COOKEVILLE – When Tennessee Tech University alumnus Tom Collins and his wife, Missy, established the Future Leader in Healthcare Scholarship, their plan was to give students an opportunity like Tom was given when he graduated in 1998 with his degree in chemistry.
“It is specifically geared toward trying to give students a huge boost in reaching their goal of medical school or dental school or any health science training,” Collins explained. “And I want it to be geared toward someone with a disadvantaged background. Me – 28 years ago – that’s the student I’m trying to help.”
Though he is now a pediatric cardiologist at Stanford’s Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, he came from humble beginnings. Collins grew up in Morgan County, one of the perennially lowest-income, least-educated counties in Tennessee. His father dropped out of high school, and his mother worked at a local prison.
He received a Tennessee Tech scholarship after being named valedictorian of his high school class. He struggled his first semester but found his passion after changing his major to chemistry with a biochemistry concentration. After graduating from Tech, Collins attended the University of Tennessee College of Medicine and discovered a passion for cardiology. His career eventually took him to Stanford’s Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital.
“I spent my whole life trying to hide my accent, trying to get away from where I was from,” he said. “And I will admit that there was a time when I was kind of embarrassed, because everyone I was around was a product of a big-name place: Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Dartmouth, Princeton. And I had some juvenile feelings of inferiority when colleagues would ask me where I went to college. So, coming out here has been liberating in that sense. Now I say, ‘Yeah, that’s where I’m from. You’re darn right I went to Tennessee Tech.’ You want to talk about return on investment? Hands down, Tennessee Tech.”
Collins hopes his gift to the university will help other kids coming out of lower income hometowns, just like his own.
“There are a lot of kids out there who are hoping to do something great and don’t necessarily have the background for it,” he said. “But you can do anything if you attend Tech. My son wants to go to Tech. He’s in eighth grade, and that makes me so excited. I am so thankful to be part of that tradition, and I’d do it all over again every time. I’m here at Stanford, and that’s because of Tennessee Tech and the opportunity that the university has given me.”