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From First Graduate to Department Head

Wes Hines presents Tom Kerlin with Hall of Fame plaque.

By Laura Tenpenny.

When he graduated with the first-ever Nuclear Engineering degree conferred by UT, Tom Kerlin (MS/NE ’59, PhD/Engr Sci ’65 with) did not expect to lead the department some 20 years later.

“Bob Paulson got his degree that day too, but I walked across the stage first. The alphabet was in my favor,” Kerlin remembered.

The much beloved Pietro Pasqua served as the department’s first head.

“I worked under Pasqua as a graduate student. He was generous and really cared about the students,” Kerlin said.

After graduating, Kerlin worked at ORNL before Pasqua hired him as a professor. A decade later as department head, he walked in Pasqua’s footsteps as a man of the students. He and his wife even shared their home briefly with a student in need.

Following the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl incidents, enrollment noticeably dropped, but Kerlin adapted. He took to the road, recruiting students with a traveling lab, visiting his native South Carolina quite often.

“At one time enrollment consisted of about 20 percent South Carolina residents,” Kerlin remembered.

“He’s an idea guy. He’s great at thinking strategically,” affirmed current Department Head Wes Hines.

During his leadership, Kerlin and Tom Shannon initiated one of his proudest legacies, the Reliability and Maintainability Center. The center contributes millions to the local economy and provides hands-on learning for students and cutting-edge solutions to business partners. Those partners have grown from 12 to over 75 today.

Yet another of his ideas resulted in a major economic boost to the area. He conceived and co-founded Analysis and Measurement Services Corporation (AMS) in 1977. Beginning with Northeast Energy, AMS provided technical testing of nuclear facilities’ safety and control systems. Kerlin sold his share of AMS in 1985, and it continues as a successful provider of technical service to the nuclear industry.

In addition to his accomplishments in industry, Kerlin made a successful scholar and educator. With an active research program, he and dozens of graduate students studied reactor dynamics, reactor control, dynamic testing, and instrumentation.

“I earned the second Glenn Murphy Award in its history from the American Society of Engineering Education, which honors a nuclear engineering professor every year for excellence in education,” Kerlin remembered.

His latest honor was his induction into the Nuclear Engineering Department’s Hall of Fame.

Kerlin, now retired, enjoys writing and spending time with his wife, Nancy, of 65 years. He has authored, co-authored, or contributed to eight books, including his latest, Dynamics and Control of Nuclear Reactors, with fellow Professor Emeritus Belle Upadhyaya.