Predict and Prevent Silicon Valley success story and Computer Science grad MERCEDES SORIA is engineering the future of autonomous security Page 20
Raider Relief MTSU Board of Trustees vice chair Darrell Freeman lives out his purpose through the Universityâ€™s ongoing humanitarian efforts Page 48
Table of Contents Departments 05 Editor's Letter 06 Five Minutes with the President 08 Scene on Campus 10 Events Calendar 11 #MyMTStory 12 Old School 14 Ask an Expert 15 Required Reading 16 Faculty Spotlight 18 Campus Culture 52 Midpoints 57 MTSUNews.com 59 Class Notes 64 Baby Raiders 65 In Memoriam 66 Last Word
Features 20 Predict and Prevent 28 Making a Mark 30 Epic Win 34 At the Speed of Byte 40 Alumni Awards 48 Raider Relief
Middle Tennessee State University Winter 2020, Vol. 24 No. 2 University President Sidney A. McPhee University Provost Mark Byrnes Vice President for University Advancement Joe Bales Vice President for Marketing and Communications Andrew Oppmann Senior Editor Drew Ruble Associate Editor Darby Campbell Senior Director of Creative Marketing Solutions Kara Hooper Designer Micah Loyed Contributing Editor Carol Stuart Contributing Writers Skip Anderson, Gina E. Fann, Allison Gorman, Jimmy Hart, Gina K. Logue, Randy Weiler University Photographers James Cessna, Andy Heidt, J. Intintoli, Cat Curtis Murphy Special thanks to Knightscope, Samsung America, Blaire B. Buergler, Andrew Firkus, Darrell Freeman, Connie Huddleston, Megan Jones, Phillip Mayberry, Mark Owens, Mercedes Soria, Michelle Stepp Address changes should be sent to Advancement Services, MTSU Box 109, Murfreesboro, TN 37132; firstname.lastname@example.org. Other correspondence goes to MTSU magazine, Drew Ruble, 1301 E. Main St., MTSU Box 49, Murfreesboro, TN 37132. For online content, visit mtsunews.com. 129,148 copies printed at Courier Printing, Smyrna, Tennessee. Designed by MTSU Creative Marketing Solutions.
0119-7075 / Middle Tennessee State University does not discriminate against students, employees, or applicants for admission or employment on the basis of race, color, religion, creed, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, disability, age, status as a protected veteran, genetic information, or any other legally protected class with respect to all employment, programs, and activities sponsored by MTSU. The Assistant to the President for Institutional Equity and Compliance has been designated to handle inquiries regarding the non-discrimination policies and can be reached at Cope Administration Building 116, 1301 East Main Street, Murfreesboro, TN 37132; Marian.Wilson@mtsu.edu; or 615-898-2185. The MTSU policy on non-discrimination can be found at mttsu.edu/iec.
Join MTSU Connect and support the next generation of Blue Raiders in their career journey! MTSU Connect is a new online community where MTSU students, alumni, faculty, and staff can connect for mentorship opportunities. Volunteer to be a mentor. Alumni, faculty, and staff can help community members unlock their potential by signing up as a mentor or posting job openings. Students will be able to search for mentors by industry, geographic area, major, and even shared student organizations.
Visit mtalumni.com/mtsuconnect to join our new community. Open to all alumni.
Brought to you by the MTSU Alumni Association
EDITOR'S LET TER
Letter from the Editor
by Darby Campbell
MTSU magazine has long sought to educate, entertain, and inspire our readers. When I was tasked with heading up the alumni magazine redesign, I thought about how we could create more valuable content for our readers. I’m an MTSU alumna, employee, current graduate student, child of an alumnus, and parent of a freshman (Hi, Dad and Aurora!). MTSU has been my home for the past decade. So when we asked “How can we better serve our alumni community?”, I thought about all of the people I’ve known in my time here—all of the cherished classmates, brilliant and committed faculty and staff, and spectacular alumni I’ve met who have astonished me. We hope that this new MTSU magazine will offer a better user experience, be helpful, be useful, and most of all serve as an invitation to connect with the larger MTSU community—alumni, students, staff, faculty, and the middle Tennessee region.
In his fall address to faculty and staff, MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee outlined Quest for Success 2025 goals to further incorporate MTSU into the surrounding Murfreesboro community and encourage business partnerships and career development with Nashville. Both are missions we strive to support through a greater connection between the alumni and the current student body—along with the goals of helping learning go beyond graduation and encouraging civic-minded, responsible citizens. He urged us to think big, bold ideas. We were asked to innovate, to be the architects of tomorrow. This conceptual and aesthetic redesign is our way of answering this call. As a kid, I always imagined what the year 2020 would look and feel like. The visual
redesign effort was a cooperative effort with Micah Loyed, designer extraordinaire (and also an MTSU graduate). It was our goal to give the new MTSU magazine a smart, artistic, clean, and modern look with user-driven organization. We are introducing new pages! Scene on Campus is a photo collage of events that took place on campus since the last issue. Events is an invitation to a sampling of the art, alumni, athletics, or lecture events open to all alumni. #MyMTStory is a page where we share your comments from social media. Old School, a photo spread from our archives, will feature a look back at MTSU’s past. Ask an Expert offers a thoughtful response on a current issue or point of interest. Required Reading lets you know about the wealth of books being published by MTSU alumni, faculty, staff, and students. Likewise, the new art pages, Campus Culture, show off the abundance of talent from visual artists and writers from MTSU. Lastly, we can’t help but brag a bit with our Faculty Spotlight showcasing one of MTSU’s leading professors. Don’t worry, the familiar staples like Midpoints and Class Notes haven’t gone anywhere. They just have a new look! It is my hope that we can help connect the current student body with alumni and to help alumni feel like you are still members of the MTSU community after graduating. Money isn’t the only way alumni can give back; mentorship is valuable. It is this magazine’s goal to help you foster a connection with MTSU, whether that is through attending events, mentoring a student or offering them an internship, hiring MTSU alumni, or just staying in touch by interacting with our online community. We want to hear from you.
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FIVE MINUTES WITH THE PRESIDENT
President Sidney A. McPhee touts the benefits of an affordable, quality education at MTSU— recently named a top college in the U.S. by the Princeton Review— to prospective students at a True Blue Tour stop.
A brief conversation on recent events with MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee MTSU was recently rated as a top university in the U.S. by the Princeton Review in the 2020 edition of its guide, The Best 385 Colleges, a designation only 13% of America’s four-year colleges have earned. MTSU also received honors again as a top college in the Southeast Region. Tell me more about this impressive ranking.
This is the best showing by MTSU in the annual review. We are among only six new institutions making the national Best 385 Colleges list. In previous years, we have only appeared on the Best of the Southeast Region list. The Princeton Review does not rank schools overall from 1 to 385. Instead, this list appears in alphabetical order. MTSU is the only Tennessee locally governed institution on the Best in the U.S. list and the only public institution other than the University of Tennessee–Knoxville noted in the state. This is significant, as there are more than 5,300 colleges and universities in the United States. We are now recognized as one of the best in the nation. 6 MTSU Magazine
The survey that serves as the basis for the list asks students about their school’s academics/ administration, campus life, student body, and themselves. Tell me about some of your favorite responses, starting with academics.
The listing described MTSU as a “go-to choice” for those wishing to receive a quality and affordable education close to home. It stressed that the school offers more than 180 degree programs for undergraduates—some that are not seen in other universities, such as Animation. One student said, “You can literally major in Fermentation [Science] and learn about the process of brewing beer.” And Princeton Review noted that students find these “highly specialized programs are closely tied to their industry, which means really good job placement.” As far as professors go, they “like to be on a first-name basis” with students and often “make it a point to get to know you.” Students call our faculty “very helpful and fair” and “thorough in every aspect of the subject matter.” One of our students shared:
Overall, students find themselves to be quite busy, but the good kind of busy—as one student puts it: “Despite how busy I am, I am happy doing it.” What’s next at MTSU?
To be relevant, our strategic plans and our goals must change with the times. Our original Quest for Student Success, implemented in 2013, set ambitious goals that led to significant improvements in student retention and graduation rates over the past five years. These achievements have set the stage for us to bolster our Quest for years to come and further define our Academic Master Plan.
“A professor of mine teaches by walking around to every individual student and making sure they understand the subject matter.” Faculty also are “willing to circle back around if anyone in the class gets off track.” Students who do find themselves needing extra assistance with coursework or concepts can rest easy: “There are a lot of programs in place to help you, such as free tutoring,” and students also have “plenty of opportunities to gain a mentor” for more focused guidance during their college careers. Many say this “advising is top notch” and that MTSU takes the time to “foster an environment of care for each and every student.” Overall, students agreed: “This school is amazing, and it is such a hidden gem.” What did respondents say about the student body?
One student stated: “At a school as large as MTSU, you see all types of students from different ends of the spectrum,” as everyone “is very open to whoever comes into the school.” Another said that at MTSU you’ll find “a mixed bag of fresh-out-of-high-school students, . . . parents, . . . returning military veterans, and foreign students.” No matter who they are, people at MTSU are “extremely friendly and inclusive,” “pretty laid back,” and “nice, courteous, and really helpful.” “Though everyone is different here, it is still easy to find people like yourself who are studying the same things or taking similar classes,” another student said. How about campus life?
One of our students said that while “the campus is big,” it feels like a “comfortable and home-like school” environment where people “sit on the quad by the library and talk with their friends, play music, and skateboard.”
To launch this process, I convened several members of our faculty and staff, under the leadership of Provost Mark Byrnes, to glean our best and boldest ideas of how we can continue to strengthen our efforts toward helping students to become academically successful. The resulting Quest for Student Success 2025 plan focuses on student success marked by a deeper and broader academic and student life experience that extends learning beyond graduation. It underscores the University’s core mission: to produce graduates who are prepared to thrive professionally, committed to critical inquiry and lifelong learning, and engaged as civically, globally responsible citizens.
MTSU was recently rated as a top university in the U.S. . . . a designation only 13% of America’s four-year colleges have earned. Other bold ideas for the future will rely on public/private partnerships, corporate investments, and governmental support. We will aggressively endeavor to pursue three big bold ideas: First, we aspire to actively work toward the goals of Quest 2025. Second, we aspire to create a campus district to bolster student experience and tourism by transforming the area surrounding our campus into a vital and active educational, cultural, and commercial district. Third, we aspire to build a business partnership hub closer to Nashville by developing a facility, strategically located near major corporate headquarters and large employers, that would offer programs and services that support career development, career advancement, and further respond to business and industry demands for employee education. Thank you, Mr. President.
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SCENE ON CAMPUS
Sept. 16 Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore returned to MTSU for a forum to discuss his fatherâ€™s legacy
Sept. 6 Comedian Chris DiStefano at Tucker Theatre
Dec. 1 "Joys of the Season" at Tucker Theatre
Aug. 22 Floyd Stadium beer garden debut! 8 MTSU Magazine
Aug. 29 Convocation freshman class photo
Nov. 15 The inaugural MTSU Faculty/Staff Veterans Stole Ceremony
Aug. 28 #MTBaeWatch Connection Point beach party
Oct. 26 Homecoming Mixer on Middle Winter 2020 9
Events Calendar Mark your calendar for upcoming events around campus
Jan. 25, 6 p.m. Todd Art Gallery Chris Schweizer: paper craft artist, illustrator, and author opening reception and artist lecture. The show will run Jan. 21 through Feb. 15.
Jan. 31, 11:30 a.m. Student Union Ballroom MT Baseball Groundhog Day Luncheon
Feb. 7, 5 p.m. Adams Tennis Complex MTSU Men’s Tennis vs. Indiana
Feb. 15, 2 p.m. Feb. 20, 6:30 p.m.
Murphy Center MTSU Men’s Basketball vs UAB
Murphy Center MTSU Women’s Basketball vs. UAB
March 21, 7:30 p.m. April 2–4, 7:30 p.m., and April 5, 2 p.m.
