‘An Ambush of Tigers’ Claims CELI Read Aloud Book Award

UM literacy center honors top picture book of the year with annual award

CELI literacy specialist Angie Caldwell reads "An Ambush of Tigers" to children at Willie Price University Lab School.

CELI literacy specialist Angie Caldwell reads ‘An Ambush of Tigers’ to children at Willie Price University Lab School.

OXFORD. Miss. – “An Ambush of Tigers,” by author Betsy R. Rosenthal and illustrator Jago Silver, is the 2016 winner of the CELI Read Aloud Book Award, which presented annually by the University of Mississippi’s Center for Excellence in Literacy Instruction to recognize outstanding new books to read aloud to young children.

Published in April 2015 by Millbrook Press, “An Ambush of Tigers” conjures a wild gathering of rhyming and collective nouns to pique the interest of young children while educating them on vocabulary referring to groups of animals, such as a prickle of porcupines or a shiver of sharks.

“This book really focuses on enriching children’s vocabulary and engaging them with rich illustrations,” said CELI literacy specialist Angie Caldwell, who serves on the Read Aloud award selection committee. “We had a great deal of positive comments and it engaged children in asking questions about the book.”

A committee of UM School of Education faculty and staff and working educators field-tested the eligible books with young children in a variety of educational settings, including schools, homes and media centers.

“Our class loved reading ‘An Ambush of Tigers,'” said Sarah Siebert, pre-K teacher at Willie Price University Lab School and a committee member. “It was an awesome way to introduce new vocabulary words to explain the different names of groups of animals.”

Committee members, who are selected based on their experience with children and their knowledge of children’s books, choose the best read-aloud picture book of the year using rubrics that measure children’s reactions to the books.

The book was chosen as the 2016 winner from 25 eligible books and will carry a seal on its cover. All remaining Read Aloud submission books will be donated to needs-based classrooms in north Mississippi.

Established in 2010, the Read Aloud Book Award recognizes honors books created for children from toddlers to 8 years old and promotes a love of reading. The award is partially supported by the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation in Jackson.

CMSE Staffer Receives International Award for Robotics Work

Mannie Lowe honored for growth, impact of FTC Robotics Challenge statewide

Mannie Lowe is recognized as the FIRST Tech Challenge Volunteer of the Year. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Mannie Lowe (left), pictured with John O’Haver, is recognized as the FIRST Tech Challenge Volunteer of the Year. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Mannie Lowe, a staff member at the University of Mississippi, is the 2016 recipient of the International Volunteer of the Year Award from FIRST, an organization that promotes an interest in STEM fields among students, with programs such as the FIRST Tech Challenge robotics competition for middle- and high-schoolers.

As this year’s honoree, Lowe, a program manager at UM’s Center for Mathematics & Science Education, was selected from more than 200,000 volunteers in 80 countries worldwide for his more than 12 years of service to the organization. He received an honorary certificate from FIRST at a surprise ceremony in July at Ole Miss.

“I’m touched by this award because I hold other people who have won this honor in such high admiration,” he said. “People who have won this in the past have done some truly amazing work with FIRST and with students. I didn’t realize I was held in such high esteem.”

As the manager for FIRST Tech Challenge robotics, Lowe, who previously ran FTC programs as a volunteer in Georgia, has spent the past five years carving out an infrastructure to allow Mississippi middle and high school students, as well as home-schooled children, the opportunity to design and build their own robots and compete in tournament-style competitions at the local, state, regional and even international level.

The competitions allow students to learn and apply knowledge in such disciplines as engineering, computer science, physics and mathematics. Many students participating in FTC programs go on to earn valuable scholarships to study STEM fields at colleges and universities around the world.

Under Lowe’s leadership, FTC programs in Mississippi have grown from just four robotics teams in 2012 to more than 40. Lowe spends about two days a week on the road, working with students and teachers to help FTC teams with their robot designs, a task that requires countless hours of travel and work after hours.

“First and foremost, Mannie has a passion for what he does,” said John O’Haver, CMSE director. “He loves what he does and is loved for it. He will use his vacation time and weekends to drive across the state to work with students and teachers. He will tell you himself that he feels like he is living the dream.”

Lowe also helps plan other events related to the robotics competitions, such as regional qualifying tournaments in communities across the state. Each February, the CMSE hosts a statewide competition at UM. This year, the event attracted more than 450 students.

