Middle Tennessee State University leaves 2021 with a year of strong achievement by its students, faculty, staff and alumni, yet remaining vigilant amid coronavirus variants that remind us all that the pandemic is not over.
Here are some of the top news stories for the Blue Raider campus for 2021:
Tuned in to groundbreaking achievements
The year began with the grand opening of the Chris Young Cafe, the renovated cafeteria that now serves as a learning lab and performance venue. College of Media and Entertainment students and others will use the café to learn skills from nearly every facet of the business of entertainment: music business, audio production, songwriting, venue management, sound reinforcement, and lighting and rigging, along with radio broadcasts, comedy shows and other events produced with help from all of MTSU’s academic colleges.
A multiplatinum entertainer and former MTSU student, Young christened the stage inside the venue bearing his name as well as an eye-catching “Famous Friends” outdoor mural honoring Young and other influential graduates, former students and faculty, along with others. A new Tennessee Music Pathways marker unveiled at the ceremony to mark Young’s success.
Later in the spring, MTSU broke ground in April on the 54,000-square-foot, $40.1 million School of Concrete and Construction Management building that is now well underway to completion after a topping-out ceremony in early fall.
Expected to be completed in time for fall 2022 classes, the facility features classrooms, faculty and staff offices and laboratory space for Concrete Industry Management — one of the most exclusive programs in the nation — and Construction Management, both of which provide interns and ready-to-work graduates awaiting potentially lucrative careers.
“We mark yet another milestone in the university’s strategic path to educate and prepare students to fulfill workplace demands,” McPhee said. “Our programs have become the model other colleges and universities seek to replicate, and we’ve earned a reputation among industry leaders for preparing students with the knowledge and necessary skills to step into jobs ready to work Day One.”
The new building will be next to the future Applied Engineering Building, a 90,000-square-foot, $54.9 million facility which has received state funding and has an anticipated 2024 completion. Both will be in an area formerly occupied by Abernathy and Ezell halls, which have been demolished. Combined, there are 325 majors and 1,500 graduates in both programs.
Unique partnerships with business, military
Over the summer, MTSU signed or fulfilled a number of partnerships with business and the military.
In early August, MTSU and Murfreesboro-based McGuire Management Group announced a new partnership making it more affordable for current and future qualifying employees to earn college credit and obtain a degree from the university tuition-free.
McPhee and local McDonald’s franchise owner Jonathon McGuire announced the McGuire True Blue Education Partnership at the Memorial Boulevard location of the fast-food restaurant. McGuire owns 20 McDonald’s restaurants, 10 in Murfreesboro, seven in Nashville/Antioch, Tennessee, and others in Columbia, Centerville and White Bluff.
“This partnership is designed to empower employees to learn and advance in their careers, no matter where they are on their journey,” McPhee said, adding that he appreciated the company’s willingness to fund tuition costs for eligible employees.
A few days following the McGuire announcement, MTSU fulfilled its partnership with the inaugural Big Machine Music City Grand Prix in Nashville.
Under the agreement, some MTSU concrete students were provided internships for the race and, with the leadership and guidance of professor Heather Brown, were involved in creating safer and lighter blends of concrete using recycled materials and better molds for racing barriers and pit row use in the IndyCar Series event.
A month later, MTSU and officials with the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and the XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, signed a partnership to encourage education, research and innovation collaborations in STEM fields and other disciplines.
Provost Mark Byrnes and Brig. Gen. Bob Ritchie with the Army’s XVIII Airborne Corps signed the five-year agreement, followed by demonstrations of the MTSU Aerospace Department’s drone program and 3D printing, laser-cutting and virtual reality technology in the MakerSpace at the James E. Walker Library.
The agreement seeks to enhance knowledge transfer, increase coeducational opportunities for military and civilian scholars in the areas of STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — and promote greater understanding between the Army and MTSU as well as the national security and academic communities.
“Innovation is a trademark of MTSU’s academic programs,” Byrnes said. “We take great pride in providing our students opportunities to gain hands-on experience and attain real-world knowledge. … The possible benefits and outcomes from this transfer of knowledge holds great potential for both our national security and academic communities.”
Multiple national recognitions
Such facilities upgrades and program enhancements are one of the reasons that MTSU, for the third straight year, made The Princeton Review’s annual list of the nation’s best colleges for a third consecutive year.
MTSU remains the only locally governed institution in Tennessee recognized by the publication, first achieving its spot in 2019. Only five higher education entities in the state — two public and three private — were included in the recently released 30th edition of “The Best 387 Colleges.”
The honor by the highly regarded educational services company is extended to roughly 13% of the nation’s roughly 3,000 four-year institutions.
Byrnes, the university’s chief academic officer, said the ranking “was particularly gratifying to receive the honor in light of the tremendous effort by our entire university community in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Meanwhile, MTSU’s technology upgrades during the pandemic and ongoing improvements to its extensive online education offerings led to the university being named to Newsweek’s list of America’s Top Online Colleges 2022. MTSU ranked 40th among the 150 higher-ed institutions highlighted and was the only Tennessee university that made the list.
Not only that, MTSU also made Newsweek’s list of Best Maker Schools in Higher Education 2021. Institutions named to the list “are those with curricula that encourage learning by doing; are supported by educators committed to collaborative problem-solving; have well-developed makerspaces, labs, and studios; and which support diverse, interactive communities that engage in knowledge and skill sharing.”
Graduation with a safe twist
While summer and fall commencement graduates were again able to gather in mass inside Murphy Center for a return to more tradition ceremonies, the first ceremonies for the Class of 2021 in the spring required a bit of True Blue ingenuity.
As the university remained under a mask mandate and distancing guidelines, spring ceremonies for the almost 2,500 graduates featured 10 smaller ceremonies over three days, mostly according to academic college, with masked students seated on the floor of Hale Arena with chairs spread apart six feet and family and supporters socially distanced in the stands.
“I always say that our graduation ceremonies are the most significant events in the life of our university. These ceremonies, under these conditions and precautions, are even more significant,” MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee told the graduates, with the university forgoing outside guest speakers and having academic deans share brief remarks with the graduates.
