Jeanne Stokes, who has extensively grown Tusculum University’s outreach to students from sixth grade through college graduation, is retiring after 31 years of dedicated service to the higher education institution and the community.
For the last 29 years, Stokes has served as director of the federal TRIO programs at Tusculum. She now oversees five programs that serve students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Tusculum hosts two Upward Bound programs, one Upward Bound Math and Science and two Educational Talent Search programs that help middle and high school students whose parents did not graduate from college and/or whose families are classified as low-income.
In addition, Stokes wrote the grant to start the first Student Support Services program at Tusculum, which assists the same types of students who are attending the university. She directed that program for 15 years. Tusculum has since added a second SSS program.
“Jeanne’s commitment to providing a support network that ultimately leads to a student earning a college degree has been extremely impressive,” said Dr. Scott Hummel, Tusculum’s president. “She epitomizes our provision of a caring Christian environment and our focus on civic engagement, and we commend and thank her for her legacy of service to thousands of students.”
Tusculum has formed a search committee to find a successor to Stokes.
As a high school student, Heather Henley had the opportunity to experience cultural and educational enrichment through her participation in Upward Bound at Tusculum. Fulfilling her dream of going to college, she received strong support from the SSS program when she was a student at Tusculum. She graduated in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in human growth and learning, with a concentration in elementary education.
“Jeanne has committed her life to ensuring that students are supplied with an educational advocate to provide opportunities that expand horizons, cultivate self-worth, create a sense of belonging in the collegiate community and create ambitions,” Henley said. “There is an unexplainable feeling in Upward Bound that comes from sitting in classes at Tusculum learning from professors as a high school student, traveling to big cities and attending plays in Ontario, Chicago and New York.
“The leadership she has displayed in the TRIO programs and at Tusculum University has provided a great impact on the lives of many students. This leadership is what drew me back to Tusculum in 2019 to work in the Upward Bound program after serving as a public educator.”
When Stokes became middle school Talent Search coordinator at Tusculum in 1989, the university had one Upward Bound program and one Talent Search program. After she became director in 1991, she wrote grants that enabled Tusculum to expand the number of these programs by three. Tusculum now serves 1,448 students in Upward Bound, Upward Bound Math and Science and Talent Search, all of whom reside in East Tennessee.
Upward Bound helps students excel in high school while preparing them to succeed in college through hands-on experience and cultural growth. Talent Search is another college preparatory program for students interested in a college or university or a technical/vocational school.
“Growing these programs was important because it provided an opportunity to reach more students,” Stokes said. “These programs make a difference in the lives of children, and that is the reason we come to work every day. We have seen some of these students do quite well for themselves later in life as doctors, lawyers and other professionals. It has been gratifying.”
The SSS programs serve 340 traditional as well as adult and online students at Tusculum and provide academic advisement, personal support and enrichment activities, with the goal of watching them graduate. Stokes was interested in building on the support for students in middle school and high school by providing SSS to those enrolled at Tusculum.
Rachael Barnett, who now directs the SSS program, has known Stokes since 2003.
“The TRIO community nationwide knows Jeanne Stokes as a leader and expert in her field,” Barnett said. “Jeanne has many amazing qualities as a colleague, but her passion is supporting low-income and first-generation students and showing them they deserve educational success and a college degree. I rely on Jeanne not only for her TRIO wisdom on regulations and legislation but also for her friendship and mentorship.”
Stacey McGill, associate director of Upward Bound Math and Science at Tusculum, has worked with Stokes for 19 years. She praised Stokes’ work with students and her employees.
“Jeanne made it her life’s work to help students overcome challenges on their route to a degree,” McGill said. “She not only wanted to see them succeed in college, but she also cared for them personally. As a supervisor, she treats her employees like family and wants them to grow professionally and personally. She is an amazing person.”
In addition to her service as an employee, Stokes is well-connected to the community in other ways. Among her many activities is service as an elder at First Presbyterian Church in Greeneville and on the board of directors for Youth Builders.
She was married to Mark Stokes, who also worked at Tusculum, for 38 years before his death in 2015.
Stokes will continue to live in Greeneville and remain active in a variety of endeavors during her retirement but now will have additional time to travel and volunteer.
These 31 years as a Tusculum employee have been a wonderful experience that has enabled me to witness impressive progress at the university and learn about our marvelous history,” Stokes said. “I have been fortunate to work with a lot of terrific people and make connections on and off campus that will last forever.
Tusculum University, the first higher education institution in Tennessee and the 28th oldest in the nation, provides a comprehensive education in a Judeo-Christian environment, grounded in a civic, liberal and medical arts curriculum with pathways for career preparation, personal development and civic engagement. More than 1,700 students are enrolled on the main campus in Greeneville, at locations in Knoxville and Morristown and in online programs.