Category Archives: Graduation

Don Lemon inspires TSU graduates at fall commencement

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service)  Award-winning journalist and former CNN anchor Don Lemon inspired nearly 700 Tennessee State University fall graduates with a few pieces of advice to carry the torch of TSU’s legacy into the world. The 2023 fall commencement took place in the Gentry Center Complex, filled with ecstatic graduates, their parents, and loved ones for their support on this academic journey.

“Today is your day,” Lemon told the crowd of graduates who were representing around 40 different countries. “It is truly an honor to be a part of this significant moment in your lives. As we reflect on the journey that has brought you to this point, I am reminded of the profound impact that this institution has on countless lives.”

The 2023 fall commencement took place in the Gentry Center Complex, filled with ecstatic family and loved ones to support graduates on their this academic milestone.

Lemon then told students to embrace their authenticity and growth, build meaningful connections, and have faith in their journey. “Trust that each step, even when uncertain, is guided by a higher purpose.”

He noted that education is a lifelong journey, regardless of how long it takes.

After inspiring the graduates with his insightful advice, Lemon’s words resonated with the crowd from various countries. Among them was former NFL 2-time Pro Bowler, AFC and NFC Champion, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who embodied Lemon’s message in a unique way.

After 11 years, Rodgers-Cromartie fulfilled his promise to his mother by continuing his journey of personal growth and securing a degree. The TSU standout received a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies from the College of Liberal Arts. “Never give up,” Rodgers-Cromartie said. “Finish those courses no matter how long it takes because at the end of the day, there are certain things in life they can’t take from you, and that would be one of them. I encourage everyone to come back and finish.”

There were nearly 700 graduates who were representing around 40 different countries during the fall commencement.

Rodgers-Cromartie started his collegiate career as a cornerback for the TSU Tigers and was a first-round draft pick of the Arizona Cardinals in 2008. He played in the NFL for 11 years, and during each offseason, his mother continued to inquire about him finishing what he started. “I’m going to do this for my mother,” he said. “Since day one, my mother has always preached, ‘Student first before athlete.'”

Over a dozen of Rodgers-Cromartie’s family members were in the crowd to witness him walk across the stage to receive his degree. He started his TSU journey in 2004 as a psychology major and spoke highly of the university’s legacy and endless opportunities.

President Glenda Glover, left, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on stage during the 2023 fall commencement ceremony.

“TSU is my home away from home. They gave me an opportunity, and I am very appreciative of that. I really bleed blue,” said the TSU Tiger. When asked about being determined regardless of the time, Rodgers-Cromartie’s response, ‘be patient and see it through.’

Prior to Lemon’s speech, TSU President Glenda Glover, in her opening remarks, said that the achievement of graduating is only a stepping stone. “Today is only a stepping stone, and we should honor this moment as we move into our new lives,” Dr. Glover said.

“You are evident that your strengths are fearsome. Your persistence is relentless, your service is genuine, and your hearts are uncompromised.”

From TSU’s AOB becoming the first collegiate marching band to receive a Grammy Award, Lemon’s speech highlighted the university’s major accomplishments and milestones this year alone. Additionally, he spoke about having global mogul Oprah Winfrey as this past spring’s keynote speaker at her alma mater.

Mother and daughter duo, Mariah, left, and Chantae Marshall received their masters degree together this fall.

Lemon then reflected on TSU’s motto, ‘Think, Work, Serve,’ and gave students some advice to cherish for the rest of their lives. “Don’t shy away from challenges. Stand up against injustice and use your education as a tool for powerful transformation.”

While in the process of her educational journey, Dr. Pearl McKnight, who was sitting in the front row waiting for her doctorate degree, also had a powerful transformation that she considers a ‘medical miracle.’ After being paralyzed and wheelchair bound for nearly seven years due to a Cryptococcal Meningitis diagnosis, McKnight proudly walked across the stage to receive her doctorate degree in educational leadership.

