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Posted on: March 5, 2019

MTSU News: MTSU, Blackman academy celebrate seniors' capstone research

BCA Gallery Walk

Aubrey Caster is not your average high school senior who is about to head off to college at Middle Tennessee State University next fall.  He goes way above the call of duty at Blackman High School, where he’s senior class president and valedictorian, Junior ROTC battalion commander, member of the Key Club and National Honor Society, homecoming king and more.

During the fourth annual Blackman Collegiate Academy Capstone Symposium Monday (March 4), Caster exited stage left a little early to attend practice for “Into the Woods,” a March 7-10 Blackman Theatre play where his character will be in the lead role as The Baker.

Caster, 18, whose capstone project was about the importance and benefits of volunteering, joined nearly 60 fellow students at the event. It was a university-caliber symposium, with parents, friends, peers and others on hand, at Blackman, one of the state’s largest high schools with nearly 2,150 students.

Started in 2015, the collegiate academy includes a special partnership between MTSU and Blackman, allowing eligible juniors and seniors to take up to six hours of university courses taught at Blackman by MTSU instructors at no cost. The credits will count on high school and college transcripts.

“I had a good time and made so many friends,” said Caster of his Blackman experience and before embarking on a path to study business and marketing in the MTSU Jones College of Business. “The collegiate academy helped me with my work ethic, to push through and persevere. It taught me responsibility. I learned to balance it all. Time management was the biggest thing. I am better prepared to go to college.”

Not only did the nearly 60 Blackman researchers come dressed to impress, they articulately described their projects and study, and seemed more mature than typical 17- and 18-year-olds. Topics included dyslexia, juvenile arthritis, traumatic brain injuries in high school students and more.

A number of these plan to attend MTSU while others will pursue degrees at other public and private institutions in state and out of state.

“They present to a panel and defend their research. It’s like a college thesis,” said Ken Reed, academy coordinator and an assistant principal. “When they go to college, it will be easier for them.”He notes that about 30 of them will receive full scholarships and the overall ACT average is 28.

Pursuing “PTSD in First Responders” as a capstone project has changed Emily Stacey’s mind about a college major at MTSU, where she will study counseling and minor in psychology. Her father, Kelly Stacy, is a first responder with the Smyrna Fire Department.

“This opened doors and it helped people realize support for first responders with PTSD is needed like it is for those who serve in the military,” Emily Stacey said. “A lot of first responders came up to me and said, ‘Thank you’ because it gets overlooked sometimes.”

For Sarah Oppmann, 17, a senior who plans to study music theatre and media and entertainment at MTSU, her project involved finding ways to fund the arts in Murfreesboro and Rutherford County.

“I have grown as a communicator and in my research skills,” added Oppmann. “It has had an impact on the community that is sustaining.” Working with community arts activist Andrea Loughry, the venture has helped lead to a Tennessee Arts Commission grant, private donations, her starting a youth advisory committee and eventual plans for a future performing arts center.

Knowing the effort that went into every project, BHS Principal Leisa Justus proudly made the rounds of the Capstone Gallery Walk, congratulating each student for the great job they had done.

Deb Sells, vice president of student affairs and vice provost of enrollment and academic services, remarked about “how fluent and self-confident” the presenters were.

“The quality was amazing,” added Laurie Witherow, MTSU associate vice provost for admissions and academic services. “Their comfort in presenting their research is noteworthy.

Sells and Witherow will select a recipient for a small scholarship that will be announced April 17 during the Blackman Academic Signing event on the BHS campus.

For more information about the Blackman Collegiate Academy, visit  and click on the appropriate link under the “Academics” tab.

Blackman Collegiate Academy
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