Miss Tennessee, An Emmy Winner, and a Katrina Update

Miss Tennessee, An Emmy Winner, and a Katrina Update

An Emmy for Jordan

UT Chattanooga alumnus Leslie Jordan won an Emmy for his role as Beverley Leslie on NBC’s Will & Grace. Jordan (’82) was among five actors nominated by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for “Guest Actor in a Comedy Series.” Jordan appeared in 12 Will and Grace episodes over a 5-year period, including the series finale.

The Chattanooga native also has appeared on Murphy Brown, Lois and Clark: The Adventures of Superman, Boston Public, Reba, Ally McBeal, and Boston Legal.

Welcome to UT Knoxville!

Each year more than 15,000 people–most of them prospective students and their families–visit the Knoxville campus, where more than 12,000 students apply for admission. Now they have a more convenient starting point.

The new Visitors Center for prospective students and their families is located in the building formerly occupied by the University Club, at the corner of Kingston Pike and Neyland Drive. The center complements the Undergraduate Admissions operation located on Circle Park, in the heart of campus. The new Visitors Center is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, and ample parking is available. All information sessions and tours will originate from the center.

The admissions office also has launched Campus Connections, a new program for prospective students who want to meet with faculty, staff, and students to learn more about campus and their planned academic majors.

For more information about campus visits, see http://admissions.utk.edu/undergraduate/visit.shtml.

Catching Up

Two alumni who described their first-hand experiences with Hurricane Katrina in the pages of the summer 2006 issue of The Tennessee Alumnus (http://pr.utk.edu/alumnus/alumarticle.asp?id=694) have given us an update.

Dereck Terry
This New Orleanian who rode out the hurricane in his French Quarter condo said he’s trying to stay positive despite the slow pace of the Big Easy’s recovery. “City services are hit-and-miss, and I haven’t had high-speed Internet for a month now,” he said in August 2006. “All but two of my closest friends have moved away, and one of them will likely leave within the next six months.

“The city also seems to be moving forward in developing a citywide recovery plan, and if this season spares us major trauma, I’m optimistic that we’ll see an upswing in activity and progress in the fall and beyond. I still love this city,” he said. “I just hope that I can find the energy, faith, and perseverance to stay.”

Mary-Ellen Harwood
A social worker who serves as director of mental health services at the NO/AIDS Task Force in New Orleans, Harwood has watched her agency struggle since the storm. “We had an electrical fire on June 19, 2006. Wires damaged by floodwaters were not properly replaced. So our agency has once again been without a centralized office. We are searching for new office space, but with a shortage of office buildings and skyrocketing rents, it’s been a challenge. We are serving our clients through small satellite offices, a mobile medical unit, and home visits.

“Fatigue setting in is evident,” she said. “But our weariness is countered by stubborn determination.”

After the Alumnus story ran, the featured Gulf Coast alumni e-mailed one another about getting together. In August 2006 Harwood wrote, “The alums down here have not yet gotten together, but I really hope that we do. Maybe we will be able to organize a get-together to watch a Vols football game.”

Growing Things

Grandma’s cure-all natural remedy may not have as much medicinal value as she thinks. Jim Caponetti, professor emeritus of biology at UT Knoxville, says many plants traditionally used as medicine don’t produce the promised health benefits.

Caponetti developed an interest in plant medicine early in his career as a pharmacist. “I began to realize that medicinal plants were losing popularity because of the development of Western medicine,” says Caponetti, who’s retired from teaching developmental botany. “Scientists tested various plant medicines using placebos in drug trials and surveys, and found that [many] didn’t work.”

Usage of medicinal plants has prevailed because of psychological benefits, he says. “People mix the plant in hot water, make teas, and it keeps them happy. They perceive they’re getting health benefits from [the plant medicine], but they aren’t.”

Although St. John’s Wort and echinacea are on Caponetti’s list of snake oil medicines, he admits there are some plant medicines worthy of praise. “Spearmint and peppermint aid digestion, and Indian snakeroot is still very effective as a tranquilizer and also helps to lower high blood pressure,” he says.

