Three members of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga family were recognized for their work as part of the Hamilton County Schools Partners in Education Breakfast on Wednesday, Oct. 26, at the University Center.
The annual event celebrates and recognizes Hamilton County Schools area partners who impact district students and educators.
Chris Brown, a clinical experience coordinator for the UTC School of Education, was honored with the Hamilton County Schools Teacher Champion Award. Twyler Boykin, program director of the University’s Upward Bound Math Science program, and Dr. Belinda Lee, program director of the Upward Bound program, were the first recipients of the new UTC Diversity and Engagement Community Impact Award.
Dr. Valerie Rutledge, dean of the College of Health, Education and Professional Studies, said Brown knew he was a nominee for the Teacher Champion Award but didn’t know he would receive the accolade.
“It was almost like the Academy Awards; the emcee announced the finalists in each category, then they announced the winner and invited them up to the stage to make a few comments,” Rutledge said. “He was truly surprised, and I’m glad we were there to support him.”
Rutledge said one of the biggest goals of her college is to be a good partner with the surrounding school systems. Hamilton County Schools is the largest school district in the region, “and our ability to interact with them, support them and be responsive to their needs is critical,” she said.
“I like the fact that they saw that Chris, in his role as a field placement coordinator, has not only the interest of our students in mind but also the needs of the school system,” she said. “In doing what he does, he connects with all the different schools.”
Brown, who received the award from Hamilton County Schools Deputy Superintendent Sonia Stewart, acknowledged hearing his name called out as the winner caught him off guard.
“It’s just a testament to the work that our School of Education students and supervisors do. They put in all the work, and I’m just here to facilitate it,” he said with a laugh. “But yes, it was a surprise.”
Brown said his role includes working with many principals and departments within Hamilton County Schools to facilitate professional development opportunities for School of Education students.
“The main thing is working with mentor teachers and principals for clinical placements, and that’s a lot of visiting schools and building relationships,” he said.
Brown, now in his fourth year at UTC, said approximately 55 to 60% of School of Education graduates go on to work in Hamilton County Schools with another 15% landing jobs in other regional school districts.
“It makes a lot of sense for us to create that really strong pipeline with the school district to make the process as seamless as possible for our students,” he said.
The new Community Impact Award was introduced at this year’s breakfast by A.J. Davis, the UTC Division of Diversity and Engagement’s coordinator of engagement.
“We want to partner with and honor those who help make students successful,” he said, “and when Hamilton County Schools approached us to be a premier partner, we agreed. And one of the things we want to do within this division is to highlight people’s work—both those that are right there at the forefront and those behind the scenes making stuff happen on a day-in and day-out basis.
“When I was thinking about people who are doing good work in the education sphere within the community and contributing to student success, names that immediately came to mind were Twyler Boykin and Dr. Brenda Lee in Upward Bound Math Science and Upward Bound, respectively.”
Davis presented the award to Boykin. Lee was not able to attend the event.
“To be honest, I don’t do this work to be recognized,” Boykin said. “I enjoy what I do, and receiving the award was humbling.
“I’m very appreciative to be honored and to be in the room with other partners to say, ‘Yes, we do make a difference in children’s lives.’ That is a blessing.”
Upward Bound and Upward Bound Math Science are part of TRIO, a series of grant-funded federal outreach and student services programs that serve and assist low-income individuals, first-generation college students and individuals with disabilities to progress through the academic pipeline.
Upward Bound works to increase the rate at which low-income students complete secondary education and graduate from post-secondary institutions. Upward Bound Math Science serves students from Brainerd High School and The Howard School to help them pursue post-secondary opportunities in those disciplines.
“We wouldn’t be able to exist if we did not have that partnership with the Hamilton County Schools and, more specifically, Brainerd and Howard High Schools,” Boykin said. “They have been instrumental in allowing us to come into the schools to work with their students, and that has been a big impact on us to be successful in what we do.
“The partnership has been valuable in that we’re able to use faculty and staff members to work in our program to do the outreach that we need to help those high school students succeed.”