MTSA Celebrates 6th Annual Mission & Awards Gala

Photo caption: MTSA Gala award recipients (l to r) Matt O’Connor, Lee A. Simmons, Buffy Krauser Lupear and John M. Edwards, III.

Middle Tennessee School of Anesthesia hosted the 6th annual Mission & Awards Gala on April 25 at the Westin Nashville, celebrating the achievements of the anesthesia community and furthering the School’s Mission Initiatives. Anesthesia Medical Group was the Presenting Sponsor.

Fox 17 Special Projects Television Reporter Dennis Ferrier served as master of ceremonies for the evening, which included a reception with music by the John and Derek Pell Duo, silent auction, dinner and award ceremony. The invocation was delivered by MTSA Class of 2020 student Benjamin Alexander.

Continuing last year’s tradition, a silent auction was offered for guests and included items such as a vacation condo in Florida, tickets to the Nashville Symphony, gift certificates to local restaurants, a golf package, autographed guitar, and many other items.

“Tonight we celebrate MTSA’s heritage and mission, and recognize individual awardees who have helped transform the School, its students, and the community,” said MTSA President Chris Hulin. “I am grateful for the support of each contributor who has helped make this evening possible as proceeds fund MTSA’s continuing Mission Initiative. Please join me in honoring the dedicated Gala committee that has worked tirelessly to make this evening special for you and the awardees.”

The event committee included: Ashley Jacobs Mansfield (Chairman) and Matt Demaree (Vice Chairman); subcommittee chairs Buffy Krauser Lupear, Kristen McDearmon, Meg McDonald and Jananne McKinnon; and other committee members included Leah Bergman, Lois Bernard, Jordan Frenz, Rachel Lewis Graves, Rhonda Hendon, Alison Martin, Jordan Miller, Nancy Palmore, Laura Payne, Juanita Turnipseed and Deana Vandiver.

During the award presentations, the School recognized the following individuals:

  • Mary Elizabeth “Ikey” DeVasher Alumni Distinguished Service Award: Matt O’Connor, MS, AN, CRNA, Major US Army
  • Clinical Excellence Award: Lee A. Simmons, AS, CRNA
  • Mission & Heritage Award: Buffy Krauser Lupear, DNP, CRNA
  • Nevin Downs, MD Leadership Award: John M. Edwards, III, MS, CRNA

Event sponsors included:

  • Presenting Sponsor: Anesthesia Medical Group, PC
  • Dinner: Cardiovascular Anesthesiologists, PC
  • Distinguished Service Alumni Award: Valley Anesthesia Educational Programs
  • Mission & Heritage Award: Kentucky-Tennessee Conference of Seventh-day Adventists
  • Nevin Downs, MD Leadership Award: Myrtianne Downs


Matt O’Connor, MS, AN, CRNA, Major US Army
Mary Elizabeth “Ikey” DeVasher Alumni Distinguished Service Award

Matt O’Connor, MS, AN, CRNA, is a native of Manchester, N.H. He attended Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn. In May of 2000, he received a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Army Nurse Corps. In 2007 he graduated from MTSA with a Master of Science degree. While there he was awarded the Agatha Hodgins award.

After graduation from MTSA, O’Connor spent four years working at the Medical Center in Bowling Green, Ky. Currently, he serves in the US Army at Fort Campbell, Ky., as the Chief Nurse for the 148-bed, 586th Field Hospital. O’Connor has been in the Army for 21 years, with duty as a combat medic, licensed practical nurse, registered nurse and nurse anesthetist.

“I was really surprised when I was told I was receiving this award, and a little emotional because it means a lot to me,” O’Connor said. “I have so much respect and admiration for Ikey DeVasher. I’m truly thankful and honored to be mentioned in the same sentence as Ikey because I’ve always been impressed with her professionalism and how she shows an immense amount of grace and humility. The fact that I’m being honored with an award named after her means a lot to me because I know what a servant she has been to the students and to me personally.”

O’Connor’s decorations and awards include the Expert Field Medical Badge, Air Assault Badge, Defense Meritorious Serve Medal, Joint Service Commendation Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal with six oak leaf clusters, National Defense Service Medal and Global War on Terrorism Service Medal with bronze star.

