MTSU Research 2022

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Research Centers

Vol. 5 • No. 1 • Spring 2022 Office of Research and Sponsored Programs

TAKING INITIATIVE On-campus institutes incubate ideas and innovations to impact the world

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Vol. 5 • No. 1 • Spring 2022 Office of Research and Sponsored Programs

06 ROOTS RISING How a novel MTSU center and “wild” farming may save an endangered species—and struggling communities

30 THE PURSUIT OF COLLABORATION MTSU center focuses on outreach and leadership in the wider science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education community

12 AHEAD OF THE CURVE MTSU’s Data Science Institute and degree program fill middle Tennessee’s workforce demand

36 CSI: MTSU MTSU’s signature, reputational forensic program solves crimes across Tennessee—and the world

18 PROTECT AND PRESERVE One of MTSU’s most respected Centers of Excellence works tirelessly to save history before it’s too late

42 WORD OF MOUTH MTSU’s Albert Gore Research Center moves to the center of the oral history movement in America

24 BLUE-CHIP INSTITUTE Like a bull stock market, MTSU’s newest research center is on a steady rise

48 A CULTURE OF SERVICE A quick look at some of MTSU’s other research and public service centers

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University President Sidney A. McPhee • University Provost Mark Byrnes • Vice Provost for Research and Dean, College of Graduate Studies David Butler • Interim Co-Directors, Office of Research and Sponsored Programs Dawn McCormack, Gregory T. Rushton • Vice President for Marketing and Communications Andrew Oppmann • Senior Editor Drew Ruble • Senior Director of Creative Marketing Solutions Kara Hooper • Design Brian Evans • Associate Editor Carol Stuart • Photographers Andy Heidt, J. Intintoli, Cat Curtis Murphy • Special Thanks Jamie Burriss, Donna Baker, Mandy Singleton Address changes should be sent to Advancement Services, MTSU Box 109, Murfreesboro, TN 37132; Other correspondence should be sent to Drew Ruble, 1301 E. Main St., MTSU Box 49, Murfreesboro, TN 37132. For online content, visit 2,610 copies printed by Phillips Printing, Nashville, Tennessee. Designed by MTSU Creative Marketing Solutions. 0821-9861 – 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;; or 615-898-2185. The MTSU policy on non-discrimination can be found at


According to Tennessee State Symbols (1995), Murfreesboro natives Charles Bradford and James Johnson were fishing in the Caney Fork River in the early 1880s when, on opening mussels, they found a large white pearl. They took it to William Wendel, a local druggist, who sent it off to Tiffany’s in New York. A few days later the boys had a check for a then-impressive $83. More than 130 years later, mussels are a $40 million industry in Tennessee, according to the Tennessee River Freshwater Pearl Museum. And the freshwater pearl is the official state gem.

Pearls are formed when freshwater or saltwater mollusks—clams, oysters, mussels, and more— secrete layer after layer of ultra-thin fluid in an onion-like manner around an irritant. Conceptually speaking, we believe mollusks producing pearls are a good metaphor for the various research centers and institutes housed on the campus of MTSU. Each in its own way, shape, and form is cultivating important research for the state’s benefit, responding to a need and resulting in valuable gems for Tennessee’s economy and workforce development.

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RESEARCH BREAKTHROUGH As a publicly supported institution of higher learning, we take our role to serve the state of Tennessee very seriously, which includes educating undergraduate and graduate students to enter the workforce well educated and skilled. This role also involves conducting research and creative activities that produce knowledge, information, data, technologies, know-how, and other outcomes that are disseminated from MTSU to the whole state to help improve the economy, services, and quality of life for all Tennesseans. The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education releases classifications for more than 4,500 schools every three years. Based on a measure of research activity, doctoral universities like MTSU are assigned a category: R1 (highest research activity), R2 (higher research activity), or R3 (doctoral/professional university). MTSU has just been elevated to R2 status—doctoral university with high research activity—in the newly revised Carnegie Classification, joining a select group of just a few hundred institutions to carry the R1 or R2 designation nationwide. This is an exciting development years in the making and made possible through the research efforts of our faculty, chairs, and deans; staff in the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs; Vice Provost for Research David Butler; and partnerships with various vice presidents. It raises the profile of MTSU, for sure. But importantly, it also enhances the value of the University to students who get to work with faculty researchers at MTSU on important inquiries and discoveries. At the center of much of the important research emanating from the campus of MTSU are the centers and institutes profiled in this magazine. We celebrate their collective work and output. True Blue!

Sidney A. McPhee MTSU President

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TAKING INITIATIVE Research centers and institutes are spectacular academic hubs. Within these spaces, creative ideas and innovation generate new knowledge and information. Faculty from across disciplines interact in these places, joining knowledge and ways of knowing into new ideas that transform the world as we know it. Middle Tennessee State University has a host of centers and institutes with various foci, missions, and visions. Within this issue we open the oysters that are our research centers and institutes to see what is happening within and hear stories, “pearls of wisdom,” about the results incubated by our faculty, staff, and students. As MTSU continues to grow its research presence in greater Nashville and middle Tennessee, we anticipate developing more centers and institutes that connect the research capabilities of our great faculty with that of the research and development needs of private and public sectors. This parallels our efforts as a public university and our new earned status as a Carnegie R2 High Research Activity University. Supporting our elevation to R2, many of our metrics improved in 2020–21, including 156 proposals and 64 new awards to principal investigators across campus. These awards exceeded $13.2 million in extramural funding, while research funding reached $5.1 million. The more research centers and institutes we create, the more extremely precious gems of knowledge we can produce to improve the quality of life for the citizens of Tennessee. We strive towards a sustained effort of research productivity and growth as a public university serving middle Tennessee.

David Butler Vice Provost for Research and Dean, College of Graduate Studies

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ROOTS RISING HOW A NOVEL MTSU CENTER AND “WILD” FARMING MAY SAVE AN ENDANGERED SPECIES—AND STRUGGLING COMMUNITIES Larry Sanderson had planned to ride his technical career with Enron straight into comfortable retirement. Instead his employer famously went south in 2001, taking his 401(k) with it. After searching for a new career and a more sustainable retirement plan, Sanderson went south too. He left Ohio for Tennessee, to grow American ginseng on his own small slice of the Cumberland Plateau. It was a leap of faith for someone in his 50s, especially since ginseng must be cultivated over several years, not a single season. However, having grown up tending a quarter-acre garden in Montana, Sanderson liked the idea of living off the land, especially the wild, wooded piece of it he and his wife found on the Appalachian “ginseng belt.”

International Ginseng Institute FY17–21 • $1.38 million external funding • 16 proposals

They had looked for land in several states, but as soon as they toured the 10.5-acre tract between Monteagle and South Pittsburg, they were sold. “It’s back off the road,” Sanderson said. “There’s no sound here at all, and we’ve always been around a freeway or a railroad. Man, it’s so quiet here. I love it.” He also loves his earning potential growing wild American ginseng, whose mature roots fetch sky-high prices for medicinal use in Asia. Digging for ginseng has been a tradition for generations of Tennesseans. They’ve fed their families by heading to the deep woods in the fall. Yet the work is hard and often dangerous, and it usually doesn’t provide a stable income, especially now that ginseng is getting harder to find. Despite longtime government regulation of digging, which is all but forbidden on public land, American wild ginseng is an endangered species.

Article by Allison Gorman

By cultivating it in its native habitat—the environment thought to give its roots their medicinal potency—Sanderson doesn’t just want to make money. He wants to make a living.

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“Wild-simulated” farming isn’t new, but it’s new to American ginseng, said MTSU Professor Iris Gao, director of the International Ginseng Institute (IGI) on campus. With financial backing from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), she’s been working to advance the farming model, which could do more than rescue Sanderson’s retirement or even save an endangered species. It could bring new life to rural communities in Appalachia.

But the larger goal is to reengineer the economics of wild American ginseng, to create a new, sustainable supply to meet global demand. The demand for ginseng has always been strong in Asia, where it’s been used as medicine for 2,000 years. But Gao says the market is growing as science is beginning to substantiate the health benefits long attributed to ginseng root. In Chinese medicine, it’s prescribed for side effects of chemotherapy, such as fatigue and nausea, as well as for chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension. Now, its medical efficacy is being explored through peer-reviewed research and clinical trials. In response to that demand, farmers in Wisconsin have adapted standard field cultivation methods to produce ginseng on a large scale.

COUNTIES WITH HIGH HARVEST RATES HAVE HIGH POVERTY AND UNEMPLOYMENT, ESPECIALLY IN SOUTHEAST APPALACHIA. But field-cultivated ginseng is less valuable than wild-harvested because it’s considered less potent. Gao said there have been few published studies comparing their potency, so her research team published one of its own. Indeed, her team found that wild ginseng contained far more active ingredients than field-cultivated roots.

GROWING A NICHE INDUSTRY Much of the work Gao does is grassroots, providing one-on-one support for budding ginseng growers, with information on the logistics and techniques of wild-simulated methods. Meanwhile, her research team is developing scientific technologies to make those methods more efficient and effective. Through the IGI, they bring together all the stakeholders in the wild ginseng industry—growers, dealers, researchers, and government regulators— collecting and disseminating information online and through workshops and symposiums.

