The Quest for Student Success

Five Minutes with the President

The Quest for Student Success


A recent issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education stated there is a growing call for innovation that supports greater student success at our institutions. What is MTSU doing to ensure that students who enroll here succeed and graduate?

Nothing is more important than ensuring our students’ academic success. MTSU faculty and administration have come together to respond to these challenges by putting ourselves under a microscope as we attempt to better understand why our successful students succeed and what barriers to success get in the way of those who struggle.

Even with statewide and national accolades for its efficiency in creating college graduates, MTSU’s continued success depends on its ability to help our students earn college degrees. These students are our responsibility, and we must discover and develop new and innovative ways to help them be successful, instead of whining about who they are. At MTSU, from a staff and faculty perspective, we simply must maintain and grow our student-centered culture. If students become an interruption in your day, you’re in the wrong business.

MTSU already has changed some administrative processes and policies that created roadblocks for students. One of these changes allows students to register or reenroll with an account balance of $200 or less. Previously, there was an across-the-board ban on registration for students owing as little as $5 to the University! Additionally, a campus-wide task force’s discovery of an almost 40 percent failure or withdrawal rate in some general education courses—despite students’ solid high school GPAs and ACT scores—has led to faculty redesigning seven courses in the College of Liberal Arts and the College of Basic and Applied Sciences.

We’ve also reviewed our recruitment and enrollment strategies, resulting in a two percent increase in this year’s freshman class. This 2013–14 freshman class also showed an increase in composite ACT scores and high school GPAs over the previous year. We’ve expanded scholarship funds for groups that have traditionally been undersupported, and we’ve gone to the Tennessee Board of Regents to request policy changes to allow more flexibility in registration and payment policies.

Additionally, we’ve surveyed students who failed to reenroll and analyzed their responses regarding factors that prevented their persistence. We’ve significantly expanded our Institutional Effectiveness, Planning, and Research group to provide better data regarding student retention, graduation, and success. Every academic college and every administrative division has conducted an internal review and participated in a series of hearings to outline new plans to help more students achieve success in the classroom and to graduate. We’ve begun to review grade distribution reports to better understand those courses that seem to have exceptionally large numbers of students not achieving the grade of C or better, so that we can consider curricular innovations to improve learning. We’ve also analyzed the first data sets coming out of the new funding formula under the Complete College Tennessee Act to see where our strengths lie and where we have opportunities to make improvements that may enhance our funding as an institution.

Last, we will be opening a one-stop shop for student enrollment services this spring. We have begun posting midterm grades for the first time in many years, giving students additional feedback to help them improve where their performance is lacking. A consolidated tutoring center is also being developed to provide learning support for students in all majors.

In your most recent state-of-the-University speech, you said that higher education is just the latest arena facing a series of disruptive forces that could, on the one hand, lead to great innovation and transformation or, on the other, lead to significant losses in enrollment, funding, and cultural influence. What is your plan to address this?

I recently announced a major initiative—The MTSU Quest for Student Success—that will integrate these efforts into a single coherent approach for the future. The plan is designed to make sure that every student who comes to MTSU with the drive to achieve will be met with the best instruction from excellent professors who care about their success. The MTSU Quest lays out our ambitious vision to innovate for increased student success in three key areas:

  • Recruiting students who value academic success
  • Enhancing the academic experience for students by implementing innovation in curriculum across all disciplines and underscoring the role of quality advising in student success
  • Championing enhancements in administrative processes and eliminating barriers to student success

MTSU’s Department of Physics and Astronomy is a great example of the work we are already doing to promote and improve student success and retention and graduation. The department has implemented more student-friendly teaching practices for introductory courses and is using high-achieving undergrads to serve as learning assistants for classmates in those courses. The department’s reward—in addition to fewer failing grades, more physics and astronomy majors, and more graduates—was a $20,000 check as the first recipient of the President’s Award for Exceptional Departmental Initiatives for Student Academic Success, given last fall.

This is our time for transformation—our time to seize the opportunity to innovate, transform, and lead the way in creating a new model for higher education. Instead of spinning our wheels focusing on the many external factors affecting higher education that are beyond our capacity to control, MTSU is turning its energies and talents toward tackling the internal factors over which we have direct influence and which we know can positively affect student learning.


