Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Graduation Stories- Part One

Spring graduation for Vol State is coming up on Saturday, May 7 at 10 a.m. The entire ceremony will be streamed online at Each year we have viewers from across the country and around the world.

A community college graduation is really a celebration of lives. It’s a singular moment when we pause to recognize hard work and achievement. We will be sharing some graduate stories this week in a variety of places. Here's an update on a student many faculty and staff will know.

Seth Walker is a 2016 graduate. He would be notable just for his 4.0 GPA, his leadership on campus and his sense of humor. But Seth accomplished his Vol State education with the challenge of a neurological condition called Cerebral Palsy. It impacts the ability of the brain to coordinate muscle movement. Seth can’t control his limbs and it is difficult for him to speak. He is in a wheelchair and has specialized high-tech equipment to use a computer. His constant campus companion is his assistant Ken Brassell.

We asked Seth a couple of questions leading up to graduation:

How does it feel to be graduating?
It seems surreal. I feel like I entered Vol State yesterday. However, at the same time, it is rewarding because I have worked so hard. It is another milestone in my life. 

You have had to overcome many physical challenges along the way. Can you describe a few of those challenges and how you dealt with them?
Since I cannot use a regular mouse, I have to use an electronic HeadMouse to type my papers. This takes about twice as long as the normal student. I have to allow myself extra time to write papers. In addition, since I am unable to hold a book, I have to have special software to display my textbooks on the computer screen. It can also read the books to me. 

Do you think overcoming those challenges helped to make you a stronger student?
 Definitely because I know what it takes to go the extra mile to get the grade. 

What are your plans for university and beyond to your career?
I will go to Lipscomb University in the fall to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Strategic Communication. From there, I hope to pursue a seminary degree for a career in social media or writing ministry, but I will go wherever God leads.

Congratulations to Emily

Congratulations to Emily Short. She is the new Vice President for Student Services at Vol State. She had been Assistant Vice President for Student Services and Enrollment Management. Dr. Short has been working full-time at the college for 24 years, in a variety of roles. She takes on the new position after the retirement of long-time vice president Patty Powell.

“We’re already a great college division because of what vice president Powell and Mary Cole Nichols created for us,” Short said. “I want to take that foundation and build on it, to make us even greater.”

We asked when she first became interested in Vol State administration.

“In the last five to seven years I began to consider being part of senior leadership,” she said. “You get an opportunity in senior leadership to see how all facets of the college work together. But my favorite thing is working with students and getting to see them grow as individuals. Same with the staff.”

Short points out that the recent enrollment increase at Vol State, due in large part to the Tennessee Promise program, creates challenges in continuing to offer students quality admissions and advising help.

“Our students come to us with a lot of different issues,” she said. “Some are personal issues and some are academic. We have to work to get our arms around that to help the students succeed. I really look forward to working with staff and faculty members to make improvements in what we do, to ultimately help faculty in what they do in the classroom.”

Dr. Short has a bachelor’s degree from Belmont University; a Master’s in Education from Western Kentucky University; and an Ed.D. in Leadership & Professional Practice from Trevecca Nazarene University.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Ophthalmic Students and Faculty in Guatemala

Student, Celestin Collins, works to determine a young boy’s prescription.

Every year for the last 9 years, Ophthalmic Program students have traveled to Guatemala on a faculty-led international service learning trip, in conjunction with the Hendersonville Rotary Club.  The most recent trip took place February 28-March 6th.  The Vol State delegation consisted of 4 ophthalmic students and 2 faculty members.  Members included Celestin Collins, Abigail Flora, Christine Hyde, and Liana Brisbon, as well as Alisha Cornish, Ophthalmic Program Director, and Jana Allen, Associate Professor of Health Sciences.

Ophthalmic group with their translators.
The trip to Guatemala is unique in that it combines service learning with true travel abroad experiences.  Preparation for this trip starts months in advance with collection and organization of hundreds of donated prescription glasses.   Students participate in monthly planning and preparation meetings with the mission team from the Hendersonville Rotary Club.   During the 9-day trip, 2 days are spent traveling, 4 days are spent in clinic, and 3 days are spent sightseeing and experiencing the culture.  Clinic days are long but rewarding.  Students are able to use the knowledge and skills they learned in class and observe conditions not commonly seen in the United States.  Students spend their time in clinic determining patients’ prescriptions for glasses and examining a range of patients from babies to the elderly. 

