UM-Grenada, BGS Student Changes Career Plans and Excels

Bethany Miller earns UM's Taylor Medal for academic achievement

Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter congratulates Bethany Miller on being awarded a Taylor Medal. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

GRENADA, Miss.­­­ – After graduating from Grenada High School in 2011, Bethany Miller enrolled at Holmes Community College’s Grenada Center, where she served as a student ambassador and a student worker in the vice president’s office.

She graduated with an associate’s degree in social work in 2013 and started classes in the nursing program the following fall. But after a year in the program, Miller’s career path seemed less clear and she withdrew from the program.

“I tried the clinical practice and nursing classes, and I decided that this was not the direction for my life,” Miller said. “I wasn’t sure what was next for me, so I took some time off from school to think about what I might want to do careerwise.”

Just a few short years later, Miller seems to have found her calling in higher education and looks to help others in her community pursue their educational goals. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Mississippi this spring and was awarded the university’s highest academic award, the Taylor Medal.

Before she enrolled at UM, Bethany was working full-time at an urgent care clinic in Grenada, but she truly missed working at a college. So when she saw an opening in the financial aid office at Holmes-Grenada, she jumped at the opportunity.

“I missed the college environment and working with students,” Miller said. “Financial aid is such a crucial part of students getting the opportunity to pursue their dreams.

“I still wanted to help people, just not in the medical field anymore, and this job was the perfect way for me to do that.”

During her time in this position, Miller realized that she wanted to start taking classes again to complete her bachelor’s degree and pursue her own career goals. She already knew about the University of Mississippi at Grenada, housed on the Holmes-Grenada campus, because her husband, Trey Miller, had completed his Ole Miss degree there in 2013.

Bethany Miller of Grenada was honored during UM Commencement exercises in Oxford. Miller served as the student speaker for the Bachelor of General Studies graduation ceremony as well as the program’s banner bearer for the day’s events.Submitted photo

Trey, who works as an assistant program manager with Effex Management Solutions, has since completed his Master of Arts degree in human services counseling online. The Millers met while helping cater an event at Holmes-Grenada and were married in July 2014.

 

After receiving several scholarships, including the Community College Excellence and First Generation College Student scholarships, Bethany enrolled in the Bachelor of General Studies program at the Grenada campus in fall 2015.

“I loved the diversity of this degree program,” Miller said. “I was leaning toward going into education, but I still had a lot of interests. This program let me study subjects I am really interested in.

“It feels like it’s three degrees all wrapped up into one.”

Miller minored in education, English and sociology while at UM-Grenada. One of her favorite classes, she said, was the Transfer Student Experience, taught by UM instructor and Carrollton native Matthew Deloach.

“I just loved the opportunity to get some of the same experiences as Oxford campus students,” Miller said. “Mr. Deloach shared the journey with us and gave us ideas for being successful in our path to complete our degree.”

Deloach said he admired Miller’s work ethic as she worked full-time and maintained a full-time college course load. He also mentioned her drive to help others and take on leadership roles.

“In class, Bethany would share experiences from her life and her work at Holmes to help other students,” Deloach said. “She seems to enjoy supporting and encouraging her classmates. I think she is positioned well to make a positive impact in her community.”

In late 2016, Miller moved into a new position at Holmes as assistant to the vice president and the academic dean at Holmes-Grenada.

“I have really enjoyed new challenges in this position as well as continuing to work with students, faculty and staff,” Miller said. “I get to help with events, help students build schedules and work with area businesses.”

Miller hopes that she can share her experiences to inspire students even further as she looks to pursue graduate classes in the hopes of one day teaching at the college level.

As one of the top students in UM’s Bachelor of General Studies 2017 graduating class, Miller was asked to serve as the banner barrier during Commencement exercises earlier this month in Oxford. She also was nominated to address her fellow graduates during the program’s graduation ceremony.

“I wanted to encourage everyone to enjoy the journey of education and life,” Miller said. “Looking at the blank pages of our future after graduation can be a bit intimidating at first. I believe that once we get started, it will all come together, just like it has for me.

“I hope I don’t forget to enjoy the ride, even as it takes me around different corners in my career and life.”

UM-Booneville Student Earns University’s Highest Academic Award

Christy Grissom follows winding career path to a Taylor Medal

Chancellor Jeff Vitter with Barbara ‘Christy’ Grissom. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

BOONEVILLE, Miss.­­­ – Growing up, Barbara “Christy” Grissom of Iuka never really thought much about going to college after high school. She went to work at a local restaurant and then a local furniture manufacturing plant before events beyond her control changed the course of her future.

