A Legend’s Legacy

DOTHAN, AL - JANUARY 16: Music Legend George Jones and Nancy Jones, his wife enjoy some time together at The George Jones Possum Holler Bed & Breakfast during the Country Crossing Grand Opening Kick-Off Celebration at Country Crossing on January 16, 2010 in Dothan, Alabama. (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Webster & Associates)

The family of country music  icon George Jones creates a scholarship fund at MTSU

By Andrew Oppmann


The widow of country music icon George Jones announced in November that her family has established a scholarship fund at Middle Tennessee State University that they hope will become a living memorial to the late singer. Nancy Jones announced the creation of the fund as part of a Nashville ceremony to unveil a monument to her husband of 30 years. The Country Music Hall of Fame member died April 26 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,” Jones said. “Like George, they are hardworking folks who are determined to make their dreams a reality.”

Nancy Jones will make the first donation to the fund. President Sidney A. McPhee, who attended the announcement at the Woodlawn Roesch-Patton Funeral Home and Memorial Park, thanked Jones for choosing the University to honor the memory of her husband.

“MTSU is a very appropriate place to honor George Jones because of its nationally known recording industry program,” McPhee said. “We have educated many of the leaders of the country music industry, and we are dedicated to teaching students about the important contributions of country music.”

MTSU’s College of Mass Communication, which houses the Recording Industry Department and the Center for Popular Music, is working to preserve and promote Jones’s legacy. The singer charted number-one country songs across several decades, from the 1950s through the ’80s. Jones won two Grammy Awards, the first in 1980 for his classic hit “He Stopped Loving Her Today” and the second in 1999 for “Choices.” He won a Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award in February 2012.

“George Jones had an extraordinary life and career on so many levels, and we are grateful that his legacy will inspire and benefit a new generation through education,” said Dean Ken Paulson of the College of Mass Communication.

Nancy Jones and Sidney A. McPhee at the unveiling of the George Jones monument in Nashville

 Paulson added that the college will add to its collection of research material and artifacts surrounding Jones’s career. Beverly Keel, chair of the Recording Industry Department, said her department is developing a course on Jones’s life and music and will “create opportunities for scholars to offer their analyses and interpretations of his music that can then be shared with scholars internationally.”

“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 his traditional country music,” said Keel.

Nancy Jones said her husband would have been pleased to have students benefit from this effort in his name.

“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. “I know he would have loved this.”



Gifts can be made online at www.mtsu.edu/georgejones, or by calling (615) 898-5595 or emailing devofc@mtsu.edu.

The Science of Sport

Ebony Rowe excels at both sides of the scholar-athlete equation.


By Drew Ruble



Lady Raider Ebony Rowe is among the ten most prolific scorers in school history and already is the program’s leading rebounder. And she still has the rest of her senior season ahead of her. Such athletic prowess garnered Rowe Honorable Mention All-American status by both the Associated Press and the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association last year. She was twice a top-50 finalist for the Naismith Award, given annually to the nation’s best high school and college basketball players and coaches.

Off the court, Rowe has racked up an equally impressive portfolio of statistics in the form of academic and personal awards. Notably, she was named to the Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar Women’s Basketball First Team as announced by Diverse: Issues in Higher Education. A true student-athlete, Rowe has earned higher than a 3.5 cumulative GPA as
a physics major.

In all likelihood, Rowe will have the opportunity to play women’s professional basketball, following in the footsteps of Lady Raider alums like Alysha Clark and Amber Holt. However, Rowe isn’t yet committing to a plan to play professional ball. She’s as interested, she says, in beginning pursuit of a postgraduate degree or beginning her career in mechanical engineering.

“At this point, I’m just trying to keep all my doors and options open,” she says. “Whether that’s playing professionally here or overseas or going straight into getting my master’s degree in engineering, I’m still undecided.”


         A Dual Threat

With her high GPA, passionate interest in her studies, and wait-and-see approach to playing pro sports, Rowe bursts the stereotype of the academically disinterested student-athlete. And what makes her even more intriguing is that her major is science-related—a field of study far more dense than the proverbial “basket weaving” coursework the public tends to think about when it paints student-athletes with a broad brush.

Rowe describes perceptions of student-athletes as “dumb” and science majors as “nerds” as “a sad mentality that’s just developed and is taken as truth now.”



“A lot of people told me you can’t be a basketball player and an engineer. But it can be done,” she says. “More people need to start showing the younger generation that competing in high-level athletics and excelling in the classroom can be done.”

As a physics major, Rowe takes classes such as Classical Mechanics, Strength of Materials, and Electricity and Magnetism. Among her recent research projects was a study of the physics of free-throw shooting in basketball. It’s an ironic topic for Rowe to tackle given her highly publicized troubles at the free-throw line in competition. Even her coach has been publicly critical of Rowe’s free-throw shooting percentage in years past, which for a time hovered below the 50 percent mark. Rowe has, however, improved dramatically over the past year and is now one of the best free-throw shooters on the Lady Raider squad.

One might think that a shot called a “free throw,” when no one is guarding you and you simply step up to a line and take a wide-open shot, would be an easy exercise. But according to Rowe, it’s much more complicated than that. Rowe’s description of a free throw from a physicist’s perspective sounds so dizzyingly difficult that it might even cause a coach to take it easy on an athlete for a fair-to-middling performance.

Rowe begins her explanation by pointing out that there are an infinite number of speed/angle combinations that can lead to a successful free-throw shot (or an unsuccessful one), but the chances of success are greatly improved by increasing the arc on the shot so that the ball is falling straight down, increasing the relative size of the hoop, as compared to a shot with a flatter trajectory.

“There’s so many little mechanics that go into a free throw,” Rowe explains, citing release point, launch angle, ball velocity, shape of path, optimum speed, varying force, and distance, among other variables. “So when you start to break it down piece by piece, if any one of those measurements is off by a certain degree, it can cause you to miss your free throw.”

In her research, Rowe used a simulation program to shoot 10,000 free throws, altering all of these little measurements incrementally to reveal proper and improper mechanics— and outcomes.

