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Vice Chancellor Margie Nichols Announces Plans to Retire

I would like to share some news with you that is both sad and happy. Margie Nichols, vice chancellor for communications and marketing, plans to retire from the university later this year.

It is a tough announcement for me to make. Margie started helping me even before I arrived on campus to begin serving as chancellor in 2009. She has been a big part of what we’ve been able to accomplish.

Margie has served as vice chancellor for more than seven years and has provided the strong leadership needed to enhance the university’s national reputation. She has helped to tell the best stories about our university and improved our communication with students, faculty, and staff.

Margie and her team have led the campus through a very successful branding campaign. This effort has helped to infuse orange into our campus culture and to present our brand with unity and consistency behind the Power T logo.

Margie has also been a critical part of my cabinet and brought valuable expertise and knowledge to our team. We will miss her greatly at the University of Tennessee, and I will personally miss her counsel on the many issues we have faced over the years.

Margie says, “I have had an amazing career, and it’s been an honor to serve the University of Tennessee and its distinguished faculty, staff, and students. I have accomplished the goals I set eight years ago when I came to UT. The time is right for my husband and me to focus on our list of things we want to do together.

“I have been blessed with an extremely talented staff who will continue all of the great work we’ve started. I am humbled by Chancellor Cheek’s kind words and trust; I will miss him and my colleagues greatly.”

We are beginning a national search to fill the position. Margie will continue to serve in her role until her successor is named. Chris Cimino, vice chancellor for finance and administration, is chairing the search, and a committee representing faculty, staff, and students will be named soon. Read more on Tennessee Today.

Please join me in thanking Margie for her service and wishing her well in her retirement.

Lace up Your Sneakers for the Be Well Kickoff Lunch

Knoxville employees, join Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek for a lunch of healthy options and giveaways to kick off the new employee wellness program.

11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Thursday, January 28
Courtside in Thompson-Boling Arena

Wear sneakers and join the Be Well team after lunch to walk laps on the concourse or shoot hoops on the court.

Please enter the arena under Pratt Pavilion.

RSVP to attend.

Vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options will be available.

More information about the lunch and the Be Well program is available in Tennessee Today.

Victory sign

Vols Win Outback Bowl; Student Athletes Post Record Overall GPA

It’s great to start the new year celebrating the success of our Volunteer student athletes.

The Vol football team dominated the Northwestern Wildcats at the Outback Bowl, played New Year’s Day in a mostly-orange-filled Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. The 45–6 win over Northwestern marked the largest margin of victory for the Vols in a bowl game in program history.

We also start the year with the great news of the impressive performance of Volunteer student athletes in the classroom. Tennessee posted a 3.06 overall student-athlete GPA for fall semesters, with thirteen of the sixteen teams posting above 3.0. Fall semester marked the highest term overall GPA and the sixth consecutive semester of GPAs above 3.0.

The Vol football team posted a fall team GPA of 2.68, the second-highest in fall semester history. The football team’s cumulative GPA is 2.77, the highest in the team’s history.

Access and Success Can Go Hand in Hand

Each year, we try to recruit and enroll the best and brightest students. Our new Volunteers come from all backgrounds and income levels, and we have a number of programs to help ensure that money is not a stumbling block for them.

A recently released report underscores our belief that universities don’t have to choose between access and success—that, in fact, the two can go hand in hand.

The study, published by the Institute for Higher Education Policy and summarized in a recent issue of Washington Monthly magazine, looks at colleges that have increased their enrollment of low-income students—specifically, those eligible for Pell grants—while continuing to hit other important marks of excellence, such as enrolling a freshman class with a high median ACT score and having a strong six-year graduation rate.

We are proud to be among the schools that have managed to improve both access and success. In fact, the University of Tennessee is cited as a success in the report.

Nearly a third of our undergraduates—31 percent—are eligible for federal Pell grants. This year, 14 percent of our freshmen received institutional scholarships to cover the cost of attending the university.

