Special to The Star
The Meridian Star
Mississippi State University-Meridian held its spring commencement exercises on Friday at MSU Riley Center with 124 degrees conferred. The graduates were from 40 cities/towns and two states.
There were 41 honor graduates and 40 Riley Scholars - individuals who received the Riley Next Step Scholarship, four semesters of tuition and fees, which was established in the fall of 2010 by The Riley Foundation and other generous donors.
Representative Charles L Young, Jr was commencement speaker.
Five students were also chosen as 2012-13 Outstanding Graduates; including a veteran educator, an underwriter, a caregiver, and a young woman with a passion for social work.
For the past two years, veteran educator Amanda Hanegan has taught math at Meridian High School by day and by night was a student at Mississippi State University-Meridian. The 39-year-old mother of two received a Master’s of Arts in Teaching Community College Education degree from MSU-Meridian at Friday's spring commencement.
Hanegan was also recognized by the division of education at MSU-Meridian as Outstanding Graduate student and earlier this year she was recognized by the Meridian Public School District as their Teacher of the Year.
“Teaching is truly a calling,” said Hanegan. “I felt the call one summer years ago when I was a counselor at Camp Discovery, a math and science camp in Natchitoches, Louisiana. At the time I was a Physics major at Northwestern State University. After that summer I decided I liked working with kids so I switched my major to education.”
She began her teaching career in Shreveport, not far from where she grew up, then she and her husband, whom she met at Camp Discovery, moved to Chicago. Then it was off to Dallas, Texas, where she continued to teach while he completed his residency and then the couple moved to Mississippi where Hanegan has taught for 13 years.
“I think going back to school was good for me in a lot of ways,” she reflected. “It helped me appreciate my students who are balancing work, school, and other responsibilities at home since I had to learn to juggle those same activities. I also think it was good for my children to see the effort and determination and sacrifice it takes to earn a degree.”
Underwriter at local bank
Meridian native Andrew Evans works full time at Citizens National Bank, and he just completed a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree from Mississippi State University-Meridian.
Evans was also selected by the division of Business at MSU-Meridian as its Outstanding Graduate student for 2012-2013. And he’s accomplished all of this at the tender age of 23.
Evans took college classes at the University of Mississippi between his junior and senior year of high school through the university’s Jump Start program. He also took two classes through the dual enrollment program at MCC. By the time he graduated from Meridian High in 2008, he had already earned 18 credits and was able to graduate college in 2 1/2 years.
Once he came back home with degrees in Finance, Real Estate & Banking, Evans decided to get started on his MBA, even before he was hired at Citizens. He worked in several different departments before landing his current job, consumer loan underwriter. Although his dad, a local attorney, encouraged him to go to law school, he fell in love with what he was doing at the bank and decided to finish his MBA instead.
“The MBA program at MSU-Meridian was very worthwhile and so hands-on. I particularly enjoyed the real-life situational discussions we would have in class,” Evans said. “I also really enjoy working at Citizens, they’ve been very good to me and a great company to work for. I would like to stay here and I believe earning my MBA will help me advance within the bank someday should the opportunity arise.”
Caregiver for elderly mother
Paul White has had plenty of experience with healthcare issues in the 21st century since he became his mother’s caregiver 10 years ago. That’s why the 44-year-old chose to pursue a degree in Healthcare Administration at MSU-Meridian when he decided to go back to school.
White earned a Horticulture degree from Meridian Community College and forestry training from Tuskegee University several years ago. But the healthcare industry piqued his interest and so back to school he went.
“I’ve had a lot of questions about insurance, billing, and other health-related complexities since caring for my mother,” White said, “so I thought getting a degree in the field might help me better navigate the system.”
White graduated in May with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Healthcare Administration and was chosen by the division of Business as its Outstanding Undergraduate student.
“My experience at MSU-Meridian was outstanding - the professors were all very attentive and responsive. They gave me specific answers to the questions I had and I found that very gratifying. I felt ready to tackle my internship at Rush Foundation Hospital at the completion of the degree program,” noted White.
“Although my home base at Rush was human resources, I had the opportunity to go through almost every department from maintenance to the sleep lab and admissions as well as billing, accounting, imaging, credentialing and information systems. Everyone I encountered was quite impressed with the depth of knowledge I brought into my internship and I credit Dr. Carl Young, assistant professor of Healthcare Administration at MSU-Meridian, for that.
White’s future plans include enrolling in the M.B.A. program at MSU-Meridian and later pursuing a career in Healthcare.
A call to Social Work
Alicia Rodriquez has been on her own since she was 18 years old. She graduated from Vicksburg High school in 2009 then put herself through school at Meridian Community College. She received the Riley Next Step Scholarship at MSU-Meridian which paid her tuition and fees, and she was a work-study student and held another part-time job all while she pursued a degree in Social Work.
She would be the first to tell you that she didn’t do anything special – working to support herself and attend school – all while maintaining good grades. But the division of Arts and Sciences at MSU-Meridian thought differently when they named her the 2012-2013 Outstanding undergraduate student.
Rodriquez doesn’t like to talk about her growing up years – but they were hard. She understands, more than some of her fellow classmates, the ins and outs of the social work system they have been studying. And she hopes she will be a better social worker because of her life experiences.
“I guess it was about 9th grade when I thought – social work is what I want to do when I grow up – and I’ve never changed my career path. My first encounter with a social worker was in 7th grade and quite frankly, I lied when answering the questions she had for me. It wasn’t until later that I realized she was there to help me,” said Rodriquez. “I understand someone doesn’t have to have the background I had to be a good social worker, but I think I will be more apt to recognize the environmental situations that kids go through and I’ll know what to look for, at least.”
Rodriquez spent her last semester doing her practicum work, not with youth, but with Care Lodge domestic violence shelter and worked there part-time. She plans to attend the University of Mississippi this fall to pursue a graduate degree in Social Work.