Episode #11 – Dr. Jerry Faulkner – President Vol State

October 14th, 2019 by

This is a special episode of the Miracle Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram Podcast! For this week, host John Haggard speaks with Dr. Jerry Faulkner, the president of Volunteer State Community College in Gallatin, TN. Throughout the half-hour, they tackle on vital topics such as:

  • Dr. Faulkner’s Personal Background
  • His Life Pre Vol State
  • Life in the 60s Compared to Today
  • Dr. Faulkner’s Hobbies
  • How and When Dr. Faulkner Started at Vol State
  • The Difference Between State Colleges and Universities
  • Vol State Campuses
  • From College Dropout to College President
  • Programs Offered at Vol State
  • The Future of Academia
  • Vol State’s Scholarship Programs How You Can Contact Dr. Faulkner

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John Haggard 0:02

Welcome to the Miracle Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram Special Edition podcast where we also interview community presidents and leaders on topics that are of interest to the Gallatin area as a whole. And today, we’re honored to have Dr. Jerry Faulkner on the podcast. Jerry is the president of Volunteer State Community College in Gallatin known by some folks as Vol State. Hey, Jerry, welcome to the podcast.

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 0:26

Thank you. Thank you. My pleasure to be with you.

John Haggard 0:28

Great to have you before we dive in it’s always interesting to know about the person behind the job, the person behind the scenes. Tell us a little bit about your background. Did you grow up in Gallatin or in this area?

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 0:42

I did not. I grew up near Knoxville and live there a significant part of my life in a little community called Corryton, kind of Northeast of Knoxville. So only came to Middle Tennessee when I when I came to Vol State.

John Haggard 0:58

All right, so you are a Tennessee Native?

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 1:01

Yes, never lived outside the state.

John Haggard 1:03

Right, okay. So in your area just north of Knoxville, where did you go to high school?

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 1:08

Yeah, I went to high school at Carter High School, the Green Hornets, in Strawberry Plains Tennessee. Again little east of Knoxville and outside of Knoxville proper.

John Haggard 1:21

Now did you play sports or anything special in high school that you did when you were there?

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 1:26

Yeah, I did not play sports. Probably the special thing I did was I was on the yearbook staff my senior year of high school and that was a great experience.

John Haggard 1:38

Yeah, the yearbook. So you collect all the pictures, do the articles. And I always remember about a yearbook, the seniors always have those, you know, parting words that they write into the yearbook. So I guess you would see a lot of that as well.

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 1:52

Yeah. We had you know, we had a whole staff of students plus our faculty advisor and and yeah, all the pictures and all the candid pictures of events. It was a very enjoyable experience.

John Haggard 2:05

Now you came to Vol State when? What year?

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 2:08

I came in May of 2012.

John Haggard 2:10

Okay, May of 2012. And so do you have family here in this area as well?

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 2:15

I do not. All of my family is in East Tennessee mostly clustered somewhere around Knoxville.

John Haggard 2:22

Well, you know the great thing about family even if they’re not right next door, you have Skype and all these online ways, FaceTime. It seems like the world’s very small these days because we can see them live video.

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 2:34

Oh, absolutely. It’s remarkable to be able to connect in the ways that we do you know I… Folks my age, remember the Dick Tracy wrist radio…

John Haggard 2:46


Dr. Jerry Faulkner 2:49

How far out that seemed in that day, but it’s what you know, with the Apple Watch. It’s totally possible today.

John Haggard 2:56

It is and I actually take calls on the Apple Watch and it’s really Really cool to think that it really happened. You remember the James Bond movies when he had a what a phone in the car and that was so cool.

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 3:07

Yeah, yeah.

John Haggard 3:08

And today it’s everything.

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 3:10

Yeah, it’s everywhere and everything. Yes.

John Haggard 3:13

When you are not working at Vol State during the week of course you have time off maybe weekends. What do you like to do on your time off?

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 3:20

Well, my wife and I like to travel and we’ve been fortunate in recent years to be able to travel quite a bit. And then I’d like to bicycle as well for exercise and for for the enjoyment of it.

John Haggard 3:34

Would that be your favorite hobby? Bicycling?

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 3:37

Well, hobby-wise, I guess I would have to say my hobby is photography. My wife and I recently visited Africa and she’s quite a shutterbug as well. So between the two of us we took about 2500 pictures.

John Haggard 3:51

Oh, wow. Now, are you one of those that has that big, what, $1500, $2000, $3,000 camera that shoots all that?

