Peeples Receives Outstanding Professional Educator Award

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grenada Graduate Earns UM Student Teacher of the Year Award

School of Education recognizes Mary Courtney Self for outstanding work

Mary Courtney Self of Grenada (left) is honored by UM education Dean David Rock with the 2018 Robert W. Plants Student Teacher of the Year Award. Self worked this spring as a student teacher in Diane Brewer’s first-grade class at Grenada Elementary School. UM photo by Bill Dabney

GRENADA, Miss. – Mary Courtney Self, of Grenada, was caught off-guard when her name was called for a special award during the University of Mississippi at Grenada’s annual graduation celebration earlier this spring.

“I was shocked,” Self said. “I had no idea I was being considered for this honor.”

During the evening’s program, Karen Davidson-Smith, assistant clinical professor of education, announced Self as the recipient of the 2018 Robert W. Plants Outstanding Student Teacher of the Year award. She was chosen for the award from hundreds of senior education majors graduating from five different Ole Miss campuses.

“Mary Courtney excelled at every opportunity to make and extend connections between teaching theory and teaching practices,” Davidson-Smith said. “She used a variety of teaching methods and techniques this semester that helped her students learn in the ways that suited each student best.”

The annual award is named for longtime UM faculty member Robert W. Plants, a former chair of the curriculum and instruction department. Each year the School of Education recognizes an exceptional student who stood out during their semester-long student-teaching practicum with the award.

“Ever since I was little, I knew I wanted to be a teacher,” Self said. “I felt like my instructors were invested in me and my future, and I wanted to do the same for others.”

While student teaching and completing classes at the University of Mississippi at Grenada, Self also was caring for her 2-year-old daughter, Sawyer Grace. Submitted photo

Self graduated from Grenada High School in 2013 and enrolled at Holmes Community College’s Grenada campus. In fall 2014, she took a break from her studies and spent a semester working in the Disney College Program at Walt Disney World in Florida.

“I wanted to have an experience,” she said. “I worked at different restaurants and had the opportunity to meet a lot of different people from all over the world.”

Upon her return to Mississippi, Self enrolled in the junior year of the Bachelor of Elementary Education program at the university’s Grenada regional campus.

“Going to UM-Grenada was the best thing for my daughter and myself,” she said.

Diane Brewer, a teacher at Grenada Lower Elementary for more than 20 years, served as the lead teacher and clinical instructor in the first-grade class where Self interned this spring.

“Mary Courtney has the natural instincts to be a great teacher,” Brewer said. “She would see a few students lagging behind in a concept we were teaching, and she would spend the extra time working with them until they understood.”

Self said she will be fulfilling her lifelong dream when she begins teaching sixth-grade English at Grenada Middle School this fall.

“I’m not just teaching English and grammar,” Self said. “I’m helping to mold students into the people they are going to become.”

UM-DeSoto Alumna Prepares Students for Dream Careers

Alice Robeson uses personal experience to assist nontraditional students

Alice Robeson

SOUTHAVEN, Miss. – In her role as a graduate services specialist at Concorde Career College, Alice Robeson does anything and everything she can do to help students land the perfect job.

“I teach them how to dress for success, how to write a resume and how to interview,” Robeson said. “I encourage them to take that next step because they truly can be whatever they want to be.”

Robeson received a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a human resource management emphasis from the University of Mississippi at DeSoto Center-Southaven in 2016. She regularly draws from her own college experience to guide students at Concorde’s Southaven campus.

Hailing from Jamestown, Tennessee, she enrolled in 1998 at Tennessee Tech University, where she ultimately changed her major from education to business. She moved to Mississippi before she was able to finish a degree in her home state.

She first met with Pat Coats, coordinator of academic support services at UM-DeSoto, in 2013. Coats encouraged her to enroll at Northwest Mississippi Community College for a year before transferring. That decision changed her life, Robeson said.

“I was in my early 30s when I decided to go back to school at Northwest,” she said. “It amazed me that I could still do the work after 15 years. I have no doubt I would not be where I am if it hadn’t been for my time at Ole Miss-DeSoto and Northwest.”

