Published Friday Jan 11, 2008
These six Tennessee Tech University alumni, representing each academic division, will receive recognition at a celebration in the Leslie Town Centre: Dudley Garner Jr., chairman of Symetrics Technology Group; L.O. "Buzz" Heidtke, president of Heidtke & Co.; Gary Nixon, Tennessee State Board of Education executive director; Rodney Atkins, country music entertainer; Dana Dukes York, Natural Resources Conservation Service associate chief; and Charles Chitwood, director of corporate development for Schafer Corp. One of the six honorees will be selected TTU International Alumnus of the Year 2008, and that announcement will be made during the banquet.
A reception in their honor will begin at 6 p.m., followed by dinner at 7 p.m. The public is invited, and reservations are required. The cost is $20 per person. To make reservations, call 931-372-3205.
College of Engineering
Garner, chairman of Symetrics Technology Group, has distinguished himself as a design engineer, manager and entrepreneur. Symetrics, a customer-oriented aerospace company that he rebuilt starting in 1977, has operations in Florida and Texas, employs 165 people and has annual revenues of $35 million. Symetrics designs, manufactures and markets worldwide cutting-edge electronic and electro-optical products for telemetry, digital video recording, countermeasures dispensing, aircraft health monitoring, micro unmanned aerial vehicles and modems for digital and compressed imagery data.
Prior to Symetrics, Garner worked for Chance Vought Aircraft, Texas Instruments, International Data Systems, and Harris Corp. He contributed electrical product designs for the F-8U Crusader and F-4 Phantom jet aircraft, Bomarc, Titan II, and Saturn V missiles and the Lunar Orbiter Spacecraft; program management for products for Titan III and Advanced Minuteman missiles and laser-based photographic quality facsimile; and general management as vice president of a Harris scientific computer subsidiary.
A staunch Tennessee Tech supporter, Garner, along with his friend Lt. Gen. Ret. Don Rodgers, contacted their classmates and started the EE Class of 1957 Scholarship Endowment in 1995.
Garner has served on the ECE Industry Advisory Board since its inception in 1996, and through the IAB has challenged ECE alumni to establish similar endowments. In 2005, he helped start the ECE Seminar and ECE Undergraduate Research Endowments.
Garner holds a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from TTU and a master's degree in electronics from Southern Methodist University.
College of Business
Heidtke, an investment broker for more than 35 years, has been president of Heidtke & Co. since 1983. The Nashville money manager founded and manages the portfolio of MidSouth Investment Fund L.P.
For 16 years he was editor and publisher of the Tennessee Investor newsletter and is currently publisher of CEONewsline.
In 2003, Heidtke made a donation to TTU's College of Business to be placed in a fund made up of small and microcap value stocks to be managed by a team of 10 to 15 undergraduate and graduate students. The Heidtke Investment Fund and the Heidtke Professorship are funded by earnings and specifically address teaching students the skills necessary to compete in the financial services industry.
Heidtke's most recent contribution to the College of Business supports the creation of the Eagle Financial Investments Center, a financial investments training lab designed to prepare students for careers including security trading, risk management and insurance and banking.
Heidtke received the College of Business Board of Trustees' Louis Johnson Outstanding Alumnus Award in 2005. He earned his bachelor's degree in business management in 1965.
College of Education
Nixon has served as executive director of the Tennessee State Board of Education since 2004.
Nixon began his career in education in 1971 as a chemistry/physics teacher at Cumberland County High School, where he later served as principal for 16 years. He moved to Nashville in 1994 to work for the Tennessee State Board of Education, where he served as a research associate, interim executive director and deputy executive director. In 2000, he opened the new Blackman High School and served as its principal until accepting his current position as executive director of the State Board of Education.
An avid supporter of the Southern Regional Education Board's High Schools That Work initiative, he led both Cumberland County High School and Blackman High School to that distinction. Blackman High School was recognized as one of the top high schools in the national network for student achievement, guidance services and extra help and time opportunities.