“It has also been rewarding being of service on the MTSA Alumni Committee. I would encourage others to do the same and stay involved as alumni because it benefits the community of current and future students,” he added.

O’Connor and his wife, Vanessa, have been married for 27 years and have three daughters: Courtney, Anna and Madison. As a family they enjoy cooking, traveling and watching movies.

The Mary Elizabeth DeVasher Distinguished Alumni Service Award is awarded to a MTSA alumnus in honor of this MTSA alumnus and former Dean/Vice President/Program Administrator to celebrate and honor her 45 years of dedicated work and distinguished service to the institution.

Lee A. Simmons, AS, CRNA
Clinical Excellence Award

Lee A. Simmons, AS, CRNA, graduated from MTSA in 1984. He began his anesthesia career at Nashville Memorial Hospital where he remained until 1999, when he joined the newly opened Summit Surgery Center in Hermitage, Tenn.

Simmons has facilitated clinical rotations for MTSA students for nearly 30 years, helping them gain valuable experience as they work towards completing their degree. He discovered early on that he enjoys spending time with the students and sharing his thoughts, opinions and knowledge about anesthesia with them.

“I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a CRNA,” Simmons said, adding that he’ll never forget the day Dr. Nevin Downs encouraged him to apply at MTSA. While enrolled, he showed up at Ikey DeVasher’s house on a Sunday afternoon, uninvited, saying, “I don’t think I can do this.” Although he doesn’t remember exactly what she said, it gave him the courage and confidence to continue on. “That’s what I needed at that moment in my life, and that’s what I want to pass on to the students that I mentor. I want to provide a clinical rotation where they will find patience, kindness, compassion, understanding and clinical knowledge in an environment that hopefully will be as calm and non-intimidating as possible,” he said.

“I’m honored to have been nominated and given this award. I want to thank MTSA, not just for the award, but for the education I received and for their continued dedication toward excellence for all their graduates,” he added. “I am truly grateful to do what I do. I’m thankful to God who gave me the wisdom and ability; my loving mom, who taught not just by her words, but through her example; my amazing wife, Kathy, who for the past 40 years has been my truest friend, strongest supporter, and love of my life; and the students past and present who have blessed my life in so many ways.”

Simmons and his wife enjoy traveling, particularly to St. Kitts, as well as camping and hiking, especially in national parks.

The Clinical Excellence Award is awarded to an anesthesia provider (anesthesiologist or CRNA) or clinical site (hospital, clinic, etc.) that provides a nurturing and exemplary atmosphere with true eagerness to instruct, train and educate MTSA students. The recipient will embrace the MTSA mission and core values.

Buffy Krauser Lupear, DNP, CRNA
Mission & Heritage Award

Buffy Krauser Lupear, DNP, CRNA, is currently the Director of Professional Development for the Office of Advanced Practice at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Previously she was the Sr. Quality and Patient Advisor for the Department of Anesthesiology.

After receiving a Bachelor of Science of Nursing degree from the University of Tennessee – Knoxville, Lupear joined Vanderbilt as a staff RN in the Emergency Department in 1990. Soon after, she completed her Master’s Degree with a focus in Anesthesia at MTSA and returned to Vanderbilt as a staff CRNA.

“I was not expecting this at all, and I’m very honored and humbled to be receiving this award,” Lupear said. “Being a nurse anesthetist is more than just coming to work each day and providing anesthesia. We do more than provide great patient care; we positively impact the lives of our patients, their families, and so many others through our work. Being a nurse anesthetist is truly a privilege that I do not take for granted.”

During her tenure with Vanderbilt, Lupear has served in many leadership roles, initially as the Lead CRNA in the Pediatric & Adult Cardiothoracic Division from 2000-2010, then as the Assistant Chief CRNA from 2010-2014. In 2014, she completed her Doctorate of Nursing Practice, in which her capstone project focused on patient quality and safety.

She is also passionate about global health and has participated in more than 16 international medical mission trips providing anesthesia care for pediatric orthopedic and cardiac procedures. “It is important for each of us to find our true mission, and sometimes that means taking a step back from all the distractions and remembering the reason we chose this amazing profession: our patients,” she said.

