Friday, July 1, 2016

Remembering Vol State Chemistry Professor Parris Powers

Vol State lost one of its most engaged and engaging professors this week. Parris Powers, associate professor of Chemistry, passed away after suffering a stroke. It is a devastating loss for his family, and especially his two children, Christian and Summer. It is heartbreaking for his colleagues, so many of whom called Parris friend. And his students, the thousands of students from classes, research projects and study abroad trips over the last 25 years; they have been posting remembrances from across the country.

“He was the best professor anyone could ask for. I learned so much from him. Not just chemistry and science. He guided all his students and mentored them,” said Virginia White. “He showed more passion about the subject than anyone I have ever met. He was the essence and example of a teacher and the kind of teacher I wish to be. I wish I had time for at least one more question.”

“Professor Powers had the unique ability to make such an individual investment into his students that he made each of them think they were his favorite,” Genna Batchelder said. “He cared not only about your grade in his class but your future and your interests and how those two things could intertwine.”

“Mr. Powers truly cared about me,” said recent graduate Seth Walker. “He would always do whatever to ensure my success. He was very down to Earth. We talked sports all the time! He was one of the best professors at Vol State. The college has lost a jewel.”

Parris’ death is a profound loss for the science and educational community. He began his journey at Vol State in 1991. His specialty was organic chemistry and organic synthesis. His passion was igniting passion for learning in his students. He did that in many ways, most recently helping to lead the undergraduate research initiative at Vol State. The pictures tell the story. He waded into streams with his students to take water samples, showing them proper scientific techniques for collection. That research eventually went on to include hundreds of Vol State students. For many of them it was their first time actually doing scientific research. That was the point. The Community College Undergraduate Research Initiative (CCURI) gets community college students excited about research, helping them gain new perspective in their science classes.

The water quality study results didn’t sit on a shelf. Parris partnered with storm water treatment professionals in Sumner County and state environmental groups. The research adds to the body of knowledge as decisions are made that impact all of us.

His mentoring of  research students led to a number of awards. Vol State Math and Science students took top honors in a student competition at the Southeastern Regional Meeting of the American Chemical Society (SERMACS) in Nashville. Vol State was the only community college to compete and the Vol State students beat out more than eighty other students from universities across the South. Emmy Davis of Hendersonville, Nicole Gammons of Mt. Juliet, and Phillip Martinez of Lebanon received the first place award in the Organic Chemistry Division for their research presentation titled “Investigations of Green and Microscale Methods in the Synthesis of Several Flavones.” Chemists from all over the region did the judging.
"Parris Powers has been a great friend and colleague over the years,” said Kenyatta Lovett, assistant vice chancellor for Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) Community College Initiatives. “Even in my role at TBR, we have engaged in great discussions on how to expand the opportunities for our community college students. His approach to teaching and student development can be witnessed in the outpour of gratitude and appreciation being expressed by current and previous students. His mission to advance the adoption of community college undergraduate research has impacted students and faculty across this nation.”
Dedication. Parris personified the word. But his work wasn’t reserved only for those bound for a science career. Parris organized the Vol State Science and Math Expo with science and math faculty members for 15 years. The annual event brought in hundreds of secondary school students to the Vol State campus for hands-on science and math activities. And it was Vol State students designing and carrying out those activities. For Parris it wasn’t just an event, but part of his deep desire to share the excitement of science with people of all ages.
“I was fortunate to occupy the office next to his and I am so grateful that he was there for me every day to talk and provide invaluable insight and goodwill,” said Vol State associate professor of Biology, Robert Carter. “He was brilliant, honest, thoughtful and a really fun guy. I cannot possibly describe how important he was to so many people and how many lives he changed in our classrooms.”
“Professor Powers was an outstanding educator who was dedicated to student success,” said Vol State president, Jerry Faulkner. “On a couple of occasions I was present when his students were presenting.  He absolutely glowed with pride in the students accomplishments. He set a high bar for academic rigor but did everything possible to help students achieve at their highest. His involvement with the Community College Undergraduate Research Initiative allowed him to make contacts on a national scale.  Condolences are pouring in from across America.”

