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.

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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.


The Game Heard ’round the World

The Blue Raider basketball team’s stunning upset over Michigan State in the 2016 NCAA Tournament attracted global attention to the University

fcoach with mens net IMG_5010rom staff reports


Forgive the cliché: If this wasn’t the shot heard around the world, it most certainly was the NCAA basketball tournament upset that circled the globe.

When the clock wound down to zero at St. Louis’ Scottrade Center on March 18, the 15th-seeded MTSU Blue Raiders basketball team had defeated No. 2 seed Michigan State Spartans 90-81 in the first round of the men’s NCAA basketball tournament. And it seemed like almost everyone, everywhere, was True Blue, if only for a few moments. Consider:

Social reach tracked by MTSU’s Division of Marketing and Communications hit an
all-time high of 167,025,273 people during March 18–21.

  • #MTSU was the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter leading up to the final seconds of the win over the Spartans.
  • There were 60,000-plus mentions about MTSU in three days, 300 percent more than the University’s monthly average of 15,000 mentions.


  • MTSU’s win was tweeted by such notable influencers as Magic Johnson (2.9M reach); ESPN (25.7M); Wall Street Journal (10.3M); Sports Illustrated (1.4M); MLB pitcher and Murfreesboro native David Price (1.3M); Getty Images Sport (978K); Dick Vitale (822K); Yahoo! Sports (381K); and the Denver Broncos (294K).
  • MTSU’s brand reach on social media extended worldwide as a result of the game to areas where it doesn’t usually register, like Liechtenstein, Kenya, Norway, Andorra, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.


More fun facts include:

  • Sports Illustrated described the outcome as the biggest upset in the history of the March Madness tournament.
  • Yahoo! Sports declared it as the greatest first-round upset ever.
  • Vitale, the iconic ESPN basketball analyst who had picked Michigan State to win it all, called it “one of the all-time shockers.”
  • A stunning 97.8 percent of all brackets entered on ESPN.com had the Spartans surviving the first round.

MTSU was a 16- to 17-point underdog against the Spartans, who were favored by oddsmakers in Las Vegas to win the entire tournament. Seven other No. 15 teams had registered wins over No. 2 seeds, but none beat a No. 2 that was so highly regarded.




USA Today’s Dan Wolken saw it this way: “For a glorious two hours at Scottrade Center, however, a team nobody expected to last very long just kept going and going, all the way to a 90-81 victory against Michigan State that will be debated for years as arguably the most stunning result this tournament has ever seen.”





MTSU men’s basketball coach Kermit Davis became an instant media superstar, granting interviews with major sports outlets that were beamed around the world throughout the run of the tournament and resulted in headlines in almost every American daily newspaper. The Tennessean, The Daily News Journal and The Murfreesboro Post, the three newspapers who cover MTSU the closest, cleared their front pages for triumphant full-frame shots of the Blue Raiders’ victory.




In almost every interview in the afterglow of the upset, Davis talked about the importance that the win had in bolstering MTSU’s brand. “My hope is that one of the lingering benefits of our victory is the increased visibility of our University, not just in athletics, but in academics,” Davis said. “If athletics is the front porch of the University, maybe this win puts a brighter bulb over the door and shines some attention on our faculty, our academic programs, and our students.”

mens NCAA game IMG_0570In his post-game press conference, senior guard Jaqawn Raymond said, “The majority of people don’t know where Middle Tennessee is. Most people know where Nashville is, but they don’t know Murfreesboro. They’re going to know after tonight.”

MTSU’s Marketing and Communications division immediately produced and aired new television commercials for the University, then secured air time on Tennessee cable outlets for ads to be viewed during the second round of the tournament. Davis and his team were also featured on electronic billboards throughout Tennessee, as well as social media advertising throughout the region, as part of MTSU’s Take a Closer Look campaign, which encourages students and parents to dig deeper into the University’s many academic attributes.



One of MTSU’s newly added catch phrases became: “Our team may have busted your tournament bracket. But that’s not the first time Middle Tennessee State University exceeded expectations.”

Andrew Oppmann, MTSU’s vice president for marketing and communications, said it was impossible to put a price tag on the extensive exposure on varied platforms that the victory brought to the University. “Even if you had unlimited resources, you couldn’t buy something like this,” Oppmann said.



Davis said he enjoys helping spread the True Blue message. “I am as proud of our University as I am of our team,” Davis said. “If our win gets the attention of students or parents that may not have ever considered MTSU, then all of us benefit.”


Model Program

Kermit cuts net womens IMG_7913Though the men’s basketball team grabbed the biggest headlines this past March, the Lady Raider basketball program and Coach Rick Insell continued their impressive run as a powerhouse NCAA program. The Lady Raiders headed back to the NCAA Tournament for the 18th time after capturing their second C-USA title in just their third season in the conference.

In his tenure as the coach of the Lady Raiders, Insell has won 20-plus games in each of his 11 seasons at the helm. His program’s .770 winning percentage over the last five years ranks 15th nationally. And Insell’s teams have appeared in a national postseason tournament at the end of all 11 campaigns. MTSU has reached the top 25 rankings four times under his watch.

Insell is listed ninth on the Division I all-time winningest coach list (by percentage) at .766. That places him seventh for Division I active coaches. No wonder Insell is a member of five different athletic halls of fame.

March 18, 2016: during the 1st round of the 2016 NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament between Middle Tennessee and Florida State University hosted at Texas A&M in College Station, Texas.

March 18, 2016: during the 1st round of the 2016 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament between Middle Tennessee and Florida State University hosted at Texas A&M in College Station, Texas.

At a Glance
• MTSU men’s basketball team earned its invitation to the Big Dance—the Blue Raiders’ second invite in the past four years—as a result of winning the 2016 Conference USA championship. The women’s basketball team also landed an NCAA berth by taking the C-USA tournament title.

•MTSU also became only the second school in C-USA history to have its men’s and women’s basketball teams win the championship in the same year.

•MTSU is one of the few universities nationally with a 100 percent graduation rate for both basketball programs.

•MTSU was one of just 10 Division I programs nationally to have both its men’s and women’s basketball teams selected for the NCAA tournament as well as to have its football squad play in a bowl game in the same academic year. On Christmas Eve 2015, the Blue Raider football team capped off another strong season with a trip to Nassau in the Bahamas for the 2015 Popeyes Bahamas Bowl (the only college football bowl game played internationally).


A Medieval Mindset

Amy Kaufman studies the pervasive power of a mythologized Middle Ages on modern life


by Katie Porterfield


COVERsimplifiedWpinWhen the fifth season of HBO’s Game of Thrones premiered in April 2015, the show based on the best-selling medieval fantasy books by George R.R. Martin drew about eight million viewers live. Days to follow would yield online, on-demand, and DVR viewings that brought the audience total to 18 million viewers, according to HBO, which later declared the show the most-watched in HBO history.

