TSU Establishes Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. Memorial Institute in Honor of Trailblazer and Alumnus

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Tennessee State University is using a half million dollar gift from the family of the late Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. to establish an endowed scholarship fund in honor of the TSU alumnus and renowned heart surgeon.

The Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. Endowed Scholarship Fund will provide financial assistance to pre-med majors at the institution based on high scholastic achievement. In conjunction with the scholarship fund, TSU will establish the Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. Memorial Institute. The initiative is made up of three components: the Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. Society, the Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. Pre-Med Society and the Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. Lecture Series.

“We are extremely grateful to the family of Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. for this tremendous gift to further the legacy of such a brilliant individual, and TSU alumnus,” said Tennessee State University President Glenda Glover.

“The Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. Endowed Scholarship and institute are incredible programs to have housed at our university and will add another caveat to our stellar STEM programs. Most importantly, it continues the work of Dr. Watkins of inspiring students to pursue their dreams in the medical profession and to give back to others.”

The Society is a student organization for STEM majors who are high academic achievers and Presidential Scholars. The Pre-Med Society is for students who are high achievers interested in attending medical school.

Both organizations include periodic seminars, service as research assistants, a living learning community on campus, and training for personal health and wellness.

The Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. Lecture Series will be annually and will invite prominent speakers to TSU to address areas in health care and STEM. The focus will be on preparing students for the medical program and is slated to begin this fall.

Watkins is carried on the shoulders of well-wishers following his victory as the new Student Council President. (courtesy photo)

Dr. Levi Watkins enrolled at Tennessee State University where he excelled as a student. Watkins studied biology but was also heavily involved in campus life. He was listed in the Who’s Who in American Universities and Colleges, president of the Student Council (1965-1966), and received the title of “Mr. Brains” by the yearbook staff in 1966. Levi was a member of the Nashville Collegiate Exchange Council, National Vice President of Alpha Kappa Mu Honor Society, a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, and the University Counselors. He graduated in 1966 with honors.

After leaving Tennessee State, Watkins became the first African American student to be admitted to and graduate from the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. Following Vanderbilt, Levi began his residency at John Hopkins Hospital. He would go on to become the first black chief resident of cardiac surgery.

Watkins was a pioneer in both cardiac surgery and civil rights at Hopkins. He was the first doctor to implant an automatic heart defibrillator in a patient, a medical procedure that is now more common place. It is because of his vision and innovation this medical breakthrough has been responsible for saving the lives of millions worldwide.

He performed this groundbreaking procedure while he was also fighting to diversify the medical staff and student ranks at Hopkins. His legacy of recruiting and mentoring minority students helped to change the landscape of the medical profession. Watkins retired from Hopkins in 2013, dedicating 43 years of service to helping others.

Dr. Watkins became ill while doing what he loved most, inspiring prospective medical students at Hopkins, and died on April 11, 2015. Watkins will be remembered not only for his transformative achievements, but also for the deep personal connections he made with people from all walks of life.

The University held a memorial service with the campus family and Nashville community to celebrate his life of outstanding achievement and service.

Cherie S. White
Cherie S. White
Cherie S. White is Director of Digital Strategy for the Tom Joyner Foundation, a writer and editor.

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