Get to know editor-in-chief Kayla Cormier

Get to know Kayla Cormier, 2011-2012 editor-in-chief


Get to know Michelle Vandiver-Lawrence

This week, The Settler visits with Michelle Vandiver-Lawrence, Associate Professor of Spanish.

Vandiver has a master’s degree in Spanish and linguistics. She has been teaching at Volunteer State Community College for 11 years.

“Since I was a little girl I wanted to help others, and I was interested in other cultures. I am from a small town, so there was not a lot of diversity.

“People intrigue me. I want to know everything about everyone, and especially anyone who is different than me,” said Vandiver.

She said that she takes an “eclectic approach” to teaching. She describes herself as “as silly as possible” in class, which she hopes makes students feel comfortable.
“I love how easy going she is. … She makes you feel like you can learn anything because she is always so optimistic and supportive,” said student Catherine Goicoechea.
In order to teach the concept of directions, Vandiver uses Barbie dolls as visual aids. She places them into position, and then describes their location (“Ella está a la izquierda del palacio” translates to “She is to the left of the palace.”).

Vandiver is dedicated to international education. She has been an instructor for TnCIS courses, and has lived and studied in Mexico and Spain.

Vandiver has traveled the world, visiting Guatemala, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, Portugal, France, Italy, and Turkey, as well as 32 of the 50 states.

While in Guatemala, she and her husband climbed Pacaya, an active volcano, along with Vol State professor Keith Bell and his wife. “It is one of the most physically strenuous things I’ve ever done,” said Vandiver.

Bell said that neither he nor his wife were fluent in Spanish, so Vandiver acted as translator on the trip, until they reached a remote area where many of the inhabitants’ Spanish was heavily mixed with Mayan dialects. “It was funny to hear her tell us ‘I don’t understand half of what this guy is saying.’”

Wherever she is in the world, Vandiver is most likely to be outdoors.

“Hiking and camping are my favorite. I enjoy extreme activities such as caving, rafting, etc. … My family has an organic garden. We compost and recycle. I have way too many interests to pursue in one lifetime.”

She has a full house as well. She is married to Jason Vandiver-Lawrence, an elementary school teacher. They have three children, two cats and two dogs.

The doll pictured is a souvenir from Guatemala and is wearing a traditional dress.

Vandiver can be reached at or by phone at (615) 230-3528.

Nashville Symphony offers discounts to students

The Nashville Symphony Orchestra offers college students a chance to enjoy select performances for $10 per ticket.

In an effort to “engage and enrich people of all ages by exploring, experiencing and creating music,” the symphony created its SoundCheck program.

Students must register with the program and supply a copy of their current class schedule to verify that they are actively enrolled. Once the application is approved, the students may purchase tickets to select concerts throughout the season.

Volunteer State Community College instructors have incorporated the symphony’s performances into their curriculum. Lynn Peterson, professor of music, requires his music appreciation students to attend.

“I am so thankful that the symphony has the SoundCheck program. There are concerts that I would not have the great pleasure of enjoying if it weren’t for SoundCheck,” said Janie Bressee.
The symphony, led by conductor Giancarlo Guerrero, performs 140 concerts each year. It has received 13 nominations and six Grammy awards for its recordings.

The Nashville Symphony broke ground on the $123.5 million Schermerhorn Symphony Center in 2003. It opened on Sept. 9, 2006.

The flooding in May, 2010 caused over $42 million in damage to the Schermerhorn. According to the Tennesseean, “The flood put 5.25 million gallons of water into the building; it rose to 24 feet — just four inches short of reaching the concert hall.” The waterline is still visible on the basement walls.

The hall was closed until New Year’s Eve of that year; the symphony performed at alternate locations in the interim.

To register with SoundCheck, visit

Vol State Bluegrass

As part of the visual and performing arts program, Volunteer State Community College students can earn an associate of science degree in bluegrass music. Vol State’s program is modeled after the East Tennessee State University’s Bluegrass, Old Time, and Country Music Studies program, and thanks to a new articulation agreement, Vol State’s classes transfer directly in for seamless transition.
Heading up the program is Lynn Peterson, who has served as president of The Tennessee Songwriters Association International and has been teaching music at Vol State since 1987.
He said that while the program is geared toward musicians, what is necessary is a love for music. The skills can be created through lessons. Those with experience will have their abilities honed.
Private lessons and ensemble performances are a required part of the program, along with such classes as American Folk Music and Commercial Songwriting.
ETSU’s program, which started offering a major last year, is helmed by Dan Boner. He said that while other schools do have music programs that offer a concentration in Bluegrass, there are some “pretty significant differences” such as requiring music history and theory based on classical European composers, as opposed to folk, country and Americana styles. For most bluegrass musicians, this is not the way music is approached.
“These students have spent their lives learning this music through bluegrass jams, churches and family traditions.” The new programs are remaining true to that, while applying the techniques to an academic style.
Boner said that ETSU had hoped for 20 degree-seeking students by the end of their program’s second year. Today, just a year after the inception, there are 61.
Vol State’s newly appointed Interim President Dr. Bruce Scism has been instrumental in the creation of our program. He said that given the school’s talented students, staff and proximity to Nashville made it a natural addition.
Scism said he has always had a passion for music and spent one year as a music major in college before switching to political science. He never lost his interest, and in 2005 became more serious. He is an accomplished songwriter and musician in his own right.
Scism agreed with Boner as to the need for music education to approach bluegrass differently. “Oftentimes music programs focus and end with formal styles, whichi s great, but oftentimes students are looking for something different.”
The Bluegrass Program is designed to reach out to those students.
It is the intention of both schools to continue to grow. Scism called this a “first step” and said plans were in place to add gospel, blues and other types of music one day.
Scism sees it as a chance to elevate the reputation of our creative arts programs. The school also hired a new coordinator for the Commercial Music Program. Steve Bishir is a 5-time Grammy Award-winner.
The Commercial Songwriting class hosts monthly Songwriters’ Nights at the Whippoorwill in Gallatin. Last year, the department released four episodes of “Vol State Presents,” a 30-minute television program highlighting the visual and performing arts scene in middle Tennessee. It was shown by the PBS station in Cookeville and on YouTube. A CD featuring student ensembles is released every year.

