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Cluster Hires and Grand Challenges

Idea generators. Problem solvers. Leaders.

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These traits have long been facets of the Volunteer difference, and this fall we’re launching a new effort to capitalize on our strengths while helping our community, state, and nation.

We’re planning to make a series of cluster hires that will allow us to build upon our existing and emerging expertise in order to make a real difference in people’s lives. We’ll be looking for help from you as we embark upon this process.

We are fortunate to have a longstanding partnership with Oak Ridge National Laboratory that brings together great minds and superior technology. Our collective work solves problems, cures illness, devises better transportation solutions and manufacturing methods, and discovers more sustainable and efficient energy sources, among many other advancements.

In collaboration with ORNL, we will make our first cluster hire in data sciences, an area that touches almost every discipline in some way.

Interim Vice Chancellor for Research Robert Nobles and I have appointed a task force to study our campus’s existing strengths in data sciences, identify areas where new experts and accelerated research will have greatest impact, and review proposals for the data cluster.

The task force’s recommendations and review of proposals will guide us in hiring six new faculty members to be part of an interdisciplinary data sciences team. The task force will begin reviewing proposals on December 11.

At the same time, we want to enlist your help to identify areas where the university is best positioned to contribute to the common good or help to solve “grand challenges.” Please complete this survey by noon November 6 to share your ideas. The survey should take approximately 10 minutes to complete.

We’ve also scheduled two town hall sessions where you can learn more about this initiative and contribute to campus-wide discussions about the cluster initiative. Sessions will be held at 2 p.m. on November 2 in the Scripps Convergence Lab on the fourth floor of the Communications Building and at 10 a.m. on November 3 in Room A004 of Blount Hall.

I want to assure you that this new initiative will constitute only one aspect of a diverse strategy for hiring faculty to fulfill our mission as the state’s public flagship research and land-grant institution. We need your help to identify and build upon our strengths.

Cluster hires

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A cluster hire is the addition of faculty with a specific area of expertise in order to develop excellence and build bridges between departments, schools, and colleges.

New cluster faculty strengthen existing research areas and, in some cases, develop new areas. They are change makers—established or emerging experts who can partner with our existing researchers to attract significant external research funding and bolster the university’s reputation as a leader in a specific area.

For example, the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS), which is based on our campus, is a type of faculty cluster. NIMBioS involves an interdisciplinary set of faculty researchers whose groundbreaking work at the intersection of mathematics and biology sheds new light on biological quandaries—from plant diseases that threaten global food security to the reasons people are willing to fight and die for others. Sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the center has raised UT’s international research profile through the extraordinary work of our existing faculty and students as well as faculty, students, and other researchers from universities and organizations around the world.

In building our first cluster, we’ll partner with ORNL and focus on a core shared strength. Home to one of the world’s fastest computers, ORNL is a leader in data-driven research. We also have many different types of data experts on our campus, from big data and data analytics experts in the Haslam College of Business and the Tickle College of Engineering to our highly ranked School of Information Sciences, among other areas.

With recommendations from the task force, we will review our existing data science work to determine where we should add expertise to form an interdisciplinary team.

Our goal is to hire six new faculty members for our data sciences cluster. To do this, we’ll use a combination of new and existing resources, including reassigning existing vacant faculty lines.

Task Force

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Our newly formed task force is charged with doing the initial heavy lifting—studying the data science work being done campus-wide and at ORNL to determine what expertise is needed to round out a team to address pressing issues of the day.

The task force is composed of faculty members and ORNL experts from a wide variety of fields who have a strong track record of externally funded interdisciplinary research. Chaired by Bruce LaMattina, associate vice chancellor for research development, the task force includes:

  • Suzie Allard, associate dean for research in the College of Communication and Information; professor of information science; director of the Center for Information and Communication Studies
  • Louis Gross, Distinguished Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Mathematics; NIMBioS director; director of the Institute for Environmental Modeling
  • Matt Murray, Ball Corporation Professor of Business; director of the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy; associate director of the Boyd Center for Business And Economic Research
  • Lynne Parker, associate dean for faculty affairs and engagement in the Tickle College of Engineering; professor of electrical engineering and computer science
  • Clayton Webster, UT-ORNL Distinguished Scientist; professor of mathematics; ORNL department head of computational and applied mathematics
  • David White, associate dean for research and associate director of the Tennessee Agricultural Experiment Station (AgResearch); professor of food science
  • Sean Willems, Haslam Chair in Supply Chain Analytics; professor of business analytics and statistics.
  • Russell Zaretzki, Joe Johnson Faculty Research Fellow; Heath Faculty Fellow; George and Margaret Melton Scholar in Business Analytics; associate professor of business analytics and statistics; director of the UT-ORNL data science and engineering doctoral program

Grand Challenges

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Moving forward, we want to pinpoint a handful of “grand challenges” where we can make a real and lasting impact.

We want to think big and in broad terms by considering issues such as the opioid crisis, urban futures, water resources, national security, health disparities, terrorism, education, etc.

There are many options, but we have to be strategic about where to focus our efforts. We want to build on our existing strengths to develop a research enterprise that helps to fill an unmet research need in a particular field. We must be forward-thinking in order to take a leading role in meeting specific grand challenges.

By identifying grand challenges to address, we aim to harness the collective strength of our university. We aim to bring scholars and researchers from different units into collaboration In order to fulfill the chancellor’s challenge that we make UT into a national and international leader in defined and important research areas.

To provide input, complete the survey and plan to attend one of the town hall discussion sessions. Additional workshops will be scheduled to discuss ideas received through these initial efforts.

Once we’ve determined our grand challenges, we will be sending information out about how faculty can make proposals that respond to those challenges.


Strategic Enrollment Plan Ensures Stability

Students in the studio

Declaration Day celebrated new Vols in style.

For the seventh year in a row our incoming freshman class has increased in size.

This growth has been purposeful. Our Enrollment Management team knows that planned growth is important to maintaining a stable student population and contributing to the financial health of our university.

Vice Provost for Enrollment Management Kari Alldredge and her team, in consultation with Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration Chris Cimino, University Strategy Advisor Serena Matsunaga, and me, are working on the framework for a five-year strategic plan that facilitates continued growth of our undergraduate population.

The plan projects the number of incoming freshmen, transfer students, and Volunteer Bridge students we want to recruit each year. It also outlines our strategic priorities, which include recruiting the best and brightest students from Tennessee, increasing our out-of-state enrollment, and increasing the number of international and minority students we bring in.

Determining how many students we need to enroll each year is part of a larger formula that takes into account new student enrollment, retention, and fiscal considerations.

The more students we graduate, the more we must enroll to keep our population stable or growing. We must look at the total number of students we have, the makeup of our student body across classes, the money we spend on merit- and need-based scholarships, and the money we need to reinvest in scholarships to support our enrollment goals.

Demographics are also key. Much of the nation is seeing a declining number of high school graduates, which means we’re competing with other colleges and universities for a dwindling group of students. This population is also diversifying, with the Hispanic population projected to grow at the highest rate.

All of these factors require continual adjustments in the way we recruit students—the cost of recruiting students, the messages we use to attract students, and the support systems we need to have in place for students when they arrive.

Our end goal is to keep the enrollment equation balanced to keep our classes filled, our residence halls full, and our university thriving.

Other news from Enrollment Management:

  • D’Aloisio arrives—Fabrizio D’Aloisio joined us as assistant vice provost for enrollment management and director for undergraduate admissions this summer. He began his career as an admissions counselor and spent the past 15 years working at the College Board, a nonprofit organization that administers the SAT and the Advanced Placement program along with other college-readiness programs. “He’s very strategic and takes a data-driven approach to recruitment and decision making,” Alldredge said. “He also understands the importance of the student experience and attracting good-fit students to our campus.”
  • Declaration Day—The first-of-its-kind event celebrated the May 1 college confirmation deadline with the same sort of excitement that Athletics generates when announcing newly signed athletes. The program, hosted by Tennessee Titans announcer Mike Keith, was broadcast live online from UT’s Ray and Lucy Hand Digital Studio. Nearly 840 people watched it on YouTube and more than 3,470 watched it on Facebook Live. “We hope it builds momentum and excitement for prospective students,” Alldredge said. “The team is already excited about ideas to celebrate our new Vols at the May 1 event in 2018.”
  • Volunteering with the Vols—For the second year, we encouraged students and alumni to join forces in a series of community service events in 14 cities around the country over the summer. About 238 people joined in the fun. Not only did these events provide participants with great networking opportunities, but they also underscored what it means to be a Volunteer. We will be expanding the program this fall with events coinciding with UT football away games.
  • VIP Experience—We will be hosting a new series of events for prospective students in nine out-of-state markets this fall. High school students will be invited to learn more about UT. Events will be held in Florida, California, and New Jersey, as well as Charlotte, Chicago, Cincinnati, Dallas, Houston, and Washington, DC.

