Category Archives: News and Information

Toastmasters International hosts demonstration meeting in Paris

Toastmasters Logo Color PNG

By Cindy Chambers

Sponsored by Bethel University, free event is open to public

Paris, TN— In keeping with Bethel University’s Mission Statement of creating “opportunities for members of the learning community to develop to their highest potential as whole persons,” the university is forming a Toastmasters Club that will meet at the nearby Paris campus.

Toastmasters International is the world’s oldest and largest communication and leadership organization, with more than 332,000 members in 135 countries. Far more than just a place to give speeches, members receive valuable feedback, lead teams, and guide others to achieve their goals in a fun, supportive atmosphere.

“Studies show that public speaking is American’s #2 fear,” says the group’s co-founder, Bethel University College of Professional Studies PR Director Cindy Chambers. “Whether you get weak in the knees when you get up to speak, or are already a confident public speaker, Toastmasters is a great organization. It’s affordable, meets just twice a month, and helps leaders learn and grow in a supportive atmosphere.” The new club will meet at noon on alternate Thursdays.

The public is invited to bring a lunch, meet new friends, and see how Toastmasters builds confident leaders during a free, no-obligation Toastmasters Demonstration Meeting at Bethel University’s Paris campus, 302 Tyson Ave., Room 210, Thursday, June 23, from noon – 1:00. Space is limited. To RSVP for this life-changing event, email Cassie Pence at

Dr. Arrita Summers: Committed to Success

By Cindy Chamber, PR Director

Dr. Summers graduation dayDr. Arrita Summers is living proof that learning – combined with commitment and a drive to succeed – will take you anywhere you want to go.

Recalling her early years, the former Navy Brat says she’s “from a bit of from everywhere.” But after a childhood spent moving all over the country, her father’s retirement led the family to settle near Fort Campbell.

Arrita’s last 34 years have been spent in the Middle Tennessee area, and her soft Southern accent suggests she’s found her way home.

Driven to succeed from a very young age, Arrita earned her cosmetology license while still in high school. Although she applied to two colleges — and received full scholarships to both — life had other plans. She married, worked as a hairdresser until she was 24, and then enrolled in a cosmetology instructor program in Paris. It was there she found her niche. When the cosmetology instructor retired from the Tennessee College of Applied Technology in Dickson, she was hired to head it up. Little did she know that she would someday serve as the director of the college, overseeing satellite campuses in Ashland City, Clarksville, Franklin, and Dickson, while managing 14 full-time and special-industry programs.

As a teacher, she knew first-hand that education was the key to continued growth. So, despite a challenging job and three young children at home, Arrita enrolled at Volunteer State Community College, where she earned a degree in General Technology in 2003. “I gained a lot of skills there, and that proved helpful,” she recalls. “But I desired to move into an administrative position, and I knew I needed a bachelor’s degree.”

That’s when she learned about Bethel’s Management and Organizational Development program.

“Since I was raising a family and working full time, quickly transitioning from an associate degree to a bachelor’s was appealing to me,” she says. Shortly after enrolling in the one-night-a-week program in Nashville, she was offered a position in recruiting and campus coordination at TCAT. Bethel’s accelerated format made it possible to juggle professional, educational and personal responsibilities without missing a beat.

“I really loved the Bethel program. Another young lady I worked with enrolled with me, so I had the advantage of not only being with a strong cohort group, but having a friend to share the experience with,” she says. She and Arrita graduated from what was then Bethel College in August of 2005. Her entire family was supportive of the commitment.

“My children knew I had married young and never really taken the opportunity to fulfill my academic dreams. During my course of study, they were very understanding and patient,” she recalls. “My husband Ron worked nights, but did his part to help oversee a lot of the kids’ activities, and we’d pitch in to cook dinner together. There were lots of volleyball and football games where I would sit with a textbook in my lap!”

When the position of assistant director opened up at the Tennessee College of Applied Technology in Nashville, Arrita jumped at the chance for more responsibility — and more learning.

