Category Archives: Alumni

Professional bluegrass musician gains focus, friendships as Pellissippi State student

Samuel Damewood, former Pellissippi State Music student, performs with Drake White and the Big Fire. The band opened for Eric Church this spring.

Samuel Damewood is right at home in Nashville’s limelight. Damewood helped open for country music star Eric Church this spring and describes performing for a large audience as “exhilarating.”

But Damewood says he’ll never forget the friends he made when he took a hiatus from the stage and enrolled in the Music program at Pellissippi State Community College.

In 2009, the Knoxville native had already toured the country as a professional musician for four years, playing his fiddle for thousands of people. As a member of the bluegrass band Pine Mountain Railroad, he was living the life—touring 300 days a year, playing in glitzy places, recording and hanging out with bluegrass greats Ricky Skaggs and Alison Krauss.

But it was at Pellissippi State that he says he finally “found himself.”

“I had hit a rough patch in my life,” said Damewood. “I decided to make a change, quit playing professionally for a while and go back to school.

“I had played with Larry Vincent [a Pellissippi State Music assistant professor] before, and he knew about my bluegrass background and wanted me to help with the college’s bluegrass ensemble, Hardin Valley Thunder. It was something I could really give to.”

For the next two years, Pellissippi State’s Music faculty became family for the now 29-year-old. As a college student, Damewood rediscovered his love for bluegrass and also found a couple of new passions: jazz and classical music.

“Two big things that Pellissippi reinvigorated: my love for life and my love for music,” he said. “I also learned who I was and what I wanted in the future.”

Damewood used his time at the college to grow both personally and technically.

“Bill Brewer became a great friend and ally and huge inspiration.” Brewer is an associate professor and program coordinator of Music. “Larry Vincent told me not to lose myself and who I am. It took me a while to figure out what he meant, but now I understand. I have this energy and this drive and almost a childlike view of music.

“Robin James was my violin teacher at Pellissippi State,” Damewood said. “Her drive for me to practice classically and work on my technique has been a super foundation for what I do in Nashville, because Nashville really isn’t the ‘country music capital of the world.’ It’s the ‘music capital of the world.’ There are so many more things going on than country.”

Damewood says the people in the Music program became his family during a hard time in his life.

“All of the teachers were such a great help. They were all very nurturing, and they listened a lot. I talked to them a lot about the classes and how they pertained to what I wanted to do in the future.”

The summer before he transferred to Belmont University in Nashville last year, he put together Heyday Revival, a progressive bluegrass band composed entirely of former and current Pellissippi State students.

“We still play gigs in Knoxville, when I’m not on the road,” he said. “We’ve got a few performances lined up for this summer.”

Damewood is now a commercial violin major with an emphasis in music technology at Belmont.

“This degree teaches you how to be a music supervisor for film and TV,” he said.  “I plan on getting my degree and then have a lot of big plans for the future. I want to eventually start my own entertainment company and use that to help people to achieve their dreams in the music industry.

“Someday down the road from that I’d like to start my own record label to help people with their dreams—just like Pellissippi State helps people.”

Meanwhile, Damewood is playing with a new group, Drake White and the Big Fire. The band signed with Universal last year and opened for country musician Eric Church’s Blood, Sweat and Beers Tour this spring. The musicians also have opened for Willie Nelson and will open for the Allman Brothers in August.

The first gig with Church was in Portland, Maine, before a 9,000-member audience—the largest Damewood had ever played for. He says he felt a surge of nervous energy and, despite his previous experience, took a sneak peek through the curtain before he went on stage.

“I’d never played on such a big stage before,” he said. “I just kind of stayed in one place for the first song and then realized the other four band members were moving around. I thought, ‘Oh, I can move.’

“After it was over the guys in the band said they were proud of me for owning the stage and not being afraid. It’s very intoxicating in a way that just by moving around and doing things, you can have 9,000 people watch you. It’s crazy.”

These days, Damewood is back and riding high. “My life is full steam ahead forward. I couldn’t be any happier. A lot of that stems from my time at Pellissippi State.”

To learn more about Music and other offerings at Pellissippi State, visit www.pstcc.edu.

Graduating next month? You’re invited to breakfast with the president

All Pellissippi State students who will graduate next month are invited to attend a Graduates’ Breakfast With the President.

