The Pickens Playbook Part 2: Year One at Tennessee State University

It was the final week of April 2021, and the clock was running out for Miami Northwestern Senior High School Senior George Pickens to make his final decision on where he would be going to pursue higher education. Pickens, who graduated as the top ranked student in his senior class, was the subject of a previous piece titled, “The Pickens Playbook: 7 College Readiness Moves to Make for Student Success”.

Pickens had many different choices including Harvard University, Howard University, Duke University, and the University of Miami. Ultimately, he felt that he could not turn down the opportunity to go into the Bachelor of Science/Doctor of Medicine (BS/MD) Program at Tennessee State University (TSU) which included acceptance into the Meharry Medical College School of Medicine upon completion of his undergraduate work at TSU.  

He was also impressed by the outreach and genuine efforts of the TSU administration following his visit to the campus in early April 2021. On his visit, he met with program staff and was given a personalized campus tour with Mr. and Ms. TSU. After he returned to Miami, personnel from the program called him every day to check up on him and give him guidance and support leading up to the May 1st decision deadline. He remarked that their persistence showed him how much they cared for students. Dr. Marcus BrightDr. Marcus Bright

Pickens and his fellow cohort members of the Dr. Levi Watkins Jr. Accelerated Pathway Program (BS/MD students) arrived on campus in late July, a few weeks before other students. They went to Meharry Medical College every day and heard testimonials from doctors and students. He described it as a two-week period of building connections and solidifying a long-term support system there. He also got a chance to build camaraderie with other members of his cohort.

After the orientation period, George was selected by an external organization, Baxter International, to receive scholarship support that would cover his enrollment through the completion of his medical school tenure after he matriculates to Meharry Medical College. These experiences helped to lay a solid foundation for an academic year that would end with him enjoying a great academic and social life balance on the TSU campus and finishing the academic year with a 4.0 grade point average. Below are some plays from the “Pickens Playbook” that helped him continue to build on his positive academic momentum at the collegiate level.

Remember why you came to college and remind yourself every day.

Pickens begins every day thinking about where he started and where he wants to go. He believes that this helps him to align with his mission and reconnects him to his faith. He stated that “I keep my mind focused on what I believe that a big part of my purpose is to equip myself to be able to assist others on a daily basis and pour back into the community that poured into me. I become truly happy through service.”

This mindset gives him the continuous motivation to put forth the consistent time, energy, and focus that is required for him to maintain his stellar grade point average. He challenges himself to be a better version of himself on that day than he was the previous day. He understands that he will have to work for what he wants and who he wants to become. Pickens expressed this by saying that “success comes to those who work for it. It comes to those who wake up an hour earlier and stay up an hour later.”

College is what you make of it.

Many students who will be matriculating to institutions of higher education will be experiencing a freedom that they had never previously had. They are essentially on their own to allocate their time and energy in whatever way they would like. It can understandably be difficult for people to be able to handle their newfound autonomy. Those who excel in this environment must be intentional about prioritizing their time and appropriately balancing their academic and social lives.

Every Sunday, Pickens creates a schedule for himself for the upcoming week with what he wants to accomplish and when he intends on doing it. He then tries to stick as closely as he can to that schedule though there are inevitably some things that come up that may cause him deviate to from what was planned. He understands and enjoys the social aspect of college life but has set a rule for himself that he must complete the academic work that he aims to achieve for the day before attending social events. He knows that it can be much more difficult to try to get this kind of work done after a late-night event on campus or somewhere else in the city.

Find a study routine that works for you.

Pickens knew that he would have to retool and redesign the study habits that he had in high school as he was transitioning into a different city, campus, and academic institution. He went through a trial-and-error process to see what worked and what didn’t work in terms of maximizing his study time.

He initially tried studying in his room but found it to be not the most conducive to long term concentration with his bed right there and other distractions readily available. He eventually settled on sequestering himself in a room in the library where he would put his phone on “do not disturb” for a few hours and see how much he could accomplish during that period of dedicated focus. He found this to work for him in a way that enabled him to establish a consistent daily routine where he could maximize his productivity during his planned study time.

Understand your place in history.

Pickens has a keen understanding of history and a deep appreciation for those who paved the way for him to have the opportunities that he is currently able to have. TSU, an institution that was founded on June 19, 1912, as the Tennessee Agricultural & Industrial State Normal School for Negroes and has long been a primary access point for students to continue their education and uplift their communities.

110 years after its founding, students like Pickens continue to build onto this legacy and blaze important traits particularly in the field of medicine where the percentage of Black male doctors in 2018 was 2.6%, slightly under the 2.7% of Black male doctors in 1940. The production of more students like Pickens will be key to improving these numbers in the future.

Pickens is already a trailblazer by being the first student in the Class of 2021 from the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project, a dropout prevention and mentorship program founded by Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, to secure a scholarship offer from TSU and ultimately commit to going. This helped to open the way for 11 other Florida-based students from the program to come in 2021 and an additional 42 students from the Class of 2022 who will be joining the initial cohort this Fall.

The internal drive that Pickens has consistently generated within himself to produce successful outcomes in multiple areas of life is especially commendable. What Pickens has already accomplished has required day after day, week after week, and month after month of disciplined effort with minimal applause or celebration compared to other more celebrated pathways like athletics and entertainment. 

His ability to delay gratification and remain focused on his purpose while taking the needed incremental steps of preparation to equip himself for excellence is worthy of study and is a large part of the basis of this evolving “playbook”. The key to his external achievement; has been his internal investment in his mental, spiritual, and intellectual development. 

These plays from George Pickens include adjustments that students can incorporate to better prioritize their time and energy to have exceptional academic performance and still enjoy the social experience of college. 


