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July 22, 2013

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A Lasting Legacy

 A Lasting Legacy

You wouldn’t know it at first, but Robert Davidson, a 1975 graduate of the Roanoke Valley Campus, has left a lasting legacy in several iconic buildings throughout Roanoke. You won’t find his signature on the Poff Federal Building, the Norfolk and Southern computer center, or the Colonial American Bank building, to name just a few, but it was his work alongside others on a project management team that helped erect each one. It’s a legacy that still impacts many people in the Roanoke Valley today as work continues in the buildings he helped construct some 30 years ago.

It’s the same kind of lasting legacy that Robert’s mother Berta Lee Clements Rigney left for him.  Growing up in the early 1900s, Berta attended a one-room school house in Pittsylvania County in Callands, Virginia. She worked on a farm with her family until 1923, when she left everything she knew to take several business, book-keeping, and secretarial courses at American National University, known then as National Business College, in Roanoke. With her passion for learning, Robert is convinced his mother would have continued her education to its furthest limits if she could have, but raising children in the midst of two wars (World Wars I and II) kept Berta from fulfilling her dream. However, she left the pursuit of life-long education as a legacy to her children. It was a legacy that led two of her sons, Robert and James Davidson, to follow in their mother’s footsteps and enroll in the same college as their mother for their degrees several years later.

Like many young men in the 1950s, Robert enlisted in the military and served eight years in the Air Force following his graduation from high school. Upon returning to civilian life, Robert began working, got married, and had two sons. He took evening classes and correspondence classes from several different colleges while working, but realized that his G.I. Bill education benefits would expire shortly unless he obtained a degree. So he packed up his family and moved to Roanoke so he could attend National just like his mother.
“My mother did alright at National Business College, my brother James did alright at National Business College, so I think I’m just going to go down there,” Robert said about his decision to go to National. During a pre-enrollment interview with the president of the college, E.M Coulter, Robert explained:  “Mr. Coulter, what I want is a degree from National Business College, to tie all my part-time studies into a business degree.” And that’s exactly what he did when he graduated in 1975 with a degree in accounting.

Fifty years after Robert attended, and nearly 100 years since his mother attended, there have been many changes at the College. It has since changed its name to “American National University” to reflect its degree offerings up to the master’s degree level. The fully functioning bank within the college that Berta and her fellow students used to practice their bookkeeping and accounting skills was gone by the time Robert enrolled, and ANU now offers degrees in cyber security, computer networking, and health information management – fields that didn’t even exist when Robert attended.

However, after 127 years of providing education to men and women, ANU has learned a thing or two about building a lasting legacy – and that legacy is woven into the changed lives of its students, sometimes throughout several generations of one family. It keeps the legacy strong by maintaining many of the same qualities that Robert remembers about his time as a student:   “The idea at National is to teach you to go to work,” Robert stated about the college when he was a student there. “It was a no frills business school.”

Like the students of the past, many students today are veterans like Robert who have recently returned from military service or who have been in the workforce and are seeking a degree to help them reach the next chapter of their life. “Every student in National Business College was there to get an education – they were not there to goof off,” Robert said, remembering that at first he was daunted about going to back to school at the age of 36, but then realized that he was by no means the oldest amongst his fellow students. “The instructors were business people from the community,” he shared, citing several instructors who held prominent positions in the local community. And the college was focused on helping its students find work upon graduation. In fact, many like Robert worked as they attended school.

While the College has continuously evolved since Berta and her sons, James and Robert, have attended with new career offerings and a new name, the focus has never changed. American National University will continue to offer the career-focused, hands-on learning environment that has characterized its 127 years of excellence. To read more about the College’s evolution, visit

Photo 1- Robert Davidson, a 1975 graduate of American National University (formerly National Business College), helped to construct quite a few buildings in downtown Roanoke.

Photo 2- Robert Davidson (r), with his mother Berta Lee Clements Rigney who also attended the college.

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Jay Alexander and LM Communications Named as a Distinguished Community Employer

Jay Alexander and LM Communications Named as a Distinguished Community Employer

Jay Alexander, program director of LM Communications Broadcast Media Group, was recently named a Distinguished Community Employer by the Lexington Campus due to his vital support of the campus’s radio and TV broadcasting (RTB) program.  LM Communications employs graduates of the RTB program and also allows RTB students to conduct externships in their office.