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 3:59

No, I, you know, I’ve got a digital camera, a pretty nice digital camera, but no it’s not one of the more expensive ones.

John Haggard 4:07

Now you say photography as your hobby. Back in the old days, maybe in high school or college, did you go into dark rooms and develop pictures? I used to do that. It was kind of fun.

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 4:17

Yeah, I actually did do some of that. During during my Master’s Degree program, I actually took a course in Biological Illustration. And part of that was photography. And I actually did a little bit of developing of slides, even at home, during my teaching career, because getting slides developed was a lengthy process. And so I was able to actually to do that at home.

John Haggard 4:44

The one thing I remember about slides, I think it was called ektachrome or something like that back. then. It had to be, yeah, the temperature had to be something like exactly 71 or 72 degrees or something like that? Am I remembering right?

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 4:57

Yeah, you had you had to be very careful with the temperature or you had to adjust the time and the solution?

John Haggard 5:03

Right, right. Wow, those are the old days, Jerry.

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 5:08

I don’t know if you can even buy ektachrome film anymore, but…

John Haggard 5:12

I don’t think you can, I don’t think you can. So, tell us what got you to Nashville or in the Gallatin area, 2012 I think you said, to Volunteer State Community College. How did that come about?

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 5:22

Yeah. Well, I joined the Tennessee Board of Regents Community College System in 1993 as a faculty member teaching Biology and Environmental Science at Chattanooga State Community College. And I was there for several years and stayed there as I became department chair for the biology department. And then in 2008, was selected as the Academic Vice President for Cleveland State Community College just up the road from Chattanooga and was there four years. And then I saw the opportunity for the President’s position here at Volunteer State Community College and applied and was selected for that position.

John Haggard 6:09

All right, now what is the difference actually between a you hear Community College and then you hear University or is there a difference?

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 6:17

Yeah, there are some differences. We are a two year college and so the highest degree that we offer is an associate’s degree. We have associates of arts, associates of science, associates of applied science, which are career programs and then shorter term certifications that lead to careers or skills for careers, whereas the universities are offering bachelor’s degrees and even master’s degrees and doctorates. Also, most of the universities have a selective admissions process at a community college like Vol State. We’re open admission. I jokingly sometimes say that the only number you have to have to get into Vol State is 98.6.

John Haggard 7:08

Yeah, that’s pretty good. Yeah, that’s good.

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 7:10

Yeah. Because we take we take students wherever they are and help them get to where they want to be. And then of course, we’re non residential. We’re strictly a commuter college.

John Haggard 7:22

Gotcha. Okay, and then to understand the history of Vol State, when did it begin and how did it begin?

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 7:31

Yeah, well, in Tennessee in the 60s, particularly the last half of the 60s, there was kind of a state-wide movement to have community colleges or sometimes they were called junior colleges, across the state of Tennessee. And so, in the late 60s, a group of citizens here in Gallatin began to organize and to work with the General Assembly in the Governor’s Office to have a community college here in Sumner County. And so we’re actually closing in on our 50th anniversary. Little bit of a debate about when to celebrate our 50th anniversary because the defining legislation and the approval of the Higher Education Commission actually came across in 1969. Groundbreaking at this location was in November of 1970. And then the first students were actually admitted in the fall of 71 although they did not attend classes here on this campus. The offices for the college we’re on Main Street, Gallatin in the Cordell Hull building, and pretty much every church on Main Street had Vol State College classes in it.

John Haggard 8:47

Wow. So 50 years, 50 years, half a century Wow, time flies when you’re when you’re having fun, dunnit?

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 8:54

Sure does.

John Haggard 8:54

Now, are there multiple campuses of Vol State or just in Gallatin?

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 9:00

No Actually there are multiple campuses. We have a campus in Springfield and Robertson County. We refer to that as the Highland Crest campus. We have a campus and Cookeville at the Cookeville Higher Education campus, and then campus in Livingston in Overton County as well. And then we’re working very hard to have a campus in Wilson County. We hope within the next 30 days by certainly before the end of 2019 that will close on the purchase of 10 acres of property in Wilson County and begin the work of having a site in Wilson County.

John Haggard 9:41

Oh. Okay, so you’re pretty much in the final stages. Now. It’s the purchase agreement is in place, and it’s just going through the actual closing?

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 9:48

Yes, that’s correct. Of course, the big task is still to get a state appropriation to build the building. So we have submitted a request or a state appropriation and we’re waiting and see how that will work out.

John Haggard 10:02

Right. So how much is that going to be? What are you asking for?

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 10:05

Yeah, we’ve submitted request for $15 million for about a 28,000 square foot building over in Wilson.

