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