Gao believes multiple factors could account for the difference, including variations in climate, soil, topography, surrounding vegetation, and even tree species in the natural canopy. A major factor is that field-cultivated ginseng is harvested after three or four years, for profitability, but wild-harvested ginseng must be at least seven years old—and some found roots are decades older than that. The longer the root grows, the more active ingredients it accumulates, Gao said. “The plants that grow in the wild don’t have fertilizers, they don’t have pesticides. They have to fight their own way to survive,” she explained. “They have to fight tree roots and rocks and naturally occurring pathogens, and in the process they

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develop secondary metabolites. Those are the active ingredients in ginseng.” Naturally grown ginseng is more desirable even when it’s not used for medicinal purposes, she added. “If I drink ginseng as tea, or cook it with food, I would like it to be organic.” A 2020 report published by the USDA’s Southern Research Station bears that out, finding that wild American ginseng sells for 10 to 25 times more per pound than field grown.


Plus, wild farming suits the ethos and economics of rural Appalachia, Gao said. It preserves the forestland and requires minimal investment—mostly seed and sweat equity. Promoting wild farming will pay dividends for Tennessee, too. Murat Arik, director of MTSU’s Business and Economic Research Center, found that encouraging local cultivation of ginseng in Tennessee could generate $32.5 million in net annual income, with an economic impact of up to $87.3 million.

Between overharvesting and loss of habitat, wild ginseng is fast disappearing. In Pennsylvania, once part of the ginseng belt, the species is entirely gone. Through its Natural Heritage Inventory Program, Tennessee’s Division of Natural Areas is trying to prevent that from happening here. Ginseng is very much part of the heritage of Tennessee, which has been exporting it to China since the 18th century. Of the 19 states that can legally harvest and trade ginseng, Tennessee is the third-largest exporter. According to Caitlin Elam, the state ginseng coordinator, all of Tennessee’s exports are reported by ginseng dealers to be wild harvested from private land with landowner permission, as digging on state land is now prohibited. The USDA report also finds that counties with high harvest rates have high poverty and unemployment, especially in Southeast Appalachia, where wild ginseng provides “an economic safety net.” But the current supply model isn’t sustainable for plants or people. “To conserve valuable wild native plant products while also improving local livelihoods, wild cultivation and good stewardship practices must be promoted,” the report concluded. This solution introduces a new category of stakeholder: ginseng growers like Sanderson, who can plan and plant for maximum profitability. Elam notes that for a $250 permit application fee, growers could increase their earnings by becoming licensed ginseng dealers, who buy, bundle, and export the roots in bulk.


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A NATURAL SOLUTION Recognizing its economic potential, the USDA has invested heavily in Gao’s work—in 2017 with a $148,000 grant to promote and support wild farming of ginseng in Tennessee, then in 2021 with a research grant of $455,000. The first grant led to Gao’s founding of the IGI. The second grant, combined with $300,000 from MTSU, will fund development of biocontrol agents to prevent blight. Along with principal investigators from Penn State and the University of Virginia, Gao is leading a multi-institutional team that includes some 20 undergraduate students. “The major diseases in ginseng are soil-borne fungal diseases,” Gao said. “They can spread quickly, wiping out a crop in a very short time. Imagine getting a fungal disease in your fifth or sixth year that wipes out all your plants. It would be a disaster.” Gao said some growers have to spray with fungicides weekly or even daily, from April through September. Sanderson sprays once a month, spending $800 a year on chemicals. “That’s a lot of money when you’re a small farmer,” he said.

Iris Gao, IGI director

When the natural technology is available, he’s ready to make the switch. In the meantime, he is eager to try the new hybrid seed Gao is working on, one with a shorter maturation time. “Iris is developing better strains, stronger strains, trying to help growers like me,” he said. “I had to go on the internet; that’s all I had. So I made a lot of mistakes and lost a lot of money up front.” According to Elam, the new technologies being developed at the IGI can make growing ginseng a more viable and appealing business, and that business can help save an endangered species.

LESSONS LEARNED Sanderson met Gao in 2017, the year he sowed his first 100,000 seeds following the advice of Farmer Google. He’d read that ginseng grows where ferns grow, and that ginseng won’t grow under pines. His tract on the Cumberland Plateau had a lot of pines. A forester offered to remove them for $2,000 but would have decimated the hardwood canopy. Sanderson figured out that pines are OK if you clear the needles away, but ferns don’t play nice with

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ginseng. From that first crop he has just 500 plants. From his second he still has 10,000. The next year he tried three different planting methods. One of them “came up like a carpet,” he said, but was prone to blight. From that crop he learned not to sow ginseng seeds so close together.

SCIENCE IS BEGINNING TO SUBSTANTIATE THE HEALTH BENEFITS LONG ATTRIBUTED TO GINSENG ROOT. Sanderson’s 2018 crop recently yielded his first “three-prong,” the distinctive leaf pattern of a maturing plant. “It’s just as cute as can be,” he said. Still, you don’t harvest three-prongs; you wait for four or five. He expects his first harvest in 2026.

PEOPLE HELPING PEOPLE Growing ginseng is a patient business, but the setbacks and the waiting are easier when you’re not going it alone. Sanderson has been sharing what he learns with Gao. She uses the information in her research and for workshops and symposiums hosted by the IGI, which is now the hub for a burgeoning, collaborative community of Tennessee growers. “This isn’t about me, really—this is about me and 170 other guys,” Sanderson said. Last year, Sanderson had a different kind of setback. “We had four years of planting when my heart went south on me,” he said. The diagnosis of a genetic condition, and the possibility of surgery, scuttled Sanderson’s plans to plant in 2021. Undeterred, he and Gao are working on a backup. She’s researching goldenseal, another promising candidate for wild farming that matures in just two years. Her students can help put the rhizomes in the ground.


The Molecular Biosciences Ph.D. interdisciplinary program focuses on biological problems at the molecular level using a research-oriented course of study. Graduates have accepted post-doctoral fellowships and internships at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, National Science Foundation, Virginia Tech Center for Drug Discovery, and Procter & Gamble, among others. • Numerous lab opportunities in the $147 million Science Corridor of Innovation • Research and teaching assistantships available on a competitive basis • May apply up to 16 hours of previous master’slevel coursework to 65-hour degree • Faculty come from biology, chemistry, math, and agriculture disciplines

Engage in bench research with mentors and conduct independent investigation.

APPLICATION DEADLINES Jan. 31: Fall (to be considered for graduate assistantships) Sept. 30: Spring admission

People helping people. Looks like that Tennessee tradition is here to stay.

TRUE RESEARCH molecular-biosciences-phd

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AHEAD OF THE CURVE MTSU’S DATA SCIENCE INSTITUTE AND DEGREE PROGRAM FILL MIDDLE TENNESSEE’S WORKFORCE DEMAND Data collection has become a kind of currency over the past decade, whether it be from social media feeds, online shopping patterns, or other digital data that companies can source. But most companies don’t specialize in analyzing such data to make better business decisions. As a result, data science has emerged as a valuable new strategy in corporate circles. In 2018, MTSU launched the Data Science Institute (DSI), the first of its kind in the midstate, to develop public and private collaborations around this emerging field of “big data.”

Data Science Institute FY17–21 • $1.4 million external funding • 37 proposals

Drawing on the expertise of faculty from disciplines ranging from agribusiness and sociology to chemistry and computer information systems, the interdisciplinary nature of the institute produces highly specific, highly targeted information to its varied clients past and present—from startups such as Hytch to nonprofits like Second Harvest Food Bank. The DSI also offers highly marketable experiences to its students, most of whom desire careers in a profession so sought after that supply can’t meet demand. In the course of this important work, the institute is also generating novel new research in the digital age.


Article by Allison Gorman and Jimmy Hart

Governments and funding sources are taking notice. Since 2019, the DSI has garnered more than $1 million in external grant funding from national sources. And in 2021, the state of Tennessee allocated nearly $2.6 million to create a fully integrated data science model at MTSU that develops a pipeline of students who can support the workforce needs of the growing technology-based industries in the midstate The DSI aims to use data for the public good. It achieves that goal in part through tackling projects that specifically help local government agencies and nonprofits serve those with limited means.

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For example, institute staff and Data Science students have recently been 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. DSI representatives also have met with the Murfreesboro Police Department to explore how it might use data-driven decisions to improve its processes, be more predictive, and even prevent some corollaries to crime, such as drug overdoses.


In a past partnership between the DSI and Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee, a team of students analyzed the food bank’s data with the goal of helping to streamline its warehouse operations. David Tinsley, a former MTSU student, served as senior manager of information systems and information technology for Second Harvest when it worked with the DSI. At that time, Tinsley said the nonprofit faced several challenges all at once: its budget was lean and its food is often highly perishable. Donations can be unpredictable. And distribution is complex and time sensitive: Second Harvest coordinates with multiple organizations to get food to hungry people as quickly as possible. Tinsley brought in MTSU students to work on data-driven projects. Through internships, they gained real-world experience and he gained a real understanding of where Second Harvest was and where it needed to be. “Data science is a flashlight,” he said. “You can finally see what you’re looking at.”

