Derek and Kelly King Honored with Inaugural Mullins Scholarship

Mississippi Teacher Corps alumni pursue graduate degrees with help from new scholarship

Derek and Kelly King stand with Andy Mullins in Lyceum at UM. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Derek and Kelly King stand with Andy Mullins in Lyceum at UM. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Just ask University of Mississippi alumni Derek and Kelly King about their students in the North Panola School District in Sardis, and the husband and wife team light up with excitement.

As the instructional coach for North Panola High School (Kelly) and the assistant principal at North Panola Middle School (Derek), the Kings can personally name more than 710 students between their two schools this year – just ask them.

“Both of us love teaching and being in the classroom,” said Kelly, who provides instructional leadership to more than 32 faculty members at her school. “Once you get into teaching, it’s really addictive. I’ve directly taught at least three-fourths (of those students) myself.”

The Kings are UM’s inaugural recipients of the Andrew P. Mullins Jr. MTC Alumni Scholarship, which supports Mississippi Teacher Corps alumni who wish to pursue advanced graduate study.

The endowed scholarship is available to Teacher Corps alumni with at least three years’ of teaching experience in K-12 education and may be awarded twice to individuals. Recipients may pursue an advanced degree in any field of their choosing on the Ole Miss campus.

Founded in 1989, the Teacher Corps has placed more than 630 new teachers in critical-needs school districts throughout the state. The alternate-route teaching program is highly competitive and has attracted recruits from 216 colleges and universities around the country. All participants receive job placement and two years of funding to earn a master’s degree in education from UM.

Derek and Kelly were selected for the honor by a committee of administrators within the School of Education and will each receive $1,500 per semester toward tuition throughout the next academic year.

“It’s an honor to receive anything with Dr. Mullins’ name on it,” said Derek, who has also served as head coach for men’s track and football at North Panola. “I think (Dr. Mullins) is proud to see Teacher Corps people who are still working in education here in Mississippi. It’s an honor to just to be a small part of what he originally envisioned for the program.”

In addition to their full-time jobs at North Panola, Derek and Kelly – who met during their first year in the Mississippi Teacher Corps – are enrolled in UM graduate programs in K-12 leadership. Derek hopes to finish a doctorate within the next two years, and Kelly is on track to claim her second Ole Miss diploma in December when she finishes a Specialist in Education degree that will grant her a state school administrator’s license.

“It warms my heart to see this scholarship awarded to two such worthy recipients,” said Mullins, Mississippi Teacher Corps co-founder and former chief of staff to the chancellor. “They have both been valuable resources to the school districts in which they have served.”

As 2010 recruits for the Teacher Corps, the Kings came from very different parts of the country before joining the program and landing their first teaching jobs at Byhalia Middle School.

Kelly, a Boston native, received a bachelor’s degree in black studies from Amherst College. Derek, a native of Fairfield, Alabama, earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Rhodes College, where he played football and baseball and even began his coaching career as an undergraduate while working for Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Memphis Grizzlies Preparatory Charter School.

Back then, the Teacher Corps offered opportunity for the two aspiring educators to enter the classroom after college. After an intensive summer training program, Kelly took a job teaching social studies. Derek taught English and coached men’s track and football.

They did not, however, expect that it would lead to a whole new life. After dating for four years, the couple found themselves both working at North Panola High School and soon married. The couple, alongside numerous other current and former Teacher Corps members, played key roles in the school’s drastic graduation rate turnaround. Between 2010 and 2014, the school increased its graduation rate by nearly 30 percent and rose from failing to “B” status.

“This is my sixth year in education,” Kelly said. “I have been able to see how Teacher Corps has transformed (North Panola) over the years. It’s as close as you can get to a ‘Teacher Corps School.’

“There are several other Teacher Corps people at my school. One in her seventh year of teaching and one in her fifth, and before that we had other people who stayed at least four or five years. The program has made a strong lasting impact in that district.”

After their graduate studies, the Kings hope to continue pursuing opportunities in education. Kelly hopes to pursue a leadership position at the district level, helping teachers develop and coordinate curricula, and Derek hopes to one day serve as a full principal or perhaps a career in academic development for student-athletes.

“When two people are doing graduate school at the same time, it’s definitely a big investment,” Derek said. “So, it is amazing to receive this first scholarship. Any amount of scholarship helps, but to have one named after Dr. Mullins makes us both very proud.”

UM Alumnus Begins New Career with Service Dog Arliegh at Side

Ben Stepp applies personal experiences in military to new role as counselor

UM graduate student Ben Stepp and service dog Arliegh have attended every class together since 2014. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

UM graduate student Ben Stepp and service dog Arliegh have attended every class together since 2014. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – When graduate student Ben Stepp walks across the stage during the University of Mississippi’s Commencement ceremonies Saturday (May 14), he will do so in the company of his canine companion, Arliegh, a service dog who rarely leaves his side.

A retired U.S. Army staff sergeant and an infantry veteran of the Iraq War, Stepp, 36, is set to receive his third UM diploma – a master’s degree in community and mental health counseling. But what makes this accomplishment even more thought-provoking is that Arliegh, a nearly 3-year-old Labrador retriever mix, has attended virtually every class alongside her owner since 2014.

“(Arliegh) is a highly trained medical device,” explained Stepp, a husband and father of two. “When my heart rate gets elevated, she can sense it and places her paw or head on my leg for me to pet her. You might see me petting her a lot on graduation day.”

Stepp and Arliegh are preparing to begin a new career in which Stepp plans to eventually become a Licensed Professional Counselor, hoping to specialize in counseling veterans adjusting to life after military service.

