Category Archives: Student Profile

FedEx, TSU continue HBCU Student Ambassador Program partnership

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – FedEx has announced its continued partnership with Tennessee State University after launching its third cohort of the FedEx-HBCU Student Ambassador Program. Announced in 2021, the program launched in 2022 as part of an expanded five-year, $5 million commitment to selected HBCUs.

The student ambassadors representing TSU for the third cohort are Tamauri Murray, a junior studying computer science, and Chandler Lyons, a sophomore studying Business Administration and Supply Chain Management. “I am ecstatic that I’ve been chosen for the FedEx-HBCU Student Ambassador Program,” Murray said. “I can’t wait to dive into this journey and make the most of the unique learning experiences ahead. I am grateful for this opportunity to grow both personally and professionally.”

The impactful HBCU program through the world’s largest express transportation company chose TSU as one of eight HBCUs. The program helps prepare HBCU students for the workforce after college, providing exposure to FedEx leadership, team members, career-ready skills, and unique learning experiences.

In 2022 FedEx and TSU participated in bell ringing at New York Stock Exchange, highlighting the HBCU program.

Lyons, from Atlanta, Georgia, said that every challenge presents a chance for personal growth. “And I am thankful for the chance to evolve,” he said. “I look forward to gaining professional skills and knowledge that will be pivotal for my career progression. This experience is important for HBCU students as it provides minority students access to a wider range of opportunities and connects them with a network of current leaders.”

TSU Board of Trustee student Shaun Wimberly, a former FedEx ambassador from the company’s inaugural cohort, said the continued partnership with TSU is worthy as he received great exposure from the year-long ambassador experience. 

“This gives us that competitive advantage that our HBCU students need,” Wimberly said. “So, we can get that foot in the door. These sorts of opportunities make up for some of the disparities that we have as an institution when compared to other schools who may already have better networking and resources due to historic events.” Wimberly said during his time as an ambassador, selected students were flown to New York to network with FedEx executives on Wall Street about climbing the corporate ladder and opportunities in the near future. Wimberly was one of two students who represented TSU in the FedEx program in 2022. The second student was Breana Jefferson of Madison, Alabama.

TSU President Glenda Glover and former FedEx HBCU student ambassador Shaun Wimberly, Jr., in 2022.

 Jenny Robertson, Senior Vice President, Global Brand and Communications for FedEx, said in a press release that providing HBCU students with exposure and opportunities to imagine what’s next beyond college is invaluable. “The continued support FedEx provides to HBCUs is one way we can help produce a strong talent pool of future leaders, creating additional opportunities to excel in their future career journeys,” Robertson said.

This cohort will convene later this spring and participate in quarterly sessions focused on interview training, mock interviews, and resume development. 

The HBCU ambassadors will also have access to applying for internships and experiencing mentorship opportunities with various FedEx leaders.

Each year, FedEx offers student ambassadors and additional HBCU practical experiences, including the “Career Expose” where FedEx Ground leaders engage with students about transitioning from college to professional life, resume writing, career tips, according to the release. It also consists of a “day in the life” in safety, engineering, finance, human resources, logistics/supply chain, and operations.

Career and finance event prepares TSU students for post-college

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Career development, financial literacy, and personal growth were the focus of the “Secure the Bag” tour recently held at Tennessee State University. Hosted by the TSU Career Development Center in collaboration with HBCU Heroes, the event featured panelists who engaged with students on financial awareness and their next steps after college.

Jeff Brown, the director of the Career Development Center

The event unfolded in three segments. The first segment featured discussions on entrepreneurship, business strategy, and launching, while the second focused on career preparation and generational wealth. The third segment comprised a financial health workshop, specifically addressing credit and debt management for college students. A portion of the event also centered around NIL and sports industry careers, featuring insights from TSU’s head football Coach Eddie George and former NBA player George Lynch.