DRIVING A CONVERSATION The DSI also conducts independent data research aimed at answering modern society’s most pressing questions. That includes partnering with global behemoth Amazon to study autonomous driving. The DSI and Amazon Web Services recently held their first AWS DeepRacer machine learning contest on the MTSU campus. The competition, which included student-led teams from MTSU as well as

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teams from Central Magnet School and Smyrna High School, featured model race cars programmed by the students attempting to navigate a short course autonomously. DeepRacer allows developers of all skill levels to get hands on with machine learning through a cloud-based 3D racing simulator and fully autonomous 1/18 scale race car driven by reinforcement learning. Amazon Web Services’ Joseph Hart, a principal account manager based in Nashville as well as an MTSU alumnus (’90), said the benefit of such events to Amazon is “being able to play a part in inspiring young minds around the world of data, analytics, and data science, and what’s emerging in those fields and how it affects the business we’re in and really all businesses these days.”

How much should the financial reward be increased to increase the use of the Hytch app? The DSI looked at the data (nothing personal, just trip information like miles and locations) and said: “Wrong question.” Hytch was convinced that if it gave people a couple of extra pennies per mile, more people would use it—and that makes sense. But the truth is, that’s not why people were using it. What the DSI found was when habits were formed, people continued to use it.

“From a workforce perspective, when you look across the state of Tennessee, we’re looking for bright, young talent who understand intimately the details that are involved in high-performance computing, analytics, data science, machine learning—that’s what we’re here to do,” Hart added. For Ryan Otter, DSI director and Biology professor, that’s the whole point. “What we care about the most . . . is that you don’t need to be a computer programmer for 10 years to do this,” Otter said. “We need to lower this barrier of entry. We want more people—younger people, more diverse individuals, across age, background, all of it—having access.” Amazon provided access to some of its top engineers and programming platforms as part of the competition, even flying in staff.

ALONG FOR THE RIDE Hytch, a recent Nashville startup, has been 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:

The data showed that three months after their first logged rides, 47% of Hytch users were still using the app. 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. You have to analyze the data to know what you should be asking.

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Ryan Otter, DSI director

The DSI presented a full report after a month and a half. Hytch liked it so much, it hired the institute for another project. 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. Within months of the report, Hytch had signed agreements to launch in two new major markets.

FILLING A NEED Faker Zouaoui, chief analytics officer for mobile tech support company Asurion, 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.” 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 backroom to the boardroom” to continuously shape their products and business strategies. That’s why data scientists are in demand throughout the country, including in the greater Nashville area.

Otter said the need for data scientists is predicted to soar nationwide. In middle Tennessee, tech workforce growth is projected to outpace national growth by an eye-popping 78% over the next five years. Entry level salaries for data scientists average $70,000 to $85,000.

COMPANIES ARE USING DATA “FROM THE BACK ROOM TO THE BOARDROOM.” Through the institute and a recently approved data degree, MTSU is building a pipeline to supply that need, Otter said. “Data Science at MTSU is unique because we have [undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral] programs . . . combined with the research generated from the Data Science Institute. This combination allows students to learn in a traditional classroom environment and gain experience working with real-world projects,” he said. “When I talk with employers, they’re looking for employees, especially at the entry level, that have taken initiative and gotten involved in projects above and beyond classroom assignments, whether that’s working on a funded research project with a

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faculty member or a self-started idea. Our focus is on preparing our students to not just be qualified for the job market, but to be competitive in it.” MTSU’s recently added Bachelor of Science in Data Science is the first undergraduate program of its kind in Tennessee. The University also offers a Ph.D. in Computational and Data Science and a graduate certificate geared toward working professionals, and it is awaiting approval on a master’s degree in the emerging field. Additionally, MTSU partners with K–12 schools for hands-on data science education. Because data science lives in every industry, MTSU’s Data Science program doesn’t live in any academic department. Created with input from Nashville’s top data scientists, it incorporates computer science, math, information systems, economics, and finance, among other disciplines. It’s a degree that truly makes graduates careerready through courses and experiences to create data-driven problem-solvers.

THE FUTURE’S SO BRIGHT As data science has expanded beyond traditional STEM fields and become critical to virtually every industry, from health and agriculture to journalism and linguistics, MTSU has positioned itself on the leading edge of that change. Nashville Technology Council President Brian Moyer has praise for MTSU’s efforts. “Middle Tennessee is well positioned to be a national leader in the field of data science,” Moyer said. “These new programs announced by MTSU will play a critical role in generating the talent required to fuel our future growth.” The positives of MTSU’s emphasis on data science are many-fold. But perhaps the greatest impact is on students themselves. It’s not hyperbole to state that those students choosing to study data science at MTSU now have a chance to earn more than just a degree; they’ll also graduate with a résumé.


MTSU’s Computational and Data Science Ph.D. program prepares students for 21st-century research careers in industry, government, and academia. Faculty from eight different departments partner to offer a unique interdisciplinary education that equips graduates to adapt and grow as computing systems and scientific research evolve. • Emphasizes both simulation and data-intensive science • Provides skills to model complex systems and handle huge volumes of data • Master’s in Mathematics or Computer Science can be completed while in the Ph.D. program

Solve real-world problems across the disciplines.

APPLICATION DEADLINE Feb. 15 to be considered for fall graduate assistantships

TRUE INNOVATION computational-science-phd

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PROTECT AND PRESERVE ONE OF MTSU’S MOST RESPECTED CENTERS OF EXCELLENCE WORKS TIRELESSLY TO SAVE HISTORY BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE From Murfreesboro to Montana, the work of the MTSU Center for Historic Preservation (CHP) continues to expand both academically and geographically, administering millions of research dollars along its path. Arguably the center’s biggest impact is on the communities of Tennessee—large and small, rural and urban—in developing and providing, at no charge in most cases, historic preservation plans, historic structure reports, heritage tourism plans, Main Street program assistance, National Register and survey projects, and a host of other related assistance. The center also provides administrative and planning assistance to many of Tennessee’s heritage organizations.

Center for Historic Preservation FY17–21 • $3.18 million external funding • 20 proposals

Article by Patsy B. Weiler, Allison Gorman, and Drew Ruble

Along the way, MTSU master’s and doctoral students in Public History have worked alongside the CHP’s nationally recognized director, Carroll Van West, and his staff, getting real-world historic preservation experience. (The Ph.D. program, launched in 2005, is one of only six in the nation.) “There is no better way to learn history and develop a passion for it than to go put your hands on it,” West said. Since 1985, CHP staff have managed the Tennessee Century Farms program to identify, document, and recognize farms that have been continuously in the same families for at least 100 years. The ongoing research has certified more than 1,800 Century Farms scattered across Tennessee’s 95 counties. The program allows the CHP to collect information necessary to interpret agrarian history and has become a model for similar programs in numerous other states. A second major statewide project, the Rural African American Church Survey, has engaged congregations large and small in the preservation and heritage development of these extraordinary properties, leading to many National Register of Historic Places nominations such as Parker's Chapel Baptist Church in Portland, Tennessee, listed in 2021.

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In 2001, the CHP also became the administrator of the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area, a private-public partnership with the National Park Service and the first National Heritage Area in America managed by a university. During the ensuing two decades, CHP staff and students have steadily enhanced the effectiveness of statewide Civil War interpretation, preservation, education, and heritage tourism efforts, effectively overseeing nearly $8.2 million in funds. The program is a go-to institution for communities, nonprofit groups, government officials, and property owners who wish to join efforts to tell the state’s story of the Civil War, one of America’s greatest challenges. The CHP gives priority to requests for assistance with African American history, especially with historic schools, churches, and cemeteries. CHP staff and graduate students have met with citizens to prepare National Register nominations for Beck's Knob Cemetery in Chattanooga and the Evergreen Graveyard in Murfreesboro. West also is working with two MTSU alumni, Katie Randall and Cheri Szcodronski, to landmark key places and neighborhoods associated with the Civil Rights Movement in Montgomery, Alabama. Additionally, West and graduate students are nominating the African American “campsite” farms along the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail.

Stones River National Battlefield re-enactment

GO WEST, YOUNG MAN Tennessee has clearly benefited from the tireless work of the center, but CHP’s geographic scope has significantly expanded since the calendar flipped to the 21st century. The MTSU center first entered the national arena by forming longstanding relationships with the National Park Service—celebrating 20 years of working together in 2022. More recently, CHP tackled the job of identifying and documenting historic buildings associated with the first half of the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail from Nauvoo, Illinois, to North Platte, Nebraska. A nearly $47,000 grant from the National Parks Service funded that project. The Mormon Trail represents a continuation of the center’s involvement with the development of the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail and the Santa Fe National Historic Trail. During the summer of 2021, CHP staff and students began to put boots on the ground in Butte, Montana, to establish an Ethnic Community History Center. An agreement allows a center graduate student to work in Butte during the next four summers. Outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico, the CHP is nominating the 300-year-old El Rancho de las Golondrinas to the National Register.