The Institute for Higher Education Policy report lists some of the key steps schools should take to enroll and retain low-income students. We’re already doing all of these things:

Our admissions office uses holistic review—looking not only at a student’s GPA and ACT score, but also at special abilities, life circumstances, and other factors that would make the applicant a great addition to the Volunteer family.

We’ve created an admissions pipeline by placing admissions counselors in West, Middle, and East Tennessee to work closely with high schools and community colleges in those areas. These counselors engage in their communities and get to know advisors and students.

The UT-funded Pledge and Promise scholarships help improve diversity by opening our doors to students who might not otherwise be able to attend. For low-income students, the Pledge scholarship, in combination with other federal, state, and institutional aid, covers the cost of attending UT. The Promise program provides scholarships for academically eligible students from high schools that typically don’t send many students to UT. Many of these are inner-city schools in Nashville and Memphis.

Programs like UT Lead and Math Camp are examples of how we have implemented summer academic bridge programs that help admitted students adjust and prepare for the academic rigors of college. Our Volunteer Bridge program, which allows students to begin their studies at Pellissippi State Community College and then transfer seamlessly to UT, is another way we’re increasing both access and success.

We also use early warning systems, including uTrack, to provide students with a road map to the courses they need to graduate on time and to alert advisors when students get behind.

Becoming a great university doesn’t just happen.

Building a diverse, well-rounded, and stellar student body takes planning, creativity, and a lot of hard work. It’s nice to see our efforts to increase access and student success are working and being used as examples to help enroll and support students with great potential across the nation.

Dale Dickey with President diPietro, Chancellor Cheek, and Dean Lee

Dale Dickey: UT Can Stand for Utter Tenacity

Although it’s been thirty-one years since she was a UT student, Knoxville-born actress Dale Dickey continues to raise East Tennessee’s profile on the national stage and to give back to our university.

I had the privilege of presenting the “reigning queen of southern gothic” with an honorary Master of Fine Arts, the highest degree given in that discipline, at our fall commencement ceremony.

“I wanted nothing more than to pursue my dream of acting, which I learned here at the University of Tennessee,” Dale told our graduates. “Studying here gave me my life, so anything I can do to inspire and keep people’s dreams going—that’s what I want to do.”

Over the years, Dale has found her niche on the stage and screen playing southern characters that are downtrodden souls, tough criminals, addicts, or prisoners. She has been cast in recurring roles in several TV series including True Blood, Breaking Bad, Justified, My Name is Earl, and Christy.

Despite a hectic work schedule, Dale remains a dedicated Tennessee Volunteer. She has returned to the stage of the Clarence Brown to star in Steel Magnolias (1990), Our Country’s Good (1994), The Rainmaker (2001), A Streetcar Named Desire (2009), and Sweeney Todd (2012).

The head of UT’s theatre department, Cal MacLean, calls Dale a “remarkable asset” and says having a successful Hollywood actress come back to star in shows and be a mentor is an extraordinary benefit to students.

“I often think of UT as standing for Utter Tenacity,” Dale said. “Tenacity is a big thing you’ve got to have out there, no matter what it is you are going after. Stay persistent.”

She told students her own journey to success has taken years of hard work and dedication, even when it meant working odd jobs to help pay the bills. She worked as a waitress and a law office receptionist, drove a tofu sandwich truck, delivered balloons, parked cars, dressed up as Barney and Shrek, hawked products in grocery stores, and cleaned lots of bathrooms.

After sharing a glimpse into her own life and career, Dale encouraged our graduates to stay true to themselves and pursue their dreams.

“There are no small roles or walk-ons in this life,” she said. “Everyone’s story is of value. Everyone’s opinion matters. Keep your childlike curiosity about the world. No matter where you end up, whether it’s a big city or a small town, your story is unique and important.”

