Riding a Wave

University-operated WMOT, the most powerful radio signal in Tennessee, partners with industry to broadcast burgeoning Americana music


by Skip Anderson


When MTSU’s radio station WMOT-FM first fired up its signal in April 1969, the student-centered station broadcast pop/rock music at a time when Marvin Gaye was singing about unsettling news he had heard “through the grapevine,” the Beatles were telling Jo Jo to “get back,” and the Rolling Stones were extolling the virtues of America’s “honky-tonk women.”

WMOT (89.5 on the dial) eventually switched its format to jazz music, a 100,000-watt behemoth broadcasting masterworks by Miles, Ella, Duke, and Satchmo from the Tennessee/Alabama border to Bowling Green, Kentucky, and from Waverly to Monterey. Then in 2011, MTSU’s radio station again recast its emphasis to become the region’s premier classical radio station, adding timely news updates to increase its appeal to off-campus listeners.


WMOT-FM/Roots Radio 89.5 Launch Celebration at the Country Music Hall of Fame. Middle Tennessee State University’s public radio station, is dramatically expanding its reach and range of music to launch a new format dedicated to Americana music and a new home on the dial for its current jazz format. The Roots Radio All-Star Band

WMOT-FM/Roots Radio 89.5 Launch Celebration at the Country Music Hall of Fame. Middle Tennessee State University’s public radio station, is dramatically expanding its reach and range of music to launch a new format dedicated to Americana music and a new home on the dial for its current jazz format.

What may be WMOT’s most calculated changeover in the station’s 47-year history, though, came in September 2016, when in a ceremony at the Country Music Hall of Fame’s Ford Theater in downtown Nashville, MTSU announced a partnership with Music City Roots and a retooling of the station to broadcast the burgeoning, singer/songwriter-friendly Americana format. The transition makes WMOT the region’s only station devoted to the unique amalgam of bluegrass, folk, gospel, soul, country, and blues music defined in the music industry as Americana.

“Imagine, in our neck of the woods, a radio station with real people playing music they actually care about, even love,” legendary performing songwriter and producer Rodney Crowell told MTSU Magazine. “WMOT is bringing middle Tennessee real music when we need it most,” added the artist, who received the Americana Music Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting in 2006. “Miracles happen.”

A Win-Win

The station’s program director, Jessie Scott, is a longstanding luminary in the music industry. Scott has worked as an influential DJ for decades and founded the highly regarded Music Fog video series. Scott also has served on the board of directors for the Americana Music Association since its inception in 1999.

The reformatted station features live local DJs and unique, locally programmed playlists, attributes which Scott said provide listeners with an experience that goes beyond simply exposing the audience to music they might otherwise have trouble finding on the radio, while “mirroring the cadence of the week” in middle Tennessee.

According to Scott, the mission of the station extends beyond entertainment and academia.

“Radio still has an enormous impact on the population,” Scott said. “And much of what’s out there has become stale and redundant. WMOT is a living and breathing art form.”

Americana recording artist Bonnie Bishop applauded the format shift.

“WMOT is about to become one of the leading tastemakers in Americana radio,” Bishop said. “Hundreds of thousands of people in Tennessee, Alabama, and Kentucky are about to be exposed to a genre of music they may not even know exists, which could mean an increased demand for this format in other markets around the country. This is the exact kind of exposure that Americana artists desperately need. It’s very exciting!”

The timing for the format change appears ideal, too. As a genre, Americana music is on the rise. To wit, the industry bible Billboard magazine recently added an Americana section to its weekly chart listings.

Sometimes called “roots music” or “no-depression music,” Americana champions songwriters and performers in the tradition of the original country music that evolved throughout the 20th century, as well as blues, bluegrass, and alt-country.

Breakout artists such as Margo Price, Parker Millsap, and Jason Isbell have a home under the Americana umbrella. Well-established recording artists whose music can be hard to find on traditional country radio stations—Lyle Lovett, Emmylou Harris, and John Hiatt, for instance—also have a home in Americana. Scott says WMOT seeks out music from talented “radio orphans” such as these.

Ken Paulson, dean of MTSU’s College of Media and Entertainment, which operates the station, said WMOT offers an opportunity for middle Tennesseans to tap into the works of internationally known artists based in Music City.

“Among Nashville artists charting with Americana albums in recent months have been Sturgill Simpson, the Mavericks, Elizabeth Cook, Darrell Scott, Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, and many more,” Paulson said. “Nashville is Americana’s hometown.”

Paulson emphasized that WMOT continues to be a resource for MTSU students interested in learning marketable skills, including engineering, programming, audio editing, and narration. Val Hoeppner, executive director of MTSU’s Center for Innovation in Media, said the unique partnership with Music City Roots now enables MTSU to “continue to mentor and train students at MTSU for careers in journalism, the recording industry, radio, television, and beyond.” At press time, four students had already been hired to production posts with the station.



Listening In

To help ensure WMOT is well-rooted in the on-the-rise Americana music genre, MTSU partnered with Music City Roots, the weekly radio, television, and internet broadcast that offers a Nashville-centric take on Americana music. Through this partnership, WMOT is the flagship station for Music City Roots and broadcasts the two-hour program that, according to its website, is produced in the tradition of a “historic legacy of live musical radio production in Nashville.” WMOT also broadcasts the Emmy award-winning PBS program and radio show Bluegrass Underground.

Americana-Music-Association-Logo-Crop-1480x832“It is great to have a station like this in middle Tennessee for so many artists that would otherwise never receive airplay,” said Kelsey Waldon, listed alongside the Cadillac Three and the Black Lillies in Rolling Stone’s influential “10 Artists You Need to Know” feature in 2014. “Hearing John Prine and Guy Clark on FM radio again is a beautiful thing. I think this is of valuable quality for Nashville.”

Music City Roots executive producer John Walker, who also oversees the development of new programs, hosts WMOT’s morning drive-time program. Grand Ole Opry mainstay Keith Bilbrey brings his expertise in country music to the midday broadcast, and veteran broadcaster Whit “Witness” Hubner works early afternoons. Importantly, Scott said, all shows are able to accommodate drop-in guests, including Music City artists as well as MTSU’s extensive roster of expert faculty such as Greg Reish, director of the Center for Popular Music at MTSU, widely recognized as one of the world’s deepest archives of recordings. Reish hosts a weekly show called Lost Sounds, diving into the CPM archives and extrapolating upon its historic context.

Remembering the Past

 Jessie Scott and Keith Bilbrey

Jessie Scott and Keith Bilbrey

WMOT has quickly climbed the ranks of most listened-to radio stations among the 43 operating in Nashville since the format change was made. Additionally, in the first month following the format change, WMOT and the College of Media and Entertainment raised more money to support the station’s operations than had been raised in the entirety of the previous year.

And, while WMOT has officially changed its focus, program director Scott said jazz lovers need not worry.

“Not only did we not take jazz off the air, we’re broadcasting it 24/7 on our HD2 radio channel as well via FM signals 104.9 in Brentwood and 92.3 in Murfreesboro,” she said.

WMOT will also remain the flagship
for Blue Raider Athletics and will continue to air MTSU On the Record, a 30-minute public affairs interview program highlighting the University community, as well as regular local and national news updates.

Make no mistake, though: With its seamless segue from a classical rendition of Aaron Copland’s “Hoedown” to its Americana interpretation completed, a new player has definitely emerged in the Nashville radio market.


Good Partners

freedom singsWMOT’s migration to roots music isn’t the only strong connection between the College of Media and Entertainment and the burgeoning Americana music genre.

An ongoing, ambitious professional partnership between the college and the Americana Music Association, based in nearby Franklin, offers continual opportunities for MTSU music and media students to gain valuable out-of-class experience.

The annual Americana Music Festival and Conference marks just one of those unique educational partnership opportunities. Under the partnership, prominent artists participate in special lectures at the University, while students get to attend, gain work experience, and obtain networking opportunities at the conference held each year in Nashville.

Students and faculty from MTSU’s College of Media and Entertainment contributed in a number of ways to the success of the most recent annual Americana Music Festival and Conference in Nashville in 2016. As just one example, students from the MTSU Seigenthaler News Service contributed five advance features that appeared both in the digital version of Nashville’s daily, The Tennessean, as well as the MTSU student news outlet Sidelines. Two of the articles also were picked up in the print version of The Tennessean.


For programming information, go to wmot.org or musiccityroots.com.

Listeners can also enjoy the living and breathing art form via webstream at rootsradio.com and the Roots Radio iPhone/Android app.

En Vogue

For up-and-coming MTSU Apparel Design and Fashion Merchandising students, the timing of the growth of their industry in Nashville couldn’t be any better


by Vicky Travis


People tend to think of New York and Los Angeles as fashion capitals, and for good reason. But it’s time to add Nashville to that short list. Over the past decade, Music City has become home to a vibrant, internationally recognized fashion scene full of independent boutiques, fresh designers, and, importantly, the infrastructure to support it.

TXMD Fashion Show Spring 2016


AndreWigginsCityLab has ranked Nashville fourth in the U.S. in terms of the numbers of fashion designers, their earnings, and industry activity—trailing just New York, Los Angeles, and Columbus, Ohio (home to the corporate headquarters of several retail giants). As far back as 2012, CityLab stats revealed 282 fashion designers operating from Nashville, a number that has grown considerably and is sure to expand even more in the next few years.

As explored in an April 2016 article in The Tennessean, national publications including Women’s Wear Daily have recently touted Nashville’s fashion industry. Forbes Travel Guide cited fashion as one of the top five reasons that Nashville “is on fire.”

“Nashville has the potential to be a powerhouse,” said Andre Wiggins, a recent Fashion Merchandising graduate. “I want to be a part of that growth.”

Wiggins, who also models, has seen the growth firsthand during Nashville Fashion Week, held each April since 2011. Within a few years, the once-small event now intrigues fashion industry moguls nationwide, who fly in from New York and Los Angeles to see it.

“Why go to New York and L.A., when I can stay here and be part of something from the beginning?” said Fashion Merchandising senior Stephaney Drake, who also participates in the student chapter of the Nashville Fashion Alliance (NFA) trade organization, which launched in 2015. “At a COAST show in October, I was registering students for NFA and meeting all kinds of people who flew in just to come to it and to see what’s here.”

“Nashville understands creative industry,” summed up Rick Cottle, assistant professor in Textiles, Merchandising, and Design at MTSU. “And just like Nashville has songwriting as a business, it knows that fashion has to have infrastructure to support it.”


Getting in Style

Cottle, Rick 08-2013While other public universities offer Fashion Merchandising, MTSU is the only public university in Tennessee also offering an Apparel Design program. This enables the University to offer both disciplines in their Textiles, Merchandising, and Design (TXMD) major, and MTSU professors see unlimited opportunities for TXMD students.

“Because of the NFA, there are broad opportunities for MTSU alumi,” Cottle said. “MTSU students were easy to feed into big producers like Belk, Under Armour, and VF Imagewear. But now, NFA opens up a whole new pipeline to small design firms.”