The lack of equipment is one of the biggest challenges encountered while working in clinic.  Tests performed on expensive pieces of equipment in the U.S. are performed by hand using very basic equipment in Guatemala.  Students come back from Guatemala as better clinicians with a different perspective of what constitutes a difficult clinical case.  Patients that one might have thought were difficult before Guatemala, are much easier upon your return, knowing you have all of the state-of-the-art equipment at your disposal.  Four hundred and ninety-seven people were helped in the vision clinic this year. In addition to the Ophthalmic Program’s vision clinic, the Hendersonville Rotary Club provides a dental, medical, and psychological clinic.  Ophthalmic students are able to witness the services provided in these clinics as well.

Longtime translator and his wife with ophthalmic group.
A unique part of this trip is the ability to spend a great deal of time with Guatemalan Rotary members and translators.  Many of our translators are high school students taking English classes or working on community service hours.  The Guatemala students are able to practice their English and obtain the community service hours required by their schools, while the VSCC ophthalmic students are able to learn some Spanish and a great deal about the culture from the translators.  A couple of our translators have helped with our vision clinic every year for the last 7 years. Many long-term friendships are made by students and faculty as a result of the time spent working together.

This year on the days not spent in clinic, students hiked Volcano Pacaya and roasted marshmallows in the cooling lava. In addition, student had an opportunity to tour several churches, as well as the ruins of churches built in the 1600 and 1700s that were destroyed by earthquakes.   We were also fortunate enough to be in Guatemala during the time leading up to Easter.  Because of the timing of our trip, we were able to witness one of the world famous Catholic processions in Antigua, Guatemala.  People from all over the world travel to Antigua just to witness these processions.  Lastly, we were able to see the eruption of the Fuego Volcano.  A truly amazing experience.

Ophthalmic student Celestin Collins said it best, “I always knew that helping people was something I loved doing, but I never realized that it would bring an opportunity that would change my life forever.  Guatemala will forever hold a piece of my heart.”

-Ophthalmic Technician Program Director, Alisha Cornish

For more information on the Ophthalmic Technician Program at Vol State visit

Student Showcase this Weekend April 29 and 30

Rock, pop, country and bluegrass are just a few of the styles of music that will be performed by Vol State students at the annual Spring Music Showcase concerts coming up this weekend, April 29 and 30. The concerts coincide with the release of the spring music CD.

The concerts will include songs by the Commercial Music Ensemble, Jazz Ensemble, Songwriting Class and the Bluegrass Ensemble- “Bluegrass Ablaze.” The CD will be available for sale at the show and at the Vol State Bookstore in Gallatin. It was recorded in the Vol State Recording Studio by students in the Entertainment Media Production program and Recording Industry Management program.

The Spring Showcase performances will be held at 7:30 p.m. in the Wemyss Auditorium at Caudill Hall on the Vol State campus at 1480 Nashville Pike in Gallatin. There is a suggested donation of $5 for admission and $10 for admission and a copy of the CD. The funds will be used for music scholarships. For further information please call 615-230-3201. For information about the Music Program at Vol State visit

Monday, April 18, 2016

Vol State to Mongolia

Vol State recently sent what we believe was the first ever United States community  college student-faculty delegation to Mongolia. The group traveled over Spring Break and included: Dr. John Espey, Director of International Education; Dr. Carol Topping, Professor of Psychology; William Rogan, Chief of Campus Police; and students Darryl Vann ( Theatre Arts major), Donna Fair, ( Veterinary Technology major) Breanna Fitzpatrick ( Education major)  and Ryan Seay ( Information Technology major). 

We were hosted by Dolgormaa  Jamiyan, Ph.D., Professor and Director of International Joint and Exchange Programs at the Institute of Finance and Economics (IFE),  as well as the faculty , staff and students of IFE.  The institute is located in Mongolia’s capital city of Ulaanbaatar.

