Alliance fosters ‘New Beginning’ for Choctaw students

Published 4:28 pm Friday, January 14, 2022

By Nathan Gregory
MSU Extension Service

STARKVILLE, Miss. — The Mississippi State University Extension Service has been awarded a grant that will help educate, recruit and retain tribal students from the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians (MBCI) to succeed in college and in a career.

MSU and the Choctaw Division of Education signed a memorandum of understanding designed to strengthen partnerships between the university and the Choctaw tribe. The memorandum is associated with the grant, “New Beginning for Tribal Students,” awarded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The $500,000 grant includes a $250,000 match from MSU and MSU Extension. As the administrating organization of the state’s 4-H program, MSU Extension will offer a college and career readiness program called Build Your Future to MBCI high school students.

MSU Extension is partnering with the Center for 4-H Youth Development, MBCI Youth Opportunity Program, MBCI, MSU Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, Holmes Cultural Diversity Center, Indigenous Students Alliance and Allies (ISAA), and MSU departments of anthropology, sociology, and agricultural economics.

MBCI spokesperson Tia Grisham said Build Your Future will help students understand education requirements needed to enter their chosen career, financial requirements needed to take the required courses and how to set goals for the future.

“This curriculum gives students real-life information about career choices, pathways to success and how choices affect their lives,” Grisham said. “To me, Build Your Future can help students understand the hard work and dedication that is needed to be successful in college. It teaches students that they can achieve their career and life goals if they work hard for what they want.”

The Extension 4-H Center for Youth Development offers Choctaw students many opportunities to engage in programs that help with life skills. MSU Extension established a mentor program, Choctaw Agriculture Professionals Program for Students, in 2016. The program introduces Choctaw students to agricultural careers and majors offered at MSU that prepare college students for those careers.

Now an MSU Extension agent in Winston County, Jim McAdory helped start Choctaw Agriculture Professionals Program for Students when he was the Extension agent for MBCI before passing it along to current MBCI agent Kaiti Ford.

“This project is an outcome of the Choctaw Agriculture Professionals Program for Students program and relies very heavily on the relationships that were built during that time,” said Mariah Morgan, assistant Extension professor in the MSU Center for Technology Outreach. “Youth that participate in Build Your Future will be invited to a Choctaw Preview Day at MSU hosted by MSU Extension and MSU Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion.”

MSU Extension will also develop a family-focused college readiness program and deliver workshops focused on college-readiness skills at the MBCI and MSU campuses. Another course for MSU faculty and student advisors will be established to improve their advising of Choctaw students.