“MTSU is an underrated asset,” said Van Tucker, the alliance’s CEO. “People need
to know about it.”

MTSU had the good fortune of becoming an academic partner for Nashville Fashion Week in 2015 and 2016—an opportunity not lost on Apparel Design student Logan McCage. McCage worked back of house in the managed chaos of the event, learning some life lessons along with upping her design standards.

“I learned about being patient, taking orders, and about using every experience,” she said.

andre wiggins on whiteAnd after seeing the clothing of professional designers up close, she said she holds her clothing to that standard. McCage, like many Apparel Design students, is minoring in Entrepreneurship.

“They loved our students,” said Cottle, who consistently heard high praise from designers about MTSU students’ work ethic and attitude.

About 175 students are in the TXMD department.

“MTSU has the potential to double this program,” added Cottle, who along with other faculty, such as Lauren Rudd, is an outspoken advocate for the department. “We have the faculty—all of us are doctorate-level and experts in our fields. . . . And we have an industry out here. . . . Now to connect all the dots.”

One of the NFA’s objectives is to encourage more high school students to think about pursuing careers in fashion, Tucker said. (Some area high schools, namely Ravenwood High School in Williamson County, boast fashion programs that churn out advanced fashion students.)

It’s often Cottle’s job to convince the fathers of prospective fashion students during
college visits.

“Ninety-nine percent of parents, especially dads, ask, ‘How is my kid going to make a living?’ ” he said. He points to a statistic that apparel ranks second to food in world consumer goods.

“People always buy clothes. There are always job opportunities in apparel,” Cottle said.

Students learn early on that those opportunities come from networking, something Cottle and other professors emphasize early on. Now, NFA gives students a structured place to network with professional offerings just for students. And MTSU students can connect with design students at private colleges such as O’More College of Design, Nossi College of Art, and Belmont University.


On the Runway

Logan and StephaneyIn summer 2015, Drake worked with other students to create a photo shoot for their portfolios. They invited Marcia Masulla, founder of Nashville Fashion Week, and NFA’s Tucker to a catered, professional event.

“I want to be an innovator,” Drake said. “Nobody told us to do this photo shoot, but we got 11 models, had it catered, and paid for it by selling custom jewelry.” Local business leaders donated and were asked to model for the shoot.

That go-getter attitude led to a job for Drake as a student liaison with the NFA.

Wiggins also exhibited the drive needed to be successful in the field of fashion. After earning a Management and Marketing degree in Ohio and serving in the Army for three years, Wiggins found a home in MTSU’s
fashion program.

“Most men don’t think about how to dress correctly, especially in urban areas,” Wiggins said. “My dream is to have an influence on men’s fashion.”

His work ethic and attitude had an influence on Cottle and Rudd. Making the most of every week, Wiggins  attended school and maintained emails to contacts (seeking meetings or offering to help with events) in between his modeling gigs in Nashville, Atlanta, and Miami.

Students and former students like Wiggins, who is now interning with a company in Nashville and who continues to model, “are why we get up to come to work,” Cottle beamed. “What keeps me awake at night is kids like him—hungry and talented—who don’t know
we’re here.”

“I just need a toe in the door,” Wiggins said. “It doesn’t matter where I start. I will show my work ethic. I want to do this for the rest of my life.”

On Solid Ground

by Skip Anderson

In one important way, Blue Raider Realty isn’t like most brokerage firms. Sure, it’s a privately held, for-profit business that provides the complete gamut of commercial and residential real estate services in middle Tennessee. But Blue Raider Realty distinguishes itself from other real estate companies in that it’s also an organization specifically created to give MTSU undergraduate and graduate students hands-on experience in the for-profit world of real estate transactions.

Evidence of this mission is found in the very first steps toward establishing this innovative—and independent—resource, according to Philip Seagraves, assistant professor of Real Estate and a real estate investor, developer, and broker. Seagraves birthed the concept several years ago and turned the student realty company into reality after joining MTSU’s faculty in the Jennings A. Jones College of Business.

Blue Raider Realty managing broker Kathy Jones (center, holding sign) with MTSU real estate students (l to r) Nija Threat, Mark Dunn, Cayman Seagraves, Daniel Vincent, and Jennifer Mayberry, along with professor Philip Seagraves (far right) outside the Parks Group offices in Murfreesboro.

“Instead of having students who are interested in real estate try to figure out what to do after graduating, we help them to be up and running,” he said. “The idea is to have them obtain their license and already be established and working in the real estate industry by the time they graduate. This way, the new graduates can go wherever they want to go without wondering whether they have what it takes to do the work or to get their license. And for potential employers, these graduates will already be a proven quantity—they’re not this huge risk with question marks hanging over their heads.”

MTSU students in the program are eligible to earn commissions, just as if they were in the real workforce—because, as a hallmark of this inventive program, they are in the real workforce under the guidance of experienced mentors such as managing broker Kathy Jones (see sidebar, Getting Involved, on page 36). Students also learn about other important areas of the real estate profession, too, such as property appraisals, financing, marketing, and administration. The funds that come into the brokerage firm give students opportunities to help make decisions about how to invest in the business, fund scholarships, and further educate the team.

Boots on the Ground

Blue Raider Realty started as an offshoot of MTSU’s Blue Raider Real Estate Club. The process of evolving into an actual realty company began in 2015, when club members renovated and marketed a group of commercial properties in downtown Murfreesboro that Seagraves, in partnership with Burton Street Development, acquired and handed over to students.

Seagraves and partners purchased the old Neal’s Electric and Lighting Center, as well as two other buildings on West Burton and North Front streets, at auction for $420,000. Students were paid to renovate the properties, perform market analysis, and market and list the properties for sale.

Mark Dunn and Jennifer Mayberry at the Parks Group office in Murfreesboro

Mark Dunn and Jennifer Mayberry at the Parks Group office in Murfreesboro

The properties provided a much-needed, off-campus location to fully launch Blue Raider Realty in April 2016. Around that time, Seagraves also enlisted then-M.B.A. student Jackie McKee to be the listing agent for the West Burton Street property. McKee had procured her affiliate broker license prior to earning her master’s from Jones College in December 2015, making her eligible to participate in the property purchase.

“There were not many of us in the club who were licensed brokers,” she said. “I had not graduated with my M.B.A. at that point, but I had my affiliate broker license. I was, in the end, the official representative for the property.”

McKee had enrolled at MTSU as a nontraditional graduate student, having previously worked in the fields of chemistry and microbiology after earning a B.S. in Biology from Old Dominion University. While at MTSU, McKee concentrated on management and marketing. She is now working as a Realtor and affiliate broker with Coldwell Banker Snow & Wall in Murfreesboro.

The experience and camaraderie Blue Raider Realty provided McKee inspired her to “pay it forward.” After the sale of the property closed, McKee decided to make a donation to Blue Raider Realty—a scholarship of sorts. “She donated part of her commission back to the program,” Seagraves said. “That has helped fund the licensing training for students who came after her.”

McKee remains available to students at Blue Raider Realty. “I am still talking to some of the students in the program,” she said. “I think of myself as a good general resource for them.”

As it is with McKee, Seagraves sees the relationships with his students continuing after graduation, helping the program grow and further establish Blue Raider Realty in the community. Seagraves hopes to inspire similar engagement not only from past graduates like McKee, but also from working professionals across the region wishing to help prepare those entering the real estate field. To help more students get their starts, Blue Raider Realty has committed to dedicate a portion of every commission earned to help provide scholarships for other students seeking their real estate licenses.

“The hope is that we’ll have more and more individuals from the alumni community and the local business community to serve as advisors or maybe be on the board of the directors,” Seagraves said. “I’d like to get investments from people to help us with marketing Blue Raider Realty or make an investment to build an online or training program to help students prepare for their licensure exams. We have the brainpower to do that, but we’d need an investment as far as technology to do that.”

Closing the Deal

If student results are a barometer for giving, potential donors can rest assured they are making a sound investment in the Blue Raider Realty initiative. In 2015, the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts and two other partners sponsored the inaugural Real Confidence University Portfolio Challenge, in which teams from 15 universities nationwide vied to create the best-performing portfolio from a mixture of real estate investments.

Under the terms of the challenge, each team chose how it would allocate $1 billion to four quadrants of commercial real estate investment: public equity, private equity, public debt, and private debt. The best-performing portfolio over a four-quarter period was declared the grand prize winner on July 30, 2016. The winning university received $50,000 for use within its real estate or business program or for scholarships.

MTSU finished third, ahead of Harvard, among many others. The second annual event launched last summer and is in progress. MTSU is among 32 universities entered this year.

In the end, Seagraves has a simple mission for Blue Raider Realty. “We intend to be a first-rate brokerage firm,” he said. “We want to supply our competitors with a staff of great people in the near future. We do that by helping them to be great while they’re here, too. The students have such enthusiasm for the profession, and they can learn from our knowledge, academic theory, and, yes, even the bruises we sustained in the profession.”

By enabling MTSU students to get their real estate licenses and real-world experience long before they graduate, Seagraves and the Jones College of Business are clearly making sure students are pre-approved for success.


Getting Involved

Blue House and KeysKathy Jones, a long-time member of the Bob Parks Realty team, recently stepped up to lead Blue Raider Realty as the managing broker. “I’m proud to be a part of giving back to the students of my alma mater, and helping them get their start in this great industry,” Jones said.

With Jones coming on board, Blue Raider Realty LLC is now housed in the Parks Group offices in Murfreesboro but will remain its own separate, independent firm, serving as an incubator for new brokers.

Philip Seagraves, the assistant professor who birthed the Blue Raider Realty concept, said he couldn’t thank Bob Parks and his team enough for opening their doors to MTSU’s new brokerage. “Other brokerages kindly offered to help, but only the Parks Group was willing to have one of their top people help lead Blue Raider Realty and let the students continue to operate it as a separate, independent company,” he said.

Local realtors David and Ann Hoke with Ann Hoke & Associates Keller Williams Realty in Murfreesboro also committed to fund a Real Estate scholarship of $1,000 a year for a $25,000 total endowment. Those interested in learning more about real estate, securing possible summer internships in the industry, supporting the program, or getting involved in the brokerage or the real estate club should email Philip Seagraves at Philip.Seagraves@mtsu.edu. MTSU

The Success Coach

Professor Colby Jubenville’s formula for graduates’ success results in remarkable professional achievements by MTSU alumni like Anthony Dudley


MTSU Leisure and Sport Management graduate Anthony Dudley (’12) freely admits he did the bare minimum to pass classes and earn his undergraduate degree in English from Florida State University. Two years after graduation, at a standstill in his professional career, he decided to enroll in the master’s program at MTSU to pursue his true passion—sports.

Dudley said he learned three important lessons while at MTSU that allow him to have success today: core values, perseverance, and a personal skill set—all of which he credits to Health and Human Performance professor Colby Jubenville.

“Dr. Jubenville is probably the most unique and passionate person I have ever met,” Dudley said. “He exposes his students to things that you are not taught anywhere else.”

