I AM UTIA -- In Knoxville, Meet Joe Sarten, PE


AgResearch Engineer,
Department of Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science


What do you do as engineer for AgResearch?

I provide engineering services for the ten AgResearch Centers around the state and occasionally for an on-campus project. I practice in agricultural, civil, electrical, environmental, and mechanical engineering fields.

Since starting this job, I have worked on over 240 projects involving more than $25 million in funds and have seen over 185 of them completed. Out of all of these, probably less than twenty have been repeats. This long list has included such things as irrigation systems, animal waste facilities, fescue and switchgrass research plots, building electrical and motor control systems, building HVAC systems, dairy facilities, and residential remodeling to name a few.

A few of the more 'strange' projects I have been asked to do in this job include: 1) a set of plans to lay out a 680-foot by 260-foot UT 200th anniversary logo in a wheat field at the Milan AgResearch Center using only a measuring tape back in 1994; 2) plans and specifications to reconstruct the boyhood cabin of the late Governor Gordon Browning as an outside display at the West Tennessee Agriculture Museum; and 3) plans and specifications to convert two poultry houses at the Cherokee Unit of the East Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center into research buildings to rear predatory insects to fight the hemlock woolly adelgid in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and nearby national forests.

The most recent project I designed that has opened, which people may have heard about, is the joint UTIA-TDA-Tennessee Farmers Co-op Beef Heifer Development Center that launched this fall at the AgResearch and Education Center in Lewisburg.

How long have you been with UTIA?

I have worked at UTIA since July 1990, when I started as a research associate in Agricultural Engineering after completing my MS degree here in ag engineering, so I have been here a little over twenty-five years.

What is the best part of your job?

Getting to work on a wide variety of projects, being able to see them through from concept to completion, and just enough travel to get out of the office a few days each month. Also, getting to work with the staff and directors at the various research centers.

Any other thoughts?

Apparently some things cannot be kept secret here at UTIA, and I have been asked to briefly mention one of my hobbies, which is shape note singing, a.k.a. Old Harp Singing. This type singing does not involve a harp, but instead is an a capella style in which the tune is sung (using a seven-note scale: do, ra, mi, fa, sol, la, si) and then the poetry (words) is sung to the tune. The music is written so that each note of the scale has a distinct shape, allowing easy sight reading of the tune.

I am part of a loose-knit local group known as the East Tennessee Old Harp Singers. We sing out of a book titled, The New Harp of Columbia, published in 1867 in Nashville. Other shape note books exist (Christian Harmony and Sacred Harp to name a couple), but this one is unique to East Tennessee because the original edition titled The Harp of Columbia was published here in Knoxville in 1849. Both Harp of Columbia books contain several tunes composed by local authors.

This type of music is an American invention from the mid- to late 1700s and was intended to improve congregational singing in churches of the time. Being written in shapes, it allowed people who could not read or write to sing four-part harmony. The Old Harp Singers are trying to keep this style and tradition of music alive in East Tennessee. Harp singing goes back may generations in my family, as well. Come join us at an annual sing in Knox, Blount, Sevier, Greene, or McMinn counties. Some of our annual sings have been going on for more than one hundred years.