Stories @ TCAT

NASHVILLE (April 7, 2020) – 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.

The six individual SOAR Award winners represent 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. They were selected for their outstanding accomplishments during the past year.

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 four economically distressed Tennessee counties and four in Kentucky.

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. Marcoaldi plans to then pursue a bachelor’s degree and become an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher. 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, who just graduated from the Licensed Practical Nursing program at TCAT Paris and is now working at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, in Nashville. She plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing and work as a pediatric nurse.
  • Faculty Member of the Year, Community College: Kathleen McAdams, assistant professor of biology at Nashville State. McAdams said she chose to work at a community college because they serve all students, and added that 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.
  • Faculty Member of the Year, TCAT: Mike Sledzinski, senior instructor in heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration (HVAC/R) at TCAT Knoxville, which he also attended as a student before earning a bachelor’s degree. He said he loves the challenge of transforming students who may have been previously marginalized academically and to show them that he is also a stakeholder in their success.
  • 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 innovating programs in which library patrons participate. She has also discovered the added benefits of helping students change their lives in a few semesters and the opportunity to watch them graduate.
  • Staff Member of the Year, TCAT: John Lee, industry training coordinator at TCAT Elizabethton. Coming from a family of educators, he says there is no greater reward than seeing students succeed and create better lives for themselves.

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 in the system 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 interviews of the 18 finalists 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. 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,” said TBR Chancellor Flora W. Tydings.

The chancellor selected the colleges of the year, based on their major accomplishments for students and the communities they serve during the last year.

Roane State Community College, led by President Chris Whaley, has attained distinction for its success-coaching model, which provides every entering student with a single faculty or staff member on their local campus to assist 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 Gov. Bill Lee visiting to announce a $1 million Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education (GIVE) Grant, which will expand technical educational opportunities and program offerings to students. Like its counterparts across the state, the college is student-centered, regularly producing program completion, job placement and licensure rates above recommend benchmarks. Its SkillsUSA chapter is a designated Chapter of Excellence whose students frequently win medals at 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. With the move to online studies during the COVID-19 pandemic, it created a student laptop loaner program with grant funds, and 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.

Each of the individual award winners receives a SOAR trophy, and 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.

A video compilation highlighting each individual SOAR Award recipient and the two college presidents will be posted and archived on the College System’s website at, at the conclusion of the Board meeting.

The Board plans to honor the SOAR Award recipients in person later in the year. Today’s Board meeting was held by conference call due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The second SOAR Conference, including a Finalists Dinner and Awards Dinner and the College System’s Day on the Hill, was originally scheduled for March 24-25 in Downtown Nashville but was cancelled due to the pandemic.

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 the area.. 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.     

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

Event Sponsors 
The Ayers Foundation and BlueCross BlueShield Tennessee

Education Champion 
AT&T Tennessee, Denark Construction, and Staples

College Champion 
First Horizon, Follett Higher Education Group, and Orcutt | Winslow

Friends of TBR 
AllianceBernstein, Armistead Group, BarberMcMurry Architects, Bill and Pam Summons, Milek Media, and WellVia