Interim Chancellor Wayne Davis

Full Circle

Produced June 18, 2019 | Updated: July 01, 2019

Rising from a first-generation college student to serve as UT’s interim chancellor, Wayne Davis believes in helping others reach their full potential.

On a cloudy day in November 2018, UT hosted its first campuswide celebration of first-generation students. There was hot chocolate, open houses, and a specially designed logo plastered to T-shirts and lapel pins.

It was a full-circle moment for Wayne Davis.

He had been a first-generation student himself, and began saving for college when he was 14 years old earning three cents per delivery on his paper route in Orange County, North Carolina.

He graduated from Pfieffer College and earned a master’s degree in physics from Clemson University before arriving at UT in 1971 as a doctoral student.

Now he was the interim chancellor of the flagship public university where he had spent his career working to ensure that students across Tennessee had access to the same opportunity higher education had given him.

“To be involved in the first-gen celebration was really special,” Davis said. “These are fun events, but first-gen students really do have unique challenges, and we still have work to do.”

These are the challenges Davis likes to take head on. It’s why he said yes when then UT System President Joe DiPietro asked him to be interim chancellor just six weeks before Davis was set to retire.

“I had a short amount of time to make a decision, and it’s a big responsibility. I talked to Sylvia, and we decided we could do this,” Davis said, referring to his wife of nearly 50 years. “How do you say no when you’re asked to come and lead the university you love?”

After 47 years in UT’s Tickle College of Engineering—as a graduate student, tenured faculty member, associate dean, and dean—Davis had developed an unflinching dedication to his alma mater. Of course he said yes.

When he stepped into the role in May 2018, the campus was in the midst of an unexpected leadership transition and in need of a steadying hand. At the same time, UT had just set records in research, enrollment, and development.

“Almost everything we use to measure the success of the university was—and still is—at an all-time high,” Davis said.

With that in mind, and just two days’ notice, he came to the office with two goals: to ensure that UT’s momentum didn’t stall and to prepare the campus for its next chancellor. Surrounded by a talented team of administrators, many of whom he’d served with before, Davis immediately set to work.

The recently hired provost was still committed to joining the university, and within six months, Davis hired a new vice chancellor for communications and interim vice chancellor for diversity and engagement.

“The vice chancellor for diversity and engagement was something everybody wanted, and for us to make progress on that with support from the new system president, Randy Boyd, was crucial,” Davis said “It was such a critical office for the University of Tennessee, and we had gone without it for several years.”

He joined ribbon cuttings for the Ken and Blaire Mossman Building and Phase II of the Student Union. He participated in the groundbreaking ceremony for the new engineering complex he had helped shepherd as dean.

The university announced in the spring that Join the Journey, the most ambitious fundraising campaign in its history, had hit its $1.1 billion goal two years early, thanks to gifts from more than 100,000 individual donors.

During Davis’s tenure, UT welcomed its largest freshman class since the early 1980s and set a record for applications to the university. Graduation and retention rates hit their highest values ever. UT was named a high-producing institution for Fulbright Scholars for the first time and celebrated its eighth Rhodes Scholar—achievements driven in part by of the rapid rise in students engaging in research.

Last year, nearly 4,000 students participated in undergraduate research, about 15 percent of the overall student body. That’s up from 400 students just four years ago.

“Having been a first-generation student who was a work-study student in the physics labs at my undergraduate alma mater, that research experience helped me tremendously,” Davis said, before pointing to internal numbers that show first-generation students have the lowest retention rates of any group on campus. “If we can help more first-generation students get involved in undergraduate research, then we can help them in two ways: earning a paycheck they likely need and getting engaged in a meaningful way on our campus.”

Davis, with his engineering background, loves solving problems. As a lifelong teacher, researcher, and now administrator, he likes helping others figure out how to solve them. He helped the Pride of the Southland Band get a new practice field and is working with the Forensic Anthropology Center to expand its facilities.

“I enjoy that aspect of leadership: being able to facilitate change and helping others make these decisions and figure out the best path forward,” he said.

Even when he’s leading the effort, Davis is quick to point out that the victories belong to everyone. UT’s record year has been the product of collaboration and buy-in across campus, he said—and he’s proud to be part of the team.

Wayne Davis plays his guitar
Davis looks forward to playing his guitar more often.

Davis has been the ultimate Volunteer, willing to delay his retirement after more than four and a half decades of service to take on one more role for the university he loves. But he insists that he got at least as much out of the job as he put in, and that the experience has been among the most rewarding of his life.

