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Faculty, staff, and students were recognized by the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, for their outstanding achievements this past year.

Award recipients are typically celebrated during the Chancellor’s Honors Banquet, hosted each spring to recognize students, faculty, staff, and friends of UT for their extraordinary achievements. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the banquet had to be canceled.

Six seniors are being recognized for their academic achievement, leadership, and outstanding service with the university’s highest student honor, the Torchbearer award. They are Mustafa Ali-Smith, of Nashville, a December 2019 graduate of the Haslam College of Business with a major in public administration and a minor in political science; John Calvin Bryant, of Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, a senior studying food science; Natalie Campbell, of Knoxville, a member of the College Scholars program double majoring in legal and political philosophy and disability studies; Emma Heins, of Fort Mill, South Carolina, a senior studying geology and environmental studies; Nicholas Ross, of Johnson City, Tennessee, a Chancellor’s Honors student studying chemical engineering; and Taylor Washington, of Memphis, a Haslam Scholar studying political science with a minor in public policy analytics.

Read more about all of the students, faculty, and staff who received awards this year.

Brooke Clemmons
Doctoral Student Brooke Clemmons

Brooke Clemmons was recognized with the Jimmy and Ileen Cheek Graduate Student Medal of Excellence, awarded annually to an outstanding student currently pursuing a PhD who has completed at least four semesters of study. Clemmons is completing a PhD in animal science in the Herbert College of Agriculture as a Tennessee Fellow. Her research area involves nutrition, genetics, and the rumen microbiome, with the potential to reduce methane emissions and improve production and sustainability within the beef cattle industry. She has eight peer-reviewed research publications with two more under review, most as first author. A former high school science teacher, Clemmons takes part in elementary and high school science programs, and she works with Tennessee 4-H and other programs to nurture young scientists. She has served as a leader and trainer in the Animal Science Peer Advisor Leadership program and is a past president of the Animal Science Graduate Student Association. She earned two MS degrees during the course of her doctoral studies—one in animal science and one in agricultural leadership, education, and communications.

“Being a Volunteer means working hard for my community and standing up for what I believe in,” said Clemmons. “I have been involved in everything from undergraduate education to outreach activities for elementary school youth, and spread my love of animal science to those within and outside the university.”

The following professors received the university’s top faculty awards:

Gary McCracken
Professor Gary McCracken

Macebearer: Gary McCracken

The Macebearer is the highest faculty honor at UT and recognizes a distinguished career and faculty’s commitment of service to students, to scholarship, and to society. McCracken, a professor and former head of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology in the College of Arts and Sciences, is a population ecologist and geneticist who has devoted his research career to the study of bats and his outreach efforts to their conservation. Recognized as one of the world’s foremost experts in the field, he is widely published and speaks often at national and international conferences. He regularly involves both undergraduate and graduate students in his research, and he is known for developing innovative new courses—most recently, an experiential course in the natural history of the Great Smoky Mountains. A fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, McCracken is active in the leadership of scientific organizations dedicated to bat biology and conservation, and his expertise is sought by media outlets such as National Geographic, Mother Jones, and National Public Radio.

McCracken is a first-generation college graduate who worked hard to get a good education. McCracken fondly recalls highlights such as seeing Dolly Parton and Al Gore receive their honorary degrees. He said his favorite memories, though, “come from being a part of the lives of our graduates and having helped them to achieve professional and personal accomplishments.”

Erin Hardin
Professor Erin Hardin

Alexander Prize: Erin Hardin

Named for former UT president and now US Senator Lamar Alexander and his wife, Honey, the Alexander Prize recognizes superior teaching and distinguished scholarship. Hardin, professor and director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences, has received numerous teaching awards, including a national award from the Society for the Teaching of Psychology. She was among the top tier of national nominees for Baylor University’s prestigious Robert F. Cherry Award. A widely published scholar, she is currently principal investigator or co-principal investigator on three interdisciplinary teams funded through federal grants: one providing career programming for students in rural Appalachian high schools; one supporting low-income rural Appalachian students in Tennessee who are pursuing an arts and sciences STEM degree, and researching factors that support their retention and success; and one working to reduce disparities in the recruitment, hiring, retention, and advancement of women faculty in STEM disciplines.

When asked what this award means to her, Hardin said, “This award means that UT values undergraduate teaching. . . . faculty don’t have to choose between being a productive researcher or an excellent teacher. This is a place where we can be both, and many of us are.”

Jon Shefner
Betty Lynne Hendrickson Professor of Social Science Jon Shefner

Jefferson Prize: Jon Shefner

The Jefferson Prize honors a tenured or tenure-track faculty member who has demonstrated excellence in research and creative activity. Shefner, the Betty Lynne Hendrickson Professor of Social Science and head of the Department of Sociology in the College of Arts and Sciences, is an internationally recognized scholar in social justice, social movements, globalization, political economy, and green economic development. He was the recipient of a 2007 Fulbright research grant and has publication credits in five books, along with numerous scholarly papers, book chapters, and reviews. Shefner organizes frequent academic conferences and other scholarly events, and he served from 2004 to 2010 as the founding director of UT’s Interdisciplinary Global Studies Program. He has been honored by organizations including the American Sociological Association, the Southern Sociological Society, and the Society for the Study of Social Problems.

“I’ve worked at UT for 21 years, and both of my children received their degrees from this wonderful university,” said Shefner. “As a faculty Vol, I’ve had lots of opportunities to conduct meaningful research, to teach excellent students, and to contribute to a community that has the best interest of the state, nation, and globe deeply at heart and hand. This has been immensely meaningful to me.”

Russell Crook
First Horizon Professor of Management Russell Crook

R. Hesler Award: Russell Crook

Named for a longtime head of the botany department who also served as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, the L. R. Hesler Award recognizes exceptional teaching and service. Crook, the First Horizon Professor of Management in UT’s Haslam College of Business, teaches strategic planning and implementation. He helped create the TakeOff program to provide support and guidance to first-generation business students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Crook continues to hold a leadership role in TakeOff in addition to being an active member of the college’s Diversity Council and contributing to other service initiatives within the university and community. He was recently elected to a five-year leadership track with the Southern Management Association.

When asked what it means to be a Volunteer, Crook said, “Candidly, I don’t think I could articulate it any better than the Volunteer Creed—’One that beareth a torch shadoweth oneself to give light to others.’ I think it is incumbent on everyone in the Volunteer family to share light in any way they can.”


Maddie Stephens (865-974-3993,