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Anniversary Reflections

To further tell the story of the department and some of the successes its graduates have had, several alumni were sent a set of questions to help give an idea of what is possible through an education in industrial and systems engineering. 

Here are some of their stories and views of the department, in their own voices. To add your stories to those below, fill out this form.

John D. Tickle (BS ’65) 

Chairman and Owner, Strongwell

My father was an avid UT football fan, and his enthusiasm for everything about the University of Tennessee was passed right on to me. We lived in Tennessee and had limited financial resources. Attending an in-state college with outstanding engineering programs led me to the University of Tennessee. I made the right decision. 

My best memories are the times I spent with my professors outside the classroom. Dan Doulet stood out as an outstanding professor. He gave me unlimited time in his office. The entire industrial engineering department was filled with great professors, and they all contributed to helping me develop a love and appreciation for engineering. 

My years at UT inspired me to want to continue to learn and to use my skills to advance my career. You get out of everything you do in life exactly what you put into it. Therefore, always give 110 percent plus. 

UT was the right fit for me, and I could not have made a better choice. I continue to support UT with my time and energy because I know they offer an outstanding program. 

Leslie Benmark (BS ’67, MS ’70) 

National Academy of Engineering Member (1993)

When the Russians launched Sputnik in 1957, I was a freshman in high school and still considering potential college majors. There was a significant uproar in the United States that the Russians were ahead of the USA in the space race. The cause was felt to be that there was a shortage of engineers and scientists in the country. 

Careers that were mostly available for women at that time were teaching, secretarial, or nursing. None of these careers interested me. Due to the perceived shortage of engineers and scientists, my father suggested that I major in engineering. At that time, most of my family were doctors, lawyers, or teachers, but engineering sounded interesting to me because I liked math and science. I later became the first engineer in my family. 

Industrial engineering was my first (and continuing) engineering interest. A friend of mine planned to major in industrial engineering at North Carolina State; his father was an industrial engineer with General Electric. He told me about the field of industrial engineering and it sounded interesting. 

Professor Howard Emerson, industrial engineering department head, was almost a father figure for me and was always very supportive of his first IE female. Professor Dan Doulet would take classes of IE students for plant tours at his manufacturing facility; we were able to use his factory for plant layouts, workflow design, and such. I appreciated and really enjoyed his practical real-world approach to industrial engineering. 

The department clearly was the foundation of all I have achieved throughout my professional and personal life. The curriculum provided an excellent broad foundation in both technical and business areas. The career I have had, the places I have been (over 75 countries), and the many opportunities I have had are all proof of how far engineering can take you. 

Eric Zeanah (BS ’84) 

President and Owner, American Accessories International 

My five years spent within the Department of Industrial Engineering from 1979 to 1984 were tremendously formative from both a life and professional perspective. Having a faculty with a broad spectrum of business experience gave us an applied perspective to the profession. 

From a student perspective, the Department of Industrial Engineering at the University of Tennessee was uniquely positioned as an extremely diverse department before diversity on campus was even a focused objective. Being well balanced racially, in female participation, and international students, we had the opportunity to learn so much more from each other than the basic engineering principles needed to succeed in industry. 

We made lifelong friendships and learned about cultural differences without challenge or fear. This became critical for me personally as I expanded into international business in 1985. 

I will forever be grateful to my professors, Hungerford, Kirby, Loveless, Doulet, and more, who took the time beyond the classroom to expand my knowledge of the applied principles of industrial engineering and help me understand what it meant to be a professional. 

Mike Zill (BS ’85) 

Chief Information Officer and Chief Administrative Officer, Acadia Pharmaceuticals 

I came to UT because of a number of things. The engineering school had a solid reputation, my parents were in Knoxville, and I got a scholarship to be in the Pride of the Southland Marching Band, so it was an easy decision. 

The best thing about the department is that it is a solid mix of business knowledge and mathematics that, taken into account together, help improve processes. I am a CIO and CAO today because my experience in the department was excellent preparation for me. Dr. Kirby having lots of practical real-world experience was a benefit. 

Some of my best memories are of Dr. Kirby and Dr. Hutchinson and the lessons they taught us. Outside of class, I remember hiking the Hill every day, the coffee shop at the top, and, of course, my friends. 

My advice to students is that few if any of us know our future path. Focus on learning and your interests, then make your path from what comes. 

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are starting to change the game, and I think the department is set up to be a part of that and take advantage of those opportunities. 

Misty Mayes (BS ’88) 

CEO, Management Solutions 

I originally entered the university as an accounting major. After two-plus years, I switched to the College of Engineering. I didn’t really know a lot about the various disciplines but because I had so many business classes, the dean suggested the ISE department. Once I got into the major, I loved it. The varied coursework gave me an overview of all the engineering departments and blended that with the needed business acumen to make me a truly successful engineer. 

I also was able to blend my knowledge with the business courses within to the department to be a comprehensive project manager. Additionally, the confidence the college instilled in me played a key part in my decision to move into entrepreneurship and start my own company in 2002. 

I consider my decision to shift to this major one of the best decisions I have made in my entire life. It has opened up more doors for me than I could have ever imagined, and the college/department enabled me to be the CEO/ entrepreneur and community leader I am today. For that, I will always be grateful. 

Alan Broadwater (BS ’62)


I started in Civil Entry but an experimental physics class I was asked to take
Led me to major in IE. Got a good IE job at Goodyear in Akron, Ohio which
lasted 32 years. Go Vols!

James T. Wiseman (BS ’60)


During my time at UT – 1956 to 1960…I recall the staff included Dr. Emerson, Howard Loveless, Dan Doulet and Bob LaForge. I seem to recall that much emphasis was placed on the labor component. We had numerous classes in methods improvement, MTM work measurement, plant layout in the factory. Of course, Dr. Emerson was well known and respected nationally for sure. He had authored several chapters of the Industrial Engineering Handbook that was a major source of tools, concepts and ideas for the budding IE student.

Some of us may recall that [Dr. Emerson] was very bright and forward thinking but sometimes he could forget mundane things. I seem to remember that he was teaching a new class for seniors called Operations Research – a new concept being applied to business in the late 1950’s. Our class was during the winter quarter at 8am. Well one snowy morning we came to class to find Dr. Emerson very perplexed. One of the class members inquired about his concern. He said that he had locked his keys in his car that morning. Not a problem said another student. Dr. Emerson replied that he was afraid he would run out of gas. What? He had locked the car with the engine running!
There are many good memories of the time there and I felt that we students got a great base to start in the professional world. My best regards to the current faculty and students to continue that work. Go Vols!