NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Tennessee State University experienced historic growth this fall with the institution’s record-setting freshman class of 3,567 first-year students. Included in the group, and far away from home, were 29 Caribbean scholars. With this being the first time on American soil for many of them, the University has worked to make the transition as seamless as possible.
TSU’s annual International Education Week, observed November 7 -11, has made the Caribbean students feel even more at ease in their “home-away-from home.” The week-long event helped to promote cultural awareness and featured several activities highlighting the native land of the University’s international students. This included Dance Hall Night and lunch-n-learn story circles events for the entire campus.
“We are all from difference places, but it’s still a family because we are relating to being abroad in school,” Tonique Poitier of the Bahamas, said.
Poitier, who is a freshman studying chemistry, said the week gave her and fellow Caribbean students a chance to interact and gain awareness about other cultures as well.
She said most of them met at a welcome reception and dinner for Caribbean students hosted by TSU and the Nashville community. The September event, which featured foods from several of their home islands, was the first of several to help them adjust to college life.
“The welcome dinner made me feel at home,” said Jada Henry, who is an incoming freshman from Jamaica studying Supply Chain Management. “They had Jamaican food and gave good advice.”
Henry hopes to land a career as a Logistics Supervisor with the military. “I take great pride in my place here at Tennessee State University and in the direction my experience has provided for me thus far,” he said.
“The dinner was a very nice gesture,” said Renard Frederick, who is an incoming freshman from Trinidad & Tobago studying Human Performance and Sports Sciences. “It brought all of the Caribbean students together and now we are friends as a result.”
Frederick wants to become a Sports Physiotherapist working with sports teams, ideally his dream team, Barcelona SC.
According to Dr. Arlene Nicholas-Phillips, executive assistant to President Glover and liaison on Global Initiatives, this is the first time that TSU has successfully recruited a large number of Caribbean students. She attributed this success to the International Tuition Assistance Grant (ITAG) the students received.
“Coming from the Caribbean, I understand the importance of education,” Nicholas-Phillips said. “Parents from the Caribbean understand that no sacrifice is too much to further their students’ education, and they’ve expressed how much of a blessing TSU has been with the ITAG because it’s an opportunity they [otherwise] wouldn’t have.”
Over 300 Caribbean students applied for the ITAG from TSU with the final selection made up of 20 on campus (two from Jamaica, five from Trinidad & Tobago, and 13 from the Bahamas) and nine studying online. The grant requires incoming students to have a minimum 3.25 grade point average and maintain 15 credit hours per semester to complete their degree within four years.
“The average G.P.A. for the incoming scholars is 3.6,” added Nicholas-Phillips. “These are high-performing students, and we know they are dedicated to their education because they know the sacrifice their parents are making.”
D’Neka Cunningham is one of a few transfer students who received the ITAG this semester and said the opportunity means everything to her and her family.
“I’m the oldest of three and first-gen, so I have to set the standard and be the example,” said Cunningham, who plans to return home to the Bahamas with a degree in Architectural Engineering and help improve their residential structures. She recalled how their homes flooded and two of her friends died during Hurricane Dorian in 2019. “We have great structures, but we can improve our homes.”
Dr. Coreen Jackson, dean of TSU’s Honors College, said the University’s recruitment efforts outside of the U.S. speaks to the administration’s commitment to being a global institution.
“This is a dream come true for TSU to extend such an awesome opportunity to students in the Caribbean who probably would not have gotten an opportunity for a higher education since there are limited universities for the number of students coming out of high school,” said Jackson, who is also from Jamaica. “It says a lot about our leader who is unselfish, caring, and global-minded.”
Dr. Jackson and her husband, the Rev. Dr. Chris Jackson, hosted the reception and dinner event at their Pleasant Green Baptist church. Rev. Jackson said opening the church doors to welcome the students was a good thing to do. “I have travelled internationally and know what it means to be at an unfamiliar place and be shown care and love,” he said.
Both Nicholas-Phillips and [Coreen] Jackson expressed gratitude for those who volunteered their time and resources to make the welcome dinner a success, sharing that members of the local Caribbean community came together to cook traditional Caribbean foods such as rice and peas, jerk chicken, and roti, and even donated money. Local eatery Jamaicaway Restaurant and Catering also contributed food. The night was capped off with a special presentation by President Glenda Glover and Michael Thomas, President of Atlanta’s Caribbean American Cultural Arts Foundation.
Other TSU faculty and staff attending the dinner included members of the International Recruiting Committee; Global Online AVP Dr. Seay; Chief Data Officer, Dr. Clarke from Trinidad; Health Sciences Professor Dr. Johnson from Jamaica; and members of the OIA team.
Dr. Coreen Jackson said she has plans to start a program where local Caribbean families can “adopt an international student” and provide them additional support from the community while they are away from home. This includes preparing them for the Nashville winter season.
“Many of our international students have not experienced a winter, so I would like to do a drive for winter coats, sweaters, socks, blanket, etc.,” she said. “It would also be nice to have local stores donate new items and/or allow the [international] students to shop at a discounted rate.”
“I am grateful for the opportunity to get a quality education amongst people who look like me,” said Cunningham. “That’s what I’ve been used to my whole life and getting to continue to do that in a place where I feel comfortable is amazing.”
While there’s no place like home, the Caribbean scholars at TSU have a new place to call home for the next four years.