Tillman opened Pellissippi campus to the community

Sandra ClarkInside 640, Our Town Leaders

Rosalyn Tillman is retiring at month’s end as the dean at the Magnolia Avenue Campus of Pellissippi State Community College. She will miss the work; the community will surely miss her. Tillman, who arrived in 2000, is the only dean the Magnolia Avenue Campus has had.


To list her achievements and honors would take up our remaining space. So, let’s just tell you some things you might not know.

  • She’s a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha – making her a sorority sister of Vice President Kamala Harris.
  • Tillman was educated in Chicago and taught there. Her bachelor’s degree is from Southern Illinois University and her master’s is from UT. She moved to Knoxville in 1989 when her husband, Dr. Sheadrick A. Tillman IV, took a position at the University of Tennessee.
  • The couple have two daughters, both residents of Chicago with master’s degrees and both undergrad alumnae of Spelman College. Nichole is a marriage and family educator; Danielle is a licensed architect. And they are AKAs, too.

Tillman says she will miss the structure of her fast-paced and often high-stress job. But she has contracted with Pellissippi to continue the Summer Institute, (June 2-18) which she initiated for students from Fulton and Austin-East high schools.

More than 2,500 high school students have successfully completed the program over the last 19 years – their first milestone in the acquisition of a four-year college scholarship through Project GRAD.

“We put the kids on a college campus for the first time and make the idea of college a real desire,” she says. She is already at work on this summer’s curriculum. She hires and manages more than 40 faculty and staff and coordinates activities for an average of 175 students each year.

Pellissippi State provided and staffed this big inflatable for the Shoes for School event at Caswell Park. From left: Cynthia Dirl, Patti Rogers, Benita Turner and Rosalyn Tillman.

She looks back with pride at the creation of the Heart of Knoxville Career Center in the early 2000s. “It was a big grant. We converted our old gym with counselors who helped prepare people for jobs and job-training programs.” The Career Center remained for several years after the grant ran out. Tillman said it was a great program for getting people from the community onto the campus.

Now she hears from potential students who want to open their own business. Pellissippi State has added business courses to accommodate them.

Like most schools, Pellissippi went to remote learning during the Covid-19 pandemic. But some programs, like nursing, audio production and math, continued on-site, but with masks, distancing and other precautions. “It’s been quiet,” she said, “and we’re eager to get everyone back.”

The campus held a drive-in movie, while photography and audio production students worked with the Knoxville Symphony to host a virtual concert. “We kept looking for ways to engage students, to keep things going.”

Tillman has stretched her budget to bring nationally-known speakers like Nikki Giovanni onto campus. And she’s hosted League of Women Voters candidate debates. The former Catholic High School is a for-real college campus today and that’s a tribute to Rosalyn Tillman. She will be tough to replace.

Sandra Clark is editor/CEO of Knox TN Today.

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