Category Archives: College of Education

TSU student will walk stage to receive doctorate after ‘medical miracle’ 

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Pearl McKnight assumed she’d continue her educational journey in a wheelchair after a 2010 diagnosis of Cryptococcal Meningitis, that left her paralyzed from the waist down on her right side. Fast forward thirteen years later, in what McKnight calls a medical miracle, she won’t require her wheelchair for Tennessee State University’s upcoming commencement ceremony. The 59-year-old mother and wife will proudly walk across the stage to receive her doctorate degree in educational leadership.

Throughout this journey, Pearl McKnight’s spouse, Kenneth, has supported her by driving her to school and waiting in the hallways during her classes.

“God has me here for a reason,” the Murfreesboro, Tennessee, native said.

“I got my masters in a wheelchair so I figured that was going to be what a degree would be like for the rest of my life. So, it means so much to me to be able to walk across the stage.”

McKnight will join nearly 700 students for TSU’s Fall Commencement ceremony on Saturday, Dec. 9, at 9 a.m. in the Gentry Center Complex. Award-winning journalist and former CNN anchor Don Lemon will deliver the keynote address. McKnight believed the transformative experience fueled her determination to reach graduation and receive her degree on stage without using a wheelchair.

“I have a mission to complete,” she said. 

“This assures that what I went through was for a reason. To have a better understanding, to make a change in someone’s life.”

McKnight anticipates putting her doctorate degree to use in a position at a school or university that advocates for disabled students. Her goal will be to ensure they receive the necessary accommodations for their academic journey.

Dr. Pearl McKnight

“I can affirm that the playing field is not level for disabled students,” McKnight said. “I will feel a profound sense of purpose if I can draw upon my experiences and pay it forward.”

The sudden illness and eventual diagnosis set McKnight on a decade-long journey to get her doctoral degree from TSU. She earned two master’s degrees prior to enrolling at TSU and recalled that her health took a turn while she was pursuing her first master’s degree in criminal justice at MTSU. She received her education specialist degree two years later, then began her journey toward her doctorate at TSU.

“My journey has been very long to get this degree,” McKnight said.

Overtime, McKnight had several surgeries and was on more than a dozen daily medications for other health reasons. In 2017, McKnight underwent surgery for a cyst removal in her esophagus. The procedure would have a profound impact on her life.

She remembered whispering right before the surgery, “God, I’m in your hands.”

Dr. Anita McGaha

And upon waking up, she felt her legs. After over six years in a wheelchair, she was able to stand up and walk, all while recovering from the procedure. Prior to her esophagus surgery, she was taking insulin four times a day, a fentanyl patch, and many more medications by mouth.

“I came off of 14 daily medications, and I started walking,” McKnight said. “For me to have a total body transformation, it was a medical miracle.”

Throughout this journey, McKnight’s husband of 42 years, Kenneth, supported her by driving her to school and waiting in the hallways during her classes. Kenneth McKnight reflected on his wife’s dedication to education. 

“I just want to reflect on her dedication and perseverance, I knew that she wasn’t going to stop until she got it (her degree),” he said.

He said he couldn’t put into words how he felt when McKnight started walking after six years.  

“It was a wonderful feeling because we never thought she was going to be able to walk again. When she did, it was a miracle.” Kenneth noted that he and the rest the family look forward to watching her walk across the stage on Saturday.

Kenneth and Pearl McKnight on vacation.

 “She has been an example to me and many others,” he said. “I know she is going to do great things and be a success.”

Dr. Anita McGaha, Director of the Office of Disability Services (ODS) at TSU, credits McKnight’s spirit and relentless pursuit of her dream that helped her reach this milestone.

“Ms. Pearl McKnight story serves as a source of motivation and inspiration for other students on campus who may be challenged with adversities but continue to be committed in their quest for academic achievement,” McGaha said.

The ODS provides reasonable accommodations to registered students, which include academic and housing services. According to the latest data for fall 2023, the office is providing support for over 100 students with disabilities both in the classroom and the residence halls.

“I can’t wait to have the pleasure to witness her walk across the stage and be hooded. Congratulations in advance to Dr. Pearl McKnight! We are proud of you.”

