University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Magazine, Spring 2022

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ON THE COVER Our students, faculty, staff and alumni represent diverse places, cultures, backgrounds and walks of life. We selected four different covers for this issue of the magazine to depict some of the many faces who embody the UTC campus community and whose stories are featured here.

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The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Magazine volume five, issue one | Spring 2022

CHANCELLOR | Steven R. Angle


Message from the Chancellor



A Path Toward Public Service


Skills for Thrills


Finding Comfort in Discomfort



No. 1 in Family


12 Journey from the Past

WRITERS | Charlie Reed Shawn Ryan | Chuck Wasserstrom

10 It's Never Too Late to Succeed 14 Stem-ulating 15 Study, Work, Repeat

PHOTOGRAPHER | Angela Foster

16 Inner Examination


18 ‘Duty’ Calls

VIDEOGRAPHY | Mike Andrews Marielle Echavez | Chase O'Hara

19 Campus Ambassador

GET IN TOUCH We welcome your feedback

20 ‘Just Maggie and Sam’ 22 Community of Success 24 Down-to-earth 26 Students of the Game 27 “Just call me Carlos" 28 Logistically Speaking 29 Alum Notes 30 And Finally... 31 (423)



BONUS CONTENT The UTC mens’ basketball team comes home to a flock of fans after winning the 2022 Southern Conference Championship.

Look for these icons to access bonus videos, photos and links to stories to learn more.

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As educators, our role is to prepare students to be responsible citizens, achieve their dreams and impact society. Along the way, we work to help them connect to our community and discover their place in the world. This issue of The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Magazine brings stories of the wide-ranging life experiences, aspirations and passions our students bring to UTC and our community. As I read their stories, what impressed me was the rich diversity of backgrounds, interests and experiences among individual students who, collectively, make up our student body. The students, alumni and faculty profiled in the pages of this issue represent a small sample of the divergent interests, contributions and hopes for the future of those we are privileged to interact with on their life journeys. Our students engage in creative, diverse learning experiences within and outside the classroom; complete essential and impactful capstone projects; experience life-changing study abroad programs; conduct cutting-edge research; complete internships; engage in our community; and embrace off-campus adventures. UTC is a springboard for students to discover and begin writing their next chapter. A common theme is student involvement and engagement, starting with cohort communities—a unique approach to building community through student groups and connections. We provide opportunities for students to engage in large and small settings, ranging from research to projects to recreational activities. It is the beating heart of the UTC educational experience and aids students in their life preparation.

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In addition to the wide variety of students featured in this issue, you’ll meet a young alumnus—mechanical engineering major Freeman Broadwell— who has started a STEM education program in the country of Albania. The magazine is capped off by a tribute to Richard Jackson, an English department professor retiring after a remarkable 46-year career. One of his points of pride: More than 50 of his former students have published books. You will also learn how UTC is adapting to the changing needs of businesses and students. The Bachelor of Applied Leadership is a fully online bachelor’s degree program for students with previous college, military or work experience who want to complete their undergraduate degrees. Our Bachelor of Applied Science in Mechatronics allows students to work hands-on with robots and be prepared for opportunities in this rapidly growing field. While our undergraduates come from various backgrounds and enroll in a variety of programs, they share a common goal: To complete their studies, earn a degree and be prepared to take on the challenges of our world. I look forward to a return to activities that have been postponed and canceled over the last two years. Our spring commencement will recognize the academic achievements of over 1,550 students who have earned their degrees. Every graduate represents our commitment to student success and community engagement.

Steven R. Angle Chancellor




enning, Tennessee, a small town about an hour northeast of Memphis, is known as the boyhood home and final resting place of Alex Haley, the famed author of “Roots: The Saga of an American Family.” Perhaps someday, it will also be known as the childhood home of Miles Mosby, now a senior political science major at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. The two have a connection in Fred Montgomery Jr., Mosby’s great-grandfather and a lifelong friend of Haley’s. The well-chronicled Montgomery, who attended school with Haley in a segregated one-room schoolhouse, served as the first Black mayor of Henning from 1992 to 2000. Montgomery ran for mayor at the urging of Haley and closed his life as curator of the Alex Haley Museum, passing away in 2006 at the age of 89. “Knowing about my great-grandfather has always instilled thoughts of public service in my head,” says Mosby, who plans to pursue a career in law following his May graduation. “I have always dreamed of doing something similar to him. “I want to use law as that basic foundation for the possibility of public service. I plan on becoming an attorney and performing pro bono work to help underrepresented communities.” Mosby tells a story his parents shared with him about his great-grandfather. “He was relatively sick when I was born, but he insisted on seeing me,” Mosby says. “He told my parents that I was going to be something special. “I don’t have many actual memories about him personally; I was very young when he died. It’s mainly through stories and things like that, but just that interaction in and of itself has always been in the back of my mind when I’m doing things and living up to this example that he set for me.”

TREKKING ACROSS THE STATE TO ATTEND UTC After growing up in Henning, which has a population of fewer than 1,000 people, Mosby made the cross-the-state journey to UTC at the urging of his parents. “They felt like this would be the perfect leap into a bigger environment, but not such a massive environment,” he says. “One of the main things they talked about in orientation is that UTC is the biggest small school you’ll ever go to. It still has small classroom sizes and that personal connection.” Mosby says it was in one of those UTC classrooms that he first discovered the Tennessee Intercollegiate State Legislature. Better known as TISL, it is an annual forum for college students from across the state to learn how government works, exchange ideas and express opinions. More than 20 colleges from across the state participate in the yearly mock legislature.

“It just so happens someone in TISL was in a class with me my sophomore year. I heard about it and thought, ‘You know what? Let’s go out on a limb and try it out,’” he says. Mosby didn’t just try it out; he flourished as part of the UTC delegation. Over the last two years, UTC took home top honors as the best overall TISL delegation. From a personal standpoint, Mosby was a two-time recipient of the Carlisle Award, TISL’s oldest and most prestigious award, which recognizes 10 outstanding student legislators every session. Serving as the UTC delegation’s president during last November’s trip to the Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville, Mosby wrote a bill that paid homage to Haley. “It was inspired by growing up in Henning, where there’s this big placard out in front of Alex Haley’s boyhood home,” he relates. “Just seeing this placard every time I walk by it gives you that extra level of, ‘This isn’t just some random house.’” “The bill that I wrote was a resolution to add historical context to Confederate monuments and the placards that we have around the state of Tennessee on other historical things. It was about adding placards to those monuments to talk about the roles these individuals played. It’s meant to be a compromise between completely removing the statues or leaving them up and offering no context.” Mosby says his TISL experience has confirmed many of his personal beliefs. “It reassured me in my ability to speak in front of people and reassured me in my ability to lead,” he says, “It improved my problem-solving skills, my ability to adapt and think on the fly, as well as work within a group system.” These are all essential traits for someone pursuing a career in public service. It also helps to have the memories of his great-grandfather, a guardian angel who knew from an early age Mosby was destined to be something special. “Yeah, 100%,” he says.

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SKILLS FOR THRILLS World champion climbers teach at UTC By Charlie Reed



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or professional rock climbers Wills Young and Lisa Rands, climbing is their passion and their business. It’s also how they fell for each other. Married for 18 years, they have spent years doing things most people will only see in photographs or videos. In 2010, they moved to Chattanooga from Bishop, California, a little town on the cusp of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and haven’t looked back. They chose the Scenic City—after coming here for a competition sponsored by The North Face—to start their next adventure in climbing. This time as instructors. “It’s the perfect size with stuff going on and the climbing right on the back door,” says Young, who began teaching climbing for students at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in fall 2022, when outdoors classes returned after a pandemic hiatus. They employ and teach UTC students at their gym, Synergy Climbing and Ninja, which they opened in the summer of 2020 amid tough times and after years of working for other people. One of their newest employees, Luke Holmes, started as an intern from the UTC College of Health and Human Performance. Holmes earned a bachelor’s degree in outdoor recreation and sports management in the fall of 2021 and interned at Synergy the summer before that. He’s been climbing since his teens and says the job couldn’t be more perfect. “There’s a lot of hanging out and fun that’s part of it,” says Holmes. “Wills and Lisa are the best. They’ve just done so much so it’s awesome to get to work here.” Aside from their expertise and the innate exhilaration that comes with the very idea of rock climbing, it’s no wonder people are drawn to Young and Rands. They were the late 1990s/early 2000s version of today’s social media influencers. Rands was hitting her professional stride and with Young as her coach and partner, the couple


jet-setted from one spectacular destination to another. For work. A California native, Rands had just graduated with a degree in geology from California Polytechnic State University Pomona, better known as Cal Poly Pomona. Young photographed Rands tackling epic challenges—her freehand climbing on the edge of protruding cliffs in Korea or clambering the round edges of a massive boulder in South Africa—and wrote companion stories for Climbing Magazine. The material doubled as content for Rand’s corporate sponsors to use in promotions and advertising and allowed them to “live the life” of dreams. “It was a whirlwind,” says Rands, the first American to win a Bouldering World Cup and, at the time, the face of outdoor brands like Patagonia. (She’s climbed the granite spires in Patagonia, a region encompassing all of southern Chile and Argentina, too.)


