TSU’s College of Engineering receives $2.25 million grant for incoming first year students

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Tennessee State University’s College of Engineering is committed to fostering a community of budding first year engineer students and has received a monetary boost to continue this endeavor. This year the college has been awarded a $2.25 million grant from the National Science Foundation that will go into effect fall 2023.

Elijah Rachell, left, mechanical and manufacturing engineering undergraduate student, Christopher Buford, center, Master Graduate student in Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, and Akiya Harris, a Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering senior during a summer camp.

The grant will create a five-year pilot engineering curriculum that includes a pre-engineering program and an immersive engineering studio based on course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs), aiming to focus on student retention and graduation at Tennessee State University.

TSU alumnus Malik City, who earned his engineering degree from the university in 2020, says that the rigorous TSU program played a pivotal role in his current success within his company.

City, is a software development engineer for Amazon.

“When I look back, I don’t have any regrets. I have been fortunate to be in this field that has changed the lives of myself and my family,” City said.

“The same courses that may discourage first year students are the same courses that many successful engineers had challenges with. The first year student grant is huge because the extra support is needed.”

A STEM Enhancement Institute will also be established this fall as part of the grant to provide support to students who struggle with their STEM courses in their pre-engineering program. $150,000 per year will go towards the STEM institute.

TSU alumnus Malik City

College of Engineering Interim Dean, Professor Lin Li, who is the principal investigator of the grant, said the grant will support more than 80 students a year. “For year one students, we want to prepare them with stronger math and physics,” Li said. “So we proposed a pre-engineering program. This way, we help the students so they can move on to their second year for their engineering career.”

The overall goal is to enhance the retention and success of students in engineering programs at TSU through innovative practices and interdisciplinary research.

College of Engineering Associate Professor and Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Studies Catherine Armwood-Gordon, Associate Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering Charles McCurry, and Dean of the College of Life and Physical Sciences Nolan McMurray are co-principal investigators for the grant.

A group of graduate and undergraduate engineering students working together during a 2023 summer camp.

Armwood-Gordon echoed the efforts of the grant in helping the university better understand the needs of freshmen engineering students. “It allows us to better understand what our retention rates are for the incoming freshmen that are not taking calculus one, to getting them through calculus one and retaining them to graduation.”

Dean McMurray emphasized that the program’s significant grant will propel the university to the forefront of HBCU engineering programs.

“This award will go a long way in preparing our students at TSU to become stronger engineering students,” he said.

This is the third time the National Science foundation has provided the Implementation Project grant: Enhancement of CUREs-based Curriculum and Immersive Engineering Studio to Enhance Engineering Education and Retention of Underrepresented Engineers, to the university.

According to Li, the first two previous awarded grants were approximately $1 million each. He also noted that the college of engineering is grateful for the additional funds this year as the project aims to create a pipeline of trained undergraduate students with various engineering analysis and design skills.

To learn more about TSU’s engineering programs, visit www.tnstate.edu/engineering/ .

TSU’s Men’s Initiative Program fosters bonds, personal growth

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) –Within the Men’s Initiative Graduation Acceleration Program (G.A.P.), a bond was forged between Tennessee State University students and their dedicated advisors.

These advisors are more than mentors; they became father figures to students like Dwight DeBerry II, a TSU junior hailing from Memphis who holds the title of Mister Junior for the upcoming school year. Reflecting on his journey, DeBerry revealed that he had participated in the program last year and experienced firsthand how it guided students through the maze of life’s challenges.

The 5-week Men’s Initiative Graduation Acceleration Program welcomed a cohort of 22 young male students this summer. (Photo courtesy of Tennessee State University.)

Now DeBerry has stepped into a leadership role as one of five lead student mentors in the program.

“It’s more than a blessing to have three father figures (the advisors) at all times to guide you through whatever you’re going through at school,” he said. “I appreciate the men’s initiative program because I came from humble beginnings. I never envisioned the man that I am becoming today.”

The 5-week summer program welcomed a cohort of 22 young male students this summer. The participants engage in profound conversations about personal growth, responsibility, integrity, and learning how to navigate life while honing in on their conflict resolution abilities.

Dr. Andre Bean

Heading the Men’s Initiative are program coordinators Martez Safold, Walter Dirl, and Dr. Andre Bean, accompanied by their newest advisor, DeSean Keys.  Bean, who is the director of the Men’s Initiative, said the program offers a curriculum designed to challenge and inspire its participants. “The program also emphasizes the importance of interdisciplinary learning, encouraging participants to make connections across different fields of study,” Bean said. “Through a comprehensive curriculum, community engagement, and mentorship opportunities, the program aims to empower young men to reach their full potential.  With each passing year, the program continues to empower and inspire the next generation of leaders.”

