North graduate named Tennessee Ambassador of Goodwill

Rick Wagner • Aug 1, 2019 at 3:30 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sometimes it’s not if you win outright, it’s if you get people to cheer for you to win even if you’re not on their team.

Sullivan North High School graduate Sara Watkins finished seventh in the nation in Job Interview in the recent national SkillsUSA competition in Louisville, Kentucky, where she had folks from other states pulling for her to win. 

In fact, so many people there took notice of her people-winning ways that word got back to Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, who has made Watkins an Ambassador of Goodwill for the Volunteer State. Sonja Owens was her instructor. Sullivan County Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski said folks from other states contacted Tennessee officials to tell them about how well Watkins represented the state.


“I did not find out until I got my certificate in the mail” July 22, Watkins said in an interview. “You can apply for it.” However, she did not, instead getting it without the normal six-month waiting period after the governor’s office did some research on her after folks from other states at SkillsUSA nationals contacted the governor’s office. “They just knew my name and went through public records,” Watkins said.

She is the sister of Christopher Watkins, a rising sophomore at North, and was in the Beta Club, National Honor Society, in the top 10 of her class and varsity cheer captain. She plans to attend Northeast State Community College for two years, participating in college SkillsUSA there, and get an associate’s degree in nursing. After that, she plans to go to East Tennessee State University or the University of Tennessee to earn a bachelor’s in nursing and become a registered nurse.

Rafalowski presented Watkins the proclamation from Lee during the regular school board meeting July 25, when the board also recognized other SkillsUSA national competitors from Sullivan County Schools as well as Sullivan East graduated senior Talen Collins, a national competitor in the Future Business Leaders of America. She competed in Dallas in Business Calculations and also was ninth in the nation in TOSA (Teacher on Special Assignment) Desktop Certification. Her teacher was Brooke Samples.


Aaron Flanary, career technical and post-secondary education facilitator, said the career technical education students did well on the national stage. For instance, he said that Sullivan South graduate Sarah Thacker’s T-shirt design, which won 14th nationwide, is something like you’d see in a retail store and with its acoustic guitar symbol is a great image for Tennessee, which has music heritage in Bristol, Nashville and Memphis, among other cities. Her instructor was Danny Arwood.

The Sullivan Central High team of Amanda Meadows, Rachel Moody and Ethan Plummer, all graduated seniors, took first. The instructor for Moody and Plummer was Lloyd Putney, while the instructor for Meadows was Rhonda Flanary.  All told, 11 students and a student model came from Sullivan County Schools to compete this year in nine events. All 11 competitors got in the Top 15 in the nation, and all from Sullivan Central made the top 10, Flanary said.

Central consistently does the best of all four county high schools. Three state winners, all from Sullivan East, could not attend the national competition, so their spots went to the next in line among state competition scores.


In national SkillsUSA Cosmetology, Sullivan Central graduated senior Abbi White ranked seventh, and in Esthetics, 2018-19 Central junior Taylor Haun ranked seventh. Avery Putney was the instructor for White and Haun.

For Culinary Arts, 2018-19 junior Ashli Rust from Central won 10th, and for Restaurant Service, 2018-19 junior Anette Villa of Central also competed. Angel Welch was the instructor for Rust and Villa.

For Advertising Design, Sullivan South 2018-19 junior Shyan Bissen got eighth, and in Pin Design, Sullivan South graduated senior Devyn Barger got 15th. Danny Arwood was the instructor for Bissen and Barger.  

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