Tennessee Alumnus

Day 3: Tour UT Martin

Beautiful sunshine greeted us this morning for our tour of UT Martin. The theme of the day carried over from last night’s dinner with UT Martin alumni Jennifer and Todd Hampton. UT Martin stands out for the close relationships faculty build with their students. This bond was evident in every stop we made today.

The tour started at the stables, where we got to watch a veterinary tech student give a shot and a nasal vaccine to a horse. The horse was not thrilled with the nasal shot, and snorted and showed its teeth at us in protest. The horses have a dual purpose: they are part of the equestrian team and are used in the vet tech program. Equestrian coach Meghan Corvin (in first picture at the left) talked to us about UT Martin’s team, which competes as an NCAA sport. This is not rodeo, which is another Skyhawk sport. “If the horses are bucking, we have a problem,” Corvin told us. UT Martin has the only NCAA equestrian team in the state, and most of the student-athletes are from out of state. The season lasts from September to April. Mykaela Van Selus and Reid Rickett, both finishing their junior years, chose to come to UT Martin to be on the equestrian team. They also liked the small school atmosphere. While they were talking, Corvin brought out Donna, a new horse to the program that like most of the team’s horses was donated. We enjoyed seeing the horses and talking about this unique college sport.

Our second stop was the renovated Fine Arts Building. Visual and theatre arts department chair Doug Cook showed us the Vanguard Little Theater, which has a wire mesh ceiling so people can walk on it and place lights above the stage area as needed. This replaces narrow catwalks. The renovated building, which reopened last fall, now has double the square footage of the old building. “Student access to all the cool stuff is one of the (unique) things about this building,” Cook said. “We want students to be involved, active and engaged.”

UT Online is based at UT Martin, and we wanted to include it on the tour. Assistant professor Sandy Mehlhorn (pictured below), who teaches agricultural engineering technology, talked to us about her experience teaching online classes. All the classes she teaches are for distance students, meaning she usually doesn’t meet the students in person. Everything is done online. But she tries to give her online students a personal touch by talking with them by cell phone on the weekends if necessary. She also records messages along with her lectures to give students tips on their assignments or to tell them to keep up the good work. “We do a good job with that just like we do with our campus students,” she said.

Next stop was the Paul Meek Library, where the special collections area has a replica of Gov. Ned McWherter’s gubernatorial office, complete with the desk and chairs he used, the molding and painting on the ceiling, pipes, nameplate and books. There is even a bathroom on the side that looks just like the one in the governor’s office. McWherter, who was from nearby Dresden, wanted the office replica to be at UT Martin so children from rural areas could see what a governor’s office looks like, ostensibly telling them anyone from any background or hometown can strive to be governor.

There are two sets of statues on campus, and again each demonstrated the close bond between faculty and student. The “Friends” statues beside Paul Meek library are two men. One is Dr. Phil Watkins, retired vice chancellor, and the other is Dr. Paul Blaylock as he was as a student and SGA president in 1968. Dr. Blaylock gave the statues to honor Dr. Watkins for his kindness and generosity. The other statues are in front of the Kathleen and Tom Elam Center. “Coaches” features three pioneers in women’s athletics: former UT Martin women’s athletics director Bettye Giles, the late coach Nadine Gearin and Lady Vols coach emeritus Pat Summitt, a UT Martin graduate. In this sculpture (pictured below), Summitt is a young player under the tutelage of Gearin. Both statues were touching and inspiring.

We finished the tour literally with a bang. Back in the Fine Arts Building, we met up with Julie Hill, associate professor of percussion. Without even talking with her, it was obvious she has a close relationship with her students and is very encouraging of their development as musicians and students. Justin Lee played a beautiful and soothing piece on the marimba, which looks like a big xylophone. Then, we listened to a trio of first-year students who have dubbed the group they formed on their own, Arc Percussion (pictured below). They will be touring middle and high schools in West Tennessee and doing music clinics. Their set up was a big drum the middle surrounded by what mostly looked like objects they made into instruments like a miniature gong with a hole in the middle, wooden skewers with halves of super bouncy balls on the end, and there was even a paper sack full of metal BBs. They played part of a piece composed for percussion, and it was nothing like any of us had ever heard. It was fun to watch the interaction between Hill and her students.

By the time our tour ended, it was starting to rain some, and it was definitely time for lunch. We chose local favorite sandwich shop Sammies, which has a chicken and waffles sandwich and an Elvis sandwich with peanut butter, banana and bacon.

We really appreciate Bud Grimes for being our tour guide and driver, Nathan Morgan for taking photos along the way and Charley Deal for arranging last night’s dinner and providing extra comedy on the tour while also seriously explaining the significance of the two statues. Wish we could stay longer, but we left in the afternoon for Tullahoma and the UT Space Institute. Good night!