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Ellie Dahmer, activist, educator and widow of civil rights icon, to receive honorary doctorate

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The University of Southern Mississippi will award an honorary doctorate to Ellie J. Dahmer, civil rights activist and lifelong educator, at its commencement ceremony on Friday, Dec. 13.

The presentation will take place during the 9 a.m. ceremony in the Bernard Reed Green Coliseum on USM’s Hattiesburg campus.

Largely recognized for her work alongside her late husband, voting rights icon Vernon F. Dahmer Sr., Ellie Dahmer will be honored for her contributions to the American Civil Rights Movement and her advocacy for literacy and academic achievement.

Together, the Dahmers facilitated voter registration drives and accepted poll tax monies at their family-owned grocery store, located in the Kelly Settlement of Forrest County, to fight voter suppression and promote civic involvement throughout the county and Hattiesburg, Miss.

“It is truly a special occasion when the University has the opportunity to bestow an honorary doctorate upon an individual whose work has made an impact on countless others and our community as a whole,” said University President Rodney D. Bennett in a statement. “Mrs. Dahmer is certainly an individual whose life’s work has helped to transform the hearts and minds of many as we continue to work toward a more inclusive and educated citizenry.”

The honorary doctorate is among the highest forms of recognition at the University. Nominees for the honorary degree should have demonstrated in their life and their work high standards of excellence as evidenced by criteria of scholarship, creative activity or service. Nominations are reviewed by the institution’s Honorary Degree Committee, whose recommendation is transmitted to the University Provost, who then makes a recommendation to the University President. Ultimately all honorary degree recommendations are submitted to the State Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees for final review and approval.

“Through the honorary doctorate, the faculties of the university, as represented by the Honorary Degree Committee, recognize individuals of exceptional merit and impact,” said Steven R. Moser, USM provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. “Mrs. Dahmer is such an individual, and her selection for this honor represents our wish to pay tribute to her life-long commitment to improving the lives of citizens in Forrest County and indeed across Mississippi.”

A native of Jasper County, Miss., Mrs. Dahmer moved to Forrest County during the early 1950s and taught for many years in the segregated Forrest County school system. Despite her immense teaching qualifications, she was denied a renewed contract after school consolidation due to her husband’s efforts and leadership as an advocate of voter rights.

Although the Voting Rights Act of 1965 provided all races equal access to voting rights, the state of Mississippi still required residents to pay a poll tax, which impeded many black potential voters. As a result, Mr. Dahmer publicly announced that he would pay the poll tax for any person who wanted to vote but could not afford it.

The following night, Jan. 10, 1966, members of the Ku Klux Klan firebombed the Dahmer’s home and business while the family slept. Mr. Dahmer stayed behind to return gunshots, allowing time for Mrs. Dahmer and their children to escape their burning home. Tragically, Mr. Dahmer succumbed to severe burns and smoke inhalation and died shortly after in the hospital.

Following her husband’s death, Mrs. Dahmer remained on the family’s land and rebuilt her home with the support of local community members. She held multiple part-time jobs, such as cosmetology and newspaper sales, to provide for herself and her children while maintaining the family’s farm, which generously provided resources for anyone in need.

“Mrs. Dahmer’s life has been one of great sacrifice, whereby she stood strong and exemplified tenacity and personal conviction while continuing her quest to serve her community and, more importantly, her family,” said former USM Dean of Students Eddie A. Holloway. “While facing her tragedy, she continued to be a resource for others who depended on her for inspiration and support. Mrs. Dahmer is a Civil Rights icon in Mississippi as well as America.”

Mrs. Dahmer testified against those involved in her husband’s murder in numerous federal and state trials, which unfortunately resulted in hung juries, mistrials and a few state convictions that were quickly followed by pardons. Still, Mrs. Dahmer persevered and continued the work she and her husband started, serving as Election Commissioner for District 2 of Forrest County for 12 years, and pledging her life to family, education and equal rights.

Decades later, Mrs. Dahmer played a pivotal role in getting her husband’s case reopened. In 1998, the Dahmer family received the justice they had been longing for – the life sentencing of KKK Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers, who was found guilty in the murder of Vernon F. Dahmer Sr.

