Melton named to  AI board, continues TSU’s role as tech leader

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) –  Tennessee State University is pleased to announce that Dr. Robbie Melton is a member of the Southern Regional Education Board Commission (SREB) on Artificial Intelligence in Education. Dr. Melton, who serves Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, is also the Vice President for Technology Innovations and heads the TSU SMART Global Technology Innovation Center. Melton’s appointment further solidifies her status as a top expert and TSU as a leading institution on artificial intelligence.

“In this transformative era of artificial intelligence, it’s personal for me,” shared Dr. Melton. “As a member of the Southern Regional Education Board Artificial Intelligence Commission, I’m committed to ensuring that no one is left behind, and to eliminating the digital divide.”  

The two-year SREB commission brings together leaders in education and business “to chart a course for how AI is used in classrooms and how to prepare a workforce that is being transformed by technology,” outlined in an April 19 press release from the commission. The commission’s first order of business is to review research and industry data regarding AI and to hear from education experts like Melton. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, who chairs the commission, presided over the group’s first meeting on May 1.

“When used correctly, AI is a powerful tool capable of reshaping our education system,” according to McMaster in the April press release. “By working together, we can overcome the challenges that AI presents and harness its power to ensure our students are prepared for the workforce of the future.”  

Members, from each of SREB’s 16 states, include leadership from governors’ offices, state education and workforce agencies, K-12 educators and leaders, postsecondary faculty and leaders, and business executives, managers and engineers. TSU’s Melton represents Tennessee along with Lizzette Reynolds, Commissioner of Education with the Tennessee Department of Education and Steven Gentile, Executive Director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. Brad D. Smith, president of Marshall University in West Virginia and former Silicon Valley CEO, co-chairs the commission. 

“Learning to lean into the discoveries AI technology will develop in the future excites me,” said Smith, in the same press release. “We’re given the challenging, yet promising opportunity of preparing students for a digital world with evolving opportunities in life, employment and contribution.” 

SREB will develop recommendations for Southern states to lead in three areas, using AI in teaching and learning, K-12 and postsecondary, developing related policies in K-12 schools, colleges and universities, and preparing students for careers in AI.  The states include Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.

“We need to be proactive now, because AI is fundamentally shifting the classroom and the workplace,” said SREB President Stephen L. Pruitt. “The Commission will bring us together for a roadmap on preparing students for this world in which AI is a reality.”  

Melton’s appointment comes ahead of her leading a major TSU AI event. On June 5-7, TSU will host the A.I. FOR ALL: Open Education Summit. The event will address Ethics and Policies for AI, AI Tools for Every Stage of Education, AI for Educational Equity, and Innovating Pedagogy with AI, along with other topics. The summit will include industry heavyweights Google, Apple, Oracale, T-Moblie, Comcast, Amazon, and Microsoft. National speakers, panels, interactive workshops, AI exhibits, plus art galleries and tool will also be on display. Some of the prominent sponsors and partners include the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, T-Mobile Education, Merlot- Affordable Learning Solutions, and MIT-Open CourseWare. The summit is free and open to the public.

“My passion lies in making AI accessible to everyone, amplifying voices that are often unheard, and breaking down the barriers that divide us,” added TSU’s Melton.  “Together, we can shape a future where AI isn’t just a tool for the few, but a force for good that enriches all of our lives.”

To attend the TSU AI Summit please email [email protected] or call 615.963.7113.

Media interested in covering this event should contact TSU Media Relations at [email protected] or call 615.963.5331. 

TSU ranks top ten in best value for international students

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Tennessee State University is home away from home for hundreds of students from around the world. As a global institution, TSU offers international students a place to learn and thrive, helping them to navigate in their new surroundings, while providing a safe space for cultural acceptance. The university’s commitment to its international student population is paying off.

TSU recently place sixth as Best Value HBCU Rankings for international students, according to Study Abroad Aide.

“TSU is pleased to receive this top ten ranking as it speaks to our commitment to expanding our global footprint and educating without borders,” said TSU President Glenda Glover.  “The ranking also speaks to the dedication of our administrators and faculty to create a diverse culture for our campus community.”

In a communication to the university, Study Abroad said the recognition stems from providing outstanding educational value to international students, combining affordability with high academic quality. TSU currently has over 220 international students representing nearly 40 different countries around the world.

Dr. Jewell Winn, the executive director for the Office of International Affairs (OIA), stated that the recognition speaks to the value of the components within their office that benefit international students in all aspects.

Dr. Jewell Winn
Dr. Jewell Winn

“We’re very intentional about programming to make sure that all students have a sense of belonging and that domestic students understand the culture because the international students are here to learn the culture of American students,” Winn said.

TSU offers an Intensive English Program (IEP) that helps international students learn and master the English language. It is the only Commission on English Language Program Accreditation-accredited intensive English program in Tennessee and the first at an HBCU. IEP serves international students seeking admission to graduate and undergraduate programs.

Brazil native Isabela Lelis came to the United States and completed the program in 2022. Lelis enrolled into the Master of Business Administration program the following year, where she is pursuing a career in supply chain management.