“I know that many of you would not have chosen to persist through an academic year with so many unknowns, so many changes to your routine. Whether you struggled, discovered a new appreciation for the possibilities of remote learning or surprised yourself by thriving, I know none of it was easy.”
10 years of True Blue values
2021 also marked the 10th anniversary of the True Blue Pledge. It was a decade ago when McPhee convened a university task force to develop the pledge in the wake of the tragic death of Lady Raider basketball player Tina Stewart at the hands of her roommate during an argument at their off-campus apartment.
The pledge, which begins with the simple phrase “I am True Blue,” underscores MTSU’s core values of honesty and integrity; respect for diversity; engagement in the community; and committing to reason, not violence.
“As I’ve said numerous times before, ‘I Am True Blue’ is so much more than a slogan. It is truly who we are as a university,” McPhee said.
Here are more snapshots of other top university stories throughout the year, listed chronologically:
Free Speech Center’s new First Amendment report offers ‘creative ways’ to reach college students [+VIDEO]
A new report by the Free Speech Center at Middle Tennessee State University finds that college students don’t know much about their First Amendment freedoms, but their professors can help address that gap.
“Learning About Liberty: Facilitating First Amendment Engagement Among American University Students,” researched and written by Dr. Brian Hinote, MTSU’s associate vice provost for data analytics and student success, is available now at the center’s website.
“Research shows that most students enroll in college with minimal understanding of the First Amendment and its role in our democracy,” says Ken Paulson, director of the Free Speech Center.
“Our center focuses on creative ways to engage students in First Amendment principles so that they graduate as more informed citizens.”
When Kathleen Schmand was a student at the University of Pittsburgh, her father invited her to spend Thanksgiving with him in Murfreesboro, telling her she had to see Middle Tennessee State University during her visit.
Schmand’s father, a Navy veteran, had moved to Murfreesboro in 1995 because of his interest in the area’s Civil War history and access to the Alvin C. York Veterans Administration Medical Center.
As of Jan. 4, Kathleen Schmand is the new dean of MTSU’s James E. Walker Library following a nationwide search. Although her father has died, Schmand said she is excited to be back in Murfreesboro.
“I know he would be so excited to see that I’ve circled back around and now landed at MTSU for a new position, and particularly a position as dean,” Schmand said.
Schmand comes to MTSU from Northern Arizona University, where she had been director of development and communications for that institution’s library since 2006.
Middle Tennessee State University again honored slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in observance of the national holiday, though this year’s event was moved to a virtual format due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The annual MLK Celebration and Candlelight Vigil aired at 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 18, featuring pre-recorded remarks, special video presentations, artistic performances and a socially-distanced candlelight vigil in the Quad area as part of a moment of reflection toward the end of the presentation.
Vincent Windrow, associate vice provost of student success and pastor of Olive Branch Church, provided rousing keynote remarks encouraging students to be their “authentic selves” as they find their purpose in the world while encouraging the wider audience to heed King’s advice to choose community over chaos.
The MTSU Men’s Choir, featuring Caleb Mitchell and Devon Bowles, were also featured in a powerful visual performance of the song “Glory,” filmed in part on the grounds of Oaklands Mansion, a former Murfreesboro plantation now serving as a museum; and Jalen Everett, president of MTSU’s National Pan-Hellenic Council and treasurer of MTSU’s Phi Beta Sigma fraternity, shared remarks about King’s membership in the nation’s oldest historically Black fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, and introduced a video featuring historical footage of King.
“After a year of protests surrounding racial injustice, civil unrest, and an unprecedented pandemic, this year signifies a call-to-action for our community,” said event emcee Daniel Green, director of the Office of Intercultural and Diversity Affairs, host of the annual event.
MTSU Nursing partners with county health department to administer Moderna vaccine by appointment to eligible residents
Beginning Thursday, Feb. 25, the MTSU School of Nursing, in partnership with the Rutherford County Health Department, will join the State Farm Operations Center as a site for eligible Rutherford County residents to receive free COVID-19 Moderna vaccines.
The MTSU site will offer vaccines — by appointment only — on Thursdays and Saturdays in Cason-Kennedy Nursing Building, 610 Champion Way, in the heart of the MTSU campus
Reverting to a virtual environment may have affected the number of participants, but it did not deter the talent and creativity of the college students taking part in the sixth annual MTSU Computer Science Department’s HackMT.
Jacob Cuomo and Emily Nguyen were teammates on the first-place team that created an app to help family members keep track of chores, and as a bonus, they were each chosen to receive $2,500 scholarships provided by primary sponsor L3Harris to help wrap up the event, held virtually Friday through Sunday, Jan. 29-31.
The hackathon brings software developers, visual designers, programmers and computer science and computer information systems students from universities together to collaborate while inventing new web platforms, games, mobile apps and electronic gadgets.
This year, because of MTSU, state and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention protocols, they participated online from dorm rooms or home study areas.
Cuomo and Nguyen’s Team 2 emerged the overall winner with The Fam App for mobile devices. Team members included MTSU’s Nathan Igot, William Lucas, Adam Rhodes, Austin Fine, Daniel Wiseman and Joshua Cox, and Anuj Choudhary of Sheridan College in Ontario, Canada.
Dr. Jennifer Woodard, assistant dean of the MTSU College of Media and Entertainment, used those words to describe her life and career as she accepted the 2021 John Pleas Faculty Award at a Feb. 24 ceremony that was livestreamed to comply with COVID-19 protocols.
The award, named for psychology professor emeritus and 1999 Outstanding Teaching Award winner John Pleas, is presented annually during Black History Month to a Black faculty member who has demonstrated excellence in teaching, research and service.
Woodard is the 25th recipient since the award’s inception in 1997.
“I am honored, humbled and so filled with gratitude to be named among such an esteemed group, so many of whom have mentored, encouraged, sponsored and aided me,” Woodard said in her acceptance speech from Keathley University Center Theater in front of a small group of masked and socially distanced family members and supporters.
Woodard, one of Pleas’ former students, said Pleas was the first Black teacher she had ever had. She said he was so influential to her that she almost changed her major.
