On Friday, Nov. 4, friends and family of UTM professor emeritus William McCutchen gathered in the Nick and Cathy Dunagan Alumni Center to celebrate the endowment of the Tom McCutchen Geology Scholarship.
The fund will reward one to three students yearly to aid in tuition and professional trips and meetings.
Originally known as the Outstanding Geology Student Award, it was renamed in McCutchen’s honor in 2000. With the contribution of Martin native Walter Parrish and his wife Judy Colonnese, the scholarship is now endowed.
Parrish was a student of McCutchen’s, and graduated from UTM in 1971 with a bachelor’s degree in geology. He was later awarded a bachelor’s in biology. He went on to earn his master’s degree at the University of Texas at Austin, and became involved in the oil industry in Oklahoma City.
He outlined his reasoning for the contribution in three parts: love of education, institutional focus and because of the individual.
While Parrish was McCutchen’s student, they built a special friendship that grew over the years. McCutchen’s two children, Shawn and Tomi, even played a part in Parrish’s first wedding.
Parrish also recalled receiving financial aid as a student. As a freshman at UTM, he was handpicked to receive $100 a quarter during his first year from the father of former chancellor Dr. Nick Dunagan. He was also given aid as part of a teaching assistanceship while at UTA, and recalled a professor asking him to pay it back when he could to keep the fund going.
“Those two things stuck with me, especially the fact that this was something totally unsolicited by a man who thought enough of this university and enough of education in general that he was willing to go on and do this,” said Parrish.
After an introduction by Dr. Todd Winters, dean of the college of Agriculture and Applied Sciences, Dr. Michael Gibson, professor of geology, presented statements from past students who had received the scholarship and were unable to attend.
“It set me on a path to receive my master’s in geology where I met my wonderful husband and created a foundation of a fulfilling environmental career,” said alumna Jane McNamara. “I am amazed at how a man that I never met had such an incredible impact on me.”
The fund’s most recent recipient is senior Collin Sutton.
“I was selected for the McCutchen Award at a pivotal point in my undergraduate career, and [it] may even have led me to find my future graduate school,” said Sutton.
Gibson also announced his ongoing project to create a historical timeline detailing the evolution of the geoscience program at UTM, as part of his Method of Geoscience course curriculum. Students sifted through archived documents to create a poster over 10 ft. in length. Research will continue over the course for several semesters, with the goal of publication when completed.
“Hopefully we’ll get it published and get our names on it, because there’s not a direct source for the history of the geography and geology program,” said Corey Rogers, senior geoscience student.
Family, colleagues and former students also attended the ceremony.
Former UTM chancellor Dr. Nick Dunagan was not only a colleague and administrator to McCutchen, but a student of his as well. He recalled taking the geology course as a freshman in 1964 on Mondays at 8 a.m.
“It really felt good to hear other students through the years express some of the same feelings that I had when I had him as a student in the fall of 1964,” said Dunagan. “He was an excellent teacher. He obviously continued to do that so it’s good to see someone honored and rewarded for what’s been a very excellent career.”
Dr. Phil Watkins, vice chancellor emeritus of student affairs, has remained close friends with McCutchen in retirement.
“It’s a very appropriate occasion for one of the good faculty that UT Martin had,” said Watkins. “I’m glad to be here to celebrate.”
The event was a surprise to McCutchen, who was told that the campus visit was to help the department with a history project.
“I don’t cry very often but I almost did, “ said McCutchen. “I thought we were coming up here to talk history.”
The occasion was organized by McCutchen’s daughter Tomi McCutchen Parrish, herself an instructor in UTM’s communications department.
Items on display included Parrish’s thesis from UTA and a book of well wishes, along with McCutchen’s field vest and rock hammers, provided by spouse Roetta McCutchen.
“We’ve been married [for] 23 years and he is my rock,” said Roetta. “ … This was so well deserved and I was so proud of him.”
McCutchen gained his bachelor’s degree in 1957 from Berea College and master’s from Florida State University in 1959. He began teaching at UTM in 1964, with two years of prior teaching experience at Miami Dade Junior College in Florida. He retired in 2000 after 39 years of teaching, and became known as one of the three founding fathers of the geology program. The Scottsboro, Alabama native published works about the geology of West Tennessee, focusing on the Reelfoot Lake area.
“It really is wonderful, and I’m very fortunate that people think so highly of me that they would put this together,” he said.
Feature photo, left to right: Todd Winters, dean of the college of Agriculture and Applied Sciences; William McCutchen, UTM professor emeritus; and Walter Parrish.| Photo Credit/University Relations