She started climbing as a teenager and continued in college, taking a few semester-long breaks for “climbing projects.” Young, born in California to British parents but raised in England, got into climbing as a kid on the famed gritstones of the U.K.’s Peak District, located almost dead center of England. He came back to the U.S. for the first time on a one-way ticket shortly after graduating from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland with a degree in philosophy. He has dual-citizenship so the move was relatively easy, especially since he brought only a suitcase. For Young, becoming a professional philosopher seemed as far-fetched as becoming a professional climber, so he “just went for it.” He wound up back in California via New York City and Philadelphia, found a job selling climbing gear for Yvon Chouinard, the billionaire founder of Patagonia—the climbing gear company, not the region. At the same time, he climbed in as many competitions as he could. Young and Rands met in Los Angeles “developing” ascents in the San Gabriel Mountains and other nearby ranges. “It was wicked. You get to see places nobody else on earth has ever touched,” says Young, who won Rands’ heart at a climbing competition in Arizona. Days after graduating from college in 1996, Rands moved to Colorado to be with Young, who by that time was working at Climbing Magazine.

That’s when climbing became not only their passion but their business. After years of constant travel and wear-andtear on her body, though, Rands was ready for a “lifestyle change” by 2008. Young was, too. “I started my career late and so, at some point, you get older and have to stop,” says Rands.


Their gym in Chattanooga is a giant, cavernous playground. Rubbery, artificial rock faces with multicolored grips line the towering walls. People use their hands and feet like four-legged octopi to maneuver the walls, falling off like drops of water and hitting the floor mats with a thud. There’s also an indoor obstacle course designed by their business partner and fellow climber Isaac Caldiero, a multi-season contestant and million-dollar winner on the TV show American Ninja Warrior. They don’t have children but get a hint of parental satisfaction teaching college students and kids how to climb. They also lead a nationally competitive youth climbing team at the gym. “It’s always been appealing, the idea of opening a climbing gym with my husband and teaching all the skills we learned through our lifetime of climbing and passing those on to another generation.”

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FINDING COMFORT IN DISCOMFORT New horizons for UTC Senior Chris Bogans By Charlie Reed


hris Bogans didn’t luck into his federal work-study job with the men’s basketball team at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He arranged the whole thing. A basketball super-fan, he started volunteering for the team during his freshman year, doing everything from recording stats to getting water for players.

From there, he carved out a job doing research in the Gary W. Rollins College of Business. His hard work also led to a data analytics internship with TVA in winter semester 2021. “I’ve learned a lot at UTC and grown a lot as a student and an adult in terms of trying to navigate the world. I’ve learned how to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations,” says Bogans, who plans to graduate in May. None of it was easy for Bogans, who has worked to defy the shy side of his personality for much of his life. The shyness is a symptom of being on the autism spectrum, a developmental disorder that can involve varying degrees of linguistic and social impairment. “I was diagnosed at age 2,” says Bogans, who took speech classes throughout elementary, middle and high school, which “definitely helped me to advocate for myself in college.” He was drawn from his home in Hoschton, Georgia, to UTC specifically by the Mosaic program, he says.

Launched in 2008, Mosaic supports degree-seeking students who are on the autism spectrum, providing tutors, mentors and other assistance through the campus Disability Resource Center. Mosaic approaches autism more as a form of “neurodiversity” than a disorder. Bogans says Mosaic drew him out of his shell. “You get a lot of support,” he says. Part of breaking out included serving as president of Mosaic’s Student Events Committee for two years and working an event manager for the Office of Student and Family Engagement. His favorite event is the annual open-mic night where he plays the trumpet. He participated in Moc LEAD—short for Leaders Encouraging a Difference—a 10-week program that links students with skills and people, both on- and off-campus, to help them succeed in school, in their careers and in life. Like many, both on the spectrum and not, Bogans gets anxious from time to time, but he falls back on something his mom helped instill in him: “I have made a commitment to being part of the community and putting myself out there.” A high school criminal justice teacher, Kateria Bogans was her son’s biggest advocate while he grew up, he says, and eventually realized he was ready take the reins. Boy, was he. By his junior year he was leading the conversation during his IEP meetings. Short for Individualized Education Program, all children diagnosed with a disability who attend a public school must have one. A sea change occurred when Bogans got to UTC. “He’s an entirely different person,” Kateria Bogans says. “We couldn’t be more proud of him. “I want the powers that be at UTC to know how important the students, faculty and staff have been and how they’ve wrapped their arms around my child and been so accepting. “It was a huge deal for us to let him go. We’ve always protected him and so we are forever grateful to UTC.”

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Bogans has made the Dean’s List twice and was awarded the John C. Stophel Distinguished Students Award for high-potential business students who have made significant and meaningful contributions to UTC. He says he enjoyed working for the Moc’s men’s basketball team. It was exciting and challenging and lined up perfectly with his major at the time—sports management. But he developed a passion for statistics while working on the team, so he switched to business analytics and parlayed that into his next opportunity at UTC. At the start of junior year in the College of Business in 2020, Bogans became one of the first students to conduct research for his federal work-study job. His studied NBA All-Star players to determine what distinguishes them from other players and how that impacts their teams’ success. The burgeoning work-study program, part of the Undergraduate Research and Creative Endeavor program (URACE), paired Bogans with UC Foundation Professor of Management Frank Butler. The two have worked together for nearly two years. “I like to find out what interests the students. I don’t want to put them into my research world, especially undergrads. I want to find out their passion and start from there,” says Butler, who, like all the faculty in the work-study research program, is a volunteer. The key to mentoring Bogans—and all students—is “showing that you care,” he says. Working for the NBA has always been Bogans’ dream job, but he never knew the league employed so many data scientists and statisticians until working with Butler. With a resume that reflects academic achievement, personal growth and community service, Bogans is facing several career paths to take. “I wanted to do as many things as I could at UTC, and I’ve grown a lot during my four years here,” he says.


In May, Katie Crutchfield receives a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She plans to pursue a master’s degree in counseling and work with older adults.


First to earn more than a high school diploma By Katie Crutchfield (as told to Chuck Wasserstrom)


very first-generation college student has a story to tell. Mine happens to be a bit complicated. I spent my pre-teen years as an only child living in Nashville. My dad made it to second grade in school before quitting to help his family. My mom made it to eighth grade, then she quit and ran away and got married. Yeah, it was a whole thing. My mom ended up going back to get her GED. School was very important to her. I remember her asking me questions like, “Have you done your homework? Do you need help with your homework? I’ll help you with what I can.” She was always telling me, “College will be the best thing for you.” My dad laid block foundation and did enough math to make sure his houses didn’t fall over. He worked with his hands and did what he could, but he didn’t read well. My dad couldn’t teach me to read, but he helped me with spelling words and things like that to kind of push me. “Hey, you can do this. Even though we didn’t, you can.” But my dad passed away when I was 8 years old. My mom passed away when I was 13. I moved to the little town of Greenbrier, Tennessee, just north of Nashville, to live with my aunt and uncle—my mom’s brother and his wife—and their two sons. They are my cousins, but we’re so close they’re more like siblings to me. Just like my parents, my aunt and uncle pushed me to get an education, even though they didn’t graduate high school. Growing up, it never occurred to me that no one in my family had a high school diploma. I was an honor roll student in high school, the kid that went to school all the time, never missed a day, was upset when we didn’t have school. I was always academically focused. So it was more than an assumption with my family that I would be the one to go to college. People in my family would tell me, “Go get a bachelor’s degree. Everybody needs a bachelor’s degree.” It’s easy to say, but nobody really knew what college looked like.

When I first came to UTC, I didn’t realize I was a first-generation student. I didn’t know that was a thing. I thought you just went to college or you didn’t. I didn’t realize that having parents go to school made a difference in how prepared you were. And I struggled after I got here. College can be confusing and scary for anyone. Anything that says “The University of...” is a little intimidating when no one you lean on has any background there. I would call my aunt and uncle and tell them I’m struggling, and they tried to be reassuring. “You’re working so hard. You’re going to do fine. It will be all right.” But they didn’t understand what it was like. Many in first-gen deal with generational curses such as the cycles of poverty, low education rates and low graduation rates. A lot of us come from families where that is the norm. Once I started working with people in the First Gen program at UTC, it helped me find my spot on campus. I wanted to be part of a group of people who understood what it was not to know anything. I went head first into it, and I really blossomed. Even now, where I’m worried about exit exams, GREs (Graduate Record Examination) and MATs (Miller Analogies Test), I continue to lean on that guidance and mentoring. They have provided me with a feeling that I belong.