“These small calculations applied to a free throw can throw off the whole shot based on the smallest of technicalities,” she says, referencing concepts including forward spin, frictional force, and horizontal motion. (Lady Raider fans can no doubt imagine Coach Rick Insell groaning at such an explanation.)

So is Rowe’s classroom exercise to be credited for her improvement from the free-throw line? She says no.

“It’s so funny, a lot of people said to me, ‘Well, your free-throw percentage got a lot better now that you broke it down,’” she says. “And I say, ‘No, I just practice.’”


The Next Step

Rowe is also already making waves in the professional world. For the second straight summer, Rowe spent her academic break working as an intern with the Fortune 500 software firm Lexmark in her hometown of Lexington, Ky. She worked alongside an electrical hardware engineer and had access to robotics and other types of machinery and testing on what she describes as a “real world product” in “early stages of development.”

Rowe’s sister is a chemical engineer at Lexmark. Her dad earned a degree in civil engineering and works in the corporate world. Rowe says math and science were “just something that ran in the family and, I guess, came easier than other subjects. So it’s definitely just been a passion.”

Such interest and involvement in a science discipline is statistically unusual for a woman. A 2010 report by the American Association of University Women found that the number of women in science and engineering is growing, yet men continue to outnumber women, especially at the upper levels of the professions.

Rowe is only too happy to use the power of her celebrity as a high-profile athlete to encourage more girls and young women to pursue science studies and careers.

“That’s what is so good, especially about being an athlete, because you get to reach out to so many different people,” she says. “So whether it’s young females who are playing sports or whether it’s young African Americans or young African American girls, there also aren’t a lot of African Americans who are choosing the sciences and engineering and physics. I think it’s just the more people start to do it, the more that it’s going to be expected, and it’s not going to be, ‘Oh, you’re a female or an African American in sciences.’ It’s just going to become normal. So I think we just have to take it a step at a time. It’s gotten better, but [we still have] a long way to go.”



As Good As Gold

Dr. Charles Chusuei’s technology could transform patient care in emergency rooms and health centers worldwide.

by Michael Burgin

Photos by J. Intintoli

MTSU Chemistry faculty Dr. Charles Chusuei (center) and his grad students L-R Mulugeta Wayu, Anita Saha, Shawtik Chandra Das, and Anup Kumar Deb studying the use of zinc in nanotechnology as an alternative to precious metals in a lab in Wiser-Patton.

 On the bottom floor of Wiser-Patten Science Hall, past a lecture hall and a few smaller classrooms and teachers’ offices,  one can find the home base of Dr. Charles C. Chusuei and his team of student researchers. At first glance, the lab is pretty much what one would expect. A number of small work stations, some whiteboards, and a desk or two populate the periphery of the room. (Stacked in one corner, there are a number of large, unopened boxes.) A bulky piece of equipment dominates the center. Most scientists (and many students in the field) would recognize the instrument as an X-ray photoelectron spectrometer, a machine that allows for nondestructive elemental analysis. It’s a vital tool in the associate professor of chemistry’s current line of research. Of course, give a layperson, someone who doesn’t know a spectrometer from a chromatograph, a few moments to look around, and you’ll probably hear the following question: “Is that a hand drill?”


It is (a Black and Decker, in fact). It’s also a makeshift stepper motor for a homemade ultra-high vacuum sample transfer system. With the assistance of Rick Taylor, lab director in the Department of Engineering Technology, and the machine shop in the Voorhees Engineering Technology Building, Chusuei used the drill, a gearbox, a threaded rod, and machined pieces of aluminum to build a device the components of which would normally cost about $1,000 to buy new.


There are plenty of other examples of Chusuei’s combination of thrift and inventiveness—a fish tank pump substitutes for the Wiser-Patten building’s lack of dedicated pipes for chilled water. It’s one of many drawbacks to the 46-year-old building—those boxes in the corner are actually equipment with technical and safety specs that bar them from being installed in Wiser-Patten. In a field where research ambitions often far outstrip existing facility technology and available funding, it’s not uncommon to find professors who are equal part bargain hunters and MacGyver. Chusuei, who arrived at MTSU in 2010, can count on one of those variables changing soon—a $147 million, state-of-the-art science building is scheduled to open for instruction in 2015—but that doesn’t mean he’s just waiting around. Quite the opposite, Chusuei and his student researchers have been busy developing a technology that could transform patient care in emergency rooms and health centers throughout the world.

As a result, this cluttered room, with its combination of brand-new, unpacked equipment in waiting and cobbled-together scientific apparatuses in use—not to mention the man standing in the middle of it all—represents the exciting present and potential-filled future of science research at MTSU as surely as the new building being built a few hundred yards away.



Not So Common Sense 

As with most scientific research, discoveries with big applications often boil down to thinking small. Really small. Yet it also involves the detection of something one can find a bottle of in almost every home—hydrogen peroxide. It turns out that bubbling stalwart of home-based health care is also a natural byproduct of the biochemistry of all living organisms. The ability to monitor hydrogen peroxide on a molecular level has a host of practical applications in fields as diverse as health care (early cancer detection) and food service (spoilage detection). As a result, researchers have developed a variety of nanotech-based sensors. For the most part, those technologies have used sensors dependent on carbon nanotubes (CNT) coated with oxides derived from precious metals—gold, palladium, ruthenium, etc. As the word “precious” suggests, it’s not cheap to use such metals. But just as with his lab’s ultra-high vacuum sample transfer system, Dr. Chusuei found that the expensive way to do things was hardly the only way. In an effort to establish a cheaper biosensing material, Chusuei turned to zinc.

“A common theme of nanotechnology is determining how material size and shape affects chemical reactivity,” Chusuei explains. “Our research team has shown that zinc oxide (ZnO) shape selection in the nanocomposite formulation (involving carbon nanotubes) dramatically improves its biosensing properties.”