The 59-year-old mother and wife said the moments felt surreal. “I didn’t need a ramp or wheelchair, I was able to walk across the stage,” McKnight said. “Coming in and walking down was very emotional for me.” McKnight was overwhelmed with joy as she heard her husband of 42-years, her children and grandchildren cheering her on as she walked the stage to receive her degree.

Dr. Pearl McKnight

“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.”

Just before Rodgers-Cromartie, McKnight and hundreds of other TSU students moved their tassels over on their decorated caps, Lemon was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters Degree presented by President Glover and Interim Provost Dr. Robbie Melton.

Lemon anchored the long-running CNN primetime program, Don Lemon Tonight, as well as CNN This Morning. He has won a variety of distinguished awards for his work spanning nearly three decades, including an Edward R. Murrow award, multiple Emmys, and a Peabody award, among others. In addition to CNN, Lemon has served as an anchor and correspondent at the NBC and MSNBC television networks, as well as at local stations in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and St. Louis.

TSU receives recognition for Best Online Master’s Programs in State

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Tennessee State University has received the 2024 “Best Online Master’s in Tennessee” award from Online Masters Colleges (OMC), reaffirming its commitment to providing exceptional online education. The recognition highlights TSU’s dedication to quality instruction and the success of its students.

Brionna Brown, a recent graduate of TSU’s online Master’s program in instructional leadership, received her degree this fall. Brown, from Jackson, Tennessee, currently works as a 5th-grade educator in Metro Nashville Public Schools.

Brionna Brown, a recent graduate of TSU’s online Master’s program currently works as a 5th-grade educator in Metro Nashville Public Schools.

“Even though its online, you could still feel the passion from the people,” Brown said regarding the professors and the college of education program she just completed.

Brown embarked on the TSU one-year online program through the state’s Aspiring Assistant Principal Program, with hopes of administrative leadership roles in education. Her journey reflects the impact of TSU’s online education in preparing aspiring administrators.

She expressed gratitude to Dr. Pamela Tanner, the Department chair for the Department of Teaching and Learning, for her passion and helpfulness in student growth. “She has years of experience and such knowledge to pour into her students,” Brown said. “She is very passionate about growing her students, and that was the best part,” Brown said.

The online program featured guest speakers, including superintendents, providing students with valuable real-world insights, she said. Despite the program being virtual, Brown found it easy to navigate technologically, due to weekly Zoom meetings.

Dr. Trinetia Respress

The “Best Online Master’s in Tennessee” award from OMC is a testament to TSU’s overall excellence in online education. The comprehensive evaluation process considered factors such as graduation rates, affordability, and program accreditation, according to an OMC press release. TSU is one of 22 universities selected for the 2024 best online master’s in Tennessee title.

Dr. Trinetia Respress, TSU Interim Graduate Dean, expressed pride in the university’s recognition. “This recognition is fabulous and well-deserved,” Respress said. “It speaks to the dedication, creativity, and hard work of faculty in providing quality online instruction to students.”

TSU offers a wide variety of online master’s programs, including Instructional Leadership, Masters in Counseling Psychology, Executive MBA, Masters in Public Health, Masters of Social Work, Masters in Nursing, and many more.

Dr. Robbie Melton,

With 32 master’s graduate programs and over 850 current master students, TSU continues to be a hub for online education excellence.

Dr. Robbie Melton, the former graduate dean and current interim provost for academic affairs, said the university is committed to providing quality online master’s level education. She highlighted new technology tools, such as artificial intelligence, to enhance learning. “We are incorporating new technology tools such as AI to enhance the learning environment for online graduate students,” she said.

She also promotes these innovative tools for research.

TSU’s recent recognitions by OMC also include being ranked for one of the Best Masters in Speech Pathology Online Programs and being listed as one of the most affordable Online Master of Social Work (MSW) programs for 2023.

TSU will continue to set the standard for students seeking a high-quality, accredited online master’s degree, offering flexibility, support, and the convenience needed for adult learners. For more information about online graduate programs, visit https://www.tnstate.edu/online/graduate.aspx.

