MTSU agriculture alumni, friends gather at The Celebration

MTSU alumni John L. Batey, left, and Faye Brandon laugh during the 2012 Ag Alumni and Friends Reception at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration in Shelbyville, Tenn. (File photo by MTSU News and Media Relations)

Alumni and friends of the MTSU School of Agribusiness and Agriscience will hold their eighth annual reception at The Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration starting at 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 30, in Shelbyville, Tennessee.

The gathering will be held in the Calsonic Arena’s Hall of Fame Room on World Grand Championship night at The Celebration.

The $10 admission includes food, beverages and a free ticket to the 2014 Tennessee walking horse grand finale.

Open to all alumni and friends of the university, attendees are asked to RSVP by calling 615-898-2523.

Recent graduate Sarah Newton-Cromwell will be introduced to the audience, as well as David Whitaker, director of the MTSU Horse Science program.

Newton-Cromwell, who earned her master’s degree from MTSU and graduated Aug. 9, will be a faculty instructor and handle the equine-assisted activities and therapies aspect of the program.

Whitaker, a member of the faculty since 1982, will be retiring in September.

— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)

‘MTSU On the Record’ demystifies state’s first governor

Unraveling the myths and legends surrounding one of Tennessee’s founding fathers will be the focus of the next edition of the “MTSU On the Record” radio program.

Host Gina Logue’s interview with MTSU alumnus and historian Gordon T. Belt will air from 8 to 8:30 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 31, on WMOT-FM (89.5 and www.wmot.org ).

Gordon T. Belt

Gordon T. Belt

Belt and his wife, MTSU alumna and historian Traci Nichols-Belt, are co-authors of “John Sevier: Tennessee’s First Governor.”

The book explores Sevier’s leadership in a battle against British loyalists at Kings Mountain, his reputation as an Indian fighter and his formation of the state of Franklin, the predecessor to the state of Tennessee, out of lands belonging to North Carolina.

“A lot of what we know, or what we think we know, about him is wrapped up in these embellishments written by men who were respected,” Belt said.

“The true essence of this man, I think, has yet to be revealed. There’s so much about him we know, and there’s so much we don’t know.” 

To listen to previous “MTSU On the Record” programs, go towww.mtsunews.com/ontherecord/.

For more information, contact Logue at 615-898-5081 or WMOT-FM at 615-898-2800.

A video clip of the interview may been seen below.


Alumni Association names 2014-15 distinguished alumni

Middle Tennessee State University alumni bring the university prestige and distinction through their outstanding professional careers and loyal support.

From 1960 to present, the MTSU Alumni Association has recognized accomplished alumni with the association’s highest honor: the Distinguished Alumni Award. A younger alumnus who is making a positive impact in the world receives the Young Alumni Achievement Award.

New this year is the True Blue Citations of Distinction. Categories include Achievement in Education for current or retired MTSU faculty; Achievement in Education for service outside MTSU; Service to the University; and Service to the Community.

This year’s mix of honorees includes two people with strong aviation backgrounds, one of whom wears the nickname “FlyGirl;” two lifelong educators and a third individual whose vision and passion for education also have affected thousands of young people; and a politically driven alumna whose talents have taken her to the White House and beyond.

Vernice "FlyGirl" Armour

Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour

The six will be recognized during Homecoming Week activities at Friday, Oct. 17, 4 p.m. reception at the MT Center in the Ingram Building. They’ll also be recognized several times Homecoming Day Saturday, Oct. 18. Here is a glance at the 2014-15 honorees:

Distinguished Alumna — Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour (Class of 1997)

Armour went from being a beat cop to a combat pilot in three years and became America’s first African-American female combat pilot, serving two tours overseas. Now a resident of Stafford, Virginia, Armour enrolled at MTSU, joined the Army ROTC program and, after graduating with an exercise science degree, she served three years as a Metro Nashville police officer. Following in her father and stepfather’s military career footsteps, Armour became a second lieutenant and pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps. A noted author and speaker, Armour has been featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show, CNN, the Tavis Smiley Show, National Public Radio and others.

