University of Tennessee Chancellor Jimmy Cheek Talks up Eastman Education Partnership

Sep 24, 2015 9:00 AM ET
Press Release

KINGSPORT, Tenn., September 24, 2015 /3BL Media/ — University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK), Chancellor Jimmy Cheek touted his school’s research partnership with Eastman Chemical Co. and recruited Dobyns-Bennett juniors and seniors during day one of a statewide bus tour on Monday.

After the university’s “Big Orange Big Ideas” bus rolled into the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce parking lot, Cheek stepped out and stepped inside the Eastman Board Room to make his pitch to about 50 business leaders and city officials.

Cheek noted that earlier this year, UTK and Eastman signed a multi-year agreement to conduct collaborative research in multiple scientific disciplines. UTK is now the third academic partner in Eastman’s network of partner universities, joining North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

As part of the research agreement, Eastman will provide $750,000 in annual funding to support research endeavors between Eastman scientists and UT faculty and students.

“This partnership with Eastman Chemical is very critical to us,” Cheek claimed. “We continue to intensify that relationship ... We have a lot of students who do internships and co-ops at Eastman Chemical and a tremendous number of employees at Eastman.”

Eastman, Cheek added, has encouraged UTK to be more aggressive in recruiting other out-of-state students from the Southeast to build up the company’s next generation workforce.

“If the student does a co-op experience here, they will stay here,” Cheek said of Eastman’s request.

Northeast Tennessee, meanwhile, remains “very important” to UT as a source for undergraduate students, Cheek pointed out.

“Sullivan County is in the top 10 as far as the number of students who come to the University of Tennessee Knoxville,” Cheek noted. “We’re real proud about that, and we want to maintain that, and we want to increase that over time.”

After speaking at the chamber, Cheek and his bus rolled on to Dobyns-Bennett High School to meet with and show a video to juniors and seniors, as well as announce the first six students to be admitted to UTK in fall 2016.

The five admission letter students announced Monday are Avery Aulds, Parker Wilkins, Maci Snodgrass, Allison Kilgore and Brandon Gillian. A sixth student also has been accepted but was not at school Monday, and UTK and D-B officials said his name would not be released until he and his family were notified.

“This is a a great time to be at the University of Tennessee,” Cheek said at the chamber. “We’re on a journey to be a top 25 public research university. We’ve made significant progress of that. People say ‘Why do you want to do that?’ The reason we want to do it is it makes it better for the students who come there ... It has us more focused on students and student outcomes.”

As for higher education nowadays, Cheek admitted much of the talk focuses on the cost of tuition and student debt.

“The best way we can help control that is when a student comes to the university, is retain them,” he continued. “Our retention rate has gone up from 84 percent to 87 percent in the last five years, that’s a significant change. We would really like to get that rate to 90 percent.”

Cheek said UTK is also trying to take its graduation rate from 70 percent now to 80 percent.

“If they graduate in four years, they spend less money and incur less debt,” he added. “Annual tuition is $12,000 and the average student pays $6,000 because of the (Tennessee Lottery) Hope scholarship and other scholarships they get ...50 percent of our students don’t have debt, while 50 percent have about $20,000 in debt ... A new car costs less than that. It’s the best investment you can make.”

UTK, Cheek also stressed, has a $1.8 billion economic impact on the state, and produces about 33,000 jobs, with those people paying about $125 million in taxes every year.

An unprecedented $1 billion in campus construction is now underway or in the design or planning stages to include a new student union, classroom and laboratory facilities, and a redeveloped residence hall village.

“We produce more graduates at the graduate or undergraduate level than any university in the state of Tennessee, period, and we are going to continue that,” Cheek concluded. “We want (community college) transfer students. We want to keep the best and brightest. That is extremely important to us.”

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Chrissy Idlette
Public Affairs
+1 (423) 229-4187