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2017 News Archive



Scott M. Niswonger, Chairman and Founder of the Niswonger Foundation announced the award of an “Education Innovation and Research” (EIR) Grant from the U.S. Department of Education. This grant, with the required matching funds, will provide more than eight million dollars to assist schools in Northeast Tennessee.  Niswonger stated: “This is a day of tremendous pride as I reflect on the extraordinary accomplishments of the Niswonger Foundation. It is gratifying to be recognized nationally for our work in public education but more important to me is that we have another new and powerful opportunity to serve the children in this region, to ensure that they are prepared to be successful in post-secondary education and in their chosen careers.”

The United States Department of Education selected 16 grant recipients from 379 proposals based on recommendations from independent peer review panels.   The 16 successful applications represented 9 states and the District of Columbia.

The Niswonger Foundation is one of only 6 recipients in the “mid-phase” category. This grant will be used to fund a program entitled: Rural LIFE (Literacy Initiative Focused on Effectiveness).  The purpose of the grant is to validate the use of personalized learning strategies, with the goal of focusing on literacy to improve academic achievement for students in grades six through eight. Rural LIFE uses the strategy of deploying technology-enabled literacy-focused personalized learning.  Participating schools will identify specific technology needs as part of their learning model.

The grant will serve eighteen school systems in Northeast Tennessee (Bristol City, Carter County, Cocke County, Elizabethton City, Greene County, Greeneville City, Hamblen County, Hancock County, Hawkins County, Jefferson County, Johnson City, Johnson County, Kingsport City, Newport City, Rogersville City, Sullivan County, Unicoi County, and Washington County). This grant will add another important scope of work to this unique consortium of schools that has drawn national recognition.  The majority of the 73 schools in this project are designated rural and 85% are Title I school-wide. Approximately 19,700 students are served by Rural LIFE-participating schools.

Dr. Nancy Dishner, President and CEO of the Niswonger Foundation, commented on the strength of the Consortium of Northeast Tennessee school systems: “I credit receiving this second federal grant to the tireless efforts of our teachers and school leaders in this region.  We are uniquely positioned to receive national attention because of this joint commitment to teamwork, excellence, and ensuring that every child in Northeast Tennessee has the best opportunity for success.” 

This marks the second U.S. Department of Education grant received by the Niswonger Foundation and the Niswonger Consortium of school systems.  Previously, the Foundation received a twenty-one-million-dollar Investing in Innovation Grant (i3), which was the precursor to this first-round of the EIR grants. The initial Niswonger grant was recently recognized for having five statistically significant research findings. Focused on college and career readiness, the data show that students in the Niswonger Consortium were more likely to: 1) have a higher ACT score; 2) complete an Advanced Placement (AP) course; 3) score 3 or higher on AP courses; 4) enroll in post-secondary education; and 5) persist in post-secondary education.

Dr. Richard Kitzmiller, Niswonger Foundation Vice President, will serve as the Executive Director for this grant.  Kitzmiller has over 40 years of exemplary service in education, including nearly ten years as a district superintendent.  He has been employed at the Niswonger Foundation for six years, including work with the Foundation’s previous federal grant. Kitzmiller stated: “this project offers a unique opportunity.  While the middle grades are critical in the development of students, most reform efforts focus on other grades.  Most of the attention and support is directed to high schools or the earlier grades.”

The Rural LIFE grant will serve Northeast Tennessee for the next five years.

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At a media event held at Hancock County Elementary School, the Niswonger Foundation and Hancock County Schools announced the Niswonger Foundation’s receipt of two significant grants that will focus on kindergarten through second grade literacy development at Hancock County Elementary.  The goal of this effort is increasing third-grade reading proficiency.  A $450,000 grant from the Walmart Foundation and a $50,000 grant from the Annenberg Fund for Schools will provide a total of $500,000 in support of a three-year project that will be overseen by the Niswonger Foundation, in partnership with the Rural School and Community Trust.

The grant from the Annenberg Fund for Schools was used to create a “Book Room” of resources and technology for teaching literacy.  The Walmart Foundation grant will fund a three-year initiative informed by best practices and the most effective program designs, particularly focused on the needs of rural schools.  Fundamental to this effort is the belief that literacy is the single most important factor for ensuring that children have an opportunity for a successful future.