“Tennessee State wasn’t far away, so I enrolled in their year-long master’s program in Educational Administration and Supervision,” she says. As a student, she saw others struggling with the depth and pace of instruction. But Bethel, she says, “left me very well prepared for the rigors of graduate work.”

Graduating in 2007, she went right into TSU’s doctoral program in Educational Administration, earning her EdD in 2013. It was the culmination of a lifetime of commitment.

Now back in Dickson for a full year, Dr. Summers says she’s “come full circle.”

“I’ve been with the TCAT system since 1994. Now I’m back home and really enjoying the fact that, through my education, I gained more knowledge that led me from teaching, to student services, to administration, to being director of the college. Bethel is really the gateway that made those things happen.”

But she admits it wasn’t always an easy journey.

“If I’d had to complete a traditional four-year bachelor’s degree, I would never have gotten to the doctoral level. Going from my associate to my doctorate took 14 years from beginning to end. That’s a long time to stay committed to a goal, and it sounds easier in retrospect than it was at the time. It definitely had its moments,” she says with a smile, “but it was well worth the effort.”

Last year, former TBR Chancellor John Morgan praised Dr. Summers’ work as “influential and significant,” writing that she “expressed her commitment to student success, and we expect to see that commitment reflected in her leadership.”

Indeed, commitment is critical to success, as Dr. Summers has proved. Commitment – and educational opportunities designed to help make that journey to success just a little bit easier.


Brittney Bowen: Stretching for Success

By Cindy Chambers

Student Spotlight Picture 1  Few of us can remember being so small we had to climb into a chair, or couldn’t reach a faucet, or had to ask for help grabbing an item from a grocery store shelf. But for 26-year-old Bethel Success student Brittney Bowen, every day stretches her to overcome such challenges. An achondroplasic dwarf, Brittney is 3’ 9” tall — the height of an average 3 ½-year-old. But the little person with big goals is as bold as they come. She sees every challenge as an opportunity – to include earning her bachelor’s degree at Bethel.

I first met Brittney last spring, when I was in the throes of moving from one house to another. Rushing to a Clarksville furniture store for a needed sofa, Brittney approached me with a bright smile and the easy demeanor of a natural salesperson. When she saw the Bethel t-shirt I was wearing, she said she’d been considering enrolling for quite some time.

Needless to say, we both sold something that day – I got a new couch, and Brittney got a new start on an even brighter future.

Adopted at birth by a family of little people in Springfield, TN, Brittney never let her stature get in the way of her dreams. After graduating from high school in 2009, she enrolled in Pellissippi State Community College, majoring in general studies while balancing a part-time job. She transferred to Western Kentucky University in 2010, majoring first in Family Consumer Science Education, then Communication Studies, and then back to Consumer Science. Like most young people, Brittney just wasn’t sure what she would do when she grew up.

But after a stint at Volunteer State Community College, she was hired to work at the furniture store where we met. A sales representative for nearly three years, she finally found her calling in customer service and PR. But the road hasn’t been an easy one.

“I’ve faced a lot of challenges in the workforce,” she says. “A lot of doors close because of my size.” But Brittney takes it in stride, saying, “When I go in for the interview, some people just can’t handle it. That means I’m not a good fit for the company. But it also means they’ll never see what I can do.”

Having recently instructed Brittney in a marketing class, I know it’s their loss. Engaged and engaging, she’s bright, motivated, and excited about the coursework.

“Of course, some classes are more challenging than others,” she says. “My favorites are the ones that deal with selling, marketing, and building relationships. The more I learn, the more motivated I become. I want to help people help themselves.”

It’s a lesson she’s learned first-hand.

Now living completely on her own, she’s had to adapt to a big world. Her father made pedal extensions for her car, and she navigates through life with an independent spirit and a positive attitude.

Due to her condition, she had 18 surgeries by the age of 18, including three major operations on her back; nine ear drum reconstructions; and the removal of her gall bladder, adenoids, and tonsils. Despite these physical setbacks, she’s dedicated to staying in shape, and works out religiously.

