Mar 30th, 2023
Jackson State Community College (JSCC) student Elaine Mooney and Professor of English Dr. Liz Mayo took home trophies Wednesday Night, March 29, in Nashville for Community College Student of the Year and Community College Faculty Member of the Year, representing the Western Region as finalists in the 5th Annual Statewide Outstanding Achievement Recognition (SOAR) Awards – hosted by the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR).
Each award winner received a SOAR trophy. All finalists received plaques at the Finalists Dinner Tuesday night commemorating their achievements. The student winners also were awarded SOAR Scholarships and the student finalists were awarded scholarships through the Dr. Allana Hamilton Memorial Scholarship Fund, named in honor of the late TBR Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs.
“It’s an honor to celebrate each of Tennessee’s outstanding students, faculty, staff at community colleges and TCATs across our state. Our community colleges and TCATs offer a variety of life-changing opportunities for Tennesseans. And these finalists stood out as leaders who have excelled in their communities. Congratulations on this honor and thank you all for your hard work and excellence,” Gov. Bill Lee said in video presented at the dinner.
Mooney, a non-traditional psychology student from Jackson, has been described by JSCC administrators during the nomination process as both selfless and exceptional in every way. Her kindness and generosity are unparalleled, and she is a standout scholar among her peers.
She is enthusiastically involved in the campus community where she is employed as a peer mentor, serves as the president of the Multicultural Student Association, acts as the secretary/treasurer of the Student Government Association and of the Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) Chi Omicron chapter, and assists as a member of the Human Rights Club. During her time at JSCC, she has represented the college as a TNCIS program participant and International Ambassador Scholar – studying abroad in Greece during the summer of 2022 and again in France this summer.
She is soon to be published in the 28th Edition of the highly selective PTK journal Nota Bene, advanced as a semifinalist for the Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, and enrolling full-time in Fall 2023 at the University of Memphis to continue her path to becoming a cognitive neuroscientist.
Dr. Mayo, a Professor of English originally from Milan, TN, is a first-generation college student with a passion for education, equality, and inclusion. Dr. Mayo is a published scholar, with multiple works showcased at national and international conferences. Her most recent publications are in The Chronicle of Higher Education and the Routledge Handbook of Vegan Studies. She has been described by her colleagues as an invaluable asset to the college, the community, and the TBR system, adding that her enthusiasm for teaching is equally met with compassion and care for her students and those around her.
Dr. Mayo is known by many as a strong advocate for women, teaching the Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies course at JSCC, founding and organizing the college’s annual Women’s History Month Celebration – now in its 13th year, co-founding and organizing JSCC’s Identity and Difference Conference in 2017, and currently serving as an essay judge for the Sue Shelton White Scholarship for non-traditional women students, a board member for the A Step Ahead Foundation, and a contributor to other local equity activism organizations.
Dr. Mayo has been the faculty advisor for the JSCC Human Rights Club for ten years, an organization that supports underrepresented minorities on campus with a focus on the needs of LGBTQ+ students. The club has organized drives annually to provide food for the JSCC Food Bank, collected hygiene products to fight the “Pink Tax,” and walked alongside community members at the annual “Out of the Darkness Suicide Prevention Walk” the last two years.
Most recently, Dr. Mayo helped to conceptualize, co-found, and organize the inaugural “Tacos, Tecates, and Scholarships” fundraiser to provide additional scholarship funding to the JSCC Foundation. During the work-from-home period of the pandemic, she hosted a Faculty Development Fridays initiative via Zoom to help her colleagues through an isolating time. After returning to on-campus work, Dr. Mayo organized a campus-wide series of yoga and meditation classes to help colleagues deal with the trauma of the previous years. She has served since 2020 as the Faculty Senate President, streamlining the elections process in 2021 and advocating for her colleagues and the college in every way.
As a first-generation student, Dr. Mayo knows how it feels firsthand to set foot on a college campus for the first time. That feeling came back recently as she returned to school once more to pursue a graduate certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) at the University of Memphis so that she can better help her second-language learner students become empowered English-language readers and writers. JSCC’s multicultural student population continues to grow, and Dr. Mayo saw a need for this certification to better educate the next generation of students. In addition to being a long-time advocate for internationalizing the campus, Dr. Mayo has taught overseas in both the Germany and Greece programs, and she has applied to teach abroad once more in 2024.
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. Tonight, we celebrate our outstanding students who have persevered through challenges, through loss, and through adversity to follow their dreams and reach their college and career goals.”
TBR Chancellor Flora W. Tydings welcomed all finalists from across the state and congratulated them 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.”
Tydings also recognized the 39 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.
More than 500 students, faculty, staff, supporters, state legislators and officials, and other guests of the colleges participated the two-day 2023 SOAR events, which included a Finalists Dinner Tuesday; Student Honors Luncheon Wednesday, recognizing Phi Theta Kappa and National Technical Honor Society students; TBR Day on the Hill, in which students and presidents visit with legislators and officials in the State Capitol and legislative office buildings; and the SOAR dinner.
The SOAR Awards are hosted annually and given to a single student, faculty, and staff member from higher education institutions across Tennessee. Each year, institutions submit letters of recommendations for those that they feel best represent their respective institution to compete at the regional level. After weeks of college- and regional-level judging that produced 18 finalists – and final interviews and judging this week – the 2023 individual award winners were announced at the SOAR Awards Dinner in Nashville.
A full TBR release for the 2023 SOAR Awards can be found at www.tbr.edu/all-news