Monday, August 24, 2015

[063] MTSU convocation speaker challenges new students to examine their beliefs

MURFREESBORO — “Today you are one of us.”

With those words, Deb Sells, vice president of student affairs, welcomed some 200 freshman and transfer students to MTSU at the 2015 University Convocation in Murphy Center.

Convocation, the traditional start of the academic year, is part of the annual “Week of Welcome” celebration. Faculty dressed in academic regalia and carrying brightly colored banners lent a ceremonial air to the festivities similar to that of the semester-ending commencement ceremonies at which graduates receive their diplomas.

“This I Believe II: More Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women,” MTSU’s 2015 Summer Reading Program selection, formed the basis for guest speaker Jay Allison’s address.

Taking his cue from Allison’s theme, MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee delivered his own statement of beliefs.

“I believe in the power of learning and the importance of education,” McPhee said. “I’m proud to be part of Middle Tennessee State University. I believe … that we will excel in everything we do.”

Allison, who co-edited the book with Dan Gediman, produced the award-winning National Public Radio series on which the book and its predecessor volume are based. The modern radio series, which ran on NPR from 2005 to 2009, was a renewal of the original 1950s series by CBS News legend Edward R. Murrow.

“This I Believe II” is a compendium of personal manifestos from celebrities ranging from cellist Yo-Yo Ma and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel to less well-known contributors ranging from farmers to veterans.

“The world can be changed coming to know one another through our stories,” said Allison.

Calling each “This I Believe” essay a “mission statement for your life,” Allison said each person’s words had to be affirmative, not negative. He chastised the harshness and abrasiveness of much of commercial talk radio and other media in which a complainer can remain virtually anonymous.

“The brave thing is to make yourself vulnerable, to stand up and say what you’re standing for,” Allison said. “That takes courage.”

Exhorting the students to tell the truth, Allison urged them to use their collegiate careers to “explore the beliefs that guide the lives of others, beliefs that may confirm your own, challenge them or even open your mind to something new.”

Following Convocation, students and their families enjoyed refreshments and fellowship at the annual President’s Picnic, held this year at Floyd Stadium. Classes begin Monday.

[062] Week of Welcome activities greet new, returning MTSU students

MURFREESBORO — Thousands of MTSU students will arrive on campus this week to begin the fall semester and start the 2015-16 academic year.

The mix of new freshmen and transfers will join returning students in their quest for academic success and the experience of college life.

To help jump-start the fall, New Student and Family Programs offers Week of Welcome activities with the theme “Raiders Just Wanna Have Fun.”

Week of Welcome activities will run from Friday, Aug. 21, through Monday, Sept. 7, when “Eighties Night” — a fun time in what’s typically a quiet zone — takes place from 6 to 9 p.m. in the James E. Walker Library to conclude the special events.

New Student and Family Programs holds Week of Welcome to not only welcome new students to campus but also returning students awaiting the first day of classes Monday, Aug. 24. To see the complete list of Week of Welcome activities, visit

“Students look forward to Week of Welcome each year,” said Jacki Lancaster, coordinator in New Student and Family Programs. “It’s such an exciting time on campus for everyone — new and returning students and their families.”

“Week of Welcome provides the perfect opportunity for new students to get their MTSU experience off on the right track,” Lancaster added. “There are events for students to have fun, meet new people and bring their entire family. We look forward to having the campus buzzing with students and their families this weekend.”

Activities include:

• We-Haul — 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Aug. 21-22, at campus residence halls. MTSU and off-campus organizations assist with students’ move-in.

• University Convocation followed by the President's Picnic — 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 23, in Murphy Center. Convocation features Jay Allison, author of “This I Believe II: More Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women,” the Summer Reading Selection for the Class of 2019.

• Meet Murfreesboro — 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, Aug. 25-26, in the Student Union Commons. Students learn about city businesses and restaurants.

• Volunteer Fair — 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 1, in the Student Union Commons. Organizations provide students with volunteer options.