Understanding the significance of financial well-being, the G.A.P. program also emphasized financial literacy. The participants were equipped with practical skills during week one to manage their finances effectively.

TSU junior Emmanuel Strickland who is a current first-time member, said so far the program has instilled the importance of budgeting, saving and setting a strong foundation for their financial future.

TSU junior Emmanuel Strickland, right. who is a current member of the G.A.P noted that he looks forward to being a program mentor next year.

Strickland, also known as “Mille Manny” said he appreciate how knowledgeable the first week has been related to his endeavors. Strickland of Memphis, is studying business information systems and is pursuing a career as a singer and songwriter. “The first week has already shown me how to have long term success,” Strickland said. “As young Black men, we need this. It’s important for TSU to have a program like this,” he continue. “This is a small step into creating generational wealth.” Strickland also noted that he looks forward to being a program mentor next year.

“I’d love to keep adding value to this program.”

The Men’s Initiative Graduation Acceleration Program launched in 2019 and since then has shaped many alumnus throughout their college years. The program has also set alums on a path towards success, with support of their advisors, mentors, and cherished memories.

To learn more about the Men’s Initiative programs, visit www.tnstate.edu/men/

TSU’s SNAP-Ed program empowers community for healthy living

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Ramona Crawford of Nashville, is a 1978 TSU graduate who told the University that she recently started making her own organic juices at home to live a healthier, nutritious lifestyle. Now, along with her juices, Crawford will be creating new and easy recipes after receiving free produce and observing food demonstrations during TSU’s SNAP-Ed program F.R.E.S.H. Fair community event.

TSU alumnus Reggie Marshall hands TSU senior, Zahria Austin a mint beverage with ingredients picked from his local farm.

“A lot of people, when they get older, they need to eat healthy nutrients to have a long life style,” Crawford said. “I came because I wanted to sample the vegetables and the pinto bean salad. I liked it, and I will try to make it at home myself.”

Crawford was one of more than 60 community attendees for the first ever F.R.E.S.H. Fair to cultivate a healthier, more connected community.

On July 15, program hosts, vendors and volunteers arrived early to set up their abundance of produce, resources and cooking demonstrations. Tennessee State University dedicated the morning to continuing its commitment to fill the gap in its North Nashville community categorized as a grocery store desert.

Free produce was given out to community goers who attended the F.R.E.S.H event hosted by the SNAP-Ed program.

Hosted by the SNAP-Ed program, the event took place at Friendship Missionary Baptist church.

The event also brought awareness to the University’s efforts in fighting food insecurity and free available resources. Something that TSU senior, Zahria Austin, said she was grateful to be a part of. Austin, who is a family consumer science major, volunteered for the event. “I assisted making food demonstrations and teaching everyone the importance of nutritional snacks they can make,” Austin said. “It was a great turn out and a lot of people tried different samples.”

In addition to the recent event, Austin had been teaching nutritional classes to lower income residents and local homeless shelter residents.

“I wanted to spread the love and help out the community.”

SNAP-Ed program agent demonstrates how to make a quick and easy, affordable vegetable recipe.

One of the many demonstrations began with the art of making homemade hummus. A member of the SNAP-Ed program whipped together chickpeas, lemon juice, and an array of ingredients in a blender to show the crowd the simplicity of the process. 

They learned quick and easy, healthy recipes that could be made without cooking and were then given a bag full of ingredients to make the recipes at home. From hummus, to black bean dip to hearty vegetable salad, participants said they enjoyed the samples and demonstrations.

TSU alumnus Reggie Marshall, a farmer from West Tennessee, supported the event as one of the five vendors.

He provided bell peppers, 15 varieties of herbs, freshly made lemon zucchini bread and mint tea. All the ingredients were picked right from his own farm, Reggie Veggie Farm in Antioch. 

SNAP-Ed program agents demonstrate how to make homemade hummus during the community event.

“I’ve been given so much in life and this is a small token of appreciation and gratitude,” Marshall said about attending his alma maters event. He noted that he wanted to educate the community on different herbs to elevate meals rather than just using salt and sugar. “Try something new,” he told the participants.

“We become creatures of habit. Nothing taste as good as healthy feels.”

