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Board of Directors

EPC clinical assistant professor, Mary Catherine “Cathy” Hammon, has become the 2017 Chair of the United Way of Blount County Board of Directors. Hammon has been an active member of this organization for many years, serving in multiple capacities and on different committees – Community Impact Committee, Finance Committee, Human Resources Committee, Board’s Executive Committee, and annual Campaign Committees. We asked her to reflect on some past and current experiences with the organization. Read her responses below.

“It is extremely humbling to be Chair. Blount County is well known for its level of community/citizen engagement and its capacity for collaboration and cooperation. There is so much talent and so much heart in our community. United Way of Blount County is just one example of a community organization that thrives thanks to the hundreds of volunteers who give their talents and treasure in service to others.”

As Chair, what are you looking forward to this year?

Our board recently committed to two primary agenda items for 2017: (1) our continuing support behind another successful annual campaign and (2) the implementation of a pilot initiative (CLS Club) designed to increase the engagement of young professionals who work in Blount County with United Way of Blount County. The former objective takes care of today while the latter objective supports our future.

What makes the United Way of Blount County special?

That’s easy to answer – it’s the organization mission and all of the people involved!

United Way of Blount County advances the common good by supporting programs that help kids succeed, strengthen and support families, promote self-sufficiency, improve people’s health, and protect community well-being. We strongly believe that we can accomplish more than any single group can on its own. Our mantra is LIVE UNITED!

Last year, 256 organizations and 6,183 donors contributed $2,041,000. These campaign dollars are allocated to over 40 community based programs sponsored by 28 nonprofit, partner agencies.

And then there are all the people involved in one role or another. It starts with our extraordinary staff under the leadership of Jennifer Wackerhagen. We have wonderful board and committee members who are dedicated to excellence in governance, ethics, diversity, financial accountability, and transparency. From 2012-17, United Way of Blount County has received the highest 4-star rating for exceptional transparency and accountability from Charity Navigator.

Our partner agencies are equally dedicated to the quality of specific programs and services in support of their clients’ needs. They, too, are made up of very talented and committed people.

And the list can go on . . .

How did you become involved with the organization?

I worked for the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) for 30 years. As a quasi-federal agency, TVA participated in the annual Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) which is similar to United Way. The TVA workforce was very engaged in this annual CFC campaign. As a senior manager, I felt it important to model support for the CFC so I was always personally involved.

Once I retired from TVA, it was a natural fit for me to become more involved in United Way of Blount County where I live. I made my interest known and started participating on allocation panels and the Community Impact Committee. Within a couple of years, I was invited to join the Board of Directors.

Is there anything else you would like to say?

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville sponsors an annual Community Chest campaign (yet another version of a United Way). I encourage faculty and staff to be engaged in this campaign and/or in their local United Way campaigns.

As the 2017 Chair, Hammon gave the closing remarks at the United Way of Blount County Annual Meeting on Friday, January 20. During this speech, she spoke of their initiative – the CLS Club.

The purpose of the CLS Club is to develop young professionals through engagement with United Way of Blount County and by connecting, leading, and serving in our community. We are using an employer-based club model. Arconic, Denso, and Clayton have committed to establishing clubs in their organizations during this pilot year.

Identified club members will participate in monthly lunch meetings throughout 2017. During these gatherings, we will orient them to United Way’s mission, partnerships, and processes for raising funds, allocating resources, and serving our community. To bring an experiential feature to their learning, each club is being allocated $5,000. They will go through their own mini process of vetting grants, allocating money, and monitoring outcomes. They will be encouraged to engage in our annual campaign in some manner of their choosing. Ultimately, we hope some of the club members will exercise more formal leadership in United Way of Blount County by participating on allocation panels, serving on committees, or joining our board.

Alumni Spotlight: Joel Simmons

Rehabilitation Counseling

Joel earned an MS in Counseling with a concentration in the Rehabilitation Counseling program in 2016. He is originally from, and currently lives in, Knoxville, TN. We asked him to reflect on past experiences with EPC and discuss where he’s at now. Read his responses below.

Current Occupation

Counseling & Public Relations
East Tennessee Technology Access Center
Knoxville, TN

I meet with vocational rehabilitation (VR) clients who come here for technology assessments. Through these assessments we can figure out what technology will allow individuals to be successful in school or at work. I’m currently in the process of reaching out to other organizations that serve people with disabilities in East Tennessee. We need to be working in a more cohesive manner trying to serve our population in Knoxville and surrounding counties.

Awards and Accomplishments Earned as a Student

I was asked and joined Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society.

