UM Inducts Ninth Class into Principal Corps

Twelve women from across state begin career-shaping journey in educational leadership

The ninth cohort of the University of Mississippi Principal Corps is (front row, from left) Mandy Scarpulla, Sandra Oliver, Kewanna Riley, Angela Oliphant, Monica Meredith and Sharon Cooley, and (back row) Robin Auringer, Katie Nelson, Angel Carr, Christine Beeker, Lindsay Starbuck and Marrion Winders. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – A dozen women from school districts across the state make up the ninth class of the University of Mississippi’s Principal Corps.

The Principal Corps is the university’s elite program for aspiring educational leaders, and over nearly a decade, it has produced 87 new graduates, 90 percent of whom are serving as a principal or assistant principal in school districts across Mississippi and beyond.

At a May 31 orientation, interim director Tom Burnham and other members of the School of Education faculty addressed the group of aspiring school leaders, the program’s first all-female cohort.

“One of the things we’re most proud of in the Principal Corps is the growth of this program throughout the state,” said Burnham, a two-time state superintendent of education and former UM education dean. “There are a number of you who are coming into the Principal Corps from districts that have never been part of our program before. We’re very proud of that.”

The new recruits are: Robin Auringer of the Gulfport School District, Christine Beeker of the Meridian Public School District, Angela Carr of the Nettleton School District, Sharon Cooley of the Lamar County School District, Monica Meredith of the Senatobia Municipal School District, Kathleen Nelson of the Rankin County School District, Angela Oliphant of the Harrison County School District, Sandra Oliver of the Jefferson County School District, Kewanna Riley of the Harrison County School District, Mandy Scarpulla of the Franklin County School District, Lindsay Starbuck of the Smith County School District and Marrion Winders of the Tupelo Public School District.

Designed to be a transformational journey toward school leadership, the 13-month program prepares teachers for K-12 leadership positions with a combination of graduate coursework and two full-time internships, set during fall and spring semesters, where program participants learn from experienced mentor-principals at internship sites.

The new cohort members possess impressive credentials. Many hold advanced degrees or national board certifications.

Oliphant, a biology teacher, holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Southern Mississippi and a master’s degree from William Carey University, but chose UM’s Principal Corps for its reputation.

“I wanted to learn how to be an effective leader in our schools, and I knew Ole Miss had the best program,” Oliphant said. “The Principal Corps has established a name that speaks for itself.

“The previous cohorts all speak very highly of the instructors and the program.”

The program offers one of the most valuable leadership scholarships in the country. All cohort members receive full tuition, books and housing while at Ole Miss.

It also enables participants to take leave from their home school districts without sacrificing their salary during the program.

Besides two summer sessions, Principal Corps participants come to Oxford one weekend per month for face-to-face instruction during the school year. Each graduate receives a Master of Education or Specialist in Education degree in educational leadership from UM, which, along with passing the School Leaders Licensure Assessment, will qualify them for a state school administrator’s license.

Meredith is a special education teacher at Senatobia Elementary School who started her teaching career 17 years ago via Teach for America. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Princeton University and a master’s degree from UM.

“I saw (the Principal Corps) as an intense and elite program where I could work closely with professors and my classmates,” Meredith said. “I would like to go back to my district and start impacting children’s lives there immediately.

“I’ve taught there, I live close to there – it’s where my heart is.”

Besides earning an advanced degree in educational leadership, graduates receive a $10,000 bonus from the program upon accepting a principal or assistant principal job in a Mississippi public school and beginning work. Each graduate makes a five-year commitment to stay in Mississippi.

The Principal Corps was established in 2009 with funding from the Jim and Donna Barksdale Foundation. The program is also supported with funding from the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation in Jackson.

“The opportunity that you have to impact the lives of children is going to expand tremendously through this program,” Burnham said at the orientation. “It will expand when you go into schools and start your internships.

“But along with opportunity, we must also embrace responsibility. Where much is given, much is expected.”

First Group of METP Students Graduate from Ole Miss

Fourteen graduates make plans for new teaching careers in Mississippi

The first group of students in the Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program graduated from UM over the weekend. They are (back row, from left) Benjamin Logan, Jake Wheeler, Kaypounyers Maye and Shelby Knighten, (middle row) Emily Reynolds, Abigail Null, Kaye Leigh Whitfield, Katianne Middleton, Nancy ‘Bella’ Hutson and Jenna Smiley, and (front row) Anna Claire Kelly, Brenna Ferrell, Lydia Hall and Rachel Sanchez. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – Fourteen seniors who graduated Saturday (May 13) at the University of Mississippi are prepared to make a difference in the lives of students statewide as the first group to graduate from the Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program.