Thank you, Mr. President.


[Editor’s Note: You can read more about the plan here:]


Editor’s Letter: Branding by Gridiron

This month MTSU joins conference USA. The long-awaited move to an established, nationally recognized Football Bowl Subdivision conference clearly elevates the standing, competitiveness, and stature of MTSU’s athletics program.

by Drew Ruble

The long-awaited move to an established, nationally recognized Football Bowl Subdivision conference clearly elevates the standing, competitiveness, and stature of MTSU’s athletics program. Concurrently, support for MT athletics is one of four main goals of the University’s ongoing $80 million Centennial Campaign. Success in raising new dollars for athletics will be crucial to the program’s ability to attract the best student-athletes and provide adequate facilities as a member of the highly competitive C-USA.

MTSU’s emphasis on growing its athletic programs is clear. Interestingly, one professor’s recently published book chronicles how universities placed similar emphasis on growing their own brands through sports—particularly football—over a century ago. In The Rise of Gridiron University, history professor Brian M. Ingrassia explores how university presidents—including those from the Ivy League—hastened the rise of college football in America. According to Ingrassia, these academic leaders saw football as a “spectacle” useful in helping their universities “reach out to the public.” He explains that it was a way to “help show taxpayers and nonacademics” what they were doing, as well as “get their name out there” so they could “keep getting funding and the publicity needed to turn into larger institutions doing useful things for society, like research and education.”

“The late 1800s and early 1900s was a time when university scholars began to see athletics as almost like the department of public engagement,” Ingrassia concludes. (Little did they know at the time, he writes, how such athletic programs would become the fixtures on college campuses that they are today.)

The alignment of universities into athletic conferences also has historical roots. The first conference, the Big 10, formed around the turn of the last century, Ingrassia says, to “pool competitive resources” and “control and maximize revenues from the sport”—all of which is still its function today. More than a century later, MTSU’s own brand potential and financial prospects are boosted by smartly tapping into C-USA—specifically the conference’s significant national and regional television exposure and revenue sharing through partnerships with CBS Sports, Fox Sports, and ESPN.

The positives for students, alumni, and the community alike are clear, Ingrassia says. “Elevating sports conferences maintains good relations with alumni. Plus, students want to attend universities with big-time football and athletics, and it’s also a way for the public to connect.” And even though he stresses that academic programs are a central component of a university like MTSU, Ingrassia concedes that other campus entities are unable to create a sense of community the way intercollegiate athletics do.

Blueprint for Success

With an ambitious campaign more than three-fourths complete, the University’s colleges and athletics program make plans to make the most of it

by Drew Ruble

The most ambitious quest for philanthropy in MTSU history will further raise its visibility nationally and internationally and maintain its legacy as a center of higher education excellence.

More than $67 million has already been committed toward the campaign’s $80 million goal. But how will the money be used?

Each of the six core academic colleges at MTSU and the Blue Raider athletics program has created a blueprint outlining priorities for campaign funds. The following is a look at just one priority from each.

Reaffirming Its Roots

College of Education

Priority: Teacher Preparation

Ask someone to name the five people who had the most influence on his or her life and chances are good that a teacher will be on the list. Perhaps no profession has a more direct impact on personal and professional development than the teaching profession. From a community perspective, the same might be said for business and economic development.

At MTSU, teaching future teachers is at the very core of the institution’s history. The state of Tennessee established what is today MTSU in 1911 as a Normal School, specifically to train educators. From those humble beginnings, MTSU has grown to become the largest undergraduate institution in Tennessee. Even though the University now offers dozens of fields of study, MTSU remains a primary producer of teachers and an institution on the leading edge of teacher training.

The University recently moved its College of Education into a brand-new $30 million state-of-the-art building equipped with the newest technology and most advanced training environments. It also launched a new doctoral program in educational assessment—a first of its kind in Tennessee—aimed at improving teacher education. Perhaps most importantly, MTSU’s College of Education has taken the clear lead among TBR institutions in implementing a complete overhaul of the way Tennessee universities prepare future teachers to be truly effective in the classroom.