“I feel very welcome here,” said Lelis, who is a graduate assistant within the Office of International Affairs. “They are involved in many activities. I have opportunities here.” She is also involved in international student events, like the Miss Collegiate International pageant held last year.

Miss Collegiate International with Layale Ajamy(Lebanon), far left, Taylor Hart(Bahamas), right, and Isabela Lelis (Brazil)

TSU is continuing to create an environment that bridges language barriers and fosters community integration. Each year the university hosts an annual International Education Week, observed the second week in November. In 2022, a group of first-year freshmen from the Caribbean attended the event and left feeling more at home, at TSU.

“We are all from difference places, but it’s still a family because we are relating to being abroad in school,” Tonique Poitier of the Bahamas, said.

Poitier, who is studying chemistry, said the week gave her and fellow Caribbean students a chance to interact and gain awareness about other cultures as well.

Mauricio Fabian recently became the first in his family to graduate with a master’s degree from TSU. Fabian, from Veracruz, Mexico, also came to TSU to learn English through the Intensive Center. “There is great opportunity at TSU for international students,” he said. “And there are many different cultures here to learn about.”

Mauricio Fabian received a certificate of achievement after completing the Intensive English Program.

People from all over the world invest in TSU’s office and programs to learn the language and then return to their home countries to teach it or to seek better employment opportunities in the United States.

Mark Gunter, director for international students and scholar services, said OIA is a home for all their students.

“We look at our office as being the first resource, or the home away from home, for all international students,” Gunter said. “And the one thing that we constantly hear from our international students is that we’re the office where they can always come to.”

Gunter said the office strives for the number one spot but is appreciative for the recognition and top ten ranking. “We strive to be the best HBCU for international education as a whole.”

To learn more about the OIA, visit https://www.tnstate.edu/international/.

TSU’s Tasha Carson designs HBCU course for the Univ. of South Carolina

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Tennessee State University’s Dr. Tasha A. Carson is bringing the ‘HBCU experience’ to the University of South Carolina in a groundbreaking college course. The National Resource Center at the University of South Carolina recently named Dr. Carson as their newest instructor for The HBCU Experience from a Student Affairs Perspective course that runs from June 3 – 28.  Carson, who also designed the curriculum, currently serves as the assistant vice president of First-Year Students in the division of Student Affairs.

“I feel extremely blessed to have been chosen to create and teach this course on historically Black colleges and universities at the University of South Carolina,” said Carson.

“As a three-time HBCU grad, who was just a first-generation college student from the Southside of Chicago, I work every day with a conscience that I wouldn’t be who I am today had it not been for the lessons, values, and education I received at an HBCU.”  

Designed for higher education practitioners and student-support service providers, the course will explore the unique role of student affairs professionals at HBCUs. It will provide an in depth look into understanding the staff and student experience. The courses examine the history, culture, and impact of HBCUs on education and its critical role in American history and society.

“The HBCU culture and history means so much to me and I am passionate about helping others see the treasure that is entrenched in the very fabric of our institutions,” Carson added.

Dr. Jamil Johnson, associate Director of Research and Grants, said USC is pleased to welcome Dr. Carson and her expertise in the field, especially as the country begins to learn more about HBCUs. Johnson added that he looks forward to seeing how this unique course will benefit students and the university.

“We had an exceptional number of outstanding candidates, and I am confident that her experiences and background will serve as an enormous benefit to the students (participants) who enroll in the course.”

Dr. Carson will explore theoretical perspectives and practical approaches to serving the HBCU student population through frameworks related to academic success, advising, mentoring, student support, and student engagement. Professionals from all over the country will be able to take the course and receive continuing education units (CEU), to provide a critical professional development opportunity. The course starts this summer and allows individuals to learn on their own schedule within specified deadlines.

“I am not only a representation of the HBCUs that I attended but I am also a representative of the HBCUs that I have had the honor to serve,” explained Carson.  

“I look forward to sharing some of the amazing work that we are doing, here at Tennessee State University, with colleagues across the nation as we continue to rise as a model of student-centeredness for others to see.”

To find out more about the course please visit here.

TSU celebrates first graduates of Dr. Levi Watkins Institute

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – The journey to become a doctor or dentist is one step closer to becoming a reality for several recent Tennessee State University graduates. After making history as the first graduating class of the TSU Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. Accelerated Medical and Dental program, 14 students will now start their new journey to medical and dental school. All completed a rigorous 3-year academic program, debt-free. Parents and close friends gathered for a dinner and reception to mark this major milestone for the students and TSU.

 
Barbara C. Murrell, center, chair of the accelerated program, joins the inaugural cohort of TSU’s Dr. Levi Watkins Institute at the 2024 spring commencement ceremony. (Photo courtesy of Tennessee State University)

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams,” Barbara C. Murrell, the chair of the Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. Institute told those in attendance.

“Yet a dream doesn’t become reality through magic. It takes sweat, determination, and hard work. And lastly, yesterday is but today’s memory,” she continued. “And tomorrow is today’s dream. So, dream big, I know you’ll make us proud.”

All of the students graduated with a B.S. degree in Biology with a 3.5 GPA or higher in three years, a requirement of the program. However, Jaden Knight and Samantha Altidort maintained a 4.0 GPA. Knight, a Dayton, Ohio native will be attending Meharry Medical College to become an orthodontist. He is a first generation college student.

