Soon after John Tickle graduated with an industrial engineering degree from UT Knoxville in 1965, he sat eating lunch with his new coworkers. One asked him where he went to school, to which Tickle proudly answered, “the University of Tennessee.”

“I heard a silence, and that really bothered me,” said Tickle, chairman of the Strongwell Corporation. “It’s stuck in my craw for over 50 years. When someone says, ‘I’m a University of Tennessee graduate,’ I want people to say, ‘Wow.’”

In October, the UT Board of Trustees, on which Tickle serves, approved naming the College of Engineering for Tickle, who made an appropriately significant gift he has chosen not to specify publicly. It is the second time in the campus’s 222-year history that a college has been named for an alumnus and benefactor—the first was the Haslam College of Business, named for benefactor James A. Haslam II.

John Tickle speaks at a glass podium
John Tickle

“My goal is for the University of Tennessee to be known for their education and the product they put out,” said Tickle. “[My wife] Ann and I both believe that education is what fuels success—not just our own success, but the success of UT and the state as well.”

Tickle began supporting UT just a year after he graduated. His recent, transformational gift will impact every aspect of the college of engineering—from students and faculty to research and facilities.

The gift established the following:

  • The Tickle Graduate Fellows program, which will fund doctoral students across all of the college’s academic programs
  • Tickle Professorships to recognize excellent faculty, helping the college recruit and retain these important scholars.
  • The addition of a team of professional advisors over the next year to provide more guidance to students about their academic goals

Tickle has committed a significant portion of the private dollars needed in the state’s funding formula for an additional new academic building for engineering, although state funds have not yet been appropriated. The planned new building will house nuclear engineering, freshman engineering programs, and student design and innovation laboratories.