Accomplishments since Graduating

I received the Patricia Neal Outstanding Volunteer Award for 2016. I received this award for my peer mentoring with newly injured spinal cord patients.

I facilitated free Lasik surgery for quadriplegics in East Tennessee. There were many centers in the Southeast that offered these services, but none in Knoxville. Refractive surgeon, Daniel S. Durrie of Durie Vision started offering free Lasik to quadriplegics after seeing a Christopher Reeve special. I coordinated with his office, reached out to local surgeons, and I was Colby Stewart’s, ophthalmologist with Tennessee Lasik, first client.

Personal Interests

I like being outside. My family has a cabin on Lake Douglas and we spend many weekends at the cabin. Market Square is another one of my favorite haunts. With plenty of outdoor dining, wheelchair accessibility, and people watching as a bonus, Market Square is one of my first choices for lunch or dinner. I love music and I like concerts in small venues. Tennessee Theater, the Bijou Theater, and The Shed are three of my favorites.

Since my graduation in August, I’ve tried to involve myself with these many organizations as possible. I still continue to my volunteer work at Patricia Neal, I’m on the Board of Directors for the disAbility Resource Center, which is Knoxville’s Independent Living Center. Recently, I have gotten involved with the Knoxville Area Employment Consortium (KAEC). KAEC works to connect people with disabilities with local businesses for job placement.

Joel Simmons

What sold you on this program/department/university?

It wasn’t what, but whom, that sold me on the program. I was doing volunteer work at Patricia Neal and my VR counselor facilitated a meeting with clinical professor, Wayne Mulkey. It was Mulkey that sold me on the program. I received a lot of personal gratification if I could just get somebody to smile when I visited them at Patricia Neal. Mulkey opened up my eyes to an education that would allow me to help people far beyond just a smile. It never occurred to me to return to school and get a master’s degree in counseling at 53 years of age.

What do you think was the most rewarding/challenging about this program?

It’s hard to say what was the most rewarding and what was the most challenging about this program. Everything about this program challenged me. I was a flight attendant for 23 years and when I started this program I had never used Microsoft Office. I’m a quadriplegic and do not have use of my hands. Halfway through the second semester I began using Dragon Naturally Speaking and a large Trackball for a mouse. This made the actual use of the computer easy, but I still had a lot of difficulty putting papers in APA format and writing and researching at the graduate level. Many times I wanted to quit the program due to both frustration and health issues, but I could’ve never looked Mulkey in the eyes, and by now my other professors had taken a vested interest in teaching. Clinical instructor, Lisa Rimmell, and associate professor, Patrick Dunn, had to have found it challenging to maintain an even keel with the many questions I had during my two years at the University of Tennessee. When asked what was the most rewarding part of the program I would have to say the relationship that developed between teacher and student and my classmates as well.

Did you end up where you thought you would?

I was asked a few times what I planned on doing upon graduation. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, but I didn’t want to work as a VR counselor because I didn’t want everything to revolve around the client returning to work. Do not get me wrong, I would help anybody that wanted to go to work get a job, but I really want to see people with disabilities engage in life. I thought about starting my own nonprofit and would have considered it a success if I just managed to get two or three people year coming to Market Square on a regular basis.

I did my practicum and internship at East Tennessee Technology Access Center (ETTAC). I was fortunate to be offered a job here after graduation. This job allows me to do everything I wanted to do and more. VR clients are sent here for technology assessments and I’m able to work firsthand with these individuals, but I’m also out in the community forging alliances with other organizations such as the Down Syndrome Awareness group, The Autism Society of East Tennessee, the Cerebral Palsy Center, and recently I made contact with Shangri-La Therapeutic Horses. Not sure how, but I knew when spoke with their executive director that this organization is going to tie-in with what we’re trying to do here at ETTAC. I mentioned earlier that my goal was to get people with disabilities more involved in life in East Tennessee Technology Access Center has the same goal. We hope to develop a community center with our 20,000 sq.ft. building and two acres of land.

“It is sad that this program no longer exists. There is an obvious demand for this degree and the University of Tennessee was the only accredited university offering this degree via computer correspondence. Most of my classmates were already VR counselors, but all of my classmates that were not, have already been hired as VR counselors in various counties and states. I watched the passion with which the doctors and professors taught these classes and it is sad to think that a degree that is so highly sought by employers is no longer taught at the University of Tennessee.”

Student Spotlight: Amanda Johnson-Praino

Instructional Technology

Amanda is currently seeking her MS in education, with a concentration in the Instructional Technology (IT Online) program. Originally from Chattanooga, TN, she received her BS in secondary education: English at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She came to UT Knoxville, and joined EPC, in 2015. We asked her to reflect on some past and current experiences. Read her responses below.


