40-year teaching career comes full circle with mother-daughter connection

When Angela Wilson met Dr. Lisa Smith last summer at fall orientation, she told her, “you taught my mother.”

Smith, Professor of Art at Jackson State Community College, remembered. She taught Wilson’s mother, Rosemary Arnoult, some 40 years ago at Parkway Junior High School. It was Fall 1980, and Smith was beginning her first full-time teaching job.

This past semester, as she ends her teaching career, Smith taught Wilson and even hired the student as her office assistant. “I knew she would be excellent because her mother was so wonderful,” Smith said.

Wilson calls this past semester of getting to know and working with Smith an honor. “Even before orientation at Jackson State, my mom was telling me about one of her favorite teachers she had in junior high that now taught at Jackson State. That teacher was Dr. Smith. When orientation did arrive and I received an advisor, I didn’t realize it would be Dr. Smith.”

Her mother told Wilson that Smith is the same now as she was 40 years ago: bubbly, exuberant and fun. “If orange or pink were a person, it would be her,” Wilson said.

Teaching keeps you young, Smith said, adding that she has enjoyed her interaction with her students. Though she never had children of her own, she considers her students as her children. “Sometimes, they even ask for money,” she said, laughing.

“Once she starts laughing,” Wilson said, “there’s really no stopping her or yourself from joining in. You’ll usually know she’s coming by her cheerful sound down the hall. As far as teaching goes, she’s inspiring. She’s open to new ideas and techniques.”

Smith, who grew up on a farm in Gibson County, said “teaching tends to run in my family.” Her uncle was her eighth-grade teacher; her cousin was superintendent of Milan schools.

She graduated from Union University with honors and a bachelor’s degree in art and business administration. Her master’s degree in drawing and painting is from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, and her doctorate in education is from the University of Memphis.

She spent six years teaching at Parkway Junior High, one year at the University School of Jackson and six years at Union University. In Fall 1995, Smith started at Jackson State and “found my home,” she said.

Smith is the only art professor at Jackson State. Her retirement in December 2019 means Jackson State will hire a replacement to start in Fall 2020. Smith taught extra courses in the fall semester to accommodate her students.

She’s looking forward to retirement. “I can’t wait to get into my studio and do artwork of my own.” She likes painting in all mediums and working with glass and hand-made paper. She also plans to travel with her husband, Jerry. She particularly likes to see famous artwork.

“I have enjoyed teaching so much,” she said. “I was going to teach for 30 years; all of a sudden 40 years went by.”

Cohen honored by WeTALC for contributions to library profession

An organization of West Tennessee librarians decided to create a new award in honor of long-time member Scott Cohen, Director of the Library for Jackson State Community College.

After naming it the Scott Cohen Torchbearer Award, the West Tennessee Academic Library Consortium (WeTALC) then decided to make Cohen the award’s first recipient.

The Torchbearer Award honors an individual who contributes to the advancement of the library profession through innovation – a description that fits what Cohen has done his entire career at Jackson State.

“I had no idea,” said Cohen, when asked about getting the award. “I was just totally moved – really. I didn’t understand how I deserved it.”

WeTALC was started in 1967 to foster cooperation and share ideas among academic librarians and their staff in West Tennessee. When Cohen joined Jackson State in 1972 as the college’s reference librarian, he quickly became involved — and active — in the consortium.

He has co-hosted special meetings and a technical conference. For many years, he maintained the group’s website and he still maintains the group’s directory. When the group languished with no leadership, Cohen kept it going by prompting members to host meetings or to get a task done. “The organization is important,” Cohen said. “Librarians need a place to share ideas.”

Cohen feels good about the future of the organization. “I am glad that knowledgeable and enthusiastic librarians are taking WeTALC to a new level by changing the types of programs for the meetings and electing new officers.”

He continues to guide WeTALC as needed; for example, he has developed a list of suggested locations for the group’s twice-a-year meetings for the next 12 years.

Sylvia Rowe, Library Technology Specialist at Jackson State, credits Cohen for getting her interested in becoming an academic librarian and says he constantly looks for ways to better serve students and make the library more accessible to everyone. “He is open-minded about technology and innovation in the library.”