Jalen Mask, a biology student from Memphis, highlighted the theme of “knowing your why” and the importance of financial awareness. “TSU is an HBCU that is underfunded,” Mask said. “Being that we live in a marginalized community, it is important to have events like this to understand finances because it does affect everything.”

Quentesha White, a junior studying criminal justice from Alabama, appreciated the guidance provided, especially as upperclassmen prepare to step into the real world. She found inspiration in the panelists’ journeys toward success.

Lawson Wright

“Hearing their (panelists’) backstories and the backgrounds of entrepreneurs ourselves is very inspiring and motivating for me,” White said. “I know when I was listening to what they did and the history of how they became who they are today, it pushed me a little more and gave me more motivation.”

Vice President of Student Affairs, Dean Frank Stevenson, kicked off the event, emphasizing the importance of grasping knowledge and hands-on opportunities.

“We are so excited that you all are here sharing information and pouring it into our students,” Stevenson said to the panelists. “I am excited about the collaboration, highlighting the significance of financial literacy, especially within the HBCU community.”

Jeff Brown, the director of the Career Development Center, said the center’s mission is to provide connections and opportunities to help students realize their purpose and future dreams. “The goal of the Career Development Center is to provide connections and opportunities to help each student realize their purpose and the future of their dreams,” Brown said. “We want them to be strong as students and grow as students, but also think about professional development as they approach graduation. But then also be clear about what financial empowerment looks like.”

Hosted by the TSU Career Development Center in collaboration with HBCU Heroes, the event featured panelists who engaged with students on financial awareness and their next steps after college. Panelist for the first segment of the event from left to right: Alex Sanders, Delfine Fox, Harold Simpson, Derrick J. Hill (on screen) moderated by “CDK On the Mic.”

Lawson Wright, a sophomore studying computer sciences, attended the event to enhance his networking and interpersonal skills. “Progress is progress,” Wright said. “My objective is to get better every day, and that event did just that.”

The collaboration with HBCU Heroes, co-founded by Tracey Penywell, brought in panelists and sponsoring companies. This also included business strategists, entrepreneurs, Chief Technology Officers, and representatives from JP Morgan Chase and Amazon, among others.

Angela Davis, the Career Development Center associate director, said the event was essential as TSU students are graduating and earning entry-level salaries larger than ever before and will need guidance on responsible financial management.

“They’re able to give students an inside look, and also coming from an HBCU perspective, they understand some of the things that our students go through in making the transition from college into the workplace,” Davis said about the panelists connecting with the students. “I think it’s of great benefit that they’re able to share their experiences and some do’s and don’ts and different expectations that our students may not be aware of.”

Kimya Savage applauds during the “Secure The Bag” event as panelists share invaluable insights and resources, empowering attendees with knowledge for achieving financial stability.

Davis added that she believed the event offered valuable insights, connections, and inspiration for TSU students. The goal of the HBCU Heroes Tour was to share real-life experiences with students in preparation for the next steps following graduation and their professional journeys. To learn more about the Career Development Center resources, visit  https://www.tnstate.edu/careers/

TSU honors students win national HBCU research competition

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Tennessee State University Honors students are champions once again, securing the first and second places in scholarly research at the National Association of African American Honors Programs (NAAAHP) Conference for the second consecutive year.

The 32nd annual NAAAHP conference took place in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, during the fall semester, where TSU honors college students competed against students from 10 other HBCUs nationwide in various categories. Hosted by Southern University, the competition featured TSU honors students excelling in the research poster category, the quiz bowl category, and Honors Got Talent.

Meaghan Lewis, a senior honors biology major, claimed the first-place victory for her cancer research presentation.

Meaghan Lewis claimed first-place victory for her cancer research presentation at the NAAAHP conference. (Photo submitted)

“I was shocked,” Lewis said reflecting on her achievement. “I worked very hard, and I was very happy. I felt achieved that all my hard work paid off.” The previous year, Lewis secured second place in the same research category and expressed pride in reentering the competition and clinching the first-place victory.

