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A look back at the top MTSU stories from 2015 [+VIDEOS]

New educational agreements, ongoing campus renovations, grand openings, student and faculty achievements and more — Middle Tennessee State University experienced another eventful year in 2015.

At the heart of all these efforts is the continued emphasis on the university’s Quest for Student Success initiative to improve retention and help students graduate on time.

“The quest is helping redefine and refocus our efforts and investments in classroom teaching, recruitment and advising to better meet the needs of our students,” MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee said during his annual “State of the University” address in August, where he honored the entire university advising team with the 2015 President’s Student Success Award.

Another highlight for the year was the November opening of the new Veterans and Military Family Center on the first floor of the Keathley University Center. The dedicated one-stop center for student-veterans and their families has been touted as the most comprehensive such space on any college campus in the state.

Here is a recap of some of the year’s top MTSU stories:

January

MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee, left, and Don Odom, right, director of Rutherford County Schools, shake hands after signing an agreement Tuesday at Blackman for MTSU to become a partner in Blackman’s new Collegiate Academy. In the center is Blackman High School Principal Leisa Justus.

MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee, left, and Don Odom, right, director of Rutherford County Schools, shake hands after signing an agreement Tuesday at Blackman for MTSU to become a partner in Blackman’s new Collegiate Academy. In the center is Blackman High School Principal Leisa Justus. (MTSU photo by J. Intintoli)

• MTSU became a partner in Blackman High School’s new Collegiate Academy, offering college-level courses at the high school this fall and assisting in the development of academic enrichment programs. The agreement allows Blackman juniors and seniors who meet eligibility standards to take up to six hours of MTSU courses at no cost.

• Qualified high school juniors and seniors in Rutherford, Williamson, and Bradley counties will be able to take tuition-free online courses for college credit through MTSU’s recently expanded dual-enrollment program. The online offerings range from courses in Aerospace to Recording Industry.

• A Franklin, Tennessee, couple who founded a network of substance-abuse treatment clinics has funded a special targeted scholarship to allow students from a high school in the Bahamas to attend MTSU. Michael and Tina Cartwright, who both attended MTSU and have a second home in The Bahamas, wanted to help students from L. N. Coakley High School in Great Exuma develop expertise through higher education that, in turn, would help benefit others on the island of Exuma.

• Students from Central Magnet School’s Beta Club presented record one-time donations of nonperishable food and money to the MTSU Student Food Pantry following a food drive. In just a week, Central students collected 7,000-plus cans of food and raised $2,600 to help the pantry restock its shelves.

February

Keith M. Huber

Keith M. Huber

• Retired Army Lt. Gen. Keith M. Huber is officially welcomed to campus as senior advisor for veterans and leadership initiatives. Huber is tasked with examining the university’s policies and practices for the recruitment and student success of veterans and their family members.

• “Messengers,” co-written by 2003 music business graduate Torrance Esmond and former student Lecrae Moore for Moore’s latest album, won the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Christian Music Performance/Song during the 57th annual Grammy Award ceremonies at Staples Center in Los Angeles. MTSU alumni Luke Laird, and Jaren Johnston were nominated for Grammys in 2015 in the Best Country Song category.Grammy 2015 logo web

• MTSU again raised its profile at the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. The 2015 trip featured three events: a brunch in downtown Los Angeles that honored alumna Alicia Warwick, executive director of the Recording Academy’s Nashville chapter (see related story in this issue’s Class Notes section); a dinner in Malibu with MTSU alumni from the region; and a pre-Grammys reception with Nashville-based Leadership Music, a program that brings together established leaders in the music business to discuss issues affecting the industry.

• MTSU signed a first-of-its-kind partnership with Florida’s Montverde Academy, a premier private boarding school known for its strong international enrollment and 100 percent college placement rate. The pact will allow dual enrollment of Montverde students, most likely through online classes from MTSU.

• Murfreesboro City Councilwoman and MTSU alumna Madelyn Scales Harris was among five honorees at the Unity Luncheon at MTSU. Scales Harris and the other honorees — Clifford Allison, Dr. Barbara Canada, Percy Ford and Karl Thomas — were all smiles upon receiving their engraved crystal awards before an admiring crowd who came to show their support. (photo)

• As part of MTSU’s Black History Month observance, actor and author Hill Harper gave a free public lecture that challenged attendees to map a course for their lives that speaks to their true passions and effects change in the world around them. His appearance drew a standing room only crowd and featured a Q&A session at the end. A closed session with Harper for black males and a book signing were held just prior to the keynote address.