TSU finalizing fall commencement, graduates to include former NFL star Rodgers-Cromartie 

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – This morning hundreds of Tennessee State University students participated in rehearsal in preparation for Saturday’s commencement ceremony. One of those graduates was former NFL 2-time Pro Bowler and AFC Champion Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. The TSU standout will receive a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies from the College of Liberal Arts. Rodgers-Cromartie started his collegiate career as a cornerback for the TSU Tigers and was a first round draft pick of the Arizona Cardinals in 2008.

Rodgers-Cromartie joins the class of 2023 for TSU fall commencement Saturday, December 9, 2023, at 9 a.m. in the Gentry Center Complex. Nearly 700 students will walk the stage to receive their degrees during the ceremony. This year’s speaker is award-winning journalist and former CNN anchor Don Lemon. Lemon anchored the long-running CNN primetime program, Don Lemon Tonight as well as CNN This Morning.

Commencement will include 328 undergraduate students and 324 graduate students. TSU is hoping graduates will make it “TSU for Two” and consider pursuing a second degree, from the institution, after graduation. The School of Graduate Studies held “Donuts and Degrees” during commencement rehearsal to talk with interested students. The recruitment initiative could help students who are still undecided about life after graduation. 

University officials encourage graduates to arrive one hour before the ceremony due to parking. While masks are not required, this is flu season and everyone is asked to exercise caution.

TSU fall commencement will also be live streamed from the University’s YouTube channel at www.tnstate.edu/livestream 

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 www.tnstate.edu/livestream.

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/ .

U.S. lawmaker urges TSU graduates to help protect democracy and give back

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – United States Congressman Bennie G. Thompson, the man who led the congressional investigation into the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, told Tennessee State University graduate school candidates to be aware of forces that are trying to change the course of democracy in the country by twisting facts and reality to suit their personal agendas.

President Glenda Glover and U.S. Congressman Bennie G. Thompson lead the procession at the spring graduate commencement in the Gentry Center Complex. (Photo by TSU Media Relations)

Before Congressman Thompson’s address in the Howard C. Gentry Complex, TSU President Glenda Glover congratulated the graduates, parents, relatives, and friends for their support. 

“I applaud you for having reached this milestone,” said Glover. “Today is only a steppingstone. We thank you. We salute you.”

 Thompson, a civil rights champion, who represents Mississippi’s Second Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives, was the keynote speaker at TSU’s graduate commencement. 

 Now serving his 15th term in Congress, Thompson reminded the graduates to make the best of their education and remember to give back to their institution to ensure its continued growth and success.

More than 200 graduate students received advance degrees in various disciplines. (Photo by TSU Media Relations)

 “So, for this institution and other historically black colleges and universities to survive in these turbulent times, you are going to have to support it,” he said. “Some of you will become doctors, lawyers, or whatever, but unless you understand what you are faced with right now and what you need to do in this country it is all for naught, because if graduates don’t come back and help, these institutions are in trouble.”

Marque Griggs, who received his Ph.D. in psychology, took Thompson’s message to heart.

Marque Griggs, who received his Ph.D. in psychology, says there are no shortcuts in working for equality. (Photo by Ramona Whitworth)

 “The Hon. Bennie Thompson spoke truth to power and did not mince words,” said Griggs, of Fort Valley, Georgia. “He reminded me of the work in my respective field that I do and must continue to do. There are no shortcuts in working for equality and equity for HBCUs and minority spaces.”

 Gwendolyn Berry, a two-time Olympian, who received her master’s degree in public health, referred to Thompson as a “good fighter.” The St. Louis, Missouri, native is an American track and field athlete who specializes in the hammer throw. Her mark of 77.78 meter on June 8, 2018, ranks her #7 on the all-time list. She also holds the world record in the weight throw with a mark of 25.60-meter set in March 2017. 

 Friday was her first time marching in a graduation ceremony. From high school to college, her athletic commitment each time has not permitted to take part in previous ceremonies.

