University Partners with Community of Excellence Initiative

Collaborative effort focuses on strengthening local communities

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi is partnering with representatives from the Appalachian Regional Commission, Tennessee Valley Authority, Mississippi State University and the CREATE Foundation to strengthen northeast Mississippi communities.

The Community of Excellence initiative is designed to bring these organizations together with local leaders and residents to focus on long-term projects designed to benefit communities. The projects will focus on specific priorities around quality of life and contributions from the partner organizations, which could range from financial to research-based.

“The Community of Excellence model builds on the work of our founding director, Dr. Vaughn Grisham,” said Albert Nylander, director of the UM Grisham-McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement.

“Dr. Grisham replicated the model that George McLean initiated in Tupelo, Mississippi, which was to recognize a community’s people as its biggest asset, and to bring a community together to pursue shared goals. This transformative approach is one that we practice to this day.”

After partner communities are identified, the projects will be developed with key community members. They will work together to identify assets in their community and opportunities for innovation and improvement. Through study and conversation, the group will decide on individual focus areas that will be most beneficial.

Organizers anticipate the process will lead to stronger connections and relationships within a city or county, and stronger collaboration with regional partners. The projects should provide positive, tangible outcomes with a focus on continuous improvement.

“We are grateful to our community partners who invite us to work alongside them to meet challenges so their residents and institutions can prosper,” said J.R. Love, the institute’s project manager. “This initiative holds great promise for our students to learn from community leaders and for us to work together to develop innovative proposals to promote entrepreneurship and economic development.”

The initiative is set to kick off in early 2023. Communities that are interested in participating in the first round of the Community of Excellence process should contact G.T. McCullough, CREATE Foundation director of regional impact, at 662-844-8989 or