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Neisler Named Vice Provost for International Affairs

I’m pleased to tell you that Gretchen Neisler will be our new vice provost for international affairs. She will begin August 15.

Gretchen comes to us from Michigan State University, where she has been the director of the Center for Global Connections in Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resources in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. She previously worked in administration at Albion College and has an international portfolio that includes work across the Middle East, East Africa, West Africa, and Southeast Asia. She has a bachelor’s degree in animal science, a master’s degree in agriculture extension education, and a doctorate in higher education administration, all from Michigan State University.

Reporting to the provost and senior vice chancellor, the vice provost is the chief international officer of our university and works closely with the university community to lead the development of our strategic international agenda.

The vice provost oversees the Center for International Education, including International Partnerships and Exchanges, Programs Abroad, International Support Services, the International House, the English Language Institute, and the Confucius Institute.

I want to thank the entire search committee and Masood Parang, professor in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering and associate dean of academic and student affairs in the Tickle College of Engineering, who chaired this search.

Please join me in welcoming Gretchen to UT.

John Zomchick
Interim Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor

Bob Rider to Return to Dean Post

I am very happy to report that Bob Rider will return to active duty as dean of the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences on July 1.

I want to thank Sherry Mee Bell, head of the Department of Theory and Practice in Teacher Education, who served as acting dean during Bob’s absence. We appreciate her willingness to take on the extra responsibilities and her very capable leadership. She is returning to her regular duties as department head.

Please join me in thanking Sherry for her service and welcoming Bob back to campus.

John Zomchick
Interim Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor

Two Cluster Hire Proposals Chosen for Final Review

After much consideration, two proposals have been chosen to undergo a final review to be our next cluster hires:

  • Quantum Materials for Future Technologies, proposed by Cristian Batista, Willis Lincoln Chair of Excellence and professor of physics
  • Center of Food and Activity for Healthy Communities, proposed by Hollie Raynor, professor of nutrition and interim assistant dean for research in the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences

During the next few weeks, the faculty members involved with these two projects will sit down with representatives of the Office of Research and Engagement and the Office of the Provost to work through important details such as the financial models, engagement of existing faculty, and plans for hiring new faculty members.

We’ll also circle back to department heads and deans to make sure everyone involved is in agreement about how the cluster hires will work.

Pending this review, we hope to have a final announcement about moving forward with cluster hires for both proposals before the start of the fall semester.

We’re grateful to the campus for an enthusiastic response to our call for cluster hire proposals. Eighteen proposals were received and a multidisciplinary committee of faculty culled those down to six. These two finalists were recommended to university leadership after a review by deans, associate deans for research, department heads, and the directors of centers affected by the proposals.

View more information about these two cluster hires, as well as the other 16 proposals.

For more information about the cluster hire and grand challenge initiatives, see the frequently asked questions page. If you have additional questions, email

Six Cluster Hire Proposals Advance to Next Level of Review

The selection process for the next two cluster hires is progressing, with six proposals now moving into the next level of review.

A multidisciplinary committee of faculty reviewed the 18 proposals and chose those that will advance to the next level, where they will be reviewed by deans, associate deans for research, department heads, and the directors of centers affected by the proposals.

Once this feedback is received, it will be shared with university leadership and the chancellor, who will make the final selection. The decision is expected by May 15.

These are the six proposals advancing to the next round, along with the faculty member who submitted them. View more information about each proposal with contact information for the submitting faculty member if you want to offer your expertise.

