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MS Scholars taking new approach

Mississippi Scholars organizers plan to open up the throttle andadd a few new twists in 2010 to build upon the state-leadingsuccesses of last year.

Program chairman Kenny Goza said Mississippi Scholars’ classroompresenters would follow a new strategy this year to personalizetheir discussions with prospective students and drive home thepoint in a manner that’s more direct and less point-and-click. Thenew strategy is indicative of growth and experience gained duringthe program’s four-year run, he said, allowing officials to strayfrom the stamped guidelines and make Mississippi Scholarsunique.

“We’ve told our presenters to focus on the relevance, to makethe presentation personal and make the students understand, ‘Why doI need to work hard, to think about graduation and career paths?'”Goza said. “The first couple of years as you work through it, youkind of just stay on track with the presentation. We haveindividuality in our program now.”

One method by which Mississippi Scholars volunteers willpersonalize their presentations is by their own diversity, Gozasaid. The program in 2010 will bring in a wider range ofprofessionals to show students the many different career pathsavailable.

“At a career day, we’re guilty of just taking the presidents andmanagers and CEOs. Mississippi Scholars will take in those guys,plus maybe a guy who works at the sawmill, a nurse – a very diversegroup of people sharing life stories with those kids,” Gozasaid.

Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce Program DirectorKay Burton said Mississippi Scholars would also strengthen itscounseling and advice programs this year. A new program to teachstudents interview tips is being implemented, more resources arebeing devoted to helping students apply for scholarships and morefocus on military careers is planned, she said.

Burton said scholars organizers are also planning a college andcareer fair on the day of the annual banquet to give parents andtheir students a chance to meet face-to-face with educational andprofessional representatives and plot out a course for thefuture.

“We’re trying to put tools in their hands to get themlife-ready,” Burton said. “It’s just expanding scholars.”

Expanding scholars seems like a tall order, considering lastyear’s record numbers, but that is the goal for 2010. Last year’sbanner year saw more than 60 high school seniors from acrossLincoln County receive $92,000 in scholarships, and more than 200students – 40 percent of the county’s entire senior class -participated.

Mississippi Scholars chief fundraiser David Culpepper said theprogram is on track to at least maintain last year’s numbers andcould possibly exceed them. He pointed out the 2010 graduatingclass at Brookhaven High School is the largest since the programbegan, and that class is composed of the first group ofeighth-graders to ever hear the scholars presentation.

“That’s naturally going to drive the numbers up,” he said.

On the support side, Culpepper said efforts have been goingyear-round to maintain the contributions from businesses andindividuals enjoyed last year, and more contributors are coming tothe table. The program now enjoys direct participation from 12community and four-year colleges in the state with the recentaddition of the University of Southern Mississippi and Delta StateUniversity.

“This thing has turned into a 12-month process. We put it tobed, get a good night’s sleep and start again the next morning,”Culpepper said.