USM joins Miss. Scholars effort

Published 5:00 am Monday, October 26, 2009

Another university has agreed to contribute to the local chapterof Mississippi Scholars, giving the Lincoln County effort afoothold in almost all the state’s four-year institutions.

Mississippi Scholars fundraising chief David Culpepper said theUniversity of Southern Mississippi would provide scholarships forlocal high school seniors participating in the program, bringingthe total number of supporting four-year and two-year colleges to11. The Hattiesburg-based college agreed to join Ole Miss,Mississippi State University and other schools supporting theprogram after local alumni rallied for its inclusion, he said.

“Basically, alumni and friends of USM started making calls,”Culpepper said. “We’re very proud to have them on board.”

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The addition of a new supporting college is another stepMississippi Scholars coordinators have taken in their ongoingeffort to improve the program, which encourages high schoolstudents to take advanced academic courses to prepare them forcollege.

What began in 2004 as 26 students vying for $8,000 inscholarships reached a new peak earlier this year when 62 studentswere awarded around $90,000 in scholarships. More than 200 highschool seniors from city and county public schools, BrookhavenAcademy and the Mississippi School of the Arts participated in theprogram, a total of more than 40 percent of the county’s overallsenior class.

As preparations for the 2010 season of Mississippi Scholars getunder way, Culpepper said program officials are continuing topursue more support from colleges and businesses, and are planningnegotiations to land a corporate sponsor.

“We’re working on finding a corporate sponsor to give us someseed money to carry us over from year to year,” he said. “We spendall we take in at this point, and some steady money would help usto ensure more scholarships.”

Culpepper said steady corporate support would help the wildlysuccessful program offset its only real problem, which is the highnumber of high school participants who are left out of thescholarship process. With such large numbers of studentsparticipating, there isn’t enough scholarship money to go around,and Mississippi Scholars coordinators are working on providing moreand more scholarships.

Culpepper said two large corporations have been contacted aboutthe possibility of year-to-year support for Mississippi Scholars.He said a conclusion was still several months away, and declined toname the corporations for privacy reasons.

Mississippi Scholars officials are also making a greater effortto reach out to students’ parents, said program chairman KennyGoza. Officials are scheduling presentations on report card pick-updays and planning a college fair and question and answer sessionwith college recruiters, to coincide with the annual banquet.

“The students come by and pick up materials, but they may nottake it home to their parents,” Goza said. “We’re trying to find anavenue for parents to interact with those folks where otherwisethey may not be able to. If they can’t go to the school, we’llbring the school to them.”

Goza said efforts would also be made to have the variousbranches of the military represented at the college fair. He saidthe Mississippi Scholars presentation includes career options inthe military, but program officials feel they have not made a greatenough effort to include military recruiters.

“You don’t need a scholarship to go to the military, but if youjoin an ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corp), there arescholarships available,” Goza said. “One of the options a studenthas is to graduate and go to work, graduate and go to college orgraduate and go to the military. We have not really tapped into themilitary piece of it, and we realized that.”

In the meantime, Goza said the program is looking for morevolunteers to help with its classroom presentations to students.When presentations begin in earnest in mid-January, programofficials will perform four to six presentations per week acrossthe county for almost two months.

“Rather than burdening down a few people, the more the merrier,”he said. “We have a place for anyone who wants to work for us.”

Goza said no experience is required to make Mississippi Scholarspresentations, and the program performs all training in-house.Anyone interested in volunteering for the program may call theBrookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce at 601-833-1411.