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Alumni Professional Achievement

The purpose of this award is to recognize alumni who have achieved a high degree of success in their chosen field of endeavor. This category includes creative achievement in the visual/performing arts and scholarly achievement as well as general professional achievement. The trademark of this recipient is a record of notable career accomplishments and a history of outstanding contributions to their profession, discipline, and/or creative pursuits. Up to three Professional Achievement Awards may be given each year, consisting of creative achievement, scholarly achievement, and/or professional achievement. The awards acknowledge their success which brings honor to the College of Arts and Sciences and promotes the value of a liberal arts education.


Christopher Elkins

Elkins joined UT as a graduate student in our microbiology program in 1995 and received his PhD in microbiology in 2001. Elkins is an internationally recognized expert in antibiotic resistance and microbial pathogen detection. He is regularly sought as an expert speaker for national and international scientific conferences and has played instrumental roles as an agency representative for both the FDA and CDC. Elkins has authored, or co‐ authored, more than 65 peer-reviewed scientific publications and five books or book chapters. He has also held leadership roles for the American Society for Microbiology, and served as an editor or on the editorial board of four different scientific journals.

Elkins has made significant contributions to research aimed at identifying and combating microbial pathogens, including SARS‐CoV‐2 (aka COVID‐19). He has successfully led the development and coordination of scientific research and pathogen surveillance programs. In addition to his professional accomplishments, Elkins volunteers his time and talent as an Advisory Board member to the College of Arts and Sciences Department of Microbiology.

Scholarly Achievement

Shirley Rainey-Brown, PhD

Rainey-Brown is the Associate Vice Provost of Online Initiatives and Distance Education, Dean of the School of Humanities and Behavioral Social Sciences, Professor of Sociology, Discipline Coordinator, and Director of the Graduate Program in Social Justice at Fisk University. She received a PhD in Sociology from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in 2003.

She enjoys teaching Fisk Sociology students and have taught courses such as Introduction to Sociology, Social Problems, Family Life, Race, Gender and Class, Demography, Environmental Justice, Relations between Men and Women, Urban Sociology, Life Cycle, Adulthood and Aging, Social Movement, Sociology of Sports, Sociological Theory, Racial and Ethnic Relations, Sociology of Religion, Human Sexuality, White Privilege, Research Methods, Introduction to Criminal Justice, Environmental Sociology, and Social Justice Theory.

Her primary areas of research involve examining social issues of environmental injustices in disenfranchised communities of color, race and gender inequalities, social justice, and political economy. She is author of several books that are used in the classrooms by faculty teaching in the field. In addition to her textbook publications, Rainey-Brown has over 17 scholarly peer-reviewed articles published in sociological journals. She also serves on several editorial boards and attends and present at sociological and online annual conferences.

Creative Achievement

Scott Belck, Ph.D.

Belck currently serves as the Director of Jazz and Commercial Music, Professor of Music at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) where he directs the CCM Jazz Orchestra and teaches applied Jazz Trumpet. He currently serves as the Artistic Director of the Cincinnati Contemporary Jazz Orchestra. He received his Bachelor of music degree from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, a Masters from North Texas State University and a doctorate of musical arts from

the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.

His playing credits include recordings lead trumpet/guest soloist with the Cincinnati Pops featuring the Manhattan Transfer and John Pizzarelli, the Glenn Miller Orchestra, the Van Dells, and jazz soloist with the University of North Texas One O’clock Lab Band with whom he recorded four CDs as jazz soloist and section trumpet. He has performed as principal/lead trumpet with the St. Louis Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony, Cincinnati Symphony, the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, the Lexington Philharmonic, the Richmond Symphony Orchestra, and as section trumpet with the Duluth-Superior Symphony Orchestra and the Duluth Festival Opera.

He is a founding member of critically acclaimed Tromba Mundi contemporary trumpet ensemble and has recently toured as a member of Grammy Award winning funk legend Bootsy Collins’ Funk Unity Band as lead trumpet. He has performed as a leader, musical director, or sideman with many top jazz players on the scene today.  In addition, Belck has performed as lead trumpet in shows and concerts for an amazing array of musical artists outside of jazz. He is the author of the text Modern Flexibilities for Brass, published by Meredith Music and distributed by Hal Leonard. In his spare time, he is the CEO and founder of Lip Slur World Headquarters.