Wright Music Bldg., Hinton Hall MTSU Jazz Artist Series: Part of the Illinois Jacquet Jazz Festival
Tucker Theatre Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
April 4, 8 p.m. Wright Music Bldg., Hinton Hall MTSU Chamber Orchestra
April 3–11 Alumni Spring Showcase
April 16–18, 7:30 p.m. Tucker Theatre Spring Dance Concert
June 17–19 Alumni Summer College
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More events and details at mtsu.edu/calendar
What class changed the way you think? MTSU Alumni sounded off on Facebook to tell us which classes and professors changed the game for them Wendy P. ‘18
History of Economic Thought Charity S. ‘11 I am a better teacher because of Alyson Smith Bass. She taught us techniques and strategies to help young readers, but she also taught
us to be compassionate educators and to love every
student. She is a gifted teacher and I am so thankful that she passed some of her wisdom on to future educators. The world is a better place because of her influence and her willingness to share her wisdom and passion for education with new teachers. I consider her class the most valuable of my college career.
Jamie D. ‘82
Dr. Ralph Fullerton had a way of asking questions that made
you dig deep inside of yourself
to find the answers . . . I loved his classes and have used his teaching methods throughout my teaching career.
Myra M. ‘83
Can’t pick just one! Dr. June Anderson was my professor for Women’s Studies when she and another fav, Dr. Janette Heritage, developed the MTSU Center for Women. Two fabulous educators and mentors paving the way for women on campus, especially those non-traditional students. I learned so much from their classes about myself and society. I would not be the person I am today without their influence.
Dustin B. ‘17
Science Education with Dr. Padgett Kelly and Teaching Reading in Education with Dr. Tharp! Both were more than professors—they have been mentors of mine since the day I walked into their classrooms! It’s amazing how the
fundamentals taught in their classes can still be seen in my classroom.
Sue S. ‘67
Dr. Bob Womack Philosophy Jacob D. ‘06
Democratic Participation and Civic Advocacy with Dr. Sekou Franklin. He made class fun and entertaining, yet still challenged your ideologies. Chuck T. ‘88
Influence and Persuasion with Dr. Harold Whiteside. This was an eye-opener and made me much more aware of ways we can be influenced all the time. I took this class in the mid-1980s and what I gained from it has been even more important in the Information Age.
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A look back at MTSU’s past from our photo archives—the circus comes to town c. 1974 in Murphy Center
ASK AN EXPERT
Ask an Expert Associate Professor Mary Evins (History) is the coordinator of the American Democracy Project at MTSU and an expert on social and political history and women’s history. What can MTSU alumni do to get more involved with the political process in Tennessee? Vote! Assist others in voting. Advocate that all citizens be aided in registering to vote and in getting to the polls, all across Tennessee. Support state legislation that brings polling places to university campuses, to assist our students in becoming active, practiced, participating citizens while they’re in college so they’ll take with them a commitment to citizenship for the rest of their lives. MTSU alumni represent the best of the best. Our alums are model citizens who leave the University, go out into the world, and contribute to making the world a better place through their own expertise and in their own unique, respective areas of competence. In all they do, they are reflections of the heritage, history, and mission of this University.
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MTSU prides itself on educating for curriculum, careers, and citizenship—the three Cs. When our alumni model being the best in all three arenas, they honor the University’s values and help us help our current students. Our alums are co-educators with us. Through their own active citizenship, they assist us in showcasing what a committed citizen looks like and behaves like. They embody what we hold most dear, and in so doing they advance the ideals of citizenship and voting among our current cohort of students. We ask, please, for all of you to help us advance the next generation of informed, engaged, active citizens. Support the Tennessee legislation that establishes polling places on large university campuses. Help us bring an election site to our campus by letting your legislators know that we want our youngest citizens to engage in voting while in school, which the polling-places-on-campus legislation 100% secures. We need your voice of support!
Required Reading Living in Infamy: Felon Disfranchisement and the History of American Citizenship Pippa Holloway, Professor of History HISTORY
Living in Infamy examines the history of disfranchisement for criminal conviction in the United States. In the post-war South, white Southern politicians expanded the usage of laws disfranchising for crimes of infamy in order to deny African Americans the suffrage rights due them as citizens, employing historical similarities between the legal statuses of slaves and convicts as justification. At the same time, our nation's criminal code changed. As racial barriers to suffrage were challenged and fell, rights remained restricted for persons targeted by such infamy laws; criminal convictions—in place of race— continued the disparity in legal status between whites and African Americans. Decades later, after race-based disfranchisement has officially ended, legislation steeped in a legacy of racial discrimination continues to perpetuate a dichotomy of suffrage and citizenship that still affects our election outcomes today.
Lyric & Blake
Gennett Records and Starr Piano
The Feral Condition
Charlie B. Dahan,
Professor of English POETRY
YOUNG ADULT FICTION
Professor of Recording Industry, and Linda Gennett Irmscher
Lyric & Blake is a young adult novel about two African American female junior high school students who defy gender norms by wearing boys’ clothes and dating girls. The book follows them as they explore personal identity among the judgmental cliques in the student body.
In 1915, the Starr Piano Co., one of the largest piano manufacturers in the United States during the 19th century, opened a recording division, Gennett Records, that led to a dynamic change in the music industry and American culture. Gennett embraced the vastly under-recorded genres of jazz, blues, and country music in the 1920s.
V. Nikki Jones, Assistant Professor of Social Work
In The Feral Condition, Brewer's 10th collection of poetry, the poet engages more deeply than ever before in his work the challenges and rewards of the untamed world. In this uniquely private yet universal series of intersections with the wild, serendipitous moments abound, whether small or grand, sought out, or fatefully offered. These are unforgettable meditations, poems by turns whimsical, harrowing, and delightful.
No. 731 Degraw-street, Brooklyn, or Emily Dickinson's Sister: a play in two acts Claudia Barnett, Professor of English DRAMA
Kate Stoddard murdered Charles Goodrich in 1873—after he told her they weren't really married and had her evicted from his Brooklyn brownstone in a blizzard. Kate's struggles to maintain her sanity and her identity, both before and after she shot her one true love three times in the head, are the subject of this play, which moves backwards and forwards through time and invokes a poetry of madness.
Winter 2020 15
FACULT Y SPOTLIGHT
Associate Professor, School of Agriculture
MTSUâ€™s 2019 Distinguished Research Award Winner
Song Cui is a broadly trained agronomist with expertise in big data algorithms, crop physiology, forage production, simulation modeling, soil and boundary layer flux (CO2, water vapor, and greenhouse gases) measurements, and large-scale agroecosystem studies addressing issues such as water sustainability and climate change. Cui landed a three-year $714,000 grant, the largest ever to MTSU by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), for collaborative research with Texas A&M and Sam Houston State universities to discover novel ways of land management and solve important ecological problems. He earned his Ph.D. in Crop Science from Texas Tech University and a B.S. in Agricultural Science from Lanzhou University (China). You were the project leader on the 2016 USDA grant. Where has that agroecological research project taken you?
Historically, this kind of cross-state, multi-institutional agroecological project would typically take place at land-grant institutions. With the support from the USDAâ€™s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, a group of researchers at MTSU was actually leading the team this 16 MTSU Magazine
time. We have quantified carbon footprint and hydrological dynamics from two major forage pasture ecosystems on the MTSU farm, we have evaluated the possibility of using unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) as a way of estimating forage yield and nutritive value, and several students in the School of Agriculture gained invaluable research experience and eventually went to graduate school. As a researcher, I used the large quantity of carbon flux data collected from this project and derived new methods and data analytical routines for processing carbon flux data, which extends the impacts of the project to the entire agroecological society. How do you see machine-learning technologies and precision agriculture techniques changing the future of agriculture around the world?
Precision agriculture (PA), a farming technology proposed in the early 1980s, utilizes high-resolution, remotesensing techniques to study crop and soil variations and to apply farm inputs at the right place, at the right time, and in the right amounts. Most recently, the PA concept has evolved into digital agriculture, which integrates the use of traditional PA approaches to collect, integrate, and transmit data into cloud-based decision-making
tools that give farmers real-time guidance and feedback on their farming operation. So the key issue is how to bridge the gap between big data collected from various agricultural domains and translate them into decisionmaking processes. Machine learning fits naturally in the groove because it can offer extremely powerful algorithms for classification, which could be used for processes like decision-making or regression, which could be used for estimation or prediction. I see the strong desire from the employer sector for talents with machine-learning skills and good understanding in agriculture. I think forging a strong educational program training a digital agriculture workforce is imperative. How might these technologies be used to fight climate change?
Again, the ability of using data to facilitate fast decisionmaking processes itself can help enhance the overall sustainability of agronomic production. For example, applying the right amount of nitrogen fertilizer at the right place at the right time and manner can help not only cost-saving, but also could minimize losses caused by denitrification and volatilization, both of which can release extremely potent greenhouse gases that cause
photo by Andy Heidt
Song Cui (r) with Agriculture students
global warming. Additionally, using technology and big data analytical algorithms to enhance the efficiency of any farming operation could greatly reduce fossil fuel combustion and directly reduce CO2 emission from a managerial operation perspective. So, the examples could be limitless. What would you like to share with the MTSU alumni community about the direction of University programs and research involving your area of expertise?
Our School of Agriculture program has grown a lot in the past 5â€“10 years. We have new leaders, new faculty members, new facilities, and new majors. I think we are doing an excellent job in terms of offering hands-on learning opportunities for our students. We would like to keep doing it. Meanwhile, as a precision/digital agriculture scientist, I would like to implement a strong educational program which could better train students on modern technology, data science, and research/development skills at the same time. We have established several collaborative opportunities with stakeholders from the private, state, and even the federal sectors; I am confident we will get there eventually.
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Oil on board
Collage: A Journal of Creative Expression is a biannual publication of the Middle Tennessee State University Honors College. Each semester the Collage studentled committee receives entries of creative work, such as art, photography, short stories, essays, short plays, song lyrics, poetry, audio, and video from students and recent alumni. The publication is available at mtsu.edu/collage. 18 MTSU Magazine
Poem for My Former Niece by Amie Whittemore Soon it will hurt less to remember your hair in my hands, softest foxtails. Or your voice as you kicked your feet in the bath. Your five-year-old insights, zinnia-bright. Being your aunt is winning summer, warm rain, and a tap-dancing unicorn. It’s chocolate cake for breakfast and a tea party with panda bears— please, draw that for me. That’s what I would have asked before the divorce. Now, in this new land, I treat you like a unicorn. Sugar cubes in my hand, soft whistle in my throat. There’s no word for “former niece.” I’d rather eat
Loneliness Is a Lie
Gouache painting with string
500 pickles than invent such a term. I hope you laugh about those pickles. Rare egg, trust your shine. Know I tend a bouquet for you.
English Lecturer Amie Whittemore's debut poetry collection, Glass Harvest, focuses on our intimate connection to the natural world and how it shapes us. The book explores the struggle of relationships changing (or ending) and how we come to understand and accept our past. Anyone prone to nostalgia and anyone who celebrates the smallest aspects of our everyday world will love Whittemore's work. This poem was featured in the Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor Feb. 28, 2019.
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PREDICT and PREVENT Mercedes Soria and Knightscope are shaping the future of autonomous security interview and photos by Darby Campbell
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Winter 2020 21
Robots fighting crime may sound like a sci-fi movie, but Knightscope has made it reality. We sat down with MTSU alumna Mercedes Soria (’96, ’98), executive vice president of software engineering and chief intelligence officer of Knightscope, a company that is changing the world for the better. The goal is to cut crime in the U.S. by 50% with its robots and prediction algorithms. Top national business magazine Fast Company named Knightscope as one of the most innovative companies in the country for 2018. Tell us more about Knightscope.
