Tennessee Alumnus

Day 5: Tour UTC

After nearly a week of iffy weather, we were greeted in Chattanooga with a full day of sunshine. With commencement only two days away, there was not much obvious student activity happening on campus. But we were guided in the right direction to find the most interesting spots.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga was founded in 1886 and was a private institution, University of Chattanooga, for most of its history until it and a junior college merged with the University of Tennessee System in 1969. UTC has retained its distinctive blue and gold colors, and the big Power C decorates banners and signs across campus. The university is situated adjacent to the heart of Chattanooga’s revitalized downtown and is within walking distance of the Tennessee Aquarium. The transformation of the city has been ongoing as UTC has grown in enrollment and evolved its physical campus to include more buildings and more green space.

We began today’s tour at the Challenger STEM Learning Center, which is part of a network of educational centers started after the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion that killed all astronauts aboard, including the first teacher in space, Christa McAuliffe. The families of the astronauts wanted to carry on the legacy of that mission through these educational centers. UTC was the first institution of higher education to have a center. Now there are 45 centers across the world, and about one-third are connected to universities. Chattanooga’s connection to the Challenger is Dr. June Scobee Rodgers, a Chattanooga resident and widow of the Challenger commander Dick Scobee. The center, which has been open since 1994, hosts school field trips and has had 150,000 students participate over the last 20 years. Today, we watched children from Dalton (Ga.) Middle School participate in a simulated mission to Mars. They were assigned roles in the mission, such as mission control, medical and communications. Students move through rooms that look like mission control (pictured above) and a spacecraft as they complete the mission and use science and math skills. Center director Perry Storey said all the activities are based in science and real scenarios.

Our next stop took up a good majority of our tour, and for good reason. We got a hard-hat tour of the new library currently under construction. Libraries dean Theresa Liedtka enthusiastically walked us through each level of the library, which appeared to be well on its way toward completion. Most floors already had lighting installed, and some even had carpet on the floors. It is expected to open next spring. Planning began about seven years ago. The new library is about a third larger than the current library. The ground floor has compact stacks, which is allowing the library to gain 25,000 square feet versus traditional stacks. This new library has space as opposed to storage, Liedtka said. It is for students to congregate around books and other resources such as advising, tutoring, study groups and technology help. Plus it has some of the best views of the city and the surrounding mountains.

Continuing with the theme of improving campus, we got an update from Tom Ellis, assistant vice chancellor for operations, on the pedestrian walkways on campus, which are greenways created after closing streets through the campus. The first phase was completed in 2007 and included Heritage Plaza. The second phase completed last year included Chamberlain Pavilion, an open structure commemorating the University of Chattanooga’s football stadium, Chamberlain Field. This is off to the side of “Cardiac Hill,” and will eventually provide a connection to the new library, which is being built next to where the field used to be. A new green space will be created in the field’s footprint.

We ended the tour with a visit to the Bloomberg Lab in the College of Business, located in Fletcher Hall, which older UC alumni might recall was once the school’s library. Dean Robert Dooley explained how students can get access to real-time market data through the lab’s 13 terminals, whereas before they had to use traditional search engines for historic data. Finance students now graduate with a Bloomberg certification. A stock ticker runs across the top of the room, and there are television monitors along the wall. Sue Culpepper, director of student success for the college, said the college is the first on campus to integrate career services, advising and experiential learning in a specific student success program.

For lunch, we ventured across town to Bea’s, a restaurant in business since 1950 and a favorite of UC alum Bert Caldwell. He brought along fellow alumnus Jerry Harris, who was his football teammate in the early 1960s under coach Scrappy Moore and an All-American. Both men came to Chattanooga from Alabama on football scholarships and have never left. They agreed that the city is a real draw for students now compared to when they were students. There are more jobs and opportunities as well as music, entertainment and outdoor activities. “Young people just eat that up,” Harris said. Caldwell and Harris (pictured below) used to come to Bea’s when they were students. As football players, they got a sack lunch on Sundays consisting of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and SPAM. Clearly, that was not enough for them to eat, so they would go to Bea’s and eat all they wanted for $1. Southern food like fried chicken, ribs, turnip greens, creamed corn, potato salad and slaw are served on a lazy susan in the middle of the table. Delicious!

After our tour and lunch in Chattanooga, we packed up and headed back to Knoxville. We will tour UT Knoxville and the Institute of Agriculture’s campus on Friday. Tonight, even though still full from lunch, met three young UT Knoxville alumni at Calhoun’s on the river for dinner: Rachel Frey, Alan Moore and Erica Rockwell Moore (pictured below). All three were involved on campus while students and now enjoy alumni activities that bring them to campus often. Rachel and Alan serve on the Young Alumni Council.

UT Knoxville is the largest university within the UT System, and it gets a big share of the publicity. The trio said it is that size and large array of opportunities that attracted them to the school, and they all agreed that by getting involved in activities, students will find connections on such a large campus.

Tomorrow, we will get a sample of what the campuses in Knoxville offer. Good night!