Celebrate your accomplishment by joining other graduates and Pellissippi State President Anthony Wise. Breakfasts are 8-9:30 a.m., and you can choose from the following dates and campus locations:

  • Wednesday, April 11, Magnolia Avenue Campus
  • Wednesday, April 18, Division Street Campus
  • Thursday, April 19, Hardin Valley Campus, Goins Building
    College Center
  • Wednesday, April 25, Blount County Campus

Graduates’ Breakfast With the President is sponsored by the Pellissippi State Alumni Association.

R.S.V.P. to Brooke Pannell, Alumni Relations coordinator, at (865) 539-7275, or email alumni@pstcc.edu.

Pellissippi State hosts March 31 Alumni Bunny Brunch Homecoming

Did you graduate from Pellissippi State Community College? If so, you and your family are invited to the first-ever Alumni Bunny Brunch Spring Homecoming, Saturday, March 31, 10-noon. The event takes place on the Pellissippi Campus, 10915 Hardin Valley Road.

At the homecoming, you’ll have the chance to decorate your own pancake in the cafeteria of the Goins Building. We’ll also have an egg hunt, crafts booths, face painting, storytelling, picture taking with the Easter Bunny and music by Hardin Valley Thunder, Pellissippi State’s bluegrass band.

The free event is presented by Pellissippi State’s Alumni Association.

“The Alumni Association strives to provide alums the opportunity to reconnect with former classmates, as well as with the college, while enjoying fun activities for the entire family,” said Brooke Pannell, coordinator of Alumni Relations.

Those planning to attend are asked to R.S.V.P. to the Alumni Office at (865) 539-7275 or alumni@pstcc.edu by Monday, March 26.

To request accommodations for a disability, contact the executive director of Human Resources and Affirmative Action at (865) 694-6607 or humanresources@pstcc.edu.

‘Biggest Loser’ contestant Sherry Johnston speaks at Pellissippi State


But what if you can?
It’s a question that has become a motivating force in the life of Sherry Johnston, a contestant in Season 9 of NBC’s “The Biggest Loser.” It is also a message she will bring to Pellissippi State Community College on March 27.

Johnston, a Knoxville native, and her daughter, Ashley, competed in 2010 on the popular program, which promotes weight loss and a healthier lifestyle. Her mantra, she says, emerged from a statement her daughter made during training.

At one point, Ashley voiced concerns that she wouldn’t be able to do what the trainers asked: “I can’t do it.”

“I looked at her,” said Johnston, “and it was definitely a God moment, and I said, ‘But what if you can?’” Those words of support got them through the struggle, and Johnston now uses the same message to encourage others.

At Pellissippi State, Johnston will share her experiences on the program and discuss how she dropped nearly 100 pounds in her three-month stay on the Biggest Loser ranch. Since the season ended, she has continued to maintain her weight and now devotes much of her time to promoting a healthy and fit lifestyle.

The free presentation takes place 12:45-1:45 p.m. at Pellissippi State’s Clayton Performing Arts Center. The center is located on the Pellissippi Campus, 10915 Hardin Valley Road. The event is presented by Pellissippi State’s Alumni Association and sponsored by Covenant Health.

For more information, contact Alumni Relations, (865) 539-7275 or alumni@pstcc.edu. To request accommodations for a disability, contact the executive director of Human Resources and Affirmative Action at (865) 694-6607 or humanresources@pstcc.edu.

Student art sought for juried Annual Student Art Show

Current and past students who have taken studio art classes at Pellissippi State are invited to submit artwork for the upcoming Annual Student Art Show.

Any student who has completed a Pellissippi State studio art class during the past two years may submit up to two pieces of two- or three-dimensional art for consideration. Categories include drawing, painting, watercolor, 2-D design, intermediate color/design, 3-D design, sculpture, figure sculpture, ceramics and blacksmithing. All work submitted must be ready for exhibit.

Entry forms are required. They may be picked up in Room 106 of the Bagwell Center on the Pellissippi Campus or requested by contacting Jennifer Brickey at jmbrickey@pstcc.edu.

The submission date is March 22, 12-4 p.m.

An informational session concerning various options for matting and framing takes place at 10 a.m. Feb. 24 in Bagwell 102.

