Auburn’s Black Graduate and Professional Student Association acknowledges its Unsung Heroes

Published: March 04, 2021

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The Black Graduate and Professional Student Association, or BGPSA, at Auburn University recently recognized its Unsung Heroes.

The student group gives awards annually to faculty, student and local community members who dedicate their work to improving lives of Black people.

The Unsung Hero Faculty Award winner was Martina P. McGhee, an assistant clinical professor of elementary education at Auburn. As a doctoral teaching fellow, McGhee designed and taught a course in the African American studies program, Race and Identity through Pop Culture, which garnered national recognition on NPR’s Code Switch podcast. Students stated McGhee always has her door open, is an unofficial advisor to minority student organizations and is known to take students out to lunch regularly to show her support.

The community award went to Tiffany Gibson-Pitts, founder and CEO of Girls STEPS, Inc. A two-time Auburn alumna, Gibson-Pitts has been a fearless change agent in the community by providing programming and events for children. During her term on the Opelika City Council, she made strides for the people in Ward 2, including forming a partnership with Opelika City Schools and Southern Union State Community College to create the Ward 2 Academy, which served as an educational and mentoring hub for area youth.

LaVarius Harris, a doctoral candidate in counseling psychology at Auburn, received the student award. An alumnus of the University of Alabama at Birmingham and a first lieutenant with the U.S. Army Reserve unit in Montgomery, Alabama, Harris has a passion for helping people, particularly those that are historically disenfranchised. His community engagement work includes talks about financial literacy and career planning, reading to children, mental health forums and teaching at Alabama prisons.

Additionally, the BGPSA awarded the Kimrose Scholarship to Aariyan Tooley, a graduate student in public administration. The scholarship was created for graduate students to purchase books and supplies. It is named after Kimberly Page and Gwendolyn Rose, who believed in the importance of education for all people.

The keynote speaker for this year’s virtual ceremony was David Lacks Jr., grandson of Henrietta Lacks, who died of cervical cancer at age 31. Her cells are still used today to study the effects of toxins, drugs, hormones and viruses on the growth of cancer cells.