Millhorn reflects on nearly eight years at UT

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a four-part series generated from a recent interview with David Millhorn, Executive Vice President of the University of Tennessee, about the past eight years and the future. Additional articles will focus on interviews with Dick Gourley, Interim President of the UT Research Foundation, and David Washburn, the Foundation’s Vice President.)

David Millhorn arrived in Knoxville eight years ago this summer as the University of Tennessee’s (UT) Vice President for Research, and I recall meeting him soon after his arrival.

At the time, I was about a year removed from my UT retirement and well into my first year at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). I learned very quickly during those early conversations that Millhorn was an idea person, constantly thinking about “big picture” opportunities that would advance the university, the community and the state.

Since those initial meetings in 2005, I have interacted regularly with Millhorn who, in his role as Executive Vice President, has applied his laser-like focus on “big ideas” to the Tennessee Biofuels Initiative, Volunteer State Solar Initiative, Cherokee Farm Innovation Campus, the UT Research Foundation, co-management with Battelle of ORNL, National Science Foundation-funded high performance computing initiative, and countless other endeavors.

We sat down recently in his Andy Holt Tower office to talk about those eight years and how they have positioned UT for the future.

“Our role at Oak Ridge had to have some attention,” Millhorn said about his early days. This involved developing a strategic vision that was “a good fit for the lab, UT and the community.” He says proudly that “we are at the table now (and) a critical part of the foundation.”

Another priority involved strengthening relationships with other campuses, like the UT Health Science Center in Memphis, where a fiber optic network helped connect researchers there to the scientific computing capabilities at ORNL. A third priority in the early years was strengthening the UT Research Foundation.

“There was no shortage of things to do when I came,” Millhorn laughingly said, adding “there’s still not.”

Over that eight-year period, UT has built a strong partnership with the State of Tennessee. Programs such as the biofuels and solar initiatives leveraged assets at both UT and ORNL to benefit the state, but Millhorn calls out the “Governor’s Chair” program as probably the most impactful of all.

“Forty percent of the research monies flowing into the College of Engineering in Knoxville are generated by seven new Governor’s Chairs, on Distinguished Scientist, and an affiliated hire,” he says in underscoring his point about the program’s impact on just one college with 144 faculty.

Another key emerging differentiator for UT and ORNL are the joint appointments the two entities share. “There were about 40 when I arrived,” Millhorn said. “There are 116 today.”

The two programs provide a great tool for both UT and ORNL as they recruit the world’s best faculty and researchers.

“You have to have a vision, direction and landing strip; you have to be strategic,” Millhorn says. In part two, we’ll outline Millhorn’s thoughts about the future.

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