Grissom had worked her way up to a lead position with Bauhaus USA, a furniture manufacturer in Iuka, before the company shut down the plant in 2007. It was then that she learned about a grant with the local Workforce Investment Act that was available to help employees go to college and train for new jobs.

“College was not on my radar before this happened,” Grissom said. “Growing up, I didn’t even think going to college was possible. My parents were not in a position financially to send me or my siblings to college, so it just wasn’t something I had considered.”

This life-altering change back in 2007, however, set events in motion that have led to Grissom being honored last month as a 2017 Taylor Medalist at the University of Mississippi.

Only the top 1 percent of all Ole Miss students receives this award each year. Recipients must have at least a 3.90 grade-point average to be considered.

“She’s quite simply superwoman,” said Tam Salter, bachelor of general studies adviser and instructor at the university’s Booneville regional campus. “She’s a full-time wife, mom, employee, teacher and student. Even with her many duties, she still found time to encourage her own students and her Ole Miss peers as they were working hard to earn their degrees.

“In class, she always had a helpful attitude and encouraging word for her classmates. She just made the classes better because of her life experiences and her drive.”

Grissom graduated from Iuka Christian Academy in 1987, married and started a family 10 years later. She and her husband have three boys, two of whom they adopted.

“It was intimidating going back to school, and I wondered if it was the best thing with three kids at home,” Grissom said. “I think I made the right choice.”

She started at Northeast Mississippi Community College in 2007 and graduated with associate’s degrees in both culinary arts and hospitality management.

“At that time, I had a pretty busy catering company that I was running on the weekends and evenings,” Grissom said. “We catered Caterpillar’s 25th anniversary event for 700 people, plus many weddings and other corporate events.”

Grissom credits academic adviser and mentor Tim Gilmore at Northeast with encouraging her to start teaching. He asked her about becoming certified to teach ServSafe training courses to other food service workers in north Mississippi.

“This experience helped me to realize how much I enjoyed teaching and sharing my experiences from working in the industry,” Grissom said.

In spring 2013, Gilmore became ill and officials at Northeast asked Grissom to cover his classes for the remainder of the semester.

UM-Booneville senior Christy Grissom (middle) was awarded a 2017 Taylor Medal for highest academic achievement. Grissom is congratulated by Derek Markley, (left) executive director of the university’s Tupelo and Booneville campuses and Ricky Ford, president of Northeast Mississippi Community College. Submitted photo

“After Mr. Gilmore passed away, I had to pray and consider the next step in my career,” Grissom said. “He was always so encouraging to me, and I thought that I could do the same for others by applying for his position at Northeast.”

Grissom began teaching full-time in the culinary arts and hospitality management programs at Northeast that fall and was encouraged by her supervisors to work toward completing her bachelor’s degree.

She enrolled in her prerequisite classes at Northeast before transferring into the Bachelor of General Studies program at the University of Mississippi at Booneville campus in fall 2015.

“I chose education, English and psychology classes to make up this specialized degree,” Grissom said. “They were such a good combination for me. These minors correlated with my interests, and I was able to use what I was learning and take it into my actual classroom.”

Grissom said her favorite classes included the English language classes Descriptive Grammar and History of the English Language.

“I enjoy a challenge, and these classes were challenging, but they were so interesting to me,” she said.

Grissom said that writing is a special hobby. She has written an unpublished novel and would one day like to pursue writing nonfiction.

“I think I may want to write about my experiences raising children in a family blended with biological and adopted children,” Grissom said. “And maybe write about raising a child with autism.”

Through her teaching and advising role in Northeast’s hospitality management program, she helps plan numerous catered events on the Booneville campus each year. These events also serve as hands-on training experiences for her students.

 “It’s great to see a student gain confidence during the planning process,” Grissom said. “They are usually nervous at the beginning, but by the end of the event they are excited to see it all come together.

“I enjoy helping my students use what they are learning in class and putting it into practice. I like being a part of the education that gives them the tools they need to be successful in management positions.”

Grissom will be setting an example for her children as well as her students when she is honored at the UM Commencement this weekend. She will be recognized as one of the top of her class and seated on stage in the Grove with BGS Dean Tony Ammeter.

Grissom said she hopes that by meeting her own educational goals, she will inspire her children to follow their own dreams.

“I hope that they will go to college and learn more about what they are interested in,” she said. “I want them to do what they want to, and know that they can overcome any obstacle to make that happen.”

With plans to earn a master’s degree, Grissom is researching graduate programs in higher education, human and environmental services, and English.

