As 2021 winds down, looking back shows another a jampacked year at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. A five-year strategic plan. Dealing with COVID. Honors and accolades for students and faculty. Construction across campus. The first year of a new program to help new students throughout their UTC career.
Here are some stories that stand out this year.
The University’s five-year strategic plan for 2020-2025 was finalized and calls for innovative approaches to academic instruction, problem-solving, critical thinking and faculty-student collaboration.
Among the goals:
- Recruit a larger and more diverse student population to increase total enrollment from 11,457 to 12,950, with a focus on traditionally underrepresented groups. Within that increase are more new transfer, graduate and freshmen students.
- Improving student performance with increases in freshman fall-to-fall retention, six-year graduation rate, student-athlete graduation rate and a reduction in gaps in achievement and learning.
- Define and promote UTC’s distinctive educational experience with a reimagined general education curriculum intended to satisfy academic requirements while also making sure students are prepared to live, work and engage in reasoned discourse in a diverse, global society.
- Offer academic courses and programs that meet to regional workforce needs.
- Double the number of online degree programs from nine to 20.
Introduced in fall 2021, Cohort 2025 represents a new approach to ensuring every member of each incoming freshman class is part of a community of fellow students, whether based on major, campus residential location, extracurricular interests or other shared factors.
Throughout their four years in college, the initial cohort—to graduate in 2025—and those to follow will have a shared campus community, enhancing both student retention and graduation, as well as their university experience.
In addition to communities involving campus housing residents, those students also may have access to the support of an on-site faculty member, as several residential complexes also are home to “faculty-in-residence” instructors.
Dealing with COVID-19
No different than the rest of the world, UTC faced challenges and difficult decisions in 2021 when it came to dealing with COVID-19.
All classes were online in fall semester 2020, and most spring 2021 courses began that way when the semester started on Jan. 19. Only those designated “face-to-face essential” by UTC academic officials were held in the classroom.
But on Feb. 1, all classes transitioned to either face-to-face or hybrid format, a combination of online and face-to-face. That same month, UTC instituted a routine testing program to help manage the risk of the virus across campus.
In March, UTC was approved as a COVID-19 vaccine distribution site for UTC students, faculty and staff.
For summer semester, classes again were a combination of face-to-face and hybrid, but fall semester 2021 reverted to the standard setup with all classes being face-to-face except for those that were specifically designed to be all-online.
Then the arrival of the delta variant of COVID-19 forced more changes. Vaccines were highly recommended. Social distancing and masks were required in all instructional spaces on campus, at University Health Services, the Collins Street Annex while testing or getting a vaccine, the Counseling Center and the Mocs shuttle.
Ed Johnson Memorial
On Sept. 19, UTC participated in a ceremony to dedicate the Ed Johnson Memorial, a bronze statue honoring Johnson, falsely accused of rape and lynched from the Walnut Street Bridge in 1906, and his Black attorneys, Noah Parden and Styles Hutchins, who appealed his case to the Supreme Court after white lawyers refused. Among the UTC’s multiple connections to the memorial events is LaFrederick Thirkill, a longtime Hamilton County educator, 1997 UTC graduate and a leading advocate for telling Johnson’s story. While some memorials are designed to evoke emotion, Thirkill said, the Ed Johnson memorial is intended to educate.
“Seeing Ed Johnson walking away from the noose and being set free—or being just beyond the reach of the justice system—is beautifully illustrated in this memorial,” Thirkill said. “I know there are going to be people who might be upset about it, be it Black people who are upset that it happened or white people who are upset that it’s acknowledged; but those conversations are healthy because then you can examine why you have those feelings, and when conversations happen, it gives you the opportunity to see it from a different perspective.”
Chattanooga native and UTC Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Engagement Stacy Lightfoot was involved in conversations from the start of planning for the Johnson memorial and, in spring, 12 UTC Honors College students captured Johnson’s story in a five-part serial podcast as part of a semester-long course, Storytelling Through Podcasts, led by instructor Will Davis. Organizers with the Ed Johnson Project shared plans for the commemoration with listeners of WUTC-FM’s Scenic Roots with Ray Bassett.
Extensive support also has come from the UTC Department of History and Africana Studies program, associate professors Michael Thompson and Susan Eckelmann Berghel and students of both who have served as interns with the Ed Johnson Project over the years.
