Fourth Annual SOAR Awards go to outstanding students, faculty, staff & supporters. Walters State Community College & TCAT Elizabethton take home College of the Year honors

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The College System of Tennessee honored its outstanding students, faculty, staff and supporters of the year at the 4th annual Statewide Outstanding Achievement Awards (SOAR) celebration Wednesday night, March 30, in Nashville.

In addition to individual SOAR award winners, Walters State Community College won the Community College of the Year cup and the Tennessee College of Applied Technology Elizabethton took home the Technical College of the Year honors.

Walters State President Tony Miksa & College of the Year Cup.  Chancellor Flora Tydings & TCAT Elizabethton President Dean Blevins

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

After weeks of college- and regional-level judging that produced 18 finalists – and a final day of interviews and judging Tuesday – the 2022 individual award winners announced at the SOAR Awards Dinner are:

SOAR Students of the Year 2022
  • Community College Student of the Year: Zennia Nesmith, a psychology major pursuing an Associate of Science degree at Chattanooga State Community College

Finalists: Mitchell Grimm, Southwest Tennessee Community College, and Kearra Weiting, Nashville State Community College

  • College of Applied Technology Student of the Year: Clifton Alex Floyd, an information technology student at TCAT Shelbyville

Finalists: Amber Ray, TCAT Oneida, and Stephen Segerson, TCAT Crump


SOAR Faculty Members of the Year 2022
  • Community College Faculty Member of the Year: Dr. Elvira Eivazova, associate professor of biology at Columbia State Community College

Finalists: Raquel Adams, Southwest Tennessee Community College, and Denise Penzkofer, Pellissippi State Community College

  • College of Applied Technology Faculty Member of the Year: James Cochrane, information technology and infrastructure management instructor at TCAT Shelbyville

Finalists: Brent Cherry, TCAT Crump, and Lynn Rimmer, TCAT Knoxville


SOAR Staff Members of the Year 2022
  • Community College Staff Member of the Year: Rob Keel, human resources analyst at Motlow State Community College

Finalists: Drema Bowers, Pellissippi State Community College, and Jennifer Townes, Southwest Tennessee Community College

  • College of Applied Technology Staff Member of the Year: Karen Larsen, curriculum and compliance coordinator at TCAT Jackson

Finalists: Cathleen Clark, TCAT Dickson, and Tim Smith, TCAT Jacksboro



  • Advisor of the Year, recognizing overall excellence in student advising at a TBR community or technical college: Pedro Martinez, an advisor/counselor for 11 years at Volunteer State Community College

Finalists: Mary Jo Johnson, Motlow State Community College, and Eric Morgan, Nashville State Community College

Each of the award winners received a SOAR trophy. All finalists received plaques at a Finalists Dinner Tuesday night commemorating their achievements. Walters State and TCAT Elizabethton took home engraved College Cups signifying their 2022 College of the Year awards.

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. Whatever path you choose, we love the fact that you often come back to your communities as future leaders.”

TBR Chancellor Flora W. Tydings welcomed all finalists from across the state and congratulated them for their achievements. “You are why we are gathered here tonight. Students are why we exist, why we do what we do every day,” she said. “I’m proud to be part of a public higher education system that is open to everyone who wants to study, work hard and learn. Whether your goal is to train for a career in a year or to continue your studies at a university, we are here for to help you achieve your dream.”

In a recorded video, Gov. Bill Lee offered his congratulations to all. “It’s an honor to celebrate each of Tennessee’s outstanding students, staff and faculty at community colleges and colleges of applied technology all across the state. Our community colleges and TCATs offer a variety of opportunities for Tennesseans and each of these finalists have stood out as leaders who have excelled in their communities. Thank you for all your dedication and congratulations.”

Other 2022 SOAR Awards presented were:

  • Volunteer of the Year: Regent Danni Varlan, recognized for her 12 years of service as a member of the Board of Regents representing the 2nd Congressional District, and as a mentor, fund raiser, board member of the Foundation of the College System of Tennessee, and for her work at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital
  • Benefactor of the Year: FedEx, recognized for its many contributions to and support of the system and its colleges, including aviation maintenance and aircraft mechanics technology students and programs. FedEx employees also contribute their time and expertise by serving on college advisory boards and the board for the Foundation of the College System of Tennessee.
  • Partnership AwardRoane State Community College, Materials and Chemistry Laboratory Inc. of Oak Ridge and President and CEO Barry Stephenson and his wife Lucy Stephenson, for many years of work with and support of Roane State Community College, including creation of the college’s innovative “Labin-a-Box” program that provides STEM kits and lesson plans to local classrooms.

More than 300 students, faculty, staff, supporters, state legislators and other guests attended the SOAR Awards Dinner, presented by The Ayers Foundation, at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Nashville Downtown.

Special guests included former Governor Winfield Dunn, who in 1972 signed into law the legislation creating the Tennessee Board of Regents system, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Other special guests included former TBR Chancellors Roy Nicks and David Gregory, and board members of the Foundation for the College System of Tennessee.

SOAR is made possible by the following benefactors:

Presenting Sponsor: The Ayers Foundation

Hospitality Sponsor: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee

SOAR Finalists Dinner Sponsor: D2L

Education Champions: AT&T Tennessee, Denark Construction, Follet

College Champions: BarberMcMurry Architects, HIP Hues, Milek Media, Orcutt | Winslow Architects

Friends of TBR: AllianceBernstein

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.