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UT Martin’s Ripley Center opens expansion

UT Martin’s Ripley Center opens expansion

Posted: Friday, February 15, 2013 6:00 pm

Yalanda Parr does not hesitate when she describes her career goal: “I would like to be able to teach at a school for the blind.” Parr, 38, a University of Tennessee at Martin student from Halls, will be prepared for that opportunity when she graduates this May with a Bachelor of University Studies degree.
Parr, whose 20-year-old son is blind, is achieving her educational goals at the UT Martin Ripley Center. She attended a Feb. 7 ribbon-cutting ceremony that officially opened the center’s new 8,000-square-foot expansion. The expansion adds three faculty offices, three classrooms, one lecture hall and a student lounge to the existing facility. A partnership between the city of Ripley and UT Martin made the expansion possible as the city and the university split the cost of developing the space.
UT Martin classes were first offered in early 2006 at the Tennessee Technology Center at Ripley before the permanent center opened. Located at 315 South Washington Street, the Ripley Center was dedicated Sept. 6, 2007, and included 21,000 square feet of space. A former Walmart building was converted into the educational facility that originally featured eight master classrooms, a technology transfer facility, science laboratory, library resource center, bookstore, conference room and administrative offices.
Four-year degree programs offered at the center include the Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies, education K-6, social work, and the RN to BSN Program. Attending the Ripley Center was a logical choice for Parr, and she sees the expansion bringing added opportunities for students.
“It (the center) was convenient, and I was able to work and go to school, too. Since I worked inRipley, it was just the perfect choice to come here,” Parr said, who first enrolled in 2006. As for the new space she said, “I think it’s awesome. A lot of people, even the students that are currently here, have not even seen the expansion yet.”
Parr is a student worker at the center, and she makes a point to bring prospective students to see the expansion on the days that she works. She said students are “just amazed at all the space and by the fact that they can get a four-year degree here in Ripley.”
Tenille Luttrell, a 35-year-old senior elementary education major from Covington, doesn’t mind the drive to Ripley as she pursues her goal to become a schoolteacher. “I could come here and get everything, and it was just 20 minutes down the road,” she said of her decision to attend the center.
Luttrell graduated from Jackson State Community College in 1998 with an associate degree, married amonth later and chose to work while her husband completed his bachelor’s degree. Three daughters followed, but now that all are in school, she’s setting an example for them by returning to school. Her plan is for her and her youngest daughter to attend school together, her daughter as a student and she as a teacher.
Luttrell anticipates the expanded space creating more opportunities for students. “It means a lot, because they (the center) can offer more classes,” she said. “There will be more flexibility in the schedule, because there will be more room for more classes.
“I know that recently there’ve been more classes added to the schedule just this semester because of the expansion. I’m very grateful for it.” 
Mykle Johnson, center director since June 2012, welcomed the crowd of students, community members, elected officials, business leaders and UT Martin staff members that gathered for the 4:45 p.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony. She talked of the center’s outreach as she reported a spring enrollment of 253 students, more than 80 of which live outside of Lauderdale County. The center also serves Dyer, Tipton, Haywood and Crockett counties, but students drive from more distant locations such as Arlington (Shelby County) and Trenton (Gibson County) to take classes. Morethan 100 Ripley residents have earned UT Martin degrees at the center, she said.
UT Martin Chancellor Tom Rakes thanked community members and elected officials for supporting the center and current expansion. “I think this is a great addition to this area. …What a great repurposing of a structure here that keeps on going, and we all benefit from that,” he said. More academic programs are being developed for the center, and Rakes reported that about $53,000 has been raised for scholarships and awarded to UT Martin Ripley Center students in the current academic year. “We’ll continue to work hard to ensure the success of all of our centers and all of our operations. To do that, it doesn’t happen without dedicated faculty and staff and some great students,” he said.
Anthony Haynes, vicepresident of government relations and advocacy, represented UT President Joe DiPietro at the event.

Published in The WCP 2.14.13

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