When I started college, I wanted to make my family proud. Getting my bachelor’s degree is a big deal for me, but it’s also a big deal for them, a matter of pride to show this family is capable of something. Both of my brothers have teenage daughters, and one of the biggest motivations to finish my degree has been to show them they can do anything they want regardless of what their parents did.

I worked hard to get this bachelor’s degree, but it shouldn’t go without saying that I don’t know where I would be—the degree that I’ll be receiving, the job that I’m going to go into—had I not gone through what I have been through.

Left to right, back row: Scott Tuskey (my boyfriend), John Brogdon Jr. (my uncle), Justin Brogdon (middle brother), John Brogdon III (oldest brother); middle row: me, Amanda Marshall (Justin’s wife), Teresa Brogdon (my aunt), Heather Ferrell (John III’s wife); bottom row: Chasity Brogdon (John III and Heather’s daughter), Francis Christianson (Teresa’s mom), Kendra Brogdon (Justin and Amanda’s daughter).

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IT'S NEVER TOO LATE TO SUCCEED New degree program is aimed at working adults By Chuck Wasserstrom


n the fall of 2021, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga launched a new degree program aimed at working adults. The Bachelor of Applied Science in Applied Leadership (BAS-AL), housed in the College of Health, Education and Professional Studies, is a fully online program serving students with previous

college, military or work experience— also known as adult learners—who want to complete their undergraduate degrees. “We are a pretty diverse group as far as our backgrounds, what’s got us there, where we plan to go,” says Larry Guess, one of the fledgling program’s students. “OWLS is what I call us: Older, wiser learners that have life experience.


We’re not the kids we were the first time we went to school; we’re looking at our goals and dreams a lot differently. I mean, there are several grandparents in this program. Hearing their stories and seeing how they align with mine, it blows me away.”

Christina Culbreath and her three sons relocated to Chattanooga in 2016 after accepting a job opportunity at Erlanger Health System, where she started as a revenue cycle team lead and now manages multiple application teams. She received an associate’s degree from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in 2010. “I have twin boys who are currently seniors and we’ve been looking at different colleges,” she says. “In doing so, I saw that UTC had this leadership program that—as a single, working parent—gives me the flexibility I need to participate. “As long as I’m encouraging my older two that college would be a great opportunity, this also is a great opportunity for me to accomplish a personal goal. It is giving me the chance to finish school as well.” For more on Christina Culbreath, go to

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TWENTY-FIVE YEARS A TO THE DAIS After a brief pause in the conversation, Larry Guess started laughing. “I just threw 30 years’ worth of stuff at you in a two-minute chat, didn’t I?” Guess, an emergency medical service member for 16 years and a paramedic the last four, checks off multiple boxes on the list of constituents the BAS-AL program aims to help cross the finish line.

Former military: Check. Working adult with a non-standard schedule: Check. Bachelor’s degree needed for career advancement: Check. Parent who has already seen multiple children receive college degrees: Check. Guess’ educational voyage is now back on track. This December, 25 years after he began his academic career—and after five different attempts through the years—he is on pace to participate in commencement activities. “It’s going to be stupid cool,” he says. “I’m probably going to be that guy walking across the stage bawling because the emotion of that moment is going to be huge.” For more on Larry Guess, go to


Sometimes, career paths take longer to figure out. “I have started and stopped college so many times just trying to find what it was that I wanted to do and where I wanted to go with my career,” says Jermillya Farris, who first took classes at UTC in 2002. “I have dabbled in so many things and so many degree programs— business administration, interior design, childhood education.” Farris says she has found a good niche since joining Blue Cross Blue Shield in 2011, where she is a client management associate. It has her thinking of advancement opportunities. “This is a good place to be,” she says, “but I also need some type of formal education to move up the ladder. Not having a degree is only going to take me so far, in my opinion.” For more on Jermillya Farris, go to

To read more about the BAS-AL program: UTC.EDU/BAS-AL

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JOURNEY FROM THE PAST Serretta Malaikham’s look back brings her forward By Shawn Ryan


erretta Malaikham remembers sitting in the backseat of a car. She remembers “yelling and bodies falling.” That’s all she remembers about the day her father shot her mother and uncle just outside the car, killing them both. He later took his own life. “I think my brain has really tried to push a lot of that out. I think I grew accustomed to hating talking about it,” says Malaikham, who was three years old when the incident occurred. A senior in communications at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, she has started talking about it, a decision that began with a project she completed for Rising Rock, the storytelling class that features pieces written, photographed, videotaped and broadcast by UTC students. In her project, “Journey to Freedom,” she documented the dangerous and terrifying journey her grandparents— Manichanh and Khampoon Sonexayarath—made when they fled their home in the Southeastern Asian country of Laos during the Vietnam War. The Viet Cong were killing anyone they said was disobeying their orders or they thought might be collaborating with the U.S.

“I thought I was going to die. I didn’t think I was going to become a person. They were killing everyone from left to right,” Manichanh says in “Journey to Freedom.” Her family eventually made it to Nashville, where they still live. After the death of her birth parents, Malaikham’s grandparents adopted her. She now calls them Mom and Dad. Her birth mother was the daughter of Manichanh, but the family never talked about the details of her death. She says she doesn’t remember anything clearly about her birth parents and knows what they look like only through photographs. Her grandparents don’t even know she’s now talking about the killings at all, she admits hesitantly with a slightly embarrassed smile. “This is actually the first time I’ve decided to be kind of upfront about my story just because I don’t like the whole pity feeling whenever I tell people what happened in my life,” Malaikham says. “I don’t let that story define me and I don’t want that to be a part of who I am because I’m way more than just what happened to me when I was three.” She credits the bravery of telling the details of the deaths to Billy Weeks, creator and director of Rising Rock. After she finished “Journey to Freedom,”


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he insisted there had to be more to her grandparents’ story. “He said, ‘It wasn’t just rainbows and sunshine as soon as they got to America.’ So then we just had a whole heart-to-heart, and I opened up to him. “He was honestly the reason why I decided to push more with the story because he was like, ‘You shouldn’t let your mom’s legacy die with you. She deserves to be honored, too.’”

“Serretta has been able to bring that same kind of compassion to her other communication skills like writing and audio.” —PROFESSOR BILLY WEEKS

Weeks describes her ability to tell stories with photographs as “simply amazing.” “Her images are always technically sound with beautiful composition, but what her images do best are tell

stories. I always feel like I know the people in each of her photographs,” he says. “Serretta has been able to bring that same kind of compassion to her other communication skills like writing and audio.” She combines those skills in “Journey to Freedom” Weeks says. “This story is a great example of Serretta’s communication skills and it leaves me with a lasting description.” She had never asked her grandparents about their personal story until her Rising Rock project was due in about a week, she says. Sitting in their car in their driveway and listening to her grandmother talk gave Malaikham more than just a finished assignment. “I was so more empathizing with how she was feeling in those moments of escaping,” Malaikham says. “My mom has extreme anxiety, and now it makes so much sense why she does. “You know growing up, mom/ daughter relationships are always kind of rocky. This actually made us a lot closer.”

To read “Journey to Freedom”:


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STEM-ULATING Freeman Broadwell energizes a new class of students By Shawn Ryan


ursuing a career in technology can be an arduous climb for young people in Albania. The country on the western coast of the Adriatic Sea in Europe doesn’t offer a ready path for students to prepare for jobs in the fields of science, technology, engineering or mathematics—also known as STEM—but Freeman Broadwell is working to change that. Broadwell graduated from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in 2016 with a mechanical engineering degree focused on machine design. Today, he and his wife, Natalie, live in Albania, where he’s starting a STEM program for students from middle school to university-level. Most Albanian schools that teach STEM subjects are in the capital, Kosovo—where 1.5 million of the country’s 3 million people live and those outside the city have limited access, Broadwell says. He says his work is part of a two-pronged approach to overcoming obstacles to broader STEM education. “One is providing them with the necessary skills, courses and equipment, but two is increasing enthusiasm and awareness for the general areas that are presented by STEM,” Broadwell says. “If you went out and you ask kids, ‘Could you name three STEM careers?’ They might not be able to do that. “So we are cultivating creativity and innovation in the youth while providing them with the technical skills and educational connections necessary to pursue careers in STEM fields.”