Mr. Alexander first began working with the Lexington Campus RTB program several years ago, when career center director Cheryl Howell contacted him regarding externship opportunities for students in the program.  “I was happy to help,” he said.  “I love to share my knowledge of what I know [with] the next generation that’s coming up.” Mr. Alexander said that externs at LM Communications rotate through the many areas of the radio stations that LM Communications owns, including programming and production.  “They get a taste of everything,” he explained.

RTB program director Bill Gray said that the externships are a great opportunity for the students.  “The students make contacts [and] they get real-world experience.  Sometimes they get to operate the [audio] boards and do voice-overs,” he said, adding that students who work hard and show initiative during their externships are often hired by LM Communications.  It was student Kimber Price’s first day as an extern at the company and she said that she was excited to have the opportunity to work there. 

Pictured-(l) to (r): Presenting the Distinguished Community Employer award to LM Communications are: extern Kimber Price, radio and television broadcasting (RTB) program director Bill Gray, Jay Alexander of LM Communications, campus director Kim Thommason, and career center director Cheryl Howell.

Danville Campus Medical Assistants Get Hands-On Experience at Community Event

Danville Campus Medical Assistants Get Hands-On Experience at Community Event

Medical assisting students from the Danville Campus recently had the opportunity to give back to their community and put their skills from the classroom into action.  Students offered health screenings during a health fair that was held in conjunction with the Inter County Energy Cooperative’s annual business meeting at Boyle County High School.  

Clarissa Hill, Traci Jones, Lori Owens, and Linda Findling each provided blood pressure and glucose checks to approximately fifty visitors within a three hour period.  “The health fair was a great hands-on, fast-paced experience,” said Clarissa.  “It helped put American National University out there as a school that knows what they are doing.”  Clarissa added that she felt that the screenings were beneficial to those who may not have insurance or be able to afford such screenings on their own.

Medical assisting student Traci Jones is shown taking a blood pressure reading during the health fair that was held in conjunction with the Inter County Energy Cooperative’s annual business meeting.

Medical Assistant and Technician Inspires Children to Attend National College

Medical Assistant and Technician Inspires Children to Attend National College

Dr. Nawar Soda is the owner of Medical Laser Center of Berea , Berea Urgent Care, and several  other urgent care centers making him a valuable community partner of the Richmond Campus. Since opening Berea Urgent Care in 2006, Dr. Soda has hired many American National University medical assisting graduates and he has also allowed many National students to complete externships in his office.

“We like to teach them, and actually, they can be a lot of help,” said Dr. Soda, adding that he hires many of the externs who work for him.  “It’s nice to hire somebody that you’ve worked with,” he explained.   “That‘s better than a résumé.   You’re confident that they’re going to be good.”

Dr. Soda’s practice manager Kimberly Blanke, RMA., CMT., works closely with National externs and graduates in Dr. Soda’s offices.   When Kimberly’s daughter, Hayley Blanke, recently decided that she’d like to enroll in a medical assisting program, Kimberly recommended that she visit the college.
“It’s a good program,” said Kimberly, adding that her daughter likes the flexibility of the class schedule at National. “The expense was a lot more affordable than a lot of other programs.”

Kimberly’s son Derrick Blanke is a recent high school graduate and had already enrolled at a local state university and was set to start classes in the fall.   When he learned of his sister’s decision to enroll at National, he decided to check it out as well.  Derrick discovered that with the five-term class schedule that is now offered at National, he could complete his career-focused associate's degree program in much less time than he could graduate from a four-year university. Attending National was also more affordable.  “It’s going to be saving him close to $11,000 just on tuition alone,” Kim explained.

Derrick has enrolled in the business administration-management program and both he and his sister Hayley started classes at the Richmond Campus in July.  Kimberly hopes that her daughter will one day work with her in Dr. Soda’s office as a registered medical assistant.