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The center also expanded its role in the preservation of famous sites associated with 20th-century American popular music. In 2016, the RCA Studios Building in Nashville was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. National Register nominations for Nashville’s Exit/In music club and King Studios in Cincinnati (where James Brown recorded) have been completed. The latter project combined the center's expertise with MTSU Music Industry Professor Charlie Dahan, a partnership that will next tackle the possible nomination of Gennett Records in Richmond, Indiana, the location of pivotal early records from such jazz and blues masters as Louis Armstrong and Charley Patton.

HEAD OF THE CLASS The CHP’s expansive fieldwork is impressive. So, too, is the CHP’s status as a national stalwart in the development of teaching methodology related to American history. In 2008, the MTSU center joined with the Library of Congress and received funds for the Teaching with Primary Sources program across Tennessee. Five years later, when the Library of Congress released the first issue of Teaching with Primary Sources Journal, it was all about CHP’s work in Tennessee teaching the Civil War era in a multidisciplinary context. Thousands of teachers across the nation have since read the edition and used the materials in their classrooms. “Teaching about the Civil War with primary sources—original documents and objects that were created at the time under study—provides opportunities for expanding this familiar topic in history into subject areas as varied as geography, language arts, and science,” the journal stated, “giving students unique opportunities to discover how this epic struggle bled into nearly every aspect of American life.” Kira Duke is the CHP education specialist leading the Library of Congress’s Teaching with Primary Sources program. The endeavor has received approximately $1.75 million in grant money since its inception, including current funding of $146,000.


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A desire of educators to further understand the rich history of World War II and its impact on Tennessee similarly led to a $43,000 Library of Congress grant. “Our goal is to create a comprehensive, primary source-centered curriculum on World War II’s impact on the Tennessee Homefront that can be used in fifth grade, high school, and U.S. history survey undergraduate classes,” Duke said. A second grant of $88,300 was awarded to the CHP by the National Park Service in spring 2021 to prepare a World War II Homefront book. The book will focus on various sites in the National Park Service. “Showcasing how universities can work with public agencies and nonprofit organizations is part of the mission of the Center for Historic Preservation,” summed up West, who is also the Tennessee state historian. “These projects not only enhance education and economic opportunities in Tennessee, but they also allow us to provide significant hands-on professional experiences for MTSU students and give them a competitive edge in the national marketplace.”

AN ARMY OF PRESERVATIONISTS Indeed, developing students has been central to the CHP’s mission since it was established in 1984 by the Tennessee General Assembly as MTSU’s first Center of Excellence.

Carroll Van West, CHP director

MTSU alumna Annabeth Hayes knows the education and hands-on experience she received while studying at the CHP gave her the tools to be successful in her job at the Tennessee State Museum. Since 2019, Hayes has been curator of decorative arts and is “responsible for the care, research, and exhibition of the museum’s decorative arts collection, which includes furniture, silver, ceramics, and other related objects,” she said. “In this role, I’m also the curator that is responsible for the collection at the Tennessee Executive Residence,” added Hayes, a CHP research assistant during 2015–17. She graduated from MTSU in 2018 with a master’s concentration in Public History. Torren Gatson, an assistant professor in the field at the University of North Carolina–Greensboro, attended during 2014–18 and earned his Public History Ph.D. “The impact of the [CHP] on the field is obvious just from the hundreds of former students who are now leading preservationists and scholars across the United States,” Gatson said. “Each one is a constant representation of what the CHP has meant for not only MTSU and historic preservation, but for the field of public history at large.”

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One of MTSU’s most celebrated historic preservation graduates is David J. Brown, former chief preservation officer for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Others include Blythe Semmer (’98) at the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and Jeff Durbin (’89) at the National Park Service. “While none of us walked into our current positions straight out of graduate school in Murfreesboro, I do believe that our education and hands-on training at MTSU gave us a foot in the door, which undoubtedly led to where we are now,” Durbin said.

WHAT’S OLD IS NEW AGAIN Future fireworks on the CHP drawing board include Tennessee’s plans to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the American Revolution and Declaration of Independence. In late 2020, West was named as the initial chair of the Tennessee 250th Commission, created for the semiquincentennial celebration of the United States, on July 4, 2026. West firmly believes the center’s future is exciting, yet challenging as well. “Over the last 38 years, MTSU has grown and matured so, so much as a leading higher education center that it consistently attracts stronger students, faculty, and staff from all walks of life,” he said. “We are so much stronger today because we are more diverse, inclusive, and representative of the state and nation; there is literally no place the center cannot go and make a positive impact.” According to West, the CHP’s graduate research assistants will be of immeasurable help in navigating this new landscape. “Not only do they ‘stretch’ us in that their ideas, needs, and goals are different from those of a generation ago, but they also come with those 21st-century skills in communication, research design, and community outcomes that we could have never envisioned on our own,” he said. With such fresh perspectives coming on board, the CHP is clearly positioned to continue making the adventure of exploring public history an amazing adventure indeed.


MTSU’s Ph.D. in Public History and M.A. historic preservation track teach students skills to preserve the public memory, cultural identity, and valuable architecture in their communities. Doctoral candidates may specialize in historic preservation, cultural resource management, museum management, archival management, oral history, or public archaeology. • First public history doctorate in U.S. • Year-long residency in professional practice • Partnerships with the Center for Historic Preservation, Center for Popular Music, Albert Gore Research Center, and Walker Library Media Studio • Graduate assistantships available at Ph.D. and M.A. levels

Gain real-world experience working with professionals at historic sites.

APPLICATION DEADLINE Feb. 1 for Ph.D. in Public History program

TRUE HERITAGE public-history-phd

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BLUE-CHIP INSTITUTE LIKE A BULL STOCK MARKET, MTSU’S NEWEST RESEARCH CENTER IS ON A STEADY RISE One of the leading economists in the 20th century, MTSU alumnus James M. Buchanan won the 1986 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for his leadership in developing the public choice theory. A farm boy from Rutherford County, he is the only MTSU student ever awarded a Nobel Prize and is among the most notable alumni to ever study at the University.

Political Economy Research Institute FY17–21 • $271,610 external funding • 17 proposals

Like Buchanan, Daniel J. Smith grew up in rural poverty. Director of MTSU’s Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) since 2018 and an Economics professor, Smith was drawn to do graduate study at George Mason University, where he met and interacted with Buchanan, a major source of inspiration and founder of the Center for the Study of Public Choice. “I wrote my dissertation under a committee comprised of his former students and co-authors, all well-known for their research in political economy,” Smith said. “It has been exciting to bring my training and experience to MTSU, especially with its historical connection to James M. Buchanan, and to help establish and build the Political Economy Research Institute.” Wielding a stellar and ever-expanding team of research scholars, PERI is reaping great dividends across the campus, community, and country.

Article by Patsy B. Weiler

Smith certainly checks the scholarship box. He has published two recent books, Political Economy of Public Pensions (2021) and Money and the Rule of Law: Generality and Predictability in Monetary Institutions (2021), both co-authored for Cambridge University Press. The Michigan native previously served as associate director of the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University, where he helped establish a master’s in Economics.

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MTSU already boasts both Ph.D. and M.A. graduate degrees in the Jennings A. Jones College of Business, which houses PERI jointly with the University Honors College. “Universities must utilize their intellectual capital and resources to help answer key questions facing our society,” said David Urban, dean of the Jones College. “For example, faculty and students in PERI investigate myriad ways in which free market principles can impact societal well-being. “Several years ago, I started the process to create PERI, in part because I believed MTSU should have a seat at the table when lawmakers need sound advice for economic policy decisions. In just a few short years, PERI has already developed a national reputation for the quality and impact of its research."


In the marketplace, PERI issues public policy studies; hosts debates and lectures; has built strong social media platforms; provides a vibrant voice to media editorial pages such as the Wall Street Journal and The Hill; and is adding to a growing bookshelf of publications. A new book project, The Ill-Gotten Gains of Crony One-Percenters, is underway with a $15,000 grant from the Institute for Humane Studies. At its core, the institute is a “privately funded, student-centered MTSU institution, with a mission of engaging undergraduate and graduate students with faculty in both teaching and research that will further the understanding of free market, business, and economic principles, as well as their impact on regional, national, and international financial conditions and the well-being of society,” Smith said. “That is a mission that transcends politics.” Seed money to help establish the institute came from a $3.5 million grant from the Charles Koch Foundation, dispersed over several years. Ongoing student programming is made possible by the generous support of private donors, many from Tennessee, Smith explained.

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“While we’re excited to partner with a diverse range of donors, it is important to note that PERI does not accept donations connected to directed research,” he said. “Faculty affiliated with PERI have complete academic freedom and are expected to meet the rigorous standards of academic integrity." To honor the late great Buchanan, PERI in 2019 also hosted an academic conference to celebrate the centennial birthday of the alumnus and Nobel laureate whose scholarship inspired its very creation. Smith said the conference, which attracted top scholars in political economy from places like Duke University, New York University, King’s College London (England), and Sapienza University of Rome, Italy, provided “an intellectual foundation” for PERI to build upon.