The Goldilocks Standard 

An earth-rich element, zinc is much more abundant and, therefore, cheaper, than the precious set. But in order to establish it as a viable substitute, Chusuei and his team first needed to control the shape of the ZnO compound itself. (The more complete the coverage by the ZnO of the CNT, the better the sensor.) “It was a lot like the fairy tale Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” Chusuei says. In the end, working the ZnO into its ideal shape required many things being “just right.” It required, among other things, finding just the right temperature (90 degrees Celsius) of the solution in which the suspended ZnO nanoparticles were formed and the pH (7.365) for maximum reactivity, as well as establishing just the right amount of time for sonication (the application of  sound energy to agitate the solution).

With the bulk of the research completed—and with the right balance struck—it’s actually a rather simple procedure to replicate, but as Chusuei’s patent application shows, it wasn’t an obvious one. The real-world potential of the research has Chusuei and his students excited. The cheaper the materials, the more widespread the possible application of the technology.

“If we can attach this biosensor in a portable electrochemical cell, then people can easily detect the presence of [certain compounds] in their body whenever and wherever they want,” says grad student Anup Deb, who learned of Dr. Chusuei’s research while an undergraduate at the University of Dhaka, in Bangladesh.

“What I’m doing now contributes to the effort to create a cancer-free community,” says Mulugeta Wayu, a Ph.D. candidate in the University’s Molecular Biosciences program who came to the United States after spending years as a research scientist in Ethiopia.

Cancer is not the only affliction potentially addressed by the research of Chusuei and his students nor is hydrogen peroxide the only substance detectable. Another vein of inquiry includes the detection of lactic acid, a marker for anaerobic respiration (the presence of which can indicate that a patient is not breathing well or getting enough oxygen). Such sensors could detect signs of physical distress that show up well “before changes in heart rate or blood pressure would be registered,” Chusuei points out.

Even with so much established, there remain plenty of practical questions and intriguing pathways for follow-up research. “Now it becomes a question of how low you can go,” Chusuei says. As with most things nanotech, the smaller one gets, the wider the applications. (There’s also the question of testing and gauging the toxicity of the resulting sensors.) The lab’s success with ZnO has also led to research with other non-precious-metal-based compounds. Anita Saha, a senior biochemistry major, is working with cerium oxide to detect acetaminophen.

In less than a year, Dr. Chusuei’s modest little laboratory will be housed in a shiny new science building. The low-energy electron diffractometer, liquid nitrogen generator, and quadrupole mass analyzer—to name a few of those brand-new pieces of equipment still in boxes—will have been unpacked and put to long-awaited use. It’s exciting to consider, and no doubt the state-of-the-art facility will make a host of scientific processes easier and new discoveries possible. Nonetheless, the most crucial ingredients to the University’s future success as a research institution are already in place in the form of Dr. Chusuei, his colleagues, and all the student researchers under their direction. Oh, and that hand drill masquerading as a stepper motor.


To see interviews with Dr. Chusuei and his research team:



Singing Praises


Country music star Chris Young attended MTSU, feels a connection to the University, and has given back generously. The 28-year-old Murfreesboro native credits much of his success as a chart-topping artist to his time spent as an MTSU student.


“My time there was just really, really important to me,” Young says. “I enjoyed the recording industry program there, and it did a lot for me. It’s just a big part of who I am.”


Young’s career took flight in 2006 when he won the television program Nashville Star, a singing competition that aired on the USA Network. He later signed with RCA Records Nashville and has since released four studio albums, including his latest effort, A.M., last September.


Young paved the way for MTSU to use a snippet of one of his hit songs, “The Man I Want to Be,” in a radio advertisement in which he credited the University with helping him to become the artist he is today. He has also contributed financially to the University. Young recently gave a significant amount of his surplus musical equipment to MTSU—soundboards, cables, lighting, video, and staging—for use in on- and off-campus events.


“The payback for me is that somebody is going to get to use some equipment that maybe he or she otherwise wouldn’t have been able to obtain,” Young says.

Grade A Grads

Introducing the 2013–2014 class of Distinguished Alumni

Many MTSU alumni bring the University recognition and prestige through their innovative work and loyal support. Each year since 1960, MTSU’s Alumni Association has recognized accomplished alumni with the association’s highest honor—the Distinguished Alumni Award. Younger alumni who are making a positive impact in the world are eligible for the Young Alumni Achievement Award.

This year’s honorees include a nonprofit innovator, a couple of high-powered Tennessee businessmen, and a young expert in foreign service. Each is well deserving of the honor, and their personal stories don’t make for a bad read, either.

Service to the University

Stephen B. Smith (’11)

Stephen Smith has a lengthy history of involvement with MTSU. He has served on the President’s Council and the board of directors of the Blue Raider Athletic Association. A former MTSU baseball player and member of the Blue Raider Sports Hall of Fame, Smith chaired the search committee for MTSU’s athletic director and spearheaded the successful effort to raise $5 million to remodel the baseball stadium. He received the Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor Citation for Excellence in Philanthropy. Professionally, Smith is chair of the board of Haury & Smith Contractors, a 59-year-old middle Tennessee development and home building company. He was two-term president of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association (and won 10 World Championships as a rider). He served as national finance cochair for Senator Lamar Alexander’s presidential campaigns in 1996 and 2000 and achieved Super Ranger status (one of only three in Tennessee) in President George W. Bush’s 2004 presidential campaign. He was also national finance chair for Senate majority leader Bill Frist’s leadership political action committee, VOLPAC. A nontraditional student, Smith received his degree from MTSU while in his late fifties. He attended MTSU to study finance in the 1970s but left college before completing his degree. “It’s never too late to go back to school,” he told MTSUnews.com after his graduation. “What all the Smiths have been good at is keeping up with something until it’s finished.”