Parris Powers
Visitation:  Saturday, July 2, 2016, 1:00 – 3:00 p.m.
Memorial Service: Saturday, July 2, 2016 at 3:00 p.m.
Calvary Chapel
1001 Willis Branch Road
Goodlettsville, TN 37072

(615) 851-3088

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

A View of Life at Vol State

Here's a look at life on the Gallatin campus on a fall day in 2015. Thanks to our photographer Richard Suter. He always captures the spirit of Vol State.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Too Hungry to Study? Project: Food is On It

If you had to choose between feeding your family or going to class, what would you choose?

Project: Food is a new program coming to Vol State. The project is founded on the understanding that some students who struggle with providing food for themselves and their families often have to choose between the urgency of the here-and-now and the longer-term goals of working for a better future. The group of like-minded faculty and staff have been awarded a grant to explore and expand food initiatives at Volunteer State Community College. Project: Food hopes to identify students dealing with “food insecurity” and help meet those needs to increase student retention.

“Food insecure students reported lower GPAs, suggesting a negative correlation with academic performance,” Project: Food states in their grant proposal. They estimate that 56% of college students meet the category of “food insecure”. The group hopes to reach out to those students. They also plan to develop an emergency food bank on campus and create partnerships with other outreaches such as Second Harvest. Advisors and other staff will be trained to identify and assist students who need assistance.
Blueberries ripening in the
community garden
Project: Food also plans to add credit courses that focus on service-learning as well as undergraduate research opportunities to explore food issues. Initiatives to increase awareness of food issues include a continuation and expansion of “Food Day”, which had its first annual event in the Fall of 2015.

“We hosted Food Day on campus so students can see how one topic touches on so many different disciplines,” says Kelly Ormsby, English faculty at Vol State and one of the collaborators of Project: Food. “Food is a great way to bring people together; it’s about our backgrounds, being healthy, feeling good, weight goals – it touches on every major on campus.”

Ormsby goes even further, involving her English Composition classes in the subject of food.
Some of her students can earn credit by working in the garden if it ties into the topic of their papers.

Cucumber in its natural habitat
“Some of them have never seen a vegetable in that setting, growing in a garden. They’ve only seen them in grocery stores. We don't think about it as much as we should, how it grows, and our own personal effects on the world and the choices we make. I want to engage my students as citizens that effect the world.”

The grant names Dr. Lauren Collier (former Executive Assistant to the President), Dr. Emily Short, Heather Harper, Kelly Ormsby, Hilary Marabeti, and Dr. Kenny Yarbrough as Project: Food’s team members.

Comp I students in the community garden. (l to r) Alexis Betts,
Juli King, Kelly Ormsby, Meghan Coyle, Ian Ormsby

Gaynell Buffinet Payne is a writer, single mother, and student at Volunteer State Community College. She also blogs for Vol State's Returning Adult Learners.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

This Dad Goes to Class With His Son

"It feels like you shouldn’t be in school with your kid. But it was fun.”

Coy Chandler has a lot in common with his son, Matthew: they’re both students at Vol State. Chandler spent eight years in law enforcement, then decided to reenlist in the Army. “I felt that God was leading me to the military,” he says. “I also felt like I hadn’t done enough yet for my country.”

After an explosion injured his spine, Chandler realized that he couldn’t “kick down doors anymore” because of his injury and decided to come back to college for a degree in Paralegal Studies. On the first day that he drove to school with his son, they tried to make plans to meet up after classes. It was only then that they realized they were taking the same class. 

"Remembering Our Fallen" was on display at Vol State in April
"My dad knew some of those men,"
says Matthew. "Remembering Our
Fallen" was on display at Vol State
in April.
“I was excited about it,” he recalls with a laugh. “He sat in the back but I dragged him to the front. He made really good grades that semester.”

“I thought it was cool. It feels like you shouldn’t be in school with your kid. But it was fun.”

Now that he’s back in school, Coy Chandler is carrying on a tradition. “I remember sitting in Caudill Hall, doing my homework while my mom was in class.”