Get to know Amber Regan

Did last week’s diploma get you fired up for graduation? It’s almost here, so this week, The Settler visited with Amber Regan, graduation analyst at Volunteer State Community College.
Regan audits all graduation applicant records, sends information out to students regarding graduation requirements and maintains the degree evaluation tool in the student portal. In addition to technical aspects of graduation, Regan is also involved in planning the commencement ceremony and other activities.
“I enrolled at Vol State as a student right out of high school, in August 2003. I have been here ever since,” she said.
Not everyone can say that they have their dream job, but Regan does.
“Since I was in high school, I knew I wanted to work at Vol State. I love the atmosphere and what we do here. While working in the Advising Center I always enjoyed helping students with degree audits. For some reason it was like working a puzzle to me. That’s what I do every day now.
“I get to see all the pieces come together and help plan the commencement ceremony to honor the students’ hard work and dedication. Getting to see students excited on commencement day and when they pick up their diplomas is very rewarding,” she said.
Regan said that she is a perfectionist and always checks her work twice. “I have to, when it comes to working on someone’s graduation file. … I also try to teach students the importance of taking an active role when it comes to getting the job done, and done right.”
Regan’s husband, Jeff, is also a Vol State alumnus. Their son, Parker, is 2 and his son, Jake, is 6. She is active in church at Strong Tower Ministries in Westmoreland. She said that she enjoys horseback riding, Fall Creek Falls State Park, and hanging out with family and friends.
Regan said she is the keeper of the diplomas on campus, and displays her own on the wall in her office.
“I wish all of our graduating students would participate in our commencement ceremony. It’s free and a celebration for the students, so please, once that time comes for you – walk! You’ll be happy that you did.”
For more information about Vol State graduation, including the commencement ceremony on May 5 and graduate awards night on April 27, visit

Get to know the people of Vol State

A look back at some of the people The Settler has profiled this year:

Thank you, Vol State

Get to know Len Assante

At long last, The Settler can reveal the owner of the unique pen holder featured on March 26.

Len Assante, associate professor of communication, is also chair of the communication, philosophy and foreign languages department at Volunteer State Community College

Assante has been at Vol State since 1995 and has taught full-time since the fall of 1996.

Before Vol State he was at Austin Peay for two years.  He also taught at schools in South Dakota and Pennsylvania.

Assante has a bachelor’s degree in communication from Rutgers University in New Jersey and a master’s in communication from State University of New York, Buffalo.

As The Settler has seen with many instructors, Assante’s path to his career was somewhat of an accident.

“I started out as an engineering major, found I did not like it, and started looking around. I took a communication class, enjoyed it and the rest is history,” he said.

Assante said that he feels the best way to teach communication is to engage students in communication.

“I’ve learned a lot about interpersonal communication this semester.  The class has been really fun,” said student Jazmin Mercer.

“Mr. Assante is really funny and classes aren’t boring,” said another student, Travis Johnson.

Assante is also the advisor for the Vol State College Democrats, although the club is currently inactive.

Outside of school, Assante is a private pilot who enjoys flying his own plane.   His Cessna 150 is based at the Gallatin airport.

He has a cat named Nina who he calls his best friend.  She has been with him for 15 years.

Assante also enjoys firearms.

“I have a small collection of guns and teach the Tennessee handgun carry permit class and other firearms classes.

“People find it odd that I enjoy firearms and teach NRA firearms courses since I am very much a liberal, but stereotypes are meant to be broken,” he said.

The pen holder we pictured represents his love of firearms. It is made from the cylinder of a revolver.

“It is as close to having guns on campus that is allowed,” he said.

As part of Comm Week, the communication department is hosting the Hal Ramer oratorical contest on Monday, April 16, 2012 at 12:15 in Wemyss Auditorium.  All students are invited to participate in this annual speech competition.  Outlines must be submitted by April 10 at noon in the Humanities office located in Ramer 101.

Assante can be reached at 615-230-3727 or in his office at Ramer 150.