Besides his work in Mississippi, he serves on the FIRST game design team, which brings together an international group of robotics mentors and volunteers who design a new challenge for students each year. This year, the FIRST Res-Q challenge required robotics teams to design a robot that can simulate a mountain rescue mission by lighting beacons, clearing debris and climbing an uphill rack made to simulate a mountain ascent.

“One of the things that amazes me is that we will come up with an idea and say, ‘There’s no way the students will be able to do this,'” he said. “But every year they find a way to top our challenge. It really is amazing to see.”

Lowe said he hopes to help FTC robotics programs continue to grow across the state and to see the number of participating teams rise to 50 in 2017.

UM World Class Teaching Program Hosts Summer Workshop

Ole Miss program prepares teachers for changing national board opportunities

worldclassteachingOXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi’s World Class Teaching Program, an organization that supports teachers seeking to become National Board Certified Teachers, will host a summer workshop July 18-21 in Oxford to raise awareness of recent changes related to earning the credential.

The workshop also will focus on explaining the NBCT certification process, choosing the correct certificate and completing the four components of the application process. In Mississippi, teachers who complete the certification receive a $6,000 annual pay increase funded by the state Legislature.

“I would encourage all Mississippi teachers to consider making national boards part of their career path,” said Tammy Kirkland, the university’s WCTP director. “The rewards that teachers and their students will receive make the journey incredibly worthwhile. Our door is open and ready to help any educator who needs us.”

The NBCT designation, which is issued by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, is a mark of excellence among educators, and the state-funded pay increase is guaranteed for the life of the certificate.

Three major changes concerning national board certification being implemented in the coming year will be of interest to Mississippi teachers:

  • Beginning this fall, the NBCT process can be completed on a one-, two- or three-year track. Previously, the credential was completed in one year.
  • Effective July 1, Mississippi teachers can be reimbursed the cost of individual test components from the Mississippi Department of Education following the completion of each individual component.
  • Also effective July 1, national board teachers in 13 counties will receive a stipend of $10,000 a year, instead of $6,000. These counties are: Adams, Amite, Bolivar, Claiborne, Coahoma, Issaquena, Jefferson, Leflore, Quitman, Sharkey, Sunflower, Washington and Wilkinson.

The Ole Miss WCTP program is one of six chapters in the state. Others are housed at Alcorn State University, Delta State University, Jackson State University, Mississippi State University and the University of Southern Mississippi. Ole Miss WCTP candidates have a higher than average first-time passage rate on the exam.

“The WCTP is the best professional development I have ever been through in the past 10 years,” said Temple Hester, a social studies teacher at Tupelo High School. “As teachers, we are constantly having to go through professional development, but this one forces you to think critically about your teaching and practice on a high level.”

Designed for working teachers, the WCTP connects NBCT candidates with experienced mentors, free online and face-to-face support and additional workshops throughout the year.

“There are five other WCTP chapters in Mississippi,” Kirkland said. “What separates the Ole Miss program is our 19 years of experience and success that we have had in supporting teachers. Our program continues to grow and adapt to meet the ever-changing needs of the classroom teacher.”

The university’s WCTP is accepting applications from Mississippi teachers who want to participate in candidate support programs this fall. The 2016-2017 WCTP application can be found online at http://wctp.olemiss.edu/applications. For more information, contact Kirkland at kirkland@olemiss.edu or 662-507-9869.

UM Principal Corps Admits Eighth Cohort

Program has near-perfect track record of producing school leaders

Members of the Mississippi Principal Corps 2016 cohort work through team-building exercises at he Rebel Challenge Course. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Members of the Mississippi Principal Corps 2016 cohort work through team-building exercises at the Rebel Challenge Course. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Seventeen educators from across the state gathered June 1 at the University of Mississippi to begin orientation for the eighth cohort of the Principal Corps, the university’s elite program for future school leaders.

The transformative, 13-month program prepares Mississippi teachers and school counselors for future roles in P-12 administration, typically as principals or assistant principals. The Principal Corps awards its graduates with a master’s or specialist degree in educational leadership from UM.

All Principal Corps recruits make a five-year commitment to stay employed in Mississippi schools after graduation and receive a $10,000 bonus upon signing a contract as a principal or assistant principal and beginning work.

“The No. 1 impact factor in any school anywhere in this nation is a great leader,” said David Rock, dean of the UM School of Education, during the event. “As school leaders, you have a chance to make great and dramatic change one school at a time, and it’s a huge commitment.”