From left to right, Dr. Barbara Canada, Clifford Allison, Percy Ford, Madelyn Scales Harris and Karl Thomas were the honorees at MTSU's 19th annual Unity Luncheon held Tuesday, Feb. 10, inside the Student Union ballroom. (MTSU photo by J. Intintoli)

From left to right, Dr. Barbara Canada, Clifford Allison, Percy Ford, Madelyn Scales Harris and Karl Thomas were the honorees at MTSU’s 19th annual Unity Luncheon held Tuesday, Feb. 10, inside the Student Union ballroom. (MTSU photo by J. Intintoli)

March

• MTSU announced its “Paint the Colleges True Blue” tour that will send teams of counselors and representatives to seven Tennessee Board of Regents community colleges in March and April to aid students who have their sights set on the four-year institution. President Sidney A. McPhee said MTSU administrators, academic counselors and admissions team members will be on hand at several TBR locations over a six-week period to counsel students seeking guidance about the university’s programs and services.

• Leigh Stanfield, an MTSU junior from Soddy-Daisy who is concentrating in Communications Studies, won a national title in the novice division at the International Public Debate Association’s National Championship Tournament at Boise State University in Idaho. A special exhibition debate hosted by MTSU in April featured three MTSU debaters, including Stanfield, and three Irish students who won the 2015 Irish Times Debate Championship.

Leigh Stanfield, a junior communications studies major from Soddy Daisy, Tennessee, holds the trophy for the novice division title she won during the MTSU Debate Team's participation in the International Public Debate Association's National Championship Tournament and Convention held March 27-29 at Boise State University. (MTSU photo by Jimmy Hart)

Leigh Stanfield, a junior communications studies major from Soddy Daisy, Tennessee, holds the trophy for the novice division title she won during the MTSU Debate Team’s participation in the International Public Debate Association’s National Championship Tournament and Convention held March 27-29 at Boise State University. (MTSU photo by Jimmy Hart)

• MTSU and Universidad Andina del Cusco (UAC), a private university in Peru, forged a partnership that will allow officials to explore ways to make it easier for students from each institution to study at the other. It marked MTSU’s 39th international academic partnership (18 countries) and only the second such tie with an institution in South America. Best known for programs in tourism, accounting, and nursing, UAC is close to Machu Picchu, described by National Geographic as one of the world’s most important archeological sites.

• MTSU agriculture professor and alternative fuels researcher Cliff Ricketts and a five-member team (which included student Ben Black) completed a coast-to-coast drive from Key West to Seattle using nothing but waste chicken fat and used cooking oil from University dining facilities for fuel. The “Southern Fried Fuel” expedition was another career milestone for Ricketts, 66, who in 2014 drove coast to coast in vehicles powered exclusively by sun and water.

MTSU professor Cliff Ricketts, left, and "Southern Fried Fuel" team members Terry Young, Mike Sims, MTSU student Ben Black and Paul Ricketts celebrate the 3,500-mile completion of the journey. (MTSU photo by News and Media Relations)

MTSU professor Cliff Ricketts, left, and “Southern Fried Fuel” team members Terry Young, Mike Sims, MTSU student Ben Black and Paul Ricketts celebrate the 3,500-mile completion of the journey. (MTSU photo by News and Media Relations)

• MTSU’s Center for Popular Music completed a groundbreaking digitization project to launch its new American Vernacular Music Manuscripts website. Hundreds of American music manuscripts from the 1730s to 1910 are available online for the first time. Built as part of a three-year project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and undertaken in partnership with the American Antiquarian Society, the AVMM site covers American manuscripts of vernacular music from the Colonial era to the early 20th century.

• Amid the sound of traditional Chinese music and the sipping of three types of tea, MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee announced receipt of a $1 million grant for the creation of a Chinese music and cultural center on university property. The funding is provided by Hanban Confucius Institute in Beijing, an organization sponsored by China’s education ministry that oversees more than 440 institutes in 120 countries. The 3,200-square-foot center, which is expected to open within the next 12 to 18 months, will be located in the former Middle Tennessee Medical Center building on Bell Street, about six blocks west of campus.

MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee, right, and Hangzhou Normal University President Du Wei pluck a few strings on a guzheng, a Chinese musical instrument, that was donated by Hangzhou Normal as the first instrument for MTSU's new Chinese Music and Cultural Center. MTSU and Chinese dignitaries announced the new center Tuesday at the MTSU Student Union. (MTSU photo by J. Intintoli)

MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee, right, and Hangzhou Normal University President Du Wei pluck a few strings on a guzheng, a Chinese musical instrument, that was donated by Hangzhou Normal as the first instrument for MTSU’s new Chinese Music and Cultural Center. (MTSU photo by J. Intintoli)

• Journalist Lisa Ling, executive producer and host of CNN’s “This is Life with Lisa Ling,” gave the keynote address at MTSU’s Women’s and Gender Studies Conference in the Student Union Ballroom.

• A three-year, $614,172 grant from the National Science Foundation to MTSU for scholarships will help MTSU’s mechatronics engineering expand even faster. The focus of the award is to increase numbers, diversity, retention and graduation rates of students graduating from MTSU with a mechatronics engineering degree. At least 15 incoming freshmen students for each of the next three years will receive scholarship awards for up to $10,000 and are expected to average $5,800 when other scholarships (including Hope lottery) are added. Participation priority will be given to qualified female and minority applicants to meet the objective of increasing the percentage of these student populations.

MTSU mechatronics engineering students will be utilizing state-of-the-art Siemens equipment. The students in the background include Dustin Taylor, left, Bryan Armstrong and Paul Major. (MTSU photo)

MTSU mechatronics engineering students will be utilizing state-of-the-art Siemens equipment. The students in the background include Dustin Taylor, left, Bryan Armstrong and Paul Major. (MTSU photo)

April

• Former Cincinnati Reds outfielder Ken Griffey Sr. highlighted MTSU’s Baseball in Literature and Culture Conference. Griffey, the father of 13-time All-Star Ken Griffey Jr., is a roving instructor for the Reds. The annual gathering of baseball aficionados and scholars was held at MTSU from 2006 to 2015 but will be moving to Ottawa University in Ottawa, Kansas, next year. During MTSU’s time as host, the conference welcomed former major leaguers such as Tommy John, Ferguson Jenkins, and Jim Bouton.

• The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) and MTSU announced a partnership to expand opportunities for earning course credit and certifications through TDEC’s Fleming Training Center in Murfreesboro, online, and at other statewide locations. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the water supply and sanitation sector is expected to experience an employment growth rate of 45 percent in coming years due to regulations, infrastructure growth, security, and customer demands.

• More than 100 friends and well-wishers — from the MTSU campus and across the region— helped celebrate Betty Smithson’s final working day at the university. Smithson, an administrative assistant in the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs, retired after nearly 50 years at the university, the last of the Roach sisters from Cannon County, Tennessee, to retire. Her 49.5 years were the last of a combined 142 years of dedicated service by the sisters.

• Five women from MTSU were among the finalists announced by the Rutherford CABLE networking group for its Rutherford ATHENA Award Program at the Stones River Country Club. The ATHENA Award recognizes an exemplar who excels in her profession, gives back to the community, and helps raise up other leaders-especially women. MTSU’s business professor Dr. Jill Austin, who won the award, was joined by MTSU colleagues Suma Clark, Dr. Jackie Eller, Dr. Newtona “Tina” Johnson and Dr. Lana Seivers.

The Roach sisters of Woodbury, Tennessee — Martha Turner, left, Betty Smithson and Frances Rich — celebrate Smithson's 49-plus years of service to MTSU during a retirement gathering in her honor April 28 in Keathley University Center.

The Roach sisters of Woodbury, Tennessee — Martha Turner, left, Betty Smithson and Frances Rich — celebrate Smithson’s 49-plus years of service to MTSU during a retirement gathering in her honor April 28 in Keathley University Center.

May

• The first Graduating Veterans Stole Ceremony was held in Cantrell Hall of the Tom H. Jackson Building. Forty of 125 total student veterans were recognized by the university in the special ceremony five days before graduation in Murphy Center. The veterans received special red stole regalia they can wear during graduation. Retired Lt. Gen. Keith M. Huber, MTSU’s senior adviser for veterans and leadership initiatives, said the stole ceremony “demonstrates a clear commitment to recognize and appreciate the selfless service and sacrifice of our veterans and their precious families.”

MTSU senior Cynthia Thomas, second from left, was among 40 student veterans recognized during the first First Graduating Veterans Stole Ceremony in the Tom Jackson Building's Cantrell Hall in this file photo. Thomas is shown with university President Sidney A. McPhee, left, Provost Brad Bartel and retired Lt. Gen. Keith M. Huber, MTSU’s senior adviser for veterans and leadership initiatives.