For the 25th consecutive year, a stellar group of unsung heroes were honored at MTSU’s 2021 Unity Celebration, held virtually this year as part of the university’s annual Black History Month activities.
In this year’s renamed online recognition, which substitutes for the annual on-campus Unity Luncheon due to COVID-19, the five community honorees were applauded during a special online broadcast that aired Thursday, Feb. 11, on the university’s Facebook and YouTube channels and True Blue TV.
Each celebrated individual must be 60 years of age or older, have resided in the Middle Tennessee area for 25 years or more, and have made outstanding contributions to their community.
MTSU has recognized nearly 130 people since the program began.
This year’s honorees were:
• Education — Sue Alexander, a telephone operator at MTSU, volunteer host at athletic events and church volunteer.
• Community Service — Violet D. Cox Wingo, an adjunct professor of social work at MTSU who has encouraged voter registration and civic involvement through her membership in the NAACP.
• Excellence in Sports — George Gibson, founder of the Above the Rim Gym, a nonprofit basketball academy for boys ages 7-17 which helps provide them with skills to prepare them for adulthood.
• Advocate of Civility — Christa Martin, the vice mayor of Columbia, Tennessee, and a volunteer in more than 15 civic organizations.
• Education — Kim Sokoya, associate dean of the Jennings A. Jones College of Business and creator of the college’s Flex MBA Program, which allows students to obtain master’s degrees in business administration entirely online.
Also honored with the university’s annual Unsung Staff Award was Danielle Rochelle, outreach coordinator for the MT One Stop and a member of MTSU Black History Month Committee.
MTSU’s College of Graduate Studies reported record-high spring semester enrollment with 2,919 students registered. This continued historic success — following an almost 28% enrollment increase last fall — is even more profound against the backdrop of the pandemic and its economic impacts.
“This is the only time in the College of Graduate Studies history that we have had a higher number of students in the spring than the fall,” said Dawn McCormack, associate dean of the college.
“New students are coming into our high-quality programs and previous students are staying to complete their degree or certificates. Others come here for a class or two to work on their skills and interests.”
“Our significant fall 2020 jump in graduate enrollment and now our record spring 2021 graduate enrollment did not happen on accident,” said David Butler, dean of the College of Graduate Studies.
“This was a planned effort by many administrators, faculty and staff across the university working together to make it known that MTSU is the place to further your education in Middle Tennessee and across the state.”
Working with an artist as well-established as Miranda Lambert was no “Wildcard” for a pair of Middle Tennessee State University graduates, but helping create the 2020 best country album‘s sound was a bet that paid off for them in Grammy gold.
In fact, 2000 Department of Recording Industry alumnus Jason A. Hall of Nashville and 2014 audio production grad Jimmy Mansfield almost could’ve bet the house on this year’s country album category, thanks to their teamwork on three of the five nominees.
Along with Lambert’s winning effort, announced March 14 in a combined live and virtual ceremony from Los Angeles’ Staples Center, engineer Hall and assistant engineer Mansfield also were part of the crew nominated for Brandy Clark’s “Your Life is a Record” and Ashley McBryde’s “Never Will.”
That crew, assembled by Grammy producer of the year nominee Jay Joyce, has been crafting the sound for multiple artists’ award-winning and bestselling projects for the last few years.
At age 14, the amazing Alnassari triplets may be too young to drive, but the Nashville, Tennessee, high school and MTSU dual enrollment students are steering their own success stories in academic pursuits at Middle Tennessee State University that may lead to medical careers.
Since August 2020, in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic, Fatimah, Zaynab and Ahmed Alnassari have been on a premed pathway, studying biology at the university, following their hearts with other interests, finding a passion for research and volunteering to help others.
Talk about driven. They each carry 18 hours this semester after 13 in the fall, perform 40 hours a week in botanical and agricultural research and make excellent grades in their remote, in-person and hybrid MTSU classes.
They and their mother, biology major (and driver) Khadijah Alnassari, made the fall Dean’s List. During winter break, they participated in a telemedical brigade to Honduras. They even find time to solicit appropriate Islamic attire, such as hijabs, for the Raiders Closet in the Career Development Center and plan to participate in the April 6-9 MTSU Habitat for Humanity build.
Fatimah, who plans to be a primary care physician and is the oldest by one minute, considers MTSU “a place where nothing is impossible.”
MTSU’s master’s in information systems program has been ranked among the Top 5 nationally by an online higher education resource for prospective students.
Ranked No. 4 by www.bestvalueschools.org for 2021, MTSU’s Master of Science in Information Systems through the Jennings A. Jones College of Business is delivered in a “50-50 format,” meaning students engage in classroom instruction half of the time during each course and complete the other half in an online study format.
Students entering MTSU’s program choose from three concentrations, including Business Intelligence and Analytics, Information Security and Assurance, or IT Project Management. Some courses offered in the program include Management of Security Operations, Applied Business Analytics, and Modeling for Problem Solving. Students can start the program in the spring, summer or fall.
“MTSU’s Jones College of Business has an exceptionally strong reputation in this region for the quality of graduates from its Master of Information Systems program,” said David Urban, dean of the college. “It is not surprising that the rest of the country is taking notice. Our ‘best value’ is based on high quality and a very reasonable tuition price point. That’s a value proposition that’s tough to beat.”
MTSU Theatre students are preparing the way of the Lord — and for big show-stopping tunes to return to Tucker Theatre — when they bring the Tony-nominated musical “Godspell” to audiences online April 8-11.
A socially distanced handful of in-person audience members at Tucker Theatre, located inside MTSU’s Boutwell Dramatic Arts Auditorium at 615 Champion Way, will provide much-needed live feedback for the cast and crew at each MTSU Arts performance.
“Godspell,” created by Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael Tebelak, premiered off-Broadway in 1971 and is regularly revived worldwide, in part because of the continuing popularity of its score, featuring the top-20 pop hit “Day by Day,” and its 1973 film adaptation.
Its title the Anglo-Saxon version of the word “gospel,” “Godspell” — or “good story” — tells of Christ with parables based on the New Testament book of Matthew, using tunes that incorporate traditional hymns’ lyrics. Eight non-Biblical characters sing and act out the stories with two actors portraying Jesus and John the Baptist/Judas.