Exhibit dates for the Annual Student Art Show are March 26-April 12. Prizes will be awarded, including the Pellissippi State Community College Purchase Award.

Pellissippi State student conquers math phobia, pursues economics at Columbia U.

Pellissippi State student Toby Goldstein, pictured in a vehicle in Afghanistan, where he supported the U.S. military’s interpretation program. Goldstein completed a degree at Pellissippi State in December and is continuing his education at Columbia University in New York City. He plans to pursue economics, with a concentration in Middle Eastern studies.

Toby J. Goldstein just earned a two-year associate’s degree from Pellissippi State Community College, and now he has been accepted to Columbia University in New York City. Founded in the 1700s, Columbia is not only one of the oldest universities in the country, but it also is consistently ranked among the top five institutions of higher learning.

The 31-year-old student will pursue a bachelor’s degree in economics at the Ivy League school—quite an accomplishment for someone who spent years avoiding college because he was afraid to take math.

Goldstein credits Pellissippi State for helping him overcome, and even embrace, the subject. It was through the community college, he says, that his longtime phobia for math—a discipline that figures prominently in such economics concepts as input and output, supply and demand, and inflation and recession—became an affinity.

In 2005, Goldstein, an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, was released from the military. After his discharge, he returned to the Middle East and studied at an Arabic language institute in Egypt for eight months.

Language school completed, he then had to make a pivotal decision: should he return to the U.S. to pursue a college degree or accept a job overseas?

Not ready to face the specter of tackling college math, he opted for the latter.

“I honestly felt more comfortable in a wartime environment than I did trying to get through algebra again,” he said. “I had such a bad experience with it in high school that I put college off to take a job in the defense industry.”

Once back in Iraq, Goldstein worked a contract worker who supported the U.S. military’s interpretation program. He was responsible for large operations and several hundred employees assigned to the U.S. Army’s Intelligence and Security Command.

Ultimately, he lived in the Middle East 2004-2010. He married during his last months there, and the couple returned to the U.S. By that time, Goldstein had come to accept the need for a college education.

“I decided to move to Knoxville and go to Pellissippi State,” he said. When he began classes in January 2010, it was no surprise that entry testing pointed to the need for pre-college-level math.

“Before I came to Pellissippi State, I hated math,” Goldstein said. “I was really bad at it. At Pellissippi State, I started with the Carnegie program [computerized math exercises used in the developmental classroom] and eventually got over my fear of it.

“It was when I took Basic Calculus that I really developed a passion for mathematics—I really got into it. The math education I’ve received here has been amazing. I’m forever grateful to the Transitional Studies [pre-college-level] and math teachers. ”

Goldstein said he had initially planned to transfer from Pellissippi State to the University of Tennessee and pursue a degree in finance. He changed his mind once he took economics.

“That class gave me an idea of how intriguing, expansive and applicable economics can be,” Goldstein said. “We were assigned an individual country study, and I chose to do mine on Iraq.”

With his Arabic language background and his newfound aptitude for math, he said, “it began to occur to me that the economics of the Middle East could be a legitimate intellectual pursuit.” He decided to combine economics with a concentration in Middle Eastern studies.

About the same time, Goldstein discovered that Columbia University had admitted Iraq and Afghanistan veterans as transfers from community colleges.

“I changed gears immediately,” he said. “I worked with Ben Sugg, coordinator of Academic Student Support at Pellissippi State, to come up with a schedule that would help prepare me for Columbia, fulfill the requirements for an associate’s degree and transfer to UT if I didn’t get accepted to Columbia.”

Goldstein completed the requirements for an Associate of Science degree at Pellissippi State in December. He finished with a 4.0 grade point average and was a member of the college chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society of two-year colleges. He also served as vice president of the Entrepreneurs Club.

“This school has some of the best instructors I have ever been exposed to,” Goldstein said. “They have so much passion about what they are doing, it’s infectious, and they really challenge you to become the best you can be.”

Pellissippi State has more than 11,000 students at its four locations: the Pellissippi Campus, Blount County Campus, Division Street Campus and Magnolia Avenue Campus. For more information about Pellissippi State, call (865) 694-6400 or go to www.pstcc.edu.