As a service dog, Arliegh helps Stepp manage anxiety related to the effects of PTSD, one of two wounds the Fairbanks, Alaska, native received during his 15 years of military service. Stepp’s other injury is a still-bothersome grenade wound to his right ankle, which resulted in long-term pain from reflex sympathetic dystrophy, or RSD, a type of nerve damage that causes a burning pain in the injured area among other symptoms.

Stepp joined the LOU community in 2006 when he returned from his service in Iraq. While deployed, first in 2003 then later during parts of 2004 and 2005, he served as the leader of an infantry fire team, a group of four to five soldiers.

After transferring from the regular Army into the Mississippi Army National Guard, Stepp enrolled in undergraduate courses at UM with a plan to finish a bachelor’s degree in economics – which he had started at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke – and return to active duty as an officer.

However, Stepp faced challenges he did not expect as a tried to “normalize” into life as a college student and war veteran.

“I was in a lot of denial about my problems at the time,” he recalled. “I was easily agitated, easily set off. I had nightmares and flashbacks.”

At the urging of Ole Miss ROTC faculty, Stepp began seeing a therapist on campus and later at the VA office in Memphis, Tennessee. It was an important and necessary decision for Stepp, but it was also a decision that set his life in a new direction.

“I was then medically disqualified from being an officer,” he said. “They said I could stay as an enlisted man, but I couldn’t be an officer.”

This was a hard blow to Stepp, who had first joined the military at age 17 with the consent of his mother. But, after refocusing his efforts on academic pursuits, Stepp earned a bachelor’s degree in economics in 2009 and a master’s degree in criminal justice in 2011, while working as a University Police Department officer, a position he held from 2007 to 2013.

The same year he earned his bachelor’s degree, Stepp also married his wife, Erin. The couple welcomed their first child in 2010 and carved out a life together in Oxford.

However, Stepp still had personal battles to fight. He was becoming increasingly frustrated with the care offered through the VA. He struggled privately with chronic anxiety and longed for therapists who better understood issues faced by veterans. And, there was also his lingering ankle wound, which he continued to manage with regular nerve block injections and opiates prescribed by VA physicians.

“I was tired of being treated like a science experiment,” Stepp said. I wasn’t happy with the way any of us vets were being treated. So I decided to seek out my own treatment.”

Soon after in 2013, Stepp resigned from UPD, a position he felt passionately about but could no longer complete to the best of his abilities due to personal difficulties.

“I was in a lot of pain, physical pain,” he said. “I thought I was doing a good job of covering it up. But it all finally kinda came to a boil, I guess, and I decided that the best thing for me was to really get help and ‘get right.'”

After seeking out a pain specialist, Stepp began to wean off opiates and underwent new treatments to manage his pain. He wears a device that allows him to walk more freely without help from drugs.

He also continued seeing local counselors, including Marc Showalter, an assistant professor of counselor education at the UM School of Education. It was during this time that Showalter approached Stepp about a potential career move into counseling. It was one of multiple ideas he put in front of Stepp as he planned to the future.

“What I saw in Ben early on was perseverance,” Showalter said. “I have seen him grow and overcome so many difficulties, and always with the desire to help people. Even as he was trying to find his own way, I always heard from him that he wanted to find some way to help others, especially veterans. So I put the idea of becoming a counselor in front of him.”

Before beginning UM’s Master of Education program in counseling in 2014, Stepp connected with Arliegh through the K9s for Warriors organization in Pontre Vedra, Florida. Through his experience with the Wounded Warriors Project, he’d become aware of other veterans with similar backgrounds who use service dogs to help manage anxiety related to trauma.

After some soul-searching, Stepp decided to pursue using a service dog for his own anxiety. The application process took about a year.

“(Having a service dog) was hard at first,” Stepp said. “For a lot of vets … you sometimes feel like you are always being watched and the need to make sure there is no one trying to hurt you. Then, once you get a dog, everyone actually is always looking at you. Well, actually they are mostly looking at the dog. But you feel like ‘Oh, all eyes are on me.’ That was a struggle at first.”

K9s for Warriors supports veterans by connecting them with specially trained service dogs that help manage and address anxiety related to stress. The program brings in former warriors for an intensive three-week orientation and training period, during which they learn about working with service dogs. Most service dogs are rescued from shelters and trained for months before being paired with a veteran.

“The saying is, ‘We rescue them so they can rescue us,'” Stepp said.

Like any dog, Arliegh can be playful and enjoys attention from others. But when her service vest is on, Arliegh is at work. As a rule of thumb, it’s OK to pet and play with Arliegh when she is not wearing her vest. Otherwise, she is on duty.

Besides helping lower anxiety, service dogs can help individuals identify “triggers,” the sights, sounds or smells that can cause panic or flashbacks among individuals recovering from PTSD. Having a service dog gives those who need it a specialized tool to identify sources of stress and learn to process them in a productive way.

Throughout Stepp’s latest experience in graduate school, Arliegh has been a constant companion as he worked as a full-time student. The program is intensive and rigorous, requiring students to complete year-round, full-time coursework over two years.

During this time, Stepp has gained experiences through internships, including one at Oxford Counseling Center, where he will begin working full time following graduation. He hopes to finish the requirements to become a Licensed Professional Counselor within the next year.

“You know, for me, (becoming a counselor) isn’t very different from a lot of my experiences,” Stepp said. “When you’re a squad leader, you have people who always look to you. You become their dad, brother, friend, teacher or even banker. Everyone needs something different.