Ready2Teach is a rigorous new teacher preparation program in Tennessee that focuses on research and best practices, strong content knowledge, and practical experiences in the field of teaching. As part of the new program, beginning in the fall of 2013, MTSU students who wish to be schoolteachers will, not unlike medical students, spend a residency year working inschools alongside highly effective teachers who have partnered with University faculty (many of whom are considered national experts) to design this course of study.

Ready2Teach merges theory and practice so that students are better prepared to student teach and are more effective when they actually begin their teaching careers. Lana Seivers, dean of the College of Education, says Centennial Campaign funds promise to strengthen this program by funding scholarships for MTSU students plus stipends, professional development, and research opportunities for K–12 teachers and MTSU faculty.

Research for Answers

College of Basic and Applied Sciences

Priority: Research Funding

The pace of scientific discovery is constantly accelerating. New products and processes that will change the world for the better are always being invented—often in academic settings.

Historically, research has not been a significant component of MTSU’s mission, but that’s changing rapidly. The University’s new $147 million science building, currently under construction, is a game changer for MTSU research and the College of Basic and Applied Sciences (CBAS). So too, are recent additions to the administration and staff in CBAS, including new dean Bud Fischer and new department chairs Greg Van Patten (Chemistry) and Lynn Boyd (Biology). Each has a strong research background and has received the external funding to prove it. Their presence signals a clear shift in direction toward more robust research output in the college.

But new funds will be needed to accelerate activities that promote research and push the boundaries of science. MTSU already has some very promising new centers for research. The University’s latest collaboration with China has great potential to yield significant dividends for Tennessee’s economy—and cure some of the world’s worst illnesses. In concert with the Guangxi Botanical Garden of Medicinal Plants in Nanning, China, MTSU now has exclusive access to a library of traditional Chinese medicinal (TCM) extracts, creating the opportunity to develop new Western medicines based on TCM’s proven healing powers.

Paying Dividends

Jennings A. Jones College of Business

Priority: Endowed Faculty Positions

One high-quality leader or faculty member can make a difference to hundreds, if not thousands, of students. Getting financial assistance to hire and retain top-tier academic leaders and faculty members is a critical component of MTSU’s formula for excellence and a top priority of the Jennings A. Jones College of Business.

To ensure that students have the opportunity to interact with and be guided by the nation’s leading educators and practitioners, the University wishes to establish a cadre of endowed chairs and professorships to attract prestigious teachers and research scholars. MTSU hopes to gain national attention through groundbreaking scholarship and research. The presence of these scholars will be a conspicuous example of MTSU’s commitment to academic excellence and to a curriculum that actively addresses and promotes an understanding of the economic, social, and educational issues of our country.

Attracting such talent will be no easy task. Competition for high-quality faculty and academic leaders is intense. In business disciplines, particularly accounting and finance, the annual demand for new Ph.D.s exceeds the supply.

One sterling example of the effect an endowed chair can have at MTSU is the Wright Travel Chair of Entrepreneurship, made possible by a $1.25 million commitment from alumna Pamela Wright (‘73), founder and CEO of Nashville-based Wright Travel, Tennessee’s largest travel agency. Establishing an endowed chair in entrepreneurship enabled the University to bring a nationally recognized expert to campus. He is not only in the classroom with students but also out in the Nashville area business community providing a valuable link to MTSU.

Wright, who also cochairs the Centennial Campaign, says she endowed the chair in an effort to help America compete with the developing world. “The experience they bring—the real workplace knowledge that person brings, as well as the potential for research and for community outreach in terms of enhancing the reputation of the University—it can have a transformational impact,” says Wright.

The University also seeks to expand annual funds available to reward faculty for exceptional performance in their service to students, the University, and the community, providing tangible proof of the importance MTSU places on all facets of faculty responsibility.

Not So Run of the Mill

College of Behavioral and Health Sciences

Priority: Underwater Treadmill Program

Students, faculty, and graduates of the College of Behavioral and Health Sciences (CBHS) are, essentially, community servants. That’s because CBHS—the University’s newest college—produces nurses, social workers, criminal justice and corrections workers, psychological counselors, and human service and health-related professionals. By preparing skilled professionals, CBHS produces a healthy return on investments made by individuals, corporations, and agencies.

