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Tribute to Wife Benefits UM Elementary Education Program

By Tina H. Hahn

University of Mississippi

Chuck (left) and Lisa Nicholson visit with Emily Boyce and Chancellor Glenn Boyce before a luncheon at the University of Mississippi, where Lisa Nicholson learned her husband had created a School of Education scholarship endowment in her name. The scholarship will assist Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program participants. Photo by Kirsten Simpson/University Development

Chuck Nicholson, of Brandon, expressed his love and respect for his wife, Lisa, by creating a scholarship in her name at the University of Mississippi School of Education and an Impact Fund gift.

The $250,000 contribution was a surprise to Lisa Nicholson, a former teacher who learned of the gift at a luncheon hosted by Chancellor Glenn Boyce and his wife, Emily.

The Lisa Ikerd Nicholson Elementary Education Scholarship Endowment is the first for elementary education majors in the Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program, an honors college-style program that produces a steady stream of high-performing teachers to address the severe teacher shortage. Each participant in the program commits to teach at least five years in a Mississippi public school.

Lisa Nicholson said she felt “overwhelmed” upon hearing of the scholarship.

“To choose the School of Education, where I graduated, and name the scholarship for me is really an honor,” she said. “It was a very special day. We’ve always been taught to give back – it’s a quality that’s been instilled in both of us.

“This gift is a reflection of my husband’s character. He’s such a giving person.”

The Nicholsons, who celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary in 2022, met on a blind date in 1979 while Ole Miss students. Lisa Nicholson graduated in 1982 as an elementary education major, and Chuck Nicholson, president and CEO of Community Bancshares Inc., graduated in 1981 with a business degree.

“I’ve been planning to make a gift to Ole Miss for some time, and I wanted to honor Lisa,” Chuck Nicholson said. “She has always supported me in my career and our family. When we used to go to high school football games, I would see all the students who would come up to hug her neck. I realized just how much of an impact she had as a teacher, and that impact was not possible without her education from Ole Miss.

“Recipients of this scholarship should know that Lisa was a humble servant to students. She taught because of her passion for teaching and that’s how she could make a difference. I wanted to recognize her because she is not one to raise her hand to be recognized.”

The Nicholsons are impressed with the Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program.

“The program is bridging that gap in the teacher shortage,” said Lisa Nicholson, a native of Friars Point. “For its students to graduate debt-free is something great.

“When Chuck and I were at Ole Miss, we had to take out student loans. My parents instilled in me the value of an education, so it wasn’t something I took for granted. I also applied for a grant and worked in the Financial Aid Office at Ole Miss to pay it back. And now a scholarship has been created in my name! You just never know where life is going to take you.”

The educator taught 14 years in 4-year-old kindergarten, as well as first, second and fifth grades in the Mississippi cities of Meridian and Star. She described teaching as a “calling.”

“You have to go into it with an attitude that it’s service,” she said. “Teaching is not the career to earn a big salary. I never really thought about anything other than becoming a teacher because I loved helping students.

“I was impressed that the Ole Miss School of Education gets students out in classrooms early in their college years to observe, so they will see what it’s really like.”

David Rock, dean of the School of Education, expressed gratitude for the Nicholson’s’ gift.

“We appreciate the great value this couple places on educational opportunities and on teacher preparation,” he said. “This gift will have a far-reaching impact as the scholarship assistance transforms recipients’ lives and they, in turn, go forth and transform the lives of their students and respective schools.

“While paying tribute to Lisa Nicholson, one of our own, this gift will strengthen what has become one of the top teacher-education scholarship programs in the nation and will have a significant bearing on school districts in Mississippi. It’s definitely a gift that will keep giving.”

A collaboration between Ole Miss and Mississippi State University, the Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program is designed to be an investment in the state’s future. Since METP’s 2013 launch at Ole Miss, 124 students – representing 27 states – have graduated from the program and have gone on to teach in 42 different Mississippi school districts. By multiplying a five-year commitment times 124 students, this guarantees some 620 years of commitment to quality instruction.

The Nicholsons said their gift also reflects that Ole Miss represents some of their best memories.

“I look at all the opportunities I’ve been afforded, including my career path; I received a fine education from the School of Business Administration,” said Chuck Nicholson, who provides alumni leadership on UM’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the University of Mississippi Foundation boards. “I think it’s important to give back to provide others those great experiences and propel them toward successful careers, creating an exponential increase in making everyone’s lives better.”

“We have a lot of great pride in the university,” Lisa Nicholson said. “It’s a sense of coming back home. We have many special memories during our Ole Miss college years. It’s where we made lifelong friends.”

The Nicholson’s daughters, Sara Michelle Ruffin (Corey) and Kristin Hawley (Hunter), both earned UM degrees. Ruffin earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing and practices at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Hawley received a master’s degree in occupational therapy from UMMC.

Nicholson directed $200,000 to the Lisa Ikerd Nicholson Elementary Education Scholarship Endowment and $50,000 to the School of Education Annual Impact Fund, which provides flexible annual funding for the entire School of Education. Both funds are open to receiving gifts from individuals or organizations by sending a check, with the fund’s name written in the memo line, to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655, or making a gift online.

To support the Lisa Ikerd Nicholson Elementary Education Scholarship Endowment, click here.

To support the School of Education Annual Impact Fund, click here.

For more information on supporting the School of Education, contact Kelly Smith Marion, associate director of development, at ksmith13@olemiss.edu or 662-915-2007.

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Adam Brown
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