Dr. Remy Debes and Dr. Stephan Blatti, both in the Philosophy Department, have received prestigious awards from the Templeton Foundation, but for independent projects. Both faced stiff competition, and it is quite remarkable that Memphis claimed two such awards in a single year. It is an honor for these two researchers, and also for the University.

Dr. Remy Debes was awarded $72,307 in support of a philosophical research project to be undertaken during the 2014- 15 academic year. His project will culminate in a book tentatively titled Peculiar Perspectives: An Inquiry into Respect, Understanding, and Human Dignity.  The project examines the various ways in which human beings understand one another, and argues that one form of interpersonal understanding - empathic understanding - constitutes a form of respect for persons. His grant is part of a larger 4.5 million dollar Templeton project, “Varieties of Understanding,” at Fordham University, which awarded grants to scholars in the areas of Psychology, Theology, and Philosophy. In the Philosophy division there were 161 letters of intent with only 24 applicants invited to submit full proposals, and only 8 selected for funding.

Dr. Debes primary area of research is Ethics, History of Ethics, and the philosophy of emotion. He is an affiliate member of the Institute for Intelligent Systems. In 2009, Professor Debes was named an Alumni Distinguished Teacher, one of four faculty members university-wide to receive this recognition. He was recognized again in 2010 with one of two College of Arts and Sciences Excellence in Teaching Awards.

Dr. Stephan Blatti was awarded an $82,311 grant in support of a philosophical research project to be undertaken during the 2014-15 academic year. Civic immortality, the nature of heaven, and ethical and social issues raised by the prospect of human life extension are among the topics theologians and philosophers will explore in research grants awarded by “The Immortality Project” at the University of California, Riverside. In 2013, first-round grants totaling $2.4 million were awarded to 10 research teams for scientific research into immortality. Blatti’s grant is from the second round of funding awarded to scholars in philosophy and theology: only 24 teams and individuals from these fields were awarded grants. His project will culminate in a book tentatively titled Being of Life: Human Animals, Mortality, and the Human/ Nonhuman Divide.

Professor Blatti’s primary area of research is metaphysics—specifically, the problem of personal identity. He serves as Director of the Marcus W. Orr Center for the Humanities, and he is an affiliate faculty member of the Institute for Intelligent Systems.

When you consider the competitive nature of these awards, for the Philosophy Department to have two recipients in the same year is a genuine mark of distinction.  As Professor Debes exclaimed, “It was a joyous surprise for us.” It certainly calls for celebrating the work of these outstanding faculty, who honor the University with their accomplishments.

Go Tigers!

M. David Rudd, President

You may have read the great news that three May graduates of the U of M-- Fatima Noor, Chimene Okere and Taylor Dodd-- have accepted presidential appointments with the Obama administration that will continue until January 2017. I want to congratulate them, and also put their achievement in a larger context. Among the many accomplishments during their academic careers at UM are a number of connections to leadership programs coordinated and developed by the Division of Student Affairs. Again and again we are discovering that the more our students are engaged in student affairs activities the more likely their probability of academic and professional success.

Each of these three students was involved with multiple leadership training initiatives through the Office of Student Leadership and Involvement and their LEAD (Leadership Education and Development) programs. Through partnerships with local leaders, LEAD strives to educates develops and retains the next generation of Young Leaders for the Mid-South community. Associate Dean of Student Leadership and Involvement Dr. Justin Lawhead, and Senior Coordinator of Leadership Programs Jon Campbell have many success stories to share. Here is a sampling:

  • Emerging Leaders—this leadership scholarship community of 186 students posted impressive academic success statistics with 13% of them earning a perfect 4.0 GPA for the semester and all four years GPAs were above 3.4, and first year students finishing with an average 3.65 GPA. The senior class developed and implemented four community projects with Lifeline 2 Success, The Kroc Center, Agape, and Leadership Memphis.

During the sophomore level, students participated in IDEAD projects which allow students to complete a short, 50 hour project with a company or department.  Alexis Bingham so impressed ALSAC/ St. Jude with her ideas for a branding strategy for ALSAC that she was offered a handsome internship following her presentation.

  •  Tiger Leadership Institute—a cohort based leadership training experience, now exceeds 500 graduates over the five-year life span of this program, growing from 47 to 130 students in the past year alone. The program was expanded to include a cohort at the Lambuth Campus.  91% of the first year participants are re-enrolled for the upcoming Fall semester.
  • Professional Connections— These monthly meetings focus on interviewing, personal branding with an emphasis on utilizing social media, and  a review of personal resumes. Forty-three students participated in the spring seminar. We are also proud to have our community partner The Lipscomb and Pitts Breakfast Club continue to lend significant support by recruiting professionals who can provide important feedback on how to successfully transition from academia to the workplace.
  • Lunch with a Leader – The popular series, focusing on highlighting the strength of leadership in the Memphis community recently hosted speakers Mike Womack (Sr. VP of HR Customer Satisfaction, Autozone), Nancy Williams (former Executive Director, Child Advocacy Center), Amy Weirich, (District Attorney, Shelby County), and Edith Kelly Green (The first African American female vice president and former chief sourcing officer for Memphis-based FedEx Express and currently the largest multi-unit franchise owner of Lenny’s Sub Shop Franchise). The upcoming year will focus on community efforts to retain and engage talent in the Mid-South region.

LEAD is an enormous benefit to our students, and through community based co-curricular programming, LEAD students learn about problem solving, team building, critical thinking and other important workplace skills. LEAD makes the essential connections between the classroom and the real world.

It is impressive work.

Go Tigers!

M. David Rudd, President

As the new academic year gets underway you are going to hear some remarkable stories about gains in first-time student numbers and their likely academic quality.  Dean Richard Sweigard of the Herff College of Engineering has a great story to tell about their success in attracting new students to engineering this Fall.

“According to the latest Application Activity Report from the Office of Admissions, our number of new students enrolled is up about 16% over last year at this time. According to our own records, we have seen about 19% more students in new student orientation than we did last year.  I am not sure what the final exact count will be but I am confident we will be in that 16% to 19% increase range.”

The really good news, however, is that due to their recruiting efforts and merit scholarship program, they have 40 freshmen with an ACT of 30 or above. This is significant because these are students who will very likely graduate. The University recruited very hard this year and it appears that, overall, nearly 2,250 incoming first-time freshman will be joining us, an increase of 231 compared to last year.

Dean Sweigard predicts: “I think we will see an even larger increase next year.  The word is starting to spread among the local schools.  We plan to visit about 40 high schools this fall.  That should boost our numbers significantly for fall 2015.”

M. David Rudd, President