John Haggard 10:13

Yeah, yeah. So did you have another career, Jerry before you went into education?

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 10:19

Well, it’s a long and sorted story. I’m actually a college dropout or at least I was a college dropout. I dropped out of college in my first attempt and spent 10 years in the business world. I was employed by one of those small loan companies, signature loan companies. I was the guy that called you if you missed your payment. And then went from there and was a credit manager with a building supply company, a regional building supply company. And after several years at that just decided that I was tired of working for a paycheck and an ulcer because that seemed to be what I was getting out of life and decided the way to remedy that was to go back and finish my bachelor’s degree.

John Haggard 11:16

Gotcha, all right. Well, how do you see, there a lot of trends today in all businesses, I mean, everything is under review. Everything’s changing. What do you see in the next I guess, if you could, maybe a crystal ball or just looking out in the next three to five years, as it relates to education? What is going to change either in terms of how it’s delivered or just, I mean, what do you see out there?

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 11:40

Well, I think there’s going to be a continued growth in the online offerings. Vol State has 140 different courses that can be taken online asynchronously. So you know the cliche about take college in your pajamas is certainly positive.

John Haggard 11:58

Actually true. Yeah.

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 12:01

And so I think we’re going to continue to see the use of technology in new ways in terms of artificial intelligence. There’s actually a professor at Georgia Tech who has created an artificial intelligence student assistant that chats with students as they have problems and answers their questions about the course. And interestingly, at the end of the semester, he asked students to vote on which of his assistants they think is the artificial one and less than 50% of the students can track which one is the artificial intelligence.

John Haggard 12:42

Wow. Wow.

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 12:44

We’ll see some more of that. I think we’re going to see more use of virtual reality and simulation here at Vol State and our nursing program and our emergency medical technology and paramedic programs. We have AI fidelity simulation mannequins that that can do pretty much anything a living – can simulate I’ll say it that way – can simulate pretty much at thing a living person can. Blood pressure, temperature, blinking the eyes, breathing, responding to medication. And so it gives a powerful experience in terms of things that you’re able to do because in that simulation situation you can let students continue down a wrong path. Wait till they kill the patient.

John Haggard 13:34

Right, wow! Yeah!

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 13:36

And obviously you can’t do that in a real hospital so…

John Haggard 13:40

Gosh! So yes, because back in the old days, it was a kind of a plastic hard rubber mannequin. So this is an actual you know, except being human and… Wow. That’s, that’s… those things must be expensive?

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 13:52

They are. Of course, there are different ones of them there. Adult males, adult females, children, infants. There’s even one that delivers a baby that goes through the whole labor process.

John Haggard 14:04

Oh my gosh, that’s amazing! That really is, I mean gosh, if there’s anybody out there parent or someone listening that says “Hey, you know, I want to get into into the nursing career.” To be able to do something like that, that’s amazing.

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 14:19

Yeah, that really provides a unique experience for our students. One that they don’t forget.

John Haggard 14:28

So at Vol State is there, I guess there’s a lot of coursewear but there’s there, are their primary things like, we’ve been talking about here in healthcare, that Vol State’s best known? Or can you pretty much take any type of course you want to?

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 14:42

Well, we’re a comprehensive community college. We offer almost 100 different programs of study. About half of our students, actually little more than half of our students, come to us with the express desire to transfer on to a university and acquire a bachelor degree,. The other half of our students are pursuing one of those Applied Science degrees or certificates that will lead them to a career. We’re probably best known for our health science programs. We have have 14 different health science programs plus nursing. And but we’re working really hard on our Business and Technology Division as well. Tremendous opportunity for job growth in the Computer Information Technology field. And so we’re working really hard to ramp up our offerings in that area as well.

John Haggard 15:35

What do you see out there, Jerry, the degrees today, in the current environment, as we look out, you know, two to four or five years, people are always concerned also about well, where can I go and get a high paying job? What do you see? What do you see in that arena?

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 15:50

Yeah, well, things are changing so fast. I mean, I think there are careers in the future that that haven’t even been invented yet. Yeah, who would You know, who would have thought 510 years ago that you could make a living as a web designer, for example?

John Haggard 16:05

Well, good example. Yeah.

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 16:06

So, but I think there will always be the need for folks in the healthcare industry in the health sciences, particularly as us baby boomers are aging and increasing our needs for healthcare. I think given the direction of technology, there’s always going to be a need for folks that have technology knowledge and skills, and even things like accounting. Accounting is one of the high demand jobs, believe it or not, these days, so we don’t turn out enough accountant.