Gwendolyn Berry referred to Congressman Thompson as a “good fighter.” Photo by Ramona Whitworth)

“This is my first time marching, and I am excited that my family is here with me,” Berry said.

 “Congressman Thompson is about a good fight and that is what he demonstrated in his speech. Although people don’t want to hear it, but it is always going to prevail because the people always prevail.”

 For two years, Thompson led a bipartisan committee to conduct a thorough investigation into the facts, circumstances, and causes of the attack, and to ensure that it never occurs again.

 “In that work, we outlined the dangerous symptoms that we have in this country when people tell things that are not true and repeated it often enough to sometime people believe that it is true,” Thompson told the graduates. “Some people even say what you saw on January 6th really didn’t happen. By obtaining your advance degrees, I compliment you on making sure that you understand the realities of what’s happening in our country.”

Following his address, President Glover conferred the Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters on Rep. Thompson. More than 200 graduates received advance degrees in various disciplines.

Oprah Winfrey returns to TSU for commencement, full circle moment for all 

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Tennessee State University welcomed its most famous alumnus, Oprah Winfrey, with open arms to deliver the 2023 Spring Commencement address. Winfrey began her remarks by declaring “who says you can’t go home again, because I’m back” to the delight of the crowd. She also shared that TSU President Glenda Glover’s persistence paid off and was the reason for her appearance.  

“Dr. Glover is the reason why I’m here, because she is relentless,” Winfrey said. Turning to President Glover, she added, “You actually don’t know the meaning of no. She’s been here a decade and has been asking me for a decade.”  

 Regina Rogers, who earned a degree in arts and science, says she will make Oprah Winfrey’s inspiring words a part of her everyday life. (Photo by Aaron Grayson)

Winfrey then went into a rendition of the University’s fight song, “I’m so glad I go to TSU”, a gesture that brought several graduates to their feet, while the crowd cheered her on through the course.  The global media leader and Nashville native’s message was simple but impactful, be good to people. 

“This is what I know for sure. There will never be anything in your life as fulfilling as making a difference in somebody else’s,” Winfrey said.

“Everybody here wants to see you take your integrity, your curiosity, your creativity, your guts, and this newfound education of yours and use it to make a difference. Everybody always thinks you got go and do something big and grand. I tell you where you start. You start by being good to at least one other person every single day. Just start there.”

TSU President Glover believed Winfrey’s return was an amazing experience for students and a historical moment for the University.

“Oprah Winfrey is a phenomenal individual who embodies everything her alma mater, TSU, represents and was able to translate that to our graduates,” said President Glover. “I was excited to watch as she touched the spirit of students. They listened, applauded, while soaking in her knowledge.”

Barbara Murrell, right, was the director of student activities at TSU when Oprah Winfrey, left, was a student.

Regina Rogers, who earned her degree in arts and science, said Winfrey’s message was taken to heart and is words to live by. Rogers was among more than 600 TSU graduates sitting in awe of Winfrey and hanging on her every word.

“Oprah’s commencement speech was inspiring and one that will help guide us to our next level of life,” added Rogers, of Nashville. “I really loved her speech. I am going to take her speech and apply it to my life from here on.”

 Former TSU administrator Barbara Murrell says that’s the Oprah she remembers, always willing to lend her talents to help and inspire others, even as a student.

 “As Director of Student Activities at TSU when Oprah was a student, I was often asked to provide a student who could speak at University events,” recalls Murrell.  

“I would call Dr. W. Dury Cox, TSU’s outstanding Speech and Drama Professor, and he would send Oprah Winfrey to do a reading or recite a poem for the occasion.  She was always articulate, intriguing, and thought-provoking in her delivery. Her message was extremely well received by the audience.”

 Murrell, who now serves as chair of the Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. Institute at TSU, says one performance comes to mind when she reflects on this full circle moment for the talented orator, who attended TSU from 1972-1975.

 “Our student center, during that time, served as a meeting place for the community. A professional women’s club, who provided scholarships for students, would always ask for a student to come, and do a reading or presentation to the group.”

