A Brief History
Before 1912, Tennessee Techs campus was no more
than a field of daisies bordered by a few dirt roads leading into
the heart of Cookeville, a rural town noted mainly as a whistle
stop between Nashville and Knoxville on the Tennessee Central railroad.
Tennessee Techs first faculty, in fact, made a practice of
meeting all passenger trains at the depot to shepherd disembarking
students to school. Historians credit the railroad with the early
development of Cookeville and the Upper Cumberland the farthest
point east in Middle Tennessee -- just as they credit a handful
of local community leaders with the founding of Tennessee Tech.
These leaders shared dual missions: establishing Cookeville as the
hub of the Upper Cumberland and creating a school of higher learning
to service the region. Though their first effort to found such a
school failed, they succeeded in planting the seed that would blossom
into Tennessee Tech.
In 1909, the state approved the charter of a church-supported
school named the University of Dixie. Popularly known as Dixie College,
the school opened its doors to students in 1912. Enrollment, however,
was low and funding insufficient; the college struggled to keep
its doors open. In a strategic move to salvage higher education
in the Upper Cumberland, the schools founders deeded the campus
to the governments of Cookeville and Putnam County in 1915. Despite
protests that the college be located in another part of the state,
the act creating Tennessee Polytechnic Institute in Cookeville was
signed into law by Gov. Thomas Rye on March 27, 1915.
It wasnt easy convincing the states legislative
and educational leadership to establish a new school in the sparsely
populated Upper Cumberland. There were regional and political rivalries
to overcome, as well as the hurdle of identifying the focus of the
new school. What the area was already calling Tech couldnt
be a comprehensive normal school, a two-year post-high
school institution, because three such schools (including what would
become Middle Tennessee State University) had been established in
each of Tennessees grand divisions in 1909. It
couldnt be a teaching school, because teacher education was
taken as well. It seemed likely that the new campus would be pigeonholed
into no more than a prep school, and that was unacceptable to the
institutions supporters. What was left to claim was technical
The institute, with 13 faculty members, opened its
doors to 19 college students at the start of the 1916-17 academic
year. At the time, Tennessee Techs campus consisted of 18
acres of undeveloped land, an administrative building and two dormitories.
From 1916 to 1924, Tennessee Tech offered courses only at the high
school and junior college levels. In the early days, all students
worked in the school garden and kitchen, growing and canning their
own food. They were practical work students, helping
to build the campus first academic halls and maintain the
grounds. They attended daily assemblies where Bible verses were
read and instructions of proper behavior were given. The women kept
strict hours. The men wore uniforms. All students prepared to be
rural citizens skilled in industry and agriculture, with a modicum
of fine arts and humanities education.
By 1929, the State Board of Education had authorized
a complete college program and the first class of four-year graduates
received bachelors degrees that June. In 1938, the instructional
program was divided into two main divisions, Arts and Sciences
and Professional and Technical Subjects. In 1949, in
the population and enrollment boom of the post-World War II era,
the programs were expanded into five schools: Agriculture and Home
Economics, Arts and Sciences, Business Administration, Education
and Engineering an instructional mix very close to that of
Tennessee Tech today. These five schools were reorganized into colleges
in 1965, when Tennessee Polytechnic Institute gained university
status, becoming Tennessee Technological University. In 1980, the
universitys new School of Nursing and the Joe L. Evins Appalachian
Center for Crafts began their B.S. and B.F.A. programs.
Well before then, though, the railroad, rural electrification
and interstate system had succeeded in opening the South to the
rest of the nation. Industry and commerce led to a growing population
and the need for a more highly educated citizenry. Tennessee Techs
enrollment soared after World War II and continued to climb steadily.
The universitys technological focus made it an integral part
of the Upper Cumberlands growth and prosperity and led to
the establishment of three engineering-related Centers of Excellence
in 1984 and 1985.
From the beginning, Tennessee Tech has been known
as Tennessees technological university, and despite the political
rivalries of the early part of the century, Tennessee Tech has flourished.
Inreport cards released by the Tennessee Board of Regents,
Tennessee Tech is number one among its peers when it comes to student
learning, satisfaction and academic programs. Tennessee Techs
persistence-to-graduation rate is higher than any other TBR university.
Tennessee Tech ranks at the top in both student and alumni satisfaction,
91% and 93%, respectively. Tennessee Techs academic programs
rank highest in the TBR system, too, with 60% of its students testing
at or above national averages on standardized tests of core knowledge
and skills. And all of Tennessee Techs undergraduate programs
meet established academic quality standards as rated in external
peer reviews. The university is also only the second public university
to receive a Tennessee Quality Award.
But higher education and technological research are
not the only contributions Tennessee Tech has made to its community.
The university has realized the dream of its founders, helping make
Cookeville the hub of the Upper Cumberland not only the commercial
and industrial hub of the region, but the cultural hub as well.
The university is home to the Bryan Symphony Orchestra and a number
of professional faculty ensembles; the artists of the Joe L. Evins
Appalachian Center for Crafts, located near Smithville, and four
art galleries; the regions oldest drama troupe; and several
literary journals. All of the arts programs at Tennessee Tech sponsor
community outreach events, including visiting artists in the local
school systems, concerts for youngsters and an annual childrens
Since Tennessee Tech was established, the university
has blossomed from three buildings located on the fringes of a daisy
field to an 87-building complex situated on 235 acres. The faculty
have grown from the 13 men and women whose responsibilities included
greeting students at the Tennessee Central depot to about 370 today.
Curricula have changed from programs leading to high school and
associates degrees to undergraduate and graduate programs,
including the M.B.A., the Ed.S., and the Ph.D. in education, engineering
and environmental sciences. From the first class of 19 students,
Tennessee Techs enrollment has grown to 9,313. Among the 50,000-plus
men and women who have received degrees from Tennessee Tech are
the former president of Boeing Corp., a two-time space shuttle astronaut,
a 12-time NFL pro-bowl player, a New York Times assistant managing
editor, and a four-star general.