“Since I’m about half the size of most people, I can only eat half as much food — one cookie for you is two cookies for me. So I have to be very careful about my diet,” she says. “I feel like if I’m very heavy, it’s one more thing working against me … one more thing that people can judge me on. Some little people are intimidated by going to the gym because the workout machines aren’t compatible, and due to my spinal fusion, I’m very limited.  But I have to make the best of what I have.”

She continues, “As far as challenges, I admit there are issues, but it’s not like I can’t find my way around them. At Kroger, I might have to walk two aisles over to find someone to help me reach something. But I’m completely independent,” she says proudly.

She dreams of marrying and having children, and hopes to adopt someday.

“A lot of little people actually die due to pregnancy. Really, as far as I’m concerned,” she says, “it’s whatever God has planned.”

Set to graduate in 2017, she’ll climb the stairs to the stage the way she has done everything in life – with a bright smile and an huge sense of accomplishment. After all, Brittney Bowen may be small, but her dreams are as big as they come.

Student Spotlight: Michael Pope-It’s all About Helping Others

Bethel Blue BlogBy Cindy Chambers

A career fair in 1987 changed everything for Michael Pope.Then a junior Accounting major at the University of Memphis, Michael had been planning a career as a stockbroker. But there was something different, something better about law enforcement. Michael moved swiftly from table to table at the career fair, applying for every department in the field.A few months later, the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office called, offering him a position as a deputy jailer. And from that point on, Michael says, “I never looked back.”

He knew he had found his calling. Despite his youth, he was able to serve as a role model and mentor to those who needed guidance. He had an opportunity to help, and a chance to make a difference.After serving as a deputy jailer for seven years, he was promoted to sergeant. By July of 1994, he was named Deputy Sheriff. Now married, his steady career progression gave him the life he’d always wanted. But one thing was missing: a college degree.

As he planned his next upward move, he knew that obtaining an undergraduate degree was critical to his success. “The commander of the jail kept telling me, ‘Go to school, go to school,’” he remembers. Michael listened, he did his homework, and he chose Bethel’s Criminal Justice program.Bethel Blue Blog 2

“I was working for Metro DUI at the time, and did all the sobriety checkpoints. I worked on holidays. I had no time to sit in the classroom,” he says. Bethel gave him an opportunity to fit school into his life, and real-life experience into his learning. In 2013, Michael Pope received a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice with a 3.3 GPA – all while balancing a challenging job and a growing family.

Not long after, he read a statistic that indicated only 8% of the population had a graduate degree. “And I knew I wanted to be in that 8%,” he says with a smile. So, after just a four-month break, he plunged right into Bethel’s Master of Science degree in Criminal Justice, graduating last December with a nearly perfect 3.9 GPA.

As a two-time veteran of Bethel University, Michael praises both the curriculum and the instructors.

“The facilitators were all very encouraging. They were willing to share information above and beyond the coursework, and they had real-world experience, as well as textbook knowledge,” he says. “I learned so many things, especially in the field of Human Resources. I learned to understand people better, both inside and outside the criminal justice system. Everyone in law enforcement has a chance to work with folks from all walks of life. But the classroom gave me a better, broader perspective.”

When asked if he ever shares information about the Bethel program with others, Michael laughs.“Let me tell you something – I’ve recruited about 20 or 30 people, and they’ve all followed my footsteps into the master’s program. “

Today Michael is a lieutenant who serves as the Criminal Court Division Commander in the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. Among other responsibilities, he oversees the daily operations of the criminal courts, acting as spokesperson for the division while reporting his findings to the upper command staff. The position, he says, gives him an opportunity to demonstrate his abilities as a leader and problem-solver.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about helping others,” he says. And, along the way, Bethel helped him do that even better.

Bethel Announces partnership with TN College of Applied Technology

TCAT Social MediaBethel University’s College of Professional Studies Vice President Kelly Sanders-Kelley announced an agreement today that will make it easier for graduates of Tennessee College of Applied Technology in Clarksville or Dickson to transfer to Bethel to complete their bachelor’s degrees in Organizational Leadership or Management & Organizational Development.

