2016 Research and Creative Activities Day

Spring semester at Tennessee Tech is always full of high energy fun with numerous events and activities almost every day.  One event that stands out is the annual Research Day, where students celebrate and showcase original research and creative efforts.  On Thursday, April 7, Roaden University Center will be packed with students standing beside their respective posters eagerly waiting to describe their latest scholarly discoveries to any interested person who passes by.  The work presented is never perfect, but always interesting and typically high quality.

Research Day 2015

Tennessee Tech was recently reclassified by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching as a Doctoral-Research University.  This important symbolic recognition reflects the maturation of Tennessee Tech as a university and the relevance of research to all the groups we serve.

Occasionally, I am questioned about the need for research on a university campus.  After all, aren’t we here primarily to teach students, not conduct research?  Certainly, there are both traditional two-year and four-year colleges as well as online institutions that award degrees by focusing exclusively on the one-way dissemination of information.  I am proud to say, Tennessee Tech is not one of them!

When universities are at their very best, they do two fundamentally simple tasks well.  First, they CREATE and DISSEMINATE knowledge. Second, they IDENTIFY and DEVELOP human talent.  Faculty led research and scholarship is the only single activity I know that accomplishes both of those objectives.

We all recognize that the best way to really learn something is by doing it.  The relationship between a student and a faculty mentor in the context of research or scholarly activities is most similar to that of an apprentice to a master craftsman.  The student invariably not only learns firsthand through personal discovery, but more importantly develops the complete set of skills necessary to become an independent professional.

In that sense, research is not a sideline or distraction, but rather the ultimate educational experience.  If you doubt that, spend some time with the students in the RUC on April 7.  I promise that their knowledge will impress you, but their passion and enthusiasm absolutely will convince you of the importance of research on a university campus.

Go Eagles!

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FOCUS Act will improve Tennessee’s universities

I wanted to share this opinion piece that I wrote about the FOCUS Act. It ran in today’s edition of the Tennessean.


FOCUS Act will improve Tennessee’s universities

The FOCUS Act, a bill currently not familiar to most Tennesseans, will produce six public universities far superior in quality to those you see today.

So what should Tennesseans know? Why should you care?

Within the past six years, Tennessee has emerged as a national leader in higher education. In order to continue our state’s leadership in this area, we must hold higher education accountable for fulfilling its primary role: to provide relevant educational opportunities to fuel the state’s economy.

Starting with the 2010 Complete College Tennessee Act, Tennessee committed to student success and  would no longer tolerate poor retention and graduation rates in our public colleges and universities. The act established a funding formula which incentivized colleges and universities to successfully graduate students, and required public colleges and universities to provide students with reliable expectations for transferring credits.

Gov. Haslam quickly followed by introducing Drive to 55 and its ambitious goal of reaching 55 percent of Tennessee adults with a post-secondary degree or certificate by 2025. A major push toward that goal came with Tennessee Promise, which provides free community or applied technology college tuition to any Tennessee high school graduate.

The next step in Tennessee’s 21st century higher education effort involves restructuring the governance of the six public universities currently under the Tennessee Board of Regents and charges the remaining Board of Regents to place a sharper focus on community and technology colleges.

A bill, submitted to the Tennessee General Assembly as the Focus on College and University Success (FOCUS) Act, involves Austin Peay State University, East Tennessee State University, Middle Tennessee State University, Tennessee State University, Tennessee Tech University and the University of Memphis. While maintaining state control, the FOCUS Act allows each public university to establish its own independent state university board.

As historic as this proposed new structure is (the current TBR has been around for over 40 years), the question for most Tennesseans is likely, “Why should I care?” This may appear like a lot of furniture being rearranged, but for what benefit?

Higher education is a different enterprise than when the TBR was created in 1972. Then, state funding provided 70-80 percent of universities’s budgets. Now only 20-30 percent comes from the state. This means that public universities must now aggressively pursue students by providing the most valuable educational experience for their tuition dollars. While the tuition sticker price for students has gone up, the ultimate value of a relevant college degree in today’s world economy has never been higher.

Although some disagree, I believe competition produces good results for students because it leads to stronger, more relevant and cost-effective institutions. However, that achievement requires a different governance structure that provides each institution autonomy to move freely and respond quickly to the changing dynamics and demands now placed on higher education.

