Top scholars tout university’s academic offerings
MURFREESBORO — How will Murfreesboro’s Central Magnet School accommodate 41 valedictorian speeches at Sunday’s graduation ceremony?
The answer to that question will be up on the big screens at Murphy Center, thanks to a set of 30-second videos of the valedictory remarks prepared in advance by MTSU’s marketing and communications office.
The video support is part of the university’s ongoing relationship with the East Main Street magnet school, recently named one of the top four public high schools in the state of Tennessee. And among these 4.0 GPA scholars were 13 students — roughly a third of Central’s valedictorians this year — who plan to be back on the Blue Raider campus this fall as part of the newest freshman class.
One of them is Tatum England, 17, of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. She comes to campus with a Buchanan Fellowship, the university’s highest academic scholarship to an entering freshman. She plans to study nursing or enter the pre-professional program at MTSU, with career plans to become a nurse anesthetist or a doctor.
“The academics I could get here are equal to anywhere else you could go or even more advanced,” England said. “I can stay here and still be with my family.”
And England already has strong MTSU ties, with mother Susan England working in the university’s Human Resources Department and brothers who have attended as well.
“This place just really feels like home,” England said. “I sort of grew up here. A lot of the people in the Honors College I’ve also grown up with and I’ve watched them make incredible advances. … I want to follow suit.”
All of Central’s valedictorians visited campus recently to have their videos shot, a visit that gave those students who chose to attend different institutions a chance to get another look at MTSU’s growing campus and academic offerings as well as personally interact with faculty such as Honors College Dean John Vile and Basic and Applied Sciences Dean Bud Fischer.
A recent survey by The Daily News Journal of valedictorians and salutatorians graduating this year from Rutherford County high schools showed that MTSU was the school of choice for the largest number of those students.
“Our office has enhanced its focus on reaching high-ability students, because some of them view us as just another large state institution,” said Wendi Pelfrey, interim director of undergraduate recruitment. “However, MTSU features world-class facilities where students can work one-on-one with top-tier professors and be a member of an intimate community of elite scholars. Our students have the same opportunities as those at Ivy League schools, but at a greatly reduced cost.”
Central valedictorian Kimi Warren, 18, of Smyrna, Tennessee, plans to double major in forensic science and psychology at MTSU. The oldest of four siblings, Warren chose MTSU because she wanted to get a quality education close to home so that she could still influence her younger siblings and “encourage them to keep learning.”
Central’s seniors must complete an “intense” thesis project their final year that requires independent research and is based on the rubric for the MTSU Honors College, Warren said, so she “spent a lot of time” on campus the past year being exposed to MTSU resources and networking with faculty.
Warren hopes to tap into MTSU’s study-abroad opportunities to visit other countries and expand her worldview. After getting her graduate degrees, she eventually wants to work for the FBI as a behavioral analyst with the agency’s special victims unit.
“What I really want to do with that is maybe work with Interpol to stop international sex trafficking,” she said.
Like classmates Warren and England, 18-year-old Asfah Mohammed, 18, of Murfreesboro, comes to MTSU with high aspirations as well. She wants to become a pediatric oncologist with a goal of eventually helping find a cure for cancer, a disease that claimed her grandmother’s life.
“Ever since then I’ve grown more interested in the field,” said Mohammed, who, like England, is also a Buchanan Fellow. She will study in the chemistry pre-medicine program at MTSU.
Coming to the Blue Raider campus wasn’t a hard decision. Mohammed’s mother attended graduate school here and her sister, Yusra, also a Buchanan Fellow, is a junior studying biology.
“MTSU feels like home to me,” Mohammed said. “Every time I’ve come on campus or every time I’ve talked to faculty, I’ve always felt welcome. And the Honors College program is great. It definitely helped push me in this direction.”
Pelfrey isn’t surprised. MTSU’s Honors College offers students small discussion-based classes, hands-on learning, the ability to study in over 100 countries and the opportunity to obtain nationally recognized scholarships such as the Rhodes, Fulbright and Goldwater.
MTSU also provides numerous scholarship opportunities for prospective students, awarding $764,000 in scholarships this year to Central Magnet students alone.
“The university was recently classified as the top producer of Fulbright winners in the state of Tennessee, and one of the top 20 nationally,” Pelfrey noted. “MTSU may be in their backyard, but it can take them anywhere.”
Mohammed is ready to begin her journey. Her graduation speech will be a “thank you” to her parents and “those who’ve helped make me the person I am.” That includes her fellow Class of 2015 comrades, a whopping one-fifth of who earned the valedictorian honor.
“Everyone at my school is so motivated,” Mohammed said. “We are going to do many great things.”
Central Magnet’s graduation will be held at 7 p.m. Sunday, May 17, at MTSU’s Murphy Center.