University of Tennessee
Department of Chemical Engineering

UTK Chemical Engineering Students at the Southern Regional AIChE Meeting
University of South Carolina, Columbia South Carolina, March 30-April 1, 2007

The Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville was represented by 9 students at the 2007 Southern Regional AIChE Meeting hosted by South Carolina. (from left to right: Ian Morris, Peter Haddix, David Keffer (chapter advisor), Matt Milazzo, Kyle Mack, Anne Wells, Brian Long, Brad Harris, Heath Johnson and Sarah Kyker (chapter president)).

In describing, the events that follow, we break up the travelogue into three parts.

An Account of the Adventures of the University of Tennessee Student AIChE Chapter during their Travels to the Southern Regional Conference of the AIChE held in Columbia, South Carolina, March 30-April 1, 2007
as recollected by Dr. David Keffer, Chapter Advisor

Part I. The Ride to Columbia

In the candy apple red UT van in which we rode to South Carolina, an intense debate that ranged across a wide variety of subjects made the five-hour trip pass as quickly as a dream. At the end of the trip, a few fundamental truths had been established. In the interests of time and public safety, we mention only a couple of the highlights.

First, after a lengthy debate, Heath Johnson and Dr. Keffer had convinced Matt Milazzo that he was staunchly pro-gay marriage, a revelation that continued to perplex Matt through-out the weekend.

As part of the second weighty issue contemplated on the ride down to Columbia, Heath and Matt decided to finally resolve the timeless debate on the existence of God through the equally time-tested procedure known as “Paper Rock Scissors” (PRS). The learned discussion began with a review of the etymology of PRS and the equally fascinating translations of PRS into a multitude of foreign languages, some real and some less so. To avoid any confusion, they clearly defined the rules and outlawed any obscure fourth elements, such as the proverbial dynamite blowing up a rock. After extensive calibrations of the timing of the PRS gesticulations, Matt and Heath pulled up their sleeves and were ready to duel. One! Two! Three! Matt, fighting on the side of godliness, threw paper! Heath, representing the damned past, present and future, threw the bird! The bird! The passengers within the van joined in a collective spasm of groaning and laughter. Heath insisted that either (i) he had meant to throw scissors and his second finger got stuck or (ii) this had been an act of divine intervention, preventing him from throwing the scissors that would have cut Matt’s paper to shreds. There you have it!

Part II. The Hotel

The Holiday Inn at 630 Assembly Drive in Columbia, South Carolina turned out to be in the midst of a conversion to the Columbia Inn by Courtyard Marriott. When we say “in the midst”, we mean that to the fullest extent of the phrase. From the outside, many of windows in the 9-story building were boarded over; some rooms lacked any windows at all. Scattered through this bombed-out shell of a building, which we affectionately came to know as Hotel Beirut, were a few ostensibly habitable rooms, which we were generously provided. We stepped over a bizarre collection of rat traps adorning the entrance to a hallway, which served as the makeshift lobby, and waited for the single functional elevator. Arriving at the fourth floor, we entered the room to the sound of a jack hammer operating on the floor above us. We tested to see if our voices were intelligible screaming at the top of our lungs over the roar of the equipment. We found this not to be the case. (Listen to attached movie.)

The hotel was in the midst of renovation.

In one of the four rooms to which we had been assigned, we found telephone, internet and cable wires ripped out of the wall and strewn across the floor. Interesting, we thought. Then we saw that the bathroom sink was backed up with raw sewage. At that point, we decided to find a new room. We waited for the single elevator, but it did not seem to be arriving in anything resembling a timely manner. Therefore, we headed for the stairs. We innocently entered the stairwell on the fourth floor, only to find on the lobby level that the handle to the exit door had been removed and replaced with a metal plate. Momentarily, we feared that we were trapped inside the stairwell. Images of it flooding with raw sewage with us inside flashed through our minds! In a panic, we raced back up to the third floor and found that exit at that point was possible. We opted then to patiently wait for the elevator on the third floor.

The management kindly provided us with a new room, but no apologies. They seemed rather indignant at our accusations that the room was filthy, the stairwell unusable and the hotel a fire-susceptible death trap. (This issue was complicated by the fact that the fire alarm went off with such regularity that we learned to routinely ignore it.)

Sarah and Anne had little better luck. When they turned on the bathroom sink in their room, it instantly backed up as well. They too were provided with a new room. Many of the students tried to convince Dr. Keffer at this point they should move to another hotel. Over the roar of the construction above them, Dr. Keffer convinced the students that the sense of adventure here would outweigh the lack of creature comforts. He even recalled the Southern Regional AIChE meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico where the UT contingent had stayed at the Mango Inn, in downtown San Juan, which rested across the street from a cemetery surrounded by a chain link fence topped with razor wire. “At the Mango Inn,” Dr. Keffer insisted, “the doors to the hotels rooms couldn’t even close tightly.” Needless to say all of the students and Dr. Keffer himself were to regret his stubborn insistence on staying in this hotel.

The students tried to endure the surroundings with dignity.

Some managed better than others.

It should be noted as part of the record that at midnight of the first night, when 16 of the habitable rooms were flooded with sewage and other Southern Regional schools fled the hotel in a nocturnal exodus to find any other hotels within a twenty mile, the rooms of the UT contingent were spared. We would not give up the ship! However, on the second night, when the ceiling in the bathroom of one of the UT rooms sprouted an alarming "bulge" (see below) and they had to be moved to another room, the growing resentment toward Dr. Keffer’s maniacal drive to persevere began to boil into mutinous discontent.

This bulge grew from the ceiling in the middle of the night.

Part III. The Conference

As for the conference itself, we shall let the pictures speak for themselves.

A barbeque picnic on the opening night was a hit. Dr. Keffer had a close encounter with the live band (picture not shown).

Here, Matt is still looking perplexed; Brad amused.

The cheese cake at the closing banquet was a highlight.

At the clubs, Ian gave new meaning to the word "happy" in "happy hour".

More party pictures.

Kyle and Brian hang with an over-zealous alumni of the SRC AIChE meetings.

At this point, Matt has largely gotten over the trauma he suffered during the debate in the van on the ride down.

UT on the dance floor.

Contact:  Keffer
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