The need for this initiative is strongly supported in the 2016 Tennessee Department of Education report: “Setting the Foundation: A Report of Elementary Grades Reading in Tennessee.” This report stated that by measure of the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP), only 43 percent of Tennessee third graders and 45 percent of fourth graders perform on grade level in English language arts (ELA).  In the same year, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as the Nation’s Report Card stated that in 2015, only 33 percent of Tennessee students demonstrated proficiency in reading at the fourth grade level.  This means that more than half of the students in Tennessee’s schools are not comprehending what they are reading by the end of fourth grade

Statistics show that if a student is not proficient in reading at the end of the third grade, he or she is unlikely to make substantial progress towards that goal in the foreseeable future. In addition, Tennessee data indicate that many students earning proficient or advanced at the end of third grade will likely see a decline in the rating by fifth grade.

The reports indicated that only eight percent of students who are performing below grade level when they reach eighth grade will be able to meet the college-readiness benchmark on the ACT reading examination. For purposes of this initiative, literacy is being defined as a student having the ability to read, write, compute, and use technology at a level that enables him/her to reach their full potential.

The Niswonger Foundation and Hancock County Schools have agreed to support each other throughout this process by assisting the teacher, focusing on student learning, and sharing information to learn what works and what does not. Professional development, expert consultation, classroom technology, and instructional materials are being provided through the grants received by the Niswonger Foundation.

This three-year K-2 literacy initiative is designed to improve foundational skills necessary for reading mastery. The Niswonger Foundation is in the second year of a successful pilot project in Greene County. The best practices of that project will support the Hancock County efforts. The program staff and teachers are identifying the “best practices” in early literacy teaching methods.  This initiative also provides teachers with the support they need to ensure engaging and effective instruction. Through a data driven, personalized, and highly supportive process, the end goal is to dramatically improve third grade literacy scores with a program that can be adaptable to other K-2 classrooms, particularly in rural settings.  The major components of the program are:

  • Scheduling: realigning the teaching schedule to meet individualized learning needs of students through the use of Early Learning Groups (ELG’s)
  • Data: Collect, monitor and review multiple sources of data to inform teachers regarding appropriate next steps;
  • Teacher collaboration: Extended planning time for instructional team discussion of data, student needs, strengths/weaknesses, and reinforcing the responsibility for shared decision-making and responsibility;
  • Instructional Assistants: Provide training and support to build abilities and confidence to significant partners in the delivery of instruction and student progress;  
  • Parent/Community Involvement:  Focus on the importance of community engagement. Establish activities for parents/guardians, design volunteer opportunities for community partners; and 
  • Replicability: Design to be replicated in other K-2 classroom settings with a particular focus on the needs of rural education.

Addressing the media were Scott M. Niswonger, Chairman and Founder of the Niswonger Foundation; Rob Mahaffey, Executive Director, Rural School and Community Trust; Tony Seal, Director of Schools for Hancock County, Dr. Vicki Kirk, Tennessee Deputy Commissioner of Education; Sara Hurd, Niswonger/Hancock County Literacy Specialist; David Greene, Jr., Parent; Addilyn Mabe, Second Grade Student; Jackson Jones, First Grade Student; and Dr. Nancy Dishner, President and CEO, Niswonger Foundation. 

Guests on-hand for the media event included Hancock County Commissioners and School Board Members, representatives from the offices of U.S. Senator Bob Corker and U.S. Congressman Phil Roe; Niswonger Foundation Board Members and Staff; community members; and family members. 

At the close of the media event, the attendees toured the kindergarten, first and second grade classrooms; and the newly created Book Room. 

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In an interview by Niswonger Foundation Vice President, Richard Kitzmiller, we learned that Veronica Watson has spent most of her 2017 "summer break" as a volunteer in Niswonger/ETSU Code & Technology camps. 

After participating in summer camps for middle-schoolers in 2016, her interest and passion led her to volunteer to help (without pay) during the 2017 camps. This offer has resulted in Veronica’s involvement in 7 different camps.

Her volunteer time helps the camp staff (primarily ETSU undergraduate and graduate students) by being another resource to provide one-on-one support for participants.

