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STARKVILLE, Miss.–A 20-member Mississippi State class soon will hold the honor of being the first at the university receiving scholarships in the recently announced Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program.

Richard Blackbourn, College of Education dean, said members of what he termed “the honors college for education majors” are being chosen from among 53 applicants.

Announced statewide in late January, the MSU program is enrolling top incoming freshmen and community college transfer students majoring in English and mathematics education curriculums. The goal is to increase the number of Mississippi middle and high school teachers in these subject areas, the dean said.

According to Blackbourn, those accepting the scholarships so far have an average 3.85 grade-point average (based on a 4.0 scale), and a composite ACT score of 29.

“It’s no surprise that we’ve attracted this number of outstanding students so quickly; Mississippi State is known for the quality of its education programs,” he said. “Combine that with the university’s prestigious reputation and you have, we feel, a win-win situation for both our majors and students in the state’s middle and high schools.”

Praising them as “clearly the best of the best,” the veteran educator and administrator said, “Not only do their test scores and academic credentials well exceed those of the state average, but all of the candidates went through a rigorous interview process with a committee of faculty members who all have expertise in teaching.”

Funded by more than $12.9 million from the Jackson-based Robert M. Hearin Foundation, the new MSU education scholars are receiving awards covering tuition, room and board for up to four years. In return, graduates will commit to teach in Mississippi for at least five years.

“A passion for teaching was one of the critical admission criteria,” Blackbourn stressed. “This generation of students has a great interest in service to the community, with almost all of the candidates having been involved in many different volunteer and service activities with children.”

Austin Funhouser of Southaven and Gabriela Saab of Mobile, Ala., already have joined MSU’s first education scholar class.

Funkhouser said experience he has had tutoring peers led him to consider the teaching profession.

“I thought, ‘Maybe I could have a career in this,'” said the Desoto Central High School senior who will major in mathematics education.

Saab, a McGill Toolen Catholic High School senior who will major in English education, said, “It gives me great joy to serve others, and it helps me to grow as a student and adult. Being selected for this program is both thrilling and humbling.”

The class roll will be announced once the final scholar-designate has accepted the invitation to participate.

The METP is a joint effort of MSU’s education college and the School of Education at the University of Mississippi.

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