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Engineering Professor Designs World Record-Breaking Power T

TCE Professors Wait to Form Power T

(left to right) civil engineering lecturers Jenny Retherford and Rachel McCord joined Engineering Fundamentals Director Richard Bennett at the event.


With more than 3,100 students, about 700 faculty, staff, and retirees, about 400 alumni, and one bluetick coonhound, UT this morning set the GUINNESS WORLD RECORD title for the largest human letter.

Volunteers stood together to create a Power T that spanned 190 feet by 190 feet, encompassing the majority of Shields-Watkins Field at Neyland Stadium. NBC’s Today show viewers witnessed the feat, which was part of Rokerthon 3, weatherman Al Roker’s week-long trek to five universities to break world records.

Matthew Young

Matthew Young

Vols from the Tickle College of Engineering were in attendance, including Matthew Young, who was the letter’s architect. Using CAD software, the professor of practice with the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering, answered a critical question for event organizers—how do you design a Power T large enough to hold 4,000 people?

“The question is, when you actually get out there and you’re standing there, where do you draw the lines and where do you stop and how many people should be in each row?”

Young spent time ensuring the T’s two arcs would not only look perfect, but could also be formed and held in place by an early morning crowd of excited Vols without marching band experience.

“Part of the shape is very simple and straightforward. Making the elipse just right was more complicated. I spent time doing some geometry layouts for the T so they would look right,” said Young.

World Record Human Power T

More than 4,200 Vols joined up to form a human Power T, breaking the Guinness World Record for the largest human letter, on Neyland Stadium.


Young’s calculations were spot on. Shortly after 8 a.m. Michael Empric, representing GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS, announced the official head count of 4,223 and verified that UT had broken the record previously held by Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada. As confetti cannons blasted and the UT pep band launched into “Rocky Top,” Chancellor Beverly Davenport accepted the Guinness award.

“This has been a wonderful opportunity for the nation to see our beautiful campus and share in our Volunteer spirit,” said Davenport. “I am so proud of our students, faculty, staff, retirees, and alumni and extend a big thank you to every Vol who turned out and made this happen.”

As the event drew to a close, Today and its partner PurePoint Financial awarded a $5,000 scholarship to a student participant. Davenport presented a second $5,000 one-time award, funded by alumni donations, in honor of the alumni who helped form the T. The scholarship winners were Blaine Ziegler, a sophomore in biological sciences who plans to go to medical school, and Emma Sopcak, a freshman in nutrition.

After arriving in Knoxville on Tuesday afternoon, Roker was greeted at the airport by mascot Smokey and the spirit squad, then rode the UT tour bus to campus. He crisscrossed campus with a group of student leaders, celebrating some of UT’s favorite traditions while marveling at the many Power Ts in the landscape. He crossed the new pedestrian bridge on Phillip Fulmer Way and strolled down Johnson-Ward Pedestrian Walkway. He visited Ayres Hall and listened to chimes playing “Rocky Top” and the Today show theme. He saw the Rock being painted and took batting practice as he fired up the Vols baseball team before its shutout victory over Tennessee Tech. Finally, he settled into a room in Stokely Family Residence Hall where resident assistant Quamir Boddie read him a bedtime story and the UT Singers serenaded him with an a cappella version of the alma mater.

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