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Summer 2021, Vol. 6, No. 1 Senior Editor Drew Ruble Associate Editor Carol Stuart Contributing Editor Nancy Broden

Table of Contents 4 A Healthy Start

Some recent MTSU graduates bring us up to speed on their pursuits in prestigious medical and graduate schools

Contributing Writers Allison Gorman, Randy Weiler Senior Director of Creative Marketing Solutions Kara Hooper Lead Designer Brian Evans Designer Assistance Micah Loyed University Photographers James Cessna, Andy Heidt, J. Intintoli, Cat Curtis Murphy University President Dr. Sidney A. McPhee University Provost Dr. Mark Byrnes Interim Dean, College of Basic and Applied Sciences Dr. Greg Van Patten Vice President, Marketing and Communications Andrew Oppmann Special thanks to Nancy Miller and the MTSU News and Media Relations Team

12 At the Speed of Byte

MTSU’s Data Science Institute and a new degree program could help fulfill middle Tennessee’s demand for data scientists

16 Wheels in Motion

IndyCar Grand Prix racing and MTSU’s School of Concrete and Construction Management partner where the rubber meets the road

22 Quantum Leap

Physics professor’s research brings new energy to MTSU with National Science Foundation early career award

Cover Illustration by Brian Evans 2,000 copies printed at Phillips Printing, Nashville, Tennessee Designed by MTSU Creative Marketing Solutions

0321-9573 / 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 Interim 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; Christy.Sigler@mtsu.edu; or 615-898-2185. The MTSU policy on non-discrimination can be found at mtsu.edu/iec.

26 Genetics Adaptation

Lifelong learner adjusts to rapid changes in both research and teaching

28 Innovations All the Time

Cutting-edge college keeps moving in COVID-19 crisis and beyond


Empirical Evidence I am honored to have the opportunity to lead the College of Basic and Applied Sciences at MTSU for the 2021–22 academic year. Having served as chair of the Chemistry Department for the past nine years, I have witnessed great accomp­ lishments resulting from the hard work and dedication of our students, faculty, and staff. Our members have won numerous nationally competitive awards, experienced important research breakthroughs, established cutting-edge programs, built new industry partnerships, and engaged our community with impactful outreach. I want to thank our outgoing dean, Bud Fischer, for his leadership over the past nine years and acknowledge the key role that he played in these successes. This issue of Innovations serves as a testament to the perseverance of our students, faculty, and staff in what has been an unusually trying year. As you read about the achievements of your fellow Blue Raiders, I hope you feel the same True Blue pride that I do. Our singular focus in the College of Basic and Applied Sciences is student success, a concept that we define very broadly. For example, student success means encouraging our students to aim high and then helping them reach those goals. This magazine features several recent CBAS graduates who are fulfilling lofty dreams in postgraduate

education (“A Healthy Start,” p. 4 ) . Success also can mean shaping the future in stimulating, secure, high-tech jobs as highlighted in our Data Science program (“At the Speed of Byte,” p. 12). Sometimes, student success has a fun side, as members of our Concrete Industry Management program have learned in their partnership with IndyCar Grand Prix Racing (“Wheels in Motion,” p. 16 ) . In the basic sciences, student success might mean participation in faculty-led research to expand mankind’s understanding of the universe. Assistant Professor Hanna Terletska, in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, earned a prestigious national research award for her work in designing new materials that could have big societal impacts in coming decades (“Quantum Leap,” p. 22 ) . In the end, student success is always about finding a way to make your education meet your passion. One of our graduating seniors has found that science helped her connect with a passion for helping people, and she shares her journey with a touching essay excerpt (p. 27 ) . The articles here are just a taste of the many exciting things happening in our college. I hope they bring back fond memories of your time and connections at MTSU. We are proud of all of our alumni, so I hope you regularly share with others how MTSU and the College of Basic and Applied Sciences have been an influence in your life. As the pandemic subsides and activities return to normal, I look forward to reconnecting with many of you on campus again at one of our lectures or social events. Greg Van Patten Interim Dean

MTSU's Science Building

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Some recent MTSU graduates bring us up to speed on their pursuits in prestigious medical and graduate schools

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by Drew Ruble Most children pretend to be doctors at one point or another. It’s another thing to become one. Gaining the skills and knowledge it takes to get into medical school involves a great deal of work and preparation. At MTSU, students can take those important first steps toward a career in medicine or toward graduate programs for other professions. There is no pre-medical major at MTSU. Instead, the University feels strongly that students are better served completing a major of their choice while preparing for medical school or other pre-professional health programs. (MTSU does partner with Meharry Medical College School of Medicine in offering the Medical School Early Acceptance Program, a seven-year early med school acceptance program that concludes with graduation from Meharry Medical College in Nashville.) While many students choose to major in a traditional science such as Biology, Chemistry, or Biochemistry, students with interests outside the natural sciences are encouraged to pursue those majors, too. As a result, MTSU pre-medical students major in departments all across campus. Students on a pre-med track, however, work with advisors in the Pre-Professional Health Science Advising Center to ensure that they are taking the recommended courses and participating in the extracurricular activities needed to be successful on admissions tests, in the applications process, and in medical school.

Innovations magazine caught up with several recent graduates from the College of Basic and Applied Sciences who used their degrees and undergraduate lab opportunities to successfully prepare for the path to becoming a doctor or researcher. With a foundation built at MTSU, they serve as solid proof that students gain the skills and knowledge it takes to be successful in professional or graduate schools, all while benefiting from the one-on-one attention from teachers and counselors.

True Blue!

Kirsten Cunningham 2019, B.S. in Biology and Chemistry Now at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine I grew up in Alaska, although I spent my early childhood years in Tennessee. After high school, I didn’t immediately enter college, but took a few years off from school for family reasons. In my early 20s, I moved back to Tennessee to be closer to my oldest sister, who lived in Murfreesboro. She had attended MTSU for her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, so I enrolled at MTSU as well. I didn’t immediately know I wanted a career in research, but I figured that out during my first semester at MTSU. I was diagnosed with a very rare neurological condition when I was a teenager, and in trying to understand the science behind what was happening to me, I became fascinated by the science itself. There is something magical about taking the seemingly unexplainable microscopic world and making it tangible and knowable.