METP, a highly selective and rigorous teacher preparation program, was established in 2013 to offer full scholarships to the best and brightest students from around the nation to study education and teach in Mississippi.

The 2017 graduates are Brenna Ferrell of Ocean Springs; Lydia Hall of Madison; Nancy Hutson of Liberty; Anna Claire Kelley of Madison; Shelby Knighten of Gautier; Benjamin Logan of Sherman; Kaypounyers Maye of Gulfport; Katianne Middleton of Selma, Alabama; Abigail Null of Corinth; Rachel Sanchez of Southaven; Emily Reynolds of Brandon; Jenna Smiley of Meridian; James Wheeler of St. Johns, Florida; and Kaye Leigh Whitfield of Birmingham, Alabama.

“Five years ago, METP was just an idea,” said Ryan Niemeyer, the program’s director. “Seeing these students walk across the graduation stage will be a moment of great pride for many faculty and staff at the School of Education who have gone to great lengths to make the program what it is today. We have great expectations for the impact they will have on the future of our state.”

METP is a collaboration with Mississippi State University, which celebrated the graduation of its first cohort earlier this month.

Initial funding for the program came from a $12.9 million grant from the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation of Jackson in 2013, and the foundation reaffirmed its support with a $28 million commitment in January. The two universities split the funding and collaborate on educational opportunities for students each semester.

This first group of students entered UM with a high school GPA of 4.0 and an average ACT score of 28.5. Besides earning full tuition scholarships, the students received monies for housing, technology, professional development and study abroad.

More than 100 students from 18 states have been admitted into the program since its creation. With four classes admitted, the program has an average incoming ACT score of 30.

Graduate Jake Wheeler said he chose METP four years ago over 17 other programs to which he applied because it was the one that provided the most opportunities in a classroom environment.

“I was in classrooms my freshman year,” Wheeler said. “None of the other programs that I applied to put students in classrooms before junior year.”

Wheeler also traveled around the country and to Canada as part of study abroad to learn about national and international education policies during his METP career.

“The most recent and beneficial trip was to San Antonio for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics annual conference,” he said. “At NCTM, I was able to spend three days in professional development that undergraduate students do not typically participate in, where I learned about cutting-edge tools, technology and resources in math education as well as innovative teaching practices.”

Each student agrees to teach for five years in a Mississippi public school after graduation. Many already have signed contracts to begin jobs as new teachers this fall.

In August, Wheeler is to begin teaching Algebra I at Northwest Rankin High School in Flowood, where two other METP teachers will join him.

“I hope to bring some of the teaching practices I have learned to Northwest Rankin to help my students meet their educational goals,” Wheeler said. “I hope to join or start a strong community service organization at NWRHS to benefit the Flowood community and the Jackson area as a whole. 

“I hope to get myself and my students invested in helping the community become as beautiful and productive as it can be.”

Anna Claire Kelly, another new graduate of the program, always knew she wanted to be a teacher and this program suited her and her goals perfectly. This fall, she begins her new teaching career at Tupelo High School.

“METP was one of the best decisions I could have made during my college career,” she said. “The program expanded our horizons and has given us more opportunities than we could have ever imagined.

“As I begin my teaching career in the fall, I can only hope to impact my students’ lives the way so many of my teachers did mine. I want to be the teacher that doesn’t make school all about academics, but about life, too.”

Center for Manufacturing Excellence Receives Gifts from Milwaukee Tool

Wisconsin-based manufacturer delivered tool sets, equipment for UM students' use

UM engineering students Ashley Irons (left) and Vera Gardner (right) enjoy opening Milwaukee Tool packages as Satoka Watanabe (center), adjunct associate professor, shares the moment. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The Haley Barbour Center for Manufacturing Excellence at the University of Mississippi received a generous gift Thursday (March 23) from Milwaukee Electric Tool Co.

Three representatives from one of the nation’s leading power tool manufacturers delivered more than a dozen toolboxes, power tools and accessories to the CME. University administrators and students welcomed the visitors and thanked them for the donations.

“The CME team is honored and humbled by this most generous gift from Milwaukee Tool,” said Scott Kilpatrick, CME associate director of internal operations. “We are thankful to the company leadership for their commitment to supporting our students and this manufacturing program.

“These tools will provide an outstanding environment for our students to use on a daily basis, and will hopefully be just the first step of many forms of collaboration between the university and Milwaukee Tool.”

A Brookfield, Wisconsin-based subsidiary of Techtronic Industries Co. Ltd., Milwaukee Tool is a manufacturer and marketer of professional, heavy-duty power tools and accessories. The company has three facilities in Mississippi: manufacturing operations in Greenwood and Jackson, and a distribution facility in Olive Branch.

Jack Bilotta, director of the company’s Greenwood plant, was accompanied by Chris Greer, continuous improvement manager at Greenwood, and Dale Russell Sr., manager of human resources at Greenwood.