Dudley is living proof that Dr. Jubenville’s model for coaching students to achieve their professional dreams and enter the workforce prepared for success is working. Dudley is currently senior director of development for the Nashville Sports Council and Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, the postseason college football bowl game that serves as that prominent organization’s premier annual event.

Similar student stories abound regarding Jubenville’s teaching methods at MTSU.

Patrick Nowlin (’10) remembers being “a kid with long hair and a bad attitude” when he first met Jubenville. For his part, Jubenville remembers Nowlin as a student with good potential but lacking direction, certainly not on track for a career in the competitive field of sport management. Both of them say a 2009 meeting was a game-changer.

Jubenville, who pioneered the sport management program within MTSU’s College of Behavioral and Health Sciences (CBHS), recalls catching Nowlin off guard with some tough questions: “Who are you waiting on permission from to be successful? Why are you sitting here wasting your time and wasting my time? Why did you go to college in the first place?”

2016-09-39D Dudley and Jubenville Titans

Over the next year and a half, Jubenville prodded, pushed, and ultimately empowered Nowlin to succeed.

“He saw who I could be and not what I was,” Nowlin said. “He would highlight your strengths and make you feel 10 feet tall when you got praise from him, but he also provided corrective criticism to help you get better. He truly cared about you as a person and wanted nothing but the best from all his students.”

Jubenville has been getting the best from his students since he began building up the Leisure and Sport Management master’s program in 2001. Graduates from the Sport Industry concentration now occupy front-office positions in top-tier franchises like the Houston  Astros, Tennessee Titans, and Talladega Motor Speedway, just to name a few.

Nowlin, now regional manager for IMG Learfield Ticket Solutions, which handles athletic ticket sales for colleges across the country, compared Jubenville’s methods to a fine scotch.

“It’s hard to handle at first, and you may not like it,” he said, “but the older you get, the more you realize how good it is.”


As Jubenville describes it, the transformative process sounds more like career boot camp.

“I know it works because I’ve replicated it year after year,” he said. “I’ve taken kids with no confidence and no focus and no intention and stripped them down and built them back up, and now they’re rock stars in the sport industry.”

All those success stories caught the attention of CBHS Dean Terry Whiteside, who now offers Jubenville’s one-on-one mentoring throughout his college. In 2015, Whiteside named Jubenville as special assistant to the dean for student success and strategic partnerships. The college’s recently launched Center for Student Coaching and Success (CSCS), located in the new Miller Education Building on Bell Street, now represents an official space for Jubenville to do what he’s been doing unofficially for the last 15 years.

As Jubenville sees it, the new center represents MTSU upholding its end of a sacred bargain, one in which students bet their money, time, and resources that colleges have what it takes to “get them in the game.” However, Jubenville argues, colleges usually don’t make good on that bet. Instead, he said, traditional higher education focuses too much on imparting information and not enough on building the critical skill set through which students gain confidence and become self-directed.

“There’s an old saying, ‘You can’t give away what you don’t have,’” Jubenville said. “These kids are starved for somebody to show them the way. And so I teach them.”

At the heart of that instruction is helping students systematically bridge what Jubenville calls a “challenging gap” between approaching graduation, finishing college, and securing gainful employment.

“My whole focus at MTSU over the last 15 years is about helping students find their voice, and voice is the intersection of talent, passion, conscience, and need in the world,” he said.

Jubenville begins by helping students understand the difference between employment (“trading time for money”) and gainful employment (“gaining psychological satisfaction from the work you do”). He then helps them achieve gainful employment by identifying where they want to go and taking actionable steps to get there. In the process, he teaches them how to separate themselves from their competition by enhancing their knowledge, skills, desire, confidence, likeability, and network, as well as their “unique perspective” on the world. (See the sidebar titled “The Center of it All” for more specifics on Jubenville’s teaching approach in the center.)

One of the first questions he asks students is “Where are you from?” because he believes the answer reveals a foundation for that unique perspective. Jubenville (as he’s quick to point out) is from coastal Alabama, where residents celebrate “the jubilee,” a periodic phenomenon that causes crab, shrimp, and other seafood-to-be to swarm the beaches of Mobile Bay.

“I’m from Mobile . . .  on the bay, people can literally walk down to the shore and pick up the abundance from the Gulf of Mexico,” he said. “It’s important for somebody to understand that, because that’s what I believe about life, that’s what I believe about opportunity.”


With his liquid accent, contagious fervor, and colorful language, Jubenville might have made a good preacher at a tent revival. Instead, he initially applied his skills set to another great Southern tradition: coaching football.

He played the game first, as a defensive lineman at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi. Then, as a young faculty member at Belhaven University in Jackson, he helped build an NAIA football program from the ground up.

“No phones, no computers, no players, no uniforms—just a dream,” he said. “We ended up ranked in our first season.”

Because the job required too much time away from his children, Jubenville retired from coaching football. But he never stopped coaching people, and football still informs his unique perspective.

“The idea of using adversity to accelerate your growth, the idea of
how to handle sudden change—those were born out of my coaching background,” he said.

According to Jubenville, students—like football players—respond best to individualized coaching. Some, like his former student Jon Salge, simply require steady cheering from the sidelines.

Salge was already a scout for the Titans when he realized he needed the professional advantage of an advanced degree. He said Jubenville talked him through all the logistical concerns—“I won’t have as much time with my wife, I’ll be tired, it costs money, it’s a pain in the rear end to drive to Murfreesboro”—that had kept him from enrolling in MTSU’s sport management graduate program.
Over the next two years, Jubenville urged Salge forward with constant support and reminders of how valuable that master’s degree would be.

After 10 seasons with the Titans, Salge still benefits from Jubenville’s coaching.

“There are conversations he and I had that I still look back on today if I need a little extra push to get through a difficult challenge or task,” Salge said.

While he credits Jubenville with making him see his dream through to fruition, Jubenville said Salge just needed a nudge to get his dream off the ground.

“That’s what great coaches do for you,” Jubenville said. “First, they make you have conversations that you don’t want to have. Second, they make you do things you don’t think you can do.”

“And third,” Jubenville said, “they open doors you don’t know how to open.”

Jubenville did all three for Michael Gallagher, who had aspirations of being a great sports writer—and a great idea for a blog.

Gallagher talked about the blog a lot, Jubenville recalls.

“Finally I said, ‘I’m tired of hearing about this idea for a blog. Start writing a blog.’ And so he wrote it, and some of the stuff he wrote was really good,” Jubenville said.

One day Gallagher showed up in Jubenville’s office visibly frustrated; he needed to secure an internship but had no idea how to do it. Jubenville called his friend David Boclair, a senior sports writer for the Nashville Post, and invited him to lunch. He took Gallagher along. At the end of lunch, Jubenville asked Boclair to give Gallagher a shot.

That shot eventually became a paying gig, with encouraging feedback from Boclair to Gallagher—

It amazes me how much better you get every time you write. . . . I think if I start to give you 10 items a week to write, you could be a Pulitzer Prize winner by Christmas.

—who sent this e-mail to Jubenville:

Thank you again for everything you have done for me. I can say without a doubt that I am in the right career, meeting the right people, and doing what I love.

Those results were worth the lunch tab, Jubenville said. “Hey, if it costs me 80 bucks for a kid to get in the game, I’ll spend the 80 bucks. I’ll get him in the game,” Jubenville said.

Getting kids in the game has been critical to the sport management program since day one. Networking is how careers are launched and furthered, Jubenville said, and it should start in college, facilitated by faculty.

“If you want to build a great program, you must first build great opportunities, because great opportunities will bring in the great students,” he said.

And so Jubenville spent his first two years at MTSU building sport industry relationships in middle Tennessee and beyond. By year three, those relationships were bearing fruit for his students.

Along the way, Jubenville has practiced what he preaches and strengthened his own professional network. He has become a sought-after international speaker and consultant and racked up high-profile honors like the Nashville Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 award and the Nashville Emerging Leaders Impact Award from the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, an award honoring an individual dedicated to community leadership and professional development.

“I’m very fortunate to be part of a community like middle Tennessee,” Jubenville said. “I tell people all the time you can sell used chewing gum in Murfreesboro and make money, and along the way I’ve met some key people that are drivers of the economy.”


Jubenville counseled one of those drivers, John Floyd, owner of Ole South Properties—which recently constructed its 10,000th home—through the economic downturn of 2008. In return, eight years later, Floyd recently pledged $1 million to help launch the aforementioned Center for Student Coaching and Success at MTSU. Half of that pledge has already been delivered to the University.

Floyd said he strongly believes in the work the center will accomplish.

“The vision is that students will become gainfully employed even before walking across the graduation stage,” he said.

“This is about getting laser-focused and intentional about the career path these students want to create for themselves and starting down that path while they are still in school—not the day they graduate.”

Dean Whiteside said Floyd’s gift enables his college to give more than lip service
to MTSU’s University-wide mantra of ensuring student success.

“This enables us to take students beyond a traditional college education, to make them more impressive in job interviews, teach them how to market themselves, how to understand themselves and others, and to be more influential and persuasive,” he said. “This takes student success beyond graduation.”

Additional major gifts are in the works that will bolster the new center’s size and scope. MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee has expressed his desire to raise additional funds for the center that would enable Jubenville to expand the size and scope of his student mentorship program campus-wide.

Jubenville’s approach well reflects McPhee’s vision to seize the opportunity to innovate, transform, and lead the way in creating a new model for higher education. The
center’s creation, in fact, aligns perfectly with a major initiative McPhee launched in 2013—the MTSU Quest for Student Success—a plan emphasizing student retention and graduation over sheer enrollment and which aims to make MTSU students successful even beyond their years at
the University.

The goals of the Quest, and of the new center, in turn align perfectly with the new state funding formula for colleges, as well as Gov. Bill Haslam’s Drive for 55 initiative aimed at increasing the number of Tennesseans with degrees and certifications to 55 percent. Doing so, the governor has said, is crucial to meeting the workforce demands of the coming decades.

Right now, the center is benefitting from Jubenville’s network. But done right, the center will create its own beneficial network of gainfully employed graduates, Jubenville said.

“If they want to come back and speak, if they want to write a check, if they want to hire our students,” he said, “that’s what success looks like to me.” MTSU


John Floyd of Ole South Property and Faculty Colby Jubenville, Sport Management, Health & Human Performance.

When students step into the new Center for Student Coaching and Success located in the new Miller Education Building, they’ll know it means business, said Colby Jubenville, the College of Behavioral and Health Sciences’ special assistant to the dean for student success and strategic partnerships. The space reflects the corporate America where grads hope to land.