Set in a brutish yet simpler pre-industrial world where men dominate women and disputes are settled with the sword, Game of Thrones and its soaring popularity speak to a modern obsession with the Middle Ages. It also provides a hearty new platform for researchers like MTSU English professor Amy Kaufman, who studies medievalism, a mythologized version of the Middle Ages.

“Pardon the pun, but medievalism is really experiencing a renaissance these days,” Kaufman said.

Examples of medievalism permeate American pop culture in the 21st century, whether it’s Game of Thrones or Vikings (another popular television series, which airs on the History Channel); the Warner Brothers multi-film version of the King Arthur legend scheduled to hit theaters in 2016; or video games with names like World of Warcraft, the Elder Scrolls series, and Dragon Age (or Game of War … think Kate Upton).

Though Kaufman is trained in what she calls “traditional medieval studies,” meaning she studied—and still does—works that came out of the Middle Ages such as Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (14th century) and Thomas Malory’s rendition of the Arthurian legend (15th century), she also looks at the entertainment Americans consume and the ideas that entertainment has about the time period in which she specializes.

Typically, there’s a disconnect between those “worlds.” Kaufman seeks to determine what that disconnect is and why it happens. Essentially, she asks, “Why does the Middle Ages look so different in popular culture than it does when we actually encounter it in literature?”


An Appealing Fantasy

What Kaufman and others in her field have determined is that medievalism seems to gain traction in popular culture when audiences feel insecure, unstable, and threatened by rapid change. That, Kaufman explains, is clearly applicable for today’s society, but it was also the case in the nineteenth century, a period that saw colonies wanting liberation, slavery coming to an end, agitation for women’s suffrage, industrialization, and new ideas by Darwin and Freud. Thus, the medieval past, a time before such turmoil, looked very attractive to those living in the eighteen hundreds.

“They imagined it as a time and place where men were men, women were women, everyone was the same race and practiced the same faith, and no one was corrupted by technology, sexuality or democracy,” Kaufman said.

More importantly, Kaufman adds, writers, artists, and even historians created versions of medieval stories that stabilized gender, race, and religion, and in turn perfected this simplistic notion of the medieval period that we have today.

“What people don’t realize is that a whole lot of the ‘neomedieval’ material we consume in popular culture is filtered through late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century medievalism, rather than actual medieval sources,” Kaufman said, citing the fact that the popular image of a Viking with a horned helmet, for example, is a construct conceived for the four operas that make up nineteenth-century German composer Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle.

“Our sources are less often medieval literature or history than they are, in many ways, cloudy nostalgia and imaginative propaganda.”


Misled by Myths

Take, for example, Game of Thrones.

“The series sells the typical fantasy of medieval life as nasty, brutish and short, but my concern with it, and my focus in studying it, has been the way that it normalizes sexual violence,” Kaufman said.

The excessive violence associated with the show and the original book series has drawn a great deal of attention and criticism. According to Kaufman, what’s worthy of noticing is the way the Middle Ages is mistakenly used to justify that violence. As she points out, Martin, in commenting about the amount of rape in his novels, once said, “Well, I’m not writing about contemporary sex. It’s medieval.”

In reality, however, it’s not. Rape, Kaufman confirms, was a serious crime in the Middle Ages, and the laws and punishments for the crime varied from century to century and nation to nation. So, although the high level of sexual violence in Game of Thrones is supposed to make its world “authentic, gritty and real,” it’s actually more modern than medieval in terms of how frequent rape is in contemporary entertainment culture and in the lives of people in the United States and globally.

Kaufman said the danger is that audiences watch “rape victims become disposable tropes in the service of ‘history’ and become complacent about sexual violence, either with false confidence that everything has improved since the ‘dark ages,’ or with resignation about the inevitability of violence against women in any time period.

“It lends horrific acts of violence and oppression the validating weight of history,” Kaufman said. “Ultimately, the kind of reductionist thinking we use when we imagine our medieval past is toxic to our sense of human identity. It limits what we think we’re capable of changing and who we are capable of being.”


A Conspicuous Absence

In general, today’s examples of medievalism diminish the role of women, playing into the idea that the Middle Ages represent a more authentic manhood. Kaufman admits that when she began to study medieval literature, she expected to see the absence or oppression of women, as well as an unenlightened understanding of gender and sexism. However, what she found was quite the opposite. Examples of women in literature throughout the Middle Ages include heroic women with supernatural strength, sorceresses who both tormented and rescued men with magic, women who dressed as knights and won tournaments, and highly educated women who wrote and argued on their own behalf, often from positions within the church.

“I would never argue that things were perfect for women in the Middle Ages—they certainly weren’t—but medieval women were neither silent nor invisible,” Kaufman said. “They fought back, and many men supported them.”

The imagined, mythological version of medievalism in which women are submissive, however, has been utilized not only in entertainment media today, but in religious and political propaganda as well. Kaufman’s research also examines how extreme religious movements promise a return to an idealized past. Medievalism, Kaufman said, has been used in widely divergent religious movements ranging from the “masculine church” and Biblical Patriarchy movements throughout the last 15 years to, more recently, the recruitment propaganda of the Islamic State (ISIS).

“ISIS is basically selling recruits the opportunity to be the hero in a live-action, medieval-themed video game,” Kaufman said.

It’s all fascinating, book-worthy stuff. In fact, Kaufman is struggling with whether her research lends itself to one book or two: one on medievalism and pop culture, and another on medievalism and religious extremism. One thing is certain—she won’t be lacking material. As she puts it, for those who study medievalism, the world today offers “an embarrassment of riches.”


Modern medieval masculinity researcher Dr. Amy Kaufman, an assistant professor of English

Modern medieval masculinity researcher Dr. Amy Kaufman, an assistant professor of English



A brief conversation with MTSU English professor Amy Kaufman

Talk about your work in women’s shelters and rape crisis centers. How, if at all, does it relate to your studies today?

I started volunteering with a domestic violence and rape crisis center in Tallahassee, Fla., while I was working on my undergraduate degree at Florida State. I worked with the children who stayed in the shelter first, then switched to the Injunction Assistance Office in the courthouse. I was drawn to that work again during my Ph.D. and answered hotline calls for an organization in Massachusetts. The work was heartbreaking and incredibly frustrating, and early on I was passionate not only about working to stop this kind of violence, but also figuring out why it happened so frequently and with so much tacit acceptance. I guess the scholar in me wanted to figure out the origins of the problem.

At the same time, my Medieval Studies education was dispelling myths about women’s absence from literature and history, providing me with powerful alternate narratives that I wanted to share. When we believe that gender and its hierarchies have been the same way throughout all of history, we accept sexual violence as inevitable. We surrender to it, and we lose our will to fight back. And that’s not just dangerous for women; it also affects the treatment of men who have been sexually assaulted. If violence against women is inevitable because they are women, violence against men becomes impossible to believe. This makes it much harder for male survivors to seek help.

You had planned to go to law school and practice family law. What changed?