“Our objective is to recruit the best talent possible and preferably people with Mississippi ties,” Bilotta said. “The addition of the CME and their growth strategy aligns very well with what our business needs. There is no question that Ole Miss is turning out some of the very best every year.”

Discussions leading to Thursday’s donation began last fall when company officials visited the center.

“Some members of the Milwaukee Tool leadership team visited the campus and immediately recognized the value in partnering with the university,” said William Nicholas, director of economic development at UM’s Insight Park.

“The donation of power tools and equipment helps cultivate brand awareness among students and provides Milwaukee Tool a great opportunity to hire some of our best and brightest after graduation. They provide an innovative company culture that will appeal to many of our students.”

The company’s engagement is not intended to be a one-year involvement, but to build a partnership that grows over the years, the representatives said.

The donation of tools will be crucial in supporting various labs and course projects that are part of the center’s program, Kilpatrick said.

“For example, when senior capstone teams are working on their final projects, they will be using the best tools available on the market,” he said. “From a functionality standpoint, it is hard to quantify how immensely helpful that will be.”

Additionally, from a cultural viewpoint, the Milwaukee Tool brand will be present in the minds of Ole Miss students, Kilpatrick said.

“This is a company that is a global leader in their industry but also has a very strong presence here in Mississippi,” he said. “This will certainly send an encouraging message to students about potential future professional opportunities with the company, as well.”

“We want the CME to have the very best of what is available in Mississippi,” Bilotta said. “A world-class facility should only have world-class equipment.”

UM administrators, faculty and students welcome representatives from Milwaukee Tool as they deliver power tools and equipment to the Center for Manufacturing Excellence. Pictured are (front row, from left), UM students Ashley Irons and Vera Gardner; Sakota Watanabe, adjunct associate professor; Cris Greer, continuous improvement manager for the company’s Greenwood plant; Chancellor Jeffery Vitter; Jack Bilotta, director of the Greenwood plant; and William Gottshall, CME interim director; and (rear, from left) Scott Kilpatrick, CME associate director of internal operations; Alice Clark, vice chancellor for university relations; William Nicholas, director of economic development at Insight Park; Tyler Biggs, CME admissions counselor; UM student James Halbrook; Dale Russell, manager of human resources at the Greenwood plant; and James Vaughan, CME director emeritus. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

Administrators anticipate future collaborations with Milwaukee Tool, Kilpatrick said.

“From the perspective of the CME, this is the type of partnership that can benefit all parties and clearly serves the mission of our center,” he said. “One of our primary goals is to support and serve manufacturers here in Mississippi, and an essential method that we use to accomplish that goal is to provide an educational and experiential program that prepares graduates to serve as leaders in the manufacturing industry.

“So the aim here is clear; we plan to provide Milwaukee Tool with talented graduates to help lead their operations while also exposing our students to fantastic career opportunities as well.”

Several CME students present expressed their appreciation for the new tools and equipment.

“This is like Christmas in so many ways,” said James Halbrook, a sophomore chemical engineering major from Madison. “Milwaukee Tool has given us everything we need and more to do our best work.”

Vera Gardner, a senior mechanical engineering major from Memphis, Tennessee, agreed.

“These will come in very handy as we complete our senior design capstone project,” she said. “We will definitely use the equipment in the production phase.”

Milwaukee Tools officials said they are certain UM graduates can and will find employment within the company’s Mississippi plants.

“We have a year-over-year need for the top engineering talent, adding as many as 10 or more to our facility each year,” Bilotta said. “We want to be a part of keeping Mississippi talent in Mississippi. It’s a ‘win-win’ for all involved.”

The Haley Barbour Center for Manufacturing Excellence was established in June 2008 to provide unique opportunities for students interested in manufacturing. The opportunities developed are considered distinctive to the CME and are not available to undergraduate students at other universities in the United States.

For more information about the CME, visit

For more information on the full line of Milwaukee power tools and accessories, call 1-800-SAWDUST or visit

Saturday Collaborations Unlock Possibilities for Marks Students

Weekend program brings middle schoolers to UM campus for tutoring, mentoring and fun

Ole Miss student-athletes mentor a group of fifth- to eighth-grade students from Quitman County Middle School during the weekend sessions on the UM campus.

OXFORD, Miss. – Most students regard Saturday school with dread and contempt, but a group of middle schoolers from the Delta community of Marks looks forward to its weekend tutoring sessions at the University of Mississippi.  For some of these students, the sessions have become life-changing.

For six Saturdays between February and April, 53 students from Quitman County Middle School travel nearly an hour by school bus from Marks to the Ole Miss campus for a day of tutoring and fun activities.