“We are ecstatic, blessed, and very proud of Jaden,” stated his parents Carl and Shamica Kennebrew, during the event.

Samantha Altidort, one of two Dr. Levi Watkin Jr. Scholars who graduated with a 4.0 GPA, with her family during the program’s graduation celebration.

“We were able to watch what God is doing with him just to see Jaden get the fruits of his work, his hard work, and his dedication,” Carl said. “This program is creating generational wealth and starting a new path for Black men and women.”

Knight stated that he looks forward to addressing the underrepresentation of African American men in the field and improving underrepresented patient satisfaction. Altidort, a Nashville native, will also be attending Meharry Medical College to become a family medicine physician. She followed in her parents Michel and Guerda Aldidort’s footsteps, who are both TSU alumni and work in the medical field.

“We are here to celebrate Sam,” her parents said. “We are so happy and grateful for Sam. To God be the glory.” Michel added that they advised their daughter to attend TSU. “And that was a great decision,” he said. “Now she’s ready to go to Meharry Medical College.”

Jaden Knight, one of two Dr. Levi Watkin Jr. Scholars who graduated with a 4.0 GPA, with his family during the program’s graduation celebration.

Among active physicians, only 5.7% identified as Black or African American in the United States as of 2023. While 3.8% of dentists in the country identify as Black, according to the American Dental Association.

In 2020, Tennessee State University and Meharry Medical College joined forces with a shared vision to eliminate health disparities among marginalized populations. The result was the establishment of the Meharry Medical College/Tennessee State University Medical/Dental Accelerated Pathway Program. The transformative initiative was in honor of TSU alumnus and renowned heart surgeon Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. The program serves as a pipeline for underrepresented students to become medical doctors and dentists.

Lalita Hodge, program coordinator of the Dr. Levi Watkins Institute, explained the significance of the program and its significance to the healthcare field.

“To our future brown and Black doctors, we just wanted to let them know how special they are to us and give them a great send-off,” Hodge said of the celebration.

“TSU is going to impact the medical field. I think someone in this program will have the cure for cancer. Someone is going to have the cure for dementia.”

Congratulations to the first cohort of the Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. Institute Accelerated Pathway Program!

•           Samantha Altidort

•           Alan Bethea, Jr.

•           Taylor Brown

•           Chaun Cheaney

•           Kayla Davis

•           Xavier Erves

•           Camille Haskins

•           John Kim

•           Jaden Knight

•           Brooke Majors

•           McKhia McCrary

•           George Picken IV

•           Ashton Terrell

•           Ryla Traylor

To learn more about the Meharry Medical College/Tennessee State University Medical/Dental Accelerated Pathway Program, please visit https://www.tnstate.edu/watkins/.

TSU Class of 2024 Grateful for Pres. Glover’s Impact

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – It was a full circle moment for Tennessee State University’s class of 2024 as they walked the stage to receive their degree on May 4. For many, the in-person ceremony was the first they had experienced since leaving middle school because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A significant milestone missed but recognized by TSU President Glenda Glover. President Glover served as the keynote speaker and told the nearly 600 students and family members that she understood the challenges they faced, including the absence of a traditional high school graduation.

TSU President Glenda Glover arrives at Hale Stadium for the spring 2024 commencement, ready to deliver her final address as an active president and keynote speaker. (Photo courtesy of Tennessee State University)

 “I am leaving TSU at the same time as you,” President Glover said. “This class of 2024, I saw your resilience and your impact. We are leaving TSU together, and we have made our marks. It was my goal to advance TSU, to elevate TSU, and lead TSU to a better place than where I found it. And together, we have done that.”

 Glover, an alumna and first female to lead the institution, delivered her final speech after serving TSU for nearly 12 years. To students, her commencement address was more than a speech. The words were a personal testament to the power of perseverance and the promise of hope.

 Glover told graduates to stay grounded in faith and that they could match and surpass the talent of anyone in any field.

Ahmad Benney,

 Ahmad Benney, who earned an Accounting degree, said he appreciated the commencement, as it was his first since middle school. “This is the feeling I was looking for,” The Memphis native said, after sharing that he had a drive-through graduation his senior year. “Black excellence is the reason I came to TSU, and especially to be here with Dr. Glover being that this is her last year,” Benney added. “We all are moving on, but we all are on to better things in life.” Benney is staying in Nashville to start a new job with a local accounting firm.

 Dinnea Riley, a first-generation college student, echoed a sentiment of gratitude after having a high school graduation “slideshow.” “COVID blessed me in a multitude of ways,” Riley said. “I graduated debt-free because of scholarships, and I just feel blessed to be here and have an actual graduation.”

 Dinnea Riley

 Like Benney, the Minnesota native will remain in Nashville to as a labor and delivery nurse at Saint Thomas Midtown hospital.  

 As students reflected on their first graduation, since the pandemic, it was just as special for President Glover. She received her Vintagers certificate, as a member of the class of 1974. Glover, who announced her retirement last August, will leave in June. The commencement was her final major event. She leaves with a decade or more of accomplishments.

