College System of Tennessee honors its Outstanding Students, Faculty, Staff, Colleges and more in third annual SOAR Awards

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The College System of Tennessee honored the outstanding students, faculty and staff members, two colleges of the year and the philanthropists, volunteers and partners who support them in the system’s third annual Statewide Outstanding Achievement Recognition (SOAR) Awards ceremony today.

The six individual SOAR Award winners are from Chattanooga State, Southwest Tennessee and Walters State Community Colleges and the Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology at Oneida, Pulaski and Shelbyville.

Columbia State Community College and TCAT Shelbyville were named the Community and Technical Colleges of the Year respectively.  


The individual SOAR Award winners for 2020-21 are:

Students of the Year

  • Community College: Deborah Carol Hale, a pre-K education major, Chattanooga State Community College.
  • Technical College: Brian Shanley, a collision repair major, TCAT Oneida-Huntsville.

Faculty Members of the Year

  • Community College: Candace Justice, director of instructional design and associate professor of English, Walters State Community College.
  • Technical College: Jennifer Wright, technology foundations instructor, TCAT Shelbyville.

Staff Members of the Year

  • Community College: L. Angela Webb, director of police services and public safety at Southwest Tennessee Community College.
  • Technical College: Rob Alford, special industry training coordinator, TCAT Pulaski.

The Tennessee Board of Regents established the SOAR Awards in 2019 to recognize and honor the outstanding students, faculty and staff members; the major accomplishments of the colleges, and the philanthropists, volunteers and partners who support them.

Each of the system’s 40 colleges nominates a student, faculty member and staff member for the individual SOAR awards. The nominees participate in regional judging among their community or technical college sector in East, Middle and West Tennessee. A total of 18 regional finalists – six students, six faculty and six staff members – advance to the state level. A panel of judges conducted virtual interviews with the 18 finalists to select the Outstanding Students, Faculty and Staff Members of the Year for community colleges and technical colleges.

The College System also honored:

  • Janet and Jim Ayers and The Ayers Foundation, with the SOAR Award for Philanthropy – for their many programs for students and partnerships with our colleges that help students attend college and earn their degrees and certificates.
  • Regina Sullivan, manager of external affairs at AT&T Tennessee, with the SOAR Volunteer of the Year Award – for her indefatigable work with other AT&T employees who partnered with our community colleges to perform volunteer service with community organizations. Through AT&T and the Foundation for the College System of Tennessee, each of our 13 community colleges also received a $5,000 gift for their student assistance/emergency funds.
  • Nashville State Community College’s Nashville GRAD program – a partnership among the college, the Metropolitan Nashville-Davidson County Mayor’s Office, Metro Government and several private sector partners – with the SOAR Partnership Award. Launched in Fall 2019, Nashville GRAD (Getting Results by Advancing Degrees) provides Nashville students personalized academic and career advising and financial support beyond tuition and fees.

This year’s SOAR Awards ceremony was conducted virtually due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The video is posted on the College System’s website at

The other 12 Finalists for the individual awards, who will be awarded Finalist plaques, were:


  • Shannon Crowder, a general studies major at Southwest Tennessee Community College.
  • Zachery Galloway, a mechanical engineering major at Nashville State Community College.
  • Allison Hobbs, a medical assistant student at TCAT Whiteville.
  • Jensen Hutcheson, a medical assistant student at TCAT Pulaski.


  • Myles Cook, a criminal justice/corrections instructor at TCAT Elizabethton.
  • Roger D. James, an engineering systems professor at Jackson State Community College.
  • Curtis McLemore, a machine tool technology instructor at TCAT Covington.
  • Donna Whitehouse, an occupational therapy professor at Nashville State Community College.


  • Terry M. Crowe Jr., chief of police at Pellissippi State Community College.
  • Ashlee Henderson, student support specialist and adult education program coordinator at TCAT Ripley.
  • Brenda Lamb, a student affairs liaison at TCAT Morristown.
  • Christa Martin, assistant to the president for access and diversity at Columbia State Community College.

Participating remotely, Gov. Bill Lee said:  “The SOAR Awards recognize outstanding students and faculty and staff and philanthropists and volunteers at Tennessee’s community colleges and colleges of applied technology. Whether you’re a traditional student, an adult learner, or a veteran acquiring new training for today’s job market, our community and technical colleges offer a variety of opportunities for Tennesseans.

“Congratulations to the finalists for this year’s awards and thank you for your commitment to Tennessee students and their success. Today I celebrate with you and congratulate you in these wonderful accomplishments,” the governor, who is also chair of the Board of Regents, said.

TBR Chancellor Flora W. Tydings said the selection of the Colleges of the Year was especially difficult this year because all rose to meet the challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic and the needs of their students during the past year. “While we have faced unprecedented challenges, our faculty, staff and students have persevered throughout it all and continue to achieve. Students, you are the reason we are here. Whether your goal is to train for a career in a year or to continue your studies at a university, we’re here to help you achieve your dream.”

In accepting the Community College of the Year Award, Columbia State President Janet Smith said, “On behalf of Columbia State, we are deeply honored. I think every community college across the state deserves this award. We have had such a challenging year, so to be selected from among our group of sister colleges is more than an honor; it is something we are extremely proud of.

“I can’t say enough about the faculty and staff of Columbia State. We have five campuses and this staff and faculty work as a team, caring about students, finding new ways to work with the students and obtain successes for them, regardless of where that student comes from, what their background is and what they walk in the door with, from academic skills or social skills,” Dr. Smith said.

Accepting the Technical College of the Year Award, TCAT Shelbyville President Laura Monks said, “This is an honor for TCAT Shelbyville, our students, our staff and our outstanding faculty, who all have a passion for student success every day and every night. We have people here until 10 o’clock at night. We were the first vocational technical school established, in 1964. We serve the counties of Bedford, Coffee, Franklin, Lincoln, Marshall and Moore. We truly believe every day that we’re the best and it’s evident in every program that we offer.”

Board of Regents Vice Chair Emily J. Reynolds said, “As I watched the great montage of our finalists, I’m reminded of what our community colleges, our colleges of applied technology and our community partners are all about – and that’s the success of our students. Together, we make Tennessee an even better place to live, work and raise a family.”

The SOAR ceremony also honored the 36 members of the Phi Theta Kappa All-Tennessee Academic Team and the 20 Outstanding National Technical Honor Society members. PTK is the national honor society for community college students and NTHS is the equivalent for students in technical programs. Those students are listed here:

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

  • AllianceBernstein
  • AT&T Tennessee
  • The Ayers Foundation
  • BarberMcMurry Architects
  • BlueCross BlueShield Tennessee
  • Denark Construction
  • First Horizon
  • Follett Higher Education Group
  • Milek Media
  • Orcutt | Winslow
  • Staples  
  • Bill and Pam Summons
  • WellVia

View the SOAR Awards ceremony here:

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.