By STEVEN NALLEY
Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum used the Mississippi Economic Council’s annual Capital Day meeting in Jackson as a platform to announce a $6,000 scholarship paid over four years for each student-winner in MEC’s Student-Teacher Achievement Recognition (STAR) program.
The MEC and its M.B. Swayze Foundation have recognized STAR students for 46 years, with more than 300 public, private and parochial schools participating. According to an MSU press release, MSU is the first university in the state to provide a scholarship specifically for all STAR students, and Keenum said in the release that the scholarship is designed to augment other scholarships these students often obtain.
“Based on the ACT score and grade point average criteria for the STAR designation, and the criteria for our Freshman Academic Scholarships, we expect that each of these students will already be eligible for scholarships at Mississippi State ranging from $12,000 to $34,000, in addition to the $6,000 STAR Student Scholarship,” Keenum said in the release. “We (establish this scholarship) in the hope that it will encourage more of our best and brightest to attend college here in their home state, which increases the odds that they will also make their careers here in Mississippi.”
MSU University Relations Director Sid Salter said MSU’s investment in the STAR Student Scholarship is made possible by the strong fiscal health of MSU’s endowment.
“Dr. Keenum gave credit to the university’s donors for making this investment possible during his speech in Jackson,” Salter said.
Scott Waller, MEC senior vice president of public affairs, said the organization recognizes 250-300 graduating seniors as STAR Students each year. The award requires a minimum ACT score of 25 and a minimum high school grade average of 93, but Waller said any student who earns a 35 on the ACT automatically earns STAR student designation, opening the door for some schools to have more than one STAR student in a given year.
“Typically, you have one per high school, but occasionally, you have a high school that has more than one,” Waller said. “For instance ... Madison Central High School had more than one last year; they had seven. Madison has a graduating class of 450, so it’s a very large class.”
MEC does have its own Kelly Gene Cook, Sr. STAR Scholarships for the top 20 STAR Students, with $24,000 for the top winner, $20,000 for the first runner-up, $16,000 for the second runner-up and $500 for the remaining 17 winners. According to MSU’s website, MSU students must maintain 3.0 GPAs to retain scholarships.
David Gates, Mississippi president for Atmos Energy and chair of the M.B. Swayze Foundation, said he is pleased — both as a father and as an employer — to see MSU making a new effort to keep Mississippi’s best and brightest in the state for their college education. He said the Atmos employees who were educated at Mississippi colleges are often the ones who also stay with Atmos Energy Mississippi the longest.
“(In college), they make relationships with professors and other students,” Gates said. “When they continue their work, they have that network. It helps us keep them here and keep them happy. They want to work here; they want to have their families here.”