As Middle Tennessee State University continues navigating its spring semester with a mix of course deliveries, significant technology upgrades during the past year because of the pandemic has placed the Blue Raider campus on the cutting edge locally, regionally and nationally in providing a deeper higher education experience for students.
Like many other academic institutions across the country, MTSU purchased a comprehensive Zoom license in March 2020 to begin the unexpected and rapid transition to all-remote instruction to stop the spread of COVID-19. But infrastructure was needed to equip hundreds of classrooms with video lecture and recording capabilities in addition to the faculty training needed to make the switch a successful one.
At the forefront of this pivot was the university’s Information Technology Division in partnership with administration, faculty and other technology leaders across campus as the institution embarked on a multimillion-dollar investment to provide faculty, staff and students with the ability to carry on its academic mission in an environment like few had experienced before.
The result? Albert Whittenberg, ITD’s assistant vice president for academic and instructional technologies, said the campus now has more than 400 “smart classrooms” that are equipped with a projector, document camera and other technology that allows an instructor to enter the classroom, push a button or two, and effectively teach a class both in-person and virtually.
U.S. Army Reserve Brig. Gen. Robert S. Powell Jr. was honored by his alma mater Monday as the 17th graduate of Middle Tennessee State University’s Army ROTC in its 71-year history to reach General officer rank.
Powell was recognized with the unveiling of a commemorative brick in a special ceremony at the Veterans Memorial site outside the Tom H. Jackson Building. The outdoor event and others throughout the day followed COVID-19 safety protocols of wearing masks and social distancing.
Powell, a 1991 MTSU graduate with a degree in political science/international relations, is the deputy commanding general of the 335th Signal Command in East Point, Georgia, and the Army Reserve’s first cyber officer promoted to brigadier general.
While their competition was virtual this past academic year, there’s nothing virtual about the MTSU Debate Team’s excellence.
Foregoing the usual travel to other schools for face-to-face verbal duels, the students debated online, finishing first in the nation in team format for fall and spring competitions under the rules of the International Public Debate Association.
More than 3,000 participants from more than 150 schools participated in IPDA debates during the 2020-21 season. About a third of the contestants took part in team debate.
“We’ve got some older debaters that were really good, and we’ve got some young ones who really stepped up to the plate,” said communication studies professor Patrick Richey, director of forensics and debate team coach.
Aside from altering their presentations, their arguments and even their evidence to accommodate pandemic protocols, Richey said his debaters endured practically every obstacle imaginable at the national tournament, in which numerous schools suffered local emergencies in various locations other than MTSU.
Telling the story of a century’s worth of broadcasting in America and in Tennessee has turned a national spotlight — and a pair of prestigious awards — toward a team of nine Middle Tennessee State University multimedia journalism students and alumni.
The students, all part of the School of Journalism and Strategic Media in the College of Media and Entertainment, first received a top-10 win May 21 in the national Hearst Journalism Awards Program for their November 2020 TV news special, “100 Years of Broadcasting.”
Then, on May 25, they learned their 30-minute special and its associated website made them one of six student-category Silver Winners in the renowned Telly Awards, which recognize the best TV and video content created worldwide by advertising agencies, TV stations, production companies and publishers.
The Hearst awards, called “the Pulitzer Prizes of collegiate journalism,” are considered the top honors for journalists at accredited U.S. universities.
This year’s Tellys included winning creations from organizations ranging from The Walt Disney Company and the PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs to CBS Interactive and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
The award-winning MTSU student special and its accompanying website are available at www.middletennesseenews.net/100-years-of-broadcast.
The MTSU team took journalism professor Christine Eschenfelder’s fall 2020 senior-level “Seminar in Media Issues” course, which focused this time on the centennial of U.S. broadcasting.
The group included now-alumni Christyn Allen of Oneida, Tennessee, a fall 2020 journalism graduate; Morgan Gonzalez of Maryville, Tennessee, Zoë Haggard of Nolensville, Tennessee, and Dontae Rucker of Knoxville, who received their journalism degrees this May; seniors Cheyana Avilla of Murfreesboro, a journalism major; Danesia Hunt of Memphis, who has a double major in sports media and Africana Studies; journalism majors Haley Perkins of Murfreesboro and Dede West of Antioch, Tennessee; and Xavier Mastin of Murfreesboro, a junior physical education major.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Big Machine Music City Grand Prix joined three other iconic Nashville institutions May 29 in support of the Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center at Middle Tennessee State University.
Grand Prix CEO Matt Crews, a MTSU alumnus, joined retired Army Lt. Gen. Keith Huber, MTSU’s senior adviser for veterans and leadership initiatives, for the announcement from the stage of the Grand Ole Opry during the sold-out Opry Salute the Troops show.
A pre-show video interview with Crews is available via the link above.
Huber said he was proud that the race, set for Aug. 6-8 in downtown Nashville, has joined the Opry, the Nashville Predators and the Nashville Sounds to help the about 1,100 military connected students at MTSU “seeking academic success and quality employment.”
Middle Tennessee State University has joined campuses across the nation in signing up for President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 College Vaccine Challenge to help raise the COVID-19 vaccination rate in the U.S. to 70% by the Fourth of July.
The White House and the U.S. Department of Education are inviting institutions nationwide to join the effort, which seeks to boost the nation’s vaccination rate above the current 63% over the coming weeks, with Tennessee’s vaccination rate standing at only 32%.
MTSU was the first Tennessee university to sign on to the challenge as a “Vaccine Champion University” and has since been joined by East Tennessee State University and Lane College among the 350-plus colleges and universities across 46 states that have signed on thus far.
Participating colleges commit to taking three key actions to help get their campus communities vaccinated: engaging every student, faculty, and staff member; organizing their college communities; and delivering vaccine access for all.
A first-place finish at the2021 YEDA Western Collegiate Celebration, hosted by the Youth Equestrian Development Association recently in Cleveland, Tennessee, completed an outstanding year for the MTSU equestrian team.