The college is focused on research and evidence-based models to address community problems. One nationally recognized example is research being conducted at the MTSU Exercise Science laboratory by Sandy Stevens, a postdoctoral researcher who is helping people with paralysis walk again. Under her care, those with spinal cord injuries can train on an underwater treadmill and are able to stand and support themselves.

Stevens’s participants have shown a 57 percent increase in leg strength, 39 percent improvement in balance, 34 percent improvement in preferred walking speed, 61 percent improvement in rapid-walking speed, 82 percent improvement in six-minute walking distance, and a 121 percent increase in the number of steps they took in their own environments. Almost all participants report greater independence, better general health, and improved mental well-being. “If one thing has consistently changed throughout the course of treatment it is that hope has been restored,” Stevens says. “When the participants see their legs moving, they believe that anything is possible.”

Terry Whiteside, dean of the college, believes that with proper support MTSU’s reputation as a leader in underwater treadmill research could lead to an aquatic research facility, which could expand spinal cord therapy research and allow the University to become a leading voice for using aquatic exercise to reduce the national cost of conditions such as diabetes and obesity.

Converging Worlds

College of Mass Communication

Priority: Center for Innovation in Media

It wasn’t so long ago that mainstream media—print, television, and radio—were separated. It was also true that universities reflected the divisions between journalism and radio-television schools in their academic departments. But technology has changed all that, blurring those divisions and changing the way journalists and students across the disciplines conduct business. In this new world, content is converging into one electronic location— the Internet—where news consumers demand both visual and in-depth content from one location.

As media converges, professionals in the field are forced to adjust to a new business model. They must be as comfortable writing a breaking news story or Sunday feature article as they are shooting video, producing a podcast, or going on the radio. In other words, they must be comfortable creating content on multiple platforms. MTSU’s College of Mass Communication reflects this new world with its brand-new Center for Innovation in Media, where students and professionals from all media disciplines hone their skills while working under one roof with state-of-the-art equipment.

On the first floor of the John Bragg Mass Communication Building, the center combines the newsrooms for Sidelines, the student newspaper; WMTS-FM, the student-run radio station; MATCH Records, the student-run record label; MTTV, the student-operated cable television station; and WMOT-FM, the college’s 100,000- watt public radio station. The center reaffirms the University’s commitment to maintaining its reputation for having a top national school of journalism. In 2012, the Associated Press Managing Editors (APME) awarded the new center an honorable mention in the category “Innovator of the Year for College Students” for its merging of student media and fostering of collaboration across communication platforms.

Stephan Foust, director of the center, says continued investment will be essential to ongoing operations and the best preparation of students. “With the ability to update hardware and software when needed, our students will remain knowledgeable, skilled, and in demand by mass communication industries,” Foust says.

Podium Power

College of Liberal Arts

Priority: Speaker Series

Student Mary Choate recalls the effect that Sandra Day O’Connor, retired associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court had on her. The first female to serve on the nation’s highest court came to MTSU and gave a presentation as part of the College of Liberal Arts annual Speaker Series.

“Seeing the first woman Supreme Court justice renewed my passion for the law,” Choate says. “My main goal is to become a lawyer, and hopefully one day I will be in her shoes.”

It is exactly this type of inspiration that Dean Mark Byrnes sees as the reason to make the speaker series a high priority at MTSU. Byrnes believes in the power of the spoken word and is passionate about building an endowment to enable the College of Liberal Arts to bring more national and world figures to speak at the University.

“We have been very fortunate in recent years to have found funding to host speakers such as O’Connor, author David McCullough, and musician Béla Fleck, to name a few,” Byrnes says. “These are people who have helped shape their respective fields and our world. And we want to be able to continue this tradition for our students and the larger community.”

According to Byrnes, a lecture series of this nature “really embodies the value of a liberal arts education—helping people become more reflective about their beliefs and choices, more creative in their problem solving, more perceptive of the world around them, and better able to inform themselves about the issues that arise in their lives.”

State funding for such endeavors is increasingly hard to come by, so in order to meet Byrnes’s goal, MTSU will need to find donors willing to help support an endowment.