Broadwell and his wife live in Korçë, a city of about 76,000 that he says has unique status in Albania— it’s the only one in the entire country with running water and electricity 24/7. A month after they met in 2018, Natalie moved to Albania to work with a church group. A year and a half later—two months after they got married— he joined her in January 2020, helping her with

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church work while he also worked as a freelance design engineer. Through his design work, he ran headlong into the lack of anyone proficient in STEM in Korçë. “As a mechanical engineer who has a passion for engineering, innovation and sciences, I saw an opportunity to help,” he says. Working with a local library for classroom space, the University for Business and Technology (UBT) in Korçë as an education partner and getting advice from several Albanian professors who teach engineering, Broadwell is gearing up the STEM program. He’s in the process of raising money to buy equipment such as desktop computers, 3D printers and software. Classes are scheduled to begin in November, he says. “There is no program like this in the area, and no lab like this in the nation,” he says. Aleksia Xega is a program coordinator at UBT and Broadwell’s co-founder of the STEM program. She says the lack of STEM education and skills force many young Albanians to leave the country to find work. . “They go abroad. They never stay here,” Xega says. “So that’s something we’re trying to do here by building this STEM lab. We’re trying to actually hold our students here instead of letting them go abroad and never come back.”


The program is in its infancy, but in February, a local high school signed up and will bring 20 to 30 students in 10th and 11th grades, Broadwell says. It’s the first client for the program. Its first focus will be robotics, a starting line for many STEM careers because robots are cool and most people recognize them, he says. He gained substantial know-how in robotics as a member of the UTC Chem-E-Car Team that competed in the national championship competition in 2017. “Robots are fun and a great way to see and physically experience programming,” Broadwell explains. “Robotics is a great way to teach analytical and logical thought processes. An analytical thought process is essential in all STEM fields. “Technical skills and analytical mindsets, along with experience with robotics,” he says, “will set these students above the rest when they seek to find work.”

STUDY, WORK, REPEAT Chanda Okyere eschews idle time By Charlie Reed


handa Okyere is always reading and always on the move. She doesn’t have time for fiction or Internet fluff. She consumes dense, highly technical medical texts, often on the run, while juggling family life and studying at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga to become a family nurse practitioner. “I have a book bag and my laptop with me wherever I go and study everywhere I can,” says the 32-year-old who plans to graduate in May. She even cracks the books at her son’s baseball games. “I try not to have too much idle time,” Okyere says. “If I know I’m going to be stationary for at least an hour, I can study.” In summer 2020, Okyere moved to Chattanooga from Atlanta with her fiancé, John Amofah, a teacher and coach at East Ridge High School, and their two children, 12-year-old John Jr. and four-year-old Genesis. It was tough in many ways, not least of all because Okyere started a new job as a registered nurse at CHI Memorial Hospital at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, Amofah

“If I know I’m going to be stationary for at least an hour, I can study.” was getting a master’s degree from Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee. She worked frequently rotating positions in different sections of the hospital and, although she didn’t work in the ICU, she constantly treated COVID patients. “It was really stressful. I learned a lot, but it was hard,” she says. She remembers having to shoo her daughter away just about every time she

got home from a 13-hour shift at the hospital. “Don’t touch me!” she’d say before changing clothes and washing up in an attempt to disinfect herself. “I didn’t want to expose anyone at home when I’d been exposed to COVID patients all night,” she says. “For me, it was just another thing I had to push through.” She quit the hospital in January 2021 to start classes at UTC and is now working on clinical rotations at a nonprofit healthcare clinic in Tunnel Hill, Georgia. “It’s a full-time job without a full-time salary,” she says. No salary, in fact. But Okyere was awarded a grant in May 2021 through the Clinical-Academic Network for Developing Leaders program, or CANDL, at UTC, which is helping while she’s not earning an income and provides her with $4,000 per semester. The lingering pandemic still presents problems at the clinic when cases rise. When that happens, interns like Okyere and volunteers typically won’t be allowed to come into the clinic. “It’s been hard in that sense, too,” she says. Once she completes the one-year program, she can work as a nurse practitioner, which has more autonomy than a registered nurse, including the ability to prescribe medication and to admit patients to hospitals. The job also pays considerably more. “I’m just motivated. I just want to do better for my family. We want to get to a comfortable stage,” Okyere says. She’s earned a master’s degree in nursing from the Medical College of Georgia in 2014 and worked as a high school biology and chemistry teacher before that. Teaching wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t ideal. Nursing, she says, is a lot more flexible, and jobs abound because nurses are in such high demand. “There’s so many things you can do or so many places you can move in nursing. If a

position isn’t working for you, there are so many others. It’s easy to maneuver into a new position if something doesn’t fit your lifestyle,” says Okyere, who has worked in everything from cardiology to neurology.

She isn’t exactly sure where she wants to practice after graduating from UTC, but she already is a member of the Chattanooga Area Nurses in Advanced Practice. She says she plans to pursue a doctorate in nursing in coming years and “would definitely be interested in teaching at UTC.” In the meantime, she goes to class and studies and works at the clinic and takes care of her family and her home. And she dreams. “I just think about the days when I’ll be able to take a vacation with my family,” she says, “and not to have to read a book every time my eyes are open.”

Spring 2022 | 15


INNER EXAMINATION Sam de Armas embraces being bipolar with her art By Shawn Ryan


am de Armas started having bouts of deep depression followed by hypomanic episodes in high school. “It would be wild, like reckless vibes or drinking and stuff like that,” she explains. The diagnosis was bipolar II, which has the same wild emotional swings as bipolar I, but they’re tamped down and not as dangerously extreme. Still, bipolar is not something to shrug off, whatever the type. Now on medication, there aren’t any more reckless detours, says de Armas, a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga senior planning to graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts. There’s no drinking and, when the symptoms hit, she may experience insomnia. Bursts of energy still happen but lower in intensity and more controllable. Regular trips to the gym help reroute them. Facing bipolar disorder has a positive effect on de Armas, she says. It creates a pathway to an essential part of her life—her artwork, which incorporates bipolar disorder and her experiences with it. “I speak a lot about it in my art,” says de Armas, enthusiastically. Aspects of her work are so daring and personal, they caught the attention of ArtsBuild, the organization that promotes art in Chattanooga with grants, education initiatives and advocacy. ArtsBuild selected de Armas as one of five local artists to receive a Racial Equity Grants for Individual Artists (REGIA). The grant funding is for up to $10,000 per recipient, and the actual amount awarded is based on demonstrated need for materials to complete the proposed art project. De Armas is receiving $6,300, based on her request for a new laptop, virtual-reality (VR) headset and iPad—all of which she will use in completing her art. REGIA supports Latino artists living and working in Hamilton County and focused on three categories: artist works, equipment and professional development. “National reports

de Armas’ work will be on view at the Institute of Contemporary Art in the UTC Fine Arts Center in May.

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done over the years have shown funding inequities in the nonprofit arts sector. REGIA was designed to provide more racially equitable grant funding in our community,” ArtsBuild officials say. De Armas is using the ArtsBuild grant to help her complete her senior thesis, which focuses on “derealization,” a symptom of bipolar disorder in which she feels like she’s the only real thing in a virtual reality world. “It’s kind of like I think I’m in a simulation, kind of like you believe everything around you is fake,” she says. “That’s why I really like virtual reality because I feel like it’s a forced version of simulation that I use for my practice.” Her thesis will place viewers in a virtual world that explores elements of being bipolar. ArtsBuild’s grant will help her buy the equipment needed for the project, including a VR headset. “I am going to create a virtual reality video that will bring the viewer through four different stages,” she says. She’s intentionally vague about what each stage will encompass, preferring that viewers come to the experience with fresh eyes. The first is one of general reality, she says. Everything is as it should be. Stage two creates a sense of deja vu; you’ve been here before but everything is a bit skewed and otherworldly. She describes stage three as “Disney World.” “It’s the real world, but it’s just completely altered into this weird reality,” she explains. The fourth stage is a full dive into “something that’s just completely its own.” The completed work will be one of several senior thesis projects exhibited in the Institute of Contemporary Art in the UTC Fine Arts Center in May. Her future is nebulous for now. Maybe graduate school. Maybe a year off to decompress. Her ultimate goal is a career in virtual reality, however that plays out. “I want to do anything that I can within virtual reality,” she says. “I love technology. When I started, I knew really nothing about technology, and now I’m here trying to learn how to code and do modeling and stuff. So it’s pretty cool.”