I took a year between my B.A. and what would have been a law degree to work and save up money. And I worked two jobs at that point, both of which had me working with lawyers. And they were miserable. Even those who had gotten into the field with a degree of idealism found that they weren’t able to help people, that their lives were more about filling out paperwork and bringing in money than they expected.

At the same time, I learned that there was such a thing as graduate school. This was right before I graduated from Florida State. It may sound strange that I could go through four years of a B.A. program and remain totally ignorant of how a person becomes a professor, but unlike a lot of people who pursue this career, I didn’t come from an academic family. No one in my social circle was going to graduate school; a lot of my friends never even went to college. All I knew was that I loved to write, I loved literature, and I loved learning about history, and suddenly there was this possibility in front of me to do what I really loved doing on a daily basis.

What impact did academia and the professors who populate it have
on your life?

There were some very tough points in my life where teachers—and eventually professors—really saved me. They helped me not just by being compassionate, but also by feeding my mind and wanting to see me grow and succeed. I feel like I have come really far from where I started out in life, and I owe nearly all of that to my teachers and professors. There is a lot of power in teaching, power to reach people, expand their possibilities, and open up their worlds.

Thanks, Dr. Kaufman.

For A Song

One of MTSU’s newest professors aims to keep the memory of a country music legend alive and help students build careers   

by Stephanie Stewart-Howard

Odie Blackmon, songwriting faculty in the Recording Industry program, in RIM Studio A and in his Ezell Hall classroom.

Odie Blackmon, songwriting faculty in the Recording Industry program, in RIM Studio A and in his Ezell Hall classroom.

Charles “Odie” Blackmon (’96), newly appointed coordinator for MTSU’s Commercial Songwriting concentration, has thrived as a Nashville songwriter.

A Grammy nominee for Lee Ann Womack’s “I May Hate Myself in the Morning” (CMA Single of the Year in 2005), Blackmon has also written hits for country music superstars including George Strait (“She’ll Leave You with a Smile”) and Gary Allan (“Nothing on but the Radio”), among others. His songs have graced albums that have sold more than 20 million copies.

It should come as no surprise that a top Nashville songsmith like Blackmon treasures the music of the late George Jones and also understands the contributions the man nicknamed “Possum” made to Nashville and the country music industry.

Blackmon says he’s honored that his return to his alma mater led to a project that’s burnishing Jones’s legacy. With the blessing of Jones’s widow, Nancy, Blackmon has partnered with John Allen, CEO at New West Records, an Americana record label in Nashville, to create a George Jones tribute album. And he is making sure MTSU students will be part of the experience.


Planting the Seed

Jones died in 2013 after a six-decade career of songwriting and performing that helped define country music. Shortly thereafter, Nancy Jones funded a scholarship for the Recording Industry Department as a way to keep her late husband’s legacy alive and help others.

George Jones is shown in Nashville, Tenn., Jan. 10, 2007. At 75, Jones says he has a lot to look back on and a lot to celebrate, including a recent album with fellow country legend Merle Haggard. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

George Jones is shown in Nashville, Tenn., Jan. 10, 2007. At 75, Jones says he has a lot to look back on and a lot to celebrate, including a recent album with fellow country legend Merle Haggard. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

“George received help from people as he strove to have a country music career, so I am thrilled that we will be able to help young people in the name of George Jones,” she said at the time the scholarship was established. “I know he would have loved this.”

Jones’s donation has been followed by contributions that have increased the George Jones Scholarship Fund to more than $170,000. The first scholarship recipient was Ashley Doris, one of Blackmon’s best students (see sidebar).

The Center for Popular Music has added to its collection of research material and artifacts surrounding Jones’s career, and the Recording Industry Department has developed a first-of-its-kind college course on Jones’s life and music. Beverly Keel, department chair, says the course will “create opportunities for scholars to offer their analyses and interpretations of his music that can then be shared with scholars internationally.”

George Jones had number-one hits from the 1950s through the 1980s including the Grammy-winning “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” He received the Recording Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012.

“We want to make sure that students 100 years from now will fall in love with ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today,’ just as we did, no matter what future technology they may use to listen to traditional country music,” Keel says.

Right Place, Right Time

While the George Jones–MTSU connection was being made, Odie Blackmon was interviewing for a position at the University. He thought it would be a dream come true to teach the George Jones class that Keel intended to create. When he came to the job interview, he already had a third of the curriculum planned and told Keel if she hadn’t assigned it to any faculty member yet, he’d love to do it. (Blackmon already had teaching experience at Vanderbilt’s Blair School of Music.)

Blackmon’s lesson plan was a thorough exploration of Jones’s life and music, from his birth during the Great Depression to the influence of that period’s music and culture on who he became and what he achieved. “It gives you a sense of who George was, what he came from, and why he felt the way he did and had the demons he did, and it brings into focus the real golden era of his recording,” Blackmon says.

Blackmon wanted to do even more to tell the whole George Jones story. He fashioned the idea of a tribute album, and he wanted the project to be something other than contemporary country. He imagined recording Americana artists like Jim Lauderdale, Kacey Musgraves, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Buddy Miller, Mike Farris, Nikki Lane, Old Crow Medicine Show, and others.

He shared his notion with Stacy Merida, who spearheads MTSU’s student-run Match Records. She encouraged him to go to Keel with the idea. The project was greenlighted by Ken Paulson, dean of the College of Mass Communication, and then pitched to John Allan at New West Records in Nashville. Allan loved the idea and a deal was hammered out that leaves room for MTSU to benefit from the proceeds of the eventual record.

The project will be a collection of styles interpreting Jones with an Americana flair. Keel and Nancy Jones wrote letters to prospective artists. “We’re in the process of actually finding out who among our wish list of potential artists will participate right now,” Blackmon says.

The project should give students a chance to help with publicity and solicit Grammy votes when the time comes. It will also be a teaching tool for accounting and music business classes.

“I have known Odie for a long time from my publishing and A&R background,” Allan says. “We have similar sensibilities when it comes to artists and songwriting, so he felt comfortable sharing this idea. We both felt that this can’t be a knee-jerk tribute record. The production and arranging must be done right so that it moves George’s music forward with an interesting juxtaposition of established artists and rising stars that ‘get’ the heritage of the catalog but still make the songs their own.”

Asked how he feels Jones’s music will appeal to audiences today, especially reinterpreted through the Americana genre, Allan says, “George Jones was a master craftsman. His music is timeless, and no matter what genre someone likes, everyone can appreciate his songwriting and talent. George poured his heart and soul into his songs, and his raw emotion and authenticity resonate in an era when these attributes aren’t as common as they used to be. I hope this album will act as a fitting tribute to George’s music and serve as a reminder of what a force of nature he was.”

Odie Blackmon, songwriting faculty in the Recording Industry program, in RIM Studio A and in his Ezell Hall classroom.

Odie Blackmon, songwriting faculty in the Recording Industry program, in RIM Studio A and in his Ezell Hall classroom.



