Tag Archives: Dr. Anita McGaha

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.

44-year-old blind TSU student defies the odds, graduates with economics degree

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Julian Walker lost his vision due to a Nashville car accident in 2012. Walker had to adapt quickly to the drastic changes in his life, from learning braille and using specialized software to relearning simple tasks. Despite being completely blind, the father of four never lost sight of his goals.

On Saturday 44-year-old Julian Walker graduated from Tennessee State University with a bachelor’s degree in economics, as the only blind student in the spring 2023 graduating class. “I am proud of myself,” said the Nashville native.

Julian Walker at graduation rehearsal in Gentry Center the day before he walked the stage, receiving his degree in economics.

“This isn’t entirely about me walking across the stage. A lot of this is for my children, so they can see that you can get a degree and finish school even if you are blind. I am just trying to give them motivation for their journey through college,” he said.

Walker has three sons and a daughter ages 12-16. “This is about my family.”

Walker began his college journey at Emory University right after high school but didn’t finish. In 2019, he received his associate’s degree from Nashville State Community College. “I need to complete what I started back then,” he said, referring to receiving his bachelor’s. “I wanted to see if I could go to school as a blind person.”

Walker is one of nearly 150 disabled students who are served on campus. He noted that TSU’s office of disability services always accommodated him, no matter the class. “Anytime I needed help, the office was right on top of it,” he said. “Even if it was moving around the buildings, they made sure if I needed assistance, they would walk around with me.”

The nontraditional student also mentioned that walking across the stage served as a reminder that people with disabilities are capable of earning their degree. “That’s where the fuel comes from every day,” he said. “We need to see more disabled people who are aware of these resources at TSU. They can do it too.”

In 2012, Walker underwent seven surgeries in an attempt to save his vision. In 2021, he fell and injured himself, causing two minor strokes. After recovering, he got back on track to reach his educational milestone. Dr. Anita McGaha, Director of the Office of Disability Services (ODS), said she is proud of Walker for not giving up on himself.

McGaha said that not only does Walker represent TSU as a graduate, but he represents other students with impairments as well. “There is learner variability,” McGaha said. “Just because you learn differently doesn’t mean you cannot succeed. Students cannot allow their disabilities to dictate their success.”

The ODS provides academic accommodations for students with documented disabilities such as mood disorders, cognitive disorders, and physical impairments. Gregory Morrissette, the office’s learning disability coordinator, meet with the students and discusses how their disability impacts their academic setting. Walker said that the accommodation has made his time at TSU seamless. “The TSU experience has been great,” he said, noting how closing out this chapter with a commencement speech from TSU alumna Oprah Winfrey was remarkable.

Walker’s journey is a prime example of perseverance and determination. Now, with a college degree under his belt, Walker looks forward to utilizing his degree for his local family business, Germantown Pub, or working for a disability services office in Nashville.

For more information about TSU’s Office of Disability Services, visit www.tnstate.edu/disabilityservices/.

TSU to change lives of young adults with intellectual disabilities, receives $284,000 in grant award

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Tennessee State University has received $284,000 from the TN Department of Intellectual Developmental Disabilities (DIDD), becoming the first public institution in Middle Tennessee and HBCU in the nation to offer the program.

A check presentation took place Tuesday morning as DIDD commissioner Brad Turner and his team joined TSU President Glenda Glover, Dr. Anita McGaha, TSU director of disability services, Rep. Harold Love Jr., Senator Brenda Gilmore and staff for the historic event.

Dr. Anita McGaha, TSU director of disability services, says the TigerEDGE Program will help students succeed. (Photo by Aaron Grayson)

TSU’s grant will be spread over two years to create TigerEDGE (Educate, Develop, and Grow for Employability) a non-degree certificate program for students ages 18-26.

“We are fulfilling our mission to provide a college education and experience to a population that is often overlooked and underserved,” said President Glover. “We are indeed proud. We will work to change the lives of the program participants and their families.”