The team, coached by Ariel Herrin Higgins and undefeated during the regular season, took 12 riders to the competition. Eleven earned awards.
In the 16-team field, MTSU finished ahead of two West Texas A&M squads, fourth-place St. Mary-of-the-Woods (Indiana) College, fifth-place Berry College from Rome, Georgia, and sixth-place Adrian (Michigan) College.
MTSU usually competes in Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association regional and nationals, but IHSA canceled its events because of COVID-19 for the second consecutive year. The team followed local COVID protocols for the outdoor competition in Cleveland.
Lexie Phillips has felt the influences … from her large family, several dozen of whom have worked at Jack Daniel Distillery; from colleagues who work with her in the large Stillhouse in Lynchburg, Tennessee; and from Middle Tennessee State University, where she earned an agribusiness degree.
The impacts, inspirations and encouragements have touched Phillips, who was named the first female assistant distiller by the company earlier this spring. She supports the overall quality and innovation of Jack Daniel’s from “grain to glass” and serves as brand ambassador.
Jack Daniel’s, the famous Tennessee whiskey, has been around since the 1860s and is considered the top-selling whiskey in the world.
“I am so thankful for all the influences throughout my life that have brought me to where I am today,” said Phillips (Class of 2011), who is from Estill Springs, Tennessee. “From my mom (Mary Amacher) to the guys at the Stillhouse, they have helped me grow into the strong woman I am.
“MTSU was also one of my influences that taught me hard work and curiosity can lead you to amazing places in life.”
The presidents of Middle Tennessee State University and Nashville State Community College huddled recently to ensure the True Blue Pathway — a partnership established in 2019 for students with an associate degree to move seamlessly to the four-year university — will be up and running when both institutions resume full campus operations for the fall.
MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee and Nashville State President Shanna L. Jackson learned during a Wednesday, June 23, meeting that, despite the pandemic, the partnership has been beneficial to both entities.
McPhee said Nashville State regularly ranks among the top three in the number of graduates who began their studies at a community college.
The presidents committed to strengthening their partnership by uniting to jointly promote the True Blue Pathway. Through the pathway program, MTSU pledges support to help students at partner colleges complete their associate degree, then works with them to move forward in seeking a four-year degree on the Murfreesboro campus.
“As one of the top transfer choices for Nashville State students, we’re excited to renew this effort, because we are indeed better together,” Jackson told McPhee.
McPhee urged both schools to hone their focus on degree programs with clear ties to the needs of Nashville’s economy as both institutions advance the state’s overall mission of cultivating a more skilled workforce through higher education degrees and certifications.
“There are jobs we can help fill, and we need to make sure our students are presented with these opportunities,” McPhee said. “That is tremendous motivation.”
After what 2020 and much of 2021 threw at them, this summer’s round-the-clock Tennessee Governor’s School for the Arts at MTSU was a virtual vacation for its nearly 300 young participants.
This year, though, “virtual” doesn’t involve videoconferencing.
Even though some of their artistic efforts are by nature solitary, the 11th and 12th graders from across Tennessee were thrilled to be among fellow creative-minded people to brainstorm ideas, offer suggestions, listen to snippets of music or soliloquies, share supplies and computer screens and, sometimes, simply be together.
“The past year … we’ve not really gotten to play with others, so the chance to play with other musicians, with no masks, and seeing everybody, makes it even more special,” said Cindy Liu of Germantown, Tennessee, a junior at Houston High School and one of the acclaimed flutists joining this year’s Governor’s School.
The Tennessee Governor’s School for the Arts, which concluded its 37th year at MTSU on June 26, welcomes public, private and home-schooled high school juniors and seniors in music, theater, visual arts, dance and filmmaking.
Middle Tennessee State University is again recognizing outstanding alumni who represent excellence and distinction through their professional careers, loyal support and service to the broader community.
From 1960 to present, the MTSU Alumni Association has recognized accomplished alumni with the association’s highest honor: the Distinguished Alumni Award.
This year’s recipient is Torrance Esmond (Class of 2003) of Nashville, Tennessee. Known professionally as “Street Symphony,” Esmond is a record producer, music executive, composer and adjunct MTSU professor, spearheading a new hip-hop and R&B songwriting class.
This year’s Young Alumni Achievement Award, given to a graduate age 35 or younger making a positive impact in the world, goes to Gabrielle Thompson (Classes of 2012 and ’15), a Nashville resident and Free for Life International’s executive director and CEO for the past six years — with a heart for empowerment and justice for vulnerable world populations.
For the eighth consecutive year, True Blue Citations of Distinction are being awarded. Categories, including a new one for Military Service, and this year’s honorees can be viewed by clicking the headline above.
OSHKOSH, Wis. — Middle Tennessee State University celebrated its return to EAA AirVenture, the world’s largest aviation celebration, Monday, July 26, by renewing its partnership for a third time with Civil Air Patrol, the volunteer civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force.
MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee and Maj. Gen. Mark Smith, CAP’s national commander and chief executive officer, signed the three-year extension just hours after the Experimental Aircraft Association’s signature annual event roared back after a one-year COVID-19 hiatus.
The 69th AirVenture, expected to draw more than 600,000 visitors over its seven-day run, also attracts premier aerospace organizations from industry, education and public service. Its tower controls the movement of about 10,000 aircraft, making it the world’s busiest for the week.
“It’s wonderful that MTSU and CAP are here to celebrate the return of EAA AirVenture and the renewal of our partnership,” McPhee said. “Doing this at this international event underscores the importance of our work in aerospace, both as individual organizations and as partners.”
The MTSU College of Basic and Applied Sciences and its Department of Aerospace launched the partnership in 2014 with a priority goal of providing cadets ages 12 to 18 in the CAP’s Tennessee Wing with opportunities to interact with faculty and explore the Murfreesboro campus.
Autumn Gates can already anticipate the rush of IndyCars reaching 200 mph soon in downtown Nashville, Tennessee.
But the MTSU alumna and former Concrete Industry Management student is equally excited about taking some of her Irving Materials Inc. customers to the inaugural Big Machine Music City Grand Prix and getting goose bumps seeing some of her work and that of her peers on display and playing a critical role in the race.
