UM-Tupelo Alumni, Executive Director Among Tupelo’s ‘Top 40 Under 40’

Former business students and administrator honored for 2018

Albine Bennett

TUPELO, Miss.­­­ – Two former University of Mississippi at Tupelo students and the campus’ executive director have been named to northeast Mississippi’s “Top 40 Under 40” list of influential leaders.

Business, civic, and community leaders who are 40 years of age and under are nominated by community members and evaluated by an independent panel. Hosted by the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, the official awards ceremony was Oct. 25 at Tupelo’s “The Hub” in Journal Business Park.

Among those selected for the honor were Tupelo regional campus graduates Albine Bennett and Blakley Moore Young and UM-Tupelo Executive Director Derek Markley.

Bennett is a 2011 graduate of the Tupelo campus with a bachelor’s degree in managerial finance. She serves as director of communications for the CREATE Foundation in Tupelo, where among other duties, she coordinates the annual “Imagine the Possibilities” career expo.

“My time as a student at UM-Tupelo helped me not only gain knowledge in my field, but it also helped me gain confidence in myself,” Bennett said. “I was able to meet different people from all walks of life, which helped me to broaden my horizons.”

Bennett said she appreciated the connections she made in the community as an active member of various student organizations at the Tupelo campus. She volunteers for several area nonprofit groups, including Sanctuary Hospice House and the Salvation Army. She is also a board member for the local women’s leadership group New Expectations for Women in Mississippi.

Derek Markley

Markley has been executive director of the university’s Tupelo and Booneville regional campuses since 2014. He is also an assistant professor of leadership and counselor education, and enjoys volunteering as a youth soccer coach and with several Tupelo-area organizations including the Community Development Foundation and CREATE.

“It is a humbling experience to be included with such a great group of hardworking people,” Markley said. “As a university, I think we’re fortunate to have campuses in northeast Mississippi so we can be a part of the growth and development of this region.

“I was very honored to be in the same room with so many people committed to the success of Tupelo and the surrounding areas.”

Young is a 2007 graduate of the Tupelo campus with a bachelor’s degree in marketing. She is the digital sales manager for television station WTVA, where she was named one of the Top 50 Leading Business Women in the state by the Mississippi Business Journal.

“The University of Mississippi Tupelo campus helped prepare me in so many ways,” Young said. “The classes that I took there provided me with the education and insight I need to now assist my digital agency clients as they look to grow their businesses.

“As a leader in my organization, my management classes were invaluable to the work I do now.”

Blakley Young

Young serves as a board member with the Tupelo Sanctuary Hospice Junior Auxiliary and volunteers with The Shepard’s Hands organization, which provides assistance to at-risk women and children in north Mississippi. She also is involved with several other professional organizations, including the Public Relations Association of Mississippi and Tupelo Young Professionals.

“My time at UM-Tupelo helped to lay the foundation for being involved in my community and giving back,” Young said. “It also provided lifelong relationships both personally and professionally that I am forever grateful for.”

For more information about the UM Tupelo regional campus, visit

Students Starting Careers with Help from Internship Experience Program

Program supports students interning in Atlanta, D.C., and New York

UM students participating in the Internship Experience Program this summer in Washington, D.C., are (from left) senior public policy and political science major Jarrius Adams, of Hattiesburg, who worked with the Congressional Black Caucus in U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson’s office; senior public policy and journalism major Hailey McKee, of Dyersburg, Tenn., who interned at the Newseum and U.S. Rep. David Kustoff’s office; Justin Cowling, a political science major from Yazoo City, who worked at the Washington Intern Student Housing organization; and Sheranidan Burton, an accounting and criminal justice major from Gulfport who worked at the United States bankruptcy court clerk’s office. Photo by Gabby Coggin/Division of Outreach and Continuing Education

OXFORD, Miss.­­­ – Life changing.” “Incredible.” “Eye-opening.” “Extraordinary.” A group of University of Mississippi students recently used these words to describe the unique experiences they had this summer that not only enhanced their career skills but also opened doors for their future.

Last month, students met with UM administration, faculty and staff to discuss their experiences as participants in the Internship Experience Program, a special program that prepares and organizes cohorts of Ole Miss students to participate in career internships in Atlanta, New York and Washington, D.C.

Sara “Cookie” White, a senior integrated marketing communications major from Houston, Texas, was among the students who presented at the event.

“This program taught me how to create my own path,” White said. “I feel like I gained a lot of confidence in myself. It really pushed me to be my best and learn on my feet.”

The UM Internship Experience Program offers Ole Miss juniors and seniors an opportunity to gain professional work experience in these major cities while earning academic credit in their fields of study. Students work, with the assistance of university staff, to secure an internship that will give them important professional experience for future job opportunities.