Mathew Desjardins, the Code & Technology Camp Director, praises Veronica’s dedication and skill. He points out that her age is often an advantage; she relates well to the participants who are roughly the same age.

Veronica is a student at Elizabethton High School. She plans to pursue a career that builds on her current interest in computing.


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Registration Is Now Open

Niswonger & ETSU

2017 Code & Technology Camps


 Girls in Science & Technology 
(GIST) Camps

    -June 12 - 16 (Rising 5th Graders)
    -June 26 - 30 (Rising 6th Graders)

    Advanced Code & Tech Camps 

    (Advanced Java)
    -July 10 - 14 (Middle School)
-July 17 - 21 (High School)

(3D Printing/Drone/Imbedded Devices)

    - July 24 - 28 (Middle & High School)
 First Year Code & Tech Camps

(Middle School)

    -June 5 - 9 (Higher Ed. Ctr)

    -June 12 - 16 (Higher Ed. Ctr.)

(High School)

    -June 12 - 16 (David Crockett HS)

    - June 19 - 23 (Higher Ed. Ctr.)

    - June 26 - 30 (Higher Ed. Ctr.)


CAD Camps (Ages 13-18)

     -June 5 - 9 (Kingsport, TN)

     -June 12 - 16 (ETSU)

GIST Camps are week-long, half-day camps (8:15 am - 11:45 am) that allow rising 5th and 6th grade girls to explore STEM related activities.

First Year Code & Tech Camps are 5-day code & technology camps (9:00 am - 3:00 pm), for students who have little or no exposure to computers or technology.

Advanced Code & Tech Camps are 5-day code & technology camps (9:00 am - 3:00 pm), for students who participated in previous code and technology camps.

CAD Camps are 5-day camps (9:00 am - 3:00 pm), for students who wish to use a computer system to design different real world objects.

Dates listed are tentative and camps may be added or removed.  Register at 

ETSU contact is  Matthew Desjardins - [email protected].

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ETSU Names Niswonger Village

                                             Dr. Randy Wykoff and Scott Niswonger



Story by: East Tennessee State University - University Relations

JOHNSON CITY – For years, leaders in East Tennessee State University’s College of Public Health have utilized the ETSU Eastman Valleybrook campus in rural Washington County to teach students valuable skills – everything from making a brick from scratch to constructing a filter to obtain clean drinking water.

“But at the end of the day, we realized that we have to make sure our students not just have the skills, but can apply them,” said Dr. Randy Wykoff, dean of the College of Public Health. “Our students must be able to impact health in low-resource settings – following a disaster or in rural areas both domestically and abroad.”

On Friday, leaders launched the Niswonger VILLAGE at Valleybrook, a public health simulation lab featuring real replicas of low-resource homes from various nations. The VILLAGE (Virtual International Living: Learning Across Global Environments) represents how people live in rural and isolated communities around the world and provides students with the ability to demonstrate their skills and engage in hands-on exercises.

“Our job here in the Niswonger VILLAGE is to create the kind of situations that challenge our students to use creative thinking, problem solving, teamwork and innovation to really make a difference in people’s lives,” Wykoff said. “I really want to teach the students to be able to identify problems and come up with creative solutions to address them.”

Through the Niswonger Foundation, Scott Niswonger, a local businessman and well-known philanthropist in the region as well as the chairman of the ETSU Board of Trustees, donated funds for the creation of the VILLAGE, recognizing its ability take higher education to the next level.

“The Niswonger Foundation has a long and successful history of working with ETSU overall and with the College of Public Health,” he said. “The Niswonger Scholars have received training from the College of Public Health here on the Valleybrook campus and I was privileged to be able to contribute thoughts and ideas about the VILLAGE as it was being conceived.”

Both graduate and undergraduate public health students spend educational time at the Niswonger VILLAGE, offering the opportunity to go from theory and notebooks to hands-on experience. In those experiences, students discuss health systems and health challenges, both domestic and international, then try to develop interventions and programming to improve health outcomes and change environments and policies.

“ETSU shares with Mr. Niswonger a commitment to improving this region, whether it’s improving education or health outcomes,” said ETSU President Brian Noland. “We’re trying to prepare students who can make a difference wherever they go in the world.”

