Best known for: Designing Women
Most remember Dixie Carter best as the outspoken and opinionated southerner Julia Sugarbaker in the television series Designing Women (1986–1993). Carter attended UT in 1959 and 1960, studying for a degree in liberal arts. While at UT, she was a member of Delta Delta Delta and was Miss Volunteer 1960. She made her professional acting debut in 1960 in a production of Carousel in Memphis and her Broadway debut in 1974. Her only Emmy nomination came in 2007 after a seven-episode guest spot on Desperate Housewives alongside fellow UT alumnus James Denton.
Collin Wilcox Paxton
Best known for: To Kill a Mockingbird
Once you’ve seen Collin Wilcox Paxton in her movie debut, it’s hard to forget her. Paxton played Mayella Violet Ewell, who falsely accuses a black man of rape in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). Paxton went to high school in Knoxville and attended UT, majoring in theatre and performing frequently at the Carousel Theatre. Her name can be found in many playbills from the theatre, including a 1953 performance alongside Tony Award-winner John Cullum (’53) in the play Dangerous Corner. Paxton also starred with fellow UT alumna Dale Dickey in the ’90s TV series Christy.
Best known for: Roots
About 140 million people, more than half of the population of the United States, were glued to their televisions in 1977 watching the Roots miniseries, which was based on Alex Haley’s 1976 book Roots: The Saga of an American Family. The miniseries broke records for viewership in 1977 and inspired a greater awareness of African American history. As an adjunct faculty member in the College of Communication, Haley was a valued and respected member of the UT academic community. In April 1991, he donated his notes, manuscripts, videotapes, and mementos to be housed in UT’s Special Collections Library on the Knoxville campus.
Best-known for: Slaughterhouse-Five
In 1943, a young Kurt Vonnegut was sent to UT through the Army Specialized Training Program to study engineering, science, math, and foreign languages in order to help meet wartime demands. After being shipped off to Europe, Vonnegut became a prisoner of war during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. He was imprisoned in Dresden, Germany, and survived the bombing of Dresden with a group of POWs in an underground slaughterhouse meat locker called Schlachthof Fünf (Slaughterhouse Five). Vonnegut’s semi-autobiographical book about the incident, Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), is one of the most lauded in American literature. Vonnegut returned to campus to speak in 2004.
Barry “Butch” Wilmore
Best-known as: Commander of the International Space Station
There was one thing that Butch Wilmore couldn’t go without at the International Space Station—and that was SEC football. The 1994 UT graduate traveled to the ISS in September 2014 but didn’t want to miss any of the football action, so he had the new SEC Network piped into space. Wilmore took command of the ISS in November 2014 and will return to Earth this March. During his tenure as a fleet naval officer and pilot, Wilmore completed four operational deployments, flying the A-7E and FA‑18 aircraft. He has accumulated almost 7,000 flight hours and more than 600 carrier landings.
Best-known for: Research on the International Space Station
This spring, Scott Kelly will cross paths with fellow Vol Butch Wilmore on the International Space Station. Kelly, who earned a master’s degree in aviation systems from UT in 1996, will stay aboard the ISS for one year, marking the longest time a person has spent at the station. He is the identical twin of former astronaut Mark Kelly, who is married to former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. The Kelly twins are the only siblings to have traveled in space. The pair was recently featured in Time magazine, with Scott making the cover.
Best-known as: Co-inventor of the personal computer
Every time you connect a monitor, keyboard, or mouse to a computer you have UT alumnus Mark Dean to thank for making it work. Dean graduated in 1979 with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, is a professor in the College of Engineering, and is known as a pioneer in the world of personal computing. He is a co-inventor of the personal computer and is responsible for developing the technology that allows us to connect devices to computers. He holds three of the nine original patents on the computer that all PCs are based upon, and more than forty patents overall. Dean spent thirty-four years at IBM and was recently named a National Academy of Inventors Fellow.
Best-known as: Co-founder of Garmin GPS
It’s possible that Min Kao has gone with you on a lot of road trips. Well, maybe not Kao himself, but the GPS products he developed with colleague Gary Burrell under the name Garmin. Kao graduated from UT in 1977 with master’s and doctoral degrees in electrical engineering. In 2012, the Min H. Kao Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Building was dedicated at UT. The building was built with the help of a $12.5 million gift by Kao to the university.
Charles Scott Abbott
Best-known as: Co-inventor of Trivial Pursuit
Charles Scott Abbott earned his master’s degree in journalism at UT in 1978. A native of Quebec, he was working as a sports editor for the Canadian Press in 1979 when he and friend Chris Haney invented the board game Trivial Pursuit. We can only guess that it was his Volunteer pride that led to the choice of orange for the game’s Sports and Leisure category.