Fourteen seniors who graduated recently from the University of Mississippi are prepared to make a difference in the lives of students statewide as the first group to graduate from the Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program.
METP, a highly selective and rigorous teacher preparation program, was established in 2013 to offer full scholarships to the best and brightest students from around the nation to study education and teach in Mississippi.
The 2017 graduates are Brenna Ferrell of Ocean Springs; Lydia Hall of Madison; Nancy Hutson of Liberty; Anna Claire Kelley of Madison; Shelby Knighten of Gautier; Benjamin Logan of Sherman; Kaypounyers Maye of Gulfport; Katianne Middleton of Selma, Alabama; Abigail Null of Corinth; Rachel Sanchez of Southaven; Emily Reynolds of Brandon; Jenna Smiley of Meridian; James Wheeler of St. Johns, Florida; and Kaye Leigh Whitfield of Birmingham, Alabama.
“Five years ago, METP was just an idea,” said Ryan Niemeyer, the program’s director. “Seeing these students walk across the graduation stage will be a moment of great pride for many faculty and staff at the School of Education who have gone to great lengths to make the program what it is today. We have great expectations for the impact they will have on the future of our state.”
METP is a collaboration with Mississippi State University, which celebrated the graduation of its first cohort earlier this month.
Initial funding for the program came from a $12.9 million grant from the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation of Jackson in 2013, and the foundation reaffirmed its support with a $28 million commitment in January. The two universities split the funding and collaborate on educational opportunities for students each semester.
This first group of students entered UM with a high school GPA of 4.0 and an average ACT score of 28.5. Besides earning full tuition scholarships, the students received monies for housing, technology, professional development and study abroad.
More than 100 students from 18 states have been admitted into the program since its creation. With four classes admitted, the program has an average incoming ACT score of 30.
Graduate Jake Wheeler said he chose METP four years ago over 17 other programs to which he applied because it was the one that provided the most opportunities in a classroom environment.
“I was in classrooms my freshman year,” Wheeler said. “None of the other programs that I applied to put students in classrooms before junior year.”
Wheeler also traveled around the country and to Canada as part of study abroad to learn about national and international education policies during his METP career.
“The most recent and beneficial trip was to San Antonio for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics annual conference,” he said. “At NCTM, I was able to spend three days in professional development that undergraduate students do not typically participate in, where I learned about cutting-edge tools, technology and resources in math education as well as innovative teaching practices.”
Each student agrees to teach for five years in a Mississippi public school after graduation. Many already have signed contracts to begin jobs as new teachers this fall.
In August, Wheeler is to begin teaching Algebra I at Northwest Rankin High School in Flowood, where two other METP teachers will join him.
“I hope to bring some of the teaching practices I have learned to Northwest Rankin to help my students meet their educational goals,” Wheeler said. “I hope to join or start a strong community service organization at NWRHS to benefit the Flowood community and the Jackson area as a whole.
“I hope to get myself and my students invested in helping the community become as beautiful and productive as it can be.”
Anna Claire Kelly, another new graduate of the program, always knew she wanted to be a teacher and this program suited her and her goals perfectly. This fall, she begins her new teaching career at Tupelo High School.
“METP was one of the best decisions I could have made during my college career,” she said. “The program expanded our horizons and has given us more opportunities than we could have ever imagined.
“As I begin my teaching career in the fall, I can only hope to impact my students’ lives the way so many of my teachers did mine. I want to be the teacher that doesn’t make school all about academics, but about life, too.”
Individuals and organizations interested in supporting academic scholarships at the University of Mississippi can contact Sandra Guest, vice president of the UM Foundation, at 662-915-5208 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Gifts also can be made by mailing a check to the UM Foundation, 406 University Avenue, Oxford, MS 38655 with the purpose noted in the memo line, or by visiting https://www.umfoundation.com/makeagift/.
By Christina Steube