Medical Laser Center of Berea practice manager Kim Blanke (left) and Dr. Nawar Soda, M.D., (right) are pictured with American National University graduate Natasha Gipson who was recently hired as a registered 0medical assistant by the practice.  

Kimberly Blanke's two children, Hayley and Derrick Blanke are both now students of the Richmond Campus. 



Pikeville Campus Holds Targeted Medical Career Fair

Pikeville Campus Holds Targeted Medical Career Fair

The Pikeville Campus recently held a targeted medical career fair for recent and upcoming graduates.  Students prepped for the career fair in advance by attending a résumé building workshop and had their enhanced résumés ready for review.   Pikeville Medical Center came to discuss the benefits of working at the hospital and tips for applying.  Students were also told about current open positions and future positions.   Pikeville Medical Center assistant recruiter Brittany Honaker offered free gifts to the students.  Ms. Honaker said, “PMC is interested in American National University students because they have a great education and work ethic.”

Medical career fair participants pictured (l) to (r) are: Sabrina Akers, Tara Case, Jessica Pinion, Ryan Dotson, and Brittany Honaker (seated) of the Pikeville Medical Center.


Healthcare and Law Class Guest Speaker

Healthcare and Law Class Guest Speaker

On Monday, June 24th the Healthcare and Law class at the Stark County Campus and health care education director Mirjana Ilijevski welcomed Canton, Ohio attorney Darrell Holland as their guest speaker. Mr. Holland is a lifelong resident of northeast Ohio and has served as chief Stark county juvenile prosecutor, Canton municipal court magistrate, Ohio assistant attorney general and as a senior staff attorney at the Stark county public defender's office.

Mr. Holland spoke about the nature of confidentiality and protecting the privacy of patients. He also discussed medical malpractice and medical ethics: how sometimes admitting a mistake can get you into trouble, but it is the right thing to do. He also explained how medical assistants are responsible for doing their job well but that their supervisors are ultimately responsible for their actions.

When asked to name the most critical issue facing today’s medical assistants, Mr. Holland commented that the responsibilities of medical assistants are likely to increase.  “With the Affordable Health Care Act, there is a discussion [about] the shortage of doctors and increased pressure on those who are assisting doctors.  What do you [medical assistants] do if you are asked to do something outside your purview of expertise?” 
The class also discussed authorizations and when they are required.  Mr. Holland provided examples of those as well as of living will and power of attorney forms.

“Mr. Holland was a very well spoken, well informed speaker,” said business administration student Eric Thristino. His years of experience gave us an excellent grasp of the legal side of the medical field.”

Darrell Holland (pictured) is an Ohio attorney who recently spoke to the Healthcare and Law class.

Medical Students Visit Lynchburg General Hospital Lab

Medical Students Visit Lynchburg General Hospital Lab

Medical instructor Judy Bateman took her lab class from the Lynchburg Campus to the Lynchburg General Hospital lab for some hands-on experience after weeks of classroom training in laboratory procedures. The medical students spent time learning how a hospital-based laboratory works and were able to correlate the procedures and equipment to the topics covered in the classroom.  The hospital staff showed the students various microscopic works, instrument analyses, and answered all of the future medical assistants’ questions.

“The students remained engaged and really enjoyed the visit, “said Judy.  “My sincere thanks to laboratory coordinator, Roseanne Madril, and her staff for a great visit.  This is the kind of thing I enjoy doing.  One picture is worth a thousand words, as they say.” 

Medical students visit the Lynchburg General Hospital lab.  Pictured (l) to (r) are: Jennifer Tyree, Triniqua Allen, Callie Burton and Brandy Calloway.

Health Information Management Graduate Finds Employment

Health Information Management Graduate Finds Employment

Ayanna Malcolm-Tilmon of the Dayton Area Campus is a 2013 health information management (HIM) graduate. The career center recommended her for a supervisory position in the mental health care industry. Ayanna, who had been unemployed for some time prior to her graduation, was hired after working with career services to prepare for her job interviews and employer follow up.  Her new position as a point of entry (POE) supervisor includes the following duties:

• Responsible for managing and supervising all point of entry/intake processes for     
         patients entering Day-Mont Behavioral Health Care, Inc.
• Responsible for ensuring that point of entry representatives accurately obtain/review POE clipboard data for entry in computer system, entering required demographic data and accessing each patient’s ability to pay for services provided by the agency.
• Oversees point of entry representatives scheduling of all patient appointments with clinical staff.
• Responsible for daily/weekly/monthly/yearly workforce planning for point of entry representatives in order to ensure availability of adequate staff at all points of entry/satellite locations.