“I met a lot of people I had never worked with before from all across the university, and people I wouldn’t have gotten to know otherwise,” he said.

He and Sylvia attended dinners with campus leaders and alumni, watched shows at the Clarence Brown Theatre, and cheered on student–athletes at games and tournaments.

“I have a better appreciation of the breadth and importance of the overall team of people working so hard to make sure everything works,” he said. “From the Faculty Senate to Student Life to Facilities Services, I know so much more about all phases of the university.”

As his time at UT comes to an end, Davis said he’s ready to move on from this role. He plans to make more time for gardening, hiking, and traveling. He will see his grandkids more. But he will also remain connected to the university—attending events, cheering on the Vols, and working with development, especially for the Tickle College of Engineering.

“We live in the area, and we plan to stay engaged here for a long time to come.”

Wayne Davis served as interim chancellor from May 2018 to June 2019.

This story is part of the University of Tennessee’s 225th anniversary celebration. Volunteers light the way for others across Tennessee and throughout the world.


Absolute Blast

Rachel Kronyak wears a HoloLens to explore the surface of Mars
Rachel Kronyak wears a HoloLens to explore the surface of Mars

Produced: September 11, 2017 | Updated: May 08, 2019

A UT grad student is one of only a few researchers worldwide exploring Mars in augmented reality.

A headset called the HoloLens shows Rachel Kronyak, a doctoral student in UT’s Department of Geology, the surface of Mars in a three-dimensional hologram.

The images used to build the hologram are taken by Curiosity, the NASA rover that has been exploring the planet for the past six years.

Curiosity Self-Portrait at Murray Buttes
Curiosity Self-Portrait at Murray Buttes

NASA launched Curiosity in November 2011. When the rover landed on Mars in August 2012, UT Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences Linda Kah joined the Curiosity mission.

Kronyak was the first student Kah brought onto the Mars rover science team in late 2014. Two other earth and planetary sciences professors—Jeff Moersch and Chris Fedo—also have roles on the mission.

Two sizes of ripples on surface of Martian sand dune
Two sizes of ripples on surface of Martian sand dune

The team plans the rover’s daily science operations and analyzes the data sent back to Earth.

In the early days of telescopes, Kronyak says astronomers were convinced that Mars contained extensive canal systems constructed by advanced, intelligent civilizations.

While NASA’s explorations have not uncovered such evidence, the understanding of Mars is advancing.

“With Curiosity in particular, we’ve found environments that, in the past, would have been suitable for microorganisms,” Kronyak explains. “And in the past two years or so, we’ve discovered that Gale Crater, Curiosity’s landing site, was likely an ancient lake.”

Curiosity examines a meteorite on Mars
Curiosity examines a meteorite on Mars

The rover’s findings suggest the lake’s existence goes back more than three billion years, and that it filled and dried in cycles over tens of millions of years.

Curiosity also gives NASA another advantage. “With advancing technologies in the past few decades, we’re able to increase our resolution of the Martian surface with each mission,” Kronyak says.

a map of the route driven by the rover from where it landed in August 2012 to its location in December 2016
The route driven by the rover from where it landed in August 2012 to its location in December 2016

The robotic vehicle—about the size of a Mini Cooper—takes high-resolution images of nearby rocks and analyzes them to determine their chemical composition.

“With Curiosity and other Mars missions, we’re constantly learning new things about the evolution of Mars as a planet—how its surface, atmosphere, and environments have changed over geologic time, and how these lessons might be applied to our own planet,” Kronyak says.

Kronyak is trying to understand how to relate the data from engineering experiments with Earth analog rocks to data from the rocks Curiosity encounters on Mars.

Her dissertation research, including data collected from the rover and HoloLens, will help scientists understand how rock fractures are involved in underground water circulation on Mars. This is crucial to considering how, when, and where life may have existed there.

a HoloLens
HoloLens provides access to scientists and engineers looking to interact with Mars in a more natural, human way.

“We’re explorers scouting uncharted land, just like our ancestors,” Kronyak says. “The only difference is that we get to do it with a robot on Mars. In many ways, I feel like this is the closest I’ll get to being an astronaut and going to Mars, so it’s an absolute blast.”

This story is part of the University of Tennessee’s 225th anniversary celebration. Volunteers light the way for others across Tennessee and throughout the world.


