A Legacy of Opportunities

How we invest our time reveals our values. So does how we invest our treasure.

The late Ken and Blaire Mossman valued learning and discovery and their experience as students at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, where they met and fell in love. They remained deeply connected to the university, particularly the College of Arts and Sciences, throughout their lives. Not surprising, their estate gift to the university follows their heart and creates a legacy that reflects their values and will have broad and enduring impact on education.

The Mossmans credited their experience at UT for laying a broad foundation for their careers, but their affinity for UT stretched beyond professional. Ken and Blaire first met on campus in 1968 at the university’s chapter of Hillel Foundation for Jewish Life and were married in 1970. Another reason the university would forever hold a special place in their heart.

Blaire graduated with a degree in French in 1971 and had a lifelong love of foreign languages. She had a successful career as an editor for science and technology publications.

Ken came to UT in the late 1960s because of UT’s relationship with Oak Ridge National Laboratory and UT’s Institute for Radiation Biology. He earned a master’s degree in 1970 and a doctorate in health physics and radiation biology in 1973. Over the course of his career he achieved national stature for his contributions in science and education.

As graduates of the College of Arts and Sciences, the college was the point of continuity in their connection with the university. Ken served on the Dean’s Advisory Board from 2001 until his passing. Blaire joined Ken at these meetings where both of them listened with keen interest to reports on the advancement of the university and the college, lectures by outstanding faculty, and student presentations about their studies, travel abroad, and research. Ken and Blaire contributed great ideas, offered sound advice, and were passionate advocates and supporters for many years until their passing. They embodied the Volunteer spirit!

The specific allocations of their bequest reflects the breadth of their interests as well as their desire to provide great experiences for future students and faculty. Their gift established an endowed professorship in biomedicine, a distinguished lecture series, and scholarships for undergraduate students majoring in Romance languages to fund their travel and study abroad.

Currently held by Steven Wilhelm, professor of microbiology, the Mossman Professorship is based in the College of Arts and Sciences and is intended to serve as a magnet to attract talented faculty and students to study in the college. Wilhelm says the value of the professorship can be summarized in a word—opportunity. “The gift creates opportunities for my graduate students and lab members to venture into areas of research that might seem preliminary or risky on the surface, but that is where some of the potential great discoveries lie. Already the gift has supported and continues to support our work demonstrating that the microbiome modulates the severity of malaria and we are now attempting to uncover the mechanisms involved. Often these studies take years to gain support from federal funding sources. We’re able to carry out this research now, accelerating the rate of discovery.”

The first five undergraduate Mossman Scholars are studying abroad at the time of this publication: Hannah Berry (Navarra, Spain); Susannah Ward (Vigo, Spain), Rachel Crocker (Caen, France), Kasey Sumeriski (Cuzco, Peru), and Yelena Aliy (Costa Rica). The Mossman Scholars have the opportunity to engage in international travel for language study with financial support for travel expenses, tuition, books, and other related educational expenses. The endowment supports as many as ten scholarships annually.

The Mossman Distinguished Lecture Series funds a distinguished scholar in any academic discipline to deliver a public lecture to the community at large and a scholarly or technical lecture to faculty and students in a department closely associated with the speaker’s academic discipline—affording an intellectual enrichment opportunity for the entire campus and local community. The inaugural lecture was presented in October 2015 by nationally renowned Bill Nye the Science Guy to an audience of nearly 8,000.

In recognition of the Mossmans’ generosity, the university named a new building in their honor—the Ken and Blaire Mossman Building. Located on Cumberland Avenue, the building is scheduled to open by fall 2018. A state-of-the art research and teaching facility, it will have six floors and will house portions of several departments: microbiology, psychology, nutrition, and biochemistry & cellular and molecular biology (BCMB). “Having space in this building will be transformative for our department,” observed Dan Roberts, professor and head of BCMB. “In addition to enhancing our research activities, the design of the teaching facilities which include experimental computational laboratories and interactive classrooms affords faculty the opportunity to engage in the newest teaching pedagogies which will really boost our instructional mission.”

Ken’s younger brother, Michael Mossman, also a UT alumnus, spoke of his late brother and sister-in-law on a recent visit to campus.

“They were accomplished. They were academics; they were bright. But at the heart of things they were good people who were interested in education, interested in paying things forward,” Michael Mossman said. “They didn’t have children. This was their legacy.”

And what a legacy it is! The magnitude of their vision is far-reaching and enduring. The targeted funding of opportunities for students and faculty infuses the Mossmans’ vision and spirit throughout the academic enterprise, fostering discovery, teaching and learning, as well as global education and awareness.

Author David Solie defines a personal legacy as “the unique footprint we want to leave for our time on earth.” The Mossmans’ legacy is one of extending opportunities to faculty and students for generations to come.

Study Abroad – CUZCO, PERU

Kasey Sumeriski

“Studying abroad has been one of the most challenging, but fulfilling experiences of my life,” says Kasey Sumeriski, Mossman Scholar.

“I already feel as if three and half months is not enough time in Peru for me. During my Mossman Endowment-supported study abroad experience in Peru, I have become a more globally-aware and flexible person. My experiences in Peru have positively challenged me to reevaluate my perspectives and opinions about the world. The interactions I have had with all different types of people from those in rural communities to nationally recognized professors have sharpened my critical-thinking abilities and expanded my knowledge of current local, regional, national, and international issues in Peru. In doing so, this experience has expanded my horizons by introducing me to new and challenging opportunities for academic research and work in the future.

Thus far, my favorite experience, besides the people and culture in Peru, is going to a new place and taking a moment to observe all that I can with only my eyes. Then, closing my eyes to listen to the sounds, take in the smells, and feel a breeze or even sometimes the rain.”

Kasey enjoys “juane”, a traditional Amazonia meal, with the community members of Victoria, a small indigenous community in the Madre de Dios region of the Amazon Rainforest, Peru. This meal consists of chicken, rice, plantain, onion, and egg. Before eating, she spent time talking with the community president and hiked out to see the community’s “chakra”, an area used for farming. After eating, she played a game of soccer with the children in the community. In the following days after visiting with this community, she travelled to another indigenous community in the Amazon – Community Infierno – where she spent four days and three nights learning about their culture, working in the chakras, and visiting different places in the community, including the school and clinic.