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Kirsten Cunningham

MTSU poised me for a strong career in research in two specific ways. First, the science faculty are very engaged with undergraduates and make their labs very accessible to students. As a freshman, I saw the research labs through all the glass walls in the hallways, but did not know I would be able to engage in the research there. My professor for General Biology I, Dr. Grant Gardner, noticed that I was interested in research and took the time to discuss my interests with me and wrote me letters of recommendation to faculty whose research specifically interested me. This is how I ended up researching with Dr. David Nelson, even though I had not taken any classes with him at that time. I continued to research in the Nelson lab my entire time at MTSU, during semesters and over the summers. In addition to my work in the Nelson lab, I was able to collaborate with other labs (McClelland and Farone), and this led to two publications by the time I was a junior. The publications, networking opportunities at conferences, and research experiences were invaluable in preparing me for my current graduate work at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. The MTSU Honors College and Undergraduate Fellowship Office also took a very active interest in supporting and guiding me during my time as an undergraduate. Because of mentorship and guidance from Dean John Vile and Laura Clippard, I applied for and won multiple national honors and scholarships such as the Barry Goldwater scholarship and a National Science Foundation REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) at Scripps Research in La Jolla, California. These honors not only provided financial support

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and additional research training, but together with my publications, made for an unstoppable graduate school application. As for my experience as a whole, I stayed very, very busy. I started as a Biochemistry major but decided during my sophomore year that I wasn’t getting enough molecular biology and doubled my major to Biology and Chemistry. I also worked off campus at Walgreens as a pharmacy technician. Currently, I am working toward my Ph.D. in Cellular and Molecular Medicine at Johns Hopkins. From my first moments on the Johns Hopkins campus, dating back from interview weekend, I felt a sense of home and belonging. This has only intensified since I’ve been here.

The science faculty . . . make their labs very accessible to students. My lab is part of the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins in the Department of Pathology. My thesis work focuses on developing a gene therapy for pancreatic cancer. Specifically, my work aims to exploit CRISPR-Cas9 technologies as targeted cell-killing tools to search out and destroy cancer cells while leaving healthy cells unharmed. Johns Hopkins is an ideal place to carry out this work, as I am able to study patient samples collected over the past several decades, and I am surrounded by world experts in the field.


In the future, I intend to lead my own lab and continue to be at the cutting edge of cancer research. I feel I can have the most impact on the world by translating basic science discoveries into clinically viable therapies for patients who need them most.

I also learned how to become a scientific and clinical investigator in the scholarly research laboratories at MTSU. The skills and inspiration that I received are now fruitfully producing published research for me here at my medical school.

Robert Owen

Furthermore, the Honors College and social sciences gave me the tools to be ahead of the curve as it relates to dealing with things like systemic health care inequities, myriad racial challenges, and cultural barriers with patients. I am forever grateful for my professors who mentored me and inspired me to become the physician I one day hope to become.

2019, B.S. in Biology Now at Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine I was born in the Indianapolis area but relocated to Tennessee in 2003—first to Nashville, then to Franklin, and finally Murfreesboro. From living in the ’Boro for more than 11 years, the reputation of the University was very prominent and obvious in the community. Also, I had been the head coach of Ultimate Frisbee for 10 years at Blackman High School, and we had had success story after success story of our students going on to matriculate and thrive at MTSU. Many of them were already involved through MTSU’s excellent dual enrollment program for our high school students. Additionally, through various volunteer activities in the community, I had developed relationships with members of the Biology Department and University Honors College at MTSU and quickly discovered that they had world-class programs of which I wanted to be a part.

Most of the undergrad majors represented in my class here at the Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine are Biology or a Biology discipline (I was a Biology major with a Chemistry minor and Honors College minor). Some of the others include things like English, Ethics, Mathematics, Psychology, Engineering, and Computer Science. I am currently finishing my second of four years of medical school and will sit for my first board exam at the end of this school year. The first two years are primarily didactic

I hope to be able to serve underserved populations both here and abroad. After being a humanitarian and religious international missionary for many years prior, my emerging desire to provide medical care to the underserved of our community and our world providentially intersected with the opportunity that MTSU provided for me when I enrolled in January 2016. Much of medicine is built upon the foundations of basic science, art, and human touch. Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and the social sciences at MTSU gave me both sure footing for medical school and a significant step ahead with my coursework. Each and every day in my current studies, I am using or referencing some knowledge, notes, or textbooks from MTSU. From understanding the physics behind the electrical and mechanical workings of the heart as well as the gas exchange of the lungs, to understanding the chemistry of the kidneys, blood, and pharmacy, and to the microscopic and genetic world of our cells, my education at MTSU continues to be a solid rock that I build upon every day.

Robert Owen


Pre-Med Prodigies

At age 14, the amazing Alnassari triplets are too young to drive, but the Nashville high school students are steering their own success stories in dual enrollment academic pursuits at MTSU that may lead to medical careers. Since August 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Fatimah, Zaynab, and Ahmed Alnassari have been on a pre-med pathway, majoring in Biology at the University.

training, while the upcoming two years are largely clinic- and hospital-based training. I’m also involved in clinical research in areas such as neurosurgery, COVID-19, and cancer. Once I graduate, I will enter a specialized residency training program. After residency I will find a permanent medical practice. My life and career aspirations are such that I hope to be able to serve underserved populations both here and abroad. I’ve received a lot of help from others throughout my life, and I just hope that I can one day somehow pay that back—or better yet, pay it forward.

Talk about driven. They each carried 18 hours in the spring semester after 13 in the fall, perform 40 hours a week in botanical and agricultural research, and make excellent grades in their remote, in-person, and hybrid MTSU classes. The trio also took one high school course last year and will take economics and government next year as seniors at Metro Nashville Public Schools Virtual School.

[Editor’s note: Owen received a national fellowship from Phi Kappa Phi, the nation’s oldest and most selective collegiate honor society, to help pay for his medical school training.]

Fatimah plans to be a primary care physician. Ahmed, who at age 10 saw his youngest brother, Muhammed, born with 17 holes in his heart, wants to be a heart surgeon. Zaynab intends to become an ear, nose, and throat specialist.

From 2004 to 2019, I was living in a small, rural town called Fairview. I am a first-generation college student with working class parents. I did not grow up on a farm or around poultry. When I graduated from high school, I never envisioned having the opportunity to pursue graduate degrees.