Through the ongoing efforts, program host continued to inspire individuals of all ages, proving that healthy eating was not only possible but also a joyful and enriching experience.

TSU SNAP-Ed Agent Angela Settles said the goal was to create and develop incentives for the community during the event with impact on parents, first-time parents, and children.

Director of community outreach Rita Fleming, left and SNAP-Ed Agent Angela Settles shows ingredients to the community during a food demonstrations at the F.R.E.S.H fair.

TSU Director of community outreach, Rita Fleming, said the event did just that.

“Today was an opportunity to meet people where they are and give them an idea of what we do for nutrition education,” Fleming said. “We made great connections today.”


The fair was presented through a collaborative effort by the University’s SNAP-Education and the Family Consumer Science Programs. 

The fair had five vendors present:

  1. Dr. Arvazena Clardy (Associate Professor of Horticulture and Extension Specialist/ TSU Community Garden)
  2. Mary B. Wakefield (TSU FCS Agent)
  3. The University of Tennessee College of Nursing
  4. Reggie Marshall(Reggie Veggie Farm)
  5. Health Hero Tennessee

TSU, Amazon partnership to provide college education for employees in Career Choice program

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Tennessee State University and Amazon have partnered to provide the company’s hourly employees an opportunity to take college courses as a part of the Career Choice tuition assistance program. Career Choice is part of Amazon’s $1.2 billion commitment to upskill more than 300,000 employees by 2025. The program offers opportunities for employees to earn associate and bachelor’s degrees or certificates for specialized training. TSU joins the growing list of historically black college and university (HBCUs) nationwide participating in the program and is the only one in Tennessee in the Career Choice network.

President Glenda Glover

“We are pleased that our existing relationship with Amazon has grown into this new partnership where Tennessee State University will train and educate hundreds of Amazon’s employees through the Career Choice initiative to help enhance job skills and advance their careers,” said TSU President Glenda Glover.

“TSU has the resources for Amazon employees to flourish and complete any of our academic programs with dedicated faculty and staff who are committed to seeing them succeed and graduate.”

Beginning this fall, Amazon will pre-pay tuition for employees to pursue courses – online or in person – from bachelor’s degrees to certifications at TSU that lead to in-demand jobs. The company accounts for nearly 30,000 employees in Tennessee, with several fulfillment centers.  A new downtown office is expected to bring more than 5,000 tech and corporate jobs to Nashville.

“We’re looking forward to Tennessee State University coming on board as an education partner for Career Choice, adding to the hundreds of best-in-class offerings available to our employees,” said Tammy Thieman, Global Program Director of Amazon’s Career Choice program. 

“We’re committed to empowering our employees by providing them access to the education and training they need to grow their careers, whether that’s with us or elsewhere. We have intentionally created a partner network of third-party educators and employers committed to providing excellent education, job placement resources, and continuous improvements to the experience. Today, over 130,00 Amazon employees around the world have participated in Career Choice and we’ve seen first-hand how it can transform their lives.”

Dr. Verontae L. Deams, with TSU’s Enrollment Management, said the new partnership is part of the University’s commitment to helping companies build their workforce and provide opportunities for professional growth and development. 

“With this partnership, Amazon employees will have access to a range of educational programs designed to help them acquire new skills, enhance their existing skill set, and place them on the track of upward mobility through higher education,” said Deams, who serves as assistant vice president and university registrar.

“Whether an Amazon employee is enrolling as a first-time freshman or transfer student, TSU is here to help that individual obtain an undergraduate degree or certification. We are committed to all of our students from application to graduation.”  

Since launching in 2012, Amazon Career Choice has connected with hundreds of schools across 14 countries to assist with its employees’ future career success. To date, more than 130,000 Amazon employees have participated in Career Choice.

LoLita Toney, TSU’s assistant vice president of Institutional Advancement, serves as the liaison for the partnership with Amazon. She said the Career Choice benefit addresses the barrier of cost that many students face in their pursuit of a college degree.

“We’re honored Amazon selected TSU as a partner,” she said. “Together, TSU and Amazon are providing educational opportunities that will have a lasting positive impact on individuals and their families.  We’re excited about the collaboration and look forward to welcoming Amazon associates to Big Blue.”

Amazon employees interested in Career Choice should visit the company’s designated portal and complete a TSU application as well.  

Vist the Amazon Career Choice portal here: https://atoz.amazon.work/career_choice/welcome

For the TSU application, visit https://www.tnstate.edu/admissions/apply.