MTSU senior Cynthia Thomas, second from left, was among 40 student veterans recognized during the first First Graduating Veterans Stole Ceremony in the Tom Jackson Building’s Cantrell Hall in this file photo. Thomas is shown with university President Sidney A. McPhee, left, Provost Brad Bartel and retired Lt. Gen. Keith M. Huber, MTSU’s senior adviser for veterans and leadership initiatives.

• More than 2,500 students received MTSU degrees at May commencement ceremonies in Murphy Center. Evan Cope, a Murfreesboro attorney and new chair of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, and alumnus Darin Gordon, director of healthcare finance and administration for the state of Tennessee, were the speakers. More than 2,100 of those receiving degrees were undergraduates.

• MTSU announces an expanded dual-enrollment program that will allow qualified high school juniors and seniors statewide to take tuition-free online courses for college credit. MTSU’s Dual Enrollment Program allows Tennessee high school students, who meet the university’s admissions criteria and gain approvals from their guidance counselors, to take college classes before they graduate.

• MTSU’s Department of Physics and Astronomy is recognized nationally for improving undergraduate physics education for its students. The department was one of three programs honored nationwide by the American Physical Society, a physics and science education advocacy organization.

• MTSU’s College of Behavioral and Health Sciences entered an exchange agreement with a South Korean secondary school that specializes in sports science. MTSU signed the five-year memorandum of understanding with Ulsan Sports Science Secondary School, a new middle and high school in South Korea “dedicated to the education and training of aspiring professional athletes, as well as students interested in other sports-related careers.”

• The MTSU Experimental Vehicles lunar rover team regained its status as best in the nation with a 5-minute-plus finish at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center half-mile obstacle course in Huntsville, Alabama. The student-built rover nicknamed “The Beast” placed third overall behind Russia and runner-up Germany in the NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge. The event is held annually for university and high school teams to encourage research and development of new technology for future mission planning and crewed space missions.

MTSU lunar rover drivers Zack Hill, left, and Nichole Wanamaker pedal toward the finish line recently at the NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge in Huntsville, Alabama. (Submitted photo)

MTSU lunar rover drivers Zack Hill, left, and Nichole Wanamaker pedal toward the finish line recently at the NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge in Huntsville, Alabama. (Submitted photo)

• More than a half-century of devoted service and giving to the university at which they attended, worked and still love as alumni came full circle for Dan and Margaret Scott. MTSU honored the longtime contributors and Murfreesboro residents with the naming of the “Dr. Dan and Margaret Scott Chemistry Department Office” during a ceremony attended by dozens of supporters on the second floor of the Science Building’s Liz and Creighton Rhea Atrium.

June

• Students from the College of Mass Communication worked at Bonnaroo this summer under the second year of MTSU’s unique partnership with festival organizers. Utilizing MTSU’s $1.7 million mobile production studio, students captured video performances on the festival’s Who Stage. Other students filed stories and videos for area news media outlets. Mass Communication Dean Ken Paulson said, “It’s important that we extend our teaching beyond the walls of our college.”

• The need to expand Camp STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) at MTSU and offer more hands-on opportunities for computer-savvy teenagers brought on the first Coding Camp at MTSU. Youngsters from Murfreesboro and Franklin, Tennessee, are attending the camp, which was taught by Gayle Porterfield, who teachers sixth-graders at Mitchell-Neilson Elementary School.

• The Tennessee Board of Regents approved increases in tuition and fees that are among the lowest on average since 1996, including a $204 increase for full-time students at MTSU. The move raises hourly maintenance fees/tuition an average of 3.3 percent across the six TBR universities, 13 community colleges and 27 Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology.

• MTSU’s solar boat team sailed confidently against a strong field competing in a recent national competition in Dayton, Ohio. The team’s confidence with the solar boat they nicknamed “True Blue” lived up to their expectations in the 2015 Solar Splash, an American Society of Mechanical Engineers-sponsored event. With its highest finish ever, MTSU placed second to host Cedarville University in the 16-team event held on Lake George Wyth.

A group of elementary school-age boys participating in the first week of Camp STEM at MTSU recycle plastic bottles by turning them into a robot on wheels in a Kirksey Old Main classroom. (MTSU photo by Randy Weiler)

A group of elementary school-age boys participating in the first week of Camp STEM at MTSU recycle plastic bottles by turning them into a robot on wheels in a Kirksey Old Main classroom. (MTSU photo by Randy Weiler)

July

• A $6.2 million indoor tennis court facility at Old Fort Park officially opened. MTSU contributed $1.8 million to the project and will have dedicated locker room space. The local Christy-Houston Foundation also donated $500,000 for the project.

