‘Unsung hero’ Ricketts receives Silver Column Awar...

‘Unsung hero’ Ricketts receives Silver Column Award (+VIDEO)

Dr. Cliff Ricketts’ five decades of alternative fuels research and exemplary classroom teaching have been acknowledged in a special way by MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee.

McPhee surprised the 37-year MTSU School of Agribusiness and Agriscience faculty member today when he presented Ricketts with the President’s Silver Column Award in a brief ceremony at the Vocational Agriculture Building on Lightning Way. You can watch a brief  video from the event below.

Ricketts becomes the sixth Silver Column Award honoree since the president established the award in 2004.

“We are what we are because of people like you,” McPhee said. “The President’s Column Award goes out to faculty, staff and employees who go truly beyond the call of duty, in bringing recognition to the university, or for unsung heroes.

“And I just consider you for years being one of our ‘unsung heroes.’ You just go about and do your job. You don’t expect the cameras. You don’t ask for anything other than a little support to keep your work going.

“I’ve watched you since I’ve been at this university do so much for our students, the relationship you have with our students, the ground-breaking research in an area so badly needed in our country with your fuel efficiency work and most recently, your travels around the country that have drawn attention to the university from all sources around the world.”

Ricketts said he felt “so honored to receive this award,” later adding, “we’re here for the students. We need to do all we can to help them.”

McPhee said that when selecting graduation speakers and President’s Silver Column Award recipients, he is a committee of one.

“This is very, very special in that not everyone gets to wear this,” he said, explaining that the pin’s silver column accented in blue symbolizes the enduring columns of Kirksey Old Main, one of MTSU’s four original campus buildings.

“This is for you, for quietly, behind the scenes, being an extraordinary person, an extraordinary professor and an incredible researcher in terms of the work that you’re doing that’s really going to change lives and be a major contribution, not only to the state, but the country.”

Dr. Cliff Ricketts, left, and his wife, Nancy, laugh as she affixes the President’s Silver Column Award pin to his lapel April 30. MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee, who presented the pin to the longtime educator and alternative fuels researcher, is at right. (MTSU photo by J. Intintoli)

Those attending the brief presentation included Ricketts’ wife, Nancy; School of Agribusiness and Agriscience director Dr. Warren Gill; agribusiness and agriscience faculty member Alanna Neely; and College of Basic and Applied Sciences associate dean Dr. Saeed Foroudastan.

Neely told McPhee that she “owes a lot — 80 percent — to Dr. Ricketts” for helping her adjust from student to instructor to coordinator of the dual-credit program in the department.

Ricketts said more than 30 of the department’s former students pursued doctoral degrees.

Ricketts and his support teams have made back-to-back, 2,600-mile trips. In March, the journey was made without gasoline, using hydrogen from water separated by the sun, all processed on campus. In 2012, they used only 2.15 gallons of gas to complete the trip.

Ricketts’ quests have generated phenomenal amounts of national and international news coverage.

This year alone, Discovery Channel Canada, RFD-TV, KABC in Los Angeles, Fox 5 in Atlanta, the Associated Press, United Press International and newspapers, magazines, television and radio stations and the Internet covered his expedition.

Ricketts has run engines on ethanol from corn, methane from cow manure, soybean oil and hydrogen from water, as well as operating a solar/electric truck and a vehicle that uses gas/ethanol/electric power and hydrogen from water separated by the sun.

MTSU professor Cliff Ricketts stands next to a sign showing gas prices at a Mobil gasoline station just off an I-40 west exit near Newberry Springs, Calif., on March 14 en route to Long Beach, Calif., and the end of a 2013 cross-country car trip without gasoline. (MTSU file photo)

A native of Mt. Juliet, Tenn., Ricketts earned degrees from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and Ohio State University. He joined the MTSU faculty in August 1976.

Previous Silver Column Award recipients include:

  • Dr. Judith Iriarte-Gross, MTSU chemistry professor, 18-year faculty member, director of the WISTEM Center and champion of the cause of recruiting girls and young women into science, technology, engineering and math fields.
  • Sherian Huddleston, retired associate vice provost for enrollment services.
  • Larry Sizemore, supervisor of ground services.
  • Suma Clark, retired director of publications and graphics (now Creative and Visual Services) who now serves as a part-time web management team-project coordinator.
  • The late Dr. Charles Wolfe, a distinguished folklorist, accomplished author and music historian and English professor.

To learn more about Ricketts’ recent adventures in alternative fuels research, visit

— Randy Weiler (