Coats remembered Robeson and checked in with her periodically while she attended Northwest.

“I enjoyed getting to know Alice,” Coats said. “I could immediately tell she was going to do well at the DeSoto Center.”

Once she transferred to UM-DeSoto, she was influenced by Bud Hamilton, associate instructional professor of management.

“Dr. Hamilton made me want to be a better person,” she said. “I was inspired by his love of management and strategy, which helped me choose an emphasis in human resources.”

The flexible class schedule at UM-DeSoto was particularly helpful to Robeson, who had to work around a job and her young son’s football practices.

“As a working parent and single parent it was actually perfect for me,” she said. “It was the perfect balance of work, life and school.”

Students at Concorde have similar challenges, and Robeson has made it her mission to find ways to help them attend classes.

“We have a lot of nontraditional students that commute up to two hours to get here,” she said. “These students need to be in the classroom rather just taking an online course. We’re working on ways to alleviate some of that stress for them.”

Robeson began working at Concorde in June of 2017. One of her favorite success stories at the campus involves a student who was interviewing for an upper-level management position.

“I love the intrinsic reward that I get from seeing ‘aha moments’ firsthand, but when the students come back and tell me their stories – that’s what really gets me,” she said. “I worked with one young lady who was always very quiet and rarely spoke up, but I could tell she was listening.”

Robeson counseled the student on topics such as employer expectations, how to conduct a job search, resume writing and interview skills.

“She interviewed for a big project management position that was unlike one she had ever had,” Robeson said. “She called me after her interview and had all this excitement in her voice. She told me that she listened to everything I said and it worked. She got the job.”

Robeson unequivocally knew she was making an impact at Concorde when a colleague posted her photo on the campus’s Facebook page.

“The students started commenting about how much I’ve helped them,” she said. “It made me feel really good, and it brought tears to my eyes.”

For more information about the UM regional campus at DeSoto Center-Southaven, visit http://olemiss.edu/desoto.

Mother of Seven Pursues Degree After 20-year Break

UM-DeSoto student overcomes obstacles to chase graduation goals

Sarah Riehl

SOUTHAVEN, Miss. – Sarah Riehl began her collegiate journey in 1997 after graduating from Northshore High School in Slidell, Louisiana. Two decades later, she is continuing that journey at the University of Mississippi at DeSoto Center-Southaven.

Earning a degree has always been always a personal goal for Riehl, who attended Louisiana State University straight out of high school as an elementary education major. After two years at LSU, Riehl married and moved to Jacksonville, North Carolina.

Her husband was in the Marine Corps and stationed at Camp Lejeune. Riehl attended Campbell University there for a brief time before they were transferred to another station.

“I tried two or three times after that to go back to school,” Riehl said. “I went through the application process a couple of times at other duty stations.

“My husband made the decision to continue his career in the Marine Corps, so it got to the point where I couldn’t invest my time and money into something while knowing we would only be stationed there one, two, maybe three years.”

The couple began building their family and ultimately had seven children together. Riehl’s husband retired from the military in 2015 after being diagnosed with leukemia. They relocated to Hernando when his cancer was in remission.

“I decided that things were settling down and I wanted to go back to school,” Riehl said. “It was always my goal.”

She enrolled at Northwest Mississippi Community College in the spring of 2017 to earn the credits she needed to transfer to UM-DeSoto.

“If the DeSoto Center wasn’t here in Southaven, I wouldn’t have been able to do it,” she said. “Online was not an option, and I can’t drive an hour away, or even 45 minutes, into Memphis.”

Riehl’s husband died in March 2017 after his cancer returned.

“He was always 100 percent behind me in whatever I wanted to do,” she said. “He was my No. 1 fan. Because of his pension and all the things that we set in motion in his Marine Corps career, I have the capability to continue my education. It’s all about balance.”

Riehl is a general studies major at UM-DeSoto. As a single mother of seven, planning is a critical part of her week.