Here are two student perspectives on the trip.


Reflecting on the trip to Mongolia fills me with a lot of different emotions. Since it was my first time ever leaving the States I really had no idea what to expect, and that scared me a lot in the beginning. In fact, it scared me so much that, not only was I late for the initial shuttle to the airport, but I also left my wallet in my car that had all the money I was expecting to spend in it, so we had to turn all the way around to go back and get it. This little moment of forgetfulness changed my attitude completely, from fear to an alertness.

The single most unforgettable thing about the trip for me personally was by far the people I departed with, and those that we met, more specifically my guide and wonderful friend Unur Suhkbaatar. I don't know what forces brought he and I together but I am so thankful that I was paired with him. Unur is a man that loves his country, his family, and his soon-to-be fiancĂ© with every ounce of himself. He has dedicated his career to teaching others who share his passion for learning. With that being said, he is an astounding teacher, on one of the first mornings I got to share with him and his family, he took me aside and taught me what he could about his beliefs on Buddhism. Unur gave me the strange and overwhelming feeling that, although we live thousands of miles apart, I would see his face again in the future. Unur is a testament to the intellect, and beauty of the people of Ulaanbaatar, from the women, to the food, the history, and the cashmere, Mongolia has opened my eyes to the endless possibilities of world travel. 

-Darryl Vann

When I was asked to go on this trip to Mongolia, I had no idea what to expect. To me it sounded like a free vacation, and another stamp in my passport. I did not know how I could possibly say no. At the time I knew nothing about Mongolia; nothing. I could not point it out on a map or tell you anything about it. I honestly did not know what to expect when I got there. I had tried to research some before the trip to be a little prepared, though nothing could prepare me for the trip I was about to embark on.

About three days before we left for the trip I found out we would be staying with host families. I wanted to back out, I did not want to go anymore. I was scared to death of staying with a family I did not know. I overcame my fears and went on the trip. I was able to stay with a family and see what everyday life is like there, not just what I would see as a tourist in a hotel. I had home cooked traditional Mongolian meals every day. I was able to really feel like I got to know the culture, other than just what normal tourists would see. I had the best host family possible. I love them so much and I am so thankful for the friendships that I gained by staying with them.

I realized how welcoming the Mongolian people were of us Americans. I did not know how welcoming they would be to us, not knowing anything about the country. The fact that any car there can be a taxi still blows my mind, the peace and lack of major crimes was so different for me. Although I live in a safe place, every day when I turn on the news is constant bad news. The people there all seemed so friendly and welcoming to each other and to us, whether it be in the schools or the streets.

I am so thankful to have been chosen for this trip. I thought it would be a vacation, and it was but I learned much more than I ever imagined. As an education major I learned a lot about their school systems and education practices. I learned a lot about the history and culture of Mongolia, to be honest when we were comparing country’s histories I learned some about American History. This trip provided me with experiences that will help me in my career, and in life as a whole. Once you can connect with another culture, it is easier to see more than just America, you can feel yourself yearning to learn more about other cultures.

-Emily Fitzpatrick

A Fond Farewell

There was a send-off for the latest group of Vol State retirees last week. Dr. Faulkner pointed out in his remarks that they have a combined 182 years of service. Their roles range from information technology to academic affairs. Some worked directly with students and others behind the scenes in keeping things running smoothly. They all will be missed.

Bonnita Beasley                      Toni Murad
Randy Fuqua                           Linda Parker
Phillip Hailey                          Janet Poindexter
Susan Mulcahy                       Patty Powell

There were many stories shared and some tears shed. VP of Student Services, Patty Powell, had a visit from her counterpart at Tennessee Tech, Marc Burnett. He presented her with a painting he created just for this occasion. It shows an angel, one of Patty's favorite subjects.

TBR Chancellor David Gregory thanked the retirees for their service.

Meet the New Dean of Humanities

Jennifer Brezina is the new dean of Humanities at Vol State. She comes most recently from the College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, California, where she was dean of Humanities and interim project director in the office of Academic Affairs. 