The group includes Crystal Brown of Republic Charter Schools, Rhonda Carter of Gulfport School District, Donald Clause of Pascagoula-Gautier School District, Aaron Diaz of Stone County School District, Mary Kate Diltz of Meridian Public School District, Jason Frazier of Lincoln County School District, Michelle Harrison of Gulfport School District, Kimberly Herbert of Ocean Springs School District, Lisa Leatherman of Lee County School District, Arias Melvin of Rankin County School District, Wyn Mims of Petal School District, Jamie Parker of Biloxi Public School District, Katherine Patridge of Harrison County School District, Avery Peagler of Mississippi School of the Arts, Milton Ray of Harrison County School District, Nichole Robinson of Rankin County School District and Heather Rowland of Columbus Municipal School District.

Established in 2009, the program has a near-perfect success rate in ushering graduates into leadership opportunities. Close to 99 percent of graduates receive job offers following graduation.

The rigorous program combines graduate coursework with two full-time administrative internships at school districts across the state. During these internships, recruits work closely under veteran principals, often serving as assistant principals. Principal Corps graduates emerge with a year of full-time experience and often receive job offers from their internship sites.

Seventeen educators from across the state make up the eighth cohort of the Principal Corps. Front row: Avery Peagler, Wyn Mims, Katherine Patridge and Nichole Robinson. Middle Row: Jamie Parker, Rhonda Carter, Mary Kate Diltz, Arias Melvin, Crystal Brown, Lisa Leatherman and Michelle Harrison. Back Row: Heather Rowland, Jason Frazier, Aaron Diaz, Kimberly Herbert, Donald Clause and Milton Ray. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Seventeen educators from across the state make up the eighth cohort of the Principal Corps. Front row: Avery Peagler, Wyn Mims, Katherine Patridge and Nichole Robinson. Middle Row: Jamie Parker, Rhonda Carter, Mary Kate Diltz, Arias Melvin, Crystal Brown, Lisa Leatherman and Michelle Harrison. Back Row: Heather Rowland, Jason Frazier, Aaron Diaz, Kimberly Herbert, Donald Clause and Milton Ray. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

“When you leave here in June of 2017, you will not be the same person,” said Tom Burnham, interim director of the Principal Corps and two-time state superintendent of education, during the orientation. “You will become true leaders as you go through this program.”

As one of the most valuable educational leadership scholarships in the nation, the program includes full tuition, books and fees, as well as housing and living expenses while completing coursework at the university. The Principal Corps also allows recruits to maintain their regular salaries during the program.

All new recruits must receive an endorsement from his or her district superintendent before being considered for admission.

“I was attracted to this program because of the internship experience,” said Mary Kate Diltz, of the Meridian Public School District. “This internship experience will allow me to practice what we learn in class and see my growth as an educational leader while learning from the some of the best educational minds in the state.”

The Principal Corps was originally funded with $2 million in startup money from the Jim and Donna Barksdale Foundation. In October 2012, the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation awarded the program $1.5 million in new funding to expand placements across the state.

“When a family member asked me what I was most excited about, I explained that if I were going to school to be a surgeon, I’d want to learn from the greatest surgeons in the nation – that is how I feel about the Principal Corps,” said Michelle Harrison, of the Gulfport School District and the 2015 Mississippi Counseling Associations’ Mississippi School Counselor of the Year.

“We are being taught by the best of the best. What an honor it is to listen to Dr. Burnham speak about effective school leadership.”

UM Honors Five at School of Education Alumni Hall of Fame Induction

Honorees lauded for teaching, service and leadership

The 2016 UM School of Education Hall of Fame includes (left to right): Robert Depro of Sikeston, Missouri; Suzie Adcock of Jackson; Cathy Stewart of Oxford; Jahnae Barnett of Fulton, Missouri and Cecil C. Brown, Jr. of Jackson.

The 2016 UM School of Education Hall of Fame inductees are (left to right): Robert Depro of Sikeston, Missouri; Suzie Adcock of Jackson; Cathy Stewart of Oxford; Jahnae Barnett of Fulton, Missouri; and Cecil C. Brown Jr. of Jackson.

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi has inducted its second class of alumni into its School of Education Hall of Fame. Collectively, the group has more than 178 years of experience, commitment and public service to education.