• Comedy show — 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 4, in Tucker Theatre. Featuring comedian Ben Bailey.

• Tailgating and MTSU football — 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 5, for student tailgate event in Walnut Grove and 6 p.m. kickoff for Blue Raiders vs. Jackson State game in Floyd Stadium.

• Music, fun and lots of free food — throughout the two-plus weeks of activities.

Students are encouraged to bring their IDs for Connection Point activities, helping them become connected and engaged in the campus.

[061] State historian earns MTSU Career Achievement Award; 17 colleagues also honored

MURFREESBORO — Many people say they’re interested in history. MTSU professor Carroll Van West is laser-focused on helping others study, make and preserve it.

Director of MTSU’s Center for Historic Preservation, a professor of history at MTSU since 1985 and the governor-appointed Tennessee State Historian since 2013, West is this year’s recipient of the foundation’s Career Achievement Award, considered the pinnacle of recognition for stellar MTSU professors.

West’s recognition came Friday, Aug. 21, at the university’s Fall Faculty Meeting. The event includes the annual presentation of the MTSU Foundation Awards, which recognize, celebrate and reward university faculty members for their accomplishments inside and outside the classroom.

“Stewardship, shared identity, purpose and community are not only the hallmarks of his work in Tennessee but also across the South and into the far West,” the MTSU Foundation leaders noted in the event program lauding West and his colleagues.

“Carroll Van West is the most worthy recipient of the 2015Middle Tennessee State University Career Achievement Award.”

West, a native of Murfreesboro, is renowned nationwide for his work in 19th and 20th century Southern and Western history as well as architecture and material culture.

He works extensively with the National Register of Historic Places program on documentation projects, including properties like the Sullivan Jackson House in Selma, Alabama, and the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville. Top among his published works is the acclaimed Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, and he continues as editor-in-chief of the encyclopedia’s website at

West first thanked retired history professor Dr. James Huhta.

“Jim started this program in historic preservation out of his own initiative and drive in 1974,” West told the crowd. “He built it into a national platform. It’s been my pleasure to guide that platform into the 21st century, but Jim laid the foundation.”

The professor then thanked his Center for Historic Preservation colleagues, whom he said “toil in the shadows” but are making a difference across the South and the nation.

West also expressed his gratitude to the hundreds of graduate students he has directed over the decades.

“If you ever wonder if graduate studies at MTSU is worth it, look at that group,” he said. “They’ve achieved great things. They’re a great group, and I’m so proud of what they do.”

MTSU alumna Kathy Jones (B.S. ’83), current president of the MTSU Foundation, also honored 17 more MTSU professors Friday for their achievements.

The six recipients of the foundation’s 2015 Outstanding Teacher Award are:
  • Dr. Mark E. Doyle, Department of History.
  • David E. Gore, Department of Engineering Technology.
  • Adam L. McInturff, Department of English.
  • Dr. Ahad S. Nasab, Department of Engineering Technology.
  • Dr. Jason L. Pettigrew, Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures.
  • Dr. Lisa M. Sheehan-Smith, Department of Human Sciences.

The 11 additional foundation award recipients for 2015 are:
  • Dr. Mary F. Magada-Ward, Department of Philosophy – Outstanding Teaching in General Education Award.
  • Drs. Marsha D. Barsky, Department of Theatre and Dance; Lisa B. Green, Department of Mathematical Sciences; and Scott N. McDaniel, Department of University Studies – Outstanding Achievement in Instructional Technology Awards.
  • Drs. Aleka A. Blackwell, Department of English; Kim Cleary Sadler, Department of Biology; and Maria L. Edlin, Department of Economics – Outstanding Public Service Awards.
  • Drs. Nancy Sloan Goldberg, Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, and Dr. Philip E. Phillips, Department of English – Distinguished Research Awards.
  • Drs. Cyrille Magne, Department of Psychology, and Tammy Melton, Department of Chemistry – Special Projects Awards.

