Students work on robot for competition

By Lucas Johnson

NASHVILLE, TN (TSU News Service) — A Tennessee State University alumna and 2020 Amazon Future Engineer Teacher of the Year Award recipient is using her position to turn high school students Big Blue. 

While she’s thrilled to have been chosen by Amazon, Shasta 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, a computer science teacher and Robotics Club staffer at Whites Creek Comprehensive High School in Nashville. “I have four students this year who are going to TSU to major in some form of agriculture.” 

Charlton, a 2019 agricultural sciences major from TSU, was recently one of 10 individuals selected from among

Shasta Charlton

thousands of eligible teachers to receive $50,000 from Amazon – which includes $25,000 for the school and $25,000 in school supplies. 

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.

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.”

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 at TSU. “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. 

“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

For more about community college initiatives at TSU, visit