Anatomy of Great Minds

We just celebrated the day set aside in memory of Martin Luther King Jr. So, how does one become a Martin Luther King Jr., Albert Einstein, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Edison, Jonas Salk, Rachel Carson, Leonard Bernstein, Orville Wright, John Steinbeck, Marie Curie, Pablo Picasso, Bill Gates, Abraham Lincoln, Steven Spielberg, T.S. Elliot, Steve Jobs, Walt Disney or Mark Zuckerberg?

Are great minds developed through somewhat normal circumstances or are they random accidents of nature that too rarely and briefly grace the world stage to tilt our collective energies toward new opportunities and challenges? More to the point, is the next King, Einstein or Jobs gracing the campus of Tennessee Tech? Let’s consider the possibility and ask: “What is the best way to nurture that latent potential to its full capability?”

George Bernard Shaw is quoted as saying: “Other people see things and say why? But I dream things that never were and I say, why not?” I observe at least one common characteristic among any group of great thought leaders. They all seem to have an absolutely insatiable curiosity about life. They all seem to understand that ultimately a really good question can be more valuable than a hundred answers.

That really good question typically drove these unique individuals to be revolutionary rather than evolutionary in their thinking. Their path was riskier, but often more rewarding. Big dreams can easily become daydreams or, even worse, nightmares without personal sweat equity. “Big dreams plus hard work” may sound overly simplistic, but it is the basic equation that often produces greatness.

On our campus, I see your hard work. Plus, a strong work ethic is already a proud tradition of Tennessee Tech graduates.

Now it is time to challenge ourselves to courageously and thoughtfully couple that hard work to big ideas. As TTU alumnus Barry Wilmore, commander of the International Space Station, told our December graduates: “Who knows where you may go?”

Go Eagles!

To see what Barry sees, click here!

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Salute to our Veterans!

ROTCHomecoming2014As I frequent our country’s busy airports, I see more and more spontaneous applause and standing ovations for active duty service men and women as they board and deplane. It’s a great pleasure to see respect and honor given every day, not just on formal celebration days, to these special men and women.

We pause this week to formally celebrate Veterans Day. This is more than appropriate, but what we owe these special men and women can never be relegated to a single day. Unlike former generations, less than one percent of us respond to the call to protect and defend our fundamental way of life and the freedoms we hold so dear. So, those who voluntarily choose to stand in harm’s way, prepared to risk everything for the rest of us, are truly special individuals deserving of our respect and honor in return.

I recently enjoyed visiting with three of Tennessee Tech’s most celebrated veterans: General Carl Stiner (ret.), General Don Rodgers (ret.), and Admiral Vinson Smith (ret.). These great leaders represent so many others who left Tennessee Tech to serve our country with dignity and valor while also promoting their alma mater to the rest of the world. In fact over the past 60 years, the Tennessee Tech ROTC program has produced seven general officers.

I am delighted to report that the TTU ROTC program not only survived last year’s threat of closure, but has come soaring back stronger for the challenge. With the help of additional university scholarships and a new recruiting coordinator, our ROTC enrollment has nearly doubled since last year, with a higher percentage of cadets in the high demand areas of engineering and nursing. This summer our junior/senior cadets scored third best in the nation in their tactical knowledge and retention of material taught in their junior year. We recently moved the ROTC program into new housing in a more centrally prominent location near the quad, and we are about to complete construction of the new 42-foot rappel tower for cadet training. Yes, Tennessee Tech ROTC is alive and well and positioned to produce many more talented and dedicated service men and women in the future.

Please join me in thanking all of our Tech ROTC graduates, and all U.S. military veterans for their selfless service to a very grateful nation. May God bless the United States of America and those that serve.

Go Eagles!

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Another Great Start

FootballvsKentuckyChristian_CB_28AUG14_00027Begin with the end in mind.” Stephen Covey

The first couple of weeks of this 2014-15 academic year indicate an exciting and productive year ahead. The energy level on campus is contagious with student activities in every corner, at all times of the day. Although the 2014 freshman class is not the largest, it may well be the smartest, with the approximately 1,900 freshmen averaging just short of 24 on the ACT.

