Charlene Mullins celebrates 50 years as TTU human ecology instructor

The campus of Tennessee Tech University has changed significantly in the last 50 years, but one thing that’s been constant is the career of Charlene Mullins, an associate professor in the university’s School of Human Ecology.

Mullins, only the second member currently on the university’s faculty to achieve that distinction, was awarded, in recognition of her 50-year career, a diamond service pin at this year’s university faculty meeting. In 1999, Christine Jones of the Volpe Library and Media Center celebrated her 50th year.

“Mrs. Mullins is such an asset to the School of Human Ecology. Her former students speak with fondness about her and recognize the worthiness of the education they received from her,” said Sue Bailey, director of TTU’s School of Human Ecology.

When she was hired in 1953, Mullins said her goal was to work at TTU for about 10 years, but she found the faculty and administration to be so supportive and her association with students so satisfying that her career continued under the leadership of five different university presidents.

She was a student at the university before she was an employee — and she initially intended to register as a business major. Why she registered instead as a home economics major isn’t fully clear even to her, but she said she thinks divine intervention might have been at work.

After earning her bachelor’s degree at TTU, Mullins enrolled at the University of Tennessee and earned her master’s degree in child development and family relationships. The following fall, she returned to TTU — but this time as an instructor.

“When I began teaching — as well as when I’d been a student — TTU had only one course in child development and family relations, so I pioneered the expansion of that field here at TTU,” Mullins said.

In 1954, she was responsible for planning and setting up the first campus preschool center for studying early childhood development. Now under the umbrella of the College of Education, the Child Development Lab is still a significant campus program — but even it has changed over the years, she said.

“The center was only for toddlers and preschool children, ages two to five, and it was open only a half-day,” Mullins said. “It was housed in some of the improvised lodging that had been brought in for students after World War II. Six of the modular units had been placed together in an L-shape to accommodate the facility.”

Over the years, Mullins also:

• Became a charter member of TTU’s Phi Kappa Phi honor society;

• Helped organize the Tennessee Association on Young Children and serving as its first vice president;

• Was appointed by the governor as chair of the state committee to write standards for Tennessee daycare centers;

• Helped establish locations and train teachers for the Upper Cumberland Head Start Program;

• And assisted in the formation of the Tennessee Council on Family Relations.

Mullins has taught thousands of students throughout her career, and she said she believes they have all enriched her life while also making her aware of the changing social trends of the time.

“Their appearance and mannerisms have become more relaxed and casual over the years, and at the same time, the students themselves come from more diverse backgrounds and have more of a global attitude,” she said.

Enrollment growth from about 400 students during World War II to more than 9,000 this year is the most pronounced change about the university itself, she said.

“There are so many more students now that it sometimes doesn’t feel like the same university it was when I began teaching, but President Bell noted in his inaugural speech that the ‘C’ in T-E-C-H stands for ‘caring,’ and he was certainly right about that,” Mullins said. “I believe TTU will always be a caring community of students, faculty and administrators.”

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