Category Archives: Faculty

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.


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.

Get to know Mel Matthews

This week, The Settler is picking on Mel Matthews, director of sleep diagnostics technology at Volunteer State Community College.

Matthews trains polysomnographic (sleep) technologists to recognize different types of sleep disorders and to collect proper data during sleep studies.

“It is a continually growing field due to the growing awareness of the relationship between poor sleep and numerous health problems like high blood pressure, strokes, heart disease, and many more,” he said.

“I was working as a training specialist for the American Red Cross when one of my trainees began talking about going to ‘sleep school.’  The more I heard about it, the more appealing the idea became.  I told him that I might just go with him.  As it turned out, I went and he didn’t,” Matthews said.

Matthews comes from a musical family.

“My father and his brother are in their 80s and still play music about three times per week,” he said.

Although he is not officially a part of the Vol State bluegrass program, he said he does everything he can to support it.  Every Wednesday, Matthews plays in the dining room along with Melissa DuPuy from the bluegrass department.  Anyone who cares to join in is welcome.

“If you have never been to a bluegrass festival or jam, then you just don’t understand the impact that something such as this can have on a community.  Whether a student is intent on becoming a performing artist, writing, or just learning how to play an instrument better, bluegrass music can be an enriching part of life,” he said.

The mandolin is one of only a handful made by Willard James from Long, Okla.  James loaned it to Matthews as sort of a test drive, and Matthews played it in a competition, which he then won.

“It was a great mandolin and I remember my father saying, ‘You won with it, so you might as well buy it.’”

Matthews lives in Springfield, Tenn. with his wife.  She and their son are from Shanghai, China.  Their son didn’t learn to speak English well until he was in middle school, but graduated high school with a 4.0 GPA and is now a student at University of the South.

Matthews has plans for a scholarship fund to assist sleep diagnostics students with their board exam costs.  One of the first fundraising activities will be a car show in the fall.

The bluegrass program is also hosting a festival on April 13 and 14 which will include many instrumental and band competitions.

For more information about sleep technology or bluegrass, contact Mel Matthews at 615-230-3366.