“I’ve had the pleasure of being involved with all the wonderful work at MTSA and have provided anesthesia care on more than 16 pediatric surgical mission trips since 1997. Having the opportunity to participate in work such as this is so important to me, and I am proud MTSA students have the opportunity to help those who are less fortunate.”

The Mission & Heritage Award is awarded to an individual who embodies and exemplifies the heritage, mission and core values of MTSA.

John M. Edwards, III, MS, CRNA
Nevin Downs, MD Leadership Award

John M. Edwards III, MS, CRNA, earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Murray State University in 1996 and his Master of Science in Anesthesia from MTSA in 2002. In January 2019 he completed the Acute Surgical Pain Management (ASPM) Fellowship at MTSA.

Edwards has been practicing at Baptist Health Lexington in Lexington, Ky., since 2004 where he co-founded and co-directs an Acute Pain Service. He is also the co-founder of Thoroughbred Anesthesia Academy and is an adjunct faculty member at MTSA in the ASPM Fellowship. He is a member of several medical professional committees such as the Baptist Health Lexington Acute Pain Committee, Baptist Health Lexington Opioid Committee and the Baptist Opioid Safety and Ensurement (BOSE) committee. As chair of the Acute Pain Committee, Edwards has led the development of Baptist Health’s Acute Surgical Pain Management Guidelines and Acute Pain Order Set that will provide a comprehensive approach to acute surgical pain management throughout the nine hospitals in the Baptist Corporation.

“I’m very honored to be given the Nevin H. Downs, MD Leadership Award,” Edwards said. “I was humbled to find out about the many colleagues who had nominated me, including anesthesia providers and hospital administrators, and was blown away that they would take the time to do that.

“With all the challenges we see in healthcare – especially in acute surgical pain management as it relates to the opioid epidemic – I think the work that we’ve done has helped reduce the amount of patients who will develop new opioid-use disorders after surgical procedures. It’s an area that I’m very passionate about. I’m happy to lead in those efforts because if we can prevent just one person from developing a new opioid-use disorder after surgery, all the work that we’ve done is worth it,” he added.

Edwards lives in Lexington, Ky., with his wife, Shelley, and their children, Lauren (15) and Andrew (12). He and his wife are very involved in supporting their children’s academic and athletic endeavors. Both his wife and mother are nurses, and his father is a retired CRNA.

The Nevin Downs Leadership Award is awarded to an anesthesia provider (anesthesiologist or CRNA) who personifies the integrity, honesty, fairness and exemplary leadership with which Dr. Downs served the profession including his advocacy of nurse anesthesia and MTSA.

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President’s Message

Our Faculty Continue to Shine

Chris Hulin

As MTSA prepares to interview a new class of student nurse anesthetists this fall, I’m reminded of how blessed we are to have such a passionate, brilliant group of faculty who continue to strengthen our academic offering and give back to the anesthesia community.

Several members of our faculty will be presenting at the AANA Annual Congress this year, showcasing a range of research findings that expands the body of knowledge in nurse anesthesia and produces evidence-based scholarship. As you will read in this edition of Airways, their research was chosen from a large number of submissions and will continue raise awareness throughout the medical community that CRNAs are at the forefront of improving patient care.

These pursuits are no accident. MTSA’s board of trustees, along with School administrators, have committed to a number of strategic initiatives that focus on enhancing our profession from top to bottom. MTSA is committed to providing these types of platforms for practitioners who can foster a better understanding of how CRNAs are integral to better healthcare outcomes in this country and throughout the world.

Presenting research is just one way we do that. Another is our efforts to become a primary source of knowledge for the field of nurse anesthesia. To that end, MTSA continues to develop the Surgical Pain Institute, which will serve as a hub of collective knowledge and scholarship. Being an aggregator of research will enable MTSA to better represent CRNAs nationally by developing evidence-based practice guidelines.

So I invite you to connect with this effort by submitting your ideas for research or methodologies for improving patient care, and consider joining us at the AANA Annual Congress in Chicago in August for our faculty presentations.

