 95th of 109 teams that year, with an overall score of 181.4. This year’s car finished with an overall score of 378.7, an improvement of nearly 200 points. 

Boone said from the moment the 2019 competition ended that the team’s main objective moving forward was to reduce the weight of the race car from 578 pounds with fuel/without a driver. With the 2020 competition canceled due to COVID-19, the team regrouped and started working on the 2021 car in August, despite the ongoing pandemic. 

“We’re down to 465 pounds now by incorporating lighter materials and being more careful with the choice of hardware we make (internally),” Boone said at a send-off celebration for the team June 7. “We also have a launch traction control that will help us get off the line quicker.” 

“This team took what they learned from their first car and adjusted, and it looks great,” Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr. said June 7, checking out the new car. “It’s going to be exciting to put it on the track.” 

The 2021 competition was hot – literally. After temperatures reached 115 degrees in Las Vegas and several competitors passed out from the heat, Formula SAE Nevada revised the schedule. Instead of teams having 7:30 a.m.-7 p.m. each day to get their cars to pass tech and safety checks and then complete the competition’s four events, the window was shorted to 5:30 a.m.-2 p.m. after the first day, said Associate Professor Lynn Klett, the team’s faculty advisor. 

“They did great despite the oppressive heat and aggressive schedule,” she said. “Temperatures were 115 and higher every day.”   

The shortened schedule knocked 14 teams out of competition, as their cars never made it out of tech, according to the Formula SAE Nevada results. Tech includes about a 15-page inspection, Boone explained. 

The Pellissippi State Motorsports club at competition in Las Vegas in June 2021
Pellissippi State Motorsports and their faculty advisor, Associate Professor Lynn Klett (third from right on the back row) take a minute to pose with their finished race car at Formula SAE Nevada in June. The team finished sixth in the competition.

“For Formula SAE, you design the car around a set of rules, and Formula SAE goes through everything to make sure your car is rules-compliant — everything from the firewall and the seats to the chassis and every critical fastener,” he said. “We came prepared and got through our tech inspection really quick.” 

Pellissippi State wasn’t spared all the effects of the Las Vegas heat wave, however. During the Acceleration event, which measures the time it takes each car to travel 75 meters, Pellissippi State’s fan broke, causing the car to overheat after one run on the Acceleration course.  

While Pellissippi State’s time of 4.5 seconds still netted the team a sixth-place finish in the Acceleration event, that 4.5 seconds was only 4/10 of a second away from a first-place finish, Boone noted — and the car had been testing at 4.1 seconds on the college’s Hardin Valley Campus. 

“I think we could have won if we had another run, but we had to let the car cool down,” he said. 

Pellissippi State fixed the fan and went on to compete in the other four events: Skid Pad, which tests each car’s cornering capability on a figure-8-shaped course; Autocross, which tests how fast each car can make it around an open course; and Endurance and Efficiency, which test each car’s overall reliability on a 22-kilometer closed course, as well as how much fuel is used during the run. 

“When we got there at 6 a.m., it was already 95 degrees,” Boone said. “We were worried about the temperatures, but we managed to keep the car 5 degrees below where the ECU (engine control unit) would have cut off the engine.” 

In the end, Pellissippi State was one of few teams in the competition that got to finish all the events, which made Boone proud. 

“With the car we had, we did the best we could have done,” he said after the team returned from competition. “There were some technical things we did with the car that we could do differently next time, but this was a good team with good organization and good communication at the competition. Everyone had a job to do.” 

Pellissippi State students attending the competition this year included Daniel Ray (powertrain performance), Daniel Rasmussen (composite materials specialist), Ethan Crisp (electrical capstone student) and Zachary Koller (co-captain).  

They were joined by UT students Clayton Hickey and Charles Brush, both of whom previously attended Pellissippi State, as well as UT students Charlie LindeJeff Cargile and Cooper Jenkins. Cargile and Jenkins designed the race car’s aerodynamic package as their senior design project with fellow UT Aerospace Engineering student Gavin Jones. 

All UT students who serve on the team do so as volunteers and pay their own way to competition. 

Other Pellissippi State Motorsports team members who worked on the car but did not travel to the competition this year include George Johnson IV of Pellissippi State and Forrest Hamilton, a dual enrollment student who completed his Associate of Applied Science in Welding Technology while completing high school at Knox County’s Career Magnet Academy. 

“A lot of it has not been easy, but it was definitely a great experience,” Hamilton said. “There was a lot of going to school and going to work and then coming here and welding for six to eight hours, but it feels good to see so much of it finished. A lot of welding is not small diameter tubes so this has given me so much more confidence.” 

Pellissippi State Motorsports is a college-sponsored student club that could not do what it does without additional help from sponsors such as Barton Racing, Daycab Company, Norm and Ann Naylor, Gene Haas Foundation, Dave and Lynne Blair, Morlind Engineering, BHS Corrugated and Endeavor Composites. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.” 

Graduate spotlight: Mother and son from the Philippines graduate together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Graduate spotlight: 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: Debbie Bonds achieves lifelong dream of college degree at 70

Debbie Bonds headshot
Debbie Bonds finally had the opportunity to start college at 68 years old, after her parents made her drop out of high school at 16. She graduates from Pellissippi State this week at 70!

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 2013Debbie’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 started Pellissippi 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 part time, 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 

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Graduate spotlight: Professors’ support helped Abigail Dishner succeed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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