Caponetti adds that a number of Western medicines have been synthetically patterned after effective medicinal plants.

Corn, or maize, is a staple of the world’s diet, but few people know the history of this New World native plant. UT’s Dr. Gary Crites, however, has an “a-maizing” grasp of the facts. Ethnobotanist Crites oversees one of the largest and most diverse collections of pre-Columbian maize in eastern North America. The collection is at UT’s McClung Museum in Knoxville.

By the time Columbus reached the Caribbean, Crites explains, an estimated 300 types of corn were already being grown in the Americas. Some of the oldest maize in eastern North America consists of charred fragments found in Tennessee’s Lincoln and Monroe counties. The Cherokees grew maize, planting two crops a year and celebrating the harvest of each with ritual festivals. Today corn is one of the big three dietary staples, along with wheat and rice. Corn also is fed to farm animals and used in products ranging from glue to fireworks.

Crites says understanding corn’s past can help as the world’s population grows and demand for food increases. He says modern commercially grown maize is abundant and easily harvested, but it lacks the genetic diversity of old open-pollinated varieties grown in Mexico and South America. “These old, diverse maize gene pools have in some instances had millennia in which to develop a level of immunity to some pests, diseases, and environmental conditions,” he says. “This genetic material can be called upon to help maintain production levels of genetically consistent commercial varieties.”

New varieties that are more pest and drought resistant–and even a perennial corn plant–are promising possibilities that could help feed the hungry.

Better and Better

UT students are on a roll–getting better and -better every year. The flagship campus at Knoxville welcomed its most academically qualified freshman class ever for fall 2006. One-third of the class of 4,200 has a core GPA of 4.0. The class has an average ACT score of 25.8 and a GPA of 3.6. Both indicators are up from the previous year, which also was the best class ever–until the 2006 contingent arrived. More than 12,000 students applied to enter UT last year.

UT Knoxville’s student enrollment, preparedness, and achievement–as well as diversity–continue to grow, due in large part to Tennessee’s HOPE scholarship, as well as university-funded scholarship programs. In 2001 the average ACT score was 24.3 and the average GPA was 3.3. “That’s a huge jump in average ACT scores in five years,” says Richard Bayer, dean of enrollment services.

Chancellor Loren Crabtree said several factors have raised the academic bar. “The Hope Scholarship program has encouraged more high–achieving Tennessee students to attend a college in state, and our flagship research-intensive university is a very attractive option for the best and brightest students.”

About 15 percent of the 2006 freshmen are minorities; about 10 percent are black. The number of international students at UT Knoxville is also on the rise. The black student population jumped 1.9 percent between 2001 and 2004, according to the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education–the largest jump at any of the nation’s flagship state universities.

Miss Tennessee with a Phi Beta Kappa Key

When Miss Tennessee Blair Pancake completes her reign, she intends to pursue a law degree. Meanwhile, the Phi Beta Kappa UT graduate is throwing herself into good works–child-abuse prevention and drug-free Tennessee are at the top of her list.

Pancake (Knoxville ’05) won the Miss Tennessee title in June in Jackson, Tennessee. She’ll represent the Volunteer state in the Miss America competition, which this year comprises a series of television documentaries in addition to a pageant. Each documentary will feature seven or eight contenders.

“I’m excited about the new format,” Pancake says. “For the first time, viewers will get to see every contestant.” Preliminary taping was in September, and the pageant will be held early in 2007. The new format has been likened to reality TV because viewers will see backstage footage and vote for their favorite contestants.

Pancake majored in anthropology with a concentration in archaeology. She says two of her favorite professors were Gerald Schroedl and Dave Anderson. She participated in a dig with them on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts, and their work was featured in National Geographic. Her interest in anthropology persists, and she wants to combine her study of law with that field, as well. “I would love to do it at UT if I could, but I don’t think they offer that combination of law and anthropology,” she says.

The determination that took her to victory in the Miss Tennessee pageant was focused in a different area during her student days when she worked as a mail and research clerk in the UT alumni telefund office. “You know those people who don’t give money because UT can’t find them?” she says. “I found them!”