They and their mother, Biology major (and driver) Khadijah Alnassari, made the Dean’s List last fall. During winter break, they participated in a telemedical brigade to Honduras. They even find time to solicit appropriate Islamic attire, such as hijabs, for the Raiders Closet and participated in the 2021 MTSU Habitat for Humanity build. Fatimah, the oldest by a minute, considers MTSU “a place where nothing is impossible." See People TV feature on the Alnassaris: bit.ly/3dg3j2N

Joseph Gulizia 2019, B.S. in Animal Science Now at Auburn University

During my time in Tennessee, I was in the inaugural class of the Tennessee Promise program, and I started my academic journey at Columbia State Community College. After completing my associate degree, I was accepted into the Animal Science program at MTSU with courses focused in pre-veterinary medicine. My attraction to both Columbia State Community College and MTSU was the affordability of education. Financially, I wanted to make the smartest decisions to ensure I could walk away from college with little to no tuition debt.

My research focuses on adding enzymes to poultry feed to improve animal performance. Throughout high school I really had little career focus, but someone suggested becoming a veterinarian, and I was intrigued. The two years I spent at Columbia State provided me with a basic education but did not help me find my true passion. It wasn’t until I attended MTSU that I discovered my true career focus, poultry science.

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Joseph Gulizia

This, however, was not a self-made discovery. I received guidance and mentorship of the highest caliber from MTSU’s resident poultry scientist, Dr. Kevin Downs. I took multiple poultry science classes that he taught as well as completed three poultry science research projects during my time at MTSU. Additionally, he continued to mentor and provide me with poultry science information that went beyond class limitations. Poultry topics I have learned stuck with me more than other subjects, which has contributed to my fascination with poultry science and research.

Gulizia said he wants to improve the birds’ nutrition while cutting expenses for farmers. Since feed costs can represent 60%–70% of total broiler production costs, Gulizia’s research could be quite beneficial.]

Currently, I am in my third semester of graduate school as a graduate research assistant in the Department of Poultry Science at Auburn University with a projected graduation in December 2021. My current research focuses on supplementing exogenous enzymes in poultry feed to improve animal performance and health.

I moved to Murfreesboro and started looking for options for school. MTSU was my best option because it had the program I wanted to join (Chemistry) and was here in town. Also, I read good reviews about the Chemistry program, so I joined it.

To determine the inclusion rate of enzymes in poultry feed, it is essential to understand how multiple enzymes interact within the animal’s digestive system. With this information, poultry industry nutritionists can have a clear understanding of beneficial and cost-effective inclusion rates of certain enzymes. Thus, my research will continue to assess how various enzymes interact within meat chickens. [Editor’s note: Gulizia was one of only 58 recipients of a fellowship from Phi Kappa Phi to help pay for his pursuit of master’s and doctoral degrees in Poultry Science at Auburn.

Claudia Lopez 2019, B.S. in Chemistry Now at Clemson University I grew up in Ibague, Colombia, and moved to the United States when I was 18 years old.

I decided I wanted to pursue a career in science when I was in my junior year in high school. However, I realized I wanted to continue my graduate studies and do research when I was in my third year as an undergrad. I asked for advice from Dr. Keying Ding and applied to Clemson University. Now, I am a second-year Ph.D. student in Chemistry at Clemson, and my research area is materials/organic chemistry. MTSU was great. I had the opportunity to work in Dr. Ding’s lab. I learned new techniques like nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and helped in the synthesis

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of a ligand in a URECA (Undergraduate Research Experience and Creative Activity) summer project. This work was published in Organic Letters and presented at the Tennessee Experiential Learning Symposium.

sulfur to make recyclable and durable composites with good mechanical properties that could be potentially used as building materials since they have proved to be resistant to acid and very strong.

Also, in different classes like Quantitative Analysis and Instrumental Analysis, I gained more experience using different instruments and running a lot of samples. All these experiences prepared me a lot for graduate school and for an internship I secured at Eastman Chemical. I was an intern in the corporate analytical group in the summer of 2018 where I did some synthetic work simulating samples that were in the reactors, collected data, and built some models for near infrared (NIR) that helped and were implemented in the quality control labs where they run continuous samples.

Clemson University has allowed me to grow as a professional chemist. I was recently awarded the Call Me Doctor Fellowship. This was an honor for me since it is a fellowship focused on helping minorities such as Hispanic women in science.

My work focuses on using some waste products from the animal industry . . . that could be potentially used as building materials. I am currently working in Dr. Rhett C. Smith’s lab at Clemson. My work focuses on using some waste products from the animal industry (like brown grease and some plant oils) and

I still have two more years left of graduate school, and I think I would like to find a job in industry or academia where I could use my knowledge either helping new students or giving ideas for projects that can be helpful in our society.

Simeon Adebola 2019, M.S. in Engineering Technology Admitted to the University of California I grew up in Nigeria. I was born in Lagos and lived in other cities such as Akure, Ile-Ife, Agenebode, and Ibadan due to school, my family moving, and work. Growing up I was intrigued by knowledge in its various forms and being able to use it to solve problems. I thought of inventors and how they operated—learning everything they needed to know to solve a problem and then solving it. Today, I see that approach in what we know as multidisciplinary research.

Claudia Lopez


I first heard about MTSU from my sister, who was living in Nashville. She encouraged me to apply. Arriving at MTSU, I became excited about the many resources and opportunities. From the James E. Walker Library and its many resources—graduate student carrels/offices, the University Writing Center, college-specific librarians, access to online journals and papers, and interlibrary loan, to name a few—I found a lot was available to me to use in reaching my research goals. I knew I wanted to go on for a Ph.D., so I was interested in getting into some research and chose the research option for my master’s. I met with faculty members in my field of interest, robotics. I ended up working with Dr. Lei Miao. [That work] greatly expanded my knowledge of robotics and introduced me to areas including computer vision and deep learning. While reviewing the literature on my thesis topic, I read about an open-source machine learning-based computer vision software (OpenPTrack) used in robotics research. I found out that the research group that created the software was based at UCLA. I got the opportunity to intern with them as part of my curricular practical training (CPT), learning more about computer vision and its applications, testing, and implementing software. I came back after my CPT and applied this knowledge while completing my thesis. This experience gained working on OpenPTrack is what I leverage in my daily work at Vanderbilt. Instead of beginning my Ph.D. studies in 2019, I started working in a research lab at Vanderbilt University, where I use computer vision and machine learning in research into how children learn through embodied play. The research group I work with designs curriculum and simulations around play activities that cause children to use their bodies and carry out actions as they learn.

Simeon Adebola

I use computer vision and machine learning in research into how children learn.

