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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It’s Just Not Right!

So what is 63 years of loyal service producing more than 1,600 commissioned officers, including a 4-star general, two 3-stars, two 2-stars, a brigadier general, and a rear admiral worth in today’s world? Apparently, not much. That’s certainly the message I received loud and clear a couple of days ago with a cold, matter-of-fact call from the U.S. Army Cadet Command informing me of the Army’s decision to close the Tennessee Tech ROTC Battalion after more than 60 years.

As president of a state university, I am no stranger to the reality that leaders have to frequently make tough decisions.  However, generally the tougher the decision, the more important the process is by which the decision is made.  In this case, I completely disagree with the conclusion drawn behind closed doors, but I am even more justifiably angry and saddened by the process itself.  With more than 60 years of commitment to producing many of the U.S. military’s best leaders, Tennessee Tech has earned the respect and common courtesy of due process.  We were not consulted or notified prior to or during this review, nor were we given any opportunity to make any programmatic adjustments to better meet new Army expectations.  In fact, every indication has been that our unit was meeting the Army’s mission and in good standing with the Cadet Command.

Even now, I am unaware of the details of the criteria used to support the decision.  I assume it ultimately came down to dollars and numbers of cadets.  Unfortunately, quality is left out of that calculation.  What has always made the U.S. military so effective are the values embodied in the hearts and souls of individual soldiers.

The soldiers we produce choose careers that make the world a better place; they are problem solvers and protectors. Tennessee Tech produces the largest concentration of engineering, science and health care graduates in the region.  (TTU produces 40% of the engineers in Tennessee annually.) These are all disciplines desperately needed in today’s military.  But more importantly, TTU graduates embody the same values that make our military great.

We refuse to accept this situation without a fight.  We are aggressively working with our congressional delegation to reverse this unfortunate decision.  If you have any thoughts or just want to voice your support, please send your comments to  It’s a bad decision for the country and for TTU, but most of all, It’s Just Not Right!

Go Eagles!

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Words are still powerful

As we remind ourselves of the power and importance of free speech, I invite the campus community to mark Constitution Day with Tennessee Tech this evening. David Kopel, attorney and adjunct professor at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law, will discuss the Second Amendment at our annual Nolan Fowler Constitution Day address tonight at 6 p.m. in Derryberry Auditorium.

I expressed these thoughts last year, but they hold as true today as they did when our Founding Fathers wrote the document we will celebrate this evening.

The framers of our U.S. Constitution knew well how powerful words capture the hearts and minds of people. They knew from personal experience that information had to be free and accessible to all for any government to exist, as Abraham Lincoln later described it, “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” We are indeed blessed today by their wisdom in providing constitutional protection for freedom of speech within the First Amendment.

Certainly, there are limitations to the protection of free speech. For example, yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater when no fire exists is not protected due to the risk of undue harm. False advertising is another example of unprotected speech. For the most part, however, we enjoy the freedom to speak our mind in the United States, unlike many other parts of the world.

This freedom is good in that it encourages the free exchange of information and ideas valuable for public benefit. Of course, that does not mean everything said or written is valuable, worthwhile, or even truthful. Freedom of speech places a heavy responsibility on us as hearers or consumers of information. We must be able to intelligently and effectively evaluate what we hear before we decide what to do about it, if anything. This is particularly difficult in our world of 24/7 news cycles and 20-second sound bites, where the total amount of known information is doubling every one to two years. How do we separate the valuable information from all the background noise?

This is where it gets tricky on a personal level. We can decide to simply turn it off and only receive information we specifically request, which many choose to do in this age of information overload. The danger in this approach is that we become less aware, less informed and less capable of negotiating complex issues within our rapidly changing environment. The more difficult, but ultimately more beneficial option, is to intelligently filter and evaluate all information that we can reasonably digest.

Nowhere is this more evident than on a university campus, a clearinghouse of ideas and diverse opinions.  Yes, that sometimes means that nuggets of truth are interspersed with a lot of nonsense.  For that reason, think of the university as a proving ground for ideas, where the best ones survive the scrutiny of critical public review.  In that sense, we need to allow protected speech in order to sift out the very best ideas.  It is a process never fully completed, an ongoing experiment in progress.

Yes, words are powerful, and ideas can be transformative.  Thanks to our forefathers, we have the freedom to publicly speak and debate freely.  If you want to learn more about our constitutional right of free speech, check out Also, many students recently have asked me and other administrators about how we decide who can use our campus facilities. Our facilities use policy answers that question.

Go Eagles!

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Welcome back

Tech Clean Up Day    12 AUG 2013   TTU Photo/Dave Willis and Dean CarothersWelcome back. We’ve been waiting for you.

Over the past week, Tech has taken on the wonderful tempo of a new fall semester. Today, students are telling their parents farewell and moving into residence halls. We’re welcoming more than 2,100 freshmen at convocation Friday.

