Monday, August 19, 2019

3 Tips for Incoming Freshmen

Welcome to Volunteer State Community College, freshmen!  Does the thought of entering this new chapter of your life make you feel slightly anxious?  To help calm your nerves, here are some sophomore tips to get you through your first year of college:

1    1.) Stay focused on success, and come to class prepared and ready to learn. 

Try to get the most out of your classes, even the required ones that don’t really interest you- make sure you regularly go to class!  As the saying goes, “Knowledge is power,” so having a “bare minimum” mindset only puts yourself at a disadvantage.  The number-one beneficiary of getting an education is you, so why wouldn’t you want the best for yourself when it’s so achievable?

2    2.) Establish good connections with your teachers. 

Needless to say, use good manners when communicating with your teachers, and don’t be afraid to ask them for help or to actively participate in class.  This shows that you actually care about your work in that class, and teachers always appreciate that quality in students.  Speaking from my personal teaching experiences, watching your students grow and care about what they’re learning is such a gratifying aspect of the job.  Also, some faculty have participation grades in their classes, so if you don’t want to talk for the connection itself, at least do it for a good grade.

3    3.) Get involved at Volunteer State Community College!

Everyone appreciates having friends and good college experiences.  There are plenty of ways to make friends and memories at Vol State.  Visit the office of Student Engagement and Support for information about clubs to join or events to attend.  There’s almost always something going on, and you can find out more by checking out, following Vol State’s social media, and reading The Settler, Vol State’s student newspaper.  Whether it be simply talking to your classmates or going to an event, make your college experiences something worth reminiscing about later on down the road. 

Remember, college is all about making mistakes and growing because of them.  Take a deep breath.  You can do this.

-Gloria Cortes

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Alumni Spotlight: Wesley Bray

Vol State alumnus Wesley Bray's passion for people and law recently earned him the title of criminal court judge to the 13th Judicial District of Tennessee.

“That means that I am the trial level judge for seven counties in the 13th Judicial District. It’s the largest geographic district in the state and there’s never a shortage of things to do,” he said.
Wesley got the phone call from Governor Bill Lee the morning of July 8th. By that afternoon, he was sworn in. The next day he was in the judge’s office working.
“I really enjoy the job. I promised everyone that if I got the appointment I’d be ready to go on day one and I held true to that. That’s what the governor appointed me to do and that’s what the people expect of their judge. So that’s what I’m here doing.”

Wesley worked as a private attorney for over fourteen years before stepping into his new role. He’s currently in the process of closing down his law practice.
“It’s been a really good thing so far. I’ve enjoyed it. It’s a different pace, it’s different than private practice. I’m just looking to help people of the 13th district.”

Backtracking a bit, he began his college experience in 1993 as a senior in high school through Vol State's Interactive TV Program, which allowed him to take virtual classes. He transferred to Tennessee Tech University to study psychology and eventually went on to the Nashville School of Law.

“[Law] was something I had always been interested in and I wanted a job where I could be my own boss, where I could help people with their problems, and law is just where I fell … I’ve always been a people person. I’ve always been interested in people and I’ve always been interested in politics.”

Wesley recognized Vol State’s Livingston Center Director, Mike Powell, for initially putting him “on a good path” in his education. “I really appreciate the work that Mike Powell has done for years for the people of this area,” he said.

Wesley shared his current plans for his future: “I plan to settle into my role as a criminal court judge and continue to raise my family and be involved in the Upper Cumberland community where we have lived our entire lives.”

-By Rachel Keyes

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Meet Vol State's New Social Media Writer

Hello, Volunteer State Community College!  I’m Gloria Cortes, Vol State’s new social media writer and a sophomore majoring in mass communications. 

Reading and writing are two of my favorite pastimes, so for the last two semesters, I worked at Vol State’s student newspaper, The Settler.  When I’m not going to class or working as a writer, I teach high school marching band percussion.  I thought this new writing position would combine things I enjoy with a new environment that would challenge and cultivate my skills.  As most people have experienced, working with others can sometimes be stressful and dreadful, but through my experiences as a writer, teacher and student, I found a passion for helping people.  The purpose of this blog is to inform and entertain viewers about Vol State, so don’t be afraid to comment your opinions, suggestions, or experiences.  As an online voice for Vol State, any feedback from members of its community would be greatly appreciated.  You can send any story ideas to

With the help and guidance of my teachers and those who believed in me, I’ve matured as a writer and young adult, but like any other college student, I still make mistakes and have room to improve.  I’m looking forward to writing about and growing with you, Vol State.  Good luck with the upcoming school year, and go Pioneers!- Gloria Cortes

Vol State Professor Shares Passion for Mathematics

Imagine having the ability to mentally calculate the gravitational force of a falling rock at six years old. To Vol State math professor Jonathan Kenigson, this is just how he spent his typical childhood afternoons.