UM-Tupelo Students Hit Top 10 in Bloomberg Stock Trading Challenge

Class project yields solid investing experience for group

Finance students at the UM-Tupelo campus placed in the top 10 among 265 teams from colleges around the country in the Bloomberg Business Stock Trading Challenge. The winning team includes (from left) Daniel Patterson, Zack Marcinek, faculty adviser Ivonne Liebenberg, Candy McDonald and Heather Couture. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss.­­­ – Managerial finance students at the University of Mississippi at Tupelo regional campus have been busy this spring managing a $10 million investment for the Bloomberg Business Corp.

Although the money existed only in theory, the students who participated in the 2017 Bloomberg Trading Challenge gained a real-world knowledge of financial trading principles that helped them bridge classroom theory with actual stock marketing trading.

“I had never participated in anything like this before,” said Zack Marcinek, a senior at UM-Tupelo from Corinth. “I enjoyed it so much that I’ve switched my career goals a bit from wanting to be a financial adviser specifically for individuals to now being more interested in becoming a corporate financial analyst for a larger corporation.”

Ivonne Liebenberg, UM instructional assistant professor of finance, said that when Bloomberg representatives reached out to her in fall 2016 about participating in their new collegiate stock market competition, she jumped at the opportunity for her students to garner investing experience.

“I knew this would be an exciting, interactive way for students to apply what they were learning in class,” she said. “They had the opportunity to learn more about how the stock market works, handling orders, learning about transaction costs and analyzing the outcomes.”

The Tupelo students named their trading team “I. Liebenberg & Co.” in honor of their instructor. Team members included Heather Couture of Mooreville, Zack Marcinek of Corinth, Candy McDonald of Guntown, Daniel Patterson of Pontotoc and Katie Watson of Shannon.

“We started out letting the students pitch their stock ideas,” Liebenberg said. “They had to give me a good reason to add their stock pick to the portfolio. Once we made our decisions, the students began analyzing and following their investments.”

To diversify their portfolio, each student focused on different stock areas to create a balanced investment. Marcinek said he focused on technology stocks and ultimately recommended Netflix and Adobe Connect.

“Both companies are tried-and-true,” Marcinek said. “Most of my friends use Netflix. It seems to be cannibalizing regular television.

“The university uses Adobe Connect in several of my classes. I think it’s only going to progress.”

Both his stock picks recorded gains during the competition.

The trading challenge introduced students to Bloomberg’s Stock Terminal, which is used to define market assumptions, develop a return-generating strategy and execute trades over a closed network.

“It was interesting seeing all of the tools that were part of the trading terminal and how they helped you assess your trades,” Marcinek said. “It wasn’t too complicated and coached us through.”

The competition continued for eight weeks, with students having opportunities to buy and sell stocks throughout that timeframe. The teams that generated the highest return and presented the best investment methodology at the end of the challenge were named among the top 10 finalists.

“We decided to go invest Warren Buffett-style, that is, to buy and hold,” Marcinek said. “We thought by diversifying well and staying patient, our strategy would pay off.”

The students had to keep a close eye on their stocks, but Liebenberg said she felt that trading too much might not garner the greatest return in the competition’s short eight-week timeframe.

In mid-April, Bloomberg representatives informed Liebenberg that the team was came in ninth among the 265 competing teams from 81 colleges around the country.

“I’m very proud of the students’ work, especially since this was their first time competing,” Liebenberg said. “I think they learned a great deal and came up with solid strategies to guide their trading.”

UM-DeSoto Graduate’s Career Soars

Alumna manages inventory accounting for Endeavor Air

Heather Gatzke

SOUTHAVEN, Miss. – After earning her degree in finance from the University of Mississippi at DeSoto Center-Southaven, Heather Gatzke’s career has reached great heights.

The 2011 graduate works for Endeavor Air as a manager of inventory accounting. Her journey with the airline began while she was still in school at UM-DeSoto.

“While I attended UM-DeSoto, I worked for Memphis-based Pinnacle Airlines as an aircraft parts buyer,” Gatzke said. “About six weeks before I graduated, a financial analyst position opened and I applied. I was offered the position and started in early September of 2011.”

From there, Gatzke began to climb the corporate ladder at Pinnacle, which became Endeavor Air after being purchased by Delta Air Lines.

“In May 2013, Delta relocated our corporate offices to Minneapolis,” she said. “Prior to the relocation, I was offered the position of manager of revenue, which I held until January of 2016, when I transitioned to the manager of inventory accounting.”

With initial plans to attend pharmacy school, Gatzke hadn’t always considered a degree in finance. After receiving her associate degree in business from Northwest Mississippi Community College, she experienced the deaths of two grandparents and an uncle.

