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September 14, 2023 | Tom Ballard

Donde Plowman emphasizes greatness in annual UTK ‘Flagship Address’

She references the opening line from Jim Collins' famous book where he wrote that “good is the enemy of great.”

At least three times in a 20-minute period on Thursday morning, Donde Plowman, Chancellor of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK), emphasized that her goal was greatness in everything that the state’s flagship university did, whether that included academics, research, student support, or athletics.

Drawing on Good to Great, Jim Collins’ signature book published in 2001, Plowman reminded those in attendance that “good is the enemy of great.” The reference to the book came during her fifth annual “Flagship Address,” delivered to a packed room in the Sandra G. Powell Recital Hall of the Natalie L. Haslam Music Center.

While the event was not formally or even informally part of the “Innov865 Week” activities underway across the city, the Chancellor’s comments were a clear reminder of the importance of a strong institution of higher education to a region that aspires to be a world-leading innovation hub.

We took particular note when she referenced the June visit of Sethuraman Panchanathan, Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), who came to help launch “Team TN,” a statewide partnership comprised of more than 100 entities that was one of 44 recipients of a $1 million “NSF Regional Innovation Engine Development Award.” The goal of the initiative is to place Tennessee in the vanguard of transportation electrification and digitization while reducing reliance on carbon-intensive energy sources, mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, and creating a more equitable transportation system.

Plowman said that Panchanathan told her the consortium that UTK had established was a model for the nation. That was just one of the “great” accomplishments that she cited, both in her speech and in a handout distributed to attendees. Others included:

  • Doubling research awards over four years to a record of $427 million;
  • Exceeding a 90 percent first- to second-year retention rate for the first time ever;
  • Launching three new colleges or schools focused on innovation and the workforce of the future;
  • Strengthening both corporate and local partnerships; and
  • Growing both undergraduate and graduate enrollment by 20 percent over the past four years.

Plowman concluded with this request of those in attendance: “Tell them (those with whom they interact) we have chosen to be great.”

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