ETEC Presents 2020 Awards

Source: ETEC | Release | December 11, 2020

Three leaders with long resumes of service in East Tennessee were awarded the Muddy Boot by the East Tennessee Economic Council at its virtual annual awards event today.

Dr. Thomas Zacharia, ORNL Director and father of the lab’s worldwide leadership in supercomputing; Dr. Eric Abelquist, chairman of the ETEC Board of Directors and long-time senior vice president of ORAU; and Roane County Executive Ron Woody were named 2020 Muddy Boot Award winners.

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. 95 people have received the award. A full list of recipients and more information about the award can be found on the ETEC website,

The Council also presented the Postma Young Professional Medal to community leader and business owner Joe Storch of Patriot Talent Solutions, and to Sasha Benjamin, VP of external affairs/community relations, at Oak Ridge Utility District.

Dr. Thomas Zacharia

Thomas Zacharia, director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) since July 1, 2017, has built a portfolio of excellence in a career that began as an intern at the laboratory he now leads. Billy Stair and Ron Townsend of Battelle presented the award at the virtual meeting.

“His contributions to scientific programs at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, establishment of the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility, support for regional economic development, and efforts to grow and sustain ORNL as a world-leading research institution have made an indelible impression on the character and identity of the lab and the region,” says his nomination letter, signed by Battelle CEO Lou Von Thaer and Randy Boyd, President of the University of Tennessee.

Thomas first joined ORNL in 1987 as a postdoctoral researcher. Soon after accepting a staff position with the Laboratory’s Metals and Ceramics Division in 1989, he established the Materials Modeling and Simulation Group and served as the group’s leader until he was named director of the Computer Science and Mathematics Division in 1998.  He served as Deputy Associate Laboratory Director for High Performance Computing from 2000 to 2001 and was named Associate Laboratory Director for the newly formed Computing and Computational Sciences Directorate in 2001.  He led the creation of the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility and the realization of DOE’s goal of fielding the world’s most powerful supercomputing system.  Thomas also oversaw the establishment of the National Institute for Computational Sciences, a partnership of ORNL and the University of Tennessee that successfully delivered a petascale supercomputer for the National Science Foundation in 2008. Before being named director of ORNL, he served as Deputy for Science and Technology, overseeing all of the Laboratory’s R&D programs.

Zacharia left ORNL in 2012 to be the executive vice president for research and development at the Qatar Foundation, where he advanced and promoted the organization’s strategy to invest in science and technology programs. Under his leadership, Qatar initiated construction of 2 million square feet of scientific infrastructure and helped recruit world-class talent to achieve the aims of the Foundation.

Zacharia’s vision for a stronger Oak Ridge that would attract the world’s best minds and support the skilled workforce needs of the area led to the development and publication of the “Oak Ridge City Center: A 2030 Strategy,” in partnership with CNS Y-12, ORAU and UCOR.

Zacharia serves on the Council for Better Health, the Council on Competitiveness, and the Nashville Branch of the Federal Reserve Board of Atlanta. He is also a member of ETEC board of directors.

Thomas holds a B.S. in mechanical engineering from the National Institute of Technology Karnataka, Surathkal, India, an M.S. in materials science from the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Mississippi, and a Ph.D. in engineering science from Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York. He holds two U.S. patents and is author or co-author of more than 100 publications. He was named a Fellow of the American Welding Society in 2005, elected a Corresponding Member of the International Academy of Astronautics in 2014, and named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2015.

Dr. Eric Abelquist

 Eric Abelquist, recently retired from Oak Ridge Associated Universities and joined the team at UCOR taking on the role of Deputy Director of Technical Services. During his 27 years at ORAU, Abelquist was Executive Vice President and led the organization’s research enterprise.

Battelle senior vice president and former ORAU CEO Ron Townsend presented the award via the internet.

Abelquist is a Certified Health Physicist (CHP). He holds a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Tennessee. He earned his Master of Science in radiological sciences and protection and bachelor’s degree in radiological health physics from the University of Massachusetts-Lowell.

He applied his nuclear engineering training to a joint effort with UCOR to help establish the nation’s first nuclear decommissioning minor in the nuclear engineering program at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.

“A valued member of the Oak Ridge community since 1995, Eric has been a true community leader who has been instrumental in advancing efforts for the Anderson County United Way, the Oak Ridge Children’s Museum, and the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce,” said Oak Ridge Associated University’s CEO Andy Page. “Under Eric’s guidance Leadership Oak Ridge has flourished to create leadership opportunities for a significant number of new business leaders in the community.”

Abelquist recently served as President of the Health Physics Society (2017-2018), a national organization whose mission is to support its members in the practice of their profession and to promote excellence in the science and practice of radiation safety. To that end he has promoted Oak Ridge’s role in the development of national standards for radiation safety. He has also published a textbook on the subject.

UCOR President and CEO Ken Rueter said he is excited to add Abelquist’s knowledge and experience to the company’s portfolio. “Eric understands our client, our work, our workforce, and our commitment to excellence,” Rueter said. “Plus, as an established leader in the local community, Eric recognizes the importance of collaborating with the community and educational institutions to build the next generation of cleanup workers.”

Ron Woody

Roane County Executive Ron Woody, who also serves as chair of the of the national Energy Communities Alliance (ECA), has worked to improve local government around the state and in his home county for his entire career. Nominated by Explore Oak Ridge Director Katy Watt, he was presented his Muddy Boot Award at the K-25 History Center at ETTP by UCOR CEO Ken Rueter.

Ron began working in Roane County as an administrative assistant in 1983 and soon became purchasing director for the county. He left for the private sector for a brief time, but returned to the county as director of accounts and budgeting and then business manager for the Roane County School System. He joined the University of Tennessee’s Institute for Public Service as part of its County Technical Assistance Program in 2003.

Since 2010, Woody has been the elected Roane County Executive.

His work with ECA has included advocating for the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, which was enacted five years ago, as well as timely and thorough cleanup of the Oak Ridge Reservation.

“Ron is committed to the growth of the entire region and has been instrumental in the TN Riverline Project,” says Watt. “He is determined to preserve the history of the area and promote the progressiveness of the companies that inhabit the area.”

And he brings humor to everything he does.

He says as a boy working in the family fishing business, he learned the importance of staff meetings. “The Woody’s two boat family business had a staff meeting each morning where we received our daily orders for fishing, mowing the yard, or whatever Dad needed to share with the boys. Mom called it breakfast.”


About the East Tennessee Economic Council: ETEC is an independent, regional, non-profit, membership organization created in the early 1970s, dedicated to supporting the federal government’s missions in East Tennessee, as well as seeking new ways to create prosperity, promote regional development, and explore opportunities for growth. More information can be found at