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Ronald Morris

Morris Bestowed Prestigious Dougherty Award

Ronald Morris posing with the Dougherty Award and Dean Mench

Ronald T. Morris never forgot how much he benefitted from his educational experience at the University of Tennessee. As soon as he retired from a long and fulfilling engineering career at DuPont, Morris was determined to give back to UT and play a more active role as an alumnus.

From serving on the college’s advisory boards to funding scholarships, Morris has ensured future generations of students will have a solid foundation for success on UT’s campus. His generosity is being recognized as the 2024 Nathan W. Dougherty Award winner, which is the highest honor bestowed by the Tickle College of Engineering.

Given annually since 1967, the Dougherty award singles out those who have “brought honor and distinction to the college through their achievements or who have made significant contributions to the engineering profession in Tennessee through their professional activities.”

Morris was informed about his selection after he returned from Thailand to escape the cold winter weather in his hometown of Memphis.

“I said I don’t deserve it. I said I am highly honored, but are you sure you want to do this?” Morris said. “I would never in my wildest dreams have thought my name would ever come up as being a potential candidate for the award, so I am flattered, and I am very humbled to receive it.”

Morris received his Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from UT in 1969 and participated in the Co-op Engineering Program during school. He served in the United States Navy from 1971-74, where he was a civil engineering corps officer and obtained his professional engineer’s license while enlisted.

His professional career included time at Exxon, Southern Bell Telephone, W.R. Grace & Co., and DuPont. Morris worked at the DuPont Memphis plant for 30 years, holding positions as a project engineer, electrical and instrument maintenance supervisor, and a project manager/engineer on several large, distributed control systems projects.

He received the 2008 Engineering Excellence Award for his work on a large integrated project at a DuPont site. After retiring from DuPont, Morris worked as a consulting engineer domestically and internationally.

“My résumé doesn’t compare with the kinds of positions all the other Dougherty winners have, but that doesn’t bother me. It’s about if you have done a really good job at what you are supposed to be doing and I feel like I have,” Morris said. “I was never in search of trying to be praised, but it does feel really good that I can provide help that would be recognized.”

Morris served on the College of Engineering Board of Advisors at UT from 2013-19. He and his late wife, Jessica, established the West Tennessee Engineering Day Initiative Endowment Fund to provide chartered bus transportation, lodging, and meals for high school students from west Tennessee to attend Engineer’s Day at TCE; the Ron and Jessica Morris Endowed International Travel Fund to assist TCE students with approved internal experience; and the Ron and Jessica Morris Engineering Scholarship Endowment.

In April of 2024 at the ConNEXTion Day, the Women in Engineering Program (WiE) will be publicly named the Jessica M. Morris Women in Engineering Program in recognition of the Morris family’s significant gift for an endowment to the program.

Morris knows from personal experience how beneficial a visit to the UT campus can be for potential students. During his junior year of high school in 1963, Morris traveled to Knoxville with a group of Memphis students on a trip sponsored by a local doctor.

The doctor, a UT Health and Science Center graduate, accompanied the group to UT, driving ahead of the bus in his 1963 Studebaker Avanti.

“That is why I started sponsoring kids to come up from Memphis and west Tennessee, because of what that doctor did for us,” Morris said. “I knew how influential that trip was in me knowing I wanted to go to UT. I wanted to make sure kids today have the same chances.”

Morris’ older brother, Walton, paved the way for him to attend UT. Walton Morris was attending the General Motors Institute in Flint, Michigan, but wanted to enroll in the UT College of Engineering. He drove to Knoxville and spoke with Co-op director Wiley Thomas about his chances. Thomas told Walton his grades weren’t good enough.

Disappointed, Walton headed to his car to make the long drive to Michigan. As he reached for the door handle, Thomas stopped him and told him if he came for two quarters and kept his GPA high, he would let him enroll in the Co-op Engineering Program.

“He ended up graduating in 1963 as a mechanical engineer,” Ronald Morris said. “If he had not gone there, I probably would not be talking to you right now.”

The Dougherty award recognizes Dougherty’s success in engineering and education. Among other accolades, Dougherty was a captain of UT’s football, basketball, and track teams in the early 1900s, including helping start the first basketball team in school history.

As a faculty member and chairman of the UT Athletics board, Dougherty hired Robert Neyland as UT’s football coach, served as dean of the college from 1940-56, and served as acting SEC Commissioner in 1947. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1967.

Faculty and Staff Award Winners

Other award winners for 2023-24 include:

Pass the Torch Award

  • Travis Griffin

Supervisor of the Year Award

  • Tom Duong

Sidekick Salute Award

  • Andy Baker

Inspirational Leadership Award

  • Nita Drozd

Commitment to Excellence Award

  • Frank Holiway

Commitment to Inclusive Community Award

  • Suzanne Sawicki

Emerging Leader Award

  • Kaycee Edwards

Circle of Excellence Teamwork Award

  • Engineering Advising Team
    • Lisa Byrd
    • Kate Burford
    • Brittany Hiller
    • James Hughes
    • Kerri Cline
    • JeNai Davis
    • Devon Keith
    • Mike Taylor
    • Joanna Rathbone
    • Noah Blacker
    • Steven Kistler
    • Rachel Duncan
    • Jake Working
    • Jennifer Hartwig
    • Roger Gray
    • Sonja Burk

Outstanding Service to the College

  • Mike Berry

Outstanding Service in Outreach and Engagement

  • John Schwartz

Outstanding Contribution to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Award

  • Catherine Schuman

Moses E. & Mayme Brooks Distinguished Professor Award

  • Qiang He

Leon & Nancy Cole Teaching Award

  • Sarah Mobley

Charles E. Ferris Faculty Award

  • Chad Duty

Teaching Fellow Awards

  • Ahmedullah Aziz
  • Kevin Bai
  • Candace Brakewood
  • Subhadeep Chakraborty
  • John Kobza

Professional Promise in Research Award

  • Mahshid Ahmadi
  • Candace Brakewood
  • Zhenbo Wang
  • Dan Wilson
  • Nick Zhou

Research Achievement Award

  • Xueping Li
  • Fran Li
  • Andy Sarles
  • Cong Trinh

Translational Research Award

  • Ahmedullah Aziz
  • James Plank
  • Garrett Rose
  • Catherine Schuman

Dean’s Meritorious Achievement Award

  • Wes Hines
  • Anne Skutnik
  • Ami McBride
  • Leon Tolbert
  • Amanda Middleton


Rhiannon Potkey (865-974-0683,