Through individual, peer, and group coaching sessions, Jubenville said the center will help students make the leap from college to career by developing their knowledge, skills, desire, confidence, likeability, and networks, allowing them, in Jubenville’s words, to “win in the marketplace of ideas.” They do so by focusing on five areas, which Jubenville labels “The Five to Arrive”:

  • Academic skills and critical thinking: Students will learn Jubenville’s Self-Directed, Self-Selected coaching model to learn to effectively solve problems and make decisions, just as they will be expected to do on the job.
  • Emotional intelligence: Studies have shown that the ability to identify and manage your own and others’ emotions is the strongest predictor of workplace performance, Jubenville said.
  • Personal branding: Using materials from Me: How to Sell Who You Are, What You Do, and Why You Matter to the World, a book Jubenville co-wrote with MTSU business professor Dr. Don Roy, students will create a personal brand for a competitive edge.
  • Persuasion: Students will be exposed to concepts and theories that will help them influence others.
  • Career development: Partnering with the MTSU Career Development Center, students can complete personality/career assessments, develop their resumes, train for interviews, and take advantage of new technologies like CareerShift and Career Clustering.

Visit the center’s website at mtsu.edu/cbhssuccess/ for more information.


John Floyd started his career in real estate in 1986 at the age of 23. His Murfreesboro company, Ole South Properties, recently completed construction of its 10,000th home and averages building a whopping 650 to 825 homes annually.

In 2008, Floyd was honored as the Nashville Business Journal’s Entrepreneur of the Year. Other professional accolades include being named Tennessee Home Builder of the Year by the Home Builders Association of Tennessee and being recognized by the Tennessee Housing and Development Agency as the Builder of the Year for 2012, ’13, and ’14.

JohnFloydFloyd has consistently parlayed his success in business into an opportunity to give back to the community he lives in. With the creation of the John Floyd Charitable Foundation, well in excess of $1 million in financial, material, and labor support has already been given to various organizations throughout middle Tennessee. For example, in partnership with the Rutherford County Home Builders Association, Floyd recently led an effort to renew the building trades vocational program at Oakland High School, a project designed to replenish the skilled labor workforce in middle Tennessee. Ole South is also actively involved in the Academy of Architecture and Construction at Nashville’s Cane Ridge High School, among numerous other civic organizations.

Floyd said his gift to create the Center for Student Coaching and Success at MTSU represents the organic relationship between the University as an economic driver for the region and the success his company has enjoyed as a provider of affordable housing throughout middle Tennessee.

“It comes around,” Floyd said. “I’m just reinvesting in the community. I’ve done extremely well in this community, and MTSU in many ways represents a lot of my success.”

The close relationship between Floyd and Jubenville also played a crucial role in the development of the gift. According to Floyd, Jubenville helped him “think differently” about the 2008 recession that devastated many home builders.

“We all have challenges, and when you work through those challenges together, it forms a bond,” Floyd explained.

Floyd later attended some of Jubenville’s on-campus classes where he was able to witness the professor’s decidedly out-of-the-box approach to inspiring and developing his students through an emphasis on specific knowledge that will help them get into a career. Once Floyd saw Jubenville had a formula that worked and a proven track record of student success, he said he “got on board.”

“John is in it for the greater good,” Jubenville said. “He likes to see people make an investment in themselves that will pay dividends for the rest of their lives.”

Not-so-Strange Brew

Steel Barrel Brewing Company Fermentation Science


By Skip Anderson

Like a fine wine, or the bacterial base for a tasty sourdough bread, good things
often require time to come into the fullness of their being.

The same is true for MTSU’s forward-thinking Fermentation Science degree program, launching in 2017. The program, led by director Tony Johnston, required approval from both the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and Tennessee Board of Regents.

The degree concept was the product of a challenge by former Provost Brad Bartel and Robert “Bud” Fischer, dean of MTSU’s College of Basic and Applied Sciences, who pushed his faculty to develop innovative new programs not offered elsewhere in the region. Presented with the idea of a new Fermentation Science degree, Fischer realized that, for the most part, academia had yet to respond to game-changing trends redefining the multi-billion-dollar fermentation industry across the country—specifically the brewing industry highlighted by craft beers and small-batch brewing.

“The original concept was we’d launch a brewing science program,” Johnston said. “Craft beers had become very popular. Ten years ago, it was just an outgrowth of the home hobbyist—probably the biggest name people can associate with this is Sam Adams, which started with a bunch of guys who wanted to make a better beer. They were one of the first craft breweries to go nationwide. Since that phenomenon, craft brewing has become extremely popular—it’s grown to the point that the big brewers are seeing their market share shrink due to the growth of craft brewing.”

According to the Beer Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying organization representing the beer industry, the combined economic impact of brewers, distributors, retailers, supply chain partners, and related industries in the U.S. was more than a quarter-trillion dollars in 2014—$252.6 billion—generated by around 3,300 brewers, importers, and 6,700 beer distribution facilities across the country.

Dr. Tony Johnston of the Fermentation Science program

Dr. Tony Johnston of the Fermentation Science program

A Broader Scope
Importantly, though, this new degree is not simply about brewing beer and distilling spirits. The full scope for the new degree has grown beyond just fermenting hops and barley—key ingredients in brewing beer—to any and all fermented foods and beverages.

According to published reports, 53 percent of U.S. customers are seeking bolder flavors in their foods—and foods with nutritional and long-term health value—and that demand is being met by fermented foods. Food fermentation is also the only food preservation technique that does not require the input of energy to accomplish, making it a critical new tool at a time when there are concerns regarding increased global demands for energy sources and land use for food production.

“The science behind brewing beer and fermenting foods is largely the same,” Johnston said. “We use microorganisms such as yeast, bacteria, and mold to create foods we like
to consume—cheese, sour cream, buttermilk, yogurt, sauerkraut, summer sausage, pickles, kimchi, to name just a few. That’s fermentation.”

Fermenting foods and beverages, according to Johnston, elevates the food’s nutritional impact.

“The idea is that when we ferment milk, for instance, it has more vitamin content than before because the microorganisms have put more nutrients into the products,” Johnston said.

But the benefits of fermentation aren’t limited to what they can add to foods; it’s also what the process can remove from them.

“These microorganisms can also convert sugars into acids that are much better for us than the sugars,” Johnston said. “For example, people often don’t realize how much sugar is actually in fluid milk—and we have enough sugar in our diets.”

While the practice of fermenting foods is longstanding—credible evidence suggests fermenting dates back 8,000 years or so in China—the science behind the processes continues to evolve. It wasn’t until the late 19th century when scientists began to understand that tiny living creatures—including yeast, bacteria, and mold—were at the heart of cheese creation, as well as beer, wine, alcoholic spirits, and thousands of other fermented foods. And even today, scientists are finding new efficiencies by adjusting the balance of the microorganisms that drive fermentation processes.

“Most consumers are concerned with three things: Does it smell good, does it taste good, and is it available for a price I’m willing to pay?” Johnston said. “What consumers don’t understand is there’s a whole world of science that goes into the product sitting on the shelves. These students are going to graduate and go to work in the industries to create products these consumers want to buy because it’s good, it’s safe, and at a price I’m willing to pay.”

passenger jet plane flyin above cloud scape use for aircraft transportation and traveling business background

A Tennessee Tradition
And that includes alcoholic beverages, which can be problematic when teaching the science behind brewing beer to undergraduate students, most of whom will be too young to sample the products legally in Tennessee. However, Tennessee’s state legislature addressed the paradox by passing a much-publicized law in the spring of 2016 to allow juniors and seniors under the age of 21 and majoring in Fermentation Science to taste the fermented products containing alcohol they create as part of their coursework.

“This was a very important issue for everybody because we don’t have really good instrumentation to tell us the flavor or aroma of a food,” Johnston said. “Humans have to taste it and smell it to know whether it meets our requirements. Even with the new law, [under-age] students still aren’t legally allowed to swallow the stuff. And, as silly as that sounds, as a professional taster you never swallow food anyway.”

Another potential boon to the program is that out-of-state students could save tens of thousands of dollars in tuition. This degree program would be rare in the 15-state Southern Regional Education Board’s Academic Common Market. (The nearest universities offering similar coursework are Appalachian State in North Carolina, Eastern Kentucky in Kentucky, and Auburn in Alabama).

“That means a student in a neighboring state could be eligible for in-state tuition because there is no school in his or her state that offers this program,” Johnston said. “Schools from Maryland to Florida and over to Texas are members of this Southern compact—this program has the potential to draw [students] from a huge part of the country.”


Steel Barrel Brewing Company Fermentation ScienceHands-On Degree
Out-of-state students and in-state students alike in the program will be required to participate in internships.

“I’d especially love to hear from MTSU alumni who have a company or connection who might be interested in hosting an interning student from our fermentation program,” Johnston said.

One alum with big plans for MTSU’s new program is Mark Jones (’90), founder of Steel Barrel Brewing Co., a new 82-acre agribusiness enterprise slated to open on John Bragg Highway in Murfreesboro in 2017. (Think Arrington Vineyards, only serviced by a brewery instead of a winery and raising hops instead of grapes.)

Jones’ business will be the permanent location of MTSU’s new fermentation and sensory labs, a sort of “psychological space” highlighted by blind testing, tasting, and smelling activities. Set to open at the same time as the proposed launch of the new MTSU Fermentation Science degree program, the modern, cutting-edge facility promises to greatly expand the real-world opportunities for Fermentation Science students to work and learn in a real-world setting.

“It’s almost meant to be, the way things are laying out,” said Jones, who along with Basic and Applied Sciences Dean Fischer recently hosted a group of state lawmakers at the site. “Part of the new degree requires internships, and we can give students hands-on, real-world opportunities, as well as prepare what will become a qualified labor force for us.”

Indeed, the Steel Barrel partnership serves as just one example of the many ways the new Fermentation Science program will closely align with Tennessee’s workforce development agenda. Graduates of the program will have the opportunity go to work in a variety of positions for major manufacturers operating in middle Tennessee, including General Mills (home of Yoplait, the largest manufacturer of yogurt in the nation), Kroger (Dairy Division), Brown-Forman (Jack Daniel’s), and Diageo (George Dickel), as well as an ever-increasing number of locally owned and operated fermented food producers. Statewide, the latter includes at least 28 other distilleries, 52 breweries, 60 wineries, and 10 cheese-making operations.

As home to such a large and diverse community of food processors, many of which have experienced the most growth over the past decade in their fermented foods divisions, the local and regional area will no doubt benefit economically from MTSU’s new role in producing graduates with specialized chemistry, biology, business, marketing, and entrepreneurial training ready to sustain and advance the industry. It won’t hurt the middle Tennessee area’s burgeoning farm-to-table food and drink scene, either. MTSU


Tony Johnston, director of the new Fermentation Science degree program, is also MTSU’s faculty nominee to the University’s Board of Trustees.




The Heart of the Matter


MTSU head football coach Rick Stockstill’s message to recruits and their families is clear: Blue Raider culture matters

lead stock art 2 #TRUE

MTSU head football coach Rick Stockstill, ‌called “Coach Stock” by some, is known for many things.

He’s known for being the first quarterback to play for legendary coach Bobby Bowden when Bowden began to build his dynasty at Florida State in the 1980s.

He’s known for taking one of the nation’s lowest APRs (the NCAA’s measurement of academic progress among student-athletes) and elevating it to one of the best in the nation—right alongside the Vanderbilts and Stanfords of the country—during his coaching tenure at MTSU.

He’s known for leading the Blue Raider football program to six bowl games in the past nine years, including the Bahamas Bowl this past December.