Bryce Warden, the AmeriCorps VISTA working in the UM School of Education, coordinated the initiative after attending a meeting last fall about the Marks Project, a 501c(3) organization dedicated to restoring the Marks community. He previously had helped launch a program that pairs college students with North Panola High School seniors to help them apply for college.

“I saw the benefit of those interactions, where students – many of them potential first-generation students – could find out what college life was really like and I was eager to create such an environment for the kids from Marks,” Warden said. “Now, these middle school students get to receive tutoring on a college campus, which they may have never seen.”

The students, ranging from fifth to eighth grades, were chosen for the program based on test scores and their need for additional learning assistance.

In the morning, 19 Ole Miss students from the Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program work with the students for two hours in reading, language and math.

Kendall Kern, a freshman in the METP program from Lewisburg, tutors the students in language arts. She was eager to become involved in the program when she heard about it.

“I went down to Marks and really got to see the school and realized I needed to give back,” she said. “If I can do anything for them and provide a positive impact, that’s going to mean so much.”

Kern added that she’s learned from the experience, as well.

“Getting to have our own classroom time with them has really helped me with my teaching experience,” she said. “We’re able to teach interactive lessons and experiment with different teaching methods. I love all the amazing opportunities that METP and the School of Education provide us with.”

Although the educational component is the core of the program, Warden realized that the students needed activity time, too. He sought additional partnerships with Ole Miss Campus Recreation and the university’s Department of Intercollegiate Athletics for afternoon activities.

Each group is providing programming for three Saturdays, including physical activities in the Turner Center, student-athlete mentorship and a tour of the Field Level Club at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium and the Manning Center.

Middle school students from Quitman County visit the UM campus as part of a spring program that provides academic tutoring and activities with student-athletes and Ole Miss Campus Recreation.

The Freeze Foundation, a charitable organization started by football Coach Hugh Freeze, has acted as liaison between the School of Education and the athletics department to provide student-athlete mentorships for the group. Alice Blackmon, the foundation’s executive director, serves as Marks Project co-chair of the tutoring and mentoring program.

After Freeze learned about the economic, educational and community issues in the Mississippi Delta, he wanted to become involved, Blackmon said.

“These issues weighed heavily on his heart,” she said. “He wanted to invest time in serving the children through building relationships and encouraging them in hopes of making a positive impact.

“We have served internationally in Haiti and Africa, but he was really passionate about shining a light into the communities that are right in our backyard in Mississippi.”

The program has been a double-sided ministry, also making a positive impact on the athletes, she added.

The Marks Project is an umbrella organization of all the volunteers within the Marks community. Jaby Denton, co-founder of the project with Mitch Campbell of Taylor, is working to revitalize the largest town in Quitman County by providing educational and recreational opportunities.

Denton, who owns a farm in Quitman County, moved back to the community from Oxford in 2015. He started a youth group that year and realized many students were behind academically.

“Marks was a town where a wagon pulled by mules led the Poor People’s Campaign in D.C.,” Denton said. “It was the epicenter of the civil rights movement.

“Dr. (Martin Luther) King visited Marks, saw extensive poverty and realized something had to be done. 2018 is the 50th anniversary of the mule train, and we are doing everything we can to fulfill Dr. King’s dream to provide opportunities for residents and students.”

Cortez Moss, an Ole Miss alumnus and principal of Quitman County Middle School, identified educational needs and approached the Marks Project for assistance in recruiting teachers and tutoring students.

When Moss became principal in August, he recognized that students at the school, which received an “F” rating last year, lacked exposure and academic support, he said.

“Our school’s motto is ‘Our Education is Freedom,’ and I knew I needed to give them liberating experiencing that would make our vision come true for scholars and families,” Moss said. “My original intent was for academic support; however, in the planning process I realized that my scholars needed exposure.

“This truth was evidenced one Saturday (at UM) when one of the scholars did not recognize an elevator and found joy in just being able to ride an elevator.”

After only a few trips to the Ole Miss campus, Moss has seen improvement in his students.

“We’ve seen a lot of success with our scholars – socially, emotionally and academically,” he said. “Many of our scholars come back from the Saturday experience seeing Ole Miss as an opportunity. Ole Miss and college is now their goal. Many of them feel empowered by the experience.”

Local Schoolchildren Connect Through LOU Pen Pal Project

More than 800 students helped write letters in literacy-based event

Edy Dingus of the LOU Reads Coalition explains the Pen Pal Project to children at Lafayette Lower Elementary School. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – More than 800 children across Lafayette County received handwritten messages from other local children recently as part of the first-ever Lafayette-Oxford-University Pen Pal Project.

