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The University of Tennessee was originally Blount College and was established in 1794 in Knoxville Tennessee. It was non-sectarian, which was quite unorthodox for a facility of higher education in the late eighteenth century and has remained so for the duration of its existence. In fact, it is said to be the oldest such institution west of the Appalachian Divide, the mountain range that splits the original coastal colonies from the Mississippi river basin. In 1869, the state legislature selected the university as the state’s federal land-grant institution, under terms of the Morrill Act passed by Congress in 1862. This enabled the university to broaden its offerings by adding agricultural and engineering courses to its curriculum, as well as military science, which the Morrill Act required (UTK History). The university has grown almost constantly since then and it now sports four campuses and five branches (Tennessee). In retrospect this gave the University the resources and opportunity to expand into a dynamic center of higher education and opened the doors for focus in the medical field. The University of Tennessee’s greatest contribution to education is being a university primarily focused on dynamic learning. It is dynamic in several ways. It incorporates undergraduates in research. It emphasizes research as an essential skill. It has a wide base of research areas. It has been research oriented for much of its history. Most importantly, it does all of these things to a greater extent than other universities in the United States.

One of the more unique areas in which the University of Tennessee pursues research is by making it a priority with undergraduate students. For example, the Office of Research conducts inventories of undergraduate research opportunities on the Knoxville campus (Chancellor). This shows an interest by University staff to, not only include undergraduates in research, but to make that interest readily available and public. At one point, a survey was done and a list of nearly 1,200 research activities was gathered for one academic year (Chancellor). This is a sizable number of undergraduate research opportunities by any account. The University not only has inventoried past research opportunities, but it also gave its website tools that help staff to easily post current undergraduate research prospects in faculty labs, clinics, and offices (Chancellor). Research opportunities are all over the campuses.

The University of Tennessee also has multiple satellite campuses some of which focus so heavily on research that scholastic learning is almost non-existent. The vast majority of research prospects are accessible online and the undergraduate students interested are welcomed instead of being treated as if they were in the way, as is common in many research oriented universities. With all of this information at their fingertips, current and prospective students, both graduate and undergraduate, can find research positions or read about what others have done to get ideas for potential research experiences and topics (Chancellor). In fact, the university website provides accounts of previous undergraduate research experiences, allowing students, or even people just surfing the web, to easily see what a difference research experience can make in an undergraduate career. In the words of Susan Reichert reflecting on her own undergraduate research experience, “too many undergraduates come with a narrow view of their career possibilities. Research broadens your vision and career choices. It’s important to pursue something that you’re interested in” (Chancellor).

However, getting research to the students of the University of Tennessee involves more than tracking past opportunities and putting new ones online. The process of enveloping the undergraduate students has created the need for networking between staff and students and for committees to fill that need. The student and faculty committees that have been formed to help advise the Office of Research also act as communicators, “talking to their colleges and departments about assistance available from the Office of Research while bringing the office information about opportunities and events happening at the college and department level” (Chancellor). One of the results of this superb communication strategy is having Office of Research representatives present at high school open houses to share the benefits of participating in research activities (Chancellor). In short, the University of Tennessee puts considerable effort into opening its dynamic doors to all students graduate, undergraduate, and even potential.

Not only is research an activity that is highly recommended, but it is also considered to be an essential skill by the University of Tennessee. The University is all about “Big Ideas” (UTK). In the words of the main page of the University of Tennessee Knoxville campus, “Our research, our scholarship, our creative activity, and our public service transform lives”. This means that research is so important to the University that it is emphasized in a very public way, implying that corresponding research skills will be taught and prioritized. The impact of University research on the state of Tennessee and on the country as whole is part of the University’s rich and important history and is something striven for currently. Mentoring is another thing avidly pursued in the research field. Faculty are now being asked to report if they mentored a student for a full year, 2010-2011, including summer sessions (Chancellor). This dedication to individual research mentorship shows the importance of both quality mentorship and research skills.

The University of Tennessee is currently aiming to be among the top twenty-five public research institutions in the country (Chancellor). To do this it has focused considerable time on big ideas and research as a skill set every student should have to some extent. The University is constantly moving towards better research and through that better education on a large scale.