“As a police officer, you find people who just need some help from someone, even when it’s 2 a.m. and a confused student desperately needs someone to speak to and you are the first one they find. I did these things for such a long time that when I decided to become a counselor, it wasn’t the huge leap you might imagine.”

Booneville Campus Student Honored with Taylor Medal

Summer Sharplin continues family tradition in education field

Summer Shaplin with Chancellor Vitter Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss CommunicationsUniversity of Mississippi-Booneville campus senior, Summer Shaplin of Ripley, received UM's highest academic award, the Taylor Medal during the Honors Convocation Ceremony held April 7 on the Oxford campus. UM Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter congratulates Shaplin during the annual Taylor Medalist dinner held that evening.

UM Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter congratulates Summer Sharplin, a senior on the university’s Booneville regional campus who received UM’s highest academic award, the Taylor Medal, during the April 7 Honors Convocation on the Oxford campus.

OXFORD, Miss. – Summer Sharplin, a senior majoring in elementary education at the University of Mississippi at Booneville, has been awarded the university’s highest academic award, the Taylor Medal, during the annual Honors Convocation, which was April 7 on the Oxford campus.

She is the daughter of Tony and Tammy Sharplin of Ripley. Attending the awards ceremony with Sharplin were her mother and her 84-year-old grandmother, Thelma Rutherford of New Site. Rutherford herself taught elementary school for 35 years in northeast Mississippi.

“I was so proud to have my grandmother with me,” Sharplin said. “She has been my personal teacher my entire life. I hope I become half the teacher she was.”

For many years, Sharplin has heard the good, the bad and the funny stories from one of the many professional educators in her family.

University of Mississippi-Booneville campus senior Summer Shaplin of Ripley (right) with her grandmother and mentor Thelma Rutherford of New Site during the UM Honors Convocation ceremonies held April 7 on the Oxford campus. Shaplin credits her grandmother with inspiring her to become a teacher.

Summer Sharplin of Ripley (right) visits with her grandmother and mentor Thelma Rutherford of New Site after the UM Honors Convocation. Sharplin credits her grandmother with inspiring her to become a teacher.

The family legacy of excellence in education began when her grandmother and grandfather met while serving as teachers in Marietta. They soon married and started their family while continuing to teach. Her grandfather eventually became superintendent of Tippah County Schools.

Her cousin, Mary Margaret King of New Albany, was honored as Mississippi’s “Teacher of the Year” in 2014 for her work at New Albany High School.

“My mom tells about a time that her dad was actually her history teacher and he threw an eraser at her for talking during class,” Sharplin recalled.

Even though she hadn’t until recently considered pursuing a career as a teacher herself, she became drawn to the profession.

“If anyone had asked me before, I never would have said I was considering becoming a teacher,” Sharplin said. “I really thought I would like to work in the medical profession. I shadowed a few friends who were working in various medical jobs, and I realized it just wasn’t for me.”

Sharplin did, however, enjoy music. She had an opportunity to sing the national anthem at different local and regional events, including a Memphis Redbirds baseball game. Then she began taking courses at the UM Booneville campus.

“I enrolled in the ‘Music for Children’ class at Ole Miss, and I was hooked,” Sharplin said. “It was then that I knew I had made the right choice to alter my career plans.”

Sharplin is interning as a student teacher for a sixth-grade math class at Hills Chapel School in Booneville.

“At first, I was a little leery of teaching math because I have enjoyed teaching English more,” she said. “I think my professors wanted me to challenge myself, and I am so glad that they did. I’m really enjoying it. I want to be confident in every subject area.”

Sharplin said that the students she works with each day are her favorite part of teaching.

“It is just so special to watch a student really grasp a concept we are presenting to them,” she said. “I get to be their guide and help them to comprehend the subject matter. There’s really not another feeling like this.”

Virginia Moore, an associate professor of education on the university’s Tupelo and Booneville regional campuses, noticed Sharplin’s commitment to not only her own education, but to the education of the students she worked with during her practicum experiences.

“Summer demonstrates strong leadership abilities and a strong devotion to the teaching profession,” Moore said. “After observing her work in the college setting, I believe she is an exemplary student and one who represents high personal and teaching standards we expect of an Ole Miss student in teacher education.”

Those qualities led Moore to nominate Sharplin this spring for the Taylor Medal.

Established in 1904 in memory of Marcus Elvis Taylor of Booneville, an honored 1871 UM alumnus, Taylor Medals recognize no more than 0.45 percent of all undergraduates, regardless of campus, for meritorious scholarship and deportment. Recipients must have at least a 3.90 grade-point average.

Sharplin was also inducted into the Kappa Delta Phi education honor society and the prestigious Phi Kappa Phi national academic honor society this spring.

“Summer is extremely passionate about education,” Moore said. “She is motivated and works to keep her students engaged. We are pleased that she has received this honor. She is very deserving.”

Even though she feels she has found the right career path, Sharplin plans to keep learning and hopefully obtain a graduate degree in education.

“I have some big shoes to fill,” she said.

For more information about programs offered at the University of Mississippi at Booneville, go to

DeSoto Campus Students Honored with Taylor Medals

School of Education seniors land university's highest academic award

Yasmin Ali Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter congratulates Yasmin Ali. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

SOUTHAVEN, Miss. – Two seniors at the University of Mississippi at DeSoto Center-Southaven have been awarded the Marcus Taylor Memorial Medal. Yasmin Ali and Lauren Carson, both elementary education majors, accepted their medals April 7 during the Spring Honors Day Convocation at the Oxford campus.

