JOHNSON CITY – Tusculum University’s president highlighted the value of a college degree and the benefits of attending a smaller higher education institution during a recent visit to an after-school and youth-mentoring program.
Dr. Scott Hummel joined students and staff at Rise Up!, which inspires, influences and impacts children’s tomorrows today. He spoke with participants in this Christ-based program, helped serve them dinner and toured the former school building where Rise Up! is located. Tusculum is also a Christian institution.
Joining Dr. Hummel was Bill Bledsoe, assistant professor of art and design, who helped unveil a Rise UP! mural that was created by three of his students and children who come to the facility. Bledsoe and his wife, Jennifer, volunteered at Rise Up!
“Go to school,” Dr. Hummel told Rise Up! participants. “Stay in school. Do your very best. And when you make mistakes doing your very best, get back up and do it again. Those are some of the principles that helped me go to and complete college. Then, I became a college professor and enjoyed that profession.
“Now, I’m a college president. I never imagined that one day, I would be a college president, but because I stayed in school, worked hard and found scholarships, one step at a time, I was able to accomplish something that I never would have been able to achieve if I had not gone to college.”
Dr. Hummel said the best thing about being a college president is spending time with students. He discussed how he invites students to come to the President’s House to have dinner with him and his wife, Starr. As he meets students, he learns about their career and life goals. Then four years later, he sees them graduate and observes how they have grown as individuals and what they have learned during their Tusculum years.
He has stronger connections with the students and is able to interact with all of them because Tusculum is a smaller school with an enrollment of about 1,300. Dr. Hummel said professors at a smaller school, such as Tusculum, come to know their students and work with them if they are struggling.
Professors will also be more likely to recommend students for a particular job because they have a better understanding of students’ skills. The chances of students’ graduating are sometimes higher by attending a smaller school because of that personal attention from professors, he said.
At Tusculum, 64% of those who are enrolled are first-generation students, meaning they do not have a parent or guardian who has earned a bachelor’s degree. In addition, about half of Tusculum’s students come from low-income families. Students in that position might wonder whether they can afford to attend college because of the expense.
Dr. Hummel emphasized Tusculum’s affordability. Students are able to leverage money from the federal and state governments and generous scholarships from the university to pay for their education. He said money donors provide money that help Tusculum students earn their college degree.
“If you want to go to college and you work hard, there will be ways to make sure that dream becomes reality,” Dr. Hummel said.
One of Tusculum’s alumni is Dionté Grey, founder and executive director of UrbanPromise Los Angeles. He participated in Rise Up! before enrolling at Tusculum, from which he graduated in 2012. Grey returned to Tusculum May 6 and delivered a highly motivational speech during the spring commencement ceremony.
A Tusculum education focuses on active and experiential learning in which students not only grasp the basics and the theories of a subject but also incorporate real-life projects that prepare students for the workforce. Dr. Hummel shared with the Rise Up! participants how Bledsoe and his students developed a custom graphics package for the interior and exterior of the Ford Mustang as part of their coursework.
Other Tusculum students are participating in a wide array of research, including medications to treat cancer, as well as engaging in internships, student teaching, mural creation and theater production activities.
Asked about the challenges first-year college students face, Dr. said homesickness is one, particularly those who come from longer distances. He noted how Tusculum takes immediate steps to ensure students become acclimated to the university through Pioneer WOW. That acronym stands for Welcome Orientation Week, which includes a number of activities, primarily during the weekend before classes start, that enable them to meet fellow new students and connect with professors and staff.
Another potential challenge for these students is confidence they can succeed in college.
“Do not give up because there are going to be a lot of people to help you,” Dr. Hummel said. “Even if you do not think you belong in college, you do.”
After Dr. Hummel’s remarks, Bledsoe and representatives from Rise Up! unveiled an attractive mural at the facility. Bledsoe said three Tusculum art and design students – Juliana Flores, Gwen Gustafson and Morgan Webb – took Rise Up’s logo and applied the outline of it on a 4-foot-by-8-foot board.
Then Bledsoe cut the board into 1-foot squares, which Rise Up! participants were then able to design as they saw fit. These children were given primary colors and pallets to create their squares, and the only rule was that they could not cover the black lines of the logo. The result was a mosaic.
“This project is another way our students have put civic engagement into practice and have active and experiential learning,” Bledsoe said. “We have nearly 30 nonprofit organizations our students assist, and initiatives such as this enable them to understand they will also be part of the community after they graduate and are professionals. Our students and the Rise Up! children produced an outstanding mural.”
Subrina Sonekeo, Rise Up!’s chief operating officer, appreciated Dr. Hummel speaking with the children and Bledsoe for assisting with the mural.
“What a privilege for us at Rise Up! to be able to have Dr. Hummel on campus with us,” she said. “It has been an honor for us to be able to get to know him on a personal level so that we can take our next-level students to Tusculum to give an opportunity for hope and be able to further their education. The mural Bill Bledsoe helped our children create is beautiful and represents who we are. To patiently and lovingly work with the kids to put this all together, to be able to have this as an exhibit for years to come really blesses us deeply. We’re incredibly thankful.”