This rendering shows the new connector between the Davis and Wiser-Patten science building.

This rendering shows the new connector between the Davis and Wiser-Patten science building.

• MTSU’s older science buildings — Wiser-Patten Science Hall, which opened in 1932 at a cost of $225,000, and Davis Science Building, which opened in 1968 at a cost of $1.7 million — are temporarily closed as $20 million in renovations continue to replace outdated equipment and repurpose space. Campus Planning officials expect Wiser-Patten, with 41,500 gross square feet, and Davis Science, with nearly 75,500 square feet, to reopen in January 2017.

• MTSU’s College of Liberal Arts is now offering an advanced degree that allows students to develop skills and expand knowledge in subjects they’re most passionate about pursuing. The new Master of Arts in Liberal Arts is an innovative program allowing anyone with a bachelor’s degree to earn a graduate degree through a course of study built around subjects they find most captivating.

Dr. Tricia Farwell

Dr. Tricia Farwell

• Associate professor of journalism Dr. Tricia Farwell is appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam to a one-year term as faculty representative on the Tennessee Board of Regents. Farwell is also the 2015-16 president of MTSU’s Faculty Senate as that organization celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2016.

• MTSU’s Jones College of Business and the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry partnered to launch the Tennessee Business Barometer, a new quarterly index capturing the mood and outlook of business leaders statewide through online surveys.

August

• Newly minted MTSU graduates can treasure the “years of dedication, sacrifice and hard work” that earned their new degrees and still “be greedy” when facing new choices, longtime sociology professor Dr. William Canak told August graduates. The outgoing president of the university’s Faculty Senate addressed 903 students in his summer 2015 commencement address.

• MTSU’s top administrators and deans will meet with prospective students in nine cities this fall — six in-state and, for the first time, three in bordering states — as part of the university’s expanded “True Blue Tour.” Organized annually by the university’s Admissions Office, this year’s tour included the traditional six Tennessee recruitment stops in Chattanooga; Johnson City, Knoxville, Nashville, Memphis and Jackson. The new out-of-state stops included Atlanta, Huntsville, Alabama, and Bowling Green, Kentucky.

College of Media and Entertainment Ken Paulson, left, and Greg Pitts, new School of Journalism chair, chat during the College of Media and Entertainment celebration Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015, in the Bragg Building lobby. (MTSU photo by Andy Heidt)

College of Media and Entertainment Ken Paulson, left, and Greg Pitts, new School of Journalism chair, chat during the College of Media and Entertainment celebration Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015, in the Bragg Building lobby. (MTSU photo by Andy Heidt)

• MTSU and the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department Training Division reached an agreement that gives officers greater incentive to get their college degrees. Metro officers who have been through department’s five-and-a-half month training academy can potentially receive more than a year of college credits through MTSU’s University College. Officers can receive up to 36 to 40 credit hours toward a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies, said Dr. Peggy Carpenter, an assistant dean of University College. Once an officer enrolls, MTSU will assess the officer’s prior-learning knowledge and then create an academic plan for them to complete the degree.

• The discovery of a Native American cemetery at the Black Cat Cave archaeological site led the city of Murfreesboro, MTSU and other public and private partners to secure the cave area. Well-known among Rutherford County locals as the reputed location of a speakeasy during the 1920s Prohibition Era, Black Cat Cave became the subject of an archaeological excavation by a team of MTSU professors and students. The study confirmed the presence of a prehistoric cemetery at the site, and through radiocarbon-dating it was determined that the human artifacts and human remains recovered from the cave date back 5,000 to 7,500 years to what is known as the Middle Archaic Period. 

• MTSU will receive a state grant of nearly $91,000 to support its ongoing efforts to help student veterans successfully pursue their higher education degrees. Gov. Bill Haslam announced that 11 colleges and universities will receive the Veteran Reconnect Grant, a competitive grant focused on improving the success of student veterans enrolled in Tennessee colleges and universities.

Dr. Derek Frisby chairs the 17-member task force considering whether Forrest Hall should be renamed. (MTSU photo illustration)

Dr. Derek Frisby chairs the 17-member task force considering whether Forrest Hall should be renamed. (MTSU photo illustration)

• The College of Mass Communication is now known as the College of Media and Entertainment, with an expanded mission as it prepares a new generation of students for opportunities in an ever-changing media environment. Ken Paulson, dean of the college since July 2013, said the updated name better reflects the 24-hour media cycle and the growing demand for content that informs, engages, and entertains.

