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KNOXVILLE— Michele Ballard, an eighth-grade teacher at Seymour Middle School in Sevier County, is this year’s winner of the Marian E. Oates Teacher Enrichment Award from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

The award, which includes a scholarship for professional development, will allow Ballard to spend the summer collaborating with Professor Mike McKinney, director of environmental studies in UT’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. They will study the mechanics of composting and recycling. Ballard plans to implement composting and recycling programs at her school this fall to use as educational vehicles for teaching environmental science.

Ballard and McKinney
Seymour Middle School teacher Michele Ballard and UT Professor Mike McKinney study the mechanics of composting.

Now in its fourth year, the Marian E. Oates Teacher Enrichment Award provides outstanding East Tennessee middle-school science teachers opportunities to make new discoveries in the environmental sciences so they can impart their knowledge to students and ensure others continue advocating for environmental conservation.

Throughout her life, UT Knoxville alumna Marian E. Oates championed the stewardship and conservation of natural resources. She lived on Bluff Mountain in Sevier County and aggressively campaigned to restore the area’s ecosystem. When she died, she donated her 510-acre back yard as permanent easement to the Foothills Land Conservatory, ensuring the east end of the Chilhowee Mountains would remain untouched.

Oates, who earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a master’s degree in mathematics from UT Knoxville and subsequently served on the Dean’s Advisory Board for the College of Arts and Sciences, established the Marian E. Oates Teacher Enrichment Award as a gift to the College of Arts and Sciences in 2007.

“Now and in the future, the study and practice of environmental sciences are going to become more and more important,” Oates said when announcing the gift two years before she died. “Through this award, I hope to enable middle school teachers to enrich their knowledge, which will, in turn, equip them to boost their students’ interest in taking care of the natural world.”

Ballard, who was selected from a number of nominees, said she is excited to have this opportunity.

“For many years, I have been talking to my students about composting and recycling as a way of helping the environment, but we never did anything about it,” she said. “It has been a dream of mine to start these programs at my school, but I didn’t know where to begin. With support from the Marian Oates award and instruction from Dr. McKinney, I will now be able to realize this dream.

“Composting is a way to recycle food waste from cafeterias, and it can be used as high quality fertilizer in landscaping and plant and vegetable gardens,” McKinney said. “I have found composting is a great way to promote student involvement and instill a sense of social responsibility in students, a value they will carry with them throughout their lives. The school will benefit from lower costs to landfill its waste and gain an educational ‘laboratory’ for the study of decomposition and recycling.”

Ballard has been a teacher at Seymour Middle School for seventeen years and also serves as a cheer coach and Beta Club sponsor. Ballard earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UT Knoxville and an educational specialist degree from Lincoln Memorial University. This year, she was selected as the Sevier County Schools Middle Grades Teacher of the Year. She is married and has two daughters who are in middle school and high school.

C O N T A C T :

Lynn Champion, Director of Academic Outreach and Communications for the College of Arts and Sciences (865-974-2992,

Randy Atkins, Associate Development Director (865-974-2131,