Getting in the Game

MT Athletics

Priority: Year-Round Training Facilities

Blue Raider athletics provides a strong link between the University, its alumni, and the community at large and increases alumni and public support for the University. But to maintain its status as an athletic powerhouse and ensure continued success in the future—especially now that MTSU has elevated its profile by joining Conference USA—student-athletes and coaches must have high-quality facilities that allow year-round training and participation regardless of weather.

The centerpiece of the athletic master plan is a comprehensive indoor practice and track competition building that will support football, soccer, baseball, and softball and provide a competition area for indoor track and field. Success in funding the project could have a domino effect, leading to improvements such as spectator suites in Murphy Center, MTSU’s now 40-year-old multipurpose arena. Providing new opportunities for coaches to better interact with staff and players in a more supportive environment is another significant need. Thus, the University is seeking to build a new athletics administrative and educational center, which would house key offices and provide academic and resource space for student-athletes.

“The most gifted student-athletes are sought by universities around the world,” says athletics director Chris Massaro. “If MTSU is to successfully attract the next generation of Blue Raider and Lady Raider players, it must have financial support to offer competitive student-aid packages to attract and support exceptional scholar-athletes, and, like other leading intercollegiate athletics programs, provide its student-athletes with great facilities.”

A Final Note: Scholarships

For MTSU to continue as the institution of choice for Tennessee’s best and brightest, it must offer competitive financial aid packages to attract and support exceptional student-scholars and make college affordable for all deserving students.

Scholarship support is the top overall priority in the Centennial Campaign. Central to this effort is the establishment of the MTSU Centennial Scholars, a distinguished scholarship program that will help the University recruit the most outstanding students in the region. In addition, increased support for merit- and need-based awards will help the University meet the financial needs of all entering students and expand educational opportunities available to citizens.

Finally, as the role of research and graduate education has become a vibrant element of our enterprise, an increased emphasis has been placed on supporting graduate students. Securing endowed and recurring stipends increases graduate opportunities for students and assures the University’s continued contributions to the sciences, education, and the economic development of the region.


Realizing this vision will require support of the entire MTSU family. With this campaign, MTSU is poised to accomplish over the next decade as much or more for the good of the state of Tennessee as it has done in its first 100 years. The goals of this campaign clearly reflect MTSU’s priorities and vision for the future. As a valued MTSU stakeholder, thank you for considering the accomplishments of the past and the promise of the future at MTSU. True Blue!

For more information, or to get involved in the Centennial Campaign, call the Office of Development at (615) 898-2502 or email

Five Minutes with the President: Setting the Pace

Setting the Pace

In your recently released Biennial Report (available online at, in “The President’s Post” section, you reported that based on information supplied by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, MTSU was the top and most efficient producer of graduates among Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) universities in 2011–12. Can you elaborate on those findings?

The 3,911 bachelor’s degrees awarded by MTSU in 2011–12 were the most granted by any TBR institution.

MTSU also graduated more for less state money per graduate than any TBR university. In dividing MTSU’s 2011–12 total state funding by the number of graduates that year, the state spent $18,773 per MTSU graduate.


MTSU had the second-highest graduation rate among TBR universities based on a six-year cohort with 51.6 percent in 2011–12.

MTSU led all state universities in the production of adult graduates—defined as age 25 and older—with 1,488 degrees granted in 2011–12.

*Source: Tennessee Higher Education Commission

The Complete College Tennessee Act calls for colleges and universities to focus on student retention, degree completion, improvement in the areas of transfer and articulation, and institutional mission distinctiveness. These goals have long been strategic priorities for MTSU, helping us become the number-one producer of graduates for the middle Tennessee region and number two among all state schools.

Photo: J. Intintoli (Sidney A. McPhee on right)

Gov. Bill Haslam recently identified the state’s need for more college graduates in his “Drive to 55” initiative, which calls for 55 percent of Tennessee’s workforce to earn a degree. As our biennial report reflects, we are proud of the role we already play in supplying these qualified workers to our economy. Our graduation rate percentage of approximately 52 percent—a very good rate of graduation for an institution our size—is very close to the 55 percent goal set by Gov. Haslam and higher than the national and state averages for institutions our size and type.

MTSU entered its second century with a clear mission: to increase its already considerable commitment to provide quality education and, in doing so, provide even more college graduates for Tennessee’s workforce.