Commissioner Turner, who stated that he is a parent of a child with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), said it is an honor to present the grant to TSU. “It speaks value about the importance you see in students with disabilities and creating a brighter future for them,” he said.

“Once again Tennessee State is leading the charge … inclusive education is the key for all,” said Rep. Harold Love Jr. (Photo by Aaron Grayson)

Turner said being able to tell students that there is a public institution suitable for their education is the beginning of something great. “There are schools that you can go to that believe you have every right to have a 4-year college degree if that is what you want to do. And TSU is once again, leading that in higher education.”

Dr. McGaha said the program is currently targeting enrollment of eight students for the Fall semester. The unique program will provide the students with a residential and academic ambassador on campus, and mentors to assist the selected students.

“We all want to see our students, our children to succeed in life and we believe that this program is a tool to provide that,” Dr. McGaha said.

President Glenda Glover speaking with Andy Kidd, Deputy Commissioner of Fiscal and Administrative Services. (Photo by Aaron Grayson)

TSU is among four higher education institutions to receive the Tennessee Believes grant from DIDD, which is a program that provides funding to colleges to create or expand post-secondary opportunities for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

For more information about the TigerEDGE Program or how to apply, contact Dr. McGaha at [email protected].

$284K grant puts TSU at the forefront of helping students with intellectual & developmental disabilities

By Meagan Gosa

Nashville, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Tennessee State University has been awarded a $284,000 grant to help students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It is the first public institution in Middle Tennessee to offer an inclusive higher education program.

Dr. Anita McGaha

TSU is among four higher education institutions to receive the Tennessee Believes grant from the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD).

TSU’s grant will be spread over two years to create TigerEDGE (Educate, Develop, and Grow for Employability). The non-degree certificate program will allow young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) to experience college life while also preparing them for employment. The program will target enrollment of eight students in Fall 2022.

Nationally, adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities have an 80 percent unemployment rate, according to a recent statistic.

“TigerEDGE gives participants an “Edge” in their transition to independent adulthood by providing person-centered inclusive learning and choice,” says Dr. Anita McGaha, director of disability services at TSU and the grant’s principal investigator. ”The services delivered will focus on improving the quality of life through the development of social skills, academics, career, and job readiness. The experience of learning, living, and working together in an inclusive environment enhances the lives of all students and the TSU community as a whole.  I am thankful for President Glenda Glover’s leadership in encouraging an inclusive learning environment and in providing all students an opportunity to succeed.”

Adds McGaha, “TSU is currently the only public institution in the Middle Tennessee area that will provide IDD students with the opportunity to experience college life while preparing them for successful independent living.” 

Program participants will be between 18 and 26 years of age and will live on campus. They will be paired with an undergraduate student, or peer mentor, majoring in special education.

Dr. Jerri Haynes, dean of the College of Education at TSU, says the grant is an opportunity for the College, TSU, and other agencies to work together to reflect a university that speaks to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

“The College of Education is excited because our teacher candidates will be allowed to work with students with disabilities serving as a mentor on the TSU campus, reflecting a true inclusion model,” says Haynes. “We are at the forefront of leading an inclusive culture that aims to create a feeling of belonging, a community in which all students are equal despite their needs and the support they receive. The aim is to ensure support for every student within their group.”

To learn more about the program and TSU’s Office of Disability Services, visit https://www.tnstate.edu/disabilityservices/.

Department of Media Relations

Tennessee State University
3500 John Merritt Boulevard
Nashville, Tennessee 37209

About Tennessee State University

Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a  premier, historically black university and land-grant institution offering 39 bachelor’s degree programs, 24 master’s degree programs, and eight doctoral degrees.  TSU is a comprehensive research intensive institution with a R-2 Carnegie designation, and has a graduate school on its downtown Avon Williams Campus, along with the Otis Floyd Nursery Research Center in McMinnville, Tennessee.  With a commitment to excellence, Tennessee State University provides students  with a quality education in a nurturing and innovative environment that prepares them as alumni to be global leaders in every facet of society. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.