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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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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