High-achieving students convening for MSU’s Delta Scholars Program

During Mississippi State’s Delta Scholars Program, high-achieving undergraduate students are visiting the Starkville campus and Mississippi Delta to learn about social, political, educational and economic challenges facing the region and Magnolia State as a whole. (Photo by Megan Bean)

Contact: Sasha Steinberg

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Committed to educating the next generation of leaders, Mississippi State University is welcoming 14 undergraduate students to the Starkville campus July 9-18 for an immersion program focused on issues of systemic justice and community well-being impacting Mississippi, with a special focus on the Mississippi Delta region.

Sponsored by the university’s Judy and Bobby Shackouls Honors College, this year’s Delta Scholars Program is bringing together and supporting high-achieving, full-time college students in developing solutions that will produce positive social change in their communities and the Magnolia State as a whole.

The Delta Scholars Program is a cooperative effort between the Shackouls Honors College and partners in the Delta Directions network, including MSU’s Social Science Research Center, the University of Mississippi’s Center for Population Studies, the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic, and the Phillips Brooks House Center for Public Service and Engaged Scholarship at Harvard College. Additional program support has been provided by MSU alumni Robert and Deborah King of Colleyville, Texas, and by the Winokur Family Foundation.

Susana Cervantes, a postdoctoral associate at MSU’s Social Science Research Center and Mississippi Delta Fellow with Harvard Law School, has coordinated this year’s diverse group of Delta Scholars who hail from eight different colleges. Ten students represent Mississippi colleges, two are from the greater Mid-South region, and two from Harvard also are participating.

Cervantes said the scholars come from different backgrounds and represent a wide range of majors and career interests, from cognitive psychology to archival studies to environmental engineering.  The majority are rising juniors, and there are several sophomores and seniors as well.

All have been selected based on their excellent academic performance, commitment to public service, leadership skills, and genuine connection to or interest in the Mississippi Delta region. Program scholars are receiving a scholarship covering housing, room and board, and travel expenses.

“At Mississippi State University and the Shackouls Honors College, we are committed to creating positive change in the state and Mississippi Delta,” said Chris Snyder, professor of history and honors college dean. “People in the Mississippi Delta have been on the front lines of social change, including advancements in the civil rights and community health movements.”

“There is much to be learned from the Mississippi Delta experience, and these future leaders will benefit from better understanding the complexities of this special place where blues music was born,” Snyder added.

During the Delta Scholars summer institute, students each will work to identify an inequality or injustice-related issue of interest. The students will develop project proposals for their selected topics to promote dialogue and change in their respective communities or the state of Mississippi at large.

Students will spend the first seven days of the program engaging with faculty and guest lecturers at the Shackouls Honors College to learn about challenges currently impacting the people and economy of Mississippi, including issues of food insecurity, public health and education. Through skills-based workshops, students will develop planning and advocacy skills to help them in developing their independent projects.

Over a two-day period, students will take an Innovation Tour of the Delta, where they will meet and learn from researchers, nonprofit organization representatives and community members who have worked to address difficult issues through community-led efforts.

“This experience is designed to give students a glimpse of social change in action, as well as expose them to the rich history and culture of the Mississippi Delta region,” Cervantes said.

On the final day of the program, students will attend the Delta Regional Forum in Clarksdale to hear from a wide variety of presenters about current research and work impacting the Mississippi Delta region. They also will have the opportunity to present their own project proposals.

Following the summer institute, the Delta Scholars will reconnect in the fall for five days at Harvard University. This trip will provide an opportunity for students to share updates on their projects, receive continuing feedback, reflect on lessons learned from the program and discuss how those lessons might be applied to solving other problems in or outside of Mississippi. The scholars also will engage with Harvard students and faculty working on issues in Mississippi and other parts of the Deep South, with the goal of providing both sides with fresh perspectives, promoting dialogue that can push their work forward, and fostering networks of young leaders who can collaborate in the future.

Scholars also will have the chance to learn about graduate and professional school opportunities from faculty and staff at Harvard and other area universities. The scholars will be advised about graduate application procedures, as well as national scholarship opportunities, such as the coveted Truman, Rhodes and Marshall scholarships. Representatives from the Shackouls Honors College will accompany the scholars to Cambridge.

For more information on the Delta Scholars Program, visit www.honors.msstate.edu. Snyder can be contacted at 662-325-2522 or csnyder@honors.msstate.edu; Cervantes, at 818-456-9997 or susana.cervantes@ssrc.msstate.edu.

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.