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Five Faculty and Staff Recognized with University’s Highest Honor

Category: Employees

NASHVILLE – From making significant changes in the world of medicine to helping underprivileged people across the globe, the 2019 University of Tennessee President’s Award winners represent the impact the University has on the state and beyond.

Five employees from three campuses were recognized by UT Interim President Randy Boyd during an award ceremony Thursday in Nashville.

“Our University would not be where it is today if it weren’t for our employees’ dedication, and I am continually energized by their extraordinary, life-changing work. These awards highlight the way they greatly impact those within our University and state, and even reaching those at the farthest corners of the world,” Boyd said.

The President’s Awards are the highest honor a UT employee can receive from the University and are intended to spotlight success and inspire excellence. Honorees are selected each year from a system-wide pool of candidates nominated by campus and institute leaders. Commemorative plaques and monetary awards of $3,000 are presented.

This year’s winners are:

Educate Honoree: Rapinder “Rupy” Sawhney

Rupy Sawhney
Rupy Sawhney

Rapinder “Rupy” Sawhney, UT Knoxville professor in industrial and systems engineering, has significantly impacted the educational experiences of students at all levels.

Sawhney developed academic programs for high school, undergraduate and graduate students and adults and industry professionals. He has encouraged countless young people to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering and math, especially engineering, while also offering expert advice to organizations on how to improve organizational efficiency and cut costs. As an educator, he wants to inspire others to discover their purpose and potential. He wants his students learn to address the complexities of an issue, carefully form opinions and develop and analyze solutions to problems.

Along with teaching and mentoring, Sawhney is the executive director for the Center for Advanced System Research and Education (CASRE) and a Heath Faculty Fellow in business and engineering.


Discover Honoree: Karen Johnson

Karen Johnson
Karen Johnson

Karen Johnson, UT Health Science Center College of Medicine endowed professor of women’s health, has made significant scientific contributions to the understanding of and interventions for hypertension and postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy.

She has been funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for 24 years, receiving more than $50 million in grant funding. She has also contributed as a co-investigator in peer-reviewed studies funded by NIH or the Department of Defense. The funding for those studies total more than $45 million.

Johnson holds board certifications in internal medicine and preventative medicine. She is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians, Fellow of the American College of Preventative Medicine and Fellow in the American Heart Association. She also serves as co-director of the Tennessee Clinical and Translational Science Institute, co-chair of the UTHSC Clinical Trial Governance Board and one of the multi-primary investigators on the Clinical and Translational Science Award NIH Application.


Connect Honoree: Sarah Hillyer

Sarah Hillyer
Sarah Hillyer

Sarah Hillyer, director of the Center for Sport, Peace and Society in the UT Knoxville College of Education, Health and Human Sciences, is one of the world’s foremost experts in the use of sport for community development, peace building, disability inclusion and gender equity.

Hillyer work has benefited more than 500,000 women and girls, youth, refugees, persons with disabilities, students, student-athletes and those from marginalized communities in more than 85 countries. She also serves as co-primary investigator of a U.S. Department of State grant for the Global Sports Mentoring Program, which has brought more than $10 million in grant funding to UT since 2012. Under her leadership, this program was named a winner of a Stuart Scott ENSPIRE award at the 2018 ESPN Humanitarian awards.

In addition, Hillyer helped launch the VOLeaders Academy, a year-long leadership program for student-athletes that includes academics year coursework and a summer study-abroad and cultural immersion experience.


Support Honoree: Kathy Gibbs

Kathy Gibbs
Kathy Gibbs

Kathy Gibbs, assistant vice chancellor for student academic support services and inclusion (SASSI), has profoundly impacted almost every student at the UT Health Science Center.

Gibbs researches best practices in academic support and has created multiple tutoring programs that assist students and has helped educate staff with test preparation. She added two mental health counselors and a case manager to SASSI per the advice of national experts. Students describe SASSI as the “hub of student care and with friendly staff who take responsibility for follow-up.”


Diversity Honoree: Valerie Rutledge

Valerie Rutledge
Valerie Rutledge

Valerie Rutledge, dean of the College of Health, Education and Professional Studies at UT Chattanooga, embraces diversity and inclusion in all aspects of the university.

Rutledge attracts, recruits and retains women, specifically women of color, through UT Chattanooga’s Grow Your Own program, which she uses to increase the number of minority faculty in the College of Health, Education and Professional Studies.

She also continues to financially and administratively assist the Moc Forward Diversity Conference, which brings faculty, staff, students and community members to UT Chattanooga’s campus to provide workshops and training sessions regarding diversity issues in the Chattanooga community.

More information about the awards, nominees and categories and downloadable photos of the winners are available at


Melissa Tindell

Jane Hudson

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Category: Employees