But neither his vision nor his attitude is dimmed by the uncertainty surrounding the state's higher education budget. As he completes his move across campus this week, Bell will unpack his vision for Tennessee Tech -- increased enrollment, technology leadership, student volunteerism and academic excellence.
"I believe the vision is achievable in the near future," said Bell. "I'm pledging my efforts to help the state establish a strong base for the funding of higher education, and I'll work to gain both state and external funding at a level to achieve excellence at Tennessee Tech."
Bell joined TTU in 1976 and has served as the university's College of Business Administration dean since 1991. Under his leadership, the college's enrollment has grown substantially and endowments have increased to more than $6 million.
But he also brings an internationally recognized reputation in quality management to the table, and it may be the businessman side of Bell that is most effective in presenting his case for the value of higher education to legislators and taxpayers. That experience will also serve him well in implementing his vision.
The U.S. Secretary of Commerce recognized Bell in 1998 for his work in the field of quality, and he has been appointed four times to the Board of Examiners for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.
The Baldrige award recognizes U.S. corporations that excel in quality management, and Bell is determined to combine the principles of quality management with his experience in higher education to lead the university.
He has been involved in state-wide economic development on behalf of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission; he also has worked on THEC's master plan focusing on links among higher education and stakeholders in business, health care and state government.
Bell has also served as a state delegate to the White House Conference on the North American Free Trade Agreement and has worked closely with federal leaders in the U.S. Department of Commerce and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology.
"It's a wonderful time to be at a technological university," said Bell. "Our world is undergoing tremendous change and much of it involves an economy linked to information technology, science and engineering. Universities have been, and will continue to be, important partners in this new information age."
Bell's relationships with state and national leaders have not overshadowed his work close to home. He has chaired the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce's board of directors, chaired the Putnam Tomorrow Task Force of the Putnam County Commission and served as president of the Putnam County Family YMCA.
He also serves on the Cookeville Industrial Development Board, the Habitat for Humanity board and as a member of the Bryan Symphony Orchestra board of directors. Bell has been an adult leader in the Boy Scouts of America since 1988 and earned the "Cross and Flame" award from the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church for his work in youth/scouting ministries. He is also a member of the Cookeville Evening Lions Club.
His involvement in a community in which he's lived for 23 years may explain why his vision for Tennessee Tech places the importance of having a caring and warm university along side academic and technological excellence. He plans to encourage students to be volunteers and good citizens. He also places a premium on showing respect and fairness to the whole campus community.
"I look at this period for higher education and for Tennessee Tech as an incredible opportunity," Bell said. "We have wonderful people on this campus and in this community, people who have persisted despite tough financial times, people who have achieved a level of excellence because they are dedicated."Bell will replace Angelo Volpe, currently the longest serving president of any Tennessee public university, who is retiring June 30.