Montgomery Foundation gift helps MSU-Meridian students find their path to success

With support from the G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery Foundation, a new advising center on MSU-Meridian’s College Park Campus provides students the opportunity to find an educational path that’s right for them.

The G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery Advisement and Career Services Center was dedicated during a formal ceremony in May that included MSU and Montgomery Foundation leaders. The facility, which opened in 2016 in the space that formerly housed the Barnes and Noble bookstore, provides a centralized location to guide students through college at MSU-Meridian and into a career.

Cephus McMillian, a senior interdisciplinary studies major, said MSU-Meridian’s academic advisers helped him navigate the process of finishing a degree after an overseas deployment with the Air National Guard put his degree on hold.

McMillian enrolled at MSU’s Starkville campus in 1999, but at the beginning of his junior year, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks caused his unit to be placed on active duty. After years of deployments and work delayed finishing his education, McMillian returned to MSU-Meridian in 2016 determined to complete his degree.

“Kristi Dearing helped me out a lot,” McMillian said. “I’m looking to find a job locally after I graduate. I learned I can teach if I take a few more classes, which is something I’m looking to do.”

Brad Crawford, president and executive director of the Montgomery Foundation, said the organization’s namesake envisioned a campus that would improve the lives of Meridian residents such as McMillian.

“We all know Congressman Montgomery loved MSU and MSU-Meridian,” Crawford said. “He pushed for this campus to be built, in his special, gentle, people-person way, because he had the vision that it would help Meridian. He knew the many non-traditional students in Meridian that could use a campus like this, and he knew that with Meridian Community College right next door, the lives of many in Lauderdale County and the surrounding area would be improved.”

Over the last year, MSU-Meridian has worked with area community colleges to create Partnership Pathways programs that help students enter and successfully complete baccalaureate degree programs. Students can enroll concurrently at MSU and partner community colleges Meridian Community College, East Mississippi Community College, East Central Community College and Jones County Junior College. MSU advisers are placed on the community college campuses to assist students, ensuring a smooth transition to MSU-Meridian.

“The Montgomery Foundation’s gift significantly impacts the success of our Partnership Pathways initiative with local community colleges while also promoting retention of current students,” said Terry Dale Cruse, MSU-Meridian administrative director and head of campus. “The Sonny Montgomery Advisement and Career Services Center serves as a hub for recruiting students to the Meridian Campus, encouraging them to reach graduation, and connecting them to meaningful jobs after degree completion.”

In addition to supporting MSU-Meridian and its community, the Montgomery Foundation also strives to carry on Montgomery’s legacy of supporting America’s veterans. During his 15 terms in Congress, Montgomery was known as “Mr. Veteran” because of his unwavering support for military service members. The Montgomery G.I. Bill, which McMillian is using to complete his degree, preserved the strength of the all-volunteer military force by providing education benefits for active duty National Guard and Reserve members.

The foundation has donated approximately $620,000 to Mississippi State, building upon gifts Montgomery made to the university for student scholarships before his death in 2006. Led by the G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery Center for America’s Veterans, MSU has become one of America’s most veteran-friendly universities. The lobby of MSU’s Center for America’s Veterans at Nusz Hall was dedicated to Montgomery last November. In addition to MSU, the Montgomery Foundation has supported several veteran-related causes and leadership programs in the Meridian area.

By James Carskadon