Committee Seeks to Define Volunteer Experience

Two female students volunteering at a food bank

Volunteering with the Vols provided community service opportunities across the country for alumni and current and prospective students to network while giving back to their communities over the summer.

As a university, we devote much time and energy to what our students do inside the classroom. But our students spend 85 percent of their time outside the classroom, and what they experience during that part of their life—living in the residence halls, engaging with student organizations, attending athletics events, and doing volunteer work—is equally important to their success and development as scholars and people.

With these facts in mind, Vice Provost for Enrollment Management Kari Alldredge and former Assistant Dean of Students Emily Parker chaired a committee charged with defining the Volunteer experience, that special something that makes our university the perfect fit for our students.

The effort signals a new era of collaboration between academic affairs and student life to enhance the student experience—a broad approach to help boost retention, help ensure students complete their degrees, and equip students to be engaged and proud people after graduation.

We’ll be enlisting more help and input from the campus community as we move forward.

Unifying Our Message

“Figuring out how to succinctly communicate what it means to be a Volunteer is critical to recruiting and retaining students,” Alldredge said, explaining that this effort goes hand in hand with creating a strategic enrollment plan.

Faculty, staff, and students often articulate consistent themes about what makes UT special, but we’ve yet to formalize a clear statement defining the Volunteer difference.

“That is the challenge,” Alldredge said. “There are 4,600 colleges and universities in America. What truly makes UT a different kind of place and experience?

“Some of the themes we’ve identified won’t come as a surprise,” Alldredge said.  “Words and phrases we keep coming back to are ‘sense of community,’ ‘family,’ ‘leadership,’ ‘service,’ ‘tradition,’ ‘innovation and creativity,’ ‘UT orange,’ ‘Torchbearer,’ and the idea of bearing the torch.”

Creating a consistent message about what makes UT unique will help us recruit students and instill a sense of pride among our entire Volunteer community.

“Having some key messages—actually coming up with verbiage to describe what makes the experience of attending UT so special—will help the campus community collaborate so we can keep the Volunteer experience central to everything we do,” Alldredge said.

In addition to Alldredge and Parker, committee members were Sean Basso, associate director of programs for RecSports; Ashley Blamey, Title IX coordinator; Chris Lavan, director of Experience Learning; Marisa Moazen, director of undergraduate research; Ashleigh Moyer, director of the Center for Student Engagement; Lee Patouillet, associate vice chancellor of alumni affairs; Jacob Rudolph, marketing director in the Office of Communications and Marketing; Joe Scogin, senior associate athletic director and assistant provost; Melissa Shivers, then dean of students; Jamia Stokes, director of the Office of Advising and Student Services in the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences;  and Heidi Stolz, associate professor of child and family studies.

New Advising Model Rolls Out

Advising: The Volunteer Experience Graphic

Our integrated academic advising model will encourage student success.

This summer, we began rolling out Advising: The Volunteer Experience, a new approach that will significantly improve our academic advising of students and help us take the next steps in boosting retention.

All freshmen have been assigned a professional advisor, and they will continue to work with a professional advisor in their college throughout their undergraduate career. Over the next three years, our goal is to ensure that all students are paired with professional advisors.