Co-sponsored by multiple organizations – including the Mississippi Campaign for Grade-Level Reading at the University of Mississippi, the Lafayette County Literacy Council and the United Way’s LOU Reads Coalition – the project connected K-4 classrooms in the Lafayette County School District, Oxford School District and Magnolia Montessori School.

It kicked off March 2 as part of Read Across America Day and ended March 6, when the final letters were delivered.

“The Pen Pal Project was a way to engage children in a literacy-based activity that helped to expand their world,” said Edy Dingus, AmeriCorps VISTA for the LOU Reads Coalition and coordinator of the event. “What I think is so important for all children to realize is that their school is not an island to itself. Each student is part of a greater community.”

In each participating class, teachers received a packet with a form letter and instructions starting on Read Across America Day, which is the birthday of American writer and cartoonist Theodor Seuss Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss. Many classes celebrated by reading a book aloud before writing a group letter to another classroom in the community.

In Rhonda Hickman’s second-grade class at Lafayette Lower Elementary School, children kicked off the event by reading “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” As part of their group message, the children created their own classroom mascot, an orange cat named “Mr. Whiskers” who always wears a jersey.

The group sent the letter, along with their drawings of Whiskers, to children at Magnolia Montessori School on the other side of town, who received the surprise package the following Monday and then wrote back.

“Thousands of classrooms across the nation celebrate Read Across America Day, but Edy Dingus with United Way had this wonderful idea to take it all a step forward,” said Ashley Parker Sheils, director of the Mississippi Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, a new initiative that promotes community-based literacy programs. “These children live in the same county but may or may not collaborate with each other. The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading wants to highlight programs like this.”

Each class that participated in the LOU Pen Pal Project prepared a group letter to a class at another school. Submitted photo

The Mississippi Campaign is part of a national network designed to support community engagement in literacy efforts by helping local organizations align their strategic goals. The program offers a framework centered on school readiness, summer learning and school attendance.

The campaign’s initial goal is to attract at least 10 Mississippi communities to join and adopt its framework.

“Our goal is to recognize and celebrate groups that are promoting literacy in schools and in community settings,” Sheils said. “I hope children who participated in this event capitalized on the fun of reading and writing, but also that it planted a seed in them to learn that you may have friends in unlikely places, even in a small community.”

$3 Million Grant to Provide Pre-K Prep for Mississippi Educators

Consortium, UM prepare 'bundle' of strategies for teachers, administrators

OXFORD, Miss. – A three-year, $3 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation will help University of Mississippi faculty provide educators across the state with specialized training to use new research and meet upcoming training demands facing the early childhood education workforce.

The funds will be awarded in $1 million increments over the next three years to the North Mississippi Education Consortium, or NMEC, which is housed on the university’s Oxford campus and will host a variety of training opportunities with faculty support from the UM Graduate Center for the Study of Early Learning.

“We are creating a system of training to build certain capacities in school districts,” said Cathy Grace, the Graduate Center’s co-director. “Different training opportunities will allow both teachers and principals to get information that is appropriate to their role. We also want to inform teachers of what will be expected of them by the state as it changes its requirements and evaluations.”

Starting in 2018, the Mississippi Department of Education will require all the state’s public school teachers to hold a special license endorsement to teach in any public early childhood classroom. Training opportunities to be provided with the new funding will provide multiple options for teachers to meet this requirement.

Grace describes the initiative as a “bundle of strategies,” with the aim of supporting high-quality pre-K classrooms. The focus will be exposing both teachers and administrators to the latest research in neuroscience and professional practice related to the rapidly evolving field of early childhood education.

The training programs planned in conjunction with MDE will benefit assistant teachers, teachers, principals and school superintendents working with pre-kindergarten students. These opportunities, scheduled in various locations across the state over the next three years, can train hundreds of early childhood teachers and school administrators on the most effective teaching practices for young children.

Online staff development courses designed for teachers seeking to receive their pre-K endorsement will also be offered. Interested individuals are encouraged to contact NMEC or visit the Graduate Center website to get specific training information.

These opportunities will utilize state resources, as well as bring in national experts in early childhood education and school administration, and will be based on proven strategies that have yielded increased student outcomes and engaged families in communities.

According to the National Institute for Early Education Research, several studies show that quality preschool programs can produce lasting gains in academic achievement, including gains in reading and mathematics. The studies also indicate that every $1 invested in public pre-K education generates a $7 return in the form of long-term cost savings.

The School of Education also offers two programs that can help teachers earn a pre-K license endorsement from MDE, including its online Master of Education degree in early childhood education, as well as 12-hour undergraduate endorsement program.

“We, at the North Mississippi Education Consortium, are excited to be a part of this grant opportunity,” said Susan Scott, program coordinator at NMEC. “As educators, we see the value of early childhood education and the impact it has on the educational achievement of Mississippi’s children.”