The same energy he has used in being an active member of WeTALC is also used with innovative ideas for the Jackson State library.

Rowe calls him a lifelong learner. “If there is something new coming up in academic librarianship, I can guarantee that Scott already knows about it and has discussed it with other academic librarians. I find his intellectual curiosity refreshing, and I appreciate that he encourages that in me.”

Every day is a new challenge, Cohen said, adding that he has no plans to retire. Besides, he’s got that 12-year list of meeting locations to put in place.

Green Jays Basketball off to a hot start

Jackson State’s men’s and women’s basketball teams have started the 2019 season undefeated, and two Green Jays have earned Tennessee Community College Athletic Association player of the week honors. Both teams have solid 3-0 conference starts and are 8-0 in overall play according to the TCCAA website. After having a rough campaign in 2018, this strong start propels the Green Jays to the top of the TCCAA standings for 2019.

Men’s head coach Deron Hines understands what the start could mean to this team. “We were picked to finish 9th in our league so we have a lot to prove. With the good start we have gotten off to we need to stay focused because people will start targeting us every night,” said Hines. If the Green Jays maintain their current momentum, they will finish well ahead of the projected 9th place ranking.

Women’s head coach Kelvin Lester appreciates the start but still feels like he can get even more from his team. “We still have a lot of areas to improve in, but I’m proud of the effort and fight that this team shows night in and night out,” said Lester. The wins have come in a variety of ways including a come from behind 68-62 win over Chattanooga State Community College and a 93-55 blowout win against Columbia State Community College.

On November 19, sophomore guard Kavion Hancock was named Tennessee Community College Athletic Association player of the week by averaging 19 points, five assists, and four rebounds while shooting just over 53% from the field and adding 2.6 steals a game. Hancock played a vital role in wins over Bethel University Junior Varsity, Chattanooga State Community College, and Blue Mountain College Junior Varsity. Freshman guard Alexis Akins earned women’s basketball player of the week on November 26. Akins averages 18.6 points per game, shooting over 50% from the field and adding four rebounds per game according to the TCCAA website.

Both teams resume action at home on Wednesday, December 4th with the women’s game starting at 5:30 and the men’s contest at 7:30 as they host Southwest Tennessee Community College.

The Voice of Jackson State

When you call Jackson State Community College’s main phone number, the first thing you hear is the voice of Margie Lester.

She is known as the Voice of Jackson State, and if she can’t answer a student’s question, she knows who can. Lester has been the college’s receptionist for more than four decades.

She enrolled in Jackson State after graduating from Jackson High in 1969. At the time, she didn’t have the money to register, so Dean of Students Marion Smothers paid her fee.

“He was so kind and helpful,” she said. “That really made an impact on me – just that one little act.”

When she graduated two years later, Chester Parham, in charge of public relations for Jackson State, offered her a job as his secretary. She told him she didn’t know how to take shorthand.

“He said, ‘that’s okay. I talk slow enough. You can write in longhand.'”

A few years later, Jackson State President Dr. F.E. Wright came to Parham’s office and said the college could no longer pay for a full-time secretary for him and that he would have to share a secretary with another department.

Dr. Wright then turned to Lester and said, “I want to offer you a full-time position as college receptionist.”

Besides greeting people and answering questions, the job included operating the college cord-switch switchboard, Lester said. “The switchboard was a big monstrosity. We had four telephone lines for the whole campus.”

When a call came in, she had to pull a cord and place the ends in two places in the switchboard for the call to go through to the right person. Then she had to unplug the cord when the conversation was over, so other calls could come through.

If four people were on the phone, callers would get a busy signal. So, Lester took a lot of messages.

“I was constantly on the switchboard,” she said. “The switchboard had no call waiting, no voice mail. I hand wrote notes.”

During her breaks on the switchboard, she would often tape those notes on people’s doors. “I went the extra mile. I wanted people to get their messages.”

Margie at the switchboard in the seventies
Margie in the early 70s

Today, the college has hundreds of extensions. Besides handling the main campus in Jackson, Lester can also switch calls to Jackson State’s campuses in Lexington, Savannah, and Humboldt.

