Talented, creative and driven.
Those are the preferred qualifications of students selected to participate in the Ned Ray Wherter Institute at the University of Tennessee at Martin. As many as 10 or more qualified students are selected from each sophomore class and are then expected to bring passion to their work with the institute as McWherter Innovators.
For the remainder of their undergraduate careers, these students are connected with mentors and given opportunities to build on their strengths, engage in business and public service ventures, and experience domestic and international cultural events.
In 2015, those opportunities included a trip to Japan for five senior class McWherter Innovators who met with U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy while there. John Sellers, a psychology major whose parents are missionaries in Nepal, was along having just returned from a three-week, humanitarian trip for students he had organized to Nepal in June. The four other McWherter Innovators on the June 26-July 5 trip to Japan, all from Tennessee, were Summer Bradley, art education major, Medina; Chase Haynes, chemistry major, Columbia; Maryanna McClure, animal science major, Dyersburg; and Caroline Parish, political science major, Huntingdon.
“In our briefing with her (Kennedy), we were able to have one-on-one conversations to tell her about the McWherter Institute and what we, as individuals, are doing to impact the economic growth of West Tennessee. It was a great honor, and it was just a part of what I’ve gotten out of the institute,” Parish says. “The full benefit of my experience stems from Miss Betty Ann Tanner. The institute matched me with her, a person whose advice I need to get me where I want to go. She became a friend and much more than a mentor. We talk almost every week, and she always wants to know how she can help me. I want to go into law, and she’s a great resource.”
Also on the busy Japan itinerary was climbing Mount Fuji, attending a reception for UT Martin alumni, meeting with local business leaders, and a challenging exercise to locate and document an extensive list of Tokyo landmarks without using electronic resources to find them. Three months earlier, the students traveled to New York City for a cultural and business awareness trip.
The McWherter Institute seeks to foster a spirit of innovation among UT Martin students and residents of Northwest Tennessee. Its goal is to make McWherter Innovators the best-trained and most sought-after candidates for positions in their fields. Ned Ray McWherter’s longtime friend, businessman Clayton McWhorter, established the McWherter Institute in conjunction with UT Martin to honor Gov. McWherter’s legacy of collaboration and innovation.
Andrea Loughry is chair of the McWherter Institute board of directors and a native of Trenton, Tenn. Loughry also is a former vice chair of the UT board of trustees and now lives in Murfreesboro, Tenn.
“As a UTM alumnus, I am particularly excited about the vision and experience of Clayton McWhorter being offered to selected students,” Loughry says. “This one-of-a-kind program offers exposures outside the normal classroom experiences. Clayton hopes this prototype will have future economic impact on the western region of our state.”
The McWherter Institute is funded with a start-up gift from the late Clayton McWhorter and his wife, Michelle McWhorter; and with 100 percent participation in giving by the institute’s board of directors, and with gifts from other interested donors.