MARTIN, Tenn. – The University of Tennessee at Martin McNairy County Center/Selmer celebrated 20 years of operation Sept. 27 with a luncheon and open house event. The center, opened in 1998, was the first of UT Martin’s five educational outreach centers.
“This center has impacted this community tremendously. I’ve seen it personally,” said Rick Mathenia, chair of the local higher education committee and adjunct instructor at the center. Mathenia currently teaches a distance-learning course where students at the UT Martin centers in Ripley, Parsons and Somerville participate via online video. “Not only have we impacted the people of our community, but we’ve set the standard and set the focus to impact people in other communities,” he added. “We were the first, and those centers followed our lead.”
Mike Smith, McNairy County mayor in 1998, and Jimmy Whittington, Selmer mayor in the same year, played pivotal roles in creating the UT Martin partnership that resulted in the local education center. Both attended the Sept. 27 luncheon.
“(This center) has been one of the greatest things that has happened in our county in my life, as far as having an opportunity to go to college and stay at home,” said Smith.
Whittington, who sits on the committee that distributes local scholarship dollars, agrees. “Had we not done what we did, none of these people would be here going to school. … This will outlast (us) long after we’re gone.”
Smith says the original intention was to subsidize UT Martin tuition with local scholarship dollars to make the end result comparable to the cost of attending a community college. The money originally raised in 1998 created an endowment, which still exists today, and provides scholarship money to any McNairy County resident who seeks a degree through the UT Martin Selmer location.
Funded largely through local dollars, the construction of the UT Martin center has given back to the Selmer community by providing a more highly educated workforce for area industry.
“There are many people in this area, in Selmer in particular, who have (earned degrees through) UT Martin Selmer and who are now working in Selmer,” said current city mayor John Smith. “We’re honored to have (the center), and we’re looking forward to the future. We’re hoping to expand some of the programs and add different (degree programs) that (students) can get here.”
Norm Ewoldt, a Savannah resident and teacher at Hardin County High School, was one of three original students to earn UT Martin degrees through the Selmer location. He spoke during the anniversary luncheon and highlighted how the center’s impact on one student can in turn affect many others.
“I am so glad that I went to school here,” he said. “I get to influence 112 students (each year) with what I’ve learned on this campus. … I’ve had several students who have become history teachers … and it’s all to do with what took place here on this campus.”
UT Martin Chancellor Keith Carver thanked Mike Smith, Jimmy Whittington and other key players, including Dr. Bob Smith, UT Martin chancellor emeritus, for their hard work and vision to create the first of what would become a larger network of educational outreach centers in West Tennessee.
“I think it’s wonderful when we can get people with vision to think ‘Hey, let’s partner with someone else, and let’s see if we can address (community) issues. … We’re grateful to be here, and we’re grateful that you still want to partner (with UT Martin),” he said.
“Over 600 students have benefited from a scholarship (at the Selmer Center). As you all know, we’re doing all we can to keep tuition costs down and to operate more effectively, but we need your help. No matter how low tuition is, students are always going to have need,” he added. Carver encouraged those in attendance to go back to their families, employers and friends and consider ways to increase scholarship dollars in the local area to assist students who may not otherwise be able to afford the cost of a college education.
The UT Martin McNairy County Center/Selmer currently offers courses toward degrees in more than 80 bachelor’s-level programs and several graduate-level programs. The center is located at 1269 Tennessee Avenue in Selmer. For more information, contact the center at 731-646-1636.
PHOTO ID: Pictured outside the UT Martin McNairy County Center/Selmer following the anniversary luncheon Sept. 27 are (l-r) John Smith, Selmer mayor; State Sen. Dolores Gresham (R-District 26); Jai Templeton, Tennessee commissioner of agriculture; Mike Smith, former McNairy County mayor; Jimmy Whittington, former Selmer mayor; Larry Smith, McNairy County mayor; Dr. Bob Smith, UT Martin chancellor emeritus; and Dr. Keith Carver, UT Martin chancellor. Mike Smith, Jimmy Whittington and Dr. Bob Smith are part of the original group that helped establish the center in 1998.