John Haggard 16:43

Yeah, I mean, it is amazing how fast things are moving like that and with busy schedules that people have these days. And I think when I’m hearing you say, you’re going to probably say well, no, not completely john, but is it possible involves day to go to college completely online, or can you go you know, 95% and then 5% brick and mortar so to speak? How does that work?

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 17:04

Yeah, well, we have a couple of programs that are online, fully online. For example, the Applied Science Degree in Fire Technology. Theoretically, you could earn that degree and never set foot on our campuses. For example, Sleep Diagnostics, the instructional part of that program is completely online. You do still have to come to campus to participate in clinical portions of it. But a huge portion of our students, something like 60% take one or more online classes.

John Haggard 17:44

Got you. Is there any, you know, people are always trying to assess should I do this? Should I do that? Is there a number one complaint that you hear about education as a whole or people saying, “Gosh, I wish this…” Or anything like that or no?

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 18:01

Yeah. I think if you look at the national scene there is this debate going on about the cost benefit ratio of higher education. How does getting a college education pay off when you end up spending tremendous amounts of money to acquire that degree? And that’s kind of emphasized by the growing student loan debt across America. Right now, the the total student loan debt of American citizens exceeds the total credit card debt for the nation if you can believe that.

John Haggard 18:42

That’s so hard to believe, ain’t it? Wow.

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 18:44

Yeah. So there is that debate about the value of higher education.

John Haggard 18:52

Yeah, I mean… yeah go ahead.

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 18:55

Yeah, I was gonna say that all the statistics point to those persons who have a credential from higher education will have lifetime earnings that are a million dollars or more over those that just have a high school diploma and so we can we can point to some solid statistics that yes, it’s it’s worth your time and your effort and your money to get a get a post secondary credential.

John Haggard 19:24

Got you. Well, let me ask you this Jerry. As someone is earning or once someone earns a degree, can Vol State connect somebody with internship programs to every businesses that you know might lead to a potential job offer?

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 19:37

Absolutely. We have, over the last year or so, began to emphasize work-based learning. This is the idea that students get into a cooperative opportunity or a shadowing opportunity or even an internship while they’re still in college, with the profession or the career where they want to practice. And so they get some very real world hands on experience. And for the employers, it turns out to be an on the job interview because they really get to see the the person in action at the location before they offer them a job. And so we’ve had some really good success with that, again, students that participate in an internship and then, immediately upon graduation, they get job offers. Sometimes even before they graduate.

John Haggard 20:29

You know, I’ve always believed in “if you can try it before you buy it” so to speak. I’ve heard people in healthcare – people who’ve gone through, say, a nursing program. And once they get to the hospital, and they’ve been there three or four weeks, they say, “Gosh, I never thought it was going to be like this. I really don’t want to do this.” And they’ve invested all that time. So what you’re talking about really could almost be like an insurance policy to be sure. Like hey, this is really something not only I thought I want to do, but I really want to do.

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 20:30

Absolutely. We want students to pick a pathway and to stay on that pathway and accomplish their goal.

John Haggard 21:04

What are some of the biggest annual events that occur each year at Vol State?

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 21:10

Well, of course graduation is for me the highlight of the year. I should say graduations. We’ve grown to the point that, about three years ago, we had to add a graduation ceremony in December. And so we have commencement exercises in December and May and, frankly, the May one is growing back to the point that sometime in the next couple years, we’ll probably have to consider having two graduations in May in order to accommodate folks. So graduation is a huge event. We have a full calendar every year of performing arts events on campus. Probably the biggest one of those, the one that the community most enjoys is our Christmas performance, which comes up in late November, early December. And then we have a series of visual arts displays as well. We have an art gallery in our Steinhauer-Rogan-Black Humanities Building and have periodic art exhibits there from professional artists across the state.

John Haggard 22:14

So how many people as we talk about Vol State with all the campuses are enrolled or how many people in average year I guess, would you have?

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 22:22

This fall, this semester we just started, we have 9146 folks enrolled across our four campuses, online. And then of course, that includes students that are dual enrollment. They’re still in high school, but they’re taking college classes while they’re still in high school.

John Haggard 22:40

Gotcha, gotcha. Is there one thing, Jerry, about you that most people would be really surprised to know ,if they knew it, about you?

