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The opportunity to have your name on a building is a rare honor reserved for those who have given the highest level of time, effort, or support to a cause.

How much must one person care about their alma mater for their name to appear in two places? Ask John Tickle.

Tickle, who graduated from UT with a degree in industrial engineering in 1965, has supported UT so significantly that a pair of structures and a major wing in a third building—the John D. Tickle Engineering Building, the John and Ann Tickle Small Animal Hospital, and a room in the Anderson Training Center—all bear his name.

Tickle recently spoke to a group of engineering student leaders about his work and company vision, encouraging them as they prepare to embark on their own careers.

“I began my career with Owens Corning in Toledo, Ohio, and was surprised to find that most of my associates there did not even know that the University of Tennessee had a College of Engineering,” said Tickle. “That bothered me because I was educated here and, quite frankly, I thought I had received an excellent industrial engineering education.

“That was a long time ago, and UT Engineering has continuously improved since then. It is my hope, and a major motivation behind my giving to UT engineering, that my support will help our university—and specifically its College of Engineering—be recognized nationally and worldwide as a leading institution for engineering education and research—recognition that I think is deserved.”

Tickle, whose wife Ann is also a UT graduate, became president at what was then called Morrison Molded Fiber Glass Company in Bristol, Virginia, in 1972, eventually purchasing the corporation and renaming it Strongwell.

Through the company, Tickle helped pioneer new methods of composite manufacturing and was a leading advocate of a technique known as pultrusion, wherein resin-saturated fibers are pulled through heated casts to make final parts.

That expertise led him to work with the American Society of Civil Engineers in developing standards for composites. He also served as president of the American Composites Manufacturers Association (ACMA).

ACMA has celebrated Tickle’s fifty years in the field and the changes he spearheaded in composites manufacturing with awards such as its 2012 Lifetime Achievement Award and the 2009 Chairman Award.

Tickle told UT students that the field of composites manufacturing is still growing—and ripe for innovation.

He pointed out to Composites Manufacturing Magazine, the official publication of ACMA, that composites still make up only a small percentage of construction, but that a growth in that area can change the larger industry overall.

John Kobza, head of the industrial and systems engineering department, said Tickle has had a huge impact on UT Engineering.

“Their gift brought our department out of the shadows of East Stadium Hall and into the light of the Tickle Building, a change that brought about not only an obvious physical change, but a psychological one as well,” he said. “More students come to the department to talk to faculty, faculty invite industry and government colleagues to visit, and there is a lot more interaction within the department than we had in the past.

“We are no longer isolated.”

Interacting with Tickle during his recent visit had a lasting impact on the students, too.

Austin Fullbright

“I found him to be an extremely grounded and humble individual who is approachable and service-minded,” said UT senior Austin Fullbright, a Johnson City native majoring in electrical engineering. “It was great to interact with a donor who has so much passion for our college and to hear his life stories.

“The biggest lesson he left us with was to never sacrifice your integrity for success.”

Katie Roth

Katie Roth, a senior in civil engineering, said that the visit with one of the college’s biggest benefactors was enriching for her as well.

“His passion for engineering has created opportunities for us that otherwise might not have been available,” said Roth, a native of Franklin. “We were lucky enough to be able to hear his advice on good leadership, good character, and success.”


David Goddard (865-974-0683,