Advising: The Volunteer Experience has six goals:

  • An integrated academic advising model. Advisors will help students explore their strengths, interests, and values; support them in creating an academic plan; assist them in identifying Experience Learning opportunities; and guide them toward continued career exploration.
  • New advisor and faculty roles. Advisors will work closely with college faculty and will help link students with opportunities to engage in their majors and with faculty mentors. As we strengthen our advising team, faculty should not have to perform the administrative tasks associated with advising and will be able to focus more intently on mentoring students.
  • Grow our advising team. Our goal is the national best practice—one professional advisor for every 300 students. The Tickle College of Engineering, the College of Social Work, and the College of Architecture and Design are already at this level; other colleges still have a way to go. Through a centrally funded model, we’ve added 16 professional advisors this year, bringing the total to 56 campus-wide. At our present enrollment, we need to add at least 15 more over the next few years. If our enrollment increases, we’ll need more.
  • Provide transition advising. We now have three transition coaches housed in First-Year Studies who specialize in helping students in transition, including transfer students who don’t get into the college or major of their choice, students who must change majors because of grades, students who voluntarily change majors, and Volunteer Bridge students.
  • Focused retention strategies. Our advisors need to work closely with students to identify when they are struggling—academically, financially, or personally—and connect them with appropriate resources.
  • Advisor effectiveness. New advisors must have a master’s degree and experience working with college students in a campus setting. A career path allows advisors to use their growing knowledge and experience to move from advisor to senior advisor to master advisor. We’re hosting our first academic advising conference in September and bringing in nationally known speakers to talk to our advisors about best practices. We want this to become an annual event. We also plan to increase effectiveness through improved technology, reporting, processes, and assessment.

Grad Fellowship Draws Top Students

Lauren Schroeder wants to do research that helps athletes prevent ACL and ankle injuries.

Schroeder recently completed her master’s degree in kinesiology at UT, graduating with a 4.0 GPA. She’s been involved with multiple research projects and is co-authoring several peer-reviewed manuscripts. With this resume, she could have gone many places to pursue her PhD.

But thanks to our new Tennessee Felllowship for Graduate Excellence, she will be staying at UT to earn a PhD in biomechanics while also earning a second master’s degree in statistics. She’s forged a strong bond with her faculty advisor, Joshua Weinhandl, and will get to continue working with him.

We’ve invested $4 million in our Graduate School to support the Tennessee Fellowship for Graduate Excellence, an effort that will help us recruit stellar graduate students like Schroeder.

Lauren Schroeder and Joshua Weinhandl

Lauren Schroeder and Joshua Weinhandl.

Our first group of Tennessee Fellows will begin their studies this fall. They come from 31 states and nine countries. Fifteen have completed prior studies at UT.

Administered by the Graduate School, the annual program provides up to 100 fellows with $10,000 a year for four years, for a total of $40,000, on top of their college-funded graduate assistantship stipends.

As Schroeder points out, these big-dollar fellowships are game changing. The combination of the fellowship and students’ assistantships will make UT’s offers competitive with those from other top-tier schools.

I don’t know if words can accurately describe how grateful I am to have this extra funding. It means everything to me,” Schroeder said. “The previous two years, I was barely able to live month to month with the stipend I was making, so this extra funding takes a huge weight off of my shoulders financially.”

Schroeder said the time commitment required for classes and research to complete her PhD would have made it impossible for her to hold down an outside job.

The Tennessee Fellowship for Graduate Excellence awards were allocated among the colleges to use in recruiting exceptional students for their programs.

Jeffrey Fairbrother, interim associate dean for academic and faculty affairs in the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences, said his college used its 12 allotted fellowships to give each department one to award on its own to a qualified candidate. The remaining fellowships were awarded by an ad hoc committee after a college-wide competition.

“By reviewing prospective graduate students from different departments, it strengthened individual faculty members’ understanding of the quality of students in other programs,” he said. “Culturally, for the college, that’s a good thing.”

The college-wide competition has also helped departments emphasize the high expectations they have for all doctoral students.

Fairbrother said his home department, the Department of Kinesiology, Recreation, and Sport Studies, has been using this approach for several years with previously available fellowship money to lure the highest caliber students.

“It has made us more competitive with other programs around the country,” he said.