Through a partnership between the university and race organizers signed last fall, Gates and 15 students in professor Heather Brown’s senior lab class helped research and test an environmentally friendly concrete mixture for both a barrier wall and pit lane.
Many will attend the NTT IndyCar Series race, which begins at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 8, on the 2.17-mile course on city streets.
As thousands of Middle Tennessee State University students continue moving back onto campus this week, President Sidney A. McPhee welcomed back faculty and staff with praise for their resilience the past 18 months of the pandemic while emphasizing vigilance as the campus returns to more traditional operations for the fall semester.
Signs of that vigilance were unmistakable inside the university’s Tucker Theatre on Thursday, April 19, for the traditional Fall Faculty Meeting, with all attendees complying with McPhee’s recently reinstated mask mandate indoors and applauding his commitment to follow the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state and local health official on how best to deal with the coronavirus. (See his full address and faculty award presentations by clicking the headline link above.)
As usual, the majority of McPhee’s address was filled with encouragement for the campus community, as he spotlighted several new degree programs and initiatives, notable grant awards for faculty research, national program rankings, new construction and proposed upgrades to campus facilities, and recent and pending bonuses for employees.
But with last year’s Fall Faculty Meeting forced into a virtual-only format due to COVID-19 and the recent emergence of the delta variant throughout the community and nation raising concerns, McPhee encouraged the in-person and livestream audience to take advantage of the free vaccines available on campus and elsewhere in the community.
Consumer research pro Graeff earns Career Achievement Award; 10 professors saluted for teaching, service
A Middle Tennessee State University marketing professor whose regular teamwork with his students and colleagues provides consumer insights into Tennessee’s economy chose to focus on those students and colleagues, and his family, after receiving the university’s top teaching honor.
He was saluted Thursday, Aug. 19, at the university’s Fall Faculty Meeting for his teaching, research and service to students.
University President Sidney A. McPhee and alumnus Ronald Roberts, MTSU Foundation vice president, presented Graeff with his award in MTSU’s Tucker Theatre, the traditional site for the annual faculty gathering before each new academic year begins.
“Often at the end of my each of my classes, I ask my students, ‘What did you learn today?’ And they’ll tell me things — sometimes it’s very surprising what they tell me — but what we’re all about now is reflective learning: ‘What did you learn?’” said Graeff, founder of MTSU’s Office of Consumer Research.
Youth advocate, social entrepreneur and military veteran Wes Moore challenged incoming MTSU freshmen and transfer students to take up a mantle of selflessness during his keynote remarks at University Convocation inside Murphy Center on Saturday, Aug. 21.
Moore, a Rhodes scholar and New York Times bestselling author of MTSU’s Summer Reading Selection “The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates,” told the thousands of masked students and family members inside the arena that a question he was repeatedly asked throughout his academic journey in college was “What is your major?”
At the time, it seemed like the most important question for his life because he was asked so often, he said. But in those two decades since earning that degree, he said he never gets asked that question — now realizing that there were more important questions to consider.
“The most important question you will be asked is, ‘Who will you choose to fight for?’ ‘Who will matter to you when it’s not easy, when it’s not simple, when it might not be convenient?’” said Moore, former CEO of the New York-based anti-poverty foundation Robin Hood. “‘Who will you choose to be a voice for?’”
Led by Debra Sells, vice president for Student Affairs and vice provost for Enrollment and Academic Services, University Convocation officially welcomes freshmen and transfer students to the Blue Raider campus for a new academic year. The formal ceremony features a keynote speaker as well as MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee, Provost Mark Byrnes and other faculty and top administrators marching into the arena in full academic regalia.
MTSU’s Jennings A. Jones College of Business continues to rack up international recognition for the quality of its programs.
The premier accrediting body in business education worldwide, AACSB International, recently extended Jones College’s business and accounting accreditations for another five years, based on an exhaustive review.
Established in 1916, AACSB is the world’s largest business education alliance, connecting educators, learners, and business to create the next generation of leaders. With a presence in more than 100 countries and territories, AACSB fosters engagement, accelerates innovation and amplifies impact in business education.
“There is no greater distinction for a business or accounting program anywhere in the world than to receive extension of accreditation from AACSB International,” said Jones College Dean David Urban. “It is an assurance for our students and alumni that the educational experience in Jones College is in the elite group of business and accounting programs.”
For more than a century, AACSB accreditation has been synonymous with the highest standards in business education. Today, 890 institutions across 58 countries and territories have earned AACSB accreditation in business. Furthermore, only 189 institutions — including MTSU’s Jones College — maintain supplemental AACSB accreditation for their accounting programs.
MTSU students across campus have learned firsthand what democracy sounds like when it is read out loud.
At six separate locations, students, faculty and staff stood in line to read aloud sections of the U.S. Constitution Sept. 14-16 in celebration of Constitution Week, a schedule of activities concluding with the 234th anniversary of the Constitution’s ratification on Friday, Sept. 17.
“I think it’s important for everyone around campus to have awareness of the importance of the Constitution,” said Mallory Cutrell, a senior elementary education major from Hendersonville, Tennessee, after reading a section on House and Senate compensation.
MTSU and the American Heart Association are celebrating the results of the 2021 Rutherford Heart Walk with heartfelt joy.
The Sept. 25 event raised approximately $102,590, with MTSU placing third among the top participating companies with $3,189.53 and first among the participants in the Move More Challenge with 566 minutes. The challenge is a series of customizable workplace events designed to help companies have a positive impact on employee health and well-being.
Retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Keith Huber, MTSU’s senior adviser for veterans and leadership initiatives, was fifth among the top walkers with just over $1,000 raised. Huber, who suffered a heart attack four years ago and whose wife underwent surgery to repair an aortic valve five years ago, led the walk as this year’s chair.
“I deeply appreciate the opportunity to increase heart health awareness while serving as this year’s Rutherford County Heart Walk chair,” Huber said. “Both my wife and I survived open heart surgery without heart damage aided by our disciplined approach to a healthy lifestyle.”
