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McLean summer program creates entrepreneurs

Twelve high school students from across Mississippi gained exposure to innovative problem-solving skills by participating in an entrepreneurial leadership program at the University of Mississippi.

The inaugural class of the McLean Entrepreneurial Leadership Program, or MELP, met May 29-June 3 on the Oxford campus. The weeklong series of activities was sponsored by UM’s McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement in partnership with the Office of Pre-College Programs.

Terrius Harris and Ryan Snow, innovation scholars with the McLean Institute’s Catalyzing Entrepreneurship and Economic Development initiative, were instrumental in planning and facilitating the program.

“In this first summer, we sought to introduce an initial cohort of students from around the state to the entrepreneurial approaches to addressing pressing community needs,” said Albert Nylander, director of the McLean Institute and a professor of sociology.

“Our initial assessment indicates that at the beginning of the week, only one student believed that he or she could become an entrepreneur. By week’s end, the overwhelming majority of participants believed they had the potential to become entrepreneurs.”

MELP was structured to cultivate an innovative approach to solving problems that students identified in their communities. Throughout the week, participants studied principles of entrepreneurship, data and demographics, environmental sustainability, and health and wellness through readings, lectures from UM faculty and staff, and field trips to meet with community leaders.

Snow, of Summerville, South Carolina, and Harris, of Eagle River, Alaska, reflected on their experiences planning and leading the program.

“I am excited to see this program develop into a statewide initiative,” Snow said. “As I begin my next phase of involvement with the McLean Institute as a graduate innovation fellow, I intend to continue the work of MELP by working with the students to implement the projects they planned during the program.”

Working with students in the inaugural MELP program has been rewarding, Harris said.

“This program attracted high-caliber high school students from across Mississippi,” he said. “I believe we’re off to a great start and on the verge of something truly significant for our state’s economic growth and community development.”

MELP’s first-year goal was to pilot a scalable and replicable program that will stimulate an entrepreneurial interest among high school students that can be utilized to solve community and state problems through community engagement.

“With entrepreneurial problem-solving as the central focus of the week, students were required to complete a weeklong project with the goal of generating an actionable plan to address a community challenge,” said Zack Grossenbacher, another innovation fellow in the McLean Institute.