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‘DUTY’ CALLS UTC gamer brings national attention to esports team By Shawn Ryan


op church!” “Bottom house!” “Behind tree!” “Right, right, right!” “Nice.” “Good kill.” The words are barked out as the team of four soldiers maneuver through the small village. Enemy soldiers are everywhere, and they’re all trying to kill the team. In some cases, they succeed. The World War II skirmish is taking place in the virtual world of “Call of Duty.” Deaths are temporary, but the four-man team led by Ryan “Slim” Johnson takes the game seriously. Each is a student at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, so the Esports honor of the school is at stake. Johnson, a junior majoring in finance, was named one of the country’s Top 10 Returning College “Call of Duty” players by eFuse, a website that follows collegiate esports teams. Before the 17-game season began in January, the UTC team was ranked

22nd in the Top 25 picked by the National Association of Collegiate Esports, the largest collegiate esports league in North America. In both cases, Johnson was credited. “The reason I find his presence so impactful is because he single-handedly carried this team to multiple wins. I’ve watched this team compete and they have great potential,” wrote eFuse columnist Houssam “Sam” A. I Pali, assistant Esports coach at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas. Johnson, who says he’s been playing video games since about 2007—“Oh, wow,” he murmurs after figuring out the timeline—shrugs at the honor, saying it’s a team effort. He put the UTC team together in 2021. Except for Johnson, all four players on this year’s team are new. Selecting team members is not just a case of someone approaching Johnson and saying, “Hey, I want to play.” “Obviously, gun skill is very, very important. If they can shoot, well, that’s a big thing,” he explains. Personality also is critical.

“You don’t want someone that’s like super cocky and arrogant. It’s still a team game at the end of the day.” The team all wear headsets with wraparound microphones. The ability to communicate—very quickly—is critical, Johnson says. “In ‘Call of Duty,’ everything’s happening rapidly, so you’re running and dying, and you’re constantly telling your teammates where people are, what’s happening on the map and everything. Communication’s a really big thing.” The current team—Johnson, Chase “Red Chase” Daffron, Zach “Cliq” Moses, Alex “Superior” Davis—all are “Call of Duty” experts. During play, their coordinated movements are nearly impossible to follow as they dash up stairs, climb ladders, jump out windows and fire weapons almost nonstop. In a game, conversation is a barked series of phrases that may be difficult to decipher for anyone not well-versed in “Call of Duty” lingo. Among them: “He’s weak.” An enemy has only a little bit of life left. Easy kill. “One shot.” Enemy needs only one bullet to be killed. “I died so quick.” Self-explanatory.

CAMPUS COMPETITION: ESPORTS TAKE OFF Esports—competitive electronic gaming—has exploded across college campuses nationwide in the last 10 years, including at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. According to the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE), the largest collegiate esports league in the country, 175 colleges or universities now have teams. There are seasons, championship tournaments, bragging rights. There are Top 25 rankings for both teams and players. Cindy Strine, director of recreation at UTC, says COVID-19 sent Esports interest rocketing on campus. “The gaming culture exploded and moved to the forefront during

COVID,” she says. “As we looked for ways to keep students engaged, the Esports program expanded. “Last spring our students started playing in the college ‘Call of Duty’ league and quickly recruited talented players online to come to UTC,” she says. “Our gaming community continues to build. The gaming and Esports culture has been driven by student interest and student engagement.” For students at some universities, esports even offers a way to help pay tuition—scholarships. Ohio State University, Kent State University, the University of Texas Arlington and the University of California Irvine all have Esports

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scholarships. At this time, UTC doesn’t. Chase Daffron, a UTC junior in computer science and member of the University’s “Call of Duty” team, had a $6,000 per year esports scholarship to Concord University in West Virginia. Born and raised in West Tennessee, he transferred to UTC in 2021, explaining that $6,000 doesn’t go far when out-of-state tuition plus housing and meal plans add up to more than $27,000 each year. Another member of the UTC team, freshman Zach Moses, received a $3,000 a

Esports teams at UTC “Call of Duty”: VARSITY TEAM AND ACADEMY TEAM

“League of Legends” “Overwatch” “Valorant” “Rocket League”: TWO TEAMS

“Rainbow 6” “Apex”: THREE TEAMS

year esports scholarship at Tennessee Wesleyan University before transferring to UTC. The Wesleyan team was brand-new and just wasn’t very good, he says. Esports are a recruiting tool, too, Strine says. “They have toured students through our gaming areas,” she says. “For serious gamers and casual gamers, it is a platform in which they can connect to others easily on campus.”

CAMPUS AMBASSADOR Varsha Kommireddi is becoming her own hero By Charlie Reed


arsha Kommireddi began her senior year at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a resume that already was stellar. Dean’s list all eight semesters. John C. Stophel Scholar in the Gary W. Rollins College of Business. Dean’s Student Advisory Council executive. Peer mentor. UTC tour guide. Student worker. Active sorority sister in Sigma Kappa. A “campus ambassador for UTC” is how she puts it on her LinkedIn profile. On to graduate school for an MBA was supposed to be the next step after executing her plan to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in business in May, but feelings of doubt started creeping into Kommireddi’s plan. The self-reflection got hard, and her heart sank. “Do I really want to spend two years in grad school?” she asks herself. “Or am I doing what I’ve always done, which is living life on a to-do list basis?” She needed some direction, some inspiration, some advice. Kommireddi talked with a few UTC advisors and some friends, then went to see her dad—her “baba,” as she calls him their native tongue Telugu, spoken mostly in southeastern India. The oldest daughter of Narsing Kommireddi and Madhavi Balla, who moved to the U.S. in the early 1990s from Visakhapatnam, India, she was born in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, just outside Nashville. She was raised in a group of tight-knit, Indian-American families where adult family friends are “aunties and uncles” and academic expectations are high among kids and parents. An Ivy League education, then on to a career in engineering, medicine or law are considered the best in Indian culture, she says. Her parents were steeped in this version of success but are open-minded and have come to celebrate their three children’s different strengths, too, she says. “My generation of Indians, I guess, we’re changing stereotypes. We’re challenging the status quo. I chose business because

I wanted to do what my dad did,” says Kommireddi, who sports a keychain with her father’s company logo on it. He built a successful financial services company through Primerica and embodies “That typical, fresh-off-the-boat success story,” Kommireddi says. She was “raised in the company” but never asked why he chose that field. In her moment of existential woe, she finally did, and he said he was “building a legacy,” not just a business. She tapped into her dad’s purpose and, in doing so, her own. “To hear him say something that carried such significance, I was like, ‘I want that too,’” she says. Her anxiety broke like a fever, and her vision of working toward a legacy became clear, even if her next move was still to be determined.

represent the state, so it was cutthroat, the real deal,” she says. “I was like, ‘I’m going to go in there. I’m going to give it a shot,’” she says. “The further I got in the interview process, the more I wanted it.” Despite the fierce competition, she stayed true to her motto: “Do and be better; and make people feel seen, heard and loved.” Her approach obviously worked, and she found out she won a place in the fellowship program in December, just as the first semester of her last year of college was coming to an end. “It’s a great honor and I’m slowly starting to realize just exactly what I’m going to be able to do and who I’ll be able to work with,” Kommireddi says.

FEELING “SEEN, HEARD, LOVED” Just a few weeks earlier, in the midst of her college-life crisis, an academic advisor urged Kommireddi to apply for the Tennessee Governor’s Management Fellowship. A people-oriented business major, she had never considered working in the public sector; so along with applying to graduate school, she “just went for it.” Kommireddi made it to the first round of interviews for the highly competitive fellowship, which puts recipients to work in management teams with some of the state’s most powerful government executives. She made the second cut and, by November, was named a finalist. Fellowship organizers put her up in the swanky Hermitage Hotel in downtown Nashville for the last trial. She slayed the rapid-fire, question-andanswer sessions with her competitors— which included law students and young working professionals—and mingled with ease at the business-casual mixers with government leaders. “I’m articulate and quick-thinking, but you know, you’re interviewing with people who are choosing five candidates to

“At the end of the day, I wanted to continue serving. Now I just get to do that on a much larger scale for my state and its people,” she says. Her family back home in Mt. Juliet and her community of friends, professors, advisors, sorority sisters and others here at UTC have helped her become who she is today, she says. But her hero? “My honest answer would be the woman I’m becoming,” she says. Spring Fall 2022 2021 | 19


‘JUST MAGGIE AND SAM’ The Shaw sisters have been best friends since birth By Chuck Wasserstrom


wins have a bond unlike any other sibling relationship. Being born a twin means having a built-in best friend from birth, sharing a connection often unexplainable to non-twins. Sometimes, though, it can be tough to carve out your own identity. “Well, we’re never really looked at as a singular person,” says Maggie Shaw, a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga senior majoring in nursing. “Whenever people are talking about us, they say, ‘Oh, the twins.’ “But we’re really just Maggie and Sam.” Maggie and her fraternal twin, Samantha, have spent the last four years as key athletes in the UTC women’s soccer program. Maggie, a defender who will return to play in fall before graduating in December, is a two-time All-Southern Conference first-team selection and the 2020-2021 SoCon Defensive Player of the Year. Samantha, who completed her athletic career with a team-high four goals in the fall 2021 season, will receive a bachelor’s degree in health and human performance in May. The midfielder played in 58 matches while with the Mocs. The graduates of Dreher High School in Columbia, South Carolina, never dreamed of going separate ways for college. Asked if they considered going off on their own, they take turns responding. “When you have a built-in best friend, why would you want to lose that?” Samantha asks. “Yeah, especially traveling to a different state and being away from home, we knew we’d have a best friend with us,” Maggie says.

