OXFORD, Miss. – Seventeen college freshmen gathered at the University of Mississippi’s Lyceum building recently to begin a life-changing college experience as new fellows in the Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program.
The METP offers an elite scholarship for top-performing students who seek to become secondary English or mathematics teachers in Mississippi. This group marks the program’s second cohort, hails from eight states and boasts an average ACT score of 29.1.
The program’s inaugural cohort was admitted in August 2013 and included 15 students from three states, with an average ACT of 28.5. The Ole Miss METP chapter has a 100 percent retention rate.
“I’d like to thank each of you for choosing to be part of this program and our university,” Chancellor Dan Jones told the group during the Aug. 22 event. “As teachers, you’re not only going to make a positive difference in the lives of the students you will teach but also in the future of our state as a whole.”
The most valuable education scholarship ever offered in Mississippi, METP was established in January 2012 as a joint venture with Mississippi State University after the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation awarded the two institutions a $12.95 million grant to build the program. METP offers four years of full tuition, room and board, a technology stipend, professional development, study abroad and more. All fellows make a five-year commitment to teach in Mississippi public schools after graduation.
“This is probably the most signature, high-quality undergraduate teacher preparation program in the nation right now,” said David Rock, dean of the UM School of Education. “METP fellows are not just here for a full scholarship; they’re here for much more. Most education majors don’t start training until their junior year of college, but our fellows start right away.”
The select group includes Mary Kathryn Barry of Charlotte, North Carolina; Ryley Blomberg of Belleville, Illinois; Meaghan Combs of Englewood, Ohio; Marjorie Cox of Tallulah, Louisiana; Rachel Ford of Siloam Springs, Arkansas; Drew Hall of Pearland, Texas; Taylor Huey of Long Beach; Shelby Joyner of Horn Lake; Charlie Kemp of Sarah; Paula Mettler of Hernando; Dillon Moore of Gautier; Elijah Peters of Hernando; Lindsay Raybourn of Long Beach; Laurel Reeves of Birmingham, Alabama; Abygail Thorpe of Gulfport; Anna Traylor of Brandon; and Gabrielle Vogt of Metairie, Louisiana.
Nine of the fellows will study English education and eight will study mathematics education. The program’s initial focus on English and mathematics was designed to meet the demands of the Common Core State Standards. The program also hopes to help change the perception of teaching as a career choice for the best and brightest incoming freshmen with the valuable scholarship.
“Our second cohort is an exceptional bunch and we’re excited to have them join our program,” said Ryan Niemeyer, the university’s METP director. “Our goal is to make METP a nationally competitive scholarship that brings the very best students to our university and to public education in Mississippi.”
Up to 20 fellows can be selected annually, but only the best incoming students are chosen at UM. Competition to gain admission into the program is expected to become increasingly fierce in coming years, Niemeyer said.
“The thing that attracted me to METP was the fact that this scholarship was specifically designed for future teachers,” Reeves said. “There aren’t many programs that give full scholarships to aspiring teachers. Becoming a fellow means that I have to set high standards for myself and be willing to achieve those standards when I become a teacher in Mississippi.”
While most education students begin teacher education coursework and field experiences after sophomore year, METP fellows are immersed in educational issues and theories from their first semester with specialized seminars. Also, METP students from both Ole Miss and MSU come together each semester for cross-campus learning activities at both campuses, allowing them to learn from faculty at both institutions. This spring, UM’s first cohort will take a special trip to Washington, D.C., to tour the White House, U.S. Department of Education and meet members of Congress.
“I’ve always wanted to give back to my community and to change people’s lives for the better,” Moore said. “I have had some amazing teachers, teachers who have shown me that being a good teacher can change the lives of hundreds for the better. A lot of people say ‘It only takes one person who cares.’ It’s my aspiration to be that one person who makes others better by caring and teaching them.”