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UM Summer Entrepreneurial Leadership Program Expands

By Edwin B. Smith

University of Mississippi

University of Mississippi alumna Edith Kelly-Green (standing), founder of The KGR Group and a former vice president at FedEx Corp., speaks to MELP students during a session at the UM Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Conner Hall. Submitted photo

High school students from across the state are looking for innovative ways to tackle social and economic problems in their hometowns after taking part in an annual University of Mississippi summer entrepreneurial leadership program.

The seventh annual McLean Entrepreneurial Leadership Program, or MELP, was a weeklong experience for 15 high school students. Presented by innovation fellows and scholars of the Catalyzing Entrepreneurship and Economic Development, or CEED, Initiative at the Grisham-McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement, the program took place June 19-24 on the Ole Miss campus.

Students from Pontotoc, Como, New Albany, Lexington, Greenwood, Tutwiler, Sardis and Memphis, Tennessee, participated this year. This included students from the M Partner counties of Holmes, Tallahatchie, Pontotoc and Union, where the university has engaged in more than 100 community-driven projects since 2018.

M Partner is a campuswide initiative that seeks to pair university resources with community-driven projects to improve quality of life in partner communities.

“The goal of the MELP program was to introduce students from around the state to the entrepreneurial spirit of community and economic development,” said Molly Archer, a CEED scholar who led the week’s events.

MELP students interacted with community leaders throughout Oxford and Lafayette County, and attended readings and lectures by professors, community leaders and students.

“This leadership program was initiated to stimulate an entrepreneurial mindset that can be utilized to solve community and state problems through community engagement,” said Albert Nylander, Grisham-McLean Institute director and professor of sociology.

The program is structured to cultivate innovative approaches to solving problems that students identify in their communities. They studied principles of entrepreneurship, data and demographics, environmental sustainability, and health and wellness.

This year included the use of virtual reality technologies to stimulate workforce skills.

“The impact from this weeklong program is being felt in communities across Mississippi,” said J.R. Love, CEED project manager. “Business and community leaders are seeing their local high school students develop action-oriented solutions for their own community.”

When asked about the impact the MELP experience had upon them, students responded positively.

“Before this, I wasn’t even thinking about being an entrepreneur,” said Jalin Lewis, of Tallahatchie County. “Now I have something to fall back on should I not achieve my original goal of playing in the NFL or the NBA.”

Ma’Kayla Moore, of Lexington, said MELP improved her communication skills.

“This program made me realize how shy I could be at times,” she said. “I now realize that I must have strong communications skills if I want to become a lawyer one day.”

The goal of MELP and M Partner is to bring about this type of inspired and innovative thinking, said Laura Martin, the institute’s associate director and director of M Partner.

“Thanks to our CEED students, program partners and the talented students who join us for MELP, we are able to learn from one another and join forces to address pressing social and economic problems in Mississippi,” Martin said. “I am optimistic that we can expand this program in the future and develop a network of partnerships across the state that will impact quality of life in Mississippi.”

Besides support from the Office of Pre-College Programs, other MELP partners include the university’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, School of Law, Department of Intercollegiate Athletics and Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, and Lobaki Inc. The Robert M. Hearin Foundation and Ole Miss alumnus Bill Fry also provided financial support to fund the CEED initiative and youth leadership and technology programs.

To learn more about the McLean Entrepreneurial Leadership Program, visit http://www.outreach.olemiss.edu/mcleanleadership. To learn more about M Partner, visit http://mpartner.olemiss.edu/.

Adam Brown
Adam Brown
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