“I keep a big spiral-bound planner that I carry with me,” she said. “I’ve used that for years. Over the weekend, I plan my week ahead and I break things down.

“My youngest is in a day care program twice a week, so I do a lot of my studying and assignments while she’s there or when she takes naps.

“If I know something is coming up, then I plan an easier meal. I do a lot of freezer crockpot meals. Twice a year, my kids help me do a big grocery shop and we prep meals and put them in the freezer. That’s one more thing I don’t have to worry about.”

As for what’s next for Riehl, she will be taking things slow and focusing on her family. Riehl has some 12 classes left before she is able to graduate.

“Regardless of what I decide to do with my degree, I’m still a mom first. My kids range from 16-years-old down to 1-year-old, and they are always going to be first. This is something that I want to finish for me – and I have so many courses that it’s not going to take that long.”

She credits UM-DeSoto admissions counselor Blake Bostick, as well as academic counselors Valerie Haynes and Candace Roberts for assisting her in the transition back to college.

“Every step of the way, Blake has been easing me into it because it’s been so long since I’ve been in school,” she said. “I know it’s not impossible, but so much has changed.

“The technology aspect has been my biggest fear. Candie and Valerie both have been so supportive. Knowing that they have my back – that’s big.”

Bostick applauds Reihl’s tenacity.

“Sarah’s motivation through the admissions process and in the classroom has been remarkable,” Bostick said. “Her perseverance to complete her education should serve as a true inspiration to students who are unsure if they can do it.”

Riehl encourages her children to never stop pursuing their goals, as she is doing.

“I think there’s always something to strive for, no matter how much you know or how good you are at something,” she said. “Whether it’s sports, or academics or your faith, be satisfied, but never stop trying to be better.”

For more information about the UM regional campus at DeSoto Center-Southaven, visit http://olemiss.edu/desoto.

UM-DeSoto Student Recognized for Volunteer Work

Ismail named child advocacy center's Volunteer of the Year, nominated for governor's award

Nazha Ismail

SOUTHAVEN, Miss. – For Nazha Ismail, one class project led to fulfilling holiday wishes for 65 DeSoto County foster children. That effort has resulted in a Volunteer of the Year award and an acknowledgement from the Mississippi governor’s office.

Hailing from Brooklyn, New York, Ismail is a senior general studies major at the University of Mississippi at DeSoto Center-Southaven. After receiving her associate degree in business from Northwest Mississippi Community College, she enrolled at UM-DeSoto in fall 2016.

Ismail, who minors in business, psychology and sociology, was initially looking for a place to volunteer for a class assignment. A friend suggested that she contact Healing Hearts Child Advocacy Center in Southaven.

HHCAC serves children and families in DeSoto and Tate counties. The nonprofit’s mission is to “respond to child abuse with a supportive team approach that reduces trauma through advocacy, treatment, education and prevention.”

“I wanted something close to home and something with longevity,” Ismail said. “I called and spoke to Mrs. Darlene Cunningham (the center’s family advocate) and I’ve been volunteering there since.”

Ismail thought she would be asked to help with typical office work, but Cunningham gave her a more meaningful task.

“It was a fundraiser where they gather wish lists from children in the foster care system and make sure they experience and have a Christmas,” Ismail said. “I asked if I can take on some of the children’s wish lists and after all was done, I ended up with 65 kids.

“I had never met any of the kids, but what mattered was I needed to make sure their wish lists were met. Many people helped me do that.”

Ismail began asking local businesses if they would consider donating to the project. She received toys, gift cards and monetary donations. She was able to fulfill all the children’s requests.

Ismail was recognized as Healing Heart’s Volunteer of the Year on May 5at the center’s Race to Heal Hearts fundraising event.

Nazha Ismail collected toys, gift cards and monetary donations to help fulfill the Christmas wishes of 65 children in the DeSoto County foster care system as a volunteer for Healing Hearts Child Advocacy Center. Submitted photo

“Nazha worked all fall to organize donations for the kids,” said Cheryl Beene, president of Healing Heart’s board of directors. “The photos of donations don’t even do justice to the amount of work she put in – she even got Southeastern Truck Lines to transport the gifts for us.

