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TN/VA Scholars program is preparing the next generation of workers

March 26th, 2012 11:49 am by Staff Report

TN/VA Scholars program is preparing the next generation of workers

TN/VA scholars receive a certificate of completion; a red, white and blue cord to wear with their cap and gown during graduation; and, of course, that "stamp of approval" for having succeeded.

By Susan Kendrick Lauhoff

Competitive advantage is the key to long-term success. One group is learning this lesson through an innovative program known as the TN/VA Scholars Program.

"The premise of the TN/VA Scholars Program is to better prepare students for college, work, technical school and community service. Competition is global now with the Internet. The Scholars' program helps prepare students for the future," explains Nicole Austin, Director of Workforce Development & Government Relations from the Kingsport Area Chamber of Commerce.

Open to high school students in grades 9-12, the program currently has participation from eight area high schools - five in Tennessee (Dobyns-Bennett, Cherokee, Sullivan North and South and Volunteer) and three in Virginia (Gate City, Rye Cove and Twin Springs). According to Austin, the students do not have to go to a four-year college program upon high school graduation. They may, instead, attend a technical school or choose another career path. The program encourages students to further their education whether that be through a four-year university, community college, technical school, or certificate program.

Any student in Northeast Tennessee may do the program as long as the student meets the following requirements: 80 hours of community service; maintains a ‘C’ average since the classes are more rigorous; have a 95 percent attendance (rate) over the four-year program; and does not receive an out of school suspension.

Most students start their freshman year, but may enter the program later as did senior Dylan Bailey from Sullivan South. In his junior year, when he started looking for scholarship money to use for college, he was accepted into the TN/VA Scholars program. A 4.0 student, Bailey is the drum captain for his high school band and has been accepted by the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, where he will pursue a music degree. Bailey found that the Scholars program requirements helped him focus on what he needed to be an attractive potential student to colleges.

Scholar mother and Dobyns-Bennett teacher Elena Allen reiterates, "that even if you don’t get ‘scholarship’ money for being a TN/VA scholar, it is almost like a stamp of approval on your resume. Employers and colleges know that by having TN/VA Scholar on your transcript says that you have gone above and beyond what’s required at school."

Her son, Will Allen III, is a senior at Dobyns-Bennett and has been a TN/VA scholar since the ninth grade. Narrowing his choices for college, he is planning to study biomedical engineering/pre-med and hopes to become an orthopedic surgeon. He found that the Scholars program helped him further his education and believes, "Colleges and employers want students with qualities that TN/VA Scholars have... good grades, good attendance, and community servants."

The program initially came to Northeast Tennessee in 1994 (under the name AIM Scholars) with Eastman’s education initiatives. In 1999, the program moved to the Kingsport Area Chamber of Commerce where it is still administered today. Eastman has partnered with RCAM (Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing) to be the biggest supporters of the Scholar program. Tanya Foreman, Education Manager in Community Relations with Eastman states, "The program can create a partnership between business and education and serve as a springboard for a coalition to pursue improvements in other areas as well."

"It is our hope that all students will desire to become TN/VA scholars because it has proven to be a strong predictor of success," Foreman said.

Jeff Frazier, Director of Training and Development with RCAM, shared that his company provides solutions for industry bases locally.

"The TN/VA Scholars program gives students a platform to discuss technology and develop pipelines for the future," he said.

TN/VA board member and Rye Cove guidance counselor Jane Carter has witnessed the success of the program over the last 18 years, having gone from 194 students recognized in 1994 to 436 last year. Long-time advocate for the program and former board member Karen Rowell strongly believes, "Many kids look for employment locally. The TN/VA Scholars are better-educated. We don’t need them to be honor roll students, but we do need them to be better-educated."

The students are recognized for their success. TN/VA scholars receive a certificate of completion; a red, white, and blue cord to wear with their cap and gown during graduation; and, of course, that "stamp of approval" for having succeeded.

There are many opportunities for community involvement in the program. To learn more about the TN/VA Scholars program including requirements, how to become involved as a volunteer, or how to donate, please contact Nicole Austin with the Kingsport Area Chamber of Commerce at 423-392-8835, email or visit

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