Women's History Month
Celebrating Women at Tennessee Tech
Each March, Tennessee Tech celebrates Women’s History Month. Read more below about past and present accomplishments and contributions from women to the university.
Select a Decade:
1910 — 1920 — 1940 — 1950 — 1960 — 1970 — 2010 — 2020
Beulah Betty McDonald was the first student to earn a college degree at Tennessee Polytechnic Institute in 1918. She received a two-year degree in English. McDonald died at the age of 93 after teaching in Smith County schools for 40 years.
Hazel Wall was in the class of 1929, the first class to receive four-year college degrees at Tennessee Tech. She later served as the secretary to the president at the university. In 1981 she received the Outstanding Service Award from the Tech Alumni Association.
Daisy Dowdy was the first woman student to earn a “letter” on her jacket playing basketball.
First lady of Tennessee Tech from 1940-1974, Joan Derryberry is credited with writing the Tennessee Tech Hymn. Joan’s son Walter said of the hymn, “When we attended the first football game after coming here, mother was appalled to find that Tech used the same tune of the alma mater that the opposing college used.” With her husband’s help, Joan wrote the music and lyrics, and the hymn was published in 1943. Mrs. Derryberry is also honored with the Joan Derryberry Art Gallery, located on the first floor of the Roaden University Center. A tremendous artist, Joan completed nearly 1,200 paintings throughout her life.
Margaret Prescott was the first woman to become Student Government Association President at Tennessee Tech, graduating with the class of 1945.
Country music legend Dottie West got her start in music at Tennessee Tech and now is among the 2018 inductees in the
Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum! West studied music at Tech and came back to
visit campus even after her time as a student. Alumni may remember her campus band,
the Tech Two-by-Fours. She was a history maker too. West became the first woman to
win a Grammy as a country artist!
Jo Anne Clark graduated from Tennessee Polytechnic Institute in 1960 with a B.S. in Health and Physical Education. She returned to Tech (now Tennessee Technological University) in 1969 to pursue a master's degree. Two years later, with an M.S. in Guidance and Counseling, she was hired as Director of International Student Affairs. During her tenure as International Student Advisor at Tennessee Tech, she introduced the International Student Exchange Program to the Tech campus. She established Tech's successful Host Family Program, now called International Friends.
Leonna Lusk Officer was the first Black student to be admitted to Tennessee Tech University. Officer
graduated on Aug. 28, 1965 with a degree in curriculum and instruction.
Chris Trella Koczwara, a renowned artist and Tennessee Tech emeritus professor of art, was the first woman commissioned as a combat artist by the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. Koczwara was also commissioned by the U.S. Navy to paint the liftoff of Apollo 7.
Sally Crain Jagar came to Tennessee Tech in 1967. In her more than three decades teaching at the university, she was instrumental in the founding of Tech's art education and painting programs and the Bacchanal scholarship endowment to help fund art students educations. She also helped to establish the Joan Derryberry Art Gallery in honor of a fellow artist and Tennessee Tech's longtime first lady. After her retirement, she went on to found the Arts for Healing Program at Cookeville Regional Medical Center Art Center.
Marie Ventrice was the first woman to earn an engineering Ph.D. from Tech in 1974. She immediately joined Tech’s faculty teaching Mechanical Engineering. She obtained a $62,750 grant from NASA to do doctoral thermal science for rockets and jet engines. She was the advisor to TTU’s Association of Women Engineers. She was also the first woman to become Associate Dean in the Engineering Department.
Lizabeth (Liz) Self-Mullens was the first woman to become dean of the College of Agriculture and Human Ecology from 2013-2018. Mullens joined Tech faculty in 2009, where she taught classes in the School of Human Ecology.
Tennessee Tech’s first woman Dean of Students, Katherine Williams was appointed to her position in February 2017. She served as interim since November 2015. She served as director of student activities from July 2014 through her time as interim dean of students. Prior to that, she spent nine years as coordinator of Greek life and university programming.
Jennifer Shank is the founding Dean of the College of Fine Arts. Before coming to Tech, Shank taught
music and served as School of Music director at the University of Southern Mississippi.
The College of Fine Arts was established in June 2017, consisting of Tech's School
of Art, Craft and Design and establishing a School of Music from the former department
Provost Lori Bruce is the first woman to hold Tech’s top academic position. Provost Bruce accepted the position in February 2018. She is also a full professor of engineering.
Trudy Harper is the first woman to serve as Chair of the Tennessee Tech Board of Trustees. Harper had an illustrious career with the Texas Utilities Electric Company and Tenaska, founding and serving as president of Tenaska Power Services Company, the power marketing affiliate of Tenaska. A Tennessee Tech Alumna, Electrical Engineering B.S. ’83 and M.S. ’84, Harper was named vice chair of the university’s Board of Trustees in 2017 and was elected as chair of the Board of Trustees in June 2019.
Jennifer Taylor is the first woman to serve as Vice President of Research at Tennessee Tech. With an extensive background in research and economic development, Taylor holds a doctorate in health psychology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, along with an executive MBA from Vanderbilt University, a master’s degree in psychology from the University of Northern Iowa and a bachelor’s in psychology from the University of Kentucky. Her appointment was approved unanimously by the Executive Committee of the Tennessee Tech Board of Trustees at a specially called meeting held April 21, 2020.