“We envision these programs as a two-way pipeline between these amazing cities and the University of Mississippi,” said Laura Antonow, director of college programs in the Division of Outreach and Continuing Education. “This is a way to aid our students in their transition into successful professional careers after college.”

Students interested in learning about internship opportunities for summer 2019 can stop by an information session anytime between noon and 2 p.m. Wednesday (Oct. 31) at the UM Career Center in Martindale Hall.

In summer 2018, 12 students were selected to participate in the program, with two going to New York, four interning in Washington and six working in Atlanta.

“We start by selecting students that we believe are going to be competitive in these fast-paced cities, those who have a good combination of work experience, academic success and then extracurricular and leadership experience,” Antonow said.

White said she wanted to go to New York to try something new and feel the specialness of the city. As an intern with Allied Integrating Marketing, she got to help major motion picture studios promote upcoming films through screenings and special events.

“I had so many interesting projects and tasks,” White said. “I knew my IMC classes were preparing me for the future.

“When I started the summer, I felt like I had all of this knowledge, but I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it yet. Participating in this internship was a great way for me to apply everything that I have been learning during my time at Ole Miss.”

Shelby McElwain, of Corinth, is a senior art history major who interned this summer with nAscent Art in New York. She was able to help the company research art buys and designs for some of the country’s newest hotels.

“I felt like I was making a difference in the projects that my employer was pursuing this summer,” McElwain said. “They wanted my assistance and opinion. I learned so much.”

Jarrius Adams, a senior public policy and political science major from Hattiesburg, interned with the Congressional Black Caucus in U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson’s Washington office.

“My time in D.C. changed my perspective going forward,” Adams said. “I learned a lot. I know that I love politics, but I think I can make a greater impact in my community by participating more at the local level. I saw how local politicians make the laws that really affect everyday lives.”

Sara ‘Cookie’ White, a UM senior from Houston, Texas, takes in the Manhattan skyline while taking part in the Internship Experience Program with Allied Integrated Marketing. Students interested in learning about internship opportunities for summer 2019 can stop by an information session anytime between noon and 2 p.m. Wednesday (Oct. 31) at the UM Career Center in Martindale Hall. Photo by Gabby Coggin/Division of Outreach and Continuing Education

Hailey McKee, of Dyersburg, Tennessee, is a senior public policy and journalism major who had positions in two different offices this summer in Washington, serving as an intern at the Newseum and with U.S. Rep. David Kustoff of Tennessee.

During the presentation, she shared more about some of the more interesting events, hearings, and tasks she participated in over the summer.

“I looked up, and I was taking notes during a Senate hearing about putting American boots on the ground on Mars by 2030,” McKee explained. “There were astronauts in the room who have left the Earth. It was surreal.”

She said she was awestruck passing the Supreme Court and Library of Congress each day on her way to work.

“I wanted to appreciate all the history and significance of the places I was around daily.”

Ryan Granger, a senior IMC major from Pearl, said he chose to intern this summer in Atlanta because of the big city feel that wasn’t too far out of his comfort zone.

As an intern with the Atlanta International Fashion Week organization, he had the chance to help roll out a new collaboration between AIFW and Microsoft Corp. that is providing educational opportunities for Atlanta youth.

“I was working on press releases, preparing media kits and event planning,” he said. “It was cool to get all this real-world exposure to activities that I’ll be doing in my field.

“I learned so much about being able to adapt to the world around me and correctly adjust to whatever I needed to do.”

Granger is hoping that his summer internship will turn into a full-time job after graduation in May.

“Working in this industry would be a great pathway that could open a lot of career opportunities for me,” he said.

Granger said one of his favorite parts of the program was getting to know Ole Miss alumni in the area.

“It was great to hear their perspectives of living in Atlanta versus living in Oxford and appreciating the differences,” he said. “They helped us students see that living in this major city is definitely manageable when you learn the ropes.”

Antonow said the UM Internship Experience program is a special way for alumni to stay connected or to get more connected to the university.

“We’ve been steadily building our relationships with alumni and employers in these cities, and now we are receiving phone calls from past employers asking us when the new batch of Ole Miss interns will be selected,” she said.

The priority application deadline is Nov. 9 for juniors and seniors who are interested in being a part of the summer 2019 cohort of Internship Experience participants.