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 22:50

Well, I think I may have revealed it already in the conversation and that I was actually college dropout. You know I started college right straight out of high school and did okay for the first year. And then discovered there were other things to do on a college campus other than go to class. And didn’t realize there’s a direct correlation between going to class and getting good grades. And so my last semester during that – last quarter, we were on a quarter system at that time – my last quarter I recently had reason to look back at my transcript and so I had an incomplete, W four withdraw and two Fs. So it’s likely that had I not decided to drop out the next semester they would have academically suspended me so…

John Haggard 23:50

Put you out anyway. I got ya, I got ya. It’s interesting, though, isn’t it, how that can really happen. You can run away from something you never want to do and then wind up where you are.

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 23:59

Yeah. And I think it’s a it’s a powerful lesson to folks that I share with non-traditional students that are thinking about coming back to college is that, you’re a different person than you were 5, 10, 15 years ago when you finished high school or when you were not successful in college and you can succeed in college these days.

John Haggard 24:22

You know, this reminds me of that phrase I heard a pastor say one time that your past does not predict your future. Is that’s what you’re saying there?

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 24:29

Absolutely. Absolutely. Education is is a powerful changer of lives. It’s a powerful agent for changing future trajectory.

John Haggard 24:39

Is there anything else that you do in the community in terms of advisory roles or other things that you do in addition to Vol State?

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 24:47

I’m a member of the local Rotary Club and participate in their projects. I’m on some local boards I’m on a local hospital board and have served on some other civic organizations. I get called on frequently when one or the other of the communities is in a planning process, like Gallatin is now I get called on to participate in those planning processes. And then, as our economic community development folks are recruiting new business and industry to our area, I frequently have an opportunity to share the benefit that Vol State can bring in terms of preparing their workforce if they decide to move to Gallatin.

John Haggard 25:32

Yes. And you know, when you go anywhere near Gallatin, all the rooftops, all the construction, it really seems without exaggeration at least once a month there’s something new this sprung up somewhere.

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 25:44

Yeah, it’s fortunate that here in Sumner County that we’re in a growing area. A lot of colleges around the nation and even some colleges in Tennessee are in areas where the population is stable at best are declining at worst and so we’re fortunate to have a growing population here in Sumner County and our other counties that we serve across Middle Tennessee.

John Haggard 26:10

Anything Jerry that I did not ask you that you would want folks to know? Either about Vol State or you or how to get, you know, how to connect with you?

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 26:20

Well, I thought you might want to ask me about the Tennessee Promise and the Tennessee Reconnect. Those are the last dollar tuition scholarship programs. Tennessee Promise for recent high school graduates and Tennessee Reconnect for adults that don’t already have a college degree that they can attend Vol State tuition free. And that’s had a tremendous impact on the college. This fall we have almost 2500 students that are Tennessee Promise eligible and over 1500 students that are Tennessee Reconnect eligible that are here on our campus, taking classes tuition free.

John Haggard 26:59

Wow, Jerry, how does that work? How does someone qualify to do that?

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 27:03

Well, it starts by going to the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation website. And there’s a brief application that you do there. And then you follow up with the filing of your federal application for a student aid. Any of our folks here at the college in our financial aid office or admissions office could help folks with those processes and get them on the road to being a Vol State student and on the way to having a college credential and a career.

John Haggard 27:34

So did I get that right, you said 2500 people, students are enrolled this way?

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 27:40

Yeah. 2500 students are enrolled and taking advantage of the eligibility for the Tennessee Promise, which again is for recent high school graduates. And then over 1500 adult students that don’t already have a college degree are enrolled under the Tennessee Reconnect program.

John Haggard 28:00

Got it. Got it. Wow, this has been an interesting opportunity to talk. We’ve got Dr. Jerry Faulkner, he’s the president of Vol State. And we’ve been listening to him and learning about what’s going on there and what he does, and I just appreciate the opportunity to to talk with you and just to learn. So if people do want to get in contact with you personally, what’s the best way, Jerry?

Dr. Jerry Faulkner 28:21

You can call my office. Of course, the area code is (615) 230 3500. That’s the direct line to my office. And if you’d like to drop me an email, it’s [email protected]

John Haggard 28:37

All right, folks, Dr. Jerry Faulkner right there. He is our special edition guest today on the Miracle Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram podcast. Join us again right here for another special edition of the podcast in addition to our regular topics we discuss each month including the best ways to purchase, lease, service and maintain, also accessorize, and sell your vehicle for the highest resale value possible when you’re ready to do it, and don’t forget the transcript of each podcast, it’s right here you can look down and see just what we spoke about in case you wanted to refer to something. Right here on the website. You can easily refer for information at your fingertips. I’m your host, John Haggard, and we’ll see you next time.

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