Kennedy assistant receives WGU scholarship for master's

Rick Wagner • Updated May 19, 2017 at 1:24 PM

KINGSPORT — A husband, Kennedy Elementary School, Kingsport City Schools and WGU Tennessee are good at keeping secrets, but the news came out Thursday morning.

Kennedy instructional assistant Chandar Smith said she had no idea she had won a $10,000 Tenn-K scholarship from WGU Tennessee until it was announced during an awards day at Kennedy, where she is a special education instructional assistant with teacher Roberta Nielsen. So Smith said she was in shock after being oblivious about the award until WGU Tennessee Chancellor Kimberly Estep asked her to step forward in front of a cheering crowd of students and parents in the Kennedy gym.


“We are really proud of Mrs. Smith and this accomplishment,” Principal Janice Irvin said during the Kennedy Kudos ceremony. Superintendent Lyle Aishie also attended the event.

Of the seven $10,000 scholarships awarded to students admitted to WGU Tennessee, Smith is the only recipient in Northeast Tennessee this year and one of only two in East Tennessee. “We had 363 official applicants,” Estep said of a pool that was narrowed by judges in Salt Lake City, where WGU is based, after application forms, essays and interviews.

“We have a partnership with Kingsport City Schools to support its employees with continuing education, so it’s extra special to be able to award a scholarship this big to an employee from the Kingsport system,” Estep said. “Our annual Tenn-K Scholarship is very competitive, and Chandar’s achievement is a testament to the quality of employees in this school system.”

The money, Estep explained, will be spread over four six-month terms that cost $2,890 each, so it is almost a full scholarship. Smith is seeking a master’s degree in special education from WGU Tennessee after getting her elementary education degree there. She transferred from East Tennessee State University to WGU to get that bachelor’s degree after a surgery and childbirth interrupted her post-secondary education. Once her daughter hit first grade, Smith decided to continue pursuing a college degree, and now she’s seeking the master’s as her daughter is a rising eighth-grader.

“I can finish my degree without taking on any more loans,” Smith told reporters. She said the nonprofit online, self-paced, competency-based program endorsed by the state of Tennessee makes it easy for working adults to earn their degrees. “That’s why I chose WGU.”


At Kennedy, only Irvin and secretary Kemberly Padgett knew about the scholarship before Thursday, and media advisories weren’t sent out until Tuesday. The recipient’s husband, Courtney Smith, knew since May 12, so he had time to get off work to be at the school, albeit hidden until the award was unveiled.

“She’s mentioned it a couple of times she should know something soon,” the husband said.

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