Pictured above – Kester M. Nucum, recipient of the 2023 Derryberry Award.

Nucum plans to continue his education at Mississippi State University

Cookeville – Kester M. Nucum has been named the recipient of the 2023 Derryberry Award, Tennessee Tech Award University’s highest student honor. A native of Paris, Tennessee, Nucum recently earned a degree in computer engineering with minors in violin and honors. 

“I chose to come to Tennessee Tech because it is the best engineering school in the state and was the most affordable,” said Nucum. “There is also such a tremendous sense of community on campus and in Cookeville. People here care so much. I came from a rural, small town in west Tennessee and that meant a lot to me. I didn’t want to be siloed, so I got involved on campus quickly with lots of activities and clubs that connected with my interests.”

Awarded – Kester M. Nucum, recipient of the 2023 Derryberry Award.

Nucum was named the recipient of the prestigious Derryberry Award for his scholastic attainment, moral and intellectual integrity, campus participation, good citizenship and leadership.

J.W. Bruce, associate professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering, who submitted a letter of recommendation for Nucum said, “Kester is unique among the nearly 4,000 students I have taught over the past 23 years. You could sense this young man was bright, positive, articulate, thoughtful, motivated and full of energy. The energy and can-do attitude he possesses and imparts to everyone around him is a sight to behold. But Kester is not just some starry-eyed dreamer. He has the discipline, endurance, initiative and talent to turn his vision into reality.”

Nucum is known across campus.

“Kester is well-known across campus and the community from these duties,” continued Bruce. “He is regarded as well-spoken, mature and positive. Everyone I met on campus, in the community and in the state, who discovers that I know Kester, comments on how posed and comfortable he is in roles and situations that would intimidate persons much older and more experienced. Kester is passionate and successful in every activity in which he undertakes.”

Nucum was a member of countless university groups and committees, including the Honors Program, and served as president for University Catholic, Tau Beta Pi TN Gamma Chapter and the Rural Reimagined Club.

He also held the leadership role of concertmaster for the University Orchestra.

“He has maintained a 4.0 GPA in computer engineering and is poised to graduate in cursu honorum,” said Bruce. “Kester is a leader in his religious student group, his church, student organizations and the classroom. Kester is an accomplished, dedicated musician playing the violin with the university orchestra. I have never met a student that excelled in every aspect of their life in the way that Kester Nucum does.”

Nucum said he was inspired to serve and give back with love and gratitude, both to the community and Tennessee Tech. He said his most impactful experience at Tech has been to help students grow personally with time spent in the University Catholic student chapter. 

“During COVID, our numbers had dwindled for that group, and I saw a need to help revitalize that,” said Nucum. “My faith means a lot to me. I wanted to help grow this chapter and influence the spiritual lives of students. That has been the most humble and joyful experience for me. I want to be a model for others to grow closer to Christ and to be a servant leader and walk with people on their journey to grow in friendship and faith.”

As for advice for new incoming freshmen? 

“Never be afraid to reach out to people and opportunities,” said Nucum. “When you are given opportunities, grab them. Be bold, fearless, confident and kind. You won’t know your potential until you get out there and find out. Put yourself out there.”

After graduation, Nucum says he plans to continue his education at Mississippi State University’s Electrical and Computer Engineering Graduate Program, where he will work as a graduate research assistant. His long-term career goal is to advance research and development of artificial intelligence, digital signal processing and radar in the defense industry. He was also recently awarded a prestigious and highly competitive Tau Beta Pi Fellowship to attend graduate school.

There were three other finalists for the Derryberry Award, including Austin McCowan, Bailey Hooper and Gracie Rae Austin. The Derryberry Award was established in honor of Everett Derryberry, Tech’s president for 34 years. He retired in 1974.

The award is presented to a graduating senior who exhibited scholastic attainment from moral and intellectual integrity, successful campus activity where participation indicates a commitment to good citizenship, interest in people, instincts for leadership and physical vigor as shown by fondness for and success in sports.  For more information on the award and to see past winners, visit https://www.tntech.edu/president/derryberryaward.php.

Photo courtesy of Tennessee Tech.

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