The “Voice of Jackson State” signs off after 51 years with college

Margie Lester credits the beginning of her 51-year-relationship with Jackson State Community College to the late Marion Smothers.

He was Dean of Students when she went to register for classes at Jackson State in 1969. While registering, she realized she needed to pay a $5 fee. She didn’t have it.

“Mr. Smothers reached into his back pocket, pulled out his wallet and handed me a $5 bill,” she said. “He never wanted me to pay him back. He was the first person who wanted me at Jackson State.”

Two years later, she graduated with her associate degree, and Chester Parham, who was in charge of the college’s public relations, hired her to be his secretary. Several years later, then President F.E. Wright asked her to be the college’s receptionist, which included working the main switchboard. Lester held that job for the rest of her career.

She officially retired May 31, but the 50-year-old memory of that $5 bill is one of many she’ll take with her.

“Jackson State has always meant a lot to me,” Lester said. Her memories include her one-day of training on a “monstrosity” of a switchboard, her friendship with Dr. Walter Nelms (who retired as President in 1997), the teachers, the coaches and the many students who stopped by her desk to ask for directions or for answers to other questions.

“I wanted the students to have someone they could come to and get help,” she said. “I would give anything to see some of those students again.”

Lester ran the switchboard in the days before call waiting and voicemail. Four telephone lines came into the switchboard, and if four people were on the phone, the caller got a busy signal. It was up to Lester to connect the incoming caller to the right office. She wrote down messages and left them on people’s office doors.

She never tired of her job, she said. “It was so different then. I knew every office extension by memory.”

She’s been called “the Voice of Jackson State,” because it is her voice that you hear when you call the college.

Lester grew up on the UT Experiment Station where her dad, Joe Allen Mays, was a farmer. She has two children, Jeffrey and Jeremy, who are fraternal twins. Jeffrey and his wife, Tori, have two sons. Jeremy and his wife, Julia, have two boys and a girl.

She hasn’t made any concrete plans now that she has retired. She’s looking forward to spending more time with family; at Hillcrest Baptist Church, which she has attended her whole life; and with her neighbors.

Retiring was hard, Lester said. “I never wanted to leave all of those years. But, it’s time.”

TBR appoints George Pimentel as next President of Jackson State Community College

The Tennessee Board of Regents today appointed Dr. George J. Pimentel as the next president of Jackson State Community College, effective July 1. A U.S. Army infantry veteran, he has been vice president of academic affairs at Volunteer State Community College since 2014 and has 26 years of teaching and academic administrative experience.

The Board also appointed Brian Lapps Jr. as its next general counsel, serving the Board and the College System of Tennessee – the state’s 40 community and technical colleges governed by the Board of Regents. He has 27 years of experience as an attorney in public and private practice, including his current role as division counsel at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and previously as deputy general counsel at the University of Tennessee.

TBR Chancellor Flora W. Tydings recommended the two new administrators following separate, months-long national search processes that included Board members and, at Jackson State, representatives of various campus constituencies and the broader community.

As the sixth president in Jackson State’s 53 years of serving students, Pimentel will succeed Dr. Allana Hamilton, who was appointed the College System of Tennessee’s vice chancellor of academic affairs last fall, and Dr. Jeff Sisk, who has served as interim president and remains president of the Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology in Jackson and Whiteville.

“I never imagined that I would become a college president when I began my career over 25 years ago, and I am honored and grateful to the Chancellor and the Board for trusting me with this opportunity,” Pimentel said. “I’m looking forward to working with Jackson State faculty and staff as we continue to help our students overcome barriers to education and unlock their potential.”

“This is an unprecedented time; students now more than ever need the opportunities that community college can provide through workforce development, collaborative partnerships and educational opportunities. Together, I believe we can make a real difference in people’s lives, and in their communities, and I am excited to engage with community and business leaders as we work together to make that happen.

“I also want to thank Dr. Jerry Faulkner and the Vol State faculty and staff for their support, and for their unwavering commitment to student success. Vol State was my home for twenty years and it will always hold a special place in my heart,” Pimentel said.

He earned his Doctor of Arts in History, Educational Specialist, Master of Arts in History and Bachelor of Arts in History degrees at Middle Tennessee State University. He began his higher education career in 1994 as MTSU’s coordinator of continuing education, then as assistant to the dean of the university’s College of Liberal Arts. He was also an adjunct professor of history there.

Pimentel moved to Volunteer State in 2001 as a professor of history, and continued teaching during his tenures as chair of the Department of History, Economics, Geography and Political Science from 2005 to 2009 and as director of the honors program from 2011 to 2014 when he was elevated to the college’s chief academic officer as vice president of academic affairs.