SCHOLAR FACTORY PERI’s 2020–21 annual report reveals the institute’s sizable investment in MTSU students, as well. If producing young scholars in the field of economics is the measurement, the joint venture forged between the Honors College and the Jones College of Business to create PERI is in high gear. Since the institute was founded in 2016, the strength and success of PERI’s graduate programming has attracted Ph.D. candidates from around

the country and the world. It is proof not just that the demand for economics courses is skyrocketing but that PERI is truly an institute for its time. “Following in the example set by our faculty, our research fellows are publishing in prestigious academic outlets, prepared to be dynamic teachers in the classroom and active scholars in the field of political economy,” Smith said.

THEY ENCOURAGE THEIR STUDENTS TO THINK CRITICALLY AND CREATIVELY ABOUT THE WORLD AND TO DO RESEARCH OF VALUE TO OTHERS. Emilia Suggs is one such scholar. Suggs holds the distinction of being the first PERI research fellow to earn her doctoral degree at MTSU, in 2020–21. She is now an assistant professor of economics at King University in Bristol, Tennessee. Suggs, whose research focuses on political economy and voting system design, was recently published in the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization. “The PERI center expects excellence in research and teaching from its faculty, students, and staff,” said Suggs, who also earned her Economics

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master’s and bachelor’s degrees at MTSU. “From day one, they encourage their students to think critically and creatively about the world and to do research of value to others."

A FITTING HOME Globally renowned constitutional scholar John Vile, dean of MTSU’s Honors College—the first created in Tennessee—said PERI and the Honors College are “strongly committed to scholarship.” PERI and the Honors College share another strong connection: namely, their respective ties to Buchanan. Within the economics discipline, Buchanan’s contribution is known as the field of public choice, which brings the tools of economic analysis to the study of public decision-making. MTSU's scholarship program named in his honor to recognize top students, originally known as Buchanan Scholars, was created in 1997. When addressing the first recipients, he shared these words of encouragement: “Economics, the discipline that was to become my scientific home, requires expository writing skills, logical structures of analysis, and a grounding in ultimate reality. And political economy, the branch of moral philosophy from which economics springs, requires

philosophical coherence. I came away from Middle Tennessee with all of these.” In 2006, MTSU established the Buchanan Fellowship program in the University Honors College, intended to attract top scholars from across the state and country.

PERI HAS HAD NOTHING SHORT OF A TRANSFORMATIVE EFFECT ON THE ECONOMICS AND FINANCE DEPARTMENT. “One of the reasons Dr. James M. Buchanan was so supportive of the Honors College was because all students who graduate from the college write a thesis,” Vile said. “Dr. Smith, Dr. [Ennio] Piano, and others working with PERI have been a godsend in assisting students from the Honors College who are preparing their theses, and we anticipate this will have a positive, long-term impact.” Piano and fellow faculty member Steven Sprick Schuster are both highly engaged assistant professors in Economics and the Honors College. Other MTSU faculty affiliated with PERI who participate in collaborative research initiatives include E. Anthon Eff, Nour Kattih, and Adam Rennhoff (Economics and Finance); Michael Federici and

Daniel J. Smith, PERI director

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Andrei Korobkov (Political Science and International Relations); Tammy Waymire (Accounting); Justin Gardner (Agriculture); and Ben Stickle (Criminal Justice Administration). Joining the dynamic PERI lineup in the 2021–22 academic year are affiliated faculty Walker Todd, an attorney for 20 years who was associated with the Federal Reserve Banks of New York and Cleveland; Bryan Caplan, a New York Times best-selling author and professor of economics at George Mason; and Louis Rouanet, an assistant professor of economics at Western Kentucky University who earned his Ph.D. from George Mason. “PERI has had nothing short of a transformative effect on the Economics and Finance Department of the Jones School of Business and the University as a whole,” Piano said. “One needs only to look at the research output of its associate faculty across several departments on campus to see the growing, positive impact PERI is having at MTSU.” Undergraduate students can apply for research fellowships awarded by PERI on a competitive basis. Looking toward the future, one of the foundational tenets on which Smith will continue to build PERI is making sure students have a deep well of ideas from which to draw as young scholars. “Advancing our understanding of what drives human well-being, it is important to create a vibrant, and diverse, intellectual atmosphere where productive dialogue, critical thinking, and learning can occur,” he said. “Students at MTSU should read and seriously engage the works of scholars such as Karl Marx, John Rawls, and G.A. Cohen, but they should also have the opportunity to study the works of Adam Smith, F.A. Hayek, and Robert Nozick.” In the end, the work of PERI enables MTSU students of all viewpoints to engage in conversations that will strengthen their critical thinking skills and help them learn to come to their own informed worldviews. And that is sure to produce dividends far beyond MTSU’s campus walls.


The Ph.D. in Economics provides students with the opportunity to combine advanced training in the field with teaching and applied research. Successful graduates of the program possess the skills necessary for careers as university professors, research economists, consultants for private businesses, and advisors to the government. • Specializations in labor economics and industrial organization • Master’s degree not required for applicants • Resources and support for job placement

Study and research with excellent economists and mentors.

APPLICATION DEADLINE April 1 to be considered for graduate assistantships


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THE PURSUIT OF COLLABORATION MTSU CENTER FOCUSES ON OUTREACH AND LEADERSHIP IN THE WIDER SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, ENGINEERING, AND MATHEMATICS EDUCATION COMMUNITY MTSU launched into the 21st-century world of STEM education with help from a $300,000 NASA grant to open a small center on campus focused on programming and support for Tennessee teachers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Tennessee STEM Education Center FY17–21 • $3.93 million external funding • 37 proposals

Two decades later, the Tennessee STEM Education Center (TSEC) remains an outreach arm of MTSU aimed at improving K–20 education in science, technology, engineering, and math, both locally and nationally. These days, it has rocketed from a single star to become a bright constellation in the STEM education universe, building a scientific community and research culture through collaboration, outreach, and vital grant funding, and has generated numerous grants from prestigious organizations including the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Institute of Educational Sciences.


Article by Patsy B. Weiler

Left: Athena, goddess of mathematics and wisdom

When it started around 1999, the center was called the Tennessee Math, Science and Technology Education Center because NASA would not let MTSU call itself a STEM center—at the time, engineering courses were not offered at the University. After Tom Cheatham was appointed the director in 2012, the former College of Basic and Applied Sciences dean recommended changing the name to the Tennessee STEM Education Center, which the Tennessee Board of Regents approved.

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Under his watch, the center continued to assist with professional development for Tennessee’s STEM teachers, strove to publish what staff and faculty were developing and learning as best practices, and supported University faculty in STEM education grant funding, leaving a strong foundation to build upon for future scholars.

of others to join such an endeavor; I’m now in a position to do the same for others,” Rushton said. TSEC helps develop faculty research by having associate and assistant directors from various STEM departments across campus, as well as faculty fellows, serve as part of the center’s leadership team. Current associate directors are Sarah Bleiler-Baxter (Mathematical Sciences) and Grant Gardner (Biology). Chaney Mosley (Agriculture) and Ying Jin (Psychology) are assistant directors. Ruston has a solid mission in mind for TSEC: serve as a model of expertise and leadership in STEM education through the growth of internal and external research initiatives, fostering of partnerships, and expansion of educational programs, while seeking to engage with other stakeholders invested in STEM education. “TSEC is positioned well, within MTSU, Tennessee, and the Southeast, for continued growth as a STEM leader for educators in both K–12 and higher education, as well as a provider of engaging experiences for K–12 students to explore STEM as a career path or as a lifelong learner,” said Rushton, who also is interim co-director for strategic growth in the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs.

A high-energy Greg Rushton assumed the TSEC reins in 2018, with a laser focus on STEM education, innovation, and research. Before moving to his new Southern address, he worked at New York’s Stony Brook University on Long Island as associate director of the Institute for STEM Education and an associate professor of chemistry. Over the course of his career, he has directed or co-directed more than 25 research or professional development projects, with external awards exceeding $18 million since 2005. “The success I’ve experienced during my academic career has come in large part from the invitation

Rushton and his dynamic staff equate the center to a strong tree with deep roots and many branches. The roots extend to the earliest days when the University opened in 1911 to prepare teachers; now, slightly more than a century later, advocating for STEM educators is a top TSEC priority. Hundreds of branches represent the many students, teachers, and STEM education researchers who have benefited from these efforts. Supporting the branches are strong limbs of faculty collaboration, community outreach, undergraduate and graduate student mentoring, and research—limbs that continue to grow.

RESEARCH FOR ANSWERS Here’s a prime example of the type of collaboration Rushton seeks: MTSU was selected by the Institute of Education Sciences as a partner institution on a nearly $1 million research grant awarded to the state.

