The Till family tree is, quite literally, a feat of engineering.
Family matriarch Lynn Till and all four of the Till children—Micah, John, Abigail, and Jeremy—are UT engineering alumni. Micah, Abigail, and Jeremy are electrical engineers; John is a mechanical engineer.
In addition, the family boasts three generations of electrical engineers. Grandfather Burl Till Jr., a Mississippi State University (MSU) graduate, worked for Tennessee Valley Authority for 30 years and helped build the first 500 kV Transmission Line for the seasonal exchange of power between TVA and Arkansas Power & Light. Dad David Till, also an MSU grad, is retired from TVA and now works as principal technical advisor of engineering & security integration at North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), an international regulatory authority that helps reduce risks to the electrical grid.
David and Lynn Till met in Jackson, Tennessee, where their families lived. They married after Lynn earned her master’s degree in computer science at UT. While David worked for TVA, Lynn joined the geographic data systems group at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). She worked there for nine years before leaving to homeschool the couple’s children.
Although the Till offspring all attended Tennessee Tech University for their undergraduate studies, David Till guided them to UT’s Tickle College of Engineering for grad school because he wanted them to study with Yilu Liu, the UT-Oak Ridge Innovation Institute Governor’s Chair Professor for Power Grids. He’d gotten to know Liu while working at TVA and was impressed with her expertise.
Liu ended up serving as faculty advisor for Micah (MS/EE, ’15, PhD/EE, ’17), Abigail (MS/PhD/EE, ‘23), and current EE doctoral student Jeremy.
“The contribution of this family to the electric power industry will be unprecedented,” Liu said.
Meet the Till Siblings
Despite his family’s history, Micah Till said he began his college studies determined to do anything but electrical engineering.
But the more he learned, the more the field appealed to him.
Micah now works with Dominion Energy Virginia’s Transmission System Protection Analysis Group in Richmond, Virginia. An expert in wide-area power system modeling, high-impact event scenarios, and phasor measurement unit applications, he oversees the team that analyzes issues—and safeguards against potential problems—to keep power running throughout Virginia and part of North Carolina.
No. 2 sibling John Till jokes that he’s the Till child who went astray.
“I grew up in a loving home of three generations of power engineers, discussing transmission lines and generation capacity at the dinner table, and yet somehow I decided to study mechanical engineering.”
Caleb Rucker served as faculty advisor for John (MS/ME, ’18, PhD/ME, ‘19).
John now lives in the United Kingdom, where he is a software engineer at Cambridge Medical Robotics Surgical (CMR). The company produces a modular robotic system, “Versius,” which has been used to perform more than 15,000 minimally invasive surgeries.
The newest “Dr. Till,” Abigail, recently started working on the Security Operations Center team at Dominion Energy Virginia.
“When I was a junior in high school, I’d ask my dad when he got home from work each day what he’d done that day. He’d tell me that he sat in meetings all day, and I decided that I never wanted to be an electrical engineer,” she said. “The following year I took physics, and we had some circuits homework, and I realized that electrical engineering might be cool after all.
“I’m also very thankful that, particularly with a mom who had studied both math and computer science … the idea of women in STEM was just normal in our family,” she said.
The youngest Till, Jeremy, will complete his PhD in August. He lives in Knoxville and serves as the Center for Ultra-Wide-Area Resilient Electric Energy Transmission Networks (CURENT) intern for a Southern Company group headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama.
“Family was very influential for me,” he said. While his mom taught him the importance of lifelong learning, “my dad and granddad told many stories about their experiences in power systems. Their stories and the scale of the U.S. power grid made their work seem fun.”
Jeremy participated in the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at CURENT while pursuing his bachelor’s degree at TTU. That sealed the deal on electrical engineering—and UT.
“My positive experience there made it my first choice from then on,” he said.
Jeremy will begin applying for jobs this spring.
“I intend to look at power utilities and research institutes, primarily,” he said. “I want to be working on research for new ways to solve emerging problems.”