TSU’s accelerated program prepares inaugural class for medical school

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Tennessee State University’s accelerated medical program is one step closer to fulfilling part of its mission as the first cohort prepares to enter medical school. In 2021, TSU put out a national call to recruit students, aspiring to become medical doctors and dentists, for the innovative Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. Institute Meharry Medical College/Tennessee State University Medical/Dental Accelerated Pathway Program. One of those students answering the call was Samantha Altidort. The Nashville native looks to become a family medicine physician.

Samantha Altidort working in a Western Blotting and protein assay techniques lab during honors undergraduate research.

“When I found out there was a program at Tennessee State University that was geared towards increasing the number of minority physicians and preparing them for a future in medicine, I immediately applied,” said Altidort, who is a part of the inaugural class preparing for medical school at Meharry Medical College.

Established in honor of Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr., a renowned heart surgeon and TSU alumnus, the program serves as a pipeline for minority students to become medical doctors. The program was also created to ensure that there is a steady supply of physicians and dentists committed to addressing health equity in underserved communities.

Jaden Knight, of Dayton, Ohio, aims to attend Meharry Medical College and become an orthodontist. Knight added that he looks forward to addressing the underrepresentation of African American men in the field and improving minority patient satisfaction.

“It’s important for TSU to have a program like this because there is a lack of minorities in the field,” Knight said.

Jaden Knight

Reflecting on his decision to apply for the program two years ago, Knight referred to it as an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.

“You have this support system of peers who are going through the same journey. It’s great to have someone to lean on.”

In addition to increasing the number of minority doctors to address health disparities such as hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease in communities of color that have the highest numbers for these diseases, the program also boasts exceptional academic students like Brooke Major.  Major is also a part of the first Levi Watkins Jr. Institute cohort and the inaugural cohort of the Oprah Winfrey Leaders Scholarship program (OWLS).

With aspirations of becoming an OBGYN, Major finds motivation in seeing minority medical students participate in panels and formal discussions facilitated by the program.

Brooke Major during a Dr. Levi Watkins white coat ceremony.

“It was motivating for me to see Black young women who are interested in the same career field on the other side,” Major shared. “I feel blessed.”

Approaching her third year, the Dallas, TX native shared that she has faced academic challenges due to the fast-track accelerated program. But revealed, it’s the unwavering support of the program’s faculty and staff that she truly loves.

“That’s the biggest takeaway for me about the program that I love,” she expressed with gratitude. “Overall, they want to see us succeed. They just want us to get where we want to be, and they want to produce more Black doctors.”

Barbara C. Murrell, chair of the Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. Institute and director of community relations expressed confidence in the program’s future. As the first cohort studies for the upcoming MCAT, Murrell said the Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. Institute is in good hands and will thrive with those following in the footsteps of the inaugural class.

 “It is important to pass the baton on to new students because it guarantees the continuation of the program and production of more African American and other minority physicians and dentists,” Murrell said.

Amari Johnson graduated from high school as valedictorian with a 4.4 GPA.

She explained that incoming freshman Amari Johnson is a prime example. Johnson, from Greenwood, Mississippi, received acceptance letters from 36 colleges, with over $1.1 million in scholarships offers from 17 of the institutions. As a valedictorian with a 4.4 GPA, Johnson says she always wanted to attend an HBCU.

When deciding on a college Johnson asked herself, “Where am I going to feel most at home? Where am I going to be able to reach my full potential?” Johnson shared.

Johnson aspires to become a surgeon, representing minorities and addressing health disparities and equity. “Who better understands the African American woman’s body than an African American woman,” she said.

“We need to see more people in those positions, and this program is instrumental for that,” Johnson said. “It will inspire more doctors and nurses.”

Dean Barbara C. Murrell

Murrell also acknowledged the program’s potential to increase retention and make substantial contributions to society.

“Our society has a definite need to improve healthcare in the African American and other minority communities by helping to eliminate the disparities in healthcare and promote health equity,” Murrell stated.

Grateful to witness the making of history as minority students become medical and dental professionals committed to serving underserved communities, Murrell shared a final piece of advice, “Dream big, work hard, stay focused, and make wise decisions.”

To learn more about the Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. Institute Meharry Medical College/Tennessee State University Medical/Dental Accelerated Pathway Program and the Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. Institute, visit https://www.tnstate.edu/watkins/

TSU College of Agriculture adds high-demand Master of Science Program

By Dr. Alyssa Rockers

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Tennessee State University College of Agriculture will welcome the first students in a new Master of Science in Agribusiness and Leadership degree program in Fall 2023. The new program will allow students pursuing a master’s degree in agricultural business or agricultural leadership, education, and communications (ALEC) to take a program of study more specific to their needs and interests. TSU will offer this new degree both in person and online, with and without the thesis option.