For more information about the Niswonger Village, visit For a video about the work being done at the ETSU Eastman Valleybrook campus, visit

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Humanitarian of the Year: Scott Niswonger

We would like to share the International Storytelling Center's "President's Blog" that appeared in their recent e-newsletter and shared with us by the writer, Kiran Singh Sirah, President, International Storytelling Center.

I recently had the pleasure of attending the American Red Cross of Northeast Tennessee’s first annual Humanitarian of the Year award ceremony, which was in honor of Scott Niswonger. Scott has been a long-time supporter of our work here at ISC. For years, the Niswonger Foundation has helped us develop our outreach program for underserved at-risk youth in schools across the region and supported us in developing professional training sessions for teachers. They also helped us establish our livestream broadcasts from the National Storytelling Festival, which beams out to classrooms in all 50 states, and many other countries around the world. Because of these connections, I was already aware of many of his good deeds around the area, including the Niswonger Children’s Hospital, his many contributions to educational endeavors, and other deserving projects.

One of the speakers at the event was Dave Sanderson, who was a passenger on what’s now known as the Miracle on the Hudson: the 2009 flight that landed on the river between New York and New Jersey. Sanderson was the last passenger off the back of the plane, so his story was probably even more harrowing than those of his fellow passengers. But it was also an incredibly inspiring tale; everyone on that flight survived the ordeal, so it’s a feel-good kind of story. The experience changed Sanderson’s life.

The choice of speaker was fitting given Scott’s line of work. But for him, flying was never just a job; it’s a passion, and sometimes a duty. He was piloting planes solo by his 16th birthday, when most kids are learning how to drive.

In listening to Sanderson’s incredible tale, I was reminded of when I first met Scott at his office in Greeneville, Tennessee. I had only recently moved to the region from North Carolina. When he asked about my background, I told him how, just a few years before I was born, my parents were forced to flee their home in Uganda, which was under the control of a murderous dictator. I think of it as a sort of origin story that helps explain my passion for storytelling, because that’s all my parents had at the time: their stories. (The government took their house, their possessions, and everything else.) Once I was born, stories of their beloved home were what they had to share with me.

What Scott said when I finished that tale was truly remarkable: around the same time that my parents were fleeing the country, he was overhead, piloting a cargo plane that delivered supplies to 50,000-some refugees. Eventually my family boarded a flight to England, where I was born…and many years later, there I was in Scott’s office. It was a real testament to the power of storytelling that we uncovered this unlikely connection.

It was an honor to shake Scott’s hand in his office that day. It’s still a great feeling, knowing that someone who’s so supportive of our work at ISC was also there for people like my parents in their greatest time of need. (No wonder this guy is Humanitarian of the Year!) It was truly an honor to attend the event and have the chance to celebrate all of Scott’s contributions—not just to the region, but to the world.

Kiran Singh Sirah

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Greeneville businessman and philanthropist Scott M. Niswonger has been named Humanitarian of the Year by the American Red Cross of Northeast Tennessee.

Niswonger was honored Thursday, March 16, at a breakfast meeting attended by regional business and community leaders, held at the Millennium Centre in Johnson City.

The Humanitarian of the Year award, presented annually by the American Red Cross, recognizes local individuals or groups whose efforts and accomplishments have made their community a better place to live and work.

The award is based on the fundamental principles of the World Red Cross Movement - humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, volunteer service, unity and universality - and specifically recognizes the first of those principles, humanity.

At the Thursday breakfast, Niswonger was introduced by Tom Wennogle, president of Jarden Zinc in Greeneville.

Wennogle shared his perceptions of Niswonger's accomplishments as a community servant through his work with the Niswonger Children's Hospital, the region's only children's hospital, the Niswonger Performing Arts Center and the Niswonger Foundation.

Wennogle also recognized Niswonger's accomplishments in supporting the growth of downtown Greeneville, his contributions to Tusculum College and his recent appointment as Chairman of the Board of Trustees at East Tennessee State University.

Wennogle commented that, while substantial evidence of Niswonger's contributions is seen in structures like the Tusculum College library, Niswonger Commons and the Tusculum College's Pioneer Park baseball field, where the Greeneville Astros play, the true humanitarian is evidenced in "the many selfless acts of helping others which will never be publicly known."

