University of Mississippi faculty, staff and students gave visiting Grisham fellows from Newton High School a taste of academic opportunities and community service during a visit to campus this week.
Twenty-six students spent Tuesday (Feb. 13) on the Ole Miss campus learning about team building, college writing, earning a degree, diversity and entrepreneurial skill sets. The group spent Wednesday (Feb. 14) morning reading to children at the Learners Playhouse Pre-School in Oxford before returning home.
“Working on this collaborative event with Bruce and Rhondalyn Ware, the McLean Institute and Dr. and Mrs. Vaughn Grisham has been wonderful,” said Jacqueline Certion, coordinator of enrollment and advising for the Foundations for Academic Success Track Program in the UM College of Liberal Arts, which co-sponsored the visit. The McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement and Vaughn and Sandy Grisham were also sponsors.
“When the FASTrack team built the itinerary for Newton High School, our mission was at the forefront,” Certion said. “I hope that each student takes away from this visit the vision of the holistic collegiate experience, a vision that most definitely can become reality.”
The teens’ itinerary also included a campus tour, attending the Ole Miss vs. Arkansas basketball game in The Pavilion at Ole Miss and an ice cream social.
A highlight of the visit was an entrepreneurial workshop at Insight Park. Presenters included William Nicholas, the university’s director of economic development; J.R. Love, McLean Institute project manager; Lee Ingram, a recent Ole Miss graduate and CEO of Collegiate Tutoring; and students from the McLean Institute’s Catalyzing Entrepreneurship and Economic Development Initiative.
“I came on the very first visit here in 2016, and all I can say is it was a mind-blowing experience,” said Angela Mackey, Newton High School teacher of the year and one of the group’s chaperones. “The professors always provide that personal touch, which makes a mother like myself feel very comfortable about referring other parents to consider allowing their children to come.
“I also like that the students are getting more hands-on experience with writing and such during this trip.”
Senior Demarius Evans, 18, agreed.
“I’ve been on campus three times before, but this is my first time coming as a Grisham fellow,” he said. “Ole Miss is breathtaking. Not only is it a very beautiful campus, but everyone makes visitors feel so welcome. That’s why I plan to study accountancy for the next four years here after graduation.”
Mackey, Evans and others said they plan on recommending the university to others upon their return to Newton.
“They need to take advantage of the opportunities to see what we often don’t get to see living in a small town,” Evans said.
“I hope all the Grisham fellows will take the information they have received here and spread it among their peers, their parents and the community at large,” Mackey added.
An alumnus of both Newton High and UM, Ware worked with the Newton Municipal School District, the McLean Institute and local minister Randy Cuchens to create the competitive program for Newton High School students.
Named in honor of the Grishams, retired Ole Miss professors who have remained active in community development work, the program encourages young leaders to pursue higher education and challenges them to influence their communities by inspiring a lasting commitment to community service.
Since its inception in 2014, the program has fostered visits to the university for more than 100 students, many of whom were or will become the first in their families to attend college.
FASTrack is a first-year learning community that helps students make a successful transition from high school to college. FASTrack students benefit from smaller and enhanced classes, individualized advising and mentoring, and a community of supportive peers.
Students in FASTrack earn higher GPAs, go on academic probation less often and return for the sophomore year at higher rates than their peers.
The McLean Institute works by partnering with Mississippi communities to fight poverty to transform lives through education, innovation and entrepreneurship.
By Edwin B. Smith
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