Gatzke made the difficult decision to take a break from school and reevaluate her goals.

By the time she was ready to go back to school, UM-DeSoto officially offered the finance program. She was able to take advantage of the 2+2 partnership with NWCC.

“Through research and lengthy discussions with friends, I decided that the degree in finance from Ole Miss was the best fit for me,” Gatzke said.

Gatzke thrived in the finance program. She said the material she learned was excellent in terms of its application to the real world. She became close to faculty mentors, one of which was clinical assistant professor of finance Lynn Kugele.

Her professors had “very high expectations” and were “eager to share their knowledge,” she said.

Gatzke said she was honored to earn the Outstanding Graduate in Finance designation that year.

“My entire academic career was as a nontraditional student, attending classes at night, on weekends and online,” she said. “I put a lot of pressure on myself to obtain a certain GPA. All I did for three years was go to work during the day and go to class at night. If I wasn’t at class I was studying or doing homework.

“Graduating summa cum laude was already enough of an honor. It just proves how hard work and dedication can pay off.”

Kugele applauds both Gatzke’s academic and career successes.

“Heather is easily one of the most outstanding finance students we have had at Ole Miss-DeSoto,” she said. “Her career path upon graduating is exactly what we hope will happen for our graduates: a move into the field of their choice and continued opportunities to move up.

“The combination of Heather’s work ethic and an Ole Miss finance degree gave her the credentials she needed to start that move up the corporate ladder. Though Heather is in Minneapolis now, we have kept in touch and get to visit in person when she comes home to visit family.”

Gatzke encourages other students to consider pursuing a finance degree and a “quality education” at UM-DeSoto. She plans to further her education by pursuing an MBA in the future.

For more information about finance and the University of Mississippi’s regional campus in Southaven, visit http://www.olemiss.edu/desoto.

UM-DeSoto to Host Informational Events for NWCC Students

Regional campus staff aims to assist students with enrollment in a bachelor's degree program

UM-DeSoto partners with Northwest Mississippi Community College to help students finish their bachelor’s degrees. The campus is hosting two events in March to assist students with the enrollment process. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

SOUTHAVEN, Miss. – Northwest Mississippi Community College students who plan to transfer into a University of Mississippi bachelor’s degree-completion program are invited to two upcoming events at the university’s Southaven regional campus.

The first event, 2+2 Transfer Day, is slated for 10 a.m.-noon and 3-5 p.m. March 8 in the lobby of the NWCC DeSoto Center at 5197 W.E. Ross Parkway. Students will have a chance to sit down with advisers from all the campus’ degree programs, visit with financial aid and admissions staff, and enjoy refreshments while they are helped through the enrollment process.

“Transferring can be overwhelming, and 2+2 Transfer Day aims to simplify it,” said Blake Bostick, admissions counselor for the regional campus. “The event is a ‘one-stop shop’ for students to learn about degree programs, financial aid, admissions and anything else they need to know about transferring to the University of Mississippi-DeSoto.”

Additionally, during NWCC’s spring break, students can take advantage of “Catch a Break.” For one week only, application fees are waived for students who complete an admissions application for the UM-DeSoto campus.

To participate in Catch a Break, students should visit the main office at the DeSoto Center from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the week of March 13-17, meet with an admissions counselor to go over their transcript, and complete an application for summer or fall 2017.

“By attending these events, we hope students will gain a better understanding of the opportunities available at Ole Miss-DeSoto,” Bostick said.

NWCC graduating sophomores, as well as freshmen, are encouraged to attend both events. For more details or for general information about UM-DeSoto, visit http://www.outreach.olemiss.edu/desoto/.

Overstreet-Miller Joins DeSoto Campus as IMC Instructor

New full-time faculty member brings extensive experience in public relations, marketing

Patricia Overstreet-Miller

SOUTHAVEN, Miss. – The University of Mississippi at DeSoto Center-Southaven has hired a full-time faculty member to strengthen its integrated marketing communications program.

Patricia Overstreet-Miller, who began working at the regional campus this spring as an IMC instructor, has an expansive career in communications, including public relations, marketing, advertising and lobbying. At the corporate level, Overstreet-Miller has worked for companies such as Allstate, Options Clearing Corp, Zurich Insurance and the McCormick Foundation.

IMC is one of the fastest-growing programs at Ole Miss. The program, housed under the Meek School of Journalism and New Media, includes the study of advertising, public relations, brand management and research into consumer insights, enabling students to build a customized toolbox of professional skills.

An IMC degree offers a myriad of benefits, Overstreet-Miller said.