The Tennessee native earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in education, plus an educational specialist degree, from Tennessee Tech. He holds a doctorate in educational administration from Vanderbilt University.
School of Interdisciplinary Studies and Extended Education
Atkins reigns as the 2007 Academy of Country Music's Top New Male Vocalist. His current certified platinum album, "If You're Going Through Hell," debuted at number one on Billboard's Country Charts and at number three on Billboard's Top 20. It produced three consecutive number one singles and went gold in the first four months.
His latest single, "These Are My People," launched a video that peaked at number one on Country Music Television. The single "Watching You" spent five weeks at number one and was one of Billboard's Most Played Songs of 2007. Another previous single, "If You're Going Through Hell," spent four consecutive weeks at number one, was Billboard's Most Played Song of 2006, and captured SESAC Song of the Year honors. And the New York Times raved about the single in an album review calling it "a motivational anthem."
In late 2007, Atkins joined Brad Paisley on the "Bonfires and Amplifiers" tour, and he toured with platinum recording artist Martina McBride.
A review in the Miami Herald called Atkins "a gifted storyteller, capturing small town life, parenting and relationships with a keen eye and wit," while USA Today said "Country singer Rodney Atkins displays palpable authenticity on his new hit album."
Atkins, who grew up in Cumberland Gap, enrolled in psychology at TTU early in his career when he often traveled from Baxter to Nashville to play and write songs. After being signed by Curb Records and recording his first album, he put a simple studio together at his home in which to record his second album. He also serves as the national spokesman for the National Council for Adoption. He received a bachelor's degree from TTU in interdisciplinary studies in 2007 as part of ISEE's Finish Your Degree program.
College of Arts and Sciences
As deputy director of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Chitwood shared management responsibilities for managing one of NASA's largest field installations, which includes more than 6,500 civil services and contract employees and a budget totaling more than $2 billion.
Last June, Chitwood returned to Schafer Corp. as director of corporate development (where he worked prior to joining NASA) to lead the systems engineering and integration division. As general manager for the Huntsville operation, his work focused on development of systems to provide defense against a missile attack.
Prior to his experience with Schafer, Chitwood served in varying management and engineering positions with other technology and systems development companies and programs. He worked for the Computer Sciences Corporation as the technical director for its U. S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command Scientific, Engineering and Technical Assistance Contract. Prior to that he served as general manager of the Huntsville Division of Coleman Technologies.
Chitwood has authored more than 20 articles for scientific journals on basic research in high energy heavy ion nuclear physics. He holds a bachelor's degree in physics from TTU and has completed coursework toward a doctorate in physics at Michigan State University.
As a TTU senior, Chitwood received TTU's most prestigious student honor -- the Derryberry Award. After graduation, he worked as a nuclear physics research assistant at the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory at Michigan State University.
College of Agricultural and Human Sciences
After more than three decades of progressive leadership at the county, state, regional and national levels of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, York is the highest career employee in the agency. As the NRCS' highest ranking female leader and first female associate chief , she provides leadership for a $3.4 billion budget.
NRCS works directly with landowners to help protect the nation's soil and water resources on private land in a voluntary, science-based approach. It also works in partnership with a broad array of state and local groups to sustain and enhance environmental quality.
From 2001 through 2004, York served as director of the NRCS Operations Management and Oversight Division with responsibility for the agency's operations management, including monitoring operations, business planning and accountability, and development and monitoring of Integrated Accountability and Executive Information systems. She also directed the agency's efforts on quality assurance, oversight and evaluation.
York began her career with NRCS as a student trainee while attending Tennessee Tech. She has held various positions with the agency in Tennessee and Ohio, including soil conservationist, district conservationist and deputy state conservationist. She joined the NRCS National Headquarters staff in 1999 as a special assistant to the Chief.
In 2007, York received the President's Distinguished Rank Award, the highest award given to a career employee for leadership.
She is a native of Tennessee where she received a bachelor's degree in agricultural science from TTU and a master's degree in industrial/organizational psychology from Middle Tennessee State University through the USDA Graduate Studies Program.