The Ned Ray McWherter Institute

Faculty Mentors Board of Advisors Student Application Information

How do we build a better tomorrow?

The answer depends on what we want tomorrow to be. The outcome will be influenced by many things: values, vision, aspirations, inspiration, preparation, drive, cooperation. And these only scratch the surface.

At The Ned Ray McWherter Institute, we believe that together we can build a better tomorrow for our region, our nation, and the world by following the lead of West Tennessee native son, entrepreneur, lawmaker and public servant, Governor Ned Ray McWherter.

Ned McWherter started with little and built successful businesses in Northwest Tennessee. He served in the National Guard, and upon entering the political arena, he served the region and state with distinction. As Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives, he was known for reaching across the political aisle and working with members of the other party to get things done—not for the politics, but for the people. As governor, he continued that practice, earning the respect of citizens across the state and leaders across the nation. Governor McWherter’s longtime friend, businessman Clayton McWhorter, established The Ned Ray McWherter Institute in conjunction with the University of Tennessee at Martin to honor Ned’s legacy of collaboration and innovation.

For more information please contact Joyanne Gansereit at 731-881-3620.

Mission Statement

Mission: To discover, maximize, and empower the potential of passionate and motivated students by transforming them into extraordinarily capable innovators who are fully prepared and uniquely inspired to influence and impact society.

The Ned Ray McWherter Institute operates on the idea that every flame begins with a spark

By identifying students with special gifts and talents for creative thinking, teamwork, and the passion and drive to make a true difference by simply making things happen, we believe that we can help to build that better future for West Tennessee. The plan is simple: take carefully selected second-year students from different disciplines across the University to serve as McWherter Innovators, and over the next three years, help them to identify and build upon their strengths, connect with mentors within the University and the community, increase their awareness of domestic and international culture, and engage in business and public service ventures. Building on individual strengths, well-rounded collaborative teams will be formed to address problems and engage in projects that are important to the future of West Tennessee. We believe that cultivating diverse teams of passionate individuals who think globally, yet act locally, will yield a tremendous impact on our region.

But it doesn't just end with graduation. The skills, perspectives, and collaborative styles honed through experience will continue to serve McWherter Innovators as they enter their careers and work with other visionaries to strengthen their communities, thus leading to expanding horizons for the region. Sparks from one flame will kindle others across the range of human endeavor and inspire a vibrant culture of collaboration and innovation.


Our vision for The Ned Ray McWherter Institute (NRMI) is to revolutionize Northwest Tennessee’s economic landscape and workforce mentality by inspiring, developing, and sustaining a vibrant culture of collaboration and innovation. We believe that the University of Tennessee at Martin should lead the conversation and take an active role in cultivating this revolution in mentality, culture, and economic growth. The NRMI will start with our students at UT Martin. Our mission is to uncover, maximize, and empower the potential of passionate and motivated students by transforming them into extraordinarily capable innovators. These graduates, the “McWherter Innovators,” will enter the workforce fully prepared and uniquely inspired to influence and impact society.


We believe that people with passion can change the world for the better and, moreover, the people that are determined enough to think they can are typically the ones who actually do. We want to provide an environment in which this type of person can flourish, not only as an individual, but as a part of a collaborative team. First, these individuals must be identified, their potential maximized, and their horizons broadened. Then, our goal is to cultivate innovation within this select group through interdisciplinary collaboration and allow their attitude and mentality to become contagious across our campus and, ultimately, throughout the region.

It is our belief that innovation is fostered by information gathered from new connections; from insights gained by journeys into other disciplines and places; from active, collegial networks and fluid, open boundaries. Innovation arises from ongoing circles of exchange where information is not just accumulated or stored, but created. Innovation also needs a mix of left-brained and right-brain people — visionaries and ditch-diggers, stubborn idealists and open-minded pragmatists. All this requires collaboration. We put equal importance on the collaborative process. The main reason is the problems we as a society have to solve and the challenges these students will face as graduates, whether deciding organizational strategy or bringing an innovative offering to market, are more complex, and will continue to become even more complex, than they have ever been. They require a variety of skill-sets, disciplines, perspectives, and approaches to solve them, and need a lot of pieces to come together smoothly to be successful.

The Ned Ray McWherter Institute will strive to create a culture where these core principles are embodied in the actions of our student participants. In the best case scenario, these interdisciplinary, collaborative teams will create innovative entrepreneurial ventures and transformational community service initiatives. Even in the worst case scenario, these graduates will enter the workforce fully and uniquely prepared to make tremendously impactful contributions to their place of employment, to their chosen industry, and to society as a whole.


The Ned Ray McWherter Institute will house a three-year, progressive, interdisciplinary program which will be customized to the individual student. At capacity, 30 student participants, six from each of the five Colleges at UTM, will be active in the Institute's programing. Each student participant will be paired with a personal mentor from their desired industry who will guide the student as they progress and reinforce the programming of the Institute while connecting them to the world outside of the University (starting in Year 2). In addition, the student participants will have faculty mentors (one from each of the five Colleges) on campus who will comprise the implementation team for weekly programing. Ten students, two from each College, will be added annually as others graduate. Click here to view our organizational chart.


The programing is divided into five interwoven areas which we are currently referred to as “The D.R.E.A.M Sequence”. These focus areas include Discovery, Refinement, Experience/Exposure, Application, and Mentoring.

The Discovery focus area is designed to provide the student a better understanding of their self and their potential in order to maximize their effectiveness within the team. Discovery programing will include such things as Institute orientation, personalized planning sessions, individualized assessments, one-on-one coaching, and team building sessions.

The Refinement focus area is designed to offer individualized personal and professional development. Refinement programing will include such activities as mock and reverse interviews, resume building and writing, etiquette training, presentation skills, ethics discussions, time & financial management training, etiquette and networking events, and pre-internship training.

The Experience & Exposure focus area is designed to broaden the student’s perspective and understanding experientially, culturally, and geographically with “real world,” hands on, immersive experiences. Experience & Exposure programing will include such experiences as job shadowing, cultural events, internships, domestic travel, and international travel.

The Application focus area is designed to allow the student to participate in collaborative and innovative hands-on experiences. Application programing will include such activities as collaborative entrepreneurial ventures, community service initiatives, idea workshops, business incubator, problem solving & critical thinking exercises, speaker sessions with Q & A, and team challenges.

The focus areas will follow a progression over the three-year program with an emphasis in the foundational areas of discovery and refinement in year one, a mix of all four focus areas in year two, and a strong emphasis on experience/exposure and application in year three. Mentoring will underline the entire program, reinforce the other four focus areas, and intensify as the student moves through the program.

The Ned Ray McWherter Institute
326 Hall-Moody Administration Building
The University of Tennessee at Martin
Martin, TN 38238