The Taylor Medals, established in 1904, are the university’s highest academic award and recognize no more than 1 percent of the student body each year. To be considered, a student must have a GPA of at least 3.90.

“I know I speak for all of our faculty and staff when I say that we are so proud of Yasmin and Lauren,” said Rick Gregory, executive director of the Southaven campus. “The Taylor Medal is indicative of dedication and hard work in the classroom. We are pleased to have two recipients from UM-DeSoto this year.”

Ali was born in Staten Island, New York, but moved shortly thereafter to Palestine, where she became fluent in Arabic. She returned to the U.S. when she was in third grade, where a teacher changed her life.

“I did not speak English at that time,” she said. “My third-grade teacher was so caring and supportive – I will never forget her. She thought I could do anything. She gave me the same expectations as everyone else, and I did not feel left out. I aspire to be like her when I get my own classroom.”

Graduating a year early from high school, Ali attended Northwest Community College and received an Associate of Arts degree in 2014. She then enrolled at UM-DeSoto to pursue a degree in education.

Throughout her time at the Ole Miss regional campus, Ali has enjoyed working for the Writing Center. The center provides free writing and critical thinking support to students of all majors.

“(Working for the center) gives me the opportunity to help so many diverse students such as nontraditional students, English language learners and students with disabilities,” she said. “Working with students allowed me to share my knowledge and skills during my tutorial sessions.

“Along with tutoring, presenting with other writing consultants has helped me become an effective communicator and collaborator.”

Not only has the experience helped Ali hone her skills, but it has also provided her with close friends. She said she loves working in an environment where the goal is to “help people become better writers and learners.”

Lauren Carson Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter congratulates Lauren Carson. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

An Independence native, Carson never expected to end up as an education major.

“My whole family is full of teachers, so growing up I said I would never become one,” Carson said. “I started college as an interior design major and ended up changing my major to education the end of my sophomore year. I love it and haven’t turned back. Teaching is something that I am passionate about.”

Graduating with an associate degree from Northwest Community College in 2014, Carson has “loved every minute” of her time at the regional campus, specifically mentioning the convenience of its location and helpful faculty and staff.

“Looking back on my time at UM-Desoto, the main thing that sticks out to me is the classroom in which I completed 99 percent of my class time,” she said. “Education majors take most of their classes in the same room. I remember walking in for the first time and being so nervous.

“I met so many amazing people in that classroom, and so many relationships were formed in that room. I know I will be friends with those people for the rest of my life.”

Carson said that it was “unbelievable” to be presented with the university’s highest honor.

“There are so many amazing students at the university,” she said. “Being able to be recognized with those students was an unforgettable experience. I am so thankful.”

After graduation, Carson plans to begin her teaching career. Ali also hopes to teach elementary school and pursue her master’s in education. Both Ali and Carson credit their families for love and support during their years at the university.

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 or call 662-342-4765.

Mother of Five ‘Pursues Dreams’ at UM DeSoto Campus

Cheryl Scott slated to graduate in May with bachelor's in elementary education

Cheryl Scott

Cheryl Scott

SOUTHAVEN, Miss. – Cheryl Scott is no stranger to hard work. A student in the elementary education program at the University of Mississippi at DeSoto Center-Southaven, Scott is finishing her degree while also caring for her five children.

“It has been extremely challenging,” Scott said. “I have to balance my time studying and working on assignments with spending time with my husband and kids.”

Scott is on track to graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. She is interested in teaching in an inclusion classroom, which includes children in the special education program as well as regular education students.

During her time at the UM regional campus, Scott worked as a special education assistant at Hernando Middle School.

“I will be dually certified in special education when I graduate,” she said. “My professors understand that most teachers will have students with disabilities of some sort in their classrooms and believe it would be an advantage for education majors to be knowledgeable in how to meet the needs of all students.”

The ability to make a difference in the lives of students was a driving force for Scott. Even more so, however, was the encouragement of her children, Morghan, 16, Halle, 13, Landon, 12, Jacob, 9, and Jaiden, 8, as well as her husband Michael.

“Sometimes it was hard, especially for my younger children, to understand why I couldn’t be there or do things with them,” she said. “They knew I was very busy but that it wouldn’t be for long. Knowing that I was so close to being finished with all this hard work helped them to be patient.”

It has been a long road for Scott. She first attended Northwest Community College the summer of her high school graduation in 1999. After marrying the following October, she immediately started a family.

Cheryl Scott’s family encouraged her to finish her bachelor’s degree in education.

Cheryl Scott’s family encouraged her to finish her bachelor’s degree in education.

“I had three children and was pregnant with my fourth by the time I graduated,” she said. “It took me six years to complete my associate degree. That took a lot of patience and determination. I had one more child after graduation and decided to stay home with the kids until they were old enough to attend school.”

All of Scott’s kids were enrolled in school in 2014, so she decided it was time to pursue a bachelor’s degree.

“UM-Desoto was the obvious choice,” she said. “It was convenient, and I knew that the University of Mississippi would be an excellent school from which to obtain my degree.”

Amber Carpenter-McCullough, assistant professor of teacher education, supported Scott during her time at UM-DeSoto.

“Throughout the duration of the courses in which I was fortunate to have her as a student, Cheryl actively participated and provided insight to our class discussion,” Carpenter-McCullough said. “Although Cheryl has had to continue to be a wife, a parent and an employee, her continued devotion to college illustrates her personal strength and resilience. I believe that Cheryl has demonstrated that she will not only make an impact on students in her K-12 classes, but that she will also excel as a teacher.”

