Wilsons powering next generation of Bulldog engineers

TOP: Tonya and Anthony Wilson
BOTTOM: Wilson with his daughter,
Katie, at an MSU football game

Moving hundreds of miles away from home can be a daunting or sometimes unfeasible task for many students, altering their decisions for higher education. As the engineering industry surges on the Gulf Coast, the lack of similar degree programs in the area creates many missed opportunities for locals. In efforts to help resolve this growing issue, Mississippi State University and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College (MGCCC) have agreed to establish a partnership program that will offer a four-year engineering degree on the coast.

Beginning in the fall, students will be able to complete their first two years of course work at a community college, followed by a seamless transition of credits to MSU for the final two years of study. The classes will be offered at of the MGCCC Jackson County Campus STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) Building, which is currently undergoing expansions to include state-of-the-art updates, renovated labs, and more. This partnership will open new doors of opportunity, which Anthony and Tonya Wilson are eager to support.

In his role as head of operations for one of the nation’s largest electric utilities, Anthony sees every day why it’s important to push young men and women toward careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. That’s just one of the reasons why Anthony and his wife, Tonya, created an endowed scholarship in 2009 to benefit Mississippi residents that want to study engineering but have limited financial resources.

“Education can change a person’s life trajectory,” said Anthony, a 1987 James Worth Bagley College of Engineering graduate. “My engineering degree from Mississippi State University opened so many doors for me. We need to make as many opportunities available as possible for more students to pursue STEM-related degrees. It’s an important step to build the future of the state and nation.”

Recently, Anthony and Tonya decided to expand their financial support of Mississippi State. Utilizing a corporate matching gift from his employer, Atlanta-based Georgia Power, the couple is helping to support the new partnership program through the Anthony and Tonya Wilson MGCCC/MSU Engineering Annual and Endowed Scholarships. These are the first, and currently the only scholarships designed solely for MGCCC/MSU engineering students.

The Wilsons are particularly excited about the new partnership with MGCCC, where they both took classes when they were completing their undergraduate work. Tonya later earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics.

“Not everyone has an opportunity to move away from home,” said Anthony, who grew up in Biloxi. “To be able to get an engineering degree right there on the coast is a huge benefit. This program has an opportunity to make a long-lasting impact on the economic development of the Gulf Coast and the entire state, and Tonya and I very much wanted to be part of making that happen.”

Georgia Power, a subsidiary of Southern Company, is one of many corporations that support employee donations to educational institutions through matching funds. Anthony’s career with Southern Company began at another one of its subsidiaries, Mississippi Power, in 1984 when he worked as a cooperative education student from MSU. After holding numerous leadership positions, Anthony joined Georgia Power in 2002.

Today, Wilson serves as executive vice president of customer service and operations at Georgia Power, with responsibility for customer service and operating and maintaining the electric system that serves the utility’s 2.5 million customers in all but four of Georgia’s 159 counties. He attributes his success in large part to the education and experiences he enjoyed at Mississippi State, where he was named as an honorary Distinguished Engineering Fellow in 2009 and Alumni Fellow in 2012, and currently serves as a member of the MSU Foundation board.

“I loved everything about my experience at Mississippi State,” said Anthony, whose daughter Katie is a freshman at the university this year. “I got a great education, and the faculty truly cared about the students. I still feel like I’m at home when I go back there, and in some small way, Tonya and I wanted to ensure the next generation has the same opportunities I did.”

The continued maroon and white commitment of the Wilsons will enable more Mississippi residents to pursue unsurpassed education and training in an emerging industry, without added stresses of finances or distance. Like the Wilsons, all members of the Bulldog family have the opportunity to build upon traditions of rich student experiences and first-class education, and in turn, bolster economic and industrial development in our state and the world beyond.

By Addie Mayfield