My work and research at MTSU introduced me, gave me experience, and paved the way for my position at Vanderbilt University. I also have served as adjunct faculty at MTSU’s Engineering Technology Department for two semesters now. I applied to some Ph.D. programs for Fall 2021 and was admitted to the University of California’s Electrical Engineering Computer Science and the University of Chicago’s Computer Science doctoral programs. I have accepted UC Berkeley's offer. I remain grateful for the role MTSU played in enabling me to achieve my dreams.

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12 | Innovations

photo by Darby Campbell


MTSU’s Data Science Institute and a new degree program could help meet middle Tennessee’s demand for data scientists by Allison Gorman

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 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) jump-started that conversation on campus recently with a blue Tesla Model X named Blue Raider Autonomous Driving, nicknamed BRAD. By offering free rides in BRAD, recording video, and analyzing pre- and post-ride surveys, the institute studied how this promising but controversial technology can earn mainstream acceptance. “Our real big pie in the sky is we’re interested in the mobility of human beings,” said Charles Apigian, co-director who founded DSI in 2018. “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?”

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Driverless carmakers, like Google subsidiary Waymo, have been privately exploring the data too. But Apigian 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 . . . hopefully a trusted source for real passengers,” Apigian said.

Companies are using data “from the back room to the boardroom” to continuously shape their products and business strategies.

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, such as Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee. At the same time, it’s providing highly marketable experiences in data science, a profession so sought after that supply can’t meet demand. Launching a Tennessee Data Initiative in 2020, MTSU now also offers a bachelor’s degree and a graduate certificate in Data Science; has proposed a new master’s program; already boasts a Computational Science Ph.D.; holds “data dive” real-world trainings; and is partnering with K–12 schools for hands-on data science education.

Driving the Conversation 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. It became the DSI’s first client and wanted to ask: How much should the financial reward be increased to encourage the use of the Hytch app? The DSI looked at the data 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

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the truth is, that’s not why people were using it. What we found is when habits were formed, people continued to use it.” The number of Hytch users still using the app three months after their first ride jumped from 47% to 86% for users logging at least 20 rides—a milestone typically hit within 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.

Using Data for Good With its eco-friendly objective, the Hytch project fit with Apigian’s 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, the DSI staff and Data Science students are currently looking at the implications of “food deserts”— areas with limited access to affordable and healthy food—in Tennessee as one of several projects for the state Department of Human Services. Since 2019, the institute also has garnered over $1 million in external grant funding from national sources. And DSI’s work with Second Harvest Food Bank is an ongoing partnership. At MTSU’s annual HackMT event, Apigian led a team of 25 students who analyzed the food bank’s data and streamlined its warehouse operations. The nonprofit faces several challenges at once: Its budget is lean, its food is often highly perishable, donations can be unpredictable, and distribution is complex and time sensitive. MTSU alumnus David Tinsley, a oneman department as Second Harvest’s senior manager of information systems and information technology, is bringing in


Data science is a flashlight. You can finally see what you’re looking at. MTSU students as interns to understand 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.”

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 MTSU’s Data Science degree, housed in the College of Basic and Applied Sciences, and the Data Science Institute 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 Asurion, said companies are using data “from the back room to the boardroom” to continuously shape their products and strategies. That’s why data scientists are in demand throughout the country, including in middle Tennessee where Nashville is a booming city with a fast-growing tech market. “For every data scientist employed in the region,” Zouaoui wrote in an op-ed, “there’s at least one more open position that employers are actively seeking to fill.” MTSU is building a pipeline to supply that need.

A Highly Marketable Degree Data scientists are in high demand. MTSU’s new major in Data Science is the first undergraduate program of its kind in Tennessee—an important distinction, according to 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.” Created with input from Nashville’s top data scientists, the degree incorporates computer science, math, information systems, economics, and finance, among other disciplines. “Middle Tennessee is well positioned to be a national leader in the field of data science,” added Brian Moyer, Greater Nashville Technology Council’s president. “ . . . MTSU will play a critical role in generating the talent required to fuel our future growth.”

$108,000 median base annual salary 23% rise in tech postings over 2½ years No. 2 “Best Jobs in America” Glassdoor

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For three days in August, the streets of downtown Nashville are transformed, alive with the distinct, roaring sounds of IndyCar Grand Prix racing, with 100,000 spectators looking on. The temporary track, or street circuit, weaves past Nissan Stadium (home of the NFL Tennessee Titans), over the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge (a new, iconic look for the international sport), and into downtown Nashville.

Fans lining the track feel the power and energy of race cars rush over them along familiar Music City streets.

A global lineup of drivers—including Hendersonville native Josef Newgarden, who won the circuit in 2019, and former NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson—races through the city streets in single-seat cars with 2.2-liter, twin-turbocharged, direct-injected, V-6 engines optimized to run at 12,000 RPM, with an estimated 500-700 horsepower (depending on the turbocharger boost setting). Undergoing a truly visceral experience, fans lining the track feel the power and energy of race cars rush over them along familiar Music City streets more commonly associated with honky-tonks and pedal taverns than Indy cars. Yes, there is an occasional crash at the new Big Machine Music City Grand Prix. And when it happens, racers strike cushioned concrete barriers made of environmentally conscious mixes developed in partnership with MTSU’s first-of-its-kind Concrete Industry Management (CIM) program—its students, faculty, and alumni. In the months prior to the event, MTSU concrete experts—including alumni Travis Jarrett (’05) and Frank Bowen (’14) with Jarrett Concrete Products, a precast concrete facility in Ashland City—fill thousands of debris fence panel and concrete barrier molds for the 2.17-mile downtown course layout. Hundreds, filled on site, are used on the bridge alone, installed weeks before the event.

A Grand Advantage As the home of the first CIM degree program in the country, and still one of a select few, MTSU’s School of Concrete and Construction Management stands as the nation’s flagship concrete industry academic program. It is also a powerhouse in research. Look no further than the recent agreement with the Music City Grand Prix. Officials from MTSU and the new Music City Grand Prix signed a partnership in November 2020, allowing the University’s acclaimed concrete program and its students to create special mixes for barriers and pit row for the August 2021 open-wheel race in downtown Nashville. The Music City Grand Prix then worked with MTSU to create safe and durable blends of

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Senior Cody Gange (l) assists in making an eco-friendly concrete mix as Music City Grand Prix CEO Matt Crews, Professor Heather Brown, lab assistant and senior T.J. Paul (r), and other visitors watch.

concrete using recycled materials and better molds for racing barriers and pit row use in the IndyCar Series event. The agreement also calls for MTSU to provide guidance, insight, and consulting in the areas of concrete barricade forms, barricade manufacturing, emerging concrete technologies, and more, helping reduce the Grand Prix’s manufacturing, construction, transportation, or event setup costs. MTSU additionally assists the Music City Grand Prix in the review and selection of appropriate and qualified area track suppliers and vendors for the necessary track alterations and construction; helps the Grand Prix pursue applicable grants, subsidies, and other corporate incentives relative to its concrete construction needs; and promotes the race and partnership to industry trade groups.

