Over the past two years, dozens of students and faculty at the University of Mississippi (UM) have embarked on an incredible journey focused on addressing social problems in Mississippi and identifying actionable solutions. The students have been given the opportunity to develop an entrepreneurial skill set by working with community members and university faculty and staff. The students and faculty are part of the Catalyzing Entrepreneurship and Economic Development (CEED) Initiative at UM. Thanks to generous support from the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation, the McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement (McLean) at UM is helping to advance transformation through service and fighting poverty through education in Mississippi.
The CEED initiative is unique in that it is open to undergraduate and graduate students from any academic major on campus. Students are selected through a competitive process and are awarded a two-year scholarship that covers tuition, funding for summer internships and travel money for undergraduate students (Innovation Scholars). Graduate students (Innovation Fellows) are awarded the same plus a monthly stipend and health insurance. Since the fall of 2014, 33 students have been awarded $606,000 in scholarships. In return, they devote two years to researching a social problem in Mississippi and providing solutions in partnership with a community organization.
The initiative has already produced results. CEED students started a partnership with Catholic Charities in Vardaman, Miss., in 2014. Less than a year later, a program was created by three CEED Innovation Scholars to provide 30 children with a summer camp focused on art and health education. After this successful program was completed, McLean Assistant Director Laura Martin met with representatives from Catholic Charities to discuss next steps to strengthen the partnership and enhance programming. Catholic Charities reps identified a need for multigenerational family economic stability. Through the assistance of McLean, funding was obtained through the Caterpillar Foundation to help address this need. Currently, the Your Money, Your Goals program is being facilitated in the community by Catholic Charities and McLean.
Community engagement is built on trust and is a two-way street for all parties involved. The work in Vardaman is an example; a foundation has been established for community and economic development in the years ahead.
The CEED initiative is also in evidence through the workforce development programs with Tri-County Workforce Alliance (TCWA) in Clarksdale, Miss. Caitlin Brooking, a master’s degree student in sociology at UM and a CEED Innovation Fellow, partnered with TCWA to assist in survey research on the citizens of Coahoma County. The Career Aspirations Survey focused on parents’ current educational and economic attainment and career goals, with the aim of understanding the barriers to completing educational programs and obtaining better jobs and sustainable income. This research presented findings and recommendations to help TWCA seek grant funding to expand their programming and accelerate economic and workforce development.
Each of the students in the CEED initiative is introduced to an entrepreneurial mindset by the Ice House Entrepreneurship Program through the Kauffman Foundation. “Who Owns the Ice House?” is a book by Pulitzer Prize-nominated Clifton Taulbert on lessons he learned from his uncle in the Mississippi Delta. Taulbert is an entrepreneur, author and businessman who grew up in Glen Allan, Miss. In February 2016, he visited with CEED students and shared his thoughts on community and economic development with UM administrators. (See photo.)
Mike Davis, a CEED Innovation Scholar from Kilmichael, Miss., had an extraordinary experience through his time with McLean. Through a partnership with the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) at UM and the CEED initiative, Davis was awarded a contract by Apple in January 2016 for Impster, a social polling application that he created as a UM student. Davis visited with Taulbert while the author was in Oxford. They discussed the entrepreneurial mindset and Davis’ journey to final approval from Apple after four rejections.
The work of the CEED Initiative and McLean is to advance transformation through service and to help fight poverty through education in Mississippi. In spring 2016, McLean hosted a statewide program to reach youth all across the state. Rising 10th-, 11th- and 12th-grade students took part in the inaugural McLean Entrepreneurial Leadership Program, the purpose of which is to foster dialogue about how Mississippi can utilize resources through UM to address some of the state’s most pressing needs. Outcomes of this program are designed to stimulate business in local communities, improve educational systems and strengthen the conversation between university and community members. Who assisted in coordinating this program? Two CEED students.
A central goal of the CEED initiative is to allow students to develop an entrepreneurial skill set. Thanks to the collaboration of community partners like Catholic Charities, TCWA, Clifton Taulbert and many others, the initiative is accomplishing this goal. We welcome additional partners that will allow this program to reach more communities across Mississippi.