Dr. Marcus Bright is a scholar and social impact strategist.

 

It was the final week of April 2021, and the clock was running out for Miami Northwestern Senior High School Senior George Pickens to make his final decision on where he would be going to pursue higher education. Pickens, who graduated as the top ranked student in his senior class, was the subject of a previous piece entitled “The Pickens Playbook: 7 College Readiness Moves to Make for Student Success”.

Pickens had many different choices including Harvard University, Howard University, Duke University, and the University of Miami. Ultimately, he felt that he could not turn down the opportunity to go into the Bachelor of Science/Doctor of Medicine (BS/MD) Program at Tennessee State University (TSU) which included acceptance into the Meharry Medical College School of Medicine upon completion of his undergraduate work at TSU.  

He was also impressed by the outreach and genuine efforts of the TSU administration following his visit to the campus in early April 2021. On his visit, he met with program staff and was given a personalized campus tour with Mr. and Ms. TSU. After he returned to Miami, personnel from the program called him every day to check up on him and give him guidance and support leading up to the May 1st decision deadline. He remarked that their persistence showed him how much they cared for students.

Pickens and his fellow cohort members of the Dr. Levi Watkins Jr. Accelerated Pathway Program (BS/MD students) arrived on campus in late July, a few weeks before other students. They went to Meharry Medical College every day and heard testimonials from doctors and students. He described it as a two-week period of building connections and solidifying a long-term support system there. He also got a chance to build camaraderie with other members of his cohort.

After the orientation period, George was selected by an external organization, Baxter International, to receive scholarship support that would cover his enrollment through the completion of his medical school tenure after he matriculates to Meharry Medical College. These experiences helped to lay a solid foundation for an academic year that would end with him enjoying a great academic and social life balance on the TSU campus and finishing the academic year with a 4.0 grade point average. Below are some plays from the “Pickens Playbook” that helped him continue to build on his positive academic momentum at the collegiate level.

Remember why you came to college and remind yourself every day.

Pickens begins every day thinking about where he started and where he wants to go. He believes that this helps him to align with his mission and reconnects him to his faith. He stated that “I keep my mind focused on what I believe that a big part of my purpose is to equip myself to be able to assist others on a daily basis and pour back into the community that poured into me. I become truly happy through service.”

This mindset gives him the continuous motivation to put forth the consistent time, energy, and focus that is required for him to maintain his stellar grade point average. He challenges himself to be a better version of himself on that day than he was the previous day. He understands that he will have to work for what he wants and who he wants to become. Pickens expressed this by saying that “success comes to those who work for it. It comes to those who wake up an hour earlier and stay up an hour later.”

College is what you make of it.

Many students who will be matriculating to institutions of higher education will be experiencing a freedom that they had never previously had. They are essentially on their own to allocate their time and energy in whatever way they would like. It can understandably be difficult for people to be able to handle their newfound autonomy. Those who excel in this environment must be intentional about prioritizing their time and appropriately balancing their academic and social lives.

Every Sunday, Pickens creates a schedule for himself for the upcoming week with what he wants to accomplish and when he intends on doing it. He then tries to stick as closely as he can to that schedule though there are inevitably some things that come up that may cause him deviate to from what was planned. He understands and enjoys the social aspect of college life but has set a rule for himself that he must complete the academic work that he aims to achieve for the day before attending social events. He knows that it can be much more difficult to try to get this kind of work done after a late-night event on campus or somewhere else in the city.

Find a study routine that works for you.

Pickens knew that he would have to retool and redesign the study habits that he had in high school as he was transitioning into a different city, campus, and academic institution. He went through a trial-and-error process to see what worked and what didn’t work in terms of maximizing his study time.

He initially tried studying in his room but found it to be not the most conducive to long term concentration with his bed right there and other distractions readily available. He eventually settled on sequestering himself in a room in the library where he would put his phone on “do not disturb” for a few hours and see how much he could accomplish during that period of dedicated focus. He found this to work for him in a way that enabled him to establish a consistent daily routine where he could maximize his productivity during his planned study time.

Understand your place in history.

Pickens has a keen understanding of history and a deep appreciation for those who paved the way for him to have the opportunities that he is currently able to have. TSU, an institution that was founded on June 19, 1912, as the Tennessee Agricultural & Industrial State Normal School for Negroes and has long been a primary access point for students to continue their education and uplift their communities.

110 years after its founding, students like Pickens continue to build onto this legacy and blaze important traits particularly in the field of medicine where the percentage of Black male doctors in 2018 was 2.6%, slightly under the 2.7% of Black male doctors in 1940. The production of more students like Pickens will be key to improving these numbers in the future.

Pickens is already a trailblazer by being the first student in the Class of 2021 from the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project, a dropout prevention and mentorship program founded by Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, to secure a scholarship offer from TSU and ultimately commit to going. This helped to open the way for 11 other Florida-based students from the program to come in 2021 and an additional 42 students from the Class of 2022 who will be joining the initial cohort this Fall.

The internal drive that Pickens has consistently generated within himself to produce successful outcomes in multiple areas of life is especially commendable. What Pickens has already accomplished has required day after day, week after week, and month after month of disciplined effort with minimal applause or celebration compared to other more celebrated pathways like athletics and entertainment. 

His ability to delay gratification and remain focused on his purpose while taking the needed incremental steps of preparation to equip himself for excellence is worthy of study and is a large part of the basis of this evolving “playbook”. The key to his external achievement; has been his internal investment in his mental, spiritual, and intellectual development. 

These plays from George Pickens include adjustments that students can incorporate to better prioritize their time and energy to have exceptional academic performance and still enjoy the social experience of college. 

 

Dr. Marcus Bright is a scholar and social impact strategist.