Campus News

UT Martin dedicates solar garden sculpture


Contact 1: Erin Chesnut

MARTIN, Tenn. – Members of the University of Tennessee at Martin Chancellor’s Roundtable, Ned Ray McWherter Institute Board of Directors, alumni council leadership, faculty and staff gathered April 21 to officially dedicate the UT Martin Solar Garden sculpture located between the Boling University Center and the Paul Meek Library. The sculpture was a collaborative project between students in the departments of engineering and visual and theatre arts.

“This was an experiential-learning opportunity for the students. I think anybody who knows anything about UT Martin understands that one of our touchstones, one of the things that makes us who we are, is that we give our students opportunities not only to learn in the classroom but to do things outside the classroom,” said Dr. Jerald Ogg, university provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs. “This project is just another example of the students being able to put their classroom instruction to practical use.”

During the ceremony, Chancellor Keith Carver thanked university alum Bill Blankenship for his willingness to fund the project’s construction. Blankenship is a noted university donor, and the Blankenship Recital Hall, located inside the UT Martin Fine Arts Building, is named for him and his wife, Roberta. The couple has also matched gifts made during Captain’s Challenge events in previous years.

“The project really meant a lot to me, the fact that students were going to do this project. … I appreciate the fact that you included me in it very much,” said Blankenship. The sculpture project was originally a brainchild of Dr. Bob Smith, UT Martin’s 10th chancellor, who worked to gain Blankenship’s support.

The ceremony included the unveiling of a plaque honoring Blankenship and the 10 students who took the idea from design to construction. Noted for their efforts were students Zach Dysinger, Jared Miller, Cory Oliver, Ty Roberts, Joseph Sipes, Brice White, Ethan Appleby, Victoria Falcon, Franklin Hawks and Thomas Kendall.

“The team of engineers did the design for the foundations and how everything was put together, and then the art department did the design for the aesthetics part of the tree,” explained Sipes, who graduated in 2016 and now works with Big Rivers Electric Corporation in Henderson, Ky.

“I learned how to work with different departments, and that has helped me since I’ve graduated to realize there are different hands in every project.”

UT Martin students not only created the overall design for the sculpture, they also created some of the materials that make up the outside layers.

“The students came up with the design, and then they decided to continue going with the green theme, so (the tree trunk) is made out of recycled paper. Weather-proofing paper isn’t exactly easy, and nobody’s tried to do it before,” said Sarah Haig, assistant professor of graphic design.

The sculpture is not only a visual art piece; it provides a useful resource to the campus. “The power actually goes back into Crisp Hall and then from there it’s on the utility grid,” said Brad Burkett, associate director of the UT Martin Physical Plant. Burkett compared the amount of power collected to that needed to run a standard electric dryer.

For more information about the UT Martin Solar Garden, contact the Office of University Relations at 731-881-7615.


PHOTO ID: Pictured following the dedication ceremony April 21 are (l-r) Dr. Keith Carver, UT Martin Chancellor; Brice White and Joseph Sipes, student contributors; Bill Blankenship, project donor; Ethan Appleby, student contributor; Sarah Haig, assistant professor of graphic design; and Dr. Bob Smith, UT Martin chancellor emeritus.

Share this article

Link to share:


Campus News

Office of University Relations is the official source for all non-sports releases from the University of Tennessee at Martin. Materials on this page are updated on a regular basis.

View Campus News >



The Office of University Relations is ready to assist you with finding a speaker for your special event or an expert to comment on a current news story.

View Resources >


Photo Albums

Browse hundreds of campus photos in our University Relations archive.

View Photo Albums >