Knightscope is a physical security company. Our goal is to make the United States the safest country in the world. To be able to do this, we use the most up-to-date technologies in robotics, self-driving technology, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. Our motto is, “Software, plus hardware, plus humans.” Our goal is not to replace a security guard, but rather to augment what a security guard can do to keep people safe. Right now, we are deployed at about 20 sites in the United States in four time zones. We are about to go to Puerto Rico and are in talks to expand to Hawaii. We have about 120 machines that we’ve made. Our customers are Fortune 500 companies; the majority of them have security standards that we have to meet to be approved as their security provider, including cybersecurity. 22 MTSU Magazine
We’ve been in business since 2013. We’ve had several crime-fighting wins. We helped stop a sexual predator, helped a company avoid a false insurance claim, and made a previously high-crime parking area safe at night. At a lot of the places where they’ve deployed Knightscope robots, the crime risk has gone down to zero. One hospital in Southern California had doctors and nurses leaving a late shift in a high-crime area. They placed a Knightscope K5, and crime in the parking area literally dropped to zero. How did you get involved with Knightscope?
I came to the U.S. specifically to study Computer Science at MTSU. After I got my bachelor’s and master’s from MTSU, I applied to about 50 companies, interviewed with three of those companies, and got one job offer. With that, I was allowed to stay in the U.S. I started working for Gibson, the company famed for its guitars. I updated Gibson’s
technology systems and brought them online. After that I worked for Deloitte, one of the “Big Four” accounting organizations, doing systems implementations in Atlanta— which is where I met Bill and Stacy [CEO William Santana Li and CCO Stacy Dean Stephens]. They were starting Knightscope, and I came on board as the third member of the team. They were both hardware specialists and figured out that they needed software—that’s when they found me. You’ve won several awards for being a successful woman in the tech industry, including the Silicon Valley Woman of Influence award and an Abie for your efforts toward gender equality in the workplace. What achievements are you most proud of?
This startup! Knightscope, by far. I used to think the thing I was proudest of was my achievement of coming to a country where I did not speak the language. That was super hard. I wouldn’t have made it
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Twin sisters and MTSU grads Gloria (l) and Mercedes Soria
Science as my major. We are still a long way from Asimov’s ideas, but we are closer in little ways.
“Software, plus hardware, plus humans.” if it weren’t for my twin sister, Gloria. There were 20 of us who came on an exchange program with MTSU, and 18 went back to Ecuador after one year. We came with a scholarship, so the first six months were paid for—tuition, room, and food. I didn’t come from money; I came from a modest background. And then our university from Ecuador called and said, “The scholarship ends now. If you stay, you’re on your own.” We were supposed to be here for two years. The whole idea was: We have a degree in Ecuador, and we will validate our degree however necessary here so that we have a degree from the U.S.—which will pretty much qualify you to work anywhere you want in Ecuador. And then they ended our scholarships six months into it. If my sister hadn’t been here, then I wouldn’t have made it. We didn’t have enough money to buy two meal plans at MTSU, so we would buy only one meal plan. For dinner, they had those Subway sandwiches at the cafeteria—we would buy a sandwich and split it in two, and each of us would eat half of a sandwich. That was our dinner for two years. We were each other’s support system. Then we started working in jobs that didn’t
really require much talking because we didn’t speak the language. So we were doing desk assistance midnight to 7 a.m., on the weekends, and holidays, because nobody wanted to be there. In the summer, we would paint dorm rooms. That was when we were eating half a sandwich for dinner and our breakfast was a little box of Fruit Loops. It was super, super hard. But hey, we made it. And we both graduated with honors. And then Knightscope came along. And I thought Middle Tennessee State was hard! The long hours and the studying and the new technology. It was hard, but I think it was all worth it. If we can reach our goal of cutting crime, it was all worth it. It is what drives me to do the work that we do. How did you get interested in computer science?
There’s two types of technology that we use with Knightscope. We use robotics technology, which is what the machine does. And then we use artificial intelligence, which is what we do with the information that we collect from the machine. Really for me, though, it’s all about the technology—the artificial intelligence, machine learning, speech recognition—that’s really what makes me get up in the morning. What led you to become an executive mentor for the U.S. Department of State’s Tech Initiative?
The first time I went into a Computer Science classroom, it was very apparent to me that there were no women there. It was in the back of my head when I was in Ecuador because that isn’t the stuff you talk about there. When I got to MTSU, I started to get letters from different organizations, some of which were titled for women in computer science. That’s when I decided, “OK, something is wrong here. It’s not evenly distributed. Where are all the women?” That’s when I started to pay attention. After I moved to Deloitte, that’s when my eyes really opened to what was possible. They have a lot of programs to help women in technology.
I read Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series and asked myself, “What can I do that is even close to that? What can I do that is at least in the neighborhood of what I’m reading and thinking about?” Computer science was the only thing even close at that point. Then I started to work with computers and took programming classes. So when I went to college, I chose Computer
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So I started participating in one of those and eventually became a mentor for 40–50 women in technology at Deloitte. When I moved to the Silicon Valley area, I met other women in technology and they connected me with the Department of State. I’ve been mentoring women from around the world for the last three years. The thing I really like about this program is that it is meant for women who live in societies where it is not OK for a woman to be in technology. We bring about 130 women from Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African countries here to the U.S. every year. These are women who already have a little bit of technology in their background, and the majority are starting their own companies. So what I and other mentors do is guide them through the process of “OK, I have an idea that I’d like to start, so how do I go out to present that idea? A business plan, what is my pitch? What is my marketing strategy? How do I go into business?” All of this happens in about 6–8 weeks. We work with them one-on-one closely. And then when people go back to their countries, the idea is that they will go on to hire and help other women in their countries. In those countries, women are typically underrepresented in STEM careers.
The change that we can make locally is fulfilling, but the change that we can make nationally or globally—that is even more important. This problem exists in Silicon Valley, too. Companies will proudly announce that they are 18% women. My goal at Knightscope is to get it to 50% women. We’re at about 30%, which is pretty good for robotics and technology, but I still think we have a long way to go. I believe the change that we can make locally is fulfilling, but the change that we can make nationally or globally—that is even more important. If you believe in something, you should implement it at home first and then expand. You’ve got a pretty impressive pedigree—Harvard, Emory, MIT. Did your foundation at MTSU prepare you for these things?
I think so, yes. For me, MTSU was very, very difficult because I didn’t know the language at all when I came to this country. The only way I was able to pass stats was because I would memorize books. I barely knew what the professor talked about in class, and then I would go read all night long and pass the next day. My English was so bad that I would only know there was a quiz because people were putting away their belongings and taking a piece of paper out. “Oh, that must be a quiz!” My advisor at MTSU was awesome. He told me that if you can go one step at a time, you can get very far. He showed me that with my thesis project, on how to connect the main database at MTSU to the web. The first part was trying to do a database, which now is two lines of code, but back then that was a big thing. I was having trouble and my advisor said, “Mercedes, every problem you have, you have to take the smallest thing that you can do and then go on to the next thing that you can do. Don’t try to solve the problem all together. Do it little by 26 MTSU Magazine
little.” And that way we were able to solve my thesis problem. That one simple piece of advice has been with me for the whole of my career. There have been projects, like when I started with Knightscope—it was a huge mountain of technology because robotics was new to me. Little by little, learn one thing every day and eventually you will get there. That’s how I’ve done my career in artificial intelligence. That’s what I learned at MTSU. MTSU has a really special place in my heart. Do you have any advice for those just starting out in the tech industry?
Find a mentor! It’s never too late, especially if you’re a woman in technology. You might not see anyone in leadership that looks like you or speaks like you, but look for them. Find them. It’s the most valuable asset that you might find in your career. There’s plenty of organizations out there that focus on women in technology. That will help you get further along in your career, for sure. There was recently an outpouring of affection for the Mars rover Opportunity. In your experience do people get attached to your robots?
I know! I was one of those that was crying over Oppy! Originally when we would go to a deployment, people would get a little uneasy because there’s always the “It’s watching me all the time” part, right? But it was one little change that made all the difference. One of our clients decided to name the robot and had a naming contest. Once the robot was no longer a robot, but Eddie, then “Eddie’s over there, no big deal. We like Eddie!” As soon as you humanize that robot, there’s no problem. People are like, “Hey, be careful with Eddie! Don’t push it.” Or “Hey, don’t kick Eddie!” We had no idea this was going to happen. We’ve noticed that for the clients who name their robot, it just becomes part of their infrastructure. People take selfies with our robots. One thing we didn’t expect: The machine is white, and then we started seeing lipstick on the robot. These women are kissing the machine! We started to get calls from the customer, “Hey, can you come wipe down the machine?” What is it? “Lipstick!” People have been very accepting. Do you have any particularly fond memories or funny moments from your time at MTSU?
Homecoming! I saw the first Homecoming and thought, “WHAT IS THIS?!” Everybody’s partying, there’s a parade! What is going on?! I didn’t really speak the language very well, so I wasn’t really sure. And then they were like, “Free food?” And I was like, “YES! This is awesome!” Homecoming was good! I never actually made the Homecoming game but I was there for the parade, the food, all the good stuff. It was awesome. There was a really great international students’ office. When we lost our scholarship, we had to go on a different type of visa, and the lady working there walked us through it and held our hand so we could make it through. I have really fond memories of MTSU. MTSU is awesome. MTSU For the full interview: mtsunews.com/PredictAndPrevent
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Mayberry is one of “Us” in new movie thanks to inspired artwork 28 MTSU Magazine
by Gina Fann
While the world was watching Jordan Peele’s newest movie, Us, from behind splayed fingers and popcorn boxes, MTSU Graphic Design major Phillip Mayberry savored the feeling of seeing his own art in one of the film’s trailers. Mayberry, a Union City native who now lives in Nashville, was one of thousands of fans around the world who answered an ongoing challenge—via Chocolate City Comics, Instagram, and Universal Studios—to create artwork inspired by the horror movie. The result is a photorealistic image of Oscar-winning actor Lupita Nyong’o’s dual roles in Us, a split-screen treatment that’s as beautiful and puzzling—and horrifying—as the characters in the film. Mayberry’s creation was one of five pieces featured in a trailer for the Academy Award-winning writer-director’s new film that opened in March nationwide. Mayberry’s girlfriend, who is also his publicist, told the Department of Art and Design student about the opportunity. Over New Year’s weekend, after a three-day fast, inspiration came to him. Four hours later, it was done. “I figured I’d take part in it, not thinking that anything would come out of it,” Mayberry said, “but I put my best creative juices together and came up with what I came up with. “It kinda picked up a little notoriety on Instagram, and Universal reached out to me and talked about being on the marketing campaign.” Next thing he knew, Nyong’o mentioned him and four other artists on her own Instagram feed and linked to a new trailer. “Just the way they edited the video to make it look like the picture that I’d made . . . I was glad to see how they did that,” Mayberry said quietly. Peele even expressed his gratitude to the artists on the movie’s official website before the nationwide premiere. “The fan art response to the Us trailer has been inspiring,” he said. Peele also made use of fan art for his 2017 directorial debut, Get Out, for which he won an Academy Award for best original screenplay. That film also earned him nominations for best picture and best director. “Art is the one tool we have against the true horrors of the world,” Peele said then.
Mayberry creates his art in Photoshop, working—especially over the last four years—to hone his skills with every project. The results all feature his unique perspective on the world. “I do the Art Crawl in Nashville once a month, and people always walk up to my artwork and say ‘Are these pictures, or did you draw this?’” he said with a grin. “I always have to explain that I drew it instead of it being photography. When I tell ’em I do it in Photoshop, they think it’s just me working with a photo, but no, I’m drawing it from the sketch-up, painting and coloring it digitally, the whole thing.” Mayberry, a senior at MTSU, has been drawing “since I was 4 or 5, ever since I was able to pick up a pen, a pencil, a crayon, anything.” “I have to give a big thanks to my grandmother, because she’s been one of my biggest inspirations,” he added. “I remember I had this little homework assignment to draw a log cabin. I was like 5 or 6 and I really didn’t know how to draw, from memory or whatever, and my grandmother said, ‘Look. Watch this,’ and she drew out a log cabin for me. She said, ‘Go off this right here,’ and I used it like a reference to draw my own. She didn’t take it seriously, but she could do it. I’d see doodles, too, on my uncles’ homework, when I was younger, and that would inspire me to do my own thing. My family has been real inspirational to me through the years, whether they knew it or not.” Mayberry says he’ll continue refining his skills and learning new ones. “I’m getting as many eyes as I can on my artwork,” he said. “After school, I’d like to remain in the art field, doing either concept art, animation, and even fashion design—pretty much anything in the design field, because I want to keep growing as an artist and not be boxed in to any one single thing. I just want to leave my mark.” MTSU
Online gallery See more of Phillip Mayberry’s work at instagram.com/ pmayxart or pmayxart.com.