“It was just evident that I’d be a mathematician, there was no question about it. I always knew I wanted to teach math. I’d make my parents sit through after dinner lectures that I’d construct, and they’d get worksheets and stuff. They’d have to watch the lecture and fill in notes and things,” he said.

Both Jonathan and his twin sister Jessica were homeschooled and excelled in their studies from a young age. They entered Vol State as students at thirteen years old and quickly became tutors in New Skills, the predecessor of the Learning Commons.

“That’s where I learned how to teach, it’s the best training you could get,” Jonathan said. After attaining their associate’s degrees at sixteen years old, the twins went on to the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

Jonathan designed his own undergraduate degree, specializing in Mathematics and Comparative Religion. Additionally, Jonathan was also fascinated with cosmology, the science of the origin and development of the universe.

“Math opens the door to understanding the cosmos. I always wanted to understand how the cosmos functions. And so I said, ‘I need enough math to be able to understand the best currently existing theories of the world of the universe.’”

From UTK, Jonathan went on to graduate school at the 
University of Sofia in Bulgaria, attaining a dual master's in Mathematics and Philosophy. Most recently, he has completed his Ph.D. online through Sofia with two concentrations: Philosophy of Mathematics and Philosophy of Cosmology.

“A fairly large piece of my dissertation is a mathematical journey through f(R) gravity’s predictions of what a black hole would be like. My dissertation is called Mathematics and Mathesis. I try to determine that mathematics ultimately has an empirical foundation, that mathematics is based in practice. Now I’m just looking for post-docs, probably in Ukraine. Nothing has changed, I’ll never stop.”

Jonathan has been affiliated with Vol State for over twenty years now. Since becoming a professor in 2017, he’s formulated a black hole research group for students, which he hopes to make more formal and documented in the near future.

“The reason I do this is because so many people hate math. I want to teach them that it
s perfectly possible to do well in math and to have a great mathematical understanding even as an average guy. There’s this idea that math is somehow for this elect remnant of people and I think that’s a big lie. I think anybody can do math if they’re taught with compassion and conviction and if they really try. I think that the average person has enormous mathematical potential that they just can’t see. It’s my job to open that up for them.”

Teaching math just seems to be encoded in his DNA. Since he’ll be able to complete his post-doc research online, Jonathan plans to continue teaching at Vol State for the long haul.

-By Rachel Keyes

Monday, August 12, 2019

Alumni Spotlight: Jo Boileau

From Vol State student to Purdue University's student body president, Jo Boileau sums up his success in one word: Grind. That's the singular word I use to describe being where I am,” he said. “I took a path I wasn't expecting to take, was humbled greatly, and when I got to this world-class institution, I knew I wasn't about to let the opportunities here pass me by.”        Since becoming student body president, his primary role has been to serve as a conduit between students and the administration. “Most importantly I would say, it’s our job to communicate our vision as students with the students,” he said. Jo majors in Political Science with an emphasis on International Relations and minors in Environmental Global Politics. He graduated Vol State in December 2017 and began at Purdue the following January. “At Vol State, I declared as [a] Political Science [major]. I’ve always had an interest in government. For a long time, I wasn’t sure where that interest was going to take me.”

Prior to becoming student body president in April 2019, Jo completed a summer internship in New York City for the United Nations with the Republic of the Marshall Islands, a small Pacific country that is on the verge of disappearing as a result of climate change. The Marshall Islands have been near and dear to his heart since he first represented them in high school with Model United Nations, an educational simulation of the UN where students learn about diplomacy, international relations, and the UN as a whole.

At the UN I was an environmental policy and climate initiative intern ... I was helping them work on sustainability pathway documents that were up for a midterm review last year, which was super cool.”
Jo seems to have a solid passion for making the world a better place. My passion for solving problems comes from a burning desire to leave things better off than I found them. As cliché as that sounds, it's true. I realized a long time ago that I'm fortunate to be able to get an education, and to be in the positions I'm in, so I better use them to uplift the people around me who otherwise don't have those opportunities or equitable access to the means to achieve their dreams.”
Jo has traveled to Columbia with Purdue’s Model UN team and recently returned from a stint in Poland with General Electric this past July. There he worked with GE and the Polish government to study sustainable energy practices of Eastern Europe. I owe so much to my professors at Vol State for helping get me in the right headspace, and for helping to fuel my drive when I didn't even know which gear to be in. Professors Scott McMillan, Carole Bucy, and David Fuqua had incredibly profound impacts on me, and I credit them so much for getting me where I am today.”
Jo continues to carve his own path through this world. Who knows where your own path will lead you. -By Rachel Keyes