For more information or to start an online application, visit

‘Green is the New Pink’ Program Searching for Young Environmentalists

Second year of program looks to recruit seventh- to 10th-grade students to study local ecology

Scott Knight, UM Field Station director, shows participants in last fall’s ‘Green is the New Pink’ environmental program some of the interesting creatures found in local water sources. Young ladies in grades 7-10 are invited to participate in this year’s program, set for four Saturday mornings this fall and two in the spring at the Field Station. Interested students should apply online by Sept. 20. Photo by Pam Starling/UM Division of Outreach and Continuing Education

OXFORD, Miss.­­­ – If you know a seventh- to 10th-grade young woman who would enjoy spending Saturdays hiking by a local river, hunting for salamanders, fishing for rare species or tracking invasive organisms, she should check out the University of Mississippi’s “Green is the New Pink: Young Women Environmentalists in Action” program.

The environmental leadership program, created by the UM Office of Pre-College Programs, gives students tools and resources to create positive change in their community, to encourage the adoption of resource conservation activities and to ensure the safety of our planet for future generations.

“Last year’s participants had unique research opportunities and learned so much about the world around them that we wanted to be able to offer the program to a new group of students,” said Wendy Pfrenger, UM assistant director of pre-college programs.

This year, Pfrenger and Ellen Shelton, pre-college programs director, submitted a grant proposal to the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks to fund the program. The proposal was accepted last month.

The “Green is the New Pink” program will give students a chance to explore different elements of the UM Field Station while collecting and examining data that they will later share with younger students who participate in the Ecology Day Camp program.

“We think it is a great opportunity for the participants to share what they discover with the next generation of environmental researchers,” Pfrenger said.

Shelton and Pfrenger are working with Scott Knight, UM Field Station director, to provide specific learning and research activities for participants.

They will be working alongside Oxford High School teacher Angela Whaley, Corinth Middle School teacher Martha Tallent and Lafayette Middle School teacher Katie Szabo during the six Saturday morning activity days of the program that will take place this fall and in spring 2019.

Students interested in participating in the 2018-19 program are invited to apply online by Sept. 20 at

Former UM Students Find Pathway to College Degree

Complete to Compete graduates honored at campus celebration

The University of Mississippi honored its first recipients of the new Bachelor of University Studies degree program Aug. 4 at the Jackson Avenue Center. Among the graduates honored at the event was Oxford police officer Hardie Meeks, accompanied by his wife, Katrenia, and their children Hayden, Ty, and Ani. Photo by Larry Agostinelli/UM Division of Outreach and Continuing Education

OXFORD, Miss.­­­ – Police officers, pro football players, substitute teachers, stay-at-home moms and Nissan employees are just a few of the professionals who took part in a special event Aug. 4 at the University of Mississippi’s Jackson Avenue Center.

The special graduation celebration event honored adults who applied to the Mississippi Complete to Compete, or C2C, program and had previously completed the full slate of college coursework, making them eligible for the university’s newest undergraduate degree, the Bachelor of University Studies.

“Finally holding this degree is going to help me get off the line,” said Aspen Cannon, of West Point.

Cannon works full time on the assembly line at the Nissan plant in Canton, but was part of the drum line for the “Pride of the South” marching band and a music and business major at UM from 2004 to 2007.

“Life happened,” Cannon said, reflecting on leaving the university without completing his degree. Family obligations and student loan debt played a part of his decision to leave school, but he said he always regretted not getting his diploma.

At the celebration event, Cannon just happened to sit next to a former bandmate and friend whom he had not seen since leaving Oxford. Timothy Stine, from Millington, Tennessee, also left the university before finishing his degree.

After apply to C2C, Stine received an email from Ole Miss in the spring about the B.U.S. program, and he jumped at the chance when he found out that he met the requirements to receive this degree.

“I’m hoping having this piece of paper will give me better job opportunities,” Stine said. “I’m about to start sending out my updated resume.”

Former UM ‘Pride of the South’ band members Aspen Cannon (left) and Timothy Stine catch up with each other at a graduation celebration for the new Bachelor of University Studies program. Both left the university in the mid-2000s but found out this past spring that they had enough completed credits as part of the statewide Complete to Compete initiative to receive their degrees. Photo by Larry Agostinelli/UM Division of Outreach and Continuing Education

The B.U.S program was created this spring to work in conjunction with the statewide C2C program that began in August 2017. C2C was created by the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning and the Mississippi Community College Board to help adults who have been out of college for at least two years to finish their postsecondary degrees.

In less than a year’s time, UM academic advisers have received C2C applications from over 1,200 former students who had some college coursework, but had not completed a full degree program.

“The first thing I ask people interested in this program is, ‘Tell me your story,'” said Audra Trnovec, UM academic counselor and C2C coach. “I ask for the background on their educational journey so I can help them put together a plan to be successful.

Many C2C students have shared stories about the reasons surrounding the pause in their education.

