Chattanooga State exposes students to global refugee crisis [photos]

Chattanooga State exposes students to global refugee crisis [photos]

June 19th, 2017 by Kendi A. Rainwater in Local Regional News

D'Onna Hammond talks about her experiences with the Global Scholars program, while fellow scholars, Cameron "Scout" Azar, left, and Lindsey Chesmar, right, looks on. The Chattanooga Times Free Press interviewed some of Chattanooga State Community College's Global Scholars about their recent trip to Greece to work with Syrian refugees on June 13, 2017.

Photo by Robin Rudd /Times Free Press.

Gallery: Chattanooga State exposes students to global refugee crisis

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If you had one hour to grab 10 things from your house, knowing you'd never return, what would you take?

D'Onna Hammond said she's been wrestling with that question since her trip to Athens, Greece, in May.

"It's a hard question," Hammond said last week.

Hammond is one of seven Global Scholars at Chattanooga State Community College who traveled to Greece last month to learn more about the global refugee crisis. There, they met people who were forced to make that choice when fleeing their homes.

"[The trip] gave us insight about what it took for refugees to make it to Greece, and how hard it was to leave home," Hammond said.

Chattanooga State launched the academic honors Global Scholars Program three years ago as a way to give top students global perspective and awareness along with hands-on leadership training. This was the first year students had the opportunity to travel abroad with the program.

Director Amanda Bennett said the program exposes students to the world and bolsters their academic experience. A community college graduate herself, Bennett said it's important that students who are taking this more affordable route to earning a degree do not feel they're receiving an inferior education.

"This program is an opportunity to give students a whole new set of experiences," Bennett said.

Dana Nichols, vice president of academic affairs at Chattanooga State, said the trip abroad opens doors many students had never considered. She said several who went on the trip didn't have passports and others had never been out of the Southeast.

"It's another steppingstone in these students' lives helping them be successful," she said.

Holly Hess said the Greece trip was the first time she'd traveled on an airplane.

A graduate of Sequoyah High School, Hess said Bennett strongly encouraged her to enroll in the Global Scholars Program. She wanted the extra support it would provide her at Chattanooga State and the chance to go to Greece.

"I was in culture shock," Hess said about the five days she spent in Greece. "I just learned so much. Like it was crazy."

Scholar Cameron Scout Azar said she's known for years she wants to be a dentist, so working in a medical clinic during the trip exposed her to ways she can use the profession to care for people across the globe.

"It was so inspiring and really motivated me," Azar said.

The Global Scholars Program was developed to provide community college students with the honors college experience, Bennett said, adding that students in the program can seamlessly transfer into the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's Honors College. It's helped students get accepted into four-year colleges and universities across the country. The program started in 2014 with 61 students, and this fall expects to enroll more than 200.

Global Scholars also are much more likely to earn degrees. Seventy two percent of the 2014 cohort graduated within three years, and the college's overall three-year graduation rate during that period is about 13 percent.

Azar, a graduate of South Pittsburg High School, said she appreciates the diversity of the students in the program. She also likes the honors courses, smaller classes filled with lively discussion and opportunities for hands-on learning. The honors professors are dedicated to the program and the students, she added.

"They want you there and you want to be there," she said.

Lucas Gallon said he decided to participate in the Global Scholars program because of the additional classes and opportunities it offers. He thinks it helped prepare him to transfer to UTC this fall.

"I wanted a challenge and something to set me apart," Gallon said, adding that the program "forced me to work at a higher level."

Gallon said the trip to Greece provided a powerful opportunity to meet the refugees behind the news stories and treat them with respect and love. Here in the United States, he said, people sometimes don't take time to help those who are different or in need. But he was encouraged by how the people in Athens were embracing and caring for anyone needing help in the city.

"It's so easy [to make a difference] for someone, and sometimes we forget we can have an impact," he said. "The trip was a good reminder."

Lindsey Chesmar said she never really understood the refugee crisis until the trip exposed her to the real dangers those people face.

She was struck by the compassion she saw from Greeks trying to help refugees, and said she is thinking about teaching abroad when she finishes school.

"Once I came home [from Greece] I realized there was no way I could stop helping," she said.

Contact staff writer Kendi A. Rainwater at or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @kendi_and.