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“ is very exciting, but it is kind of unpredictable when you haven’t experienced it before. Having her here has been like having a safety net.” “Plus,” Samantha adds, “college is very exciting, but it is kind of unpredictable when you haven’t experienced it before. Having her here has been like having a safety net.” “And a great one to have,” Maggie continues. “It’s nice to see her. If I was upset or felt homesick, I could just go and see Sam. It’s been really nice.” While both sisters laugh about not being able to read each other’s minds, they acknowledge their bond is different from most. “It’s almost like a sixth sense to where we have just been around each other so much and know each other so well,” Samantha says. “We can usually tell what we’re thinking and what opinions we’re forming, and if we’re in a happy mood or sad mood.” Maggie, the younger of the twins by three minutes, says they were influenced by watching their older sisters, Jamie and Danielle—who spent three years as soccer teammates at Lander University in Greenwood, South Carolina. “Sam and I would go to all of their games when they were in college,” Maggie explains. “Seeing them have that bond on the field influenced us. They were there for each other, but they also yelled at each other—and that transferred over to us. When we’re on the field, we do not cut each other any slack. We’re going to tell each other straight-up how it is.”

“Which I feel also helps each of us as a player,” Samantha adds, “because it’s so special to have someone related to you that can be bold with you as your teammate. We can just tell each other without sugarcoating it, ‘You had a bad day, dude.’ It makes it fun and holds us to a higher level.” The Shaw sisters come from good athletic stock. Their mother, Trish Little, was a volleyball player for the University of South Carolina. Their father, David Shaw, played in 769 National Hockey League games from 1982 to 1998. With Samantha graduating in May, the sisters find themselves about to be on their own—the end of an era, in a way. “It’s bittersweet, but it’s also exciting because I feel like we’ve been prepping for this,” Samantha says. “With our different majors, our schedules are very different now, and we’ve kind of gotten used to not being with each other every second of the day.” Says Maggie, “I think the biggest thing for me will be trying to keep myself occupied so I won’t get to think about it. If I do, I’m going to be sad. “I know I can just FaceTime Sam with stuff if she’s not around and rant to her about everything. That’s my best friend right there.”

Opposite: Maggie Shaw vs. Tennessee, photo by Ray Soldano; this page: portrait of Samantha and Maggie Shaw provided by MocsVision, photo credit Chattanooga Athletics; at right: Samantha Shaw vs. VMI, photo by Logan Stapleton.


Spring 2022 | 21


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COMMUNITY OF SUCCESS UTC provides a village of support By Chuck Wasserstrom


uona Uwusiaba was running a bit late. The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga civil engineering senior was on overload. Carrying a GPA of nearly 3.8, she was balancing a course load of 19 credit hours (15 is a full load), including two evening classes, plus working 18 hours each week in an engineering internship at TVA. Before injuries prematurely derailed her playing career, Uwusiaba—who appeared in 38 games for the Mocs women’s basketball team the previous two years—also would have been dealing with the rigorous time demands of athletics. But it wasn’t classwork or the internship or basketball that had her scrambling. She was late to pick up Doro, her 3-year-old son. “I wanted to bring him with me,” she explains. “He just woke up from a nap, and I haven’t seen him all afternoon.” Such is the life of a multi-tasking single mom/college student. Uwusiaba’s journey to Chattanooga is intriguing on its own merits. She came to the U.S. from Nigeria as a 10th grader and moved in with relatives in New York. Pursuing her dream of playing basketball in this country meant then having to move in with relatives in Decatur, Georgia. Standing 6-foot-3, she turned herself into a basketball standout, receiving numerous Division I scholarship offers before landing at the University of Central Florida. It wasn’t a good fit, though, and she decided to transfer after her freshman year. She then became pregnant with Doro, who was born in 2018. Uwusiaba, at the time 19 years old, looked for places to continue her education and her basketball career while raising a newborn son. UTC became a place of intrigue.

“I just felt this family atmosphere,” she says of her initial visit. “Plus, Doro’s dad is from Georgia, and he would be close.” UTC has an engineering program, which was of utmost importance to Uwusiaba, but what would Katie Burrows, at the time the head women’s basketball coach, think of having a single mom on the roster?

“I remember visiting and telling Coach Katie (Burrows) that I had a child,” Uwusiaba says. “For some coaches, they might not say it, but it’s hard for them to accept a player that has a child. For her, she said it would be fine. She’s a mom and she understood right away.” Still, the coach couldn’t help but wonder how Uwusiaba would handle the threepronged pressure of being a single mom, going to school and playing basketball. On top of that, Uwusiaba knew no one in Chattanooga except for her coaches and teammates. Things picked up for Uwusiaba when Burrows learned of a group created with

UTC and Chattanooga State Community College students in mind. “She told me she heard about this single mom’s community. There would be other people there just like me,” Uwusiaba recalls. “I wanted this family type of environment, so I looked into it. There are a lot of single moms there and they encourage us to stay focused on school.” She befriended others facing similar challenges. Now they cook together. They watch each other’s children. “And my son, he never really had a friend his age. It was just always my teammates before I moved over there,” she says, “but my friend next door has a son, and he and Doro are like brothers. It just makes me happy to have this community. “Between the village and my basketball teammates, I have this support system that I really needed.” Through it all, Uwusiaba has made the dean’s list every semester since arriving on campus. As she nears graduation in May, she has made the most of the opportunities presented to her to make a better life for her and Doro. Uwusiaba admits it hasn’t been easy. Being a student/athlete/mom is tough, and her parents and siblings are 6,000plus miles away. Alone with Doro in an apartment, “There were nights that I would cry,” she admits. “At times, I would get sad about different situations, but there’s a family back home that I have to make proud. I just kept pushing. “Having a kid is not the end of the world. I could tell you it is overwhelming, but if you put your mind to it, trust the process and have a dream and a goal of where you want to get to, then you can do anything.”

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DOWN-TO-EARTH Jerrod Niles’ project earns national acclaim By Charlie Reed


hen Jerrod Niles heard about a local artist who painted a mural with pigments made from the soil, he knew someone who would dig the idea. “The first thing I thought when I heard about the mural project was, ‘My mom would love this.’ She’s a bit on the hippie side.” With the blessing of mom, Niles chose the work of artist Amanda Brazier for his multimedia project, “The Field Below.” A senior at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Niles shot 35 hours of video in more than a dozen locations throughout the city, documenting Brazier’s work on the mural at Gaining Ground Grocery, which provides local and sustainable food to the Highland Park neighborhood near downtown Chattanooga. In the fourminute video, he explores the intersection of art, food and community service. He did it very well. Niles won a spot in the Top 10 in the national 2021-2022 Hearst Multimedia Narrative Storytelling Competition for college students. Established in 1960 and named after long-deceased newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, the competition is among the most prestigious in the country.

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“I didn’t understand the gravity of it at first,” says Niles, who produced “The Field Below” for Rising Rock, a course in the UTC Department of Communication. Combining dozens of hours of raw footage with a written script and photographs epitomizes Niles’ ability to distill complex material into compelling but easy-to-understand stories, says Billy Weeks, who created and teaches the Rising Rock course, “He’s a gifted student and a class favorite,” Weeks says. “It’s because he genuinely cares about the work he’s doing. Jerrod understands that nobody gives you anything. You’ve got to go out there and get what you want in life.” For his nationally acclaimed video, Niles liked the idea of a nonprofit grocery store and a local artist teaming up for a mural painted by community members using soil from the local farms where the store’s produce is grown. “It seemed really cool to me, so it made me even more invested. In life, if you’re interested in it, you become more willing to put the time into it,” he says. Simply filming the mural being painted or unveiled at Gaining Ground would have yielded a pretty good story, but Niles did much more, filming the process of how Brazier

essentially turned dirt into pigments for the mural’s earthy palette. Once everything was in hand, the hard part began, Niles says. “The editing was the toughest.” Niles’ work in both film and photography is on display in his portfolio at, a combination of work from Rising Rock, an internship as social media manager at Wanderlinger Brewery Co. and freelance assignments he’s landed as a college student. With a Hearst award under his belt and plans to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in communication in May, Niles is laser-focused on getting a job with a production company that makes luxury car commercials. “I’m into documentary-style work and enjoy interviewing people. Journalism has never really called me, and I’m not a Hollywood filmmaker guy,” he says. “I want to film things that I love and get close to the cars I had on the poster on my wall as a kid.”