“Some students needed to stop taking classes so that they could care for their children, some were supporting wives or supporting husbands; they might have been serving in the military or needing to financially take care of their families,” she said. “They all have a unique background and a unique goal.”

Fhan Cooper, of Crystal Lake, Illinois, played right tackle for Ole Miss during the banner 2014 and 2015 seasons, but he left Oxford for the NFL just a few credits shy of graduation.

“As a transfer student, I had a lot of credits, but my playing time was limited, and I needed to make the move to the pros,” Cooper said.

Jennifer Reeves (back row, middle) and her family drove nine hours from Houston, Texas, to celebrate her recent graduation from UM after a 20-year hiatus from college. Photo by Larry Agostinelli/UM Division of Outreach and Continuing Education

Cooper, who was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers and later traded to the Indianapolis Colts, is a free agent looking for his next opportunity.

“I want to be ready for what is next in my life,” he said, noting that he is considering coaching, scouting and training as his next career move.

“I’d like to earn my master’s degree in education so that I can become a good teacher. I think this will help me in a coaching role if I know how to teach concepts and information in an understandable way. And I think completing a degree shows people you take pride in what you do, and you value the work.”

During the past year, staff in the Office of General Studies have identified 150 C2C applicants who had completed all of the requirements for the new B.U.S. degree without taking additional courses. Many of these students had changed majors or completed the bulk of coursework but were never able to finish their chosen degree, so they were encouraged to consider the B.U.S. program.

“We just felt that these students did the work and deserved to be honored like other UM graduates,” said Terry Blackmarr, assistant to the dean for general studies. “One student is so excited to have earned his college degree that he invited 48 family members to the celebration.”

“We can already see that completing this degree means so much to these students, and it’s going to make a positive impact on their lives.”

Coffeeville native Jennifer Reeves, who lives in Houston, Texas, drove 600 miles to Oxford to be honored after 20 years since her enrollment.

As an English major in the early ’90s, Reeves married and moved away before graduating. Her husband became an engineer with Exxon Mobile, and his position took them around the globe. They lived in the Netherlands, Singapore and Thailand before landing in Houston. During that time, they added five children to their family.

“I made my mother a promise that I would finish my degree when I got married,” Reeves said. “I’m so happy that this program honors the credits I had already earned and gave me the opportunity to have my diploma.”

“The government, the state of Mississippi and Ole Miss, they don’t owe me anything. I feel that this program is just grace extended to people like me who were so close to finishing but needed a little extra assistance to get across the finish line.”

The B.U.S. program is available for students 21 and older, with a minimum of 90 degree-applicable credit hours who have not been enrolled in college in the past 24 months and have not earned another bachelor’s degree. All applicants must meet the university’s admissions requirements and apply to the C2C.

Designed to provide adult students with a flexible pathway to complete a baccalaureate degree, the program allows an individualized curriculum for a student to complete up to three emphasis areas that will position them favorably in their career.

During the celebration, Tony Ammeter, associate provost for the Division of Outreach and Continuing Education and dean of general studies, addressed the graduates.

“It is our hope that the courses you took and the degree you now hold better your life,” he said. “You represent the best work of UM and even though for some of you, it may have been a while ago, we hope Ole Miss has helped you become a leader – a leader who especially understands that success isn’t about the riches you gain, but the people you help.”

Since the program was new this year, this celebration event will make way for future B.U.S graduates to be honored during the university’s official commencement exercises in May, when graduates will walk alongside Bachelor of General Studies students to receive their diplomas.

“Since the university hosts only one commencement ceremony per year, and we were unable to confer degrees for the B.U.S. students until that date had passed, we decided for this year only to host this special event to encourage and celebrate these new graduates who had already waited so long to hold their degree,” Blackmarr said.

Former Ole Miss students who are interested in learning more about this program can visit

Peeples Receives Outstanding Professional Educator Award

Graduate of Grenada regional campus hopes to set an example for his students

The Mississippi Association of Colleges for Teacher Education has named Terry Peeples (right), of Vaiden, as one of Mississippi’s Outstanding Professional Educators for 2017-18. Peeples, who attended the university’s Grenada regional campus, receives the award from David Rock, dean of the UM School of Education, during the organization’s annual awards ceremony in Vicksburg. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss.­­­ – The Mississippi Association of Colleges for Teacher Education has named Vaiden native Terry Peeples as one of Mississippi’s Outstanding Professional Educators of the Year.

The annual award is given to one graduate from each of 15 Mississippi colleges and universities. Peeples, who graduated from the University of Mississippi’s Grenada regional campus in 2015, was chosen to represent the UM School of Education.

Peeples has set an example for current and future teachers with his determination, drive and hard work during his three years as a full-time teacher at Winona Elementary School, said Karen Davidson Smith, UM clinical assistant professor of curriculum and instruction.

