Passion for agriculture stems from childhood in Frog Jump
Raised in a rural farming community in Crockett County, Keith Carver is now poised to take the reins of the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture (UTIA) as its next senior vice chancellor and senior vice president. Carver left his position as the 11th chancellor of UT Martin where he has served since 2017 and began in his new role leading UTIA on March 1, 2023.
“I want to be a champion for agriculture, the state’s number one industry, and for UTIA every day,” says this native Tennessean and veteran UT leader.
Carver has seen the impact of agriculture up close and personal starting with his early years growing up in Frog Jump, Tennessee. He lived with his mother in a one-bedroom apartment behind his grandparents’ grocery store where local farmers would often come for a lunch.
“My earliest memories include making sandwiches for local farmers who came in for a break from the fields and then filling their trucks up with gas so they could get back to their work,” Carver shared. “My family didn’t farm, but we made a living supporting those who did.”
Even then, the influence of UTIA was a part of Carver’s life. “The UT Extension network, UT AgResearch’s data-driven work, the educational opportunities with the Herbert College of Agriculture, and the exceptional care of animals that ultimately led to the establishment of the UT College of Veterinary Medicine. All were so appreciated and respected in our community,” says Carver. “4-H was a mainstay in my school.”
Carver knew he wanted to pursue an education beyond high school and earned a bachelor’s degree from Memphis State in 1992. However, the rest of his academic career would be with the University of Tennessee. He earned his MS in college personnel and educational leadership in 1995 and his PhD in higher education administration in 2009 from UT Knoxville.
Carver has worked with the UT System for 26 years, serving as executive assistant to UT president Joe DiPietro for six years before taking the post at UT Martin. He has held leadership positions in Knoxville, Martin and Memphis, including interim vice chancellor for development and alumni affairs at the UT Health Science Center in Memphis, assistant vice chancellor for development at UT Martin, and director of development and alumni affairs for the UT College of Law in Knoxville.
UT System President Randy Boyd believes Carver is a natural for his new position. Says Boyd, “Keith’s experience across the UT system, collaborative spirit and his deep appreciation for UT’s land-grant mission made him an obvious choice for this role.”
Donde Plowman, UT Knoxville chancellor, agrees. “Agriculture is central to Tennessee’s economy and way of life,” says Plowman. “Keith will hit the ground running and support the important work happening throughout UTIA. I look forward to working with him in this new capacity.”
Carver credits the many relationships he’s established through the years for any success he has obtained.
“I’ve been so fortunate to have had a continual 26-year career with the University of Tennessee. Through roles in Knoxville, Memphis, Martin and the UT System office, I’ve enjoyed developing relationships with incredible people all over the state,” says Carver.
He has actively contributed to leadership at UT, including serving on the UT Foundation Board, the UT Martin Chancellor’s Advisory Council and the UT Alumni Association Strategic Planning Steering Committee. He also serves on the board of directors for the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the philanthropy committee of Tennessee Fury Basketball and previously served as the major gifts chair for the Sequoyah Elementary Foundation.
His experience with UT has also prepared him for his new role in agriculture.
“I’ve seen first-hand how agriculture touches all ninety-five counties in Tennessee and the impact that teaching, research and outreach has on our communities and families. Agriculture is thriving in our great state, and it’s been energizing to witness its growth in our region,” Carver shared.
A lifelong learner, Carver has completed numerous leadership development programs including Leadership Knoxville, WestStar Leadership Program, Leadership Weakley County, the UT Leadership Institute and LeaderShape at the University of Illinois.
Carver and his wife, Hollianne, are the proud parents of daughter Carson (husband Michael) and two sons, Jack Thomas (J.T.) and Britton. The Carvers are expecting their first grandchild in June.
“Family is everything to me, and I’m excited to be closer to my soon-to-arrive grandchild,” says Carver. At the same time, he is also looking forward to this new challenge leading the Institute.
“I’m eager to build upon the momentum already established at UTIA and continue to work with stakeholders all across Tennessee and beyond. The future is incredibly bright for our state’s leading industry. I feel so honored to have an opportunity to work with UTIA’s faculty, staff, students and many constituencies to realize the Institute’s potential and maximize its impact for Tennessee and beyond.
Through its land-grant mission of research, teaching and extension, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture touches lives and provides Real. Life. Solutions. Visit utia.tennessee.edu for more information.