College System to honor outstanding students, faculty, staff at first Statewide Outstanding Achievement Recognition (SOAR) March 19-20


The College System of Tennessee will honor its outstanding students, faculty and campus staff – and the College of the Year – during its first Statewide Outstanding Achievement Recognition (SOAR) celebration March 19-20 in Nashville.

The two days of activities will include judging and a dinner for finalists in each of the SOAR Award individual categories; a Student Honors Luncheon honoring members of the Phi Theta Kappa All-Tennessee Academic Team and the National Technical Honor Society, and the annual Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) Day on the Hill. 

It will culminate Wednesday evening, March 20, with the SOAR Awards Dinner, when the Students, Faculty and Staff Members of the Year award winners and the College of the Year will be announced. Philanthropy and volunteer awards will also be presented.

“The mission of our College System and each of our community and technical colleges is the success of all our students and the development of Tennessee’s workforce. It’s appropriate that we recognize the outstanding students – and the outstanding faculty and staff members on our campuses who work with students daily to help them succeed,” said TBR Chancellor Flora W. Tydings.

The SOAR Awards Dinner will be held from 7 to 9:30 p.m. March 20 at the DoubleTree Hotel Downtown Nashville. Nikki Burdine, co-anchor of WKRN-TV’s Good Morning Nashville, will serve as master of ceremonies, and Tennessee Higher Education Commission Executive Director Mike Krause – a member of the Board of Regents – is the keynote speaker.

College of the Year finalists are Cleveland State Community College, Pellissippi State Community College and the Tennessee College of Applied Technology at Elizabethton. They were selected through a review of institutional data on three key metrics: performance improvement, overcoming obstacles and program expansion.

Eighteen finalists for the individual awards advanced through college- and regional-level competitions in East, Middle and West Tennessee to reach next Tuesday’s final interviews with a panel of judges. One winner in each the three categories for the Community Colleges and for the Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCATs) – for a total of six individual award winners – will be announced at the awards dinner Wednesday evening.

Finalists for the individual awards are:

Community College Student of the Year/Program of Study:

  • James Fry, Chattanooga State Community College, History
  • Elizabeth Claire Mason, Motlow State Community College, General Studies/Biology
  • Celeste Riley, Southwest Tennessee Community College, Education

TCAT Student of the Year/Program of Study:

  • Hannah Bland, TCAT Newbern, Cosmetology
  • Dawn Varney, TCAT Shelbyville, Industrial Electricity
  • Tiffany Nicole Wingo, TCAT Chattanooga, Medical Assisting

Community College Faculty Member of the Year/Teaching Subject:

  • Cynthia Abadie, Southwest Tennessee Community College, Economics
  • Tera Howerton, Walters State Community College, Agriculture
  • Girija Shinde, Volunteer State Community College, Biology Human Anatomy & Physiology

TCAT Faculty Member of the Year/Teaching Subject:

  • William Durden, TCAT Memphis, Automotive Technology
  • Rebecca Russell, TCAT Knoxville, Cosmetology
  • Shera Wilson, TCAT Murfreesboro, Surgical Technology

Community College Staff Member of the Year/Title:

  • John Adcox, Northeast State Community College, Veterans Affairs Specialist/School Certifying Official
  • Sherry Baker, Dyersburg State Community College, Mental Health Counselor/ADA Coordinator
  • Jonathan Graham, Motlow State Community College, Tennessee Promise Director

TCAT Staff Member of the Year/Title:

  • Chris Edmonds, TCAT Morristown, Business & Industry Coordinator
  • Amy Stephens, TCAT Ripley, Academic & Student Support Associate
  • Laura Travis, TCAT Dickson, Academic Affairs/Health Careers Coordinator

All finalists will be interviewed by panels of judges on March 19, make a group visit to the new Tennessee State Museum in the afternoon and be recognized at the SOAR Finalists Dinner that evening.

March 20 activities include:

  • TBR Day on the Hill: Tours of the State Capitol and Cordell Hull Building, visits to legislative committees and meetings with state legislators by SOAR finalists, Tennessee SkillsUSA officers, student government presidents and TBR college presidents, all day.
  • Student Honors Luncheon: Recognizing Phi Theta Kappa (national honorary society for community college students) All-Tennessee Academic Team members and National Technical Honor Society students from TCATs, with SOAR finalists as guests, 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m., DoubleTree Hotel, Cumberland Ballroom.
  • SOAR Awards Dinner: Students, Faculty Members and Staff Members of the Year and College of the Year recognized and announced, 7 – 9:30 p.m., DoubleTree Hotel, Cumberland Ballroom.

Major sponsors for the events include The Ayers Foundation, The Armistead Group, AT&T, BarberMcMurry Architects, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, CMT, Dollar General, Emsi, First Tennessee Bank, Follett, Greenwood Asher & Associates, Orcutt | Winslow, and Pilot Flying J.

The College System of Tennessee is the state’s largest public higher education system, with 13 community colleges, 24 colleges of applied technology and the online TN eCampus serving approximately 140,000 students. The system is governed by the Tennessee Board of Regents.