“Terry is receiving this honor because he has continuously demonstrated outstanding character and professional dispositions in his school by growing students, building an outstanding relationship with parents and the community, and being an advocate for his school district,” Smith said.

Peeples attended J.Z. George High School before transferring to Old Dominion Christian School in Kosciusko, where he graduated in 2008. He began his college career as a nursing major at Holmes Community College’s Grenada campus.

After transferring to another community college for a short time, he had a change of heart concerning his career path, and returned to Holmes-Grenada to work on his associate degree in elementary education.

“There were not a lot of guys in the education field, but I felt like students need better male role models,” Peeples said.

He later transferred to the UM Grenada campus, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in education in May 2015. That summer, he was hired as a fourth-grade math and science teacher in Winona.

Peeples jumped right into developing as a teacher by joining the UM Center for Math and Science Education’s Developing Excellence in Education through Professional Learning Communities, or DEEP, summer institute program. The program was developed to help teachers foster a classroom environment that helps students grasp a strong understanding of mathematics, make sense of problems, construct viable arguments and use the structure of mathematics.

“The DEEP learning community program gave me a great start as a math teacher,” Peeples said. “Going through the program helped me to think outside the box, and it gave me techniques to help challenge my students.”

In fall 2016, Peeples experienced another major career event when he was selected by Winona school officials to attend the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, along with five others from the school district.

“It’s the dream for teachers,” Peeples said. “The innovative teaching philosophies I learned there will forever impact the way I teach.

“I learned how to incorporate music into my lessons, make my classroom instruction more student-led and reduce behavior problems down inside the classroom. I watched some of the greatest teachers in the world teach lessons, and it opened my eyes to a whole new world as a teacher.”

Peeples said he gained a better understanding of educational relationships that need to be fostered with students and their parents, and he also explored the learning benefits of incorporating fun and music into lessons.

“I get their attention by playing music they like, mostly the instrumentals,” Peeples said. “The students know, though, that we have to be working. The music is just motivating us to work through the math problems, and sometimes I don’t even talk.

“I’m at the board working problems both correctly and incorrectly to see if they catch on to the mistakes.”

Peeples’ unique teaching style went viral this past year when a video of him walking on desks in his classroom while teaching a science rap garnered hundreds of views on Facebook.

Peeples said another important lesson he learned at the academy is how to command his class and hold students responsible for their behavior.

“It really works,” he said. “Behavior problems have been cut down drastically.”

Peeples is working toward his master’s degree in educational leadership with the goal of someday becoming a school principal. He and his wife, Mercedes, are already teaching a love of math to their two children, Jaerrius and Nadia.

“Even on the hard days when I feel like I can’t get through to particular students, I try to remember that they are just kids, and I’m still making a positive impact on their lives,” Peeples said.

“Growing up, I learned that it is better to look up to and imitate the people around me who were doing the right things and staying out of trouble. I hope I will inspire my students to do the same.”

Local HR Professionals Excel in National Certification Exam

UM prep class aids north Mississippi companies and employees

Dylan Wilmoth, of Oxford, recently earned the Society of Human Resource Management Certified Professional certification after completing an SHRM certification prep course offered by the UM Division of Outreach and Continuing Education. UM photo by Pam Starling

OXFORD, Miss.­­­ – Human resource professionals in north Mississippi are increasing their knowledge and skills to help employers after participating in the Society of Human Resources Learning System professional development course offered at the University of Mississippi.

“Going through this course helped me to better understand my job and do it in the best way possible,” said Mallory House of Hernando.

House works with payroll, insurance, worker’s compensation and various other HR tasks for the DeSoto County Board of Supervisors’ office. She passed her SHRM Certified Professional Exam in June.

“I think the class not only prepared me to take the certification exam, but it also prepared me for the day-to-day issues and challenges that will come up in my work,” House said.

The SHRM exam prep course that House completed last spring is enrolling participants for the fall 2018 group that will be offered on Tuesday evenings, Sept. 11 through Dec. 11, on the Oxford campus.

Taught by local human resource manager Christopher Byrd, the course not only prepares human resource professionals to take the SHRM-Certified Professional or SHRM-Senior Certified Professional Exams, but it also helps participants strengthen their understanding of core behavior and competencies that will help increase productivity in the workplace.

“Pursuing a nationally recognized certification in HR is one of the best ways to show you care about your career, your employees and your organization,” Byrd said.

Dylan Wilmoth is an operations leader with Human Technologies Inc. in Oxford. He completed the course and passed his SHRM exam in the spring of 2017.

