Thursday, April 30, 2015

[442] Biology professor Ryan Otter honored with MTSU President’s Silver Column Award

Teacher and researcher also recognized for support
of university’s Quest for Student Success initiative

Otter, an associate professor of biology, is the eighth recipient of the President’s Silver Column Award, which McPhee established in 2004. McPhee, along with Dean Bud Fischer of the College of Basic and Applied Sciences, recently surprised Otter at his office in the Science Building with the news.

McPhee said the award “recognizes excellence at the highest level” and cited Otter for his “passion for what you do, not only as a teacher, but as a researcher (who) is really making a difference in your field and for this university.”

Otter, an environmental toxicologist, was part of a multiagency response team that assessed the impact of the 2009 ash spill near TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant, described as one of the state’s worst environmental disasters.

Dubbed “MTSU’s Spiderman,” Otter used long-jawed orb weaver spiders to measure and gauge the contamination of the Kingston spill by measuring the toxins absorbed in the fat levels within hundreds of insects he collected at the site.

“I’ve been given the freedom to do what I wanted to do,” Otter said. “The lifestyle I can live here, both professionally and personally, allow me to pursue my passion without having the hurdles in the way.”

McPhee also cited Otter’s work as part of the management team for the university’s Quest for Student Success, a series of reforms launched by MTSU to increase retention and graduation through changes such as academic course redesigns, enhanced advising, and new student data-tracking software.

Through that work, the president said, he observed Otter’s “true commitment to students, your high expectations for students, that passion and desire to see students (be) successful.”

Born in suburban Detroit, Otter enrolled at Michigan State University, where he struggled the first couple of years with what he wanted to do for the rest of his life until the fear of graduation and life after college sank in. 

After talking with professors and using existing tools to help students facing similar issues, he developed a method to pick the right career path. The method, which he called “The College Game Project,” helped him hone in on science as a career. He later wrote a book on the method for prospective students.

Otter graduated from Michigan State with his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in zoology and his Ph.D. in environmental toxicology from Clemson University. After an 18-month postdoctoral research fellowship at Miami University, he accepted a research and teaching position at MTSU in 2007.

Otter, who lives in Murfreesboro with his wife, Liz, and their two sons, enjoys the convenience of having a home just a mile and a half away from campus.
“We chose to stay here; my wife and I chose to raise our family here … so we’re (on campus) more often,” he said in thanking McPhee. “My kids are here everyday. It’s the environment that we love.”
Previous Silver Column Award recipients include:
·      Ron Malone, assistant vice president for events and transportation
·      Cliff Ricketts, a 38-year MTSU School of Agribusiness and Agriscience professor and alternative fuels researcher
·      Judith Iriarte-Gross, an MTSU chemistry professor, 18-year faculty member, director of the WISTEM Center and champion of the cause of recruiting girls and young women into science, technology, engineering and math fields
·      Sherian Huddleston, associate vice provost for enrollment services, now retired
·      Larry Sizemore, supervisor of ground services
·      Suma Clark, retired director of publications and graphics (now Creative and Visual Services), who now serves as a part-time Web management team-project coordinator

·      The late Charles Wolfe, a distinguished folklorist, accomplished author and music historian and English professor.

[441] MTSU business plan contest attracts young entrepreneurs

Winning team captured $7,500; runner-up received $5,000

Wright stood before a panel of five area business leaders inside the Student Union Ballroom recently to pitch his three-member team’s proposal for Salomon’s House LLC, a startup whose ambitious mission is to discover disease-curing compounds that it in turn sells to the pharmaceutical industry.

One of three teams to make it to the competition finals, Salomon’s House LLC was the top winner for this year’s competition, an achievement that earned team members $7,500 in seed money to help bring their entrepreneurial idea into reality. Launched last year, the competition was a welcomed opportunity to this year’s finalists and is “what changed everything” for Wright and his team.

Watch a video recap of the finals at

“We’ve been working on the science — getting our protocols, getting our lab space done,” a relieved Wright said after his presentation, clutching the team’s first place plaque. “The competition caused us to put everything — business, financials — down on paper, and I believe it’s providing a quicker route to getting this thing off the ground.”

Wright teamed with alumnus Jacob Basham, a University Honors College graduate from Portland, Tennessee, and alumnus Eric Vick of Bellevue, Tennessee, who graduated last year with a doctoral degree in molecular biosciences.

“It’s a conversation we started probably three years ago, doing something like this,” said Basham, who serves as chief drug development officer for the business. “This is the first tangible thing we’ve gotten our hands on, as far as a success to where this is headed. I think it’s setting the precedent for good things to come.”

“It really focused us,” added Vick, chief science officer for the company. “… We’re going to change the world.”

Each team was represented by one spokesperson at the April 21 finals who gave detailed PowerPoint presentations on their startup company, including things such as financial projections that reached the millions in some cases, overhead costs, strengths and weaknesses and competitive landscape.

They were then peppered with questions from a panel of area business professionals who not only challenged some of the projections but also offered advice on how contestants could improve their business plans going forward.

The judges, who scored the presentations on a number of criteria, included: Thom Coats, vice president of sales for software consulting company JourneyTEAM; Tim Cronin, a local social media marketing entrepreneur; Jonathan Eby, vice president of operations for classical music label and distributor Naxos of America Inc.; Pete Hendrix, entrepreneur and host of local television program “Score on Business”; and Chip Higgins, senior vice president for Pinnacle Financial Partners.