Pancake entered the Miss Tennessee pageant because of its $10,000 scholarship prize, and she’s committed to the service component of the Miss Tennessee title: “A lot of people can’t see past the tiaras and evening gowns to realize that service is a major part of the job.” She is Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen’s official drug-free Tennessee spokesperson, traveling throughout the state talking to school groups and others. “Last year Miss Tennessee went to about 60 of Tennessee’s 95 counties,” she says. “I want to do better than that.”

She’ll also use the position as a forum for her personal passion–child-abuse prevention. “I got interested in preventing child abuse when I was in high school and tutored children from the Boys and Girls Clubs. Getting help for one of those children got me involved.” Playing on her distinctive surname, she has held a series of “Pancake breakfasts” throughout the state to build support for the cause.

Pancake is the daughter of two UT graduates, dad Bruce Pancake (Knoxville ’75, Health Science Center ’79), is a Chattanooga plastic surgeon. Blair’s mom, Debbie Eakins Pancake, is a 1979 pharmacy graduate.

So far, Miss Tennessee says, her schedule has been “jam packed” with public appearances, tapings, and travel. She’s keeping her eye on the prize, the scholarship money that will take her back to college when her year in the spotlight ends.

Ashe Donates Papers

As U.S. ambassador to Poland, Victor Ashe has welcomed a parade of American visitors to his residence in Warsaw–among them Vice President Dick Cheney, the Orlando Magic cheerleaders, and Microsoft’s chairman Bill Gates.

Ashe (Knoxville ’74) and his wife, Joan, shared stories of their tenure in Poland when they visited Knoxville recently to celebrate the donation of about 104 boxes of his political papers to the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy. The donation will become part of the Baker Center’s Modern Political Archives. Former U.S. senator and U.S. ambassador to Japan Howard Baker thanked Ashe and said he hopes the Modern Political Archives becomes the “premier collection of political papers in this part of the country.”

A Knoxville native, Ashe was elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives in 1968 at the age of 23. He later served in the Tennessee State Senate. In 1987 he was elected mayor of Knoxville, a position he held for 16 years. On June 23, 2004, he was sworn in as U.S. ambassador to Poland.

The Baker Center’s Modern Political Archives includes the papers of U.S. senators Howard Baker Jr., Estes Kefauver, Fred Thompson, and William Brock III; governors Don Sundquist and Winfield Dunn; U.S. representatives John Duncan Sr., Howard Baker Sr., and Bob Clement; U.S. representative Irene Baker; and Tennessee state senator Ben Atchley.

Pearce Still Giving

Giving was a way of life for the late Dr. Iris Pearce, and she continues to give to those she valued most–the students of the UT Health Science Center and the underserved in the public health system. Pearce (HSC ’50) died last year at age 84. The fifth-generation physician left behind a $1.5-million chair in internal medicine at UTHSC in honor of her father, Dr. Robert Pearce.

As an only child whose mother died when she was 7, Iris Pearce went on house calls and to the hospital with her father, who practiced in Memphis for 35 years. She recalled being left in the care of the emergency room nurses while he made his rounds. “Everything about medicine fascinated me,” she said.

She attended Southwestern at Memphis (now Rhodes College) and graduated from Vanderbilt University. She joined the WAVES, the women’s corps of the U.S. Naval Reserve, during World War II. She later enrolled at UT, where she was one of only two women students in her class. She was the first female resident in internal medicine at John Gaston Hospital (now the Med) in Memphis. She was director of the City of Memphis Hospitals for many years and was a professor of community medicine at UT.

She was committed to public health for all. “In dollars and cents,” she said, “it costs more down the road when we don’t keep our community well. One of the problems we have is ensuring that those who actually need the care do receive it.”

Her cousin, Dr. Robert Waller (HSC ’63), president emeritus of Mayo Clinic, said, “She was a great lady, a wonderful friend, mentor, and teacher to many. I was indeed fortunate to be one of her students and also a member of her family.”