When we say “I am True Blue,” we are also reaffirming our devotion to student success.

Five Minutes with the President: Student Success

MTSU Mag: Every university describes itself as “student-centered.” What is MTSU doing to go beyond just words and truly invest in student success?

President Sidney A. McPhee: With the passage of the Complete College Tennessee Act, our state appropriation is now based on retention and graduation rates, not enrollment. It makes it more important than ever for us to focus upon attracting more students who are best equipped for college and are most likely to graduate. And it becomes critical that we develop support systems that will help all students succeed. Examples include the following:

  • MTSU’s Total Intake Model is a new way of receiving students into the University. It provides initial advising to new students to help them solidify career goals and meet academic expectations.
  • We started an Academic Alert program, which allows faculty to communicate directly with students about classroom performance and follow up on concerns. Last year, more than 27,000 early alerts were entered in this digital system.
  • We have assigned academic counselors to all incoming students in addition to their standard academic advisors. Advisors change each time a student changes majors, but the academic counselor is the one person students can turn to for help—from enrollment through graduation—regardless of what they study.
  • In addition, 99 members of the MTSU administrative staff joined me this past fall in serving as advocates and resources for 10 new Blue Raiders each. These advocates were trained for this role and serve as the person on campus to whom students can come with any concern. We know both from research and from our own practice that in order to persist, thrive, and graduate, students must form academic and social connections to the institution in multiple ways.
  • We are now deploying admissions advisors to major-feeder community colleges in the region. Through this program, prospective transfer students have access—on their own campuses—to MTSU staff through regularly maintained office hours at the community colleges.
  • MTSU joined approximately 250 institutions of higher education across the country by becoming tobacco free.
  • MTSU’s Shelbyville campus offered three times as many classes in fall 2012 as it did the previous year. That’s higher education in your own backyard.
  • The shiny new pearl of MTSU’s campus is the $65 million, nearly 211,000-square-foot Student Union building, the newest place for students and others to gather. The placement of student activities, student groups, and student services in one location is having a tremendous impact on the campus community and speaks loudly to our student-centered focus. New campus entrances and nearby parking garages ensure that the building truly serves students.

MTSU is already the state’s most efficient producer of graduates for Tennessee and a tremendous investment for the state! Part of the reason is that everyone at MTSU—every dean, every professor, every secretary, every technical support person, every groundskeeper—feels that student success is their job. And that’s what enables us to better retain and graduate students.

MTSU Mag: Thank you, Mr. President.



Smart Growth

A rise in theses reveals more and more students are Honors bound

by Jennifer Stone

When the Paul W. Martin Sr. Honors Building was dedicated in 2004, there were just seven undergraduate theses by Honors students. Eight years later, in the 2011–12 academic year, the number of students working on theses had grown to 55. That near eight-fold increase in eight years bodes well for MTSU’s continued status as the top destination for Tennessee’s best and brightest students.

Current enrollment in the University Honors College includes dozens of high school valedictorians and several National Merit Finalists. In fall 2011, 416 entering freshmen enrolled in the University Honors College. Their collective high school grade point average was 3.816, and their average ACT score was 28.04. Recipients of the Buchanan Fellowship—the most prestigious scholarship MTSU offers and which is provided to 20 incoming freshmen each year—constituted an elite within this elite. In 2011, the average entering Buchanan Fellow had a 3.9 grade point average and an average ACT of 31.

Although MTSU’s Honors College has experienced significant growth in both student population and theses defended in recent years, Dean John Vile says the best is no doubt still ahead for MTSU’s “college within a college.”

“Success builds upon success,” Vile says. “One of our top goals over the last several years has been to increase these numbers without compromising academic quality, and I think we are succeeding.”

He is True Blue

MTSU recently launched a new marketing campaign called “I Am True Blue.” What does it mean to be True Blue?

Sidney A. McPhee

MTSU is committed to developing and nurturing a community devoted to learning, growth, and service. We hold these values dear, and there’s a simple phrase that conveys them: “I am True Blue.”

We’re asking each person who affiliates with us to take the True Blue Pledge to practice the core values of honesty and integrity; respect for diversity; engagement in the community; and a commitment to reason, not violence.

