Pellissippi State’s new Bill Haslam Center for Math and Science opens ahead of fall semester

Ribbon cutting for Bill Haslam Center for Math and Science, outside the lobby doors
Pellissippi State Community College Student Government Association President Caitlandt Southall, center with ceremonial scissors, cuts the ribbon for the new Bill Haslam Center for Math and Science on the college’s Hardin Valley Campus on Tuesday, Aug. 17. Joining her on the front row, from left, are Tennessee Higher Education Commission Executive Director Emily House, Regent Danni B. Varlan, Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr., Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor Flora W. Tydings, former Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, Crissy Haslam and Meg Counts of Pilot Company.

Pellissippi State Community College students in math, science and teacher education courses will return to classes next week in a state-of-the-art new building. 

Denark Construction completed the Bill Haslam Center for Math and Science on the college’s Hardin Valley Campus this summer, and a Ribbon Cutting Celebration was held Tuesday, Aug. 17, to celebrate.  

“We made a strategic decision that if we’re going to teach science, mathematics and teacher education, as well as have the ability to offer new programs like Water Quality Technology, we had to make this investment,” said Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr. “We are really grateful for our partnership with BarberMcMurry Architects in thinking about what this space might look like, not only for teaching and learning inside the classroom, but for the kind of collaboration that is necessary outside the classroom for our students to be successful in working with each other and with their faculty and staff.” 

The new 82,000-square-foot building has been under construction since May 2019. It includes 18 classrooms, six computer labs, nine science labs and a teacher education center for the college’s Early Childhood Education and Teacher Education programs. 

“As I walked around inside the Haslam Center, I was impressed with the meaningful use of space and the attention to detail to better serve our students,” said Pellissippi State alumnus Carlos Gonzalez, who is finishing his bachelor’s degree in mathematics with a certificate in teaching at Maryville College. “For example, the Teacher Education Center and the state-of-the-art equipment in the labs — having these resources will keep students competitive in today’s society.” 

Opening the new building allows Pellissippi State to transform its Hardin Valley Campus, Wise added, by thinking about the spaces those programs have vacated and other ways to use them to support other college programs and initiatives. 

Former Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, for whom the building is named, was on hand Tuesday to tour the new building. As governor of Tennessee from 2011 to 2019, Haslam was key to establishing Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect, last-dollar scholarships that provide two years of tuition-free attendance at a community or technical college in Tennessee, and the Haslam Family Foundation and Pilot Company were “Campaign Leaders” for Pellissippi State’s new math and science center, donating between $500,000 and $1 million toward the $27 million project. 

“I was thinking, driving out here, if you were going to pick a perfect location for a community college, you might pick this one,” Haslam said. “You’re strategically located between Oak Ridge and everything that is happening there, Blount County and Knox County. And if you’re going to find a really critical discipline that you want to make certain you have the room to grow and expand, it would be math and science.” 

Exterior of the Bill Haslam Center for Math and Science
The Bill Haslam Center for Math and Science on Pellissippi State’s Hardin Valley Class will welcome its first students to class when the college’s fall semester starts Monday, Aug. 23.

Haslam told the audience that he had talked last night with Oak Ridge National Laboratory Director Thomas Zacharia, Tennessee Lt. Gov. Randy McNally and others about how to leverage the area’s assets of ORNL, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee Valley Authority and the University of Tennessee, among others. 

“Among the key tactics to make that happen is the success of Pellissippi State,” Haslam said. “You all feel like I do: that the key to success is giving more folks a chance for education. We’re struggling with a lot of things in this country – a whole lot of things that are dividing us – and to me, the best answer for all of those problems comes back to more opportunity out of great public education. So thank you to all of you who serve, work out here and have been a part of making this happen. I truly am honored by it and always will be.” 

Following the ribbon cutting, Pellissippi State held an open house so that guests could tour the new building. Pellissippi State’s fall 2021 classes start Monday, Aug. 23, as many students return to campus for the first time since March 2020. 

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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.