Conference provides guidance for potential students

Published 6:00 am Sunday, July 30, 2017

By Edwin Smith

University of Mississippi

More than 400 students attended the 2017 Mississippi Outreach to Scholastic Talent Conference, a three-day annual event that offers leadership activities, academic and campus resources, and guidance from faculty, staff and student leaders for prospective African-American students.

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A partnership between the university’s Office of Admissions and the Center for Inclusion & Cross Cultural Engagement, the conference was made possible through the support of the Office of the Provost, Fed Ex, Ole Miss Department of Intercollegiate Athletics, FASTtrack and the LuckyDay Scholars Program.

The conference provides a positive influence for prospective students, said Brandi Hephner LaBanc, vice chancellor for student affairs.

“As I interact with the students that attend MOST, I frequently hear them say, ‘I wasn’t even looking at Ole Miss, but now I plan to attend,’” she said. “MOST gives these students a chance to see what our campus is all about and leaves them interested in being a part of that experience.”

This year, 426 prospective students gathered on campus for the conference, said Shawnboda Mead, director of the Center for Inclusion & Cross Cultural Engagement.

“They were paired with mentors who will remain connected with them through the senior year, helping with the college admission process, and throughout their freshmen year when they enroll at the University of Mississippi,” Mead said.

Among the keynote speakers during the conference were Ethel Young-Scurlock, associate professor of English and African American studies and senior fellow of the Luckyday Residential College; and Brian Foster, assistant professor of sociology and Southern studies.

Several participants said that the conference was an enormously positive experience.

Alvin Edney, a senior from Brandon, worried about negative stereotypes before attending the event.

“I’ve learned that Ole Miss has a lot to offer and that people here really are like a family,” he said. “I truly believe that the mentors I met and friends I made here will remain whether I attend here or not.”

Conference mentors said they understood why some students may have had reservations about coming to campus and volunteered because they wanted to help alleviate those anxieties.

“I came to the 2015 MOST Conference and had a great experience because of my mentor,” said Michael Bennett, a junior pre-pharmacy major from Jackson. “My mentor helped me prepare my college application and motivated me to excel before and after my arrival.

“I decided to become a mentor myself because I wanted to pass along what I’d experienced to others.”

The attention of MOST mentors was appreciated by their mentees and has provided helpful information for students as they begin their college search and selection process.

“Since I’ve been here, Ole Miss has definitely moved up on my list,” said Mariah Beckom, a senior from Columbus. “The mentors helped us a lot by letting us ask questions and giving us real answers. I’m planning to stay in touch with mine all while I’m in my senior year of high school.”

Activities during the event included informational sessions, panel discussions, a talent show, presentations by Greek and campus organization, small group meetings , team-building games led by the Department of Campus Recreation, a faculty-staff networking dinner and Ole Miss athletics pep rally.

During the closing ceremonies, Assistant Provost Donald Cole assured the high school participants that UM is a challenging, but nurturing, place for students who want to pursue higher education.

“The University of Mississippi is ready to assist you with a diverse faculty, staff and student body,” Cole said. “Receiving your education here won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.”

A MOST Conference reunion is scheduled for Nov. 14, and students said they are already planning to attend that meeting as well.

“This has truly been a wonderful experience that I would recommend to anybody,” said Jordan Harper, a senior from Jackson. “They opened more than just their facilities to us. They opened their hearts and let us know we are wanted and welcomed here.”