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A noted educational researcher, an accomplished business leader, and a pioneering historian will be honored in this year’s African American Trailblazer Series.

Presented by the Commission for Blacks and the Office for Diversity and Inclusion, the African American Trailblazer Series is dedicated to honoring the accomplishments of African Americans affiliated with UT who are trailblazers in their disciplines or within the fields of diversity, inclusion, and social justice.

This year’s series opens on November 5, with alumnus Michael Nettles, senior vice president at the Educational Testing Service (ETS) and Edmund W. Gordon Chair of ETS’s Policy Evaluation and Research Center.

Nettles has a national reputation as a policy researcher on educational assessment, student performance and achievement, educational equity, and higher education finance policy. In 2014, President Barack Obama appointed Nettles to the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans. Nettles graduated in 1976 with a degree in political science.

Alumnus Don Frieson, executive vice president of operations for Sam’s Club, will speak on February 3, 2016, during Black History Month.

Prior to joining Sam’s Club in 2012, Frieson led the integration of 300 Massmart stores operating in sub-Saharan African nations into Walmart International. He and his twin brother recently gave $1 million to the Frieson Black Cultural Center in tribute to their family. Frieson earned a bachelor’s degree in business operations management from UT in 1990.

Professor Emerita Cynthia Fleming closes the series on March 3, 2016, during Women’s History Month.

In 1977, Fleming became the first black woman to earn a PhD in history from Duke University. In 1982, she joined UT’s history faculty as one of the first two black women faculty members in the College of Arts and Sciences. As a member of the pioneering generation of black women historians at the nation’s historically white colleges and universities, Fleming retired in 2014 after thirty-two years of service to UT.

Local television and radio host Hallerin Hilton Hill will facilitate an interview-style session with the speakers and moderate dialogue between speakers and audience members. Hill is a host on NewsTalk 98.7 WOKI Knoxville and Anything is Possible on WBIR-TV in Knoxville.

The 2014–2015 series featured Theotis Robinson, the first African-American undergraduate at UT; Rita Geier, a prominent lawyer who championed efforts to desegregate Tennessee’s higher education system; Mark Dean, inventor, professor, and holder of three of IBM’s original nine PC patents; and Valisia LeKae, Grammy-and Tony-nominated actress and singer and spokesperson for the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition.


Lili’a Uili Neville (865-974-6271,