 She recalls Winfrey poetry reading touched the women so, that several were left in tears. Murrell says to hear her commencement address touched her as well.

 “These same characteristics are evident on her global platform today in which Tennessee State University helped to develop and nurture.”

Winfrey received her degree from TSU in 1988 after she was allowed to submit a paper and several of her tv show reels for credit. Now, 35 years later, Winfrey returned to her alma mater fully embraced for this full circle moment, from student to alumna and as commencement speaker.

Watch the TSU commencement ceremony on the University’s YouTube Channel at www.youtube.com/live/vJEbMmyKG5U?feature=share.

TSU student-athlete to graduate with 4.0 GPA, along with two degrees and an OVC championship

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – For three years, Gina Rivera-Ortiz’s parents would drive two hours to get her to volleyball practice, in her native territory of Puerto Rico. Dedication that has paid off in the long run with Rivera-Ortiz’s becoming a decorated libero, a back-row defensive specialist, for Tennessee State University volleyball team. Add to her accomplishment an Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) championship and OVC tournament MVP in 2022 for the TSU Tigers.

Last season, Rivera-Ortiz became the all-time career leader in TSU history in digs.

Not only has Rivera-Ortiz, a TSU graduate student, put blood, sweat and tears on the court, she has put her all into her education as well.

“Since pre-kindergarten I’ve never passed a class with anything less than an A,” she said. “My parents raised me to want to be the best. I use my parents as motivation. I know they sacrificed for me to be who I am today.”

Rivera-Ortiz will be graduating this week with a master’s of arts and education in sports administration with a 4.0 GPA. She also had a 4.0 while attending TSU as an undergraduate.

For Rivera-Ortiz, volleyball is like a game of chess on a court, where every move counts. She told the university her main key factors on strategizing how to succeed in being a student athlete.

“Time management, discipline, and passion,” Rivera-Ortiz said. “Everything I do, I do it with passion. Be humble but use that drive of thinking you’re the best and working to be the best.”

Rivera-Ortiz, left, with Coach Sutton, right during a home conference match in Kean Hall at TSU.

TSU head volleyball coach Donika Sutton couldn’t agree more about Rivera-Ortiz’s work ethic as an athlete and person.

“Gina has realistically surpassed expectations,” Sutton said. “We are talking about someone who all five years has had a 4.0 GPA.”

Coach Sutton said she recruited Rivera-Ortiz from Lajas, Puerto Rico, and offered her a scholarship in 2018. Since that time, Sutton has watched her continuously grow every year.

“She helped me lead this team. The ability, the work ethic and her leadership were a huge part as to why this team was successful this year.”

Rivera-Ortiz after the TSU volleyball team won the OVC Tournament championship in 2022.

The TSU volleyball team won the OVC Tournament last November for the first time in 15 years. Out of the 132 games, Rivera-Ortiz never missed one. The international student said she is most grateful for TSU’s welcoming environment, that helped her succeed while being 1,700 miles away from home.  

“This was a place that made me feel the most wanted. That’s one of the things that kept me here.”

Rivera-Ortiz has already accepted a job offer at local non-profit organization Backfield in Motion, as a senior youth coordinator. The job aligns with her dream career related to community engagement for the NBA.

While Rivera-Ortiz was a part of the Puerto Rico women’s national under-23 volleyball team last year, she looks forward to one day competing for a spot on the Olympic volleyball team after obtaining a doctorates degree in psychology.

Check out the Puerto Rico native’s stats and recent accolades as the all-time OVC leader in career digs and in TSU history.

Promise of new jobs, Oprah Winfrey perfect ending for TSU’s spring graduates

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – When Darius Boyd dons his cap and gown at TSU’s spring commencement on Saturday, he will receive his bachelor’s degree in business information systems with an extra level of hope and satisfaction. That’s because Boyd will hear inspiring words from TSU’s most famous alumnus, Oprah Winfrey, and have a job waiting on him once he crosses the stage. His early employment is also an indication of the bright jobs market many experts predict for 2023 college graduates. 