She is dedicated to her job and respected by her colleagues. Dee Henderson, who is now retired, gave Lester her nickname, the Voice of Jackson State.

In fact, one of Lester’s most prized possessions is a framed copy of a magazine article headlined “the Voice of Jackson State.” Students wrote the story, and Bank of Jackson President Gary Grisham, who remembered her from his days as a Jackson State student, matted and framed the article and gave it to her. Today, it hangs on the wall next to her.

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.

Lester has enjoyed her many years at the college. When Dr. Wright first offered her that position in the mid-1970s, she said, “I had no idea it would lead to this lengthy employment.”

She developed close relationships with many people at the college, including Dr. Walter Nelms, who was Jackson State’s president from 1976 to 1997. “I really admired him,” she said. “Though he was my boss, we became friends. We still keep in touch.”

Lester has no plans to retire.

“I just love being around young people,” she said. “Jackson State is like a family. It’s a great college; it still means a lot to me.”

Smiley to meet public at JSCC

Nationally-syndicated radio personality and standup comedian Rickey Smiley will be at Jackson State Community College on Friday, December 13. Smiley is scheduled to be at the Student Center from 10:30 a.m. to noon for a meet-and-greet event with the public.

Smiley will be broadcasting his program from Thomas Media’s Hot 96 and 96 Kix stations in downtown Jackson. As a primary sponsor, JSCC will host the public event on its campus.

Smiley was originally scheduled to be at the college on November 8, but the event had to be rescheduled. “We are very happy Mr. Smiley was able to reschedule this event,” said Brian Gann, JSCC vice president of student services. “Everyone at Jackson State is excited about having a celebrity like Rickey Smiley on campus for the public.

Gann went on to say that this is a great opportunity for JSCC to make a positive connection within the community.

“We welcome anyone who would like to meet Mr. Smiley and learn more about JSCC,” Gann said. “Our staff will be on hand to talk with anyone interested in learning more about opportunities to improve their lives through education at Jackson State.”

Jackson State Community College Presidential Search Advisory Committee’s first meeting and public forum set for Nov. 15

The Search Advisory Committee that will lead the search for a new president of Jackson State Community College has been selected and will meet Nov. 15 at the college, following a public forum to gather campus and community input.

The forum is scheduled from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. in Room 111 of the Jim Moss Center for Nursing building on the college’s main campus at 2046 North Parkway, Jackson. Members of the public and the college community can express their views about the characteristics, qualities, and skills the next president should have.

The Search Advisory Committee will meet from 12:15 to 2:30 p.m. in Room 111 of the Jim and Janet Ayers Health Sciences Building. There will also be a brief public comment period at the start of that meeting. Both the forum and the first committee meeting are open to the public.

Jackson State’s fifth president, Dr. Allana Hamilton, was appointed Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs of the College System of Tennessee by the Tennessee Board of Regents in September and assumed her new role at the system office in Nashville last month. Dr. Jeff Sisk, president of the Tennessee College of Applied Technology at Jackson, is also serving as interim president of JSCC until the next president is selected and takes office.

The committee’s first meeting is mainly an orientation session for its members. The committee’s charge is to identify up to three finalists, who will be invited to the campus¬†for interviews with the committee and forums with the campus community and public. TBR Chancellor Flora W. Tydings will then select a final candidate for submission to the full Board of Regents for its consideration and approval. The goal is to have the new president in office by July 1.

The 17-member Search Advisory Committee includes four members of the Board of Regents, the college’s governing board, plus representatives of the Jackson State faculty, students, staff and alumni, and the local community. The committee is chaired by Regent Barbara Prescott.

Read more about the presidential search process, including the preferred and expected criteria for the position and how to apply and submit nominees.

Members of the Search Advisory Committee members are:

Regent Barbara Prescott, Chair

Regent Emily J. Reynolds

Regent Greg Duckett

Regent Robert Pepper

Ms. Candyce Sweet

Ms. Terri Messer

Ms. Shiloh Coleman

Ms. Marian Sagahon

Ms. Robin Marek

Dr. Delita Thompson Johnson

Ms. Dana Nails

Mr. Tim Dellinger

Mr. Kyle Spurgeon

Mr. Jim Ferrell

Mr. Bill Kipp

Ms. Janet Ayers

Dr. Keith Carver
Chancellor of the University of Tennessee at Martin

Innovation choral ensemble to perform Winter Concert

Innovation, Jackson State Community College’s choral ensemble, will perform its winter concert on Monday, November 25. The performance will begin at 6 p.m. in Ayers Auditorium at the McWherter Center on the college’s main campus. The event is free and open to the public.