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STUDENTS OF THE GAME A UTC podcast occupies prime real estate By Chuck Wasserstrom


ocation. Location. Location. At the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, the Real Estate Club is one of the fastest-growing student organizations. It also mirrors the real estate market in the Chattanooga region. In other words, it’s hot. Now in its third year at UTC, the Real Estate Club is a student-led group open to all University students, regardless of major. The club’s mission is to connect members with real

estate experts through educational meetings and networking while also fostering professional growth. Membership has surpassed the 100 mark, and the group hosted its first Real Estate Investment Luncheon in fall 2021. As one of the group’s founders, Nick Galbreath, says, “Every student should want to be a member of the Real Estate Club. If you plan to own a house, that’s part of real estate, and there’s a lot that goes into it.” So how do you keep the momentum going? Location, of course. As in, you can learn about the club and real estate wherever you happen to be, thanks to the world of podcasting. “Podcasts are a great way to have an open conversation for a long period of time that doesn’t take any attendance except for the hosts and guests,” says Ian Cushing, a UTC junior majoring in marketing and professional sales and president of the Real Estate Club. “When you have a podcast, someone could be riding their bike, driving to work, relaxing, working out and still be able to take in that knowledge.” Cushing, along with Galbreath and Tim Stone, co-hosts 26 | The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Magazine

the “Student of the Game” podcast, available on YouTube, Spotify and Apple Podcasts. “Student of the Game” features a wide range of real estate professionals—both near and far—as the trio meets regularly to produce content that allows students to learn more about the market. Podcast guests have included Chattanooga real estate investor David Grabiner, UTC alumnus and agent/wholesaler/ flipper Eddie Bodkin, Ricky Carruth, an Alabama-based real estate agent who closes more than 100 transactions each year, and Cody Davis, who owned 81 apartments by the age of 21. “I think that the market we’re in makes a positive impact on the outcome of the club,” Cushing says. “There are a lot of people doing really big things in town that love to educate young people about it. “People doing big things want to teach young people. The club is a great forum to do that.” One of the keys to the podcast’s success, Cushing says, is the co-hosts realize how young they are in age and experience. “We’re not pretending to have all the answers. We go into the podcasts with the attitude of, ‘Help us learn,’” he says. “Having these professionals on there, they know we’re young and we’re trying to help others. If there’s an advanced term that they use, we’ll go back and ask them to explain it because we know that listeners might not know what it means. “It’s very exciting because you get to learn more than you would in just a normal conversation. You can kind of dig in a little bit deeper into these terms that are just kind of thrown around while learning all the different strategies that you don’t easily find.” Galbreath, who received a bachelor’s degree in business management in December, now works in commercial real estate in Boston. Stone is on a break from school. His real estate dealings are going so well—as in, lucrative—the entrepreneurship major is currently not taking classes. Still, the three remain in constant contact, congregating behind computer cameras to churn out content. “To be able to continue to have that forum with Nick and Tim is important since we’re all doing different things and meeting different people throughout the industry,” Cushing says. “We’re posting pretty much every week, and we have had plenty of great guests.” Cushing, a native of Memphis, says Chattanooga’s robust real estate market has given him many opportunities to learn. To him, location really has made a difference. “If I was somewhere where it wasn’t booming, it would be tough to find people having incredible success in that area,” he says. “So coming here has had a positive impact on me and my future career.”


“JUST CALL ME CARLOS” Freshman from Puerto Rico navigates a new life at UTC


By Charlie Reed


orge Carlos Marcano tells people he meets at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga to call him by his middle name because most pronounce his first name “George.” Jorge is pronounced "hor-hey" and, while it's the Spanish version of George, for Marcano, born and raised in Puerto Rico, the English version just doesn’t register. It’s not a big deal, says the 19-year-old freshman majoring in mechatronics. “It’s just easier that way. People can’t really mess up the name Carlos.” His parents both work for American companies in Puerto Rico and raised Marcano, his twin brother and their older sister speaking English almost exclusively. He speaks both languages fluently, sans accent. But Marcano might not be at UTC if his written Spanish were better. He planned to attend the University of Mayagüez, two hours away from Dorado, his hometown, but couldn’t pass the school’s Spanish proficiency test. The ironic setback pushed him to explore other schools on the mainland. He ended up choosing UTC for its burgeoning mechatronics program. “It’s really cool. It is mechanical, electrical and computer engineering all rolled up into one thing,” he says. Marcano has found community on campus as a member of “Cohort 2025,” the inaugural freshman class of UTC undergraduates organized into groups based on their majors, on-campus housing, extracurricular or other interests. He’s part of an academic cohort that includes other students majoring in engineering, some of whom also live in Stophel Apartments like Marcano. He enrolled at UTC before ever visiting, although he had been to Nashville to visit his "abuela," or grandmother, who moved there to live with his aunt and uncle after Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico in 2017. Still, moving to Chattanooga was a leap of faith for Marcano. He and his dad breathed a sigh of relief when they finally

checked out the campus and the city a few months before the big move. “I thought this place looked strikingly similar to Puerto Rico and my dad agreed. You can see mountains and hills from all around,” Marcano says. “It’s not a carbon copy...but it was definitely comforting,” he says. The actual move was a bit different. “I was excited and a little nervous because this was my first time living all by myself. I didn’t have any friends nearby. It was like a complete reset, which is cool but also scary,” he says. It’s all going as planned, though. Living on campus has helped him find friends. He’s now the “fifth roommate” in a group of guys who live in Stophel Apartments and love video games, too. Living in resident housing also helped him find an academic groove for his challenging coursework in the College of Engineering and Computer Science. “I’m pretty happy I got all B’s last semester,” he says, “although four should’ve been A’s, but I got clobbered in finals.”

Freshman Jorge Carlos Marcano came to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga straight from his hometown in Puerto Rico without knowing a soul. He arrived fall semester 2021 and, just a semester later, he’s the “fifth roommate” in a group of classmates-turned-buddies from the College of Engineering and Computer Science. They all live in Stophel Apartments on campus, and they're all into video gaming. That’s not a happy accident. It’s by design. Marcano is a member of “Cohort 2025,” the nickname for the fall 2021 freshman class that is the first to experience UTC’s new focus on grouping incoming students around one of three main pillars: What they study. Where they live. What they like to do. The technical side of the cohort model is almost invisible to students because it’s woven into the curriculum, the student housing infrastructure, campus events and the University’s network of clubs and associations. But the impact is obvious. Students get a customized support system, mentorship and more opportunities for professional development and personal growth. The model was first adopted by the UTC Honors College in 2013 and later championed by Chancellor Steven R. Angle, who announced the campus-wide initiative in 2020, saying it would help define the UTC experience moving forward. In fall 2022, a group of 20 students will make their home on “Music Row,” a new cohort being introduced in Decosimo Apartments. Students don’t have to be music majors to live there, just members of one of the music ensembles at UTC. The College of Arts and Sciences, the biggest at UTC with 13 academic departments, launches its cohort initiative in the fall, too. Professors, some of whom actually live on campus alongside students as part of the Faculty in Residence program, play an important role in the cohort model. From providing career advice to cooking family-style meals to trips to the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera, the experiences provide rich yet casual points for students to connect with faculty. Research indicates students prosper when they’re connected in this way. For UTC, the cohort model helps with recruitment goals and ensure students reach graduation.

Spring 2022 | 27




arketing major Leighanna Martin wasn’t looking for just any resume filler when she sought internship opportunities. She desired a hands-on internship that would provide valuable experience and help her stand out in the job market. Then an email blast from the Gary W. Rollins College of Business brought a revelation: the chance at a real-world internship with a Chattanooga startup. “I didn’t want to go somewhere and just take notes and watch everything happen,” recalls Martin, a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga senior set to graduate in May. “I didn’t want to be bored.”