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At MTSU, video games are powering up to go academic article by Allison Gorman and illustrations by Fritz Valentine
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Zan Dainwood, an MTSU Animation major from Smyrna, found some allies to help her bring eSports to MTSU. She’d always wanted to play varsity eSports in college—“I thought it would be cool to represent the school by playing for a team,” she said—but MTSU didn’t even have a club.
Stephanie Dean, Media Arts faculty and eSports advisor
So, encouraged by an English professor, she and fellow League of Legends enthusiast Jonathan Stickler started one. MTSU eSports has become one of the largest clubs on campus, with 300 members on Discord, an online communications platform, and 83 active members. Although it’s a rec-level organization, the club fields multiple teams that compete outside the University framework. They hold annual tryouts; practice regularly; watch games together (the way traditional sports teams watch film); and participate in scrimmages and tournaments with teams from other schools. Dainwood hopes MTSU eSports can become a competitive club like rugby or bowling. Stephanie Dean, an assistant professor in MTSU’s Department of Media Arts, and MTSU eSports faculty advisor, has higher hopes than that. Like traditional sports, eSports foster the “pro-social” approach to problem-solving that employers want. “They’re using the same competitive skills,” she said. “They identify a challenge, find a strategy to overcome it, bring their allies together, and overcome the challenge in what we call an epic win.”
A Case in Point Victoria Horsley, marketing manager for the National Association of Collegiate eSports (gaming’s closest equivalent to the NCAA), says varsity applicants at NACE schools have an average ACT score of 30 and skew heavily toward science, technology, engineering, and math. “These are very objective-based, quick-thinking people, which is where you get the STEM majors for the most part,” she said. “So (their skills are) very applicable to the real world when they graduate.” Harrisburg University doesn’t have traditional varsity sports. More than 90% of its 5,500 students are in postgraduate programs—not a promising pool for fielding a basketball team or even a rowdy fan base.
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But it does have a vibrant eSports club, whose members gather regularly to battle it out on screen. So last year the administration followed their lead and created a varsity eSports program, complete with fully equipped practice space and full-ride scholarships.
“Like every scientist in a disaster movie,” he said, “I took that warning to the president. And I found myself on a rocket with Bruce Willis.” Boise State now has a 60-person varsity team and the largest training facility in collegiate eSports.
Chad Smelz, who directs the program, said the university recruited for it through popular websites like Reddit. About 500 people tried out online for 16 scholarship positions, which eventually grew to 22. The university flew in the 32 finalists to interview them in person.
Meanwhile, Dean thinks she’s found a way to launch varsity eSports at MTSU—by giving the club a home in the Immersive Storytelling Lab, which she co-directs. A joint venture between the College of Media and Entertainment (CME) and the Information Technology Division, the lab helps students and faculty produce immersive experiences for gaming, storytelling, and scientific applications through virtual reality technology.
When people question that investment, Smelz notes that Harrisburg University has been mentioned on ESPN “about 10 times in the past year,” up from its previous streak of zero. “Last week our League of Legends team was ranked fourth in the nation on an ESPN list,” he said. “That’s something that people who don’t understand eSports still understand in general: rankings and ESPN.”
eSports foster the “pro-social” approach to problem-solving that employers want.
Last February, Dean secured verbal agreements from the administration and the CME to fund a varsity program. “We looked up the requirements, and it seems that we can make it happen,” she said. “Our faculty have pledged the money the team needs to join NACE, and the eSports club is ready and excited too.” Once everything’s official, she’ll seek grant funding through the lab to offer eSports scholarships. We’d call that an epic win. MTSU
More important, he says, are the sense of community eSports have brought to an otherwise introverted campus and the caliber of student that elite gaming attracts. “It’s not easy to reach that high a level in a game— to be the top 1% of the top 1% out of, say, a couple million people,” Smelz said. “You have to be pretty smart. You have to understand how to improve and have work habits that allow you to improve. Generally speaking, a lot of that will translate over into education.”
The Future Is Now A game-design researcher since 2002, Dean is part of a community that has long recognized the academic legitimacy of eSports. Academic institutions are finally recognizing it too. When Harrisburg University joined NACE in early 2018, the two-year-old organization had about 50 members, Smelz says. By February 2019, membership had reached 125. Boise State University was part of that first wave, thanks to Chris Haskell, clinical assistant professor of Educational Technology. He had used video games in his classroom for years before suddenly realizing that varsity eSports was taking off—and early adopters would lead the field.
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photo by Darby Campbell
MTSUâ€™s Data Science Institute and a new degree program could help fulfill middle Tennesseeâ€™s demand for data scientists by Allison Gorman
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Once you start thinking of ways autonomous vehicles could change our lives and landscapes, it’s hard to stop. The most-touted benefits— fewer wrecks and less gridlock— are just the beginning. Driverless cars also could make commuters more productive, deliver food to the homebound, and all but eliminate the urban ritual of hunting for a parking spot. The advantages could be endless— if people trust the technology. But if they don’t want to ride in or share the road with driverless cars, the larger conversation is moot. MTSU’s Data Science Institute (DSI) is jumpstarting that conversation on campus with a blue Tesla Model X named Blue Raider Autonomous Driving, nicknamed BRAD. By offering free rides in BRAD and tracking rider data, the institute hopes to learn how this promising but controversial technology can earn mainstream acceptance. Driverless carmakers, like Google subsidiary Waymo, are privately exploring the data too. But DSI Director Charles Apigian, who founded the MTSU institute in 2018, said he wants to bring this kind of research into the public domain. It’s not just about someone’s bottom line. “We’re not tied to Tesla. We’re not tied to Waymo. We’re going to be, hopefully, a trusted source for real passengers,” said Apigian, a professor of Information Systems and Analytics in MTSU’s Jones College of Business. At a time when corporate abuses of “big data” have given it a bad name, Apigian wants to use data for good. The DSI brings in interdisciplinary teams of faculty and students to analyze data for its own research projects, like BRAD, or to help government agencies and nonprofits operate more effectively. At the same time, it’s providing highly marketable experiences in data science, a profession so sought after that supply can’t meet demand.
Driving a Conversation BRAD’s software lets it “learn” continuously; the more it drives, the more autonomous it is. The Data Science Institute acquired the Tesla in the summer of 2018, and it was offering a free shuttle service by February 2019. (No matter how smart BRAD gets, there will always be someone from DSI riding along, Apigian said.) Analyzing data from pre- and post-ride surveys, as well as from video and audio taken inside BRAD, the institute is looking for patterns in rider behaviors and attitudes, patterns that suggest how driverless technology might win public acceptance. Do people need the traditional two rows of seats to feel safe, for example, or would they accept a living room configuration? And even if millennials were sold on driverless technology, would older generations ever get on board? And those are just starting points.
You have to analyze the data to know what you should be asking. “Our real big pie in the sky is we’re interested in the mobility of human beings,” Apigian said. “The truth is: My car could be picking up groceries for me right now if it’s self-driving. And if it doesn’t have to be parked right by the University, how much space does that alleviate? If you look at downtown Nashville, what percentage is parking lots?”
Asking the Right Questions Hytch, a recent Nashville startup, is tackling traffic in a different way: with a ride-sharing app. Through corporate sponsorships, Hytch pays users for every shared mile they log. In 2018, it became the DSI’s first contract client, asking this question: How much should the financial reward be increased to encourage the use of the Hytch app?
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The DSI looked at the data (nothing personal, just trip information like miles and locations) and said: “Wrong question.” “They were convinced that if they gave people a couple of extra pennies per mile, more people would use it— and that makes sense,” Apigian said. “But the truth is, that’s not why people were using it. What we found is when habits were formed, people continued to use it.”
Companies are using data “from the back room to the boardroom” to continuously shape their products and business strategies.
The data showed that three months after their first logged ride, 47% of Hytch users were still using the app, he said. But that number jumped to 86% for users who had logged at least 20 rides—a milestone they typically hit in less than three weeks. So the question became: “How can Hytch users be incentivized to get to 20 rides?” That’s the way data science works, Apigian said. You have to analyze the data to know what you should be asking. “We presented a full report after a month and a half—that was our deliverable,” he said. “And they liked it so much, they hired us again.” Shawn Chapman, chief technical officer for Hytch, credits the DSI “superstar team” for providing “professional-level insights and information” that helped him take Hytch to the next level. “Building a data science team takes time and practice and the right people and experience, but working with MTSU gave me a professional maturity that would have taken me a lot longer to achieve” otherwise, Chapman said. Within months of the report, Hytch had signed agreements to launch in two new major markets.
Using Data for Good With its eco-friendly objective, the Hytch project fit with Apigian’s 38 MTSU Magazine
mission to use data for good. So do projects with local government agencies and nonprofits, both of which serve the public interest with limited means. For example, Apigian has met with the Murfreesboro Police Department to explore how they might use datadriven decisions to improve their processes, be more predictive, and even prevent some corollaries to crime, such as drug overdoses. That will be an ongoing partnership, as will the DSI’s work with Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee. Last January, at MTSU’s fourth annual Hack-MT, Apigian led a team of 25 students who analyzed the food bank’s data and streamlined its warehouse operations. David Tinsley, a former student of Apigian’s and now senior manager of information systems and information technology for Second Harvest, said the nonprofit faces several challenges at once. Its budget is lean, and its food is often highly perishable. Donations, which come from the general public as well as local grocers, can be unpredictable. And distribution is complex and timesensitive: Second Harvest coordinates with multiple organizations—from Nashville-area churches, schools, and community centers to disaster relief agencies across the country— to get food to hungry people as quickly as possible. As a one-man department, Tinsley can’t make the best use of the data he has, so he plans to bring in MTSU students to work on data-driven projects. Through internships, they would gain real-world experience and he would gain a real understanding of where Second Harvest is and where it needs to be. “Data science is a flashlight,” he said. “You can finally see what you’re looking at.”
Data science is a flashlight. You can finally see what you’re looking at. Filling a Need Businesses of all types have reached a similar conclusion. Data science has become critical to virtually every industry, from health and agriculture to journalism and linguistics, Apigian said. That’s why both the Data Science Institute and Apigian’s proposed undergraduate degree in Data Science (see sidebar) are interdisciplinary. They reflect how far the use of data has expanded beyond traditional STEM fields. “I want to create storytellers just as much as I want to create number-crunchers—people who can look at data and be able to convince somebody of something or just be able to tell the truth behind data,” Apigian said. “Employers tell us that’s just as important as understanding algorithms.” Faker Zouaoui, chief analytics officer for mobile tech support company Asurion and winner of the Nashville Technology Council’s 2018 data scientist of the year award, said data analysts serve a very different role today than they did 20 years ago. “They worked on futuristic problems,” Zouaoui said. “They were not seen as people that could help drive growth and innovation in everyday business. But that’s not the case anymore.”
A Highly Marketable Degree Data scientists are in high demand. MTSU’s recently approved new Bachelor of Science in Data Science is the first undergraduate program of its kind in Tennessee. That’s an important distinction, said Professor Charles Apigian, who helped design the curriculum. “The idea of an undergraduate degree is not to make data scientists. It’s to get students extremely excited for technology and data,” he said. “If they want to become data scientists, they can get their graduate degree. But this will give them the foundational skills to get a lot of different jobs.” Because data science lives in every industry, this degree won’t live in any academic college. Created with input from Nashville’s top data scientists, it incorporates computer science, math, information systems, economics, and finance, among other disciplines.
Analytics is now built into a business’s skill set, rather than an outside tool that’s brought in, he said. Companies are using data “from the back room to the boardroom” to continuously shape their products and business strategies.
