TSU Students Make Connection Between Educational Disciplines and Community Service

NASHVILLE (TSU News Service) – Loréal Spear did not choose Environmental Engineering as a major at Tennessee State University by accident.

“I just love preserving the natural esthetics of the environment,” said the graduate student from Nashville.

Building on the “Think, Work, Serve” mantra, Spear said her interest also allows her to serve as a way of giving back to the community and helping to improve the environment in and around her hometown.

“I have actively participated in TSU’s Service Day and Hands On Nashville service events throughout my undergraduate and graduate career,” she said.

So, it came as no surprise on Saturday, March 23, when Spear joined nearly 200 TSU students, faculty and staff in a day of service as they worked to restore the natural habitats of the community.

The event was part of the Go Green North Nashville program and Hands On Nashville, where volunteers spread out into the surrounding community areas and took part in “Diggin’ It,” a day devoted to planting and rejuvenation.

Dr. Linda Guthrie, acting director of the Center for Service Learning, said the annual spring volunteer day is important not only for TSU, but also to the community that surrounds the University.

“Our community is close-kit and caring,” said Guthrie in an earlier statement. “We try to teach our students to look unselfishly beyond themselves, and to reach out to others and the world. The North Nashville area has supported the University from the beginning. We want to build lasting connections with our neighbors, and aid in the restoration of the natural habitats that surround our community.”

Projects included the TSU Riparian Reforestation, where volunteers replanted native trees along the flood-damaged banks of the Stones River; and Building TSU Rain Gardens, where volunteers dug and planted rain gardens to slow rainwater runoff into the soil.

Spear and fellow graduate student Jamal Henderson, a Civil Engineering major from Bridgeport, W.Va., joined others in TSU Energy Savings Tree Plantings, where volunteers strategically planted tress around the North Nashville community to provide shade and help cut energy costs.
“Giving my background in Architectural and Civil Engineering, these tree planting projects are very relatable as far as helping to improve the beauty and esthetics of the land,” said Henderson. “They improve energy usage and the environment.”

Another project was TSU Tree Potting, where volunteers planted tree seedlings into pots to be stored until the next fall planting season.

Service learning and community service is nothing new to the students, faculty and staff at the University. According to the Center for Service Learning, TSU offered 93 service-learning courses last year, while more than 2,000 students performed 20,000 community service hours at an estimated value of $400,000.

Just recently, TSU was named for the fifth year in a row to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll, the highest federal recognition a college or university can receive for its commitment to volunteering, service-learning, and civic engagement.

Doing it for Me! TSU Extension Assistant Sheds 170 Pounds, Starts New Life

For three decades, Heather Gum gradually expanded from being husky, to overweight, to morbidly obese—to over 350 pounds and a size 30 at her largest. Gum recently returned from a trip to Hollywood where she taped an episode of “The Doctors,” a medical television talk show set to air March 20. She sent a letter to producers telling them of her life story and how she shed more than 170 pounds in 15 months. (courtesy photos)
For three decades, Heather Gum gradually expanded from being husky, to overweight, to morbidly obese—to over 350 pounds and a size 30 at her largest. Gum recently returned from a trip to Hollywood where she taped an episode of “The Doctors,” a medical television talk show set to air March 20. She sent a letter to producers telling them of her life story and how she shed more than 170 pounds in 15 months. (courtesy photos)

NASHVILLE, Tenn.  (TSU News Service) – As a 4-H teaching assistant with the UT/TSU extension service in Murfreesboro, Tenn., Heather Gum has recited the club’s pledge more times than she can remember.

The line that would always get to her was, “I pledge…my health to better living for my club, my community, my country and my world.”

It was ironic that she was teaching children to live a healthy lifestyle when she herself was morbidly obese. After 30 years of overeating and bad choices, she tipped the scales at 367 pounds and had a 55½-inch waist.

“It really hit me that I needed to make a change, that I had lived this lifestyle for far too long,” said Gum. “But to start my journey I had to learn to love myself first.”

Gum recently returned from a trip to Hollywood where she taped an episode of “The Doctors,” a medical television talk show set to air March 20. She sent a letter to producers telling them of her life story and how she shed more than 170 pounds in 15 months.

“I told them everything, the problems I had growing up and how I got to be where I was,” Gum said. “I wanted to share my story so that others know they can lose an extreme amount of weight by just eating right and changing their lifestyle.”

According to Gum, she grew up in the era of “cleaning your plate” or eating everything, and never learned to feel full on her own. She ate because it was time to eat, not because she was hungry, but because it was there.

“This whole process started when I was 12 and I just packed on a layer of protection that I hid behind,” added Gum. “I was making bad choices such as sneaking food and eating a lot of junk food. It finally just caught up to me.”

On Feb. 14, 2011 at the age of 40, she made the decision of a lifetime. After eating a couple of Taco Bell 5-layer burritos for a quick lunch, she decided to make the life-changing decision to improve the health of her body. She wrote on her blog:

“I paused for a moment and told myself ‘This is It!’ My weight and size is an embarrassment.  My family loves me…but I know there has been times that they wish I didn’t look the way I do…I couldn’t help but have tears trickling down my plump rosy cheeks.  Where do I start?  There’s thousands of little reasons but one big one – I AM DOING IT FOR ME!” [sic]

Gum was referred to the Metabolic Research Center in Murfreesboro by another client, and according to Brittany Tucker, manager of the weight-loss center, she was ready to start her journey.

“You could just tell,” said Tucker. “She was excited about the process and the road that lay before her.”

The program consisted of twice-weekly weigh-ins, sessions of encouragement, blood pressure checks and documentation of health history.