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The award will support research on the effectiveness of Tennessee Pathways, an initiative that aligns K–12 and postsecondary schools with industry to provide students with the relevant education and training necessary to seamlessly enter the workforce. Mosley, assistant professor for agricultural education, and Elizabeth Dyer, assistant director of the Tennessee STEM Education Center, are serving as MTSU’s co-principal investigators. They will work with staff from the Tennessee Department of Education, University of Tennessee, University of Massachusetts, and Education Strategy Group. Another exemplary project is a four-year, $609,435 award from the National Science Foundation’s Improving Undergraduate STEM Education Program. It’s a collaborative research effort—“Investigating Classroom Discourse in Active Learning Environments for Large Enrollment Chemistry Courses”—aiming to serve the national interest. MTSU’s researchers are joined by investigators from the universities of Iowa and Arizona and Ruston’s former home, Stony Brook University. In house, TSEC also launched in 2021 the Center of Methodology, Evaluation, and Applied Statistics for University Research and Education (C-MEASURE), designed to promote and facilitate research activities for MTSU faculty, staff, and graduate students. Started by Jin, coordinator for the Quantitative Psychology master’s program, C-MEASURE had 11 grant or research projects underway, six funded by the NSF.

STUDENT INVOLVEMENT Special attention is being paid to the participation of student populations—specifically diverse student populations—such as first-generation college students and English-language learners (ELLs) in all of TSEC’s activities. For instance, Chemistry Professor Amy Phelps is also a part of the NSF “Classroom Discourse" grant, assisted by Shaghayegh Fateh of Iran, a Ph.D. student in the Mathematics and Science Education program; a


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second graduate student, Nigeria native Theresa Oluwatobiloba Ayangbola; and an undergraduate researcher, Sylvia Zakher, who grew up in Jordan.


“TSEC is a place that brings together teams of people to tackle problems. The best work is done in cooperation—we believe that strongly in the classrooms where we are working, and it is also true in research,” said Phelps, who shared how “the MTSU demographics have changed dramatically since I have been here [about 20 years], and the diversity of our student body has greatly increased. We have an opportunity to truly understand the experiences of ELL students in the context of a chemistry course—and to identify issues that might be stumbling blocks for them.”

Outreach designed to elevate, empower, and engage a strong network of STEM educators and students is also vital to the center’s mission.

Student involvement is a central theme at TSEC. Joshua Reid, a Cullman, Alabama, native who earned his doctorate in Mathematics and Science Education at MTSU, joined TSEC as a post-doctoral researcher in 2020. At the center, he helps multitask a variety of details involved with the grants—which can be more numerous than the elements listed on the Periodic Table—while building a résumé to eventually become a professor. “The diversity of individuals and research projects at TSEC have helped shape and prepare me for my future career,” said Reid. “. . . Our research has a national impact and scope.”

The Southeastern STEM Education Research Conference, hosted by TSEC, is an opportunity for regional researchers to connect, collaborate, and share about their ongoing work. The recent 16th annual conference showed increases in submissions (30%), institutions (more than 50), and states (24) and other countries represented. Posters at the Capitol, an event at Tennessee’s Capitol, showcases undergraduate research to state legislators and policymakers. Not only does MTSU take an average of seven undergraduate students featuring their research each year, but TSEC staff members coordinate organizational details for all participating universities. The annual STEM Expo is a gathering of 600–800 fifth- through 12th-grade students from the region who bring their STEM projects to the MTSU campus to be evaluated. TSEC also supports STEAM-a-Palooza at the Discovery Center at Murfree Spring in Murfreesboro. In 2021, children got to build their own catapults,

Greg Rushton, TSEC director

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a hands-on activity that taught about tension, torque, and gravity. Also in 2021, TSEC inspired and participated in a three-person virtual panel on how STEM centers nationwide were dealing with COVID-19. Center staff members help host grant-writing workshops and collaboration opportunities to support research at MTSU. And TSEC is actively involved with the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network, a statewide organization working with the Tennessee Department of Education to make STEM learning better and more accessible. The state administers Battelle Foundation grants, creating learning hubs across Tennessee. MTSU receives one of these for its Middle Tennessee STEM Innovation Hub, where center staff work with K–12 STEM educators.

HOME SWEET HOME All these important activities are now being steered from a recently renovated new home for TSEC. The space includes a lending library (containing an Aladdin’s cave of resources for STEM education) and a new master classroom. Rushton said TSEC embraces its roles in research and service because they help us “understand and contribute to our needs as a society.” “We are encountering our future quicker than at any time in history,” he added. “Consider Alexa and Siri, Amazon and Apple’s digital voice assistants, both applications of artificial intelligence, or AI. Most of us increasingly use this technology in our daily lives that barely more than a decade ago was largely unknown. “Expanding STEM education and developing a strong research enterprise—through basic, applied, and experimental approaches—prepares MTSU to be a catalyst of innovation and recognized as a thought leader not only in Tennessee, but across the country and our world in a rapidly growing arena. TSEC is excited to take a key role in leading this growth and development.”


MTSU’s Mathematics and Science Education Ph.D. offers opportunities to improve the way science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses are taught. This program prepares graduates for leadership in education settings, including conducting discipline-based research at the college level and preparing America’s next generation of K–12 math and science teachers. • Biological Education • Chemical Education • Interdisciplinary Science Education • Mathematics Education

Conduct research with cutting-edge work in STEM education.

APPLICATION DEADLINE Feb. 15 to be considered for graduate assistantships

TRUE COLLABORATION math-science-education-phd

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CSI: MTSU MTSU’S SIGNATURE, REPUTATIONAL FORENSIC PROGRAM SOLVES CRIMES ACROSS TENNESSEE—AND THE WORLD His research goes by titles such as “Common Household Rope and an Outdoor Hanging,” “Cervical Vertebrae Entrapment in the Noose,” and “Evidence of Prehistoric Violent Trauma from a Cave in Middle Tennessee.” Such scholarly, albeit gruesome, work in the field of trauma has earned MTSU Professor Hugh Berryman a reputation as one of the nation’s foremost forensic anthropologists; in fact, he’s one of only 120 board-certified forensic anthropologists in the world.

Forensic Institute for Research and Education FY17–21 • $387,130 external funding • 6 proposals

Venerable institutions like the Smithsonian Institution regularly tap Berryman’s expertise on bones and bone trauma. In 2005, the Smithsonian invited him to join an elite scientific research team examining the 9,300-year-old skeleton dubbed “Kennewick Man.” For the past 24 years he also has served as a consultant to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command Central Identification Laboratory (now the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency) in Hawaii, one of the world’s most technologically advanced forensic labs. In 2012, Berryman received the T. Dale Stewart Award—the highest honor bestowed upon a forensic anthropologist in the United States. Certainly the glamorization of forensics on television and in fiction has inflamed student interest across the U.S. At MTSU, Berryman has turned that fascination with forensics into a flagship program for the University.

Article by Skip Anderson, Allison Gorman, and Drew Ruble

THE HOUSE THAT BERRYMAN BUILT He did so in large part by founding MTSU’s Forensic Institute for Research and Education (FIRE), which advances forensic science through education, research, and community service in collaboration with faculty, students, and community partners.

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FIRE accomplishes these goals in part by offering crucial training to medicolegal death investigators, local law enforcement, and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Suffice it to say that when skeletal remains are found anywhere in Tennessee, there’s a strong likelihood that Berryman will be on the road and behind the yellow crime tape. The institute itself is no doubt on speed dial for many middle Tennessee counties.

WHEN YOU’RE HOLDING AN ARTIFACT . . . , YOU’RE HOLDING THE THOUGHTS OF THEIR CREATOR FROM HUNDREDS OR THOUSANDS OF YEARS AGO. Research and grant work also is substantial at FIRE, bringing money into the University through a wide range of efforts—perhaps the most significant involving identification attempts and the return of soldiers who died in the Mexican-American War (1846). Berryman called upon over 30 scientists and historians to assist in this endeavor. Last, the institute boasts a highly specialized student experiential learning team that gains access to active crime scenes across the state (in cooperation with local and state law enforcement) to prepare its team for future careers. The Forensic

Anthropology Search and Recovery (FASR) Team, founded in 2006 and composed of a maximum of 15 students annually, assists law enforcement in the recovery and documentation of skeletal remains from crime scenes and assists medical examiners in identifying unknown skeletal remains and assessing trauma. “Students are our most important work at MTSU. I have always been very proud of my FASR Team students,” Berryman said. Consider these recent former FASR Team members, each of whom graduated in the past three years: Devin Adcox, who worked as an autopsy technician for the Davidson County Medical Examiner’s Office, is currently attending graduate school at California State University–Chico; Sunny Lusins was hired as a medicolegal death investigator with the Davidson County Medical Examiner’s Office to assist forensic pathologists in their autopsies by investigating all unnatural deaths in the greater Nashville area; and Kendall Denney was hired by the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department as a crime scene investigator. Tiffany Saul, another MTSU graduate and an early FASR Team member, has established key FIRE programs, including a forensic isotope laboratory— one of the few in the nation—through a National Institute of Justice grant and an international study abroad program in forensic aviation archaeology to

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recover airmen missing in action from WWII. The list goes on and on. Berryman agrees that students these days are attracted to the profession for obvious pop culture reasons. “Shows like the CSIs and Bones have helped generate interest in the forensic sciences as a career option, that’s for sure,” he said. But the institute isn’t resting its future hopes on such continued fascination with television programming. To cultivate new student prospects and to advance its mission, it also launched a four-day summer camp (“CSI: MTSU”) that annually accommodates 35 high school students, divides them into teams, and has them compete to solve a crime. Scenarios are based on actual forensic cases and give students a chance to work with law enforcement agencies. “CSI: MTSU starts with a 911 call, and that’s their only clue,” Berryman said. “We would have a crime scene set up where they could investigate and record evidence, and they could interview the various characters involved. Some would tell the truth, and some would be lying—just like the real world.” Breakout sessions provide training in various areas of forensics, including DNA, fingerprints, blood pattern analysis, tire and shoe impressions, and ballistics. “On the last day, each team would use PowerPoint presentations to present their theories to a panel of judges, who could ask questions,” Berryman said. “Parents and grandparents would be invited and encouraged to ask their own questions.”