 Under Glover, TSU has experienced consecutive years of record enrollment, she successfully led the institution through the pandemic, secured a record $100 million-plus in research awards, doubled endowments to over $100 million, improved the institutions financial standing, spearheaded new construction, including new residence halls, and moved the institution to R2 Carnegie classification. 

TSU graduate Justin Randolph, along with the entire spring class of 2024, discovered $50 under their seats from Dr. Glover to close out her final speech as an active president.

In her closing remarks as keynote speaker, she gifted each student $50 of her own money, discovered under their seats, with the following words in her final commencement as president.

 “I love you. I am proud of you,” Dr. Glover told the students as they cheered from the surprise under their seats. “And I am expecting big things from you, class of 2024. So, take this $50 and have lunch on me. TSU yesterdays, TSU today, TSU forever. May God bless you!”

Graduates of accelerated program headed to medical school 

Samantha Altodort and Jaden Knight are the first graduates of the university’s accelerated medical program and will enter Meharry Medical College in the summer

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Tennessee State University reached a major milestone when the undergraduate class of 2024 walked the stage on May 4. Among the nearly 600 students were Samantha Altidort and Jaden Knight, the first cohort from the Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. Accelerated Pathway program to graduate. The two joined a prestigious list when they introduced retiring TSU President Dr. Glenda Glover, as the keynote speaker for TSU’s undergraduate commencement. The honor is given to the student with the highest GPA. For Samantha and Jaden, both 4.0 graduates and biology majors, they shared this coveted rite of passage. 

Samantha Altidort and Jaden Knight, center, with Dr. Levi Watkins Institute, Meharry Medical College representatives during the first cohort’s graduation celebration.

“I was thrilled and deeply honored to introduce President Glenda Glover as the keynote speaker,” said Knight, a first generation college student who is on his way to Meharry Dental School.   “It felt like a full-circle moment for me, starting from my first day on campus at Hale Hall, where I met President Glover. Her warm welcome and the unexpected joy of meeting the president in such a casual setting left a lasting impression.”

Jaden and Samantha set on stage and listened as President Glover presided over her final commencement and delivered the keynote address.

 “There will be those who will tell you that it can’t be done, that it won’t be done,” Glover said.  The crowd erupted with applause when she went on to say, “Don’t be discouraged by these dream assassins. If you want to kill your big dream, tell it to a small-minded person.”

The Memphis native and retiring president encouraged graduates to stay grounded in faith and that they could match and surpass the talent of anyone in any field.

TSU students make history as the first graduating class of the TSU Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. Accelerated Medical and Dental program.

“During the times that I have heard President Glover speak, she has always shared a word that reminds students to keep the faith, persevere, and trust God, commented Samantha. “As a woman of faith myself, I am encouraged by her words and comforted knowing that TSU has been led by someone who has put her faith first.”

 Samantha, a Nashville native who will enter Meharry School of Medicine this summer, and Jaden, a Dayton, OH native, are a part of the first graduating class from the Dr. Levi Watkins Jr. Medical and Dental Accelerated Pathway Program. They said introducing President Glover at her final commencement was the ideal way to cap off their historic moment. President Glover established the accelerated medical and dental program with Meharry Medical College four years ago and accepted the first applicants a year later.

“When I first came to TSU, as part of the inaugural cohort of the Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. Institute Accelerated Pathway program, President Glover was there in Hale Residence Hall welcoming us,” recalled Adltdort, who parents attended TSU.  “Three years later, I am a graduate and she was my keynote speaker at commencement. I am grateful for the role that President Glover has played in helping establish the program that supported me during my undergraduate career.”

Jaden added that he was grateful for the president’s vision to begin the program.

Samantha Altidort, along with the entire first cohort received graduation stoles during the program’s celebration.

“Under her leadership, the accelerated program that has profoundly shaped my career was established. Without her vision and dedication, I would not be where I am today. I can never fully express my gratitude to her but introducing her at graduation felt like a meaningful gesture of my appreciation. President Glover is an extraordinary leader, whose accolades are as vast as her intelligence. As she prepares to retire, I am confident that her impact will continue to resonate not just at TSU but also around the world.”

TSU established the Dr. Levi Watkins Medical and Dental Accelerated Pathway Program in 2021 through a partnership with Meharry School of Medicine and Meharry Dental School. Since its inception, TSU has admitted four cohorts into the program. Samantha, along with 12 of the program’s first graduates, will go to medical school in various fields. Jaden is the sole dental student. The future internal medicine doctor and dentist agreed that they look forward to a new journey that will lead to their ultimate goal and will be forever grateful to TSU and President Glover.

To learn more about the program, visit https://www.tnstate.edu/watkins/.

TSU Ag student lands fortune 500 job, aims to combat world hunger

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Kerrington Howard, a graduating senior at Tennessee State University, secured a job with a Fortune 500 company as a commodity trader, marking a significant step toward his goal of combating world hunger and assisting communities that suffer from food insecurities. “The end goal is to acquire the knowledge and then commit to action,” Howard said.