Jackson State is a comprehensive community college with its main campus in Jackson and three branch centers in Humboldt, Lexington and Savannah serving 14 West Tennessee counties. Fully accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), it is an Achieving the Dream college committed to student success. It enrolls nearly 5,000 credit students, including more than 1,200 dual-enrolled high school students.

Lapps earned his Doctor of Jurisprudence at the Vanderbilt University School of Law and his Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in History at the University of Notre Dame. At TBR, he will lead a staff of attorneys at the system office in Nashville.

“I’d Iike to thank the Board, Chancellor Tydings and the Search Committee for their confidence in me,” he said. “This is an exciting opportunity. I look forward to working with the Chancellor, her staff, the system office, and the campuses as we help make a difference for TBR students and the State of Tennessee.”

Lapps began his law career in 1993 at Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis in Nashville, where he was a partner from 2001 to 2009 when he was appointed deputy general counsel of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. He returned to Nashville in 2018 as division counsel at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. His career includes extensive labor and employment, litigation and higher education law and management experience.

Tydings thanked members of the search advisory committees who assisted in the search for the two new leaders.

Tennessee Board of Regents to meet June 2 to consider appointment of next president of Jackson State Community College. Committee Chairs and Audit Committee will also meet

The Tennessee Board of Regents will convene a special called meeting Tuesday, June 2, to receive and act on recommendations by Chancellor Flora W. Tydings for the next president of Jackson State Community College and the board’s next general counsel.

The virtual meeting will be streamed live and archived on the TBR website at starting at 8:30 a.m. CT, with consideration of the two appointments the only items on the agenda.

After the board meeting adjourns, the chairs of the board’s standing committees will convene for several informational items and review of the draft agenda for the Board of Regents’ next regular quarterly meeting June 18-19. And the board’s Audit Committee will meet at 10:30 a.m., also to receive informational reports.

The meetings are open to the public as observers, except for an executive session of the Audit Committee following the committee’s public segment. Contact Board Secretary Sonja Mason at by 4 p.m. Monday, June 1, for call-in information.

The chancellor’s recommendation to the board for the next president of Jackson State follows open forums conducted online May 11-13 by the three finalists for the presidency. The finalists were announced Feb. 28 by a 17-member search advisory committee composed of board members and campus and community representatives. On-campus forums were originally scheduled to be held in March but were postponed to May and moved online as the Covid-19 pandemic curtailed on-campus activities.

The finalists, their resumes’ and the archived forums are posted on the TBR website at

The next president will succeed Dr. Allana Hamilton, who moved to the system office as vice-chancellor of Academic Affairs last fall, and Dr. Jeff Sisk, who has served as the interim president of Jackson State since October. Sisk is president of the Tennessee College of Applied Technology campuses in Jackson and Whiteville.

The next general counsel will succeed Mary Moody, who retired last September after 29 years of state service as an attorney, and Christine Modisher, Moody’s predecessor who returned to serve as interim general counsel during the search.

The agenda for the committee chairs meeting includes presentations on campus re-opening plans, proposed budgets and capital appropriation requests and compensation plans for Fiscal Year 2020-21, and executive performance incentive and president emeritus plans, and review of the draft agenda for the June 18-19 quarterly board meeting.

The Audit Committee agenda includes informational reporting on audit reports, findings and recommendations.

Sisk proud of JSCC response during COVID-19 crisis

When the COVID-19 scare hit the community while Jackson State Community College was on spring break, the faculty and staff adapted the college from an “on-ground” campus to an “online” campus in less than two weeks.

Interim President Dr. Jeff Sisk couldn’t have been prouder.

“They managed to keep the interests of students first, and they continued to offer excellent instruction,” he said. “I am incredibly proud of how the faculty and staff made that quick pivot from on-ground to online.”

He is equally proud of how the students responded.

“I learned how smart and resilient young people are today,” he said. “It was an eye-opener. Students were willing and able to tackle the challenge of online learning.” At one point, he said, he watched his son, who just finished up his freshman year at Jackson State, do a class activity on his smartphone.

In some ways, the shift to having all classes online was easier for a campus like Jackson State, which already had the experience of offering online courses, Dr. Sisk said. “Every faculty member has taught or knows how to teach online. This was a total effort that involved department heads down to instructors.”

Dr. Sisk, who is also President of the Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) campuses in Jackson and Whiteville, saw the same effort by staff, faculty and students on those campuses.

Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) Chancellor Flora W. Tydings named Dr. Sisk Interim President last fall when then-President Allana Hamilton accepted a position with the Board of Regents. The search for a new Jackson State president was nearing its end when the virus hit.