Service to the Community

Larry Cox (’68)

Larry Cox is the owner of Homestead Egg Co. (a wholesale food distributorship), Chicken City (a retail food outlet) and Cox Family Leasing (a rental and leasing company). But despite his professional accomplishments as a businessman and entrepreneur, he is better known as a tireless volunteer, ferocious fundraiser, and community philanthropist in the Knoxville area. Also a 20-year elected member of the Knoxville City Council, his nonprofit involvement is extensive. As an example, Cox has been involved for more than two decades with the Emerald Youth Foundation, whose mission is to encourage leaders in decaying urban neighborhoods. The political science major is also a field representative for Congressman John Duncan, who said of Cox, “I do not believe there is a man in Knoxville who has done more to help young people than Larry Cox has.”

Young Alumni Achievement

Aaron Carlton (’05)

After serving in the U.S. Army from 2000 to 2003, where he was deployed to Iraq with the 4th Infantry Division, Aaron Carlton attended MTSU and graduated magna cum laude with a double major in International Relations and Spanish. He eventually joined the U.S. Department of State as a foreign service officer. While serving in Uganda, he drafted the Department of State’s annual reports on human rights, human trafficking, child labor, and religious freedom. He also assisted the Ugandan government in establishing a prevention of trafficking office and task force. Carlton was awarded the State Department’s Meritorious Honor Award for his work combating human trafficking in Uganda. During those years, Carlton often returned to MTSU at his own expense to share career advice with students in the political science/international relations arena and to encourage them to travel abroad, embrace financial responsibility, and pursue excellence. Carlton moved on to serve as a reporting officer and advisor at the United Nations in New York City. He recently became a consular officer in Venezuela.

Professional Achievement

Keith Taylor (’89, ’91)

While a faculty member at MTSU, Keith Taylor began using 10 percent (or $350) of his monthly gross income from his job as an English professor to give small grants to low-income families to see them through unexpected financial crises. He transformed this hobby into a nationally acclaimed online nonprofit, ModestNeeds.org. Strangers visit the website, choose a grant recipient they would like to help, and donate online. The enterprise is supported primarily by $5, $10, and $25 gifts made by legions of unassuming philanthropists around the world. His organization, where his employees refer to him as “Dr. Keith,” has been called the “future of philanthropy” and has been covered in many press outlets such as Forbes, People, USA Today, the Today show, and the CBS Morning Show, among others.

Hardly Academic

Defending the value of a liberal arts education in a workforce development-obsessed culture

by Gina K. Logue

It seems counterintuitive to question the relevancy of academic disciplines that date back to humanity’s earliest civilizations. Nevertheless, people steeped in the liberal arts disciplines are accustomed to debates about the viability and relevancy of their work. In stagnant economic climates, those debates have a tendency to grow louder.

At its least intellectual level, the discussion is whether philosophy and sociology can prepare the workers of the future to make more and better widgets. This type of discussion is filled with stereo-types about tweedy professors in ivory towers operating in their own mental zip codes, oblivious to anything remotely resembling “real life.” On a higher rhetorical plane, the discussion is whether liberal arts should adopt new technologies in innovative ways or even consider altering its mission in some sense, including adding other disciplines, to better meet the needs of the modern workforce. Related to the issue is how academia should promote liberal arts education to the general public. Some explanations seem to have more currency than others in clarifying the value of the liberal arts degree for taxpayers and voters who don’t have a college education.

It’s a debate unlikely to subside, but there’s no shortage of those eager to defend the value and relevance of a liberal arts education in today’s job-obsessed environment. And one doesn’t need to go to an ivory tower to find them—plenty of MTSU alumni, now established business leaders in their own right, consider the liberal arts degree a crucial tool for workplace success.

Witnesses for the Defense

MTSU alumnus Doug Young (’71) owns City Tile and Floor Covering in Murfreesboro. His business sells and installs flooring including tile, stone, wood, laminate and carpeting. With only seven employees including him, he’s in competition with Home Depot, Lowe’s, and every big-box store with a franchise in the area. He says he would hire liberal arts majors at his business “in a heartbeat.”
“Anybody will tell you that generally the best salespeople don’t have business degrees,” Young says. “Liberal arts majors would be my first choice because they’re well-rounded. They’re not tunnel-visioned.”

According to Young, his double major in urban sociology and urban planning prepared him for his other job—city councilman, a position he has held for 11 years.

The assumption that a liberal arts education is a loser in at least one area of the job market is disputed by Col. Darrell D. Darnbush, commander of the 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment of the Tennessee National Guard, the largest unit in the state. Darnbush earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from MTSU in 1986 and is enrolled in the master’s program in strategic studies at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pa. After a period in which the military focused on attracting and recruiting people from the hard sciences, Darnbush says the armed forces are now tending to recruit from the social sciences.

“This is because, in the past five years, there has been a constant review of policy and doctrine,” Darnbush says. “There is great demand for strategic thinkers who can identify the problem and develop approaches that require critical thinking.”

MTSU alumnus Jim Burkard (’82, ’85) earned a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s in economics, a combination that upsets stereotypes some people have of college majors and their purposes. As an organizational coach at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Burkard finds that communication is the key to confronting and overcoming operational challenges.

“The foundational skills and experiences provided within a liberal arts education never go out of style,” Burkard says.

Another MTSU alumnus, Gordon DeFriese (’63), echoes the view that the diversity of a liberal arts education serves as a foundation for future learning in any profession.

“It enables you to function fluidly and effectively and to use various pieces of knowledge from different areas in different ways,” says DeFriese, professor emeritus of social medicine and epidemiology in the Schools of Medicine and Public Health at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill.

DeFriese majored in sociology and political science at MTSU but turned to medical behavioral science and medical sociology for his doctorate at the University of Kentucky.

“Our medical school [at UNC] wouldn’t want its doctors to have only a science background,” DeFriese says. “They wouldn’t make very good doctors. And the same is true for our law school.”

While the need for college graduates to fill jobs in the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) like medicine has been documented, some observers seem to want to pit the sciences against the humanities. Kira Hamman, who teaches mathematics at Pennsylvania State University–Mont Alto, makes a compelling case for STEM educators to support their liberal arts colleagues. In an April 12, 2013, article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, she asserts that the two areas are not as different as some think they are.