While the United States grapples with the challenge of food insecurity, Tennessee State University is producing students like Howard, who are determined to make a difference. More than 27 million Americans suffered from food insecurity as of July 2023, according to U.S. News.

Howard, of Maryland, D.C., is an agricultural science major who will be graduating May 4 and heading to Illinois this summer to pursue his career at Archer Daniels Midland (ADM).

Howard’s agricultural journey began at the age of eight when he was introduced to his father’s land in Florida, where fruits were grown, and goats were raised. “That’s when I got accustomed to country life,” Howard said. While his mother and stepfather own a business in Maryland, it was his experiences on his father’s land that sparked his interest in agricultural business, leading him to concentrate on it at TSU.

When Howard was in high school, he was accepted into TSU’s 1890 summer apprenticeship where he gained hands-on experience with agriculture professors at the university. He then received a full-ride scholarship as a Farm Bill Scholar to attend TSU and took full advantage of his opportunities and resources.

Throughout his collegiate years, Howard secured internships at Mammoth Cave as an environmental education intern and at Waste Management as an environmental protection intern that extended through his junior year.

During his job search, he discovered the role of a commodity trader through Thurgood Marshall and secured the job after three rounds of interviews. “It was luck, and it was God,” he said regarding securing the job. “I want to make an impact on how the food supply works.”

ADM is a global leader in both human and animal nutrition. As a commodity trader for the company, Howard will trade resources like seeds, corn, and other grain products within the agriculture industry.

What inspired Howard to enter this field is to combat food deserts and underrepresented communities battling with food insecurities. “We’re the leaders in food production, yet we have communities that don’t have access to food,” he said.

According to Feeding America, 92 billion pounds of food annually, equal to 145 billion meals, are wasted in the U.S., which is 38% of all the food in America.

“Since we are in the city (of Nashville), we should be able to walk to food,” he said. “Knowing that we have many food deserts right in Tennessee, that’s part of my motivation.” In Tennessee, 21% of the state’s population lives in areas considered food deserts, 15% in urban food deserts and 6% in rural food deserts.

Howard said he considers TSU “comforting” and looks forward to applying what he has learned at the university in the workforce.

“TSU is the whole reason why I’m here today. They provided the education, the internship skills, and the resources so I can get where I am today,” he said. “So, I’m always grateful for TSU.”

Dr. De’Etra Young, agriculture professor and associate dean for academics and land-grant programs, said that Howard’s achievements speak volumes of the caliber of students the college produces. “As a Farm Bill Scholar, engaged in rigorous undergraduate research and internships, Kerrington embodies the dedication and preparedness fostered within our institution,” Young said. “His success in securing a position with Archer Daniels Midland not only reflects his individual excellence but also underscores the value of the education and opportunities provided by TSUAg.”

Howard will be walking the stage with a 3.5 GPA at the undergraduate commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 4, with more than 550 fellow classmates.

TSU’s spring commencement will also be livestreamed from the university’s YouTube channel at www.tnstate.edu/livestream.

Family’s engineering legacy a part of TSU upcoming commencement

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) –  When it comes to earning an engineering degree from Tennessee State University, the Buford family isn’t settling for just one—they are aiming for three. Shawn Buford will proudly graduate with her master’s, while her son, Joshua Buford, will receive his undergraduate degree, accounting for two of the degrees. The mother and son duo will participate in TSU’s upcoming Spring Commencement ceremonies, with The School of Graduate Studies on Friday, May 3, followed by the undergraduate ceremony on Saturday, May 4. The two, along with family and friends, will celebrate their academic milestone just one day apart from each other. 

Left to right, Joshua, Shawn and Christopher II Buford all are set to have degrees in engineering from TSU.

“It feels incredible,” Shawn said, as she prepares to receive her master’s degree in data science with a 4.0 GPA.

“It shows that you never get too old to go back to school. This is a family affair. Don’t ever let fear or insecurity keep you from what you’re doing because you’ll be missing out on your blessing.”

Shawn started her collegiate journey with a degree in chemistry nearly 30 years ago from Hampton University. The Brooklyn, New York, native and mom decided to go back to school after discovering that TSU had launched a new data science program in 2022.

Joshua, who is set to receive his undergraduate degree in electrical engineering on May 4 with a 3.7 GPA, picked up his cap and gown alongside his mother this week, both graduating with honors.

He stated that the duo graduating together wasn’t planned.

“I’m really proud of her,” Joshua said. “I know school has been something that she has enjoyed, and just getting to see her dream fulfilled is exciting. I’m happy to witness her live out her dream and walk across the stage, and then I get to walk the next day. It’s an opportunity that a lot of people don’t get to have.”

Meanwhile, the Bufords’ eldest son, Christopher Buford II, prepares to join the ranks next semester when he obtains his master’s in engineering. He and his mother Shawn began their journey together in 2022 when the pair both started the master’s program.

Shawn and Joshua Buford collect their graduation attire at the TSU bookstore. The mother-son duo, both engineering graduates, achieved honors this semester. (Photo courtesy of Tennessee State University)

“We’ve been very supportive of each other, and we just go home and get to talk about our experiences after classes,” Christopher said. “And then we just do work together because we need that support. So, it’s been an amazing experience.”