Although Dale attended UT as a theatre major from 1979 to 1984, she actually began doing plays here as a child. She had more than twenty shows to her credit before she enrolled as a college student.

Dale received the Film Independent Spirit Award for her performance in the Oscar-nominated movie Winter’s Bone. Her other film credits include Domino, Changeling, The Guilt Trip, Being Flynn, Super 8, and Iron Man 3.

Our university is fortunate to have been part of Dale’s formative years, with faculty who nurtured her and instilled in her the value of teaching and the love of her Volunteer roots. We were thrilled to honor her, and we’re always happy to have her home for a visit.

Construction at the former Strong Hall site

Campus Transformation Continues Through 2016

From taking big steps toward completing three new residence halls to adding more than a thousand new parking spaces, we’re moving ahead this year with our goals for improving our facilities and beautifying the campus.

The first two buildings in the West End residence hall development are rising on the site along Twentieth Street. Work also continues on the new residence hall and parking garage at the corner of Volunteer and Lake Loudoun Boulevards. It will be great to add 1,050 more spaces to the parking inventory when it opens in time for fall semester. The garage also will offer advanced parking technology that lets users of the UT app see empty and full spaces in the garage in real time.

This spring, we will open the new Facilities Services Building at Sutherland Avenue and Concord Street. Tom Black Track at LaPorte Stadium will feature an improved infield and resurfaced track when it opens late this year.

We recently celebrated the demolition of the old smokestack at the UT Steam Plant on Lake Loudoun Boulevard, just off Neyland Drive. Taking down the 300-foot smokestack marked a wonderful milestone in our goals for becoming a more sustainable and energy-efficient campus.

The second phase of the Student Union is taking form and is on track to finish in 2018. The second and final piece of the building will be twice the size of the first section, which opened last summer.

Foundation work will soon begin on the Ken and Blaire Mossman Building, a new science and laboratory building at Cumberland and Thirteenth Street. A few blocks west on Cumberland Avenue is the Sophronia Strong Hall project. The eight-story classroom and laboratory building will open in 2017.

Over the next two months, we’ll be hosting a series of public meetings to discuss proposed updates to our campus master plan. Many conditions and factors have changed since its last revision, in 2011. This process provides a good chance to review our plans, gather campus and community feedback, and ensure alignment with our goal for becoming a Top 25 public research university. We hope to present it to the UT System Board of Trustees at their winter meeting.

For more information, visit the campus master plan website at

For more information on campus construction projects, visit the Cone Zone at

Faculty Appreciation Week Is February 22–26

We’ve kicked off an exciting initiative called Experience Learning that will challenge our students in new ways, enrich their learning experience, and help prepare them for life and work after college.

During this year’s Faculty Appreciation Week, we’ll keep Experience Learning in the forefront as we recognize some of the many ways our faculty are “Going the Extra Mile” in their teaching, research, and outreach.

Watch Tennessee Today for Faculty Appreciation Week stories about selected faculty members, news of special events, and information about how you can give a shout-out to UT faculty who have gone the extra mile for you.


Here’s a list of faculty, staff, and students who have made headlines for their accomplishments in recent months.


The Office of Sustainability has been named a finalist in the Second Nature Climate Leadership Awards, which honor the best environmental efforts among colleges and universities that have signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment.

The Office of Institutional Research and Assessment has won the best website award from the Southern Association for Institutional Research for the second year in a row.

The Office of Orientation and Transition had the outstanding publication for new students or family members at the Association for Orientation, Transition, and Retention in Higher Education annual conference. Graduate assistant James Kelly and intern Annie Bures also won the top prize in the graduate student case study competition.

The School of Architecture has been ranked thirteenth among those at public universities and twenty-seventh among private and public institution programs, according to the Design Futures Council’s 2016 DesignIntelligence annual report. DesignIntelligence is a leading source of rankings for design programs.


