East Tennessee Economic Council Presents 2021 Awards

Source: ETEC | Release | February 4, 2022

Leaders with impressive resumes of service in East Tennessee were honored with the Muddy Boot Award and Postma Young Professional Medal by the East Tennessee Economic Council at its 2021 annual year-end celebration today, delayed this year by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Muddy Boot” portion of the long-time prestigious Muddy Boot Award.

The Muddy Boot Award was presented to Steve McCracken, long-time Department of Energy environmental management leader. The award presentation was pre-recorded ahead of time and shown at the Friday ceremony. Two additional Muddy Boot Award winners were not able to attend the event. Their awards will be presented at the Council’s Friday morning meeting on April 1, 2022.

The Muddy Boot Award was created in the 1970s to honor individuals who have gone above the call of duty—like those who served the nation during the Manhattan Project—to make the community, the state of Tennessee, and the nation a better place to live and work. Over 80 people have received the award. A full list of recipients and more information about the award can be found on the ETEC website, www.eteconline.org.

The Council also presented the Postma Young Professional Medal to Megan Houchin of Consolidated Nuclear Security (CNS), and Oak Ridge Associated Universities’ (ORAU) Jennifer Tyrell.

Postma Young Professional Medal

The Postma Young Professional Medal was created to honor the accomplishments of young professionals who have made an impact and fostered a community culture in our region. Former ORNL Director Herman Postma epitomized this community spirit during his life; and his wife, Pat, continues the tradition of service today through her involvement in the Oak Ridge community.

“Once again our selection committee was overwhelmed by the quality of candidates for both awards,” said ETEC President Jim Campbell. “These three people are just a few of the examples of the quality people that make up our extended community. Their stories, like the stories of the winners before them, are truly inspiring.”

Winner of the Muddy Boot Award

Steve McCracken, DOE Environmental Manager

A native Oak Ridger, Steve McCracken is a “people person” at heart, an exceptional leader, trusted mentor, and master communicator, says a group of people that came together to nominate him for the Muddy Boot Award.

Pictured: Steve McCracken with wife Debbie, and daughter, Brooke McCoy.

Steve was presented with the award at a small ceremony at his home led by Gerald Boyd, Jenny Freeman, and Mark Ellison, all of whom worked with Steve in different ways over the years. That ceremony was broadcast on Zoom to a group of his past co-workers, friends, and family from around the country.

“I can’t overemphasize Steve’s humility at every step in his career,” Jim Owendoff, former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Office of Environmental Management in Washington D.C., said. “He always gave credit to others, to the team. But people knew he was the force behind it.”

Steve joined the Department of Energy in 1980 and spent seven years as an engineer in the Oak Ridge Office. In 1987 he took over as project manager for the Weldon Springs Site Remedial Action Project in Missouri.

In 2001, the Association of Engineering Geologists and the American Institute of Professional Geologists recognized the Weldon Spring Site Remedial Action Project as their outstanding environmental and engineering project of the year. We can also thank Steve for achieving the very first DOE site closure, years ahead of the ‘End State’ concept.

He then closed another DOE cleanup project in Fernald, Ohio, before returning to Oak Ridge as the DOE Assistant Manager for Environmental Management from 2003 to 2009. Many of his colleagues credited Steve for laying the groundwork that led to the cleanup of the East Tennessee Technolgy Park. No stranger to difficult tasks, McCracken finished his career as TVA’s general manager for the Kingston Ash Recovery Project.

“Steve was a groundbreaker in DOE,” said Owendoff, “able to work with multiple groups, including the Federal staff and the contracting workforce, to motivate them to provide resources and expertise to accomplish the job. He was very effective at DOE Headquarters communicating to the Federal staff project needs.”

Postma Young Professional Medal Winners

Jennifer Tyrell, ORAU

Leigha Witt, ETEC Chair & Postma Young Professional Medal Winner Jennifer Tyrell

Jennifer Tyrell of Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU) was presented with the Herman and Pat Postma Young Professional Medal by Pat Postma and ETEC Chair and past Medal recipient Leigha Witt at the awards celebration.

Tyrell, who was also named this year to the Knoxville News Sentinel’s 40 Under 40 list, received the award this morning from ETEC chair Leigha Witt, who is also her colleague at ORAU.

“Jennifer Tyrell is an amazing mixture of creativity, work ethic, commitment to serving others, and laughter,” said Andy Page in his nomination letter. “She has a ‘can do’ attitude and an uncanny ability to get things done within crazy timelines or situations. The COVID-19 pandemic put all of Jennifer’s skills to the test, but she never missed a beat or said ‘it can’t be done’.”

Jennifer Tyrell is, above all things, a teacher. A University of Tennessee graduate in biological science, with a master’s degree from Western Governors University in curriculum and instruction, she first partnered with ORAU in 2009 as a summertime master teacher, where her job was to be part of the curriculum development team for the ARC Middle School Summer Institute. She was a science teacher at Jefferson County High School in Dandridge, TN, at the time.

Jennifer Tyrell, Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU)

Her work with ORAU has continued to expand over the years: science bowls, “Evenings with STEM”, website development, and much more. By 2017, she joined the staff full time and today is the Senior Education Project Manager.

“In my 40 years of public service, I have had the honor of working with some superb leaders, many of whom still work at the highest levels of our government and in industry today,” says Andy Page. “Beyond their accomplishments, there was something special about them. Their dedication to serving others beyond themselves, their openness in making themselves available to counsel and help others, and, frankly, the influence they possessed because everybody wanted them on their team or sought their advice. I already see those attributes in Jennifer and most importantly see them at an early stage in her professional career. That is why I believe she epitomizes the characteristics of this Postma Young Professional Medal distinction and is worthy of the recognition it provides.”

Megan Houchin, CNS

Megan Houchin, CNS: Y-12 National Security Complex & Pantex Plant

Megan Houchin, who has worked at the Y-12 National Security Complex for the past 11 years, received her medal a week ago in a virtual ceremony attended by her co-workers, Pat Postma, Naomi Asher, a former Medal recipient, family, friends, and ETEC leaders. Parts of that ceremony were shown at the live event.

Houchin is Lean Six Sigma Director at CNS. She earned an Industrial Engineering degree from Tennessee Technological University and an MBA from the University of Tennessee. She serves on the boards of the Children’s Museum of Oak Ridge, United Way of Anderson County, Women in Nuclear, and has been a part of other activities to introduce girls to engineering, along with numerous volunteer and leadership roles in professional organizations. She is a member of Oak Ridge Leadership’s Class of 2015.

Consolidated Nuclear Security’s CEO Michelle Reichert, Bill Tindal, and others from Y-12 praised Houchin for her consistent enthusiasm, optimistic attitude, and “always finding a way to yes!”. Other traits applauded by the online audience included: a positive spirit, finding a way to make things happen, and her attitude of excellence at work and in the community.

Todd Jacobson, senior advisor for Congressional and Government Affairs at CNS said Megan is one of the most accomplished young professionals at the Y-12 National Security Complex. As director of the Lean Six Sigma program, Megan oversees continuous improvement projects and Lean training to foster cultural change at Y-12 and Pantex.

The East Tennessee Economic Council is a non-profit membership organization that focuses on bringing people together to create new opportunities for federal research, national security, and environmental programs, and to support technology transfer and economic development programs.