OXFORD, Miss. – Some students from small towns grow up yearning for the day when they can graduate from high school, go off to college and leave the community they feel has nothing to offer them.
They leave with the anticipation of making their lives better and gaining all that the world has to offer, including opportunities that may not have been afforded to them back home. Brittany Fields, a senior at the University of Mississippi, was one of those students.
Raised in a single-parent household, Fields graduated from Houston High School in Houston, Mississippi, before heading to college. Moving away from Houston gave her an opportunity to see Chickasaw County from an outsider’s view and helped her see the county’s true values that many people so often overlook, Fields said.
“Houston, Mississippi, is a very small town where everyone knows everyone,” she said. “But that’s not a bad thing. Houston is a lively town. The people are sociable and the educational system is remarkable. Crime rates are low. There’s a church on every corner, and the town itself just gives you a sense of well-being.”
Fields said she believes it’s her duty to not only give back to the community that so graciously gave to her, but to innovatively bring more to a deserving town. She started her journey to do just that last year when she joined the McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement at UM as an undergraduate Innovation Scholar.
Vaughn Grisham, a leader in the field of community development, founded the McLean Institute at Ole Miss in 1984. From that foundation, the McLean Institute is being dramatically expanded as part of UM 2020, the university’s strategic plan that calls for an increase in service to benefit Mississippi.
The McLean Institute seeks to make community engagement a distinctive part of the university’s educational culture by promoting engaged scholarship and reflective community action.
Fields has been named an Innovation Scholar within the institute’s Catalyzing Entrepreneurship and Economic Development initiative, known as CEED. In her last year of the two-year program, Fields will work alongside about 30 other UM students to establish partnerships throughout rural communities in Mississippi.
CEED organizers hope that these partnerships will help boost economic development and entrepreneurship throughout these rural communities.
“Brittany’s role as an Innovation Scholar at the McLean Institute provides her the opportunity to engage her background from Chickasaw County and her exercise science major to advance the mission of the McLean Institute,” said J.R. Love, CEED project manager.
Fields, along with fellow Innovation Scholars Elizabeth Kelley and Madison Gable, started a smART summer art and wellness camp in Vardaman for the month of June. The purpose of the day camp was to combat the summer slump and teach children, ages 5-13, about living a healthy lifestyle.
The program included teaching local youths about different European and Mexican artists and organizing art activities. The CEED scholars also taught the young participants about the human body and gave them anatomy projects to complete. Those in the art and wellness camp learned about physical fitness and the effects it has on the body, and they were instructed in how to do physical activities.
The goal of each Innovation Scholar is to develop a specific sustainable solution within a community. The scholars attain the solutions by making connections with communities and by developing a method of research that includes participating in a summer-long internship in their chosen community. Each scholar then presents some sort of business plan or research paper at the end of two years.
Although she has many paths left to explore before selecting an area to address, Fields said she is considering committing her efforts to the further promotion of health care as a means of combating health-related issues plaguing Mississippi.