We have also realized a 2 percent enrollment increase overall, partially due to another increase in first year retention, now at 76 percent. That is a six percentage point increase in freshmen retention in just two years! The strategic budgetary investment we made two years ago has already been paid back by the associated tuition revenue, and we have more than 100 additional continuing students making successful progress toward their degrees.

With the recent release of the 2014 U.S. News and World Report College Ratings, Tennessee Tech finds itself once again in good company and very familiar territory, ranked #34 among southern regional universities overall, #13 among southern public universities. We continue to be recognized as one of the most affordable, high value universities anywhere, with the best return on investment among Tennessee institutions.

Yes, as we head into our Centennial Celebration, this year promises to be one of the best for Tennessee Tech. We are blessed with tremendous potential and great opportunities. To help you keep track of all the many ongoing projects and activities, please refer to the new blog Best wishes to everyone for another great school year.  Let’s plan to finish as well as we have started.

Go Eagles!

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Thank you

I just want to take a moment to thank everyone who rolled up their sleeves last Friday to participate in the 2014 edition of TTU Campus Beautification Day.  Approximately 400 TTU faculty, staff, and student volunteers spread 1,800 tons of mulch and collected about 350 bags of leaves, twigs, weeds, and litter.  Your physical effort is evident in a more attractive campus, but more importantly your enthusiasm and positive attitude continues to build a community bound by a common purpose to make Tennessee Tech the best university in the region.  Enjoying lunch with a lot of laughs after working outside together was a special time for us all.

I hope you enjoyed the day as much as I did.  I particularly wish to thank Debbie Combs, TTU Dining, and Kevin Tucker and the grounds crew for all the planning and preparation that went into making last Friday possible.  Everyone at TTU is important and contributes to making Tennessee Tech great.  Thank you for everything you do each and every day.

If you would like to download free photos of cleanup day taken by TTU photographers, click here.

Go Eagles! 


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Team Effort for a Clean House

Appearance matters and perceptions become reality. Just as my mother always said, “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.” Whenever I visit another university, I enjoy getting up early for a run through the campus before it comes to life. You actually can get a pretty good feel for the university in the quiet of the early morning as you absorb the look and feel of the campus itself.

Research into why students select a particular university to attend consistently indicates that campus appearance is one of top reasons behind cost and academic reputation. And, of course, since cost and reputation are heavily influenced by enrollment pressure, other factors such as campus appearance become even more strategically important.

However, we realize that it is much more than that. Our campus culture and appearance is a direct reflection of our core values, mission and vision as an institution constantly reaching for excellence in everything we do. Make no mistake, Tennessee Tech makes a statement every day by the appearance of our beautiful campus, and the public pays attention to the impression we make.

On Friday, August 8, the second annual campus cleanup day has been scheduled. Last year was a tremendous success with approximately 400 campus volunteers pitching in to clean up our campus before the students returned for fall semester.  T.E.C.H.—Team Effort for a Clean House — is this year’s opportunity for TTU faculty and staff volunteers to take a short break from their normal routine, wear some work clothes, get their hands a little dirty, and enjoy this awesome community of colleagues and friends. It is our chance to collectively show pride in our campus and the statement it makes to the outside world about who we are and what we are all about. Click the video above to see last year’s fun. I hope you can join us again this year.

Go Eagles!

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Reflections on the End of Another Year

Photo Shoot CommencementOn Saturday, I’m pleased that Gov. Bill Haslam and State Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman will honor and encourage our more than 1,200 graduates. But the day really is about the personal journeys of each individual who walks across the stage. It’s about the first-generation graduate, as well as the student who followed her family’s legacy to become a third-generation graduate. It’s about the single mother who returned to school after decades to earn her degree. It’s about the student-athlete. For all, it’s about reflection and anticipation.

So it is a natural time for all of us on campus to look backward and forward.

Looking back, I see how our state and national awareness is growing. TTU ranks first in Tennessee with the best rate of return on investment. Over the course of a 20-year career, a TTU graduate can anticipate a higher return than if they went to Vanderbilt or UT-Knoxville. listed us as the “Most Underrated College” in Tennessee in a special report looking at universities in every state that are very accessible and maintain high quality. We share good company in that list, but I’d like to work toward getting off the list by building an even stronger national reputation. also recently ranked our Whitson-Hester School of Nursing one of the top five schools in the country based on affordability, academic quality, accessibility, and board exam pass rates.