A Grand Event The driving force behind the inaugural Music City Grand Prix IndyCar race is also an MTSU alum, Matt Crews (’91). A businessman with career ties to the racing industry, Crews is the founder and CEO behind the three-day international festival of speed and sound, food, music, and even what Crews calls “star power.” Celebrities connected to the race and its funding include pop superstar Justin Timberlake. Crews says the race places Nashville, and hopefully MTSU too, “on a true international stage.”

Exposure from IndyCar’s 30 broadcast partners in 160 countries shines a bright light on Nashville and MTSU. Crews said he’s thrilled to see such an innovative academic program from his alma mater benefit from that exposure. “I’m more excited about showing 160 countries what MTSU has accomplished on a daily basis,” Crews said during a recent visit with students. “I think it’s time for us to go racing, Blue Raiders, and look forward to carrying the MTSU mantle to the world.” Crews, a former MTSU kicker who still shares the school record for most field goals made and points scored in a game, said the racing event has been five years in the making. The Lawrenceburg native played the pivotal role in assembling the group behind the event, featuring businessman, entrepreneur, and ex-IndyCar racer Roger Penske, and in spearheading its partnership with MTSU’s acclaimed Concrete Industry Management program, faculty, and students. Heather Brown, the former School of Concrete and Construction Management director who is now an adjunct professor, also helped align the partnership from the beginning. Crews specifically noted that Penske, chair/owner of NTT IndyCar Series, was greatly impressed by Brown’s presentation about MTSU’s work on race

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barricade technology and how that work could help the racing industry going forward. As a result, Brown is now on the Music City Grand Prix Advisory Board.

A Grand Opportunity Brown stressed that the partnership creates hands-on learning experiences for MTSU’s Concrete Industry Management students through internships and networking through the material science program. “This partnership will create advanced learning experiences for students and expand our manufacturing relationships,” Brown said. “Experiential learning is what MTSU works hard to bring to their students, and it wouldn’t be possible without Music City Grand Prix’s commitment to local institutions as well as STEM education and the trades.” CIM major Chase Magerison, an Alaska native who graduated in December 2020, said he is appreciative of the unique opportunity the Music City Grand Prix provides MTSU students. “It’s an awesome opportunity for us as students to get some real hands-on experience in making more advanced

It’s an awesome opportunity for us as students to get some real hands-on experience in making more advanced mixes. mixes for a precast company, which is not something we typically do” he said. “And the concrete program in general . . . [does] a great job of getting us out there for experiences and jobs.” The Music City Grand Prix has agreed to offer a minimum of two internships to qualified and approved MTSU undergraduate students per year, helping them gain experience in the areas of track design and construction project management and event operations. The race also will provide MTSU and the program with significant branding and promotion before and during each race weekend. Crews said he hopes to build a stronger relationship between IndyCar and MTSU going forward. The Grand Prix partnership definitely sets those wheels in motion.


A Grand (New) Home Gov. Bill Lee provided funding in the state’s 2020 budget for a new $40.1 million building to house MTSU’s School of Concrete and Construction Management, and a groundbreaking was held in April 2021. The architect for the project, located on the east side of campus, is Orcutt | Winslow. To make room for the 54,000-square-foot building, Abernathy and Ezell halls, which served as dormitories more than 20 years ago, were torn down. The new lab and classroom building is expected to be finished in August 2022 and will feature examples in its construction of the many ways concrete can be used. Concrete industry supporters, working with MTSU officials, are contributing more than $5 million toward the construction of the building.


Interview by Carol Stuart

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Before Hanna Terletska became a Physics faculty member at MTSU in 2017, her son had celebrated his birthday in a different state each year because of several short-term postdoctoral positions. “When we moved here, there was a full solar eclipse on his August birthday. We thought, ‘Ah, this is a sign. We will stay here,’ ” she said. “Indeed, his last three birthdays were in the same state.” Terletska, considered a rising star in her field by peers, has seen even greater signs since then that MTSU was the right place at the right time. In 2020, she landed a nearly $500,000 Early Career Development (CAREER) grant from the National Science Foundation—a highly respected award that usually goes only to junior faculty at places like Harvard. It was a first for MTSU, as Terletska and the College of Education’s Ryan Seth Jones became the University’s first two professors to earn the five-year federal grants. A few months later, Terletska was invited to share her research with almost 60 of the world’s leading physics scholars at the virtual Localisation 2020 conference, held in honor of Nobel Prize winner Philip W. “Phil” Anderson. “Winning the NSF Early Career award is a milestone achievement that will advance Hanna’s research and open new doors for her students,” said Bud Fischer, outgoing dean of the College of Basic and Applied Sciences. "Dedicated, innovative educators like Dr. Terletska who actively engage students in the discovery process are a large part of what makes our college and University so special.” Here are excerpts from Terletska’s comments about winning the award, her research, and more: Could you describe the quantum materials research you’re conducting using the grant money? My research is in computational study of quantum materials. The discovery of new materials is a cornerstone of human civilization and development. We now live in the era of quantum materials, which offer tremendous opportunities for fundamental research and advances in new-generation technologies. The potential benefits of 21st century technologies built on quantum materials are staggering. This includes quantum computers, highly efficient solar cells, and room-temperature superconductors that would generate, transmit, and store electricity with almost no loss. Hence, conquering the behavior of quantum materials

can bolster economies, advance the quality of life, and address the unprecedented growth in global energy needs. We call these materials “quantum” to highlight the exotic properties emerging in these materials coming purely from quantum physics effects. The magic comes from millions of thousands of interacting electrons, which at the atomic and subatomic scales start to also have wavelike properties. At this level, quantum physics really kicks in, and electrons start to exhibit quantum effects like tunneling, interference, entanglement, and topological order. Research in this field requires complex many-body numerical algorithms and access to powerful supercomputers. I use NSF-funded XSEDE supercomputing resources as well as access to the world’s most powerful computers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