The current structure, designed for control and stability, served us well in the past. However, now we need speed and agility. Local autonomy is important because the educational markets for these six universities are very different. The market for the University of Memphis is very different than that for Tennessee Tech or East Tennessee State.

So why should Tennesseans care?

The ability to become the best university possible is ultimately what the FOCUS Act promises.

You will see universities able to thoughtfully and quickly adapt to changing public needs, providing the most relevant, cost-effective educational opportunities to drive Tennessee’s future economies.

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Inclement weather

I wanted to share with you the process Tech uses to obtain information that I use in deciding whether to close the campus. I take this decision very seriously and want to help everyone understand what information goes into reaching it.

Throughout the night, I am in constant contact with our head of facilities and our campus police chief, who serves as our campus liaison with city and county authorities. We also have regular communication and input from each college’s dean, Faculty Senate leaders and others in the university administration to ensure we have the most updated and relevant information in order to make an informed decision.

 Once I get this information about campus and the Cookeville area, the decision is made based on:

  • campus conditions
  • the ability to create safe ways to enter buildings (starting with each building’s ADA-compliant entrances)
  • information about conditions in Cookeville

The potential impact on commuters is a significant consideration, but ultimately difficult to accurately determine due to the diversity of originating locations. When we advise students and staff to use their discretion, we are letting you know that, no matter the conditions on campus and in Cookeville, you must make the final decision for yourself based on your individual circumstances.

If you do decide to exercise caution and not come to campus, know that the university has processes in place in case you feel you are being unfairly treated due to any absence due to inclement weather.

For students, if you need to miss class due to the inclement weather, contact your professor to let them know. If you think you have been unfairly penalized for the absence, the university has procedures in place (TTU Policy No. 301: TTU Student Complaint).

For employees, you need to contact your supervisor if you can’t make it to campus due to inclement weather and use the appropriate leave time. 

Throughout the day, facilities crews have been, and continue to be, hard at work clearing more areas of campus and more entrances into buildings. If you encounter any unsafe conditions, please report it to TTU facilities at 931-372-3226.

Go Eagles!

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Tech’s Greatest Achievement?

Turning 100 years old is a big deal!  We officially started celebrating Tennessee Tech’s centennial last March and still have a few months to enjoy with the dedication of Centennial Plaza, a formal gala, and spring commencement.  One hundred years of Tennessee Tech history and tradition gives us much to celebrate proudly.

However as we begin to wind down our celebration, it begs the question, what will the next 100 years of Tennessee Tech look like?  When our successors start celebrating the bicentennial in 2115, what will they see in retrospect that was truly significant in the life of this great university?  I am reminded, as I was told, of a recent interview with Shimon Peres, the 92-year-old former president and two time prime minister of Israel.  When asked to name his greatest achievement he simply responded, “I don’t know. I haven’t done it yet.”  He went on to opine that “old age is when your achievements outnumber your dreams.”

Wow, what an inspirational attitude of optimism and confidence!  I feel that exact same way about Tennessee Tech.  Despite some tremendous accomplishments over the past 100 years, our greatest achievements are yet to be realized.  I feel it as I experience the creativity, passion and enthusiasm of our students every day.  I see it in the genius and diligence of our faculty like Ambareen Siraj, associate professor in computer science, who was just awarded a $3.95 million cybersecurity grant from the National Science Foundation.  I also see it demonstrated in the recent recognition of Tennessee Tech University as a Doctoral Research University by the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education.  At every turn, we continue to be tangibly reminded that Tennessee Tech faculty and students are prepared to soar.  We successfully compete with the best because we confidently aspire to be the best.

Yes, we have much to celebrate, but even more to look forward to.  You will hear much more soon regarding Governor Haslam’s FOCUS Act and its creation of an independent board of trustees for Tennessee Tech.  Also, please mark January 26 on your calendars for the unveiling of TechWall in the Roaden University Center.  We also will begin sharing key messages in the university’s new brand story, complete with a new university academic logo. Here’s to the second century of Tennessee Tech achievements!

Go Eagles!

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Long Ball

In baseball, home runs excite fans because they are relatively rare, unpredictable, and most often literal game changers. They immediately stir strategy and raise stakes. The Cookeville Higher Education Campus promises to be that same type of game changer for higher education in the Upper Cumberland region.

When the Tennessee Board of Regents announced the unprecedented partnership of Tennessee Tech University, Nashville State Community College and Volunteer State Community College to create the Cookeville Higher Education Campus, we as partners put the needs of students and communities ahead of everything else. TBR Chancellor John Morgan called it an unprecedented amplification of the state’s focus on students.

