Dr. Cliff Ricketts’ five decades of alternative fuels research and exemplary classroom teaching have been acknowledged in a special way by MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee.
McPhee surprised the 37-year MTSU School of Agribusiness and Agriscience faculty member Tuesday (April 30) when he presented Ricketts with the President’s Silver Column Award in a brief ceremony at the Vocational Agriculture building on Lightning Way.
Ricketts becomes the sixth Silver Column Award honoree since the president established the award in 2004.
“We are what we are because of people like you,” McPhee said. “… The President’s Column Award goes out to faculty, staff and employees who go truly beyond the call of duty, in bringing recognition to the university, or for unsung heroes.
“And I just consider you for years being one of our unsung heroes. You just go about and do your job. You don’t expect the cameras (limelight). You don’t ask for anything other than a little support to keep your work going.
“I’ve watched you since I’ve been at this university do so much for our students, the relationship you have with our students, the ground-breaking research in an area so badly needed in our country with your fuel efficiency work, and most recently, your travels around the country that have drawn attention to the university from all sources around the world.”
Ricketts said he felt “so honored to receive this (award).” Later, he said, “We’re here for the students. We need to do all we can to help them.”
McPhee said that when selecting graduation speakers and President’s Silver Column Award recipients, he is a committee of one.
“This is very, very special in that not everyone gets to wear this,” he shared, noting that the lapel pin features a silver column accented in blue symbolizing Kirksey Old Main, one of the four original buildings on campus in 1911.
“This is for you, for quietly behind the scenes being an extraordinary person, an extraordinary professor and an incredible researcher in terms of the work that you’re doing that’s really going to change lives and be a major contribution not only to the state but the country.”
Those attending the brief presentation included Ricketts’ wife, Nancy; School of Agribusiness and Agriscience Director Dr. Warren Gill; ag faculty member Alanna Neely; and College of Basic and Applied Sciences associate dean Dr. Saeed Foroudastan.
Neely told McPhee how she “owes a lot — 80 percent — to Dr. Ricketts” in helping her adjust from student to instructor to coordinator of the dual-credit program in the department.
Ricketts said more than 30 former students pursued Ph.D.’s.
Ricketts and his support teams have made back-to-back, 2,600-mile trips. In March, the journey was made using no gasoline (hydrogen from water separated by the sun, all processed on campus, was the fuel source). In 2012, they only used 2.15 gallons of gas to complete the trip.
Ricketts’ quests both years generated phenomenal amounts of news coverage nationwide and beyond U.S. borders.
This year alone, Discovery Channel Canada, RFD-TV, KABC in Los Angeles, Fox 5 in Atlanta, The Associated Press, United Press International and newspapers, magazines, television and radio stations and the Internet provided coverage of his expedition.
Ricketts has run engines off ethanol from corn, methane from cow manure, soybean oil, hydrogen from water, a solar/electric truck and a vehicle that runs off gas/ethanol/electric and hydrogen from water separated by the sun.
A native of Mt. Juliet, Tenn., Ricketts earned degrees from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and Ohio State University. He joined the MTSU faculty in August 1976.
Previous Silver Column Award recipients include:
• Dr. Judith Iriarte-Gross, MTSU chemistry professor, 18-year faculty member, director of the WISTEM Center and champion of the cause of recruiting girls and young women into STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields;
• Sherian Huddleston, retired associate vice provost for enrollment services;
• Larry Sizemore, supervisor of ground services;
• Suma Clark, retired director of publications and graphics (now Creative and Visual Services) who now serves as a part-time web management team-project coordinator; and
• The late Dr. Charles Wolfe, a distinguished folklorist, accomplished author and music historian and English professor.
News and Media Relations, Randy Weiler