UM-Tupelo Students Earn University’s Top Academic Honor

Alexandria Sappington and Madison Hawes named 2019 Taylor Medalists

UM-Tupelo students Alexandria Sappington (left), of Pontotoc, and Madison Hawes, of Saltillo, are honored by Interim Chancellor Larry Sparks during an awards dinner earlier this month on the Oxford campus. Sappington and Hawes are among students receiving Marcus Elvis Taylor Medals for academic achievement, the university’s highest academic honor. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – Madison Hawes, of Saltillo, and Alexandria Sappington, of Pontotoc, both students at the University of Mississippi at Tupelo, are among a select group of graduating seniors who have been awarded a 2018-19 Marcus Elvis Taylor Medal, the highest academic award for Ole Miss students.

The Taylor Medal was established in 1904 in memory of fellow northeast Mississippian Marcus Elvis Taylor, of Booneville, an honored 1871 alumnus of the university. Taylor Medals recognize no more than 0.45 percent of all undergraduates for meritorious scholarship and deportment. Recipients must have at least a 3.90 grade-point average.

Hawes completed her bachelor’s degree in social work in August, after completing a summerlong internship with North Mississippi Medical Center’s home health department.

“I always knew that I wanted to help and give hope to others,” Hawes said. “I was back and forth between nursing and social work majors, but the medical social work field let me combine both.

“We assessed patients’ needs to help them however we could. Patients might need medical equipment, assistance applying for Medicaid or to secure treatment options.”

During her internship, Hawes worked in various departments at the hospital, including hospice, oncology and case management.

“Something stuck out to me that social work was so diverse and when I did my internship, it validated that this was the career for me,” she said.

Hawes is preparing for her social work licensure exam while helping her father, who was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, last fall.

She has been putting her education and experience in social work to good use as she works to support her family and others in the community who are affected by the disease.

“I noticed a need for a local support group for ALS patients and their families,” Hawes said. “I’ve been able to take my training in medical social work and contact families around the Tupelo community in hopes of developing this group where we can interact and share information.”

Shane Robbins is a social work instructor and field liaison at the Tupelo campus.

“Madison was highly engaged in classroom learning and her desire to help others was very evident in what she voiced in the classroom and displayed through her efforts as a student,” Robbins said.

Last spring, Hawes created and led a 5K run/walk with two fellow students to raise awareness and money for the Autism Center of North Mississippi. The event helped raise $600 for the organization.

Robbins also described a special project Hawes oversaw during her internship, working to create a hospice volunteer resource guide for patients at North Mississippi Medical Center’s home health and hospice department.

“Her own grandmother was later admitted into the hospice wing at NMMC and benefitted from the resource her granddaughter had created,” Robbins said.

UM-Tupelo students Alexandria Sappington (left) and Madison Hawes are among the Ole Miss students receiving this year’s Marcus Elvis Taylor Medals for academic achievement, the university’s highest academic honor. Photo by Pam Starling/Division of Outreach and Continuing Education

Sappington graduated from North Pontotoc High School in spring 2015 and began courses on Itawamba Community College’s Tupelo campus the following fall.

“My mom was an assistant teacher, so I spent a lot time helping around the school,” Sappington said. “In high school when I was exempt for exams, I would go to the classroom with my favorite second-grade teacher and help her grade papers and play games with her class.

“I realized I loved helping the kids and everything has fallen into place since then.”

She began honing her teaching skills as a math tutor in the student success center at the ICC Tupelo campus.

“I had great math teachers growing up, and I’ve always thought it was fun and challenging to find answers to problems or find new ways to get to the answers.”

This spring, Sappington is completing her Bachelor of Elementary Education at UM-Tupelo and student teaching in fourth grade at New Albany Elementary School.

Elizabeth Prewitt, who serves as a clinical assistant professor of education at the UM-Tupelo campus, gave an example of Sappington’s superior work through an assignment in her math methods course.

“Students are required to select a student from their placement site to shadow, interview, assess and analyze their mathematical understandings,” Prewitt said. “Alexandria’s student was a fourth-grader who was struggling in math.

“While reading through Alexandria’s report of this assignment, I realized she has incredible intuition in recognizing students’ misunderstandings. This assignment also reflected her deep desire to assist students in areas they are struggling.”

During her time as a student at the Tupelo campus, Sappington served as a student ambassador for the campus as well as an officer in the Teachers of Tomorrow student organization.

Through TOT, she was involved in several community service projects, including hosting a Halloween booth last fall at Ballard Park, where members created a fun activity to share information on the importance of education with children in the community.

“She is very genuine and as a teacher, I am confident she will be devoted to helping each of her students succeed,” Prewitt said.

Sappington will have an opportunity to put what she has learned into action this fall, as she has already secured a position as a math teacher at New Albany Middle School.