For me, the enthusiasm for the students’ return began last week, when more than 400 TTU faculty members, staff members and administrators got outside and worked together to beautify our grounds.

We collected 200 bags of weeds, twigs, leaves and compostable debris and filled 80 bags with litter. Working with a clean slate, we scattered the first 100 tons of mulch on freshly tidied flowerbeds and around more trees than I can count. Since that day, facilities and grounds staff members have continued the effort, adding another 100 tons of mulch at sites across campus. Their work day in and day out to maintain our beautiful campus seems a thankless job, but their constant efforts are very much appreciated.

In the midst of pulling weeds and cleaning up, we had a great time together as a campus community. Tennessee Tech employees are the heart of our campus, the ones teaching, guiding and serving our students day to day. I truly appreciate the spirit of helping and caring for Tech students that extends to getting your hands a little dirty.

We have a beautiful campus, one we hope new and returning students are proud to call home. We have dedicated faculty and staff who are serious about helping you succeed. Welcome back, everyone!

Go Eagles!

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What Do You See?

Having been exceptionally near-sighted most of my life, I have always been envious of anyone with excellent eyesight. Fortunately, I am blessed with corrective eyewear. However, I have observed that even people with perfect eyesight don’t always see the same things, or they look at something routinely, but never really see it.

The ability to see where you are going and what is directly in your path is valuable, but true vision is priceless. Isaac Newton once wrote to a colleague, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” He clearly was acknowledging the prior work of others in helping focus his own creative vision. We likewise benefit from the work of many giants before us as we focus on our current vision for Tennessee Tech. Like Newton and our own predecessors at Tennessee Tech, our task is not to rest on or recreate the past, but rather to create future opportunities and fulfill unrealized potential.

TTU historians Harvey Neufeldt and Calvin Dickinson acknowledged the work of those before us when they titled the university’s 75th anniversary commemorative book “The Search for Identity.” But they prefaced their book by saying the lack of agreement on identity was not a weakness, but evidence of efforts to continually define and redefine our mission to strive to achieve excellence. As we approach our centennial celebration, that same desire for excellence has brought us to a refined vision.

Flight Plan: Focused for the Future began this past fall with a simple charge to objectively assess our position within the competitive higher education marketplace. From that analysis has now emerged a defined set of initiatives and a clearer vision of the future for Tennessee Tech.

Although no vision statement is perfect and totally free from criticism, I believe this statement captures the traditional values, commitment to our students, and future aspirations of Tennessee Tech. I hope you agree. After all, we are Tennessee Tech. We aim high and refuse to settle for anything other than our best efforts.

Tennessee Tech will be nationally recognized as a leading technological university in the South, providing academic, economic and cultural leadership in the region and producing practical, ready-to-work graduates from a broad range of academic disciplines prepared to compete in a technologically driven world.

Go Eagles!

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Form Follows Function

IMG_3088eEvery so often many of us get the urge to rearrange the furniture in our homes. Sometimes we need to accommodate a new situation; sometimes it is just for change itself. I have observed that universities have similar tendencies.

While some may spend a lot of time analyzing organizational structures, I do not. This is not to say that organizational structures are unimportant. I have simply come to appreciate that the primary driver for institutional effectiveness is people, not structure.

With that in mind, I am delighted to announce the strategic appointments of two new leaders for Tennessee Tech, along with some organizational changes associated with their appointments. These changes are not rearrangements for the sake of change, but to improve the function and flow of the way our university works. Think of it more as architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s idea that “form follows function.”

Dr. Bahman Ghorashi began his new role as provost and vice president of academic affairs on July 1. He comes to Tech from Cleveland State University where he most recently served as dean of engineering. Dr. Ghorashi’s full curriculum vita can be found here.

On August 1, we also will welcome Dr. Bharat Soni as our new vice president for research and economic development. This is a new position created to provide leadership with expanding our overall research efforts in strategic alignment with regional economic development efforts. It effectively replaces the former position of vice president for extended programs and regional development. Dr. Soni has an impressive multidisciplinary background and joins us from the University of Alabama at Birmingham where he has been serving as the head of mechanical engineering. Click here for his full curriculum vita.

This is an exciting time for Tennessee Tech as new talent joins us to implement our Flight Plan priorities. To support these efforts and maximize the expertise of our human resources, I am happy to announce other modest but important organizational changes as well.

The Office of Graduate Studies will be administratively separated from the Office of Research and report directly through the Office of the Provost.

The Office of Research and Economic Development will be created under the leadership of Vice President Soni.

The Chief Information Officer, Mr. Reid Christenberry, will report directly to the President.

With our commitment to enrich the student experience, we also have other structure and name changes to tell you about that will move us toward our goals.

Please join me in welcoming these new colleagues to Tennessee Tech. I am excited by the opportunities that lay ahead for us.

Go Eagles!


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