In this past year, we’ve sharpened our focus on research and cross-disciplinary projects. We’ve also seen an increase in the number of students and faculty working together on research to earn national recognition. Discussions on entrepreneurship, innovation and economic development drive our ideas.

While the campus gets quieter after commencement, the anticipation and preparation for fall semester ramps up. Several projects will enhance our ability to attract and serve students.

We will make extensive progress on landscaping projects this summer. We will add more parking spaces on campus and introduce a shuttle system. Expanded food options, including the already successful Which Wich sandwich shop, will be joined by Chick-fil-A and a roving food truck. Our website is undergoing a major transformation, and web publisher training is underway. The responsive design will offer better navigation and more flexibility. After launching this summer, there will be opportunities for additional input from campus.

We are adding more faculty to provide improved course availability in high demand areas of the curriculum. Fourteen additional advisors are also being hired to provide better access to academic advising and improve student success.

Our Centennial celebration officially starts in March 2015, but in late summer you will begin to see items with the Centennial logo and special vintage logos. Work on Centennial Plaza (South Patio) should begin shortly, and final design work on our new Student Fitness Center will be well underway by this fall. A new state-of-the-art “jumbotron” video board is being installed in the Hooper Eblen Center and will be fully operational for freshmen convocation in August.

Congratulations and God speed to all of our 1,200-plus 2014 graduates! To our returning students and new freshmen, I hope you have an exciting and productive summer. We look forward to seeing your reaction to your Tennessee Tech campus this fall.

Go Eagles!

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Avoid looking for a job. Create one.

Some TTU graduates in the near future won’t have to spend as much time polishing their resumes; they’ll be busy creating the jobs that inspire them.

The Volpe Library third floor is on the verge of becoming home to an innovation and discovery center that will change the way our university prepares and teaches students. We don’t have a name for it yet, but the goal is set: Create an open space that focuses on innovation, discovery and entrepreneurship. When you are there, your role won’t be confined by student, faculty or staff status. You can choose to be an innovator, inventor, entrepreneur, collaborator, mentor or partner.

It’s an ambitious plan, but this change represents how our campus culture is changing and is supposed to change. No matter what your major, department or college, using this space can invigorate your experience at TTU.

I encourage you to visit to see one way this type of space can evolve. The University of Texas, Arlington’s CXI Space is also a great example. I expect our space to be similar: ambitious, transformative and at first, unfamiliar.

Our plans include a virtual reality cave, a research and development lab, flexible team space, lab space and classroom space, along with design and fabrication stations with equipment including 3-D printers.

With this project, the College of Business and the College of Engineering are creating a model for cross-disciplinary collaboration. The BusinessMedia Center will have a presence in the space working with a lab where R&D professional researchers will work alongside undergraduate students.

For more details on this project, I encourage you to look at this FAQ. We know that this will give our graduates a competitive advantage in the job market, but our goal is to have more students creating jobs for themselves and others.

This project aligns itself with Flight Plan’s four focus areas. For example, it improves the undergraduate experience by giving students guidance in innovation and entrepreneurship. again recently ranked Tennessee Tech #1 among all universities in Tennessee for return on investment with an annual ROI of 8.4 percent and 20-year net return of more than $350,000! This project can raise that ROI and create a distinctive type of graduate that no one else in the state can claim. I look forward to the day when Tennessee Tech actually produces fewer graduates who need a job by graduating more who create jobs for themselves and others.

Go Eagles!


The video above was taken from an interview with Arden Bement, former National Science Foundation director, when he was on campus for the College of Engineering’s annual Wallace S. Prescott & James Seay Brown Distinguished Lecture Series. He was asked about where innovation comes from and how it can be inspired.

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Tech Shatters the Iron Triangle

The sad irony is the value of a college degree in our competitive global economy is greater than ever while access to that degree seems far too limited for most people.

