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UT Recognizes Six Faculty and Staff with 2021 President’s Awards

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President's Award

Memphis—University of Tennessee President Randy Boyd recognized six employees from across the UT System during the summer Board of Trustees meeting in Memphis this morning.

The President’s Awards were established in 2016 to annually consider the exceptional achievements of employees across the UT System in the areas of the University’s three-part mission to educate, discover and connect as well as to acknowledge outstanding contributions in the areas of support and diversity. The awards spotlight success and inspire excellence.

“It is a privilege to work alongside these inspiring individuals who intentionally lead in our efforts to serve the people of Tennessee,” Boyd said. “They represent our best-in-class thinking and strategic work across our great state and remain an essential part of building the greatest decade in UT history.”

President’s Awards are the highest honor a UT employee can receive from the University. Honorees are selected each year from a system-wide pool of candidates nominated by campus and institute leaders. Winners receive commemorative plaques and $3,000.

This year’s winners represent UT Martin, UT Health Science Center, UT Chattanooga and UT System administration. Discover more about each winner and their contributions to the University, the state of Tennessee and the world below.


Ray Witmer
Ray Witmer, UT Martin

Educate Honoree: Ray Witmer

Ray Witmer, a highly respected associate professor of engineering, has made a lasting impact on the UT Martin Department of Engineering, as well as countless students and staff members. As a civil engineer, Witmer’s real-world experiences have benefitted the department in numerous ways. He created courses not offered at many other schools to provide his students state-of-the-art knowledge and experiences. He constantly modifies and updates his courses to ensure his students are getting lessons that could later be applied to larger challenges. He focuses his recruitment efforts in middle schools and high schools across the region. One of his favorite aspects of his position is getting to visit local schools to show students demonstrations of what a career in STEM can offer. As a result of his efforts, the UT Martin engineering program has seen a tremendous increase in students studying STEM. In addition to his educational endeavors, Witmer assisted in the design of the Latimer Engineering and Science Building, the first academic building to be constructed at UT Martin in more than 40 years.


Colleen Jonsson
Colleen Jonsson, UT Health Science Center

Discover Honoree: Colleen Jonsson

Colleen Jonsson is a UT Health Science Center Van Vleet chair of excellence in virology, director of the Regional Biocontainment Laboratory director of the Institute for the Study of Host-Pathogen Systems and professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Biochemistry. After receiving her Ph.D. in biochemistry at Purdue University, Jonsson completed a postdoctoral fellowship in biochemistry-virology at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. In 2017, she transitioned from Beaman Distinguished Professor of Microbiology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, to her current position at the UT Health Science Center. Jonsson is a world-renowned expert in infectious diseases with more than 120 peer-reviewed publications, 19 invited book chapters and review articles, and 6 patents, most of which are for novel anti-viral agents. Jonsson has continuously been funded as a principal investigator (PI) on multiple simultaneous federal grants for more than 25 years, and currently, is the PI of a five-year National Institutes of Health Center of Excellence grant of more than $21 million. The NIH center is developing medical countermeasures against multiple pathogens that will enable a rapid response capability to an outbreak or an intentional exposure scenario. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Jonsson immediately pivoted to studying the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, adopting an all-hands-on-deck approach.


Altha Stewart
Altha Stewart, UT Health Science Center

Connect Honoree: Dr. Altha Stewart

Dr. Altha Stewart is the UT Health Science Center senior associate dean for Community Health Engagement, associate professor and director of the Division of Social and Community Psychiatry and director of the Center for Health in Justice Involved Youth. After receiving her Doctor of Medicine degree at Temple University Medical School, Stewart completed her residency in general psychiatry at Drexel University Medical School serving as chief resident. In 2015, Stewart was recruited by UTHSC to establish and direct the Center for Health in Justice Involved Youth, which aims to reduce the number of young people in the juvenile justice system. Stewart also started the “Healthy Lifestyle Initiative,” which partners with community organizations to establish local gardens with an accompanying physical activity program. This pilot program offers health and wellness screenings as well as care in an extremely underserved Memphis neighborhood. Stewart’s honors and awards include numerous national and local recognitions. She is a local advocate for justice system improvements and serves on the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, Governor’s Juvenile Justice Implementation Task Force and the Shelby County Juvenile Justice Board. From 2018 to 2019, Stewart served as the president of the American Psychiatric Association. Stewart directs eight annually funded projects budgeted at more than $3 million.


Valara Sample
Valara Sample, UT Chattanooga

Support (Exempt) Honoree: Valara Sample

Valara Sample, UT Chattanooga executive director for Residential Education and Campus Life, exemplifies relentless commitment to service and dedication to the safety and success of students. Sample makes all students feel welcome and integrated into campus life. Throughout the challenges presented by COVID-19 in the past year, Sample has taken on more duties and mentored those who report to her to become more effective in their own positions. Sample’s leadership and engagement with UTC students and the campus community transformed thinking in regard to residential resources being used to bring people together. She helped to develop UTC’s first faculty-in-residence program and residential colleges in four of the five degree granting academic areas. She assisted in the mission to create an intentional residential education experience through active learning and leadership in a supportive environment that appropriately challenges students inside and outside the classroom.


Tammie Cole
Tammie Cole, UT System administration

Support (Non-exempt) Honoree: Tammie Cole

Tammie Cole serves as an outstanding statewide resource through her role as an administrative coordinator for the UT System. She has more than 30 years of experience in providing executive assistance, accounting and office management. She goes above and beyond to make sure those around her are taken care of and willingly takes on extra tasks to ensure deadlines are met with efficiency. One of Cole’s many qualities includes an ever-present smile; Cole’s colleagues repeatedly make note of her positive attitude and willingness to make everyone she meets feel special. Cole is vital in preparing materials for UT Board of Trustees meetings and many other systemwide group meetings. Cole is the first introduction to the UT System for many, and she has the remarkable gift of making each person feel unique.



Anthony Prewitt
Anthony Prewitt, UT Martin

Diversity Honoree: Anthony Prewitt

Anthony Prewitt, UT Martin interim director for multicultural affairs, has been a driving force in diversity for many years. Prewitt is a consistent voice for all students, and in the past year, he has ensured COVID-19 would not keep UT Martin from celebrating those who fight for equal rights. Since assuming his role, Prewitt has led more than 50 programs aimed at celebrating diversity, promoting thoughtful discussion, addressing tough issues and creating a sense of belonging for his students. Prewitt helped establish the Black Student Mentoring Collaborative to connect Black students with faculty and staff members from the same background who can share and understand their experiences as students of color. Prewitt was the driving force behind Captain’s Pantry, which is stocked by students, faculty, staff and community members and is open to all students in need. Prewitt ensures every student has a voice regarding their ethnicity, religious differences, lifestyle choices or other cultural characteristics.

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Category: Employees