Stacy and Kim
In May, Stacy Lightfoot was named UTC’s first vice chancellor of diversity and engagement. Starting July 1, she came to UTC after spending the last 12 years with the Public Education Foundation (PEF), most recently as the organization’s executive vice president. A native of Chattanooga, Lightfoot began working at PEF—a nonprofit organization that provides training, research and resources to teachers, principals and schools in Hamilton County and surrounding areas—as a lead college advisor in 2009. Prior to being named executive vice president, she oversaw college access and success programs.
“I value relationships, and that is what diversity and engagement work is about,” Lightfoot said. “I care about each and every individual that crosses my path and what makes them special and different. Building relationships and trust are critical in the DEI space. I have been able to connect to a variety of networks and individuals enhancing my knowledge around systems change work and what it takes to change or create a system so that everyone who is a part of that system is elevated in some way, especially minoritized groups. That is what my life’s work has been.”
Kim White was named vice chancellor of development and executive director of the UC Foundation in October and assumed the role, officially, on Dec. 1. A former candidate for mayor of Chattanooga, White received a bachelor’s degree in art from UTC in 1982. She has held multiple leadership positions at UTC and within the UT System over the past 18 years. She has been president of the UTC Alumni Board and an active member of the UC Foundation Board.
She represented represented UTC on the board of the UT Foundation, chairing the real estate committee and serving as a member of the Foundation’s executive committee. She was the second woman to work as vice chancellor of development at UTC. Margaret Kelley served in the position from 2000 until her retirement in 2002.
“Anybody that knows me knows there are two things that are always part of me, and it’s the passion I have for this city and the University; they go hand in hand,” White said. “It’s exciting to be able to spend the next part of my career giving back to a University that has given so much to me.”
Other leadership appointments:
- Shewanee Howard-Baptiste, vice provost for academic outreach
- Lauren Ingraham, vice provost for curriculum and new program development
- David Steele, chief of staff in the Office of the Chancellor
- Tyler Forrest, vice chancellor for finance and administration
Renovations, remodels and removals
Hunter Hall is undergoing a complete renovation. Built 64 years ago, much of the building’s original interior finishes remained at the start of the project, which also is addressing building utilities and exterior maintenance.
One aspect of the project, which will benefit pedestrian traffic for the entire campus, is the redevelopment of Campus Drive to improve access to multiple buildings and parking areas.
Anticipated improvements include:
- Prioritized classroom accessibility
- Sight lines
- New heating and cooling
- Flexible seating and furnishings to promote student collaboration
- New monitors and whiteboards
- State-of-the-art digital instruction technology
During renovations, the departments and administrative offices inside temporarily moved to various locations around campus. Relocations:
- College of Health, Education and Professional Studies administrative offices, 540 McCallie, second floor.
- School of Education, 540 McCallie, second floor.
- Department of Social Work, 540 McCallie, second floor.
- School of Professional Studies, Davenport Hall, 529 Oak St., first floor.
- Department of Social Work, 540 McCallie, second floor.
- Department of Interior Architecture and Design, Davenport Hall, 529 Oak St., first floor.
- The top floor of the 540 McCallie Building is being renovated to be the new home of radio station WUTC-FM/88.1, formerly in the basement of Cadek Hall.
- The Fifth Floor of the 540 McCallie Building also will serve as a new home for Information Technology, consolidating the department into one location. IT is now located in the Doctors Building on McCallie Avenue, which is to undergo demolition in the future.
- A $40-million renovation to the third and fourth floors of Stophel Apartments was completed in 2021, and plans are to renovate the first and second floors in summer 2022.
- Renovations to 80 apartments on the third and fourth floors included the removal of all existing flooring and carpeting, installing ceramic tile, installing new lighting, water heaters, kitchen and bathroom cabinets, appliances, air conditioning and furniture. Hallway lighting and carpeting were replaced, and hallway walls were painted.
- Walker Apartments are scheduled for renovation in summer 2023, followed by UC Foundation in the summer of 2024.
- The 71-year-old Frist Hall was knocked down. In the short term, the former building’s grounds will become a green space while repair work is done to address the location’s history of water retention challenges. Long-term plans are to use the site for a combination parking garage/housing complex.
- The roofs of Lupton Hall and Crossroads dining hall were replaced.
The year saw the Department of Military Science recognized as among the best programs by national organizations and also achieve a milestone.
In February, UTC was designated as a Military Friendly School for 2021-2022 by the organization of the same name. In April, Military Friendly chose the University as a Military Spouse Friendly School for 2021-2022.