“IMC opens doors to a world that can take you to so many diverse experiences that can be rewarding both financially and in terms of personal growth,” she said. “It’s never boring and the growth potential is amazing.

“Most executives value communication skills, and the unique communicator who has the integrated approach to and understanding of communication is particularly valuable. While we all have to start at the beginning and work our way up, IMC can be a real leg up in a competitive world.”

Overstreet-Miller plans to share her experience in community relations, government relations, investor relations, employee communications and media relations with her students. She also hopes to connect IMC students at UM-DeSoto with their peers at the university’s Oxford and Tupelo campuses to share learning and experiences.

With undergraduate and graduate degrees in English, Overstreet-Miller leveraged her interest in language and in people to become a communications professional. After earning a graduate degree in marketing and finance, she became a nontraditional student pursuing a Master of Business Administration.

The latter experience gave her a special understanding of many at the Southaven campus, she said.

“Many of our DeSoto students are older, already working and bring with them unique life experiences,” she said. “That can make their learning opportunity particularly rewarding.

“Since I went back to school for an MBA in the middle of my own career, when I had young children, I know that it’s a challenge to balance school with other life responsibilities. But it’s also a chance to create new opportunities in a career that’s already started, or to make a shift to a new career direction.”

Rick Gregory, executive director of UM-DeSoto, sees great potential for the program with Overstreet-Miller’s guidance.

“We are incredibly excited about Patricia joining our team and also about growing the integrated marketing communications program on our campus,” Gregory said. “With so many large corporations, businesses and nonprofits in close proximity to Southaven, our IMC students have unique advantages in terms of internship opportunities.”

Overstreet-Miller agrees that there are numerous opportunities ahead.

“The University of Mississippi is one of a handful of great schools offering an IMC program,” Overstreet-Miller said. “Our students are fortunate to have this opportunity, and I feel lucky to be a part of what our school is building.”

For more information about the IMC program and UM-DeSoto, visit http://www.outreach.olemiss.edu/desoto/.

Schools Look to DeSoto Writing Center for Insight

Faculty and staff offer advice, resources for development of middle and high school centers

Josh Green (right), director of Independence High School’s writing center, oversees a tutoring session with students Josh Figures and Martasia Copeland. Green reached out to the University of Mississippi – DeSoto Writing Center for resources and ideas. Submitted Photo

SOUTHAVEN, Miss. – As director of the Writing Center at the University of Mississippi at DeSoto Center-Southaven, Jeanine Rauch sees the value of honing writing skills early.

“Ultimately, writing is clear thinking,” said Rauch, an instructor in the university’s Department of Writing and Rhetoric. “When students are confident in their own writing, the writing process becomes more focused on audience and purpose, which leads to clear communication.”

The Writing Center at the UM regional campus offers free services designed to help students become stronger writers and critical thinkers. Teachers from DeSoto and Tate counties recently visited the center to glean ideas for creating and developing writing centers at their respective schools.

“Incorporating a middle school or high school writing center introduces the importance of writing and helps students become more aware and connected to their own writing,” Rauch said. “Peers helping peers allows for a collaborative conversation through the writing process.”

Robert Cummings, chair of the university’s Department of Writing and Rhetoric, said that Rauch’s leadership at the writing center “knows no bounds.”

“(Rauch) has long been of great service to her students, the students of the University of Mississippi, and to students at Northwest Mississippi Community College,” Cummings said. “Not content with this level of contribution, she is now extending opportunities for designing supplemental peer literacy instruction to her partners in the K-12 environment.

“Her work is truly exceptional and exemplifies the best work of writing centers on a national level.”

Tarra R. Taylor, English teacher and writing center director at Hernando Middle School, met with Rauch this summer.

“Teaching writing is a passion that I have,” Taylor said. “So, in an attempt to do what I love to do, I wanted to offer something to my school that would not only benefit the students that I teach but also the entire student body.”

Taylor began by reading and researching writing centers in colleges and secondary schools.

“Jeanine and her team of consultants were more than welcoming and helpful,” she said. “They informed me of how their writing center was run and offered me suggestions for the middle school level.”

The DeSoto Writing Center team provided Taylor with a number of resources, including “The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors,” a sample writing center feedback survey, a tutor script and relevant articles. Rauch and one of the center’s consultants even accompanied Taylor when she presented the idea to faculty at Hernando Middle School.

Many students enter middle school with “negative attitudes toward writing,” Taylor said. This could stem from a lack of confidence or limited writing skills, she said.

“When the confidence level of students is built, students will want to write more,” she said. “In turn, writing achievement will be positively affected.

“The end goal is for students to become effective written communicators. They will write for a plethora of purposes and audiences; therefore, writing skills are important in order for them to be successful at it.”