Apart from, but connected to, being research oriented, the University of Tennessee emphasizes research in a wide variety of fields. Biology, Chemistry, Pharmacy, agriculture, and aeronautics are but a few of its research areas. For example, the Space Institute, a graduate research and education center near Tullahoma opened in 1964 (UTK History). This proves a willingness to tackle national issues in times of high tension. However, research has also been done in slightly less grandiose fields as well. For instance, research was done in the area of medical ethics (Medical Ethics). This particular program has both an undergraduate and graduate focus, with the graduate area being more in depth and interactive. In short, The University of Tennessee has closely followed issues of concern and controversy. In 1989, Jack Barkenbus did research work on the devaluation of nuclear weapons (Barkenbus). In an interesting tilt of thinking, Barkenbus pointed out that what was of concern were not ways in which people would deal with nuclear war, but the fact that the superpowers seemed to be looking for a way out of having to deal with nuclear war at all. This was a bold topic to examine for someone working within the effects of the Cold War. Another study was done on smoking in the early twentieth century. It was a large and rather in depth study focusing on 1920 through 1923 and compared smokers and non-smokers (Holt). The smoking study tracked physical characteristics such as height, weight, and age. It also measured chest size and lung capacity. It was extremely detailed and comprehensive with the exception that it left women completely out of the study. It compared the success rates, physically (sports) and academically (honors) of subjects in the study. Basically, the smokers’ study is but one example of the type of work that has consistently been produced by the University of Tennessee in fields of research. It was thorough, and at the time, it was cutting edge. These disparate articles are but a few examples of the University’s insistence upon pursing new topics while simultaneously pursing multiple focuses. The focus on being a dynamic learning center has enabled the University of Tennessee to both broaden and deepen its research base.

The University of Tennessee has been a research-oriented facility for much of its long life. The UT Research Foundation is believed to be the second-oldest university research foundation in the country (UTRF). The foundation is not part of the University of Tennessee directly, but “it provides assistance and resources to the research activities of faculty, staff and students of the UT system (Knoxville campus, including UT Institute of Agriculture and UT Graduate School of Medicine; and the campuses of Chattanooga, Martin, Tullahoma and Memphis)” (UTRF). Meaning that while the UT Research Foundation is a separate entity and has always been so, one of its top priorities is working with the Knoxville and satellite campuses in a wide variety of research fields. It was started in 1935 as the UT Research Corporation. It was reorganized in 2003 as the UT Research Foundation, a non-profit organization, and has since expanded from primarily promoting agricultural inventions in the 1930s to a broad range of modern research fields and inventions including biology, chemistry, pharmaceuticals and alternative energy (UTRF). More specifically, it currently “promotes the commercialization of UT intellectual property, encourages an entrepreneurial culture, contributes to state and regional economic development, and promotes research and education to benefit the people of Tennessee and beyond” (UTRF). Meaning entrepreneurship, research, and the diffusing of these qualities throughout society is of the utmost importance to the UTRF.

The UT Research Foundation has been responsible for promoting and patenting multiple inventions since its inception in the 1930s. For example in 1939, it patented its first invention, a device that measured the relative humidity of gas, invented by Kenneth Hertel (UTRF History). Also, in the 1940s and 1950s another seven patents were filed and in the 1970s the types of products patented shifted from agricultural and mechanical to biological, chemical, and pharmaceutical. (UTRF History). This shift shows a willingness on the part of the UTRF and the University of Tennessee’s students and faculty to be truly dynamic by changing with the times and moving forward into new areas of study. Some research branches of the University of Tennessee go farther back than the UT Research Foundation. The West Tennessee Research and Education Center, in Jackson Tennessee is the oldest research center in the UT system, dating back to 1907. The Center deals primarily in agriculture and horticulture, but the more complex those studies have become the more the research center has focused on biology and entomology (West). The University of Tennessee has been research based for over a century in some cases and for almost eighty years overall making it one of the most temporally mature and truly dynamic Universities in the country.

One of the most important facets of the University of Tennessee is that it is one of the best at incorporating undergraduates in research programs, emphasizing research as a necessary skill, focusing in a wide variety of areas, and staying true to a long history of dynamic learning. In short it is top notch at research in general. While some other Universities are also strong research institutions they do not fill all of the aforementioned criteria at the same commendable level as the University of Tennessee. For instance, the University of Washington purports to strive for “the achievement of excellence by the research community” (UW Vision). To do this the University of Washington has several goals. These include everything from making grants more accessible to developing strong relations with research sponsors, to having a transparent research administration (UW Vision). These are admirable goals, but unlike the University of Tennessee there is limited focus on drawing people into the research community and what little attention is given over to the goals of recruiting and retention is certainly not aimed at undergraduate students. The section of the University of Washington research site devoted to students has two tabs as opposed to the researchers section, which has six tabs (UW OR). In the student section itself the only things for undergraduates are headings like “research 101”, “Undergraduate Admissions”, and “Undergraduate Writing Resources” (UW OR). The graduate section includes much more in depth links. Things like “Forum on Science, Ethics, and Policy,” and “Graduate School Mentoring” march across the screen like so many tiny green soldiers, fighting for notice on the webpage (UW OR). Even Mary Lidstrom, the Vice Provost for Research stated that "It's crucial that we optimize the UW's administrative systems, and deliver outstanding support services that help researchers compete and succeed" (UW Vision). There is no mention in her public statement about providing research opportunities to potential graduates or even potential undergraduates. She does not mention attempts to build the field of research from the bottom up, but focuses on strengthening the researchers already in the field. The University of Washington has some great parts of its research program, but the overall dynamic factor is not on par with the University of Tennessee simply because its focus is less on the broad picture.