At CHEC, Tennessee Tech has become the managing partner, allowing all three institutions the ability to offer educational and training programs appropriate to the changing needs of local students and industry. Students who may have never imagined earning a degree or certificate was possible now have a one-stop shop for information, testing, advisement, admission and classes, plus transfer advice.

Tennessee is leading the nation in post-secondary degree completion initiatives. We look toward meeting the increasing workforce demands of the 21st century as jobs are rapidly expanding within the state. Innovative new educational models like CHEC are needed to meet these additional demands and lower the energy barrier for more students to succeed.

Although in a much different operational context, the CHEC initiative is strikingly similar in many ways to the founding of Tennessee Polytechnic Institute exactly 100 years ago. I believe the founding fathers of Tennessee Tech would be very proud to see that legacy of educational access continue to expand well beyond their contemporary vision in 1915.

Just as the African proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together,” we look forward to a long and productive relationship with our CHEC partners. Ultimately, the students will be the real winners.

Go Eagles!


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University of Makers

Group_SAE_Formula_Team_28MAR15_00010Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the National Week of Making kickoff event at the White House hosted by the Office of Science and Technology Policy. This past year, thanks to the leadership of Dr. Vahid Motevalli, associate dean of engineering, Tennessee Tech was one of the first of now approximately 70 leading universities around the country to join the Make Schools alliance.

The Maker Movement is an interesting and exciting phenomenon bringing together communities of entrepreneurs, inventors, innovators, educators and political leaders of all ages from all sorts of disciplinary backgrounds such as art, design, science, engineering, advanced manufacturing and business. They coalesce around the shared passion for making things that solve problems and help people. Makers aspire to possibly launch the next Apple, Google, Microsoft, Garmin or Facebook, but what fuels them is the fundamental, natural human instinct to invent and innovate. It is the quintessential essence of American ingenuity.

The Maker Movement is about creating something, anything, of tangible value to offer the broader community. Modern tools like virtual reality, 3-D CAD and 3-D printers are now becoming more affordable and accessible to provide rapid prototyping of new ideas. We are now beginning to see “makerspaces” popping up around the country in schools, public libraries, community centers and university campuses.

I invite you to visit Tech’s new makerspace, iCube (Imagine-Inspire-Innovate), located on the third floor of the Volpe Library. A collaborative partnership of the Colleges of Engineering and Business, along with the Office of Research and Economic Development, the iCube is an open-access makerspace equipped with state-of-the-art design technology for students from any disciplinary major on campus. The technology is cool, but the most exciting part of iCube for me is seeing 40-50 students working in teams to create the next best thing. Some of those projects go on to compete in EagleWorks, TTU’s version of Shark Tank, and ultimately some will go on to achieve commercial success beyond TTU.

As a brand, the Maker Movement may be the new national trend, but Tennessee Tech has been in that business for 100 years. Tech always has produced makers. They are our graduates who are inspired to innovate, solve practical problems and produce products of value for their companies, communities and personal enjoyment. It’s exciting to witness the TTU tradition now becoming mainstream as we inspire the next generation of student innovators and entrepreneurs.

Go Eagles!

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Seriously, A Blog Post about Budgets?!

budgetGraphic-605x1386Even a short conversation regarding budgets can have the effect of a commercial strength sedative.

Although annual budgets seldom reflect accurate year-end expenditures, the value of a well-designed budget process for institutional stability and consistent progress toward strategic goals cannot be overstated. The old sayings “put your money where your mouth is” or “follow the money” are always true.

Ultimately, what we resource and how we do it identifies our true priorities regardless of what might be said.

Clearly, the current practice of incremental budgeting based on historic practices will not adequately support future institutional progress.

With that in mind, along with my belief that resources are best managed and invested wisely at the level where the work is being done, we initiated an effort over a year ago to create a new budget model and process for Tennessee Tech. During this time, the Dean’s Council and the Budget Advisory Committee made up of faculty, staff, and administrators have been working with the Huron Consulting Group to identify and refine potential budget models to best fit our current needs and future aspirations.

