Dr. Phil & Kari Oldham

Putting Cookeville on the Map Through Higher Education

Cookeville’s Most Influential People – Class of 2022

Take one look at Tennessee Tech University’s thriving campus and you will understand why Dr. Phil Oldham has monumentally affected the city of Cookeville. As President of Tech, Dr. Oldham has spearheaded several projects and education-based initiatives. 

Curiosity for higher education is second nature to Oldham, whose father was a college administrator. “I grew up kind of a campus rat,” Oldham laughed. With a B.S. in Chemistry and a Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry, Oldham was certainly positively influenced by his upbringing. He spent 21 years at Mississippi State University as a professor of chemistry and another five as a Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga. “During my time at MSU, I learned how a university can be so influential and important in economic development in a state or region,” said Oldham. 

In 2012, Oldham landed the position of President at Tech and during his 10 years in the role, he has changed the trajectory of the university. A few highlights include increasing full-time faculty and their salaries by 15%, the lowest student debt in the state of Tennessee, investing more than $400 million dollars in capital improvements, creating Tech Farms, initiating significant expansion of existing academic programs and much more. 

With so many items already in motion or completed during Oldham’s time as president, he has no plans of slowing down. 

“I feel like we are just getting started,” said Oldham. 

“Over the last 10 years we have worked hard to lay foundation pieces. We plan to grow the research presence on campus and still have ambitions to increase enrollment to over 15,000 students in the not-too-distant future,” he continued.

Trying to keep up with the ever-changing technical world is a full-time job. Oldham is making it a priority to ensure Tech has its finger on the pulse of the jobs of the future. “We are expanding horizons in terms of the type of programs we offer,” noted Oldham. “We have to continue asking ourselves what technology hasn’t been considered and where the future of tech lies.”

The economic benefits that a university brings to a community are vast. As Tech continues to thrive and grow, so will the population, jobs, wages, and business and restaurant integration. These are all top of mind for Oldham who prides himself on community partnerships and development. “The level of partnership in Cookeville is outstanding,” said Oldham.


Throughout his career, Oldham’s wife Kari has been the student outreach counterpart to his academic efforts. 

With a background in social etiquette via her own company, Southern Civility, Kari Oldham has always valued small gestures that can make a big impact on someone’s day. Now in her role as First Lady of Tech, Kari’s favorite duty is expanding on Tech’s “Live Wings Up” mantra. So much so, that she launched ‘Wings of Kindness’ at Tech which recognizes students, faculty and staff who go out of their way to do something kind for someone else. Among other outreach items, Kari also initiated a “lighting of the quad” before students leave for the holidays. “We light up the trees and bushes, play holiday music, have photo props and create a fun, Christmas feel that lifts the students spirts,” said Kari. 

Dr. Oldham and Kari have four children, two of which graduated from Tennessee Tech. “I think Cookeville has the best hometown feel. There is an inclusive vibe in this town, and we all want the community and university to thrive,” said Kari. 

– by Chelsea Dartez

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