In the sunny but chilly morning, we began our last day of the road trip and tour of UT Knoxville at Sorority Village off Neyland Drive across from the Visitors Center. There are 13 residential houses and a village center that includes meeting space for Alpha Kappa Alpha. About 550 women live in the village, and there are about 2,000 sorority members who visit the village on a regular basis for meetings and to eat meals in their houses. Having a space set aside for sorority houses in one area is not common in the Southeastern Conference. Sorority Village sets UT Knoxville apart, said Lindi Smedberg, director of sorority and fraternity life (pictured below).
A big orange “T” bus arrived to take us to the next stop, but before we left, Parking and Transit Services Director Mark Hairr introduced us to the new buses. He said the buses have had 100,000 more riders than last year, and he believes that is due to a more consistent branding of the buses (they are all orange with images of the mascot Smokey strategically placed around the bus exterior) and technology such as an app that lets students know where the buses are located and how long it will take to arrive. The only times the buses are not running is during the day on Saturdays or Sundays unless it’s a football or basketball game.
The bus took us to the Natalie Haslam Music Building, which is one of the newest buildings on campus. It replaced a much older music building and has increased the space for classrooms, practice and performance. The Pride of the Southland Marching Band can now fit into one room. Associate Professor Shelley Binder and Assistant Professor Brendan McConville demonstrated some of the fascinating technology available now to School of Music faculty and students. First off, Binder put her iPad on a music stand, and the sheets of music were projected onto a screen in front of the classroom. She touched a pedal on the floor to turn the pages as she played a piece on the flute. She could make notes on the pages and add symbols and email them to students. She also used a program intended for golfers to analyze the way students hold and play their instruments. Freshman Jacqueline Messinetti (pictured below) played her flute and demonstrated a program that shows whether she was playing flat or sharp. McConville showed us a program he uses to teach music arrangement.
Next, we visited two campus landmarks, the Rock, which is now located in front of the music building. It was moved a few years ago to make room for the new student health clinic at the corner of Fraternity Park. The Rock had been painted by someone, but the message was somewhat obtuse to these visitors. Student ambassador Sarah Strong explained how the Rock has long been the campus message board. Anyone at any time can paint the Rock. Then we zoomed on our golf cart to the Torchbearer statue, which is located in the front of Circle Park. Strong discussed how the Torchbearer is a symbol for what it means to be a Volunteer, the nickname for UT Knoxville teams. Holding the eternal flame, the Torchbearer is “one that beareth a torch standeth in shadow to give light to others,” according to the inscription on the statue.
Then we got an update on the construction of the massive Student Union (pictured below), which is going to eventually replace the University Center. The first phase, which will contain the bookstore, career services, dining and offices, has five stories and is rising up where the UC parking garage used to be located. A new bridge connecting the Haslam Business Building to the Hill also is under construction. The first phase is expected to open in 2015, and the second phase, which includes demolition of the current UC, is expected to open in 2017, according to Dave Irvin, associate vice chancellor for facilities services. “The Student Union will be second to none,” he said. Jim Dittrich, director of the University Center, has worked at UT Knoxville for 27 years and has been involved in the planning even before the formal planning for the new building started in 2004. He addressed a question about how to plan 10 years ago for a building that is supposed to last for many years into the future. In fact, the university has recently revisited some design plans for the second phase based on some different needs that have been identified, he said.
Our last stop was the John D. Tickle Engineering Building, which is located between Neyland Stadium and Neyland Drive. John Cabage, a doctoral student (pictured below), and John Ma, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, showed off the new high bay structure lab, which to a non-engineer looks like a huge garage with lots of machinery. A 56-foot-long concrete bridge beam was sitting in one part of the lab, and is being tested for the Tennessee Department of Transportation. There are two 10-ton overhead cranes that were used to lift the beam off a semi truck that pulled into the lab. Every two feet there are tie-downs on the floor to hold down 100,000 pounds of force with rods, and the floor is made of four-foot-thick concrete. There’s also a squared off pit area filled with gravel or aggregate material 10 feet deep, and it was being used to test railroad tracks. “This is night and day to what we had,” Cabage said. “This sets UT apart.”
For lunch, we visited a classic sandwich place, Gus’s Good Times Deli, which is located on Melrose Place, which turns into 17th Street across Cumberland Ave. There was a healthy lunch business on “Big Orange Friday,” the day of the week students, faculty and staff are encouraged to wear orange.