ROOTS AND BRANCHES Berryman’s understanding of juvenile fascination with forensics is authentic. He traces his own interest in forensic anthropology to his childhood growing up on his family’s farm in west Tennessee. A meteorite ended its 4.5 billion-year journey on the Berryman farm in 1908. Berryman’s maternal grandfather, John Fagan, at the age of 13 found a 22-pound chunk of rock in the tobacco field that

THE HUMAN SKELETON RECORDS ITS OWN HISTORY. hadn’t been there the day before—the renowned Palmersville Meteorite. For the remainder of the century, the meteorite would serve as a doorstop, a nutcracker, a boot scraper, and a conversation piece. “Today, this rusty rock serves as our only family heirloom,” Berryman jokes. If that meteorite sparked Berryman’s imagination, rocks of a different sort discovered on the farm fueled a bonfire. Anthropologists call them “projectile points,” and laypersons call them “arrowheads.” And the Berryman farm would occasionally yield one. “When you’re holding an artifact like that in your hands, you’re holding the thoughts of their creator from hundreds or thousands of years ago,” Berryman said. “If you look at an artifact such as a ceramic vessel, it’s more than what you’re seeing. Whoever made that had a mental image of what they wanted it to look like; their fingers fashioned what their mind saw, and you’re holding in your hands their thoughts some 800 or so years later.” Not only did these artifacts stir his imagination, but they also awoke his long-dormant interests in academic pursuits.

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“I was one of the worst students Palmersville High School ever turned out,” he said. “My school counselor told me that I was not college material.”

“and if you know how to read that history, it’s almost as though you’re conducting an interview with the decedent.”

It was under the tutelage of William M. Bass at the University of Tennessee that Berryman would take his first strides toward forensic anthropology. Bass established the world’s first “body farm,” as novelist Patricia Cornwell dubbed the otherwise unassuming plot of land planted with human bodies in various conditions and stages of decomposition for scientific research that aids in forensic recovery and identification.

Decades later, Berryman would establish another important pillar of FIRE’s mission—the William M. Bass Lectureship Series. Twice per year, the series brings top people from the field to campus.

“There are 206 bones in the human body,” Berryman said. “And it doesn’t take long to learn what a human femur looks like. But a fragment of a bone is a whole different thing.” Once a week, Bass would give his students a quiz with 20 fragments. “The final exam included the dreaded black box,” Berryman said. “We had 3.5 minutes to place our hands inside and identify, by name and side, 10 bone pieces by feel alone.” Bass, who’s now retired, "taught me ways to estimate skeletal age, sex, ancestry, stature, diseases they may have had, and traumas that may have resulted in their death. The human skeleton records its own history,” Berryman said,

Hugh Berryman, FIRE founder

“These are leaders in the field who even laypeople might know,” Berryman said. “To name a few, we’ve had Michael Boden, who was a witness in the O.J. Simpson [murder] trial; Kathy Reichs, who developed the TV series Bones; and Doug Owsley, who was part of the team investigating the aftermath of the siege of the Branch Dividian cult in Waco, Texas. He also identified one of the victims of the serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. “Through this lectureship, our students have access to some of the world’s leading experts in the forensic sciences.”

PASSING THE BATON At press time, Berryman was in the process of retiring from MTSU. But he is confident that the institute will be in capable hands with Tom Holland as director. Holland—also among the mere 120 forensic anthropologists certified by the

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American Board of Forensic Anthropology—has an international reputation not unlike Berryman’s. Formerly the scientific director of the Department of Defense’s Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii, Holland has led forensic recoveries around the world, from the barren deserts of Iraq to the steamy jungles of Vietnam to the snow-covered mountains of North Korea. In his DOD position, Holland held the awesome responsibility for approving the identifications of all U.S. military personnel from past military conflicts—including the Vietnam Unknown Soldier from Arlington National Cemetery. A longtime consultant to the New York State Police, Holland routinely briefs high-ranking military and government officials including the U.S. secretaries of state and defense. “Hugh Berryman took an ambitious dream for a forensic institute at MTSU and made it a reality. His will be very hard shoes to fill, but we have found just the person in Tom Holland,” MTSU Provost Mark Byrnes said. Holland will inherit a tremendous asset at MTSU in Saul, a research assistant professor with FIRE who earned her B.S. in Anthropology and M.S. in Biology from MTSU and a Ph.D. in Anthropology from UT. She has developed collaborative national and international partnerships through the forensic isotope laboratory and has partnered with the aforementioned Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency to launch the aviation archaeological missions for MTSU students in France. Every university wants all its programs to be as good as they can be. But some, by nature of the quality of the faculty and the uniqueness of the program, rise to a higher level nationally. The forensic program at MTSU—and the institute it supports—is precisely one of those signature, reputational programs impacting all of Tennessee.

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WORD OF MOUTH MTSU’S ALBERT GORE RESEARCH CENTER MOVES TO THE CENTER OF THE ORAL HISTORY MOVEMENT IN AMERICA C.S. Lewis once noted that “a single second of lived time contains more than can be recorded.” Lewis likened the past to “a roaring cataract of billions upon billions of such moments: any one of them too complex to grasp in its entirety, and the aggregate beyond all imagination.” While, metaphysically speaking, that may be true, we humans are nevertheless dogged about compiling public records, statistical data, photographs, maps, letters, diaries, and other materials to create “history” in the hopes of better understanding both ourselves and our past.

Albert Gore Research Center FY17–21 • $264,332 external funding • 5 proposals

One such form of recorded history is history that is, well, actually recorded. Oral history, the collection and study of historical information using sound recordings of interviews with people having personal knowledge of past events, provides something invaluable to the study of important events in our collective past—namely, eyewitness accounts. While historical materials predominantly provide basic facts of what transpired, oral history provides a glimpse into how individuals and communities experienced history. In addition to expansive physical archives, the Albert Gore Research Center at MTSU houses hundreds of oral histories covering a variety of subjects, including veterans and the homefront, University history, regional history, and much more. So highly regarded is the Gore Center from an oral history perspective that one of the nation’s most prestigious and respected groups of historians, the Oral History Association (OHA), chose MTSU for its headquarters in 2017.

Article by Gina K. Logue, Freya Cartwright, and Drew Ruble

Landing the leading organization for people who engage in the creation of extended oral history narratives has been a major reputational coup, advancing “MTSU’s research, public engagement, and public outreach, both to scholarly and professional environments and also to the general public,” said Louis Kyriakoudes, Gore Center director and OHA executive director.

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Kyriakoudes and Kristine M. McCusker, an MTSU History professor, wrote the proposal to acquire the headquarters with an emphasis on collaborating with many on-campus partners, such as the Gore Center, Department of History, Public History master’s and doctoral programs, Center for Historic Preservation, Center for Popular Music, and College of Liberal Arts. The Gore Center is named for the late Albert Gore Sr., a 1932 MTSU graduate who served as both a U.S. representative and senator from Tennessee and is also the father of former U.S. Vice President Al Gore. Scholars come from all over the world to the Gore Center to study documents he created that passed through his office. The partnership paid off in a big way as Kyriakoudes was part of three MTSU grant-writing teams that netted $1.375 million in total new funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) in 2021. The NEH grants, two involving the OHA, accounted for 56% of awards to Tennessee entities. Additionally, the Gore Center made important research acquisitions recently in political memorabilia and LGBTQ+ archival materials.

THE ART OF THE INTERVIEW Chicago-based author Studs Terkel popularized the discipline in the 20th century when he published oral histories focusing on themes that included working, war, race, jazz, the Great Depression, movies, and religion.

