College System honors its Outstanding Students, Faculty & Staff Members, & Colleges in second annual SOAR Awards


The College System of Tennessee honored six outstanding students, faculty and staff members and two colleges of the year in its second annual Statewide Outstanding Achievement Recognition (SOAR) Awards during the Tennessee Board of Regents quarterly meeting Tuesday, April 7.

The six individual SOAR Award winners are from Motlow State and Nashville State community colleges, and Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCATs) at Elizabethton, Knoxville and Paris.

Roane State Community College and TCAT Hohenwald took home the SOAR Community College and TCAT College of the Year trophies. The award recognizes colleges that demonstrated a sustained commitment to and proactive advancement of the causes of student success and workforce development.

And the first Partnership of the Year SOAR Award goes to TCATs Jacksboro and Oneida/Huntsville for a partnership they established, along with Somerset Community College in neighboring Kentucky, to address workforce needs in eight economically distressed counties. The award recognizes colleges that have collaborated on a new and innovative initiative to solve a regional or local problem.

The individual 2020 SOAR Award winners:

  • Student of the Year, Community College: Dominic Marcoaldi, a Nashville State Community College student expected to earn an Associate of Arts degree in English this summer. He plans to continue in a teacher training program to become an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher, and later hopes to pursue a degree in philosophy. He is one of many students who returned to college through the Tennessee Reconnect program, which provides community college free of tuition for adults without degrees.
  • Student of the Year, TCAT: Ryan Olivia Cross, a December graduate of the Licensed Practical Nursing program at TCAT Paris who is now a nurse at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, in Nashville. She plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing for a career serving as a pediatric nurse.
  • Faculty Member of the Year, Community College: Kathleen McAdams, Assistant Professor of Biology at Nashville State. McAdams chose to work at a community college because they serve all students and said she appreciates the daily opportunity to influence the lives of both traditional and non-traditional students in an environment that is affordable and offers one-on-one attention. “Ultimately, by teaching at a community college, I am given the feeling that I am changing the world in a small way, one student at a time, every single day,” she said.
  • Faculty Member of the Year, TCAT: Mike Sledzinski, Senior Instructor in Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration at TCAT Knoxville. Before earning his bachelor’s degree, he graduated from TCAT Knoxville, an experience that he said benefits his students. “I love the challenge of transforming a student who has been academically marginalized their whole life. I show them that I am also a stakeholder in their success and I will not leave them behind,” he said.
  • Staff Member of the Year, Community College: Sharon Edwards, Branch Librarian at Motlow State Community College. Edwards said she loves finding information for students, faculty and others, helping them learn to find it themselves, instructing users with technical or digital issues, and creating innovative programs in which library patrons participate. She has also discovered the joy of helping students change their lives in a few semesters and watching them graduate. “Libraries are vibrant community places where collaboration is encouraged, makerspaces buzz with technical activity, digital literacy is taught at all user levels, and democracy itself lives in the free and open access of information, spaces, and services,” she said.
  • Staff Member of the Year, TCAT: John Lee, Industry Training Coordinator at TCAT Elizabethton. “Coming from a family of educators,” Lee said, “there is no greater reward than seeing a student succeed and create a better life for themselves. This is why I entered education and why I am proud to be a part of the College System…to see the student light up when they begin to learn new things and to see how what they are learning will make them successful in society.”

The Tennessee Board of Regents, which governs the 13 public community colleges and 27 colleges of applied technology comprising the College System of Tennessee, established the SOAR Awards program last year to recognize and honor the outstanding students, faculty and staff members at its colleges, as well as the major accomplishments of the colleges.

Each college nominated a student, faculty member and staff member for the individual SOAR awards. The college nominees participated in regional judging in East, Middle and West Tennessee. A total of 18 regional finalists – six students, six faculty and six staff members – advanced to the state level. A panel of judges conducted virtual interviews of the 18 finalists late last month to select the Outstanding Students, Faculty and Staff Members of the Year.

“Our system’s mission – and the mission of each of our colleges – is the success of all our students and the development of Tennessee’s workforce,” said TBR Chancellor Flora W. Tydings. “Our graduates power Tennessee’s economy. It’s appropriate that we recognize the outstanding students – and the outstanding faculty and staff members on our campuses who work with students every day to help them succeed.”