“Both the sciences and the humanities require deep creativity and intellectualism, an ability and desire to use reason, and a willingness to change your mind,” Hamman writes.

Getting the Message Across

Even with plenty of business leaders making the case for the value of a liberal arts education, are the general populace and the legislators who represent them convinced? And have academics made their case adequately to the populace as a whole? Nannerl O. Keohane, a former president of Wellesley College and Duke University, puts a large part of the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of college presidents and other top university leaders.

“First and most obvious, they should use the bully pulpit of the college presidency deliberately and effectively—at convocations, commencements, [and] groundbreakings for new buildings; in speeches to the local Rotary Club or the state 4-H Club convention; and [in] addresses to alumni clubs,” Keohane wrote in a Jan. 29, 2012, Chronicle of Higher Education piece.

Keohane says university leaders should cite examples from literature, history, and the arts in both formal and informal discourse, making a subtle endorsement of the disciplines by working them into conversation.

In an interview, Keohane urges her colleagues to point out that the acquisition of a broad-based education, instead of specializing in one skill that could become less important in a decade or two, actually prepares students to handle the serpentine twists of the job market over the course of a lifetime.

“Remind people that our counterparts in other countries, including most of the fast-developing economies of the second tier, are now promoting the liberal arts as the best way to prepare professionals for future accomplishment,” Keohane says.

Perhaps one way to change public perception of the value of a liberal arts degree—and salary surveys like the one cited below—is to highlight nationally and internationally noteworthy liberal arts majors who have succeeded in the marketplace. Michael Eisner, the former Disney CEO, who majored in English and theatre at Denison University, paved the way with an article he penned for the Dec. 2, 2010, issue of the Wall Street Journal Magazine.

Eisner wrote, “I would much rather hire an executive who has taken courses in history and philosophy and language and art and English and Russian literature than somebody who has only studied a single element of one subject.”

The December 2012 issue of Business Insider listed 30 liberal arts majors who have ascended to the heights of major businesses. Such individuals include Gannett CEO Gracia Martore, American Express CEO Ken Chenault, Delta Airlines CEO Richard Anderson, Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan, Sprint Nextel CEO Dan Hesse, and Sherwin-Williams CEO Christopher Connor. What did these titans of industry glean from their liberal arts educations that helped propel them to their current positions? Jim Burkard says it’s necessary for an economist to have a good working knowledge of history as well as an understanding of classic human decision making often reflected in great works of literature.

“There are some great contemporary American economists, such as Steven Levitt, who use their understanding of human nature and likely behavior patterns within their economic models. That ability comes from a well-rounded education, which includes an awareness of history, literature, philosophy, business, etc.”

In Good Company

Is it even appropriate to talk about “selling” liberal arts to the public as a stepping stone to promotable skill sets for the workplace? This also raises the question of whether to state the case in purely economic terms.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent analysis of work-life earnings by major, measured in millions of dollars, shows engineering, computers and math leading the way with political science and social science in the middle, literature and liberal arts toward the end, and education bringing up the rear. Similarly, a salary survey released in April 2013 by the National Association of Colleges and Employers shows that none of the top 10 highest-paid jobs for new college graduates pertains to liberal arts. In this survey, business tops the list of highest paying disciplines, followed by communications, computer science, education, engineering, health sciences, humanities and social sciences, and math and

Hamman says not all measurements of the value of a liberal arts degree should be financial in scope. “I don’t think we want to live in a world where the dollar value and not the intellectual value of a discipline is what matters,” she says. But if the paycheck is indeed the preferred yardstick for measuring liberal arts relevance, then a survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities might prove interesting. The organization surveyed 318 U.S. employers in January 2012 and found that 74 percent of business and nonprofit leaders recommend that college students get a liberal arts education “in order to prepare for long-term professional success in today’s global economy.”

Liberal arts advocates, however, would argue that basing any assessment of the humanities solely on students’ preparation for getting a job is inaccurate and shallow.

“It’s important to make a living, of course, but we should want more than that,” Hamman says. “Real success is in living a good life—that is, a happy life that contributes to making the world a better place in some respect . . . There are many ways to do this, but people who are engaged in the world around them, who are intellectually curious and understand nuance, have a much better chance of achieving it than people who lack those things.”

Said another way, in an age of constantly transforming and shifting work environments, the ability to keep one’s eyes open and to see the big picture—the picture that serves the community, the state, and the nation best—may be the most valuable workforce skill of all.

Completing the Circuit

Every year, more than 800 technology related jobs go unfilled in the Nashville area, putting an unwelcome brake on the region’s economy. Now the tech sector is looking to MTSU for a solution.

by Bill Lewis

Every year, more than 800 technology related jobs go unfilled in the Nashville area, putting an unwelcome brake on the region’s economy. Earlier this year, as reported by The Tennessean, the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce went so far as to launch a recruiting campaign aimed at solving “the nagging and persistent shortage of IT workers.”

Now the tech sector is looking to MTSU (and other schools) for a solution.

Even with more than 1,300 undergraduate and graduate students in the departments of Computer Science, Engineering Technology, and Computer Information Systems, MTSU can’t meet the need. To fill the gap, the University is moving to add new curricula and attract more women to the traditionally male-dominated field.

“We’ve got this issue of needed tech workers, and it is not just Nashville or Tennessee or the United States,” says Liza Lowery Massey, former president and CEO of the Nashville Technology Council, an affiliate of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. “It’s global and it is not going away. If we want our economy to be vibrant and grow, we need to train our workforce.”

“Anything academia can do to tie its efforts, spending, and investments to workforce, and especially workforce in science, technology, engineering, and math, is a positive and should be met with a positive response,” she says. “The jobs of tomorrow—actually the jobs of today.” already—are in that area.”

That task might be easier if the region were home to a high-profile tech giant such as Facebook or Yahoo. But the jobs, many starting at $60,000 or better, are waiting to be taken.

