A pair of collaborations this summer are helping spread the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga name across the state.
Partnering with the Niswonger Foundation in Greeneville, Tennessee, the UTC Center for Professional Education (CPE) is providing advanced placement training to more than 300 Tennessee high school teachers across the state over this summer and next.
With the Mid-Cumberland Community Action Agency, CPE also is providing career and workforce development training to individuals in a seven-county service area surrounding Nashville.
According to CPE Director John Freeze, both collaborations tie into a UT System strategic initiative of showcasing how its institutions can impact communities across the state regardless of the campus location.
“Most of our opportunities have been here in Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia, but these new initiatives align nicely with the UT System strategic plan,” said Freeze, who serves on the UT System’s Outreach and Engagement Strategic Plan Committee.
“The UT System is trying to cultivate and create a story that, no matter the component, division or sector, a University of Tennessee campus or institute is out there in the community, engaged and doing real and meaningful work.
“The simple fact about these two partnerships is that we are now involved in counties outside the geographic footprint that we would traditionally serve, yet we have the capacity and the capability to do that. That’s very exciting.”
The CPE alliance with the Niswonger Foundation came together quickly after the Tennessee Department of Education selected the organization in April to develop and support a new Advanced Placement Access for All program to help more students earn college credit while in high school.
Gina Pavlovich, director of AP Access for All and Niswonger Online, said the new program provides students across the state access to advanced placement courses virtually, ultimately eliminating financial barriers and supporting student enrollment in AP coursework not currently offered at their home high school.
“If you are in a small high school with 200 kids and you only have five who want to take AP Biology, then you can’t hire a teacher to teach five kids. Or you can’t take another science teacher out of a class of 25 to teach just five kids,” she explained.
“We saw the larger high schools could offer anything and everything, and then we saw those smaller high schools were sometimes struggling to offer the basics to their students.
“So we said, ‘How can we level the playing field so that students—no matter where they live—can have access to these excellent courses?’ Even if it’s something that has never been offered in the classroom at their brick-and-mortar high school, they can now add it to their course offerings list and give those kids the opportunities.”
For more than a decade, the foundation has enrolled four or five students from several small and rural schools and blended them into one larger AP class, she said.
“Then we put in a highly-qualified Tennessee-licensed teacher to teach these kids from all over the state,” she said. “When the AP Access grant opened up, it allowed us to increase our AP training, and that’s how our partnership with UTC started.”
Nearly 120 Niswonger-sponsored teachers are participating in this year’s Chattanooga AP Summer Institute (APSI) via online workshops, Pavlovich said, and the hope is to double that figure next summer.
According to CPE-provided data, the addition of Niswonger participants increased this summer’s overall total of APSI members to a program-record 616 teachers, with the total number of instructors coming from 41 different states.
Just how essential is that training? Freeze cited an example that, if 300 AP-trained instructors teach just one AP class of 20 students per year, then 6,000 Tennessee high school students would have access to an AP course. Many of those students come from at-risk and distressed counties.
Many students who ultimately will benefit from the organization’s collaboration with CPE come from those counties, said Nancy Dishner, president and CEO of the Niswonger Foundation. Creating this partnership ensures that this type of work continues, she added.
“By getting more teachers involved, you create sustainability,” said Dishner, who formerly served as vice provost for enrollment services and director of the Roan Scholars Leadership Program at East Tennessee State University.
“While it’s extremely important that we get those students wanting to take AP courses, what will really sustain this work is the teacher training.”
Meanwhile, CPE’s partnership with the MCCAA involves workforce development in Rutherford, Sumner, Robinson, Trousdale, Cheatham, Wilson and Williamson counties.
Rebecca Fields-Santin, community services block grant coordinator for the Mid-Cumberland Community Action Agency, said her organization—which is celebrating its 50th year in 2021—has a mission to support economic independence for low-income, elderly, disabled and veterans in counties in the Nashville area.
One method for supporting constituents is by sponsoring individuals to go through career certification programs available through a company called Ed2Go, a partner of UTC.
“Creating new relationships is crucial for our programs, and this is a cool partnership for us because there are so many pieces to it,” Fields-Santin said. “We are all mission-minded, and our mission is the same: To help people.
“The online piece is such a huge thing for our clients. Transportation can be such a huge barrier for the low-income individuals that we’re serving. The fact that this program offers it—and that it’s an easy process—removes those barriers.”