April 24, 2020. By Bob Fowler, Roane State staff writer.
Gioconda “Gio” Duran was so surprised, overwhelmed and happy when she saw on television that she’d won Roane State’s highest student honor, she started crying.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she said when she learned she’d won the President’s Award. Even recalling the moment in a day-after interview brought her close to tears.
“It was amazing and I was very surprised,” Duran said of the televised announcement. “My family was by my side, and with hugs and tears they also joined the emotional and unforgettable moment. This is just great and unbelievable. I’m so humbled and honored.”
Because of COVID-19, the college’s annual ceremony to honor students for academic achievements was conducted virtually and announced at the same time on Facebook, YouTube and Channel 15 on April 21. President’s Award winners receive $1,000 and a trophy.
Duran, one of 10 nominees for the President’s Award, will soon graduate with a near-perfect grade point average and a Summa Cum Laude designation. She plans to transfer to Tennessee Tech and obtain a bachelor’s degree.
A native of the Central American country Costa Rica, Duran is planning to become a high school Spanish teacher. She enrolled at Roane State through Tennessee Reconnect, a grant program that covers tuition for adults.
Duran on Awards Night was also the recipient of the Christa McAuliffe Education Award, named in memory of the teacher who was one of the seven astronauts killed in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in January 1986.
Until the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools, Duran had been a bus driver for the Roane County School System, driving a bus for two hours each morning and afternoon and attending Roane State classes in between. Her husband, John Duran, has also been a Roane County school bus driver.
They have a 20-year-old son, John Duran Jr., and a 9-year-old daughter, Jayleen Victoria Duran.
Going to college “has not been easy,” Duran said. “It’s hard when you’re 45 years old and a parent and you work. I’d like to thank Roane State for all they’ve done for me, especially the Learning Center. Every time that I work on a different project, I feel so secure to go there.”
The college’s Awards Night has been a fixture at Roane State since the college was founded in 1971. Current Roane State President Dr. Chris Whaley was the recipient of the President’s Award in 1989 when he was a student.
“Gio Duran is an exceptional student and community leader,” Whaley said. “She is a proud Tennessee Reconnect student who has demonstrated her academic excellence in the classroom and her passion to care for others by volunteering and leading Student Teacher Education Association service projects.
“Gio also volunteers her time in the Roane State Food Pantry. She is an asset to the college and to the community.”
Kindra will graduate with an Associate of Applied Science degree in Occupational Therapy Assistant and has served as a student member of the program’s Advisory Board. The married mother of two children returned to college in 2017. A 2019 Freshman Award nominee, Kindra is an active member of the Canvas Church in Lenoir City where she assisted in the development of the church’s first Celebrate Recovery program and taught the 3-5 year old Canvas Kids class.
Casey is an Elementary Education major with plans to transfer to Tennessee Technological University in the 2+2 program. She is a member of Roane State’s softball team and a recipient of the Tennessee Community College Athletic Association’s All Academic Achievement Award. In addition to her academic and athletic responsibilities, Casey volunteers at Renaissance Terrace and the Roane County Animal Shelter.
Jesse is a Mass Communications major with plans to transfer to Middle Tennessee State University. He has been accepted to the Media Management program and invited to the Honors College. He will graduate from Roane State with an Honors Diploma and is a 4.0 GPA Academic Achievement Award recipient. A Math tutor in the Learning Center, Jesse is SGA senator for the Harriman Campus and recently participated as one of two student representatives to the TN Intercollegiate State Legislature (TISL).
Summer is a Secondary Education – Math major with plans to transfer to Tennessee Technological University. A 4.0 GPA Academic Achievement Award recipient, she serves as Campus Activities Board officer for the Cumberland County campus and was the 2019 Outstanding Geology Student. Summer was awarded the Learning Center Tutor Award for her work at the Cumberland County campus as well as the Jennifer Jordan-Henley Learning Center Excellence Award, the highest award a peer tutor can receive. She assists with the operation and maintenance of her family’s vineyard and Boer goat herd.
Suzanne is an Associate of Science Transfer major with plans to transfer to MTSU for a Bachelor’s degree in Integrated Studies, focusing on Criminal Justice and Women’s Studies. An adult student who works full-time and takes all of her classes online, she is a 4.0 GPA Academic Achievement Award recipient and will graduate with 35 Honors hours. In addition to work and class responsibilities, Suzanne served as President of Roane State’s Phi Theta Kappa honor society and helped the chapter win multiple state and regional awards. She is also a member of a competitive clogging team.
Hannah is a Business Administration major with plans to transfer to Tusculum University to continue her academic and athletic career. She is a member of Roane State’s softball team and a recipient of the Tennessee Community College Athletic Association’s All Academic Achievement Award. In addition to her academic and athletic responsibilities, Hannah volunteers at Renaissance Terrace and the Roane County Animal Shelter and enjoys her involvement with the Baptist Campus Ministry.
Jacob is a Secondary Education major with a Social Studies focus who plans to transfer to Tennessee Technological University to obtain a degree in Secondary Education. He is considering a double major for a Bachelor’s degree in Finance. A 4.0 GPA Academic Achievement Award recipient, Jacob was named Best Senator 2019 for his participation in the TN Intercollegiate State Legislature (TISL). Jacob volunteers with his church and other community organizations and writes a column for the Scott County News. Jacob was one of five students across the nation invited to the White House to participate in a roundtable with President Trump.
A former EMT/First Responder, Devonna is graduating from the Health Information Management program and serves as student member on the program advisory board. A member of Phi Theta Kappa and the Fentress County Campus Activities Board, she is also Vice President of the Fentress Campus Rotaract Club. A Writing and Math tutor, Devonna also serves on the Adult Advisory Council and is a peer mentor assisting the success coach at her campus. She was invited to attend the Achieving the Dream annual conference as a student speaker during Roane State’s presentation.
Jason is an Associate of Science Transfer major with plans to transfer to Middle State Tennessee University with a major in Marketing. He served as Vice President of Service for Roane State’s chapter of Phi Theta Kappa honor society and coordinated the chapter’s college project. Jason has worked in the college’s offices of Admissions and Student Services and has served as a peer mentor in the Success Coach Office. His community activities include participation in Knoxville Police Explorers, Clinton Boy Scouts of America, and Safety City Knoxville.
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