TSU alumna and Amazon Teacher of the Year Shasta Charlton inspires students to be successful

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Tennessee State University alumna Shasta Charlton didn’t know much about robots. But that didn’t stop the first-year teacher and her students from building and coding one, and winning $50,000 from Amazon.

TSU alumna Shasta Charlton

Charlton, a computer science teacher and Robotics Club staffer at Whites Creek Comprehensive High School in Nashville, is a 2020 Amazon Future Engineer Teacher of the Year Award recipient. She is one of 10 individuals selected from among thousands of eligible teachers to receive the prestigious award, which includes $25,000 for the school and $25,000 in school supplies.

Charlton’s ability to relate to students helped get the attention of Amazon. When her school presented she and her students with the challenge of building and coding a robot, they did not back away.

“I don’t have a computer science degree, but I went home and I buried myself in YouTube videos and read every book that I could get my hands on to make this happen for them,” recalls Charlton, who also convinced the students to start a Robotics Club. “In about six months we had a fully working coded robot, and we actually ended up winning third in the state competition. I could have easily just said no, but instead, me and my students said we were going to buckle down and figure it out.”

Amazon award recipients were chosen based on a variety of criteria, which included their commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion within computer science education, a recommendation from a school administrator, and compelling, personal anecdotes about their school and students.

While she’s thrilled to be nationally recognized by Amazon, Charlton says she’s even more excited about the number of students she’s convinced to attend TSU in just her first year of being a teacher.

“I’ve really been trying to connect my students with TSU as much as possible,” says Charlton, who graduated from TSU last year with a degree in agricultural sciences. “I have four students this year who are going to TSU to major in some form of agriculture.”

Dr. John Ricketts is an Ag professor and extension specialist at TSU who encouraged Charlton to transfer to the university and major in agriculture when she was at Nashville State Community College. He says he’s not surprised at the success she’s having after just one year of teaching.

“She was extremely motivated as a student; she’s incredibly brilliant too,” says Ricketts of Charlton, whose concentration was in agricultural education. “When she went to Whites Creek, we knew that they had a home run. And frankly, it’s a home run for TSU because she’ll be sharing the good word about Big Blue.“

Dr. Chandra Reddy, dean of TSU’s College of Agriculture, agrees.

Students work on robot for competition. (Submitted photo)

“As a student, she was very active and passionate about her program,” says Reddy. “She is also typical of our agricultural education graduates who have been getting very high scores on the state education exams and are doing extremely well as teachers and leaders in the communities they serve.”

In 2009, Nashville State Community College and TSU formed a Dual Admission Agreement. It provided certain guarantees to students who committed to TSU early in their community college matriculation, such as priority advising and registration, as well as access to TSU’s campus.

Since then, the Tennessee Board of Regents instituted the Tennessee Transfer Pathways program, which superseded DAAs and provided guarantees to community college graduates statewide.

Dr. Sharon Peters, executive director of community college initiatives at TSU, says students at Nashville State continue to be on TSU’s radar.

“Nashville State should be our pipeline,” says Peters. “The majority of the students that leave Nashville State should be coming here, or considering us, particularly if they live in Davidson County.”

For more information about TSU’s College of Agriculture, visit http://www.tnstate.edu/agriculture/

For more about community college initiatives at TSU, visit http://www.tnstate.edu/commcolleges/

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 seven 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.