Darius Boyd is expected to receive a starting salary of about $90,000 as a business analyst at Bank of America.

“I am very excited to have a job waiting for me right out of college,” says Boyd, who has been hired as a business analyst in the technology department at Bank of America. “I am excited and blessed to have the opportunity to have the skill set to work at a company such as Band of America, and to have Ms. Oprah Winfrey as my commencement speaker to end my college career at TSU is mind-blowing.”  

Boyd is not alone with a job waiting and excitement as he awaits the ceremony. He is one of six yet to receive their degrees out of the spring graduating class who have already been hired by BOA in high-paying positions, with salaries ranging from $75,000-$95,000 and a guaranteed $10,000 signing bonus each. But that’s not all. Many others from the class of 2023, from internships, co-ops to fulltime employment, have jobs lined up. 

Jackson Tyler Houston received his job offer as a consultant at CGI at the end of his internship.

Jackson Tyler Houston, of Brentwood, Tennessee, who will receive his bachelor’s degree in computer science, has a job offer waiting for him at CGI (Consultants in Management and Information Technology), one of the largest IT and business consulting firms in the world. He’s being hired as a consultant. 

“It is fantastic leaving college with a send-off from the one and only Oprah Winfrey and having a job lined,” says Houston.  “I can’t wait to hear her messages, but to have a job already was a huge relief off my shoulders going into my final semester and not have to worry about finding an employment.” 

Houston, who interned with CGI up to his senior year of college, received an offer after he finished the program and credits TSU for the early employment. 

Angela Davis, Assistant Director of the Career Development Center, says the center uses different platforms to connect students with employers. (Photo by TSU Media Relations)

“I must thank TSU and my professors who gave me the opportunity to pursue the job in the first place,” he says.

While many analysts see a booming jobs market for 2023 college graduates, at TSU, students credit their success to rigorous classroom and field training, passionate professors, and a Career Development Center that is focused on preparing and exposing students to available opportunities. 

Angela Davis, assistant director of the CDC, says in addition to career fairs, training and other events, the department utilizes different job search platforms such as Handshake to connect employers with students. 

“We cover topics such as resume preparation, creating a brand, preparing for the interview, soft skills in the workplace, how to navigate a career fair, as well as opportunities that are available within those companies,” says Davis.  

Jada Carter, who is receiving her degree in accounting, will work with Bank of America as an enterprise risk credit analyst.

“We also hold Table-Top sessions throughout the semester.  Each event provides students the opportunity to engage with employers for employment opportunities.” 

Overall, TSU students graduating this year are in a good mix when it comes to hiring. A study published by the National Association of Colleges and Employers shows that employers are looking to hire more 2023 graduates than in 2022. Another NAEC survey released just recently, shows that undergraduates are receiving an average of 1.14 job offers before graduation. 

“This has been a long four years, but with a very exciting ending,” says Jada Carter, also eluding Winfrey and secured employment.

“I am ready to get out in the world and represent TSU because they have done a lot for me,” adds Carter. The Milwaukee native is also going to work for BOA as an enterprise risk credit analyst. 

“The Career Development Center has been very helpful. I have worked very closely with them in the last four years. This helped me to build professional relationships with recruiters and business partners. I’m leaving TSU on the right track, with a job and the best commencement speaker you could hope for, and a fellow TSU graduate.” 

Carter, and Boyd of Memphis, Tennessee, will be assigned at the BOA headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina. They will be among more than 800 undergraduate and graduate students who will receive degrees at the 2023 spring commencement. 

Spring 2023 commencement 

Tennessee State University alumna Oprah Winfrey is coming home to headline TSU’s Spring Commencement as the keynote speaker for the undergraduate Commencement on Saturday, May 6 at 8 a.m. CDT, in Hale Stadium. Due to demand, security and safety protocols, this is a ticketed event. The undergraduate ceremony will be moved to the Gentry Center Complex in case of rain. United States Congressman Bennie G. Thompson, Miss-Second District, will address graduate students at an indoor ceremony on Friday, May 5 at 5 p.m. CDT, in the Gentry Center. Both commencement ceremonies will be live streamed from the TSU YouTube Channel, www.tnstate.edu/livestream


For more information on TSU 2023 Spring Commencement and full bios on Ms. Winfrey and Congressman Thompson, visit www.tnstate.edu/commencement.

