George W. Garrison says he’s not “quitting, just backing down” from duties at The University of Tennessee Space Institute, nevertheless he has been designated as “Professor Emeritus.”
“I’m not really leaving,” quipped Garrison. “They’re just paying me less.” He will continue teaching and participating in short courses, he promised.
Since joining UTSI’s faculty in 1983 as professor of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, Garrison has held several top leadership positions while also writing significant proposals, developing and presenting numerous short courses, and playing an active role in the Institute’s distance education program.
Though fascinated with the dynamics of leadership, it is the teaching and the “positive experience of working with some really good people” that the soft-spoken Garrison ranks highest in his career. He says, “Teaching and interacting with students has provided the most personal satisfaction over the years.”
John E. Caruthers, UT associate vice president and UTSI’s chief operating officer, also zeroed in on Garrison’s teaching as he announced the “Emeritus” title during a retirement party in the Institute’s lobby on Dec. 9. Citing Garrison’s “attitude, integrity, and loyalty,” he added, “When we needed help, he was one of the first persons we called on. He was willing and always did the job well and did it on time.”
The Institute family also gave Garrison a collector’s classic-style radio from the 50’s.
A native of Statesville, N.C., Garrison earned bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in Mechanical Engineering from North Carolina State University and, in 1980, a Master of Business Administration degree from Vanderbilt University. He came to work for Sverdrup Technology at AEDC in 1966 and spent 15 years at AEDC before joining the University of Tennessee, first as a faculty member at UT Chattanooga for two years before joining the UTSI faculty in 1983.
Garrison had written his dissertation on electrical propulsion and was keenly interested in magnetohydrodynamics (MHD). During his time at AEDC, he worked on several MHD projects related to space and ground based power systems.
At UTSI he was a project manager in the Energy Conversion Program (ECP) supporting the development of a coal-fired, base-load MHD power system. He also taught in the Engineering Management program, a MS degree program designed to provide engineers and scientists the skills to run a business or manage a technical organization.
“Engineering education prepares you to solve technical problems, but it doesn’t prepare you to manage people,” Garrison says. “It doesn’t provide you the communication, interpersonal, or organizational skills necessary to be an effective manager. The EM program is designed to help fill that void.”
Garrison said he has had “several interesting and challenging projects while at UTSI. I was fortunate to work with Fred Speer and Bill Davis in proposing and winning a contract for a NASA Space Commercialization Center. The award resulted in the formation of a not for profit corporation called the Center for Space Transportation and Applied Research (CSTAR).”
The State of Tennessee constructed a building for CSTAR, and Garrison went full time as assistant director, later being named executive director of the center. Although ranked as one of the top NASA centers, CSTAR was unable to attract sufficient industry funding to be self sustaining, and the center closed in 1994.
Garrison was UTSI’s chief operating officer in 2000 and 2001. Two years later, he was named director of a statewide Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR). This is a National Science Foundation sponsored project with participation from universities across the state.
“We sponsored five town meetings and four technical meetings across the state,” Garrison noted. “These meetings pointed clearly to the lack of broad-band cyber-infrastructure as a primary barrier to Tennessee’s being a first class research state. This was critical. EPSCoR provided the impetus to put together a developmental plan for the state. Writing this plan involves a lot of people. We have never had this kind of collaboration before. This is just what we needed.”
EPSCoR got the state involved, Garrison said, and the program’s initiative “has resulted in more than $10 million in additional research projects for Tennessee researchers in the last two years.”
Also, as part of the EPSCoR initiative, Garrison insists that “we must attract more kids into science, math, and engineering, and this effort must start in the K-12 classrooms.”
Looking back, Garrison says, “I have enjoyed my career. The projects, the successes and the failures were all a learning experience. Every project was unique, different. The main thing I’ve liked about the University is the freedom to choose what you work on, the level of theory and application, and to try new things. That’s what a university is all about: To create knowledge, educate people, and provide a pubic service. I’ve never regretted going into engineering. I enjoyed learning new things and being exposed to new ideas starting with my undergraduate experience at NC State.”
Now he and his wife Carole – with whom he lives in Estill Springs — hope to do some traveling, perhaps taking a “barefoot cruise” on a clipper ship in Europe. Their daughter Renee Hyde of Winchester is Director of Special Education for Tullahoma’s school system. Their son Walker, who has his Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering, works for Cinergy, Inc. in Houston, Texas. The Garrisons have three grandchildren.