Area TCAT Director Dr. Arrita Summers stated that the academic partnership “demonstrates our commitment to promoting continued education to Tennessee adults.” The partnership, she said, saves students time and money, while putting highly educated individuals into the workplace at an increased rate. “Together, we are working towards meeting the governor’s Drive to 55 goal to see 55% of Tennesseans possess a postsecondary certificate or degree by the year 2025. TCAT Dickson is pleased to be an educational partner with Bethel University,” Summers said.

The articulation agreement allows seamless transfer of credits for TCAT students who have completed the Administrative Office Technology program with a concentration in Medical Administrative Assistance, Accounting Assistant, or Administrative Assistant. Transfer students in good standing can bring in up to 30 credit hours for classes completed at TCAT.

“This is a truly exciting partnership,” said Gina Willis, Director of Recruitment for Bethel’s College of Professional Studies. “Both Bethel and TCAT prepare graduates to thrive in today’s competitive professional environment. We look forward to offering incoming students the personal care and relevant curriculum that Bethel University is known for.”

One of the oldest private institutions in Tennessee, Bethel University is also one of the fastest-growing universities in the South. In addition to being designated a “Military Friendly” school for 2016, Bethel was recently ranked 2nd in the nation in the list of Best Online Christian Liberal Arts Colleges, based on academic merit, acceptance and graduation rates, enrollment and retention.

To learn more about Bethel University’s College of Professional Studies programs, go to, or contact Terry Morris at (931) 449.9310 or


Bethel University named best online school in Tennessee in 2015-16 survey


Bethel University was named the top accredited online school in Tennessee for the 2015-2016 school year. recently analyzed data from hundreds of colleges across the nation with online degrees at the bachelor’s level. The goal was to discover which colleges offer the most notable balances of academic rigor, student support, and affordability for online learning – and Bethel University topped the list.

“We are thrilled with the ranking, which includes vital data that every college student should take into account when choosing a university,” said Kelly Sanders-Kelley, Executive Vice President of Bethel’s College of Professional Studies.  “Moreover, coming on the heels of other recent awards — to include Best Criminal Justice Program in Tennessee, and 2nd in the nation in’s list of Best Online Christian Liberal Arts Colleges – the ranking confirms what we have always believed:  Bethel does things right.”

“To have a nationally known and very respected agency like Accredited Schools Online independently rank our Online Programs as Number 1 in Tennessee is a huge honor for Bethel University,” said the school’s President, Dr. Walter Butler.  “We strive to be the best, and this lets us know that others think we are the best.  I thank our faculty and staff for their hard work in this achievement, and I know it further shows why so many students in our Volunteer State are choosing Bethel University to further their education online.  We are proud to be a part of higher education to our citizens of Tennessee.”

To determine the rankings, data analysts and college experts developed a proprietary scoring system to rank these colleges based on various cost-to-quality criteria and metrics, or the ASO Peer-Based Value. This proprietary metric compares qualitative aspects of colleges with similar costs against the tuition of colleges with similar quality metrics. The general criteria and scoring metrics include the student-faculty ratio; not-for-profit status; the number of online bachelor’s degrees available; the online tuition rate; the loan default rate; the six-year graduation rate; and job placement and career counseling for graduates.

Over 55,000 Tennessee college students are currently taking at least one online course, according to a recent study by the Babson Survey Research Group.

“We wanted to recognize schools that are implementing convenient and cutting-edge technological learning opportunities to all students,” said Doug Jones, CEO and Founder of Accredited Schools Online. “These schools are not only offering exceptional programs, but they have expanded their program excellence to the much-desired online environment.”

Headquartered in McKenzie, Tenn., Bethel University offers a variety of degree programs, both on campus, in a traditional format, and online.  It is one of the oldest private institutions in Tennessee, and among the fastest-growing universities in the South. To learn more about Bethel University’s College of Professional Studies programs, both on-campus and online, go to, or call 877-4BETHEL.

Theresa Grisham: Success takes more than luck

By Cindy Chambers, PR Director

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Theresa received her master’s degree in Criminal Justice in August of 2010, just 18 months after starting the program.

Roman philosopher Seneca said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets hard work.” Add passion to the equation, and it’s easy to understand why Bethel University graduate Theresa Grisham has been exceptionally “lucky” in her career.

