Livings, latest stop in professor’s literary journey

Dr. Ryan Guth, assistant professor of English, hones his craft outside of the classroom by staying busy as a creative writer. His most recent work, Body and Soul, was a featured title at the 2015 Southern Festival of Books and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

Guth was most recently interviewed by author and editor Dustin Pickering regarding Body and Soul. The interview was published in the journal Lummox (vol. 5, 2016). The dialogue discusses the book and the creative process for writing it.

Body and Soul came about through Guth’s personal acquaintance with an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse. “The stories I heard were so compelling that they sort of took me over,” he stated. The account was fictionalized as needed, but the ultimate goal was to “…articulate the emotional and psychological truth of those experiences.”

Since the publication of Body and Soul, Guth has embarked on another literary journey with a mixed-genre novel tentatively titled Livings. According to Guth, the new work takes place in a mid-19th century industrial village in the north of England. The story is built around the famous Bronte family, four highly-gifted, highly-strung adult siblings who, for various reasons, have failed to establish themselves in the outside world. They now find themselves back in their childhood home with their father, an elderly Anglican pastor.

Though this latest work is still in progress, Dr. Guth read excerpts from Livings at the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture on Thursday, February 23.

Candyce Sweet – Finding the superhero in all of us

Pick up a variety of comics today, and you’re bound to see someone with superpowers–whether they’ve been bitten by a radioactive spider or subjected to gamma or cosmic rays. None of these things have ever happened to me, thankfully, but would you believe that I still consider myself a superhero? If Batman–who has no superpowers to speak of, either–can call himself a superhero, then I see no reason why I can’t do the same. If we take a good look at what a superhero really is, I think we’ll find that more of us are superheroes than we realize. As a community college professor, if I can help students realize that they are more than they ever thought they could be–that they, too, are superheroes in their own way–then I can help them see what they have to offer to their community. Teaching is a calling, and it was my love of comic books that helped to call me to teach.

I didn’t study comic books in school, and I never took comic books as a serious topic of academic study until my junior year in college. In fact, I often hid the fact that I read comics at all. Too often we live constantly concerned about what other people will think of us, and so we hide some part of ourselves from the world for fear that they will laugh at us, and ridicule us, for the very thing we love to do the most. This may be one of the reasons that superheroes have secret identities–to protect not just their loved ones but themselves as well. I remember how surprised I was to learn that there was a class in college entirely devoted to the study of comic books and graphic novels, and when I learned that the Chair of the English department was teaching it, I was dumbfounded. It had never occurred to me that comic books and their longer counterparts, graphic novels, were worthy of academic study, but here was an actual, distinguished professor teaching comics, and it opened my eyes to an entire world of possibility. Suddenly, I understood what my place in the world was and what I could do for the world. Because I had learned how to see the hidden value in something that I had considered nothing more than an hobby, I realized that I could teach others how to see the hidden value in the things that they loved. My father once told me that if you truly love what you do, you’ll never really work a day in your life, and I have found that to be true. I love to teach, so I don’t really feel like I’m “working.” That’s the life I want for my students as well–a life doing what they love.

Candyce Pull quote

What is it that I do for my community? I see myself as showing students how to be the best versions of themselves. Too often we hide the truest, most exciting part of ourselves. As an educator, I see my role as helping students to see, just as I once did, that to be the best version of themselves that they can be, they need to throw off the shackles of fear of other people’s expectations, embrace the things that help them interact with others, and shine their lights on the world. The more we can be ourselves without fear, the more we have to offer to our families, our community, and ourselves.

Superpowers do not change who a person is; they simply make us more of who we already are. Most of us believe that we can’t be superheroes unless we have superpowers, but Batman has taught us that that’s simply not true. You can be a superhero without superpowers, as long as you do super things with what you have and always stay true to yourself. By reading comics or other forms of literature, we can gain new ideas and new perspectives. As a professor, I love helping students become more of who they already are. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing the lightbulb turn on, to see students stand just a little bit taller, to see them become just a little bit more sure of themselves and their abilities. That’s what life’s all about–believing in yourself and what you can do so that you can start to share your abilities with the community around you, and making the world a better place, one superhero at a time.

JSCC Cyber Defense Program Achieves Elite Federal Designation

Jackson State Community College was recertified through 2022 as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Two-Year Education by the U.S. National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security.

The five-year designation puts Jackson State among an elite group of institutions offering computer information technology courses that meet rigorous federal standards and sets graduating students apart from others, said Dr. Tom Pigg, Dean of Computer Information Technology and Health Sciences. Recognized as leaders in the field, only about 40 community colleges and 200 four-year universities across the country have the designation.

“It’s very important; it’s huge, to say the least,” said Pigg. “The benefit is that, because of the rigors required to get the designation, students will have this recognition that they attended a school that is a National Center of Academic Excellence.”

Graduates often find work protecting national security information systems, commercial networks and critical information infrastructure in both the private and public sectors.

Jackson State was recertified after an application process that requires a six-month campus study to meet the government’s criteria. Most schools that apply do not achieve the designation, and those that do typically undergo a 10-week review that identifies areas that need to be improved. Jackson State was approved in less than a month without the need to change anything in its program.