Daily Grind

Ramping up MTSU’s involvement in all things George Jones isn’t the only work Blackmon has been doing.

The winner of Blackmon’s Advanced Commercial Songwriting class competition got the chance to trade ideas with hit songwriter Erin Enderlin (’04), a friend of Blackmon’s. Opportunities for students to pitch original songs directly to publishers have been created and the relationship with performing rights organization ASCAP has been deepened and expanded.

Concerts headlined by alums including Eric Paslay have raised money to hire new adjunct faculty members who will focus on students interested in genres outside the commercial country realm. Along the way, Blackmon published a textbook: Music Theory and the Nashville Number System: For Songwriters and Performers.

His boss, Paulson, who calls MTSU’s songwriting program “one of the best in the country” and “a source of great pride for us,” likes Blackmon’s work. “Odie has taken it to new levels,” Paulson says. “His passion for songwriting translates into an extraordinary learning experience for our students.”

Blackmon merely says he’s always been a creative person, only half joking when he says he could have been a jingle writer or an advertising copywriter. He’s added a jingle writing class to this fall’s curriculum. “You can make money in any market if you can write jingles for radio and TV,” he says.

Blackmon is a natural mentor for aspiring student songwriters. Who better to look up to than a songwriter who had his first cut on MCA Records and who negotiated his first publishing deal while enrolled at MTSU?

These days, Blackmon’s efforts, whether directed toward MTSU students or George Jones’s legacy, are bringing the University’s songwriting program even more welcome attention.


jones article sidebar            Gifts That Keep on Giving

Nancy Jones, widow of country music icon George Jones, established a scholarship fund at MTSU in 2013 as a living memorial to the late singer. Mrs. Jones also recently opened a George Jones Museum in downtown Nashville.

Odie Blackmon, a hit songwriter himself and director of MTSU’s Commercial Songwriting concentration, gave Jones the résumé of Bethany Scott, a stellar student in a class devoted to the study of George Jones. Scott had told Blackmon of her desire to work at the new museum.

Jones promptly called Scott, and the two met in Murfreesboro for lunch. Before the lunch was over, Jones and her manager had hired Scott. (The museum officially opened in downtown Nashville this past April.)

Scott’s father wrote on Facebook, “This means so much to my family. To see that girl. . . meet the Lady who saved the Legend for the last 30 years of his life and to return with her first job in the business she loves was, to say the least, moving. My mother was George Jones’s biggest fan; my dad loved Miss Nancy. They are smiling down from above. . . beaming with pride.”

jones article 4Jones says she’s very happy “with everything Odie has done with his students,” adding that she has since hired several other MTSU students who took Blackmon’s class. “We don’t even have to train them, they know the story so well,” Jones says, adding that she is pleased with the way the scholarship has been overseen “and so proud of Ashley Doris, the first recipient.”

Blackmon describes it as “heartwarming” to see that Jones not only gave money to MTSU but also that “she genuinely cares about our students and takes an interest in them.”



Donations to the George Jones Scholarship Fund can be made online at www.MTSU.edu/georgejones or by calling (615) 898-5595.

True Blue!

Solid Leadership

by Katie Porterfield

MTSU’s Concrete Industry Management Department, the first of its kind in the U.S. and, perhaps, the world, is led by Heather Brown, a woman who has defied stereotypes and carved out a solid reputation in the industry.

Heather Brown, Concrete Industry Management Chair, around the MTSU campus for the cover MTSU Magazine.

Heather Brown, Concrete Industry Management Chair, around the MTSU campus for the cover MTSU Magazine.


Between 2011 and 2013, China, which has been building whole cities to accommodate population growth, consumed 6.6 gigatons of concrete—more than the U.S. used in the entire 20th century.

That fact, uncovered by population and energy researcher Vaclav Smil, prompted business magnate Bill Gates to write about it on his blog, which in turn drew worldwide media attention to Smil’s analysis. Forbes magazine wrote, “Look at what the U.S. built between 1901 and 2000: all those skyscrapers, the Interstate, the Hoover Dam, the list goes on and on, but all that concrete only amounted to 4.5 gigatons.”

That’s not to say the U.S. isn’t still building. Concrete is a $200 billion industry with 500,000 people employed in a variety of careers working with this “liquid rock.”

Though easy to take for granted, concrete has been the cornerstone of engineering for centuries, from the Roman Empire to the development of modern-day skyscrapers. So how is all of this relevant to MTSU?

Although other MTSU departments tend to grab more headlines, the Concrete Industry Management Department (CIM) may be MTSU’s most well known. Throughout the nation, the CIM program is recognized as the first and finest of its kind. The concrete industry helped fashion the program at MTSU nearly two decades ago. It has been the template for every other university program like it in the U.S.

From cutting-edge research, to almost guaranteeing student success and job placement, to the recent rollout of a new executive M.B.A. designed in concert with industry, the CIM program is one of the University’s biggest success stories. Adding interest to the mix is that steering the department is a woman who has defied stereotypes and carved out a solid reputation in the national concrete industry.

Heather Brown, Concrete Industry Management Chair, around the MTSU campus for the cover MTSU Magazine.

Heather Brown, Concrete Industry Management Chair, around the MTSU campus for the cover MTSU Magazine.

A Firm Foundation
As a little girl, Heather Brown was a tomboy. Her specialty? Building. In addition to crafting Lego masterpieces, she also built forts out of snow, wood, and even leaves. So, when she took a test in ninth grade that indicated she was well suited for civil engineering, she bought into the idea. She attended Tennessee Tech University and earned a bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate in the subject.

Today, as chair of the CIM Department, Brown does more than just recruit students who think of themselves as master builders (or who may have scored well on one of those career aptitude tests). She also promises to give them chances to find a career in the high-growth, science-driven concrete industry.

“In recent graduating classes, I’ve had four jobs for every graduate,” Brown says. “I’ve had 200 jobs and 50 kids to take them.”

According to Brown, that number will continue to climb as the booming construction industry expands for at least the next five years and perhaps the next decade. But these job openings aren’t for laborers who place and finish concrete. Brown’s students fill a wide variety of jobs in the industry, from sales or quality control to production management or contracting.

“Our degree was started for the management side of the business,” Brown says, using the pitch she delivers to parents of prospective students. “Our industry, which continues to be a partner, dreamt this whole thing up because they realized they were not getting college-educated kids to enter concrete construction and production.”


bucket IMG_2343

Cementing a Reputation
MTSU, with its already well-known academic programs such as Recording Industry, Horse Science, Agribusiness/Agriscience and Aerospace, seemed the perfect fit for a CIM program. In 1995, industry representatives started pushing for the first four-year bachelor’s degree dedicated to the development of managers for the concrete industry. They convinced MTSU officials that CIM was a degree that would open doors for students.

“The industry saw a need, and there wasn’t a university in the entire country that had a degree focused on concrete construction,” Brown says. “MTSU, unlike many other
universities they approached, had open arms and took them in and said, ‘We can work together; we can be a partner.’”