• MTSU professor Carroll Van West, director of the Center for Historic Preservation, a professor of history at MTSU since 1985 and the governor-appointed Tennessee State Historian since 2013, is this year’s recipient of the MTSU Foundation’s Career Achievement Award, considered the pinnacle of recognition for stellar professors. West’s recognition came at the university’s Fall Faculty Meeting. The event includes the annual presentation of the MTSU Foundation Awards, which recognize, celebrate and reward university faculty members for their accomplishments inside and outside the classroom.

• Derek W. Frisby, a distinguished MTSU professor whose research has examined the Civil War and how cultures memorialize military conflict, was appointed by President Sidney A. McPhee to chair a panel to re-examine whether the university should change the name of Forrest Hall. The university previously announced it would engage the community on the name of the campus building that houses MTSU’s Army Reserve Officer Training Corps program and is named after Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest.

September

• The Jennings A. Jones College of Business showcased its relocated and upgraded Financial Analysis Center on the first floor of the Business and Aerospace Building’s north side. The center will provide business and finance students with the latest technology as they pursue their degrees and careers as future traders and business leaders.

• MTSU is awarded a $225,000 grant over the next three years to support its more targeted efforts to help students stay on track to earn their college degrees. Twenty-four higher education institutions across the country, including MTSU, received grants up to $225,000 through a national competition called Integrated Planning & Advising for Student Success, or iPASS. MTSU was the only Tennessee institution receiving funding.

The Rev. C.T. Vivian makes a point about present-day civil rights challenges as part of "No Voice, No Choice: The Voting Rights Act at 50" panel discussion moderated by Aleia Brown on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015, inside MTSU's Tucker Theatre. In the background is fellow panelist the Rev. James Lawson. (MTSU photo by J. Intintoli)

The Rev. C.T. Vivian makes a point about present-day civil rights challenges as part of “No Voice, No Choice: The Voting Rights Act at 50” panel discussion moderated by Aleia Brown on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015, inside MTSU’s Tucker Theatre. In the background is fellow panelist the Rev. James Lawson. (MTSU photo by J. Intintoli)

• Two of the founding fathers of the modern civil rights movement capped off Constitution Day festivities at MTSU with lessons from the past for the benefit of future generations. The Revs. C.T. Vivian and James Lawson Jr. made their points in a panel discussion called “No Voice, No Choice: The Voting Rights Act at 50” before a packed house of nearly 1,000 inside MTSU’s Tucker Theatre. (photo)

• A long-awaited and much-anticipated bronze bust of the late MTSU alumnus James M. Buchanan was unveiled by his youngest sister and a nationally acclaimed sculptor during a special ceremony in the James E. Walker Library. The 75-pound bust by Tracy H. Sugg of Wartrace, called “Dr. James Buchanan, A Man of Vision,” serves as a lasting tribute to Buchanan, an American economist who was the recipient of the 1986 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences and who died in 2013. The Buchanan scholarships, the highest financial aid award an entering MTSU freshman can receive, are named for Buchanan, whose estate gave MTSU $2.5 million in May 2013 following his death.

• Lady Antebellum lead singer Hillary Scott, a former MTSU recording industry major turned Grammy-winning artist, gave back to her alma mater by establishing a scholarship for aspiring female music industry students within the university’s College of Media and Entertainment. “I’m passionate about helping young women succeed and thrive in what they love to do and am thrilled to be a small part of fostering the dreams that I share with so many current and future students,” Scott said.

Hillary Scott

Hillary Scott

• The Journey Home Project, co-founded by country music legend Charlie Daniels, committed $50,000 to help equip the new Veterans and Military Family Center at Middle Tennessee State University set to open Nov. 5. The contribution comes from funds raised at the 40th Anniversary Volunteer Jam, which took place Aug. 12 at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena.

• MTSU returned a favor to the Guangxi Botanical Garden of Medicinal Plants last fall, affixing a plaque at a special laboratory on campus that recognizes their partnership in the study of ancient Chinese herbal remedies. President Sidney A. McPhee and Miao Jianhua, director of the southern China garden, added the label of “USA-China Joint Research Center” outside the Tennessee Center for Botanical Medicine Research in MTSU’s new $147 million Science Building.

• During its True Blue Tour stop in Atlanta, MTSU unveiled a Regional Scholars Program that will provide incentives for select potential out-of-state freshmen who live within 250 miles of its Murfreesboro campus. The program, which will reduce MTSU’s out-of-state tuition by 48 percent, will be offered starting in Fall 2016 to students with an ACT composite of 25 and above.