This year, Innovation will sing a medley from the movie The Nightmare Before Christmas. They will also sing a number of other Christmas selections including Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy and several African spirituals.

Now an annual tradition, the event has made strides to help others by raising funds and awareness for the JSCC Nest (formerly the food pantry). In addition to providing food to students in need, Jackson State’s Nest also provides an emergency relief fund that supports students in need. The Nest also makes other essentials available such as clothing, personal hygiene products, and gas cards.

While admission is free, donations to the JSCC Nest are suggested. Most people attending this event either bring items for the pantry or make a monetary donation.

The Nest serves many students over the course of a year. Anyone can contribute to the food pantry year-round. Contact Student Services at 731-425-8820 to make a donation.

Smiley event at JSCC to be rescheduled

Due to unforeseen personal circumstances, the meet-and-greet event with Rickey Smiley at Jackson State Community College will be rescheduled. The event, originally scheduled for this Friday, November 8, will be rescheduled for a day in December. Information about a new date will be posted as soon as it becomes available.

JSCC professors enhance effectiveness through personal research

Scholarly works written by Dr. Liz Mayo and Professor James Mayo, both of whom serve as associate professors of English at Jackson State Community College, are receiving recognition.

Dr. Mayo’s essay, “‘Some Unheard-Of Thing:’ Performing Xenophobia and Gender Conformity in the play The Member of the Wedding,” was recognized by the Carson McCullers Society as the “Outstanding Conference Paper” for 2018. Her essay was presented at the Carson McCullers in the World: A Centenary Conference” in Rome, Italy.

Both Dr. Mayo and Prof. Mayo presented papers at the conference, and both of their essays were chosen to be included in an anthology of conference proceedings to be published this winter by Negative Capability Press.

A separate scholarly essay by Dr. Mayo will be included as a chapter in a forthcoming book on the short fiction of Carson McCullers published by Mercer University Press; she will present this chapter at the American Literature Association Conference in San Diego next May. Also, her scholarly work on South Korean writer Han Kang’s The Vegetarian will appear as part of an anthology to be published by Routledge in 2020. She continues to write both academic articles and creative nonfiction essays focused on teaching including publications appearing in The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed.

In addition to his September conference paper presentation on Wallace Stegner at the Western Literature Association Conference in Estes Park, Colorado, Prof. Mayo has recently finished a scholarly essay on Norman Maclean’s novella, A River Runs Through It, which will be published in the journal Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature. Beyond academic writing pursuits, Prof. Mayo also published his poem “Revisionism” in the August-November issue of Our Jackson Home, and he was a featured columnist in the most recent Carson McCullers Society Newsletter.

Both professors say that working on their personal research enhances their effectiveness as writing instructors.

“The Pollinators” to be hosted by JSCC Honors Program

The Jackson State Community College Honors Program will host a screening of the award-winning documentary film The Pollinators, Wednesday, November 6, at 6:30 PM in the Ayers Auditorium. The event is free and open to the public.

The Pollinators is a cinematic journey around the United States following migratory beekeepers and their truckloads of honey bees as they pollinate the flowers that become the fruits, nuts, and vegetables we all eat. The many challenges these beekeepers and their bees face en route reveal the many threats to their survival that bees face now. The filmmakers talk to farmers, scientists, chefs and academics along the way to give a broad perspective about the threats to honey bees, what it means to our food security and how we can improve it.

This film has already been selected by 25 national and international film festivals and has been honored as “Best Documentary” at seven of them. The Tennessee Beekeepers Association, Tennessee Environmental Council, Tennessee Sierra Club, and many other groups fully endorse this documentary and are promoting it statewide.

The trailer for the movie can be seen at us.demand.film/the-pollinators/