Her research, titled “The Role of Toll-Like Receptors 3, 4, and 8 in Tributyltin Stimulation of Tumor Necrosis Factor a Production by Human Immune Cells,” won accolades for content, in depth research, presentation, and quality.

Currently working in the laboratory of Dr. Margaret Whalen in the department of chemistry, Lewis initiated her cancer research during her freshman year at TSU.

“It shows TSU students that if you put in the work and get into these research opportunities presented around campus, you will gain the knowledge and show that you can be one of the best.”

Eseoghene Ogaga, a senior studying honors biology, won second place in her poster presentation titled “The Role of IL-17R Signaling in the Stomach Epithelium During H. pylori infection.” Ogaga is TSU representative collaborating with Vanderbilt University and the Department of Veteran’s Affairs Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee.

The Quiz Bowl team of five won the trophy for second place. The team consists of Tyler Vazquez, Morgan Gill, Kaitlin Skates, Kara Simmons, and Jada Womack. Skates earned third place in the Honors Got Talent category. All participating students received monetary awards.

Dr. Coreen Jackson, the dean of the Honors College, said she is proud of the achievements of TSU honors students, highlighting their academic and scholarly excellence. Dr. Jackson, a past president of the NAAAHP, said, “TSU is known to produce outstanding researchers among our peer institutions. We returned to defend our research title and won the coveted first and second place winners. These students are products of our world-class faculty.”

Dr. John Miglietta, a professor of political science and the Honda Campus All-Star Challenge (HCASC) coach, prepared the TSU Honors students for the quiz bowl competition. Last spring, the team earned a spot in the top eight teams at the National Tournament held in Torrance, California.

Dr. Tyrone Miller, Associate Director of the Honors College, served as the Honorary coach at the conference.

The three categories were part of NAAAHP’s annual national conference, where HBCU students engage in a Model African Union, debate, research presentations, and quiz bowl competitions. This marked TSU’s second-ever championship in the NAAAHP quiz bowl tournament.

The National Association of African American Honors Programs, founded in 1990, is a national consortium of HBCU honors programs promoting scholarship, professional development, community service, and an appreciation of African-American culture. For more information, visit www.naaahp.org.

TSU enjoys private screening courtesy of alumna Oprah Winfrey

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – A Christmas gift arrived early for TSU, and it was wrapped in the color purple. TSU alumna Oprah Winfrey treated the Tennessee State University community to an early Christmas celebration with an exclusive screening of The Color Purple ahead of its official debut on Christmas Day. Over 150 students, staff, and community members gathered at the event, dressed in hues of purple to honor the highly anticipated movie.

All dressed in purple, Dr. Glenda Glover embraces and engages in conversation with participants at ‘The Color Purple’ movie screening held at Regal Hollywood theater.

Prior to the movie starting TSU President Glenda Glover expressed her gratitude. “We are thankful to Ms. Winfrey for her thoughtfulness and for giving her TSU family an advanced screening of the film before its opening on Christmas Day.”

Timothy Brewer Jr., a senior studying agricultural sciences said it was a great moment for students, faculty, and alumni to come together and recognize this film. “I love that this is a TSU exclusive,” he said. “It shows the potential of the current students at the university, and what we can achieve because our alumni are setting the paths of what dreams are made of.”

As students enjoyed the musical remake of The Color Purple, Shaniya Harris, a junior studying psychology, shared her appreciation. “The movie was great. I became even more grateful for what women have now because the norm was for us to be treated any kind of way,” she said.

Zaya Bryant, left, and Shaniya Harris at regal Hollywood theater snacking on popcorn at The Color Purple movie screening.

Zaya Bryant, a TSU junior and Nashville native, mentioned that she didn’t fully appreciate the original movie’s magnitude when she was younger. “So, having the opportunity to see this with my TSU community is great. I can take in what our TSU alumna has done, and it makes everything feel really full circle,” said Bryant, who is an early childhood education major.