This modern dilemma has been coined the “Iron Triangle” of affordability, access and quality. Improvements in one side of the triangle can cause problems with another. Reducing costs can hurt both quality and access. Elevating quality can raise costs. Increasing access can dilute quality. Those points, frequently made by the U.S. Secretary of Education, are relevant across the nation and on our campus.

Generally, the tightening of state budgets along with inflation and heightened expectations for student experiences have pushed college tuition beyond the reach of many household incomes.

Even with significant assistance from federal and state financial aid as well as institutional scholarships, more than 70 percent of our nation’s graduates last year had student loans averaging more than $29,000 per borrower. The situation here in Tennessee is not much better with 58 percent of our graduates borrowing an average of about $22,000 each. To make matters worse, we know that it is generally taking more time for new graduates to successfully enter the workforce in this post-recession economy to begin repaying those student loans.

This is a national problem without an easy solution. Fortunately, the story here at Tennessee Tech is a positive outlier bucking the national trend so far. TTU has been consistently ranked as one of the most accessible and affordable universities in the country while providing a high quality educational experience to graduates that get good jobs at an 85 percent placement rate while carrying an average loan debt of only $6,400.

I am very proud of Tech’s current position in the higher education marketplace, but standing still is not a winning strategy going forward. We must be diligent in our efforts to control unnecessary costs while aggressively seeking improvements in quality at the same time. The balance among these often conflicting forces can be delicate, but Tennessee Tech has consistently proven itself up to that challenge.

Go Eagles!


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Thank You, Whoever You Are.

On one of my recent routine, early morning trips to Nashville for yet another meeting of some sort, I lined up at the drive-thru of one of my favorite local fast food establishments to grab and go. Interestingly in our world of multitasking and instant everything, fast food doesn’t even seem fast anymore. So while anxiously waiting in line, I was returning calls, checking messages, and generally thinking through the day ahead of me. What I was not doing was paying any attention to who was in line with me, unfortunately.

To my surprise when I finally arrived at the window to pay for my biscuit, I was greeted by a nice young man with a smile and a message. He informed me that the person in front of me in line had paid for my order. It took a second or two for that to sink in.

How unexpected. How kind. What a nice thing to do.

It is said that life is all about the dash that goes between the respective dates of birth and death. I don’t know who the person was who brightened my world that morning, but I am pretty sure that simple act of generosity is indicative of a dash worth emulating. Acts of kindness and generosity, whether random or by design, build up communities and make them exceptional. In the classic 1950 movie “Harvey,” Elwood P. Dowd said, “Years ago my mother used to say to me, she’d say, ‘In this world, Elwood, you must be’ – she always called me Elwood – ‘In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.’ Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.”

I am constantly reminded by visitors to Tennessee Tech about the friendliness of our campus. That is a source of pride for us, but also a reminder that it takes a constant commitment from all of us to take the time to do those little acts of kindness every day. A smile, hello, welcome, or “Can I help you” doesn’t cost much but pays huge dividends.

This week is Thanksgiving and we certainly have much to be thankful for. Now I can add one more to my list. To the kind stranger who paid for my breakfast, thank you for putting a smile on my face and reminding me of those things most important in life.

I wish everyone a happy and safe Thanksgiving.

Go Eagles!

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Not So Fast!

In case you have not heard the news, the proud 63-year-tradition of ROTC at Tennessee Tech continues! Thanks to tremendous support from Senators Alexander and Corker, Congressman Black, Governor Haslam and countless alumni and friends, the Army has reconsidered its plans to immediately close 13 ROTC units around the country including TTU. We officially will be placed on a two-year probation and be given the opportunity to prove once again that Tech is where we need to be.

This is all we have been asking—to have the chance to review the Army’s criteria, understand the expectations and strengthen our program in response. I am confident and fully committed to ensuring that ROTC remains at TTU for many years to come. I have come to know and appreciate our tremendous cadet corps even more in the past few weeks. I have no doubt they will continue to make us all proud and serve our country with honor. I applaud the Army’s change of position and commend them for doubling back and ultimately doing the right thing.

Thanks again for all your support.

For details about the Army’s plans for the next two years, please read the notice to members of Congress.

Go Eagles!

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