Mark Your Calendars

Here are several special faculty events you may want to attend this semester:

Coffee and Conversation

Coffee and Conversation is a new opportunity for faculty to enjoy a light breakfast while discussing timely matters and issues of concern with the interim provost and vice provosts. These one-hour events will be held in the private dining room in the Fresh Food Company in Stokely Family Residence Hall:

  • Monday, September 25, at 8 a.m.
  • Thursday, October 12, at 9 a.m.
  • Thursday, November 9, at 9 a.m.

Faculty Pub

All faculty (current and retired) are invited to enjoy Faculty Pubs from 4 to 7 p.m. on:

  • Thursday, August 24, in the Lauricella Center of Neyland Stadium
  • Wednesday, September 13, in the Lauricella Center
  • Thursday, October 26, in the Lauricella Center
  • Thursday, November 30, at UT Visitor’s Center on Neyland Drive. This end-of-the-year celebration will be catered by the UT Culinary Institute in partnership with a local brewery.


Mic/Nite is a “Powered by PechaKucha” social gathering where administrators, faculty, and staff can socialize and learn about some of our faculty’s compelling research. A fast-paced lecture format that originated in Tokyo, PechaKucha requires presenters to discuss 20 images for 20 seconds each.

This year’s MicNites will be held on Wednesday, November 15, 2017, and Thursday, March 8, 2018, at the Relix Variety Theatre, 208 North Central Avenue. Social hour begins at 5:30 p.m. and the presentations begin at 6:30 p.m.

Faculty Bookplate Reception

Faculty who receive promotion or tenure, along with their department heads and deans, are invited to the bookplate reception from 3:30 to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, October 17, on the sixth-floor terrace of Hodges Library.

News Roundup

ONSF Has Record-Breaking Year

The 2016–17 academic year saw nine UT students earn Fulbright awards, a record number for us. We also had our first-ever Gates Cambridge and Schwarzman Scholars, and the first Truman Scholarship finalists since 2014.

2016-17 UT National Scholarship and Fellowship Finalists and Recipients

ONSF is poised for action after one of its most successful years ever.

“Applications for major postgraduate awards such as the Fulbright, Schwarzman, Marshall, and Rhodes are now open, with campus and national deadlines fast approaching,” said Andrew Seidler, director of the Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships, which works with students pursuing these opportunities. “We invite faculty and staff to get familiar with our office and the many opportunities that exist for UT’s top scholars—from first-year students to recent graduates—and help direct them our way.”

UT National Scholarship and Fellowship Finalists and Recipients

  • 1 Gates Cambridge Scholar (first ever)
  • 1 Schwarzman Scholar (first ever)
  • 1 Marshall Scholarship Finalist
  • 2 Boren Scholars
  • 2 Truman Scholarship Finalists (first since 2014)
  • 3 Goldwater Scholars
  • 3 Critical Language Scholars
  • 9 Student Fulbrights (UT record)
  • 15 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellows

Life of the Mind Schedule Changes

We have revamped some of the Life of the Mind events for this year in an effort to extend the program throughout the fall and further enhance the academic and social experience of the participants.

Emily St. John Mandel, author of this year’s book, Station Eleven, will speak at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, November 13, in Cox Auditorium in Alumni Memorial Building. Students, faculty, and staff will be invited to participate in discussion sessions on campus that are being coordinated though Knox Reads, Knox County Public Library’s annual effort to encourage the entire community to read the same book. This year, Knox Reads is also using Station Eleven. Discussion session details will be announced in September.

Meanwhile, I encourage all faculty and staff (and students, of course!) to try the escape room based on Station Eleven that’s set up in Hodges Library through September 1. Each game is designed to last about 30 minutes. Participants play in groups of six; single players will be grouped with others to form a team. Reservations are required, so book your time now.

Experience Learning Courses, Faculty Fellows

The first 16 Experience Learning designated courses have been approved and some are being offered this fall. Ten of the courses involve service-learning; six involve research.

Twenty-five faculty members make up the first group of Experience Learning Faculty Fellows. They have received grants to redesign courses incorporating best practices supported and recommended by Experience Learning. The fellows attended the first Experience Learning Summer Institute to help them get started. Some of them will begin to offer elements of experiential learning in their classes this year.