“I’m amazed by how all the pieces fit together,” Apigian said. “We only added four new classes. Because we already have data science here; we just haven’t brought it all together.”
That’s why data scientists are in demand throughout the country, including in middle Tennessee. In a November 2018 op-ed in The Tennessean, Zouaoui highlighted the need for data scientists in Nashville, a booming city with a fast-growing tech market.
No. 1 “Best Jobs in America” fourth straight year by Glassdoor
“For every data scientist employed in the region,” he wrote, “there’s at least one more open position that employers are actively seeking to fill.” At MTSU, Apigian is building a pipeline to supply that need. MTSU
$108,000 median base annual salary Software development/tech occupation postings:
Rose 23% in 2½-year timeframe At 99% of 2018 volume halfway into 2019 (Source: New MTSU report)
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photos by James Cessna
Introducing the 2019 MTSU Alumni Award Winners
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Distinguished Alumnus by Skip Anderson
Photographer Jeremy Cowart (’99) focuses on philanthropic solutions Internationally acclaimed photographer, activist, and humanitarian Jeremy Cowart has taken exactly one photography class in his life. And it didn’t go well—he scraped by, barely passing. He didn’t sweat it, though. An MTSU Graphic Design student at the time, he figured photography wouldn’t figure into his plans. Nobody knows better than Cowart that sometimes things don’t go as planned. “It wasn’t until I was working as a graphic designer many years later when I wanted to photograph some textures,” he said. “So I just jumped into photography and started doing it.” That was the early 2000s, years before he would look through his lens to see President Barack Obama smiling back at him. Cowart’s portfolio is chock full of gorgeous portraits with an abstract grittiness of people you’d recognize—many of them “A-listers” who shape our American culture, and in some cases, our world. But Cowart is no name-dropper. Surely he’d generate heavy traffic on his website if he tagged the people he’s photographed, including music icon Taylor Swift and the pope. But portraits on his website aren’t labeled; his work speaks for itself. Despite worldwide success, Cowart’s photography career isn’t necessarily the reason that the MTSU Alumni Association named him 2019 Distinguished Alumnus. The Nashville native’s impactful work as an activist and humanitarian arguably made a stronger case for him. Cowart has long been an energetic instigator of humanitarian causes, conceptualizing and launching dozens of initiatives designed to bring relief in the wake of disasters and other forms of economic challenges. His photos capturing human resiliency in the wake of catastrophes, including the 2016 Great Smoky Mountains wildfires, were on exhibit recently at the University’s celebrated Baldwin Photographic Gallery, and Cowart also gave a lecture to launch the show. Other projects are designed to provide sustained relief. In 2008, he established Help-Portrait, which encourages
hairstylists, makeup artists, and photographers to reach out to people in need from their communities, photograph them, and deliver a print free of charge. The annual worldwide event brings attention to the dignity of people experiencing poverty while celebrating the humanity of traversing the economic spectrum. Then, in 2012, Cowart birthed what’s perhaps his most ambitious idea to date: a global, for-profit hotel chain driven by a humanitarian mission. “What if each room had a photo of a child from Compassion International, and every room would sponsor their needs?” Cowart asks at thepurposehotel.com. “What if the walls were covered with humanitarian art by local artists, and the TV only showed documentaries about social change? And what if the blankets were sewn by women in Africa so that they could earn an income, and the soaps came from organizations like [Nashville-based] Thistle Farms, and the wi-fi upgrade fee fought human trafficking. And what if you could purchase anything you loved from the hotel in the lobby’s gift shop to give back even more?” The first Purpose Hotel is slated to open in downtown Nashville in 2023. Cowart remembers one member of MTSU’s faculty in particular as having a guiding hand in his career development: Barry Buxkamper. “Barry was an amazing graphics design teacher,” Cowart said. “We’ve loosely kept in touch over the years.” Buxkamper also served as Cowart’s mentor. “Jeremy worked diligently to find the [career] ‘sweet spot’ that would best allow him to be the creative professional he was meant to be,” Buxkamper said. “I’m extremely happy for and very proud of Jeremy because he ultimately found that sweet spot on his own terms.” Cowart met his wife Shannon at MTSU his sophomore year. They live in the Cool Springs area and have four children ages 7 to 13—two adopted from Haiti. “Adoption was something Shannon and I had talked about since MTSU,” he said. “It’s something we were called to do. It just took us a while to be able to do that.”
Jeremy Cowart is an in-demand public speaker and has authored several books, including I'm Possible: Jumping into Fear and Discovering a Life of Purpose (2019). jeremycowart.com.
Marcus Mariota, Keb' Mo', Hayden Panettiere (l-r) portraits by Jeremy Cowart Winter 2020 43
Young Alumnus This year’s Young Alumni Achievement Award, given to a graduate age 35 or younger making a positive impact in the world, went to Aaron Shew (’11), a Murfreesboro native now working at Arkansas State University, who has spent more than a decade working in international development and agribusiness. At MTSU, Shew studied abroad in Morocco, India, and Turkey; received a grant for undergraduate research at the MTSU farm; and served as vice president of the Plant and Soil Science Club. After graduating summa cum laude with degrees in International Relations and in Global Studies and a minor in Agriculture, Shew worked with a nonprofit organization in Afghanistan and Iraq to establish soybean-milling operations, creating agribusiness opportunities and improvements in regional food security. Shew completed master’s degrees in Geography and Agricultural Economics and ultimately a doctorate in Environmental Dynamics from the University of Arkansas. He has authored more than 10 peerreviewed scientific articles and presented results at more than 20 international conferences. Last January, Shew was appointed the inaugural R.E.L. Wilson Chair of Agricultural Economics at Arkansas State University, where he is launching a new master’s of Agricultural Business focused on training the next generation of agribusiness production and food marketing experts.
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photo by J. Intintoli
Alumni of Distinction For the sixth consecutive year, True Blue Citations of Distinction were awarded in 2019. Categories and honorees were: Achievement in Education (MTSU faculty)—Carroll Van West (’77), who is director of MTSU’s Center for Historic Preservation, the Tennessee state historian since 2013, an MTSU history professor, and the author of numerous books. West’s role at the Center for Historic Preservation, where he has worked since 1985, brings the responsibilities of directing the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area, serving as editor-in-chief of The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, and working as director of the
center’s Teaching with Primary Sources Across Tennessee (a Library of Congress program). West teaches courses at MTSU in historic preservation, American architectural history, American material culture studies, and state and local history. He has directed more than 100 master’s degree theses and 30 doctoral dissertations of MTSU graduate students, who work at universities, agencies, and history organizations nationwide. West’s preservation focus is on properties associated with the Civil Rights Movement, the Civil War, rural areas, marginalized communities, and the Southern music industry. His most recent National Register nominations include RCA Studio A in Nashville, FAME Studio (co-authored) in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and the King Studios (co-authored) in Cincinnati. Winter 2020 45
Achievement in Education (non-MTSU)—G. Edward Hughes (’73) of Union, Kentucky, who retired in 2015 after 42 years as a higher education teacher and administrator in Tennessee, Illinois, Arkansas, New York, and Kentucky. Hughes served as the second president of Hazard Community College and the first president of Hazard Community and Technical College from 1985 to 2001. He was the founding president/CEO of Gateway Community and Technical College during 2001–15. While at Hazard, the college grew from one building and 600 students to a multi-campus institution with more than 5,000 students. Hughes led the regional effort to develop the Challenger
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Learning Center of Kentucky, only one of 42 such worldwide centers located in a rural community. At Gateway, he led the transformation of three former vocational schools into a fully accredited comprehensive community and technical college with three campuses in northern Kentucky. His vision and leadership included the development of the Boone campus and its nationally acclaimed Center for Advanced Manufacturing and the Urban Metro Campus. In retirement, Hughes formed The Hughes Group, focusing initially in the greater Cincinnati region, to help reduce the impact of poverty and to increase the flow of people out of poverty and into self-sufficiency.
Service to Community—Meagan Flippin (’07, ’08) of Murfreesboro, president and CEO of the United Way of Rutherford and Cannon Counties since 2013 and president of Rutherford CABLE. Under her leadership, United Way has experienced record annual giving and the launch of an endowment campaign that exceeded initial goals by 500%. Flippin’s tenure has included the five largest gifts in the area United Way’s history and the launch of initiatives such as the Young Leaders Society, Catalyst, Mental Health Action Initiative, Legacy Society, Volunteer Connect, and the Afterschool Network, among others. She is the immediate past president for both the Junior League of Murfreesboro and MTSU’s Blue Raider Athletic Association (BRAA). Flippin is also active within the Murfreesboro Noon Rotary, Charity Circle of Murfreesboro, and Murfreesboro Young Professionals, where she is a past president. She is on the United Way’s state association board of directors as resource development chair and sits on the Saint Thomas Health mission committee. She is a graduate of Leadership Rutherford, Leadership Middle Tennessee, and the Transit Citizen’s Leadership Academy. Flippin serves on the Alpha Delta Pi Foundation Philanthropy Committee and has earned the Certified Fundraising Executive credential. She also has received the Center for the Arts’ Change It! award, BRAA’s Most Valuable Person award, and Junior League of Murfreesboro’s Most Outstanding Member award.
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article by Drew Ruble and photos by Andrew Oppmann
MTSU Board of Trustees vice chair Darrell Freeman lives out his purpose through the University’s ongoing humanitarian efforts
As a recent commencement speaker, MTSU Board of Trustees vice chair Darrell S. Freeman Sr. (’87, ’90) urged his audience of newly minted degree-holders to “take over the world.” “But when you do go take over the world, do it with compassion,” Freeman added. “Because the world needs more compassion . . . and do it with the sole purpose of helping people who are less fortunate than you are. “If you do these things, you will have represented MTSU very well.” Freeman has proven those are words he lives by, evidenced by his philanthropic response after hurricanes ravaged Puerto Rico and the Bahamas in recent years.
A True Blue Mission Raider Relief, a humanitarian drive revived by MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee when Hurricane Dorian devastated the Bahamas in 2019, flew—in multiple trips piloted by Freeman in his private plane—more than 10,000 pounds of emergency supplies, medicines, and necessities to help people who were affected. Families of seven MTSU students were among those enduring the storm’s aftermath. Freeman, McPhee, and Terry Dorris, a pilot and Aerospace associate professor, flew to the Bahamas on three separate days last September. Freeman donated use of his personal aircraft and fuel, while Dorris’ flight expenses aboard MTSU’s aircraft came from the tens of thousands of dollars in donations from community members. Those cash contributions also covered costs of the goods for the families and were further distributed to assist the affected Bahamian students at MTSU as their families tried to recover.
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Tiara Ashley Brown, president of MTSU’s Bahamian Student Organization, helps unload a plane full of supplies.
MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee (second from left) consults with Bahamian officials after arriving in the island commonwealth with a Raider Relief delegation.
Dorian, a Category 5 hurricane, hit and lingered over the island commonwealth Sept. 1, killing many and leaving 70,000 homeless. McPhee, a native of the Bahamas, lost a grand-niece after the hurricane made landfall on Grand Bahama Island.
An Entrepreneurial Success
The hurricane hit home for some MTSU students as well. In all, MTSU has 51 students enrolled from the Bahamas, including those with families in the most devastated areas of Grand Bahama and Abaco islands. Tiara Ashley Brown, president of MTSU’s Bahamian Student Organization, accompanied McPhee, Freeman, and Chip Crunk, R.J. Young Co. CEO, on the third mission to the Bahamas. The contingent also delivered donations gathered by Brown’s student group. When MTSU student-run news source Sidelines asked what one thing McPhee wished to explain to students, he responded that this situation could happen to anyone. “I think it would be having compassion and empathy. . . —not sympathy, but empathy—and realizing that a natural disaster can happen anywhere at any time, and if they are ever in a position to help their fellow student, that they need to do it at whatever level they can,” McPhee said. “And then certainly appreciating the goodness of people.” Freeman said he was honored and humbled by the opportunity to donate his services and his aircraft to the relief missions. “If you own a plane,” he said, “I can’t think of a better way as to how you should use it.” Freeman also piloted his plane for the first Raider Relief mission to Puerto Rico in 2017 to aid the family of former Blue Raiders basketball player Raymond Cintron after Category 4 Hurricane Maria.
