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Black Student Association Celebrates 30 Years of Honoring Outstanding Black Student Leaders

The winners of the 2022 Black Student Association annual awards were announced in a virtual event February 25. Pictured from top row, from left, Alexandria Dixon, Za’kinna Conner, Chidi Zacheaus, Tedrin Elion. Bottom row from left, Alexus Rias, Latoria Boyland, Amelia Thompson.

Seven exemplary students were honored Friday, February 25, during the 30th annual Black Student Association (BSA) Awards Ceremony at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.

Held virtually for the past two years because of the pandemic, the ceremony honors the accomplishments of graduating Black student leaders from each of the six colleges at UTHSC.

Neal Beckford, MD, associate professor in the Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery at UTHSC was the keynote speaker. The BSA event can be viewed in its entirety on the UTHSC YouTube channel.

The students honored received a plaque in recognition of their achievements. They are:

Alexandria DeLynn Dixon: College of Dentistry

A native Memphian, Dixon is a graduate of Xavier University in New Orleans, where she received a Bachelor of Science degree in biology and chemistry. In preparation for a career in dentistry, she was an officer in Xavier’s pre-dental organization. Dixon was inducted into Beta Beta Beta Biology Honor Society, as well as Alpha Epsilon Delta Pre-Heath Career Honor Society.

With a love for volunteering and helping her community, she was passionate about her work with New Orleans’ Mission of Mercy dental clinics. In Memphis, her spirit of service continues. Dixon currently volunteers at the Mid-South Mission of Mercy clinics and with the College of Dentistry’s emergency clinic.

She is a student assistant for the Tennessee Institute for Pre-Professionals program, acting as a liaison between program participants and faculty. Her other activities include serving as the treasurer of the Student National Dental Association and former treasurer and current president of the Black Student Association. After graduation, she will enter an Advanced Education in General Dentistry residency.

Latoria Boyland: College of Nursing

Boyland has a heart for people experiencing homelessness and anyone who needs help accessing care for mental illness. A psychiatric nurse at Lakeside Behavioral Health System, Boyland will graduate in May with a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree in the Psychiatric-Mental Health Concentration. She recently started Tori Talks LLC, an organization promoting mental health awareness. Her goal is to normalize conversations about mental health through education and community involvement.

Tori Talks segments are broadcast on Facebook Live each Monday. The sessions include guests from health care, law enforcement, and the clergy, among other professions.

When reaching out to the community, Boyland tries to incorporate meals and other basic needs to underline her message. In 2021, Tori Talks served lunch to 200 men and women through a partnership with Memphis Union Mission. In another event, the group served more than 600 staff at the Memphis Police Department. It provided lunch, blankets, and haircuts for a Thanksgiving event. Boyland received the UTHSC Student Social Justice and Diversity Healthcare Leadership Award.

Tedrin Elion: College of Health Professions

Elion, a third-year Master of Occupational Therapy student, is known across his department for his academic excellence, professionalism, and commitment to the community. He stretches himself by repeatedly taking on challenges, including serving as the point person for organizing student participation in the virtual information sessions early in the pandemic. Even though, he’s not fond of public speaking, he volunteered to participate in a panel discussion.

Occupational therapy was Elion’s first choice for a career. And it’s personal, he said. “I decided I wanted people to choose their ability over their disability, as I’ve done many times myself,” he said. He regularly blogs and posts about his occupational therapy experiences on Instagram, helping others through his experiences.

Department leaders describe Elion as a humble person who is caring, compassionate and keeps a positive attitude, regardless of the situation.

Chidi Zacheaus: College of Graduate Health Sciences

Zacheaus has made a name for himself with his research in biology and immunology. Additionally, he has invested equal energy in leading the cause for entrepreneurs at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and in the greater Memphis community, while also pushing for social justice.

He served as the executive director of the Memphis Scipreneur Challenge, which for six years has created a platform for medical researchers to promote their work in product development before judges, who ultimately choose the project most likely to succeed. Zacheaus was one of the early winners of the challenge, which is sponsored by Life Science Tennessee.

Zacheaus’ goal is to make Memphis a hub of business development, and he pursues it while working on a PhD in biology and immunology at UTHSC. His advice to new researchers is to be confident to tell their own story in a compelling way. “It’s a skill that is so critical, and it can be applied to any field,” he said.

He is praised in his college for the energy he brings to his work, which inspires colleagues, faculty, and staff. He has served as president of the Graduate Student Executive Council and leads weekly discussions on social justice issues.

Za’kinna Conner: College of Dentistry – Dental Hygiene

Conner, who is from Marks, Mississippi, attended Coahoma Community College of Clarksdale, and received her Associate of Arts degree in pre-dental hygiene.

To prepare herself for the academic dental setting, she attended Delta Technical College and became certified in dental assisting. While a student at Dental Technical College, she exhibited outstanding citizenship and student professionalism, and earned the title of student ambassador.

As a member of the dental hygiene community at the UTHSC College of Dentistry, she mentors junior students and often volunteers to give back to the  community through the Mid-South Mission of Mercy, Give Kids A Smile, and Love Thy Neighbor outreach programs. Her animating spirit and disciplined approach to learning make her particularly well-loved by her peers and teachers alike.

Alexus Rias: College of Medicine

Rias has truly distinguished herself in the College of Medicine for her academic achievement and community service. Her peers and faculty recently nominated her for the Hand Scholarship, based on her exemplary manner and demonstration of humanistic characteristics. Rias exhibits a sense of caring, empathy and understanding and shows sensitivity to social and cultural needs.

In addition to being an outstanding scholar, Rias gives back. She serves on the executive board for the Council for International and Area Outreach, whose mission is to promote awareness of global and local health care disparities. She also volunteers as the community outreach assistant for the Wellness and Stress Clinic, which provides supervised primary health care to the uninsured and underserved patient population in Memphis. In this role, she aids in the operation of the clinic by coordinating student volunteer participation.

Rias was selected by her peers on the Medical School Executive Council to serve on the College of Medicine’s admission committee and to serve as one of the Professionalism Representatives for the Class of 2022.

Amelia Thompson: College of Pharmacy 

Thompson graduated from Alcorn State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry. She is currently a fourth-year pharmacy student and demonstrates leadership, professionalism, and commitment to community service.

During her time at UTHSC, Amelia has been an effective leader, demonstrated by her service as the SNPhA president from 2020 to 2021. As president, she oversaw 200 service efforts across all three campuses, playing an integral role in the chapter being recognized as a national finalist for the chapter of the year. Thompson also spearheaded membership efforts for recruitment and retention, resulting in the chapter winning the Overall Chapter of the Year Award and the Chauncey I. Cooper Excellence Award for the Large Chapter of the Year during the SNPhA virtual national convention in November 2020.

Thompson has been awarded the University Scholars Diversity Scholarship in 2018-2019, 2019-2020, and 2021-2022, as well as the 2020-2021 Seldon D. Feurt Memorial Scholarship. With a passion for community service, she has volunteered with Mustard Seed Tutoring and with flu and COVID-19 vaccine clinics, as well as provided vital screenings at numerous health fairs.