Mississippi’s top students prep for experience better than ever imagined
Published 6:15 am Monday, May 22, 2023
Eighty high school students will flock to the University of Mississippi’s Trent Lott Leadership Institute this summer to learn leadership, earn school credits and set them on the path to achieve their goals.
The Lott Leadership Institute for Rising 12th Graders, which began in the late 1990s as a way to promote leadership and civic education among Mississippi rising seniors, will this year include students from as nearby as Oxford and as far away Germany. The program, designed and implemented in partnership with the Division of Outreach and Continuing Education‘s Summer College for High School Students, had more than 300 applicants from across the globe.
The highly competitive program will include international students for the first time since COVID-19, said Melissa Jones, associate director of the institute.
“There’s really a magic to this, and that’s why they come back,” Jones said. “We see an extremely high percentage of our Lott Rising 9th and 12th grade students come back to Ole Miss to get their degree.”
The Lott Rising 12th grade program gives 40 high school students an opportunity to earn seven college credits over one month of classes in political science, public speaking and leadership perspectives.
“We have been very intentional to have these specific classes because they are applicable to all students, regardless of what their major will be,” Jones said. “They have professors who are just phenomenal, and they pour into these students in a way that is truly amazing.”
At the conclusion of the program, the students travel for one week to Washington, D.C., to tour the nation’s Capitol, museums and monuments as well as meet with leaders from multiple industries and legislators such as U.S. Sens. Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith. For the first time, students this year also will take a behind-the-scenes tour of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Participants will have a rare opportunity to meet one-on-one with a representative or senator from their region and speak with executives from major companies such as Mercedes-Benz, Google and Spotify, Jones said.
“We’re meeting with industry leaders and leaders of our government,” she said. “It’s broadening their thoughts on all the ways they can get involved in this country.”
The students also devote time each year to volunteering for a community organization, often frequenting food banks, shelters or feeding the unhoused, Jones said. This year, the group will spend time working with the Abbeville Food Pantry.
The purpose of the work with the community organizations is to teach students that service is an inalienable part of leadership, Jones said.
“I think it’s good for the students to see that we’re right there with them,” she said. “Maybe this act of service will give someone else an opportunity to change their trajectory.”
In the Lott Rising ninth-grade program, which focuses primarily on Mississippi students, 40 ninth graders will study problems in American democracy to earn Carnegie units toward their high school degrees. At the conclusion of their two-week program, the students will travel to Vicksburg to tour and speak with leaders of the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center.
Like the seniors, the ninth graders will live in residence halls throughout their time on campus and experience life as a college student, Jones said.
“When you have students who are voluntarily taking classes during their summer vacations, you know they have a passion for learning,” Jones said.
Along with the opportunities to learn and grow on campus, students participate in games, water balloon fights and other bonding activities that help them grow from strangers to friends, all designed by Wendy Pfrenger, associate director of pre-college programs at Outreach and Continuing Education, Jones said.
“When they leave at the end of the sessions, you’ll see students tearing up because they’re leaving their best friends,” she said. “These are summers they never forget. They may not all come to Ole Miss, but they’ll always be a Lotty.”