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Save the Dates: Fall Fundraising Events


MTSA invites alumni and friends to support the School’s upcoming fundraising events this fall:

16th Annual MTSA Golf Classic
Thursday, Sept. 19
Hermitage Golf Course

3rd Annual MTSA Sporting Clay Tournament
Friday, Nov. 8
Nashville Gun Club

The Golf Classic offers the chance to go for the green while supporting MTSA. Teams of four will compete in a scramble format. Teams of two can choose the two-man better ball flight option (USGA index required). Prizes will be awarded. Lunch and dinner are provided during the event.

MTSA’s popular Sporting Clay Tournament returns for its third year, allowing marksmen and novices alike to hit moving targets at multiple shooting stations at the Nashville Gun Club. Lunch will be provided, and prizes are awarded for participants who hit the most clays.

Proceeds from the Golf Classic will help continue the School’s mission of Reflecting Christ in Anesthesia Education.

Team registration and sponsorship opportunities are available now by visiting and clicking on the specific event, or by calling (615) 732-7674.

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MTSA Service In Action

Staff Volunteer at Child Care Center

MTSA volunteers (l to r) Jim Closser, Pam Nimmo, Jennifer Speer, Chris Hulin, Ginger Miller, Jim Dukes and John Ronning, pictured with Rhonda Trumbo, Executive Director, King’s Daughters Child Development Center.

In April, seven members of MTSA’s staff participated in a service day at King’s Daughters Child Development Center located in Madison, Tenn. The volunteer work stems from the School’s mission, which includes a life of service.

The participants included Jim Closser, vice president, alumni & advancement; Jim Dukes, coordinator, Plant Operations; Chris Hulin, president; Ginger Miller, director, Center for Clinical Simulation; Pam Nimmo, admissions and recruitment coordinator; John Ronning, assistant to the vice president of finance; and Jennifer Speer, director of financial aid.

“As an organization, MTSA has committed to carving out time for staff to participate in service projects throughout the year during our normal business hours,” Closser said. “We were looking for a project in which a group of staff could be involved, and King’s Daughters was the perfect match.”

MTSA staff rolled up their sleeves and got to work landscaping the facility’s flower beds, including weeding and adding fresh mulch and flowers, which were donated by the School. Other participants helped organize the indoor spaces, tidying up and labeling the game and activity areas. After completing that task, the group read to students in the classroom.

“King’s Daughters is a wonderful non-profit that does really good work and has for many years. They’re invested in improving the lives of families, and it was an honor for all of us to be a small part of that,” Closser added.

King’s Daughters Child Development Center has been serving members of the community for more than 50 years, providing child care and educational programs for children from financially challenged families.

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MTSA Faculty Presenting at AANA Congress

Nearly 20 MTSA faculty – both full-time and adjunct – will be presenting at the upcoming AANA Annual Congress in Chicago in August. They include:

Rusty Gentry, DNAP, CRNA: TEE Workshop

Chris Hulin, DNP, MBA, CRNA: A Framework for Public Policy Analysis and Effective Advocacy

Bill Johnson, DNAP, CRNA: Thoracic Pain Management Using Regional and Pharmacologic Therapy

John Shields, DNP, CRNA: TEE Workshop

Leigh Taylor, DNP, MS, CRNA: Substance Abuse and Misuse Identification and Prevention

Several faculty have contributed to state association meetings nationally, and nearly 15 adjunct faculty associated with the Acute Surgical Pain Management Fellowship and other programs will be presenting at the conference, which takes place Aug. 9-13.

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MTSA’s NCE Pass Rate Tops National Average

MTSA announced its National Certification Examination (NCE) student pass rate for first-time takers was 85.7 percent in 2018, topping the national average of 84.3 percent.

The School improved its pass rate by focusing attention on the senior board review class and reducing students’ clinical rotations during their senior year in order to have dedicated study time and class instruction, according to MTSA Program Administrator Rusty Gentry, DNAP, CRNA.

“We also have a Self-Evaluation Examinations (SEE) benchmark, which students take a minimum of twice during their senior year. They must achieve that benchmark to graduate,” Gentry said.

