The legacy of the late University of Mississippi alumnus James McMullan expands every day at his alma mater as his family foundation supports students in the Foundations of Academic Success Track (FASTrack) program, now boasting an 85.3 percent student retention rate.
For more than eight years FASTrack has recorded strong results helping first-year students at Ole Miss transition to college, inspiring the James and Madeleine McMullan Family Foundation to commit $300,000 in support of the program. While the support FASTack offers can benefit all types of students, many of the participants are first-generation college students.
The late James McMullan, a 1956 Ole Miss finance graduate, became a highly successful partner and executive committee member of the securities firm William Blair & Co. in Chicago, Illinois. But for students whose lives are being transformed by his family’s foundation, his most important role may be “education champion.”
Daughter Margaret McMullan of Pass Christian, Mississippi, said investing in the FASTrack program was a natural step for the McMullan Family Foundation, which provides 10 scholarships each year to graduating seniors in Pass Christian and in Newton, Mississippi, where her father grew up. The McMullans interview applicants at these high schools, make their selections and then keep in touch with recipients throughout their college pursuits.
A novelist and a former English professor at the University of Evansville, McMullan first started working with her father to carry out his desire to “give back” through the family foundation.
“This work connects him with his native state and with his goal to help individuals not only attend college but succeed in college. When our family is making decisions on this assistance, we ask ourselves, ‘What would our dad do?’ That’s what guides us. He kept all the notes he received from scholarship recipients and loved them. Now that I’m living in Mississippi, I am much more aware of the great need for expanded educational opportunities.”
FASTrack helps McMullan Scholars and other Ole Miss students persevere and succeed. The past academic year saw 406 students benefit from FASTrack’s system of support, which includes small classes, a dedicated advisor, academic mentors, peer leaders and outstanding faculty.
FASTrack’s peer leader program of 24 trained sophomores, juniors and seniors provides guidance to first-year students, enabling the peer leaders to serve as mentors while gaining leadership experience and stipends. For the fall 2018 semester, five peer coordinators have been added as an additional layer of peer mentoring to further support the peer leaders and recruit students. FASTrack Academic Mentor and peer leader director Susan Nicholas noted that “first-year students are more likely to listen to advice from students close to their own age, making the peer leaders a critical component to FASTrack’s success.”
It’s another facet that further links the program to the characteristics of the McMullan family.
“My father was my greatest mentor. He also believed in helping the disenfranchised and knew that education was the best means of lifting people up,” said daughter Carlette McMullan of Chicago, who is a partner at William Blair & Co., where she and her father formed the McMullan team to manage investment portfolios for private clients. For the second year, she has been named to Barron’s top 100 women financial advisors in the United States.
“Dad was a voracious worker and passionate about business and education; I believe he would be very proud of the FASTrack program and thrilled that students from his hometown are moving ahead at Ole Miss with a little extra help stemming from his devoted work as a partner at William Blair for 40 years.”
FASTracker Paris Payne of Newton, a rising junior broadcast journalism major, said she was headed to another university after high school when Ole Miss alumnus Bruce Ware of Dallas, Texas, a former McMullan Scholar, steered her to the McMullan Scholarship and FASTrack programs.
“I met a lot of great people right away and fell in love with Ole Miss. FASTrack was a tremendous help through my first year; the smaller classes were a great way to help make the transition from a small high school. At first I thought I was going to sink, but one of my professors — the nicest person — showed me tough love. I worked very hard learning how to use new software for a project, but she helped me until she knew I had mastered it.”
Maura Scully Murry, who recently joined the university as the new FASTrack director, has not only led similar programs at Purdue University and New College of Florida, but she also has walked the path these students are traveling.
“Life is not always easy — I’ve been there. My passion is helping these students to be successful because I was once a first-generation college student. We want our students to benefit from dedicated educators who genuinely care and go out of their way to help them grow.
“FASTrack helps students develop their own support system. They come to a major university — an unfamiliar world; we help them build a foundation to ground themselves. With a cohort of peers, professors and staff members who know them by name, FASTrack participants gain the confidence and motivation that will carry them through their college years and into their professional careers.”
Scully Murry, who will continue to strengthen FASTrack, added, “We also help our students develop personal agency and self-efficacy, especially in addressing challenges in college. We teach them ways to solve problems, so whatever life may throw at them they will continue to thrive.”
The McMullans’ longtime support of Ole Miss also includes gifts to the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, Hardin Future of the South Endowment, Friends of the Library, Thelma Boozer McMullan Memorial Library Endowment, Ann Abadie Fund for the Oxford Conference for the Book and scholarships on the Oxford campus, as well as the Dr. Guy Gillespie Jr. Endowment on the UM Medical Center campus in Jackson, Mississippi. McMullan family members also serve on the Center for the Study of Southern Culture Advisory Committee.
Carlette McMullan said, “My father, James McMullan, was very proud of being an Ole Miss alumnus and loved maintaining ties to the school. He hailed from Newton, was deeply committed to his roots in the South and began his philanthropic activities with Ole Miss in the 1990s with the Center for the Study of Southern Culture. He made a $1 million gift for two endowed chairs and made subsequent gifts in support of center activities. My mother, Madeleine, sister, Margaret, and I feel strongly about continuing his commitment to educational opportunities.”
To make a gift to the FASTrack program, contact Nikki Neely Davis, executive director of development, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 662-915-6678. Gifts can be made by mailing a check with FASTrack noted in the memo line to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655; or by giving online at www.umfoundation.com/makeagift.
By Tina H. Hahn