Faculty Central

Faculty Central is a new tool designed to help faculty more easily find the information they need across all UT websites. Faculty Central doesn’t replace any existing website or host any original content; instead, it is a portal to quickly connect faculty with the resources they use most often that are most relevant to their work.

Dupper Named Interim Dean of Social Work

David Dupper

David Dupper

Professor David Dupper will become interim dean of the College of Social Work on August 16. He will succeed Karen Sowers who is retiring.

As interim dean, David will provide strategic leadership for the college’s faculty, staff, and students in the coming months while a national search is conducted to hire the college’s new dean.

David received his doctorate, master’s, and bachelor’s degrees in social work from Florida State University. He came to UT in 1998. He served as associate dean of the College of Social Work from 2001 to 2004 and served as director of the college’s BSSW program from 2013 to 2016.

Please join me in congratulating David for taking on this additional set of responsibilities.

John Zomchick
Interim Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor

Declaration Day Video

On Monday, May 1, UT’s Office of Enrollment Management hosted Declaration Day—a first-of-its-kind event celebrating the college confirmation deadline.

The hour-long program celebrated the campus and students who are choosing to come to UT in the fall.

Among those is Xavier Grace of Memphis.

The broadcast can be viewed in its entirety here.

Faculty Appreciation Week to Include Chancellor Farewell, Other Special Events

Faculty Appreciation Week graphic

Our annual celebration of faculty—Faculty Appreciation Week—will be held February 6–12 and will feature a full slate of special events, including a campus-wide farewell party for Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek.

All faculty, staff, and students are invited to a reception to thank Chancellor Cheek and wish him well as he joins the faculty of the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies in the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences. The event will be held from 3:30 to 6 p.m. on Wednesday, February 8, on the Tennessee Terrace of Neyland Stadium. (Enter at Gate 19 and go to the third floor.)

Visit the Faculty Appreciation Week website to read profiles spotlighting faculty from each college, leave a shout-out for a colleague, and find details of special events and offers.

Here is a full list of the planned events—note that several require an RSVP:

Monday, February 6

  • Faculty Appreciation Luncheon—11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Stokely Hospitality Suite (Room 501), Haslam Business Building. Enjoy lunch and a poster session while learning and networking with fellow faculty. Sponsored by the Teaching and Learning Center. Register by February 1.

Tuesday, February 7

  • Office of Research and Engagement Open House—1 to 3 p.m., Blount Hall. Meet the expert staff and learn more about how they assist faculty, staff, and students in meeting their research goals. Refreshments will be provided, and those who register here will receive a free gift.
  • Distinguished Faculty Reception, 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., West Club of Neyland Stadium. By invitation.

Wednesday, February 8

  • Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek Farewell Party—3:30 to 6 p.m., Tennessee Terrace.
  • Men’s Basketball vs. Ole Miss—6:30 p.m. Faculty and staff can present their UT ID at the arena box office any time before the game for two complimentary tickets.
  • Outside Mullingar7:30 p.m., Clarence Brown Theatre mainstage. Faculty and staff can purchase $16 discount tickets by calling the theater box office (974-5161) between noon and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Thursday, February 9

  • Dig In: Unpacking the Curriculum with Cultural Objects—11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture’s Decorative Experience Gallery. Enjoy lunch and conversation as you explore the museum and see how its collections can help deepen students’ grasp of curriculum and encourage collaboration. Space is limited each day. Register by February 6.
  • Faculty Pub—4 to 7 p.m., West Club of Neyland Stadium. Cash bar with discounted drinks during the first hour. Free appetizers. Limited parking available after 5 p.m. in Staff Lot 9. Door prizes donated by VolShop. Please RSVP.
  • Lady Vols basketball vs. Missouri, 7 p.m. Faculty and staff can present their UT ID at the arena box office any time before the game for two complimentary game tickets.

Friday, February 10

  • “Dig In: Unpacking the Curriculum with Cultural Objects”— 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture’s Decorative Experience Gallery. See Thursday listing for details.


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