Diversity Growth a Key Focus of College of Engineering

When Fred Peebles, dean of UT’s College of Engineering, hired Fred Brown to lead the newly created Minority Engineering Program in 1973, there were twenty-six total African American students in engineering.

The program blossomed under Brown’s leadership and that of his successors, James Pippin and Travis Griffin, to the point that more than 1,000 minority engineers have now graduated.

Griffin, however, is quick to praise Brown and the efforts that have led not only to a more diverse college through what is now known as the Engineering Diversity Programs Office, but also to a more diverse campus in general.

“Creating the foundation for our office when he came to Tennessee was nothing short of remarkable,” said Griffin. “He really had to start almost from scratch, but his legacy is still being felt.”

With UT naming the first residence hall it has opened in forty-five years after Brown, the program he started remains as vibrant as ever.

As a testament to that, UT welcomed home three alumni who benefited from the efforts Brown made as part of the launch of an endowment campaign to grow diversity efforts. Their visit was part of a daylong diversity celebration that culminated with the residence hall dedication on Friday, October 10.

Rodney Brooks, a 1985 mechanical engineering graduate, is now vice president of power products and systems for ABB, while Cavanaugh Mims, a 1986 nuclear engineering graduate, is president of Visionary Solutions LLC and Dwight Hutchins, a 1986 chemical engineering graduate, is vice president of Accenture’s Asia Division.

The three spoke about the importance of the diversity office, the impact Brown had on them, and the changes he brought to campus.

“Look at our lives, our families, and think about our success and what he meant to that,” said Brooks. “And then you go to see that new dorm with his name on it, and you see black, white, Asian, all kinds of students living together, and you realize that’s Fred Brown.

“We all need to be Fred Brown.”

This year has seen UT’s National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) chapter earn national recognition as chapter of the year, while Tiffany Sithiphone, one of its members, became the first woman from UT to be elected regional chairperson.

The diversity program hosts several camps, events, and other gatherings for underrepresented students—Hispanic, Native American, Alaskan Native, Pacific Islanders, or female, as well African American—to see what kind of opportunity UT can present for them.

“The work that Fred began all those years ago continues to pay off for today’s students,” said Hutchins. “The direction that the office is headed is one that the college can be proud of, one that continues to challenge and bring out the best in students.”

“When he came it was almost like an experiment, and that experiment succeeded,” added Mims. “We’ve all benefited by him having been here.”

In addition to NSBE, the college also has groups from the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and the Society of Women Engineers, and is a key member of the Tennessee Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation as well as the National Graduate Degrees for Minorities in Engineering and Science Inc. Consortium.

C O N T A C T :

David Goddard (865-974-0683, david.goddard@utk.edu)