Celebrating Chattanooga’s University

Celebrating Chattanooga’s University

By Cindy Carroll

“Great cities like Chattanooga deserve great universities.”

President Joe DiPietro’s observation before a group of Chattanooga community leaders was coupled with his pledge of support to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga to build upon its success as an engaged metropolitan university and its quest to become one of the top five public master’s universities in the South.

The futures of the Chattanooga community and campus have long been intertwined.

Chattanooga’s thriving public university grew from private-college roots, shining like a beacon for 125 years. In the beginning, Old Main dominated the landscape, stirring a reporter to lovingly describe it thus more than a century ago: “This institution is a light set upon a hill, in a literal as well as a figurative sense. It is lighted throughout with gas, and when it is illuminated in the evening, it is truly a light upon a hill, a thing of real beauty.”

It’s amazing to track the campus’s growth from one structure housing laboratories, classrooms, and living quarters for the president and faculty, as well as 39 dormitory rooms for students, to the current downtown campus of more than 100 acres.

Today, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga enrolls more than 10,000 students. Apartment-style living attracts students not only from Hamilton County but also from all over the Volunteer State, across the nation, and around the world.

When the university opened its doors in 1886, Chattanooga was just 20 years removed from the turmoil and financial devastation wreaked by the Civil War. Now nearly 3 million people visit Chattanooga attractions each year, among them many UTC students.

The celebration of UTC’s achievements is about people, the academic call and response from faculty member to student. In 1889, the student yearbook identified 15 faculty members, whose ranks have increased by the hundreds to teach greater numbers of incoming students.

Students today learn from such distinguished faculty members as Harry McDonald, known internationally for his work with NASA and for leading academic research in solid oxide fuel cell technology; Greg Grant, recipient of a national award for research at an undergraduate institution from the American Chemical Society; Gretchen Potts, who is leading student research on the harmful effects cigarette butts have on the environment; and Lauren Templeton, director of Finance for the Future, a College of Business initiative supported by Renée Haugerud and John H. Murphy, with particular emphasis on the perspective of women in financial decision-making and successful trading practices.

It seems, however, that UTC students have always had a tough time striking the balance between completing coursework and working. In 1911, student jobs paid between $4 and $10 per week. An “economical student” could expect to pay for student housing, including heat, and live on $4 a week.

“To carry papers, mow lawns, sweep halls, make fires and just anything that is honorable no matter how hard, to earn a few nickels and dimes with which to buy bread, clothes, and books, while one is trying to keep up his studies and not fall behind his classes is no easy undertaking. And then if added to that the fact that he is away from home and among strangers the task is doubly hard,” 1909 graduate Alvin Goodard was quoted as saying in the University Echo newspaper in 1911.

But our hard-working students still become successful alumni like LaShunda Hill, who recently completed a master’s degree in education in the Prevention Science and Practice Program at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. As a University Honors undergraduate at UTC, Hill was one of 60 scholars selected nationwide to receive a $30,000 Harry S. Truman scholarship for graduate study. Another UTC graduate, Miyoung Kim, was awarded a $100,000 Star Student Scholarship to attend the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Dentistry.

Alex Craw parlayed his love of fishing into creating a club sport at UTC—Mocs Bass Anglers. After he graduated in May 2011, Craw began his career with the Bass Fishing Federation as the national director of the Student Angler Federation.

The 18-month 125th anniversary celebration gives students, faculty members, alumni, and community members a chance to reflect on the past and look toward the bright future of Chattanooga’s university.

Visit www.utc.edu/125 to keep up with commemorative events through May 2012.