October

• MTSU students, staff and alumni enjoyed a New Orleans-style homecoming, with a theme of “The Big Blue Easy.” Among activities were the traditional homecoming parade taking a new route straight down Main Street as well as special recognition for accomplished alumni. MTSU students Brandon Woodruff and Brianne Knight were chosen as king and queen of the 2015 MTSU Homecoming Court.

• Middle Tennessee athletics honored one of the most recognized names in Blue Raider sports history — former head football coach James “Boots” Donnelly — with the placement of a full-sized statue on the front lawn of the Kennon Sports Hall of Fame building. Ed Bunio, a longtime MTSU assistant under Donnelly, spearheaded an effort to raise funds for the 6-foot-6 bronze statue. A granite wall behind the statue includes the names of every player, assistant coach, trainer, manager, and secretary who worked in the program during Donnelly’s tenure as coach (1979–98).

This bronze statue of former MTSU football coach Boots Donnelly was unveiled Saturday, Oct. 3, outside the Kennon Sports Hall of Fame at MTSU before the Blue Raiders' game against Vanderbilt. Behind the statue is a wall that includes the names of players, assistant coaches, trainers and managers who worked in the program during Donnelly's 20 years as coach. (MTSU photo by J. Intintoli)

This bronze statue of former MTSU football coach Boots Donnelly was unveiled Saturday, Oct. 3, outside the Kennon Sports Hall of Fame at MTSU before the Blue Raiders’ game against Vanderbilt. Behind the statue is a wall that includes the names of players, assistant coaches, trainers and managers who worked in the program during Donnelly’s 20 years as coach. (MTSU photo by J. Intintoli)

• Alumna Pam Wright jump-started the college careers of 11 MTSU students when she announced a $100,000 donation to the College of Behavioral and Health Sciences. The money will fund the Wright Travel Leadership Scholarship Program, an endeavor designed to motivate students through strategic coaching, formal mentoring opportunities, and pathways to scholarship money upon completion of specific criteria. Recipients will also participate in personal development sessions that will include leadership, networking, and honing interpersonal skills. Wright, widely considered the most successful businesswoman in Nashville, owns Tennessee’s largest travel agency.

• “True Blue” MTSU donors out-bled Western Kentucky University during the sixth annual blood drive, drawing 517 pints of blood to WKU’s 436 during the three-day annual event that MTSU calls “Bleed Blue, Beat WKU.” The “Blood Battle” challenge trophy is now MTSU’s for the second year in a row — and the fifth time since the drive began in 2010.

Rebecca Wells

Rebecca Wells

• Decades after her best-selling novels and a popular film, author Rebecca Wells told an MTSU audience that she continues to learn, heal and grow thanks to her books, her life and her friends. Speaking as part of the university’s Tom T. Hall Writers Series, the author of the famed “Ya-Ya Sisterhood” trilogy kept the audience in the Student Union Parliamentary Room captivated with her views on writing, creativity, honesty and the cultural fascination with what British journalist Toby Young calls “the celebritariat.”

• In five hours’ time, MTSU students managed to hammer together a little piece of Tennessee history. Under the guidance of Rutherford County Area Habitat for Humanity, students and other volunteers participated in the nonprofit organization’s inaugural panel build in the state. A panel build is a one-day event in which only the interior and exterior walls of a house are constructed. Construction is slated to start at the end of March. Dedication of the home at Castle and University streets in Murfreesboro is anticipated around the end of April.

• MTSU welcomed — and honored — one of the most prolific and influential people in American music in October when Motown hit-maker Lamont Dozier visited campus for a celebration of his work. During the visit, Dozier was named a Fellow of the Center for Popular Music, becoming only the second person to be so honored by the University’s special Tennessee Board of Regents Center of Excellence, which is devoted to the study and scholarship of popular music in America. Songwriter and performer Barry Gibb was the inaugural Fellow.

• MTSU racked up another award for its continuing efforts to boost student success. The Education Advisory Board, a higher education consulting firm, honored MTSU with its Data-Driven Impact Award for quantifiable improvements in student retention at an annual gathering of its Student Success Collaborative in Washington, D.C. The collaborative includes about 170 schools that work toward the cutting edge of student success methodologies.

• A balanced mix of baby boomers, Generation Xers and millennials made up the attendees during the 21st Century Generations@Work conference at Embassy Suites Conference Center off Medical Center Parkway in Murfreesboro. This year’s conference expanded on last year’s theme of millennials in the workplace by exploring the traits of boomers and Gen Xers in more depth, while still recognizing that the twenty-something millennials will make up 40 percent of the workforce by 2025.