“It’s a great time to start and see the campus at its best, with graduation and all of the events happening," Brezina said. "I’m really glad to be starting now. I like the energy that Vol State has. There’s a genuine faculty and staff dedication to student success.”

Brezina worked with College of the Canyons for 15 years. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from U.C.L.A, a Master of Arts degree in English from San Diego State University and a Ph.D. in English from the University of California, Riverside.

"I want to work on improving student success at Vol State," she said. "What can we do to help smooth the way for students in transfer and for degree completion?"

Dr. Faulkner: The Nightmare

When Albert Einstein died in 1955 he left behind more than 30,000 documents.  Princeton University is in the process of digitizing these documents and making them available online. One of those papers first published in December, 1917 is titled “The Nightmare.”  What could give the winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics nightmares?

What Einstein referred to was the traditional, secondary school, end of term final exam.  In that time and system the final exam lasted five or six days, consisted of both written and oral tests, and covered all major subjects.  It was often the single source upon which students were evaluated.
In the article Einstein criticizes the tests as negative because of the fear associated with the tests and because of the effect of lowering the standard of teaching.  He states, “I will nevertheless mention the well-known fact that many men in the most varied professions have been plagued into their later years by nightmares whose origins trace back to the final secondary school exam.”  Some of our students might agree that they have been scarred for life by a comprehensive final exam.  My own nightmares about finals usually revolved around over-sleeping and missing the exam. 

I have witnessed something akin to this when Wanda and I visited China.  We were there during the week of the national exam given to all high school seniors.  The result of this one exam determined if the student would go on to a university or a trade school or to a job.  This was high stakes testing and there was no second chance.  We were told that parents would secure hotel rooms as close as possible to the testing sites so their students could get as much extra sleep as possible on exam day.

As to the lowering of the standard of teaching, Einstein felt that the final exam placed the emphasis on memorization and “shallow drills” instead of substantial, in depth learning.

All this started me thinking about the many assessments I have taken and even more so about those I’ve administered to students during my teaching career.

·         How much did my exams reflect understanding and how much was about factual memorization?
·         How many questions accurately gauged the students understanding of the material?
·         Were my exams too high stakes?
·         Did I assess for formative reasons or only summative?
·         Which question were a reflection of the student’s knowledge and understanding and which were a reflection of my poor performance as a teacher?
·         How much was authentic for the future they faced and how much was mundane and trivial?
·         How many questions could I connect directly to a stated learning outcome?  (Yeah for institutional effectiveness!)

Perhaps it would be wise for all of us in education to ask and honestly answer these and other related questions so we are doing more than giving our students nightmares.

-Dr. Jerry Faulkner

Thursday, April 14, 2016

A Piece of Vol State History

The Office of Public Relations is proud to present: Great Vol State Human Resources Cakes Through the Years:


Monday, April 11, 2016

Vol State in the News

Here is a round-up of some of the tornado ten-year anniversary coverage:

Tennessean "Vol State Stronger Following 2006 Tornado"

Channel 2

Channel 5

Our campaign to get Tom Hanks to speak at Vol State is in the Gallatin News Examiner.

Monday, April 4, 2016

A Look Back at April 7, 2006

We crouched in the dark hallway of the Ramer Building waiting for the roof to rip off. I held my briefcase over my head while my colleague did the same with her laptop case. Debris shot down the hallway just a few feet from us. Dust filled the air and our ears popped from the pressure change. The ceiling tiles bounced and the roar was deafening. It was only 30 seconds and then silence.

The F-3 tornado hit Volunteer State Community College at 2:23 p.m. on April 7, 2006. It was part of a storm that spawned tornadoes across middle Tennessee, before slamming into Gallatin.

We opened the emergency fire door and found out just how lucky, and quite frankly well placed, we had been. Just a few feet from where we took cover the twister ripped through the lobby, tearing out doors, blowing in part of the roof and sucking out the entire reception area.

We emerged to find a very different campus than the one we had left. There was $9 million damage to the campus. All 14 buildings on campus were damaged to some degree and two had major structural damage. The tornado twisted the roof of Caudill Hall, collapsing part of the second floor onto the first in a shower of bricks. The President’s office in the Ramer Administration building took a direct hit. The walls caved in and a big pile of rubble marked the spot.

