ETEC Annual Event Features Governor Bill Lee and Award Winners

Source: ETEC | Press Release | December 15, 2022

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At today’s Annual Meeting and Awards Celebration, the East Tennessee Economic Council (ETEC) named two new recipients of the Muddy Boot Award, a tribute to individuals who through their work and community activities make East Tennessee a stronger region. It also presented one Postma Young Professional Medal to a deserving young professional who is making a difference in their workplace and in the community.

The Council’s annual celebratory event was keynoted by the 50th Governor of the State of Tennessee, Bill Lee at the Hilton Knoxville Airport.

Dr. Chris Whaley, President of Roane State Community College, and Dr. Jim Rushton, retired after a distinguished career of 30 years at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), were named the newest members of the Order of the Muddy Boot.

The Muddy Boot Award was established nearly 50 years ago to honor individuals who have gone above the call of duty — like those who served the nation during the Manhattan Project during adverse conditions, sometimes actual rivers of mud — to make the community, the state of Tennessee, and the nation a better place to live and work. From 1973-2021, 100 people received the award.

Katherine Roberts, Deputy Director of Y-12 Production Operations for Consolidated Nuclear Security (CNS) is the 25th recipient of the Postma Young Professional Medal.

ETEC established the Postma Medal to honor the accomplishments of young professionals who have made an impact and fostered a community culture in the region. Former Oak Ridge National Laboratory director Herman Postma epitomized this spirit during his life; and his wife, Pat continues the tradition of service today through her involvement in the Oak Ridge community.

A full list of recipients and more information about the awards can be found on the ETEC website.

ETEC President Tracy Boatner said, “We are incredibly pleased to honor all these deserving individuals who have contributed to the successes of their organizations and this community in unique ways. They inspire us in our work and in our service to keep building the community of Oak Ridge and the region of East Tennessee to be ready for innovative opportunities.”

Winners of the Muddy Boot Award

 Dr. Jim Rushton

Jim Campbell, former president of the East Tennessee Economic Council presented the award to Dr. Jim Rushton, for his distinguished career at ORNL and for his service to the Oak Ridge community.

Rushton’s career spanned more than three decades at the Laboratory, rising from a staff member through various leadership roles in project management and group leadership to ultimately serve as Division Director of Nuclear Science and Technology Division and then the Director of Special Projects – Global Security Directorate. In these roles, he led the establishment of new capabilities for the nuclear fuel cycle, nuclear nonproliferation, and isotope research, development, and production. His efforts have directly contributed to the nation’s scientific and economic competitiveness, as well as national security. Since his retirement in 2011 he has stayed involved in helping bring businesses to Oak Ridge and continued to contribute to the scientific community by serving on advisory boards for ORNL, DOE, NNSA, ETEC, and other entities.

Alan Icenhour, Deputy for Laboratory Operations at ORNL stated, “Jim’s involvement continues his legacy of contributing not only to the Oak Ridge area but in also strengthening the nation’s science and technology capabilities.”

Rushton is a consultant to Kairos Power and was instrumental in their selection of the East Tennessee Technology Park Site as the location for their Fluoride Salt-Cooled High-Temperature Test Reactor. The deployment of this reactor is a key step in reestablishing Oak Ridge’s leadership in the development and demonstration of advanced nuclear reactor technologies.

He has also served in many different leadership roles in community non-profits, such as President and Board member of CASA, President and Board Member of the Friends of ORNL, President and Board Member of the Oak Ridge Breakfast Rotary Club Foundation, and Board Member of the Oak Ridge Institute for Continued Learning. For over 35 years, he has served on the Board of the Oak Ridge Utility District and currently serves as Board Secretary.

Rushton graduated with his bachelor’s degree in Physics from Wabash College and received his master’s and Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering from the University of Wisconsin.

Dr. Chris Whaley

Jim Henry, a respected and distinguished Tennessee Statesman, presented the Muddy Boot award to Dr. Chris Whaley who has been the president of Roane State Community College for the last 10 years.