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Freeman’s message to graduates to show compassion is clearly exemplified in his actions in the wake of these natural disasters. But so too is Freeman’s message to “take over the world” using their education earned at MTSU. Freeman deftly wielded his own MTSU education to become one of the most successful business people in Nashville. That success is at the heart of his philanthropy. After graduating with an engineering tech degree, Freeman was a systems engineer with Stingray Computer Services. He also was an adjunct professor at MTSU during 1988–90 and earned a master’s degree. In 1991, Freeman launched Zycron Computer Services with a few thousand dollars in savings, his personal credit cards, and an office he describes as the size of a closet. One of Nashville’s earliest technology sector success stories, Zycron grew into a company with $38 million revenue, 300-plus employees, and clients ranging from hospital giant HCA to the Tennessee Valley Authority. About a quarter-century later, Freeman sold what had grown to be one of Nashville’s largest information technology consulting firms for more than $20 million. “You can start with nothing and build value,” Freeman told The Tennessean. “This is the typical American dream.” Freeman remained Zycron executive chair and later colaunched Pinnacle Construction Partners and Franklinbased Reliant Bank (among other business pursuits and board service). He also became the first two-term chair of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce and recently was named laureate of the 2019 Junior Achievement Nashville Business Hall of Fame, an annual event recognizing Nashville’s outstanding contributors to business and philanthropy.
Freeman was recently inducted into the Junior Achievement Nashville Business Hall of Fame
Devastation is shown in Freeport, Bahamas, in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian.
Freeman was appointed an inaugural member of his alma mater’s Board of Trustees in 2016 by then-Gov. Bill Haslam and continues to serve as vice chair. It’s an impressive résumé of accomplishments for a first-generation college student who moved from Chattanooga to MTSU with literally nothing.
Flying High In 2000, Freeman earned his private pilot certification. His philanthropic flights reveal he’s been using it for good ever since. Freeman’s most recent community-minded venture is his creation of Cockpit Conversations, a YouTube channel where Freeman takes flight with various Nashville business titans to discuss important topics like entrepreneurialism and making an impact on communities. Recent guests in the cockpit included Nashville Business Journal president/publisher Kate Herman, Deloitte global chief information officer Larry Quinlan, and Slim and Husky pizza beeria co-founder Derick Moore (cockpit-conversations.com). Take over the world. Do it with compassion. Do it with the purpose of helping people less fortunate than you. If you do these things, you will have represented MTSU very well. Whether through Raider Relief, board service, or his myriad other ventures, Freeman has certainly represented MTSU in ways his fellow alums can cheer— and perhaps contribute. MTSU
How to help Community members can still give to the effort by texting RAIDERRELIEF—all one word—to 41444 from your mobile device. You also can go to mtsu. edu/supportraiderrelief for info on how to give.
In partnership with Delta Air Lines, Junior Achievement (JA) inducted MTSU alumnus Darrell Freeman, vice chair of the University’s Board of Trustees, as the 2019 JA Nashville Business Hall of Fame Laureate. JA is a nonprofit organization that offers business experiential learning for young people. Freeman said he was humbled by the award and thanked supporters at the Oct. 23 ceremony, as well as his wife, Gloria, and children, Ebony, Kenya, and Darrell Jr. He said he has come a long way from his roots in Chattanooga, a journey that “has been long and sometimes hard. “I grew up in a place where people said the American dream did not visit very often, that the American dream wasn’t there,” Freeman said. “I was the first person in my family to go to college, and neither of my parents graduated from high school.” His dad, Howard, worked for 38 years in a foundry, while his mom, Jimmie Lou, worked odd jobs including as a maid, he noted. “No one gets to any place without help. I’ve had plenty of help, and I’ve needed it,” Freeman added. “There are millions of Darrell Freemans all across America. They just haven’t in some cases been connected to their own dreammaker, and JA is about connecting young people to their dreammakers. So this award tonight is about the dreammakers in my life, and it’s an honor to receive and accept it on their behalf.” Winter 2020 51
A look at recent awards, events, and accomplishments at MTSU compiled by Gina E. Fann, Jimmy Hart, Gina K. Logue, Drew Ruble, and Randy Weiler
From MTSU to the Nobel Prize MTSU’s Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) hosted an academic conference in October to celebrate the centennial birthday of the late alumnus James Buchanan (’40), who received the 1986 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his leadership in developing the public choice theory of economics. Buchanan died in 2013 at age 93. Peter J. Boettke of George Mason University’s Mercatus Center delivered a public lecture on “The Continuing Relevance of F.A. Hayek.” Jay Cost of the American Enterprise Institute and a columnist at National Review Online, discussed the U.S. Constitution during his presentation. PERI, led by Director Daniel Smith, an MTSU associate professor of Economics, was established with initial seed money from the Charles Koch Foundation in late 2016 as a joint venture between the Jennings A. Jones College of Business and the University Honors College. The mission of the institute is to engage students with faculty in research that will further the understanding of business and economic principles, as well as their impact on regional, national, and international financial conditions and the wellbeing of society. The papers presented at the conference are under consideration for a special issue of the prestigious academic journal Public Choice. MTSU’s hope is that events such as this, along with PERI’s fellowship and faculty support, will solidify MTSU’s Ph.D. in Economics program as a premiere place for studying public choice. The theory applies economic reasoning to the public’s understanding of political outcomes and the political institutions that influence those outcomes. Buchanan’s gift to the University Honors College at MTSU supports the prestigious Buchanan Fellowship program, MTSU’s top scholarship awarded to 20 freshman scholars each year.
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Model University MTSU will present its program to help homeless students to other colleges and universities in Tennessee in an effort to serve this underserved student population. A new state law requires each state-funded postsecondary educational institution to designate a liaison to homeless students and to develop a program to provide them access to housing. MTSU’s program, which has been in effect since 2008, was chosen to serve as the model. The bill was sponsored in the Tennessee legislature by state Rep. Carson W. “Bill” Beck and state Sen. Jeff Yarbro, both of Nashville. Becca Seul, associate director of MTSU’s MT One Stop, and Danielle Rochelle, coordinator of outreach and support programs for MT One Stop, testified in support of the bill during the committee stage.
A Lending Hand In an effort to help with the rising cost of textbooks, Walker Library developed a textbook affordability program that began in the Fall 2019 semester. The library identified and purchased a few copies of each textbook assigned for high-enrollment general education classes (over 500 students). The textbooks are on reserve and available for three-hour, in-library use checkout.
Partners with Patriots The second MTSU Veteran Impact Celebration at The Grove at Williamson Place last June raised more than $150,000 for the Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center on the MTSU campus. A way to say thank you to local businesses and community supporters, the celebration featured Charlie Daniels, a Country Music Hall of Fame member, and retired Army Lt. Gen. Keith M. Huber, MTSU’s senior advisor. Daniels’ foundation, The Journey Home Project, contributed $100,000 for the second consecutive year to the center, the most comprehensive veterans center on any Tennessee campus and one of the largest in the nation. Jimmy Hiller, founder and CEO of title sponsor Hiller Plumbing, Heating, Cooling, and Electrical, said 150 of his company’s 630 full-time employees are veterans. Some other key sponsors included Censis Technologies Inc., The Journey Home Project, and Dollar General. Later in the year, Huber and MTSU’s center were honored at an October Opry appearance by Daniels in Nashville.
Positive Signs The Fall 2019 entering freshman class was the largest that MTSU has enjoyed since 2011, setting new records for ACT scores and high school grade point averages. New freshmen were up 14.51%, totaling 3,259. Other enrollment highlights: Total new undergraduates rose 9.9%; new transfers increased 4.12% over last year; the ACT average for the Fall 2019 freshman class was 23.34, surpassing last year’s record-setting freshman ACT average of 22.87; the average high school GPA for the entering freshman class was 3.54, exceeding last year’s average 3.49; total transfer students enrolled (10,474) now represent 53.82% of the total undergraduate population; and this year’s class of dual enrollment students (1,221) is the largest in MTSU’s history.
Shrinking the Globe
About 40 visiting Chinese middle school students from Hangzhou Normal University’s Dongcheng Education Group participated last summer in a visit to MTSU, the eighth cultural exchange in a series of reciprocal visits between the institutions. “It’s wonderful to see youth from our two countries here together, smiling, having fun and playing games,” MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee said. “Events like these help make our world smaller and our hearts bigger.” Dongcheng is an affiliate of Hangzhou Normal University, MTSU’s partner in the creation and operation of the Confucius Institute on the MTSU campus. Dongcheng oversees a network of magnet-style schools in Hangzhou, China. It is the fourth time MTSU has hosted a Dongcheng delegation, which visited previously in 2013, 2015, and 2017. Students, parents, and teachers from Rutherford County schools were hosted by Dongcheng in China in 2012, 2014, 2016, and 2018.
MTSU’s world-renowned Department of Aerospace set up base at EAA AirVenture, a massive weeklong celebration of aviation attracting more than 500,000 visitors from 80 countries. Celebrating its 50th year in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, AirVenture is the annual convention and fly-in for the 200,000-plus member Experimental Aircraft Association. The event is billed by EAA as the “world’s greatest aviation celebration.” A team of about 10 MTSU students, recent graduates, and flight instructors planted True Blue flags and a giant tent with the Aerospace logo in a corner of the AirVenture grounds. Established in 1942, the MTSU Department of Aerospace is a signature department at the University and has grown into one of the most respected aerospace programs in the nation.
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Blue Zoo MTSU students filled sections of Floyd Stadium this football season and Murphy Center this basketball season as the Blue Zoo, a revived booster group, brought more pep into Blue Raider Athletics. Thanks to a strategy of targeting incoming freshmen and transfers in its first wave of memberships, the group is poised to become the largest registered student organization on campus. After the relaunch in May, organizers targeted freshmen at CUSTOMS orientation sessions last summer, registering more than 1,000 from the 2019–20 incoming class.
Community Hallmark Known locally as “Bridge Over Broad” since its construction, Murfreesboro’s $22.8 million urban interchange took on a distinctly MTSU flavor when it officially became Blue Raider Bridge during a dedication ceremony last September. Rutherford County Mayor Bill Ketron, an MTSU alumnus, pushed to name the bridge to honor MTSU due to the University’s community impact and because the bridge was one of the gateways to reach the campus.
In the Mix Again MTSU graduates are making noise in the music industry once again as the annual awards season began to gear up with nomination announcements. The 53rd annual Country Music Association Awards nominations included two alumni on the official list, and five more celebrated as part of CMA Award-nominated projects. Multi-Grammy and CMA winner F. Reid Shippen (’94, Recording Industry) was back in the nominee’s seat for mixing Dierks Bentley’s single of the year collaboration with the Brothers Osborne, “Burning Man.” Rob Williford (’16, Music Business) earned a song of the year nod for co-writing Luke Combs’ “Beautiful Crazy.” The MTSU contingent also included some repeat honorees who faced friendly competition in the CMA’s album of the year category: Clarke Schleicher, who engineered Dan + Shay’s self-titled album nominee; Luke Laird, who co-wrote “Things You Do for Love” on Thomas Rhett’s Center Point Road nominee; Dave Barnes, who co-wrote “Kingdom” on Carrie Underwood’s Cry Pretty album; and Jason A. Hall and Jimmy Mansfield, who engineered Eric Church’s Desperate Man project. 54 MTSU Magazine
Distinguished Professor Former state Rep. Beth Harwell (center), the first female speaker of Tennessee’s House of Representatives, was formally introduced as a Distinguished Visiting Professor in Political Science in September. Harwell, who holds a doctorate in Social Science Education, also will contribute to other programs such as working with the MTSU chapter of the American Democracy Project and the Free Speech Center to help extend and refine dialogue and discourse in politics; mentoring student interns traveling to Nashville for the General Assembly’s upcoming session; advising MTSU’s delegation to the Tennessee Intercollegiate State Legislature; and working with the School of Journalism and Strategic Media class that focuses on coverage of the state legislature.