More than 1,200 universities participated in the 2021-2022 Military Friendly School survey, with 747 earning the designation as Military Friendly. Of those, 194 were selected for the Military Spouse Friendly Schools list.
“Schools who achieve designation show true commitment and dedication in their efforts. Our standards assist schools by providing a benchmark that promotes positive educational outcomes, resources and support services, focusing on the betterment of the educational landscape and providing positive outcomes and economic opportunity for the military community,” said Kayla Lopez, national director of military partnerships at Military Friendly
“We value our military spouses who have made momentous sacrifices, and it is our duty to support them in their educational pursuits,” said Squoia Holmes, assistant director for Veteran Student Services. “Our Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts program provides financial assistance for military spouses.
In June, UTC was selected as one of the nation’s 30 Best for Vets colleges in 2021. The University was ranked No. 30 in the list, which looked at 366 universities—both public and private—in the United States. UTC also was the highest ranked Best for Vets university in Tennessee. The rankings were compiled by Military Times, which publishes a print version and hosts a website with news about service members around the world.
In May, 12 graduates of the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program were commissioned as U.S. Army second lieutenants., the largest ROTC class of graduates since the program was reactivated at the University in 2007.
“We are continuing to grow and produce quality officers for the United States Army,” said Capt. A.J. Herink, head of the Department of Military Science. “We have between 60 to 70 cadets in the program every year, but they don’t have to make a decision if they want to contract with us until junior year—and getting up at 6 a.m. to go running every morning isn’t for everyone.”
For the third year in a row, innovative projects by the Center for Urban Informatics and Progress (CUIP) were declared among the world’s best.
In October, the 2021 Smart 50 Awards, which select the best “Smart Cities” research projects around the globe, chose CUIP’s research on predicting and reducing vehicle crashes at various intersections in Chattanooga and its project to improve pedestrian safety citywide, using a section of East Martin Luther King Boulevard as a testing area.
CUIP partnered with Chattanooga, Hamilton County and Seoul Robotics on the projects.
Smart City projects conduct research in such areas as energy, transportation, health care and education with ultimate goals, among others, of improving quality of life, environmental sustainability and financial transparency in their city.
The Smart 50 Awards are selected through a partnership of the Smart Cities Connect Foundation and U.S. Ignite, a National Science Foundation concern that connects and helps find funding for public and private groups, including universities and cities, to encourage smart city initiatives.
In July, partnering with Chattanooga’s Smart City Division, Seoul Robotics and the Ouster technology company, CUIP also was a winner of IDC Government Insights’ fourth-annual Smart Cities North America Awards, which recognize the progress municipalities have made in executing Smart Cities projects and provide a forum for sharing best practices.
In Tennessee, CUIP won the “Best Lightning Talk” award at the Smoky Mountains Computational Sciences Data Challenge, sponsored by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, for the second year in a row.
CUIP Director Mina Sartipi also was selected to serve on the EPB board of directors.
“This is a huge honor,” Sartipi said. “EPB does phenomenal, people-focused work and has been a great partner to CUIP and UTC. The fiber-optic network has been a critical resource for the Smart City research initiatives of CUIP and the city. I am excited for this opportunity to be a part of a company that works hard to make the community stronger.”
For the fifth consecutive year, a team of UTC students with the Gary W. Rollins College of Business SMILE Fund team won a statewide financial competition. The five-member team earned top honors in the Chartered Financial Analyst Institute Greater Tennessee Research Challenge.
They work together in the SMILE Fund (Student Managed Investment Learning Experience), but the group of students came from different majors across campus. Fund President Jacob Snook, the captain of this year’s team, and Daniel Trentham are finance students. Reedhi Bamnelkar (accounting), Leanah Chestnut (creative writing) and Drew Reynolds (engineering) also are member of the competition-winning crew.
With a grant of almost $9.8 million, UTC partnered with the U.S. National Security Agency to launch a program to address the growing cybersecurity needs worldwide.
The Cybersecurity Workforce Certification Training (CWCT) is focused on preparing military veterans and first responders—police, fire, EMTS and others—to transition to careers in cybersecurity.
“We believe the pedagogy used and the training methods developed in the program will quickly become national standards in preparing those, throughout the nation, who are seeking to transition to cybersecurity careers,” said Daniel Pack, dean of the UTC College of Engineering and Computer Science.
The program is a collaboration between UTC, Purdue University Northwest, Ivy Tech Community College (Indiana) and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.