Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Fall 2017 Outstanding Graduate Nominees

As we celebrate Fall Graduation 2017, we are reminded that every student walking across the stage faced unique challenges. Much hard work was required for them to arrive at a degree. Each student has a set of personal accomplishments and dreams for the future. Here are the stories of the three Outstanding Graduate nominees.

 Joanne Layton admits that she slept through her high school American History class. Now she says that American History fascinates her. “I yell at the TV news about things I know from class. I got so much out of it.”

Joanne will be graduating from Vol State at the age of 62.  Age buys plenty of perspective when it comes to college. “When you’re young you don’t appreciate education.”
She had a long career at AT&T, rising to management, all without a college degree. A forced retirement left her in a fix. “I found it difficult to find employment doing anything because I didn't have a college degree. When I worked with AT&T I handled projects with multi-million dollar budgets. I had all of this experience and I wanted to use it. It was demeaning.”
One company even suggested she seek employment as a hotel maid. Joanne had another idea. “My Vol State degree is in computer information technology. My AT&T experience was all main frame. Now I’m working with client-server and networking.”
The road to that degree wasn’t easy. She had to cope with the death of her brother, and her mother-in-law coming to live with her and her husband, Bruce. “He has been extremely supportive. My kids are very proud and supportive of me.”
That includes one son who actually attended Vol State at the same time as his mom. “My son thought it was cool. We were both inducted into the National Society of Leadership and Success together, which was fun.”
Joanne plans to use her degree and IT certifications to have a different job search this time, one where her years of experience will actually be considered. In the meantime, she is simply proud to be graduating. “I was one of five kids. I’m the first to get a college education. When we were growing up girls just didn't get to go to college.”


Matthew Miller is a Tennessee Promise graduate who says his reason for attending college is simple: “I just wanted to get something more out of life. Tennessee Promise gave me the opportunity to get a quality first two years of education for free.”
His 3.9 GPA is just one number to consider when it comes to his future. Matthew is an accounting major.
“I like the numbers and the challenge,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed business. I like the aspect that you can see how a business is succeeding or failing with numbers.”
Matthew will take that ambition to Austin Peay University in the spring where he plans to pursue a degree and a certification in personal or managerial accounting.
Faculty member John Hoover nominated Matthew. “His academic work has always been exceptional. He has always been engaged and attentive….He will, in all likelihood, have a great career as a practicing account.


Many students travel to take advantage of a college opportunity. Anuradha Nugawela voyaged for more than 9,000 miles to make his dreams come true.
“I came to the United States on a student VISA,” he said. “Sri Lanka had a war going on and my parents didn’t have money for college. I always wanted to come to the United States, since I was a kid.”
Flash forward several years and Anuradha faced a new challenge at Vol State- and this time it wasn't a geographical or cultural struggle, but rather one that many adult students face.
“I was pretty nervous at first. I didn't know how to balance school, being a dad and work. I just put my head down and studied hard.”
He majored in information systems at Vol State and the hard work has paid off. He’s graduating with honors, the result of a 4.0 GPA. His wife Kaitlyn, and his three year-old daughter Harper, will celebrate with him. And then it’s off to the next leg of his journey at Middle Tennessee State University.
“I want to do my bachelor’s degree and master’s degree together. I want to study data science and predictive analysis. My dream job would be to work for a sports franchise.”

The Outstanding Graduate award will be announced at the ceremony on December 16 at 10 a.m. Commencement will be streamed live at www.volstate.edu/graduation

Congratulations to all of the Fall 2017 graduates.

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Parris Powers Memorial Arboretum is Now Official

Vol State officially has an arboretum.  What's an arboretum? “It is a place with an exhibit of trees and other plants for display or scientific study. An arboretum is a single site or place, whereas arboreta, the Latin plural, refers to several sites or places.” That comes from the Tennessee Urban Forestry Council (TUFC).

There are 62 trees on campus that have been identified and certified as a level II arboretum by the TUFC. It’s thanks to the work of Vol State alum Cynthia Hernandez and Math and Science faculty, including Le-Ellen Dayhuff. It’s named for former Vol State Chemistry Professor Parris Powers, who was not only an inspiration to students, but had a great love for the environment.

What is the point of a certified arboretum? TUFC says: “A certified arboretum must be open to the public with trees that are labeled, properly protected, and well maintained.” And that’s really the point- the tree labels are designed for education. If you step outside of the Ramer building you will see several trees on the Nashville Pike side of the building with silver name tags. If you didn’t know what a Black Gum tree looked like…now you do. The plan is to have even better signage identifying the trees and then some sort of Internet link so people can find out more about that type of tree. You could walk around campus and learn about trees as you go.

There will be a public event announcing the Parris Power Memorial Arboretum on Arbor Day, Friday, April 27, 2018.

Congrats again to Cynthia and Le-Ellen for the certification.

Story Slam Winners Announced


The Vol State Storytelling Project held a first for the college- a Story Slam competition. And here are the winners:

1- Evan Decker for “The Grandfather and the Chainsaw” – SPCH 103 A01 (Honors)

2- Abigail Vance for “Pinewood: The crowds, the coffee, and the celebrities” – SPCH 1010 010

Storytelling Project co-directors, Shellie Michael and Sheri Waltz, have more on the competition:

The SERS grant project gives students a wider audience for an assignment in some SPCH 1010 and SPCH 103 courses at Vol State: the Storytelling Speech, a short personal narrative about a meaningful life event. The project enhances storytelling pedagogy, the role of storytelling in our Speech curricula, and students’ public speaking abilities.

Online and on-ground students share their work by posting videotapes of their Storytelling speech online. Students in each class section watch each other’s speeches and vote for winning stories in various categories. The winners advance to inter-class competition, and outstanding presentations receive prizes. Students can participate in the competition entirely online, though the project may include an opportunity for winners to tell stories and/or receive recognition at an on-campus event, offered in conjunction with Vol State’s Office of Student Life & Diversity in Spring. Students who don’t usually get to participate in on-campus events, especially online students, can participate in the online Story Slam events (in their classes and in the inter-class finalists’ round) as spectators and competitors.

Engagement has a positive impact on students’ college success. In particular, at-risk students “need validation that not only are they capable of succeeding in college, but that they belong on campus as well” (“Moving Beyond Access: College Success for Low-Income, First-Generation Students,” The Pell Institute for Opportunity in Higher Education, 29). Storytelling provides validation as well as engagement. Through this speech, students can experience a heightened sense of belonging since their diverse backgrounds are celebrated. Many students often fear that they do not belong at college because of experiences they perceive as setting them apart from others. The process of sharing shows students that though struggles are unique to each individual, other students have wrestled with difficulties, and often the same kinds of challenges. Learning about one another, students find commonalities and forge connections, share similarities and celebrate differences. Together, they reflect on turning points in their lives, whether hardships or lessons learned, or joyful or comic incidents. Students feel valued because their classmates have emotional responses to their stories. Storytelling builds students’ self-assurance and skills, and it also creates tighter bonds.

-Shellie Michael and Sheri Waltz