Alison Piepmeier inspired many people throughout her life

by Lelia Gibson
Alison Piepmeier

Alison Piepmeier, ‘94 English, an accomplished feminist scholar and TTU alumna who was born and raised in Cookeville, died in August 2016. Alison authored the books Girl Zines: Making Media, Doing Feminism and Out in Public. In addition to her academic publications, Alison contributed to a column for the Charleston City Paper and maintained a personal blog, The following is a tribute from fellow TTU alumna and current College of Business staff member Lelia Gibson.

Cool, hippy, feminist, intelligent, funny – these are just a few words that come to mind when I think of TTU alumna Alison Piepmeier. Over 25 years ago, I read a local editorial about Generation X and Tiananmen Square. The author expressed his pride in being in the same category as those protestors and other amazing Gen Xers … including Alison Piepmeier. A few years ahead of me in high school and at Tech, Alison was larger than life in my mind, and the embodiment of what I wanted to be when I grew up.

In the fall of 1993, I took an honors colloquium on race relations, which was controversial at the time. I was pleasantly surprised to find that one of my other classmates was the great Alison Piepmeier. During that semester, I had an awakening to the world and the need to give a voice to the voiceless and representation to the underrepresented. It was my honor and privilege to have Alison along on my journey, and Alison and I soon took different paths in life. She went on to Vanderbilt for her Ph.D. and then to the College of Charleston to head their Women’s and Gender Studies program, while I remained at TTU. A few times our journeys intersected, but for the most part we lost contact.

Thanks to social media, we reconnected in a superficial way on Facebook and her blog. I witnessed her marriage, the birth of her special needs daughter, divorce and remarriage. I also learned of her health struggles. Alison was diagnosed with a brain tumor. In late spring, I was shocked to find out that her medical professionals had informed her that no viable treatment was left.

During her final days, she authored an elegant letter thanking the world for “her beautiful life.” Her work was featured in an array of media platforms including the New York Times, Yahoo, ABC News and US Magazine.

It pained me to read how this brilliant person was not able to walk, say the right words, teach her daughter to ride a bike and so much more. She passed away on August 12, 2016.

As I penned this article, I was preparing to teach my Freshman Connections classes. I remembered a long ago conversation I had with Alison— an English major— about her belief that the written word was meant to be read aloud. I concluded my next classes by asking a student to read Alison’s final column and talking about what Alison taught me in college and more recently. My final statement was this: “Alison embodied happiness and I hope that one day you find true happiness like my friend Alison.”

This article originally appeared in Tech Women Center’s Attune newsletter. Tech’s Honors Program is establishing an internship fund in Alison’s memory. If you would like to donate to this fund, please contact University Development at 931-372-3206.

Designing her dream

by Elissa Longfellow ’16
Megan (Foster) Fielden ’10 works on an interior design project.

After wondering whether or not she could find a job that was in her field, Megan (Foster) Fielden, ’10 housing and design, is living her dream in Knoxville.

“Every single day I get to create and imagine and put my skill to work. It doesn’t feel like a job!” said Fielden.

Megan works for Laws Interior Design, as well as Charles Atkins, Inc., a custom homebuilder. In 2016, one of her homes was featured in the Knoxville Parade of Homes. After assisting with the designs and furnishings the year before, she got a chance to showcase her own abilities and talents during last year’s parade. The Knoxville Parade of Homes features around 50 custom home designs across various price ranges. It is organized by the Home Builders Association of Knoxville.

Megan said that her professors demonstrated so much passion, devotion and commitment to their students; they pushed them to do their very best.

“While I was at Tech, Dr. Jeff Plant was my professor and advisor. He was so passionate about everything he taught. He really encouraged all his students to work hard and always had great advice,” said Fielden. “Another professor I will always remember is Dr. Lizbeth Self-Mullens. She pushed us to do our very best and was tough, but also felt like a best friend.”

She credits them with creating the family atmosphere she found at Tech that helped her stick with her career.

Cruise conductor

President of Suman Entertainment Group returns to Tech for lectures and clinics for current students

by Kory Riemensperger
Michael Suman, center, leads a clinic for Tech music students.

If you’ve enjoyed music on a cruise ship, there’s a good chance Michael Suman, ’83 music education, played a role in providing it.

Suman is president of Suman Entertainment Group and former music director for Norwegian and Celebrity Cruise Lines. He has roughly 35 years of administrative and music experience.

In April 2016, Suman visited Tennessee Tech University to speak with students about how to succeed as performers and administrators in today’s entertainment and music industry. He delivered two lectures in Wattenbarger Auditorium and two clinics with students in the Haste Rehearsal Hall.