In accepting the award, Niswonger commented that the recognition had caused him to reflect on events in his life. "There could have been a little skill involved, but, for sure, there was a healthy dose of blessings," Niswonger said. "Without a doubt, the greatest blessings have been the people who have come into my life at just the right time."

Niswonger named former Tennessee Senator Thomas J. Garland and Larry Estepp, executive vice president of Citizen's Bank, as individuals who "believed in a young man with a big dream" and provided the support that led to the success of his first company.

"Tom (Garland) is one of the many people in my life who has taught me that we all have a finite number of heartbeats, all that matters is the help we can be along the way."

Niswonger credited the philosophy of Andrew Carnegie as having taught him a valuable lesson about success and responsibility.  He commented that Carnegie believed that people should return the investments their communities make in them.

"Not only do I believe this is an imperative, I personally believe that giving back is fun.  I enjoy watching the successes of our work in the community," Niswonger said. "At the heart of my personal philosophy is the motto we instill in our Niswonger Scholars - we should "Learn, Earn and Return."

In closing his acceptance comments, Niswonger shared that the award is  a reminder of the Biblical instruction outlined in Luke 12:48: "To whom much is given much is expected." He also encouraged all attendees to "use their finite number of heartbeats wisely."

Following this award presentation, a keynote speech was provided by Dave Sanderson, a passenger on flight 1549, the "Miracle on the Hudson."  The last passenger off the back of the plane, Sanderson was largely responsible for the well-being and safety of others.  His motivational leadership message focused on how to help others make a difference through the way one does business and lives their life each day.

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February 7, 2017

Niswonger Foundation Congratulates Scott M. Niswonger
Presented Coveted Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award

Scott Niswonger with Professor Holleman

At a formal ceremony on Tuesday, at the General Morgan Inn, in Greeneville, Scott M. Niswonger, Chairman and Founder of the Niswonger Foundation, was presented the most prestigious award the Federal Aviation Administration issues to pilots.  This award is named for Wilber and Orville Wright, American brothers and aviators who are credited with inventing, building, and flying the world's first successful airplane.  The award recognizes individuals who have exhibited professionalism, skill, and aviation expertise for at least 50 years, while piloting aircraft as “Master Pilots.” 

Past recipients of this award are a “who’s who” list of notables in aviation, including Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan; and legendary icon and businessman, Arnold Palmer. 

Lew Kunkle, recently retired Chief Pilot with Niswonger’s local aviation company, Sky Night LLC, was the master of ceremonies for the luncheon event.  Kunkel introduced Nick Popovich, longtime friend of Niswonger, as the initial speaker.  Popovich cofounded Sage-Popovich, an global aviation services company.  His remarks focused on the impact that Niswonger has had on his life, sharing that his example has been Popovich’s inspiration to give back to his own community. 

Charles Holleman, Professor Emeritus from Purdue University, provided comments regarding Niswonger’s lifetime of achievement.  He shared that Niswonger took his first flight lessons at the age of twelve, soloed on his sixteenth birthday, and received his private pilot license on his seventeenth birthday. Holleman was one of Niswonger’s professors and Chairman of the Aviation and Transportation Technology program at Purdue.  Holleman commented about the passion and desire for learning that Niswonger exhibited as a student.  Furthermore, he recognized him for his lifetime of philanthropic and personal contributions to Purdue University and the Purdue aviation program. It is notable that past recipients and friends of Niswonger’s, Astronants Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan, are fellow graduates of Purdue University.

Holleman, also, is a past recipient of the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award and was one of the individuals who nominated Niswonger for this honor.

Pam Charles was on hand from the Federal Aviation Administration to present the coveted lapel pin and plaque.  Holleman did the honors of placing the pin on Scott Niswonger’s lapel.

Niswonger’s comments reflected on the experiences that aviation has provided to him over the course of a lifetime.  In particular, he shared about the changes he has witnessed in the training of pilots, from the days of celestial navigation and low frequency ranges, to the current technology of global positioning system (gps) as the chief method of navigation. 

Niswonger stated that he was immensely honored to be recognized with this award, and humbled to consider the group of individuals he is joining as a recipient.  In particular, he recognized his former professor and friend, Charles Holleman for the important role he has played in his life, stating: “Each of us knows the importance of that teacher who set us on course and truly made a difference in our lives.”