  • Quantum Materials for Future Technologies, proposed by Cristian Batista, Willis Lincoln Chair of Excellence and professor of physics.
  • Local Solutions to Global Environmental Change, proposed by Paul Armsworth, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology
  • Integrated Systems for Healthy Communities, proposed by Chris Cox, Robert M. Condra Professor and head of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Healthy Brain–Healthy Life, proposed by Rebecca Prosser, professor of biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology and director of the NeuroNET Research Center.
  • Interactions of Food, Water, and Energy Systems, proposed by Thanos Papanicolaou, professor and Henry Goodrich Chair of Excellence in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and director of the Tennessee Water Resources Research Center
  • Center of Food and Activity for Healthy Communities, proposed by Hollie Raynor, professor of nutrition and interim assistant dean of research in the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences

For more information about the cluster hire and grand challenge initiatives, see the Frequently Asked Questions page. Additional questions may be submitted to

Committee Named to Review Cluster Hire Proposals

With 18 proposals in hand for two open-topic research clusters, a multidisciplinary committee of faculty has been appointed to begin the process of choosing which to pursue.

The committee’s scores and rankings, along with input from the deans, associate deans for research, and department heads, will be shared with the provost, vice chancellor for research, and chancellor. The chancellor will make the final selection. That decision is expected by May 15.

Following are the review committee members:

  • Haslam College of Business: Charlie Noble, Jerry and Kay Henry Professor and associate dean for faculty and research
  • College of Social Work: Mary Held, assistant professor (Nashville)
  • College of Nursing: Lora Beebe, professor
  • UT Institute of Agriculture: Gary Bates, professor in the Department of Plant Sciences and director of the UT Beef and Forage Center
  • College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences: Melinda Gibbons, professor of educational psychology and counseling
  • College of Architecture and Design: Katherine Ambroziak, associate professor and associate dean for academic affairs and research
  • Tickle College of Engineering: Lynne Parker, professor and associate dean
  • UT Libraries: Holly Mercer, professor and associate dean for research, collections, and scholarly communication
  • College of Law: Teri Baxter, professor and associate dean for faculty development
  • College of Communication and Information: Beth Avery Foster, associate professor of advertising and public relations
  • College of Arts and Sciences: Bin Zhao, professor of chemistry

See more information about the 18 proposals being considered.

Cluster Hire Proposals Received

I’m pleased to tell you that we have received 18 proposals for our two open topic research clusters.

The proposals came from faculty in six different colleges, but almost every college is represented in some way. The proposals outline ideas for several new campus institutes, as well as new partnerships with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, UT Medical Center, and community organizations.

These proposals will be reviewed and ranked by a multidisciplinary committee of faculty; the committee’s scores and rankings, along with the input from the deans, associate deans for research, and department heads, will be shared with the provost, vice chancellor for research, and chancellor, who will make the final selection. The decision is expected by May 15.

The following list includes the title of each proposal, a brief description, and the faculty member who submitted it if you want to offer your expertise.

Download the Proposal List Excel spreadsheet

  1. Quantum Materials for Future Technologies

Cristian Batista
Professor of Physics and Willis Lincoln Chair of Excellence
College of Arts and Sciences

We propose a cluster hire focused on producing Quantum Materials for Future Technologies (QMFT). The cluster will synergize with the high-performance computing large-scale experimental facilities of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. A main goal of this cluster hiring will be to bridge the gaps between crucial areas for the future development of quantum technologies including quantum materials engineering, condensed matter physics, computer science and quantum information

  1. Ending Poverty in Our Own Backyard: Central and Southern Appalachia

Jeff Cochran
Department Head for Educational Psychology and Counseling
College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences
Educational Psychology & Counseling

We will research causes, effects and interventions to break the cycle of poverty in our surrounding regions of central and southern Appalachia. From our regional successes, we will evidence solutions to the challenge of poverty faced by all 21st century global societies. Our approach will be to collaborate with community organizations in order to ground our research in our home regions and to ensure co-ownership of the solutions that we generate and outcomes that we evidence.

  1. UTK Institute for Crime, Law and Justice

Wendy Bach
Associate Professor
College of Law

We propose a cluster-hire, bringing together researchers from Law, Business, and Sociology, as well as other departments, to focus on substantially reconfiguring the purpose, scope and size of the criminal justice system.  We propose the creation of the UTK Crime, Law and Justice Institute –the purpose of which would be to generate and disseminate research-based interventions in criminal justice and related policy areas.

