Building a Stronger Tennessee—UT Day on the Hill Shares Impact with Lawmakers

On February 18, advocates from across the state traveled to Nashville to share their UT story with state lawmakers.  Special guests included former Volunteer football player Inky Johnson, UT President Joe DiPietro, and each of UT’s Chancellors and Institute Heads.

The message articulated at UT Day was clear:  UT helps build a stronger future for Tennessee through programs that educate, discover, and connect.

Check out some of UT Day’s social media:

Annual Meeting Features Cooper, Brooks; Highlights Importance of Grassroots Advocacy and Supporting UT

The UT Advocacy Council met for their annual winter meeting this past Saturday, February 8. Over 100 University of Tennessee advocates from across the state met to discuss a number of legislative issues facing the University and they could help.

The event featured two insightful keynote speakers who discussed the necessity of quality higher education for a prosperous Tennessee.  “The reality of higher education in Tennessee is very simple, it’s about economic development,” House Education Chairman Harry Brooks (R-Knoxville) commented in a speech to advocates.

Representative Brooks also stressed to the crowd the importance of effective legislative advocacy. He told the gathered advocates that if they want “the University of Tennessee to have a strong place at the table, [than they must] advocate for that.” Brooks emphasized that “if [UT advocates] don’t fill the void, [then] someone else will.”

United States Congressman Jim Cooper (TN-5) also addressed the Council, underscoring the importance of the UT System.  Calling higher education institutions like the University of Tennessee “dream factories,” Cooper encouraged advocates to continuously dream bigger for higher education.   He expressed his belief that “education is a public good,” and his hopes “that all the people [can] band together [to] fund [it].”

The meeting also included a panel discussion on current UT legislative issues by the UT Office of Government Relations and Advocacy staff, and a panel on using grassroots networks to impact legislative outcomes.

We would like to thank the Advocacy Council members for their service, support, and commitment to higher education in Tennessee.

Did you attend the meeting?  Consider sending our keynote speakers a thank you note:

Congressman Jim Cooper
605 Church St
Nashville, TN 37219

Representative Harry Brooks
301 6th Avenue North
Suite 117 War Memorial Building
Nashville, TN 37243

 

Government Relations & Advocacy Team (GR&A) Coordinates Washington, D.C. Visibility Day

UT President Joe DiPietro and UTK Chancellor Jimmy Cheek with Senator Lamar Alexander

UT President Joe DiPietro and UTK Chancellor Jimmy Cheek with Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN)

The UT Government Relations and Advocacy team recently coordinated a meaningful federal relations trip to raise the University of Tennessee System’s visibility in Washington, D.C.  Many organizations host D.C. receptions and meet with their Congressional delegations, but this trip was distinguished from typical visibility events due to its parallel focus on Congressional, White House, and Agency relationships.   To that end, this trip represented a broader federal government relations strategy wherein all three of these relationships play critical roles.  There were numerous opportunities to continue building relationships that will lead to productive partnerships for the University of Tennessee with key departments and offices such as the Department of Energy, the Department of Commerce, The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and The White House Rural Council.  An equally important objective was the opportunity to engage in high-level conversations regarding national policymaking—providing feedback and input to agencies such as the Department of Education.    The day concluded with a reception honoring members of the Tennessee Congressional Delegation, which over 135 congressional staff, agency staff, and government relations professionals attended.

UT President Joe DiPietro and UTM Chancellor Tom Rakes with Congressman Stephen Fincher, who represents Tennessee's Eighth Congressional District

UT President Joe DiPietro and UTM Chancellor Tom Rakes with Congressman Stephen Fincher, who represents Tennessee’s Eighth Congressional District

House Education Chairman Visits UT Martin on First Day of Classes

Rep. Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville

Rep. Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville, Chairs the House Education Committee

MARTIN, Tenn. — The start of fall classes brings college campuses back to life. State Rep. Harry Brooks (R-Knoxville) and his wife, Mary, experienced the beginning of a new academic year for themselves Monday as they joined thousands of students for the first day of fall semester at the University of Tennessee at Martin. The Brookses weren’t taking classes, but they traveled across the state to see what and how students are learning in today’s college environment.

Brooks, who represents the 19th District, traveled to Martin in his role as chairman of the House Education Committee. Mary, a retired schoolteacher, joined him on the visit as he focused on teacher preparation, STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education, higher education funding and affordability and other topics. UT Martin students and alumni advocates also met with the lawmaker.

“We’re pleased that Rep. Brooks chose to visit UT Martin for the start of fall classes,” said Dr. Tom Rakes, UT Martin chancellor. “His interest in teacher preparation and STEM education mirrors our own efforts to prepare students for jobs in a changing technological environment.”

Brooks has served 10 years on the House Education Committee, which he first chaired in 2009. Two years later, he was appointed to lead the Children and Family Affairs and the Joint Ad Hoc Education Finance committees. He again chairs the House Education Committee.

Brooks’ campus listening tour began in the College of Education, Health, and Behavioral Sciences. “What can we as a state do to improve and partner with you folks in preparing people to be good teachers?” he asked in a meeting of academic administrators from the college that also included Dr. Jerald Ogg, UT Martin’s chief academic officer. Brooks highlighted the university’s “impact and influence in regard to developing teachers” and heard for the first time about the university’s Teacher Warranty Program that assures the classroom skills of teacher education graduates.