Ayanna graduated in May and was hired for her new position at Day-Mont Behavioral Health Care Inc.,
in Dayton, Ohio approximately two weeks later. Not only has Ayanna’s life changed, it has also benefited her family and her community.  Ayanna, who had previous experience in supervision through her service in the United States Air Force,  is in a managerial role and has already communicated that there may be an opportunity for her to hire other qualified American National University graduates from the HIM program.  Ayanna said, “The job is going well.  I was extremely busy this first week.  I have an opening on my staff that would be perfect for some of our students.”

Health Information Management (HIM) Graduate, Ayanna Malcolm-Tilmon (l) pictured accepting her degree from Dayton Campus director Art Wagner (r).


Medical Students Get Hands-On Experience in the Classroom

Medical Students Get Hands-On Experience in the Classroom

Director of surgical technology Saundra Sims of the Indianapolis Campus led students in the Surgical Technology II class in an activity to help prepare students for their clinical rotations. Students practiced back table organization, mayo stand organization, supply selection, and surgery suture and equipment. 

The surgical lab is constructed to look like a real operating room so the students feel like they are actually working in the field. They are required to scrub before gowning and entering the operating room. The students then prepare the operating room by setting up surgical instruments and equipment. “It is my duty and responsibility to ensure that every student that enters the surgical technology program will be prepared to serve and function as an entry level technologist.  I am grateful to have the opportunity to help each individual obtain their goals,” explained Saundra.

Medical students from Surgical Technology II class pictured (l) to (r) are: Katrina Owens, Andrea Duncan, and Casey Byrd.

Student is Happy with Her Career Change

Student is Happy with Her Career Change

Brenda Vargason recently received the Achievement Award during the Knoxville Campus graduation ceremony that was held in May. She has had a larger challenge than most students as she is hearing impaired. 

Brenda began working as a housekeeper for 2 years after a divorce.  She spent the next 20 years working in a sewing factory.  Her mother became the health care influence in her life, inspiring her to assist community members with their well-being.  Brenda then became a certified nursing assistant because she realized she found herself wanting to learn more in order to take on more responsibility. 

One day an admissions representative from National College called and told her about the medical assisting degree program.  Brenda then entered National and is now a registered medical assistant.  Brenda said this about her college experience: “I was extremely overwhelmed about attending school at 52 years of age.  The classes, however, were small and the instructors helped calm me down.  I have profound deafness and it is progressive so one day I will be completely deaf.  The instructors were very encouraging and were always willing to help me after class.” 

Brenda went on to score the highest in her class for the American Medical Technology exam, awarding her the title of registered medical assistant while she was also working full time as a certified nursing assistant.

Pictured left medical assisting graduate Brenda Vargason and director of healthcare education Barb Neblett.

Health Fair at the Fort Wayne Campus

Health Fair at the Fort Wayne Campus

On Thursday, June 13th the Fort Wayne Campus held a health fair for its student body, staff, and faculty members. Ten exhibitors were on hand to talk with students about a variety of health-related topics.  Attending vendors included: Fort Wayne Radiology, the Neighborhood Health Clinic, the American Red Cross, Family Life Care, Brightstar Care, Basche Martial Arts, the Fort Wayne Fire Department, and Three Rivers Ambulance Authority EMS. 

Students were given the opportunity to visit with vendors and engage in interactive activities including scanning for bone density, measuring glucose, checking blood pressure, and touring the Three Rivers Ambulance Authority EMS.  The tour of the EMS vehicle and fire truck was an eye-opening experience for many students.

The health fair had its entertaining elements as well.  At his martial arts booth Sensei Basche encouraged students and staff members to try to break a board with the side of their hands.  Many students and staff members participated and with Sensei’s guidance, learned they could successfully break a board with minimal instruction.