After months of work, the search committee had narrowed applicants from more than 60 to three finalists – Dr. George Pimentel, Vice President for Academic Affairs, Volunteer State Community College; Dr. Paige Neihaus, Provost for Strategic Initiatives and Executive Director of Design Center, Wayne County Community College District in Detroit, Mich.; and Dr. Jeff Jochems, President/Vice Chancellor, Ozarks Technical Community College Richwood Valley Campus in Nixa, Mo. (For more information on the final candidates, visit

A live open forum on YouTube gave faculty, staff, students, and others the opportunity to meet the candidates and ask questions. Instead of on-campus visits, each finalist had virtual meetings with campus constituencies. TBR Chancellor Tydings is going through feedback from these groups on each finalist before making her recommendation to the Board of Regents. The Board has scheduled a special called meeting on June 2 to consider her recommendation. The goal, said Dr. Sisk, is to have a new president on campus by July 1.

He looks forward to working with whomever is named Jackson State president. “I am excited about the transition.”

Juggling the responsibilities of two TCAT campuses and Jackson State has been a challenge, but one that he relished. “I couldn’t have done it, though, without the leadership teams on each campus.”

Jackson State is continuing to keep the coronavirus in mind as it plans for contingencies on the way students will be taught, Dr. Sisk said. May was an online semester, while summer classes will have a hybrid approach of online classes with limited learning on the campus. Dr. Sisk said.

Plans now are for a traditional semester in the fall, he added. “But we’re ready to shift back to online learning if necessary. We’ll adapt and adjust.”

TCAT students started returning to campus May 18 to find wearing face masks and social distancing in place, staggered labs, and other adjustments to learning. “We are learning how to resequence teaching academic competencies (which can be done online) and hands-on competencies, Dr. Sisk said.

Some programs, such as welding at TCAT or advanced maintenance technology at Jackson State, require hands-on learning. During the coronavirus pandemic, campuses had to focus on what competencies could be done online and “what competencies we needed to wait on” until students could get into a lab, he explained.

The last few months also highlighted the importance of technical and community colleges, Dr. Sisk said. “Take a look at the essential skills and workers needed during the pandemic – EMTs, RNs and LPNs, police officers, maintenance technicians in factories, truck drivers, IT specialists … Our community and technical colleges train and teach people for these professions. This pandemic has shone a positive light on the essential skills needed during a crisis like this.”

The possibility of leading Jackson State Community College someday was nowhere in his thoughts, Dr. Sisk said, when he attended Jackson State in the late 1980s and early 1990s to earn his associate degree. Leading a campus through perhaps the worst medical emergency in our lifetimes was also not on the horizon when Dr. Sisk became Interim President last Oct. 16.

“The best lesson we all learned is that we can do this; we can adapt and still have excellent instruction. The efficacy of our efforts was positive across the board for staff, faculty, and students. I take zero credit for that; the success was due to the leadership on all three campuses.”

“It has been an honor” to help lead Jackson State through its search for a new president and its reaction to the coronavirus, Dr. Sisk said. “I couldn’t be more proud of this college.”

JSCC announces task force for graduation plans

These times of uncertainty and constant change have made the decision of conducting a large gathering such as the Jackson State Community College’s graduation an unusual challenge. The administration of JSCC has assigned a graduation task force that will develop a plan for the 2020 graduation ceremony. This plan will be ready for approval by the president by June 5.

The task force will develop a way to survey the entire campus community, gather their input, and bring forth recommendations for the new president who will be appointed by the Tennessee Board of Regents.

The interim president has approved the purchase of caps and gowns. Student Services will be contacting all students eligible for graduation and will have the graduation regalia available as soon as possible. “Having caps, gowns, and cords available for photo opportunities has been a primary request of graduates and their parents,” said Robin Marek, interim vice president of Student Services. “We want to get these significant mementos of accomplishment to students as quickly as possible.”

JSCC faculty release the Honors Program Reading Recommendations

The honors program of Jackson State Community College has published a list of faculty-recommended books for students, staff, and peers to read over the summer break. This year’s list is made up of 24 selections.

“The ‘Honors Program Summer Reading Recommendations’ was created as a not so subtle way to encourage students to read more books,” said Dr. Bob Raines, honors program coordinator. “We believe reading can be a profoundly enriching experience, a worthwhile leisure activity, and a valid way to pursue knowledge and understanding about our physical, social, and psychological worlds.”

The list is compiled at the beginning of the spring semester with faculty members submitting their recommendations. Copies of all books on the list are purchased by the JSCC Library and are available to be checked out.