The West Tennessee native served as an Obion County Sheriff’s Deputy and dispatcher for four years, then worked in the juvenile court system for eight years, and then moved on to become Conference Coordinator for the Administrative Office of the Courts for the Tennessee Supreme Court. After four years in that position, she was offered the opportunity to serve as the Drug Courts Coordinator for the state’s Office of Criminal Justice Programs before returning to the Administrative Office of the Courts as the Education Manager, overseeing all the education for the Tennessee Judiciary.  Altogether, she worked for the Administrative Office of the Courts for a total of eight years. Today, Theresa serves as Deputy Director for the Tennessee Trial Lawyers Association, where she oversees the legislative, educational and administrative duties for approximately 800 individual members. It’s the pinnacle of a professional progression that she says was fueled by passion.

Always wishing to help others, Theresa enrolled as a nursing major when she first started her college career. “It was a struggle, though,” she recalls. “When I changed my major to Criminal Justice, it was a natural fit… It just never felt like work and I never looked back.”

Now living in Nashville, Theresa was inspired to undertake a master’s degree in Criminal Justice at Bethel in August of 2010. “Everyone I worked with had at least a master’s degree. More importantly, I realized that knowing more about the field was vital.”

It was her first experience with an online program, but Theresa’s adjustment was swift. “I travel so much for my job that it would have taken years to earn my master’s any other way,” she says. “I was able to do the coursework from my hotel room in the evenings, and once I got in the groove, it wasn’t difficult. I loved the fact that the classes are as mobile as I am.”

Theresa graduated just 18 months later. Being armed with a rigorous and respected master’s degree, she says, has made a real difference in her life. “working closely with attorneys, it allows me to speak on their level. Best of all, achieving a master’s degree has given me knowledge of the criminal justice system, and helped tie all my experience together.”

Due to recent national and global events, Theresa says the need for security and law-enforcement presence is understandably high. “Departments are always looking for good, honest people to help ensure the security and safety of our citizens, but the demand has never been greater than it is right now.” Whether seeking a bachelor’s or a master’s degree, Bethel is a smart choice, she says, “not only because it is convenient for those working full time, but because the quality of education at Bethel is a step above the rest.”

All For One, and Fun For All: Three friends share an academic adventure

By Cindy Chambers, PR Director


Kevin Palmer and John Bess (2014)

It’s been said that two’s company and three’s a crowd. But for John Bess, James Ritchie and Kevin Palmer, three was the perfect number for an academic journey at Bethel University.

The trio of retired soldiers met about five years ago, when all three were working for the Distribution Management Team, a Department of Army logistics agency based out of Fort Campbell.  James Ritchie, known as “Ritch,” was the first to enroll in Bethel’s undergraduate program.

According to John, “Ritch turned Kevin and me on to it.” Ritch admits that while sharing an office with Kevin, “we talked a lot about the program and the employment benefits we could receive from completing the degree.” Both John and Kevin “finally took the plunge,” he recalls, “and I became their unofficial guidance counselor/instructor as they worked toward their graduation. I was their ‘easy’ button,” he adds with a laugh.

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James Ritchie (2014) with his “darling and very supportive wife,” Crystal

But while Kevin says sharing the Clarksville campus with friends added a sense of familiarity and comfort, in addition to allow them to confer together on things they may have missed or misunderstood, earning a degree wasn’t a simple task for any of them. There were lots of late nights, and a good deal of juggling along the way. In fact, Ritch says, “the experience initially seemed pretty overwhelming. Being back in school after so many years was almost unfathomable. Balancing work, family and school was extremely challenging.”

Today, all three look back on an undergraduate experience enriched by caring classmates and instructors.

“Everyone shares the diversity each student brings to the classroom,” says Ritch. “It even builds on the socialization skills required to function successfully in the business world.” The culmination of the journey was graduating from the Management & Organizational Development bachelor’s program, which came in 2012 for Ritch, and Kevin and John in 2014.  “Graduation was a very proud moment for me,” Kevin recalls. As one of six children in his family, “being the only one to graduate from college was a very big deal.” John remembers feeling “an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment,” while Ritch describes being ecstatic that he could be a better role model for his daughter. “I think seeing me graduate provided her with a sense of direction, focus, strength, and the confidence of knowing she can do anything.”