Ashley Elizabeth Graham

Ashley Elizabeth Graham

Young Alumni Achievement Award — Ashley Elizabeth Graham (Class of  ’12)

Graham’s passion for politics landed her a role with a state senator’s campaign while an MTSU student and then catapulted her to Washington, D.C. Early in her career, she was writing speeches for the General Services Administration that required a security clearance. Graham later found herself working at the White House for the Bush administration as deputy director of presidential writers. She was one of six speechwriters for a recent Republican National Convention, and the Nashville resident now serves as deputy communications director for U.S. Congressman Marsha Blackburn. Graham received the Maverick PAC 40 under 40 Award in 2013.


True Blue Citations of Distinction

Ray Phillips

Ray Phillips

Ray Phillips (Class of ’66) — Achievement in Education (for current or retired MTSU faculty)

Phillips, who lives outside of Bell Buckle, Tennessee, enjoyed a lengthy history as an MTSU educator, serving as a Department of Mathematics faculty member and chair, associate dean in the College of Graduate Studies and interim dean in the College of Basic and Applied Sciences from 1990 to 2003. He was active in research, curriculum development, crucial grant writing that earned the university several million dollars and science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, education leadership. He established the Tennessee STEM Education Center at MTSU. A colleague said his “… illustrious career in education … has brought distinction to MTSU.”

Linda Gilbert

Linda Gilbert

Linda Gilbert (Classes of ’72, ’79 and ’91) — Achievement in Education (non-MTSU)

Gilbert, a Murfreesboro resident, has served many years as a Murfreesboro City School administrator, currently as director of schools. Her leadership and knowledge have benefited the city schools and MTSU. This includes co-authoring grants for MTeach, an MTSU program designed to increase the quantity and quality of math and science teachers in Tennessee and the United States and facilitating dual enrollment between MTSU and Rutherford County Schools. Her involvement and service with the university includes sitting and chairing many advisory boards and committees in everything from the College of Behavioral and Health Sciences advisory board to Band of Blue Executive Board.

Donald McDonald

Donald McDonald

Donald McDonald (Class of ’63) — Service to the University

McDonald and his wife, Frances, remain avid MTSU supporters with both their time and resources. They are 1911 Society members, giving to the university through their estate plans, and scholarship benefactors. The Donald McDonald Aerospace Maintenance Laboratory is named for him at the Flight Operations Center at Murfreesboro Airport, and he has served and currently serves on the MTSU Foundation Board and Aerospace Advisory Board. The McDonalds open their home and personal hangar to aerospace students and faculty and attend many MTSU functions. Their love and passion for MTSU is exemplified by their financial commitment to MTSU’s future and their continued involvement in university boards.

Matthew Little

Matthew Little

Matthew Little (Class of ’08) — Service to the Community

Little, who lives in Huntsville, Alabama, has been involved in service for 20 years. He has been a part of numerous initiatives: running camps for 2,000 students, providing leadership for Tennessee’s statewide service day and creating a national park educational program. Tennessee named Little as a delegate to its first Truancy and Dropout Prevention Conference, and he participated in the Mayor’s Summit on Children and Youth in Nashville. He works with ServeAlabama as a member of a nonprofit to support the work of volunteers. Little’s leadership has guided three institutions to being named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll. He is senior associate director of admissions at the University of Alabama-Huntsville.

— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)

MTSU Pigskin Pre-Game moves to new Rockvale site for Aug. 9 event

The annual MTSU Pigskin Pre-Game preseason social event will offer another new venue and will be held earlier this year.

Pigskin Pre-Game 2014 graphic webThe event, sponsored by the Office of Alumni Relations and the MT Alumni Association, will start at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 9, at Annalee Acres, 11000 state Route 99, in Rockvale, Tennessee.

For directions, visit www.annaleeacres.com and click on the “Contact” link or call 615-274-3376.

The Pigskin Pre-Game serves as the kickoff for the MTSU Blue Raiders football season each year and a fundraiser for the Alumni Legacy Scholarship.