“Anyone who is managing people or working in the HR field needs this course,” Wilmoth said. “Participating in this program has given me the knowledge to bridge the gap between what employees want and what the employer needs.

“After earning this certification, I have the knowledge I need to be an advocate for employees while still helping my company meet its goals.”

The SHRM organization has been active in the human resources community for seven decades and has more than 285,000 members worldwide.

“There has been a great success rate for enrollees in the SHRM certification course offered at Ole Miss,” said Mary Leach, UM director of professional development and lifelong learning. “These short workshops and courses are ideal for those who want to gain current and relevant knowledge to impact their job immediately.”

The registration fee for the course is $1,099 for non-SHRM members and $999 for members. Special discounts are available for Ole Miss alumni. Many businesses and organizations are offering educational tuition benefits for employees interested in completing the prep course.

Admission to the university is not required for this noncredit course.

For more information and to register, visit or contact Griffin Stroupe at 662-915-3121.

Two Grandmothers Receive University’s Highest Academic Honor

From 'I can't go back to school' to earning Taylor Medals, new graduates aim to make a difference

Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter and Lori Fain. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Lori Fain, of Sherman, and Brenda Raper, of Nettleton, are both busy mothers and grandmothers who not only spend time investing in their families but are beginning careers that also will allow them to invest in the lives of others in their community.

As students at the University of Mississippi at Tupelo, both ladies’ efforts are being honored this spring as recipients of 2018-19 Marcus Elvis Taylor Memorial Medals.

Only the top 1 percent of all students enrolled at the university receives this award each year. Recipients must have at least a 3.90 grade-point average to be considered and receive nominations from UM faculty.

“Brenda is truly one of those students I will never forget,” said Svjetlana Curcic UM associate professor of education. “We tend to assign a label of a ‘nontraditional student’ to those who enroll in college at a later day.

“In Brenda’s case, she has been a teacher of not only her own children, but other children in our community for years and by going back to school later in life, she has proven that she wants to become the best teacher she can be.”

Upon graduating from Itawamba Agricultural High School in 1980, Raper married and started working as a clerk at the Lee County Tax Collector’s office in Tupelo. She and her husband, Danny Samuel Raper, started a family and soon added three children to their home.

While raising children, she taught everything from 4-year old pre-K through fifth-grade classes in the private school housed at the Tupelo Children’s Mansion for 11 years. At the end of the 2012 academic year, the school program had to lay off employees, and Raper found herself at a crossroads.

Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter and Brenda Raper. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

“My husband encouraged me to go back to school and get my degree,” Raper said. “I told him that I didn’t think I could do that, but he was very supportive and encouraged me until I finally decided to try.”

So, in 2014 at age 52, she enrolled at Itawamba Community College and started her college career.

“I was very nervous, but on the first day everyone treated me kindly and like one of the other students,” she said. “I really enjoyed my classes and realized more and more that I was doing the right thing by going back to school.”

After excelling at ICC, Raper transferred to start her junior year of classes on the UM-Tupelo campus. During her time there, she stayed involved in student organizations and worked to maintain her 4.0 GPA.

This spring she served as a student teacher in a third-grade classroom at Rankin Elementary School in Tupelo.

“I just love seeing the students learn and grow,” Raper said. “It’s a special job that I feel I was made for.”

Fain attended East Union High School before getting married and moving to Washington in 1990. A few years later, she returned home to Sherman and earned her GED at ICC in 1993.

Her family soon began expanding with the addition of her four children. Throughout this time, she worked as a phlebotomist with United Blood Services and later as an office manager with a local dentist.

After a divorce and unexpected job loss, Fain began to experience financial issues.

Lori Fain celebrates winning a Taylor Medal, the highest academic honor at UM, with sons Adrian and Carson Hester. Submitted photo

“I lost everything,” she said. “I lost my house, my car, and had to move home with my mother. I had my pity party for about a year, until I decided I had to do something so I might as well get ahead.”

That’s when she decided to work toward earning her bachelor’s degree in social work.

Fain said she decided to major in social work because she wanted to help people who might find themselves in the same situations she had struggled with.

“People can get lost,” Fain said. “I want to help other people who may be going through some hard times just like I did.

“If I had known about some of the resources that were available to me, I might could have stayed in my house. I want to help people when they need it the most.”

During her senior year, Fain helped to organize a “Kids Fest” event at Ballard Park in Tupelo. The event had free games and prizes for children while raising awareness for child abuse prevention.

“Not only did Lori excel academically, she was a leader with peers,” said Shane Robbins, a social work instructor at the regional campus. “Her passion to help others and be a leader in this field has been evident throughout her time at UM.”