The Hernando Middle School Writing Center launched Nov. 14. Taylor is confident that the center will make an impact on her students.

Josh Green, English teacher and writing center director at Independence High School, also recently met with Rauch. Green’s writing center began in 2014 under the direction of Jason Jones, the writing center director at Northwest Mississippi Community College.

When Green was named director, he began investigating new ways to develop the center.

“As a teacher consultant for the University of Mississippi Writing Project, I know firsthand the quality work that Ole Miss does within the field of writing,” Green said. “I knew that (Rauch’s) work with the writing center could provide critical insight and perspective for us. Jeanine and the writing center staff members were extremely helpful and personally met with us. “

This year, Independence High School’s center has served some 20 students so far.

“They have shown significant improvement and most have now visited more than once, which is exciting for us,” he said. “We love the fact that students are beginning to feel comfortable and continue to come back. Some of them have even become our biggest recruiters.”

Green recognizes the role that writing plays in student success.

“Writing is a vital skill that essentially permeates all academic disciplines and endeavors,” he said. “Whether it is at the elementary, secondary, post-secondary or corporate level, writing is a key component in succeeding in any field.

“Writing is not a vacuum skill that is applicable and/or useful only to students pursuing an English degree or a career in technical writing, but rather it is something that is used in practical facets of life such as: resume writing, surveys, engineering field reports, research proposals, etc.”

Rauch encourages schools to consider the development of a writing center.

“Writing centers create both a learning and collaborative space where students help each other improve upon their writing skills,” she said. “Students who frequent a writing center become more engaged with their own writing which leads to finding their own unique voice.”

For more information about UM-DeSoto’s writing center, visit http://www.outreach.olemiss.edu/desoto/current/writingcenter.html.

Grenada Hospital Employee Benefits from Scholarships at Regional Campus

Simpson family working toward college degrees with help from employee benefit

Sonia Thompson (seated) and daughter Jennifer, both of Grenada, are enrolled in college courses together this fall at the University of Mississippi at Grenada. The Thompsons are taking advantage of scholarships available to full-time employees and their children at the University of Mississippi Medical Center's Grenada hospital.

Sonia Thompson (seated) and daughter Jennifer, both of Grenada, are enrolled in college courses together this fall at the University of Mississippi at Grenada. The Thompsons are taking advantage of scholarships available to full-time employees and their children at the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s Grenada hospital.

GRENADA, Miss. – Sonia Simpson never imagined that she would one day be sitting in a college classroom with her daughter, but this fall semester she is doing just that as she works to complete her junior year of courses at the University of Mississippi’s Grenada campus.

“This has been a personal goal of mine for a long time,” Simpson said. “And now I have the help I need to meet that goal.”

Simpson works as a clinical supervisor over ambulatory care at the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s Grenada hospital. Previously, she worked for 20 years with Grenada Family Medicine before she joined those three providers who transferred to the hospital staff.

“My director encouraged me to take advantage of the employee scholarship that is available to hospital employees,” Simpson said. “I just go across the street after work and take my classes. It couldn’t be any more convenient.”

As a full-time employee of the Grenada hospital, Simpson soon learned that not only could she take advantage of scholarship benefits for herself, but she could also apply for a half-tuition scholarship for daughter Jennifer as well.

“The university strongly supports professional and personal development,” said Pam Johnson, UM assistant director of benefits and compensation. “As an institution of higher learning, we encourage continuing education to help create a stronger employee base.”

Simpson is a 1987 graduate of Grenada High School and received her associate’s degree in accountancy from the Holmes Community College Grenada campus. Her daughter graduated from Grenada High School in 2011 and also went on to take her freshman- and sophomore-level courses at Holmes-Grenada

Sonia and Jennifer both received the UM employee benefit scholarships and are enrolled this fall at the regional campus.

Full-time Grenada hospital employees who have worked for the institution for at least a year are eligible to apply for scholarship benefits for their single, dependent children under the age of 25 who are interested in completing their first bachelor’s degree with Ole Miss.

This scholarship covers 50 percent of tuition costs each semester.

“It’s great to be share this journey with my daughter,” Simpson said. “We are both taking the transfer student experience class this semester. It has really helped me get back into the expectations of college classes. It is really exciting to be learning together.”

Jessica Hughes, associate director of the Grenada campus and instructor of the transfer student experience course, said she enjoys having the Simpsons in her class, and that there is even a bit of friendly competition between mother and daughter.

“It’s funny how they get a little competitive when grades come out after a test,” Hughes said. “They are happy for each other, but they both want to get the top grade. They are engaged in class and encourage one another. It’s a great dynamic for the classroom.”

