Walters State Community College will confer 1,329 degrees and certificates during its 44th commencement ceremony, which begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 11. The ceremony will be held at the Walters State Great Smoky Mountains Expo Center in White Pine.
Greeneville businessman and philanthropist Scott M. Niswonger will deliver the commencement address. Niswonger holds a degree in aviation technology and a Doctorate of Technology from Purdue University and a Bachelor’s of Science in business administration from Tusculum College. Tusculum College also conferred on Niswonger an Honorary Doctorate of Human Letters in 2006. Niswonger is an honorary alumnus of East Tennessee State University and a Walters State Foundation trustee. He is a generous donor to numerous educational and community organizations. He is also a major supporter of the expansion of the Walters State Greeneville/Greene County Campus currently under construction.
A native of Van Wert, Ohio, Niswonger made his first solo flight on his 16th birthday. He moved to Greeneville in 1968 as the pilot for the president of Magnavox. He has since become a leader both in business and philanthropy. He formed his first transportation business in 1973 and later co-founded a second company, Landair Services, in 1981 with an initial investment of $2,000. In 1990, Niswonger formed Forward Air Corporation. Combined, these companies have sales of over $750 million. Two of the companies, both founded by Niswonger, became the first Greene County companies to go public. Today, Niswonger is chairman of Landair Transport, Inc. and Chairman Emeritus of Forward Air Corporation.
Niswonger established the Niswonger Foundation in 2001 to create opportunities for individual and regional growth through educational programs, scholarships and charitable activities. This foundation currently supports 18 Niswonger Scholars attending universities across America, with 44 Niswonger Scholar alumni. The Foundation has an annual program budget of more than $5 million.
Niswonger is president of the governing board for the Niswonger Performing Arts Center in Greeneville and led efforts to build the Niswonger Children’s Hospital in Johnson City. He has been selected by Junior Achievement International with the International Distinguished Graduate Award and is a past recipient of Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year for the southeastern United States. He has received the Paul Harris Fellow Award from Rotary International, Purdue University’s Distinguished Technology Alumni Award and the Tennessee Board of Regents Award for Excellence in Philanthropy. His companies were included in Forbes’ “Best 200 Small Public Companies” for nine consecutive years. He is past chairman of the Tennessee Economic Development and Growth Board. He currently is chairman of the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security Foundation.
This year, Walters State will confer the associate of science degree to 347 students. One student will receive the associate of fine arts and 23 students will receive the associate of arts degree. Academic certificates will be awarded to 540 students. These degrees and certificates prepare students to transfer to four-year colleges and universities to complete a bachelor’s degree. Popular majors this year are general studies, business, psychology, criminal justice, education, pre-professional programs (veterinary science, medicine, physical therapist, pharmacy, dentistry), engineering, social work and history.
The associate of science in teaching provides the first two years of education needed to teach in grades K-3. This year, 30 students will receive this degree.
The associate of applied science will be awarded to 222 individuals. This degree prepares students to enter the workforce immediately following graduation. Nursing, pre-physical therapist assistant, engineering technology, paralegal studies, management and health information technology are popular majors among graduates this year.
Walters State’s Class of 2013 includes 166 students earning technical certificates. These certificates also prepare individuals to enter the workforce immediately following graduation. Popular majors are basic emergency medical technician, medical coding, medical insurance specialist and pharmacy technician.