Niswonger recognized the attendees from Purdue Aviation and Purdue University, members of the Sky Night LLC team, and many local dignitaries, friends and family who were in attendance.  A number of guests spoke of their personal appreciation for Niswonger’s contributions to Greeneville, Greene County and Tusculum College; his hometown of Van Wert, Ohio; and at Purdue University. 

Local officials commenting on the award included Greene County Mayor, David Crum; Greeneville City Mayor, W. T. Daniels; and Todd Smith, City Administrator for Greeneville.  

To be eligible for the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award, nominees must have held a U.S. Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) or Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) pilot certificate, have 50 or more years of civil and military flying experience, and be a United States citizen.  

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Congratulations to Alumni Scholar, Brittany Vogt Jorgenson, for her work in achieving the WeddingWire Award for Storybrook Farm

WeddingWire, an online marketplace for the wedding and event industry, recently announced Storybrook Farm Weddings and Events as a winner of the esteemed 2017 WeddingWire Couples' Choice Award for wedding venues in the Tri-Cities. This is the second win of this honor following their receipt of the award last year.

The Couples' Choice Awards recognize the top 5 percent of wedding professionals on WeddingWire who demonstrate excellence in quality, service, responsiveness and professionalism.  The awards are given to the top local wedding professionals across more than 20 service categories, from wedding venues to wedding photographers, based on their professional achievements from the previous year.

The WeddingWire Couples' Choice Award winners are determined solely based on reviews from real newlyweds and their experiences working with Storybrook Farm Weddings and Events.

Award-winning vendors are distinguished for the quality, quantity, consistency and timeliness of the reviews they have received from their past clients.

"The Couples' Choice Awards' ninth year features one of the most impressive groups of dedicated and acclaimed wedding professionals yet," said Timothy Chi, CEO of WeddingWire. "It is our honor to work with high-caliber merchants, such as Storybrook Farm, who not only make a couple's big day possible, but also contribute to the more than 2.5 million U.S. reviews represented on WeddingWire."

As a Couples' Choice Award winner, Storybrook Farm Weddings and Events is highlighted on WeddingWire, which is comprised of more than 200,000 wedding professionals in the U.S. 

"Storybrook Farm is thrilled to be one of the top wedding venues in the Tri-Cities on WeddingWire," said Brittany Jorgenson, venue director at Storybrook Farm.  "We would like to thank our past clients for taking the time to review our business on WeddingWire. We truly value all of our clients and appreciate the positive feedback that helped us earn both a 2016 and a 2017 WeddingWire Couples' Choice Award."

For more information about Storybrook Farm Weddings and Events, visit To learn more about the WeddingWire Couples' Choice Awards, visit WeddingWire

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The NISWONGER FOUNDATION, founded by Greeneville, Tennessee businessman and philanthropist Scott M. Niswonger, has selected five high school seniors to join the Niswonger Scholars program.  Currently, there are 21 Niswonger Scholars, with the newly selected students for 2017 bringing the total to 26.  The Foundation also has 61 alumni of the program.

The Niswonger  Foundation is leaving our mark in this region with the Niswonger Scholars. We know of no other Scholarship and Leadership program like ours in the United States.  Niswonger Scholars are selected through a nomination process that seeks to identify the region’s best and brightest future leaders.  They are given the opportunity to attend the college or university that will best prepare them for success in their field of study, while participating in our four-year leadership program. Through an emphasis on leadership, business management, community service and ethical decision making, the Scholars are provided travel, training, internships, and personalized support to become model leaders and citizens of the world. 

What makes our program unique to all other scholarships is that the goal is to identify and develop leaders for Northeast Tennessee. These students commit to returning, within seven years, to Northeast Tennessee to work in their chosen career one year for each year they receive our scholarship.  The plan is that by enabling these students to pursue their academic passion and by cultivating their leadership abilities, they will be committed to returning to their “roots” and being catalysts for the growth and improvement of their communities.

The five new Northeast Tennessee Scholars are Austin Blazer, Cocke County High School; Brittany Church, Johnson County High School; Emily Ellison, Cocke County High School; Lorraine Hayes, Cloudland High School; Tyler Myers, Tennessee High School.


