YouthForce students get hands-on experiences at Pellissippi

Julia WoodOur Town Youth

Something is happening.

The nurses check the patient’s pupils. “They’re asymmetrical,” one reports. Stethoscopes out, they listen to his chest, where they hear an asthmatic wheeze. A few minutes later, they’re administering CPR, taking turns counting and doing chest compressions.

It’s not a real patient, and it’s not an emergency. It’s just a typical day at nursing camp at Pellissippi State Community College.

YouthForce students line up to practice the Heimlich maneuver.

YouthForce, the workforce-development program of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Tennessee Valley, will bring 60 high school students to Pellissippi State’s Strawberry Plains Campus this summer to experience weeklong Technical Training Camps.

Nursing and welding camps were held June 4-7 while cybersecurity and manufacturing camps will take place Tuesday-Friday, June 18-21.

“We like to make everything hands-on applications of the theory,” explained Andy Polnicki, director of the MegaLab on the Strawberry Plains Campus. “I went to a traditional (four-year) school, and when I graduated and got out into the real world, I realized I only knew a lot of theory. Here at Pellissippi State we spend a lot of time actually applying that theory.”

The goal of YouthForce, which is open to any high school student in Knox and Blount counties, is to expose high school students to skilled trades and to gain first-job skills, explained YouthForce Director Rebecca McDonough. This is the third year YouthForce has held the camps at Pellissippi State.

A YouthForce student works on a project during welding camp.

Decked out in matching scrubs with fully equipped nurses’ kits, the 16 students in nursing camp rattled off all the things they learned during the week, from the medical (how to stop a bleed, how to perform the Heimlich maneuver, how to administer CPR to a baby) to the practical (how to change hospital beds, how to wash their hands, how to put a pillowcase on a pillow without getting it contaminated).

“We got to experience real nurses, and they shared their stories with us,” explained Callie Anderson, a rising senior at Fulton High School. “Them giving us that extra background of what it’s like to be in the nursing field and then all the hands-on skills labs was just beyond my expectations. I’m so appreciative of this program.”

As nursing instructor Jennifer Priano started to walk a group of students through how to deliver a baby on the SimMom, an advanced full-body birthing simulator, Auna Campbell could not contain her excitement.

“I watch labor videos all the time! People think I’m weird, but it’s really interesting,” said Campbell, a rising junior at West High School. “I want to be a nurse, and I know what I need to do, but I need guidance to know what classes to take and to keep me on the right path because labor and delivery takes a whole lot of schooling. This camp this week helps a lot.”

Downstairs, the 14 students in welding camp showed off what they’d learned how to make this week.

Tashaun Patrick, a rising junior at South Doyle High School, shows his football number he made with a plasma cutter during welding camp.

“This was my first experience with welding, but it’s really cool,” said Tashaun Patrick, a rising junior at South-Doyle High School. “I love the plasma cutter. It’s just the most amazing thing. I made my football number and put it on a post. Today I took these random parts and made an eagle. We’re making a lot of cool stuff that you wouldn’t make in a typical high school class.”

Patrick noted he enjoyed welding camp so much that he plans to make welding his back-up plan if a sports career doesn’t work out.

“This has been all you want in a summer camp,” Patrick added. “We’ve been learning and having a lot of fun doing it.”

For more information about YouthForce, visit For more information on Pellissippi State, visit or call 865-694-6400.

Julia Wood is director of marketing and communications for Pellissippi State Community College.

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