“It’s a pretty exhaustive self-study-type process,” Pigg said. “This is a re-designation, but there’s been a lot of changes with requirements and how the designation process is conducted.”

The National Security Agency launched the program in 1998 to reduce vulnerabilities to the country’s information infrastructure. Its goals are to promote higher education and research while producing professionals with cyber defense expertise.

The program was expanded to two-year colleges, technical schools and government training centers in 2010, and Jackson State was first designated in 2012. “This is a fairly young designation for community colleges,” Pigg said.

The school’s ability to meet the increasing demands of the program criteria will serve the nation well in the protection of the national information infrastructure, said Karen Leuschner from the National Security Agency. She serves as National Center of Academic Excellence program director.

“Like all nations, the United States has a compelling interest in defending its vital national assets, as well as our core principles and values, and we are committed to defending against those who would attempt to impede our ability to do so.” Leuschner said. “Education is the key to promoting these ideals.”

To earn the designation, schools must develop significant partnerships with businesses and government agencies while offering courses that teach students to be computer information technology and cyber defense professionals. Schools must also provide community service while meeting certain security standards on campus, such as employee training and offering secure business transactions.

While the designation targets Jackson State’s computer information technology program, it impacts all facets of campus. For more information, visit the school’s Cyber Security Center website at

Jackson State Community College provides accessible learning opportunities that enhance the lives of individuals, strengthen the workforce and empower the diverse communities of West Tennessee. The institution offers traditional and contemporary associate degrees, certificates, continuing education and enrichment, and college-readiness programs.

Real estate pre-licensure course to be offered at JSCC

A course teaching the fundamentals of real estate will be offered at Jackson State Community College. The 60-hour course will begin March 7 and meet every Tuesday and Thursday through May 13.

Fundamentals such as contracts, property ownership, finance, rules and regulations, and state laws that govern the real estate industry in Tennessee will be covered. For successful completion of the course, students must attend all classes and complete all assignments prior to taking a final exam.

Students will learn:

  • A thorough understanding of the legal underpinnings of real estate practice
  • A working knowledge of specific relevant laws and regulations
  • A working knowledge of the principles and practices necessary to engage in the real estate business
  • An appreciation for and a thorough knowledge of the responsibilities owed to customers, clients, and other professionals in the real estate brokerage business

For more information and to register for the course, visit or contact Jack Laser at JSCC Workforce Development at 731-425-2646.

Isaac James – Student’s journey leads from refugee camp to plans for MBA

Isaac James came to Jackson State as a basketball standout without much educational ambition, but now he plans to leave with his sights on a master’s degree in business administration.

His life’s journey began in a Kenyan refugee camp where his mother landed after fleeing war-torn Sudan, and it may one day see him return to Africa to help his extended family. He immigrated to the United States in 2001 and grew up in Memphis, attending Evangelical Christian School where he honed his athletic abilities.

“I came to Jackson State to play basketball,” he said. “I began to love the school more than athletics, and I began to understand what the school has to offer.”

James is on track to earn his associate degree in May. He plans to transfer to a four-year college to complete his bachelor’s degree requirements and then pursue his master’s degree.

At Jackson State, James is serving as the 2016-2017 president of the Student Government Association, a role that places him as a liaison between students and the administration and faculty. He also served as a student representative on the presidential search advisory committee, which helped identify candidates for Jackson State’s new president — a position recently filled by Dr. Allana Hamilton.

“It was a great experience,” James said. “It was an opportunity to get to meet some individuals who were very influential in our community.”

Jackson State helped James develop confidence and motivated him to aspire to higher educational goals. He said the school is a good value, and he advises new students to get involved and get connected with new people on campus.

“At Jackson State, I got faculty and staff that really invested in me and encouraged me and continued to work with me as a person and a student,” he said. “I strongly believe that our faculty and staff are among the greatest in West Tennessee and Tennessee in general.”

He’s interested in a career in accounting. He also wants to travel back to Sudan to help his relatives’ communities learn about business and discover new economic opportunities. His mother and siblings live in the United States, but he still has extended family in the third-world country whom he wants to help elevate out of poverty.

“In America, the greatest thing you get is the opportunity to get educated,” James said. “And if I get the opportunity to go back, I want to share with them the economics of free trade and how businesses should function.”

New President’s Life Experiences Have Shaped Her For Leadership Role

When Dr. Allana Hamilton started her college journey more than 30 years ago, becoming a college president was not part of the plan. But when she stepped into the presidency of Jackson State Community College in January, she was well prepared for her new role.

Dr. Hamilton, or Lana as she is known to her friends, started her post-high school education at Tusculum College in northeast Tennessee on a pre-med scholarship. Her plans were to channel her love for biology and the sciences into becoming a doctor.

Plans change, of course, and people you meet along the way often play a role in those changes.

Born and raised in the Appalachian foothills of northeast Tennessee, Dr. Hamilton can look back over her life and point to the people who first led her into going to college, into changing her major in college and who encouraged her into new roles after she graduated.

As she talks about her life, she conveys a friendliness and openness that stems from her small-town upbringing. Her new job at Jackson State is the first time in her 51 years that she has moved more than 100 miles of where she was born.

