PART 1: Keith Stanfill leaves UF after two decades to lead new Tickle College initiative

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first article in a two-part series describing the innovation and creative initiative that Keith Stanfill is leading in the Tickle College of Engineering at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.)

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

“It was the second time in my life when someone put a job description in front of me and the hair on my neck stood-up,” Keith Stanfill of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) says.

The inaugural Edwards Assistant Dean and Director of Integrated Engineering Design in the Tickle College of Engineering was describing what happened when he first heard about the new position in late 2017 and learned more about the opportunities it afforded.

“The more information I got, I decided to apply,” Stanfill told us recently. The vision that then Dean and now Interim Chancellor Wayne Davis outlined was compelling. As one might imagine, it was a tough decision to leave the UF team after almost two decades on faculty and having earned all three degrees there. It was also ironic that the first time the hair on his neck stood-up was when Stanfill heard about the position that brought him to the UF faculty in 1999.

So, what was it that convinced him to come to Knoxville?

It was an opportunity to have a dramatic impact on the lives of students, not just in one college but hopefully through interdisciplinary programs across the entire campus. And, with the campus focused on growing its student body by 20 percent over the next five years, expectations are that two colleges – Tickle and the Haslam College of Business – will probably grow by 35 percent.

That’s a significant challenge. In the case of the Tickle College, the epicenter for much of the action will be in the new $129 million engineering complex currently under construction that will house the university’s top-ranked nuclear engineering program and laboratories for advanced engineering research.

“This is going to be a real showcase for the college,” Stanfill says of the building scheduled to open for Fall Semester 2021. Between 14,000 and 15,000 square feet of the first floor will be dedicated to an innovation facility that will greatly expand what is currently available in crowded space in Perkins Hall that is the Tickle Innovation and Collaboration Studio.

“We’re trying to foster a culture of innovation . . . helping students build their creative confidence,” Stanfill explains of his roles. “Building a model on a computer is not enough. Let’s physically build it. There’s a lot of learning in that work.”

Having spent almost 20 years on the faculty and earlier stints with two United Technologies Corporation companies – Pratt & Whitney and Carrier, Stanfill brings a strong background in building industrial partnerships and working across academic disciplines.

He joined the UF faculty as Associate Director of the Integrated Product and Process Design (IPPD) program. After the founding Director re-retired two years later, Stanfill assumed that role and held it until moving to Knoxville.

During that period, the IPPD coordinated more than 400 projects that resulted in $8 million in funding from the corporate sponsors.

“We would identify industry problems a company had, find a faculty coach, and recruit students from different disciplines to solve the problems over two semesters,” Stanfill says. Helping expand similar programs and start new ones is just part of his plan less than a year after joining the UTK team last July 1.

NEXT: Where does Stanfill plan to focus his efforts?

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