Brenda Raper (center, seated) celebrates winning a Taylor Medal, the highest academic honor at UM, with her family. Submitted photo

Because of Fain’s life experiences, she demonstrated a unique ability to problem-solve in real-world scenarios, said Jandel Crutchfield, an assistant professor of social work at UM-Tupelo.

“We need more social workers like Lori, who can use critical thinking to create the most effective interventions possible for their clients,” Crutchfield said. “I believe she will make an important impact in this field.”

Fain said she has learned so much about herself throughout her time at Ole Miss.

“Even though when I started college I knew I wanted to help people, through my studies and my internship experiences, I have learned a better way to look at myself and how to empathize with other people,” she said. “I’ve learned how to step out of my place and into someone else’s situation to work toward the best solution to meet their needs.”

Booneville Student Earns University’s Highest Academic Honor

Tishomingo's Hannah Day awarded UM Taylor Medal

UM Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter congratulates Hannah Day of Tishomingo on being named a Taylor medalist for the 2017-18 academic year. The Taylor Medal is the university’s highest academic award and recognizes fewer than 1 percent of the student body. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Hannah Day, a senior education major from Tishomingo at the University of Mississippi at Booneville, recently was selected to receive the university’s top academic honor as a Taylor medalist for the 2017-18 academic year.

Day was presented her award during the annual Honors Convocation on the Oxford campus.

“I was blown away when I heard that I had received the award,” Day said. “It validates all my hard work and long nights of studying. It was definitely worth it.”

Only the top 1 percent of University of Mississippi students can be awarded the Marcus Elvis Taylor Memorial Medal each year. Recipients must have at least a 3.90 grade-point average and recommendations from faculty members in their field.

Janie Conway, an adjunct instructor in the School of Education, was one of the faculty members who recommended Day for the honor.

“I was happy we had the opportunity to recognize Hannah’s hard work as well as her servant’s heart,” Conway said.

Day graduated from Belmont High School in 2014. She attended Northeast Community College, where she was involved in several organizations before transferring to UM-Booneville.

As a student teacher in a first-grade classroom at Hills Chapel School this spring, Day has worked to form relationships with students to find out more about their learning styles and how to help them be the best students that they can be, she said.

“I have always enjoyed math, and I want to help my students understand and enjoy it as much as I do,” Day said. “Math doesn’t have to be scary if you are given the tools to understand it.”

Conway recalled that Day showed such a passion for helping others grasp the concepts discussed in class that she often was mentoring and encouraging fellow classmates.

“Hannah was an active class participant who also supported the learning of her students and her peers,” Conway said. “I believe her high expectations for herself as an educator will help her future students become successful as well.”

Along with her own classes, Day serves as a youth coordinator and Sunday school teacher at Belmont United Methodist and as a volunteer with the local food bank, Angel Tree Christmas Drive, American Red Cross and the Salvation Army.

“I would hire Hannah without reservation as a teacher in my school,” Conway said. “I am so thankful that we have young people like Hannah to become future teachers and community leaders who truly care about their students.”

Crutchfield Presented UM Online Teaching Award

Social work faculty member recognized for excellence in distance instruction

Tony Ammeter (left), UM associate provost for outreach and continuing education, presents Jandel Crutchfield, assistant professor of social work, with this year’s Paragon Award for Excellence in Online Instruction. UM photo by Pamela Starling

OXFORD, Miss. – Jan Crutchfield, an assistant professor of social work at the University of Mississippi, has been honored with the Paragon Award for Excellence in Distance Teaching, which rewards online instructors who have exhibited good practice in course design and innovative use of technology.

Each year, the Office of Academic Outreach within the UM Division of Outreach seeks to encourage and highlight faculty members’ contributions to online instruction with the award, which is in its eighth year. Nominees’ efforts are acknowledged for engaging students, as well as for their commitment to providing students with a quality education.

Crutchfield was honored April 13 at a ceremony on the Oxford campus.

“Dr. Crutchfield’s online courses stood out to the award selection committee for student-centered teaching, diversified student learning experiences and strong instructor presence,” said Mary Lea Moore, UM assistant director of academic outreach.

“The award selection committee felt that her course assignments promoted critical thinking, were relevant and encouraged students to make a connection between the materials and their personal experience.”

Andrea Hannaford, a senior social work major from Senatobia, said that as a participant in Crutchfield’s online Social Work Research course last fall, she felt connected to the class and material.

“Her style of online teaching was so different,” Hannaford said. “I felt like I was really learning how to do research and not just doing work to keep busy. I loved that she videoed her lectures so that it felt like we were in a classroom atmosphere.”

Crutchfield said two of the staples of her online courses incorporate the use of Zoom recorded video lectures that include computer screen sharing and subsequent creation of YouTube links for students to view.