Scott said she learned how capable she was while taking classes at the DeSoto campus. At times, she questioned if she was neglecting family obligations and even if she was smart enough to complete the coursework.

“By being a good example and working hard, I realized I was being a good mother,” she said. “By working hard, being persistent and giving it my all, I realized I was smart enough to do what needed to be done. I learned so much about myself.”

Scott said many of her classmates have families and work, which is why the location of the regional campus is so pivotal.

“The UM-DeSoto campus makes it possible for us to have the opportunity to pursue our dreams and excel in areas we never thought possible,” she said.

Scott, who hopes to teach for a year and then enroll in graduate school, has some advice for those who are thinking about furthering their education.

“It won’t be easy; it will be hard work,” she said. “It will take time; it won’t happen overnight. However, you will meet classmates who will become lifelong friends and professors with contagious passion.

“You will be challenged, and sometimes you will think there’s no way you will succeed. Don’t lose heart, don’t lose faith and remember why you started the journey. You will be amazed at what you can accomplish once you put your mind to it.”

Housed in the DeSoto Center, the regional campus offers undergraduate (junior and senior) and graduate programs for traditional and nontraditional students. For more information, visit or call 662-342-4765.

UM Students Lead ACT Prep Initiative in North Mississippi

Team 36 program assists more than 100 high school students

METP Fellow Emily Reynolds works with Team 36 students at Coffeeville High School.

METP fellow Emily Reynolds (center) works with Team 36 students at Coffeeville High School.

OXFORD, Miss. – Since January, University of Mississippi juniors Ben Logan and Emily Reynolds have traveled to Coffeeville High School once a week to dedicate a few midday hours to leading ACT workshops for nearly a dozen 11th- and 12thgraders at the small-town school.

Like thousands of high school students across the state, Coffeeville students spent January and February preparing for ACT examinations in March. However, this group is supported by Team 36, a new nonprofit dedicated to mobilizing college students to provide ACT test preparation for rural schools.

“A lot of the ACT is just knowing how to take the test,” explained Logan, a Sherman native who is double majoring in mathematics education and public policy leadership at UM. “In a way, the test favors those who have the means to take extra classes to learn the rules and strategies for taking it. We are here to try and close that gap for these students.”

Established last fall with support from the CREATE Foundation in Tupelo, the program has had a positive impact on more than 100 students in Coffeeville, Sardis and Water Valley. The effort is led by nine UM undergraduates, or “team leaders,” who serve as Team 36’s volunteer workforce.

Besides Logan and Reynolds, Ole Miss students involved are: Maggie Conerly, of Alexandria, Louisiana; Brenna Ferrell, Ocean Springs; David Hamidy, Alpharetta, Georgia; Anna Claire Kelly, Madison; Luke Lee, Madison; Lindsay Parker, Pass Christian; and Paige Stolen, Ferrisburg, Vermont.

Seven of the volunteers, including Logan and Reynolds, also are part of the university’s prestigious Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program, one of the most valuable and competitive scholarships for aspiring teachers in the nation. Since 2013, METP has admitted 48 undergraduate fellows from 13 states with an average ACT score of 29.

“Education is one of society’s greatest equalizers,” said Reynolds, an English education major from Brandon. “If we can help students achieve a higher ACT score, then we can help them come closer to achieving their dreams.”

Less than one year into the initiative, Team 36 has taken a two-step approach to ACT preparation in partner schools.

Last fall, the Team Leaders offered eight weeks of intensive standardized test training that gave students a strong understanding of how the ACT is structured and graded. The course included test strategies focusing on time management, identifying question types, self-assessment and the forming of independent study plans.

This spring, the UM undergraduates are wrapping up a five-week course that focuses more on English, mathematics and other content areas. All lesson plans were designed by UM student volunteers.

The team leaders switch schools to work with different students each semester, allowing them to gain different experiences and a better sense of the “big picture” Team 36 is working to improve.

“The students are the real heroes here,” said Louise Vigeant, founder and director of the program. “They are the ones who go out and do the work each week.”

The educator, who holds a doctorate in philosophy from Cornell University and has spent the past two years as a UM visiting assistant professor of public policy leadership, has more than 10 years’ experience in higher education. She previously was head of studies at Amsterdam University College in the Netherlands.

Vigeant, who recruited the Team 36 members and secured the program’s initial funding, explained that the inspiration for the program came after her experiences volunteering in local schools. She recognized a need for ACT preparation in rural communities where students can see the ACT as a sizable obstacle.

“The ACT isn’t always a good indicator of how well a student will perform in college,” she said. “Once I realized this, I saw there was this huge population of students out there who might do well in college if only given the chance.”

Organizers hope that Team 36 grows, with the goal of assisting 300 children in north Mississippi in the coming year, Vigeant said. As the program expands, she hopes to identify partners at other universities who may want to open additional chapters of Team 36 to make a wider impact on Mississippi students.

“I want to be a nurse practitioner because I like helping people,” said Moneisha Gwan, a junior at Coffeeville enrolled in Logan and Reynolds’ class. “Our counselor told us about this opportunity and I volunteered (to take the class).”

As a general rule, the team focuses on helping high school students reach at least an 18 on the exam, the point where Mississippi student can gain acceptance into a public university or community college.

If a student is able to increase his or her score a few points higher through ACT preparation, scholarship opportunities that can dramatically expand opportunities may become available.

