In 1970, Richard Nixon was president. Winfield Dunn had just been elected governor of Tennessee. And farmland was being readied for construction in East Hamblen County for a new college that was part of a national experiment in higher education.
Walters State Community College, which began without a building but with a mission to make higher education affordable and accessible, is marking its 50th anniversary this year.
“I am very fortunate to be here as the college marks this monumental milestone,” said Dr. Tony Miksa, president of Walters State.
“Few community colleges enjoy the reputation that Walters State has earned. During the past 50 years, students, our highly qualified faculty and staff and our supporters have made this institution into a premiere, nationally recognized community college.”
During the college’s first year in 1970, students met at downtown churches. The first building on the Morristown Campus, College Center, opened in 1971. The building is now the Dr. Jack E. Campbell College Center, named after the college’s second president, Dr. Jack Campbell. The Morristown Campus now includes seven buildings.
As the need and demand for affordable and accessible higher education grew in the college’s 10-county service area, so did Walters State. The Walters State Sevier County Campus now has four buildings. The first three buildings were funded entirely by local donations using no state dollars.
The Niswonger Campus in Greeneville was dedicated in 2019. This allowed students and faculty to move from the former Laughlin Hospital into a new building designed to blend in with Greeneville’s historic downtown.
The Claiborne County Campus moved from a former retail location to the former Claiborne County High School in 2010 following extensive renovations.
The college’s Great Smoky Mountains Expo Center opened in White Pine in 1995, offering agribusiness events and activities. Today, the Expo Center hosts over 60 events per year.
With help from the community, the college established a nursing program within two years of opening. Nursing is now offered on campuses in Morristown, Greeneville and Sevierville. The rigorous training and hands-on clinicals soon made Walters State’s nursing program popular with both prospective students and employers.
The college also earned a reputation for law enforcement training and became one of the first colleges to offer both Basic Law Enforcement Training Academy and college credit. The college was named a TBR Center for Excellence in Public Safety.
In the past 50 years, Walters State’s enrollment has grown consistently every decade. Enrollment that first year was less than 500. Enrollment now is around 6,000. The college has grown from offering five majors to over 150. Transfer students are welcomed at colleges and universities across the country. Well over 90 percent of graduates of the college’s technical education programs find employment in fields related to majors within six months of graduating.
The communities served by the college have joined in welcoming prominent speakers, including the late Elie Wiesel, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, and celebrated actress Cicely Tyson. President Gerald Ford spoke at the college in 1982. In recent years, international speakers, performances and celebrations have been featured as part of Global Connections, a college initiative to prepare graduates to compete in a global economy.
The Division of Humanities has brought many theatre and music favorites to life on the stage of the Judge William H. Inman Humanities Complex. The Walters State Choir has been invited to perform at Carnegie Hall several times. Choirs and drama groups are active on the Morristown, Greeneville and Sevierville campuses. Each February, Appalachian scholars and students join best-selling authors for a conference honoring Hamblen County native Mildred Haun. Haun is the author of “The Hawk’s Done Gone,” an anthology considered one of the best in the genre.
The Walters State Debate Team has become “the team to beat” in Tennessee. The team has won numerous state titles and a national championship in 2006.
The Senators and the Lady Senators have also grown to be consistent competitors in the Tennessee Community College Athletic Association and the National Junior College Athletic Association. The college fields teams in cross country, volleyball, men’s and women’s basketball, baseball, softball and golf. Teams regularly compete for national titles and the college has won two – 2006 in baseball and 2014 in golf.
While the pandemic has affected some of the college’s celebration plans, several events are planned through May 2021. To learn more, visit the Walters State’s 50th anniversary website at www.ws.edu/50.
DO YOU HAVE WALTERS STATE PHOTOS YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE?
In celebration of Walters State’s 50th anniversary, the Office of Communications and Marketing is seeking photos from alumni and community members. Possible subjects include on-campus activities, photos with a favorite professor, commencement celebrations and photos of Walters State families (families with more than one alumnus). Walters State will share some of these photos and archive all of them. Please email your photos to Debra.Williams@ws.edu.