“Oral historians really do practice history from the bottom up,” Kyriakoudes said. “We want to preserve the stories of a variety of individuals to capture the full spectrum of the human experience.” As an example, Kyriakoudes cited an interview he conducted with a former resident of the Old Jefferson community near Smyrna, which was eliminated so that the Tennessee Valley Authority could build a dam on Percy Priest Lake. That talk is in one of several collections of oral histories archived at the Gore Center. The renowned “Middle Tennessee Oral History Project,” which began in 1999 and continues to this day, involves more than 500 recordings of people telling their stories of past events in their own words, including anecdotes of MTSU, African American community leadership in Murfreesboro, veterans, state and local politics, women’s organizations, farming and farm organizations, planning and economic development, and medical history. Kyriakoudes’ deep expertise in oral history no doubt was a key factor in the OHA’s decision to headquarter at MTSU. A decade ago, his team of historians tried to find every surviving World War II veteran in Mississippi and interview them. “The veterans are the ones who were there on the ground, and they can help us understand war in a much more personal way,” Kyriakoudes said. Asked about his most memorable oral history experience, Kyriakoudes recalls interviewing a

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WWII veteran who hadn’t actually fought in the war. Because of his age, he had enlisted in the spring of 1945 and was sent for training in the Philippines, which had just been liberated. “He talked about learning of the atomic bomb attack on Japan and the subsequent surrender,” Kyriakoudes said. “He said his commanding officer told him, ‘The war’s over; you were training to be part of the first wave of the invasion of Japan, which would’ve happened this fall, but you won’t have to go through that because we’re estimating a 75% casualty rate.’ And then [he] just stops—and this is a guy in his mid-80s—he starts to quietly weep. And he says, ‘All those women and children and innocent people died in those cities. But if that had not happened, I am sure that everything I’ve done with my life wouldn’t have happened either.’ And he had no answer. He didn’t say, ‘I’m glad we dropped the bomb’ or ‘I wish we hadn’t,’ he just had no answer. “He simply saw that fundamental contradiction, that dilemma that is war, and he had no resolution to it. He just started to cry. I turned off the recording machine, and his son said, ‘Dad, you never told us that story.’ This was something he had kept inside himself for a long time.”

BEYOND WORDS The Gore Center’s reputation for oral history studies is obviously worldclass. However, that endeavor is but one plank of the center’s vast infrastructure as a research and academic entity. A unit of MTSU’s College of Liberal Arts, the center collects, arranges, maintains, and preserves all manner of historical materials about MTSU, American democracy, and middle Tennessee life in general. It is a literal treasure trove for researchers worldwide. MTSU acquired the senior Gore’s congressional papers following his retirement from politics in 1971. The collection includes correspondence, photographs, audiotapes, and videotapes. Expanding to encompass University and regional history after officially opening its doors in 1993, the Gore Center now contains five other collections from members of Congress, including MTSU alumnus Bart Gordon (’71).


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The center also contains a huge amount of material documenting the social and economic history of middle Tennessee. This includes a comprehensive look at the way various wars shaped the region through the decades. A digital collection now provides online public access to much of that war material. In fact, the Gore Center’s military collections are some of the strongest resources for research and education and, therefore, are among its most popular for research requests. Its World War II collections include everything from invaluable oral histories to an extensive archive of photographs to glimpses of people’s personal lives detailed in their correspondence. Examples include the Tennessee Maneuvers Collection involving the large-scale war games that occurred in middle Tennessee from 1942 to 1944. Recently, the center obtained a wealth of memorabilia from Tennessee and United States political campaigns, currently being curated by staff archivists Donna Baker and Sarah Calise. Being such a substantial historical archive—and one housed at a university—the Gore Center’s primary mission is to integrate students into its activities. Interns and student volunteers regularly work with on-location sources to help the Gore Center find out what’s in them, categorize them, and take care of them for the future. As McCusker

Louis Kyriakoudes, Gore Center director

said, “It all works together to help MTSU’s History Department—and especially the Public History graduate program—publicize in substantial ways the exciting work that is going on here and the terrific students we are producing.”

A MORE-DIVERSE FUTURE When the Gore Center relocated in 2005 from the McWherter Learning Resources Center into the newly renovated Todd Hall, the younger Gore—who taught at the University after his vice presidency—spoke at the ceremony about his father’s papers as well as the importance of institutions, such as MTSU, that allow for individual growth and achievement. “This rededication today is an opportunity to reflect upon what this institution meant to my father’s life and to remark as well that what it meant to him is symbolic of what it means to so many students who come here with native intelligence and energy and creativity and good will and find at MTSU an opportunity to develop their talents,” Gore said, “to become exposed to the universe of knowledge that is accessible here at this great university—the fastest growing institution of higher learning in the state of Tennessee.”

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As the Gore Center continues to seek materials related to political, MTSU, and regional history, it is doing so with a refreshed perspective and mission. The current staff recognizes that the history the center has documented and preserved through the years is a mostly white, heterosexual, male history, which has created many gaps and silences in its collections. Moving forward, the archival staff is committed to collecting and preserving historical records and oral histories from people of color, women, disabled people, and people in the LGBTQ+ community as well. Some recent digital and physical exhibits include “I am True Black” and Movement ’68 projects on the Black experience; queer history at the University and digitization of Nashville-area gay and lesbian publications; and women’s roles in WWII. One of the new NEH awards, an $825,000 “Diversifying Oral History Practice” grant-making project, will help oral history practitioners address COVID-19 pandemic disruptions. OHA will award year-long and short-term fellowships, with the aim of creating knowledge that can be deployed to create a more equitable and inclusive field. “The funds will provide substantial support for under/unemployed oral historians, with a focus on oral historians from communities that have historically been marginalized in the field,” said Kyriakoudes, who is serving as co-principal investigator. “We are very proud to have secured these important funds, particularly in establishing a more diversified future for oral history.” A second grant under the NEH’s American Rescue Plan, with McCusker as director, will support the OHA conference and various panels accessible by the general public. Kyriakoudes is also part of the $499,997 “Global Cultures, Political Communication, and Women’s Suffrage” grant team for five MTSU humanities projects. Lewis described the past as “a roaring cataract” of billions upon billions of moments. The Gore Center at MTSU is intent on preserving those that are meaningful to middle Tennessee.


Transforming the present, discovering the future MTSU’s network of faculty and student researchers leads the way in Tennessee with more than 20 research centers, institutes, and support centers. MTSU connects researchers with funding opportunities and ways to make a meaningful impact statewide, nationally, and internationally, through partnerships and strategic alliances with businesses and organizations. • $53 million portfolio in active extramural awards • $1.5 million current annual investment from ORSP in research and creative activity at MTSU • Research opportunities at every level— undergraduate, graduate, faculty

Hallmarks of excellence in higher education. Keys to success in life. Be a part of it. Ask how.


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• Provides research products to clients in government, the private sector, and not-for-profit organizations

• Conducts education and outreach projects designed to improve population health

• Tracks economic activity in middle Tennessee • Keeps public informed about economic activity and perceptions in Tennessee through its publications and presentations

Recent project: $127,500 USDA grant award to assist impoverished rural communities Director: Murat Arik

• Disseminates research and health-related information through collaborative affiliations and partnerships • Initiates and strengthens academic programs in health and human services to support workforce development and promote healthy communities

Recent project: $1 million federal grant to address opioid abuse in Wilson County Director: Cynthia Chafin

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CENTER FOR ORGANIZATIONAL AND HUMAN RESOURCE EFFECTIVENESS • Helps organizations meet their HR and organizational development needs • Aligned with MTSU’s nationally recognized Industrial/Organizational Psychology undergraduate and master’s programs • Draws upon the expertise and experience of MTSU faculty, graduate project associates, and consultants for real-world projects

Recent project: Assistance with Tennessee Highway Patrol hiring and promotion processes Director: Michael Hein

CENTER FOR POPULAR MUSIC • Open to the public as one of the world’s premier research centers devoted to American folk and popular music • Houses more than 1 million items, including recordings, books, sheet music, photographs, and manuscripts • Develops and sponsors programs and presents special concerts, lectures, and events • Covers every genre of American popular music from the 18th century to the present • Has expanded the repertoire of its Grammy-winning Spring Fed Records label

Recent project: Webinars on Mexican folk music, songs and social justice, and Dolly Parton Director: Greg Reish

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TENNESSEE CENTER FOR THE STUDY AND TREATMENT OF DYSLEXIA • Dedicated to unraveling the puzzle of dyslexia • Provides professional services to students with dyslexia • Works with psychologists and teachers who identify and instruct these students • Serves schools in helping students achieve their potential

Recent project: Fox Reading Conference on structured literacy videocast worldwide Director: Jennifer Flipse


TENNESSEE SMALL BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT CENTER • Headquartered at MTSU, with 14 additional offices at universities and community colleges across the state, as well as an online service center • Serves as network of professional business consultants providing expert business advice to all types of businesses • Maintains an international trade center

Recent project: Free counseling to businesses for COVID-19 emergency assistance Director: Patrick Geho

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GRADUATE STUDIES IN YOUR REACH Whether it’s business, education, nursing, or many other high-quality options, find your future at MTSU. • • • •

Connect with innovative faculty and peers Retool and create your next opportunity Advance with affordable and convenient options Succeed in one of the nation’s hottest economies

Engage in real-life research, scholarship, and service with expert faculty, including through partner centers and institutes on campus, such as:


M.S. in Management (Business and Economic Research Center) Organizational Leadership concentration offered

Master of Music (Center for Popular Music) 7 specializations include Musicology

Master of Public Health (Center of Health and Human Services) Internship or thesis option available

Ph.D. in Literacy Studies (Tennessee Center for Dyslexia) Reading Disabilities/Dyslexia among 3 concentrations

M.A. in Psychology, Industrial/ Organizational concentration (Center for Organizational and Human Resource Effectiveness) I/O master’s ranked No. 1 nationally

M.S. in Finance (Tennessee Small Business Development Center) Rated in the Top 25 programs in the U.S.

Benefit from over $1 billion in recent facility investment.