And, behind the scenes, he is known for how effectively he recruits and develops young people.

Where does such success and powerful branding start for Stockstill? No surprise there—it starts with a mentality that MTSU human performance and sport management professor Colby Jubenville describes as Coach Stock’s “unique perspective.”

Jubenville, an author, Washington Times columnist, and motivational speaker, knows about this perspective firsthand; he helped to form Stockstill’s process into a written pitch that goes out to recruits and their families.

The following text, pulled from that pitch, offers insight into Stockstill’s personal philosophy for the program, allowing others to understand how he views his work
as an NCAA college football coach and leader of
young men.

secondary stock art 2

According to Jubenville, Coach Stockstill’s unique perspective attracts both coaches and players to his program who align with his vision for success. That allows him to create a high level of accomplishment year after year. “He has picked a lane and he is owning it!” Jubenville said. “That’s the art of personal branding and organizational branding.”

On the eve of a new football season, MTSU Magazine hopes these words straight from the coaches mouth on the next page fire up the MTSU faithful about the program, the man leading it, and the student-athletes committed to making our team great this year.

True Blue!



“You can know everything in the world, but if you don’t know what matters, then nothing does. As a college football coach, this is what matters to me, our coaches, our players, and our team:


Your Son Matters.  

Young people want to know three things. Who is in charge? What are the standards? And how am I going to be held accountable?

I believe developing people starts with standards. Standards create buy-in. Buy-in defines chemistry. The development of your son though our program over these next four years will shape who he will be for the next 40 years and beyond. My first responsibility is to provide a set of standards that will help your son understand that if he wants more, he has to become more.


Making Choices Matters.    

I believe that if you show me your friends, I will show you your future. The reality is we are all making choices and that with each choice comes a new set of opportunities and consequences. I want your son to learn not only how to make choices, but more importantly, what choices to make.

Problems in this country resulting from guns, drugs, and alcohol are real, and it’s clear that people make poor choices when they are under the influence of any of these vices. I give our team examples of athletes that lost everything because of a poor choice, as well as examples of athletes that have won everything because they knew what decisions to make.


secondary stock art 1Getting Better Matters.

I believe we have to be better tomorrow than we are today, whether it is in the weight room, film room, classroom, practice field, study hall, or a career. The only way to get better at anything is to give greater effort and be intentional about the future you want to create.

There is no substitute for hard work. There are no shortcuts to the top. The only way I know to get better is to have a never-give-up attitude and a relentless work ethic.



Winning in All That You Do Matters. 

I believe winning off the field leads to winning on it. That means we have to win academically by going to class, study hall, and, ultimately, graduating and transitioning into a professional career. We have to win by being a great example in the community with the choices we make. We have to win by being a great teammate, and by respecting and being accountable to each other. Once we do this, then winning on the field becomes easy. We win because we do things the right way both on and off the field.


Goals Matter.   

You can accomplish all of your goals both on and off the field while being part of our program. I challenge our players to set high but attainable goals. Our team has a 96-percent graduation rate. With six bowl game appearances in nine years, we are also winning on the field. We have more than 10 players on NFL rosters. We are on television more than any other school in our conference. Why? Because we set and achieve worthy goals each and every season.

Finally, I want to coach and have people in our program that understand that all of this matters! They are people of high character and integrity who embrace struggle and are willing to give back. They strive to be the best that they can be, and they know how to use adversity to accelerate their growth. They represent themselves and their families in a positive way. And they do it because they understand it matters.

This isn’t for everyone, and we understand that. It is for people that choose to be a part of our team, a part of our future, and a part of the legacy we want to leave behind. It matters to them, and it matters to us.



A New Cash Crop

hemp Clint holding seed3

One of the world’s oldest crops seems altogether new again. As Tennessee, and the nation for that matter, redefines the much-maligned hemp plant, Volunteer State farmers and universities are angling to take advantage of an exciting new era for the oft-misunderstood plant.

The hemp industry is certainly not new; but, as Tennessee has moved toward legalization of the farming, processing, and research of industrial hemp, MTSU has positioned itself smartly for opportunities in science, agribusiness, and more.

Overcoming First Impressions 

At the word “hemp,” many people raise eyebrows. But just as two different corn plant varieties yield popcorn and corn-on-the-cob, the same is true of cannabis.

To be clear, industrial hemp is not marijuana.

Legally, hemp is defined as any cannabis plant variety that contains less than 0.3% of the psychotropic compound THC. Most marijuana plants in demand today contain THC levels from 5% to 20%. Thus, one cannot get “high” on hemp.

The plant’s stalk, woody core, and seed, however, can be used to make literally thousands of things. The plant, which was used extensively in America until the 1950s, is now growing again in Tennessee.

“It’s pretty unique in its ability to be used in a lot of very different ways,” said Dr. Nate Phillips, associate professor in MTSU’s School of Agribusiness and Agriscience. “From fiber to fodder to food to bioremediation, there’s so much out there.”

Tennessee legislators passed a bill in 2014 allowing farmers to grow industrial hemp in the state. A total of 54 Tennessee farmers did just that, growing a wide variety of the plant in the 2015 growing season. For 2016, 63 farmers secured licenses to plant, grow, and harvest industrial hemp.

A new hemp bill which passed the Tennessee General Assembly in the most recent 2016 session now allows for the processing of industrial hemp. Importantly for both MTSU and its Tennessee Center for Botanical Medicine Research (TCBMR), the new law also expanded opportunities for  universities to conduct hemp research.

“Tennessee is evolving, and our lives will be different as a result of these bills passing,” said Dr. Elliot Altman, TCBMR director and head of MTSU’s Molecular Biosciences Ph.D. program. “The future is bright for this.”

“The industry in general has lot of promise,” added Phillips. “Although some hiccups on regulations and infrastructure development still have to get worked out.”


A Student Successhemp Clint cut out

Both Phillips and Altman credit MTSU graduate student Clint Palmer with both ramping up the University’s excitement about being involved in industrial hemp in Tennessee and in taking clear steps to be an academic leader in the state.

“All credit goes to him to bring it here,” Phillips said.

Palmer spent six months of his final undergraduate year seeking grant money for his hemp research agriculture project. In the summer of 2015, Palmer conducted a trial growing seven varieties of hemp—six of them for seed and one for fiber.

“Clint had the idea and followed through,” Phillips said. “He created that excitement about research and also brought in other younger people to participate who were not even in agriculture.”

Importantly, Palmer also piqued Altman’s interest in the medicinal qualities of hemp oil after the student met with the professor to ask about them during Tennessee’s first hemp growing season in 2015.

“I started pulling together that research and soon thought, ‘Wow,’ ” Altman said. “There is ample scientific research which shows that a number of non-psychotropic cannabinoids—compounds found in hemp seed—have antibacterial, anticancer, antiepileptic, antifungal, and immunomodulatory activities.”

“That’s the root of our excitement,” Altman summed up.


Growing the Industry

Wild hemp plant. Isolated on a white background.
Before changing his major from environmental engineering to agriculture, Palmer spent time in Colorado building a tiny house out of hemp-crete, just one of the products that can be made from hemp’s woody core.

Products from the stalk include everything from the aforementioned building material to mulch, boiler fuel, clothing, shoes, and carpet. In addition, seed from the hemp plant can be used nutritionally and clinically.

“The hemp extract market appears to be $400 million worldwide,” said Altman, a lifetime pharmaceutical developer with decades of intellectual property development expertise.

MTSU now works alongside organizations such as the nonprofit Tennessee Hemp Industries Association (TNHIA) to educate politicians and the public about the potential uses and financial upsides of industrial hemp.

“After the bills passed, farmers, entrepreneurs, and everyone fascinated by hemp starting asking us questions,” Altman said.

And as Tennessee farmers increasingly figure out both the nuances and financial upsides of growing hemp, they see clearly how they stand to gain.

“A very small group of farmers is doing it right now and they are creating history,” said Colleen Keahey, TNHIA founder and president. “They want to be the first.”

During Tennessee’s first growing season in 2015, farmers planted experimentally.

“Farmers used seed, some of which was from Canada, and figured out what could go wrong,” Palmer said. They learned answers to questions like “What are the pests that can affect growth?” and “What’s needed to increase yield?” Most of those farmers are growing 1–5 acres to total about 1,185 acres of hemp in 34 Tennessee counties. Other states growing industrial hemp in 2015 included Kentucky, Colorado, Vermont, and Oregon.

“In the end, farmers want to know how much they’ll make,” Palmer said. “So they’ll try it on small acreage to see how it does. Most do a rotation of corn, soy, and wheat. Hemp fits
in perfectly with that. It has the same needs.”

Domino effect

With the new legislation fresh on the books permitting hemp processing and research, both Tennessee farmers and University researchers are gearing up for higher levels of activity. Palmer said a greenhouse will be built on campus property to grow subspecies. Early research will isolate the content of each plant. Phillips said he is hopeful and foresees opportunities to coordinate with TCBMR on the production side.

A clear new path to processing and distribution will also open doors for entrepreneurs.

“There will be lot of movement in this area,” Altman predicted.

Because of TCBMR’s proven ability to isolate and identify bioactive compounds in plants, it could be the vehicle to certify farmers’ products as well.

“The major problem with the hemp flower extract industry has been that consumers don’t know what they are buying as there are no certified products available that guarantee the bioactivity of the hemp cannabinoid extracts,” Altman explained. “The Tennessee Center for Botanical Medicine Research would like to understand which cannabinoids have what medical properties and whether the cannabinoids can act together to generate more potent activities. This would lead to the creation of superior hemp flower extracts whose bioactivity can be certified.”

“TCBMR can be the evaluator and can certify bioactivity. We’ve proven we’re very good at assays (bioactivity tests) and can certify any product made,” Altman added.

“Anything TCBMR can do to help the farmer, we want to do.”

The purpose of TCBMR is to deliver compounds that can help people. The applied science appeals deeply to Altman and to his graduate students who want to make a difference
in people’s lives.

“I think all the students would say that this matters: ‘I’m doing something important,’ ” he said. “All of our students come in loving medicine and love the idea they might be creating a drug to help somebody somewhere.”

Palmer plans to start research on hemp as he pursues his doctorate in Molecular Biosciences under Dr. Altman’s tutelage.

“Once you educate with facts, it’s not hard to understand the potential for hemp,” Palmer said. “I think it can really open up doors for ag research and bring students into agronomy.”




School of Rock

Julien Baker, student and recording artist, in and around Wright Music Building for the Summer 2016 MTSU Magazine.

Rock star Julien Baker’s ability to balance the pursuit of her degree and career opportunities offers proof that MTSU’s student success emphasis is more than just lip service


By Drew Ruble

Suffice it to say, Julien Baker is not your typical college student.

Luckily for her, Middle Tennessee State University is not your typical college.