As one of his nominators commented: “Dr. Scott Belck is, as jazzers would say, a monstrous player. That fact is without doubt. That he attended UT for his undergraduate degree and went on to two of the finest jazz graduate schools in the nation and has developed a career that is quite simply, amazing, is more than enough in my opinion to give him this award. “

Due to the disruption caused by COVID-19, there were no awards in 2020.

Scott Pierce graduated from UT with a BA in economics and a master’s in public policy and administration. Pierce serves as the executive vice president and chief operating officer for Chattanooga-based BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, a company of 5,000 employees serving more than 3.3 million members in the state and across the country. Pierce provides daily management and coordination of the overall operations of the organization, including oversight of clinical operations, provider network and information systems. He also assumes an active role in the development and implementation of long-range plans, goals, and objectives for the organization. In this position, he continues to be an outstanding role model for those who aspire to be consummate professional managers who make a positive difference in the peoples’ lives in multiple ways.

In his service as Assistant Commissioner of TennCare and Chief Financial Officer for the program, Scott was instrumental in shaping and executing strategies to restore the financial viability of the TennCare program, thus playing an instrumental role that enabled the program to provide health care coverage for the largest possible number of eligible Tennesseans. He helped the TennCare agency post six consecutive budget surpluses and built reserves to a record level.

BlueCross serves more than 550,000 Medicaid members under a contract with the state Bureau of TennCare. The company’s Medicare Advantage membership growth during the past two years has exceeded that of all competitors combined. For those not aware of the program, TennCare is the state of Tennessee’s Medicaid program. It provides healthcare to mostly low-income pregnant women, parents or caretakers of a minor child, the elderly, and children and individuals living with a disability.

Pierce’s faithful service to and support of the UT MPPA program and his leadership on the MPPA Board of Advisors has been exemplary and a great asset for faculty and MPPA students. More specifically, Pierce has been a vocal leader of the MPPA Development Program and he is the primary donor responsible for funding the Baker MPPA Scholarships. He regularly hosts students from our MPPA program or visits with them on campus to mentor them in how their degree can work for them.

Ganapathy Shanmugam earned his PhD in geology in 1978. He has had a remarkable career, which included 22 years as a petroleum research geologist with Mobil Oil, followed by independent consulting and research and teaching at the University of Texas, Arlington. He helped redefine the understanding of deep-water sedimentary deposits and their role as oil reservoirs in the industry, a subject he has published extensively on throughout his career. Of the more than 130 peer-reviewed research articles, one of his papers (Shanmugam, 1996, J. Sed. Research) was the most highly cited paper in three journals in his field for a seven-year period and another paper (Shanmugam et al., 2009, J. Sed. Research) was listed by Web of Science as one of the most cited papers in this field over a five-year period after publication. In 2018, Shan received the Tamil American Pioneer Award of extraordinary professional achievements in academia from the Federation of Tamil Sangams of North America.

Wesley W. Diehl (’82) graduated with a degree in geology and is now highly respected at ExxonMobil. He arrived at Exxon just before the oil crash of the mid-1980s and worked his way up through the highly competitive organization. In 2007, he took a big step into advising development of some of the company’s largest international oil and gas players. He supervises 50 senior geologists involved in ensuring that oil and gas reservoirs are developed in an efficient and environmentally safe manner. Wesley has also made a huge contribution to the success of the UT Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and our students. Wesley and his wife, Cindy, have been very generous with their time, talent and treasure. During his annual recruiting visit to UT, Wesley gives talks to students about career opportunities. In 2011, Wesley and Cindy Diehl established a Faculty Achievement Award fund-the fund is used for awards to our most highly productive faculty.

Ashley Capps (’79) earned a bachelor’s degree with majors in cultural studies, religious studies, and philosophy. He began promoting musical acts as a hobby in college. He has now developed this hobby into a national music promotion company. Ashley Capps founded AC Entertainment, which creates and produces music festivals and books and promotes artists from coast to coast. Ashley has made an international name for himself in the music industry and has put east Tennessee on the music map with the Bonnaroo Music Festival and eclectic Big Ears Festival. His company also operates and manages Knoxville’s historic Bijou and Tennessee Theatres. He has served as a member of the Board of Visitors of the Department of Religious Studies for twelve years.

John Chandler (’66) is senior litigator and partner in King & Spalding’s Atlanta office and has received the Anti-Defamation League’s Lifetime Achievement Award. He received a bachelor’s degree in political science from UT and later went on to complete law school at Vanderbilt in 1972.