New faculty members at Tech praise quality of students, class size

New faculty members Kyle Murphy and Rachel Mannahan find that class size, professional opportunities and support, and quality of students at Tennessee Tech University all combine for rewarding teaching experiences. The new buildings and current and future construction projects as positive signs for the growth of the university, they say. 

Murphy and Mannahan are among more than a dozen new faculty members who joined the university this academic year.

Kyle MurphyMurphy, an assistant chemistry professor from Massachusetts, obtained a bachelor's degree from Bridgewater State University, where he majored in two different concentrations of chemistry, professional chemistry and environmental. He obtained his doctorate in organic chemistry from the University of Vermont.

After achieving his doctorate Murphy took a teaching and research postdoctoral position at UNC Asheville. While there, he went to a national chemistry conference and interacted with many chemistry research students from Tech who were presenting on their research.  

“It was very clear that the students enjoyed both being at Tech, and enjoyed the research they were doing, and that the professors cared about them and their success,” Murphy said. “While I was applying for assistant professor positions, Tech was easily my top choice. Student success is a good marker of a great university and a great department.”

Murphy teaches in the realm of organic chemistry, but also teaches an advanced polymer chemistry course once a year. In that class, the students start with small molecules, stitch them together into polymers, characterize them, and their environmental impact by way of plastics, textiles, and other nondegradable polymers.

“I interact mainly with STEM students, and it's evident how much they care about their education and want to learn,” Murphy said. “I've taught at other institutes, and it's not always easy to get engagement out of students, but at Tech it's certainly been a more enjoyable experience teaching these students.”

Murphy has a growing chemistry research group, where students who work are beginning to tackle various issues like discovering new and more sustainable antibiotics; synthesizing well-defined macromolecules to investigate their interactions with hazardous nano plastics in aquatic systems as well as with asphaltenes in crude oil; and developing new polymers with better end-of-life properties than many existing and nigh non-degradable plastics. 

“I'm looking for more undergraduate and graduate students to assist me in these endeavors, and to do some neat science,” Murphy said. 

Murphy pointed out the new Lab Sciences Common Building, the new Ashraf Islam Engineering Building under construction, as well as other ongoing campus construction projects as positive signs for the future of Tech.  

“There's investment in making sure we have great facilities for students and faculty, which is another good marker of a good university,” Murphy said. 

Mannahan, an assistant professor of economics from Alabama, teaches principles of microeconomics, behavioral economics, and previously taught managerialRachel Mannahan economics. The class size at Tech is one she finds advantageous, and her department is a place of positive reinforcement. 

“I enjoy the small class sizes at Tech. I get to know my students better than I would at a larger university,” Mannahan said. “Everyone here is so friendly! I love everyone in my department; they are all incredibly encouraging and supportive.”

Mannahan has a bachelor’s degree in economics and math and a master’s degree in economics from the University of Alabama. She earned her doctorate in economics from the University of Arizona. Her fields of specialization are behavioral economics, experimental economics, and game theory.

“I've been surprised about how many events, activities and resources we have on campus. I've also been surprised about the deep connection between the university and the Cookeville community,” Mannahan said. “Both of these are part of the charm of Tech.”

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Tennessee Tech is ranked as the number one public university in the state, according to Money Magazine, as well as a “Best National University” by U.S. News & Report. The university offers more than 200-plus programs of study and Tech grads leave with the least debt of all public universities in the state. In fact, based on total cost and alumni earnings, Tech provides students with the highest return on investment for any public university in Tennessee, according to PayScale.

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