Stories @ TCAT

Fifth Annual SOAR Awards to outstanding students, faculty, staff & supporters. Walters State Community College & TCAT Morristown earn College of the Year honors

The College System of Tennessee honored its outstanding students, faculty, staff, supporters and partners of the year at the Fifth Annual Statewide Outstanding Achievement Recognition (SOAR) celebration Wednesday night, March 29, 2023, in Nashville.

In addition to individual SOAR award winners, Walters State Community College won the Community College of the Year award – for the second consecutive year – and the Tennessee College of Applied Technology Morristown took home the Technical College of the Year honors. Walters State President Tony Miksa and TCAT Morristown President Susanne Cox accepted the awards on behalf of their entire campus communities.

Other finalists for Community College of the Year were Columbia State Community College and Motlow State Community College. Other finalists for Technical College of the Year were TCAT Murfreesboro and TCAT Shelbyville.

The College System, governed by the Tennessee Board of Regents, is the state’s public community and technical colleges. Launched in 2019, SOAR celebrates the colleges’ outstanding students, faculty, staff, colleges, advisors, benefactors, volunteers and partners.

After weeks of college- and regional-level judging that produced 18 finalists – and final interviews and judging this week – the 2023 individual award winners announced at the SOAR Awards Dinner are:


Community College Student of the Year: Elaine Scott, a Psychology student at Jackson State Community College who plans to pursue a Ph.D. in psychology with a focus on cognitive neuroscience, then work as an educator and researcher.

Finalists: Erin Russell, Soil Science student at Pellissippi State Community College, and Sara Thaher, Business Management student at Nashville State Community College

Technical College Student of the Year: Paige Isbell, a Farming Operations Technology student at TCAT Crump, who plans to work as a veterinary assistant at a veterinary clinic for large and small animals after graduation.

Finalists: Robynn Hollis, Practical Nursing student at TCAT Dickson, and Brian “Denzell” Lowery, Industrial Electricity student at TCAT Chattanooga

Community College Faculty Member of the Year: Dr. Liz Mayo, Professor of English Composition and Literature, and Gender Studies at Jackson State Community College

Finalists: Amanda Carr-Wilcoxson, Associate Professor of Western, World, U.S. & Tennessee History at Pellissippi State Community College, and Virginia Massey-Holt, Associate Professor of Nursing at Columbia State Community College

Technical College Faculty Member of the Year: Janaria McIntosh, Master Barber Instructor at TCAT Chattanooga

Finalists: Susan Gates, Practical Nursing Instructor at TCAT Murfreesboro, and Keesha Klinck, Administrative Office Technology Instructor at TCAT Crump

Community College Staff Member of the Year: Dale Grisso, Financial Literacy Manager at Chattanooga State Community College

Finalists: Matthew Lexow, Associate Dean for the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence at Southwest Tennessee Community College, and Freda Pillow, Career Pathway & Completion Specialist at Columbia State Community College

Technical College Staff Member of the Year: Sayde Potts, Partnership in Agricultural Education Coordinator at TCAT Crump

Finalists: Shasta Carroll, Student Services Coordinator at TCAT Hohenwald, and Kim Kidd, Admissions & Records Lead Worker at TCAT Oneida 

College Advisor of the Year, recognizing overall excellence in student advising at a TBR community or technical college: Pamela Bigham, Student Services Coordinator at TCAT Dickson

Art Contest Awards: First Place - Loren Hatcher, Nashville State Community College, Second Place – Eric Dawson, Nashville State Community College, Third Place – Isaac Marquez, Nashville State Community College.

Other 2022 SOAR Awards presented were:

Philanthropy Award: the Gene Haas Foundation

Volunteer Award: Susan Rhodes, Chair of the Foundation for the College System of Tennessee, former director of The Ayers Foundation and founder of ROW Strategies.

Partnership Awards:

Roane State Community College & UCOR, United Cleanup Oak Ridge

TCAT Knoxville and Alcoa City Schools

Each of the award winners received a SOAR trophy. All finalists received plaques at the Finalists Dinner Tuesday night commemorating their achievements. Walters State and TCAT Morristown took home engraved College Cups signifying their 2023 College of the Year awards. The student winners also are awarded SOAR Scholarships and the student finalists are awarded scholarships through the Dr. Allana Hamilton Memorial Scholarship Fund, named in honor of the late TBR Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs.

“It’s an honor to celebrate each of Tennessee’s outstanding students, faculty, staff at community colleges and TCATs across our  state. Our community colleges and TCATs offer a variety of life-changing opportunities for Tennesseans. And these finalists stood out as leaders who have excelled in their communities. Congratulations on this honor and thank you all for your hard work and excellence,” Gov. Bill Lee said in video presented at the dinner.  

Board of Regents Vice Chair Emily J. Reynolds, who presented the Student of the Year Awards, said students “come to our colleges with a thirst for knowledge and leave prepared to enter the workforce in a job vital to our state or to continue your education. Tonight, we celebrate our outstanding students who have persevered through challenges, through loss, and through adversity to follow their dreams and reach their college and career goals.”

TBR Chancellor Flora W. Tydings welcomed all finalists from across the state and congratulated them for their achievements. “We come together this evening to celebrate the best students, faculty and staff and many others who go above and beyond to support what I believe is one of the best higher education systems in the country. Students, you inspire us with your strength, perseverance and dedication to enrich not only your own lives but the lives of your families.”

Tydings also recognized the 39 members of our campus communities who were honored in November with the Chancellor’s Commendation for Military Veterans, all of whom were invited to attend.

More than 500 students, faculty, staff, supporters, state legislators and officials, and other guests of the colleges participated the two-day 2023 SOAR events, which included a Finalists Dinner Tuesday; Student Honors Luncheon Wednesday, recognizing Phi Theta Kappa and National Technical Honor Society students; TBR Day on the Hill, in which students and presidents visit with legislators and officials in the State Capitol and legislative office buildings; and the SOAR dinner.

SOAR is made possible by the following benefactors: Presenting Sponsor Ayers Foundation, Event Sponsors Amazon and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee, and AT&T, Barber McMurry Architects, Bell Construction, , D2L, Follett, Hip Hues, Hoar Construction, IMC Companies, Learning Labs Inc., Milek Media, Morning Pointe Senior Living, National Association of Community College Entrepreneurship, Orcutt Winslow Architects, SCORE, Stowers Machinery, William and Pam Summons, Trane.


The College System of Tennessee is the state’s largest public higher education system, with 13 community colleges, 27 colleges of applied technology and the online TN eCampus serving approximately 140,000 students. The system is governed by the Tennessee Board of Regents.


Richard Locker 615-366-4417 Published: 03/30/2023 Follow on twitter @CollegeSystemTN