Piloting Change The global demand for professional pilots helped propel a partnership between MTSU and Moi University of Kenya. President Sidney A. McPhee and Isaac Kosgey, Moi’s chief executive officer, signed a five-year pact that will allow their respective aerospace faculty to collaborate on teaching, research, and student exchanges. Moi University in Eldoret, near Kenya’s capital of Nairobi, boasts an enrollment of about 52,000. Moi’s aerospace school, established in 2009, has about 210 students and three training aircraft. Delta Air Lines, for example, projects it will lose 8,000 of its current pilots over the next 10 years because of retirements, while trends suggest that air passenger numbers could double to 8.2 billion by 2037.
A Crown JEWL After 20 years of providing resources for students to take out, MTSU’s James E. Walker Library is offering the community a chance to give back. In celebration of its 20th anniversary, the library is launching its “20 for 20” campaign to raise funds to continue current services and launch some new ones. Visited by 25,000 people each week, Walker Library provides a vast array of services, including reference, circulation, digital collections, open-access publishing, library instruction, and access to special collections of rare and old books. The library’s 20-year celebration began with the Fall 2019 semester, and special events in the work include a fundraising event this March. The building opened in 1999.
Sports Industry A new concentration and minor within MTSU’s College of Media and Entertainment will help fill the increasing need for sports media professionals throughout the country. The Sports Media program in the School of Journalism and Strategic Media started in the Fall 2019 semester, a part of a growing trend in higher education of formalized curricula for sports media. The goal is to make MTSU a destination institution for those who want to pursue careers in sports media. Using a hands-on approach through the University’s dedicated student media, students will have classes and experiences to help them launch careers in sports reporting, broadcasting, public relations, or sports information after graduation.
Closing the Gap MTSU and Meharry Medical College solidified an innovative academic partnership to address the state’s shortage of rural doctors by formally recognizing the inaugural class of students accepted into the Medical School Early Acceptance Program. In October, Gov. Bill Lee (center), MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee (l), and Meharry President James E.K. Hildreth (r) presented certificates to six MTSU freshmen who will attend MTSU for three years of pre-med studies, followed by four years of medical school at Meharry. The students, who are receiving tuition aid from the state, are then required to do a two-year residency in a rural part of Tennessee. Winter 2020 55
Diane Turnham is chair of the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Comittee.
In a long career of championing for women’s intercollegiate athletics, little has meant more to MTSU’s Diane Turnham than her recent election as NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Committee chair. Turnham, the Blue Raiders’ senior associate athletics director and senior women’s administrator, will serve as the voice of the committee that promotes the growth of women’s basketball and chooses the teams for the NCAA championship tournament. “I’ve been a member of the committee for four years, and to be selected by my peers to be the leader of this group for my fifth and final year is an incredible honor,” she said. Anyone who’s around to listen will quickly learn Turnham’s passion for women’s
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athletics. In her 37th year with MTSU, she oversees all of the Blue Raiders’ women’s sports and is the deputy Title IX coordinator for the department. She also serves as administrator for women’s basketball and volleyball, in addition to other duties. Turnham was previously on the NCAA Division I Women's Soccer Committee during 2004–08 and joined the NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Committee in 2009–12. The national attention on Turnham also inherently shines a light on MTSU, something she's proud of. “I hope it brings some recognition to the University, because I think we’re a great example of people working really hard to be successful.”
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True Blue Board
MTSU alumnus Stephen B. Smith (’11) was unanimously reelected to a second two-year term in September as chair of the institution’s Board of Trustees. Smith, who has held the top trustee role since the board was created in 2017, is board chair for Haury and Smith Contractors. MTSU’s board also re-elected another alumnus, Darrell Freeman (’87), former executive chair of Zycron Inc. and co-founder/chair of Pinnacle Construction Partners, to a second two-year term as vice chair.
Those attending a recent craft beer forum at MTSU returned home feeling positive about future prospects in their growing industries. More than 60 representatives from across the state attended the inaugural session of the Tennessee Craft Beer and Spirit Distilleries International Sales Opportunities Forum in the Miller Education Center. The forum was for exporters looking to expand their markets. MTSU’s Fermentation Science program, in its third year, is the first degree of its type in Tennessee.
Teaching the Teachers
From Combat to Campus
MTSU entered a first-of-its-kind partnership focused on bringing research-supported innovations to how the University prepares students to become K–12 teachers. MTSU and the nonprofit State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) signed a three-year renewable agreement to develop an innovative strategy for the MTSU College of Education to continue to ensure graduates receive excellent teacher preparation. Former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist, SCORE founder and chair, applauded the partnership’s potential and MTSU’s commitment to “ongoing improvement” in teacher instruction.
The higher-ed insights firm, College Factual, ranks MTSU’s liberal arts offerings among the top 50 U.S. universities in meeting the academic needs of student veterans. In the 2019 Best Liberal Arts General Studies Programs for Veterans, the website rated MTSU No. 41 out of 355 for veteran friendliness of all colleges and universities reviewed. This puts MTSU in the top 15% of all schools in the nation and No. 1 out of the eight colleges and universities reviewed in Tennessee. mtsunews.com/vet-friendly-liberal-arts-ranking
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1970s Terry Denniston (’71), Cleveland, was named one of the 2018 Chattanooga Women of Distinction. David Bow (’72, ’75, ’77), Greeneville, was honored with the Bell Lifetime Achievement Award from Tennessee Technological University’s College of Education, Department of Exercise Science, Physical Education, and Wellness. Steven Harbison (’79), Greeneville, serves as vice president of Jones Media Inc. and boasts more than 30 years’ experience working in the newspaper business in east Tennessee.
1980s Mike Organ (’85), Nashville, was inducted into the Tennessee Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame as a member of its 2019 class. Organ has worked for the past 33 years at The Tennessean. Jo Ellen McDowell (’87), Franklin, was named director of the Heritage Ball and corporate relations with the Heritage Foundation of Williamson County. She was formally vice president of the County Music Hall of Fame.
Chris Young A new live entertainment venue on the MTSU campus is named the Chris Young Café to honor Young (nondegreed alum), a multiplatinum Nashville entertainer, for the continued support of his alma mater. The café, located in the standalone former Cyber Café/Woodmore dining building and surrounded by residence halls, will be a teaching and practice place for student performers and technicians during the day and a performance venue at night for music, radio broadcasts, comedy, and other entertainment. Young, who attended MTSU in 2005, has an impressive list of accomplishments, including membership in the Grand Ole Opry, 11 career No. 1 singles, and two Grammy nominations. Most recently, Young served as a commencement speaker at one of MTSU’s December 2019 graduation ceremonies.
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Odie Blackmon Blackmon (’95), coordinator of MTSU’s Commercial Songwriting program, is helping current and future colleagues put a little more cash in their pockets as a member of the new U.S. Copyright Office music licensing committee. The group, part of implementing last year’s Music Modernization Act, is working to ensure that songwriters receive proper royalties for digital plays of their music. The Grammynominated songwriter’s work includes Lee Ann Womack’s 2005 CMA Song of the Year “I May Hate Myself in the Morning,” George Strait’s “She’ll Leave You with a Smile,” and Gary Allan’s “Nothing On But the Radio.”
1990s Kristy Ahlgrim (’94), Murfreesboro, is the new director of nursing at Saint Thomas Rutherford Hospital, where she has been a registered nurse since 1994. David Liles (’95), Nashville, joined the estate administration team of Cumberland Trust as trust administrator. He previously served the Metro Nashville Police Department for nearly 30 years as an officer, sergeant, legal instructor, and liaison to the District Attorney’s Office. Todd Shelton (’95), Indianapolis, was promoted to chief communication officer of the North American Interfraternity Conference (NIC), advancing the brand of fraternity, further
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developing industry-wide response protocols and resources, and directing the communication strategy for the NIC and Foundation for Fraternal Excellence. Allison Johnson Fouche (’96), Memphis, was honored as the National Association of Government Communications Communicator of the Year. She is deputy chief communications officer for the city of Memphis. Brent Hales (’96), Hastings, Minnesota, former senior associate dean and chief financial officer of the University of Minnesota Extension, was named director of Penn State Extension and associate dean in the College of Agriculture Sciences.
Tom Boyd Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee appointed Boyd (’73) to a six-year term on the MTSU Board of Trustees. Boyd, an investment advisor representative with Decker Wealth Management in Nashville, boasts more than four decades of experience in financial management and banking, including as a senior vice president at Bank of America. Boyd has served on the MTSU Foundation Board and the Jennings A. Jones College of Business Professional Advisory Board. He and his wife, Martha (’72, ’73), were previously awarded the MTSU Alumni Association’s True Blue Citation of Distinction in the category of Service to the University.
J. Steven Barnes (’98), Chapel Hill, North Carolina, was hired as associate vice president for development and alumni affairs for Duke Health in Durham, North Carolina. Barnes previously served in a similar role at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Keith Hall (’98), Buena Park, California, was appointed as vice president and chief diversity officer at Azusa Pacific University.
2000s Nic Dugger (’00), Nashville, was elected president of the Midsouth Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Jason Melton (’00), Murfreesboro, joined First Bank as a vice president
and relationship manager at the Murfreesboro branch on Memorial Boulevard. Amelia Miller (’00), Bell Buckle, was promoted to managing attorney in the Murfreesboro office of the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands. Ginette R. Brown (’01), Nolensville, joined the law firm of Bass, Berry & Sims as an attorney. Jessica Hagler (’02, ’03), Nashville, was appointed as vice president and chief financial officer at J. Alexander’s Holding Inc. Bart Baker (’03), Murfreesboro, is the new public information officer for Wilson County Schools after spending nearly three years at WRKN News 2.
Michael N. Novak (’03, ’06), Murfreesboro, received his Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership Policy Analysis with a focus in higher education from East Tennessee State University. He is currently director of the Confucius Institute and interim associate vice provost of international affairs at MTSU. Stacy Blythe (’05), Nashville, was promoted to vice president of promotion at Big Loud Records. In her previous role as Big Loud Records’ national director of promotion, Blythe oversaw campaigns for country artists including Jake Owen. Joseph Crumby (’05), Nashville, was named dean of students at Father Ryan High School. He previously served as assistant principal at LaVergne High School. Marshall Gillikin (’06), Murfreesboro, joined First National Bank of Manchester as a financial services specialist at the Mercury Boulevard branch in Murfreesboro. Jessica Yelverton Novak (’06, ’16), Murfreesboro, received her Doctor of Education in Learning Organizations and Strategic Change from Lipscomb University. She is currently employed with Murfreesboro City Schools as an English as a Second Language educator.
Chris Nelson Nelson (’99) was promoted to vice president of technology operations at NPR. He joined NPR as an audio engineer in 2000 and has since held roles that include technical director for NPR’s live and recorded music broadcasts and oversight of technical operations for multiple seasons of election coverage. Since 2016, Nelson has been overseeing the work of the audio engineering and NewsFlex teams. Outside of his work at NPR, he has produced documentaries for public radio and the National Hockey League. Nelson also served as an audio specialist for the United Nations’ International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, based in Tanzania.
Nate Hertweck Hertweck (’04) moved to Los Angeles right after graduation and has worked for the Recording Academy/Grammys for 11 years now. Last year, he became senior editor of grammy.com, where he writes and edits for the website, mostly interviews and news articles, as well as hosts a podcast, records voiceovers for smart speaker programs, and covers the organization’s advocacy, membership, and charity efforts.
Richard Hoehn Inc. magazine recently ranked FreightWise, a logistics startup Hoehn (’05) co-founded, as the second-fastest growing company in America, experiencing 30,548% revenue growth in the past three years. Hoehn, who is also an adjunct professor of Engineering Technology at MTSU, attributes a lot of his success to his MTSU education and continued interactions with the University. The company recently hired three MTSU graduates and plans on bringing on more. “It’s important to me that MTSU shares in this success,” Hoehn said. Brentwood-based FreightWise helps freight companies track the progress of invoices through the freight pay and audit process.