  1. Harnessing Big Data for Connected Intelligent Transportation Systems to Enhance Economic Competitiveness

Asad Khattak
Beaman Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering
College of Engineering
Civil & Environmental Engineering

The potential to improve transportation system efficiency and safety is enormous. This cluster will address the challenges of providing connectivity and automation in monitoring and controlling the production and delivery of products and services. The team will harness big data coupled with Artificial Intelligence techniques to foster the development of connected and automated transportation systems, to enhance economic competitiveness by conducting fundamental and applied data science research.

  1. Local Solutions to Global Environmental Change

Paul Armsworth
College of Arts and Sciences
Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

This Cluster examines the Grand Challenge: in a time of global change, how can we improve people’s well-being by improving their environment, while also reducing social inequities and promoting economic growth? As global changes impact the Southeastern U.S., we need integrated solutions that work for people and nature. This exceptionally interdisciplinary Cluster, housed in the Baker Center, focuses on the design and evaluation of locally grounded solutions to global change.

  1. Integrated Systems for Healthy Communities

Chris Cox
Professor and Head
College of Engineering
Civil & Environmental Engineering

This cluster seeks to address the grand challenge of achieving better performance outcomes (e.g., economic, social, health, sustainability, resilience) in communities in a holistic manner through systems thinking. Our systems approach will leverage emerging capabilities in sensors, data analytics and system dynamic modeling. The systems approach facilitates integration of disciplinary perspectives and convergent collaboration, thereby enhancing communities in the state and across the globe.

  1. Cluster Hire in Biomembranes: Structure, Dynamics and Biogenesis

Todd Reynolds
Associate Professor
College of Arts and Sciences

Biological membranes impact everything from energy production to drug delivery, and are fundamental to understanding biological complexity. At UTK > 20 faculty are working in this field, but we can make great progress if we bring them together to strategically address how biomembranes are assembled, maintained, and function. A Cluster Hire in Biomembranes will catalyze this by increasing our capabilities and funding, organizing our efforts, and will make us international leaders in this area.

  1. Meeting Public Policy Grand Challenges through an Intercollegiate School of Public Policy Analytics

Matthew Murray
Director, Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy
College of Business Administration

We propose a cluster of computational social scientists who will leverage big data to support evidenced-based policymaking in the public, private, and non-profit sectors. Since facilitating transdisciplinary research is difficult, we propose an intercollegiate school of public policy analytics as opposed to a loose affiliation of faculty sprinkled across the University. The school will be built around two successful research centers, the Baker Center and Boyd Center and four departments.

  1. Data Powered Health Innovation

Tami Wyatt
Professor, Associate Dean of Research
College of Nursing
Administration – College of Nursing

The “Data Powered Health Innovation”proposal addresses the 21st century Cures Act challenges. It builds on current research collaborations in the Colleges of Nursing, Engineering and Arts & Sciences by adding the Colleges of Communication and Information, Law, and Haslam College of Business to form a robust foundation for health innovation, discovery, and technology transfer. This approach to entrepreneurship toward prototype funding is necessary to receive competitive extramural funding.

  1. Empower Tennessee to Learn

Barbara Murphy
Associate Professor
College of Arts and Sciences
School of Music

The focus of our Cluster Hire, Empower Tennessee to Learn, is increasing the accessibility and affordability of higher education for Tennessee citizens by creating high quality Open Educational Resources (OER) to be used in any form of course delivery. We want to create the Empower Institute, a group that will assist faculty in creating OER, conduct empirical research on the effect OER has on the cost and accessibility of education, and provide experiential learning opportunities for students.

  1. Healthy Brain::Healthy Life

Rebecca Prosser
Professor and NeuroNET Research Center Director
College of Arts and Sciences
Biochemistry, Cellular & Molecular Biology

Our grand challenge is to: “Promote life-long brain, cognitive, and emotional health across society”, or “Healthy Brain::Healthy Life”. The first step to address this challenge is to expand multidisciplinary research focused on degenerative brain disorders.  It includes new faculty within multiple colleges collaborating across cell/molecular, bioengineering, cognitive, clinical, social and data analytic approaches, and is coordinated with the clinical-research efforts on brain disorders at UTMC.