“All that said, we were thrilled to honor her as our Volunteer of the Year.”

Not only was Ismail named the center’s Volunteer of the Year, but she was also nominated for Mississippi’s 2018 Governor’s Initiative for Volunteer Excellence Award. As a nominee, she received a certificate of appreciation from Volunteer Mississippi and Mississippi’s first lady, Deborah Bryant.

“I personally didn’t feel I did enough, but these recognitions were very humbling and I am thankful for them,” Ismail said.

Ismail is still finalizing her plans for what she will do after graduation, but one thing is certain.

“I do wish to continue with Healing Hearts and any other organization that needs help,” she said. “I really feel that every person that wants to volunteer needs to visit one of many organizations and do it.

“Many people out there want to help but don’t know who to ask or where to start. All I can say is, just do it.”

For more information about the UM regional campus at DeSoto Center-Southaven, visit http://olemiss.edu/desoto.

Two Grandmothers Receive University’s Highest Academic Honor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Booneville Student Earns University’s Highest Academic Honor

Tishomingo's Hannah Day awarded UM Taylor Medal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Southaven Parks’ Marketing Director Reflects on DeSoto Center Tenure

Olivia Craig earned her Bachelor of Business Administration in May

Olivia Craig

SOUTHAVEN, Miss. – Olivia Craig has been quite busy since graduating from the University of Mississippi at DeSoto Center -Southaven in May.

Craig, who earned a Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing, immediately landed a job as director of marketing for the city of Southaven’s Parks and Recreation Department.

The department oversees multiple facilities for various sports, including the Snowden Grove Baseball Complex and the city’s new tennis complex. Southaven’s 20 neighborhood parks also fall under the department’s purview.

A large portion of Craig’s job encompasses acquiring sponsorships for Snowden Grove baseball. She is also tasked with building awareness of Southaven’s parks through community events.

“One of my first priorities in this new role was to build relationships,” she said. “I’m involved in all our local chambers and represent Snowden while attending their events.”

Craig even helped organize the swearing in for Mayor Darren Musselwhite in June.

“I love that what I do at my job changes every day,” she said. “Having received the opportunity to welcome back Mayor Musselwhite and the aldermen sworn in that day was one of my favorite moments I’ve experienced thus far.”

Craig has helped the department surpass its fiscal year marketing projections by more than $50,000 since her arrival in May, said Wesley Brown, director of the parks and recreation department.

“Olivia is a remarkable asset and addition to our team,” Brown said. “Our presence in the business community is growing daily because of her efforts. She knows her audience, she is a powerful communicator, she’s a brilliant strategist and she implements our game plan effectively and efficiently.

“It’s evident that Olivia received a first-class education at the University of Mississippi-Desoto.”

Beginning her college career at Northwest Mississippi Community College’s DeSoto Center in 2012, she took a short break in her sophomore year to determine what the next step in her academic journey should be. She ultimately decided to pursue marketing at the university’s DeSoto Center in fall 2013.

Hailing from Hernando, Craig felt at home at the DeSoto Center.

“I fell in love with the campus,” she said. “Not only did it feel like home because it was in DeSoto County, but I also received a number of scholarships that worked to my advantage.”

Craig received support from her peers, as well as faculty and staff at the facility.

“I love Dr. Rachel Smith (assistant professor of marketing),” Craig said. “I took her for four or five classes. She is genuinely so interested in her students and so nice.”

Pat Coats, UM-DeSoto’s coordinator of academic support services, also positively influenced Craig during her time at the campus by inviting her to her office for words of encouragement.

Like many of her fellow students, Craig worked throughout her time at the campus. She ultimately learned about Southaven’s marketing position through networking at her job at Lucky Brand. With a freshly earned degree, she was the perfect candidate.

Craig credits UM-DeSoto for her degree and her success as a young professional.

“I can’t brag on the DeSoto campus enough,” Craig said. “It was such a great opportunity for me and I thoroughly enjoyed my time there.”

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.