Beyond the Martin campus, Dr. Mark Kelley, college dean, said that the four UT Martin centers in Jackson, Ripley, Parsons and Selmer each offer an education degree. Dr. Betty Cox, interim chair for the Department of Educational Studies, added “the majority of those teacher ed preparation graduates actually stay in those areas,” which has a direct impact on local schools and communities.

Both expressed concern to Brooks in two areas, one being funding cuts to special-education preparation after next summer that could affect the availability of qualified special education teachers. The other is the state’s decision to no longer support pay raises for teachers who earn master’s degrees.

These issues remain topics for discussion among elected officials and education professionals, Brooks said, including the state’s need to send clear messages about the value of education, especially with the emphasis on Gov. Bill Haslam’s “drive to 55 program” for increasing the percentage of Tennesseans with a postsecondary degree.

Brooks noted the relatively low “cost of delivery of services” for students attending UT Martin. “If you could come out of a Tennessee high school with a Hope Scholarship and any kind of Pell assistance, well you’re in great shape,” he said.

Brooks’ introduction to the university’s STEM education efforts included discussions about engineering, agriculture and the sciences.  Dr. Rich Helgeson, engineering and natural sciences dean, said that the engineering program includes approximately 250 students and graduates 30-40 students annually.

“All of the engineering faculty have practiced as engineers,” he said. “That’s pretty unusual when you look at most programs.” He also highlighted the hands-on nature of the program, required student internships and the yearlong capstone project required of all engineering students. He reported that between 80 to 85 percent of engineering graduates now work in West Tennessee.

In the sciences, Helgeson reported that seven of the 10 graduates in either chemistry or biology who applied for medical school were accepted at the UT Health Science Center. Also, two chemistry majors finished in first and second place respectively in an undergraduate research competition at the most recent Southeast Regional Conference for the American Chemical Society.

State Rep. Harry Brooks (center), chairman of the House Education Committee, tours the Joseph E. Johnson Engineering and Physical Sciences Building at the University of Tennessee at Martin.

State Rep. Harry Brooks (center), chairman of the House Education Committee, tours the Joseph E. Johnson Engineering and Physical Sciences Building at the University of Tennessee at Martin.

Dr. Todd Winters, agriculture and applied sciences dean, reported similar success for UT Martin students attending veterinary school, with nine students accepted to vet school this fall. He also highlighted programs in geology, geography and meteorology. Agriculture, a specific interest for Brooks, included activity summaries in agriculture engineering technology, precision agriculture, energy and aquaculture.  A compression strength demonstration in an engineering lab concluded the STEM overview.

Among his afternoon stops, Brooks met with UT Martin students in the university’s Paul Meek Library. Each told about individual academic goals, and Brooks recalled his educational and career experiences that led to his current service as an elected official.

“It was really hard in high school trying to figure out what you wanted to do,” said Caleb Watts, a criminal justice student from McKenzie. Responding to the comment, Brooks said, “We are looking at that very issue. … We’re trying to find a way to find college and career counselors.” One idea, he said, is to identify small groups of high schools and assign a person to handle college and career counseling for those schools.

Rep. Harry Brooks meets with UTM students on their first day back to school.

Rep. Harry Brooks meets with UTM students on their first day back to school.

Megan Burcham, an engineering student from Martin, said she knew of students entering UT Martin with up to 30 hours of college credit. She entered the university with only six hours of college credit and said “high schools should be more willing to accept college help to prepare students.” Brooks responded, “I’d like to see … every child to have the opportunity to pick up a minimum of 18 hours (of college credit in high school).”

Brooks wished the students success in their educational endeavors and emphasized the value of their academic pursuits.

“Don’t ever think that it’s going to be easy,” he said. “You’ll have times that are tough ahead of you, but you’ll have a foundation academically that you can always fall back on, and that’s important.”

Haslam, Tracy Speak to UT Advocacy Council

Sen. Jim Tracy addresses UT Advocacy Council

Sen. Jim Tracy Addresses UT Advocacy Council

NASHVILLE—The UT Advocacy Council met for their annual winter meeting this past Saturday, February 2.  Despite inclement weather, more than 100 University of Tennessee advocates from across the state met to discuss a number of legislative issues facing the University and how they could help.

Senator Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville) delivered the keynote address, where he discussed the necessity of quality higher education for a prosperous Tennessee.  Senator Tracy also issued a challenge to each of the meeting participants:  Contact and get to know their legislators on a personal level to strengthen the influence that they can have in state government.

Following Senator Tracy’s address, the UT Office of Government Relations and Advocacy staff held a panel discussion on current legislative issues that will impact the University and hosted questions from the Advocacy Council members.  The lively discussion revealed strong constituent support for the University and rapidly growing interest in advocacy.

After the meeting’s adjournment, advocates enjoyed a reception at the Governor’s Executive Residence.  The reception was held in memory of Mr. Emmett Edwards, the Alumni Legislative Council’s most recent Chairman.   Special guests included Governor Bill Haslam, Senator Jim Tracy, and UT President DiPietro.

We would like to thank the Advocacy Council members for their service, support, and commitment to higher education in Tennessee.  We would also like to thank Governor Bill Haslam and Senator Jim Tracy for their participation, meaningful support, and service to the State.