Contact: Carl Smith
STARKVILLE, Miss.—A cohort of college students—including three Bulldogs—from across the U.S. are using hands-on experiences from the Mississippi and Arkansas Delta to develop community-betterment projects now through the fall, thanks to a prestigious Mississippi State-affiliated program.
Mississippi State hosted the sixth-annual Delta Summer Scholars Institute in June, a two-week event sponsored by the Judy and Bobby Shackouls Honors College and the Delta Directions Consortium that tackles inequity issues in one of the nation’s most culturally important regions.
The cohort of 17 students spent days in the field discussing and learning about key issues affecting the area—from food insecurity to criminal justice reform possibilities—with local researchers and community leaders in Clarksdale; Cleveland; Mound Bayou; Helena, Arkansas; and other towns. Delta Scholars also engaged with MSU faculty while on campus in Starkville, resulting in community capstone project proposals aimed at promoting dialogue and change.
“Even though I have family from that area and considered myself fairly familiar with the Delta prior to our trip, it was quite revelatory,” said Delta Scholar Devin Hutchins, a junior philosophy and economics (MSU College of Arts and Sciences) double major from Hernando. “I would imagine that most people from Mississippi hold a conception of the Delta plagued by economic woe, crime and many other issues, but saw the other side of the Delta’s reality: hope.”
Now through October, the scholars will collaborate with partners and mentors to implement their projects. They also will present updates on how their projects are progressing at a November conference in Boston, Massachusetts.
“Not only does the program introduce students to issues faced in the multi-state Delta region, but it also exposes them to real community-based solutions,” said Eleanor Green, Delta Scholars assistant director. “We provide them with resources to examine an issue, evaluate the resources available and connect them to partners and mentors to execute their capstone projects. Additionally, we connect them with information to build on what they have gained in Delta Scholars and apply for other scholarships and fellowships, such as Fulbright and Truman.”
Hutchins, who plans on attending law school after graduating from MSU, focused his capstone project on voting rights issues, specifically felon disenfranchisement.
“Seeing the sheer creativity needed to turn spartan resources to changed lives was beyond inspirational. For aspiring public servants, there is nothing as reassuring as seeing the human spirit in action,” Hutchins said. “All of what we saw and learned about came in handy with our own ideas for change.”
Focusing her capstone project on increasing health care literacy was a natural choice for Delta Scholar Muneebah Umar, a junior biological sciences major concentrating in pre-medicine. The Starkville resident teamed up with a Delta physician and crafted educational resources aimed at both patients and professionals to bolster their understanding of health-related topics.
Umar said interacting with Delta residents allowed her to “gain a profound understanding of the persisting challenges that are hindering progress in the region and the commendable efforts of individuals and organizations striving to mitigate these issues.”
“Despite being a long-term resident of Mississippi, I found the Delta to be unlike any place I've experienced,” she said. “The Delta, with its rich historical significance, has been the epicenter of numerous movements, notably in fields such as civil rights and culture. However, despite its substantial contributions, the Delta remains largely overlooked, and its current inhabitants grapple with pressing issues like food insecurity and poverty.
“The residents of the Delta merit attention and support,” Umar continued. “By connecting with this region, we contribute to its well-being and glean invaluable lessons from its people who persistently stand strong despite the challenges they encounter.”
In addition to MSU students, this summer’s institute featured guests from American, Brandeis, Drury, Harvard, Louisiana State, Rutgers and Vanderbilt universities; the universities of Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas (Dallas); and Mississippi College.
For more information about the Delta Scholars program, visit www.honors.msstate.edu/delta-scholars.
MSU’s Shackouls Honors College is located online at honors.msstate.edu.
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