Sonia is taking upper-level courses to complete her bachelor’s degree in business. Jennifer is working on minors in education, history and psychology to earn her bachelor’s degree in general studies.

“I already see where my classes are helping me,” Simpson said. “Of course, my business courses are giving me new insight into the fundamentals of a successful business, but they are also helping me learn more about working with people and improving my writing skills.”

The Grenada campus offers most live classes in the afternoons and evenings as well as a selection of online course offerings.

Earning a degree at the campus is a family affair for the Simpsons. Sonia’s husband, Herman, who retired as Grenada’s fire chief in 2013, completed a degree there in 2015.

Upon retirement, he decided to enroll in classes and went on to complete his bachelor’s degree. He now works for the Social Security Administration office in Grenada.

Sonia said she isn’t sure whether she would be able to continue pursuing her education if not for the scholarships available to UMMC employees.

“It will be such an accomplishment for me to complete my bachelor’s degree,” Thompson said. “I’m excited to put this on my resume. I’m very happy to have this opportunity and have it work out so well for my family.”

For more information on the UM-Grenada campus and tuition scholarships available to full-time employees of UMMC’s Grenada hospital and their dependent children, contact Jessica Hughes at 662-227-2348 or visit http://www.olemiss.edu/grenada.

UM Volunteers Working at Career Expo in Tupelo

Three-day event designed to help junior high school students focus on opportunities

UM Field Station Director Scott Knight (center) shares with 8th grade students during the Career Expo. (Submitted photo by William Nicholas)

UM Field Station Director Scott Knight (center) shares with eighth-grade students during the Career Expo. Submitted photo by William Nicholas

OXFORD, Miss. – More than 60 University of Mississippi staff and students are working to get area eighth-graders thinking about their future at the Imagine the Possibilities Career Expo this week.

The event began today (Oct. 4) and ends Thursday (Oct. 6) at the BancorpSouth Arena in Tupelo.

With the Toyota Wellspring Education Fund at CREATE Foundation as its lead sponsor, the three-day expo is designed to make eighth-graders aware of opportunities available after graduation. Some 7,000 students from more than 70 schools, including Oxford and Lafayette County schools, are expected.

“Our primary responsibility will be to manage UM’s various exhibits and engage with the students,” said William Nicholas, director of economic development at UM’s Insight Park and one of the organizers. “However, there will be ample opportunity to contribute in a number of ways. They need volunteers to check-in students, manage parking, distribute packets, distribute water, door greeters and so forth.”

Other UM organizers for expo are Ellen Shelton, director of pre-college programs in the Division of Outreach and Continuing Education; John Holleman, director of graduate studies in the School of Education; and Allyson Best, associate director for technology management in the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs.

Other UM divisions participating include the Haley Barbour Center for Manufacturing Excellence, the Center for Mathematics and Science Education, the UM Field Station, the Center for Intelligence and Security Studies and the university’s Tupelo regional campus.

“The CREATE Foundation was created to support an improved quality of life for people residing in 17 counties in northeast Mississippi, including Lafayette County,” Nicholas said. “CREATE does a number of things to fulfill their mission, and this expo is one of them. Dr. Alice Clark, vice chancellor for university relations, serves on the board.

Amanda Pham (forefront) of UM's Center for Mathematics and Science Education gave a robotics demonstration during the Expo. (Submitted photo by William Nicholas)

Amanda Pham (forefront) of UM’s Center for Mathematics and Science Education gave a robotics demonstration during the Expo. (Submitted photo by William Nicholas)

“UM is participating in the expo because we share in CREATE’s passion to connect with eighth-grade students and help them understand career opportunities available after graduation.”

Other Ole Miss organizers affirmed Nicholas’ observation.

“We want the participants to know that their experiences with UM can begin with summer programs for junior high and high school students,” Shelton said.

“The opportunity for eighth-grade students to connect with a wide variety of career functions represented at the career expo truly allows them to begin thinking about the world of work,” Holleman said.

The Imagine the Possibilities expo features activities connected to 18 career pathways: aerospace; agriculture, food and natural resources; architecture and construction; arts, A/V technology and communications; business management and administration; education and training; energy; engineering; finance; government and public administration; health science; hospitality and tourism; human services; information technology; law, public safety, corrections and security; manufacturing; marketing; and transportation, distribution and logistics.

Grenada UM Graduate Invests in Community and Education

LC Smith hopes his 20-year journey to a degree inspires others to go to college

Montgomery County Constable LC Smith was one of the keynote speakers during the University of Mississippi at Grenada's 2016 graduation celebration. He was also an honored guest as one of the university's Class of 2016 graduates.