The discovery of new materials is a cornerstone of human civilization and development. The breadth of transformative opportunities that quantum materials offer has ignited a worldwide race to control and exploit quantum matter and its integration in technology platforms. Governments all over the globe and large multinational companies have launched significant quantum material research initiatives and have invested heavily in related technologies and education. In 2018, the U.S. government signed a Quantum Initiative Act, making quantum material research a national priority. Over the last decade, numerous quantum research centers have emerged all across the United States, including the Appalachian Quantum Initiative in eastern Tennessee. Research in this field has brought together experts from across many disciplines, including physics, chemistry, engineering, material science, and computer science. How has the grant award changed or helped your research? The NSF-funded research opens up a lot of opportunities not just to my research group, but also for my students and for MTSU. It provides resources that allow me to stay fully research-focused and active, as well as get invitations for talks at other universities and national/international conferences. Quantum research

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is at high demand now, and this award helps me a lot with continuing interinstitutional and international collaborations. Nowadays, I collaborate with scholars from the University of Michigan, Florida State University, Louisiana State University, Carnegie Mellon University, Oak Ridge National Lab, Augsburg University in Germany, and India. Having such an NSF-funded opportunity is particularly important for new faculty who are trying to establish their research groups and gain recognition in the field and the community, in addition to being educators at their universities.

Our future is quantum, with a lot of exciting opportunities in academia and industry now and in the future. Also, such an award is very beneficial for our students: Ph.D. and undergraduate students have the opportunity to be trained and conduct cutting-edge research in the field. I am particularly excited for my students, as the timing for their research is right. Our future is quantum, with a lot of exciting opportunities in academia and industry now and in the future. There is already a strong demand for a quantum workforce. After receiving the award, I got more opportunities to work closer with the NSF. I am grateful that the NSF really strives to be inclusive and diverse in the way they fund faculty research. Funding researchers like me not only assists with our personal research, but also is a big investment in

research-growing universities like MTSU. MTSU has unique opportunities: We live in one of the nation’s fastest-growing counties, and being in close proximity to Nashville helps attract a lot of talented students. The wider spectrum of educational and research opportunities we can offer our students will provide a better education for them and develop a diversity of skills they will need for future jobs—which will help attract more talent here. Were you surprised to receive this prestigious award? To be honest, when the NSF called, I was shocked—I think we all were a little shocked. I even thought they would call me back in few days saying, “Sorry, we made a mistake.” It is very rare to earn such an award from the first try—usually it takes three tries to get it, if ever. Also, judging from the list of winners and the fact that MTSU has never received such an award before, I thought the level of award is more for the very top R1 (Tier 1 research) universities. This award is truly a great honor and a huge responsibility on my side and for MTSU. We are working very hard to use this opportunity to the full extent. I am happy for another reason: When applying, I was very doubtful because places like MTSU—we are still building the research infrastructure here—don’t receive such high honors. I think this serves as a great example and encouragement for other new faculty here at MTSU and for universities like ours. It is doable. Also, I hope it will help attract other talented new faculty to MTSU.


How has MTSU supported your research? The first thing I did when I got this award was send many thank-you emails to all my mentors here, who helped me so much during the grant application process and during my first two years at MTSU. Several factors made this success possible. Having a reduced teaching load as new faculty helped me a lot. In my first year at MTSU, I also obtained a Faculty Research and Creative Activity Committee award, which I think played an important role in establishing my research group here and in collaborations. It allowed me to travel to the University of Michigan and to ORNL, where I began collaborating with several researchers who ended up being collaborators on the grant. Could you talk about any other research or projects you have? In addition, I am a principal investigator on another NSF grant, where I am involved in a collaborative research on taming the effects of disorder and impurities in real materials. This research direction is more in the material science area. The beauty of research is that you never know what the next place is it is going to take you. Based on results from previous research, I have started new collaborations with researchers from the University at Albany and LSU on the non-equilibrium quantum systems and topological materials, respectively. These are very exciting areas of research, and I am looking forward to new adventures there too. How has the pandemic affected research for you and research opportunities for students? There are already some research studies showing that COVID-19 was particularly hurting female faculty productivity. I have faced similar issues as many other mom-professors: Juggling child care, online school, teaching, Zoom lesson preparation, and research was hard. Due to the lack of child care, spring and summer 2020 were particularly hard. The nature of our research (it is all on computers) allows us to still do research with students, and we adapted to Zoom weekly research meetings and online communication. I ended up “traveling” a lot virtually during this time, giving about 15 invited talks since COVID-19 started. What made you choose physics as your area of study and as a career path? A short answer: my teachers. I am a first-generation college student—no one in my family was particularly good in physics or went to college. I always liked to study and learn. I was not particularly into experiments or building things (I guess an early indication that I would become a theorist). But I was really good in problem-solving. Each year, my school would

send me to a Science Olympiad in physics, chemistry, and math. While I like math, physics was much more interesting and challenging, and I liked that it helped to logically explain things around us and how they work. Our middle school physics teacher played an important role in my choosing physics. I vividly remember how much he was devoted to teaching physics and cared that we loved

The first thing I did when I got this award was send many thank-you emails to all my mentors here, who helped me so much. it too. When time came for college, I decided to major in physics. It is funny—I remember my mom trying to make me doubt my choice. She thought mathematics is more for females and is more prestigious (haha) than physics. Indeed, the perception that physics or STEM is for boys is very common. But we had 15 women and two men in our class of physics majors at my college, and the boys did not graduate with all of us. Here at MTSU, I have established the Women in Physics student group so women can get the support, mentoring, and encouragement to pursue their careers in physics. It already has played an important role, as many of our members end up going to grad school. What my parents constantly emphasized and valued is that education is the key! They often told me that education is the ticket to a better life. And, indeed, because of physics I immigrated to the United States. I came here for my graduate study, first for the M.S. at Minnesota State, then a Ph.D. at Florida State University, followed by several postdoctoral trainings at the Brookhaven National Lab, LSU, Ames Lab, and University of Michigan, and finally the faculty position at MTSU. Here at MTSU, we have many first-generation college students, who don’t get much advice or guidance from their family members regarding college or their career path. Having good mentors often plays a deterministic role in their lives. Being a first-generation college student myself helps me understand those challenges even better. These are typically very, very talented students, but because of the lack of examples and support, they often don’t even dare to follow the opportunities available for them. Recently, I had the honor to mentor four such Physics majors who now are pursuing doctorates in Physics in the top prestigious universities of the U.S. These kids will have a very different future now—and their families too. CAPTION: Terletska with three of four recent MTSU mentees now pursuing doctorates

