Anthony Wise: Letters of Note

Pellissippi State President Anthony Wise

Pellissippi State President Anthony Wise

L. Anthony Wise Jr.
Pellissippi State President

On September 24, the College issued a press release noting that for the first time in our history, Pellissippi State had the largest enrollment among the community colleges in Tennessee in terms of headcount (10,325) and full-time equivalent (6,630). More than 1,700 of our students are class of 2015 high school graduates entering on the Tennessee Promise; they join the nearly 1,600 students continuing with Tennessee Achieves. The strong response to these last-dollar scholarship programs is the primary factor in the increase in headcount and FTE and a decrease in average age of our students.

While nearly one-third of our students receive support through last-dollar scholarship programs, many others receive aid from other federal or state programs, the Pellissippi State Foundation or institutional initiatives. Over the course of an academic year, I receive hundreds of letters from students who have been recipients of Foundation or College scholarships. Those letters reveal much about our students, including why they are here and the difficulties they face outside the classroom. They contain insight into the narratives individual students craft about their lives and their experiences at the College.

One student writes to say she has been out of school for 26 years but has returned to pursue a degree in Business with a concentration in Hospitality. She hopes to become an event planner and to serve as an example to her children and grandchildren. Another writes as a single parent with limited education; she, too, hopes to be a role model for her children and to continue her education through the completion of a master’s degree so she can be a licensed clinical social worker. Still another writes of leaving the workforce after more than two decades to find a path closer to his passion for making a difference in the community and in the lives of people in need.

You might not know all of the students with letters in this fall’s pile, but you know students like them. They know you as well, and from time to time, one will take the opportunity to list every single person at the College, inside the classroom and out, who has helped him or her achieve success. Numbers are important; being the largest community college in the state is significant. Changing lives one story at a time really is the best measure of our success. I thank you — and our students thank you — for your contributions. If you ever doubt that what you do and what we do matters, stop by my office so we can read of few of those letters together.

*I borrowed the title “Letters of Note” from the name of a Twitter feed of historically and culturally significant letters published by @shaunusher. I think he would agree that some of our students have written letters of note.