Autezia Sellers

Autezia Sellers sits beside a large window overlooking Tech's campus.


Growing up in a small town in Mississippi, Autezia Sellers did not see many around her pursuing higher education when they got out of high school. Her father, Bo Sellers, had his bachelor’s degree, however getting to college was not exactly a topic of discussion. Nevertheless, Sellers’s father was her biggest influence not only because he pioneered a new path for her family, but he was a valued member of their community. Sellers decided she wanted that for herself as well. She not only achieved that, but a master’s degree as well – and now she has set her sights on a Ph.D.

She is currently enrolled in Tennessee Tech University’s exceptional learning program with a concentration in health, behaviors and wellness.

“While working on your Ph.D., you have to question your own identity. You have to question your own belief systems and theories about what reality is, what life is,” she said. “That’s the hardest part because it does take exploring and opening your mind up to not being set on one thing.”

That’s not all that she’s had to contend with, she added.

“Coming from a small town, you become a standard for people. Sometimes it can feel like I don't belong. Women have a hard time getting specific roles and jobs and then being African American adds to that pressure. But I am most proud of not giving up in my first year in the Ph.D. program,” she added. “I've heard that's where you sink or swim, and even though I had a rocky start for sure, I feel like that I swam.”

In honor of Black History Month, she reflected on what the annual observance means to her as an African American woman and how she honors and celebrates the history, accomplishments and difficulties of those who came before her.

“As an African-American woman, Black history is not just a historical moment, but it's my life, my story and my people's identity,” she said. “I personally believe that the best way that we can celebrate black history and culture is to continue to be the change we want to see.”

She says Tech’s chief diversity officer, Rob Owens, has had a huge impact on her life in his roles as a mentor at the university, a pastor and a basketball coach.

“He does this while counseling, empowering and supporting faculty, students and families. He is the most influential person to me simply because although he juggles multiple roles, he has made it a duty to ensure my growth and success. Not to mention he offers time to advise and cultivate my mental and spiritual growth development. I desire to pass that on in the future.”

Sellers hopes to take what she is learning at Tech and carry it over into a career involving mental health, athletics, childhood adversity and overall wellness. She is a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Center of Diversity Education (CODE), Kainos College Women's Bible Study, Impact Cookeville, and the United Voice of Praise on campus, where he has surrounded herself with both opportunities for growth and to positively impact the lives of others.

“I come from a small town, and I enjoy the idea of having a small community here at Tech, even though it was different from the community that I grew up in,” she said. “I love the idea that you can kind of make a family here and you don't have to worry about being just a number.”

For those also considering whether to pursue higher education, Sellers urged them to not let their background make them think the goal was impossible if it was something they truly wanted.

“You can be more than one thing,” she said. “You can be African American and succeed at a predominantly white institution. You can be from Mississippi and Tennessee. You can have a mother who was a teacher and you can be an astronaut. You can not have a plan but have purpose. You can do all the things that you want to do, no matter where you come from, no matter who you are. If you want to do something don't ever get to the point where you feel that who you are is a reason why you shouldn't be something great.”

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