“This is the easiest diet to follow because you are eating real food,” said Tucker. “Heather was loosing an averaging of 4-5 pounds every week.”

Gum had to learn to eat all over again. Now she was weighing her food as instructed by the center, eating lots of fruits, vegetables and lean meats.

“It was so easy,” she said. “I didn’t have to count calories. I just had to weigh my portions. I didn’t go anywhere without my scales.”

She also joined TOPS (taking off pounds sensibly) another support group which she had been part of on-and-off since 2005. After she shed 170 pounds, TOPS recognized her as the 2011 International Division Winner based on her age and the amount of weight lost during the calendar year. She was also the “biggest loser” at the Murfreesboro weight-loss center.

With the weight loss came a lot of firsts for Gum, including being able to sit in a chair without touching the sides, going kayaking, and just recently, snow skiing with her children in January. But one of the biggest moments was when her youngest daughter, now 11, was able to put her arms around her mom for the first time after losing 80 pounds.

“It was a special moment for the two of us,” she said. “I wondered how I ever got to that point, a point I am never going back to.”

Today, Gum is down to about 185 pounds and went from a size 30 to a 12/14. She still is not where she wants to be, because she estimates her excess skin from her weight loss at about 25-30 pounds.

“My goal is to get to a size 8/10,” Gum added. “But since insurance won’t cover that type of surgery, it might take a while. I am really pushing for insurance companies to cover the cost of the corrective surgery. I worked hard to loose all that weight and that is my reward? I think things really need to change.”

Her quest for insurance policy change is the reason for her appearance on “The Doctors.” She sent a letter to both the president of TOPS asking them to lead the charge in helping to change policy, and producers of the television program. While the TOPS organization discussed it at an international meeting, they thought it was too large an issue to take on. “The Doctors,” however, invited her to appear on the show about the issue of skin.

“It was a wonderful experience and amazing that they picked me to talk about weight loss and the effects it has on your skin,” said Gum. “Excess skin is as much mentally debilitating as the weight was physically debilitating. I just hope some good come out of this for others going through the same thing.”

The episode of “The Doctors” featuring Gum will air Wednesday, March 20 at 11 a.m. on WKRN Channel 2 in Nashville.





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About Tennessee State University

With nearly 9,000 students, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a comprehensive, urban, co-educational, land-grant university offering 38 undergraduate, 22 graduate and seven doctoral programs. 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.

TSU Graduates Receive Top Recognitions at 2013 Black Engineer of the Year Awards

NASHVILLE (TSU News Service) – Tennessee State University graduates continue to make great inroads in industry and career achievements.

At the recently ended 27th annual Black Engineer of the Year Awards (BEYA) and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Global Competitiveness conference (Feb. 7-9) in Washington, D.C., four TSU graduates were recognized in several key categories of the prestigious awards.

The awards recognize the achievements of African Americans in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). It also encourages young black Americans to pursue careers in STEM fields.

This year’s award ceremony was hosted by the Council of Engineering Deans at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Lockheed Martin Corporation, US Black Engineer & Information Technology magazine, and Aerotek.

Dr. S. Keith Hargrove, Dean of the College of Engineer, who was at the conference, is a member of the Council of HBCU Engineering Deans.

The conference, which is attended by hundreds of “elite” professionals and students representing the top tier of people in STEM, allows participants the opportunity to acquire and retain talent, and to learn and network among the best and brightest technology minds in the country.

The TSU graduates and recipients of 2013 Black Engineer of the Year Awards include:

Modern Day Technology Leader award: Lamar Blackwell – a 1996 TSU graduate with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering – As systems engineer staff, Blackwell is the Flight Controls Airworthiness Certification Lead at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics. He also holds an MBA from the University of Phoenix.

Sheldon Rashad Greene – 2006 M.S. Electrical Engineering. Recognized for his “proven” ability to stand out as a technical contributor in the defense system and industry, Green is Senior Systems Engineer at Raytheon. He develops software architecture and requirement specifications at the giant defense contractor. He is also part of the engineering program at Northeastern University in Boston, where he is pursuing a master’s degree in Engineering Management and Leadership. Green recieved his B.S. degree in Electrical Engineering from Florida A&M University.

Tretessa Johnson – 1995 B.S. in Electrical Engineering. Johnson is Senior Staff Reliability Engineer at General Dynamics C4 Systems in Scottsdale, Ariz. She also holds an MBA degree from Arizona State University.

Community Service award: Rhonda Thomas – 1980 B.S. Electrical Engineering. Thomas is a General Engineer with the Federal Aviation Administration in Washington, D.C.

“On behalf of the College of Engineering, we want to congratulate these alumni for representing a high level of technical competence complemented by leadership skills in the workplace, said Dr. Hargrove. “Our educational challenge is to continue to produce quality graduates through innovative instruction and experiential learning that acknowledges an employment investment of our major industry and government recruiters.”

This is not the first time TSU graduates have been recognized at the BEYA awards. Previous two-time BEYA award recipient Terrence Southern – 2003 B.S. Computer Science – was recognized in the Modern Day Leader category in 2007, and at the 2012 conference he took the award for Most Promising Engineer.

In talking with the award winners, one thing is common. They all credit their TSU preparation for their academic and career successes.

“TSU provided me with the foundation that has allowed me to thrive academically and professionally,” said Thomas, adding that her involvement with the alumni association has taught her the importance of giving back especially to the youth.

For Southern, the two-time BEYA award winner is particularly thankful for the mentoring and leadership skills he developed at TSU as a resident assistant and founder of a professional organization.

“I find that to be successful in academia or in the work place, one must learn to prioritize, complete tasks, and learn to efficiently use time,” he said. “My TSU family prepared me for great challenges after college, which have helped me along the way.”