Past Presidents

president earlyThomas Alva Early (1916-1920)

Thomas Alva Early was the first president of Tennessee Polytechnic Institute, formerly Dixie College. Though some thought TPI should be a “vocationally-oriented school,” many students came to TPI to become teachers, a coveted profession in rural Tennessee. Early began the push for TPI’s first bachelor of science degree in education, which the state approved in 1927. 



presideent smith Quintin Miller Smith (1920-1938)

Quintin Miller Smith led TPI through the Depression, with budget cuts that eliminated courses and faculty. But there was growth during his tenure as well. Smith oversaw the construction of key campus facilities, including the science, engineering and home economics buildings; heating plant; machine and woodworking shop; president’s home; and dairy barn.


president millard smithJames Millard Smith (1938-1940)

James Millard Smith set up a committee to revise the TPI curriculum, dividing the curricula into two major divisions: arts and sciences, and professional and technical. That restructure led to accreditation. TPI was admitted to the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools in 1939. Enrollment had declined during the Depression, but began to rebound in the late ’30s. In 1938, TPI accepted 100 students who received financial relief through the Works Progress Administration. They could enroll for up to 11 hours per term and work up to 100 hours per month at 27.5 cents per hour. More students attended TPI through a special resident training project funded by the National Youth Administration.

president derryberry William Everett Derryberry (1940-1974)

William Everett Derryberry was the university’s longest-serving president and oversaw Tennessee Tech’s largest period of growth. When Derryberry took the leadership of the university in 1940, it had only 700 students, 31 faculty members and a handful of buildings. When he left in 1974, it had grown to 7,000 students, 276 faculty members and a 225-acre campus. A Rhodes Scholar and a native of Columbia, Tenn., Derryberry kept the university going despite dramatic drops in enrollment during World War II.

president roaden Arliss Lloyd Roaden (1974-1985)

Tennessee Tech's academics and visibility grew during the presidency of Arliss Lloyd Roaden. The university created its four-year nursing curriculum, which produces a significant majority of qualified health professionals in the Upper Cumberland. In 1975, Roaden set up the Office of University Research. To attract distinguished research professors, Roaden created university research chairs in history, physics and engineering.

president prescottWallace Samuel Prescott (1985-1987)

Wallace Samuel Prescott had a long association with Tennessee Tech. He came to TPI as an engineering student in 1943, and he joined the faculty in 1946, teaching five elementary surveying courses. He earned his master’s degree in 1952 at The University of Tennessee and a Ph.D. at the University of Illinois in 1961. He became dean of faculty at TPI in 1962. Prescott served as chief academic officer during part of Derryberry’s presidency and as provost and vice president during most of Roaden’s tenure. Prescott accepted the interim presidency after Roaden’s departure, coming out of retirement to serve a university in transition.

president volpeAngelo Anthony Volpe (1987-2000)

Angelo Anthony was the university’s seventh and the third longest-serving president in Tennessee Tech’s history. At the time of his retirement, his presidential tenure was longer than any other serving public university president. He was the first Tennessee Tech president to have a doctoral degree, with a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Maryland. 


president bellRobert Roy Bell (2000-2012)

Robert Roy Bell became the university’s eighth president in 2000. He joined the Tennessee Tech faculty in 1976 in the College of Business, and he served as its dean from 1991 to 2000. Bell received his M.B.A. from the University of Florida in 1970, and he earned a doctoral degree in organizational leadership there in 1972. Bell honored the vision of Tennessee Tech’s founders to give Tennesseeans access to a quality, affordable education. 

Experience Tech For Yourself

Visit us to see what sets us apart.

Schedule Your Visit