The Board plans to honor the SOAR Award recipients during a luncheon later in the year. Today’s Board meeting was held by conference call due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A video compilation highlighting each SOAR Award recipient and the two College of the Year presidents is posted and archived on the College System’s website at

“Congratulations to our SOAR Award winners and we look forward to celebrating them in person in the not-too-distant future,” Board of Regents Vice Chair Emily Reynolds said.

The chancellor selected the colleges of the year, based on the award's criteria and their major accomplishments for students and the communities they serve.

Roane State Community College, led by President Chris Whaley, has attained distinction for its success-coaching model, which provides every entering student a single faculty or staff member on their local campus to assist them with academic, financial aid, career advisement and other matters during the first academic year. This singular focus on student success extends to the classroom with the college’s initiation of the Learning in Action project, in which faculty are integrating active and collaborative teaching to help students engage more deeply with their coursework and generate a sense of belonging.  Roane State has also implemented a Middle College model that has enabled almost 160 high school students in six area school systems to attain an associate’s degree concurrent with their high school graduation.

TCAT Hohenwald, led by President Kelli Kea-Carroll, kicked off 2020 with a visit by Gov. Bill Lee to announce a $1 million Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education (GIVE) Grant to the college, which will expand technical educational opportunities across its region. Like its counterparts across the state, the college is student-centered: its SkillsUSA chapter is a designated Chapter of Excellence whose students frequently win state and national SkillsUSA competitions; the college created a  Veteran’s Wall of Service to honor students and family members who served or are serving in the military, and with the move to online studies for the COVID-19 pandemic, it created a student laptop loaner program with grant funds. It has an active scholarship program recognizing student achievement and helping students complete their studies. The college is also community focused: it was named 2019 Business of the Year by the Hohenwald/Lewis County Chamber of Commerce for its work with industry and community, and was recognized for outstanding community development in Wayne County.

The partnership of TCATs Jacksboro and Oneida/Huntsville and the Kentucky college won a $1.5 million Appalachian Regional Commission grant – plus other federal, state and local funding for a total of nearly $2 million – to expand and enhance career and technical education for high school students and adults in their area. Part of the funding will put technical training equipment in ten high schools and will provide new dual credit and dual enrollment opportunities for the CTE programs in these schools.

Each of the individual award winners receives a SOAR trophy and cash award. The two colleges will be presented the distinctive College Cup to keep on their campuses. All 18 finalists for the individual awards received SOAR Finalist plaques in recognition of their achievements.

The other 12 finalists are:


  • Katrina Griffin, University Transfer major at Chattanooga State Community College
  • Benjamin Jayne, Automation Maintenance Technician program at TCAT Shelbyville
  • Shad Simms, Electrical and Instrumentation Technician program at TCAT Athens
  • Dana Lynn Warwick, Paralegal Studies and Political Science major at Southwest Tennessee Community College


  • Victoria Bryan, Honors Program Director and Associate Professor of English at Cleveland State Community College
  • Steve Mallard, Information Technology and Infrastructure Management Master Teacher at TCAT Shelbyville
  • Mary Frances Wadley, Associate Professor of Spanish and English at Jackson State Community College
  • Rebekah White-Williams, Technical Foundation Instructor at TCAT Jackson


  • Leslie Martin, Student Services Coordinator at TCAT Shelbyville
  • Katrina Muldrow, Academic Administrative Services Director at Southwest Tennessee Community College
  • Susan Webb-Curtis, Dean of Business and Healthcare at Cleveland State Community College
  • Cassandra Williams, Testing Center Coordinator at TCAT Memphis


SOAR would not be possible without the support of the College System’s partners in sponsoring the event, including:

Event Sponsors 

  • The Ayers Foundation
  • BlueCross BlueShield Tennessee

Education Champions 

  • AT&T Tennessee
  • Denark Construction
  • Staples

College Champions 

  • First Horizon
  • Follett Higher Education Group
  • Orcutt | Winslow

Friends of TBR 

  • AllianceBernstein
  • Armistead Group
  • BarberMcMurry Architects
  • Bill and Pam Summons
  • Milek Media
  • WellVia

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.