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. BusinessInsider.com 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. CollegeAtlas.org 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!