COOKEVILLE – The kindness of a Tennessee Tech University professor many years ago started a young woman on a journey that she continues today, and she, in turn, now spreads kindness, and wisdom learned from many on Tech’s campus to others through work with the university’s Grand Challenge, Rural Reimagined.
Kinsey Simone was in 8th grade when she began taking cello lessons from Dan Allcot, a professor in Tech’s School of Music. When she was a senior in high school in Gainesboro, in neighboring Jackson County, he allowed her to play cello in the Tech orchestra. That same year, she was able to take a couple of general education courses as a high school senior on campus.
“I fell in love with Tech’s campus, faculty and staff, and I made many friendships. I just knew that regardless of which colleges I was accepted into, I wanted to stay at Tech and continue playing the cello while majoring in English,” Simone said. “Even as a senior in high school, I felt like I was part of the Tech family.”
Simone earned her Bachelor’s degree in professional and technical communications in December 2019; her Master’s in curriculum and instruction in the college of education in December 2020; and is set to earn her Ph.D. and graduate in 2023 in program planning and evaluation within the College of Education, all from Tech.
“I decided to come to Tech while in high school because I developed wonderful relationships before high school graduation,” Simone said. ‘I decided to stay at Tech for my M.A. and Ph.D. because of the many amazing people here, as well as the doors that Tech opens for students.”
Simone said the most rewarding part of her experience as a student at Tech has been being part of Rural Reimagined and being given opportunities and new responsibilities from faculty and staff alike. She credits her Professional and Technical Communication internship with Rural Reimagined as an amazing partnership, friendship and journey with RR staff, faculty and students.
Rural Reimagined’s initiative is to transform rural living through harnessing science, technology and innovation. Tech students serve surrounding rural communities by getting involved in Rural Reimagined’s student club, service learning, academic service and internships.
“In addition to Rural Reimagined, rewarding experiences have always been found for me through building relationships with our amazing faculty, staff and fellow students, who have encouraged me to chase my passions and pursue them,” Simone said.
Whether that be the cello, writing about something that she is passionate about and trying to get published, working with students through RR to transform the rural areas or even learning new software as she develops her love of statistics in her current program. Simone praises the Tech faculty and staff who have encouraged her all along the way and into each new chapter of her life.
Simone became involved with Rural Reimaged back in March of 2019 when she was seeking an internship as a professional and technical communications undergraduate. Her mentor, Kristin Pickering, recommended that she look into Rural Reimagined which had just been officially implemented as the university’s Grand Challenge.
“I thought it would be wonderful to be part of something new and amazing like that. I had an interview with Michael Aikens, the Rural Reimagined director, and I immediately knew that I wanted to intern for him,” Simone said. “I began attending committee meetings and seeing Rural Reimaged grow, and Mr. Aikens encouraged me all the way. He asked me for my input and valued it, and I did not just feel like an intern – I felt a part of something grand.”
She began by helping with communication-related projects, such as writing success stories and editing. Then she had the idea for a Rural Reimagined Club and was encouraged to pursue it.
“We began the club and had 44 students the first semester! That internship ended up turning into a paid graduate assistant position and student-worker position, which I have been doing since,” Simone said.
Simone now helps to train incoming PTC students and says she has been able to watch Rural Reimaged flourish, expand and succeed over the past three years.
“I think that what I have enjoyed most about being involved with Rural Reimagined has been the ability to have new ideas for its expansion and impact, trying those ideas and then seeing the results,” Simone said.
Because Rural Reimagined is only three years old, Simone has been able to see it grow. She was at the planning table since its implementation and was able to meet many new students, faculty and staff along the way.
“Whenever someone has an idea for RR, we implement that idea and it continues to grow its impact. For example, the student club was an idea which formed with the hope of getting more students involved,” Simone said.
More students did get involved, and those students have become leaders from all nine colleges and participate in service projects. One of the projects they thought of to help rural areas was helping bring awareness to the Historic Village of Rugby.
“We continue to have more rural-related grants coming in from all over the university, and we also continue to grow our partnerships. The main thing I have enjoyed is watching this wonderful initiative grow in its impact university-wide and outside of the university,” Simone said.
Tech uses the words bold, fearless, confident and kind to describe its students. However, Simone says she has experienced kindness in many ways at Tech over the years since she was a freshman in undergraduate school.
“I think one of the main characteristics of Tech’s kindness is found in our faculty and staff, who truly put students first, value what they have to say, and then encourage them to reach their dreams,” Simone said. “Mr. Aikens, for example, shows me kindness every day in his leadership, as well as in teaching me to be a leader. He uses every opportunity in our work to teach me new skills, and he also values my ideas and inputs.
“I truly believe that kindness at Tech is within all of our faculty and staff, who are always there to encourage and support students in any way they can,” Simone said.
Simone now has the opportunity to show kindness to others through efforts like Rural Reimagined and being able to interact with students. She co-manages the internship program now, and trains students in skills such as InDesign, Canva, search engine optimization edits and different ways to communicate across diverse audiences.
“I love having weekly administration times with students and hearing about the challenges they faced the week before and what they learned, as well as the successes they met. I enjoy watching them grow throughout the semester, and I am sad to see them go when they graduate,” Simone said. “I love being able to help them learn through sharing what I have learned since beginning with Rural Reimagined, and I also learn a lot along the way with them.”
In addition to student interns, she has had the opportunity to pass the club along to new students who are enthusiastic about transforming rural life. In that way, she has been able to help guide students in achieving their own visions for the club.
Simone has many titles, but her ones affiliated with Rural Reimagined stand out for her.
“I am so honored to be part of the Rural Reimagined family, and I am so excited to continue being part of the planning table for the future of this initiative,” Simone said.