Dr. Michael Torrence
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In 2012 I graduated from Volunteer State Community College with an Associates of Applied Science degree in Computer Information Systems. While I was a student, I worked as a Supplemental Instructor helping teach Visual BASIC, and as a graduate I worked in the Distributed Education department—formerly known as Distance Learning—under the purview of Dr. Michael Torrence. With his official title of Vice President of Academic Affairs, Dr. Torrence is involved with student support services and maintains an immense dedication to providing outstanding education to each and every student, regardless of age, race, gender, religion, socioeconomic status, or any other categorical class a person could be put into. 

Speaking personally, Michael has been a kind and supportive mentor to me over the years, and our conversations have been very influential. I have a feeling you’re going to find him as engaging as I do.

Kat Slagell

I hope that you have enjoyed this wintery break before returning to class. I took additional time off during the holiday season to spend time with my family and friends, and to reflect on lessons learned over last year. While I don’t personally make New Year’s Resolutions, it has been nice to focus on what I would like to accomplish in the future. 

Something I have always enjoyed about myself is how thoroughly I appreciate the things that interest me; one of these is theatre or performance. Years ago, my high school choral teacher David Collins introduced me to Michael Rutter who was at the time, in charge of recruiting supernumerary actors for the Nashville Opera Company. Supers, as they’re called, are on-stage actors that do not have any spoken or sung dialogue. Having enjoyed performing on stage during high school, I signed up and have been fortunate enough to be a part-time super for 7 years. 

Something that struck me immediately upon starting with the opera was how much more I enjoyed it than I thought I would, and how impressive of an operation it is to put on a professional performance. There are technicians that need to be queued to the music, set changes that need to be finished in seconds, actors that need to be gathered into places on time, and the director’s vision needs to be executed. This—and more—is accomplished by the Stage Manager, with the assistance of dozens of incredible people.

Kat Slagell was the production stage manager for the Nashville Opera company for many years, but has since left to pursue other endeavors. I have always appreciated Kat’s kindness, her ability to command large groups of people, and her no-nonsense approach to making sure everything gets done on time and on point. In 2016 while we were working on an English translation of Mozart’s Die Fledermaus, I sat and asked about her background in education and what it means to be a successful stage manager. Below are photos of Kat that I took backstage during La Bohéme, Die Fledermaus, and Don Giovanni.

Kat during  Die Fledermaus

Kat during Die Fledermaus

Kat during  La Bohéme

Kat during La Bohéme

Kat during  Don Giovanni

Kat during Don Giovanni

Omar Peña

The Adventure Science Center is a non profit in Nashville dedicated to educating children in the subjects of science and technology. Their stated mission is, “To open every mind to the wonders of science and technology, fostering a better understanding of ourselves and the world around us.” 

The center recently celebrated its 70th anniversary, and I had the pleasure of meeting with one of their educators—Omar Peña—to discuss the center, education, and technology. 

Omar is a Maker Space Educator in the Innovation Incubator at the center, where he guides sessions for students with 3D printing technologies, computer code, and electronics. I was interested to know more about the space, and Omar was kind to share part of his day to show me around while teaching me about interesting technologies. Without further ado, class is in session. 

  1. Adventure Science Center
  2. A History of 3D Printing
  3. NCLR Non-profit
  4. A beginner's guide to the Star Trek Universe
Julie G. Ezold


How do you inspire children to find elements and nuclear chemistry interesting? How do you present complicated information in an engaging way, and how do you captivate audiences to appreciate science, technology, engineering, art, and math subjects? 

In the summer of 2017, I visited the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in East Tennessee to learn more about their facility. Recently, the lab collaborated with international scientific organizations to create a new element - which has since been named Tennessine after the contribution of the individuals working at the lab. I was fortunate enough to meet with one of these individuals, Julie Ezold - the Californium-252 program manager at the facility. 

The Oak Ridge National Laboratory has played an integral role in nuclear research, from The Manhattan Project in the 1940s to the modern day synthesis of superheavy elements. The lab contains some of the most sophisticated and expensive equipment in the world, and I wanted to know more about what exactly a superheavy element is, what services the facility offers, and how they’re working with schools and communities to teach us about science. 

These questions and more were addressed in my conversation with Julie G. Ezold, the Cf-252 Program Manager at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. 

  1. Actinides
  2. Californium-252
  3. High Flux Isotope Reactor
  4. Tennessine
  5. Joint Institute for Advanced Materials
  6. Glenn Seaborg
  7. Yuri Oganessian
  8. Hot Cell Facility
  9. ORNL Internship
  10. US D.O.E Office of Sciences
  11. Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science
  12. Element 117 (Lawrence Livermore National Lab Video)
  13. Nuclear Grand Challenges
  14. Pint of Science
  15. Eclipse 2017 with ORNL at TTU
  16. USA Science & Engineering Festival
  17. STEM to STEAM
  18. The Muse Knoxville


Editorial Correction

  1. In the original broadcast of this episode, I stated the Oak Ridge National Laboratory is in West Tennessee; the lab is in East Tennessee. This has been corrected in the RSS feed.

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Introductory Class

The Pfahl Semester is a research-interview series with guests passionate about education. As your host and facilitator, I have met with experts and industry-leading individuals on how we as students learn and how we can collectively build the communities we want to live in.  Read more about this mission here.

In the first semester—dubbed Tennessee 101—, our learning will be facilitated through classes that include conversations with the following individuals:

  1. Julie G. Ezold: Californium-252 Program Manager at Oak Ridge National Laboratory
  2. A 3D printing wizard
  3. A nationally renowned stage manager
  4. A vice president of academic affairs at a local college
  5. A music instructor at an alternative early childhood school
  6. A successful business owner and restauranteur
  7. A charter school administrator
  8. A zoo educator
  9. A government official
  10. A philosophizing and academic dean of a private school

Classes will be made available bi-weekly from December 4th - April 6th, after which the series will return to production. If you or someone you know would like to be interviewed, please reach out through the contact form on this site. 

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