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Music to Their Ears

Couple endow academic scholarship for band members

Mike and Nancy Berry, pictured with Shelbi Bias, a Berry scholarship recipient, who recently graduated with a bachelor's degree in finance. Photo by Charles Brooks.

Mike and Nancy Berry, pictured with Shelbi Bias, a Berry scholarship recipient, who recently graduated with a bachelor's degree in finance. Photo by Charles Brooks.

A rousing chorus of brass, percussion and wind instruments served as background music for Mike and Nancy Berry's first meeting.

Both joined the band as undergraduates at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

"I was a drummer for four years, and Nancy played clarinet," Mike says. "We had our first date at Jimmy Carter's inauguration in Washington when we were traveling there to march in the inauguration."

But Mike's business career would take him far from the turf of Neyland Stadium. After he graduated from the Haslam College of Business and Nancy received a degree in education, the couple returned to Mike's hometown of Kingsport, Tennessee.

"I interned at Eastman Chemical Corporation during college, and they hired me as a new graduate," he says. "They knew me and I knew them, so it was a natural fit."

Thirty-eight years later, Mike serves as vice president, global procurement and chief procurement officer at Eastman Chemical, overseeing employees in 15 countries around the world. His work regularly takes him to Asia and Europe.

"I've worked in various areas at Eastman, with an emphasis in the supply chain and procurement business areas," Mike says. "Nancy and I lived in Switzerland for two years in the mid-1990s, where I managed the supply chain for Europe, the Middle East and Africa."

The international flavor of Mike's job enhanced the family's experiences. Nancy recalls the challenges of moving to Zug, Switzerland, with their two young daughters. "That was a learning experience—to live in another country and try to do your day-to- day tasks when you didn't speak the language," she says. "It was a great adventure."

Nancy interrupted her career as an educator to accommodate the family's time overseas. "I took a break when we went to Switzerland, and when I came back, I returned to the same school," she says. "Four years ago, I retired after 27 years as an elementary teacher."

Fueled by positive memories of their undergraduate years, Mike and Nancy have remained engaged with UT. Nancy served on the UT Women's Council, while Mike was on the UT Board of Governors from 1990–91 and has served as president of the Kingsport/Sullivan county chapter. Mike is currently on the Alumni Legislative Council and the Campaign Steering Committee at the Haslam College of Business.

Early in his career, Mike recognized the value of his education.

"At UT, I learned the importance of leadership skills, attention to detail, working as part of a team, accountability, discipline and time management," says Mike. "Our band director, Dr. WJ Julian, had a military-like style of teaching and a way of keeping us on our toes."

Eager to assist the college that had given him the tools he needed for a successful career, Mike began a long-standing tradition of giving.

"It's a mentality that you owe something back to the community that got you started," Mike explains. "For us, that idea has continued to grow over the years."

In 2014, the Berrys took their giving a step further by establishing the Mike and Nancy Berry Endowed Business Scholarship for Haslam students who are Pride of the Southland Band members.

"Because we were both in band, we know what it's like for students to balance those time commitments with requirements in their major," says Mike. "We wanted to reach out and marry the marching band and the Haslam College of Business."

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