November

• With plenty of fanfare — including a $50,000 boost for technology from legendary country music entertainer Charlie Daniels, a visit by U.S. Veterans Affairs deputy secretary Sloan Gibson and many others — the university opened the new Veterans and Military Family Center in grand style with a ribbon-cutting at the center on the first floor of the KUC, followed by a program in front of an overflow crowd in the KUC Theater. The 2,600-square-foot, $329,000 center will be a one-stop-shop for MTSU’s approximately 1,000 student veterans and family members.

MTSU students shared brochures and other information to combat sexual violence on campus during the fall 2015 "It's On Us" campaign. (MTSU photo by News and Media Relations)

MTSU students shared brochures and other information to combat sexual violence on campus during the fall 2015 “It’s On Us” campaign. (MTSU photo by News and Media Relations)

• MTSU makes a statement about sexual violence by proclaiming “It’s On Us.” The Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life and the MTSU Student Government Association sponsored the 2015 National Week of Action with special events set throughout the week. The purpose is to create a culture of consent and promote the need for bystanders to get involved when they believe sexual misconduct is occurring or is about to occur.

MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee, left, and Dr. Charles Farmer, Williamson County’s assistant superintendent of secondary schools, discuss the memorandum of understanding between the university and school district Thursday (Nov. 19) at the Franklin Marriott Cool Springs. The partnership will create additional academic enrichment opportunities for the county’s high schools.

MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee, left, and Dr. Charles Farmer, Williamson County’s assistant superintendent of secondary schools, discuss the memorandum of understanding between the university and school district Thursday, Nov. 19, at the Franklin Marriott Cool Springs. The partnership will create additional academic enrichment opportunities for the county’s high schools.

• MTSU and Williamson County Schools signed a partnership agreement in November 2015 that will encourage the university and district to create additional academic enrichment opportunities tailored to the county’s high schools. The agreement, the first of its kind between the university and an entire district, focuses first on creating ties between the district’s schools and MTSU’s Honors College.

• For the second year in a row, the Department of Recording Industry was placed on an international list of acclaimed music industry schools touted by The Hollywood Reporter that includes Juilliard, Berklee, the Seoul Institute for the Arts, and the Conservatoire de Paris. The department — plus its music business program — was recently ranked No. 17 on the magazine’s “Top 25 Music Schools 2015.”

• The MTSU Concert Chorale, MTSU Schola Cantorum and the Middle Tennessee Choral Society celebrated the upcoming holiday season with their 31st annual performance of Handel’s “Messiah.” The concert was held at Murfreesboro’s First United Methodist Church, featuring guest soloists as well as student soloists.

December

• U.S. Sen. Bob Corker and Rutherford County Juvenile Court Judge Donna Scott Davenport served as commencement speakers at the December 2015 graduation ceremonies for the estimated 1,841 students receiving degrees. Among the graduates was state Rep. Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna, who received his bachelor’s degree in liberal studies through the university’s adult degree completion program.

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker

Judge Donna S. Davenport

Judge Donna S. Davenport

• In what became the second most-attended game in MTSU history, the Lady Raiders beat Missouri State 70-54 during the Education Day game. The crowd of 11,411, including more than 7,300 students from 12 Murfreesboro City Schools and Rutherford County Schools’ Campus School and more than 500 teachers, staff and administrators, kept it loud throughout the nonconference game.Best-Value-Schools-Tennessee-web

• MTSU is listed as the top-ranked public university in the state by a national website that focuses on what it considers the best values in higher education. MTSU was ranked No. 2 overall, behind Vanderbilt University in Nashville, by BestValueSchools.com in a list of 20 institutions evaluated for 20-year net return on investment, net price and graduation and acceptance rates.

• MTSU announces more opportunities for songwriting students to learn from visiting professionals in the first phase of a new “Music Row in Murfreesboro” project funded by a $10,000 grant from an arm of the Academy of Country Music. The ACM’s “Lifting Lives Foundation” made the donation to support the Department of Recording Industry’s ongoing Commercial Songwriting Program expansion, program director Odie Blackmon said. (photo)

• The Middle Tennessee football squad represented Conference USA in the 2015 Bahamas Bowl. MTSU played MAC conference foe Western Michigan. MTSU started the season by winning only three of its first eight games but rallied to achieve six wins and receive a bowl invitation for the fourth time since 2009 under Coach Rick Stockstill’s leadership.

Compiled by University Publications and News and Media Relations Office

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