Grant Extends Foundation’s Support of METP to 10 Years, $42 Million

Success of teacher preparation program draws $28 million in continued funding for UM, MSU

Graduating METP seniors, including Ben Logan of Sherman, have gained hands-on teaching experience since their freshman year as part of the program. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

JACKSON, Miss. – A new commitment of $28 million from the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation marks a total investment of $42.1 million over 10 years into the Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program, a collaborative teacher preparation program at the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University that provides both scholarships and an honors college-type experience for top students.

The new funding, which the universities will split, will sustain the program until 2021 and comes as METP leaders prepare for the program’s fifth class of new freshmen.

Meanwhile, METP seniors at both UM and MSU, who were recruited into the program’s charter class in 2013, are planning to graduate in May and enter Mississippi’s teacher workforce for the first time.

“The Hearin Foundation’s goal is to improve the economic status of Mississippi,” said Laurie H. McRee, a trustee of the Jackson-based foundation. “(We) believe that if you can help raise the level of education, you can raise the economic level of state, as well.

“It’s incredible to see the caliber of (students) the program is attracting. The fact that the universities are working together is just icing on the cake.”

“We hope that this provides a template for our state institutions to continue to work together for education, particularly with respect for teacher education,” said Alan Perry, a trustee of the Hearin Foundation and a member of the Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning. “We hope that their example is followed by other institutions across our state.”

Enrollment information compiled by the two universities shows a significant uptick in both the number and quality of new college students entering teacher education programs at UM and MSU since 2013, as a result of METP.

UM education Dean David Rock, a key figure in creating METP, speaks to a new cohort of Ole Miss freshman in the program. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

“The METP is the culmination of hard work that’s been done by the leadership of Mississippi’s two largest universities – normally very spirited rivals – to come together to address a very critical issue for this state, the future quality of K-12 teaching,” MSU President Mark E. Keenum said. “The continuation of this vital partnership shows the confidence that the Hearin Foundation has in our universities to substantially address this need in a transformative way.”

The program is designed to attract the best and brightest students from around the nation, and the average ACT score for incoming METP freshmen at both institutions is approximately 30. Today, 146 students from 16 states are members of METP at the two institutions. More than 60 percent of participants come from Mississippi.

“METP is truly a high-impact, high-value investment in the future of our state, and we are very grateful to the Robert M. Hearin Foundation for its continued support,” UM Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said. “The METP scholars are exceptionally talented students who, as educators, will transform lives and communities throughout Mississippi.”

One of the nation’s most valuable scholarships, METP offers each recipient four years of tuition, housing expenses, living stipends, a study abroad experience, monies to attend conferences and more.

The study abroad experience, valued at more than $6,000 per student, is a huge draw to potential recruits. Last summer, students from UM and MSU traveled together to British Columbia where the rising seniors spent time studying education systems in a different cultural context.

“This is one of the most significant private gifts to attract top students into the teaching profession,” said David Rock, dean of the UM School of Education. “This investment shows the value and importance of teaching. The economic impact of this program cannot be overstated.”

“The College of Education is excited about the Hearin Foundation’s continued support for the Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program,” said Richard Blackbourn, dean of the MSU College of Education. “These additional funds will allow us to expand the program, thereby increasing the number of outstanding teachers placed in Mississippi classrooms.”

Admission into the program has become increasingly competitive since 2013. As a result, the overall caliber of freshmen education majors has increased at both universities, according to data provided by the institutions.

METP fellows Ben Logan of Sherman (left), Lydia Hall of Madison, Kay P Maye of Gulfport and Rylee Blomberg of Belleville, Illinois, were among the first students to join the UM chapter of the prestigious program. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

At Ole Miss, the School of Education has seen the number of freshman education majors with a 28 or higher on the ACT rise from five in 2012 to 42 in 2016 and is enjoying a 94 percent retention rate of its students.

“We are thankful to the Hearin Foundation for the opportunity to continue to improve a program that will have a positive impact on Mississippi,” said Ryan Niemeyer, director of METP at UM. “Their commitment to improving teacher preparation is bringing in students who would have otherwise never pursued living and working in our state.”

At MSU, the College of Education has seen its number of students with a 28 or higher on the ACT rise from 26 in 2012 to 54 in 2016 and is experiencing a 90 percent retention rate.

The program was created in 2013 with a startup donation from Hearin of $12.9 million.

This is the third time the foundation has made an investment into METP. In 2016, it granted additional funds that allowed both universities to increase the program’s incoming cohort size from 20 to 30 students each, allowing 60 new students into the program each year.

For admission into the program, applicants must possess top academic credentials – typically at least a 28 on the ACT or comparable score on the SAT – but they must also demonstrate a dedication and passion for the teaching profession as part of an interview with education faculty members.