Kwan Wrenn, another Coffeeville junior who also wants to be a nurse practitioner, noted that she has learned a lot about the ACT this semester, including a few strategies that she may not have considered otherwise and that will help her improve her subscores this month.

“You always read the questions first,” Wrenn said. “You might not have to read the whole passage to find the correct answer, and that can save you a lot of time.”

Team 36 has plans to reconnect with rural north Mississippi schools in fall 2016 and hopes to recruit more volunteers at UM and beyond.

Longtime Educator Donates $250,000 to UM School of Education

Bob Depro's gift to support scholars of social studies

Bob Depro is most at home among his students.

Bob Depro is most at home among his students.

OXFORD, Miss. – Bob Depro has called basketball games as the PA announcer for the Sikeston (Missouri) Senior High School Bulldogs for 53 years. He’s passionate about his support of the team, but there’s one thing he’s even more passionate about: education.

“Very few people have an opportunity as I have for the last 51 years in teaching to get up every morning and be excited about going to their job,” Depro said. “I know that I owe that to Southeast Missouri State and to Ole Miss, so I made a gift to both schools in the exact same dollar amount, $250,000, for the same purpose: to encourage social studies education.”

The Cape Girardeau, Missouri, native received a bachelor’s degree in secondary education from Southeast Missouri State University in 1966 and a master’s degree in secondary education from the University of Mississippi in 1970. He returned to Missouri, where he taught social studies and history at Sikeston High School for 34 years and Southeast Missouri State University for 15 years and counting.

His gift to the UM School of Education has established the Bob Depro Education Excellence Scholarship Endowment for Social Studies Majors, a fund he hopes will give students the support they need to earn master’s degrees in social studies or history and then become teachers.

“We have too many people who have degrees in administration and counseling and not enough people with graduate degrees who are teaching in the field,” Depro said, adding that he hopes to inspire other teachers who have financial ability to make similar gifts in support of their respective fields.

“We desperately need good, young teachers with master’s and specialist degrees in social studies to remain in the field and improve upon it. That will make our teaching area more exciting and more relevant to students.”

Depro’s generous gift will be appreciated for generations to come, said David Rock, dean of the UM School of Education.

“I have great respect for Bob Depro, who had the foresight to provide such significant support for our students, knowing that gifts like this will ultimately have a great impact on the profession itself,” Rock said. “Mississippi and our country need great schools of education. That is what we are constantly working toward at Ole Miss.”

Depro knows the importance of private giving.

“If you rely on public funding, all universities are going to be in sad shape,” he said. “They have to have alumni and interested individuals step up and help support the programs the university offers. That’s what I’m trying to do. It’s paying it forward. I’ve had a great career. I’m still teaching for Southeast and I just think it’s the time to do it.”

Billy Crews, development officer for the School of Education, traveled to Sikeston twice last fall, had lunch with Depro and observed him at work in the classroom.

“Based on my observation, he must have recruited many students from Sikeston to attend Ole Miss,” Crews said. “There is a regular pipeline of students from that area who have come to Ole Miss for years. I suspect Bob is influential in inspiring many of those.”

Recently, Depro personally accompanied three high school seniors on a campus visit. In fact, he has invited hundreds to campus through the years.

“I always look for an excuse to go to Ole Miss,” Depro said. He hopes the students will grow to love his alma mater as much as he does.

“I had a cousin who went to Ole Miss and lived right across the street from me,” he recalled. “She kept saying what a beautiful place it was and how nice the people were. In my senior year at Southeast, I was looking for a place to do my graduate work, so I came down and just fell in love with Ole Miss and Oxford.

“I owe a deep debt of gratitude to people like Dr. Roscoe Boyer, who was one of my instructors at Ole Miss, and others who helped to hone my teaching skills and make me a better teacher. The thing I appreciated most was that everything I did in graduate work, I could bring back home and use in my classroom.”

Depro considered being a journalist until high school, when one of his teachers, Carl Wright, inspired him to become an educator. He has never looked back.

“It’s seeing kids excited about learning,” Depro said. “It’s seeing kids who are inspired to go further than just textbook material. It’s seeing students of mine 10 or 20 years after I had them in the classroom come back and realize what great citizens they are and they tell you they appreciate what they learned in your class. That’s what’s really rewarding.

Among many other professional achievements, Depro was named Missouri Teacher of the Year in 1988 and was the Missouri winner of the 1996 National Teacher of the Year competition. He also received the Outstanding Educator Award from the Missouri State Teachers Association.

He has served as president of a number of organizations, including the Southeast Missouri Teachers Association, Sikeston Community Teachers Association, Missouri Council for Social Studies and the Missouri Council for Geographic Education. He is a 16-year national delegate to the National Council for Social Studies and has served on the executive committee of the Missouri State Teachers Association.

Depro is also active in his church and community, having served on the Sikeston School Board (2000-2004) and Sikeston City Council (2011-present) among other organizations.

For more information about including the university in a will or other estate plans, contact the UM Foundation at 800-340-9542 or visit To give to the UM School of Education, contact Billy Crews at 662-915-2836 or

UM Lands $1.2 Million Grant to Benefit Math Teachers

Center for Mathematics and Science Education kicks off Project C4 to enhance classroom efforts

CMSE professional development coordinator Julie James (left) advises a Mississippi teacher during a professional development workshop.

CMSE professional development coordinator Julie James (left) advises a Mississippi teacher during a professional development workshop.

OXFORD, Miss. – The Mississippi Department of Education has awarded a $1.2 million grant to the University of Mississippi Center for Mathematics and Science Education to fund a professional development initiative that will benefit up to 120 math teachers in Mississippi public schools over the next three years.

