For nearly five years, Uplift’s Road to College program has provided students the opportunity to get the college experience by visiting campuses across the state and nation starting in the sixth grade. Now, thanks to the collective efforts of Uplift board member Donell Wiggins, Uplift South Dallas board member Bruce Ware, Road to College counselors, and the University of Mississippi, Uplift students have the opportunity to participate in the Grisham Fellows Program—a new partnership between Uplift and Ole Miss that provides a weeklong joint service-learning and college-going experience on the campus of the University of Mississippi.
In the spring of 2012, Mrs. Wiggins and her husband, Phillip Wiggins, who is on the board of the McLean Institute at the University of Mississippi, toured McLean Institute projects in the Mississippi Delta. Dr. Stephen Monroe, Asst. Dean Liberal Arts, conducted the tour and the three began talking about community service opportunities. From there, the idea grew as Mrs. Wiggins brought it to Mr. Ware, an Old Miss alumnus, and Deborah Bigham, Uplift Chief Development Officer, and the Road to College team.
“I was the first member of my family to graduate from college and was given some wonderful opportunities to travel and experience college students from other places. It was a game changer for me; the world became a bigger place. We have outstanding students at Uplift and it is such a pleasure to facilitate this type of experience for them – to pay it forward,” Mrs. Wiggins said.
The University of Mississippi developed the weeklong schedule including service at an elementary school in the Mississippi Delta, a college dorm experience, a college lecture given by the namesakes of the award, Dr. and Mrs. Vaughn Grisham, tours of the campus and Oxford, Mississippi, tours of the Barksdale Honors College and the Croft Institute, a meeting with Chancellor Dan Jones, a tour of Rowan Oak, home of William Faulkner, and a picnic and concert in the grove as well as many other activities.
During the first week of June, 16 inaugural fellows, who were chosen through an extensive application and interview process from all the Uplift high schools, traveled to Mississippi with Road to College directors Aleta Estrada and Denise Castaneda as well as Mrs. Ware and Mr. Wiggins.
At Crenshaw elementary with the help of the Americorps VISTAS program, the students painted a mural in the school foyer, read to students in the summer reading program, and helped create a school garden where students would be able to grown their own vegetables to serve at lunch. Ms. Estrada said it was both an educational and inspirational experience for the students.
“Going to Crenshaw and working in the school helped the students realize that they can make an impact on a community even when they don’t have a lot. And, even though Mississippi is far away, it got them thinking about what could they be doing in their own communities to make a difference. They learned that they might not always have all the resources but small things can make a big difference,” Ms. Estrada said.
Ms. Estrada also said the visit to Mississippi exposed students to a state and college they may not have otherwise considered. During the college experience, they learned about campus traditions, took tours, met with the admission office, completed a scavenger hunt, and had a picnic on The Grove. From this experience, Ms. Estrada added all the juniors who attended the program have decided to apply to Ole Miss and many of the other students have put the school on the list.
“Just like Dr. Grisham said in his lecture, ‘Knowledge plus experience equals wisdom.’” All the kids here at the program already had knowledge before the trip even started, and now that we got the last part of the formula (experience), we can become wise leaders in the world,” Cesar Covarrubias, Uplift high school student said.