Middle Tennessee State University faculty and staff were welcomed to the new academic year Thursday, Aug. 24, with promising news about fall enrollment, another prestigious national ranking and launch of a new special recognition for several select employees who’ve gone above and beyond in their service to students and campus community.
Now in his 23rd year leading the Blue Raider campus, President Sidney A. McPhee shared his annual State of the University address to several hundred faculty and staff gathered inside Tucker Theatre as part of traditional Fall Faculty Meeting to kickstart the 2023-24 academic year that officially begins Monday, Aug. 28.
As thousands of new students continue moving into their dorms throughout campus this week, McPhee praised those inside Tucker, particularly the university’s admissions team — with strong support from faculty, deans and other departments — for their “tremendous work” this past spring and summer to produce preliminary enrollment numbers that reflect “a record number of applications and admissions for the fall of 2023.”
While final fall enrollment won’t be official until mid-September, the latest figures show a 2% overall increase from last fall’s enrollment of about 20,000 students fueled by jumps in first-time freshmen (11.4%), new graduate students (11%), and new undergraduate students (7%).
“During this past year we have asked everyone to increase efforts related to recruitment and yield, and you all have delivered,” added University Provost Mark Byrnes. “Next week we’ll welcome thousands of new Blue Raiders, and it’s largely due to the efforts of the faculty, staff, students and alumni who are in this room today.
“We make a promise to students and their families when they’re admitted … that we will do everything we can to help students succeed.”
As evidence of those efforts, McPhee also noted that, for the fifth straight year, MTSU was named to the Princeton Review’s prestigious ranking among the 389 Best Colleges and Universities in America, one of only five institutions in the state to make the list.
McPhee pointed to “enormous growth” of the university’s fully online degree programs, now totaling 38, up from just 16 programs in 2021. The university also experienced a 10% increase in faculty research and service proposals last year that resulted in more than $12.1 million awarded in grants and financial support.
The Fall Faculty Meeting also includes awards and recognitions from the MTSU Foundation, which was represented by current foundation president and alumnus Ronald Roberts. Awards and recognitions for outstanding teaching, research and service are given to top instructors, tenured and promoted faculty and emeritus faculty.
The top award is the Career Achievement Award, presented this year to longtime Jones College of Business management professor Jill Austin.
Austin began her career at MTSU as assistant professor in 1985. She was tenured and promoted to associate professor in 1991 and to professor in 2001. For 28 years, she served as department chair in what is now the Department of Management. She teaches courses in the areas of business ethics, negotiation, decision-making, nonprofit management, and general management.
McPhee also started a new tradition of presenting the President’s Silver Column award “to a select group of employees who have demonstrated exemplary dedication and excellence and have gone above the call of duty in carrying out their roles and responsibilities in their respective positions at the university.”
This year’s six recipients each received a special presidential pin and cash gift of $5,000 from the university. They included:
• Ron Henderson, chair for the Department of Physics and Astronomy, developed a plan for department chairs and school directors to reach out and encourage students who have applied and admitted to actually enroll. As a result, the chairs gathered more than 100 student videos in a matter of weeks and every academic department participated in a student recruitment postcard campaign — often writing personal notes to every single student admitted to or expressing interest in their academic department.
• Pamela Morris, graduate program coordinator for University College who oversees the Master of Professional Development major, has helped grow the program from about 60 students a few years ago to become the third-largest graduate program at the university. The program is on track to have about 150 students for the fall.
• Jennifer Vannatta-Hall, who served as the interim director for several years in the School of Music, stepped up recruitment and yield activities, which included 140 activities last year reaching 8,145 potential students. The School of Music is experiencing increased enrollments in both undergraduate and graduate programs.
• Tony Strode, new director of undergraduate admissions, provided effective leadership in the undergraduate admissions and student recruitment team during the past two years in an interim role. Strode helped MTSU stabilize enrollment and resulting in increased new freshmen enrollment, McPhee said.
• Department of Recording industry assistant professor Bess Rogers and Department of Media Arts associate professor Allie Sultan shared recognition for their collaboration in the production of a television commercial for the College of Media and Entertainment.
The professors collaborated with students and other faculty to produce “We Do It All,” a one-minute commercial that aired in April during the national broadcast of The Judds’ final concert, which was filmed at Murphy Center. The commercial showcased not only the work students did for that concert, but the many opportunities in the college. Rogers worked with students to produce the original centerpiece song of the commercial, while Sultan directed and produced the project.
Aerospace soaring; embracing A.I.
Looking ahead, McPhee noted the upcoming joint announcement on Sept. 21 between the university and the city of Shelbyville about the establishment of a Department of Aerospace flight training campus at Shelbyville Airport. Gov. Bill Lee will be on hand for the event.
McPhee wrapped up his address by announcing a new professional development initiative on artificial intelligence. An interdisciplinary team of faculty and staff has been assembled to lead workshops and discussions exploring the impact of new A.I.-based tools on teaching, research and campus operations.
“Technology is reshaping the way we learn, communicate, and interact. MTSU must embrace this transformation by integrating cutting-edge tools and methodologies into its teaching practices,” McPhee said.
“We must not just adopt technology for the sake of it, but leverage it to enhance the learning experience, cultivate critical thinking, and equip students with digital literacy skills essential for their future careers. … By engaging with these issues now, we position our institution to harness the power of A.I. responsibly and effectively.”
You can view a replay of the event at MTSU.edu/live.
— Jimmy Hart (Jimmy.Hart@mtsu.edu)