He added that the feedback from graduates has been very helpful: “The emails and phone calls after boards are always welcome because they help us understand what worked or didn’t work or how we could do things a little differently. We’re keeping that open dialog, and MTSA appreciates the assistance from former graduates offered to future students who may be struggling with the NCE. They’re wanting to help other students at MTSA get over the hurdle.”

According to the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA), for fiscal year 2018, a total of 3,053 NCE exams were administered. The total number of candidates who took the NCE and were certified during FY 2018 was 2,448.

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MTSA to Roll Out Poster Presentations

Alumni encouraged to participate as judges

Maria Overstreet, PhD, RN

MTSA Dean Maria Overstreet, PhD, RN, recently served as a judge for the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing DNP podium presentations through the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing, IOTA chapter. Her involvement has led to the implementation of a similar program at MTSA, focused on evidence-based improvements in practice.

“The winning presentation really touched my heart,” Overstreet said. “The graduate who presented it is a women’s health nurse practitioner who works with intellectually disabled patients. Her project involved sex education for women with Down syndrome and how to incorporate personal boundaries.

“It was a very impressive scholarly project that’s making a difference in practice. The clinicians with whom she works are now able to offer a specific type of education when they encounter intellectually disabled people, and it’s helping to improve outcomes. That’s the goal of everything we do as educators in nurse anesthesia – incorporating what students learn into their everyday practice,” she said.

Overstreet appreciated the opportunity to judge the presentations because it comes at a time when several shifts in faculty are occurring at MTSA, enabling her to incorporate these ideas into the final course in the DNAP Entry to Practice program for 2020 graduates. One challenge is that those students do not have the wealth of experience in anesthesia that CRNAs in the DNAP Completion program have. Therefore, it’s critical to learn how to question, to read the evidence, and to translate to their daily practice, she said.

MTSA to launch poster presentations in August

Overstreet also served as a judge for Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s 2019 Nurses Week research poster session, which included projects that aimed to make a difference in the nurses’ practice, i.e. translating evidence into practice.

One poster was presented by Chief CRNA Brent Dunworth, DNP, MBA, CRNA, recipient of the Nevin Downs, MD Leadership Award at MTSA’s 2018 Mission & Awards Gala. His research focused on how leveraging the work of CRNAs can improve value and access to anesthesia services within a hospital system.

“Seeing these posters has stimulated new ideas and provides examples that we can share with our students, allowing them to assess how the poster looks and what could be improved upon. It also gives them examples of topics that make a difference in daily practice,” Overstreet said.

As a result, MTSA will be hosting its inaugural scholarly poster presentation on Thursday, Aug. 15. The first session, from 10 to 11 a.m., is for the Class of 2021. The Class of 2020 will present their posters from 11:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Both sessions will take place in the collaborative classroom in the Magan Building.

“I would encourage MTSA alumni to participate in our poster presentations by coming in and seeing the type of work that our students are doing to help improve practice. In addition, I would urge anyone who’s interested to be a judge. No matter what their degree, they have valuable experience that they can share with the students, and it’s all about developing relationships and sharing information,” Overstreet added.

For more information, or to participate as a judge in MTSA’s inaugural scholarly poster presentation, contact Dr. Overstreet at (615) 732-7893 or

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MTSA Student Chosen as AANA Student Advocate

Helen Schnaper
MTSA Class of 2020

MTSA Class of 2020 student Helen Schnaper has been selected by the AANA Foundation board of trustees as a student advocate – one of only 20 students chosen from nurse anesthesia programs nationwide. The role serves as a liaison between the AANA Foundation and students, helping to inform them of policy concerns at the national level and facilitate communication.

“My interest in this role started when I attended the AANA Mid-Year Assembly in Washington, D.C.,” Schnaper said. “I was able to meet CRNAs and SRNAs from all over the nation, and I got really excited about what was happening in the policy area. The energy there inspired me to continue to be a part of the solution for all the discussions and challenges we’re facing in the field.”

She recognized that it can be easy for students to focus primarily on school and clinicals without much awareness of the legislative issues in nurse anesthesia, which is why her goal is to keep students informed. In addition, Schnaper wants to ensure students are aware of scholarship opportunities via the AANA Foundation.