“All proceeds of this event benefit the Alumni Legacy Scholarship, which is awarded to children or grandchildren of MTSU alumni,” said Paul Wydra, Alumni Relations assistant director.

“We love this event every year because it is a great chance for everyone to get together for a good cause and get ready for some Blue Raider football.”

Wydra added that the alumni association has been “very fortunate with the support Pigskin Pre-Game has garnered through the years and looks forward to having another successful event.”

Ticket prices are $30 for adults. Children 12 and under will be admitted free.

Attendees must pay in advance and RSVP by Wednesday, Aug. 7, to secure their tickets. Admission will include food, beverages, entertainment by the Nashville-based O’Donnells, door prizes and more.

For more information about the event and sponsorship opportunities, or to reserve tickets, call 800-533-6878 or 615-898-2922, or visit www.mtalumni.com.

Payments can be mailed to the Office of Alumni Relations, MTSU Box 104, Murfreesboro, TN, 37132.

— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)

MTSU Pigskin Pre-Game attendees enjoy food and fellowship in this file photo from the 2013 celebration. The 2014 event will be held Aug. 9 at Annalee Acres in Rockvale, Tennessee. (MTSU file photo)

MTSU Pigskin Pre-Game attendees enjoy food and fellowship at the 2013 celebration. The 2014 event will be held Aug. 9 at Annalee Acres in Rockvale, Tennessee. (MTSU file photo)

Alumna, now a Buddhist nun, outlines her life on ‘MTSU On the Record’

MTSU alumna Dolma Johanison, whose personal path has led her from toting a gun to becoming a nun, was the guest on a recent edition of the “MTSU On the Record” radio program.

Dolma Johanison

Dolma Johanison

Host Gina Logue’s interview with Johanison originally aired July 28 on WMOT-FM (89.5 and www.wmot.org ). You can listen to their conversation here.

Johanison graduated from MTSU in 1988 with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. Her career includes a stint with the Army National Guard, a job as a criminal analyst at the Pentagon and her current profession as an acupuncturist in Poolesville, Maryland.

She considers her conversion to Buddhism, however, to be the defining moment of her life. In 2008, she took more than 200 vows at Poolesville’s Kunyang Padyul Choling temple to become a nun, dedicating her life to alleviating suffering wherever she finds it.

“We all possess what is referred to as ‘the Buddha seed,’” Johanison said. “And ‘the Buddha seed,’ upon watering and nourishment, will grow and flourish internally, reaching our spiritual attainment, ascending to a higher level of being.”

To listen to previous “MTSU On the Record” programs, go to the searchable “Audio Clips” archives here and here.

For more information about “MTSU On the Record,” contact Logue at 615-898-5081 or WMOT-FM at 615-898-2800.

TV sports journalism is in the picture on ‘MTSU On the Record’

An MTSU alumnus who will help usher in the SEC Network after producing at ESPN was the guest on a recent edition of the “MTSU On the Record” radio program.”

Lewis Harkness

Lewis Harkness

Host Gina Logue’s interview with Lewis Harkness first aired July 21 on WMOT-FM (89.5 and www.wmot.org). You can listen to their conversation here.

Harkness, a native of Harriman, Tennessee, graduated from MTSU in 1993 after working at the student television station. He began interning at WKRN-TV in Nashville, Tennessee, that same year and worked there for 18 years before becoming a producer of ESPN’s “Sportscenter.”

Beginning in August, Harkness will work for the Southeastern Conference’s new TV network, which will be located in the headquarters of the ESPNU network in Charlotte, North Carolina.

“I never really wanted to be in front of the camera,” said Harkness. “Probably the creative side of me is what drove me to be behind the scenes.”

To listen to previous “MTSU On the Record” programs, go to the searchable “Audio Clips” archives here and here.

For more information about “MTSU On the Record,” contact Logue at 615-898-5081 or WMOT-FM at 615-898-2800.

Physics/philosophy grad receives $5,000 honor society fellowship

At first glance, there might not seem to be any common ground between physics and philosophy.