In addition to this event offering valuable information and interactive activities, the health fair presented an opportunity for students to network with area businesses regarding employment and volunteer opportunities.

Student Carla Delagrange enjoyed the health fair.  She said, “The Neighborhood Health Clinic and all the vendors gave us good information about the resources they had available.  They also gave us great information about what they are looking for in employees.”

Martial arts instructor Sensei Basche’s talks with students of the Fort Wayne Campus during the health fair.  

Team Nurse Chosen as Distinguished Community Employer

Team Nurse Chosen as Distinguished Community Employer

The Danville Campus recently presented the Distinguished Community Employer award to Team Nurse of Danville, Virginia.  For a number of years, Team Nurse has partnered to provide employment opportunities to graduating students not only in Danville but also in other locations in southern Virginia. 

Team Nurse currently employs several graduates in the Danville area.  One former graduate, Pam Barksdale, is an auditor for all the locations in the immediate area of the Danville and South Boston region. Pam started out as a medical office specialist in South Boston.  She was then promoted to office manager for that location and has been promoted again to auditor.  Team Nurse is also a regular participant at the career fairs on campus and is often represented by Pam.  Team Nurse has been a valued partner in working with graduates to jump-start their careers in the medical field.  The campus was excited to make the presentation to a business that values the skills and abilities of many students and looks forward to continuing the strong relationship.

Pictured are Ms. Amy Henderson, staffing coordinator for Team Nurse and Mrs. Rhonda Pass, career center director for the Danville Campus.

Medical Assisting Students ”Experience” Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia

Medical Assisting Students ”Experience” Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia

Students in the medical assisting program at the Columbus Campus recently had the opportunity to see things from some of their future patients’ perspectives.  They were invited to the Dublin Retirement Village for a virtual dementia tour, which proved to be a very educational and exciting experience for them.

First, they were shown a PowerPoint presentation on dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.  After that, they took part in a participatory demonstration in which they were able to experience the symptoms of these conditions for themselves.  They wore latex gloves covered by gardening gloves to distort their tactile senses.  Inserts with rough edges were planted in their shoes to give them the sensations of fibromyalgia.  The students also wore ear plugs that played distorted sounds and voices to show them what life is like for people with auditory difficulties, and they put on fitted goggles that simulated tunnel vision or macular degeneration. 

Once they were “suited up,” the students were given some tasks to complete.  These involved writing a short letter and putting it in an envelope, folding towels, setting a table, filling a glass half-full and then drinking it, and locating and putting on a white sweater.  The staff observed the students to see how they did.

When the students were finished, the staff told them that while they were working on the tasks they frequently talked to themselves and were unsure of their surroundings.  The students were able to briefly see the world through the eyes of a patient struggling with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, which will help them prepare for their future careers as medical professionals.   Medical assisting student Marian Nurani said of the experience, “I think that it will help me to be more understanding to someone who is going through dementia.” 

Students who took part in a virtual dementia tour are front row: Patty Geiger, Marian Nurani, and Faraz Yeganeh. Back row: Executive Director of the Dublin Retirement Village Ron Keller, Health Education Director of the Columbus Campus Beth Laurenz, Joan Martinez, and Fathia Pugh.

Job Fair and Workshops Held for Career Preparation

Job Fair and Workshops Held for Career Preparation

Students at the Bartlett Campus attended a job fair on Tuesday, June 25th.  Fifteen local companies attended to meet and interview students for open positions.  Four students had interviews and 18 students had interviews scheduled at a later date.

National College graduate Michelle Wray-Sutton was among the employers at the job fair to interview students for Truelove’s In-Home Health Care.  Michelle is currently the manager, and had this to say about her experience at National:

My job at Truelove’s In-Home Healthcare has been going great!  My instructors at National really prepared me for my current position. I’ve been able to apply so much of what I’ve learned into my everyday responsibilities in the office.  Without the education I received from [the college], I’m sure I would not have been as prepared has I have been for such a demanding field. I am so thankful to each of my instructors for all they did to ensure I had what I needed to continue moving forward in my business career.