As an underclassman at MTSU, Baker, an English major and secondary education minor with designs on being a classroom teacher, penned a batch of heartfelt songs during late-night writing sessions in the piano closets housed in the Saunders Fine Arts building on campus. The album that emerged from those sessions, Sprained Ankle, eventually led Rolling Stone magazine to name Baker to its list of “10 new artists you need to know” in 2015.  Since then, hundreds of media outlets have profiled her, including National Public Radio, The New Yorker, and The New York Times, while scads of other music-specific outlets placed Sprained Ankle on their annual lists of top albums for 2015 (alongside, in some cases, names like Adele and Kendrick Lamar). In almost overnight fashion, Baker, age 20 from Memphis, achieved bona fide indie-music-darling status, a designation that has since taken her across the globe to perform her music.

What makes Baker’s story all the more remarkable is that for most of her meteoric musical rise, she remained enrolled and taking classes at MTSU. After a long struggle to balance both worlds, Baker’s wild success did ultimately lead her to temporarily suspend her degree pursuit in April, despite being close to completing the necessary coursework to graduate. For Baker, who is passionate about literature and education, it was a difficult decision.

“During that time, people would be like, ‘Oh, you’re still in school.’ And they’d be like, ‘That stinks.’ But I was like, ‘No!’ Because as much as I love touring and I love traveling and I know it’s what I want to do, I love school as well,” Baker said. “I love the environment of discussion and challenging each other’s thoughts and open conversation about literature and art. I’m kind of a liberal arts geek.”

Feet in Two Worlds

Baker describes her whirlwind ride to critical acclaim as “surreal.” Not surprisingly, the growing attention and rapid rise in demands on her time increasingly complicated her ongoing studies at MTSU. Think red-eye flights spent penning research papers bearing titles such as “Voltaire’s Apparatus: Hope and Human Nature in Candide.”

“The horror story that I always tell is that I was in Professor Trish Gaitely’s American Lit class, and I got on a plane at midnight in Los Angeles, got an overnight flight, landed, and drove straight to campus and walked into her class, like staggering. But I was like, ‘I made it. I made it here, Professor Gaitely!’ ” Baker said. “But even she was helpful, and kept up email correspondence with me so I could stay on top of my assignments, like hacking out my Shakespeare final for Dr. Ted Sherman on a 747.”

Critical acclaim, European tours, opening for acts like The National, and playing festival dates with the likes of Neil Young has not—at least, not yet—altered Baker’s firm opinion that earning her college degree and paving a path to becoming an English teacher is important, even if she has had to temporarily delay it. That way, she explained, if the music thing doesn’t work out for her, she’ll still get to perform—in a way.  Except, she explained, instead of it being on stage, it will be for a bunch of kids, trying to make Chaucer interesting to them, work she describes as “meaningful.”

Becoming a teacher is not a joke, Baker assured [see sidebar “Those Who Rock, Teach”]. And, in fact, she sees a direct correlation between the art of being a songwriter/musician and the art of teaching.

“It’s also a performance. Your task is to engage those kids, to meet those kids where they are and to teach them—not just the material but why it’s important,” Baker said. “If you can’t relate to your students, you can’t make it accessible and important and relevant to their lives, then why are they going to care? It’s just going to be another dusty old copy of Milton’s Paradise Lost.

“You’re doing that as a songwriter, too. You’re sharing poetry, you’re sharing music, sharing a part of yourself, and you have to relate to the audience. If you sing the same, trite sentiment with no genuineness behind it, why is anyone going to care about your songs?”

Part student, part rock star. It was a hard balance to strike, but Baker was dedicated. Fortunately for her, she had picked a university that was as well.

True Blue Troubadour

Julien Baker, student and recording artist, in and around Wright Music Building for the Summer 2016 MTSU Magazine.

Even before MTSU had drawn up a student success plan, instances of staff members working alongside students who wanted to succeed filled its history. Now, with a laser focus on student success, the University staff’s emphasis on retention and graduation is even more obvious in the student experience.

Baker’s recollections of concerts and travel agendas and promotional schedules are vividly interspersed with names of professors who saw her desire to learn amidst the crazy explosion of fame that is her world and who did everything they could to make sure her efforts to succeed weren’t in vain.

With every passing month, Baker’s touring and promotional schedule got ratcheted up higher and higher. At a point in that evolution, Baker smartly gave up the red-eye flights and Greyhound buses back to Murfreesboro and the campus of MTSU and started taking classes online to continue her education. At the time of her interview with MTSU Magazine in early Spring 2016, Baker was enrolled in an online class that met in session amidst multiple three-week concert tours, including one overseas.

“Currently I’m in Angela Hague’s mythology course,” Baker reported at that time. “And any time I have a problem, she responds quickly, like within that day.

“I was actually backstage in a green room and I had to stop trying to turn in one assignment because I had to go onstage, and I asked the audience—I was playing a college show in Carrboro near the University of North Carolina—‘How many people are in school?’ And they raised their hands, and I was like, ‘I’m trying to submit an online discussion question and it won’t go through.’ And the audience was like, ‘Aww.’ They got it.”

According to Baker, helpful, caring professors like Hague are the rule, not the exception, when it comes to her dealings with MTSU.

“[Hague] sent me an email one time after I was apologizing profusely for not getting my work done because I’m on tour. And she wrote, ‘You’re a touring musician. I’m here to help you achieve success. That’s my job.’

And that’s beautiful to me. That’s why I love MTSU, you know?” Baker said. “No one’s paying me to say that. I feel like a commercial. But I’m proud to be a Raider.”

Baker said she’s had many other helpful teachers along the way, specifically mentioning Dr. Ashley Riley Sousa in the History Department and Dr. Stacy Merida in the Recording Industry Department.

“They were hands-on. They cared about their students. They knew us all by name, even if it was a big class. And they genuinely cared about their subjects,” Baker said.

Bar none, though, Baker’s favorite professor at MTSU is her advisor, English professor Dr.
Jimmy Cain.

“I bring him up in every interview because he is the model professor to me,” she said. “He really wants his students to succeed. He went above and beyond to help all of his students succeed. He gave us study guides and email access and he was so available.”

Baker first discussed her need to go to online coursework—and then to temporarily suspend her classes—with Cain. She said she was sure Cain would warn her against the dangers of becoming a full-time musician, but was instead pleasantly surprised by his response to her situation.

“He was like, ‘You’ve got to go do that. I’ll help you do whatever you need to do to make this work.’

“‘We’ll be waiting for you,’ is what he told me. And then he opened up a copy of Goethe’s Faust and pointed to the first part where the student is maniacally committed to continuing his studies, and said ‘Don’t be like Wagner. Don’t put all your faith in what’s on paper. Go out there and have experiences.’

“I was wowed. That’s a teacher going beyond just the typical, formal relationship and just being very human and very open. I love it. And I honestly think there’s a lot of that going on around MTSU.”

Cain, who said for the longest time he wasn’t even aware Baker was a New York Times-reviewed artist but only knew she was “a really good student,” expressed complete confidence that Baker will be back to complete her degree and the required year of student teaching.

“She’s too bright and too engaged with literature to do otherwise,” Cain said. “There’s nothing at all wrong with stepping out for a moment to experience life. And I believe, with her career, she is, in a way, already teaching. While she is singing, and imparting her experiences, she is trying to give some direction to her listeners.”

It’s not just faculty that has supported and impacted Baker at MTSU. As an intern in the Audio Visual Services department, a division of the Center for Educational Media in the College of Education, Baker found not just instruction and support but friendship as well.

“I helped out doing production services on campus,” she said. “At MTSU, if you want an opportunity to work and get hands-on experience, it’s there for you. Like [director of engineering] Jeff Nokes, he would sit down with me and just do circuit diagrams. He’s not even a teacher! And ‘Tiny’ [electronic equipment technician Ronald Gilley], my direct boss, taught me how to fix my guitars better. And then Jeff would give me squash from his garden. They’re so sweet! Now, that’s probably an extreme example of community. But they invested so much in me.”

Bright HorizonsJulienBaker_SprainedAnkle

All those investments are paying off as the faculty and staff who offered support are now enjoying Baker’s rise. It’s a worldwide journey that started in the MTSU recording studio where Baker began recording demos of the songs that would appear on Sprained Ankle. Helping her was friend and MTSU Recording Industry student Michael Hegner, who later recorded the album in Virginia studios where he interned.

The songs offer an intimate look into Baker’s youthful struggles, using nothing but her voice and sparse, atmospheric, electric guitar flowing over what Creative Loafing described as “tear-soaked words.” Baker, who said she merely expected friends and family to enjoy it, originally released the album on the Bandcamp online music store for $3. The album was later picked up by 6131 Records, re-released, and heavily promoted by the label, which led to Baker’s discovery.

“All of a sudden it was up on NPR’s All Songs Considered. And it got mentioned in The New York Times. And in Rolling Stone,” Baker said. “From there, it’s been solidly touring, meeting people, and forming relationships.”

Amid the chaos, and, yes, adulation, Baker is focused on staying grounded, remaining true to herself, and being, in her words, “kind.”

“It’s just trying to be a kind, genuine person and, you know, pay it forward, do right by everyone, hoping that it comes back around in whatever form,” she said. “I never want to get too big of a head about it.

“So it’s like every single time something good happens trying to just remember—in every interview trying to like shout out Michael Hegner, talk about how awesome MTSU is—make a positive impact with your words and remember to be humble.”

Baker vowed that even if it were all to go away tomorrow, she would simply savor the fact that it was “the coolest experience” that “no one could take away from me.”

Besides, she has other options.

Baker is adamant that she will return to MTSU, and that because of the culture of student success among faculty and staff at MTSU, she will achieve her degree. In fact, she is looking forward to
the opportunity.

“If I end up being a teacher after that, I’ll be happy and content, you know?” she said.


Julien Baker, student and recording artist, in and around Wright Music Building for the Summer 2016 MTSU Magazine.

Julien Baker, student and recording artist, in and around Wright Music Building for the Summer 2016 MTSU Magazine.


Those Who Rock, Teach

It’s clear within minutes of speaking with rock star Julien Baker that teaching is in her blood.

“Oh, man, it would just be so awesome just to hang out with kids. I’d done community-campy-like outreach stuff in Memphis when I was in high school, and just the environment of being around kids, being a positive influence on them as much as you can, it just proved to me that it’d be so cool to be a teacher. My teachers were the most important people and continue to be,” she said.

What makes the teaching profession special in Baker’s mind is how much of themselves teachers share with their students.

“There’s a hidden curriculum, if you will,” Baker said. “It’s not just about learning Spanish or about learning literature; it’s building self-confidence, and saying, ‘I believe in you, I think you can do this.’”

Baker deftly compares her journey of becoming an overnight global music success to the inspiration to become a teacher.

“Why would I sleep in cars and drive crazy long hours, stay up until the middle of the night, and eat gas station food to go on tour? Because I love it, and because it’s so rewarding when I look out in the audience and I see eyeballs light up,” she said. “It’s the same when I talk to good teachers. They tell me—and I relate to this—there’s nothing more rewarding than seeing the lightbulb come on with a kid. When one of the kids I was observing in an MTSU class said, ‘I’m actually having fun,’ I felt like I might just burst into tears. I was like, ‘YES!’”