Another aspect of the program is that students from both universities get chances to study alongside each other every year. Each spring, as part of regular cross-campus visits, the students come together for a weekend of seminars to discuss education issues. The location for the cross-campus visits rotates between Starkville and Oxford.

“I feel like I am prepared for teaching because we have been in classrooms since freshmen year,” said Brenna Ferrell, an Ocean Springs native who will graduate from UM with a degree in secondary English education in May.

“METP creates a sense of comradery and group. I have a family at the School of Education. We lean on each other. I am really thankful that I got to be part of the first class. I think everyone is going to do great things.”

In 2016, METP also expanded from exclusively training secondary education majors to include elementary and special education majors, as well. UM and MSU expect to admit a combined total of 60 new METP students in August 2017.

Besides Ferrell, other UM students scheduled to graduate from the program in May are: Lydia Hall and Anna Claire Kelly, both secondary English education majors from Madison; Nancy “Bella” Hutson, a secondary mathematics education major from Liberty; Shelby Knighten, a secondary English education major r Gautier; Ben Logan, a secondary mathematics education major from Sherman; Kaypounyers Maye, a secondary English education major from Gulfport; Katianne Middleton, a secondary mathematics education major from Selma, Alabama; Abigail Null, a secondary English education major from Corinth; Emily Reynolds, a secondary English education major from Brandon; Rachel Sanchez, a secondary English education major from Southaven; Jenna Smiley, a secondary English education major from Meridian; Jake Wheeler, a secondary mathematics education major from St. Johns, Florida; and Kaye Leigh Whitfield, a secondary English education major from Birmingham, Alabama.

Streets Endow Scholarship to Honor Longtime UM History Professor

Education fund named after Harry P. Owens, professor emeritus and Civil War scholar

Dr. Harry P. Owens. Photo by Robert JordanPhoto by Robert Jordan

Harry P. Owens. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – A recent gift from two University of Mississippi donors will provide scholarship opportunities for future UM secondary education majors while honoring Professor Emeritus Harry P. Owens, who taught history at the university for more than 35 years.

The Dr. Harry P. Owens Secondary Education Opportunity Scholarship Endowment was created with a $25,000 commitment from Bill and Ginny Street of Alabaster, Alabama.

Bill, a senior vice president at ServisFirst Bank, started his post-college career as a social studies teacher in DeSoto County in 1978 after receiving his undergraduate degree in secondary education from UM.

“The thing that I got from Harry was learning how to listen,” Bill explained. “Even if someone is on a different side (of the aisle) than you, you should hear what they have to say because you might learn something useful. I credit him with my ability to do that.”

Bill was a nontraditional college student. After initially losing interest in his studies at UM in 1969, he left the university to serve in the U.S. Navy, where he became a submarine petty officer. After being discharged in 1975, he returned to the university with two new things: a new resolve for his studies and tuition money from the G.I. Bill.

During this time, he was highly influenced by the Civil War historian. According to Bill, he and the professor just “clicked” and they bonded over their extensive interest and knowledge of Civil War history. The professor became a mentor for the sailor-turned-teacher.

Owens and his wife, MaryLou, still live in Oxford.

Bill and Ginny Street of Alabaster, Alabama (Submitted Photo)

Bill and Ginny Street. Submitted photo

“The most telling thing I can say about Bill is this: The first time I met him, I was teaching a new course that I had never taught before about the military history of the American Civil War,” Owens said. “I remember that there was Bill and one other student, who, if ever I had a single doubt in my mind about a particular fact, I could look at Bill for confirmation. He knew that much.”

Owens recently attended a meeting with Bill, Ginny and leadership from the UM School of Education, after finalizing the gift.

“Bill doing this in my name is a most gracious thing,” Owens said. “This reinforces the idea that teachers count.”

After college, Bill took a teaching and coaching job in Horn Lake, where he was named the school’s Star Teacher after his very first year in the classroom.

Although no longer a student, he kept in touch with his favorite professor. The two men often conversed via phone or would meet up when Bill and Ginny would return to the Oxford for sporting events.

To the Streets, this scholarship is also a way for the couple to help students who struggle with the tuition demands of college. Without the G.I Bill scholarship, Bill said would not have been able to afford his Ole Miss education.

A needs-based scholarship, each year recipients of the award will receive tuition support after being selected by the UM School of Education Scholarship Committee. The scholarship will support Ole Miss students majoring in secondary education.

“Harry had a profound impact on me and we want to put his name on this (scholarship),” Bill said. “We want to give someone an opportunity that they might not get otherwise. That’s what this is all about.”

