Even with her humble financial background and the many challenges she and her family have encountered, soon-to-be University of Mississippi graduate Dru Collins sees life as rich with opportunities and a place where dreams can come true.
Her struggles, she said, have strengthened her drive to improve the lives of others. And the memory of a dear, recently departed family friend keeps her focused on her goals and honors his legacy.
Collins will graduate from the UM School of Business Administration with a major in marketing and corporate relations. She has been a member of the Chancellor’s Leadership Class, a chief emissary officer representing the business school’s student body and a member of Who’s Who Among Students at UM.
Getting to Ole Miss wasn’t easy. However, attending the university was a dream Collins dedicated herself to making come true. She worked to put herself in a position to earn scholarships and was recognized with several generous awards, including the Tommy Ramey Foundation Business School and Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society scholarships.
“Without these scholarships, which I am so grateful for, I never would have been able to join the UM family and expand my educational opportunities,” she said. “I have made my family proud and, more importantly, I have found something within myself that drives me to continually strive for academic excellence and explore the many creative outlets of my new community and of my mind.
“I knew the University of Mississippi was where I belonged, but it was just a matter of financing,” she said.
To be able to enroll at Ole Miss, Collins first attended a nearby two-year college, Delgado Community College in New Orleans, Louisiana. While she was earning an associate degree, she built up a financial cushion by working full-time, honed her leadership skills by joining student organizations and accumulated a high grade-point average, enabling her to qualify for scholarships.
“I grew up in a loving family in Galliano, Louisiana, but we had limited financial resources,” she said. “Mom has devoted her life to public education, teaching elementary students and working her way up the administrative ladder to become principal of a local elementary school.
“Dad, like so many other family members, earned his living from the gulf by doing a variety of jobs, such as a crabber and trawler. Unfortunately, after the BP oil spill in 2010, he had to switch to working in the oil fields. Now, he’s battling cancer.”
It was another family member from the gulf coast, her great uncle Raymond “Ed” Edwards, a UM alumnus and devoted Rebel fan, who instilled in her “the values of the Ole Miss family” that he embraced as a student in the School of Law.
“Because of the scholarship support, I was able to attend my dream college and follow in my uncle’s footsteps.”
Collins applied to the School of Business Administration because she was something of a born entrepreneur.
“My parents love to remind me of the multiple ‘businesses’ that I opened up in our neighborhood and somehow I managed to make quite a decent income with some of those,” she said. “One summer I made over $200 on a lemonade stand!”
Collins also praised the effective learning environment created within the small classes of the business school and the many supportive professors, staff and administrators.
As a student, Collins was clearly dedicated, said Christopher Newman, the P.M.B. Self Chair of Free Enterprise, director of the marketing doctoral program and associate professor of marketing.
“Dru is one of the more driven undergraduate students I’ve had the pleasure of teaching,” Newman said. “She was always very engaged with the course material and consistently sought additional knowledge outside of the classroom.
“Dru’s academic performance in the classroom was equally as impressive as her leadership skills and community engagement outside of the classroom.”
Later this month, Collins will begin work as a financial specialist in the business school. In addition, she plans to continue her academic career.
“I would really like to work with quantitative research while pursuing my Ph.D.,” Collins said. “And what an honor it is for me to work for the School of Business Administration in the Office of the Dean and to work alongside the people who have inspired me and literally changed my life.”
Eventually, she wants to establish a nonprofit organization that provides housing assistance to those in need: humans and perhaps injured animals, she said.
“It is my hope that the legacy I leave behind will be one that encourages others to lend a helping hand to all those who are in need of some assistance and support,” she said.
Collins said she would be grateful if her career allows her to make her parents’ lives a little more comfortable.
“I’d love to be able to support them so they can finally relax a bit more,” Collins said. “For those of us who are the children of parents or guardians who instilled admirable values within us and supported us at various times in our lives, being able to support them if or when support is needed should be the very least we can do.”
Whatever direction Collins takes, Newman said those who have been a part of her academic journey are certain she will be successful.
“Dru embodies the notion that you can do whatever you put your mind to as long as you’re willing to put in the effort and time – regardless of your background or circumstances,” he said. “I’m confident Dru will excel in whatever she chooses to do, whether graduate school or working in an industry.”
Reflecting on her many accomplishments, Collins said her most cherished is knowing that her friend John, who was considered a member of their family, was proud of her.
“My friend John, my brother and I grew up together,” she said. “John always supported me and my dream of attending Ole Miss.
“When John took his life last year, it was a devastating blow to my entire being. I seriously considered leaving Ole Miss and moving back to our home on the bayou just so I could be close to my family again. It was a struggle to get out of bed every morning or to find the energy to attend my classes.
“But I knew that John would not want that life for me. He wanted to see me attend the university and flourish in whatever professional career I pursue. With the help of my Ole Miss family, I have made my own family proud,” she said.
“More importantly, I will keep striving for excellence, not just for me, but to continue John’s legacy and be the woman he always knew I would grow to become.”
For more information on how to support the School of Business Administration, contact Angela Brown, senior director of development, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 662-915-3181.
By Jonathan Scott/UM Development