The University of Colorado in Bolder is another university with a focus on research. It has a wide range of research fields, including humanities and the arts, social sciences, natural sciences, engineering, business, and law (UC Centers). This shows that the metaphorical hand of research has its fingers in multiple pies much like the University of Tennessee. The research structure itself is also rather large at the University of Colorado. “With more than 900 researchers and supporting staff, the institutes make a major contribution to the university's research and education missions as well as the local and area economy” (UC Institutes). The institutes of research are made up of centers and overall perform extremely important services to the Boulder and Colorado communities. However, the University of Colorado has the same problem as the University of Washington in that it cannot compete with the University of Tennessee’s ability to incorporate the entire University undergraduate and potential students included into the dynamic style of learning. The University of Colorado implies that its entire attention is given over to graduate students. “Numerous graduate students are employed by the institutes” of the University of Colorado, “which contribute to the quality of graduate education at CU-Boulder” (UC Institutes). Also, the centers are advertised as to support graduate students in a number of ways including providing grant fellowships, sponsoring internships, hosting public debates and competitions, and by providing excellent archives (UC Centers). Whether or not these opportunities are available for undergraduates is inconsequential, when the concept that even if they were available no one would know about them, is understood. Undergraduates simply are not as supported by the University of Colorado as they are at the University of Tennessee. The Universities of Colorado and Washington both have excellent dynamically oriented areas, but are not, as a whole, dynamic centers of learning, unlike the University of Tennessee whose sole focus seems to be research.

It is possible to say that the University of Tennessee contributes to the academic world like any other university. That it has a balance of scholastic learning and dynamic learning. However, even though the University has some focus on scholasticism, what it stresses as an intellectual center is research. It focuses on being the best of the best in the nation as a research institute. It reaches out to students both graduate and undergraduate with a plethora of research opportunities. Research works written by members of the University of Tennessee are all over the Internet. In short, while scholasticism is inevitably part of any university, the University of Tennessee focuses almost all resources on being a place of dynamic learning. It is also possible to say that the University of Tennessee has such broad fields of study that it only briefly touches on things its researches examine. However, the work the University of Tennessee produces have consistently been pieces of quality, such as is the case with the smoking study and the article on devaluating nuclear weapons. The university works both broad and deep because it has the resources to because it is constantly reaching out to students of all ages. On a final note, while other Universities across the country also have research as an important part of the curriculum and many have outstanding research institutes and centers in countless fields of study, the University of Tennessee uses research as the very staple of its existence.

The University of Tennessee functions as one of the great research institution of the United States. It exposes research projects to undergraduates and it accentuates research as an essential skill for any student or educated person. It has an almost absurdly wide base of research fields and has been research oriented for much of its history. As a result, the University of Tennessee’s main contribution to the academic world is its almost lodestone focus on research based learning. The University has brought the world countless patented inventions and through its research offered works on almost every subject imaginable. It excels at research because that is what it does almost exclusively. It is truly a dynamic learning center.




A Dynamic Focus at the University of Tennessee


Page Author: Elise Holbrook-Bruns

Sunday, 04-Mar-2012 15:33



Barkenbus, Jack N. “Devaluing Nuclear Weapons.” Science, Technology, & Human Values 14, no. 4 (Autumn 1989): 425-440. (accessed 7 February 2012).

Education: Graduate Program in Medical Ethics.” Science, Technology, & Human Values 6, no. 36 (Summer 1981): 65-66. (accessed 7 February 2012).

Holt, William L. “A Statistical Study of Smokers and Non-Smokers at the University of Tennessee.” Journal of the American Statistical Association 18, no.142 (June 1923): 766-772. (accessed 12 February 2012).

About UTRF.” The University of Tennessee Research Foundation. (accessed February 9, 2012).

Big Orange, Big Ideas.” University of Tennessee Knoxville. (accessed February 4, 2012).

History.” The University of Tennessee Research Foundation. (accessed February 7, 2012).

Office of the Chancellor, “Top 25 Two Current Efforts.” University of Tennessee. (accessed February 9, 2012).

The University of Colorado Boulder, “Research Centers.” The University of Colorado. (accessed February 13, 2012)

The University of Colorado Boulder, “Research Institutes.” The University of Colorado. (accessed February 13, 2012).

University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture, “AgResearch West Tennessee Research and Education Center.” University of Tennessee. (accessed February 12, 2013).

University of Tennessee Knoxville, “A Brief History of UT Knoxville.” University of Tennessee. (accessed February 7, 2012).

The University of Tennessee, “The University of Tennessee Knoxville, Chattanooga, Martin, Tullahuma, Memphis.” (accessed February 7, 2012).

The University of Washington, “Office of Research (OR) about OR.” (accessed February 13, 2012).

The University of Washington, “Office of Research (OR) For students.” (accessed February 13, 2012).


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