University Supports Students on Multiple Career Paths
By Becky Gillette
The eighth president of Mississippi Valley State University in Itta Bena, Dr. Jerryl Briggs, Sr., is proud of the many good things happening at MVSU. One of the highlights that helps students with a pipeline to a good job is the university’s collaboration with FedEx Logistics, Inc., a subsidiary of FedEx Corp.
“Through the partnership, MVSU provides professional opportunities for students and helps build a pipeline of talent to support FedEx Logistics’ industry-leading customs brokerage operations,” says Briggs. “In addition, FedEx Logistics has a satellite office on the MVSU campus that is staffed with qualified students. As a result, students have access to part-time employment while in school, with the potential for a full-time job upon graduation.”
MVSU has a big impact on the local economy of Itta Bena, a town with a population of about 1,600. MVSU employs numerous Leflore County residents, as well as residents from surrounding counties.
“Additionally, we help to boost the local economy through sporting events and other activities that bring people to campus, like the annual B.B. King Day Symposium, our homecoming event, and spring commencements exercises,” says Briggs.
Famous blues music guitarist, vocalist and songwriter B.B. King was born in Itta Bena.
Briggs is also proud of their athletic program.
“Athletics is vital to a school’s culture as it allows students to engage and participate in activities outside of academics,” says Briggs. “In addition, some student-athletes can continue their education because of sports and athletic scholarships. Some students may not have been able to afford college if not for athletics.”
Currently college enrollment in Mississippi and across the country has been declining. Seven of the eight public universities in the state experienced an enrollment decline this past fall. Recent research studies have concluded that the main reason this is happening nationally is due to several factors. Briggs says one of the primary reasons is the lingering impact of the Covid-19 virus and the economic downturn resulting in many college-aged young adults going immediately into the workforce.
“What MVSU is doing to address our enrollment challenges is to have a direct and intentional effort to regain our momentum with enrollment growth,” says Briggs. “A Strategic Enrollment Operations Council has been formed, and we are diligently working on planning and operationalizing several strategies to move us forward.”
President Joe Biden had announced a student loan forgiveness plan that would have been particularly helpful for students or graduates with lower incomes. That program is now on hold due to court challenges by Republican states. But, Briggs has seen no indication that this delay for student loan forgiveness has discouraged their students.
Another strength of the university is the MVSU National Alumni Association, which Briggs describes as one of the most passionate and supportive groups affiliated with the university. “They are very active and, along with our students, truly embrace the university motto of ‘Live for Service’,” he says.
The undergraduate programs that are most popular with students include business administration, health, physical education and recreation, says Dr. Kathie Stromile Golden, provost/senior vice-president for academic affairs. She says the graduate program in a master’s degree in arts in teaching is the top graduate program.
Golden says both undergraduate and graduate programs help fill the need for teachers in the state. The U.S. Department of Education’s Teacher Shortage Area Report indicates Mississippi has shortages in all grades, from preschool through the twelth grade, in math, science, special education, and world languages for the 2021-22 school year, based on unfilled job postings.
The state also has a shortage of healthcare professions. Within MVSU’s chemistry and biology programs, there are pre-med and pre-dental tracks. “Many graduates of these programs have become physicians, dentists, chiropractors, registered nurses, or other healthcare professionals,” says Golden. “Most of these graduates remain or return to the state upon completing their programs.”
There are several things Golden enjoys about her work. Primary among these is sharing her experiences and knowledge to positively impact the lives of young people with whom she shares a similar background. “Second, I am fortunate to have an opportunity to contribute to the university’s global footprint and its growth and development as an agent of change for the communities we serve,” she says.
Student Government Association (SGA) President Keyjuan Meeks from Indianola is majoring in pre-law/legal studies and government and politics. Meeks says MVSU is the college he has always dreamt of attending.
“In high school, I was involved in a lot, and I knew that MVSU would afford me a quality education that allowed me to remain active in everything I found interesting,” says Meeks. “I ultimately chose MVSU because of its small student-to-teacher ratio and family-oriented atmosphere. As a result, I have been involved in the SGA and the mock trial team. In addition, I served on the Royal Court for two years.”
He finds it a significant advantage that MVSU is close to home.
“I have a great relationship with faculty and staff, and it’s nice that people know you by name,” says Meeks. “In addition, as the SGA president, I have been able to travel and be involved in a conversation with the administration in helping to make our school better for the current and future students. I also feel my school has given me all the tools necessary to be successful and positively impact the world.”
Meeks loves the entire campus, but spends a great deal of time in the student union because his office is located there.
“The James H. White library is one of the most beautiful places on campus,” he says. “Sometimes, I like studying there. But the union would be my favorite place to hang out.”
Legislation authorizing the establishment of the institution under the name Mississippi Vocational College was enacted by the Mississippi Legislature in 1946.