Austin Levi Blazer is a student at Cocke County High School. He ranks first in his class and has a 4.0 GPA.  He serves as president of Future Business Leaders of America; president of Student Council and Editor of the Annual Staff school news. He is a member of Cross Country, Track and Field, Tennis, Key Club, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Beta Club, Principal’s Student Council, National Honor Society, Math Club and Scholar’s Bowl.  His awards include, Future Business Leaders of America Regional Competition, English I Honors, AP Human Geography, Student of the Week and Tennessee American Legion Boys State. He has given of his time in service to Friends of Tennessee’s Babies, Edgemont Elementary School, Angel Tree Ministries and Cocke County Board of Education. Austin is the son of Tony and Gayla Blazer.

Brittany Renee Church attends Johnson County High School. She serves as vice president and Brass Captain of Johnson County Marching Band, secretary of Latin Club and Sergeant in Arms of National Technical Honors Society. She is a member of National Honors Society, Chess Club, Latin Club, National Latin Honors Society, Media Club, Motorsports Club, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and East Tennessee State University’s Upward Bound Program. Her awards include, Johnson County High School Band Merit Award and Director’s Award. She has volunteered her time at Johnson City Medical Center, Niswonger Children’s Hospital and Calvary Baptist Church. Brittany is the daughter of Tammy Ramsey and Billy Church.


Emily Laurel Ellison is a student at Cocke County High School with a 4.0 GPA. She serves as president of Future Farmers of America and Tennessee Junior Sheep Producers Association. Her awards include, Tennessee Governor’s School for Agriculture, State Future Farmers of America Delegate, National Leadership Forum, National Honor Society Inductee, Mu Alpha Theta Inductee, Regional FFA Dairy Judging CDE High Individual, FFA Leadership Award, 3rd place in National Dorset Yearling Futurity and 3rd place in National Dorset Lamb Futurity.  She is a member of Cocke County 4-H, Future Farmers of America, American Shropshire Registry, Continental Dorset Club, Tennessee Junior Sheep Producer’s Association, Beta Club and Round Mountain Baptist Church.  She has given her time in service to Northwest Elementary School, Lions Club, Freewill Baptist Women’s Auxiliary Horse Show, Samaritan’s Purse and FFA Gentle Touch Ministries Food Drive. Emily is the daughter of Wesley and Patricia Ellison.


Lorraine Faith Hayes is a student at Cloudland High School where she serves as senior class president, president and founder of English Club, president of Relay for Life Club, president of the Bible History Club, co-founder, secretary and treasurer of the Student Government Association, Youth Leadership Delegate and captain of CHS Varsity Cheer Squad. She is a member of National Society of High School Scholars, International Distinguished Scholars Honor Society, Beta Club, Drama Club, Relay for Life Club, HOSA Club, Chorus Club and Bible History Club.  Her awards include, Honorary Usher at Senior Honors and Commencement, Highest ACT Score Award, Principal’s Pride Award, UCA All-American Cheerleader, Most Versatile Cheerleader Award, Christian Fellowship Center International Ministries Certificate of Recognition and Appreciation for Volunteer Work and Christian Fellowship Center International Ministries Most Outstanding Youth Award. She has served her community through MARSH Regional Blood Center, Philippines Feeding Ministry, Camp Christian Challenge, Valley Forge Day Camp, Johnson City Medical Center, Operation Christmas Child and Salvation Army.  Lorraine is the daughter of Eloine and Jeffery Hayes.


Tyler James Myers attends Tennessee High School with a 4.0 GPA and ranks first in his class. He is president of Health Occupation Students of America.  He was voted Best All-around Senior Superlative by his peers. He served as American Legion Tennessee Boys State Delegate. He was selected for Student Congress on Policies in Education. He is Homecoming King and Honor Court King Senior Class. He is a member of National Honor Society, Beta Club and Student Council. He is founder, president and CEO of a self-employed business, Poor Boy Gadgets. He is Assistant Tournament Director at Velocity Sports Performance.  He serves his community with Highlands Fellowship Church, Bristol TN/VA Chamber of Commerce, Love-N-People, Tennessee High School and Adaptive Aquatics. Tyler is the son of Corey and Denise Myers.