However, those very different disciplines are comfortable educational territory to Robert Daniel Murphy.

“Not necessarily all philosophers are scientists, but I would argue that any scientist, and particularly physicist, that is worth his or her salt would have to be a philosopher,” Murphy said.

Robert Murphy

Robert Daniel Murphy

The Murfreesboro resident, who graduated May 10 with bachelor’s degrees in both majors, is one of the winners of a $5,000 national fellowship from Phi Kappa Phi honor society.

Only 51 superior students from across the country were chosen for the stipend, which is presented annually by the nation’s oldest, largest and most selective collegiate honor society for all academic disciplines.

Murphy will put that $5,000 to use in the fall, when he begins his pursuit of a doctorate degree in physics at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.

Rewards for academic excellence are nothing new to Murphy. He received MTSU’s highest award for an entering freshman, the Buchanan Fellowship, in 2010, and the national Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship in 2013.

“Daniel has outstanding academic skills and he has proven especially capable at applying classroom skills to real-world problems,” wrote Dr. William Robertson, a professor of physics at MTSU, in his recommendation letter.

Under Robertson’s tutelage, Murphy performed research at MTSU on a topic associated with an optical biosensor project.

Murphy said solving the issue after much more research hopefully could lead to a more sensitive fluorescence device for the medical profession.

“When I took my first physics class as a junior in high school, everything just clicked,” Murphy said.

Dr. Vic Montemayor, another MTSU physics professor, commended Murphy for his two years as president of the university’s Society of Physics Students chapter.

phi kappa phi logo web“He has the demeanor and confidence of a natural leader,” Montemayor wrote. “He also has what I think is a crucial characteristic of a successful leader: he puts the needs of others ahead of his own needs or desires.”

Murphy said it was not unusual for him to stay up until 2 or 3 a.m. with fellow physics students trying to decode how the universe behaves.

That keen intellect, however, is not limited to the lab. Dr. Ron Bombardi, chair of the MTSU Department of Philosophy, hails Murphy’s detailed dissections of the ideas that have boggled great thinkers for centuries.

“His analytical skills are formidable, comprehensive and well-developed; his intuitive faculties are equally impressive,” wrote Bombardi. “Rarely in the span of some 30 years of teaching at the undergraduate level have I encountered a student so profoundly committed to intellectual rigor.”

Murphy, whose father works at Bridgestone Firestone’s La Vergne, Tennessee, plant and whose mother works at the Tennessee Rehabilitation Center in Smyrna, Tennessee, expressed gratitude to his family and to Laura Clippard, undergraduate fellowships coordinator for the University Honors College, for supporting him in his education.

When considering Phi Kappa Phi’s motto, “Let the love of learning rule humanity,” Murphy said, “It’s not about power or money. It’s about helping others.”

To learn more about Phi Kappa Phi honor society, go to www.phikappaphi.org.

— Gina K. Logue (gina.logue@mtsu.edu)

MTSU alumna shares tales of dog rescues on ‘MTSU On the Record’

An MTSU graduate who spends a lot of her spare time chasing dogs was the guest on a recent edition of the “MTSU On the Record” radio program.

Host Gina Logue’s interview with Miranda Caffey-Vogeler first aired July 7 on WMOT-FM (89.5 and www.wmot.org ). You can listen to their conversation here.

Miranda Caffey-Vogeler

Miranda Caffey-Vogeler

Caffey-Vogeler and her husband, Neil Vogeler, founded Short Mountain Dog Rescue in 2008 at their home, which they have moved from Short Mountain to a location near Dowelltown, Tennessee. To date, they have placed more than 120 dumped and abandoned dogs in homes with caring owners.

“A lot of times they get shot,” Caffey-Vogeler said of the discarded animals. “A lot of times they starve to death. What really spoke to me, and what really started this for me, is when we would see the dogs not want to leave the spot where they were dumped because they thought their owners were coming back.”

Caffey-Vogeler holds a bachelor’s degree in outdoor recreation from MTSU and works for Goodness Gracious Café and Catering in Readyville, Tennessee. Neil Vogeler holds an engineering degree from the University of Illinois and works at Cosma Die Technology in Smithville, Tennessee.