Baker specifically referenced a teacher in high school that inspired her in that way.

“I didn’t get Frankenstein when I read it by myself,” she said. “But when we read it in her AP class, she would jump up and down talking about this book, because she loved it. Sometimes I’m sure it felt like banging her head against a brick wall to get us to understand her passion, but she did it because she loved her students and the subject. That’s beautiful.”



A Centennial Success

CENT_HEADERThe University’s recently-concluded, $105-million fundraising campaign ranks among the most important occurrences at MTSU in decades

from staff reports


Given that MTSU is now more than 100 years old, it’s appropriate that the University recently raised more than $100 million in donations to support its ever-expanding mission to serve students.

MTSU officials raised more than $105 million in the Centennial Campaign, surpassing the $80 million goal set when the effort was announced in 2012. In fact, the $105,465,308 raised during the campaign, which concluded Dec. 31, 2015, represents the largest fundraising effort in University history, far surpassing a $30 million campaign
mark set in 2001.

“We launched this campaign in the middle of one of our nation’s biggest economic downturns and set a goal that many thought we could never reach under the best of circumstances,” President Sidney A. McPhee said during an event in February 2016 at Embassy Suites Murfreesboro to unveil the campaign’s results. “The fact that we met—and exceeded—our goal speaks to the commitment of the campaign’s volunteer leadership, the passion of our alumni, and the vision we set forward for the future of our great University.”

Gov. Bill Haslam praised the University in video remarks played at the February event, noting that “the momentum from this campaign will guarantee the continued growth and success for MTSU. It will help assure that MTSU will continue to prosper as a nationally acclaimed, comprehensive university.”

Haslam also lauded “MTSU’s leadership in student success initiatives, adult degree completion, creative partnerships, and outreach to veterans and military families” for helping in the Drive to 55, the state’s initiative to increase the percentage of Tennesseans with post-secondary credentials.


Donors Make the Difference

The far-reaching positive impacts that the $105-million campaign are having and will continue to have on students and programs is enormous and will go on for a long time. At its core are the generous donors that provided gifts, some as large as $10 million and some as small as $100, all of which are worthy of praise and thanks from the MTSU community.

Centennial Celebration Dinner at Embassy Suites. Sidney A. McPhee, MTSU President.

Centennial Celebration Dinner at Embassy Suites. Sidney A. McPhee, MTSU President.

The Centennial Campaign actually launched in low-key fashion on Jan. 1, 2009, as MTSU began preparing to mark the 100th anniversary of its 1911 founding. More than $54 million was raised during a three-year “quiet phase” of the campaign that ensued. That amount alone set a university record.

MTSU went public with the campaign on April 13, 2012, declaring a goal of $80 million and unveiling a $10 million gift by alumnus Andrew Woodfin “Woody” Miller of Nashville. Miller’s gift allowed MTSU to purchase the property once occupied by then-Middle Tennessee Medical Center just west of the campus on Bell Street. Now renovated, that 126,839-usable-gross-square-foot facility has not only expanded MTSU’s campus footprint, but also provided a dedicated space for educational and outreach efforts to the business community and community at large.

Miller Educational Center

Miller Educational Center

Joe Bales, vice president for university advancement and MTSU’s chief development officer, said the $105 million was the result of more than 111,000 separate gifts from 23,276 different donors.

“This campaign, though, was about more than dollars and donors,” Bales said. “It was about creating a vision for our University’s second century and giving our friends and supporters opportunities to help bring that vision to life.”

McPhee said many of MTSU’s most transformational gifts came about during the campaign’s four-year public phase, including the $7 million in private-donor support necessary to augment public funds for the $147 million, state-of-the-art Science Building that opened in October 2014.

The new MTSU science building in a state of substantial completion starting the process of moving equipment and classrooms from Davis Science and Wiser-Patton.

The new MTSU science building in a state of substantial completion starting the process of moving equipment and classrooms from Davis Science and Wiser-Patton.

Other successes of the Centennial Campaign include more than $27 million in new scholarship funds; a $2.5 million gift by alumnus Joey Jacobs, matched by the state of Tennessee, creating an endowed chair of excellence in accounting—the first new chair of excellence in Tennessee in more than 15 years; and the establishment of $28 million in planned estate gifts to provide support for many years to come.

Centennial Campaign projects in Blue Raider Athletics included the Jeff Hendrix Stadium Club that opened in 2012 and the Adams Tennis Complex that MTSU opened in 2015, built in partnership with the city of Murfreesboro and the Christy Houston Foundation.

Adam's Tennis Complex dedication ceremony and ribbon cutting.

Adam’s Tennis Complex dedication ceremony and ribbon cutting.

Campaign chair and MTSU alumna Pamela Wright, founder and CEO of Nashville-based Wright Travel, said she was proud to be a part of such a transformative effort for her alma mater.

Centennial Celebration Dinner at Embassy Suites. Pamela Wright, Centennial Committee Co-Chair and Alumni.

Centennial Celebration Dinner at Embassy Suites.
Pamela Wright, Centennial Committee Co-Chair and Alumni.

“We began this campaign as an opportunity to think about— and do something about—the future of Middle Tennessee State University,” Wright said. “Those who stepped forward in this effort have set our course for MTSU’s second century.”

Other executive committee members included Nashville-based Zycron Inc. founder and chair Darrell Freeman; Nashville-based Haury & Smith Contractors, Inc. chair Stephen B. Smith; Rutherford County Mayor Ernest Burgess; Joey Jacobs, chair and CEO of Franklin-based Acadia Healthcare; and MTSU Foundation member Don Witherspoon.

Centennial Celebration Dinner at Embassy Suites. Joe Bales, Vice President, Development and University Relations.

Joe Bales, Vice President, Development and University Relations.

Bales said the campaign exceeded its goal because of the work by Wright, her executive committee, and other MTSU advocates.

“This record-setting, history-making effort was a success because of the passion and commitment of our volunteer leadership,” Bales said.




Donor Spotlight: Laying a Foundation

by Patsy B. Weiler


Howard Wall spent his professional life building Murfreesboro; now he’s building a legacy of giving at MTSU.

Howard Wall and MTSU have a long history together—more than 70 years of memories and milestones. The successful real estate agent and developer earned his degree in 1963 from MTSU. In 1998, he was honored by the University with a Distinguished Alumni Award. Wall’s latest connection with the University is serving as a member of the Honors College Board of Visitors.

Honors board member Howard Wall in the Honors building conference room.

Honors board member Howard Wall in the Honors building conference room.

“MTSU has always been there, a part of my life,” said Wall.

The University served as the stage for many of Wall’s youthful adventures. Two indelible first experiences associated with MTSU were taking his first airplane ride and seeing his first football game.

“As a kid, I knew the location of a loose board in the fence around the football field near where a bush was growing and could squeeze through and get in to watch the game,” Wall said. “I think the coaches probably knew it was happening, but they never said anything.”

Wall has left his footprint as a developer throughout middle Tennessee on the grounds of various residential and commercial developments, including through his involvement in the early land acquisition of the Gateway area of Murfreesboro. Now in his mid-70s, Wall continues to work as a real estate agent and developer with Coldwell Banker Snow and Wall, Barnes Realty, a company he and his wife and business
partner Sally built together.

Wall’s philanthropy and service to MTSU is vast. The athletic staff’s past kindness to a neighborhood youngster eventually reaped a bountiful return when, among other gifts, Wall committed $100,000 toward the completion of the baseball program’s Reese Smith Jr. Field and stadium. A tall section of the facility’s wall behind center field reads “The Howard and Sally Wall,” in a slightly tongue-in-cheek manner that captures Wall’s famous sense of humor while honoring the family’s gift.

“One of the reasons I financially support MTSU—other than thinking it is just the right thing to do to give back to my community—is that I know a lot of those kids there are having to work their way through school,” Wall said. “These students are well-rounded, work hard, and have many interests…I love going to our meetings and learning about these outstanding students. They will become the leaders of future.”


Inside the Numbers

A total of 23,277 alumni, friends, corporations, and foundations contributed to the success of the Centennial Campaign. In all, 364 gifts greater than $25,000 were received for a total of more than $53 million. The bulk of the gifts funded the campaign’s four priorities.

Scholarships: $27 Million
Maintaining our desired position as the institution of choice
in Tennessee requires the University to remain competitive in
recruiting future generations of student scholars.

  • 33 new endowed scholarship funds were created totaling more than $13 million.
  • 209 non-endowed scholarship funds were established totaling more than $14 million.

Faculty Enhancement and Support: $15 Million
To ensure that our students continue to have opportunities to be guided by some of the nation’s leading faculty, MTSU established a cadre of endowed chairs and professorships.

  • One new Chair of Excellence
  • Two new endowed faculty chairs
  • Numerous college and departmental faculty awards

Academic Program Enhancements: $19 Million
MTSU has remained committed to the education of our students, providing each and every student with access to the finest facilities, the most modern equipment, and the most innovative academic programs.

  • $10 million to establish the Andrew Miller
    Education Center
  • $6.75 million in support of the new Science Building
  • More than $2.5 million in new technology and equipment

Blue Raider Athletics: $25 Million
The Blue Raider Athletics program is committed to providing the highest level of performance—on the field and in the classroom—uniting our community and promoting a sense of pride. We can only compete at the highest levels athletically by matching up against top-notch competition, improving facilities, and focusing on academic success.

  • Renovated weight room and construction of the
    Shipp Women’s Basketball Office
  • New endowed scholarships for student athletes
    in football and men’s and women’s basketball



Changing the Conversation

Recording Industry Chair Beverly Keel has kick-started a national public discourse about the need for greater female involvement in country music

Beverly Keel, Chair, Department of Recording Industry on Nashville's Music Row at the Owen Bradley Park.

Beverly Keel, Chair, Department of Recording Industry on Nashville’s Music Row at the Owen Bradley Park.

Interview by Drew Ruble


For two consecutive years—2015 and 2016—MTSU professor Beverly Keel (’88), chair of the University’s Department of Recording Industry, was among the honorees receiving a Women in Music City Award from the Nashville Business Journal.

Launched in 2015, the awards honor women working in the music business “who are making a creative and economic impact on the industry.”

Keel also recently appeared in Variety magazine’s “2015 Music City Impact Report,” which focused on the people “igniting” Nashville’s latest popularity surge.

Currently in her third year of leading the Recording Industry department within the College of Media and Entertainment, Keel continues to build partnerships between MTSU and music industry leaders to enhance the student experience, align them with jobs in the industry, and bring in accomplished guest lecturers and instructors on a routine basis.

Keel previously served as senior vice president of artist and media relations
for Universal Music Group Nashville, where she actively guided the musical careers of stars ranging from American Idol winner Scotty McCreery to pop
icon Lionel Ritchie.

Also a former entertainment journalist, Keel has made waves on the national landscape as the outspoken co-founder of Change the Conversation, a coalition created, in part, to help change the way that women are perceived in the country music industry.

MTSU Magazine recently sat down with Keel to discuss all the attention she’s
been getting.

What led you to form Change the Conversation?