TSU’s generosity extended beyond the campus by partnering with the YWCA and invited their clients. Dr. Daffany Baker, Vice President of domestic violence services of YWCA Nashville & Middle Tennessee, coordinated the trip and brought 20 clients from their Weaver Domestic Violence center and their family members to view the screening.

Timothy Brewer Jr., said it was a great moment for students, faculty, and alumni to come together and recognize this film produced by alumna Oprah Winfrey.

“The color that represents domestic violence is purple,” Baker said, noting that their mission of eliminating racism and empowering women correlated with the movie regarding growth, transition, and prosperity.

“Just to see how our clients felt was amazing,” she said. “They loved it and felt very encouraged. They were overjoyed to come to a movie in general. We are grateful that TSU allowed us the opportunity to share the screening of The Color Purple.

Sharon K. Roberson, President and CEO of YWCA Nashville & Middle Tennessee also noted how this film mirrors their mission and expressed appreciation for this opportunity.

“It’s a blessing to be able to share this gift with survivors who have turned to us in their greatest time of need, and we hope the movie will inspire women to continue their journey of freedom, safety, and empowerment,” Roberson said.

Dr. Daffany Baker, Vice President of domestic violence services of YWCA Nashville & Middle Tennessee, takes a selfie with Dr. Glover before watching the musical remake of The Color Purple.

Before the screening began, Oprah Winfrey sent a heartfelt video message to her alma mater and those attending the screening.

“I don’t even have the words to say how happy I am to have you all gathered here tonight for this advance screening of The Color Purple.” Winfrey said in the video. “I wanted to create a special moment for you all, for my TSU community and family. TSU! TSU! I wish you all a wonderful holiday season. I hope you come away from this event this evening with your spirit full, that your heart is filled with joy, and you’re looking forward to the future and know that anything is possible when you notice the color purple.”

The Color Purple opens in theaters on Christmas Day with a star-studded cast, including American Idol winner Fantasia Barrino and Oscar nominated actress Taraji P. Henson.

TSU revives NAACP Chapter to tackle funding disparities, empower students

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – In a significant move to address funding disparities and empower students, Tennessee State University is reactivating its National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) chapter. Trey Cunningham, a senior majoring in health care administration and planning, serves as the Chapter President of the TSU NAACP chapter. Cunningham reflected on the timeliness of the revival.

“Our TSU NAACP Chapter has been reactivated, and this revival has coincided with TSU pursuing $2.1 billion in funding,” he said.

“With this significant piece to the puzzle and our executive committee now confirmed, we are eager to initiate our work and contribute to the ongoing success and development of TSU.”

The underfunding issue Cunningham refers to stems from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Education, announcement several months ago that 16 governors collectively owe $13 billion to their respective land-grant HBCUs. TSU is facing the largest underfunding amount by a state, which is $2.1 billion.

Cunningham emphasized the importance of direct action through the NAACP chapter rather than using social media as their main platform to bring awareness to the underfunding and other issues that directly impact TSU students.

“Social media is good, but you can’t see people who are putting action behind their words,” he said. “We are going back to the roots and getting in the field to make sure people are registered to vote.”

Cunningham is optimistic about the impact the chapter could have on TSU’s campus and the generations to come.

Tamauri Murray, the Vice President of the TSU chapter, emphasized the significance of mobilizing Black voters. “Getting Black voters out there is more than important. We want to make everyone in our generation aware of voting and spreading the word,” said Murray, who is a computer science major.

“I want to implement a space for us to speak up because we have the power for change. We want students to advocate for their peers.”

One of the first steps in starting the groundwork on campus was to reintroduce the campus branch to the Nashville community. Recently, TSU student leaders attended the NAACP Nashville Branch’s Freedom Fund Banquet. The students participated to gain insight, exposure, and collaborate with local and regional members.

