MSU education policy fellows discuss rural education with policymakers in Washington, D.C.

MSU Education Policy Fellowship Program participants recently visited with Lindsay Linhares (front, third from left), U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran’s legislative assistant for education, to discuss their work in rural education. (Submitted photo)

Contact: Tyson Elbert

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Mississippi State faculty and staff members recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to discuss rural education research with policymakers and leaders through the Education Policy Fellowship Program.

The EPFP brings together cohorts of education leaders to learn about three national program pillars: policy, leadership and networking. For the university’s EPFP cohort, 16 fellows have been studying challenges of rural schools, particularly in the rural South, since August 2016. Their work culminated in the trip to Washington, D.C., where they met with other EPFP Fellows from across the country, as well as Mississippi representatives and U.S. Department of Education staff. 

The fellowship program is sponsored by MSU’s John C. Stennis Institute of Government and Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development, and in partnership with the Institute for Educational Leadership in Washington, D.C.

“A major goal of the trip was to share our work with Senator Thad Cochran’s staff,” said Devon Brenner, one of three coordinators of the 2017 Mississippi cohort and assistant to the vice president for research at MSU. “For about seven months, we have studied rural education and the role that MSU can play to support rural schools at all levels, from early childhood education through transition from high school to post-secondary education. We were glad to share what we learned with Cochran’s staff.”

As one of 16 EPFP cohorts across the country, Mississippi’s policy fellows attended the Washington Policy Seminar, hosted by the Institute for Educational Leadership. Over the course of four days, the fellows learned about the policymaking process, national education policy and landmark moments in American education. Fellows also visited select monuments, museums, schools and offices in the Washington, D.C. area, including the National Museum of African American History, which opened in fall 2016.

“A highlight of the trip was hearing civil rights activist and Mississippian Roscoe Jones, who talked about his time working with the Meridian Freedom School and other activist groups during the Civil Rights Movement and in the present, as well,” said Kristen Dechert, a fellow from MSU’s Research and Curriculum Unit. “Hearing his story about being a 17-year-old young man actively working for equal educational opportunity in Mississippi in the 1960s inspired and challenged me to be even more committed to actively pursuing educational equity for all students and schools in our state.”

Each year, EPFP fellows meet once a month for a full day to discuss policy objectives and needs on a chosen area of study. The 2016-17 cohort decided to focus on rural education, specifically public schools and institutions in the rural South. Areas of interest included early childhood education, higher education, vulnerable populations, workforce development and training, and teacher recruitment and retention, among others.

“This cohort has a vested interest in improving outcomes and opportunities for our rural schools,” Brenner said. “I fully expect we will see research and activities from this group continue in the future, including federal grants for rural education research.”

The Stennis Institute of Government has sponsored EPFP since 2011 and selects a new cohort each year through a competitive process. Applications for the 2017-18 cohort will open this summer, and new fellows will be selected in August.

For more information about the fellowship program, contact Tyson Elbert, EPFP director for Mississippi, at or visit

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