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Lifelong learner adjusts to rapid changes in both research and teaching by Randy Weiler Professor Rebecca Seipelt-Thiemann spends some of her downtime away from her work at MTSU learning to play the cello, splitting time in a weekly private lesson for the last three years with her high school daughter. “I like learning new things, and it’s a pretty instrument, too,” said Seipelt-Thiemann, a Biology professor for 21 years. Similar to her work as a researcher and educator in genetics and bioinformatics, those cello lessons moved from in-person to virtual in March 2020 because of the pandemic. But learning new things has driven Seipelt-Thiemann for as long as she remembers, so, of course, she made the most of it for her students and her work. Gravitating toward STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) at an early age, particularly biology, Seipelt-Thiemann expanded her interest in “learning new things” to medical microbiology and immunology while earning her doctorate from the University of Kentucky (UK). Then came postdoctoral studies in hematology and on the genetics of yeast. At MTSU, her expertise has led to major research grants in recent years totaling more than $501,000.

26 | Innovations

“It's always changing” Seipelt-Thiemann uses molecular biology and bioinformatic tools to study gene expression in eukaryotes—organisms whose cells have a nucleus enclosed within a nuclear envelope—and to examine gene structure conservation in gene families. She also studies the development and utility of concept inventory assessment tools and hands-on models/ analogies for genetics education. “It’s interesting—it’s always changing and [has] new things to learn. It keeps me excited about science,” she said when asked why genetics has been a passion since grad school. Seipelt-Thiemann’s recent research, which has been collaborations with colleagues and often involves students, saw publication in scientific journals Virulence, MDPI, and Plos One in 2020. The Plos One study focuses on macrophages—the first line of defense against a yeast that causes the cryptococcosis pulmonary infection, which predominantly affects immune-compromised individuals and can result in life-threatening fungal meningitis. Another current project involves RNA sequencing analysis of MRSA infection in diabetic mice with a Vanderbilt researcher. While lab research was affected during the pandemic, that opened doors to concentrate on writing and editing a variety of her projects, she said. “For students, I have focused on entirely computational projects on genome annotation,” added Seipelt-Thiemann, who mentored three completed Honors thesis projects in spring 2021. “Two new master’s students just got started, and their projects will be at least 75% computational.”


A laboratory of love The sudden transition to online learning in spring 2020 impacted Seipelt-Thiemann’s human genetics class, undergraduate research, and genetics lab—about 230 students, including five Honors students working on theses. Fall 2021 opened with new protocols, and she taught 12 hours and was a genetics lab coordinator for 270 students. Over the summer, Seipelt-Thiemann redesigned the genetics labs for students to alternate coming to class every other week to learn lab skills, process samples, and generate data. On the other weeks, they were guided remotely to develop

computational skills. “The quality of the lab experience that these genetics students are getting under these conditions is just as high as they would receive under normal conditions,” said Dennis Mullen, Biology Department chair. Seipelt-Thiemann and four researchers around the country whom she’s never met in person also learned that their manuscript, “Teaching in the Time of COVID-19,” has been accepted for a science journal special issue. “I’ve learned so many new [technology] things,” she said. As for the cello lessons, they’re a diversion she will continue to look forward to, virtually or—eventually—in person.

Connecting the Dots

by Emily Oppmann

This excerpt is from a graduate school essay by Emily Oppmann, a Buchanan Fellow, MTSU’s 2021 Provost Award winner and 2020 Outstanding Female Student, and a May 2021 graduate with a Biology concentration in Genetics and Biotechnology and minors in Chemistry, Global Studies, and Honors. She is pursuing a master’s in Genetic Counseling at the University of Alabama–Birmingham.

Looking back, the influences of both the people I care about and the experiences that challenged me have shaped me into the person I am today. I want to be a genetic counselor to be able to improve the lives of my patients and to make counseling more accessible to those seeking genetic advice worldwide. I was introduced to the concept of genetics when I was 4 years old. While my mom was pregnant with my brother, her OB-GYN noticed abnormalities in an ultrasound. Our family was quickly thrust into the world of prenatal specialists, medical geneticists, and genetic counselors. After weeks of tests, we had a diagnosis: a genetic condition called Potter’s Sequence. My brother, Patrick, had no kidneys and would not survive past birth. When my parents told me this, I first thought doctors could give my brother medicine so he would get better. The realization that there was nothing doctors could do to make him healthy was extremely difficult to grasp. I enrolled in college uncertain of my career path but chose to major in Biology. A general genetics course, a random elective, caught my attention freshman year, and I enrolled. From the first day, I was hooked on genetics. I was intrigued by the rapid growth of the field, the amount of

information yet to be discovered, and the important role that genes play in people's health. I finally felt passionate enough to take a serious look into related careers. While discussing this interest with my parents, we had a candid conversation about my brother, but this time I was hearing it as an adult. They said of all the medical professionals they encountered, by far the most impactful was their genetic counselor. The compassion and support he showed is something they remember to this day. Pursuing a career as a genetic counselor feels as if it is my purpose, something indelibly ingrained in me by the brief 23-minute life of my baby brother. If I had not experienced incredible loss and sadness, I might never have known how comforting a skilled genetic counselor can be to a grieving family. If I had never registered for genetics, I would not have gained all the knowledge and research experience. Looking back, I can connect all the dots that led me to this goal, and it feels as if I am home.

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Innovations All the Time Cutting-edge college keeps moving in COVID-19 crisis and beyond MTSU’s College of Basic and Applied Sciences barely skipped a beat when COVID-19 caused most of the world to stop. Whether in normal academic times or in a major pandemic, CBAS programs are always innovating and making an impact.

Soaring in a Storm One of the hallmarks of MTSU’s Professional Pilot students is their ability to successfully navigate unexpected challenges, including months of turbulence during the pandemic. In a year unlike any other, the Department of Aerospace’s flight school continued operating at Murfreesboro Municipal Airport after establishing daily protocols. Other Aerospace professors and students also continued hands-on education while adapting to more online learning as well. “In a normal academic year, pilots in training are usually delayed because of poor weather,” Pro Pilot program coordinator Tyler Babb said about facing COVID-19 challenges. Bill Allen, an associate professor in the Maintenance Management concentration, and other Aerospace faculty even taught unpaid as summer began to ensure their students met rigorous FAA requirements that cannot be circumvented. Over three weeks, Allen’s aircraft maintenance and airframe inspection classes made up labs missed during the spring 2020 shutdown.