Our current budget model offers these characteristics:

  • Academic and administrative budgets roll forward automatically within the financial system each year, and once established, they have not been regularly evaluated.
  • Budgets serve as “expense authority” controls and do not focus on unit-level revenue generation.
  • Variation in year-over-year budgets is limited to decisions made by top leadership in conjunction with recommendations from the strategic planning and budget advisory committees.
  • Presently, funding requests are not based on established metrics.
  • Budgets have not been regularly evaluated by a central authority.
  • The budget cycle is not governed by a dedicated budget office, but rather by resources across the Business Office.

Many of our current budget’s characteristics do not support Flight Plan goals. So with that motivation, we are looking at an incentive-based model that allocates revenues to units, rewards performance, and is reflective of the university’s resource allocation and budget model guiding principles.

The new budget model should focus on these features:

  • Increased transparency of school and college budgets
  • Greater empowerment to deans for strategic growth
  • Revenue streams allocated to units based on student instruction, enrollment, and degree production
  • Unit incentives for focus on growing revenue and controlling expense budgets
  • An infrastructure and reinvestment pool to enable senior leadership to make strategic investments

It is time to give a status update on our budget model work and ask for broader review and discussion within the entire campus community. This is still a work in progress, and your input will help shape the final model.

Please join us for a Campus Budget Forum on Tuesday, April 14, from 9 to 11 a.m. in Derryberry Hall Auditorium. The event is open to the entire campus community.

I am very appreciative to all the deans and committee members who have diligently thought through all the issues and circumstances involved. At this point, I feel very good about the proposed model but realize some of the finer detail and related institutional behaviors may require some time for adjustment. Changing an age-old practice like how we budget is not an easy thing to do, but ultimately it may be one of the most important decisions we make that allows Tennessee Tech to become all it can be.

Please take the time to review the budget model as it is disseminated and openly discussed. Your thoughts and opinions will be most helpful at this next stage of evaluation.

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Big Dreams, Humble Beginnings

TTU-Centennial-CharterDayOn March 27, 1915, Tennessee Governor Thomas Rye signed the charter establishing Tennessee Polytechnic Institute in Cookeville, Tennessee.

However, the effort to establish a school, college, or university in Cookeville had begun several years earlier. Cookeville’s remote location and meager population (less than Tech’s current student enrollment) made it an unlikely site to build Tennessee’s newest educational institution specializing in “technical education” and teacher training.

Although there are numerous ambiguities, inconsistencies, and curiosities contained within the historical record, three truths stand clear.

Firstly, Tennessee Tech University would not be here today if not for 10 local citizens, led by Jeremiah Whitson along with a few dozen others, who invested time, money, and property to establish the University of Dixie, which soon became TPI.

Secondly, TPI faced hardship and financial austerity from the very beginning. TPI’s mission to provide educational access and opportunity to people throughout the Upper Cumberland necessitated low student tuition and fees since the average family income was less than $1,000 annually.

Lastly, just as it was for a newly created state institution, politics and public sentiment continue to play a significant role in shaping our 100-year history.

With 18 acres of undeveloped land, one academic building (Derryberry Hall), and two dormitories (Bartoo and Kittrell), TPI opened its doors to 19 students in fall 1916. Today, Tennessee Tech University’s campus exceeds 250 acres with about 100 buildings and enrolls more than 11,000 students pursuing bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in more than 40 different fields of study. Over the past 100 years, TTU has produced more than 78,000 alumni who have gone on to successful careers and productive lives.

Yes, we have much to celebrate as we reflect on our proud heritage. However, this dream is far from over!

What will our academic descendants say about us 100 years from now during the Bicentennial celebration? How will we keep higher education affordable and encourage more students to continue their educations? How will we continue to increase the value of a Tennessee Tech education for every student, while state funding continues to decline? Education has never been as critical to our nation’s future economic and national security as it is today. The challenges are many, but just like with our TPI founding fathers, failure is not an option. I take great confidence in their successful efforts that got us to this Centennial and know that Tennessee Tech will continue to survive and thrive for many generations to come.

Whether you have been a part of the university for decades, years, or months, the more you learn about the people whose passion helped shaped this place, the more you will understand it and feel a part of it. At our Centennial website, you will find a wealth of personal stories and information. It’s possible you’ll find a connection with a personality, educational philosophy or event that reminds you that our mission remains to create knowledge and provide educational access and opportunity in a manner that improves people’s lives.

Here’s to making dreams come true for another 100 years!

Go Eagles!





