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‘A Bright Light:’ Business Professor Remembered for Positive Impact on Students

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Carolina Hammontree empowered Alma Aguilar and taught her to believe in herself.

Hammontree didn’t just reserve that for her students, but everyone she encountered on a daily basis.

“She built my confidence,” said Aguilar, a marketing major expected to graduate from Dalton State this semester. “She helped me not overthink and not to doubt myself so much. She taught me to be proud of myself. She was so passionate about encouraging and supporting her students, and it gave – not just me – but many people, hope.”

Hammontree, a lecturer in management in Dalton State’s Wright School of Business, died unexpectedly last week. She was 51.

The Wright School of Business will host a Celebration of Life memorial for Hammontree on Saturday, Oct. 30 at 11 a.m. in Goodroe Auditorium in Gignilliat Hall on campus. The Maria Carolina Duarte Hammontree Latina Business Scholarship has been created in her memory; those wishing to give may do so through the Dalton State Foundation at daltonstate.edu/giving or by calling 706-272-4473.

“She had so much light in her,” Aguilar said. “She was so happy for everyone, for their accomplishments, no matter how big or small. I really loved her. Anytime I have any doubt, I think of what she’d tell me, ‘You’ve got this. You’ll do great.’ It hit me really hard when I found out she’d passed away.”

Hammontree joined the faculty in spring of 2017, first as a part-time professor and then full-time in August of that year. She began her doctorate degree in leadership from the University of Tennessee and was working on her dissertation.

During her time at Dalton State, she had taught a variety of courses including International Business, The Environment of Business and Principles of Management. She encouraged her students both inside and outside the classroom to reach out for help, to be involved on campus and to network with other business professionals around the globe. She was instrumental in creating agreements and relationships between Dalton State and universities in Latin American countries.

“She was so lively in the classroom and tried to engage students on a personal level and go beyond what was just in the reading,” said Terry Brown, a finance and applied economics major expected to graduate in the spring. “She always found a way to tie our course material back to what was happening in our local community and to current events. If there were a student in the class from another country, she would make sure she was being inclusive and tie what we were learning back to current events and the culture in that country as well. She was always bringing the focus back to the student and finding a way to make it easier for us to learn. She took an individualistic approach to our education.”  

Hammontree encouraged Brown to become involved on campus, and he now serves as a student ambassador in the Wright School of Business as well as president of the Wright Club for business students.

“She was a mentor to me,” Brown said. “She encouraged me to take an active role in my education and in the Wright School of Business. She told us the importance of working on professional development and leadership skills. I wouldn’t have done these things had she not been there pushing me along.”

Hammontree also encouraged Aguilar to get involved by extending an invitation to be an intern with the Wright School of Business working on a plan to reach more high school students, specifically Hispanic students, to tell them the benefits of a college education. She is also the reason Aguilar wrote her story, which appeared in the Spanish-language newspaper, La Voz.

“I couldn’t be more grateful she had reached out to me for that internship,” Aguilar said. “She was a mentor to me, and she was always there for me. I remember once I missed a meeting. I felt terrible. I was going through a lot, and she completely understood. She said she was proud of me regardless. When I wrote my story as a Hispanic student, she read it and told me I inspired her to keep working hard for her Hispanic students. That touched me. I feel like she saw me. She made me realize I could reach out to my professors.”

Hammontree was known for her passion for helping other students, said Dr. Margaret Venable, president of Dalton State.

“Carolina was one of the most passionately positive and kind people I have ever known,” Venable said. “Here is an example of an opening sentence from a recent email from her, ‘Dr. Venable, I hope you are having a beautiful day.’ She was passionate about servicing our students, and she was beautiful from the inside out. This is a tremendous loss, not only for Dalton State but the world.”

Dr. Marilyn Helms, dean of the Wright School of Business, first met Hammontree in 2002 when Helms was a faculty member at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga teaching in the Master of Business Administration program and Hammontree was a student in the program.

“She was an outstanding student and deeply concerned and interested in the economic and political conditions in Venezuela,” Helms said. “When we approached her about co-authoring a research paper based on her observations and insights, she gladly agreed. Our publication was titled ‘The Challenge of Venezuela: A SWOT Analysis,’ which was published in the Journal of Competitiveness Review in 2006.”

It was a decade later before Helms heard from Hammontree again, after she had married, Charles, and was raising her daughter, Carole.

“She had always gravitated to higher education,” Helms said. “I talked with her about teaching part-time and even considering returning to school to complete her doctorate. She’d already worked on our research project, so I knew she’d have no difficulties with the doctoral coursework, dissertation or publishing.

“She started teaching in January 2017 and was a natural from the first day,” she said. “She clearly became an energetic favorite with students and a beloved colleague. She mentored all our students and was a favorite among our Latina students whose culture and background she understood well.”

Hammontree had also earned her bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Carabobo in Venezuela. She worked for nearly 20 years for Venoco, an oil and petrochemical transitional organization in Venezuela. It was through her position at Venoco she came to the United States to learn English and obtain her master’s degree. After completing her degree, she returned to her home country for several years before moving to the U.S.

Hammontree and her husband owned Hammontree Construction, a real estate, remodeling and construction business.

“I couldn’t have been more grateful to know her,” Aguilar said. “I know she’d be very proud of me graduating. She was a bright light. She lit up the room. She was very loved by everybody, and she will be missed.”

Hammontree’s family will receive friends at the Chattanooga Funeral Home from 3 until 6 p.m. on Saturday. The funeral will be at 6.

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