Those same industry folks became teachers, turning out the first graduates in 2000. In 2001, Brown, who’d been a research assistant for the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) while pursuing her education, agreed to come aboard as a teacher and researcher.

“It was all about concrete, and that’s what I’d primarily worked on during my master’s and Ph.D., so it was a passion of mine already,” Brown says. “I jumped right in, and I loved it.”

In 2006, she became the program director, and in 2011, when CIM became a department in the College of Basic and Applied Sciences, she became its chair. Under her leadership and with the continued support of industry executives now known as the National Steering Committee (NSC), the program has since expanded to other universities (California State University–Chico, New Jersey Institute of Technology, and Texas State University) to better serve industry needs beyond the Southeast. The NSC plans eventually to introduce the program at two more U.S. schools and possibly in foreign countries.


A Concrete Advantage
In 2012, MTSU rolled out the first-ever M.B.A. with a concentration in Concrete Industry Management, offered through the Jennings A. Jones College of Business. Executives or managers from across the nation take online courses for 15 months from business faculty who have received training in the industry.

“This was a huge effort because after we started the four schools, we realized there was a whole level of workforce out there . . . already in concrete who needed that degree to move up in their organization,” Brown says.

Comparing it favorably to Belmont University’s music business M.B.A. or Vanderbilt University’s healthcare M.B.A. in the local market, Brown says the first class of eight students graduated from the M.B.A. program in concrete in March 2014. A second group of six students followed last March, and 10 will come online in January 2016.

Those graduates, along with more than 800 from the undergraduate CIM program, continue to work their way up in a field that is hungry for young people. The average age of a manager in the concrete industry, Brown says, is about 57, and when the recession hit in 2008, managers who’d been expected to retire decided to stay on a bit longer to earn more money.

“There’s going to be and has been a big let-go of all of these seasoned professionals, and our guys are just waiting in the wings,” Brown says, adding that at least two MTSU alumni have already reached the vice president level after only 10 years.

CIM alum Nicholas Edwards (’06), director of sales (Eastern U.S.) for Kalyn-Siebert (a company that manufactures custom-engineered transport equipment and trailers), says his experience in the program prepared him for career acceleration and opened doors “beyond description.”

“What folks don’t realize is we are missing an entire generation . . . within the concrete industry,” says Edwards, who is also vice president of the MTSU CIM Patrons Board, a group of local concrete professionals who serve the department and its students with financial, marketing, and mentoring help. “Filling this void with accelerated, adequately prepared individuals was the very vision the founders of the CIM program conceived.”

Set in Stone
The future for CIM graduates seems bright, and Brown’s plan is to continue to expand the department with its own concrete building. In addition to giving CIM a separate space, the building would showcase the different ways concrete can be used and be a learning lab for students.

“People don’t realize that concrete can be made to look like anything else,” Brown says.

The proposed new building would look like other red brick buildings on campus from a distance, Brown says. However, the exterior would be concrete sanded and stained to give the appearance of red brick. The inside of the proposed building would feature translucent concrete, a light-transmitting material that allows, among other things, people with windowless offices to feel as though they have windows to the outside because they see shadows and sunlight.

Brown plans to finance the building with industry money. She’s already raised $2 million and hopes to raise the remaining $6 million in cash and materials such as steel and rock in time to break ground when the program turns 20 years old next year.




Heather Brown, Concrete Industry Management Chair, around the MTSU campus for the cover MTSU Magazine.

Heather Brown, Concrete Industry Management Chair, around the MTSU campus for the cover MTSU Magazine.

Breaking the Mold
In the meantime, Brown plans to stay busy recruiting students to help industry benefactors fill all those vacant positions.

“I’m just trying to get more students that want to be around construction and have a passion for this,” she says.

Perhaps some of those will be women looking to follow in Brown’s footsteps.

“When I got into concrete, I was the only girl in the room,” Brown says.

Today, although the number of females in the industry has grown somewhat, Brown says only 10 percent of her students are women. Such a low percentage reflects the problem of women and girls eschewing science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

A 2010 report by the American Association of University Women found that the number of women in science and engineering is growing, but men continue to outnumber women, especially at the upper levels of the professions. It doesn’t bode well for research and discovery when half of the human race—for whatever reason—remains outside the arena of science. Nor does it help America fill the STEM jobs that are increasingly available.

Brown would like to see that percentage in her department reach 15 to 20 percent.

“At the end of the day, I can’t say, ‘Every woman come over to concrete,’” she says, “because you do have to have a certain kind of personality or spunk. You have to have thick skin because it is still very male-dominated and very ‘good-old-boy’ in nature.”

If women are willing to enter that culture, opportunities are there to be had. The industry wants to be more diverse.

“Females are just so different in this world,” Brown says. “They are way better at multitasking and diffusing conflicts, and they are really go-getters, so companies who have traditionally hired men get a couple of our girls and say, ‘Send us more.’ That’s good for us, but we still need more to sign up.”

One thing is certain: women who decide to give concrete a try at MTSU will have the perfect mentor in Dr. Heather Brown.

From the Ground Up
It’s simply hard to imagine a world without concrete. Often overlooked, though, is that there is an underlying science to concrete and its many uses that must be understood in order to be properly applied.

Given concrete’s fundamental role in the built environment, the CIM Department at MTSU will likely continue to benefit the concrete industry as it cements the professional prospects of its graduates.

Concrete Industry Management Chair Dr. Heather Brown with a piece of pervious concrete for the MTSU Research Magazine.

Concrete Industry Management Chair Dr. Heather Brown with a piece of pervious concrete for the MTSU Research Magazine.

Hard Evidence

In addition to preparing graduates to   work in the high-growth field of concrete management, MTSU’s program is a powerhouse in research. Much of the research produced by CIM is done by undergraduate students and in time intervals that match the speed of the    ever-evolving concrete industry.

“Essentially, we investigate anything to    do with concrete floors, roads, elevated slabs, walls, bridges, columns, etc.,” says Dr. Heather Brown, chair of the Concrete Industry Management Department. “We are most concerned with durability, utilizing recycled products, economics,
and safety.”

College of Basic and Applied Sciences dean Bud Fischer says the program regularly receives grants from TDOT for projects such as gauging the life expectancy of roads and bridges and selecting the correct concrete for transportation projects.

“It’s pretty unusual nationally to see students involved in state transportation projects like this,” says Fischer. “It allows our students to do hands-on research activity, which is also important for the state.”



Beyond Critical Mass

MTSU’s multifaceted and innovative media offerings come of age

by Allison Gorman

When USA Today launched in 1982, the journalism establishment was startled by its bold colors and condensed stories. The new national newspaper was quickly derided as “fast-food journalism.”

In retrospect, the newspaper was actually pretty traditional. Like two centuries of papers before it, it printed the most important news of the day, shared its views on an editorial page, and tried to be as timely as the medium would permit. It also adopted strong policies on accuracy, attribution, and ethics.