  1. Addressing the Grand Challenge of Educational Inequities: Strengthening the Educational Pipeline

Sherry Bell
Department Head, Acting Dean
College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences
Theory & Practice in Teacher Education

This proposal will create a transdisciplinary team to address the massive adaptive and integrative challenges that face education from preschool through postsecondary. The cluster faculty will conduct research, provide technical assistance, engage stakeholders, and instruct university students in ways that enhance and advance both theory and practice throughout the educational pipeline, toward the ultimate goal of increasing equity, opportunity, and academic success in all phases of schooling.

  1. Smart Manufacturing Institute

Mingzhou Jin
Professor and Associate Department Head
College of Engineering
Academic & Student Affairs

Smart manufacturing is the new paradigm for integration of advanced information and manufacturing technologies leading to agile and flexible ecosystems to address dynamic local and global markets and societal drivers. Progress made in the science and technology of materials and manufacturing at UTK has led to the necessity of integrating all efforts into one umbrella through data science and systems engineering to address grand challenges of economic development and environmental sustainability.

  1. Soft Materials Research in Tennessee

Mark Dadmun
Paul and Wilma Ziegler Professor
College of Arts and Sciences

Soft materials are crucial for current and emerging technologies, where there exists significant expertise in the study of soft matter at UTK, offering a strong foundation from which to build a nationally and internationally recognized program. We therefore propose a cluster hire in the area of soft materials to build this community and expand the synergy that presently exists among this group and among their international collaborators.

  1. Interactions of Food, Water, and Energy Systems

Thanos Papanicolaou
Professor and Henry Goodrich Chair of Excellence
College of Engineering
Civil & Environmental Engineering

A UT FEWS cluster can lead the region and the nation in evaluating how the proliferation of mixed urban-agro-ecosystems can transform the nexus of crop production, energy costs, and water availability. The primary goal of this cluster will be to advance understanding and technology of FEWS in the region by transforming the individual components into an integrated natural-human system for examining inherent interactions, feedbacks, and processes to elucidate factors influencing resilience.

  1. Solutions to Substance Abuse through Primary Prevention and Early Intervention in Adolescents

Paul Erwin
Professor and Head
College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences
Public Health

This Cluster Hire will form the UT Center for Adolescent Health (CAH), within the Dept. of Public Health (CEHHS), with involvement from the Dept. of Nutrition (CEHHS), Colleges of Social Work and Nursing, an evaluation unit in NIMBioS, and UT Extension. The initial focus of the CAH will be on the Grand Challenge of substance abuse prevention, specifically in the prevention of opioid addiction, along with establishing a new undergraduate major in public health.

  1. Center of Food and Activity for Healthy Communities

Hollie Raynor
Professor, Interim Assistant Dean of Research
College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences

Establish the Center of Food and Activity for Healthy Communities, housed within CEHHS, engaging 3 departments in CEHHS, Nutrition; Kinesiology, Recreation, and Sports Studies; and Retail, Hospitality, and Tourism Management; College of Arts & Sciences (Geography); Haslam College of Business (Economics); and National Institute for STEM Evaluation and Research (NISER). The Grand Challenge addressed is modifying lifestyle culture around diet and physical activity to reduce health disparities.

  1. The Computational Living Cell

Jeremy Smith
Governor’s Chair
College of Arts and Sciences
Biochemistry, Cellular & Molecular Biology

The hires will bring to bear the massively-parallel supercomputing, simulation, modeling and data analytics capabilities at UTK and ORNL to create the world’s most powerful computational system for modeling the living cell, in exquisite detail and with unprecedented predictive power. Specific applications will provide new therapies for pancreatic cancer and antibiotics.

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Mark Your Calendar!

Here’s a list of spring semester opportunities to celebrate, network, and learn.