The 2016 honorees are Suzie Mills Adcock of Jackson; Jahnae H. Barnett of Fulton, Missouri; Charles Robert Depro of Sikeston, Missouri; Cathy Stewart of Oxford; and Cecil C. Brown Jr. of Jackson. Brown received the School of Education’s first-ever service award for noneducation alumni.

“Our alumni board of directors selected our 2016 alumni award recipients for their distinguished careers as educational leaders and practitioners,” said David Rock, UM education dean. “Each of these five alumni are models for our current university students and graduates to emulate.

“We believe there is no more important or greater area of service in our state and nation than in the practice and advocacy of education.”

The ceremony was May 13 at the Inn at Ole Miss. Honorees were selected after being nominated by their peers and colleagues earlier this year.

Adcock, who graduated from UM in 1977 with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, has taught in both public and private schools for more than 31 years and is still teaching. She serves as the lower elementary school librarian and media specialist at Jackson Academy.

Her service work includes the direction of “Read for Need” service projects, which have benefited school libraries that have burned and the Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children. In addition, she has served on the UM School of Education’s alumni advisory board in various capacities throughout the years, including the presidency.

“I’m so humbled by this honor because I know so many teachers who should be in this spot; I really do,” Adcock said. “I am a teacher because I genuinely love what I do. I do everything that I do for my students. They are my heart. They really are.”

Barnett, who earned a master’s degree in business education from UM in 1967 and a Ph.D. in higher education in 1972, is president of William Woods University in Fulton, Missouri, a position the alumna has held for more than 26 years. Before her presidency, Barnett was a vice president and a department chair at William Woods.

When Barnett received her doctorate, she was only 24 years old and was the youngest individual to receive a Ph.D. from Ole Miss at that time. She was also the first female president of William Woods, an institution that has grown from a few hundred students to more than 3,000 during her tenure and grown from college to university status.

“I cannot imagine anything more rewarding that your peers, your colleagues and your academic institution saying that you’ve done exactly what you were supposed to do in your life,” Barnett said. “We just had our own alumni weekend at William Woods where we inducted some alumni into the hall of fame, and I knew exactly what that meant to them because of this honor.”

Depro, who earned a master’s degree in secondary education from UM in 1970, has taught history and social studies for more than 50 consecutive years and has taught more than 10,000 students in his career. From 1966 to 2000, he served as a social studies teacher and departmental chair at Sikeston Senior High School. He still teaches as an instructor in history at Southeast Missouri State University’s Sikeston campus, as part of a dual enrollment program with area high schools.

Among his other professional accomplishments include being named the Missouri Teacher of the Year and a finalist for the National Teacher of the Year in 1988.

“This is an honor that I never even in my wildest dreams thought that I would receive,” Depro said. “There are a lot of really good teacher out there; I teach with some of them every day. I accept this on behalf of all really good teachers.”

Stewart, who is a three-time graduate of UM, earned a bachelor’s degree from Ole Miss in elementary education in 1978, as well as a master’s degree and doctorate in curriculum and instruction in 1981 and 1995, respectively. Besides serving 20 years as an elementary teacher in the Lafayette County School District, Stewart also served as an adjunct professor at UM and as the founding director of the university’s World Class Teaching Program and director of the UM Writing Project.

She and her husband own and operate Wild Rose Kennels, the much-acclaimed breeder of British and Irish Labradors.

“I knew in first grade that I wanted to be a teacher,” said Stewart. “I never changed my mind and I never wavered. My advice for future teachers is to never quit learning and to always be open to learning a better or different way to do and improve the way you teach.”

Brown, who earned a bachelor’s degree in English and mathematics from UM in 1966, has been a public and private sector leader in Mississippi for more than 25 years. A Certified Public Accountant and the owner of his own accounting firm, Brown’s public service includes a stint at Mississippi State Fiscal Officer and a 16-year tenure as a member of the Mississippi House of Representatives, where he served as the chairman of the House Education Committee for seven years.

More recently, Brown was elected to serve as the state Public Service Commissioner in 2016.

“I’m very thankful for this award,” Brown said. “My hope is that somehow children will continue to benefit from the work that I have been able to contribute in service to education. They are the most important thing.”

The School of Education Alumni Hall of Fame was established in 2015, when UM inducted its charter class of three alumni: Milton Kuykendall of DeSoto County, Judith Reynolds of Clinton and Jerome Smith of Jackson.

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 http://www.outreach.olemiss.edu/booneville/.

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 http://www.olemiss.edu/desoto 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 http://www.outreach.olemiss.edu/desoto/ or call 662-342-4765.