Christopher, who previously earned his undergraduate degree from TSU, is set to receive his master’s in mechanical engineering next semester. He shared that witnessing his mother’s return to school, alongside his younger brother, has inspired him to consider pursuing his Ph.D. at TSU in the near future.

“It’s been very motivating because I look at what my mom and Josh are doing, and it’s the fact that we’re getting our education from an HBCU,” Christopher said. “TSU has so many great opportunities here.”

The trio were all also inducted into the Golden Key International Honour Society at TSU.

Both of Shawn’s sons gravitated to STEM due to her chemistry background, but with their father, Christopher Sr., being a 1992 TSU alumnus, it was an obvious decision to attend the school that was right in their backyard.

College of Engineering Associate Dean Catherine Armwood-Gordon revealed that TSU has graduated over 600 students from the College of Engineering from 2018 -2022. According to Zippa there are currently over 228,900 engineers employed in the United States and only 3 percent of engineers identify as African American.

Shawn said she looks forward to walking the stage and turning around to watch her sons follow suit to all be a part of increasing that 3.3 percent. “We helped each other, encouraged each other, and supported one another during this journey,” she said. “And as a non-traditional student, I didn’t know how the students in this generation were going to receive me. But the TSU students are incredibly smart, polite, and embrace me. So, it’s been such an incredible experience.”

Dr. Lin Li, the dean of engineering, praised the family’s dedication to education, stating, “The Buford family’s commitment to academic excellence is truly inspiring and reflects the values of TSU’s engineering program. Congratulations to the Buford family as we look forward to their return for yet another engineering degree.”

Shawn said she looks forward to returning to TSU to pursue another master’s degree with an end goal of teaching STEM education. While Joshua looks forward to kicking off his engineering career this year.

United States Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock and President Glenda Glover will be taking the stage as the keynote speakers for the 2024 Spring Commencement ceremonies. Senator Warnock will address graduate students on Friday, May 3, at the Gentry Center Complex. The ceremony begins at 5 p.m. President Dr. Glover will address undergraduate students the following morning, May 4, at 8 a.m. in Hale Stadium. TSU will live stream both ceremonies at www.tnstate.edu/livestream.

TSU Hosts Record-Breaking 1890 ARD Research Symposium

By Charlie Morrison

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – The Tennessee State University College of Agriculture served as the host for the 21st Association of 1890 Research Directors Biennial Research Symposium (ARD), held in April at the Gaylord Opryland Convention Center in Nashville. As the immediate past Chair and steering committee member of the symposium, the College of Agriculture Dean, Dr. Chandra Reddy, was instrumental in getting the event to be held here in Nashville, and participants did not disappoint. The event was by all accounts the biggest, best-attended symposium in the organization’s nearly 50-year history.

TSU College of Agriculture faculty and staff during the 21st Association of 1890 Research Directors Biennial Research Symposium at the Gaylord Opryland Convention Center.

More than 1,500 faculty researchers, college administrators, students, and staff from each of the 19 1890 land-grant HBCUs attended this year’s symposium. The premier event brought together agriculture-focused researchers from across the 1890 land-grant university system. In addition to showcasing the talents and achievements of the 1890 community, the symposium offered attendees interactive opportunities to share knowledge and build networks for expanded research collaborations.

Dean Chandra Reddy was buoyant about the College’s performance at the ARD. For Dr. Reddy, a successful showing at the symposium took everyone from the College’s participation, involvement, and engagement. “I am extremely happy that the event went so well. Our students and faculty succeeded in all the sessions and competitions, with outstanding preparation and engagement,” said Dr. Reddy. “So many of the attendees visited the College and were thoroughly impressed with our research labs and the cutting-edge research being conducted by our faculty, graduate students, and even undergraduate students.” TSU Agriculture students, faculty, and post-doctoral students contributed nearly 130 research posters and 300 oral research presentations that were put forth at the symposium, many of which received awards and cash prizes due to their research.

Kerrington Howard was one of three TSU College of Agriculture students who had the opportunity to address hundreds during the four-day symposium.

A large contingent of the TSU family, including President Glenda Glover, took part in the conference, presenting research, judging competitions, and fostering networking connections. “TSU recognizes the importance of agriculture, I recognize the importance of agriculture having grown up on a farm in Memphis, so I know and love the industry,” said Dr. Glover as she addressed the conference during its opening session. “Here we’re doing more to move agriculture forward on our campus in Nashville. Thank you for being here today and for such a meaningful engagement. Continue to perpetuate the legacy of research excellence.”

The theme of this year’s symposium was “Climate, Health, and Cultivating the Next Generation of Agricultural Leaders: Creating Solutions in Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resources.” TSU students had the opportunity to present their research both orally and through poster competitions. The students networked with like-minded scientists from across the 1890 community and engaged in important topics such as climate science research, navigating grantsmanship, and outside funding activities, and presenting their research effectively.

During the four-day symposium, three TSU College of Agriculture students had the opportunity to address a venue in Opry that seated more than 1,500 participants. The students were TSU junior Kennedy Bentley, along with seniors Dominque Smith and Kerrington Howard. “It felt great to address the symposium because …. I wanted to show everyone that we’re doing something here (at TSUAg), I wanted to show the symposium what they were investing in,” said Howard, a dean’s list scholar. “And they need to see that we’re here doing the work so they keep supporting us.”

