UM, Northwest Community College Partner for Dual Degree Program

Inaugural cohort being registered for innovative alliance between two institutions

Northwest Mississippi Community College President Michael Heindl (left), Tiffany Leister, James Leister, Randy Leister and UM Chancellor Glenn Boyce chat after the signing of an agreement to create a partnership for engineering education between the university and community college. James Leister, a 2022 graduate of Lafayette County High School, is the first enrollee in the program. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – Aspiring engineers soon will be able to simultaneously receive degrees from both the University of Mississippi and Northwest Mississippi Community College, thanks to a partnership agreement made Tuesday (June 21) between the two institutions.

Students will spend the first three years full time at NWCC while taking courses part time at Ole Miss. By following the cohort curriculum plan, they will earn both an associate degree and fulfill the first two years of a bachelor’s degree in engineering.

“Mississippi has the finest community college system in America and the finest students in that system,” Chancellor Glenn Boyce said before the signing. “I am especially honored to be a part of this collaboration and to have this relationship with Northwest.”

Michael Heindl, NWCC president, said he is excited that the community college continues to find ways to partner with the university to benefit local students.

“The way this partnership came together is a best-fit solution that helps both institutions serve student needs,” he said. “Northwest’s vision of transforming student lives, enriching our local communities, and striving for excellence in our programs and services is the central thread with every advancement the college makes, especially this one.”

UM engineering officials shared the goals of and circumstances surrounding the partnership’s development.

“The goal of the Redshirt Program is to give a select cohort group of students each fall the opportunity to really prepare for success in engineering, entering their junior year of the engineering curriculum as full-time, on time students with a solid foundation academically and experientially, and an AA degree,” said Marni Kendricks, UM senior assistant engineering dean.

“The timing is perfect to introduce this partnership after two years of adverse COVID educational impact on high school students in our state and around the nation.”

If any engineering courses need to be offered at NWCC to facilitate future transfer, the university will help establish equivalency or a dual enrollment opportunity. Upon completion of the first three years at NWCC, students will enter the UM School of Engineering as full-time students to complete the remaining courses required for a bachelor’s degree.

Northwest Mississippi Community College President Michael Heindl (left) and UM Chancellor Glenn Boyce shake hands after signing a memorandum of understanding Tuesday (June 21) that establishes a partnership between the two institutions. The program will assist aspiring engineering students in earning an associate degree from the community college and a bachelor’s degree from the university. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

Joshua Guest, district director of mathematics at NWCC, said that college officials wanted students to have quality in-state options to increase participation in the program and, hopefully, make the goal of becoming an engineer more attainable.

“This is a win-win situation – both for the institutions and, more importantly, for the students,” Guest said. “I am so grateful for the vision and leadership of both Dr. Boyce and Dr. Heindl and for the partnership with the university to provide this opportunity to these students.”

Dave Puleo, UM engineering dean, echoed Guest’s sentiments.

“It’s exciting to see the UM-NWCC partnership grow and this Redshirt Program come together,” he said. “We wanted to provide additional opportunities for students to pursue engineering degrees, and this program is another – and significant – step in making that happen.

“Huge thanks to Marni and Josh for their great efforts in working through the curricular details.”

Don Jones, dean of the NWCC Oxford campus, said community college officials are delighted that this special group of students gets to take advantage of the great things that NWCC, Ole Miss engineering and the Oxford community have to offer.

“They will work closely with our program champions, math department chair Joshua Guest and senior assistant dean Marni Kendricks,” Jones said. “They will enjoy NWCC’s small class sizes, individual attention and scholarship opportunities.

“They will be members of the Ole Miss engineering community from day one and will participate in projects and leadership opportunities.

“And they have the benefit of living in Oxford, the best college town in America, where student apartments, public transportation, and an amazing variety of food and entertainment is readily available.”

Kendricks and Guest worked to set up a series of meetings between their two institutions over the past several months to discuss ways to move the partnership forward. With the formal agreement signed, plans are to initiate the first NWCC Redshirt cohort in fall 2022, continuing with a new class each year.

The program already has found its first recruit: James Leister, of Oxford.

“It’s a great honor for me to get to make a pathway for other people,” said Leister, a 2022 graduate of Lafayette County High School. “I am very excited to be the first student in this program.”

“This is the most important action taken by the school in the past 10 years, and I am really excited about it,” said Vince Rodriguez, an Ole Miss engineering advisory council member. “It will benefit NWCC. It will benefit UM. It will benefit the state.

“But most important, it will benefit a large number of students that now find a path to get a degree in engineering and open the door for them to pursue their dreams.”