Student Leaders Sought to Continue University’s Legacy of Service

VISTA program's mission to fight poverty through education

OXFORD, Miss. – Dynamic individuals committed to fighting poverty through education are encouraged to apply for a number of full-time, yearlong positions with the North Mississippi Volunteers in Service to America, or VISTA, project at the University of Mississippi.


The positions, which begin in February, will be based in Oxford, Okolona, Tupelo, Hernando, Corinth and Columbus. The placements are supported by AmeriCorps with a modest living allowance, health benefits and an education award, which can be used for graduate education or to repay qualified student loans.


The North Mississippi VISTA Project works in 23 counties across north Mississippi to build sustainable systems that connect the university and its resources to low-income communities. VISTAs are deployed to nonprofit organizations and schools seeking to develop or expand educational programs that serve low-income children and adults.


“Those who take these positions will make real contributions to the people of Mississippi,” said Stephen Monroe, the university’s VISTA program director and assistant dean of the College of Liberal Arts. “The program’s objectives include increasing educational resources for low-income children and adults, addressing clearly identifiable community needs and connecting directly to UM expertise and/or resources.”


Volunteers also gain valuable experience and perspective, said Leigh Cummins of Clinton, who graduated from UM in 2011 with bachelor’s degrees in Spanish and international studies before working as a VISTA. The experience inspired her to pursue a master’s degree in education, specializing in international education policy and management, at Vanderbilt University, she said.


“The VISTA year gave me many opportunities to build my skills, explore a multitude of avenues of career interests and a chance to work at what I consider to be one of the greatest universities in the country,” Cummins said. “I am grateful I was able to work with so many outstanding people and to serve so many wonderful students. Again, I’m so glad I chose to do a VISTA year at Ole Miss because it’s very likely that those 12 months changed the entire trajectory of my career.”


AmeriCorps VISTA is the national service program designed specifically to combat poverty. Founded in 1965 and incorporated into the AmeriCorps network of programs in 1993, VISTA has been on the front lines in the fight against poverty in America for more than 45 years. Across the country, VISTA members build programs designed to bring individuals and communities out of poverty by fighting illiteracy, improving health services, strengthening community groups and much more. The university’s first VISTA worked in the College of Liberal Arts in 2010.


The available positions will work with Excel in Okolona, the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts, HealthWorks! in Tupelo, the DeSoto County Youth Court, Girl Scouts Heart of the South council and various university departments.

Selections must be made by Dec. 21, so interested parties are encouraged to apply soon.

Apply online  (Be sure to create a profile and specifically apply to the North Mississippi VISTA Project.).

Contact Sharon Levine at, 662-915-1905 or Daniel Ward at, 662-915-2397 for more information.


Description of VISTA Positions

VISTA in the DeSoto County Youth Court: Hernando

The VISTA will work with the court to develop a mentor program to serve children passing through its jurisdiction. The goal of the program is to provide these children with additional guidance and supervision that will encourage their educational and social development. More specifically, the VISTA will work with the court judge and another full-time employee of the court to develop a program that recruits, trains, pairs and otherwise assists all participants in these mentor relationships. The court recognizes that many children who come through the court do not have the necessary parental resources to help them achieve educational and social benchmarks. The goal of the VISTA will be to foster connections and resources for the child within the community, thereby assisting them with educational excellence as well as cultivating special skills.


VISTA in HealthWorks! North Mississippi: Tupelo

The VISTA will create outreach programming that provides health education to school districts unable to provide resources to deliver their own health curriculum. The responsibility of the VISTA in this project will be to identify needs of the program; develop standards-based programming; design and procure props and support materials; create an evaluation tool for the program; identify which schools to deliver programming to; and means of delivery of the health education curriculum. The VISTA will work in a full-time position at HealthWorks! with a staff member to receive training in health education curriculum, gain experience with local and state agencies, develop fundraising strategies, and marketing and project development..


VISTA in Excel Commons: Okolona

The VISTA will work with Excel Commons, a local community development organization, to help Okolona residents gain the necessary skills and training to increase their job opportunities. Specifically, the VISTA is to develop a computer skills curriculum designed in preparation for the updated GED testing format. The VISTA will help find and train a computer coach to implement this curriculum. Additionally, the VISTA will research and/or develop a job readiness program and work with local residents to implement it. The VISTA will also assist with researching and writing grants to build the capacity of this organization to fight poverty through educational programming.


VISTA in the Gertrude Castellow Ford Center: Oxford

The VISTA will report to the director of the Ford Center and will work to create partnerships with local underserved communities. The VISTA will work regularly with other university VISTAs to strengthen and develop already existing partnerships and to foster new ones. The Ford Center hopes for its VISTA to create a network of cultural leaders throughout north Mississippi communities with whom the center can establish meaningful lasting relationships that will facilitate the delivery of quality experiences in the performing arts for students. The VISTA also will work to bring affordable and/or free performances, master classes, artist lectures, and demonstrations to the center’s partnering communities.


VISTAs in Girl Scouts Heart of the South: Columbus and Corinth

VISTAs at Girl Scouts council will be based in Columbus and Corinth. Each VISTA will work to increase the number of girls exposed to Girl Scouts and make it more accessible to girls in low-income areas. Specifically, VISTAs will help strengthen recruitment and retention methods, expand community partnerships, research and apply for funding, develop programming, organize and market events, increase outreach, and conduct needs and outcome evaluations. Girl Scouting is a tool that empowers girls to change the cycle of poverty, violence and premature death in low-income areas; each VISTA at the council will play a valuable role in influencing students, families, and communities throughout north Mississippi.


Visit for additional information about AmeriCorps VISTA and to apply. Be sure to specifically apply to the North Mississippi VISTA Project. Contact Sharon Levine at, 662-915-1905 or Daniel Ward at, 662-915-2397 for more information.