Discovery partners with Pellissippi State

Discovery Communications announced it will send employee volunteers to mentor Pellissippi State Community College students, and offer some of those students paid internships, in training them for high-tech media careers – possibly with Discovery itself.

The program to impart job skills is dubbed RISE – “Reducing Inequality and Supporting Empowerment.”

“We like to call it ‘HR in a box,’” said David Leavy, Discovery chief corporate operations and communications officer.

Discovery and Pellissippi officials, joined by state and local political figures, made the announcement to about 100 guests in a packed room on Pellissippi’s campus. A plush shark doll on each chair advertised the TV network’s upcoming “Shark Week.”

“Meeting local workforce needs is what we do best at Pellissippi State,” said Rushton Johnson, Pellissippi vice president of student affairs. Pellissippi is the state’s largest community college, with more than 11,000 students, he said. Several of the school’s programs already align with Discovery’s workforce needs, and a workforce with relevant skills helps to keep companies in the area, Johnson said.

“This is something that we do intend to launch in the fall,” he said.

Gov. Bill Lee said he seeks to recruit companies like Discovery to Tennessee, in part because of initiatives like this. He hoped the example would encourage similar involvement from other companies.

“There’s an emerging technology-related workforce, and Tennessee needs to be a leader in that,” Lee said.

Every company will need expertise in cybersecurity and data analytics, but most four-year colleges don’t provide that training, Leavy said.

Mentors from Discovery will offer Pellissippi students a suite of job-hunting resources like help in resume writing interview skills, he said. The company will provide some paid internships in computer and video skills, complementing the school’s existing programs; and panel presentations by Discovery employees on relevant topics will be recorded for use by students later or elsewhere, Leavy said.

Johnson said many of the people making future hiring decisions at Discovery may be among the mentors.

Last year Discovery closed a $14.6 billion deal to buy Knoxville-based Scripps Networks Interactive, and announced it would move Discovery’s national operations headquarters from Maryland to Knoxville while moving pre-recorded transmission functions from Knoxville to Virginia. The Knoxville offices have had an unspecified number of layoffs since the merger, but Leavy said employment remains above 1,000. Fifty of those local Discovery employees are Pellissippi State alumni, he said.

Leavy said Discovery shares many corporate values with Scripps, such as seeking to strengthen the larger community. Discovery executives believe corporate America has an obligation to improve society, he said; as an example, he showed video of 150 Discovery employees recently working on Habitat for Humanity houses in Nashville.

Leavy didn’t provide a dollar figure for the RISE program’s cost to Discovery, but said no government incentives or assistance are involved.

Most of the investment will be “sweat equity,” he said – provided by Discovery employees, though they won’t be paid extra for mentoring students.

“It’s all volunteer,” Leavy said. Eventually, volunteers could expect to put in 10 to 20 hours per three-month period, he said.

It hasn’t yet been discussed with Discovery employees, Leavy said.

The program’s size hasn’t been determined yet, but Discovery wants to serve as many students as possible, he said.

“I would say it’s probably going to be several hundred, but it’s still to be worked out,” Leavy said.

This will be a long-term program, Leavy said. In five years, it’s possible 200 of Discovery’s local employees could have been hired from among RISE participants, he said. The goal is for Knoxville to become a “media ecosystem hub” – not just for Discovery, but for other media and computer technology, video companies and marketing agencies, Leavy said.

Although it’s starting at Pellissippi, he said, RISE could be scaled up statewide wherever Discovery has offices.

“I wouldn’t rule that out at all,” Leavy said.

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by Jim Gaines

The East Tennessee Economic Development Agency markets and recruits business for the 15 counties in the greater Knoxville-Oak Ridge region of East Tennessee. Visit

Published July 12, 2019