Gaynell Buffinet Payne is a writer, single mother, and student at Volunteer State Community College. She also blogs for Vol State's Returning Adult Learners.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

New Students - Get Plugged into Vol State Social Media

New students have plenty of questions and you know what? We have answers. Get plugged into Vol State social media now and get tips and throughout the summer. It will help you have a great start to your first semester. We have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, You Tube and Google+ pages. This blog is also a good place to get the latest info. You can find links to those pages at

If you have any questions the best place to ask is Facebook.
You will automatically be signed up for emergency text alerts and informational text messaging, but that won't start until the first day of classes. 
If you have any questions about social media you can contact us at
We're looking forward to having you on campus!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Celebrating 25 years in Livingston

This year marks Vol State Livingston’s 25th Anniversary. The college is planning a celebration event on Friday, June 17, from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the campus at 113 Windle Community Road.  Festivities include food, live music, fun, and special activities for alumni.  The event is free and open to everyone.
When we celebrate an anniversary at a college we think of all of the students served in 25 years. Here is one family story:

Like many high school graduates, Misty Bickle was not sure what she wanted to do with her life when she graduated high school in 1990.  She was interested in college, but was unable to secure the funds necessary to pay for tuition. Instead, she got a job, married and started a family.
Misty moved to Overton County in 1999 and landed a job in retail, where she worked for several years.  Her hard work paid off and she was offered a management position.  “I wasn’t sure if that’s what I wanted to do, so I prayed for a sign,” Misty said.  “Two days later while working at my retail job, my coworkers and I were robbed.  The robber had a gun and I thought I was going to die.”  Shaken by the incident, Misty believed that she had received her answer and that it was time for a change.
Although college had not been an option for her previously, Misty started exploring colleges and soon enrolled in Vol State’s Ophthalmic Technology program.  “I started slow by taking a few night classes, because I was still working to provide for my family,” she said.  In 2010 Misty graduated summa cum laude with an associate degree in ophthalmic technology. 
“My experience at Vol State was awesome. I liked the smaller classes and the one on one with instructors that Vol State Livingston offered,” she stated.  “There was flexibility in the class schedules and I liked that the college was close to home.”
Misty attained Ophthalmic Technician certification and currently works at an eye center in Cookeville.  “I am very happy.   I love what I do.  There is nothing more gratifying than helping people see,” she shared. 
Misty’s husband Gary graduated from Vol State Livingston in 2012 with an associate degree in logistics management. “He had a grade point average of 4.0 and mine was 3.96 and I won’t let him live it down that he beat me,” Misty laughed.
While at Vol State, Gary participated in the Tennessee Consortium for International Studies (TnCIS) program and studied abroad in China.
He is currently working as a logistics manager at a powertrain company in Cookeville. 
Both participated in the President’s Ambassador Scholarship Program while at Vol State.  As President’s Ambassadors, they represented the student body and worked with faculty, staff, students, and members of the community to promote Vol State and its programs and services.
“Our daughter, Kacie Schook, just graduated from Vol State Livingston this past spring, with an associate degree in business and technology,” Misty stated, “and she is currently looking for a position in that field.”  While at Vol State, Kacie was a student worker in the office of Student Services and won the Positive Difference Student Services Award for her contributions to the Livingston campus.
Misty recently joined Vol State as a lab instructor for the Ophthalmic Procedures III class during summer session I. 
“I always felt like Vol State wants their students to succeed.  You’re not like cattle being herded through…you’re not just a number.”  Misty said.
To learn more about Vol State’s programs and offerings call (931) 823-7065 or visit
Pictured left – right,  Kacie Schook, Gary Bickle, and Misty Bickle

A Big Gig for Our Bluegrass Group

There was a big gig last weekend for the Vol State Bluegrass Ensemble, Bluegrass Ablaze. They played in Morgantown, Indiana at the Bean Blossom Festival. Known as the Mecca of Bluegrass, the Bill Monroe Music Park & Campground hosts the oldest, continuous running bluegrass festival in the world. It's a great honor for our student group led by banjo legend and Vol State instructor Mark Barnett. Interested in learning more about Music at Vol State? Visit