Willie Price Playground Donated to Lafayette Elementary School

Play structure donation coordinated by local parent-teacher organization

(left to right) Pam Swain, Sarah Langley and Amanda Winburn worked together to coordinate the donation of the Willie Price playground.Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

(left to right) Pam Swain, Sarah Langley and Amanda Winburn worked together to coordinate the donation of the Willie Price playground.Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Willie Price Lab School, a pre-K facility operated by the University of Mississippi School of Education, has made a sizeable donation to the Lafayette County School District with the gift of its existing playground as the preschool makes plans to replace the play structure.

Coordinated by members of Lafayette’s parent-teacher organization, the playground soon will be used by children at Lafayette, which did not previously have a playground for its lower elementary school. Willie Price will upgrade its facility with the installation of a new playground later this winter.

“Our playground was better-suited for children who are a little bit older, like the children at Lafayette,” explained Sarah Langley, Willie Price director. “So, when we were approached by the Lafayette PTO, we thought it was a perfect solution. (That playground) still has a lot of life left in her!”

Willie Price administrators decided to upgrade the facility in preparation for the preschool to become accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. The new playground will be purchased with funding from a grant from the Mississippi Department of Education.

Lafayette PTO members, including Pam Swain and Amanda Winburn, played key roles in the coordination of the gift by working with staff at Willie Price and Lafayette.

Workers from McGregor Industrial Steel Fabrication donated their time and resources to move the playground from Willie Price to Lafayette Elementary School. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

Workers from McGregor Industrial Steel Fabrication donated their time and resources to move the playground from Willie Price to Lafayette Elementary School. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

“I have two daughters in the Lafayette School District, so when I heard Sarah talking about Willie Price’s new play equipment, I put two and two together,” said Winburn, UM assistant professor of counselor education and a Lafayette PTO member. “I think this is a wonderful example of how it takes a village to provide for opportunities our children.”

Oxford-based company McGregor Industrial Steel Fabrication donated the workforce and resources needed to move the structure from Willie Price to the Lafayette campus on Nov. 15.

The structure will be split into two pieces at its new location. Part of the playground will be used by Lafayette’s lower elementary school and part of it will be used by the district’s special education program.

“We started raising money a couple of years ago to build a new playground (at Lafayette),” said Swain, who serves as president of Lafayette’s upper elementary PTO.

“So now, this will allow us to use the money we’ve raised to build new fencing. This puts us light years ahead of where we thought we could be in the process.”

Willie Price’s new structure will be installed in the coming months and the preschool will host a silent auction fundraiser in January to raise additional money for additional playground features such as balance beams, conversation benches and shades to add to the overall design of the playground.

Implicit Bias Expert Benjamin Reese Jr. to Speak at UM

Duke University VP to lead frank discussion on subconscious attitudes

Ben Reese, senior vice president for institutional equity

Ben Reese Jr., senior vice president for institutional equity at Duke University, speaks Thursday at UM.

OXFORD, Miss. – Benjamin Reese Jr., chief diversity officer and vice president of the Office for Institutional Equity at Duke University, will speak to University of Mississippi faculty, staff and students Thursday (Oct. 6) to discuss the role of implicit bias in people’s everyday lives.

Free and open to the public, the event is set for 6 to 7:30 p.m. in the Ole Miss Student Union ballroom.

“I think everyone is familiar with explicit biases, the conscious behaviors that are discriminatory,” explained Reese, a clinical psychologist with more than four decades of experience. “However, implicit biases refer to the ways in which we behave, or make decisions, that we are not aware of.

“We may think our decisions are fair and equitable, but there is still a subconscious bias.”

Implicit bias is a judgement and/or behavior that is rooted deep in subconscious attitudes and/or beliefs. Implicit biases can be either positive or negative toward a specific group with certain characteristics, such as age, appearance, race, sexuality or weight.

“We want people to be aware that we all have biases,” said Nichelle Robinson, UM School of Education diversity officer, who coordinated the event. “It’s once we are aware of these biases that we can begin to work to change these behaviors.”

During the event, Reese will define implicit bias and share steps that individuals can use to identify and decrease these subconscious judgements.

He will also discuss free implicit association tests that can help individuals identify their own implicit biases. One example is Project Implicit, hosted by Harvard University.

bias“I think it’s important to walk away (from this discussion) with an understanding of how bias develops within us,” Reese said. “There is some compelling research that suggests all of the different ways that implicit bias operates, and I will give some examples so people can gain an understanding of their own everyday decisions.”

Reese also will conduct a special session with students from the School of Education at 9 a.m. Friday (Oct. 7) at the Jackson Avenue Center.

For close to 40 years, Reese has consulted both public and private institutions on organizational change, conflict resolution, race relations, diversity and more.

The event is sponsored by the UM School of Education, Center for Inclusion and Cross-Cultural Engagement, Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, and Office of Multicultural Affairs.