“This is an interesting way to get to know more about our colleagues by having a window into their reading preferences,” said Raines. “It has become my go-to list when I am looking for the next book to read.”

Check out the JSCC 2020 Summer Reading List Now!

2020 Recommended Summer Reading List

BEHAVE – The Biology of Humans At Our Best and Worst, by Robert Sapolsky; recommended by Scott Woods

Why Don’t Students Like School? By Daniel T. Willingham; recommended by Nancy Hickey

The Tree of Meaning: Language, Mind and Ecology, by Robert Bringhurst; recommended by Abby Lackey

Das Kapital, by Karl Marx; recommended by Lawrence Gundersen

Red Moon, by Kim Stanley Robinson; recommended by Tony Rafalowski

Franklin and Winston: A Portrait of a Friendship, by Jon Meacham; recommended by Bob Raines

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America, by Erik Larson; recommended by Tammy Prater

Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from Our Culture of Contempt, by Arthur Brooks; recommended by Kim Rawson

Calypso, by David Sedaris; recommended by Kim Warren-Cox

This Is How You Lose The Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar; recommended by Will Shull

A Wrinkle In Time, by Madeline ‘Engle; recommended by Sara Youngerman

If Beale Street Could Talk, by James Baldwin; recommended by Anna Esquivel

Quichotte, by Salman Rushdie; recommended by Mechel Camp

Less, by Andrew Sean Greer; recommended by Liz Mayo

The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle, Hugh Lofting; recommended by Ryan Guth

White Noise, by Don DeLillo; recommended by David Hart

The Flight Girls, by Noelle Salazar; recommended by Melissa Sellers

The Demon in the Freezer, by Richard Preston; recommended by Kristi Watson

The Angel and the Assassin: The Tiny Brain Cell that Changed the Course of Medicine, by Donna Jackson Nakazawa; recommended by Vivian Minton

Black Hole, by Charles Burns; recommended by Candyce Sweet

The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin; recommended by Joseph Kappel

American Gods, by Neil Gainman; recommended by Ben Lawrence

William Shakespeare, the Complete Works; recommended by John Koons

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel; recommended by Steve Cornelison


JSCC offers free classes during COVID-19 slowdown

Jackson State Community College’s Division of Workforce Development is currently offering select courses free of charge and completely online. The courses are open to the public. Courses include:

  • Managing Customer Service
  • Fundamentals of Supervision and Management
  • Personal Finance
  • Twelve Steps to a Successful Job Search
  • Creating Web Pages
  • Creating WordPress Websites
  • Individual Excellence
  • Small Business Marketing on a Shoestring
  • Keys to Effective Communication
  • Marketing Your Business on the Internet

The self-paced courses are free to those who start before June 30. Participants will have 3-months access to complete the course. A certificate will be issued upon completion.

To learn more about the courses and to sign up, visit

WBBJ – Jackson State offers free online courses

Candidates in Jackson State presidential search narrowed to 3. Virtual forums scheduled week of May 11

Three finalists have been selected in the search for the next president of Jackson State Community College in Jackson, Tenn. Each will participate in virtual open forums the week of May 11.

The schedule for the virtual forums, the finalists’ resumes, and links to a livestream of the forums are posted on the Presidential/Executive Searches section of the Tennessee Board of Regents website at

The finalists and the dates of their virtual forums are:

  • Jeff Jochems, president/vice-chancellor of Ozarks Technical Community College’s Richwood Valley Campus in Nixa, Missouri. Wednesday, May 13.
  • Paige M. Niehaus, provost for strategic initiatives and executive director for the Design Center at the Wayne County Community College District in Detroit, Michigan. Tuesday, May 12.
  • George Pimentel, vice president of academic affairs at Volunteer State Community College in Gallatin, Tennessee. Monday, May 11.

Each finalist’s virtual community forum is scheduled for 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. Students, Foundation Board members, campus groups, and members of the community are welcome to watch the YouTube live stream at the link above.

After the virtual forums, Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor Flora W. Tydings will gather feedback from the forums and meetings with the finalists to select one candidate for nomination to the Board of Regents, which will appoint the next president during a meeting that will be scheduled later.

The Board of Regents approved the Jackson State presidential search criteria Oct. 31, and the Search Advisory Committee held its first meeting and public forum Nov. 15 at the Jackson campus. The finalists were announced Feb. 28 and campus visits were originally scheduled for mid-March but were postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In their place, the finalists will meet with the campus community via next week’s virtual forums.