Dr. De’Etra Young won an inaugural McKinley Mayes Mentoring Award for demonstrating an outstanding commitment to mentoring both students and early faculty members.

During the event, Agriculture Professor and Associate Dean of Academics and Land-grant Programs Dr. De’Etra Young won an inaugural McKinley Mayes Mentoring Award. The award was created to recognize an administrator who has demonstrated an outstanding commitment to mentoring both students and early faculty members.

At the symposium, graduate students showcased their research prowess, particularly excelling in oral presentations. The College of Agriculture dominated the food safety, nutrition, and health category, with Amritpal Singh securing first place, followed by Aakash Sharma in second, and Pallavi Rathore in third. In other categories, such as plant health and production, Divya Jain claimed the top spot, while Sudip Poudel secured second. Additionally, Jazmine Norwood stood out in the family, youth, community, and economic development category, winning the competitive poster presentation.

Aaliyah Cotton with an award for her oral presentation on renewable energy and natural resources.

Aaliyah Cotton represented the undergraduate student body with distinction, earning second place for her oral presentation on renewable energy, natural resources, and the environment. Overall, the College of Agriculture students showcased exceptional talent and dedication across various fields of study at the symposium.

“It was a prideful moment for my team and I to have our peer institutions treating us as a model for their own institutions and leaders,” Dr. Reddy said. “And we heard that a lot at this year’s symposium.”

To learn more about the College of Agriculture, visit https://www.tnstate.edu/agriculture/.

TSU hires Duanté Abercrombie as first HBCU Men’s hockey head coach

By Nick Guerriero

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) –  Tennessee State University President Glenda Glover and Director of Athletics Dr. Mikki Allen are pleased to welcome Duanté Abercrombie as the inaugural head coach of the men’s hockey team. The historic hire makes Abercrombie the first head coach of a hockey program at a historically Black college or university (HBCU).

“I am incredibly excited to embark on building this program, supported by God, my family, TSU students, alumni, and all those eagerly awaiting this moment,” said Abercrombie. “I firmly believe that one day, TSU will be recognized not only as a powerhouse on the ice but also as a program whose student-athletes leave a profound legacy on the world, enriched by the lessons learned at TSU.”

In June 2023, TSU announced plans to become the first HBCU to offer men’s hockey. The hiring of Abercrombie further solidifies that plan.

“Duanté Abercrombie’s appointment as TSU’s head coach of hockey is a testament to our dedication to breaking barriers,” said TSU President Glenda Glover. “We recognize the profound significance of bringing hockey to an HBCU and providing our students with unparalleled opportunities that will enrich their college experience. This bold move builds upon the TSU legacy that we had envisioned for the institution as a comprehensive university offering a wide range of academic and extracurricular programs, with a continued commitment to excellence.”

Abercrombie is an inaugural member of the National Hockey League Coaches’ Association’s BIPOC Coaches Program, which aims to specifically support Black, Indigenous, and coaches of color in several areas including skills development, leadership strategies, communication tactics, networking, and career advancement opportunities.

Raised in Washington, D.C., Abercrombie was mentored throughout his hockey journey by notable Black hockey figures such as Neal Henderson and Graeme Townshend. Henderson, the first Black and third person of color inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame, has led the Fort Dupont Cannons Ice Hockey Club since 1978, garnering numerous distinguished awards. Townshend, the first Jamaican-born player in the NHL, operates the Townshend Hockey School, where Abercrombie serves as a senior instructor, working with NCAA and NHL prospects.

Abercrombie’s dedication to hockey and community involvement has not gone unnoticed. He’s been nominated by the Washington Capitals for the 2024 Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award for his work as an inaugural member of the Capitals’ Black Hockey Committee and as a co-creator/ lead instructor with the Rising Stars Academy, a free program providing elite skill development and mentorship for local hockey players of color. Henderson was nominated for the inaugural award in 2018, which has since been presented annually “to an individual who – through the game of hockey – has positively impacted his or her community, culture, or society.” This year’s award recipient will be announced before the late-June NHL Draft in Las Vegas.

“Today is a historic moment for Tennessee State University Athletics, as we welcome our first-ever hockey head coach and marks a significant step in our plans to start the program,” said Allen. “Extensive experience in player development and coaching is crucial in building a reputable program, along with the ability to motivate and inspire our student-athletes to excel both on and off the ice. Coach Abercrombie possesses these skills and more. We’re excited to embark on this groundbreaking journey together!”

In addition to men’s hockey, Allen’s ever-expanding athletic offerings will increase between 2025-28 to include baseball, women’s soccer, and women’s swimming and diving.

Professionally, Abercrombie spent the 2022-23 season with the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs organization as a member of the coaching staff for the Maple Leafs, Toronto Marlies (American Hockey League affiliate), and the Newfoundland Growlers (East Coast Hockey League affiliate). As part of his responsibilities, Abercrombie worked closely with the video coaches to create and present detailed pre-scout and player analysis packages to individuals and the team. On the ice, he assisted in each player’s development process, helped with the preparation and execution of practice, and led healthy scratches’ game day preparation. During games, he was either coaching from the bench or was the 5-on-5 eye in the sky.