But those core values were also complemented by a groundbreaking design, tighter editing, and a Technicolor weather map.

Ken Paulson was a young editor on the team that launched USA Today in 1982. He returned there as editor-in-chief in 2004 after a scandal cost the paper its hard-won credibility. Paulson later left USA Today to head the Freedom Forum and Newseum in Washington, D.C., and then the First Amendment Center in Nashville, where a search committee contacted the nationally recognized First Amendment expert about the dean’s post at MTSU’s College of Mass Communication—the fifth-largest in the nation.

Paulson immediately saw possibilities, starting with a USA Today–like melding of old values and new approaches as the key to the college’s future.

“This is a college in which I truly saw unprecedented potential,” he says. “I believe that it can position itself as the most multifaceted and innovative program of mass communication in the country, and for a variety of reasons.”

Those reasons include a Department of Recording Industry (RI) that’s the largest and, arguably, one of the best in the country—not to mention one located a short drive from Nashville, Tennessee, a cradle of the music business; a Department of Electronic Media Communication (EMC), whose students and state-of-the-art facilities have attracted national recognition; and a tradition-rich School of Journalism that houses the John Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies.

For Mass Comm to fulfill its potential, though, Paulson knew it also needed retooling.

“All traditional media have been buffeted by digital technology, and that in turn has led to cutbacks and job losses,” Paulson says. “But there will always be news. There will always be music. And film. And commercial art. And communication. Our challenge is to prepare our students for the new era of opportunities.”

Preparing students to succeed despite those realities isn’t just about having tech-savvy faculty and cutting-edge tools, Paulson says. It’s about reinforcing traditional communication skills (research, writing, ethics, critical thinking) while breaking down traditional academic barriers, thinking beyond traditional media platforms, and finding nontraditional ways to communicate.

“It’s not enough for us to just teach journalism, media, and production skills; we need to anticipate the future and help reinvent these industries,” Paulson says. “What better place to thoughtfully explore the future of media than a forward-looking College of Mass Communication that now also boasts a Center for Innovation in Media?”

In July 2013, Paulson accepted the position as dean of the college and received a blunt directive from President Sidney A. McPhee: make the College of Mass Communication as contemporary,
innovative, and prominent as possible. Or, as interpreted by Paulson, make it “famous.”

“We’re embracing that challenge,” Paulson says.


Beyond the Buzz

The Journalism Department’s new Center for Innovation in Media is fast becoming a mecca in its own right. The state-of-the-art facility in beautifully renovated space in Bragg Mass Communication Building houses all student-run media— television station MT10, radio station WMTS, and monthly print and daily digital newspaper Sidelines—as well as student-run Match Records and professional National Public Radio affiliate WMOT.

After the $700,000 center opened in 2012, the Associated Press Media Editors recognized it as “a model for journalism schools and professional news organizations” for its converged newsroom, where some 250 students can collaborate to create content across media platforms.

Val Hoeppner, Director, Center for Innovation in Media.

Just like a real newsroom, it gets loud.

For the center’s new director, Val Hoeppner, quiet time is over by 9:30 a.m., when she meets with leaders from student-run media and the students who work at WMOT. A veteran multimedia journalist who worked at newspapers including the Indianapolis Star, Hoeppner says she’s a bit like publisher for the student organizations (which are editorially independent).

“I run a daily news meeting, I make a lot of suggestions, and I offer support,” she says. That could mean anything from helping students create interactive graphics for a website to advocating on their behalf for the prompt release of public records.

Hoeppner says she’s been impressed by the students’ enthusiasm. This year, more than 140 students tried out for 82 positions with MT10 News, she says, and most who didn’t make the cut now work production for the station.

With so many students sharing the newsroom, Hoeppner has to close her office door to have a conversation. And that’s a good thing.

“There’s just this buzz out there,” she says, “and it’s cool to sit back and listen to it every day.”

Emily Kinzer (‘14), a reporter for the ABC-affiliate TV station in South Bend, Ind., recalls staying up all night putting together her first on-air piece for MT10 News and learning to stand her ground as a field reporter when she covered a homicide for the station. The hands-on experience was invaluable, she says, and made her feel “locked, loaded, and ready to go” for a career as
a broadcast journalist.


Beyond the Printed Page

Blue Raiders regularly win accolades for traditional journalism, but in the College of Mass Communication, as in the real world, journalism is bursting out of the confines of print.

The college’s aforementioned journalism programs—the School of Journalism’s traditional program, for print, and the Electronic Media Communication Department’s multimedia program for practically everything else—are currently being melded together in a single, vibrant, multi-platform program poised for roll out in the fall of 2015. From a curriculum perspective, it’s a savvy shift in approach by the college that better reflects the media industry students will enter after graduation.

Dwight Brooks, director of the School of Journalism, says there will always be a need for trained journalists in a democracy.

“But we’ve got to prepare our students for the careers that are out there,” he says. “And they all involve being able to shoot video and write for the Internet, in addition to the traditional skills of reporting and writing. That’s the tricky thing: balancing. Ethics are still important, and we still do a lot of that very effectively.”

In addition, Paulson plans to expand the role of the Center for Innovation in Media as “a laboratory for change, anticipating where the media are going and how we can ensure that our students get there ahead of it.” Brooks calls it a “teaching hospital model”: professional journalists working with students and professors to create a real product.

Paulson also reworked a practicum course under the purview of the Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence, headed by former Tennessean and Nashville Banner editor Pat Embry. The original model, an idea of the late Tennessean editor John Seigenthaler, allowed students to work as beat reporters covering federal courts for the newspaper. This year, Paulson expanded the concept as the Music City Project, with students contributing stories, videos, and photos about the music industry to local media. Media partners provided $15,000 in pilot project funding, from which each student receives a $1,000 scholarship at the semester’s end.

“This model makes sure that students get something for their hard work, and it also guarantees them a professional outlet under the guidance of a professor,” Paulson says. “And that model is going to grow.”

The college is also collaborating with music industry partners such as the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival and the Americana Music Festival in Nashville to build on the natural synergy of all
its disciplines. In June, the Music City Project covered Bonnaroo for The Tennessean, and in April and October, Bonnaroo founders Ashley Capps and Rick Farman visited the college as guest speakers. “It’s simply unprecedented for the management team of a world-class music festival to take a full day to engage and educate the next generation of music and media professionals,” Paulson says.

In September, the project covered the Americana Music Festival, whose organizer brings guest artists like Billy Bragg to campus.

Meanwhile, Pittard says EMC is building partnerships with local tech companies that support Nashville’s growing reputation as “the live-event video capital of the world.” (An example of such
a firm is DWP Live: six recent department grads are now on staff there.)

“So many opportunities come out of our proximity to Nashville,” Brooks sums up. “Most of these opportunities cross all our departments. . . . At a certain point, these divisions are so artificial.”