“We have a number of big-name companies. We don’t have Google or Microsoft, but we have people go to HCA—the world’s largest hospital company—and startups down the street and find good opportunities,” says Chrisila Pettey, chair of the Department of Computer Science.

Knowing that the demand for computer science personnel is great not only in Tennessee but also in the U.S. and worldwide, Pettey’s vision is to have MTSU supply more talented graduates to the workforce. The MTSU alumna (’81) says her goal “is to do my best to facilitate continually moving the department forward. Our discipline is a rapidly changing one, and the faculty has to work hard to stay current and keep the curriculum current.”

Many of us might imagine that tech professionals spend their days designing the latest smart phone app, but old-school industries like automobile manufacturing and tire production are snapping up all the skilled graduates they can find.

“Companies like Nissan and Bridgestone are desperately seeking people and can’t find people with the skills they need in automation and robotics,” says Walter Boles, chair of the Department of Engineering Technology.

“The old kind of manufacturing jobs— grease under your fingernails and your back hurts—these aren’t those kinds of jobs,” he says. “People don’t go to work in their hard hat and safety shoes.”

To ensure that graduates have the well rounded skills in demand by advanced manufacturing companies like Siemens and others, the department has launched a new program in mechatronics, a growing field that blends mechanical, electrical, and computer engineering. The curriculum builds on existing courses and adds classes heavy in math and physics.

“Industry wants it now. They are really concerned,” Boles says.

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook reports a 22 percent projected growth in computer and information systems jobs between now and 2020. It’s no wonder then that when students graduate from MTSU’s technology programs, they are quickly absorbed by companies hungry for fresh talent. The Department of Computer Information Systems graduates 30 to 40 new professionals every semester, and more than 90 percent take jobs in middle Tennessee, says the department’s chair, Stan Gambill.

Large companies aren’t the only ones looking to MTSU for a workforce solution. Alumnus Tim Choate moved his software company, Bondware, to Murfreesboro a few years after startup to be closer to the talent pool on campus.

“We moved our business here specifically with the idea of partnering with MTSU, to have students as interns and turn them into full-time employees,” he says.

Today, about a half-dozen MTSU graduates work at Bondware, which has 15 employees in Murfreesboro and more than 30 contractors around the world. The company employs experts in online publishing, website construction, and email marketing.

Choate, who is on the University’s Computer Science Advisory Board, is also a member of the board of Mind2Marketplace, a group of people in higher education, business, K–12 education, chambers of commerce, and government. The Murfreesboro- based consortium’s mission is to strategically link people and organizations to bring innovation and technology to the marketplace. The topic of a recent forum was 3D printing, the process of making an object from a digital model.

Before the tech workforce can expand, certain stereotypes on campus have to be overcome, Choate says.

“In the past 10 years, a mindset developed among many students that technologists were a bunch of nerds sitting around doing math and playing with Rubik’s Cubes.”

Uprooting that stereotype, especially among young women, is high on Dr. Pettey’s to-do list. “They think only people like Sheldon on the Big Bang Theory  like technology,” she says. “You have to be a nerd and spend all your time on a computer. You can’t go our and do things.”

If women entered the technology workforce in numbers equal to their presence on campuses, it’s conceivable that there would be no worker shortage. But while women are the majority at MTSU and many other universities, nationally they earn just over 18 percent of undergraduate degrees in engineering and just slightly over 25 percent in math and computer science.

They are missing opportunities to have rewarding careers, says Judith Iriarte-Gross, director of WISTEM (Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) at MTSU.

“In STEM, they can command a higher income, and that means a better economic future,” Iriarte-Gross says.

WISTEM offers programs to capture the imaginations of women and girls, including the GRITS (Girls Raised in Tennessee Science) initiative to encourage them to consider careers in science, technology, engineering, or math. GRITS works with PTAs, the Girls Scouts, and other organizations to interest girls in STEM at an early age.

Young women are often steered into more traditional, “feminine” careers, says Mary

Thomas, an executive with the Rutherford County operation of Schneider Electric, a global energy management company. She is chair of the WISTEM board.

Thomas recalls counting engineers in one of the company’s departments. Of 150 engineers, four were women.

“As for software, I know of one female software engineer,” she says.

Numbers like those certainly don’t add up to filling available tech jobs in middle Tennessee. Nashville’s tech sector is counting on MTSU to help attract the workforce it needs— both men and women—to be successful.


Putting Gas in the Past

MTSU’s “Davy Crockett of science” travels from ocean to ocean on only sun and water

by Mike Browning

The result was a level of exposure for Ricketts’s research—and for MTSU—that the University couldn’t have achieved through traditional marketing methods.

Though the sun is 93 million miles away, its light—solar energy—travels to earth in a mere eight minutes. Most of the earth’s surface is another continuously renewed cycle of energy—H2O.

Sun and water. Both are essential to life. And both are relatively free and abundant.

Dr. Cliff Ricketts, a longtime School of Agribusiness and Agriscience faculty member and an alternative fuels researcher, has a dream that one day people will drive their vehicles using only the natural energies of sun and water. He’s worked for 25 years to figure out how to make that dream a reality.

“My whole passion is sun and water,” says Ricketts, a farmer who fashions himself a modern-day Davy Crockett of science, or “frontiersman with energy.”

In March 2013, Ricketts and a team of current and former students made news nationwide when they successfully drove a modified Toyota Prius from the Atlantic at Tybee Island, Georgia, to a Pacific beach near Los Angeles—a five-day, 2,600-mile driving expedition—powered exclusively by hydrogen made from sun and water.

Members of MTSU’s News and Media Relations team, traveling with Ricketts, worked tirelessly to generate media attention for the professor and for MTSU. Months before the trip even began, the team studied Ricketts’s route from Georgia to California, targeting larger cities and their media outlets with story pitches. Interviews were then arranged with journalists nationwide as the trip unfolded. Among the media outlets that covered the trip were USA Today /Gannett, The Tennessean , the Associated Press, Discovery Channel Canada, and RFD-TV. The result was a level of exposure for Ricketts’s research—and for MTSU—that the University couldn’t have achieved through traditional marketing methods.