Jim and Judi Herbert

Real-Life Solutions

Produced: May 30, 2018

A transformative gift from Jim and Judi Herbert created the Herbert College of Agriculture.

Jim and Judi Herbert met at UT and have been so loyal in their support as alumni that in 2017 the university named them Philanthropists of the Year. This year, the Herberts decided to make a significant gift in support of Jim’s home college, the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources.

“To whom much is given, much is expected,” said Jim Herbert, the co-founder and executive chairman of Neogen Corporation. “We are proud to invest in the university most of my family has called home.”

Following the Herberts’ most recent gift, the Board of Trustees voted on April 17, with the formal announcement on June 22, to name the college in their honor.

The Herbert College of Agriculture becomes one of only two land-grant agricultural colleges in the United States to be named following a philanthropic gift.

orange and white arrow

55% Enrollment Growth since 2009

“This transformative gift will establish the Herbert College of Agriculture as one of the top institutions of its kind in the country,” said UT President Joe DiPietro.

Jim Herbert grew up on a farm outside Memphis and began his UT career earning room and board by watering the plants in an Institute of Agriculture greenhouse. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in animal husbandry in 1962. Judi graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English in 1963.

In 1982 Jim co-founded Neogen, a pioneer in rapid diagnostic testing focused on the development, manufacturing, and marketing of products for food and animal safety.

“Jim’s vision in providing agricultural advancements for the health of humans and animals has had a global impact,” said Institute of Agriculture Chancellor Tim Cross in 2016, when Herbert received the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources’ first-ever honorary doctorate.

orange and white outline of people

1,477 Undergraduate Students

255 Graduate Students

During the university’s 2017 Big Orange Give campaign, the Herberts’ $500,000 challenge grant made it possible to expand the scope of UT’s Writing Center to include more students.

The naming gift will create an endowment focused on strategic initiatives to enhance student and faculty learning experiences. It also will provide programs that equip students with the knowledge to meet the world’s most pressing agricultural issues.

“The Herberts’ engagement and expectations of our college will help advance our land-grant mission to address real-life solutions,” said Caula Beyl, dean of the Herbert College of Agriculture. “We will be able to attract and retain students and faculty who will impact our state, nation, and world.”

an orange and white book with open pages

10 Majors

14 Minors

This story is part of the University of Tennessee’s 225th anniversary celebration. Volunteers light the way for others across Tennessee and throughout the world.


a nurse helps a patient at Good Hands, an in-home care agency

Lending a Hand

Produced November 21, 2016 | Updated: April 17, 2019

It was his grandmothers’ selfless dedication to others that started alumnus Darnell Reid down a path that culminated in the opening of Good Hands, an in-home care agency based in Memphis.

Darnell Reid
Darnell Reid

We all have people who, perhaps unknowingly, change the course of our lives. For UT alumnus Darnell Reid, it was his two grandmothers, Lucille Reid and Ethel Johnson.

Both caregivers, they were the biggest influences in the Reid’s early life in Memphis. For much of his youth, he and his mom stayed with his Grandmother Johnson, and one of his earliest memories is seeing her put on the white shoes that went with the meticulously pressed uniform of her third-shift job at a nursing home.

It was his grandmothers’ selfless dedication to others that started Reid down a path that culminated in the 2010 opening of Good Hands, an in-home care agency based in Memphis.

a group of high school seniors walks together
High School Seniors

After earning a degree in finance from UT and an MBA from Purdue University, Reid took a conventional path, working for various companies in Texas before returning to Memphis in 2004. It was during this time that his Grandmother Lucille became dependent on others.

Reid says, “My aunt became her main caregiver, but we needed a service to help with my grandma and to relieve my aunt.” Like many family members, Reid’s aunt took some convincing before she would consider allowing an outsider into the home.

Helping hands with a senior patient
Helping Hands with a senior patient

Reid had the solution: rather than rely on the judgment and skills of strangers, he would start his own care company. It was the perfect blend of altruism and good business. Good Hands Home Care does for others what Reid wanted for his own grandmother. At the same time, the universal need for quality trustworthy care has made Good Hands a good investment.

a nurse poses with a patient
A nurse with a patient

“I’ve been on both sides of the issue, from a business and personal perspective,” says Reid. “I tell our personal care associates to always imagine they are serving their own grandparents.”

Good Hands provides a variety of services, including companionship, personal care, and housekeeping. With 60 employees having now served more than 100 clients, the company’s success has allowed Reid to extend his generosity to a different kind of senior––those graduating from high school. For the past three years, Good Hands has granted 11 college scholarships to deserving students.

