TBR honors Richard B. Ray, Blount Memorial Hospital for support of higher education 

Richard Ray at lectern, accepting Regents' Award on Aug. 17, 2021
Richard B. Ray of Knoxville, a co-founder of tnAchieves, accepts the Regents’ Award for Excellence in Philanthropy at Pellissippi State on Aug. 17.

Richard B. Ray of Knoxville, a co-founder of tnAchieves, and Blount Memorial Hospital were honored this month by the Tennessee Board of Regents for their longstanding support of education. Both were nominated by Pellissippi State Community College President L. Anthony Wise Jr. 

Ray received the 2021 Regents’ Award for Excellence in Philanthropy at a Ribbon Cutting Celebration for Pellissippi State’s Bill Haslam Center for Math and Science on Aug. 17, while Blount Memorial’s chief executive officer Don Heinemann and board vice chair David Pesterfield accepted the 2021 Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Philanthropy at a Blount Partnership event Aug. 25. 

Established in 2001, these awards honor individuals, companies and organizations who go “above and beyond” to donate their resources, finances, and personal time to TBR’s 40 community and technical colleges. 

Wise nominated Ray, co-founder and chief financial officer of 21st Mortgage Corporation, for his commitment to tnAchieves, the college scholarship and mentorship program that pairs volunteer mentors with incoming college students who receive the Tennessee Promise scholarship.  

Not only did Ray found KnoxAchieves, the precursor to tnAchieves, with fellow Knoxville businessmen Randy Boyd, Bill Haslam, Mike Ragsdale and Tim Williams in 2009, but Ray is one of only four tnAchieves volunteers across the state who has served as a mentor every single year. Over the past 12 years, Ray has mentored over 60 students. He drives from his home in west Knoxville to the Carter community in east Knox County to meet with his mentees, and he volunteers every year to teach budgeting at tnAchieves’ Summer Bridge Program at Pellissippi State, which helps incoming students start on a more college-ready level, both academically and socially. 

“Rich Ray was the first in his family to graduate from college,” Wise writes in nominating Ray for the award. “Growing up in east Knoxville, Rich worked his way through the University of Tennessee. He remembers the challenges of working to pay tuition and navigating higher education without a mentor to guide him. Rich says, ‘If you are the first in family to ever go beyond high school, you need someone to tell you it is possible, that you can do it.’” 

Ray and his wife, Jane, also have supported Pellissippi State since 2017, with gifts to the Student Opportunity Fund, which helps the Pellissippi State Foundation assist students in crisis, and to support the expansion of the Strawberry Plains Campus library. The couple also has committed a planned gift to Pellissippi State to continue their support of community college students into the future. 

“Jane and I have been fortunate to contribute to wonderful organizations, but we do focus on education,” Ray said when accepting the award from Regent Danni B. Varlan on Aug. 17. “We firmly believe that to have a better quality of life for our kids in Tennessee, they must be better educated. That begins with K-3 and continues all the way through getting their degrees either at a university or a community college or developing a trade at TCAT, so thank you for this recognition. I appreciate it.” 

Blount Memorial Hospital chief executive officer Don Heinemann, second from left, and hospital board vice chair David Pesterfield, third from left, accept the Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Philanthropy on Aug. 25, 2021
Blount Memorial Hospital chief executive officer Don Heinemann, second from left, and hospital board vice chair David Pesterfield, third from left, accept the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Philanthropy on Aug. 25, from Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr., left, and Regent Danni B. Varlan.

Wise nominated Blount Memorial Hospital for the Chancellor’s Award for its longstanding support of Pellissippi State students. In 2001 the hospital established the Blount Memorial Nursing Scholarship, which is awarded annually to a Nursing student from Blount County. The hospital later funded the Nursing simulation lab at the college’s Blount County Campus, helping establish the college’s Nursing program in 2010. More recently Blount Memorial pledged $100,000 to help build the Ruth and Steve West Workforce Development Center on the Blount County Campus, which is now underway and is scheduled for completion in 2022. 

While Blount Memorial sponsors clinical rotations for Pellissippi State’s Nursing students, last year Pellissippi State helped the hospital train 61 of its medical-surgical nurses in COVID-19 patient care, allowing the hospital to use the Nursing simulation lab on the Blount County Campus to practice scenarios based on actual COVID-19 cases. These COVID-19 trainings were just the beginning of what Pellissippi State and Blount Memorial envision being a year-round partnership, including the possibility of launching a nurse residency program. 

Blount Memorial’s support of Blount County and its people, however, dates to its founding in 1947, when local physicians and philanthropists partnered with ALCOA Inc. to realize the dream of a community hospital. 

“Blount Memorial Hospital is committed to care for the health and well-being of any individual who needs assistance, regardless of their ability to pay,” Wise writes in nominating Blount Memorial for the award. “This ethos permeates the organizational culture, from the greeter at the welcome desk to the most skilled surgeon. As healthcare challenges increase, so does Blount Memorial’s commitment to care for all who need assistance: every child, every senior, every hurting or sick individual, regardless of circumstance.” 

 “It’s truly an honor for Blount Memorial to receive the Chancellor’s Award,” said Heinemann, the hospital’s CEO. “Our work with Pellissippi State is something we’ve cherished over the years, and we’re committed to continuing our efforts to support Pellissippi State students who are planning careers in health care. As we saw just in the last year, our collaboration with Pellissippi State helped us ensure our team was prepared to handle the influx of COVID-19 cases in our community. In a pandemic – or any other time – that’s a win-win for us.” 

Fall classes are now underway at Pellissippi State. For more information about the college or the Foundation, visit www.pstcc.edu or call 865-694-6400. 

