MARTIN, Tenn. – Jessica Brownyard has a lot to say about the UT Martin Parsons Center.
Brownyard spoke at the July 2013 announcement of the center’s new West Tennessee Healthcare Foundation Nursing Wing. On Thursday, Aug. 28, she spoke again at a ribbon-cutting ceremony that officially opened the expansion. Sometime in the future, she can say that she’s among the first to graduate from the center’s new Bachelor of Science in Nursing program housed in the facility.
Brownyard joined University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro, UT Martin Chancellor Tom Rakes, Jim and Janet Ayers of the Ayers Foundation, local and state elected officials and others to celebrate the expansion’s completion. The 30-minute program later moved from the Parsons Center’s main entrance to the new nursing wing, complete with its own entrance and a large water fountain to welcome students and visitors. Ribbon was cut at the entrance, and a reception and tours followed. The official opening of the wing came as the Parsons Center has reached an all-time enrollment record of 325 students for fall semester.
Dr. Kelli Deere, center director, welcomed the overflow crowd and recognized the partnership among the UT Martin Parsons Center, the West Tennessee Healthcare Foundation and the state of Tennessee for making the expansion possible. She specifically thanked Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and the Tennessee General Assembly for supporting the project, which was completed by TLM Associates, of Jackson, and Quinn Construction, of Parsons.
Initial funding for the expansion was included in the 2013-14 state budget, and a $1 million appropriation was made to build a 10,000-square-foot addition to the center. The project received added support when the West Tennessee Healthcare Foundation also made a $1 million commitment to the project. The addition includes classrooms, a skills laboratory and a high-fidelity computerized simulation laboratory.
UT Martin Chancellor Tom Rakes also expressed appreciation to all who made the project possible. He reminded the audience that the university is bringing a high-quality BSN program to the center as he told of 2014 nursing graduates achieving a 100 percent pass rate on the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses.
“We feel fortunate to partner with this community, this region of the state, certainly with West Tennessee Healthcare,” Rakes said of the project. “We appreciate the relationships with our legislators, and we don't take it for granted because it doesn't happen automatically.”
UT President Joe DiPietro compared the new nursing wing to the time when he and other University of Illinois veterinary science faculty members moved to a new large animal hospital. He recalled that the move “changed how we felt about ourselves. It changed how we were able to train our students. It changed the spirit of the organization to focus on getting even better.” He sees the expansion having the same potential impact for the Parsons Center.
DiPietro kept the focus on students and introduced Brownyard, who was accepted to begin the nursing program this fall.
“I never thought that in my wildest dreams that I would get to graduate from the UT Martin Parsons Center,” Brownyard said. “And now I will get to be one of the first ever to graduate from the new BSN program.” She thanked Jim and Janet Ayers and the Ayers Foundation for helping her “through every single semester of college” and added, “This new addition gives so many students the hope that one day that they can graduate while still staying close to home and saving a little bit of money.”
Harbert Alexander Jr., chairman of the West Tennessee Healthcare Foundation board, talked about the nursing program’s future impact on the region. He also acknowledged the Ayers for challenging the West Tennessee Healthcare Foundation “to step up and commit to the largest project that we’ve ever tried to accomplish.”
A surprise ending to the program came when Jo Ann Ayers Lynn, sister of Jim Ayers, and Chancellor Tom Rakes unveiled a bust of the businessman and philanthropist.
“This is a wonderful honor that, I promise you, I don’t deserve,” a grateful Ayers said. Janet Ayers followed her husband to the podium a short time later and said, “Jim, you are deserving of a lot of attention and a lot of recognition, …” but added that one person can’t achieve things alone.
“It is a whole community that comes together to make things like this (the Parsons Center) happen,” she said.
PHOTO CAPTION: Ready to cut ribbon Aug. 28 for the new West Tennessee Healthcare Foundation Nursing Wing at the UT Martin Parsons Center are (l to r) Harbert Alexander Jr, chairman of West Tennessee Healthcare Foundation board; Dr. Tom Rakes, UT Martin chancellor; Dr. Kelli Deere, Parsons Center director, Dr. Joe DiPietro, UT president, and Janet and Jim Ayers of the Ayers Foundation.