Montgomery County Constable LC Smith was one of the keynote speakers during the University of Mississippi at Grenada’s 2016 graduation celebration. He was also an honored guest as one of the university’s Class of 2016 graduates.

GRENADA, Miss. – Over the past 20 years, LC Smith, of Duck Hill, has made it his mission to spread the message in his community that education can lead to a bright future.

He’s served as a law enforcement officer throughout those years, but he also has been serving as an example to his community by working to complete his own college degree.

He accomplished his goal earlier this month, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Mississippi’s Grenada campus.

“I believe in the power of education,” Smith said. “You can do anything you want, and sometimes you’ve got to invest in yourself and your own education. It is worth your time and effort.”

One of the missions he takes seriously in his various leadership positions is not only protecting and serving the citizens of his community, but also inspiring them to better themselves. For the past several years, he has attended the pre-K graduation at a local day care in Duck Hill.

“I bring the kids a bag with little trinkets and gift certificates,” Smith said. “I want them to learn early that hard work pays off, and working hard in the classroom can be rewarding.

“Our community needs to invest in educating every child.”

With his own graduation, Smith has completed what he has stressed to area youth and what he himself has been working toward, little by little, for more than 20 years.

“I’m just so happy that I could finally finish my college courses and get that degree in my hand,” Smith said. This is a huge personal accomplishment for me.”

Smith began taking classes at Holmes Community College in Grenada in 1994.

“I would take a class here and there when I had time,” Smith said.

Time was something that Smith hasn’t had a surplus of during his years in law enforcement.

At one time, he was serving as a police officer in Grenada, a constable for Montgomery County, the police chief of Duck Hill, a reservist in the Army National Guard and taking college courses, all at the same time.

“I was pretty busy,” Smith recalled.

His career in service began immediately after graduating from Grenada High School in 1988. He joined the U.S. Army and began training in Fort Seale, Oklahoma. During his four-year enlistment, he spent 18 months stationed in Geissen, Germany.

“Working abroad was a learning experience for me, but I was ready to get back home.”

After his four-year contract with the Army was completed, he opted to join the Army National Guard reserves and move back to Grenada County. He was quickly hired by the Grenada Police Department and later went on to serve at the Winona and Duck Hill police departments.

In 1996, he decided to run for election as a constable in Montgomery County. He is serving his sixth consecutive term in this position.

“I enjoy serving as the constable,” Smith explained. “I get to help people with their problems. I get to talk with my neighbors and support them. I work with my area judge and serve as a bailiff when he is on the bench. I feel like I am a part of my community.”

The idea of completing his college degree stayed on his mind. After taking pre-requisites at Holmes, Smith drove to the Ole Miss campus and began taking classes in the School of Education in the early 2000s.

“I just enjoyed being around people who had big plans for their lives,” Smith recalled. “Students and teachers were working together and having important discussions. It seemed like everyone was really trying to accomplish something, not just go to school. I was really inspired.”

He eventually changed his major to criminal justice and continued taking classes in Oxford when he could, but in 2004 he had to leave college unexpectedly.

“I got a free plane ticket to Afghanistan,” Smith said.

He served with his National Guard Unit overseas for over a year. In April 2006, he returned home and became police chief in Duck Hill and continued serving as constable.

In 2013, he met Jessica Hughes, a fellow guardsman and associate director at the UM Grenada regional campus.

“Jessica asked me if I had thought about completing my degree,” Smith said. “I told her I had, but that driving to Oxford wasn’t feasible for me at the time. She told me that Ole Miss now offered classes in Grenada and made an appointment for me to come by the office.

“Before I walked out of her office that next day, she had most of my paperwork ready and had worked out a schedule for me. She made it too easy. I just needed to sign my name.”

Smith began his taking courses at night in Grenada in fall 2014 and has taken classes each semester since.

“Because he is more mature, LC didn’t take anything for granted,” said Amy Vanderford, UM legal studies instructor. “When he came to class, he was fully engaged. He was there to learn.”

Vanderford said that having LC in her classes actually helped other students grasp the material better.

“His maturity and experiences in law enforcement brought a lot of ideas to the table that other students could learn from,” she said. “It really helped me to have a student of his caliber in my classes.”

Smith says he hopes to continue on helping others.

“I would love to teach one day or assist in training,” he said. “I’ve met a lot of people, and seen a lot of things and I know that educating yourself and learning to see things from other points of view is the key to a great community.”

For more information about programs offered at the university’s Grenada regional campus, go to http://www.olemiss.edu/grenada.