Friday, May 27, 2016

People Fought For This

I recently read about a man who teaches children under a bridge in New Delhi. Rajesh Kumar Sharma couldn’t afford to finish his last year of college. That didn’t stop him from reaching out to the parents in an impoverished neighborhood and offering to teach their children – for free – a few hours every day.

“Knowledge increases when it is shared,” says Sharma.

My own path of education has been a bit unique. As a child I experienced attending public, private, and home schools. Every method is different in their own ways but the key things stay the same. Math, science, history, and lots of books. I learned there was something exciting and interesting about each subject if I approach it with an open mind. Though I wasn’t able to finish college the first time, I filled my homes with books and continued to learn about the things that interested me.

Education is as good as the effort you put into it. From being in a classroom or at home with a pile of library books, to having school under a bridge; it’s all learning and new growth.

We’re fortunate in the U.S. that “a free and appropriate education” is available to all school-aged children. Tennessee’s latest initiatives make going to college (or back to college) more available than ever.

This Memorial Day it’s appropriate to remember that many people fought in many different ways to make the U.S. a place where education is valued and encouraged. Knowledge is freedom. We honor their efforts and their lives with our own lives when we grab hold of the things they fought for. Never stop learning.

Gaynell Buffinet Payne is a writer, single mother, and student at Volunteer State Community College.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Virtual Reality Helps Vol State Students Fine-Tune Sonography Skills

The student peers into the computer screen and carefully manipulates the transducer with their hand. Vital organs come into view. They pulse and move, as in real life. The machine attached to the transducer may look like a robot out of Star Wars, but if you make a mistake, it grunts and screams, just like a real patient. Sonography students at Volunteer State Community College have a new state-of-the-art simulator to hone their skills and handle some delicate scenarios. It’s where the practiced hand meets virtual reality.

“You can memorize what you know you are supposed to see when it comes to the human body,” said Diagnostic Medical Sonography director Jennifer Carroll. “But what people struggle with is how it really looks inside the body. With this simulator you don’t have a patient. You don’t have to be embarrassed or intimidated. And what they see is real. This is actually what a gallbladder looks like,” she said, putting her finger to the fish-shaped space on the screen.

Sonography, also known as ultrasound, is one of the tools doctors use to look inside the body and diagnose patients. Trained and licensed sonographers do the scans. Vol State students practice on each other, to get hands-on training in the Vol State Sonography Center, a lab with several hospital beds, large HD monitors, and the latest professional ultrasound equipment. The new simulator not only allows them to practice particular skills they will need, over and over, but also perform procedures they couldn’t normally do in the classroom.

“The really cool thing is that we can do OB/GYN scans, especially a vaginal ultrasound,” said Carroll. “That’s something we can’t do in our ultrasound lab with real patients. This gives our students experience before they head out into a clinical environment.”

“It helps you practice,” said student Connor Hansford of Goodlettsville. “It screams if you press too hard. It lets you know you are in the right position. The more practice I get, the more comfortable that patient will be.”

“When you’re looking at the screen it’s a real ultrasound image. It makes you be very precise. The probe changes colors if you are doing it right. It’s green and if you’re off it turns red,” said student Denee Kelley of Murfreesboro.

It’s not just new technology coming to the Sonography program. Vol State is starting the process to be accredited in Vascular Sonography. The new curriculum starts this fall.

“Vascular ultrasound looks at veins and arteries, checking to see if someone has a blood clot or plaque in their arteries,” Carroll said. “We are currently accredited for abdomen and OB/GYN. Hospitals want this vascular training. It’s something graduates need. Now students will be able to get it all with one degree.” 

Applicants to the Diagnostic Medical Sonography program must have an associate of applied science degree in Health Sciences, with hands-on patient care, or a bachelor’s degree in any area. Middle Tennessee State University offers a four-year degree program where the final year can be completed in the Vol State Sonography program. For more information about Sonography at Vol State about visit

Pictured: Connor Hansford watches as Denee Kelley simulates a scan of the liver using new equipment at Vol State.

Graduation 2016 - Congrats Adult Students!

Graduation 2016...congratulations everyone!

Husband and Wife Graduate from Vol State Together

The kids are fidgety and the couple, dressed in cap and gown, looks a bit nervous. Brandy Meness says she is both tired and proud. Chris Meness says this will be the first time he has ever walked the stage at a graduation. The Putnam County husband and wife graduated from Volunteer State Community College during the commencement ceremony in Gallatin on Saturday. Many adult students face challenges balancing family, work and school. The Meness family handled all of that on a much larger scale. The couple attended Vol State at Livingston at the same time, while raising an 18-month-old, twin four-year-olds, a six-year-old and also taking care of two teenagers. Chris worked two jobs and went to school full-time to make ends meet. Brandy says her husband hasn’t had a day off in six weeks.

“We worked really hard for this,” Brandy Meness said. “We sacrificed a lot for this. We are both the first in our family to do this. We want to give our kids the best life possible.”

“It’s a life-changer for me,” said Chris Meness. “It’s going to help me break the chain. My mother, father, brothers and sisters- no one has ever graduated from college. It feels phenomenal.”

Despite the massive workload, the two have taken well to college. “Even though he has been working so much, Chris has a 3.3 grade point average,” Brandy said. “Hopefully I’m going to have a 4.0.”

They have only had one class together. Brandy laughed and said she found out her husband has a different learning style than her.

“My husband is a back of the classroom person- quiet and reserved,” she said. “I’m usually in the front of the classroom asking questions.”

“When other students are talking about how they don’t have anything to do after class my wife and I are talking about going to work and picking up the kids,” Chris said.

The couple is already enrolled for Tennessee Tech University to continue their studies, Brandy in Human Resources and Chris in sociology with a criminal justice emphasis. Chris actually took some TTU classes while finishing up his Vol State degree this spring. While they’re both excited about the future, they do have one small wish.

“He’s exhausted. I’m exhausted,” Brandy said. “We just want some family time this summer.”

Adults considering starting a new degree or finishing up degree work can visit for tips. 
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