“The most rewarding thing about coming back to Tech for me is getting to speak with all the music education majors,” said Suman. “They’re all heading in different directions. I just hope the advice I give them here helps them succeed out there.”

In his two days at Tech, Suman presented attendees with real-world knowledge on how to prosper in the music entertainment world, specifically on a cruise ship.

Most contracts for musicians at sea are four to six months long. Typically, a workweek is performing four 50-minute sets a night, Monday through Sunday. It’s rare that shows change, so once the selected compositions are rehearsed enough, preparation for a show becomes minimal.

“A strong ability to sight read music – to pick up a piece and play it right off the bat – is extremely important in this industry,” said Suman. “Don’t be fooled by the number of sets a cruise ship musician has to perform. Even with its perks, it’s still a demanding job.”

His senior year, Suman was a student leader of the Troubadours, a jazz ensemble formed at Tech in 1948. He remembers when the band would regularly perform lawn concerts. He also recalled living at the corner of W 12th St. and N. Dixie Ave., a lot that is now empty.

He has personally backed up notable clients including Bob Hope, Ben Vereen, Davy Jones of the Monkees, Chuck Berry, Michael Feinstein, Diana Ross, Paul Anka and Rich Little. When the Miami Heat played their first game, musicians from Suman’s group provided the entertainment. For three years after that, they provided music at every home game.

Suman said his group has hired several TTU music graduates in the past, and a handful of students were invited to audition.

“We look for younger musicians with musical maturity above all else. I’m always happy to help a Tech musician break into the industry.”

Tech honors eight with outstanding alumni awards

Eight Tennessee Tech graduates were honored Feb. 5 at this year’s outstanding alumni awards, held at Cookeville’s Leslie Town Centre.

Each of the university’s six colleges, the Whitson-Hester School of Nursing and the athletics program annually select one alumnus to receive the honor, based on their achievements, support of and commitment to TTU.

This year, Davis Watts, a banker from Cookeville, was honored by the College of Agriculture & Human Ecology.

The College of Arts & Sciences recognized Marc Norman, professor of earth sciences at Australian National University in Canberra, Australia.

Gail Fields, an orthopedic surgeon from Blackfoot, Idaho, received the athletics award.

The College of Business recognized Charlotte Swafford, a vice president and treasurer for National HealthCare Corporation in Murfreesboro.

Grant Swallows, a high school principal, is the outstanding alumnus from the College of Education.

Trudy Harper, an adjunct professor of electrical and computer engineering at TTU, received the award from the College of Engineering.

Karen Ford Joyce, a nurse practitioner from Cookeville, was recognized by the Whitson-Hester School of Nursing.

The College of Interdisciplinary Studies recognized Cynthia Moore Humble, a retired non-profit volunteer manager from Campbellsville, Kentucky.

Nominations for future awards can be made at

Chapa retires, is decorated by Army


















Col. Daniel V. Chapa Jr., ’85 business management, retired in March after 37 years of service with the U.S. Army. Daniel started his career with Tech’s ROTC Golden Eagle Battalion, served as cadet commander and was named a distinguished military graduate.

He was one of a select group to receive the Army’s Order of Military Medical Merit for his work to provide updated medical equipment to soldiers and integrate that equipment and updated technologies into field kits. The updates included CT scanners, ultrasound machines and medical transport equipment to monitor and relay a wounded soldier’s health information en route to treatment.

Daniel also helped to provide enhanced capabilities to collect and evacuate wounded men and women from the battlefield and protect medics through the use of mine-resistant ambush-protected ambulances.

For those contributions, the Boy Scouts of America recognized Daniel as a 2015 distinguished Eagle Scout. During his nearly 40 years of service, Daniel was decorated twice with the Legion of Merit, received three Bronze Stars and the Soldier’s Medal for Heroism, among other honors and awards for military and civic service.

Daniel and Debra, ’85 English and education, have been married for 36 years. V

Twirling down Dixie Avenue
















Last fall, eight Golden Girl Majorette alumnae came together to perform again at Homecoming. The ladies spent months sharing emails and twirling routines to prepare and practiced together the day before the parade.

“You form close friendships. Some of us I twirled with and some I didn’t, but it’s been great to renew those ties after all these years,” said Barbara Daugherty Young, ’69 education. “To be there and be a part of it – we’re proud of our Tech days. We think everybody should be proud of theirs.”

This fall, they will return to perform at Homecoming. The ladies, who range in age from 65 to 72, will march in the parade, perform before the game in tailgate park and may display their talents during the game itself.