Merit-based UTK IT Online Graduate Student Conference Attendance Award, 2016

  • Recipient of Merit-based UTK IT Online Graduate Student Conference Attendance Award
  • Attended 2016 Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) Annual Convention to represent UT’s IT Online program along with faculty and peers
  • Accepted volunteer-based position on Board of Directors as Director of Social Media with Chattanooga chapter of Association for Talent Development (ATD)
  • Refer to Resume for additional details
Current Occupation

Project-based Instructional Designer
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Oak Ridge, TN/Remote

Work as part of a collaborative team effort within the Learning Sciences and Instructional Innovations group to create instructor-led materials and resources to support the needs of various stakeholders within the nuclear and radiological security sector.

Personal Interests

I am a foodie at heart and love all things cooking. I enjoy spending time with my wife, Tami, and my dog, Ellie. We love taking Ellie on hikes in the woods, to get ice cream, and to the “puppy” store to get new toys and treats! I enjoy exercising and practicing yoga, as well as exploring new interests as I am always curious enough to learn about something new. My wife and I enjoy traveling when we get a chance, with our favorite vacation spot being New England. We have gone to Cape Cod several times during the summer months and it is just magical. Also, we enjoy spending time in Boston and surrounding cities.

Future/Vocational Goals

My most significant goals include becoming more immersed in the field of instructional design and technology, as it pertains to business and industry, and really sharpening my skill set. I want to continue gaining first-hand experience in the design of effective learning environments and instructional materials, while also focusing on the delivery of engaging instructor-led training (ILT) and virtual instructor-led training (VILT). Additionally, I have developed quite an interest in the visual design/creative aspects of being an instructional designer, and I want to continue enhancing these skills as they pertain to both instructional and graphic design roles.

What sold you on this program?

What really sold me on this program was the convenience of it being offered fully online through both synchronous and asynchronous technologies. As a full-time working professional and adult learner, it is very enticing to know there exists an in-state program based in instructional design and technology that can be completed entirely from within my home.

What do you think has been the most rewarding/challenging about this program?

For me, one of the most rewarding aspects of this program has centered on the relationships I have been in from the start. I have connected with professors from whom I have learned more than I could have imagined, as well as peers with whom I have progressed through the program from day one. I feel like I am a part of something through these relationships, and I am very grateful for the mentorships and friendships, respectively, I have created along the way.

Laura S. Wheat has been elected to the Association for Death Education and Counseling’s (ADEC) Board of Directors.

Laura Wheat“Some of the best researchers in thanatology (death, dying, and bereavement) in the world, some of the most skilled clinicians, and some of the brightest students are part of this organization, and I can truly say that they, and ADEC as a whole, have changed my life.”

ADEC is a nonprofit, professional organization dedicated to promoting excellence and recognizing diversity in care of the dying, death education, grief counseling and research in thanatology (the study of death and dying). It is an international organization with almost two thousand members in more than thirty countries.

It is also the oldest interdisciplinary organization in the field of dying, death, and bereavement with members including clergy, counselors, educators, health well-being specialists, hospital/hospice personnel, funeral directors, philosophers, psychologists, social workers, sociologists, therapists, etc. This enables collaboration and communication across disciplines and offers a diversity of information related to thanatology.

Wheat has been a member of ADEC since 2007. She has held four different roles in the organization, totaling six years of service. When she was Chair of the Student Initiative Committee five years ago, she had the opportunity to sit on the Board of Directors as a non-voting member. She explained that ever since, it had been a dream of hers to be on the Board of Directors. On April 11, 2015 that dream was realized as she was sworn in and attended her first Board of Directors meeting as an official (voting) member.

Before being sworn in Wheat stated, “I am so very excited to be doing this. I didn’t expect it to happen so soon, and I am nervous about whether I’m really ready for it.” However, her nominee was confident that she was ready for this position. After Wheat accepted the nomination, her name was on the slate for the annual election during which all members of ADEC can vote. She won her very first election.

Laura at the Swearing In ADEC 2015

When asked about the future of her new position on the Board of Directors Wheat explained, “ADEC is undergoing a tremendous transition as it tries to grow and become more inclusive of the international community as well as incorporating acceptance of non-death losses, and the incoming Board will have a pretty big job to do in managing that process.  I will have to help not only with the architecture of what ADEC is becoming but also capturing the hearts and minds of current members so that we can all share a common vision for the future.  This is not going to be an easy job, but I will do it gladly.”