Provost Susan D. Martin received the 2015 Confucius Institute Individual Performance Excellence Award at the opening ceremony of the tenth Confucius Institute Conference in Shanghai.

English Professor Margaret Lazarus Dean’s book Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight, which will be the 2016 Life of the Mind book, was named one of the Top Books of 2015 by New York Times book reviewer Michiko Kakutani.

Four faculty members are serving as Fulbright Scholars this academic year: Patrick Biddix, an associate professor of educational leadership in the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences, is conducting research at Concordia University in Montreal. Joseph Bozell, a professor of biomass chemistry in UT’s Center for Renewable Carbon, is conducting research at Ghent University in Belgium. Brad Collett, an assistant professor of plant sciences in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, will head to Slovenia in February to teach at the University of Ljubjana during the spring semester. Brendan McConville, an associate professor of music theory and composition, will lecture and research this spring at the Luisa D’Annunzio Conservatory of Music in Pescara, Italy.

Cong Trinh photo

Cong Trinh

Cong Trinh, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, and Donatello Materassi, an assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science, have received National Science Foundation CAREER awards. This prestigious honor is given to promising young faculty members to support particular areas of research.

Annette Engel photo

Annette Engel

Annette Engel, an associate professor of earth and planetary sciences, has been elected a fellow of the Explorers Club, an international multidisciplinary professional society that promotes the scientific exploration of land, sea, air, and space by supporting research and education in the physical, natural, and biological sciences.

Theresa M. Lee, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, was appointed chair of the Committee on Research Institutions, one of eight standing committees of the national Council of Colleges of Arts and Sciences.

John D. Birdwell, professor emeritus of electrical engineering and computer science, has been named a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors.

James Rose, an adjunct assistant professor of architecture, has been named one of the Top 25 Most Admired Educators for 2016 by the Design Futures Council.

Mingzhou Jin, associate head of the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering and a fellow of the Center for Transportation Research, has been invited to join On Track North America, a nonprofit think tank devoted to maximizing the potential of rail transportation within the continent.

Tom Zawodzinski, UT-ORNL Governor’s Chair for Electrical Energy Conversion and Storage, has been named a fellow of the American Chemical Society’s Polymer Science Division and has been appointed to the international advisory board of the Journal of Power Sources.

Takeski Egami, a UT-ORNL Distinguished Scientist and professor of materials science and engineering, has been honored as an Aris Phillips Lecturer by Yale University for his efforts on theory, simulation, and characterization of metallic glasses. Egami will present a lecture at the school’s New Haven, Connecticut, campus in February.

Professor Jack Dongarra, who serves as director of the Innovative Computing Laboratory, was chosen by HPCwire Magazine readers for an award for outstanding leadership in high-performance computing.

Luke Harlow, associate professor of history, has received the Kentucky Historical Society’s 2015 History Award for his book Religion, Race, and the Making of Confederate Kentucky, 1830–1880.

The College of Architecture and Design has received several honors from the American Institute of Architects. A water kiosk project located in the Red Bird community of Clay County, Kentucky, earned a Design Award of Merit. Distinguished Professor Marleen Davis received the 2015 Gold Medalist Award and retired professor Bill Shell received the Award of Merit.

John Orme, a professor of social work, has been selected to become a fellow in the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare.

Jeff Kovac, a professor of chemistry, has been elected a senator in the nation’s oldest academic honor society, the Phi Beta Kappa Society.

Steve Smith, dean of libraries, has been elected to the board of directors of the Association of Research Libraries, a nonprofit organization of 124 research libraries in the United States and Canada.

Donald Tyler, a professor of soil management research, was recognized by the White House as a Champion of Change for Sustainable and Climate-Smart Agriculture.


Nick Baker, an agricultural communications major, has been elected secretary of the national Future Farmers of America.

Alicia Johnson

Alicia Johnson

Alicia Johnson, a doctoral student in sport studies, received the Student Diversity Award from the Association for Applied Sport Psychology.