Faculty Appreciation Week Is February 12–16

Our annual celebration of faculty is scheduled for February 12–16.

Watch Tennessee Today for special events, discounts, and stories about faculty from each college. At least two events require an RSVP.

Forum on the Rock and Free Speech Set for February 26

The Student Government Association is planning a panel discussion about the Rock, tentatively scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Monday, February 26.

The panel, which is still being assembled, will discuss issues surrounding the Rock, including free speech and hate speech.

Faculty Pubs

Faculty are invited to network with colleagues at three remaining Faculty Pub events scheduled this semester.

Pubs will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. in the Lauricella Center of Neyland Stadium on Thursday, February 15; Thursday, March 29; and Wednesday, April 25.

Each pub will feature free appetizers and a cash-only bar.

For easiest access, enter the stadium at Gate 21A. Limited parking will be available for vehicles with a UT parking tag in Lot 9 on Phillip Fulmer Way beginning at 5 p.m.

All faculty, including tenure-track, non-tenure-track, and retired, are invited to attend the pubs.

Coffee and Conversation

All faculty are invited to join Interim Provost John Zomchick and the vice provosts for coffee and conversation about timely matters and issues of concern.

The get-togethers will be held in the Mary Greer Room, Room 258 of Hodges Library (located across from the circulation desk near Starbucks). They will take place from 8 to 9 a.m. on Tuesday, February 6, and Friday, March 2, and from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. on Monday, April 9.

Coffee and light refreshments will be provided.


UT faculty members will share their knowledge on a wide range of subjects at this spring’s Mic/Nite on Thursday, March 8, at the Relix Variety Theatre, 1208 North Central Avenue. Social hour begins at 5:30 p.m. with free pizza and a cash bar, and presentations begin at 6:30 p.m.

Mic/Nite is a Powered by PechaKucha social gathering designed to enhance the intellectual, interdisciplinary, and cultural life of UT faculty and staff. PechaKucha is a fast-paced lecture format that originated in Tokyo. Since 2003, it has spread to more than 400 cities around the world.

The event is free and open to faculty and staff and their spouses or partners. RSVP here.

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Spring 2018 News Roundup

Teaching and Learning Innovation Merges Offices

Starting this semester, Teaching and Learning Innovation, a unit within the Division of Academic Affairs, officially merges four offices—Experience Learning, the Teaching and Learning Center, the Office of Service-Learning, and the Office of Online Programs.

The merger brings all these efforts under one umbrella to provide more services, programs, and partnerships to better support UT faculty in enriching student learning experiences.

“It allows us to break down some of the silos; it’s more about what we do and less about organizational charts,” said Matthew Theriot, interim vice provost for faculty affairs and associate provost for teaching and learning innovation, who will oversee the unit. “The goal is to serve the campus more effectively and to position the university to build e-learning capacity.

Teaching and Learning Innovation’s priority areas will include Experience Learning; service-learning; online programs; the UT Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning (CIRTL); tools for assessment, and inclusive teaching practices.

Chris Lavan heads up Experience Learning, which encompasses service-learning as well as related teaching innovation efforts. Jennifer Gramling directs e-learning efforts.

See the TLI website for more information for more information about the unit’s services, priorities, and future opportunities for UT instructors.

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Open Educational Resources

The Student Government Association, led by President Morgan Hartgrove, has embarked on a campaign to save students $1 million this year by encouraging instructors to use open educational resources that can be accessed free online.

UT Libraries has teamed up with SGA to measure savings and gather student feedback on using open educational resources.

Some of the results have been posted, including a running list of instructors who report using open education resources and a cost comparison of the various types of classroom textbook resources.

“So far we have saved students about $700,000 of our $1 million goal. We honored four professors for choosing open education resources and we are looking forward to a larger recognition ceremony in the spring,” Hartgrove said. “When professors choose open education resources over textbooks, it shows that they have gone out of the way to ensure their classes are affordable and accessible to more students. We can’t wait to reach our $1 million goal, and we can only do that if more professors are willing to make a switch.”

