NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Naton Smith says he could have easily become a statistic. Instead, he was determined, and beat the odds.
Growing up in a rough neighborhood in St. Louis, he was not expected to make it out and be successful. But he was determined – amid gang violence, drugs, killings, and where high school graduation was rare.
“I was determined not to let anything negative hold me back,” says Smith, a freshman health science major with concentration in physical therapy.
“I wanted to go to college, although I knew it wouldn’t be easy; but I kept pushing by making good grades and staying out of trouble. I needed to get out and find that place that would make me realize my dream.”
Smith found a way out, and found his way to Tennessee State University.
“I wanted to attend TSU to be surrounded by ‘black excellence,’” says Smith, who graduated near the top of his senior class at North Technical High School. “I wanted to be around people who had something going for them, who could motivate me to achieve, and TSU has provided me that place.”
At TSU, Smith has a 3.81 grade point average. He is a member of the Honors College. In his first semester, Smith made the Dean’s List for outstanding students.
As part of the Class of 2021, Smith is among a millennial generation of high achieving students that the university continues to strategically recruit in its effort to improve retention and graduation rates.
In 2016, TSU President Glenda Glover announced sweeping changes that raised admission standards to attract the best and brightest. Minimum requirements for incoming freshmen went up from a 2.25 GPA to 2.5, while the ACT score remained at 19.
In Smith’s first semester – following President Glover’s announcement – school officials said his class of 2021 came in as one of the most academically qualified classes in the school’s history, with an average 3.07 GPA. It was also the largest incoming freshman class in school history (1,500 first-year students), a 17 percent increase over the previous year’s freshman enrollment.
In addition to academics, there is every indication that Smith has found his niche at TSU. He is a member of the Men’s Center, which focuses on character development, social engagement and mentorship for male students. He also participates in intramural basketball when he is not promoting a new business venture – a clothing line on Instagram called Creative Minds Clothing.
“I like to try my hands in a variety of different business ventures. I’m constantly trying to network and meet new people,” says Smith, who plans to go to physical therapy school.
Smith is also thankful to many at TSU who are having a positive impact on his life, including Amanda Brown, his English professor.
“Professor Brown shows great interest in my well-being. She motivates me. She is a very positive individual who pushes me to stay focus,” says Smith.
Brown, an English instructor in the Department of Languages, Literature and Philosophy, describes Smith as “both engaged and engaging, curious, empathetic, charismatic and exceedingly bright.”
“As I have gotten to know him over the year, I have seen how he exhibits a quiet leadership style and grace under pressure that will, I believe, serve him well in life,” says Brown. “Teaching him has been a real joy.”
Smith says he will stay focus and continue to beat the odds, and be successful at TSU and beyond. The St. Louis native beams with pride and says to just sit back and watch, because he’s from the “Show-Me” state.
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About Tennessee State University
With more than 8,000 students, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a comprehensive, urban, co-educational, land-grant university offering 38 bachelor’s degree programs, 25 master’s degree programs and seven doctoral degrees. TSU has earned a top 20 ranking for Historically Black Colleges and Universities according to U.S. News and World Report, and rated as one of the top universities in the country by Washington Monthly for social mobility, research and community service. Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University celebrated 100 years in Nashville during 2012. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.