Major Gift Supports Early Learning

Hardin Foundation donation to bolster excellence in child education

The UM Graduate Center for the Study of Early Learning provides informed leadership, research and interdisciplinary collaboration in the field of child development and early education, affecting children from birth to 8 years old. Photo by Nathan Latil/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – The Phil Hardin Foundation’s recent $400,000 gift to the University of Mississippi‘s School of Education enables the UM Graduate Center for the Study of Early Learning to continue its successful Hardin Scholars Program.

The foundation’s gift establishes a fund that will support the program while also helping it grow to include early childhood instructors from community colleges. The fund also will cover scholars’ and educators’ travel expenses to national conferences and help bring renowned speakers to Mississippi.

The Hardin Scholars Program began in 2016 when GCSEL Co-Director Cathy Grace realized early childhood educators in the state needed to be able to meet and collaborate regularly while receiving continuing education for professional growth.

“We are committed to respecting the rights of children to learn and grow in an environment that supports their natural ability to explore, experiment, create and wonder,” Grace said. “The Hardin Foundation continues to be an outstanding partner in helping meet our goals and, for that, we are very grateful.”

A simultaneous Hardin Foundation gift of $50,000 establishes the Diversity Teacher Recruitment Initiative Fund, helping to increase diversity among Mississippi teachers to better serve the state’s population.

David Rock, dean of the School of Education, praised the gifts as being transformative for the educational and economic future of Mississippi’s communities.

“The GCSEL is conducting important research and reporting conclusions that have a direct impact on the well-being of children and their families,” Rock said. “Additionally, the center guides families within our state’s diverse populations to embrace their role as the child’s first and most important teacher.

“We are thankful for the Hardin Foundation’s continued generosity, which helps make so much of this work possible.”

Goals of the GCSEL are:

  • Establishing policies and practices dedicated to providing leadership in the field as well as informing leaders charged with decisions that affect children
  • Collaborating with stakeholders and programs that focus on the needs of young children and their families
  • Serving as an online resource to various audiences by providing information on the education and healthy development of children
  • Presenting information and professional development on best practices in educating children, teachers, school administrators, policymakers and parents
  • Researching poverty’s negative impact on brain development in young children and reporting findings to stakeholders in positions to implement interventions proven to offset potential developmental delays
  • Supporting the Oxford campus early care and education program, serving preschool children

“The Hardin Foundation invests in education at all levels, but we view early learning as the most critical component in improving educational outcomes in Mississippi,” said Lloyd Gray, executive director of the foundation. “While we’re committed to helping build programs, we also like to recognize effectiveness in established programs.

“In this case, we feel this new multiyear commitment to an initiative we have supported since its inception will help accelerate its positive impact for Mississippi children.”

The Hardin Foundation was created by Phil B. Hardin, an entrepreneur who built the successful Hardin Bakeries Corp. from a bankrupt business he purchased in the 1930s. In 1964, he founded the Phil Hardin Foundation, which is dedicated to improving education for Mississippians.

The Hardin Foundation is one of the three largest foundations in the state and has provided Ole Miss with more than $3 million in support of the schools of Business Administration and Education, College of Liberal Arts and more.

The Center for the Study of Early Learning Fund and the Diversity Teacher Recruitment Initiative Fund accept gifts from individuals and organizations. To contribute, mail a check, with the fund’s name in the memo line, to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655; or give online at

To support the UM School of Education, contact Billy Crews, development director, at 662-915-2836 or