By Michael Newsom
University of Mississippi
The University of Mississippi has its first-ever cohort of Bonner Program students who have started their four-year campaigns to transform their campus and community through service projects.
The university’s Bonner Program, housed at the new UM Center for Community Engagement, is part of a diverse, multistate network of colleges and universities with their own Bonner programs. It is funded by the Corella and Bertram F. Bonner Foundation, which works to “transform students, communities and campuses through service.”
William Teer, an assistant director at the Center for Community Engagement, oversees the UM Bonner Program, which he said is the first in the Southeastern Conference. Thirteen students are working with the leaders of their assigned internships for the next four years to continue addressing longstanding challenges, but also finding new opportunities, Teer said.
“They are getting internships, which are being conducted in a meaningful way,” he said. “We are engaging in a lot of ongoing work that community partners have been developing themselves.
“It’s this whole idea of, ‘let us work with you,’ versus, ‘let us come in tell you how to solve these problems.’ We are working with our students for them to get a greater understanding of that idea.”
Kimberly Vazquez, a freshman biochemistry major from Kosciusko, said that the program’s selling point is that it lets her boost her leadership skills while helping others.
“I love this program because I have a passion for helping others, and I would like to prove to others that anything is possible with hard work and dedication,” she said.
Vazquez works with newcomer students, who do not speak English as a first language, at Oxford Intermediate School.
“My first language is also Spanish, and I know how hard it is to go to a new school that speaks a totally different language,” she said. “I hope to be a useful resource to these students, and I know I will grow more as a person being a part of this program.
“So far, it has been an amazing experience for me, and I know it will get even better because it is just getting started.”
Camron Scott, a freshman general business major from Jackson, is working with the Boys & Girls Club of North Mississippi. Scott sees his role as facilitator of motivation and academic success, noting that working with youth will help him grow as a person, but also he wants to inspire them.
“The main goal for being a leader is to inspire others to be leaders, and I plan to do just that with this program,” he said. “Since I have been a part of Bonner, it has been nothing but an open space to express your imagination when it comes to future leadership. There have been many fun and eye-opening experiences shared with the group that I am working with.
“I honestly recommend joining this program to help yourself grow as a leader and inspire others to become leaders.”
Tyrese Moore, a freshman sports and recreation major from Lake, sees the Bonner Program as a great way to hone leadership skills.
“The Bonner Program has been great, this has been an opportunity for me to change my life and I’m blessed to be in this situation,” Moore said. “My job as a Bonner student is to be a leader and a prime example to the young people and show them how to do things right.”
Anthony Day, a freshman biochemistry major from Memphis, is working with United Way, which works for the health, education and financial stability of the community and its residents.
“What I hope to obtain from my Bonner experience is the skills to be a good leader in a world that has a lot of corruption,” Day said.” I hope to gain the necessary knowledge to help not just the community, but anyone in need.”
Andi Brice, a freshman public policy leadership major from Richmond, Virginia, is working as a research and marketing assistant for OxFilm. Oxfilm celebrates independent cinema and encourages filmmaking in Oxford and north Mississippi.
Brice said her experience has been excellent so far.
“Upon my arrival to Oxford, the Bonner program has immediately provided me with a supportive group of like-minded individuals,” she said. “I am extremely fortunate to immediately make connections in my new home and to have an engaging community service project for the next four years.”