Pellissippi State: High Schools Fuel Diverse PR / Comms Workforce Pipeline

A new program in East Tennessee is helping diverse high school students gain career pathways into PR, media, and communications careers. Industry partners are welcomed to join!

It’s been about 18 months since I first approached my area’s community college to help the local journalism, public relations, marketing and media production industry expand our regional Greater Knoxville workforce pipeline for careers in PR, advertising / creative services, video/audio production, web / digital design, and related fields.

Pellissippi State hosts high school students to learn about career entry into communications.

In a fresh take on the “Think Globally, Act Locally” mantra, Pellissippi State is stepping up to the plate to help our local communications industry face a global challenge:

The problem with this issue is that when news and creative media (and those who support media, like PR firms, ad agencies, and audio / visual / web production houses) are management- and staff-dominated culturally by people with vastly similar life experiences and world views, it creates a serious and sometimes destructive imbalance in how media serve (or, under-serve) the larger public.

Decades of statistics from a wide range of independent research authorities bear out the negative impacts of these imbalances.

But in addition, when strong communications talent exists among student populations in public high schools within neighborhoods that struggle to receive the same ancillary support, funding, and student mentorship as those sited in economically thriving / affluent neighborhoods, then those talented students in the more challenged communities receive far fewer opportunities for a career foothold.

It’s a waste of raw talent.

It’s a loss to students who otherwise might find highly fulfilling and well-compensated lifelong job tracks.

And society loses out as well by not benefiting from these young people’s talents, insights, and capabilities.

Consequently, decades-long diversity challenges for the local communications industry only become more entrenched for the long-term.

Traditionally, high school students of economically challenged means have had few options for pursuing marketing, communications and digital production careers because four-year degree programs often were out-of-reach cost-wise.

Few two-year community colleges that were more affordable offered robust courses in these areas to qualify for an associate’s degree.

Pellissippi State student Paul Fisher (left) attends the “Great Communicators” session to help peer-mentor high school students, with Program Coordinator and Associate Professor Mischa Goldman (right)

In recent weeks, our steering committee for the new “Great Communicators” program (with shout-out on naming credits to Project GRAD’s Vrondelia “Ronni” Chandler) welcomed high school students – mostly ages 15 to 18 – from Knox County Schools’ Austin East Magnet High School and Fulton High School, to learn about mass-comms career pathways via Pellissippi State’s dual-enrollment and Magnolia Campus offerings.

Pellissippi State’s Magnolia Campus is located in closest travel proximity to these high schools.

Magnolia Avenue Campus Dean Stella Bridgeman was the first to welcome these high school students at our first “Great Communicators” event, November 17, 2023:

Both Austin East and Fulton are part of Knox County Schools’ new “865 Academies” initiative (865 being the telephone area code for Knox County).

The 865 Academies implement a strategy that, according to Knox County Schools’ website, “will allow students to:

  1. Participate in authentic, work-based learning;
  2. Receive opportunities for job shadows and other career exploration activities;
  3. Work closely with professionals in their field of interest; and
  4. Create stronger connections between classroom knowledge and workplace success.”

Leveraging the “real-world” bridge between classroom learning and practical application of skills in relevant jobs, Pellissippi State is harnessing the power of the 865 Academies to help students interested in communications careers.

On November 17, it was uplifting and energizing to see local Knoxville high school students (and their schools’ faculty / advisors) fully engaged and inquisitive about these careers that Pellissippi State can offer.

Here are Pellissippi State’s specific offerings and course requirements:

These two-year technical degrees provide competitive, real-world skill sets that any of these students can then take to apply to four-year collegiate bachelor’s degree programs, such as at the University of Tennessee (with its flagship campus also in Knoxville and its College of Communication & Information offering a full complement of related undergraduate and graduate degree programs, including public relations, journalism, and others).

In Tennessee, the nationally renowned Tennessee Promise scholarship allows ALL STUDENTS FREE TUITION via last-dollar scholarships for state-affiliated community college two-year associate’s degree programs, like at Pellissippi State.

Other funding that local industry partners provide can bridge gaps of need, such as for textbooks, equipment, supplies, transportation assistance and other identified needs.

Please contact the Pellissippi State Foundation:

Aneisa Rolen (pictured below at right, with PSCC Media Technologies Dean Margaret Ann Jeffries at left)

Executive Director

Pellissippi State Foundation

P.O. Box 22990

Knoxville, TN 37933


A past board member of the Pellissippi State Foundation, Mary Beth West, APR, FPRCA, is a Fellow in the Public Relations and Communications Association based in London, U.K., and serves on the board of the International Communications Consultancy Organisation. She works as a contract senior strategist of Knoxville-based Fletcher Marketing PR. Her career-long work supporting public relations students has been recognized in the U.S. with the PRSSA National Hall of Fame Award (1996), the PRSA National Educators Academy David Ferguson Award (2010), the University of Tennessee College of Communication & Information Public Relations Alumna of the Year Award (2013), and the PRSA Volunteer Chapter Lorna H. Norwood Excellence in Mentorship Award (2017).


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