The 17-member committee includes four members of the Board of Regents, and representatives of the Jackson State faculty, students, staff and alumni, and the local community. The committee is chaired by Regent Barbara Prescott.

The next president will succeed Dr. Allana Hamilton, Jackson State’s fifth president, who accepted the position of Vice-Chancellor of Academic Affairs with the TBR College System of Tennessee. Dr. Jeff Sisk, TCAT Jackson President, has served as the interim president of Jackson State since October 2019

Jackson State Community College is a public, comprehensive, multi-campus college offering associate degrees and certificates in a learning-centered environment. Its primary service area encompasses 14 West Tennessee counties. The main campus is in Jackson, Tenn., with additional teaching sites in Humboldt, Lexington, Savannah, and Paris. It also offers courses in several high schools and other sites across the region. Jackson State has been ranked as one of the most tech-savvy community colleges in the country.

Gracie Osbron Lives Her JuCo Dream

by Caroline Lane
(Caroline Lane is a mass communication major and a 2020 graduate of JSCC. She played softball with the Jackson State Green Jays and will continue her softball and collegiate careers in West Virginia.)

Gracie Osbron did not always see herself playing at a junior college. However, now she would not have it any other way.

When Osbron was 15 she committed to play softball at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, one of the most elite and successful softball programs in history. “I had always dreamt of going to play Division I softball,” she said.

However, after spending a year in Knoxville, Osbron started to have doubts about what she truly wanted. After this past fall semester, she transferred to Jackson State Community College.

“After the Super Regional against Florida is when it really hit me…I was way too happy to be done with the season,” Osbron said.

Tennessee softball lost the series in the final game two to one. Osbron was not regretful at the end of the season because she had performed well on the field. According to the National College Athletic Association, as a pure freshman, Osbron started in 37 out of the 44 games she played. Her batting average was .202 and she had a .969 fielding percentage.

Even with these numbers, something still did not sit right with Osbron. “I would not get out of bed, go to class, hang with friends, and my grades started to slip.” Osbron said. After taking some time and talking to people she trusted, she made up her mind that it was time to leave. Osbron entered the transfer portal. So, what made her pick a junior college?

Before her first year in Knoxville, Osbron suffered a gruesome leg injury. It gave her problems throughout the season. Since being at Jackson State she feels like she gets more time to recover. “I feel so much better physically and mentally on the field,” Osbron said. Getting more time to recover has given her the chance to heal in all aspects of her life.

One of the main reasons Osbron decided to transfer to a smaller school was because she felt like she already had the “big school” experience. Spending time with her family, friends and having time for herself are just a few of the things Osbron gets to enjoy more since moving to Jackson. “I have really seen a change in myself. I feel 100 times better and happier with myself. The growth I have seen from myself in such a short period of time is amazing,” Osbron said. It was not on the field, but when she was eating in her apartment with her friends, that it really hit her how happy she was with her new life.

Being a Division 1 transfer can bring a lot of talk in the softball community. When word got around about Gracie Osbron transferring to a junior college, many people thought it was because she got in trouble in Knoxville. That was not the case, though. She felt that Jackson was her best option.

“People are always going to talk, but I knew I had to put my head down and focus on this season,” Osbron said. If you ask Jackson State softball head coach, Taylor Moore, that is exactly what Osbron did. “Gracie is a relentless player with lots of passion for the game,” Moore said. Osbron came out hot for Jackson and helped the team out tremendously. Coming from a DI school, “she brought a tempo, leadership and attitude that was needed this season to give us that edge,” Moore said. Before the season was cut short, the National Junior College Athletic Association showed Osbron hitting .400, and she was second in the nation with six triples.

Relationships are a major priority to Osbron, so the connection she has with her teammates is extremely important to her. Since playing for Jackson, Osbron has quickly developed a strong relationship with her team. “The biggest difference for me has been that I felt more trusted on the field by my coach and teammates,” Osbron said. While she said she loved her teammates in Knoxville, she felt an instant connection with every player at Jackson and never felt like the “new kid” or left out.

Lights, cameras, sold-out crowds, and autographs are something every young athlete dreams about. While only some get to live out that dream, others may find joy in something a little less flashy. Dreams come in different shapes and sizes. Gracie Osbron’s came in the form of a junior college while falling back in love with the game of softball.

Osbron gets ready to take third base in the Green Jays’ home opener against Cleveland State

With the season being taken away by the coronavirus, Osbron has decided to come back and play at Jackson State for one more year. “Division I all the way to a junior college. It does not matter. We all have the same love, passion and desire for the game, and I can say that from experience. At the end of the day it does not matter as long as you love what you are doing,” Osbron said.