Dubbed the C4 Project, the Creating Continuity and Connections across Content Project seeks to improve student achievement in mathematics among K-8 students and enhance teacher performance. C4 will fortify teachers’ content knowledge and, more importantly, their big-picture understanding of objectives and the learning processes across multiple grade levels.

“In this project, teachers in grades K-8 will all be together in one class and look at the spectrum of how students learn math across those grade levels,” explained Julie James, CMSE professional development coordinator. “We want to equip these teachers with a bigger picture understanding of where they fit in the puzzle of how students learn mathematics.”

The grant funding for C4 hails from the Mathematics and Science Partnerships, or MSP, between MDE and the U.S. Department of Education. This is the third major grant-funded project the CMSE has launched through MSP-MDE funding since it opened at UM in 2006.

Starting this summer, the project will benefit select educators in north Mississippi through a two-week summer institute. An annual conference for participating teachers, as well as follow-up activities led by accomplished mathematics instructors throughout the academic year, is also in the works.

The second focus of C4 is on formative assessment, a concept that integrates assessment into the teaching process, James said. Formative assessment training will be an online component of the project and the major focus of the annual conference.

“This is an opportunity to help teachers learn how to assess students on a daily basis or on a weekly basis, so when it comes time for the end of unit or even the state test, there’s no surprises,” James said. “Teachers will know how everyone is going to perform because you know what they’ve learned and will have evidence from the students.”

The CMSE will use an assessment team from the University of Alabama at Birmingham to evaluate the project throughout its three-year run. Both teams will work together to measure the impact of C4, assessing content knowledge at the beginning and end of summer institutes among teachers.

“I really hope we can begin to embrace the new college and career readiness standards statewide and come together as a state to improve mathematics education,” said Alice Steimle, CMSE associate director. “We can work together to form these communities of teachers that learn from each other, learn best practices and rely on one another in this network of teachers that we’re creating with the C4 Project.”

James Reid and Laura Sheppardson, both professors in the Ole Miss Department of Mathematics, will also work with the C4 Project by providing in-depth content instruction during the summer institutes.

“There will be opportunities for teachers to come in and do some pure math things that are beyond the classroom,” James said. “This gives teachers an opportunity to see how math is applied beyond K-12. Their focus will be more on real world application of math.”

UM Hosts Statewide Robotics Competition

Center for Mathematics and Science Education hosts fourth FIRST Tech Challenge

Area high school students contend in the FIRST Tech Challenge robotics competition sponsored by the Center for Mathematics & Science Education at the Jackson Avenue Center on Saturday. Photo by Nathan Latil/Ole Miss Communications

Area high school students contend in the FIRST Tech Challenge robotics competition sponsored by the Center for Mathematics & Science Education at the Jackson Avenue Center. Photo by Nathan Latil/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Mississippi middle and high school students will get to show off and compete with autonomous and driver-controlled robots they constructed in the state’s fourth robotics tournament at the University of Mississippi.

The UM Center for Mathematics and Science Education will host Mississippi’s FIRST Tech Challenge Robotics Tournament on Saturday (Feb. 27) at the Jackson Avenue Center. Opening ceremonies begin at 10:30 a.m., and all FIRST events are free and open to the public.

Four qualifying tournaments held throughout the state determined the advancements of the 22 qualifying teams that will compete in Mississippi’s FIRST Tech Challenge, or FTC. From there, the top four teams move on to compete in the South Super Regional in San Antonio to determine who goes to the world championship in St. Louis.

The Center for Mathematics and Science Education, or CMSE, is a division of the UM School of Education that sponsors the state’s robotics tournaments. These competitions are facilitated by the nonprofit organization FIRST, or For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, founded 20 years ago by renowned inventor Dean Kamen.

Students learn through hands-on activities to apply science, technology, engineering and math in competitions with an entertainment dynamic like that of a sporting event, said Mannie Love, CMSE program manager.

“FTC is aimed at students grades seven through 12 to inspire them to enjoy science, technology, engineering and math,” Lowe said. “We’re basically trying to say, ‘Let’s borrow from what works for sports and entertainment,’ and show young people that being smart and competing as a team in something like a robotics tournament is just as exciting as a being on a basketball or football team.”

Lowe, who has worked for the CMSE program since 2012, goes around the state to recruit new teams to the FIRST program while also helping to instruct schools’ faculty liaisons. When Lowe came to Mississippi in 2012, only four robotics teams existed. This year, 37 teams competed in the qualifying stages and 22 made it to the state FTC competition, he said.

FTC teams are adult-driven, usually by a school instructor, and student-led. The students get a reusable robotics kit and design, construct and program their robot to compete in challenges. Teams can be school-based, home-school-based, part of an after-school program or part of a community-based organization.

Lafayette County High School science teacher Taylor Langford was approached by a group of students to mentor the school’s team in the state’s first official FTC event. In his school’s fourth year of competing, Langford still considers it a learning process.

“I was glad they asked me to help,” Langford said. “At the time when we fielded our first team, it was just as much as learning experience for me as it was for the students.

“This year our group is a bit different because most of our original group has graduated, but we hope to be competitive, enjoy ourselves and learn as much as we can.”

The UM Center for Mathematics and Science Education will host Mississippi's FIRST Tech Challenge Robotics Tournament on Saturday (Feb. 27) at the Jackson Avenue Center.

The UM Center for Mathematics and Science Education will host Mississippi’s FIRST Tech Challenge Robotics Tournament on Saturday (Feb. 27) at the Jackson Avenue Center.

