Five University of Tennessee faculty and staff were recognized Thursday, March 14 in Nashville as President’s Award honorees.
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Award honors accomplishments that enhance educational offerings and diverse learning environments

Rapinder “Rupy” Sawhney

Rapinder “Rupy” Sawhney

Rapinder “Rupy” Sawhney, UT Knoxville professor in industrial and systems engineering, has significantly impacted the educational experiences of students at all levels.

Sawhney developed academic programs for high school, undergraduate, graduate students and adults and industry professionals. He has encouraged countless young people to pursue a career in STEM, especially engineering, while also offering expert advice to organizations on how to improve organizational efficiency and cut costs. As an educator, he wants to inspire others to discover their purpose and potential. He strives to do more than convey knowledge. Instead, he wants his students to learn how to address the complexities of an issue, carefully form opinions and develop and analyze solutions to problems.

“Dr. Sawhney personifies the complete academician, demonstrating the best of interdisciplinary research, teaching and mentoring to students at the undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral levels,” Wayne Davis, UT Knoxville interim chancellor, wrote in his nomination letter.

Along with teaching and mentoring, Sawhney is the executive director for the Center for Advanced System Research and Education and a Heath Fellow in business and engineering.


Educate Nominees

  • Macel Ely II, Institute for Public Service, Director of the Naifeh Center for Effective Leadership (NCEL)
  • Hunter Holzhauer, UT Chattanooga, UC Foundation Associate Professor, Finance and Economics
  • Richard Robinson, UT Martin, Associate Professor, Communications
  • Lawrence E. Steckel, UT Institute of Agriculture, Associate Professor, Plant Sciences
  • Anne H. Zachry, UT Health Science Center, Assistant Professor and Department Chair, Occupational Therapy, College of Health Professions




Award honors inventions, discoveries and applications of knowledge

Karen Johnson

Karen Johnson

Karen Johnson, UT Health Science Center College of Medicine endowed professor of women’s health, has made significant scientific contributions to the understanding of and interventions for hypertension and postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy.
As the vice chair of the Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial (SPRINT) Steering Committee, Johnson proved vital in the committee’s research by finding a significant reduction in cardiovascular events and all-cause mortality, as well as a significant reduction in mild cognitive impairment. These results led to important changes in hypertension guidelines worldwide. Johnson was also a primary investigator and member of the National Steering Committee for the Women’s Health Initiative study, which led to the Food and Drug Administration placing a Black Box warning on all medication labels containing postmenopausal hormone medications.

She has been funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for 24 years, receiving more than $50 million in grant funding. She has also contributed as a co-investigator in externally funded peer-reviewed studies funded by NIH or the Department of Defense that total more than $45 million.

“Dr. Johnson has my strongest recommendation… Her work brings positive recognition to UTHSC and the University of Tennessee. As important, Dr. Johnson’s work has far-reaching impact, both nationally and internationally,” wrote Steve Schwab, UT Health Science Center chancellor, in his recommendation letter.

Johnson is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians, American College of Preventative Medicine and American Heart Association. She also serves as co-director of the Tennessee Clinical and Translational Science Institute, co-chair of the UTHSC Clinical Trial Governance Board and one of the multi-primary investigators on the Clinical and Translational Science Award NIH Application.


Discover Nominees

  • Warren Peter Nevad, UT Institute for Public Service, Municipal Management Consultant, Municipal Technical Advisory Service
  • Timothy Gardner Rials, UT Institute of Agriculture, Professor and Associate Dean/Director, Center for Renewable Carbon
  • John Swanson, UT Chattanooga, Associate Professor, History Department




Award honors outreach, engagement and service efforts and programs

Sarah Hillyer

Sarah Hillyer

Sarah Hillyer, director of the Center for Sport, Peace and Society in the UT Knoxville College of Education, Health and Human Sciences, is one of the world’s foremost experts in the use of sport for community development, peace building, disability inclusion and gender equity.

Hillyer’s work has benefited more than 500,000 women and girls, youth, refugees, persons with disabilities, students, student-athletes and those from marginalized communities in more than 85 countries. She also serves as co-primary investigator of a U.S. Department of State grant for the Global Sports Mentoring Program, which has brought more than $10 million in grant funding to UT since 2012. Under her leadership, this program was named a winner of a Stuart Scott ENSPIRE award at the ESPN Humanitarian awards

This program was also named the 2018 Diplomatic Action of the Year by the Peace and Sport Awards. Hillyer also received the 2018 ESPN Sports Humanitarian Award for her efforts to promote the use of sport for social change.