More information is available on the UT Libraries website.

Orange Divider LineQuiet Space for Writing

The UT Humanities Center writeNOW program is open to all UT faculty looking for a quiet space to work on writing projects.

Each Friday from 8:30 a.m. to noon, faculty members who wish to devote time to their writing in an atmosphere of scholarly silence will have the opportunity to compose or read in the second-floor seminar room of the UT Humanities Center. No advance reservation is required. Learn more at the Humanities Center website.

Graduate students in research lab

Monetary Awards Support Graduate Education

As we seek to increase the number of supported graduate students and improve graduate education, the Graduate School has forged an exciting partnership with the Office of Research and Engagement to provide 20 four-year graduate research assistant positions.

This partnership will fund the FY 2019 iteration of our Tennessee Fellowship for Graduate Excellence (TFGE), the signature graduate fellowship program launched last year to help us recruit some of the nation’s best and brightest students.

Through this program, ORE will supply a graduate tuition waiver and the Graduate School will provide a fellowship of $10,000 a year to each awardee. The award is given in addition to the graduate stipend covered by the departments or colleges, creating a total package that is highly competitive. Read details of the program on the Graduate School website.

Applications were due January 17 and are now being evaluated. Departments were notified of the success of their applications on January 29 and offers made to graduate students on February 1. Nominees have until April 15 to accept their award offers.

Applicants not chosen for the TFGE will automatically be considered for one of the endowed graduate school fellowships. Those decisions are made in early March—still early enough to attract most students.

Building a strong graduate program requires money, and in recent years we’ve made significant strides in creating funding programs that help us recruit and support graduate students. Investments in graduate education include the following:

  • The Graduate School offers about $4.5 million in graduate fellowships each year, benefiting nearly 800 students.
  • Each year more than 1,600 graduate students collectively receive about $16 million in tuition waivers and $23 million in stipends.
  • Starting last year, the Graduate School began earmarking approximately $100,000 to help fund research projects in which a faculty member and a graduate student serve as co-principal investigators. Applications are reviewed each spring and fall semesters.
  • The provost’s office provides $200,000 annually for graduate students to travel to conduct or present research. This funding has benefited almost 400 students in 2017–18.

GPSAW Coming in April

Our fourth annual Graduate and Professional Student Appreciation Week will be celebrated April 2–6. The Three-Minute Thesis competition will take place Friday, April 6, and semifinals will be held in late February and early March.

Students in Sydney, Australia

Experience Learning Marks Its Progress

Course designations. Grants for faculty, staff, and students. Resources to help faculty incorporate experiential learning into their courses. These are just a few of the ways Experience Learning is transforming the way we teach and the way our students learn.

Experience Learning was developed as our Quality Enhancement Program—part of our 2015 reaffirmation of accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges—and it has already started reshaping instructional practices on our campus.

The Experience Learning team has released an annual report for 2016–17 outlining specific aspects of that progress, including these highlights:

  • The Experience Learning course designation system was piloted during the 2016–17 academic year. Ten courses received the service-learning (S) designation and six received the research (R) designation. Additional courses are being reviewed now for both designations.
  • The internship (N) designation was approved in fall 2017. Applications were submitted and are being vetted now.
  • Thirty-six grants were awarded to faculty and staff to support experiential learning endeavors, including a four-week summer institute for faculty members to provide holistic support for redesigning courses to include experiential learning activities for students.
  • Several resources have been created, including the Experience Learning Resource Guide, the Experience Learning Risk Management Handbook, faculty assessment guides, tools for assessment, and the Service-Learning Course Design Guide.

Videos Show Experience Learning at Work

You can see how Experience Learning brings classroom lessons to life in three new short videos.

One chronicles College of Communication and Information students involved in a Programs Abroad experience in Sydney, Australia; a second follows a student during an internship at Scripps Networks Interactive; and the third takes you to the Great Smoky Mountains with students during an alternative break trip.

Look for additional videos coming this semester.


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