Leadership Boot Camp Offers UM College Experience to Gulf Coast 

Trent Lott Leadership Institute offers workshops to students in Gulfport 

Students from Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama participate in a workshop at the Pathways to Leadership conference in Gulfport. The conference, organized by the Trent Lott Leadership Institute, is designed to help rising high school juniors and seniors across the Gulf Coast become leaders. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The Trent Lott Leadership Institute took the University of Mississippi college experience to the Gulf Coast last week as a part of the annual Pathways to Leadership Conference.

The conference, held July 9-11 in Gulfport, is a leadership boot camp that offers workshops on leadership and community service and engagement to rising Gulf Coast high school juniors and seniors.

“Importantly, the conference allows students who may otherwise not be able to attend summer college programs an opportunity to advance their education and skills,” said Melissa Jones, the institute’s associate director. 

The Pathways to Leadership conference included plenty of opportunities for participants to get to know one another and learn from others’ experiences and perspectives. Submitted photo

“If you’re a student who works all summer, how do we make a leadership program accessible for you? Everybody’s journey is different, and we want to reach as many students as we can.

“A lot of these students can’t come here to campus, so we’re bringing campus to them.” 

The three-day workshop, which included various panels and breakout sessions, offered students from Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama an opportunity to learn from other young leaders, community leaders and university professors, including Jody Holland, associate professor of public policy leadership, and J.R. Love, project manager of the Grisham-McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement.

Kathy Springer, CEO of the United Way of South Mississippi, who has participated in the conference all three years, said she taught students about collaboration and finding different strengths among their peers.

“These students, they’re thrown into a group of people they don’t know and they’re out of their comfort zone,” Springer said. “We talked about how everybody brings something different to the table. I hope the takeaway for them is learning how to build consensus among groups of people, even if they’re strangers.” 

Maddy Badeaux, a rising senior from Long Beach, said she enjoyed seeing the different ideas and leadership styles come together.

“I asked specific questions I knew I’d use for my upcoming senior year and the roles I’m going to take on,” Badeaux said. “But I also saw the value in group discussions from an array of people with different backgrounds, and it was so cool to see these come together and everyone making connections between our problems in our schools despite the distance of them. 

“Thankfully, all of their advice can be used throughout my educational career, and probably past that.” 

Rising high school juniors and seniors pick up trash and debris during their beach beautification project as part of the Trent Lott Leadership Institute’s annual Pathways to Leadership Conference. Submitted photo

The purpose of the training is to give rising leaders an opportunity to hone their skills while making connections with people in their areas of interest, Jones said. The first Pathways to Leadership conference in July 2021 served 25 students. This year, that number grew to 30.

For the first time, conference participants took part in community service work cleaning up the beachfront in Gulfport. All students can benefit from learning the value of volunteerism and philanthropy early, Springer said. 

Springer said she encouraged the students not just to take part in organized philanthropy such as volunteer work, but to ingrain a philanthropic mindset into their everyday lives.

“What are things you can do at your age? How can you volunteer and engage now?” she asked. “I told them, talk to the person at school that nobody speaks to. Talk to the elderly in your community. That is such a selfless act.”

Regardless of whether the rising juniors and seniors decide to attend college at Ole Miss, the program is designed to give them skills and connections that will serve them for years to come, Jones said.

“Not only are we hopefully opening some doors for students in Mississippi, this program is in Mississippi, for Mississippians, and investing money and service in the local economy in Mississippi,” she said. “These students who are signing up and investing in their education during their summer break – they are the future of Mississippi.”