In addition to Barbara, the former Golden Girls were: Barbara Jones Harris, ’66 sociology; Patti Womack Clarke, ’72 human ecology – education; Cathy Ford Sweeney, ’67 elementary education; Melinda Miller Hatfield; Charlene Jewell True, ’69 elementary education; Candace Holbrook Garrett; and Pat Haglegan Gostel, ’70 education – administration and supervision.

Homecoming is Nov. 14 at Tucker Stadium. V


Love under a magnolia

















Justin Stacy, ’05 mechanical engineering, ’07 M.S., ’10 Ph.D., and Autumn Ayers, ’04 education, ’10 M.A. advanced studies in teaching and learning, met their freshman year and have been together ever since.

An important part of their story centers around a particular tree on campus – the magnolia in front of Henderson Hall. The tree seems to belong to many Tech couples; it is covered in carvings of initials and years. Justin and Autumn met there often to walk to the grill and stood there during goodnight kisses.

They have returned to the tree for many of the important moments of their 15-year relationship. In 2002, they stopped at the tree for shade while walking their four-legged family member around campus. A year later, Justin asked Autumn to marry him there. In 2008, Autumn told Justin he was going to be a father under its branches. When they moved back to Cookeville in 2010, they introduced their second child to the special spot during a summer stroll.

That beautiful, tall magnolia tree with glossy leaves and fragrant blossoms has been a staple of their relationship at Tennessee Tech and their life since.

Justin and Autumn shared this story during this year’s Alumni Association Lovebirds competition and were named one of two grandprize winners. They received a date-night gift basket. V

Love on the football field













In 1984, Andy Rittenhouse, ‘89 mechanical engineering, was a freshman redshirt football player exhausted by three strenuous practices a day in the August heat.

Things started looking up for him when girls arrived on campus. He and a girlfriend attended a student fellowship meeting, where a pretty girl talked about finding God. Andy was mesmerized. He broke up with his then-girlfriend to chase Paige Goss, ‘89 industrial engineering.

Paige joined a sorority and became a TTU cheerleader. Andy got playing time on the football field. He said it took effort to pay attention to the game and not his “sweet honey” on the sidelines. He convinced team managers to bring her water from the field. Paige would mail Andy cards with jokes about his name on the envelope: Andy Outhouse, Andy Doghouse and Andy Rottenshack.

Like any young couple, the pair had arguments. Andy would complain to his roommate, Antonio Sinkfield, ‘88 marketing, who always asked Andy if he loved Paige. When Andy admitted he did, Antonio told him to calm down, apologize and go kiss Paige.

Andy was named first team academic all-American in football, but he says the highlight of his time at Tech was meeting his “precious little Scott County girl.”

Today, they live in Knoxville and have seven children: six boys and one girl, the oldest an engineering major at Tech.

Paige and Andy shared this story during this year’s Alumni Association Lovebirds competition and were named one of two grand-prize winners. They received a date-night gift basket. V

Graduate alumni Q&A

Find out why other alumni are getting their graduate degrees from Tech



I had a three-year gap of engineering work before I came back. I didn’t want to get a master’s in engineering. I wanted to get into management in some form. I had some buddies doing it so we did it together.

I did it more for personal reasons. In engineering, I didn’t take the business electives as there wasn’t much time. I really decided to come back and get my MBA to become a better engineer.


If you have an advanced degree, the industry regards you differently. You’re looked upon as having a better understanding of the way a business works. The MBA allowed me to progress.


I don’t know that I can say there’s one thing. I was excited about going back and learning something new, the same way I felt about starting engineering school my freshman year. I was also excited about meeting new people.

Find out more about Tech’s College of Business MBA program at

Eight alumni recognized as ‘outstanding’

(L to R): Lamar Dunn, Charlie Hawkins, Ed Henley, Bill and Mary Moran, Anne Koci, Jeff Plant and Craig Watson.















Eight Tech graduates received their alma mater’s outstanding alumni awards last winter.

Housing and design professor Jeff Plant, ’86 interior design, was honored by the College of Agriculture & Human Ecology. The College of Arts & Sciences recognized Bill and Mary Moran, ’72 political science and ’73 geology, respectively. Ed Henley, ’58 social sciences, received the Athletics award. The College of Business recognized Charlie Hawkins, ’53 industrial management. Lamar Dunn, ’64 civil engineering, received the award from the College of Engineering. Anne Floyd Koci, ’94 nursing, was recognized by the Whitson-Hester School of Nursing. Craig Watson, ’08 interdisciplinary studies, received the award from the College of Interdisciplinary Studies. V