Frank Stevenson, Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students, commended the student-led initiatives to get their voices heard and their issues seen on a collegiate level chapter and beyond. “There is a very strong NAACP branch here in Nashville, so it was exciting to see them working with the local branch,” Stevenson said.

“I would like to see this age demographic participating in this political process at a higher level.”

Judy Cummings, the administrative branch manager for the Nashville NAACP, expressed excitement about the TSU chapter’s reactivation as well. “It is vitally important that young people understand the history and the significance of the work of the NAACP historically and presently,” she said.

The national agenda of NAACP remains focused on disparities in economics, healthcare, education, voter empowerment, and the criminal justice system. With the youthfulness and enthusiasm of college chapters across Tennessee, Cummings said the NAACP aims to drive voter education and mobilization leading up to the 2024 elections.

“Some people ask if the NAACP is still relevant today. The answer is yes,” Cummings said.

“Every day people call the office because their civil rights have been violated. They know we are going to answer their call because that’s the work that we do.”

The TSU NAACP chapter aims to register at least 25% of the student body population this spring for the upcoming 2024 local and presidential elections, Cunningham said. The chapter initiated its reactivation process this fall and has over 130 members including its executive committee.

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 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 distributes 14,000 lbs of food to local community

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Tennessee State University highlighted the true meaning of the season by partnering with local agencies for the holidays to help Nashville families. Recently, members of the TSU Staff Senate, along with Second Harvest Food Bank, “But God” Ministry Nette Working For You, and Bethesda Original Church of God, provided over 14,000 pounds of food for 175 families in Davidson County.

Students and staff at Bethesda Original Church of God are participating in community service at a food bank.

Dr. Antoinette Duke, Director of Academic Career Pathways and Partnerships and a member of the Staff Senate, said the committee voted unanimously to volunteer through this outreach effort.

“This was an opportunity to truly address the food insecurity in Davidson County,” Duke said. “Connecting with the Staff Senate and seeing them come out and connect with community organizations makes this process so much easier.”

Duke said that approximately 50 TSU students, faculty, and staff volunteered by packing boxes full of meat, produce, canned goods, and more. 

Dr. Duke transporting bags and boxes of food during a Nashville food bank for local families.

Staff Senate Chair Reginald Cannon also expressed gratitude for everyone who came to lend a helping hand, in support of the holiday project. “I am thankful to the TSU staff that came out to help in the effort,” Cannon said. 

“Whether it was minutes or hours, their contribution was invaluable.”

Jada Vaughn, a TSU freshman from Michigan majoring in nursing, was one of the many students to volunteer. Vaughn said she initially came because of a class-required volunteer work but attended and stayed for several hours, enjoying her time helping and making connections while giving back.

Jada Vaughn transports a box filled with essentials for a local food bank.

“TSU students gathered at the food bank to help support the elderly or anyone in need of food,” Vaughn said. “It was good to know we were helping the community out, and I look forward to even more people attending next year.”

Shelia Elston, a member at Bethesda Church, said she lives in a nearby senior citizen complex and wanted to pick up groceries for some of her neighbors who didn’t have transportation.

“This is what God wants us to do, to feed the hungry,” Elston said. “This is a wonderful event, and it’s great to give back.”

Staff Senate Chair Reginald Cannon expressed gratitude for everyone who came to the community service event to lend a helping hand.

TSU sophomore Calvin Pickett said it was great seeing community goers’ faces light up when they were given their boxes full of food for their families. 

“I believe that it takes a village to raise a child,” Pickett said. 

“I love giving back not only to the community but also to my peers. Seeing those faces encouraged me to keep going. We have a community behind us that is working and thinking, and I want to make sure we are serving them.”

Over 14,000 pounds of food were disturbed to 175 families in Davidson County.

Pickett added that he has been volunteering at TSU since his freshman year and currently serves as the community service chair for Build Institute, a professional development program for first-year male students at TSU.

He believes events like the food bank align with how TSU employees and students continue to uphold the motto think, work, serve, beyond the campus.