To listen to previous “MTSU On the Record” programs, go to the searchable “Audio Clips” archives here and here.

For more information, contact Gina Logue at 615-898-5081 or WMOT-FM at 615-898-2800.

A video clip from the interview may be seen below.


Alumni Summer College ‘students’ cram for history exam (+VIDEO)

Seventy-five former MTSU students returned to campus and special field trips as part of the seventh annual Alumni Summer College.

History and the Civil War provided the theme for this year’s summer college, held June 25-27.


From welcomes provided by university staff and administrators to a surprise visit by Abraham Lincoln impersonator Dennis Boggs of Nashville, the event was much anticipated by attendees, who turn it into a family and friends reunion.

“Everyone is excited to reunite with old friends,” said Alumni Relations assistant director Rhonda King. “It’s like a family reunion.”

First-time attendee Ann Waggoner of Tullahoma, Tennessee, who earned her master’s degree and specialist in education degrees in 1971 and ’94, respectively, said it had been a great experience.

“I’ve enjoyed meeting people — and a lot of people from Tullahoma are here,” she said.

King, MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee and Vice President for Advancement Joe Bales provided first-day welcomes. McPhee and Bales met the group at the Rutherford County Courthouse on the historic public square in downtown Murfreesboro.

They later visited the Stones River Battlefield before returning downtown for dinner.

Two of the highlights from Day 2 of Alumni Summer College were hearing presentations by author and historian Robert Hicks of Franklin, Tennessee, who wrote “The Widow of the South,” and Murfreesboro physician George Smith, who discussed the “13th United States Colored Troops Living History Association.”

The Friday, June 27, agenda included trips to Nashville to visit the Belle Meade Plantation and to Franklin to tour The Carter House and Carnton Plantation.

For more alumni events, visit http://mtalumni.com.

— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)

MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee addresses part of the group of 75 people attending the seventh annual Alumni Summer College June 25 in the second-floor courtroom at the Rutherford County Courthouse. (MTSU photos by Andy Heidt)

MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee addresses some of the 75 people attending the seventh annual Alumni Summer College June 25 in the second-floor courtroom at the Rutherford County Courthouse. (MTSU photos by Andy Heidt)

Following a surprise entrance, Dennis Boggs of Nashville, an Abraham Lincoln impersonator, performs for the “students” attending the 2014 Alumni Summer College June 25 at the Rutherford County Courthouse’s second-floor courtroom.

Following a surprise entrance, Dennis Boggs of Nashville, an Abraham Lincoln impersonator, performs for the “students” attending the 2014 Alumni Summer College June 25 at the Rutherford County Courthouse’s second-floor courtroom.

MTSU grad’s new video adventure is aboard the E/V Nautilus (+VIDEO)

He’s focused his lens on the boulevards of Nashville and the streets of Florence, Italy, so the logical next step for newly minted MTSU grad Phillip Dixon of Goodlettsville, Tennessee, was underwater.

Phillip Dixon

Phillip Dixon

Dixon, who just received his bachelor’s degree in electronic media communication from MTSU in May, is currently aboard the Exploration Vehicle Nautilus, a 64-meter research vessel operated by the Ocean Exploration Trust, as a video intern on the 2014 expedition season in the Gulf of Mexico.

The ship is equipped with remotely operated vehicles, or ROVs, that can explore the sea floor and send back live video via satellite feeds for remote science education. There’s also a live studio on board the E/V Nautilus to allow interactive interviews, and Dixon was the subject of one Tuesday afternoon as the ship approached Gulfport, Mississippi.

“As soon as I found out about it, I didn’t waste any time applying for it,” Dixon said of the internship opportunity, where he joins longtime EMC professor Mary Nichols, a veteran member of the Nautilus’ video engineering crew.

“I’ve never been on a ship before, and I’m prone to motion sickness,” he explained. “The first day was pretty bad, but since then I’ve been fine. I enjoy being out here.”