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Sara R. Ellis (’07), Knoxville, joined the litigation team as an associate attorney at Miller Legal Partners PLLC. Amber Hurdle (’07), Lebanon, was named the Nashville Emerging Leaders Award winner in the business services category. Hurdle also was recently recognized as a “40 Under 40” award winner by the Nashville Business Journal. Amber Hurdle Consulting clients include FedEx Ground, Marriott Hotels, and Mars Inc.
Brandon Curry In 2019, Curry (’06) won the Mr. Olympia title—the signature international bodybuilding event. At 5-foot-8 and 260 pounds, the Nashville-based personal trainer and former MTSU football player said he first became interested in weight training when he received a pair of Hulk Hogan-branded dumbbells for his sixth birthday.
Benny Cunningham Cunningham (’19) completed his MTSU degree after six seasons as an NFL running back. He credited Blue Raiders football coach Rick Stockstill with developing in him the work ethic and competitive nature not only needed to survive as a professional athlete, but also to persist with his studies online until he achieved his goal of earning a degree. The Nashville native had 797 yards rushing (4.2-yard average), 1,001 yards receiving, 2,985 yards as a kickoff returner, seven total touchdowns, and 31 special teams tackles during his career with the St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams and Chicago Bears. Cunningham signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars before suffering a hamstring injury in training camp last year.
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Meghen Sanders (’07,’08), Nashville, was appointed as principal of Centennial High School in Williamson County. Orion Darley (’09), Houston, earned his second Master of Science and post-graduate degree from Northwestern University in Data Science. He is currently a data science consultant for Accenture’s Houston Innovation Hub while completing a graduate program in Artificial Intelligence at Stanford University. John Wheeler Sr. (’09), Hermitage, was promoted to lieutenant with the Metro Nashville Police Department.
2010s Brad Ferguson (’10), Columbia, Missouri, joined the University of Missouri as an assistant professor for Health Psychology,
Katie Crytzer Crytzer (’06) served in an influential role in the decisionmaking of President Donald J. Trump’s administration well before her 40th birthday. Crytzer was acting deputy assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Policy, assisting Trump in filling judgeships across the country. This included helping shepherd Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh through a tumultuous, but successful, Senate confirmation hearing—a cultural and political flashpoint that became “must-see TV” around the world. “I was in the room with President Trump [for the first time] after Kavanaugh’s confirmation, which my office worked on,” Crytzer said. “It’s thrilling, humbling, and an honor to be doing the work each of us are doing every day.”
Radiology, and the MU Thompson Center for Autism. Dylan McDaniel (’10), Murfreesboro, joined McHugh Construction as a project engineer. He previously spent more than three years in the United States Navy, serving as an engineering aide, where he specialized in topographic surveying techniques. Jaclyn Aderholt Moore (’11), Auburntown, was promoted to senior talent acquisition business partner at Korn Ferry executive search firm.
Brent Oakley (’11), Thompson’s Station, was named executive director of elementary schools for Williamson County. Sara Beth Urban (’11, ’13), Nashville, was appointed as executive director of the Tennessee Distillers Guild. She previously worked with the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development for three years. Catherine Poole (’12), Franklin, was promoted to sergeant with the Metro Nashville Police Department.
Donnan Jamin Keith (‘13), Murfreesboro, completed a Doctor of Philosophy in Organic Chemistry at Vanderbilt University. Keith will continue his work at the Scripps Labs in La Jolla, California, as a post-doctoral researcher with one of the world’s top chemists, Dale Boger. Kody Howard (’14), Dyersburg, was named head basketball coach at Chester County High School. Alvin Jensen (’14), Ashland City, was promoted
Amanda Haggard Haggard (’12), associate editor of the Nashville Scene since 2015, was named managing editor of the Home Page Media Group of FW Publishing in 2019. While a student, Haggard served as editor of MTSU’s student newspaper, Sidelines. She also previously was assistant editor of The Contributor, the weekly street newspaper in Nashville, and worked for the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro and at the Gannett Nashville Design Studio. Home Page Media Group publishes the Brentwood, Bellevue, Franklin, Spring Hill, and Style Home Page and Business Williamson online media sites.
to the consumer lender position at Community Bank and Trust. John Harwill (’15), Old Hickory, is the new marching arts artist relations manager of KHS America Inc., a distributor of Jupiter, Mapex, and Majestic instruments. In this role, he will be dedicated to marching ensembles in percussion, drum corps, university bands, and more.
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Winter 2020 63
BABY R AIDERS
01 Mason Romelo Harper born June 5, 2018
to Sean Harper Jr. and Monica Dukes (’18) of Memphis
02 Lorelei Noëlle Curtis-Murphy born Dec. 13, 2018 01
to Alexander (’13, ‘16) and Cathleen Curtis Murphy (’14) of Murfreesboro
03 Arabella Grace Davis born Dec. 21, 2018
to Briton and Kara Day Davis (’07) of Carthage
04 Collins Grace McClung born Feb. 21, 2019 03
to Joey (’13) and Shelby Martinez McClung (’16) of Springfield
05 Neely Parker Peters born March 15, 2019
to Ryan and Megan Parker Peters (’05) of Nashville
06 Kadari Ali Franklin born March 29, 2019 05
to Christopher and Leigh Berry Franklin (’09) of Ellicott City, Maryland
07 Addison Christine Nichols born April 29, 2019
to T.J. (’15) and Jillian Davis Nichols (’08) of Christiana
08 Olivia Kate Shaw born May 13, 2019 07
to Garrett (’09) and Amy Powers Shaw (’09) of Murfreesboro
09 Nova Djinn Nowalk born July 3, 2019
to Matt and Brittany Nowalk (’13) of Murfreesboro
10 Claire Elizabeth Archer born July 7, 2019 09
to Joshua ('08) and Ashlie Archer of Murfreesboro
11 Jacobi Nicholas Brown born July 29, 2019
to Chris and Ashlie Way Brown (’03) of Murfreesboro
12 Elliot William Keil born Aug. 27, 2019
64 MTSU Magazine
to Robert and Kari Keil (’14) of Jacksonville, Florida
1940s Alice Smith Abbott (’41)
1950s Daniel Batey (’58) Ray Brandon Jr. (’59, ’66) Frank Cathey Sr. (’59, ’68) Barbara Crain (’59) Gene Hale (’52) George Haynes (’57) Billy Hix (’56) Donald Justice (’55) Martha Massey Lewis (’50) Mary Lowry (’59) Nancy Sumners Medaugh (’53, ’62) Martha “Jane” Collins Moore (’50, ’67) Myers Parsons Sr. (’54) Ralph Roddy Jr. (’55) Freddie Schmid (’57) Curtis Vandiver (’59) Curtis Via (’53) Emily Smotherman Wall (’53)
1960s Jerry Allen (’64) Terry Bailey (’62, ’63) Kitty Baldwin (’68, ’72) Tommy Bates (’61, ’73) Joan Douglas Bates Bishop (’65) Duane L. Brown (’65) Robert Burden (’61, ’65) Elliotte Chamberlain (’61) James Coomer (’62) Wayne Coomes (’60) May Dean Eberling (’61, ’68) Walter Fitzpatrick Jr. (’62)
Robert Green (’68) Jerry Hibdon (’69) James Hoover (’62) Edward Kilgour (’65, ’67) James King (’63, ’70) James Kirby (’69) Marvin “Craig” Leonard (’69) Mary Alford Lindsey (’66) William Loyd (’66) Henry Marshall (’64) Andrew “Woody” Miller Sr. (’66) Joseph Nave Jr. (’66, ’73) Donald Pope (’61) Gayla Clouse Powell (’68) James Reed (’63) Marvin Rihani (’68, ’72) Kenneth Ross Sr. (’62, ’67)
1970s Joyce Knowles Badger (’71) Harold Bittinger (’77) Jeffrey Bolton (’75) Rosemary Cook Bone (’71) Martha Carroll Bowyer (’72) Martha Jaynes Church (’79) Kenneth Coffee (’73) Julian Cole (’72) Terrence “Pat” Conner (’72) Teresa Klautach Davenport (’75, ’79, ’85) William Davis (’74, ’91) Michael Farrar (’74) Judith Flatt (’72, ’81) Gary Glover (’74) Larry Hallums (’75) Debby Lester Harris (’71) John Harris (’74) Harold Harrison (’74) Gary Hayes (’76)
Richard Hehnen (’72) Ralph Hixson (’72) Ronald Howell (’75) Elizabeth Hannah Jackson (’79) Janet Vandergriff Lanter (’79) Cathleen Leigh (’77, ’79) James Leigh Jr. (’72, ’75) Susan Mack (’76) Peter MacNichols (’76) James Maples (’72, ’74) Debbie Martin (’78) Timothy Martin Sr. (’76) Brenda Smith Mitcham (’70) Donald Moody (’72) Homer Moser (’71) Dale Neese (’73) Charlene Osgood (’71) Charlie Simmons (’71) Fannie Wells (’75) Elton Wiest (’72) Herbert Wilson (’72, ’84) Willard “Chip” Woodring (’76) Melody Young (’75)
1980s Gregory Baldwin (’87) James Brown (’89) Marshall Brown (’85) Victor Bumphus (’83) Minnie Johnson Burnett (’81, ’87) William Dubray (’81) Jeffrey Eley (’88) Richard Gaither (’87) Nancy Hudson (’83, ’85) Lee Hutchins (’84) Susan Butler Lewis (’83) Susan Thomas Mersh (’87) Vernon Ogilvie (’82) Richard Ray (’82)
Betty Tronsden (’83) Phyllis Evonda Smith Webb-McDonald (non-degreed) Sue Campbell Williams (’82) Peggy Hubbell Wilson (’89)
1990s Tina Williams Crews (’92) James Darnell (’93) Richard Driskill (’95) Corey Finney (’92) Onita Hicks (’91) Jerry Hill (’96) Jason Pritchard (’99) Telse Saunders (’95, ’99) John Schmueser (’91)
2000s Brian Barsce (’01) Elizabeth Potts (’02) Boone E. Westfall (’05)
2010s Steven Almanza (’13) Brandon A. Archer (’19) Phillip Booth (’13) Rodney Butts (’13, ’16, ’18) Jacob Kennemer (’18) Laura Page (’13) William Blake Pickel (’17) Patrick Pruitt (’13) Holly Stevens (’14)
Winter 2020 65
L AST WORD
An Even Keel
Alumna Beverly Keel takes the reins of MTSU’s College of Media and Entertainment as its new dean Beverly Keel earned her bachelor’s degree from MTSU in 1988, joined the Recording Industry faculty in 1995, and was named chair of that nationally recognized department in 2013. “Attending MTSU was one of the best decisions of my life because it prepared me for a multifaceted career in media and entertainment and profoundly shaped my life,” she said. In October, Keel became the first female dean of MTSU’s College of Media and Entertainment, succeeding former USA Today editor-in-chief Ken Paulson. “Being named dean of the College of Media and Entertainment is the greatest honor of my career,” Keel said. “I take this responsibility not only seriously but also personally, because I was once one of the students walking these very halls.” 66 MTSU Magazine
A Nashville native, Keel received a master’s degree in Journalism from Columbia University, spent a decade as People magazine’s Nashville correspondent, and wrote The Tennessean’s celebrity column for two years. She also was an editor of American Profile magazine, writing cover stories on former President Jimmy Carter, the late Rev. Billy Graham, and NFL Hall of Famer Joe Namath, among others. In addition, Keel previously served as senior vice president of media and artist relations for Universal Music Group Nashville, where she developed extensive media campaigns for artists such as Lionel Richie, Vince Gill, Sugarland, and George Strait. In 2014, she joined forces with Tracy Gershon and Leslie Fram to create Change the Conversation, a coalition designed to combat gender inequality in country music. Keel currently serves as a board member of The Recording Academy, which stages the Grammys. MTSU
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