UTM honors outstanding MMSC alumni

Exceed expectations. That was the message to current students from two University of Tennessee at Martin alumni award recipients who spoke during the Department of Mass Media and Strategic Communication Awards Reception held April 11 in the Boling University Center’s Duncan Ballroom. The event was attended by current students, faculty, staff and family members.

Blake Barnes, a 2016 graduate and Weakley County native who lives in Jackson, received the MMSC Distinguished Alumni Award, and Katie Jarvis Graves, a 2014 graduate originally from Memphis who lives in Union City, received the MMSC Outstanding Young Alumni Award. Barnes is marketing manager and a designer for University Clinical Health in Memphis, and Graves is executive director for Main Street Union City Inc.  

Jarvis began her public relations career at Discovery Park of America, where she was promoted to marketing and public relations director. She then worked as public relations director for Dynamix Physical Therapy in Milan before accepting her current position at Main Street Union City. Faculty member Dr. Jerald Ogg introduced Graves and presented her award. A young alumni award recipient was not established at the time Graves graduated, but if he had known of such an award, Ogg said he would have predicted her to one day receive it.

“I’m proud of what she’s done,” Ogg said. “I’m even prouder of who she is.”

Graves thanked faculty members and others who supported her through college and during her career. Her advice to current students for finding success are to work hard, earn promotions and not expect them, find a strong mentor, and “if you can’t change your situation, change your attitude.” Lastly, she advised students to work with purpose and “commit to the Lord whatever you do, and He will establish your plans.”

Faculty member Dr. Tracy Rutledge taught Barnes, introduced him and presented his award, which made him the first media design-concentration graduate to receive the honor. Describing Barnes’ creative abilities, she quoted the late theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking as once saying, “Quiet people have the loudest minds.”

“He was a quiet guy who … soaked up information like a sponge,” she said. “Very thoughtful, he worked on projects and then turned in these mind-blowingly beautiful projects, and you never knew what was going to come out of that mind of his, and if you follow him or know anything about his work, that still describes him. He has a loud mind that is so creative.”

Although he enjoys creative success and has established himself as a leader in the competitive media-design field, Barnes didn’t initially study media design. He entered UT Martin with the goal to become a music education major, but his interest in physical fitness changed his focus to exercise science and wellness with the goal to become a physical therapist. It wasn’t until his junior year that he changed direction again and became a first-year student in communication and media design. His late mother and longtime university employee, Kelli Barnes, was concerned about how soon he could complete his degree, but Barnes credited Rutledge with reassuring both parents that his new degree path was doable.

Barnes transitioned his new academic focus into a career that has led to media design positions at Union University and his current company. He’s even created his own design and branding company to further expand his skills and design influence. As Katie Graves did in her comments, Barnes used his college and career journey to offer advice to current students.

“Don’t ever stop learning,” he said. “Don’t ever stop being a learner.” He offered the example that things change in the graphic design world, and the ability to learn allows a person to learn better ways to improve professional skills.

“It’s not always about money,” he reminded the audience. Early on, he learned to recognize the kind of work that he enjoyed doing regardless of what it paid, and those were the jobs where he excelled and didn’t dread going to work.

Finally, he urged students to, “Make a promise and then over deliver on that promise.” He likened accepting a job offer to making a promise to fulfill the duties of that position. Then when opportunities come in that job to do extra, he said to take those opportunities to over-deliver to learn and grow.

“Go above and beyond a little bit of what you’re expected to do. … You’re going to have opportunities to learn something new,” he said. “You’re going to have opportunities to figure out what you like. You’re going to have opportunities to grow yourself.”

Department chair Dr. Robert Nanney closed the alumni awards presentations by thanking the recipients for what they’ve accomplished and how their success reflects on the department. “Katie and Blake, we could not be more proud of you for all you have done,” he said. “Great practitioners, even better people. … Thank you for coming back and giving back to this department in many ways.”

Call 731-881-7546 to learn more about the UT Martin Department of Mass Media and Strategic Communication, or email Nanney at rnanney@utm.edu.

PHOTO: Blake Barnes and Katie Jarvis Graves received alumni awards April 11 during the annual Mass Media and Strategic Communication Awards Reception held in the Boling University Center’s Duncan Ballroom.

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