SOUTHAVEN, Miss. – Though emailing in class is generally frowned upon, McKinley McCarty hoped for an exception when she learned that she had won the Columbus B. Hopper Scholarship.
“I just couldn’t sit there and contain my excitement,” said McCarty, a senior paralegal studies major at the University of Mississippi at DeSoto Center-Southaven. “As soon as I received an email about the award from the chair, I had to send one back. I copied my professor, so he knew that I sent it during class.”
The Hopper Scholarship is the Department of Legal Studies’ highest honor. Recipients are full-time legal studies majors who are classified as seniors and have obtained at least a 3.75 GPA. The $1,250 scholarship honors Columbus Burwell Hopper, professor emeritus of sociology, who died in 2015.
An Iuka native, McCarty is a full-time student and full-time employee.
“I am definitely a nontraditional student,” she said. “I am 28 – I did not start college until seven years after graduating high school. I entered the workforce and soon realized that I needed to do something else with my life. I wanted to advance my options and my knowledge.”
Before pursuing a degree in legal studies, McCarty worked for a small law firm in downtown Memphis, assisting attorneys with domestic law matters, bankruptcies, foreclosures and third-party collections.
She continued to work for the firm while attending Northwest Mississippi Community College. She received her paralegal studies associate degree in 2014 and enrolled at UM-DeSoto that fall. She then began working for Olive Branch’s city attorney.
“I have held a 9-to-5 job for all five years I’ve been in school,” McCarty said. “I attend night classes. This is my sixth year of being in the legal field and fifth year of education in the legal field. I believe that my work experience has served as an advantage during my studies.”
Not only does McCarty excel in her studies, but also she is passionate about service and honor societies. She made it a point to take advantage of any opportunities that came her way, taking part in Gamma Beta Phi, Phi Theta Kappa, Lambda Epsilon Chi and, most recently, Phi Kappa Phi.
“I was afraid of not having a ‘traditional’ college experience,” she said. “I quickly learned that there are so many opportunities to get involved at UM-DeSoto and the main campus as well. Through Gamma Beta Phi, I drove down to Oxford in early April to participate in their largest service event. I really have enjoyed opportunities like those.”
Faculty and staff at the UM regional campus are like family, McCarty said.
“Everyone is so close here,” she said. “The staff have pointed me in the right direction. They’ve helped guide me to make better choices. Pat Coats (UM-DeSoto coordinator of academic support services) has been so influential. She wants you to get the most out of this experience that you possibly can.”
McCarty is thankful for support from Robert Mongue, associate professor of legal studies, who nominated her for the award.
“I’ve had Professor Mongue throughout the two years that I’ve been at Ole Miss,” she said. “He isn’t afraid to put me on the spot – I even taught one of our recent classes. Dr. Mongue didn’t get to where he is today by just scraping by. That rubbed off on me and I now expect more for myself.”
Mongue said he was impressed with McCarty’s dedication to her studies.
“McKinley has obtained a high GPA while taking classes, sometimes alone, through compressed video from our Southaven campus,” he said. “She maintained the focus necessary to obtain good grades and engage in class participation while staring at a monitor and buzzing into the discussion via the desk microphones.”
When thinking about what the award means to her, McCarty said it is hard to put her feelings into words.
“I don’t take anything for granted, no matter how small or how big,” she said. “Out of all the students who qualified and were eligible for this award, I’m not sure what made me stand out.
“The only thing I can compare it to is when you find out something so joyous and you feel unworthy, you cry. That was my first reaction. It was a moment where I realized that everything that I’d been doing and struggling for is paying off.”
After graduation, McCarty said she plans to take a year to pursue personal goals and then continue her studies, possibly by attending law school.
Housed in the DeSoto Center in Southaven, the regional campus offers undergraduate (junior and senior) and graduate programs for traditional and nontraditional students. For more information, visit http://www.olemiss.edu/desoto or call 662-342-4765.