Those looking to go back to school or further their education got a boost from the world of country music on Tuesday night when Country Music Television (CMT) stopped by Motlow to show much it values education.

Thanks to a partnership with the Tennessee Board of Regents, CMT’s Empowering Education program has now spread across the Volunteer State through the community and technical colleges.

According to CMT Director of Public Affairs Rachael Wall, the CMT Empowering Education program began in 2014 through a partnership with the American Association of Community Colleges. It has since spread to 18 different states and a large number of community colleges and technical schools, promoting post-secondary schooling for people looking to begin a career, rather than simply take a job.

The program offers two $500 scholarships for students looking to come back to school or figure out their next steps after high school, according to Wall.

“For CMT, our goal is to inspire our viewers to further their education, and we want to give them the tools [to do so],” Wall said.

As part of its statewide tour of community colleges, CMT stopped by the Motlow Moore County campus on Tuesday night to express the importance of higher education, give out two more $500 scholarships and delight crowds with a free concert, courtesy of country artist Courtney Cole.

Cole serves as the spokesperson for CMT Empowering Education, and said the organization is close to her heart.

“Education’s always been super important to me,” Cole said.

As a graduate of Belmont University, Cole said her post-secondary education is what allowed her to take steps into the country music world, and she might not have had the same opportunities had she not pursued her degree.

“It was because of the internship program through Belmont that allowed me to go out and get my internship at the publishing company/record label,” she said. “If it wasn’t for that, I feel like I would have just come to Nashville kind of clueless [and] not really sure where to go. But I went there, I got my education, learned the ins and outs of the industry, and through those programs that they offered, got the opportunity to kind of take that next step for me.”

When it comes to hosting these small concerts at the community colleges, Cole said they offered her an opportunity to hear how passionate others can be about their own education, as well as learn about the obstacles they’ve had to overcome.

“You see the panelists up here that are sharing their success stories and how they were able to take that next step and how they did it,” she said.

One story rang particularly poignant for Cole.

“We were in Dyersburg, and you know CMT is offering two $500 scholarships to people that attend the concert, and they draw a name for that,” she said, “and one of the girls that won it … came up to us and said, ‘It’s because of this that I have the opportunity to further my education. This gave me the courage and the strength and the means to be able to do this.’ That really stuck with all of us. We all had tears in our eyes, because without that, she might not have had the opportunity to do that.”

Cole said experiences like that warm her heart, because it further proves that people truly do value their education and maybe need just a small bit of help to finally take the plunge and pursue their dreams. CMT is helping to offer that little bit of help, she said.

“I just think following a dream, following your passion is scary,” she said. “I think a lot of times people need that little bit of encouragement to take that next step, and I think that these events are exactly what that is. It forms a community.

 “For some of these people that are here, they maybe aren’t sure if they want to, or they’re scared – it gives them an encouragement to do so,” she added.

According to Wall, the program is new to Tennessee, though there was a good reason for the delay.

“We’ve been wanting to partner here for a long time – obviously, it’s the home state for CMT; we’re based here in Nashville,” she said. “We knew that Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect were going to be such big programs and opportunities for folks, so we waited until those [programs] had a few years to mature and get started.”

Since those programs have been so successful, Wall said, CMT felt the time to come in and help even more was now.

“We waited to have the timing that we did now so that we can make sure to show people what those programs and scholarships can do,” she said.

Tuesday’s event saw four local people form a panel and share their stories about how they were able to pursue their education.

Moderated by CMT’s Stacey Cato, each panelist, who attended a local community college or technical school, shared how pursuing their degrees or certificates at their schools had changed their lives for the better and encouraged everyone in the audience not to be afraid of taking that next step.

Scholarships were awarded to two area residents, James Lewis and Courtney Brock, and then Cole took to the stage for a fun night filled with country music.

The CMT Empowering Education tour wrapped up on Wednesday night in Blount County at Pellissippi State Community College.

For more information on CMT Empowering Education, visit www.cmtempoweringeducation.com.

Erin McCullough may be reached at emccullough@tullahomanews.com.