A Volunteer’s good hands—together with a good heart and good mind—will always make a difference.

This story is part of the University of Tennessee’s 225th anniversary celebration. Volunteers light the way for others across Tennessee and throughout the world.


Professors Jon Hathaway, Lisa Reyes Mason and Kelsey Ellis talk in a greenhouse

A Climate for Connecting

Produced March 04, 2019

A connection between three professors has launched more than five years of multidisciplinary projects funded by the nation’s top research agencies.

When Assistant Professor Lisa Reyes Mason interviewed for her job in the College of Social Work in 2013, she asked to meet someone with UT’s Institute for a Secure and Sustainable Environment. Her interview included a discussion with Chris Cox, then director of ISSE.

“I was really interested in landing somewhere where there was space and interest in multidisciplinary work,” Mason said. “It made a big impression on me that the director of an engineering center would come to an interview for a social work candidate. He was interested in ISSE connecting with the social sciences.”

Cox introduced Mason to two other new professors, climatologist Kelsey Ellis and environmental engineer Jon Hathaway, during their faculty orientation. “What was unique is that we were all interested in urban environmental issues,” Ellis said.

Ellis, an assistant professor in the Department of Geography, specializes in specific hazard climatology: hurricanes and tornadoes. Hathaway, an assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, studies urban hydrology and green infrastructure.

Over the past five years, the three have collaborated on multidisciplinary research projects that help people understand their vulnerability to the elements and make decisions based on accurate weather data. Some projects aim to provide city officials with information on how green infrastructure projects could positively affect neighborhoods.

Their first project examined how climate affects people in neighborhoods. The team placed weather sensors in Knoxville neighborhoods to capture data for temperature, humidity, and wind.

a stormy Knoxville skyline
Severe storms in Knoxville on April 27, 2011 caused widespread hail damage and flooding. Photo by Knoxville News Sentinel.

“Faculty tend to be inherently curious people,” said Cox, who is now head of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “It’s a small step to extend that curiosity, to wonder how other disciplines contribute to understanding of an issue.”

A current project between Hathaway and Mason, funded by the National Science Foundation, combines flood control with an understanding of people in the community. The goals are to produce a smart system capable of adjusting flow as a situation demands and to encourage ways to slow flooding and erosion.

“It’s not just social science in isolation or engineering work in isolation—it feeds each other,” Mason explained. “The engineering team can say, ‘We need this kind of information about people, and we don’t know how to ask those questions or collect that data.’ Then the social work team is able to craft our interviews in a way that is really meaningful.

“It’s one of the beauties of this kind of multidisciplinary work. When you’re really a team, it’s not just an add-on. It’s important for me that my work addresses inequality or includes an equity or inclusion aspect. As a social worker, that is what I am ultimately interested in.”

A photo of Kelsey Ellis, Jon Hathaway, and Lisa Reyes Mason
Kelsey Ellis (left), Jon Hathaway (center), and Lisa Reyes Mason (right).

Social work doctoral student Jayme Walters worked with Mason and Ellis on the National Severe Storms Laboratory’s Vortex Southeast project. The goal was to understand and improve public response to tornado warnings.

“Each professor brings a unique perspective and set of skills and knowledge that truly enhances the quality of research,” Walters said. “Working on this team has allowed me to consider more deeply the influence of geography on social problems.”

The professors agree that their colleagues’ expertise has changed how they approach their own work. “My work with Lisa has helped me add a human component to my extreme weather research that I otherwise would have missed,” Ellis said.

Hathaway’s interest in using sensors to collect data from the environment has expanded. “I do a lot of field research, going out and taking measurements of environmental conditions,” he said. “That was a good piece for me in the work. I don’t know much about weather—Kelsey was able to make sense of the data and inform the final placement of the sensors.”

Mason believes the key to successful multidisciplinary work is humility. “You have to have a real willingness to ask questions when you don’t understand something,” she said. “That’s good teamwork.”

This story is part of the University of Tennessee’s 225th anniversary celebration. Volunteers light the way for others across Tennessee and throughout the world.


a photo shows a woman pretending to test Guide Glass while walking

A Vision for the Future

With one small wearable gadget, Professor Jindong Tan hopes to open a bigger, safer world for people with visual impairments.

Current visual assistive technology doesn’t allow for the rapid and seamless transmission of critical data like whether a door is open or a car is traveling in the wrong direction. Tan, a professor in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering and associate head of Integrated Programs and Activities, is working to eliminate those limitations.