“I feel that integrating these two platforms in a way that brings my presence to the online classroom helps to make students feel more engaged in the courses and as if they had more guidance than in a strictly written online course,” Crutchfield said.

“I think video lectures can even aid those busy students who may need to listen to a lecture in the car while commuting to work or school. It’s all about flexibility.”

Crutchfield understands the need of flexibility when it comes to education. She herself was employed and caring for her family while completing her doctorate at Louisiana State University.

“From my own online course experiences, I wanted to help take some of the anxiety of online classes away and show students how to stay on track and stay engaged throughout the flexible environment of online courses,” Crutchfield said.

Crutchfield said her teaching philosophy is based on the social work concept of meeting clients where they are.

“I like the challenge of engaging students in a way that has to be more dynamic,” Crutchfield said. “I’ve tried to be creative in my online courses and work to be just as accessible to online students as I would be for those in a live class.”

At the presentation ceremony, Daphne Cain, chair of the Department of Social Work, said that Crutchfield continues to prove herself to be a dedicated student mentor, advanced researcher and collaborative colleague.

“Dr. Crutchfield’s innovative spirit in online education is inspirational to those around her,” Cain said. “I’ve enjoyed watching her move social work online education forward.”

Foundation Funds Research into UM Student Internship Practices

Ole Miss doctoral students exploring pathways for high-impact learning experiences

Jennifer Saxon (left) and Kristina Philips (right), both of Oxford, received a $3,000 grant from the B.A. Rudolph Foundation to fund their doctorate degree dissertation study into the factors that discourage or enhance internship participation by UM students from low socioeconomic groups. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn,” is a Chinese proverb that University of Mississippi doctoral students Kristina Phillips and Jennifer Saxon have explored over the past few months as they study ways to increase access to high-impact and experiential learning opportunities for more UM students.

Their research went so far as to recently catch the attention of the Washington, D.C.-based B.A. Rudolph Foundation.

“The foundation was very interested in funding this dissertation study since it is central to our mission and interests in breaking barriers related to internship participation,” said Kristen Hecht, the foundation’s program director.

Established in 2011, the B.A. Rudolph Foundation works to provide a progressive source of funding to advance and enrich the lives of women, girls and underserved populations through educational and general support that includes those seeking unpaid internships in public service and the sciences, as well as a mentorship program and networking opportunities.

“This research is an important contribution to the field, exploring these disparities and proposing meaningful solutions that will benefit the University of Mississippi and, ultimately, interns nationwide,” said Mary Bruce, the foundation’s executive director.

Phillips serves as the assistant director of college programs in the UM Division of Outreach, where she oversees the Internship Experience program for students.

The Atlanta, New York and Washington Internship Experience Program offers degree-seeking Ole Miss juniors and seniors an opportunity to gain practical work experience while earning academic credit in their fields of study. Students work, with the assistance of UM staff, to secure an internship that will give them useful professional experience to enhance career prospects upon graduation.

Phillips has worked for the department for four years. During that time, she became interested in examining the program’s enrollment patterns and determining how to increase participation for students from low-socioeconomic backgrounds.

“I wanted to explore the various factors that are holding students back from these amazing learning opportunities in the hopes to strategize solutions,” Phillips said.

“One of our objectives with this study is to examine student perspectives of the quality and nature of internships currently administered or overseen at UM and then inform administrators on how to clarify internship participation.”

Saxon, assistant athletics director for student-athlete development in the UM Department of Intercollegiate Athletics, is Phillips’ co-author and researcher.

Her primary job responsibility is to provide student-athletes with programming to prepare for life after collegiate athletic involvement and to enhance their access to gainful employment upon graduation.

“We are finding an interesting relationship between first-generation college students and their accessibility to internship experiences,” Saxon said. “Providing experiential learning opportunities for students is a component of UM’s new Flagship Forward strategic plan.

“We hope that this study can be useful as both of our campus departments work to move forward toward this goal.”

The funds awarded for the study are being used to incentivize participation from UM students into one of their various focus group discussions and pay for transcribing services for these research sessions.

So far, the research is leading Phillips and Saxon to believe that students who may need to participate in high-impact practices such as internship experiences do not do so for reasons related to socioeconomic status, race and socialization.

“The problem faced at the University of Mississippi is how to enhance internship participation for all students,” Phillips said. “The overarching goal of this study is to reduce barriers for these students and enhance participation.”

Upon completion of and compilation of their research this spring, Phillips and Saxon will complete the requirements for their Doctor of Education in Higher Education degrees and will then have an opportunity to present their findings to the board of the B.A. Rudolph Foundation in June.

For more information about the Internship Experience Program offered to students through the UM Division of Outreach, visit