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TSU Inaugural Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. Lecture Features Accomplished Microbiologist George Hill

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Tennessee State University recently held its inaugural Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr., Homecoming Lecture on its main campus in the Robert N. Murrell Forum.

Dr. George C. Hill, who formerly served as head of the Levi Watkins, Jr., M.D. Professor in Medical Education Chair at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, provided the talk on Oct. 18, encouraging students to persevere in spite of skeptics.

The lecture series, a component of the Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr., Institute, was established to honor Watkins, a 1966 alumnus of TSU and the first African-American to be accepted into and graduate from the Vanderbilt School of Medicine. It features prominent speakers who address areas in health care and STEM to prepare students for the medical field. The late Watkins is known worldwide for being the first surgeon to successfully implant an automatic heart defibrillator in a human patient.

“You too can be exactly like Dr. Watkins. If he were here today he

Dr. George C. Hill

would show you that it is just an example of what Tennessee State University produces,” said Hill, an accomplished molecular biochemist. “Less than 10 years after Dr. Watkins graduated from Vanderbilt, in February 1980, he assisted in putting the defibrillator in a patient.”

Hill, distinguished professor emeritus and past vice chancellor at Vanderbilt University, shared old photographs of Watkins as well as insights about the life of a man who transformed the educational landscape for African-American students pursuing careers in the medical field.

TSU President Glenda Glover greeted the crowd and explained the purpose of the Dr. Levi Watkins Jr., Institute.

“We established this institute to assist students who aspire to attend medical school. We established this institute for students to join the pre-med society. We established this institute to provide leaders from around the world,” she said. “We established this institute to provide scholarships for students for their education here at TSU. “

TSU President Glenda Glover gives greetings at the inaugural Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr., Lecture.

Glover thanked the Watkin’s family for donating $500,000 to fund the institute.

“We thank Dr. Annie Marie Garraway for your contribution to carry out the vision of the genius himself, Dr. Levi Watkins Jr.,“ she said.

Dr. Garraway is Watkin’s sister. She and her husband, Ira Deep, along with Watkin’s cousin, Beverly Sheftall, attended the lecture.

Dr. Lonnie Sharpe, director of the Dr. Levi Watkins Jr., Institute, said the university was honored to have Hill as the event’s featured lecturer.

“Dr. Hill is well renown in his field,” Sharpe said. “The students got to see someone of color who has done very well in terms of looking at diseases and trying to find cures for them. He has done a great job in terms of trying to get students to go into the medical field.”

The event also featured the induction of 19 students into the Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. Society, an organization comprised of students who aspire to attend medical school.

Students recently inducted into the Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. Society with members of the Watkin’s family and organizers of the Dr. Levi Watkins Jr., Institute.

“We are trying to enhance the education of our students by getting more of them to go into medical fields,” said Sharpe, who serves as interim dean of the College of Life and Physical Sciences. “Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr., did a great job in terms of being an example for our students, so we are looking forward to many more of our students attending graduate school and following in his footsteps.”

TSU alum Brandon Van Leer showcases his portrait of Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. which was unveiled during the program.

Barbara Murrell, a 1960 alumna of TSU, was the director of Student Activities in 1965 when Watkins served as president of the student government association president.

“Levi started his preparation for his journey here at Tenneseee State Univeristy in the ‘Land of Golden Sunshine by the Cumberland fertile shore,’” she said.“To us he was Levi. To the world he became a a renowned cardiac surgeon, a game-changer, an unrelenting advocate for the disenfranchised, a drum major for justice and a history maker.”

In addition to the lecture series, the institute also consists of a pre-med society and an endowed scholarship.

Students inducted into the Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. Society include Malcolm Finlay, president, a senior, biology/psychology major; Hitesh Vaishnav, vice-president, a senior, chemistry major; Christian Bond,secretary,  a junior, biology/pre-health major; and Anthony Moreland, treasurer, a senior, biology major.

Other students inducted into the society include Farah Ismail, a junior, chemistry major; Danielle Borlay, a senior, biology major; Joshua Borlay, a freshman, biology major; Autumn Brunson, a sophomore, biology major; Tyona Caldwell, a senior, chemistry major; Ashli Earl, a sophomore, biology major; Sahra Gabure, a sophomore, chemistry major; Jayvonna Gambrell, a sophomore, biology major, Cameron Holifield, a senior, chemistry major; Sara Jamal, a senior, chemistry major; Kimberley Laporte, a sophomore, biology major; Rodney McCracken, a freshman, biology major; Larry McNary II, a sophomore, biology major; Aliyah Muhammad, a junior, biology/pre-med major; and Habiba Mwechiwa, a sophomore, biology major.


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With more than 8,000 students, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a comprehensive, urban, co-educational, land-grant university offering 38 bachelor’s degree programs, 24 master’s degree programs and seven doctoral degrees. TSU has earned a top 20 ranking for Historically Black Colleges and Universities according to U.S. News and World Report, and rated as one of the top universities in the country by Washington Monthly for social mobility, research and community service. Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University celebrated 100 years in Nashville during 2012. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.