28 | Innovations

While Babb added quizzes from the Kahoot! game-based platform and taught his fall Honors Theory of Flight in person, Technology concentration coordinator Nate Callender had already used a robot to record every class lecture the previous five years. Callender also included synchronous Q&A online sessions and assisted with technology at the Aerospace Mobile Classroom and a classroom at the new airport terminal. Kevin Corns, an Unmanned Aircraft Systems assistant professor, even sent an aircraft kit to a student’s New Jersey home to build and bring back for a week-long demonstration since it was the student’s only fall in-person course. In addition, the department received six new Diamond Aircraft 2020 DA 40 XLT airplanes for its student training fleet in 2020 and had 13 existing planes refurbished. MTSU, boasting one of the nation’s top aviation departments, also is one of only 12 universities selected for Delta Air Lines’ Propel Pilot program for a direct career pathway.


Essential Services Fifteen student workers at the farm laboratories and MTSU Creamery—and about 50 altogether on campus in various academic departments—were deemed “essential” workers by Provost Mark Byrnes during the spring 2020 pandemic shutdown. “No matter what, the cows still have to be milked,” said Erin Coleman, 20, an Animal Science major who worked at both the farm and the milk processing plant. Agribusiness major Brendon Puckett continued bringing milk by tanker truck to the Stark Agricultural Center and delivering bottled milk to several community businesses. The University additionally donated and delivered 400-plus bottles of the famous MTSU Creamery chocolate milk to Murfreesboro City Schools one morning to help them continue the mobile CHOW Bus breakfast and lunch meals program. In its first venture at the Saturday farmers’ market on the courthouse square in June 2020, the MTSU Creamery also completely sold out of milk.

Virtual Physics When the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic locked down campus, Professor Daniel Erenso converted his garage into a classroom environment for remote learning for two upper-division Physics courses. He used six 8-by-4-foot dry erase boards, a Swivl robot designed for an iPad, and blue patches to help with glare. That’s not all he accomplished. A theoretical physicist, Erenso in the summer began writing a textbook for remote learning to open up previously canceled classes. Ron Henderson, department chair of Physics and Astronomy, also asked Erenso to train fellow faculty members with this method. Real and Virtual Lab for Introductory Physics II was accepted for expedited publication by the Institute of Physics, a popular European publisher, Erenso said. The 400-page book is designed to be used online and has embedded links for students to visit websites for their simulated labs.

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Neil Armstrong Award for Rover Even though in-person competition among an elite international field was canceled, an MTSU Experimental Vehicles Program (EVP) lunar rover team earned the top engineering achievement prize at the 2020 NASA Human Explorer Rover Challenge. The 14-person MTSU Team No. 2 was awarded the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Neil Armstrong Best Design Award in the university division—MTSU’s second since 2014. Named in memory of the first person

to walk on the moon, the award recognizes the team with the rover that has the best ability to take on the punishing elements in the challenge course. “Our students did an amazing job, considering extremely limited access to the lab following spring break and most of them having to perform their roles remotely,” said Saeed Foroudastan, EVP program director and CBAS associate dean.

Not Just by the Numbers Mathematical Science faculty are accustomed to innovating with techniques such as flipped classrooms—lectures as homework and assignments completed in class—so the pandemic has been no different. Ginger Holmes Rowell (pictured) began using new National Science Foundation online statistical games, group work with Zoom breakout rooms, and even project work in the remote setting to help students “think deeply about meaningful statistical concepts.” While teaching hybrid (rotating which students are online and which are in the classroom), Dovie Kimmins missed being able to walk around the room, but she has utilized Zoom for

30 | Innovations

office hours where students can interact together. Kimmins also changed her research project—interviewing college and K–12 students about a particular mathematical concept—to virtual interviews. Rebecca Calahan, who previously had taught two courses online, found it helpful that she was already making extensive use of the Desire2Learn (D2L) course shell for pre-calculus. Additionally, she figured out how to integrate external learning tools such as MyMathLab, and a Calculus Remote Tutoring Lab is available. Students also have responded to more one-on-one interaction during the pandemic, she noted. “In an online course, students who might have been insecure in the classroom are now more comfortable talking math or asking for help,” Calahan said.


“Gold Standard” Status Staying on Track The Computer Science Department’s sixth annual HackMT reverted to a virtual environment for January 2021, but that didn’t deter the talent and creativity of the college students taking part. Computer Science majors Jacob Cuomo and Emily Nguyen were part of the first-place team that created an app to help family members keep track of chores. And, as a bonus, Cuomo and Nguyen were each chosen later to receive $2,500 scholarships provided by primary sponsor L3Harris. The yearly 36-hour hackathon brings software developers, visual designers, programmers, and computer science and information systems students from universities together to collaborate while inventing new web platforms, games, mobile apps, and electronic gadgets. Todd Harris, L3Harris’ human resources manager, said HackMT “is a great event from our point of view because it allows the students to take their classroom learning and put it into practice in developing an actual product or project.”

Terrapin Beer Co., owned by Molson Coors Beverage Co., is partnering with MTSU Fermentation Science to offer an annual $10,000 scholarship to underrepresented undergraduate students wanting to pursue a degree in this program. Molson Coors, which acquired the Athens, Georgia-based brewery in 2016, recently established a $25,000 endowment with MTSU and similar partnerships with Colorado State and Oregon State University. “Corporate-funded scholarships are the gold standard of academic program endorsement,” said Tony Johnston, director of MTSU’s Fermentation Science undergraduate and graduate programs, which have grown considerably since their launches in 2017 and 2019, respectively.

Worth the Risk The Casualty Actuarial Society named MTSU’s Actuarial Science program one of four recipients of its international 2020 CAS University Award Program for the innovative and exemplary ways it prepares students for careers in the property and casualty insurance industry.

Cross-Discipline Conservation MTSU and University of Mississippi faculty and student researchers are collaborating on a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant project involving climate change, conservation practices, and training the next generation of environmental scientists and engineers. The three-year, $272,555 USDA grant is a research effort for Environmental Science students from MTSU’s Department of Geosciences and engineering majors from Ole Miss to study the role and potential effects of climate change on future 21st century agricultural challenges. Racha El Kadiri, a Geosciences assistant professor at MTSU, is the project director. She is an environmental scientist who applies machine learning, remote sensing, geographical information systems, and computational methods to address a wide range of hydrological and environmental problems.

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