The President and his staff found safety in the college business vault. The rest of the 400 students, faculty and staff on campus took shelter in safe spots throughout the campus. We were shepherded there by Vol State employees designated as Building Coordinators, all part of the college emergency plan. Just across the street dozens of homes were destroyed and seven people died.

The searches began at 2:40 p.m. when we were given the all clear. By 3 p.m. it became clear that there were only minor injuries on campus. We knew that parents, friends and loved ones would be quite concerned once news of the tornado began to circulate. I began to call the television stations. Through a series of live interviews we kept reemphasizing the fact that everyone was okay. By 3:45 p.m. we were back on the phone letting the media know that campus was closed. Once again, we had one clear message: we would find a way to get everyone off campus. This was a major issue because 95 cars parked in the Ramer parking lot were smashed in the storm.

Recovery began immediately. The Tennessee Board of Regents had dealt with other colleges hit by tornados in the past. So they had an emergency response plan already set up that they enacted immediately after they heard about the tornado. There were 100 workers from 18 different companies on the campus the morning after the tornado. That afternoon Governor Phil Bredesen took a helicopter across Middle Tennessee to see the damage. They landed next to the tennis courts and toured the damage at Vol State. Media outlets from across the area converged on the campus. We did live interviews with CNN and later found coverage discussing Vol State in newspapers as far away as Australia and Russia.

The day after the tornado was, quite frankly one of the longest days of my life. We were all dead tired and, although we didn’t know it at the time, suffering from post-traumatic stress. We still had jobs to do. In retrospect,t many of us feel it was not the event itself that caused the stress, but rather the massive undertaking of clean-up and recovery.

Thanks to all of the hard work, by the TBR, the contractors, our maintenance and facilities staff and our faculty and staff, we were able to get the college up and running again just seven days after the tornado.

It was quite a feat: 11 classrooms and 72 faculty and staff offices had to be relocated. Classrooms were set up wherever space could be found, including the Rochelle Center. The Business Office was relocated to the Wood Campus Center Nichols Dining room. They sorted through thousands of documents sent flying by the tornado. Some documents were found in Kentucky and returned.

Students finished the spring semester. Commencement ceremonies were held in the Pickel Field House less than a month after the tornado. We had an, at the time, record graduating class of more than 900 students. 

That's how I remember the 2006 tornado. How about you? Feel free to share recollections in the comments section. - Eric Melcher

Will A Robot Take Your Job? Part Three

During this past week (March 25), a news story broke about the Microsoft chatbot called Tay.  A chatbot is a computer program designed to carry on conversations with human users.   There have been several experiments with chatbots including a version previously released by Microsoft in China.  The Chinese version is called XiaoIce and is used by 40 million people.  Xiaolce and Tay use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to learn from each conversation and add new dimensions to future conversations.  Tay was designed to communicate “like a teenager” and was directed toward the 18 – 24 age demographic.

Tay communicated via Twitter but had to be disabled within the first 24 hours of the release.  It began to communicate what Microsoft characterized as “unintended offensive and hurtful tweets.”  According to news reports, the chatbot posted tweets that embraced Hitler, compared feminism to cancer, and in one post reportedly said, “chill im a nice person! i just hate everybody.”

On the official Microsoft blog  the situation was blamed on, “a coordinated attack by a subset of people who exploited a vulnerability in Tay.”  In other words, people were helping Tay learn inappropriate things.

I’m reminded of an experience I had while a grad student at UT Knoxville.  An exchange student from China joined the graduate students in the department.  While his English was quite good, he was unfamiliar with American idioms, colloquialisms, and obscenities.  Some of our fellow grad students extracted some pleasure at his expense by teaching him inappropriate language and waiting for him to use it in conversation.

Both my experience and the situation with Tay confirm the computer programming expression GIGO - Garbage in - garbage out.  The difference is that my Chinese friend was able to read human expressions and non-verbal responses and “delete” the inappropriate language.  Tay couldn’t do that in spite of Microsoft’s attempts to install filters.  Once again, there are instances when humans are superior to robots.