Rogers recalls working out of a downtown Chattanooga coffee shop—because he didn’t have an office yet—and reaching out to Jaclyn York, the UTC College of Business’ career services internship coordinator. “I was looking for somebody that helps us from a marketing perspective and builds the business very conscientiously,” Rogers says. “Somebody we would treat

“Leighanna can say, ‘Hey, I did that. I came up with that creative content;’ or ‘That last email blast, I built that out.’” — Ryan Rogers, BS ’98, MBA ’99 TextLocate’s Founder and CEO

“I was making notes of every internship opportunity I saw and was sending my resume out, but I remember talking to my dad and saying, “I really want this one.’” The opportunity that piqued her interest was to create digital marketing strategies for TextLocate—a company specializing in freight tracking by connecting logistics professionals with truck drivers via a text messaging app. TextLocate’s founder and CEO, Ryan Rogers, knows logistics, having spent his professional career with U.S. Xpress, Amazon and Covenant Logistics. But when the entrepreneurial bug bit and he decided to go out on his own, one of the first things the two-time UTC graduate (bachelor’s degree in business management, 1998; MBA, 1999) did was look to his alma mater for marketing assistance.

just like a regular employee, but with just a few less hours of commitment each week since that person has school, as well. “From the time I was at U.S. Xpress, I have been a big proponent of UTC students. I created their first intern program and started recruiting heavily from UTC; probably 50% of the hires in my team were coming from there. Then we did the same thing at Covenant on the logistics side and with other roles like IT and finance.” York forwarded the internship opportunity to business students, and Martin landed the internship. She started at TextLocate last August.

28 | The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Magazine

“When I talked with Ryan the first time, I knew it was exactly what I was looking for,” Martin recalls. “He told me right away, ‘You’re going to be doing things and you’re going to be learning a lot.’” “I immediately felt the connection with Leighanna’s background and what she was looking to accomplish,” Rogers says. “With a startup, we don’t have processes; we don’t have things defined. We are building that and growing, but what I think makes it more interesting for her is to design and put her thumbprint on how things are built.” Along with setting up interview opportunities for her boss to extol the virtues about his new company, “Leighanna runs our CRM (customer relationship management) and she is working with a SaaS-based product (software as a service), which is probably the hottest thing in the market right now,” Rogers says. “Nobody knows she’s an intern; her title is digital marketer, and all that should matter is the quality of her work product.” It also doesn’t hurt that Martin brings the youth perspective to her role. “She’s obviously a lot younger than me,” Rogers says with a laugh,” and we joke about that, but from a creativity standpoint, there are times I’ll ask, ‘Does this sound old? Does this sound stupid? Is this current? Is this not?’ “Working with somebody young like Leighanna, you get a fresh perspective and new ideas.” Rogers says his protégé will come out of this internship way more prepared than most. “Young people, they want to be active. They want to see their work,” Rogers says. “Leighanna can say, ‘Hey, I did that. I came up with that creative content;’ or ‘That last email blast, I built that out.’ “Everybody needs marketing; it doesn’t matter what the industry is. With everything Leighanna has learned at UTC and done here, she is preparing herself for future full-time jobs.”



Rishi Mistry ’09

was honored by the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing with the Catherine Hanley Class of 1912 Rising Star Alumni Award.

Jeremy Jenkins ’03 has joined RP Homes, a Chattanooga-based construction company, as chief financial officer and chief operating officer. Tyler Ballengee ’20, top, and Jackson Vetetoe ’21 joined

Cara Roberson

’08, top, was named president and Candace Colvard ’11, ’13 was named chief financial officer at SimplyBank, based in Dayton, Tennessee with locations in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia.

Chattanooga’s HHM Certified Public Accountants as staff accountants.

Susan Harris ’05, president and CEO of Chattanooga attraction Rock City, was appointed to the First Horizon Bank’s Chattanooga Advisory Board.

Chris Warren

’09 joined the Vascular Institute of Chattanooga and cares for patients at the Chattanooga and Cleveland offices.

Lisa VanCleave Lay ’94 has

been hired as vice president of properties and corporate services at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.

Colter Parker ’18 was hired by Chattanooga law firm of Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel P.C. to help with clients’ estate planning.

Amie Thomas ’02 was promoted to the position of chief financial officer with NAI Charter Real Estate, a commercial real estate firm in Chattanooga. Charlye White ’18,

Sarah Bauer ’07 was

hired as vice president of customer success in the Atlanta office of The Garage, an Orlando, Florida-based healthcare technology company focused on improving communication between providers and patients.

Robin Morrison

top, has joined the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce as talent coordinator and Abdiel VallejoLopez ’15 has joined the Chamber as marketing communications manager.

’05 was named vice president, private client relationship manager in First Horizon Bank’s Chattanooga office.

Edna Varner ’71, a senior advisor for leading and learning at the Public Education Foundation of Chattanooga, won the 2021 Distinguished Service Award from the Kiwanis Club of Chattanooga.

Patrick Jones

’21 joined Memphisbased Franklin Wealth Management as a wealth plan analyst in its Chattanooga office.

Spring 2022 | 29


FOUR DECADES OF INSPIRATION Richard Jackson retires after 46 years


he students did it. They kept Richard Jackson at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga for 46 years. Oh, they didn’t lock him in a cage or tie him to a chair or anything. They used their minds. To impress him. “I think they’re more inquisitive in a lot of ways. You’d tell ‘em something and they’d say, ‘Oh yeah,’ and want more,” says Jackson, a professor of English and creative writing. After more than four decades at UTC, Jackson is retiring. He wants to travel more with his wife, Terri, before it’s too difficult due to pain from hip and knee injuries during his days in football, hockey and track and field. In past years, trips have included 45 states, most of the countries in Europe, Iceland, the United Kingdom, Israel, Hong Kong and India, among others, to give lectures and readings of his work. He has published about 35 books, 15 of them poetry collections. No. 16, “The Heart as Framed,” is due for publication this year. He also has had significant influence on his students. Forty-six of them are published

authors, ranging from fiction, nonfiction, poetry, even TV screenplays. Some are teachers; some are freelance writers. Doing quick math using the number of students multiplied by the number of classes multiplied by the number of years, he’s taught around 9,000 students. During his career, he’s won fellowships from the National Education Association, National Endowment for the Humanities and Guggenheim Foundation. He was chosen for the inaugural Barnett Prize for Local Distinguished Author by the Southern Lit Alliance, given to recognize the outstanding achievement of authors in the Chattanooga area and to raise awareness of their talent. In the mid-1980s he created the Meacham Writers’ Workshop (not named after Chattanooga native and Pulitzer Prizewinning author Jon Meacham), a three-day, biannual event that has brought in hundreds of national and international writers. Visiting writers have included Pulitzer Prize-winning poets Phil Levine, Charles Simic and James Tate, Pulitzer finalist poet Mary Ruefle and novelist and screenplay writer Laura Kasischke.

30 | The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Magazine

By Shawn Ryan

Jackson is a voracious reader and has several thousand books—yes, thousand— crowded on bookshelves in two rooms of his home. One of his retirement plans is to find the time to read them. While enjoyment is naturally part of what motivates him to read, he’s also interested in other writers’ thought processes. “I want to see how somebody else thinks,” he says. “It’s the same thing as listening to a piece of music. You hear the beginning, then the person has to do all these variations and keeps going, going, and it ends. Then you realize, ‘Oh wow, that’s how he got to that.’” Jackson is a music fan, especially jazz. Music is one of the reasons he switched to English after starting as an engineering major at Columbia University in New York in the 1960s. “I was hanging out too much in Greenwich Village. I used to go into the bars and coffee houses. Listen to the music, hang around, listen to people sing,” he recalls. “I took up the guitar, but I have no voice, so that left me with the words.”


Ruben Studdard works with the Chattanooga Singers during a Master Class in the University Center auditorium.

Spring 2022 | 31

Office of Communications and Marketing Dept. 5655 615 McCallie Ave. Chattanooga, TN 37403


Nonprofit Org. U.S. Postage PA ID Permit No. 26 Chattanooga, TN

Articles inside

A Path Toward Public Service

page 5

It's Never Too Late to Succeed

pages 10-11

Community of Success

pages 22-23

And Finally 31 (423)

pages 30-32

Alum Notes

page 29

Logistically Speaking

page 28

“Just call me Carlos"

page 27

Students of the Game

page 26


pages 24-25

Campus Ambassador

page 19

‘Just Maggie and Sam’

pages 20-21

‘Duty’ Calls

page 18

Inner Examination

pages 16-17

Study, Work, Repeat

page 15

No. 1 in Family

page 9

Skills for Thrills

pages 6-7

Finding Comfort in Discomfort

page 8


page 14

Journey from the Past

pages 12-13

A Path Toward Public Service

page 5

Message from the Chancellor

page 4
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