This year’s game is called FIRST RES-Q, played on a 12-by-12-foot square field with a surrounding foot-high wall, a soft foam mat floor and mountain or floor goals. The match pits pairs of robots against one another, starting with a 30-second autonomous period, where robots are operated via pre-programmed instructions, followed by a two-minute driver-controlled period.

Robots are scored on a pre-determined list of criteria. During the driver-controlled period, the team’s objective is to retrieve up to five “debris” pieces from the playing field and place them in the mountain goals or floor goals.

In the end game, robots can earn bonus points by scaling the mountain goals on the field to the topmost vertical section, extending more than three feet high at a serious incline.

Langford praises the camaraderie and competitiveness these tournaments invoke, but he has seen firsthand the opportunities and values students gain by participating in FTC.

“It is readily apparent as they went through the process of competing in robotics tournaments, students grew more confident in creative thinking, in their ability to execute a plan and in their overall robotics construction and programming,” Langford said. “Students have not only grown confident in their abilities, but also grown more confident in leadership roles and working together as a team.”

This is the overall goal of the FIRST experience, Lowe said. Although competitive in nature, the tournaments reward students for working together to solve problems outside the classroom in a fun, inventive way.

“We let the students learn,” Lowe said. “It’s all about student empowerment. We want them to get their own healthy educational experience.”

Follow Mississippi FTC on Facebook (MississippiFTC) and Twitter (@ms_ftc). For more information about the FIRST Tech Challenge or how to sign up for next year’s competition, go to or, or contact Mannie Lowe at

UM to Honor First African-American Faculty Member in Education

School of Education seeks donations for memorial Henderson endowment

Dot Henderson

Dot Henderson

OXFORD, Miss. – Members of the Lafayette-Oxford-University community are working to establish a new endowment to honor the legacy of the late Dorothy “Dot” Henderson, the University of Mississippi’s first African-American faculty member in education.

Henderson, who passed away in December, was an instructor in elementary education at UM from 1978 to 1998. She was the first African-American to hold a full-time faculty position in the School of Education, where she influenced a vast number of students, faculty and staff through her intellect, knowledge and enduring commitment to education in and out of the classroom.

An endowment in Henderson’s name is in the early stages and will provide scholarships for future education students. Donations to the fund can be made online.

“We never knew that (our mother) was the first, because she was never the type of woman to put herself before anyone else,” said Deborah Gipson, Henderson’s eldest daughter and one of six children. “I remember that people always smiled everywhere she went. She encouraged people to find their ‘spirit of strength.’ I think that was one of her greatest qualities – bringing out the best in people.”

In January, the UM School of Education opened the Dorothy Henderson Memorial Scholarship Fund. A total of $25,000 is needed to finalize the legacy endowment, which will benefit future Ole Miss education students. Nearly $24,000 is needed to achieve this goal, which many community members hope to accomplish in the near future.

“Dorothy Henderson’s imprint is seen and felt throughout our community,” said David Rock, UM education dean. “Those who knew her best are inspired by her life. Her pioneering leadership role deserves a permanent remembrance for her contribution to Ole Miss, Oxford and her passion for the education of children.”

For more than half a century, Henderson was a beloved and respected figure in the LOU community. She was an active member of many local and state organizations including the Second Baptist Church, Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, the Oxford School District Board of Trustees, the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council, the Mississippi Early Childhood Association, Head Start, the Mississippi Humanities Council, the YWCA, Church Women United, the League of Women Voters and numerous others.

A native of De Kalb, Henderson moved to Oxford in 1963 when she and her husband, Robert Lee Henderson, who was also an educator, took faculty positions in local schools. The Hendersons raised six children in Oxford. Over the decades, their family grew to also include 15 grandchildren, 11 great grandchildren and one great great grandchild.

“Her presence could change the whole atmosphere of a room,” said the Rev. Andrew Robinson, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Oxford, where Henderson was a dedicated member of the congregation. “She was always full of wisdom and worked with our mission faithfully. She was the type of person who could always see beyond the challenges in front of you. She saw the positive and the good in all people.”

At Second Baptist, Henderson held multiple leadership positions, including serving on the church’s board of trustees and missionary board. She also taught Sunday school, sang in the choir and more.

Before joining the LOU community, Henderson held teaching positions at elementary schools in Heidelberg, Meridian, Lexington and in Memphis, Tennessee. She also served as director of education at the Institute of Community Services in Holly Springs before joining the UM faculty. Her community service with Head Start and young children would continue throughout her university career, as well.

“Dot was always a real go-getter,” recalled Fannye Love, a longtime colleague of Henderson and UM’s first African-American to obtain the rank of tenured, full professor at the School of Education. “We presented multiple papers and attended multiple conferences together and I remember that she had a great knowledge based of how teachers should be prepared to work with children. She was always involved with so many people across the campus and community.”

Henderson was a published scholar in her field and received many awards and honors for her teaching and service during her Ole Miss tenure. She was her high school salutatorian and held a bachelor’s degree from Jackson State University, a master’s degree from UM and an education specialist degree from Mississippi State University.

“Dorothy always brought a unique perspective to any situation,” said Jean Shaw, UM professor emerita of elementary education. “I remember that her philosophy was that you need to know the children that you teach. They each have significance as individuals and have different backgrounds, likes and dislikes.

“It’s easy to say that children are our future, but she really believed it and lived life as she taught.”

Contributions to the Henderson endowment can be made online or via check to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 401 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655, and designated for the Dorothy Henderson Memorial Scholarship Fund.