Just a few yards from the site where Middle Tennessee State University students first started learning 40 years ago how to make music sound right, a new set of recording studios is preparing them for record-breaking careers.
Students in the Department of Recording Industry are now using Studios D and E — nearly 5,000 square feet of customized, expandable, “world-class” space, complete with control rooms, equipment rooms and an open gathering/reception area — relocated from an aging dorm, targeted for demolition, to the former Parking and Transportation Services Building on East Main Street.
BryTavious “Tay Keith” Chambers, a 2018 integrated studies graduate of MTSU’s University College, came to the university for its recording industry program.
The Grammy-nominated producer and Memphis native returned to campus Sept. 29 for a “sneak peek” visit of the new facilities with 2019 MTSU concrete industry management graduate Nick Brownlow, public relations manager in his Nashville-based record label and production company, Drumatized; and longtime friends Cambrian Strong, Chambers’ business manager and a former advertising and public relations major in MTSU’s College of Media and Entertainment, and stylist Tyland Jackson, an integrated studies major in the University College.
MTSU’s School of Music was pleased to resume the nation’s longest-running marching band competition after its hiatus a year ago because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The 58th Contest of Champions was held Saturday, Oct. 23, on Jones Field inside Floyd Stadium featuring 19 high school bands from four states throughout the region.
Taking the grand champion prize was Pope High School of Marietta, Georgia, followed by reserve champion honors to Siegel High School of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and honorary mention going to Bartlett High School of Bartlett, Tennessee.
For scoring recaps, go to https://mtsu.edu/coc/.
Heather Brown, the longtime professor and former director of the of the MTSU School of Concrete and Construction Management, was recognized by her peers and industry leaders at a special event Tuesday, Oct. 26, at the Embassy Suites Hotel Nashville SE Murfreesboro.
Brown, who was the face of the MTSU program for 20 years before leaving this year to become vice president of quality control and quality assurance with Indianapolis, Indiana-based Irving Materials Inc., received the Champion Award from the Concrete Industry Management National Steering Committee during the special 25th Anniversary of the organization.
The former MTSU CIM leader, who is a member of the Tennessee Concrete Association Lifetime Hall of Fame, also received an award from the MTSU CIM Patrons, a group of concrete professionals serving the university program and students through financial, marketing and mentoring assistance in a nonprofit capacity.
MTSU hosted the anniversary celebration, bringing together more than 100 industry leaders from around the country, guests and the other CIM universities — Texas State, New Jersey Institute of Technology, California State University-Chico and the newest member, South Dakota State University, which joined in September.
Homecoming is a way for everyone connected to the university to celebrate the decades of traditions — food, fun and fellowship at various activities throughout the week.
“Through the raindrops, everyone who attended homecoming events were smiling and so happy to be on campus,” said Rhonda King, Office of Alumni Relations assistant director. “It’s always an honor to hosts alumni on campus.”
MTSU’s Student Government Association, in partnership with the Signature Events Committee and Student Programming and Raider Entertainment (SPARE), also coordinated various student-oriented events throughout the week including a concert, step show, and a pumpkin patch decoration activity and yard party in and around the Student Union.
And, as is tradition, the 2021 Homecoming king and queen were announced at the football game inside Floyd Stadium, with students Joshua Gray and Ashlee Dunn accepting their crowns from MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee and first lady Elizabeth McPhee on Jones Field.
Both seniors, Dunn is a mechatronics engineering major from Jackson, Tennessee, while Gray is a recording industry/commercial songwriting major from St. Louis, Missouri.
Hungry for some live entertainment? MTSU Theatre students have just the recipe and are saving the best seats — and the choicest cuts — for you Nov. 4-7 in this fall’s Tony and Olivier Award-winning “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”
Performances of the Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler musical open at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, Nov. 4-6, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 7, in Tucker Theatre, located inside MTSU’s Boutwell Dramatic Arts Auditorium at 615 Champion Way.
“Sweeney Todd,” which first opened on Broadway in 1979 and has seen multiple revivals worldwide along with an Oscar-winning film adaptation, is a gruesome melodrama based on 18th-century tales from the “penny dreadfuls” of serial Victorian fiction.
Count on the Middle Tennessee State University community to take the old exhortation to “Give it 110%!” to heart in the classroom, in athletic competitions and in community service — especially when they’re asked to save community lives.
MTSU students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends enthusiastically took that “goal” a few percentage points higher during this week’s annual “True Blue Blood Drive,” beating their three-day, 100-units-per-day target by 121% and donating 362 pints of blood for their neighbors across the state and region.
“Incredible!! Our patients owe you a debt of gratitude!!” wrote Gene Baker, senior account manager for donor resources at the American Red Cross’ Nashville offices, early Thursday, Nov. 4, in an email announcing the results of MTSU’s Nov. 1-3 community blood drive.
“That’s 121% of (our) goal, helping save 362 to 724 lives!!! In addition, and most importantly, (we had) 152 FIRST TIME DONORS!!”
The Red Cross says up to three patients can use the components from one unit of blood. An average 150- to 180-pound adult’s body contains about 10 units, or 1.5 gallons of blood; a newborn’s body has about one cup.
Gabriela Muller and her daughter, Sophia, 8, strolled slowly past the MTSU Veterans Memorial marker featuring 71 names of former students who died serving their country in the military.
Nearby, Joshua Muller — Gabriela’s husband and Sophia’s father — is an ROTC senior cadet who assisted with the breaking down of chairs following a nearly 30-minute memorial service, kicking off the 39th annual Salute to Veterans and Armed Forces game activities.
As a tribute to veterans and currently serving military members, MT Athletics and the Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center holds special events that help conclude Veterans Day-related events on campus. The Blue Raiders beat Florida International University, 50-10.
“Paying homage and respect” is what the day meant to the Mullers. “They made the ultimate sacrifice, to make our life what it is today.”
As the model race car drove in fits and starts along the mock road course on the MTSU Science Building Atrium floor, an MTSU data science team member had to frequently pick it up and redirect it to stay on the roadway.