It was a cumbersome but necessary task if Ricketts was to make his point—that natural and renewable resources provide a viable energy option. And make his point he did. Over and over along the 2,600-mile journey, Ricketts stopped for media interviews, telling reporter after reporter about his work at MTSU—about his expedition and about the technology—utilizing hydrogen separated from water through solar energy. Told at a time when gas prices nationally ranged between $3.20 and $5.19, Ricketts’s story was equal parts the culmination of his life’s research and a chance to talk about alternative fuels. Ricketts wants Americans to understand that there is a clear alternative to high-dollar gas and dependency on foreign oil. “I think it has a lot of implications,” Ricketts says. “Time will tell.”

One Small Step

The 64-year-old Ricketts traveled the length of Tennessee using only hydrogen in 2010. Then, in 2012, he and his team made it from the Georgia coast to Conway, Ark., a 700-mile trip, on hydrogen alone. Only the lack of a hydrogen fueling system infrastructure kept him from going coast-to-coast that year.

In the Prius used this spring, two hydrogen storage tanks built and attached underneath the car (alongside tanks added to the backseat and also hauled by a separate trailer) equipped Ricketts and team with the fuel necessary to complete the coast-to-coast trip. Ricketts compared his trip with no fueling stations to the plight of two brothers who revolutionized human travel more than a century ago.

Ricketts wants Americans to understand that there is a clear alternative to high-dollar gas and dependency on foreign oil.

“There were no airports when the Wright brothers flew the first airplane,” Ricketts says. “And, of course, there weren’t any hydrogen fueling stations along the way, so we brought our fueling station with us.”

“I believe the government somehow will have to get involved,” Ricketts adds. “We’re kind of in a chicken-or-egg situation right now. We don’t have hydrogen fueling stations because we don’t have [hydrogen] cars, and we don’t have cars because we don’t have hydrogen fueling stations.”

Home at Last

The end of the expedition at Long Beach, Calif., was captured on film by MTSU’s media team and produced as a documentary. The professor’s joy in successfully completing the trip makes for can’t-miss television. The documentary can be viewed at www.MTSUNews.com, or by searching the MTSU YouTube channel.

“I feel like I’ve climbed Mt. Everest,” Ricketts says in the film. “Putting a man on the moon has more ‘wow’ factor . . . but as far as helping people for hundreds or maybe thousands of years to come, I think this is planting seeds that will help [hu]mankind.”

The Faces of Fulbright

MTSU was recently named by the Chronicle of Higher Education as a top producer of Fulbright scholars for 2012–13

by Allison Gorman

When MTSU was recently named by the Chronicle of Higher Education as a top producer of Fulbright scholars for 2012–13, it joined the ranks of academic powerhouses like Duke, Stanford, and Princeton. Just 108 colleges nationally were recognized.

MTSU was among 17 schools in the Master’s Institutions category and the only college or university in Tennessee listed in any of the Chronicle’s three top-producer categories.

MTSU students have received Fulbright funding to teach or research in a variety of fields—from philosophy to biology to international relations—in countries as diverse as Portugal, Russia, Tanzania, and Laos. While each winner has a remarkable success story, perhaps none is more extraordinary than that of a young woman who enrolled at MTSU despite having been deprived of the most basic education—and who graduated with a Fulbright grant.

A Rough Start

The biological parents of Kaitlen Howell (not her birth name) were violent and controlling. They withdrew her from public school after first grade, ostensibly to homeschool her. Anything she learned from that point on was self-taught, usually in secret. Although her parents were college-educated and had many books around the house, they largely restricted her access to them.

“The books were there,” she says, “but my parents just collected them the way some people compulsively collect newspapers. There was no value placed on education. I was actually punished if I was caught reading.”

She read anyway, voraciously: Little Women, The Swiss Family Robinson, The Chronicles of Narnia, Twain, Dickens, Verne. Books were her escape from the horrors of everyday life, and they fed her instinct for learning. But Howell’s precociousness masked her lack of formal education. “I had a wide vocabulary and presented myself intelligently,” she says. “I was also able to think on my feet, which was a requirement for my survival.”

At age 15, she was permanently removed from her parents’ home and placed in foster care. “It wasn’t until I was put into a school setting at a group home that my lack of education started to become evident,” she says. “I felt a lot of personal shame over it. I considered it my responsibility and my fault, and I honestly wasted a lot of the time I was in school. I refused to do the schoolwork; I just sat there and read the dictionary. I had a deep fear of education because I felt I was incompetent.”

Then came a turning point: she agreed to work through a booklet on health and take a multiple-choice test at the end. She found that she was fascinated by human physiology, particularly the circulatory system. She also discovered that she tested well. Because she’d had rudimentary clinical experience attending to her younger siblings’ medical needs, it occurred to her that she might pursue a job in medicine. She began working toward her GED.

At age 17, she met a childless couple from Murfreesboro, Allen and Melanie Howell, who informally adopted her. When she turned 18, she took their last name and a new first name, Kaitlen. “I became my own person,” she says. “I was not my biological parents’ child. I was not the object, the slave they created me to be.” Encouraged by her adoptive parents, Kaitlen applied to MTSU and was accepted as a science major on the pre-med track—against the advice of her last foster mother, who insisted she belonged at a community college. She secured Pell Grants and worked 30 hours a week to pay her tuition.

She walked into her first science course, chemistry, and heard terms she’d never heard before: “carbon,” “atom,” “periodic table.” She switched to an intro-level class. Still, she failed one test, then another. “I remember the paralysis of knowing I was going to fail my test and there was nothing I could do about it,” she says. “I had not studied. I had no idea how to study.” Panicked, she went to her professor. “She asked me, ‘Are you reading the textbook? Are you taking notes? What are you doing with the notes?’”

Howell learned how to study and ended up with a B in chemistry. She says it’s the grade of which she is most proud. It’s also the only non-A on her college transcript.