TSU student inspired by alumna Oprah Winfrey, anticipates commencement address as a dream come true

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Timbrel Williams has known since childhood what career path she intended to take after college. At age 8, Williams would line up her stuffed animals as audience members, mimicking what she saw on the Oprah Winfrey television show in her Chattanooga home. A show that inspired her journey, and love of journalism. William’s mother was amazed by her creativity and encouraged her to pursue her dreams. On May 6, Williams will be lining up to walk across the stage during Tennessee State University’s undergraduate commencement ceremony in front of the global media leader and philanthropist who inspired her to become a journalist, TSU alumna Oprah Winfrey.

Williams was hired at WKRN News Channel 2 working as an operations technician. (Photo submitted)

“One of the first Black journalist I saw on TV was Oprah Winfrey,” Williams said. “That’s how I started to gain my love for television.” Williams, who is receiving her degree in mass communications, said Winfrey’s impact on the Black community and her storytelling give the representation needed within the news industry.

Winfrey is the keynote speaker for the undergraduate commencement on Saturday, May 6 at 8 a.m., in Hale Stadium.

“I am so glad she can come back and pour into TSU for graduation day,” Williams said, noting how Winfrey’s path aligns with how she foresees her own future.

Last semester Williams was an intern for WKRN News Channel 2. This semester she was offered a position as an operations technician. Williams has spent her college career reporting for TSU TV news, interviewing students, and reporting stories about the campus community.  Williams will be graduating magna cum laude with a 3.7 GPA, with hopes of one day working for Good Moring America or hosting her own TV show.

Williams at WKRN News Channel 2 working as an intern last Fall.

Williams applauded the Department of Communications for her successful college career. “We have well-rounded professors who are patient and care about our students,” she said. “I feel well prepared to venture out and go into the real world.”

Joseph Richie, an associated professor for the communications department, applauded Williams for her role as an active student journalist.

“She is one of our most outstanding journalism students,” Richie said. “And she has mastered the subject. Timbrel will do very well.”

The Department of Communications is the fourth largest department on campus with 300 students in total. The department focuses on making sure student journalists are reporting facts and are open-minded in their focus, according to Richie.

“Oprah Winfrey represents every aspect of our program,” he said. “A person who got her training in news, now an entrepreneur and a multi-billionaire. She is the standard bearer when it comes to any of our students.”

Timbrel Williams and TSU President Glenda Glover at WKRN News Channel 2 when Dr. Glover made an appearance during Black History Month with other local community leaders. (Photo submitted)

Williams said she looks forward to graduating, sharing what she learned from her university, and telling stories that matter the most.

“It’s important to have Black journalists,” Williams said. “To see Oprah Winfrey break through that barrier, it’s amazing to see her journey. I went to TSU, and she went to TSU. This is a full circle moment and such a great opportunity.”

Spring 2023 commencement

Tennessee State University alumna Oprah Winfrey is coming home to headline TSU’s Spring Commencement as the keynote speaker for the undergraduate Commencement on Saturday, May 6 at 8 a.m. CDT, in Hale Stadium. Due to demand and security and safety protocols, this is a ticketed event and not open to the public. United States Congressman Bennie G. Thompson, Miss-Second District, will address graduate students at an indoor ceremony on Friday, May 5 at 5 p.m. CDT, in the Gentry Center Complex. Over 800 students will receive degrees in various disciplines. Both commencement ceremonies will be live streamed from the TSU YouTube Channel, www.tnstate.edu/livestream.

For more information on TSU 2023 Spring Commencement and full bios on Ms. Winfrey and Congressman Thompson, visit www.tnstate.edu/commencement.