|UT Martin Ripley Center expansion opens more opportunities
|Contact 1: Bud Grimes, Office of University Relations
|Officials gathered Feb. 7 in Ripley to officially open the UT Martin Ripley Center’s 8,000-square-foot expansion. On hand for the event were (l to r): Jon Pavletic, Ripley mayor; Craig Fitzhugh, 82nd District state representative; Lowe Finney, 27th District state senator; Dr. Tom Rakes, UT Martin chancellor; (foreground holding ribbon) Mykle Johnson, Ripley Center director; Anthony Haynes, University of Tennessee vice president of government relations and advocacy; Dr. Jerald Ogg, UT Martin provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs; and Rod Schuh, Lauderdale County mayor.
MARTIN, Tenn. — Yalanda Parr does not hesitate when she describes her career goal: “I would like to be able to teach at a school for the blind.” Parr, 38, a University of Tennessee at Martin student from Halls, will be prepared for that opportunity when she graduates this May with a Bachelor of University Studies degree.
Parr, whose 20-year-old son is blind, is achieving her educational goals at the UT Martin Ripley Center. She attended a Feb. 7 ribbon-cutting ceremony that officially opened the center’s new 8,000-square-foot expansion. The expansion adds three faculty offices, three classrooms, one lecture hall and a student lounge to the existing facility. A partnership between the city of Ripley and UT Martin made the expansion possible as the city and the university split the cost of developing the space.
UT Martin classes were first offered in early 2006 at the Tennessee Technology Center at Ripley before the permanent center opened. Located at 315 South Washington Street, the Ripley Center was dedicated Sept. 6, 2007, and included 21,000 square feet of space. A former Walmart building was converted into the educational facility that originally featured eight master classrooms, a technology transfer facility, science laboratory, library resource center, bookstore, conference room and administrative offices.
Four-year degree programs offered at the center include the Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies, education K-6, social work, and the RN to BSN Program. Attending the Ripley Center was a logical choice for Parr, and she sees the expansion bringing added opportunities for students.
“It (the center) was convenient, and I was able to work and go to school, too. Since I worked in Ripley, it was just the perfect choice to come here,” Parr said, who first enrolled in 2006. As for the new space she said, “I think it’s awesome. A lot of people, even the students that are currently here, have not even seen the expansion yet.”
Parr is a student worker at the center, and she makes a point to bring prospective students to see the expansion on the days that she works. She said students are “just amazed at all the space and by the fact that they can get a four-year degree here in Ripley.”
Tenille Luttrell, a 35-year-old senior elementary education major from Covington, doesn’t mind the drive to Ripley as she pursues her goal to become a schoolteacher. “I could come here and get everything, and it was just 20 minutes down the road,” she said of her decision to attend the center.
Luttrell graduated from Jackson State Community College in 1998 with an associate degree, married a month later and chose to work while her husband completed his bachelor’s degree. Three daughters followed, but now that all are in school, she’s setting an example for them by returning to school. Her plan is for her and her youngest daughter to attend school together, her daughter as a student and she as a teacher.
Luttrell anticipates the expanded space creating more opportunities for students. “It means a lot, because they (the center) can offer more classes,” she said. “There will be more flexibility in the schedule, because there will be more room for more classes.
“I know that recently there’ve been more classes added to the schedule just this semester because of the expansion. I’m very grateful for it.”
Mykle Johnson, center director since June 2012, welcomed the crowd of students, community members, elected officials, business leaders and UT Martin staff members that gathered for the 4:45 p.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony. She talked of the center’s outreach as she reported a spring enrollment of 253 students, more than 80 of which live outside of Lauderdale County. The center also serves Dyer, Tipton, Haywood and Crockett counties, but students drive from more distant locations such as Arlington (Shelby County) and Trenton (Gibson County) to take classes. More than 100 Ripley residents have earned UT Martin degrees at the center, she said.
UT Martin Chancellor Tom Rakes thanked community members and elected officials for supporting the center and current expansion. “I think this is a great addition to this area. …What a great repurposing of a structure here that keeps on going, and we all benefit from that,” he said. More academic programs are being developed for the center, and Rakes reported that about $53,000 has been raised for scholarships and awarded to UT Martin Ripley Center students in the current academic year. “We’ll continue to work hard to ensure the success of all of our centers and all of our operations. To do that, it doesn’t happen without dedicated faculty and staff and some great students,” he said.
Anthony Haynes, vice president of government relations and advocacy, represented UT President Joe DiPietro at the event. To the city and county mayors present, Haynes said, “Please don’t ever underestimate the value that the university throughout the state puts on our relationship with you, your office and your communities. … The University of Tennessee is Tennessee, and we’re very proud to be a part of this (the Ripley) community.” Haynes offered special praise for 82nd District State Rep. Craig Fitzhugh and his support for public higher education.
Fitzhugh, who was instrumental in securing $250,000 in annual state funding for the Ripley Center, noted proudly that parking spots are mostly filled during class nights at the center. He spoke of the UT brand’s importance in the Ripley community and its impact on the center’s success. “It (the UT brand) shows that our community values education. This aids in our growth,” he told the audience.
He pointed to the value of an educated workforce and recognized industry representatives in the crowd. Fitzhugh added, “You know, this is a pretty well-known logo (the UT logo), not just in our state, but in our region and our country, and we are fortunate in a town our size to be standing just as tall as the buildings at Martin and Ayers Hall in Knoxville. So, it does aid our reputation as a community.”
“It still gives me chill bumps to think that right here in my hometown, a person of whatever age and whatever means can get a four-year college degree right here in this building,” Fitzhugh concluded. “That’s pretty amazing, and things like that are what we need to give us, our children and our grandchildren the hope that we have to live in a great state, a great area and certainly a great community.”
Lowe Finney, state senator for the 27th District, worked with Fitzhugh to establish the Complete College Tennessee Act of 2010, a higher-education reform agenda that focuses on outcomes rather than enrollments. He agreed with previous speakers about the high level of skills required in today’s workforce and the flexibility needed for students to attain those skills.
“Students have to have flexibility to reach their education goals, whether they take a course that’s online, or they take these new hybrid courses where they come in one week, and they do it online the next week, and back and forth,” Finney said. “They have to have flexibility, and that’s what is making opportunities like this for the rural parts of the state possible. And it is so, so very important.”
Ripley Mayor Jon Pavletic, currently serving his third term, worked 30 years at Ripley High School before being elected to public office. He is among those who helped to make the Ripley Center a reality and participated in the facility’s 2007 ribbon cutting.
“There isn’t anything else that comes close to what we’re trying to do here, and educate our people, and give our people an opportunity in life,” Pavletic said of the center. “Life is (awfully) competitive when you talk about industry. The first thing they ask is about (an) educated workforce. We’re trying to do that here.”
Yalanda Parr’s family will celebrate two graduations in May as her daughter receives her high school diploma from Ripley High School. Parr has taken all of her classes at Ripley, but she will make a special trip to Martin and participate in commencement “with a towel in hand, because I’m going to be crying the whole way.”
Thanks to the Ripley Center expansion, more students will now have the opportunity to follow Parr’s footsteps to Martin and receive a life-changing college degree.
Contact the UT Martin Ripley Center at 731-221-8778, toll free 1-866-295-8956 or on the web at www.utm.edu/ripley.
Show Share Article Link