For members of the faculty and administration, being True Blue also means to renew our commitment to the success of our students. MTSU, now more than a century old, is the number-one choice of undergraduates in Tennessee, as well as the number-one choice of our state’s transfer students and veterans. Why do so many people choose MTSU? I believe it is because we offer the amenities and opportunities of a major comprehensive institution, yet we have not forgotten our small-college roots in how we care for and treat our students. We offer terrific opportunities, exceptional value, and a beautiful campus.

The latest example of our student-first commitment is our new, state-of-the-art Student Union building, an open and inviting facility that will open in the summer of 2012.

MTSU recently announced some incredibly generous, transformative gifts from private individuals. Why is the Centennial Campaign needed, and what will it accomplish?

In anticipation of limited or reduced support from the state, MTSU has undertaken an intensive planning and evaluation process, which identified more than $175 million in opportunities where philanthropy would strengthen our position in the 21st-century marketplace of higher education, while building on the traditions that have characterized the University since its founding.

Some of the most vital priorities identified in this process are integral components of this campaign.

At its core, the focus of each priority is to enhance the quality of education and ensure the success of each of our students, faculty, and alumni—things that most directly impact the quality of the University.

Our initial goal to prepare MTSU for its second century of distinguished service is $80 million. More than half of that has already been raised. We need the assistance of our wonderful alumni base and other supporters of this great University to make this a reality.

MTSU recently broke ground on a new $147 million science building. It’s a project you’ve been pushing uphill for a long, long time. Now that ground has finally been broken, what are your thoughts?

I feel gratitude. We are grateful to Gov. Haslam for recognizing the importance of the Science Building project and including funding for its construction in this year’s budget. We also appreciate the leadership, encouragement, and support we have received from the members of the General Assembly, especially our local delegation. And we thank the Tennessee Board of Regents and the Tennessee Higher Education Commission for their help in moving this project forward.

Thank you for your time Mr. President.

What does it mean to be True Blue? Check out the MTSU True Blue site to find out!

Give Ourselves a Hand

by Drew Ruble

One of the perks of working at MTSU is the ability to take one course per semester to apply either to the pursuit of a degree or simply for self-edification. As one of the area’s many closet songwriters, I recently took a course in commercial songwriting taught by professor Hal Newman.

What I learned from that experience far exceeded classroom knowledge. In addition to witnessing first-hand the quality of instruction available at MTSU—and the incredible opportunities being provided by the University—I also learned about the generosity of some of its alumni. Let me explain.

Although he’s recently departed MTSU and returned fulltime to the Nashville music industry, Professor Newman is credited with co-founding the commercial songwriting concentration at MTSU. Among the numerous hit song writers and artists Newman groomed over the past decade is chart-topping country music tunesmith Eric Paslay (pictured in studio with Newman here). Newman also helped create one of the most remarkable partnerships at MTSU—a student-mentoring program with ASCAP, one of the three major performing rights organizations in Nashville. The program pairs MTSU songwriting students with professional song pluggers, publishers and other industry insiders, giving students multiple chances each semester to play their songs for professionals on Music Row, get feedback, and maybe even start a career. I can tell you as the former editor of two Nashville business magazines, such access is unparalleled in the music business today.

My ASCAP mentor was MTSU graduate and former Newman student Brooke Arrington (pictured here), currently the creative director for Big Yellow Dog Music, one of the most successful independent music publishing companies in Nashville (and home to Grammy Award–winning songwriter and MTSU graduate, Josh Kear). Arrington cleared her demanding schedule several times during the semester to work with me and other students trying to elevate our music to the “commercial” level. It was an invaluable experience.

There are many ways to give back to the University. One is to give money. And, in fact, as an article on page 26 outlines, MTSU recently launched an $80 million campaign. Even a $25 donation can go a long way to reaching the goal of making MTSU an even greater university in its second century.

As my personal experience with Brooke—and the feature story about MTSU graduate Jeffrey Reid on page 12—reveals, giving back to the University can also come in the form of mentoring MTSU students (or even graduates) to help them reach their professional dreams. Imagine what impact the MTSU alumni base could have on the Nashville market alone if every Blue Raider committed to helping just one MTSU student, graduate, or alum seeking an internship, job, or networking opportunity—particularly in these lean economic times.