It wasn’t long before the trio started considering the MBA program. “John and Ritch wanted to do it, and they sold me on the idea,” says Kevin. “Truthfully, learning had become very enjoyable by that point, and being able to earn a graduate degree was just icing on the cake.” Today all three hold Executive MBAs from Bethel University, and all have enjoyed the benefits, both personally and professionally.

To those still weighing the decision to return to college, the trio offers a wealth of encouragement, with just a hint of the former soldiers they are. “Stop putting it off!” says Kevin firmly. “Especially for military retirees, Bethel and the GI Bill make it inexcusable to not get a degree.”

“Do it!” adds John. “Your sense of accomplishment will skyrocket, and you’ll learn from some knowledgeable people. Best of all, it will validate the theory that you’re never too old to learn.” Ritch says the benefit of increased confidence is priceless, but all three look back on earning a degree with friends as an added bonus. With valuable lessons learned and six degrees earned, the friends from Fort Campbell show that sharing an academic journey makes the trip that much better.


8 Secrets of Top Classroom Learners

By Cindy Chambers, PR Director

Being a strong face-to-face student isn’t easy. After all, adult learners juggle a variety of challenges and responsibilities, and 6 p.m. doesn’t bring an end to any of them. After a long day of work – whether that work is primarily physical or mental — it’s challenging to summon the energy required to engage and learn. But as a classroom instructor for nearly a decade, I’ve noticed that some students rise and shine better than others. Today, I’ll share the secrets of their success, and urge you to apply them to your own efforts. Chances are, they’ll make your academic journey better than you ever thought possible!


1. Disengage from the day before starting your night.  

Whether you’ve left the office with a deadline looming, or left the house with a toddler crying, making the switch from “real life” to “school life” can be difficult. As you drive to class, do your best to leave the things you left behind, truly behind. Put in a favorite CD and sing along; chat with a friend on the phone; or just mentally compose yourself for the class ahead.


2. Wake up your brain    

Studies show that even brains on auto-mode after a full day can be awakened with just a few simple tricks. Caffeine (in moderation) has been shown to boost brain power; if you need to make a run through Starbuck’s, it might be the perfect day to do so! Peppermint — whether in the form of candy, mints, or chewing gum – can wake up more than just your mouth: It’s also been shown to boost test scores. And listening to classical music or comedy before class does more than just entertain – it can even change brain waves, making you more alert and open to learning.

3. Be prepared.

The best students come to class ready to learn, with the proper textbook, completed homework, and necessary materials at their fingertips. If it’s the first night of class, they have checked the Bethel On-Campus website for any additional instructions before heading to school. In many cases, the best students will contact the facilitator well in advance, to introduce them-selves and discuss any concerns they may have. In fact, just sending a “Hi, my name is …” email to the instructor through the Profile section is a great way to stand out in a group of otherwise unfamiliar student.


4. Arrive before you have to.

Almost without exception, the best students come to class early. Sometimes they take the time to eat dinner at their desk; sometimes they sit and chat with classmates. While not every student has the luxury of arriving early, those who do tend to be more relaxed than those who don’t. And, if they’re running late, they unfailingly let somebody know.

5. Fully participate.

We like to think that teachers don’t “play favorites,” and every instructor tries to avoid it. But it’s hard not to take a shine to a student who is truly engaged. Think of it: Would you feel more favorable about a student who is slumped down in the seat, secretly sending text messages, or a student who is sitting up straight, smiling, and adding content to the conversation? The best students are pre-pared to participate, and have the mindset and body language to go along with it.


6. Make connections.

The best students really bond with their cohort members. They exchange more than advice about homework – they share life events, stay in touch throughout the week, and are there to support one other, in class and out. Some of the deepest friendships ever formed have started in a classroom, and the best students remain engaged, energized, and enhanced by their “Bethel buddies.”