TSU fall commencement will also be live streamed from the University’s YouTube channel at

TSU alumni take the lead in shaping young minds as educators, while filling shortage

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – For Tennessee State University alumna Sa’Mariah Harding, teaching isn’t just about the subject at hand but molding the minds of future leaders. Harding graduated from TSU in spring 2023 and serves as a 9th and 10th-grade honors geometry teacher.

“I always knew I wanted to teach high school math,” said the former Miss TSU, Harding, who currently works as an educator at Valor College Prep in Nashville.

Sa’Mariah Harding graduated from TSU in spring 2023 and serves as a 9th and 10th-grade honors geometry teacher at Valor College Prep.

Amid the ongoing nationwide teacher shortage, Tennessee State University continues to produce and nurture the next generation of educators who College of Education faculty believe will shape generations to come.

“TSU definitely prepared me for this,” Harding said, emphasizing the university’s role in shaping her as an educator who can empower and mentor students. As an African American woman and an HBCU graduate, Harding emphasized the importance of mirroring the community.

“In the classroom, proper representation matters,” she added.

Dr. Janet Finch, the Dean of the College of Education, said she anticipates producing even more quality educators throughout the country as TSU continues its reputation as a leading HBCU in producing educators, including teachers, counselors, and executive educators.

Quamane Graham

“I want to make sure we have people that assimilate the world,” Finch said. “We have established great partnerships with school districts across the State, so we can support them in identifying well-qualified teachers.”

Quamane Graham, a junior from Florida studying at TSU, plans to teach high school biology in Nashville after college. Graham was accepted into the Teacher Education Certification program this summer and will be able to teach grades 7-12 post-graduation. 

“I want to show young Black males that you can go to college and be a teacher,” he said. “That it is achievable to do so.” Graham said he is grateful for the tools provided within the College of Education that prepared him up for success.

“I would not be in the Teacher Education program if it wasn’t for the Global Student Success Lab,” he said, which is located on TSU’s main campus. “The staff worked day and night with me to make sure I had the resources to pass my Praxis test. They were very resourceful.”

Dr. Janet Finch

The global lab is an academic center geared toward encouraging interested students to become educators and provides additional support in the areas of education and psychology.

Dean Finch also highlighted the impact TSU education graduates are having “in our own backyard.” Historically, this is particularly true for metro Nashville and the State, where over 50% of district leaders across Tennessee are TSU education graduates. 

Dr. Adrienne Battles, the director of Metro Nashville Public Schools, is a TSU alumna who Finch taught. She also highlighted Dr. Shanna L. Jackson, the first Black female president of Nashville State Community College, being a TSU alumna. Both Dr. Battles and Jackson graduated from the Educational Leadership program in the College of Education.

Dr. Rhonda Stewart, who is the global student success lab director, said the environment is a supportive academic center geared toward welcoming interested students with open arms and providing additional support in the education and psychology field.

In 2022 , Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona visited TSU and praised the University for its pipeline to the classroom teacher’s initiative to help eliminate the shortage. Tennessee State Certification data shows that 325 students graduated from TSU’s college of education, between 2019 to 2022, and of that total, 87% are currently employed in their field, throughout schools in Tennessee.

In 2020-21, there were 155 TSU graduates who finished their teacher training. Out of that number, 137 are still working as teachers, approximately 88%. According to Dr. Rajah Smart, assistant dean and director of the college’s assessment and accreditation program, there was a slight increase for 2021-2022. Dr. Smart reports that of the 118 students who finished their teacher training, 89% are currently teaching.  

Sa’Mariah Harding teaches a student honors geometry at Valor College Prep.

A recent report by the Tennessee State Board of Education further revealed how TSU graduates are impacting Tennessee classrooms. It found that nearly all the teachers who graduated from TSU and started teaching in 2020, have a second-year retention rate of 96%.

Dr. Finch stated that the nationwide teacher crisis is real, but TSU’s College of Education is committed to addressing the crisis by continuing to produce quality educators dedicated to changing world through the TSU motto think, work, serve.