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John Tweed, Sponsor of CareerConnect        Law Loving, Coordinator of CareerConnect

At a Media Event held on Wednesday, January 11, at West Greene High School, the Niswonger Foundation announced CareerConnect, a new workforce readiness and career exploration initiative for 10th - 12th graders. This three-year program, in partnership with Greene County and Greeneville City Schools, is designed to provide students the opportunity to explore career paths, develop “soft” skills and academic credentials, and gain real-world work experience. The pilot program officially began in Fall 2016 with the selection of 100 10th grade participants, called Explorers. Twenty Explorers were chosen from each of the five high schools located in Greene County.  Explorers and their parents participated in a program orientation in December.

The Niswonger Foundation has initiated this project to guide and support students in building the critical skills necessary for future workplace success.  The focus of the project is on high school students who are most in need of developing an understanding of career opportunities.  Other than jobs held by family members, friends, or seen on TV, students are limited in their understanding of careers available to them. Often, they have had little or no support for considering personal options and identifying their unique skill sets. Students who are not viewed as “college bound” are, historically, among the least likely to receive career counseling in their school environments.

These students will be provided simulated and real-world work experiences, as well as mentoring support. There will be a focus on the critical skills that will help to ensure their successful transition to work.  This project will allow them to more broadly explore career options and will better credential them for future job opportunities with such tools as the Work Ethic Diploma and WorkKeys assessment.  The program will provide an opportunity for the students to have excellent role models and personalized support.

In his remarks at the media event, Niswonger Foundation Chairman and Founder, Scott M. Niswonger, stated: “The better job we do preparing young people for the workplace, the easier it will be to attract new employers to our region, and provide better opportunities for their futures.” 

Niswonger further commented: “This program will begin to give students a look at business and industry, and what is expected. I believe employers will be eager to put the CareerConnect students into jobs in our region.” He introduced John Tweed, President and CEO of Landair Transport, as the sponsor of the CareerConnect pilot program. Speaking from his personal experiences, Tweed shared the need to encourage and educate students regarding the skills that will provide opportunities for them to be successful in the workplace. He stated: “I believe this program will enhance the prosperity of our community, improve the quality of life of our citizens – especially young people, help us create an environment where people will want to live, and be a place where they want to bring their businesses.”

Law Loving will coordinate the CareerConnect program for the Niswonger Foundation.  Loving, an alumnus of the Niswonger Scholars program, has an undergraduate degree in public health from Tulane University, and master’s degree in business administration from East Tennessee State University.  He came to this position following five years of experience with a local marketing research firm.  Loving shared an overview of the CareerConnect program.  Following these comments, he introduced Greene County Director of Schools, David McLain; and Greeneville City Schools Director, Jeff Moorhouse.  Both Directors spoke of the importance of this program to these students and the future of the region. 

Loving, then, introduced Laura Bustos, West Greene High School student and CareerConnect Explorer.  Bustos expressed her appreciation for the opportunity to participate in this program.  Following these comments, members of the media and guests were encouraged to visit the first CareerConnect class for an opportunity to spend time with the Explorers. 

CareerConnect will continue throughout the school year. Explorers will participate in monthly after-school meetings at their respective high schools. Through this effort, they will build soft skills such as communication, teamwork, and financial literacy. In between monthly meetings, students will work on take-home assignments that focus on career exploration and reinforce the soft skill development that takes place in the monthly meetings.

The program extends beyond the regular school year, as well. Over the summer, participants in CareerConnect will gather at Greene Technology Center (GTC) for the two-week CareerConnect Summer Experience. The Summer Experience will give participants the opportunity to take field trips to post-secondary educational sites, like Walters State and TCAT Morristown, and local businesses. Explorers will also be able to participate in hands-on projects and demonstrations at GTC that will give them a feel for different career paths.

Explorers will remain in the program throughout the remainder of high school. During 11th grade, students will continue to develop soft skills at monthly meetings and will participate in the Summer Experience. In 12th grade, Explorers will be eligible to complete internships with local industry sponsors and will receive personalized support as they prepare for post-secondary education and their careers. 

The goal of CareerConnect is simple: to provide high-school students with the skills and opportunities to be successful when they enter the workplace. While the project will initially include 100 students per year, this pilot is designed to be adaptable to other Northeast Tennessee high schools. 

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