7. See criticism as a learning opportunity.

No one enjoys criticism. But the best students recognize the value of respectful reinforcement and guidance. Top students know they are in class to learn, and realize that the teacher is there to offer opportunities for growth. They take constructive criticism in the spirit in which it’s offered; apply it to their work; and grow because of it.

8. Ask for help.

It may seem counterintuitive, but the best students ask the most questions. They reach out for help to classmates, instructors, advisors, and trusted mentors. They stay late to talk with the facilitator when necessary. They use all the resources available at Bethel University to shift from student to scholar during their academic journey. And when they graduate, they’ve earned far more than a diploma – they’ve gained valuable knowledge that can be applied to make their futures even brighter.

Student Spotlight on Rachael Knowles: Winning, brilliantly

By Cindy Chambers

Being chosen for a college scholarship is big. But being selected for a scholarship by members of Mensa is … brilliant. That’s what happened to Bethel Success student Rachael Knowles. Rachael is an LPN and California native who currently lives Paris, TN. She divides her time between school, family life, and working at two hospitals, Henry County Medical Center in Paris, TN, and Murray-Calloway County Hospital in Murray, KY.

During her studies at Bethel University, one of Rachael’s instructors, Lisa Tyler, offered substantial encouragement for her writing skills. “She told me she thought my writing was above average and that I had a unique talent,” Rachael recalls. Motivated by Lisa’s words, Rachael conducted an internet search for scholarship competitions that awarded writing talent. Several possibilities popped up, including the Grosswirth-Salny Scholarship, sponsored by the Mensa Foundation for Education and Research.

She sat down to write.

The title of Rachael’s finished essay was, “Tenacious Dedication and Negotiation.” The subject was near and dear to Rachael’s heart. “I started my bachelor’s degree 12 years ago,” she says. As a pre-nursing and EMT major at California’s Modesto Junior College, she was determined to reach her goal of becoming an RN. “But when our four children came along – one of whom has autism – I knew I had to put their needs first.”

It wasn’t until after she and her family moved to West Tennessee, and accommodations were in place for her child’s special needs, that she was able to pick up where she left off.

“I started at the Paris campus in April of 2014,” she says. With children ranging from two years old to high school age, “Bethel’s one-night-a-week format was perfect. I love the topic discussions and interaction with my classmates.”

It all poured out in the essay … Rachael’s determination to reach her goal, despite the obstacles in her way.

“Nothing’s going to stop me from earning my degree,” she says. “I realized I was just going to have to do it in a different way.” That explains the “tenacious dedication” in the title. But what about the “negotiation”? “We all negotiate with ourselves,” Rachael explains. “We say, “Here is my goal. Here are my challenges. And here’s what I’m willing to sacrifice to reach it.’”

After careful proofreading, Rachael’s essay was emailed to the Mensa Foundation, an organization dedicated, according to its website, “to the pursuit of excellence in human intelligence.”  Staffed and supported by the brainiest of the brainy, the organization gives away an average of $85,000 annually in recognition of “research, education, and practical achievement regarding giftedness, intelligence, and creativity.” It might be daunting terminology for some — but not for Rachael, who recently finished her major courses with a perfect 4.0 GPA. She submitted her entry along with 9,200 other applicants from five different countries for one of just 188 awards.

Early this summer, Rachael got the news: She had won the scholarship. If fact, she was the only scholarship winner in the entire state of Tennessee.

“Initially I didn’t realize the caliber of the competition. I’m honored to win the award.” Along with the monetary award, which Rachael will apply towards college expenses, she was asked to consider testing for membership in Mensa, an opportunity she will pursue.

So what are Rachael’s future plans? “I’m going to earn my master’s,” she says, without hesitation. “Several facilitators have encouraged me in that direction. I have an aptitude for academics, as one instructor put it.” An MBA with a concentration in Healthcare Administration has captured her attention, and Bethel’s program has won her over. “Bethel reaches out to people at all levels. Some students have been faced with academic challenges along the way, and Bethel is there to boost their skills. Others are there, like me, because obstacles appeared along the way — life was the challenge; not academics,” she says.

No doubt about it: The future looks brilliant for Rachael Knowles.