Whaley’s life has been a commitment to public service as an educator and community leader. He has a personal understanding of the college’s value to its communities. Whaley’s father, Lowell, worked at Roane State from the college’s early days, and Whaley began his college education at Roane State. He earned Roane State’s highest student award, continued his education at Middle Tennessee State University, and earned his law degree from the University of Tennessee

After three years in private practice as an attorney, Whaley returned to the college in 1997 as program director of the A.A.S. Paralegal Studies program. Since then, he has served in positions of successively greater administrative responsibility at the college. He was named dean of social science, business and education in 2002, and in 2010 was promoted to vice president of student learning/chief academic officer. Whaley became Roane State’s fifth president on November 1, 2012.

Whaley’s experience as a Roane State student, program director, faculty member, dean, and administrator gives him a unique perspective on the college’s role. He understands that the community college is a place where students — many of them first-generation college students — gain access to world-class higher education and the outstanding opportunities it provides. Whaley also understands that Roane State is a place that drives economic development by working closely with employers to offer relevant programs that meet employers’ workforce needs.

Ken Rueter, President and CEO of UCOR states, “Whaley exemplifies several criteria for this award, as an engaged and visible leader in our community who has also enabled new career opportunities at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Reservation.”

Under Whaley’s leadership, Roane State has put increased emphasis and visibility on a variety of apprenticeship programs to meet regional workforce needs. Whaley and his team are consistently reaching out to regional employers to identify workforce needs and seek input for curriculum development.

“Through his leadership, RSCC has successfully brought the opportunity for post-secondary training to hundreds of students throughout the college’s diverse eight-county service area,” Barry Stephenson, President & CEO of Materials and Chemistry Laboratory, Inc. said. “By focusing the institutions’ mission on transforming lives, strengthening the community, and inspiring excellence, Whaley understands that Roane State is the place that drives economic development by working closely with employers to offer relevant programs that meet employers’ workforce needs”

Whaley’s participation in the community extends beyond the classroom and the workplace. He has served as chair of the East Tennessee Economic Council, Roane Alliance, TVC Community College Consortium, and as District Chair Catoosa District for the Boy Scouts of America. He participates as a member of the Boards of many civic organizations including the Chambers of Commerce in Anderson and Roane Counties.

Postma Young Professional Medal Winner

Katherine Roberts

Pat Postma and Megan Houchin presented this year’s Postma Young Professional Medal to Katherine Roberts. Megan won the Postma Medal in 2021 and is the Director of Lean Six Sigma for the CNS Pantex Plant and Y-12 National Security Complex.

Katherine is the Deputy Director of Y-12 Production Operations for Consolidated Nuclear Security, LLC. She has worked at Y-12 for 11 years.

During her career at Y-12, Roberts has served as Strategic Advisor for Operations Support, developed innovative strategies and processes as manager of Y-12’s supply chain materials management, and performed admirably as CNS’s enterprise fleet manager.

Despite her heavy professional responsibilities, Roberts is also active in many community, philanthropic, and professional organizations. These include the Society of Women in Engineering, the Roane State Community College Advisory Board for Chemical Engineering Technology, Girl Scouts of Southern Appalachia, UT/Y-12 liaison for graduate assistants, and the CNS Y-12 Community Investment Advisory Committee.

In addition, Roberts is an assistant coach for her daughter’s American Youth Soccer Organization team and is active in her church, Two Rivers Church. She is also a 2018 member of Knox.Biz’s 40 under 40 class.

Gene Patterson, CNS Communications and Public Affairs Advisor states, “Roberts is an influential, well-rounded person of character, a wife and mother of three, who extends herself beyond her professional responsibilities in the complex nuclear industry she works within, to nurture her family and contribute in a positive way to her community.”

Roberts knows that serving in the community continues to be more and more rewarding as she grows in her profession. She states that she feels equipped by all that she has learned in her roles at CNS Y-12 and is now able to help the next generation grow both personally and professionally.

Roberts holds a BS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Akron and an MBA with a concentration on lean manufacturing from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.

About ETEC:

The East Tennessee Economic Council (ETEC) is an independent, regional, non-profit membership organization, dedicated to supporting the federal government’s missions by working in strong partnership with federal contractors, Department of Energy and National Nuclear Security Administration representatives, state and federal elected officials, small businesses, and other local economic development organizations. ETEC seeks new ways to use federal investments in science and security to create prosperity, promote regional development, and explore opportunities for growth. For more information visit,