To apply to be a tnAchieves mentor for the Class of 2022, a commitment of about one hour per month, visit www.tnachieves.org/mentors 

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Pellissippi State, Discovery honor alumna for extraordinary volunteer service

Leila Howell in front of a black backdrop
Leila Howell, a 2013 Pellissippi State graduate, has been named the 2020 Peggy Wilson Volunteer Alumni Award winner by the College and Discovery.

Pellissippi State Community College has recognized Leila Howell as winner of the 2020 Peggy Wilson Volunteer Alumni Award, sponsored and announced this year by Discovery, Inc. 

This honor highlights an outstanding graduate in recognition of extraordinary service to the Pellissippi State community. 

“At Discovery, being purposeful and doing the right thing are two of our Guiding Principles and core to our DNA,” said Vikki Neil, executive vice president and general manager for Discovery’s Digital Studios Group. We are dedicated to giving back in communities where we live and work and value the importance of volunteerism and recognize the passion and commitment volunteers bring to an organization. We are honored to partner with Pellissippi State and sponsor the 2020 Peggy Wilson Volunteer Alumni Award and honor Leila Howell, who is incredibly deserving of this award.” 

Howell’s story is one of persistence. She started her education at Pellissippi State more than 20 years ago, but then put college on hold when she became a mother to five daughters. She returned to Pellissippi State in 2011 and earned her general Associate of Science degree in 2013. 

Today Howell is a human resources manager at Integrity HR Services and is pursuing a master’s in organizational leadership at Trevecca Nazarene University. 

Despite working full time, taking classes and raising her daughters as a single mom, Howell still finds the time to be an active member of Pellissippi State’s Alumni Association. For 2019’s Pack the Pickup food drive, she led a campaign to support both the Pellissippi Pantry and the college’s Clothes Closet — promoting the needs of students, setting up her workplace for drop-offs and personally picking up donations around town. 

Howell also volunteers at student events and mentors Pellissippi State students through Tennessee Achieves. 

Volunteering means a great deal to me,” Howell said. I have always harbored the philosophy that when we are blessed, we should bless others in return. My father, a sage man, once told me that anyone could give money, but not everyone can give time and talent. This is an idea that has followed me, with merit, through my adult life. 

“The Foundation is proud to honor Leila Howell’s passion for serving Pellissippi State through the Peggy Wilson Volunteer Alumni Award,” said Britney Sink, director of Alumni and Donor Engagement for the Pellissippi State Foundation. Supporting our community is vital, and we encourage our alumni to get involved and give back. 

For more information about Pellissippi State Alumni, visit www.pstcc.edu/alumni or call 8655397275. 

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Female students earn engineering technology degrees through ‘Women in STEM’ grant

Makayla Edwards
Makayla Edwards
Tara Walker
Tara Walker

When Tara Walker and Makayla Edwards cross the stage at Pellissippi State Community College’s commencement ceremony on May 5, they will have a special grant, funded by NASA, to thank.

Walker and Edwards are two of 14 female Engineering Technology students at Pellissippi State to have earned scholarships funded through the Tennessee Community College Space Grant Consortium, which is part of the NSPIRES (NASA Solicitation and Proposal Integrated Review and Evaluation System) program. The grant funds are earmarked for women and other underserved populations in STEM programs.

“I have absolutely loved the time I have spent at Pellissippi,” Walker said. “The teachers I’ve had make me want to come to class every day because they are so enthusiastic about their jobs. I do not believe, as a whole, any school has better teachers than Pellissippi. They are truly here because they want to see us learn and help us in any way they can.”

“I wouldn’t be where I’m at today without Pellissippi State and my professors,” Edwards said. “Pellissippi introduced me to 3D printing, and that helped me start my own business.”

Edwards started AMTec Fishing (an abbreviation of Additive Manufacturing Technologies Fishing) at the end of 2016. She designs and 3D prints fishing lures, then has them mass manufactured. Edwards intends to transfer to Austin Peay State University this fall, where she will study mechanical engineering.

Walker will transfer to Tennessee Technological University, where she will study chemical engineering.

“I like the engineering field because I feel like it gives me the opportunity to apply the knowledge I have gained in math and science while in college in a practical way. Chemical engineering is a fairly broad field, and there are a lot of different directions I could go with it. I would really like to work on the environmental side of chemical engineering in waste water treatment,” she said.

Walker, who graduated from Hardin Valley Academy in 2013, was not always interested in STEM fields.

“When I was in high school, I wasn’t always a very good student. But in my senior year, something clicked and I realized I needed to do well to be successful. That success mindset has continued here at Pellissippi State,” she said. “I first enrolled in an education program, but I realized it takes a very special person to be an educator and that wasn’t me.”

Walker first came to Pellissippi State as part of the tnAchieves scholarship, the precursor to Tennessee Promise — as did Edwards.

“The tnAchieves scholarship was one of my biggest reasons for originally attending Pellissippi,” Walker said. “I wasn’t sure if I would do well in college because of my not-so-stellar academic performance in high school, so I didn’t want to go to a huge university.”

 “The NASA grant brought a lot of the female engineering technology students together,” Edwards said. “It’s nice to know you’re not alone when you’re studying in a traditionally male-dominated field. It also introduced me to the community; I was able to go to local middle schools and speak to students about STEM.”

The NASA grant funds more than just scholarships for the students who earn it. Pellissippi State students have traveled to the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama and to the Society of Women Engineers conference.

“At the SWE conference, I was able to speak to companies who wanted to hire female engineers,” Walker said. “Those contacts and the SWE organization may help me find companies hiring engineers when I graduate. Plus, it was amazing to see all of the accomplishments women in engineering are making.”

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