The MTSU student team representing Green Source Energy Recovery won second place and a $5,000 prize. The team consisted of three environmental science majors in James Sherrill, a senior from Nashville, Tennessee; Symone Foster, a senior from Jackson, Tennessee; and Ryan Cunningham, a senior from Tullahoma, Tennessee; and environmental health and safety major Taylor Drury, a junior from Franklin, Tennessee.

The company’s concept was to partner with MTSU to provide bio-methane gas to use in the university’s cogeneration facility to help power the campus. The company would essentially take organic waste from sources such as farms, landfills and wastewater treatment and convert it into biogas for commercial purposes.

The other finalist was student Theresa Daniels of Nashville, founder of Theresa’s Twist-Pretzels with a Purpose. The nonprofit food service company has a mission to provide job opportunities and family support to others like Daniels with Asperger’s syndrome, a condition on the autism spectrum. Theresa’s Twist would enable those with Asperger’s gain valuable social and job skills and future employment.

“We really had a great opportunity to see some neat and unique business ideas presented,” said Bill McDowell, chair holder of the Wright Travel Chair of Entrepreneurship, which sponsored the competition. “I believe this is a great opportunity to stir entrepreneurship and innovation across campus.”

Organizers say the process allows students to enhance their learning experience, gain feedback on ideas, develop networks and expose their ideas to potential investors. Early-stage company investors, entrepreneurs and business leaders from the Midstate will judge presentations by the finalist teams.

Any enrolled MTSU student or MTSU alumnus could participate in the competition. A team could consist of one or more contestants and include nonstudents, but there must be at least one MTSU student or alumnus on each team. That person was responsible for making key presentations during the course of the competition and had to be included in top management for the proposed business.

After an initial screening round, participants went through an entrepreneurial boot camp of sorts where more specifics were shared about what’s needed in the business plan and how to put together presentations for potential stakeholders and investors.

Later, a tradeshow round was held where judges narrowed down the field to the top three entries. Mentors were assigned to the teams to help them polish their presentations and business plans for final evaluation by judges.

Secondary and specialty awards were also presented, including awards funded by a grant from the Clouse-Elrod Foundation that included a monetary gift of $250 for each category.

[440] MTSU admissions, arts staff to be on hand at JazzFest this weekend

MURFREESBORO — In addition to contributing to the excellent music that will fill downtown Murfreesboro this weekend, MTSU will also have other staff on hand at the annual JazzFest celebration.

Main Street JazzFest returns to the Murfreesboro square Friday and Saturday, May 1 and 2, for the 19th edition of this free event. The forecast calls for sunny skies.

Staff from the MTSU Office of Admissions will be on hand Friday evening for high school band day to answer questions from prospective students and parents, help them with applications and financial aid and check on status of applications.

On Saturday, the College of Liberal Arts will have staff on hand to talk about upcoming concerts, plays and other MTSU Arts events for the 2015-2016 season.

Between sets, on both days, there will be drawings for MTSU event tickets, concert tickets, backpacks, T-shirts, caps and other items.

Pianist Reggie Thomas will be the headliner at this year’s JazzFest and is set to perform Saturday evening. Other performers include Music City Swing, Rob McGaha, Rock Williams, Halfbrass, MTSU Jazz Ensemble I, MTSU Faculty Combo and Murfreesboro Youth Jazz Orchestra.

Several high school bands will perform Friday night, beginning at 6 p.m., and middle school bands on Saturday, beginning at 11:30 a.m., on a secondary stage on the west side of the square. There will also be several activities for children that begin at 11 a.m. Saturday.

For the second consecutive year, The Southeast Tourism Society named Main Street JazzFest one of the Top 20 Events in the Southeast for May 2015.

For more information and the lineup schedule, visit

[439] MTSU’s third annual 1911 Society Luncheon honors long-term donors

Event recognizes committed gifts through estate plans

MURFREESBORO — MTSU again recognized supporters who have made long-term financial commitments to the university during the third annual 1911 Society Luncheon.

The 1911 Society, named in honor of MTSU’s founding year, celebrates individuals and families who have created gifts to the university through their estate plans.

As part of the luncheon, three students from throughout the university who have benefitted from scholarships provided through donor gifts thanked supporters and shared how the scholarships have helped them achieve their educational goals. Other scholarship recipients were recognized as well.

New 1911 Society members honored at the event included: Jerry and Nancy Allen; Gayle H. and Dwayne Duke; John and Bobbie Duke; Bella Higdon; Devin and Laura McClendon; and J. Howard and Janie Young. New members of the group receive a framed rendering of Kirksey Old Main.

Also celebrated were select members of the Signal Society, which honors annual donors who have supported the university in 20 or more years. This group is named for Middle Tennessee Normal School’s first newspaper/magazine, The Signal, which was originally published in 1912.

Those recognized at this year’s luncheon were Signal Society members who recently reached the 40-year plus milestone. The latest group included Edward and Sarah Barlow and Patrick and Delores Doyle. They received an engraved medallion reflecting their years of support.

Also recognized and presented with a special plaque were those who had reached the 50-year plus mark of support. That group included: John and Marilyn Hood; R. Norman and Barbara Martin; Charles and Nancy Pigg; and Ross and Eva Mae Spielman.

The luncheon was held Friday, April 17, at the MT Center inside the Sam Ingram Building on Middle Tennessee Boulevard.