Engineering graduate student Lingwei Zhan, who works with the Center for Ultra-Wide-Area Resilient Electric Energy Transmission Networks (CURENT), has been named the North American SynchroPhasor Initiative Outstanding Student of the Year for 2015.

Christopher Reese, who graduated in May in honors anthropology, and Caroline Darlington, a senior in honors nursing, were recognized for their innovative research by Undergraduate Awards, an international interdisciplinary awards program.

A UT student and a recent graduate were honored with 2015 Pinnacle Awards presented by the College Media Association for their work in The Daily Beacon. Troy Provost-Heron, a senior in journalism and electronic media, won best sports game story, and Hannah Cather, who graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in JEM, won second place for best photo illustration.

Asante Knowles, a freshman in psychology, won the short essay portion of the Campus Fire Safety for Students contest sponsored by the National Fire Protection Association, the Center for Campus Fire Safety, and the University of New Haven Fire Science Club.

Three students who attended the Summer Research Experience at NIMBioS won a national competition to present their work at the NatureServe EcoInformatics Workshop in Washington, DC, in December. During their time at NIMBioS, Ashish Gauli (Fisk University), Nathan Wikle (Truman State University), and Ryan Yan (College of William and Mary) developed ComFlo, an interactive website that can be used to help track the potential spread of invasive species via shipping routes.

Thank You for Your Support and an Update

I am overwhelmed and encouraged by the tremendous support you have shown me and Vice Chancellor Rickey Hall over the past several days, and the strong commitment you have voiced for diversity and inclusion on our campus. Our commitment is to share and engage in a broad understanding of people, cultures, beliefs, and experiences. Our campus community fosters a learning environment where the differences of all of our cultures are valued, respected, and celebrated.

I value and support Vice Chancellor Hall and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. We have made much progress under Vice Chancellor Hall’s leadership. At the same time, I am disappointed that the Office of Diversity and Inclusion did not effectively manage the materials posted on its website that have caused needless distractions.

I welcome opportunities to learn and I believe we should take a moment to step back and take another look at how we have communicated our messages. Inclusion means honoring all cultures, religions, and customs. Our message should be one of honor and respect, not rules.

We can’t let poor communications distract from our primary mission of educating and preparing students to compete in a global economy.

We define diversity broadly to include all aspects of human difference, including but not limited to race, gender, age, sexual orientation, religion, disability, socio-economic status, and status as a veteran. We want to understand how to work across differences to the benefit of our students.

Along with our primary mission of educating students from Tennessee, across the nation, and abroad, our goals include recruiting and retaining a diverse group of students, faculty, and staff; improving the campus climate; and integrating diversity and inclusion throughout our education, research, and outreach missions.

Student Union

Student Union Celebration Marks Midway Point

Earlier this fall we celebrated the midpoint in the largest building project in our history—the new Student Union.

It was a wonderful day that provided the chance to thank our donors, our contractors and vendors, and the many staff members who have worked so hard to get us to this point. The first phase of the project took three years to complete. The second and final phase is well under way and is scheduled to open in 2018. The portion being built in the second phase is nearly double the size of the completed portion.

Our goal is to provide our students with the facilities and amenities of a top public research university, and we are certainly on track to have the best student union in the country.

Alan Wilson, a 1980 alumnus, spoke on behalf of the alumni and friends who are recognized within the new facility. Wilson is chair and CEO of McCormick & Company. He and his wife, Wendy, visited the new Center for Career Development offices before the celebration. The top floor suite is now called the Alan and Wendy Wilson Career Development Suite.

“We all have our personal reasons for giving,” he said. “We want to contribute to something we care about deeply, we want to support the good work that’s going on at the university, and we want to help to inspire great students.”

Career Development staff members are enjoying the new central location, which provides greater visibility and more opportunity to engage with students. It also provides better space to host employers from across the country to encourage their recruitment of UT students.

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