TSU students promote mental wellness to prevent holiday blues

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – In the midst of finals, winter blues, and the holiday season, Tennessee State University students are prioritizing their mental health.

SGA student leaders partnered with the University Counseling Center for “Tiger Wellness Week.” The goal was to address the emotional well-being of students during this time of the year.

SGA president Derrell Taylor said the activities were designed to help students recognize the value of their mental health. 

Travis Ducksworth, Derrell Taylor, Elizabeth Armstrong and Amore’ Dixie during Tiger Wellness Week.

“From distributing “You Are Loved” t-shirts to passing out affirmations and creating stress balls, our focus was internal, mental, and physical well-being,” said Taylor, a senior who is a business major. 

Taylor added students even did yoga as a preventative measure to ward off the “holiday blues” during what’s considered the happiest time of the year. 

“Towards the end of the semester, we deal with finals and it’s a lot of anxiety for most students. It’s a draining time of the year. The goal was to wrap up the semester on a positive note and remind students that, despite the emotional challenges of the holiday season, they are supported.”

Travis Ducksworth, the first mental health ambassador of TSU’s counseling center,” shared insights into the impact of Tiger Wellness Week. “We were able to give people a reason to reflect and appreciate themselves even more,” Ducksworth said. “Especially during the winter months, once that sun goes down sooner, sometimes your emotions do too.” 

The emphasis is on finding creative ways to help students balance their collegiate life while prioritizing mental health.

During Tiger Wellness Week students has yoga sessions as a preventative measure to ward off the “holiday blues” during what’s considered the happiest time of the year, along with the stress of finals.

“Regardless of what your situation is, stay present,” Ducksworth advised.

Elizabeth Armstrong, a therapist at TSU’s counseling center, highlighted the importance of treating mental health as an aspect of overall health. She addressed the cultural stigmas surrounding African American mental health, urging students not to wait until they’re in crisis to seek counseling.

“Mental health is still health,” Armstrong said. “It’s important because the majority of our population, culturally, have dealt with a lot of trauma.” 

63% of Black adults believe that a mental health condition is a sign of ‘personal weakness,’ according to the National Alliance of Mental Illness. 

“People seem to think something must be extremely wrong to come to counseling, part of even normalizing that is making people aware that you don’t have to be in crisis to come to counseling. But if you’re struggling with your mental health in general, don’t suffer in silence,” stressed Armstrong. 

As the semester comes to an end, Amore’ Dixie, Representative at Large for the Counseling Center, offered encouragement for students to finish strong mentally first to finish academically.

TSU students held a balloon release with messages inside, symbolizing letting go of anything holding students back. 

“I highly encourage everyone to stay focused, stay positive, and make sure to turn in all of their work on time,” Dixie said. 

“Don’t give up now, we’re almost at the home stretch. If you are feeling overwhelmed or just want to talk to someone, be sure to stop by the Counseling Center where one of the therapists can better assist you.”

Regarding the prevalence of mental health challenges among college students, data from the American Psychological Association shows that over 60% of college students experienced at least one mental health problem during the 2020–2021 school year.

According to the American Journal of Epidemiology there has been little research on the association between HBCU attendance and mental health compared to PWI attendance. Despite this gap in research, the American Journal of Epidemiology reports that cross-sectional surveys found better health outcomes for Black students enrolled at HBCUs, including less drinking, fewer mental health conditions, better body image, and more social support.

Travis Ducksworth, the first student ambassador of TSU’s counseling center reading a mental wellness pamphlet.

The week-long event helped students understand and communicate their emotions. It culminated with a balloon release with messages inside, symbolizing letting go of anything holding students back. 

“Moving forward, we plan to collaborate with the University counseling center to implement more consistent check-ins, mental health events, and comfortable, open spaces on campus,” Taylor said, noting that hosting events in the spring will be beneficial as well.

If you or someone you know needs assistance or counseling, please visit www.tnstate.edu/counseling/contact