Reaching back or reaching down to help a fellow Blue Raider make his or her way in the world? To me, that’s a great example of what it really means to be True Blue.

The Get-Us-Your-Information Age

Ginger Freeman, Director of Alumni Relations

As director of Alumni Relations, I am committed to finding ways to keep alumni informed and updated on the ever-increasing programs and activities of our diverse campus. We want to be sure that you have all the information you need to stay informed and involved with your alma mater. It’s an important part of everything we do, and to do that effectively, we need your help.

Over the past 20 years, the tools we have to communicate with alumni have changed dramatically. Gone are the days of all paper mail—increased postage and printing costs have significantly affected our ability to send everything out by mail. Today, with nearly 100,000 alumni, we increasingly rely on electronic communication, web pages, and social media to provide you with the information you need. Not only is it cost-effective but also electronic communication allows us to reach you much faster. With the tools we have now, we can keep you informed of upcoming events, reserve your spot at an alumni activity, allow you to connect with classmates in your own MTSU community, and even provide you with campus news in real time.

But to do that, we need your help. Our success is heavily based on our ability to communicate directly with you, and to do so we need your email address! I’m not sure how many times I have been asked, “How do I find out about upcoming events?” It’s easy. Give the Alumni Office your email address, and we will send you a monthly email newsletter with a calendar of events. We also send messages specific to your major, where you live, or what you were involved in while at MTSU. This is your university, and we want to give you the opportunity to be involved and informed about what’s going on at the Alumni Office and MTSU.

On the Ball

Five Minutes with the President

You are currently serving a second term as the Sun Belt conference’s representative on the NCAA Division I Board of Directors. As one of just 18 voting members, you are in a position to wield significant influence on some of the off-the-field problems afflicting big-time collegiate sports today. You have also been quite active alongside other university presidents nationwide in seeking NCAA reform. Update us on new measures in place to curb improprieties in collegiate sports. 

Last summer, I spent two days in Indianapolis, where a retreat of 54 university presidents and administrators called for swift and serious actions on a variety of fronts. These were the most serious and engaging meetings of presidents and chancellors I’ve seen since I’ve been associated with the NCAA. There were a number of significant issues on the table. The impact of what is happening will be felt throughout the NCAA membership. There was absolute resolve to address these issues.

Gone are the days when college coaches—some of them, at least—thought that because they led a nationally regarded program they could cheat, get wrist-slapped, and forge ahead without serious consequences. Going forward, cheating in programs will be handled with swift and severe penalties. We want to get out of the business of enforcing the ticky-tack rules and focus on the major rules and strengthening the penalties.

Also, our board voted to ban Division I teams with a four-year academic progress rate (APR) below 930 from postseason play of any type. Prior to that vote, any team with a four-year APR of 925 or less faced only a loss of scholarships. Had these new standards been in place last March, several teams—including defending men’s basketball national champion Connecticut—wouldn’t have been eligible to participate in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

University presidents are the key to fixing this problem. They simply must dictate a culture of ethics and of following the rules on their campuses. Cheating, lack of accountability and low academic expectations have plagued college athletics for too long. What we are seeing now, I believe, will be the most sweeping fundamental changes to the college sports landscape in decades.

Fans should be encouraged by these recent events. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stated after the meeting in Indianapolis that college presidents had acted courageously and were leading the way to real reform.

Alleged incidents of child sexual abuse by athletic coaches at Penn State and Syracuse universities have also dominated news headlines in recent months. What is MTSU doing to ensure nothing of the kind occurs on its own campus?

As part of our efforts to maintain a safe campus, I have reminded all faculty and staff of their obligation, as set out in law in University  policy, to immediately inform local law enforcement of suspected child abuse. I have also asked our Office of University Counsel to develop a program to provide information and training concerning risk management and best practices for camps and clinics held on campus.

Thank you for your time Mr. President.

[Editor’s Note: The NCAA Scholarly Colloquium on College Sports, designed to spur scholarly research on intercollegiate athletics and held in conjunction with the NCAA Convention, took place Jan. 10-11 in Indianapolis. Anchoring the agenda was a panel of college officials – including Dr. McPhee – discussing the NCAA’s latest iteration of academic reform.]