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(Left to right) UT Knoxville Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek, Tickle College of Engineering Dean Wayne Davis, John D. Tickle and UT President Joe DiPietro stand together after the UT Board of Trustees approved the naming of the college of engineering in Tickle's honor on Oct. 14, 2016.
(Left to right) UT Knoxville Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek, Tickle College of Engineering Dean Wayne Davis, John D. Tickle and UT President Joe DiPietro stand together after the UT Board of Trustees approved the naming of the college of engineering in Tickle’s honor on Oct. 14, 2016.

The UT Board of Trustees voted today to name the College of Engineering for distinguished alumnus John D. Tickle.

John D. Tickle
John D. Tickle

It marks the second time in the campus’s 222-year history that a college has been named for an alumnus and benefactor. Tickle, a 1965 industrial engineering graduate from Bristol, Tennessee, is chairman of the Strongwell Corporation.

“My goal is for the University of Tennessee to be known for their education and the product they put out,” said Tickle. “[My wife] Ann and I both believe that education is what fuels success—not just our own success, but the success of UT and the state as well.

“I’m deeply honored and will try to live up to the billing,” he said of the naming recognition.

The naming and the foundation of support it reflects better align the college with its aspirational top-ranked public university peers. The college joins the Haslam College of Business as the only named UT Knoxville colleges, with benefits that extend well beyond the new name.

John Tickle began supporting UT just a year after he graduated. A recent transformational gift will impact every aspect of the college—from students and faculty to research and facilities.

“This is a historic day for our university and our state,” said Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek. “We want to thank John and the Tickle family. Their support will accelerate the college’s bold plans for growth and improvements and the university’s plans for becoming a top-ranked public research university.”

The gift establishes the following:

  • The Tickle Graduate Fellows program, which will fund doctoral students across all of the college’s academic programs
  • Tickle Professorships to recognize excellent faculty, helping the college recruit and retain these important scholars
  • The addition of a team of professional advisors over the next year to provide more guidance to students about their academic goals

Engineering Dean Wayne Davis said that naming the college enables the next big steps in its journey.

“John wants our students to have the very best education and experience here so that they will graduate as the most versatile and well-trained professionals in their industries. He’s been a special partner in so much of the progress we’ve been able to make, and this gift will make a difference for our students, the profession, and our state for many years to come.

“It’s a very special and historic day for the college and John’s support means a lot to me, both as dean and as an alumnus of the college.”

In the past decade, the college has grown its enrollment by 1,600 students, or roughly 60 percent. It has added 30 world-renowned faculty and nearly doubled its annual research funding to almost $70 million. The college has risen more than 10 spots among public institutions to become the country’s 32nd- and 36th-ranked undergraduate and graduate engineering schools, respectively, in U.S. News and World Report’s annual rankings.

The quality of incoming students has also surged; current freshmen have an average GPA of 4.0 and math ACT score of more than 30.

In fall 2015 the College of Engineering announced their part of the Journey to the Top 25 Campaign with a goal of $150 million. John Tickle is chair of the engineering campaign committee, and to date over $125 million has been committed.

“Leadership is the key, and John is tireless in his efforts to ensure that we have the financial base to propel this college forward,” said Davis.

Related: More on the college’s capital campaign

Tickle said that seeing so many changes across the campus gives him goosebumps. He said he considers the cranes, road disruptions, and new buildings a sign of the university’s stability and health.

He noted the contrast to the perception of the college just after he graduated, relating a conversation that angered but also inspired him.

At a lunch with colleagues, someone asked where he had gone to school and he proudly answered, “the University of Tennessee.”

“I’d hear a silence, and that really bothered me,” said Tickle. “It’s stuck in my craw for over 50 years.”

Acknowledging that much has changed since then, he added, “When someone says ‘I’m a University of Tennessee graduate’ I want people to say ‘Wow.'”

The Tickles have invested in many UT programs over the years, including support for professorships, building projects, and athletics initiatives. John Tickle was appointed to the UT Board of Trustees in 2015.

The John D. Tickle Engineering Building opened in 2013, the John and Ann Tickle Small Animal Hospital opened in 2008, and the John and Ann Tickle Athletic Development Suite is a key feature of the Brenda Lawson Athletic Center, which opened in 2006.

Tickle has committed a significant portion of the private dollars needed in the state’s funding formula for an additional new academic building for engineering, although state funds have not yet been appropriated. The planned new building will house nuclear engineering, freshman engineering programs, and student design and innovation laboratories.

With classes first offered in 1838, the Tickle College of Engineering houses 39 academic programs across seven departments. It has affiliations with the UT Space Institute and numerous other research centers and institutes.

For more information about the college, visit

Information Graphic about the Tickle College of Engineering

C O N T A C T :

David Goddard (865-974-0683,