Sixth Annual SOAR Awards honor outstanding students, faculty, staff & supporters of Tennessee’s community & technical colleges. Northeast State Community College & TCAT Northwest honored as Colleges of the Year

SOAR 2024 Awards

The Tennessee Board of Regents honored the outstanding students, faculty, staff, philanthropists, volunteers and partners of the year of its community and technical colleges in the Sixth Annual Statewide Outstanding Achievement Recognition (SOAR) celebration Thursday night, March 28, in Nashville.

In addition to individual SOAR award winners, Northeast State Community College was named Community College of the Year and Tennessee College of Applied Technology Northwest took home the Technical College of the Year award. TBR Chancellor Flora W. Tydings presented the trophies to Northeast President Jeff McCord and TCAT Northwest President Youlanda Jones, who accepted on behalf of their entire campus communities.

Other finalists were Roane State and Walters State community colleges, and TCATs Hohenwald, McMinnville and Murfreesboro.

After weeks of college- and regional-level judging that produced 18 finalists for student, faculty and staff members of the year – and final interviews and judging this week – the 2024 individual award winners announced at the SOAR Awards Dinner are:

Community College Student of the Year: Jaxen Waggoner, a secondary education in English student at Motlow State Community College.

Finalists: Troy Holt, psychology student at Roane State Community College, and Alexis Smith, business student at Dyersburg State Community College.

Technical College Student of the Year: Amanda Sovago-Royal, massage therapy student at TCAT Chattanooga.

Finalists: Layah Garton, diesel technology student at TCAT Nashville, and Brittany Merriweather Thomas, computer-aided design technology student TCAT Memphis.

Community College Faculty Member of the Year: Gregory S. Johnson, emergency medical services (EMS) program director and professor at Columbia State Community College.

Finalists: Chef Steven G. Leake, culinary arts and hospitality management program director and instructor at Southwest Tennessee Community College, and Dr. Erika Stevens, professor of Spanish and humanities at Walters State Community College.

Technical College Faculty Member of the Year: Lexy Baker, dental assisting instructor at TCAT Nashville.

Finalists: Jeff Brake, truck driving instructor at TCAT Crump, and Kimberly Brewer, cosmetology instructor at TCAT Morristown.

Community College Staff Member of the Year: Cathi Roberts, work-based learning coordinator at Jackson State Community College.

Finalists: Jonathan Graham, Tennessee Promise program manager at Motlow State Community College, and Shelby McKenzie, director of high school programs at Northeast State Community College.

Technical College Staff Member of the Year: Lewis Wohlman, correctional programs coordinator at TCAT Oneida/Huntsville. 

Finalists: Adam Brasher, facilities support associate at TCAT Crump, and Barry Owens II, student services coordinator at TCAT Murfreesboro.

Advisor of the Year: Kathy Coleman, dean of advising and retention student advisor at Northeast State Community College. 

Student Art Contest: First Place – Brooke Grisham, Volunteer State Community College, for a gouache panting Nature's Call. Second Place – Brylee Bruner, Walters State Community College, for a graphite on paper drawing Comfort in Growing. Third Place – Carrie Robinson, Southwest Tennessee Community College, for a painting Autumn in Cades Cove. This year’s theme was “Celebrating Tennessee’s Heritage.”

View the SOAR Student Art Gallery here.

Other 2024 SOAR Awards:

  • Philanthropy Award: Collision Repair Education Foundation, which worked with Audi of America and Volkswagen Group of America to donate vehicles and other contributions to collision repair and other automotive repair training programs at several TCATs.
  • Partnership Award: the Gleghorn-Dempsey families, the Bank of Lincoln County and Motlow State Community College, for a multi-generational commitment to the Fayetteville-Lincoln County community, including a grassroots effort to raise funds for a Motlow State campus in Fayetteville.
  • Volunteer Award: Erik Clinite, managing partner and chief financial officer at Orcutt Winslow, an inaugural member and current chair of the Board of the Foundation for the College System of Tennessee.
  • Soaring Eagle Award: TBR Facilities Development staff, led by Executive Director Dick Tracy, for its dedication to overseeing an historic $1 billion in upgrades to the technical college system.

The student winners and finalists are awarded scholarships through the College System’s Foundation and the Dr. Allana Hamilton Memorial Scholarship Fund, named in honor of the late TBR vice chancellor for academic affairs. 

In a video appearance at the dinner, Gov. Bill Lee said, “It is an honor to celebrate each of Tennessee’s outstanding students, faculty and staff at our state’s community colleges and TCATS, as well as their benefactors, community partners and volunteers. From skilled trades to nursing, business and so much more – our community colleges and our TCATs offer a variety of life-changing programs that provide greater opportunities for Tennesseans all across our state. Congratulations to the finalists, and thank you for your hard work and dedication.”

In presenting the student awards, Board of Regents Vice Chair Emily J. Reynolds said, "Tonight’s nominees for students of the year truly exemplify the spirit of Tennessee. All six of the nominees can go anywhere and do anything. We want your world to be big – but we also want you to stay right here and be part of Tennessee’s bright future. We are counting on each and every one of you, our students across this system, to take this state to the next level and we have every confidence in your ability to do so.”

Chancellor Tydings congratulated all SOAR participants 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.

She also recognized the 37 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. 

Nearly 500 students, faculty, staff, supporters, state legislators and officials, and other guests of the colleges participated the two-day 2024 SOAR events, which also included a Student Honors Luncheon recognizing Phi Theta Kappa and National Technical Honor Society students; TBR Day on the Hill, in which students and presidents visited with legislators and officials in the State Capitol; and the SOAR dinner.

SOAR is made possible by the following benefactors:

Presenting Sponsor: Ayers Foundation

Event Sponsors: Amazon and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee

AT&T, Barber McMurry Architects, D2L, Hip Hues, Hoar Construction, IMC Companies, Learning Labs Inc., Milek Media, Morning Pointe Senior Living, Orcutt Winslow Architects, Orion Building Corporation, SCORE Tennessee, and Stowers Machinery.

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.