I am thankful for Professor T.W. Polk, who continuously raised the bar beyond what I considered high and pushed me to reach higher and to dream bigger. Also, Professor Sophia Hardy, who was always willing to go an extra mile in ensuring my success and provide me with extra help in my studies whenever I went to her with a concern. [The college] gave me what I needed to become successful in the world of business.

Workshops on résumé writing and interview skills are offered on a regular basis to students.  The campus library and career services work together to provide vital information for students to utilize and prepare for their careers.

Career center director Sammie Hawkins regularly posts job openings, articles related to job searches, announcements about upcoming special events such as job fairs and guest speakers, and related items on her Facebook profile for her students and graduates to see when they are not on campus.  Workshops on résumé writing and job and interview skills are offered on a regular basis to students. A “Dress for Success” program is scheduled for July.  Sammie is continually networking especially through LinkedIn on behalf of the college and students. She was invited to be a part of WTSHHRA (West Tennessee Society for HealthCare Human Resources Administration) group which is comprised of HR professionals in the medical field. She is also active in the Bartlett Chamber of Commerce and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).  Sammie encourages students and graduates to network in order to achieve their career goals instead of just relying on internet searches for job openings.

New Bartlett campus librarian Willetta Grady is preparing the library to be a center for information in all programs.  She provides information on job skills online and in the form of hard copies.  Students are welcome to ask for assistance in résumé writing and cover letters.  “We all work as a team to provide the best information possible for our students.  It’s up to them to take it to the next level by applying themselves to reach their goals,” said Willetta.

NC Bartlett graduate Michelle Wray-Sutton, now manager at Truelove’s In-Home Health Care, Inc. talks to students about possible job positions.

Two Iraq Military Veterans Form a Bond at the Florence Campus

Two Iraq Military Veterans Form a Bond at the Florence Campus

Although military veterans Bobby Cook and Ken Huff served in Iraq in the same location and at the same time, they never met until they were students at the Florence Campus. Bobby is a Navy veteran and Ken is an Army veteran and they realized that they had served in the same location in Iraq when they saw each other’s pictures on the Wall of Honor. Bobby was a defense fortifications specialist and Ken served as a protective service agent for Army General George Casey while they were both In Baghdad at the presidential palace.

After recognizing the palace in the pictures, the two veterans developed their friendship while attending the same business classes. Ken said that there is a camaraderie that developed between them from sharing their military experiences and as business students at American National University. Ken said that his classes at National have helped him tremendously with his intellectual stimulation since he suffered a traumatic brain injury while serving in Iraq. Bobby added that his classes at National have been very helpful in providing him with the skills that he developed as both an information systems engineering and business management graduate. Bobby said, “American National University has changed my life by opening the doors to endless opportunities.”

Bobby Cook (l) pictured with Ken Huff (r), both military veterans who met at the Florence Campus.

Graduate Receives the Outstanding Student Award

Graduate Receives the Outstanding Student Award

Recent American National University graduate Lori McNeil of the Louisville Campus was recognized by the Kentucky Health Information Management Association (KHIMA) as an outstanding student. Lori received her award at the KHIMA conference in Lexington. Lori’s award states, “The recipient—is considered a student who has performed exceptionally in the past school year both academically and socially and is a leader in the classroom and community.”

Lori had worked in health care for more than 20 years before enrolling at American National University. She wanted to attend an accredited school and the campus offers a program that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management (CAHIIM). Another factor in choosing National was the ability to attend classes year round. Also, she appreciated that her instructors had “real world experiences” that could be applied in the classroom.
As part of the requirements for her associate’s degree in health information management (HIM), Lori completed an externship at a local hospital where she learned how to become a supervisor.  She also learned some medical coding and worked on a project for the director of the HIM department.

Looking to the future, Lori is planning to take the Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) exam in August and begin her career in a hospital or other health care setting.

Medical graduate, Lori McNeil(pictured), received the Outstanding Student Award from the Kentucky Health Information Management Association.


The National News is a biweekly publication designed to share the success and academic accomplishments of students and graduates from American National University and National College. For more information, contact the Communications Department.

In accordance with the regulations of the Tennessee Higher Education Council, all references to "American National University" refer to "National College" in the state of Tennessee.