Not at all what the team planned, yet it was a problem that flummoxed all five teams who had spent the past two months dabbling in the increasingly important field of machine learning. It was part of a friendly competition of autonomously driven model race cars hosted by the MTSU Data Science Institute in partnership with Amazon Web Services.
“We’re testing this all together so we can get better,” said biology professor Ryan Otter, director of MTSU’s Data Science Institute. “This is the real world, so it’s not always pretty and perfect. … This is just the start.”
Otter made this matter-of-fact observation as he looked on from the steps of the atrium, which was recently transformed into a hands-on exploratory lab for the first of what Otter plans to be many “AWS DeepRacer” events hosted by the university.
DeepRacer allows developers of all skill levels to “get hands on with machine learning through a cloud-based 3D racing simulator, fully autonomous 1/18 scale race car driven by reinforcement learning.” Amazon Web Services describes it as “an interesting and fun way to get started” with machine learning.
Middle Tennessee secures $66M for new Student-Athlete Performance Center, Floyd Stadium upgrades [+VIDEO]
Middle Tennessee State University announced Monday, Nov. 15, that it has secured funds for a $66 million project to build a new student-athlete performance center behind the north end zone of Floyd Stadium as well as make stadium improvements – the first of a three-phase, $100 million-plus plan to upgrade athletics facilities.
President Sidney A. McPhee, along with Trustees Board Chairman Steve Smith and Athletics Director Chris Massaro, revealed details on the milestone during a rally-style ceremony at the Emmett and Rose Kennon Athletics Hall of Fame, just before the tipoff of the Lady Raiders’ game against Vanderbilt.
Built on the site of the current weight and gameday rooms adjacent to Murphy Center, the three-story structure will house training, strength and conditioning, and equipment centers. Football’s locker and meeting rooms and personnel offices will be moved from Murphy Center into the new facility.
Design of the new facility will begin immediately, with project completion expected before the start of the 2024 Blue Raider football season. GMC+HOK, a team that helped build similar projects at Vanderbilt, Auburn, Georgia and other universities, will oversee design of the project. The State Building Commission recently approved MTSU’s plans for the project.
Middle Tennessee State University has been named to Newsweek’s list of America’s Top Online Colleges 2022.
The prestigious recognition is compiled by Newsweek and Statista Inc., the world-leading statistics portal and industry ranking provider.
MTSU ranked 40th among the 150 higher-ed institutions highlighted and was the only Tennessee university that made the list.
The ranking highlights the nation’s top colleges with online degrees, based on an online survey earlier this year with over 12,000 assessments from more than 9,000 respondents who participated in online college degree programs and/or general online learning courses in the United States.
Respondents shared their experiences by rating the institutions on several criteria: organization and accessibility, support and service, the cost of the program, its perceived organizational reputation, their expected success, and the practical relevance of the program’s contents.
Finally, respondents could indicate how satisfied they were with the organization and to what extent they would recommend it to others.
More than a half-dozen Middle Tennessee State University alumni are dancing back to the 64th annual Grammy Awards in January with the ones who’ve brought them to the industry’s biggest honors in categories ranging to country to pop to Latin music to bluegrass to gospel.
The Recording Academy announced its nominations last week for the event, which will be broadcast and streamed live from Los Angeles on CBS at 7 p.m. Central Monday, Jan. 31.
To see the list of MTSU nominees for music released between Sept. 1, 2020, and Sept. 30, 2021, click the headline above.
Middle Tennessee State University faculty and staff again stepped up in support of their neighbors by pledging a record $140,791 for the 2021-22 Employee Charitable Giving Campaign, beating the $140,000 campaign goal.
In addition to the record dollar amount, this year’s campaign also attracted the highest number of participants: 864.
MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee praised university faculty and staff for their generosity in line with the True Blue spirit of giving.
“I continue to be amazed by the willingness of so many on our campus to do their part to help those in our community who need a helping hand through the tremendous services offered from the nonprofit community,” said McPhee.
Meanwhile, the Jennings A. Jones College of Business extended its streak to nine straight years of winning the Provost Cup, a friendly competition between academic units that is awarded to the college with the highest percentage of employee participation.
MTSU to create College of Education center focused on diversifying student teacher, graduate, faculty ranks
Middle Tennessee State University is creating a new center in its College of Education to focus on recruiting and retaining diverse teacher candidates, graduate students and faculty.
The announcement was part of a broader discussion at the quarterly MTSU Board of Trustees meeting Dec. 8 on the need to better serve and encourage students from underserved communities — particularly Black males.
Professor Michelle Stevens, introduced as director of the new Fairness, Justice and Equity Center in the College of Education, said the center will offer educational opportunities, support and advocacy for community partners. It will also partner with Memphis-based Man Up Teacher Fellowship, a nonprofit working to provide students in high-poverty areas access to “high-quality male teachers.”
Rick Vanosdall, interim dean of the College of Education, said more information about the center will be released at a formal opening in the Spring 2022 semester.
President Sidney A. McPhee touted the center as among MTSU’s ongoing commitment to improve graduation and retention rates for underserved populations. He said MTSU invests more than $2.6 million in university funds and external grants each year into efforts and programs to support underrepresented populations.
Brelinda Johnson is not just in the business of student success. She exemplifies it.
The Adams, Tennessee, native set a precedent Dec. 11 when she graduated with the inaugural education doctoral degree, an Ed.D., in a higher education concentration under MTSU’s Assessment, Learning and Student Success Program.
“I’m excited for the people that get to come behind, and I hope to be an inspiration to those students that get to see the work that I did,” Johnson said. “Hopefully, they’ll want to progress to something similar in their fields.”
Johnson is uniquely qualified to achieve in this area because her job is manager of the MTSU Scholars Academy, an early arrival program within the Office of Student Success designed to help freshmen with an emphasis on first-generation and/or students or color by providing them with a supportive learning environment.
ALSS, the program that benefitted Johnson as a student, helps scholars learn the theories, techniques and best practices that they can use to lead students to higher levels of achievement.
“The overarching purpose of the program is to prepare educators to be more effective in their work as practitioners,” said Donald Snead, interim chair of the Womack Department of Educational Leadership.
MTSU’s spring 2022 semester begins Tuesday, Jan. 18.