Unleashing the Potential

Kaitlen is a perfect example of what can happen when raw talent is noticed and nurtured, says Laura Clippard, who first met Howell as a counselor at Student Support Services. “A number of faculty reached out to work with Kaitlen and encourage her,” Clippard says. “Even though Kaitlen does have great innate ability, she needed encouragement to develop self-confidence.”

Howell agrees: “At MTSU, I found a lot of avenues that fostered my learning, my curiosity, my personal growth, and even my own healing process from some of the things I had to deal with from my past.”

She received free tutoring and guidance from Student Support Services and took 24 hours of remedial coursework to make up for the deficits in her education. But even after the As began piling up, she was astonished when Clippard invited her to become a peer tutor in biology. It was another turning point.

“I absolutely loved it,” Howell says. “It was invigorating, helping people understand the material and relating it to their world. I felt confident.”

In 2008, Clippard transferred to the Honors College to become its academic advisor and undergraduate fellowships coordinator. Her job is to advise MTSU’s applicants to highly competitive scholarship programs like the Fulbright, the U.S. government’s flagship international educational program. Until then, the University had produced two Fulbright scholars; Clippard made it her priority to actively recruit other potential winners. She set her sights on Howell.

Howell had read online about the Fulbright Program. “My initial thought was, ‘Well, that’s above me,’” she recalls. But Clippard urged her to apply, working with her through the months-long application process. In 2010, Howell was one of two Fulbright winners from MTSU.

The Human Touch

After graduating with dual degrees in biology and foreign languages (German), Howell spent the next 18 months in Germany, conducting epidemiological research as a Fulbright scholar and intern. In March 2012, she returned to the United States, got married, and began applying to medical schools. She has been accepted to Stanford and Harvard medical schools and will visit each campus this Spring. She plans to go into clinical and academic medicine, having learned from her Fulbright experience that she prefers human interaction to pure research.

In fact, the Fulbright Program is as much about human interaction as it is about scholarship. Named for the late U.S. senator J. William Fulbright, it is designed to promote peace and mutual understanding. “Fulbright believed that perspectives aren’t changed through governmental policies but through one-on-one interactions,” Howell says.

That philosophy is particularly relevant to her experience. “Toward the end of my time with my biological family, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be alive,” she says. “At MTSU, my professors treated me with respect, as if I were a human being. Just having them meet my eyes and acknowledge my existence made so much difference in my life. I know that the smallest things truly can impart change.”

Even as she prepares for the next step in her education, Howell continues to put the Fulbright philosophy into action as a tutor for MTSU students and local school children. She will also officially represent and promote the program in 2013 as one of 20 Fulbright Alumni Ambassadors on college campuses nationwide.

In a sense, all Fulbright scholars are ambassadors, Clippard notes. “A lot of people think Fulbright is just study abroad,” she says. “It’s really not. It’s about making the world a better place.”

Clearly, Kaitlen Howell sees that as her mission now. And wherever that mission takes her, she will be an ambassador for hope, and for the university that saw and fostered her potential in the first place.

By the Numbers

Almost 1,700 American students, artists, and young professionals in more than 100 different fields of study were offered Fulbright grants to study, teach English, and conduct research in over 140 countries beginning this fall. Of the 1,700 Fulbrighters, 19 percent are at the Ph.D. level, 17 percent are at the master’s level, and 65 percent are at the bachelor’s level. Students receiving awards for this academic year applied through 600 colleges or universities.

Since its inception in 1946, the Fulbright Program has provided more than 318,000 participants—chosen for their academic merit and leadership potential—the opportunity to study, teach, conduct research, exchange ideas, and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns. In the past 66 years, more than 44,000 students from the United States have benefited from the Fulbright experience. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, the Fulbright is one of the nation’s most prestigious scholarships and its flagship international educational exchange program.

Among the thousands of prominent Fulbright alumni is Muhammad Yunus, a former MTSU faculty member who is managing director and founder of Grameen Bank, and the recipient of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize.

Success by Design

One current MTSU textile student is well on her way to a professional career in clothing design

by Mike Browning

When Alycia Gillaspie was just 12 years old, she threaded her mom’s sewing machine with no problem. Soon after, she taught herself how to make prom dresses and took an interest in sculpture.

“I think that is what helped lead me into doing design and especially apparel because it’s like a sculpture on a human,” she explains.

Gillaspie enrolled at MTSU and began the concentration in apparel design within the textile, merchandising, and design major. Recently, Project OR, a competition held by the trade show producer Outdoor Retailer, contacted five universities, including MTSU, looking for talent. They chose Gillaspie.

In the competition, Gillaspie and four other national top competitors were limited to 48 hours to create a backcountry ski jacket.

“The challenge was figuring out what I was making because the brief actually says a convertible, backcountry ski/snow jacket with an ear covering accessory,” she says. “So I had to read it about six times to break it down. I also had to include the ear covering accessory, some sort of hat or head band and something—that was probably the first challenge.”

The next challenge was figuring out what she could do in the 48-hour time frame without sleep.

“I chose to do just enough design elements that I thought I would have time to completely complete, to sew and finish, all the way until it was done, there’s nothing more you could do with it.”

Even though it wasn’t required, she also made it finished on the inside.

“I think that’s what really made a difference for me—being able to sew it and construct it really well,” Gillaspie says.

A double-hood feature on the jacket allows a skier to fit a larger outer-shell hood over a helmet.

“I made a hood that was separate from the collar but was still attached to the jacket so the collar could be pulled up around the face without having the hood on, and then the hood would come up and over the helmet,” she explains. “Then it would have a bungee cord system inside it where you pull the bungee and it tightens down on the helmet.”

The rather complex design did the trick, despite some initial reservations on the part of the judges. Gillaspie won the Judges’ Choice Award.

“I about cried,” she says. “I was shocked. I could have sworn that the girl who made runner-up won. All I could do was hold my composure, so I didn’t cry on camera.”

Gillaspie and her design were featured in the March edition of the national outdoors magazine Textile Insight.