“Sarah Hillyer strongly represents the ideal balance of accomplished researcher and leader who is taking her academic findings and implementing them in the field every day,” wrote Wayne Davis, interim chancellor of UT Knoxville, in nominating her.

In addition, Hillyer helped launch the VOLeaders Academy, a year-long leadership program for student-athletes that includes academic coursework and a summer study-abroad and cultural immersion experience.


Connect Nominees

  • Bradford (Brad) Paul Collett, UT Institute of Agriculture, Associate Professor, Plant Sciences
  • Zibin Guo, UT Chattanooga, UC Foundation Professor, Department of Social, Cultural and Justice Studies
  • Paul Lebron Middlebrooks, UT Institute for Public Service, Program Manager, UT Center for Industrial Services
  • Clinton Smith, UT Martin, Associate Professor of Special Education, Department of Educational Studies
  • Orpheus Triplett, UT Health Science Center, Associate Professor and Program Director of Head Start Outreach, Pediatric Dentistry and Community Oral Health, College of Dentistry




Award honors efforts in support of educational excellence; discoveries and applications of knowledge; and outreach, engagement and service

Kathy Gibbs

Kathy Gibbs

Kathy Gibbs, assistant vice chancellor for student academic support services and inclusion (SASSI), has profoundly impacted almost every student at the UT Health Science Center.

Gibbs researches best practices in academic support. She has created multiple tutoring programs that assist students and has helped educate staff with test preparation.

Gibbs is also committed to serving students’ mental health needs. She added two mental health counselors and a case manager to SASSI per the advice of national experts. Students describe SASSI as the “hub of student care and

“Her work has increased retention and the quality of life for so many students. Ms. Gibbs is an asset to UTHSC and is an example of what is best about the University of Tennessee” wrote Steve Schwab, UT Health Science Center chancellor, in his nomination letter.

Gibbs is also the creator of the #TakeCare campaign, which focused on normalizing self-care and removing any barriers of stigma for students. She was awarded the Student Government Association Executive Council Imhotep Award in 2006 for her dedication and involvement in student activities and initiatives. This award is presented only when students believe someone is deserving of the honor. Gibbs is also the recipient of the 2017 Chancellor’s Exempt Staff Award for her service and significant contributions to the university community.


Support Nominees

  • Michelle Renee Buckner, UT Institute for Public Service, Administrative Specialist, Municipal Technical Advisory Service
  • Justin Crowe, UT Institute of Agriculture, Extension Specialist, 4-H Youth Development/Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication
  • Laura Melnik, UT Chattanooga, Executive Director, Southeast Center for Education in the Arts




Award honors the extraordinary effort of a faculty or staff member in support of the university’s commitment to diversity and inclusive excellence

Valerie Rutledge

Valerie Rutledge

Valerie Rutledge, dean of the College of Health, Education and Professional Studies at UT Chattanooga, embraces diversity and inclusion in all aspects of the university.

Rutledge attracts, recruits and retains women, specifically women of color, through UT Chattanooga’s Grow Your Own program, which encourages the academic achievement of highly effective educators of color at UTC. She uses it to increase the number of minority faculty in the College of Health, Education and Professional Studies.

She has financially contributed and collaborated with the Office of Equity and Inclusion to support Sisters of the Academy, a national organization that provides resources like research boot camps, intensive grant writing workshops and retreats to support women of color in academia.

“Valerie has created one of the most diverse group of faculty compared to other units. She is a leader within her college and deserves this recognition,” wrote Yancy Freeman, vice chancellor for enrollment management, student affairs and student success.

She also continues to financially and administratively assist the MOC Forward Diversity Conference, which brings faculty, staff, students and community members to UT Chattanooga’s campus to provide workshops and training sessions regarding diversity issues in the Chattanooga community.


Diversity Nominees

  • Michael Alston, UT Health Science Center, Assistant Vice Chancellor and Title IX Coordinator, Office of Equity and Diversity, Academic, Faculty and Student Affairs
  • Joseph Lee Griffy, UT Institute of Agriculture, Extension Agent and County Director, UT Extension Stewart County
  • Tyvi T. Small, UT Knoxville, Interim Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Engagement