“Mobility is about three things: direction, range, and access,” Tan explains. Guide Glass aims to address all three at once. The goal is to improve mobility with one device, without making it overly cumbersome.

Guide Glass combines the direction and range assistance of a guide dog with a walking stick’s ability to warn of obstructions.

The prototype technology resembles sunglasses with a GoPro camera attached to one side. The camera and sensors perform the functions of the eyes and brain, seeing and analyzing surroundings. That information is immediately converted into data by way of sensors that are connected to a microprocessing unit on the device. Proprietary software immediately evaluates the wearer’s surroundings and audibly relays the data, in real time, to an earpiece.

For instance, if you’re crossing a street, Guide Glass doesn’t just tell you when the light changes—it lets you know if a car has run the red light, as well as the location of potholes and other pedestrians in the crosswalk.

GPS improvements eventually will allow further refinements with even more precise calculations and directions.

The potential for Guide Glass goes beyond the visually impaired. Since it doesn’t rely on light to make measurements, the technology works for anyone whose vision might not otherwise be 100 percent, such as firefighters in a smoky building or police officers entering a darkened crime scene.

With this groundbreaking work of Tan and his colleagues, anyone can see that Volunteers make a difference.

This story is part of the University of Tennessee’s 225th anniversary celebration. Volunteers light the way for others across Tennessee and throughout the world.


tattooed hands on a guitar

Giving Voice

Produced December 06, 2017 | Updated: April 17, 2019

Alumna Anne Buckle (’11) is using her education to teach teen refugees to express themselves.

Anne Buckle sits in a circle with teens who all have guitars
Anne Buckle, founder of 3 Chords, works with a group of refugees teaching guitar, singing, and songwriting.

Singer-songwriter Anne Buckle (’11) first became interested in refugees at an arts in education conference in 2016. When a presenter said one in every 122 people is a refugee, “it shook me,” she recalls. “I was almost in tears.”

Buckle responded by signing up with World Relief Nashville to tutor refugees in English. She quickly learned how the teens struggled to fit into their new country.

a boy strums a guitar in a circle with other teens who have instruments
Each teen in 3 Chords learns to play a musical instrument.

“In my life, songwriting is the way that I feel most understood,” she says. “If I feel sad, I write a song and put it out to the world, and I don’t feel sad anymore.”

To give the refugees an outlet for musical expression, she founded a non-profit called 3 Chords. The name comes from songwriter Harlan Howard’s often-quoted description of country songs as “three chords and the truth.”

teens writing songs
They also learn to write original songs.

Buckle began meeting with the teens once a week for an hour and a half. “I had students from the Congo, Burma, Iraq, Nepal, and Thailand,” she says. “We learned the structure of songs and how to play the guitar. The hardest thing for some of them was rhyming, since their accents made words sound differently. They wrote songs about missing home, about life being hard, about heartbreak.”

a teen girl plays guitar in a circle with other teens
3 Chords helps the teens build community with each other and in Nashville.

Anne Buckle was born into one of country music’s most famous families; she is a great-great-niece of A.P. Carter and a cousin of June Carter Cash.

When Buckle was a child, she played music with June and Johnny Cash. She was given her first fiddle at age five, and she recorded an album of fiddle tunes and Carter Family songs when she was 14.

Anne Buckle joins students singing and playing ukuleles.
Anne Buckle joins students singing and playing ukuleles.

At UT, Buckle earned two bachelor’s degrees—one in vocal music education and one in international relations. She also received the university’s highest student award, the Torchbearer, due in part to her service as a volunteer tutor and music instructor.

With the addition of a master’s in education from Harvard, Buckle’s experience and education formed the perfect foundation for her work with refugees.

As the culmination of her first 3 Chords course, seven of Buckle’s students sang their own songs on an album. South by Sea Studios donated a day of studio time for the effort, and 12 musicians and engineers along with six guest singer-songwriters volunteered their talent.

Buckle completed the album in spring 2018 and began teaching another group of refugee teenagers.

“It gives the kids a platform to be heard,” she says, “and provides the community an opportunity to see refugees in a new light. I definitely believe in the possibility of this being a bridge of perception between Americans and refugees, who are really just normal people looking for a better life here.”

This story is part of the University of Tennessee’s 225th anniversary celebration. Volunteers light the way for others across Tennessee and throughout the world.