As part of the university’s ongoing efforts to improve student retention and graduation rates, MTSU Provost Brad Bartel also acknowledged the top-notch work of 11 campus departments and programs during the special gathering. Those cited for their academic excellence included:

·       the MTSU Department of Aerospace.
·       the Concrete Industry Management Program in the Department of Engineering Technology.
·       the Department of Mathematical Sciences.
·       the Department of Physics and Astronomy.
·       the Department of Health and Human Performance.
·       the Department of Human Sciences.
·       the Department of Social Work.
·       the Department of Accounting.
·       the Department of Economics and Finance.
·       the Department of Political Science.
·       the MTSU School of Nursing.

You can view the complete 2015 MTSU Foundation Awards program, which includes more details about the award winners and their work, via PDF at

[060] McPhee hails improved MTSU retention rates in ‘State of the University’ speech

MURFREESBORO – Accentuating the positive, Middle Tennessee State University President Sidney A. McPhee delivered his 15th “State of the University” address before a packed house Friday, Aug. 21, at the 2015-16 Fall Faculty Meeting at Tucker Theatre.

McPhee emphasized the university’s continuing drive to improve student retention and graduation rates, symbolized by the Quest for Student Success initiative implemented by the university in the 2014-15 academic year.

“Within the first six months of implementing just two key components of the quest — a new advising model and a predictive analytics software system to better monitor student progress — encouraging increases in student persistence rates were observed,” McPhee told the several hundred faculty and staff in attendance.

McPhee noted that persistence, a measurement of the rates at which students stay in college and return for future studies, increased by 2.2 percentage points for new freshmen, 4.5 percentage points for transfers and 2.1 percentage points for sophomores.

“The quest is helping redefine and refocus our efforts and investments in classroom teaching, recruitment and advising to better meet the needs of our students,” the president said.

In fact, the advising corps impressed McPhee so much that he decided to honor the entire university advising team throughout all colleges and departments with the 2015 President’s Student Success Award.

As documented by the Office of Student Success in the six months between October 2014 and last April, advisers:
·      conducted more than 19,000 in-person discussions with students;
·      participated in more than 5,700 email or online advising sessions;
·      advised more than 700 students by phone; and
·      reached out to assist more than 12,000 students after scrutinizing their files.

In all, the president said, the advisers made more than 40,200 contacts with students during that brief initial usage period.

McPhee noted that the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities also named MTSU one of five national finalists for its Project Degree Completion Award. The honor recognizes institutions that employ innovative approaches to improve retention and degree completion.

McPhee also praised the Division of University Advancement for making fiscal year 2015 one of the top five fundraising years in MTSU history.

Gifts to MTSU in that time period exceeded $11 million, including the establishment of an international scholarship program and major donations to the University Honors College, the College of Behavioral and Health Sciences and the Blue Raider Athletic Association. 

In looking ahead, McPhee addressed upcoming work on reaccreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, which sets standards to assure academic credibility and effectiveness in higher education in the Southern states.

Representatives of the accrediting body are scheduled to visit MTSU in March 2016. In preparation for that visit, McPhee noted that MT Engage, a plan to help faculty infuse their classes with more stimulating teaching, was initiated in fall 2014. Plans are underway for a full-scale launch of MT Engage in fall 2016.

“Clearly, the university is committed to the success of every student, and we have committed considerable resources to making MTSU a success-oriented institution,” McPhee said.

That commitment includes facility upgrades, he said, noting among other projects the ongoing renovations to the Davis and Wiser-Patten science buildings and the Bell Street multipurpose building as well as the recently opened Adams Indoor Tennis Complex at Old Fort Park that will be home to Blue Raider tennis.

You can read the president's address in its entirety via PDF at

The Fall Faculty Meeting is also a time where outstanding faculty awards are presented. Dr. Carroll Van West, director of the Center for Historic Preservation and Tennessee State Historian, received the Career Achievement Award.

You can view the 2015 MTSU Foundation Awards program, which includes more details about the award winners and their work, via PDF at