PhD student Sunil Gurung at TSUs small farm expo.

“The new MS degree will broaden the scope of graduate degree offerings in the College and meet the tremendous market demand and student interest,” said Dr. Chandra Reddy, dean of TSU’s College of Agriculture.

According to Dean Reddy, Agribusiness is a popular undergraduate major at TSU and many other institutions, and the new program will align graduates with their career choices, which will benefit students in finding better employment opportunities.

“Agricultural Leadership, Education, and Communication is very popular with those wanting to be leaders and communicators in the agricultural sector,” he said. “Many of our extension agents have been asking for such a graduate degree for a long time. The new degree is a more robust program and will be helpful to students seeking employment.”

Dr. Prabodh Illukpitiya, agricultural business professor in the College of Agriculture said the college has been anticipating this great opportunity as it will have a tremendous impact and benefit for the university.

“It’s a great collaboration between agribusiness and agricultural leadership, education, and communications,” Illukpitiya said.

 TSU alum Madison Lewis showcasing an Ag. Literacy presentation during her masters program.

“The program will benefit TSU by providing more opportunities to minority students and will enhance student retention and TSU’s reputation in agribusiness and ALEC programs.”

Agricultural education professor Dr. John C. Ricketts noted that in addition to creating workforce development opportunities, the program will specifically allow the university to offer agriculture teachers and extension agents an online program that’s respective of their needs. In addition to an experience for those who aren’t looking to become a bench scientist.

“It’s also going to provide content that meets their needs as educators,” Ricketts said.

“They will be able to take research and statistics courses that are meant for them as social scientists. Our students will be prepared to lead others and perform at top levels in business, education, government, nonprofit, and communication sectors,” he said.

To learn more about this new program and specifically the Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication focus, contact Dr. John Ricketts ([email protected]). If students are interested in Agribusiness Management, contact Dr. Probodh Illukpitiya ([email protected]). To apply for the program contact Dr. Bharat Pokharel ([email protected]), the department of Agriculture Director of Graduate Programs.

TSU Campus site of Chevrolet Commercial Featuring HBCU Students, Actor Terrence J

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – It was lights, camera, action as Tennessee State University was the site for an upcoming national Chevrolet commercial featuring TV Personality and actor Terrence J! General Motors representatives and a production team filmed commercial scenes on the TSU campus to highlight the 2023 Chevy Discover the Unexpected (DTU) Fellows, a partnership the manufacturer has with our nation’s HBCUs. 

The commercial featured 10 journalism and marketing students from various institutions, showcasing the remarkable talent from the HBCU community. Terrence J, who is also an HBCU grad, serves as a 2023 Chevy DTU ambassador and expressed his enthusiasm for shooting the commercial at one of his favorite HBCUs.

“As an HBCU alumnus, I’m excited to be on the Tennessee State campus with the HBCU students of the 2023 Chevy Discover the Unexpected,” Terrence J said. “HBCU energy and sense of pride is unmatched as I watch these students unite to learn marketing and journalism driving their career forward.”

Chevrolet says the DTU program will support the next generation of journalists and marketers while enhancing their partnership with HBCU student talent through storytelling and content creation.

Charles Chapman, General Motors Multicultural Marketing Manager, said this is the second year Chevy Discover the Unexpected descends upon the city where the Annual National Newspaper Association convention convenes.

“We are honored and thankful to film Chevrolet content at Tennessee State University, exposing the DTU students to the only public and largest HBCU in Tennessee while showcasing the amazing history and architecture,” Chapman said.

While the students in the commercial were not from TSU, the campus was selected as the shooting location due to its scenic backdrop and significance as one of the largest public HBCUs in the country. However, Chevrolet’s DTU program looks forward to involving TSU students in the internship next year. The DTU program, in partnership with the National Newspaper Publication Association (NNPA), hosts a 10-week internship program for HBCU students, and TSU students will have the opportunity to join this esteemed program.

The DTU internships will take place from June 5 to August 11, commencing in Detroit with a three-day boot camp. Upon completion of the program, Chevrolet and the NNPA will award each fellow $18,000 between scholarships and stipends, totaling over $750,000 to date. TSU students can learn more about Discover the Unexpected and its opportunities at https://www.nnpa.org/chevydtu/.