METP scholars learning the right path to success

Students enrolled in a special program at Mississippi State University are already anticipating their first day as teachers in the Mississippi public school system. As beneficiaries of a generous grant for their studies, these scholars are poised to realize their dreams of becoming secondary education English and mathematics teachers.

The Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program (METP) aims to attract more academically talented teachers for Mississippi public schools by educating students recruited specifically for these roles. The program is a collaboration of the state’s largest universities to address the educational needs for middle and high school students.

The Jackson-based Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation provided a $12.9 million grant to fund METP scholarships over a five-year period. Specifically, the grant is split between the College of Education at Mississippi State University and the School of Education at the University of Mississippi. Students enrolled in the program are immersed in an academic atmosphere designed to be the equivalent of an honors college experience for education majors that promotes growth within a support network that crosses universities.

Over five years, up to 80 new teachers will be trained at Mississippi State. In the first year of the program, 19 students (15 in-state and four out-of-state) were recruited to utilize tuition funds made possible by Hearin. Among the inaugural scholars studying at MSU is Mikala Taylor of Starkville who is scheduled to graduate in 2017.

When it came time for Taylor to choose a major for college, she decided to concentrate her studies in English education. “I believe that the world can never have enough inspirational teachers, and I hope to make a difference with this career,” said Taylor.

“I’ve always had a passion for teaching,” she said. “Growing up, I enjoyed going on mission trips with my youth group to places such as Haiti and Peru, where we would create a Sunday school for the children. These experiences just made my love for teaching grow stronger.”

For academic year 2014-15, 19 new scholars joined the 19 previously enrolled at MSU. The new group includes Aaron Mullins of Moundville, Alabama. He is studying secondary education with a concentration in mathematics and should graduate in 2018.

Mullins initially didn’t explore attending MSU because he didn’t feel it was necessary to leave Alabama for his major of study. However, METP was a difference maker for him.

“My counselor received a phone call from MSU about the METP program, and my name stuck out to her because this program would recognize me for my strong suit, which is math,” Mullins recalled.

TOP: The latest class of Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program scholars with MSU President Mark E. Keenum. DIRECTLY ABOVE: President Keenum with Aaron Mullins (top) and Mikala Taylor (below).

He continued, “My parents taught me every day that they wanted me to become someone who could make a difference. As long as I am making a difference, it does not matter where I am teaching. I want to put passion for learning in future students and instill the drive in them to become future lawyers, engineers, and even doctors,” he said.

Recruitment of METP students is the domain of Shane Davis, MSU METP project manager. He provides scholars with academic advising and program support for their educational experiences and professional growth.

“METP scholars will have opportunities to travel and study abroad where they will learn from international scholars and visit schools to expand their own knowledge and understanding of teaching. In addition, our inaugural class currently serves as mentors to our freshman class. This great idea was one that came directly from our scholars,” Davis said.

By offering a full scholarship package that incorporates technology stipends, study abroad experiences, collaboration opportunities with faculty, staff, and fellow scholars from other campuses, the METP is able to compete with scholarships in other programs that are often perceived to be more prestigious than education. In return, each recipient makes a five-year commitment to teach in Mississippi public schools.

“There is a critical need for highly qualified teachers in the state of Mississippi; however, many of the state’s most talented students do not consider teaching as a career choice,” said Teresa Jayroe, MSU associate dean of education.

The goal of METP is to increase educational achievement levels of Mississippians and contribute to the state’s economic development. It emphasizes efforts that better prepare future teachers for coursework in 21st century classrooms.

“The biggest benefit that METP scholars gain from participating in this program is that they are immersed in the practices and policies of the teaching profession,” Jayroe said. “Their classrooms, and moreover their students, will be influenced by the depth of experience they receive while participating in the METP.”

METP is making an immeasurable impact on the lives of the scholars, which in turn will affect students throughout the state of Mississippi for years to come.

For Taylor, the experience as an METP scholar will allow her to become the teacher she hopes she can be. “I do not plan to stand in front of the class and talk at the children while reading from a textbook; I hope to interact and bring life to the world of English. I want to show the students that school is a place of opportunity and the start of an exciting journey of learning and self-discovery,” she said.

The Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation was established in 1995 and primarily supports the state’s universities and colleges and economic development through grants.

Besides METP, Hearin Foundation support of MSU also extends to the James Worth Bagley College of Engineering and the College of Architecture, Art and Design.

METP is currently recruiting students for the third year of the program this fall. For additional information about METP and its application process at Mississippi State, visit

By Amy Cagle, Photography by Russ Houston and Beth Wynn