The convergence of print and other forms of communication suits the college particularly well. For years, it has been the nation’s only college of mass communication offering fully functional journalism, electronic media, and recording industry academic units. Now, “with the walls crumbling everywhere,” Paulson says, that arrangement seems prescient.

The cumulative effect of this newfound departmental synergy, alongside such high levels of activity and industry engagement, will result in graduates better prepared not just to work in modern media, but also to help infuse the fields of journalism and recorded music with the fresh ideas needed to resurrect them.

“The young people entering our college are members of the Google Generation, many of them born the same year as the dominant tech company,” Paulson says. “They are intuitive communicators who value instant information and interaction. They engage with technology like no generation before them. But they also decided not to pay for music, leading to layoffs in the recording industry. They decided newspapers had little value, which fueled a downward spiral in print journalism. And their preference for YouTube and viral videos took a toll on television broadcasting.”

As a result, Paulson says he often jokes with incoming Mass Comm students planning to one day graduate and work in the media professions “that the new motto of our college should be ‘You broke it; you fix it.’”

Beyond “Famous”

Soon after Paulson became dean of the college, he and President McPhee visited the Newseum in Washington, where they gathered 12 of the nation’s leaders in news media to discuss the future of
the industry.

Last January, Paulson, Keel, and McPhee flew to the Grammy Awards (three former Blue Raiders were involved with Grammy-nominated projects) and held a West Hollywood reception in partnership with the Americana Music Association for the late Phil Everly. MTSU was the only university represented at the Grammy event.

“We are doing what a nationally prominent program would do, and that means going well beyond the borders of Murfreesboro or Tennessee,” Paulson says.

Creating a buzz about Mass Comm, he says, will help it attract the main thing it lacks to fulfill its tremendous potential: significant support—financial and otherwise—from the industries it serves.

Paulson and his team of leaders in the College are fully aware of their college’s past successes and its potential, and they know that the best kind of fame must be earned. But with an innovative, multifaceted vision for the future and the backing of an enthusiastic University administration, they also know that the college is meeting new challenges, shaping its own destiny, and writing
its own special definition of what becoming a contemporary, innovative, prominent, and, yes, “famous” College of Mass Communication really means.

Bookmark The Leading Edge (mtsumasscomments.wordpress.com), the blog of the College of Mass Communication, for news about faculty, students, and alumni.


Pursuit of Excellence

Pat Embry, Chairholder, Seigenthaler Chair of First Amendment Studies.

Pat Embry, a former editor of both the Nashville Banner and The Tennessean, was recently named director of the John Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies. Seigenthaler, who died July 11, 2014, at age 86, was a reporter, editor, publisher, and CEO of The Tennessean. After serving as founding editorial director for USA Today, he established the First Amendment Center in Nashville in 1991. MTSU established the chair in his name in 1986 to honor the iconic journalist’s lifelong commitment to free expression. The Seigenthaler Chair supports activities related to free speech, free press, and other topics of concern for contemporary journalism.

Seigenthaler championed civil rights and women’s rights, Embry says, so those issues have become his early focus as he builds a website and social media presence for the chair and revitalizes its speaker/symposium program. Noting that journalists in Ferguson, Mo., were handcuffed for recharging their laptops and cellphones in fast-food restaurants, he says, “If the events of Ferguson and its aftermath . . . have shown us anything, it’s that the First Amendment remains a strong but fragile foot soldier on the front lines of American justice.”


Beyond Industry Standard

Taylor Thompson is a huge music fan, but she doesn’t sing or play. Until she enrolled as an undeclared freshman, she didn’t know she could make a living in music.

“I read about the MTSU music business program and I thought, ‘Murfreesboro, Tennessee, has the number-one program?’ It just blew me away.”

The Department of Recording Industry has been blowing people away for 40 years. In September 2014, Billboard reinforced the department’s well-established reputation when it named MTSU one of the nation’s five top universities for learning about the music industry. More recently, The Hollywood Reporter listed MTSU’s music business program among its “Top 25 Music Schools” for 2014, ranking it ahead of nearby Belmont University’s Curb College of Entertainment and Music Business.

Chair Beverly Keel, an award-winning music journalist, former recording industry executive, and longtime professor, says that in her 19-year association with the RI program, it has selectively narrowed its enrollment from 1,800 to 1,200 while expanding its digital curricula and continuing to invest in the recording studios that serve as its classrooms. An outside reviewer recently called those facilities “second to none,” Keel says, “even topping NYU—and without the subway noise.”

With concentrations in Audio Production, Commercial Songwriting, and Music Business, the department boasts many alumni, former students, and current faculty who are firmly established in the industry. More than a dozen have been nominated for Grammys, and seven have won the award. Former students, including country music stars Chris Young, Hillary Scott, Eric Paslay, Sam Hunt, and Brett Eldridge, have recently found themselves on the Billboard Country Airplay chart
simultaneously. Sony Music Nashville Chairman and CEO Gary Overton and multi-Grammy-winning producer Blake Chancey are just two other examples of prominent RI graduates.

“The list of UMG Nashville staffers and artists who have attended MTSU is too long to put in print,” says Mike Dungan, president and CEO of Universal Music Group Nashville. “There is no doubt why this university has always been at the top for music industry study.”

The faculty as well is a who’s who of industry insiders, including John Hill, a double-Grammy-winning recording engineer; John Merchant, a Grammy-nominated producer and recording engineer; and Odie Blackmon, a Grammy-nominated songwriter who is currently hard at work building up the department’s fledgling songwriting program. Blackmon recently used his industry connections to hire as adjuncts three highly regarded songwriters/musicians whose real-world experience, like his, can benefit students.

Keel says that faculty diversity and depth of experience is what separates the department from similar programs at other universities. Faculty members can connect students with jobs
and internships—“We’re the first to hear about job openings,” she says—and students get real-time advice about succeeding as entrepreneurs in a rapidly changing industry.

“As record companies shrink in size, you’re seeing more independent contractors, because the work still has to be done,” Keel says. “So there’s more employment at social media companies, marketing companies, and artist management companies, and we’re seeing real growth in live entertainment and talent agencies.”

Thompson, now a junior, says she honed her skills at Match Records, the department’s working record label, which gives students experience in every facet of the music business from production to promotion. After graduation, she hopes to be an artist manager in Nashville.

“I have a lot of connections already set up there, and so I’m not really willing to say I’ve been promised a job,” she says. “But . . .”

As an industry hub, Nashville provides a lot of fieldwork opportunities for MTSU students, Keel says.

“I think Nashville is as close to perfect as you can get on this earth,” she says. “We do amazing business here that reaches the world, but the people are friendly and there’s still a level of accountability, because you’re going to run into them at Kroger.”