Abercrombie has been involved with several NHL BIPOC initiatives including as a guest coach for the San Jose Sharks 2023 training camp under head coach David Quinn and Mike Grier, the first Black NHL general manager; the Boston Bruins’ 2021-22 scouting mentorship program, and the Arizona Coyotes in 2021 where he was the subject of ‘NHL Bound’, a four-part series on ESPN which chronicled two Black hockey coaches chasing their dream to work in the NHL as part of Arizona Coyotes’ first-ever coaching internship program, dedicated to creating a deeper pool of diverse talent. Viewers got a behind-the-scenes look at the Coyotes’ management and coaching staff operations and Abercrombie and Nathanial Brooks’ personal dedication, sacrifices, and passion for shattering stereotypes and earning their place behind an NHL bench.

“I knew after our first interaction that Duanté was the right person to lead the charge,” said Nick Guerriero, Director of Hockey and Assistant AD for Communications & Creative Content. “His understanding of HBCU culture, the collegiate hockey landscape, and the NHL will benefit our team tremendously. I’m thrilled to work with Coach Abercrombie as we develop TSU Hockey into a championship-caliber program.”

In 2020, The Athletic selected him for its 40-Under-40 hockey list as an individual shaping the game’s future. At the time of publishing, the list included then-future and now-current front office members and head coaches such as Spencer Carbery, Washington Capitals head coach; Sheldon Keefe, Toronto Maple Leafs head coach; Kyle Dubas, Pittsburgh Penguins general manager; Brett Peterson, Florida Panthers assistant general manager and 2024 U.S. men’s national team general manager; Lindsay Pennal, executive director of the NHL Coaches’ Association; David Carle, University of Denver head coach; Patrick Burke, NHL senior director of player safety; Rod Braceful, director of player personnel U.S. NTDP; Stephanie Jackson, USA Hockey director of diversity & inclusion; Jeremy Collation, former Chicago Blackhawks Head Coach; and Chris Snow, former Calgary Flames assistant general manager.

In 2019, Abercrombie joined the Stevenson University (NCAA Division-III) coaching staff, where at the time of his hiring, he was just one of four Black coaches in NCAA men’s hockey. In 2021-22, The Mustangs recorded an 18-win season along with a nine-game winning streak to conclude the season, and Ryan Kenny was tabbed, the United Collegiate Hockey Conference Goalie and Middle Atlantic Conference Defensive Player of the Year.

Abercrombie attended Hampton University where he competed in track and field until an injury ended his sprinting career. Upon leaving Hampton, Abercrombie had brief stints with the West Auckland Admirals in the New Zealand Ice Hockey League (NZIHL), the Steele City Warriors, and the Brewster Bulldogs of the Federal Hockey League.

An alumnus of the well-renowned Gonzaga College High School, Abercrombie led his Eagles to multiple championships as a player and a coach. He also coached at Georgetown Preparatory School, and in his first year, he helped lead his team to its first Interstate Athletic Conference (IAC) Championship.

Abercrombie is married to the former Melanie Moore, a Hampton and Teachers College at Columbia University graduate and high school educator, and they are the proud parents of children Patrick and Ava.

A formal press conference and reception to officially introduce Abercrombie will take place with dates and times to be announced at a later date.

“WHAT THEY ARE SAYING” 

Kyle Dubas, Pittsburgh Penguins General Manager
“I had the chance to work with Duanté last season in Toronto and came to know him as a tremendous communicator with great energy and knowledge of building out a great developmental program. It is very exciting to see Duante’ get this opportunity to build the program at Tennessee State.”

Mike Grier, San Jose Sharks General Manager
“Duanté is a very intelligent and hard-working person. He has a great hockey mind. He is detailed and organized. Duanté has a wonderful personality and has the unique ability to connect with all of his players.”

Brett Peterson, Florida Panthers Assistant General Manager & Team USA GM
“Congratulations to Dante and Tennessee State on this historic hire. Dante is a driven and focused coach who has studied the game at every level in preparation for this opportunity.  I am excited to see college hockey expand its diverse vision under his leadership, and I know the program is in good hands with Dante.”

Sheldon Keefe, Toronto Maple Leafs head coach
“Duanté is a natural leader with an incredible passion for hockey and coaching.  I’m thrilled for him to be getting this well-deserved opportunity to guide TSU’s hockey program.”

Lindsay Pennal, executive director of the NHL Coaches’ Association
“TSU has found the right coach in Duante’ Abercrombie. He has put in the time and the work to earn this role and take the reins of the new men’s hockey program. He’s an intelligent, passionate, and kind person who puts his players first. We can’t wait to see Duanté step behind the bench when TSU plays that historic first game.”

Graeme Townshend, former NHL player, President of Townshend Hockey Skating Systems

“Duante will prove to be one of the best hires in College Hockey. He brings a wealth of experience that is rooted in a high degree of character, compassion, and integrity. He will prove to be an incredible role model for ALL members of the Tennessee State University community.”