“I’m thankful for Helen’s drive to advocate for our profession as a student,” said MTSA Program Administrator Rusty Gentry, DNAP, CRNA. “This is the first step for her in building a career of advocating for the profession that she is preparing to join.”

“I want to have a seat at the table and to be part of the conversation when it comes to issues surrounding nurse anesthesia. I want to hear information from the source, and I want to help educate people around me because I think some of that information can be misconstrued. Most importantly, I want to see our profession practiced to its full scope,” she added.

Originally from Boston, Schnaper’s background is trauma ICU, and she has held a float pool position doing rotations in medical, neuro, cardiac and surgical settings. Prior to enrolling at MTSA, she worked at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. Her husband is a resident at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.

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Advanced Physiologic Foundations Online Class Available

Brett Clay, DNAP, CRNA

MTSA announced it will offer its online Advanced Physiologic Foundations Class starting on Sept. 2. The deadline to apply is Aug. 22.

The class is taught by MTSA faculty member Brett Clay, DNAP, CRNA, and is designed for registered nurses who would like a deeper understanding of physiology in relation to everyday clinical care. It covers advanced human physiologic concepts at the system, organ, cellular, and subcellular levels, with the overall goal to enhance the learner’s foundation for nursing practice.

“This class provides a unique opportunity for RNs to evaluate their readiness to undertake graduate level education,” Clay said.

Part of the Advanced Physiologic Foundations Class curriculum also includes foundational concepts; central, peripheral, and autonomic nervous systems; cardiovascular system; respiratory system; and renal system, according to the class syllabus.

More information about the class is available at

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New Acute Surgical Pain Management Fellowship Cohort to Start in 2020

Nov. 1, 2019 – Application Period Closes
January 2020 – Course Begins

The field of pain management is continually growing. As the baby boom generation ages, increasing numbers of patients will undergo surgery, and CRNAs will be responsible for managing these patients’ acute pain. The AANA/MTSA Acute Surgical Pain Management (ASPM) Fellowship equips CRNAs with the necessary knowledge and skill-sets to meet this growing demand. From medical management approaches, such as multimodal therapies and opioid sparing strategies, to advanced interventional techniques, including continuous catheter utilization, CRNAs acquire the knowledge to treat these patients with confidence and skill.

The ASPM Fellowship consists of a classroom component offered via distance education (didactic education) and a clinical component (proctored hands-on clinical experience offered through one or more clinical sites). Fellows learn innovative techniques including multimodal and interventional therapies to manage acute surgical pain, while developing business management proficiency.

More information and registration is available at

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Class of 2021 White Coat Ceremony

Thursday, Aug. 15
2:30 p.m.
Location: Madison Campus Seventh-day Adventist Church (adjacent to MTSA campus)

MTSA recognizes first-year students’ successful completion of the second semester of the DNAP program including skills testing and machine check off. Students and family members are welcome as students receive their official MTSA lab coat.

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Family Fun Day

MTSA Class of 2021 students, faculty and staff gathered for Family Fun Day on May 6. The event provided a special time for students and families to learn from a variety of presenters about graduate school life, clinical schedules, and how to manage this significant change in their lives. Food, games, prizes, and fellowship were enjoyed by all.

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Making a Difference

MTSA alum Dwight Kenerson, MS, CRNA, (pictured, kneeling with Karo the dog) may be a full time CRNA by day, however his early mornings and late evenings are often occupied by his nonprofit blueberry farm. This year, several MTSA students from the class of 2020 volunteered to help spend time on the farm by spreading mulch, pruning and pulling weeds throughout 1,000 bushes of succulent blueberries. Proceeds from Kenerson Berry Farm are donated to Ridgetop Seventh-day Adventist Elementary School. Dwight’s passion is to help keep kids in school and continue to pay it forward. (Standing in back row, l to r: Lucas Littrell, Daniel Campbell, Mike Gould; standing in middle row, l to r: MTSA SRNAs Jonathan Garlit, Melody Campbell, Helen Schnaper Gould.)

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