Leader in Innovation

Val Hoeppner, who had been serving as journalist-in-residence in MTSU’s School of Journalism, became director of MTSU’s nationally recognized Center for Innovation in Media in July 2014. Hoeppner was previously director of education for the Freedom Forum Diversity Institute and spent 20 years in newsrooms as a photojournalist, newsroom leader, and multimedia director at the Indianapolis Star. Replacing Hoeppner as journalist-in-residence is pop culture critic Whitney Matheson, who built a large audience as writer and editor of Pop Candy, the award-winning blog she founded during her 15-year tenure at USA Today.

Spring Fed Middle

For nearly 30 years, the world-renowned Center for Popular Music (CPM), located in the Bragg Mass Communication Building, has been a resource for all things related to American vernacular music—from country and folk to gospel, blues, jazz, and rock. It is the largest and oldest research institution for popular music in the world.

New director Dr. Greg Reish is bolstering the CPM’s role as a place where music and ideas about music are made—for instance by producing (with students’ help) new reissues of historic Americana music for Spring Fed Records, the Grammy-winning label devoted to issuing historically significant recordings of traditional Southern music that Reish helped the center acquire. What comes out of the CPM, Reish says, should be just as important as what goes into it.


Music City Mavens

Beverly Keel, chair of the Department of Recording Industry, and former student Hillary Scott of Grammy-winning music group Lady Antebellum were among honorees at the Nashville Business Journal’s inaugural Women in Music City Awards last fall.

Keel (’88), an award-winning music journalist and longtime MTSU professor, most recently served as senior vice president of media and artist relations for Universal Music Group Nashville, where she developed extensive media campaigns for a roster including Lionel Richie, Scotty McCreery, and Sugarland, among others. Scott, who attended MTSU before launching a successful music career, keynoted the red carpet event. Also honored was MTSU graduate Jill Napier (’99), director of copyright management at Music Services Inc. in Brentwood.

Beyond Broadcast Borders

Senior Chris Davis says he was drawn to the University’s Department of Electronic Media Communication when he toured the Mass Comm building and was told he could work on camera starting day one with MT10.

“That’s exactly what I ended up doing,” he says. He went on to intern with WTVF-TV in Nashville and produce football and basketball broadcasts for ESPN3, experiences that contradicted dire predictions about the future of broadcasting.

“Instead of gloom and doom, I see promise and opportunities on the horizon for this industry,” he says.

Billy Pittard, department chair, seconds that opinion. Though broadcasting has changed—a TV journalist is now a “one-man band,” reporting and producing—there are still jobs in the industry, he says. (At last count, there were 35 MTSU alumni working in Nashville’s four television news stations.)

And the department’s reach goes beyond broadcast television and radio. Its students can also learn to create content for film, the Web, and live events—e.g., big-screen video.

“There are still films being made,” says Pittard, who joined MTSU in 2011 after an award-winning career in media and entertainment design that included several Emmys. “There is still a lot of television and video being shot. . . . The disruption is in the traditional structure of those businesses, and that’s a concern for people who are established in them. But for students, it spells opportunity.”

As in the recording industry, today’s electronic media professionals often freelance, Pittard says. So they need more than technical skill—they need to understand where the jobs are and how to market themselves.

Pittard covers that territory in a new class, Create Your Career. He also offers a freelancing workshop. He says he’s trying to foster an entrepreneurial culture throughout the department.

Senior Scotty Wright has been networking and building his professional reputation since his freshman year. The aspiring filmmaker started at MT10 operating a camera and then producing and directing. He eventually started freelancing. His portfolio now includes music videos, live concerts and sporting events, reality TV for cable and network, Web series, and short films—among them Sbocciare, a group project that won top honors from the Broadcast Education Association and was screened at the Newport Beach Film Festival.

EMC Productions (the department’s “varsity team” for live-event TV) recently placed first nationally among student-produced sports broadcasts. MTSU also swept 11 of 12 categories at the 2014 Tennessee Associated Press College Broadcast Awards.

Electronic Media Communication, William B. Pittard (Alumni)


Street Cred

Students don’t usually get to do the kind of big projects available to Electronic Media Communication (EMC) students at MTSU. Here is just one example of the type of remarkable opportunities the EMC Department (chaired by multiple Emmy-winner Billy Pittard) has recently offered.

Freedom Sings is a celebration of free speech and music that has toured college campuses across the nation under the direction of College of Mass Communication dean Ken Paulson, president of the First Amendment Center. When the event celebrated its 15th anniversary with two concerts at Nashville’s landmark Bluebird Café, MTSU students were there working behind-the-scenes deploying the college’s 40-foot, $1.7 million HD mobile video production lab, managing social media content, helping with public relations, and covering the event for student media outlets.

Lights . . . Camera . . . Action!

Eleven College of Mass Communication students invited the public to see their cinematic work from summer travels in Paris during a September 2014 screening at Nashville’s historic Belcourt Theatre. Led by Documentary Channel founder and MTSU associate professor Tom Neff, the students made films about up-and-coming fashion designers and musicians. “These students went to a foreign city, worked with new artists for only three weeks, and produced three documentaries of the highest caliber, comparable to any films coming out of any film school, bar none,” Neff said.


Pitch Perfect

A new partnership between Sony/ATV Music Publishing Nashville and the MTSU Department of Recording Industry allows students to submit two of their songs directly to Sony/ATV’s creative team. Sony/ATV will then choose students to perform two more songs at a live showcase. Ken Paulson, dean of the College of Mass Communication, said “This bridges the gap between the classroom and recording industry in a creative and positive way.” Troy Tomlinson, president and CEO of Sony/ATV, also lauded the collaboration, saying “We are constantly searching for new writers and writer/artists.”

MTSU’s Commercial Songwriting concentration, one of just a few songwriting programs offered nationally, is led by MTSU alum and esteemed Nashville songwriter Odie Blackmon, whose past cuts include country artist Gary Allen’s hit “Nothing On But the Radio.” Other hit songwriters who have studied at MTSU include Grammy-winning songwriters Luke Laird and Josh Kear, among many others.


A Legend’s Legacy

In 2014, the family of country music icon George Jones established a scholarship fund at MTSU to serve as a living memorial to the late singer, who died April 26, 2013, at age 81. “George would have liked the fact that MTSU attracts so many first-generation college students, as well as students who face financial challenges,” stated Jones’s widow, Nancy, in announcing the gift. “Like George, they are hardworking folks who are determined to make their dreams a reality.”

The College of Mass Communication is working to preserve and promote Jones’s legacy in numerous ways, including by offering a course on Jones’s life and music and developing opportunities for scholars to offer analyses and interpretations of his music that can be shared with scholars internationally.

Survey Says . . .

Not every state is fortunate enough to have a University-led, independent statewide poll that can reliably and regularly inform its population. Starting in fall 1998, the MTSU Poll, a product of the College of Mass Communication, has collected public opinion data every spring and fall on major social, political, and ethical issues affecting Tennessee. The latest MTSU Poll in 2014 showed a close vote would be likely in Tennessee’s proposed constitutional amendment on abortion. (The measure passed with 53 percent of the vote.)

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