Let me start by saying that my concern about the unequal playing field for women in country music has since been far outweighed by the inspiration of women banding together to create a solution.

In 2014, women on Music Row were worried about the increased difficulty of getting women played on country radio, signed to record companies, or booked on some high-profile events.  I remember telling my friend Leslie Fram, Country Music Television’s senior vice president, that I wished I could do something about it. Unbeknownst to me, she was hearing the same sentiments from her good friend, Tracy Gershon, a veteran music executive who is currently vice president of A&R for Rounder Records and an artist manager.

Leslie suggested that we all get together to see if there was anything we could do to spotlight the problem and create a solution. The result was Change the Conversation, a group of women from various music backgrounds who are working together to improve the environment for women in country music.

What exactly are you hoping the group can accomplish?

Our goals include getting more women played on country radio, getting more women signed to major record label and publishing company deals, and getting more women featured in high-profile opportunities, whether it is an appearance on an awards show or TV show.

We want to banish the myths and misperceptions that women don’t like to hear other women on the radio or support other female artists. We are working to create a set of facts that shows the realities of the success of women, whether it is through album sales, concert tickets, or alcohol sales at venues. We want to fight inequality with truth.

Let me stress: We don’t believe that women should be played on radio or signed to record deals just because they are women. It is that women who are of the same quality of the male artists—if not higher—should receive the same opportunities and participate on a level playing field. We believe that there shouldn’t be just a few predetermined slots for women at country radio.

How big of a problem is this really?

When Tracy was trying to get record deals for her female artists, several labels said, “We don’t sign females,” or, “We already have too many females and they are too hard to get on the radio,” or, “It is too hard to find songs for females.”

Billboard’s year-end country radio airplay chart, which lists country music’s 60 most heard songs on radio in 2015, includes just six from female artists.

Meanwhile, women are making much of the best country music today, and that’s not just my opinion. According to the music industry voters of the CMA, Miranda Lambert made the best country album and country single and participated in the best vocal event of the year in 2014, while Kacey Musgraves co-wrote the best song. In the past three years, only three of the 15 artists nominated for the CMA’s best new artist award have been females.

The Change the Conversation group recently launched its mentoring sessions for young artists at the Bluebird Café in Nashville, Tennessee. Pictured, from left, are Beverly Keel, chair of MTSU's Department of Recording Industry and co-founder of Change the Conversation; Leslie Fram, CMT senior vice president and Change the Conversation co-founder; country music legend and special guest Reba McEntire; and Tracy Gershon, Rounder Records Group's vice president of A&R and Change the Conversation co-founder. (Photo courtesy of Justin McIntosh)

The Change the Conversation group recently launched its mentoring sessions for young artists at the Bluebird Café in Nashville, Tennessee. Pictured, from left, are Beverly Keel, chair of MTSU’s Department of Recording Industry and co-founder of Change the Conversation; Leslie Fram, CMT senior vice president and Change the Conversation co-founder; country music legend and special guest Reba McEntire; and Tracy Gershon, Rounder Records Group’s vice president of A&R and Change the Conversation co-founder. (Photo courtesy of Justin McIntosh)

Explain to us why making an impact on radio is so crucial to your movement.

The lack of airplay for women has launched a vicious cycle. If country radio doesn’t play females, labels won’t sign as many artists, and then publishers won’t sign as many females.

It’s important to note that this doesn’t affect just the women who are trying to make a living in country music, but it affects all women because music is an important force in shaping popular culture, which should reflect who we are as a society.

When women don’t hear other women on country radio, it takes its toll on our self-esteem, dreams, and ambitions. There is little that most women can relate to when listening to today’s country radio, and pop culture is important in shaping how we view ourselves.

Are you surprised at how impactful Change the Conversation has already been?

In late May 2016, we received a beautifully wrapped gift that couldn’t have come at a better time. Radio consultant Keith Hill told the trade publication Country Radio Aircheck that he advised radio stations not to play too many songs by women and not to play two women back to back. “If you want to make ratings in country radio, take females out,” he said, noting that female listeners like male artists.

“Trust me,” he said. “I play great female records, and we’ve got some right now; they’re just not the lettuce in our salad. The lettuce is Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton, Keith Urban and artists
like that. The tomatoes of our salad
are females.”

The story made national headlines and propelled our fight to the national stage. No longer could country radio deny what the problem was. Not only did he help galvanize a movement, he gave it a symbol. Martina McBride had shirts printed with the slogan “Tomato,” and even Rush Limbaugh weighed in on the unfortunate choice of the word “tomato.”

These comments were made the day before our third meeting, which was held at Creative Artist Agency and was attended by about 75 fired-up and passionate people. Soon after, Martina McBride held an intimate gathering for female artists and their managers at her studio in Nashville, so that they could ask questions and learn about Change the Conversation in a safe environment.

In June, about 80 people gathered at Sambuca in Nashville at a City National Bank-sponsored event to hear Devarati Ghosh, a New York-based political economist and Stanford University Ph.D. candidate, and author Jay Frank present research that they conducted for Change the Conversation.

One of our most exciting nights came last summer, when YouTube sponsored an event, and Madeline Di Nonno, CEO of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, presented the institute’s findings on gender prevalence in entertainment. Another event focused on live entertainment and attracted several hundred people at 3rd and Lindsley, where we all stayed for a show by Natalie Stovall and her guests.

But perhaps the highlight came in March, when Reba McEntire served as a special guest mentor for five young female artists at the Bluebird Café and offered advice
to those beginning their careers.

We have garnered substantial media coverage in music and country music publications, and Billboard said Change the Conversation began having an impact


on Music Row after only six months. It has brought a spotlight to radio programming, so they can’t ignore or dismiss the claims of inequality any longer.

What’s next?

This is about the young generation of girls who have dreams of having a career in country music. We want to improve the situation for them so that they’re not still battling this problem 10–20 years from now.

Thanks, Beverly.




Painting the Grammys True Blue


MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee and Nashville Mayor Megan Barry are shown here at the Leadership Music reception in Los Angeles before Monday's telecast of the 58th annual Grammy Awards. (MTSU photo by Andrew Oppmann)

MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee and Nashville Mayor Megan Barry are shown here at the Leadership Music reception in Los Angeles before Monday’s telecast of the 58th annual Grammy Awards. (MTSU photo by Andrew Oppmann)

Almost 20 MTSU alumni or former students and faculty from around the University have been nominated for Grammy Awards in the past seven years. Eight have won Grammys so far, including some repeat recipients, in categories from classical to gospel to bluegrass. Few universities in America can boast such high-brow musical success.

In 2016, MTSU alumnus Luke Laird (’01) was again nominated for a Grammy award in the Best Country Song category for his song “Diamond Rings and Old Barstools,” written with Barry Dean and Jonathan Singleton and performed by artist Tim McGraw. Laird was nominated in 2015 for co-writing both Kenny Chesney’s “American Kids” and Eric Church’s “Give Me Back My Hometown.” Laird was also nominated that year for Best Country Album, as producer of Kasey Musgraves’ album, “Pageant Material.” Laird won the Grammy for Best Country Album in 2014 for co-producing Musgraves’ “Same Trailer, Different Park.”

Other Grammy nominees with MTSU ties in 2016 included Sam Hunt, who was up for Best Country Album for “Montevallo” and Best New Artist, and Eric Pasley, who was nominated for Best Country Duo/Group Performance for “The Driver,” along with Charles Kelley and Dierks Bentley. In 2015, “Messengers,” co-written by 2003 music business graduate Torrance Esmond—known professionally as Street Symphony—and former MTSU student Lecrae Moore for Moore’s latest album, won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Christian Music Performance/Song. Esmond later established the Street Symphony Scholarship, a $750-per-semester award for MTSU recording industry students. Former student Jaren Johnston was also nominated in the Best Country Song category in 2015 as a co-writer on “Meanwhile, Back at Mama’s,” performed by McGraw.

Student Songwriter

MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee, left, chats with alumnus, Grammy-winner and 2016 Grammy nominee Luke Laird at a reception held Sunday in his honor in Los Angeles by the MTSU College of Media and Entertainment as part of the Grammy weekend festivities in Los Angeles. (MTSU photo by Andrew Oppmann)

MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee, left, chats with alumnus, Grammy-winner and 2016 Grammy nominee Luke Laird at a reception held Sunday in his honor in Los Angeles by the MTSU College of Media and Entertainment as part of the Grammy weekend festivities in Los Angeles. (MTSU photo by Andrew Oppmann)

Laird earned his MTSU music business degree in 2001 and has had more than 14 No. 1 singles since he signed his first publishing deal in 2002. He’s written 20 Billboard No. 1 hits and was recently named BMI’s Songwriter of the Year and the Academy of Country Music’s songwriter of the year. MTSU honored him at a special reception in Los Angeles held the day before this year’s Grammys event. President Sidney A. McPhee, Media and Entertainment college dean Ken Paulson and Beverly Keel, chair of the Recording Industry department (who taught Laird while a student) were in attendance.

Laird, in thanking MTSU for the recognition, talked about the encouragement and support he received from the faculty while he was a student. “The people there encouraged me, still to this day,” Laird said. “My time at MTSU is a time I look back on very fondly.”

On the Scene

The Americana Music Association held a pre-Grammy tribute Saturday night to the late Glenn Frey at the legendary Troubadour nightclub, sponsored by Middle Tennessee State University. From left is Beverly Keel, chair of MTSU’s Recording Industry department; MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee; headliner Lee Ann Womack; Ken Paulson, dean of the MTSU College of Media and Entertainment; and Jed Hilly, executive director of the Americana Music Association. (MTSU photo by Andrew Oppmann)

The Americana Music Association held a pre-Grammy tribute Saturday night to the late Glenn Frey at the legendary Troubadour nightclub, sponsored by Middle Tennessee State University. From left is Beverly Keel, chair of MTSU’s Recording Industry department; MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee; headliner Lee Ann Womack; Ken Paulson, dean of the MTSU College of Media and Entertainment; and Jed Hilly, executive director of the Americana Music Association. (MTSU photo by Andrew Oppmann)

For three consecutive years from 2014 through 2016, MTSU has been among the only universities represented at the Grammy event. For the past two years, MTSU has been a presenting sponsor of a Leadership Music alumni reunion held at the legendary Troubadour nightclub near the site of the Grammy telecast. This year, MTSU joined Nashville’s Americana Music Association in paying tribute at that event to late Eagles co-founder Glenn Frey. Bonnie Raitt and Lee Ann Womack were among the artists on the bill for the pre-Grammy concert. The day before that event, McPhee, Paulson, and Keel held a reunion with alumni, supporters and friends of the college—including Nashville Mayor Megan Barry—at Rock’N Fish Restaurant.

“MTSU’s increasing presence at the Grammys as been noticed and appreciated, not only by our alumni but others in the recording industry,” McPhee said. “We’ve planted the True Blue flag in a very visible location.”

Even the actual Grammy telecast had a True Blue connection, as MTSU alumnus Garry Hood (’77) once again served as the head stage manager for the Grammy ceremony.


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