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December 17, 2023 | Tom Ballard

New UT, Knoxville College is “a blank slate responding to future talent needs”

The College of Emerging and Collaborative Studies hosts a session to solicit input from business leaders.

About 30 representatives of local businesses joined University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) administrators last Thursday afternoon for a discussion about the vision for the new College of Emerging and Collaborative Studies (CECS).

It is one of three new academic colleges that were launched July 1 after UTK Chancellor Donde Plowman asked a provocative question of her leadership team: Do we have the right structure to rollout our new strategic vision? The plan was released in November 2021 (see article here) and reiterated with the memorable phrase that “Good is the enemy of great” during Plowman’s September 2023 “Flagship Address” (see article here).

The answer to the question resulted in the launch of the new academic colleges. In addition to the one that was the focus of Thursday afternoon’s conversation, the other two are a new College of Music and the Howard H. Baker Jr. School of Public Policy and Public Affairs.

Noting that her team has moved at “lightning speed for a university,” Plowman told the attendees, “We need you to be engaged with us to turnout graduates that you need.”

CECS Dean Ozlem Kilic explained the role of the college which will not have it own faculty, but rather draw on the faculty of other academic units. “As a new college, we are a blank slate responding to future talent needs,” she said, adding that its goals include being fast, agile and innovative. One of the first degrees being planned is a B.S. in Applied Artificial Intelligence (AI), but CECS will also offer what were described as “stackable certificates.”

Ahead of breakout sessions, Kilic and Edmon Begoli, founding Director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Center for AI Security Research, moderated a panel discussion that featured representatives from various type of organizations in the community. They included:

  • Britton Garrett, Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of iO Urology, a local start-up;
  • Amy Henry, Director of Transformative Innovation at the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA);
  • Wolfgang Maluche, Vice President of Engineering at Volkswagen Group of America; and
  • Mike Odom, President and CEO of the Knoxville Chamber.

The panelists provided input from the constituency they represented.

  • Odom said Chamber members wanted employees who had soft skills, an entrepreneurial mindset, and an ability to not just understand theory but apply it in practical ways. Noting that the fastest growing professions are computer science and information technology. He cited just one company – Accenture – that has budgeted $3 billion – yes, you read that correctly – over the next three years to hire data scientists.
  • Henry said that TVA needs “people who do not think in a linear direction.” She also talked about the importance of those with AI skills to help with transforming the grid.
  • Maluche emphasized the importance of people with a mindset of self-responsibility.
  • Garrett noted that iO Urology is in Knoxville but “we should not be here as a health tech company.” That prompted him to ask, “Are we giving entrepreneurs the tools they need?”

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