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TTU_9763This past week has been one of the most unusually beautiful and challenging in the 100-year history of Tennessee Tech University. Nature often humbles us and forces us to reassess our priorities and plans. Although any record of campus closings are hard to come by, canceling classes and closing the TTU campus for an entire week due to wintry weather conditions appears to be without precedent in everyone’s recollection. In fact, TTU folklore says that TTU will cancel classes only when the snow reaches the eagle on top of Derryberry Hall. Well, I guess that myth was busted soundly this past week!

As an old chemistry professor, it is completely against my instinct and nature to give up a single minute of class time, but as president I understand my duty to make a decision that gives priority to the safety and well-being of students, faculty and staff. Although the decisions to close campus each day were difficult, I was very proud of the process we followed in making those calls. Regular communication and input from the academic deans, Faculty Senate leaders, campus police, campus facilities and grounds, dining services, National Weather Service, Tennessee Department of Transportation, Cookeville Emergency Management and others ensured that we had the most updated and relevant information possible to make an informed decision. Thanks to the excellent work of Associate Vice President Karen Lykins and her staff, the campus received regular and timely announcements regarding campus status and class schedules.

Despite being officially closed, the campus was far from inactive. Essential campus services had to be maintained for the comfort and safety of more than 2,000 students living on campus. We owe a special thank you to all of the facilities, grounds, SSC custodial services, Chartwells dining services, Health Center, police, Fitness Center and library staff who went well beyond the norm under difficult circumstances to keep necessary services operating. Once again, TTU staff showed how awesome they are by doing everything that needed to be done with a great attitude and obvious personal pride in the Tech campus and TTU students.

Social media was burning up throughout the week with questions, comments, suggestions, pictures and jokes. #TechYeah emerged as the proud campus rallying cry on Twitter to unite students, faculty and staff in this shared experience. Classes may have been suspended for the week, but I dare say much learning occurred nonetheless.

For all of you who worked much longer hours in the unusually harsh environment to serve the rest of us, thank you. You have demonstrated the true spirit of Tennessee Tech for all of us. I am delighted to recognize each of you as the first recipients of the #TechYeah Award for Service.

Go Eagles!

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Memphis to Mountain City

300x200-memphisMountain-graphicHave you ever really looked at the official University seal for Tennessee Tech? Chances are, if you are like most of us, you have glanced at it on occasion but never really considered the relevance of its symbolism.

One of the more subtle, yet nevertheless intriguing, elements in the seal is the outline of the state of Tennessee with a star signifying the location of Tennessee Tech. Interestingly, TTU is almost equidistant between the two most extreme corners of our beloved state. This may have been coincidental to our founding fathers, but for Tennessee’s only technological university, our location seems not only appropriate but quite fortuitous.

By location, mission, vision and name itself, Tennessee Technological University has been designated and challenged to serve the entire state of Tennessee from Memphis to Mountain City. This challenge is greater and more relevant than ever due to the ever-increasing demand for technological expertise in every community across the state to enable Tennesseans to compete for jobs in a worldwide economy. This means that it is no longer sufficient to simply welcome everyone to our beautiful Cookeville campus. To achieve our statewide mission, we are now compelled to create new opportunities, taking our signature programs throughout the state to the greatest extent possible. If we don’t, someone else most certainly will.

ttuSeal-300x200Some of our statewide effort is well established already with existing 2+2 programs in McMinnville, Crossville, Chattanooga, Lynchburg, Oak Ridge, Knoxville, Harriman and Oneida. Additionally, we have recently entered into partnership with East Tennessee State University to offer an engineering program in the tri-cities and are currently requesting approval to offer the doctorate in nursing practice jointly with ETSU.

It is clear that our footprint must continue to expand geographically as we also explore new creative opportunities to deliver more STEM programs and provide technological assistance to communities throughout Tennessee. Opportunities are plentiful with many potential partners who are eager to work with us. However, not every opportunity that pops up is ready for primetime. So we will continue to explore, evaluate and test these opportunities with all due diligence as they come along to fulfill our mission as Tennessee’s technological university.

In general, these opportunities neither change who we are nor what we do. They simply provide us a bigger stage on which to perform. A few exciting possibilities are currently under consideration. We hope to share more information with everyone in the near future as those projects progress.

Late this afternoon, we anticipate TBR approval of a partnership that impacts the entire region. Every faculty and staff member will receive the announcement through a TTUNews email as soon as the TBR releases the information.

Go Eagles!

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