She points to three early factors in her life that encouraged her to be the first member of her family to graduate from college.

“As I grew up, my parents always emphasized the importance of education,” she said. “They wanted to make sure I had those opportunities.”

In middle school and later in high school, she then had teachers who took an interest in her. Her teachers and family encouraged her involvement in the Girl Scouts, 4-H and service-learning projects. Family vacations were camping and hiking trips. In high school, her interest in the sciences led her into the college-bound track.

And that’s where the third influencing factor emerged – her peers. “Within that track, my peers were going to college. You get caught up in that – visiting colleges, making applications to different colleges. It really does make a difference who you hang out with in high school.”

She decided on Tusculum College after she was offered a scholarship there in the pre-med track. Between her academic and work-study scholarships at the college, she was able to graduate and meet her goal of not accruing much college debt.

As luck would have it, she worked in the registrar’s office, and her boss, she said, was observant.

She was a junior and starting to study for the MCATs to get into medical school, when her boss heard her say, “I think I can just endure this.” “Endure what?” she was asked. After being encouraged to follow her true interests, she was able to change her major to biology and keep her scholarship.

In graduate school, she had a teaching assistantship to teach biology labs. “I just fell in love with the teaching aspect,” Dr. Hamilton said. That filled her fall and spring, and working as a seasonal naturalist in the Tennessee State Park system filled her summer. Again, much of her job was teaching park visitors about the park’s flora and fauna and the region’s Appalachian culture.

“I was learning how to attract people to my programs, keep them and attract them back for more programs.”

Her boss at the park was also a mentor, always encouraging her to try new topics for park visitors.

With her master’s degree nearing completion after two years, she started applying for positions in the state park system and in college teaching positions within a 250-mile radius.

Northeast State offered her a job first. The technical school was turning into a true community college with an academic track and needed a natural sciences department. She finished her coursework in August 1991 and started her adjunct teaching in August 1991.

The changes at Northeast State brought in an influx of people and opportunities, Dr. Hamilton said. “I started to be put in positions of leadership.”

She was dean of the college’s science division in 2008 when the school’s vice president of academic affairs took a six-week medical leave of absence. The college president asked her to fill in the temporary position.

At first, she told him, “I can’t do that. I felt I was comfortable with the sciences, but didn’t know the other disciplines.” When he asked her again, she couldn’t say no again.

The six weeks turned into more than a year. The former academic vice president was not able to return. The college changed presidents.

“The train kept going,” Dr. Hamilton said. “I told myself I would keep doing the job until someone tells me to go back to teaching.”

Under the new president, her “temporary” position eventually came open. She applied for it. “I felt very comfortable. If I wasn’t the college’s choice, I would have been proud to go back to being a dean or member of the faculty.”

She got the job.

The next step in her career would be a college presidency. And that’s where Dr. Hamilton was about five years later when Dr. Bruce Blanding announced his retirement and the State Board of Regents began its search.

Deciding to take the job offer at Jackson State after 25 years at Northeast State came down to the people she met both at the college and in the Jackson community, she said. “I was encouraged by the support people had for Jackson State.”

Her goal is “to work with faculty, staff, students and the community in developing Jackson State as a premier learning institution.”

That involves providing unique ways to accessing the college’s facilities, programs and services; continuing to respond to the needs of area industry; strengthening the positive educational experience for all students; and bettering their opportunities as they leave campus. “We want them to be successful, whether they go on to another college or into the workforce.”

Her open-door policy for her office is part of her efforts to improve campus communications and hear what others have to say.

She does miss the classroom, she said. “I miss the face-to-face of being a part of a student’s learning. As a faculty member, you get to see those ‘a-ha’ moments in learning.” Today, she said, she asks herself, “How can I facilitate as a leader to experience those a ‘a-ha’ moments?”

She still enjoys outdoor activities – hiking, riding bikes, fishing and camping – and plans to discover those outdoor opportunities in West Tennessee.

She’s honored to be president of Jackson State Community College. As the college celebrates 50 years of educating the people of West Tennessee, she is proud to be a part of planning the college’s next 50.

“I am blessed,” she said. Though her religion is private to her, she adds, “I grew up with a strong religious background. I believe that being here is God’s will. He placed me where I need to be at this time in my life.”

Community reception to be held for JSCC president

Dr. Allana Hamilton began her tenure as Jackson State Community College’s fifth president on January 10. Since that time, she has been very busy meeting a number of people in the community in addition to becoming familiar with the campus and meeting her new work family at the college.

“We have been looking for a good opportunity to officially introduce Dr. Hamilton to the community,” said John McCommon, public relations coordinator for the college. “We are so happy to have [her] at Jackson State and are anxious to let the people of our community get to know our new president.”

To introduce Dr. Hamilton, the faculty, staff, and students of Jackson State are holding a community reception at the college. The event will be held on Thursday, February 16 from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. in the college’s student center on the main campus on North Parkway.

“Dr. Hamilton’s arrival is just one of many exciting things that are happening at Jackson State this year,” said McCommon. “We hope that the community will come out to meet our new president and celebrate this exciting time with us.”