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BOV Spotlight: Biddanda "Suresh" Ponnappa '84


Suresh PonnappaIn each issue of the Circle Park News, we feature one or more members of the CCI Board of Visitors through a Q&A session. This feature is on BOV member Biddanda “Suresh” Ponnappa.

Biddanda “Suresh” Ponnappa is currently Professor, Associate Dean for Learning Resources and Director of the Medical Library and Biomedical Communications at the Quillen College of Medicine, East Tennessee State University in Johnson City. His wife Latha maintained her own landscape design business for many years and he enjoys keeping tabs on his two children, older son Ayappa – a UT grad in 2000 who is now the Senior Director of National Promotion for Vanguard & Sugar Hill Records in Los Angeles, while his younger son Kanishka is an entrepreneur who has owned an advertising agency for the past 12 years as well as a BBQ restaurant and live music venue in Kingsport.

CCI: How and when did you first get involved (on a volunteer basis) with CCI?

After my graduation from the UTK School of Information Sciences (SIS), I was active in the alumni association of that School. Later when SIS became a part of CCI, I continued to be active in helping my alma mater in whatever way possible.

CCI: In your view, what is the most important or impactful role you’ve played as a volunteer?

I try to communicate with the faculty and administration of the College whenever I get the opportunity to do so. I share my practical experience with them and suggest ways for incorporating some of the changing needs of the real world work place into the curriculum to better prepare the students to graduate into the work force.

CCI: Why have you chosen to support the college (financially and/or with your time)? Why do you see this as important?

It is very difficult, almost impossible, to sustain an institution without volunteer support. When I was a student I know I received the best possible education because of such support and now I believe it’s my turn to return the favor.

CCI: What do you hope to accomplish during your term with the BOV?

I want to help accomplish the goals set by the Board the best possible way I can. When Dean Wirth and the Directors of various Schools within the College seek suggestions and ideas to improve their services, I like to share my experience and thoughts.

CCI: Is there anything exciting or interesting going on “behind the scenes” in CCI that the average alum might not be aware of?

Off the bat, I would like them to know what a treasure they have in Dr. & Mrs. Wirth as the Dean and First Lady of the College. They have helped keep the College as the “happening” place in the University. In addition, I also would like to highlight the accomplishments of the faculty of the School of Information Sciences, especially of Dr. Carol Tenopir. I wish alumni would take some time to learn about all the exciting research projects in which CCI is involved to find out how practical and useful they are in our day-to-day professional lives.

CCI: If someone is considering volunteerism as a way to “give back” to the University, what advice would you have for them? Why should they do it?

As I read once, “volunteerism is not a choice, but a responsibility,” and I believe in this. This is especially true in this University and the State where we are known as “Volunteers.” Think back to your days as students and workers in this University. Some days you might have seen your life like seeing a half filled glass as “half empty;” some days you might have seen it as “half-full.” Now, a Volunteer will see it as an opportunity to share that with a thirsty person. You decide!

CCI: What from your UT and CCI experience has “stuck with you” during life since graduating?

The life-long friendships I have been able to establish with many of my fellow students and teachers are the things I cherish the most in addition to the knowledge I gained. Also, my addiction to “Big Orange” sports is incurable.

CCI: What is your favorite memory from your time as a student at UT?

I guess my “student” experience is a little different since I was a “non-traditional student,” even before the term was in vogue!! I was a full-time staff member at the Hoskins & Hodges Libraries and a full-time student at SIS at the same time. My connection with UT goes back to my undergraduate days in India when the university at which I was studying was a sister institution to UT. When I graduated from there, the Commencement Speaker was Dr. Andy Holt, the former President of UT. He influenced me to come to UT and, after more than 35 years, here I am still in Tennessee! His charm and political suaveness were guiding lights to those who aspire to be successful leaders. In the School of Information Sciences where I graduated from, I could not have asked for any better teachers and mentors than professors such as Dr. Gary Purcell, Dr. Bill Robinson, Dr. Mike Pemberton, Mr. Glenn Estes, Dr. Sinkakis and Dr. Susie Stephenson.

CCI: Any other parting words of wisdom?

Just a request to current and former students of CCI. Please do not forget your College. Keep in touch with the College administration and teachers and do your best to help the College be the best it can be.