Janis Terpenny

A Vision for the Future

By David Goddard. Photography by Jessica Tezak.


Even a brief meeting with new Tickle College of Engineering Dean Janis Terpenny immediately reveals that finding, providing, and developing new opportunities is a big part of her vision for the college.

“I love that Tennessee is the Volunteer State, and that UT as an institution fully embraces that,” said Terpenny, who is also the Wayne T. Davis Dean’s Chair. “There are so many opportunities here for engagement locally, nationally, and beyond.”

Terpenny was quick to highlight the college’s work with Oak Ridge National Laboratory as something that helps its reputation beyond UT, and explained that she wants to seek out new partners to further strengthen the way the college is viewed. She’s also looking to establish ties with new industry and non-profit partners on both the local and national level, which will have the added benefit of cementing what students learn in the classroom.

While it is important to have connections and collaborations for research, it goes far beyond that. Connecting our students with real-world projects helps provide context for what is being learned throughout our curriculum, while at the same time helping solve particular problems for our partners.”

—Janis Terpenny

If that sounds familiar, it should.

Keith Stanfill was brought in as the Edwards Assistant Dean and Director of Integrated Engineering Design in the summer of 2018 with a goal of creating more of an emphasis for student design projects that are introduced by businesses.

Terpenny and Stanfill are of one mind when it comes to using practical projects to help aid and cement curricula. They met while serving on the national Capstone Design Conference, whose purpose is to better align education and practice together through projects in the way Terpenny described.

“There’s a basis already that has been placed here with Keith, which is kind of cool and a good start,” Terpenny said. “Businesses and organizations change and evolve over time, so there will always be opportunities and challenges for our students.”

Students Test Senior Design Project in Hospital

New Partners

While Terpenny affirmed the importance of continuing to expand areas where the college already thrives, she also sees healthcare as a potential growth area for the college and UT, given its obvious application and importance around the globe.
“We’ve got UT Hospital right across the river, we’ve got East Tennessee Children’s Hospital here beside campus, there are just some great opportunities for collaboration and growth,” Terpenny said. “If we could do it right, I really think UT could become a national example as a healthcare research leader.”

Terpenny noted that many engineering-focused research avenues related to healthcare could also tie in with some of UT’s other colleges including nursing, social work, and the social sciences.

She would also like to see the college partner with the UT College of Veterinary Medicine and Zoo Knoxville, pointing out that both would provide new, easy to understand avenues to show students the impact of what can be achieved through a STEM-related degree field.

I’m a big collaborator, and I always have been. The opportunities are immense here, and I’d love to see them grow.”

—Janis Terpenny

Students work in a Min H. Kao Building Lab

New People

In addition to research, Terpenny also places a strong emphasis on creating opportunities for individuals. One of her plans is to continue the recent significant growth of the college’s undergraduate and graduate student populations, with a corresponding rise in faculty and staff to meet those needs.
But she doesn’t plan to grow the college haphazardly.

I want to see a true welcoming environment and a significant growth in respect to diversity, not just in the student population, but with faculty and staff as well. I hope to work to develop new scholarships and programs to help support our efforts to diversify our campus. A diversity in people leads to a diversity in thought, which is a good thing.”

—Janis Terpenny

She notes that solving problems frequently requires multiple disciplines with many viewpoints, and that such diversity can help deliver new ideas through different perspectives that are brought to the table.

In turn, those new ideas might lead to other collaborations down the road, meaning the ability to forge new partnerships can be tied to having a diverse college, and vice versa.

“The ability to enable others is my passion,” Terpenny said. “When good ideas resonate, that’s exciting. Whether it’s an idea I’ve had or an idea someone else brings to me doesn’t matter. It’s about creating an enabled, connected, passionate community.”

Janis Terpenny in the Student Union

New Steps

Terpenny hopes to spend the early part of the fall semester getting to meet every department, lab, faculty member, and student group. Beyond that, she wants to begin to lay the groundwork for a national network of partnerships with universities, industries, and agencies, while at the same time fostering a stronger connection with UT’s local community.

Building connections, growing the student, faculty, and staff numbers, and creating a culture of collaboration are all key steps in what Terpenny ultimately hopes to achieve.

We have a goal to be in the top 25 engineering programs, and if we’re not there, I want to at least be darn close. And it won’t be by numbers alone or just among publics. I want us to be top 25 nationally, full stop.”

—Janis Terpenny

She cited communications as being an integral part of that process, saying that her hope is to make the college less of a “well-kept secret.”

In addition to expanding the college’s efforts to share its good news, another big priority is to increase the presence of the college and its departments at national conferences as well as see the college host more conferences and increase sponsorship of engineering events in order to put UT’s experts at the forefront.

While implementing these ideas will not come without challenges, Terpenny is very eager to begin transforming the college into her vision for what it can be.

“I’m delighted to be here, am excited about the future, and am taken by the welcome I have received and the energy that exists,” Terpenny said. “I know we will do great things together.”

For her, that’s the perfect opportunity.

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