Trailblazing state House Speaker Beth Harwell took a few moments before receiving a special award from MTSU Thursday (March 21) to share stories of other women who blazed a trail across Tennessee in the past three-plus centuries.
Pennsylvania native Harwell, who is in her 12th term of representing the 56th District that includes part of Davidson County and Nashville, discussed the historical roles played by Charlotte Robertson and Sarah Polk; the influence of former Rep. Harry Burns’ mother in the 19th amendment allowing women the right to vote; three-time Olympic gold medalist Wilma Rudolph overcoming polio as a child; and University of Tennessee-Knoxville hall-of-fame coach Pat Summitt’s rise to success.
Moments later, MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee presented Harwell, the first female speaker of the House of Representatives in Tennessee and in the Southeast, with the second Distinguished Friend of the University Honors College Award for Distinguished Service to the State of Tennessee. The event was held in the Paul W. Martin Sr. Honors Building.
“This came at a very nice time. It’s an honor to be here during (National) Women’s History Month,” Harwell said during a reception. “This university has done so much to promote women, to make sure young women are educated and in the workforce, (and) to employ a lot of women faculty members and administrators. So it’s an honor to be recognized by a university I hold in such high esteem. You’re not only growing in quantity, you’re also growing in quality. I’m just so impressed (with MTSU).”
Later, while signing the Honors College’s Book of Town and Gown at the request of interim associate dean and friend Philip Phillips, Harwell said, “this (award) is quite an honor.” Just after receiving the award from McPhee, she invited the audience “to my legislative office, where it will be permanently on display.”
“We could not have a far better candidate for this award,” McPhee said in his introduction of Harwell. He added that he worked with her and other legislators in the last couple of years, particularly in regard to the $147 million science building going up on the south side of campus at the intersection of Alumni Drive and Friendship Street.
The first recipient of the “Distinguished Friend Award” went to Turkish entrepreneur and humanitarian Celal “Uncle Celal” Afsar in 2011.
The University Honors College was formally established in 1998 after 25 years of success as an honors program. Its purpose it to provide an exceptional undergraduate education to a small but diverse MTSU student population.
Honors College Dean John Vile said the early beginnings of the program “began under the auspices of another trail-blazing woman, Dr. June Hall McCash, in 1973.
Harwell served as a commencement speaker during the fall 2012 MTSU graduation. Holding degrees from Lipscomb and Vanderbilt universities and George Peabody College, she is a proponent for K-12 and higher education.