Student’s passion for forestry fostered through scholarship

In the fall of 2008, Kelvin Banks finished his last football game as a high school senior. With a scholarship offer to continue playing at a local community college, any aspirations of pursuing a degree at Mississippi State University were put on hold. However, an interest in science provided a turning point with the opportunity of a lifetime.

“I was competing in the Science Olympiad during my senior year of high school when a recruiter from Mississippi State asked me about my plans for college,” Banks said. “After I told him that I was interested in forestry, we exchanged contact information and he told me he would be in touch.

I’d met a few recruiters from other schools before who told me the same thing and never followed up, so I didn’t really expect to hear back from him either.”

A few days later, despite his doubts, Banks received a phone call to discuss his potential future at Mississippi State. During the conversation, he learned that he was eligible for a scholarship that had recently been created by the Dick Molpus Foundation in the College of Forest Resources.

Dick Molpus, former three-term Mississippi secretary of state, has been an advocate for education throughout his career. Accordingly, he established the Dick Molpus Foundation as a private charitable organization to further his support efforts. Molpus also serves as president of The Molpus Woodlands Group (MWG), a timberland investment management firm headquartered in Jackson.

Upon further expressing his enthusiasm for science and forestry, Banks was eventually invited to a meeting with Molpus, where he was surprised to learn that he had been selected as the inaugural recipient for the Dick Molpus Foundation Annual Scholarship. As a once stifled dream became a reality, the Madison native traded in his football pads and set his sights on MSU.

Banks graduated with a degree in forestry from the MSU College of Forest Resources in 2014. During his time as a student, he also gained valuable field experience and working knowledge through the MWG summer internship program.

“I spent one summer working in Michigan and another working in several states across the south,” Banks said. “Everyone I worked with at Molpus was so welcoming. In my first summer, they taught me everything from the basics of dendrology to how to use a compass and a chainsaw. I felt like they’d taught me a lifetime of knowledge in just a few months.”

Today, Banks serves as a forest manager for MWG, overseeing nearly 300,000 acres of timberland in southern Louisiana. He admits that many of his accomplishments would have seemed impossible without the Dick Molpus Foundation’s private support, which provided Banks with not just an opportunity but a stimulus for success.

“The scholarship award has been the most wonderful thing in my life,” Banks said. “Without it, I probably would have given up on my education. But when I accepted the Dick Molpus Foundation Scholarship, I made a commitment to work hard. That commitment was, and still is, a huge motivation for me.”

The Dick Molpus Foundation Annual Scholarship within the MSU College of Forest Resources continues to foster the recruitment and retention of minority students for the college, as well as the MWG summer internship program. It also encourages participation in the Society of American Foresters and requires recipients to maintain a minimum 2.5 GPA.

Banks, whose relationship with Molpus has remained close since their introduction, is grateful for the scholarship opportunity, which he credits for helping him to find his purpose in life.

“I will always be thankful for Mr. Molpus and his support,” Banks said. “Anyone that can contribute to a scholarship opportunity should do it full heartedly. Even though they may not know it at the time, they can absolutely change someone’s life for the better.”

By Addie Mayfield