While he’s aboard through July 5, Dixon’s tasks include installing, wiring and routing cameras and monitors all throughout the ship and operating the remote cameras on the ROVs.

Interns aboard Nautilus clearly “do much more than make tea and coffee and scrub the floor. They’re right up top in all the action,” said Nia Hâf Jones, the science communication fellow on the Nautilus and the marine awareness officer at North Wales Wildlife Trust, headquartered in Bangor, Gwynedd.

“I could leave this ship right now and have a bigger knowledge base than I ever had,” added Dixon, whose knowledge base already is quite extensive. He recently completed an internship at NewsChannel5 Network and worked with MTSU’s EMC Productions, where he most recently served as director for music event coverage.

Larry Meyer, right, director of the Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping/Joint Hydrographic Center in Durham, New Hampshire, goes over the game plan for the cruise leg on board the E/V Nautilus with the Corps of Exploration. MTSU alumnus Phillip Dixon is listening second from left by the window. (Photo by the Ocean Exploration Trust)

Larry Meyer, right, director of the Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping/Joint Hydrographic Center in Durham, New Hampshire, goes over the game plan for the cruise leg on board the E/V Nautilus with the Corps of Exploration. MTSU alumnus Phillip Dixon is listening second from left by the window. (Photo by the Ocean Exploration Trust)

Dixon also directed “Streets of Florence,” a short documentary shot for an EMC study-abroad class that took the “Best Artistic Direction” prize at the 2013 ArtLightenment Film Festival and was screened at the 2014 Nashville Film Festival. He’s prepping it now for more festival entries as well as for possible public television broadcast.

“One of my classes at MTSU was video engineering — most schools don’t even offer that — and the teacher had a list of stuff that he said he needed to learn on his first job, and he used that to teach us,” Dixon said.

“Being on the Nautilus is great because you learn everything from top to bottom, from putting the camera in to operating it, so it’s a great importunity for anyone who wants to do video engineering.”

Dr. Mary Nichols

Dr. Mary Nichols

Professor Nichols echoed Dixon’s comments during an unexpected live appearance Tuesday evening, when Jones and another crew member, research assistant Mackellar Violich, convinced her to step from behind the camera and chat for a moment.

“I have a skill that’s useful out here, and there’s so much technology on this boat. I’m not the engineer who put it in, but I’m the grunt who … knows where all the bones are buried,” she joked of her duties on Nautilus. “It’s helpful that they don’t have to break somebody new in every time.

“Imagine all of this technology on a bouncing, bouncing, bouncing rowboat! There are thousands of cables back there, and they jiggle loose, and we have to go back there and figure out which one it is. We get it all figured out eventually.”

Nichols, a respected documentarian and video engineer, is retiring at the end of this academic year after 23 years with MTSU. She’s taught video production, media law and multi-cam truck production at the university and is in her 16th year of working with Nautilus expedition leader Dr. Robert Ballard, renowned for discovering the wreck of the Titanic as well as the German ship Bismarck.

One of the ship’s stops was of special interest to Dixon. This Nautilus Gulf of Mexico trip included dives on the wreck of the German U-boat U-2513 in the deep waters off southwest Florida known as the Dry Tortugas.

“My favorite experience so far was the U-boat yesterday (June 16), which also was the hardest day,” he said. “During the dive, the iris control on the video controls how bright it looks, and we wanted a certain level to get a good consistent picture. We had clouds going in and out, and I was having to constantly bring the light up or bring it down to show want we wanted!

“Shipwrecks and submarines underwater are really cool to me, though, so I was happy it was on my watch, even though it was a tough job. The thing for me is capturing great images, things that haven’t been seen before or might not be seen again.”

You can watch the Ocean Exploration Trust video from the Nautilus’ discovery of the U-2513 below.




You can learn more about the E/V Nautilus and its adventures, including live and archived videos, anytime at www.nautiluslive.org. You can learn more about MTSU’s Department of Electronic Media Communication at www.mtsu.edu/emc.

— Gina E. Fann (gina.fann@mtsu.edu)