A lifetime of service has established Mrs. Dahmer as a pillar of Hattiesburg, Forrest County and the state of Mississippi. She taught public school for a total of 38 years in Jasper, Jones, Forrest and Perry counties; holds a life membership in the NAACP; and is a founding member of the Beta Chi Sigma Chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. She is also an active member of Shady Grove Baptist Church, where she has taught the Senior Women’s Sunday School Class for more than 60 years.

“I am proud that the University’s Honorary Degree Committee recommended Mrs. Dahmer for this honor, and especially proud to confer upon her the degree Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa,” said USM President Bennett.

Mrs. Dahmer holds a Bachelor of Science in home economics from Tennessee State Agricultural and Industrial College and an elementary education certification from Jackson State University. She also completed graduate course work at Indiana University.

USM’s Fall 2019 Commencement Exercises will be held Thursday, Dec. 12, at 6 p.m. for graduate students and Friday, Dec. 13, at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m., for undergraduate students in Bernard Reed Green Coliseum in Hattiesburg.

 

Education

MS high school students encouraged to compete in cyber-security games

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(photo by councilcle from Pixabay)

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves announced the state’s participation in CyberStart America Tuesday. CyberStart is an innovative, online cybersecurity talent search and competition sponsored by the National Cyber Scholarship Foundation and the SANS Institute.

Mississippi high school-aged students are encouraged to explore their aptitude for cybersecurity and computer science by participating in the program. Participants can win prizes, scholarships and recognition for their schools.

The CyberStart America program is a series of 100% online challenges that allow students to act as cyber protection agents, solving cybersecurity-related puzzles and exploring related topics such as code breaking, programming, networking and digital forensics. The program can be assigned as part of homework, can form the basis of an extracurricular club or students can just try it on their own.

Participating students and their teachers do not need knowledge or experience in information technology or cybersecurity to take part. Everything they need can be learned in the game. The program is free for schools and students, and all Mississippi students in grades nine through 12 are invited to participate. Building on the success of last year’s Girls Go CyberStart program, this year’s CyberStart Game is open to all high school students. Anyone who reaches level 5 in the game will qualify for the national competition to win scholarships. To encourage participation of young women and JROTC cadets, specific communities have been established for those groups, offering additional support and community-specific awards within the overall scholarship competition.

The National Cyber Scholarship Foundation anticipates awarding scholarships worth $2 million for use at any accredited college to 600 high-scoring students across the nation who participate in the competition in 2021. Students compete for state-specific and community-specific prizes, as well as national championship status. There will also be incentives for Mississippi high schools to encourage more students to reach the qualifying level in the CyberStart game, including exclusive access to additional cybersecurity education resources and recognized cyber skills mastery badges for their students.

“The CyberStart America Program is an excellent and fun opportunity for students who think they may be interested in cybersecurity to determine if they have the passion and aptitude to pursue it as a career,” Reeves said in a statement. “Mississippi high schools have competed and placed well in this competition the last several years, and I cannot wait to see our students go even further.”

Find complete details about the program at www.cyberstartamerica.org. High school students can register for the program and invite their friends to join them through Feb. 28, 2021. Students will be informed if they qualify for the CyberStart National Scholarship Challenge Round as soon as they have achieved sufficient progress, but they can continue playing and learning to build skills that will be useful to them in the Nationals. To see the types of challenges students will face in the games, visit https://go.cyberstart.com.

“This program supports computer science education and its growing importance in our schools and our economy,” said Dr. Carey Wright, state superintendent of education. “I encourage all Mississippi high schools to share the CyberStart America opportunity with their students and to support their participation. There is no limit to what students can achieve when they are provided with challenging opportunities that give them the chance to excel.”

In a pilot test of CyberStart America targeted to young women during the last school year, 146 students from Mississippi high schools participated and seven succeeded in reaching the national finals. With CyberStart America now open to boys as well as girls, Mississippi hopes to triple the number of students participating and reaching the scholarship round.

“Cybersecurity is the new frontier for protecting infrastructure, personal information and financial data,” said Lora Hunter, interim director of the Mississippi Office of Homeland Security and state coordinator for the program. “The Mississippi Office of Homeland Security deals with these critical areas every day. Mississippi needs a pipeline of talented cybersecurity professionals to help protect our way of life.”

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Education

MS treasurer announces Black Friday giveaway to encourage saving for college

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Monday, Mississippi Treasurer David McRae announced a $1,000 Black Friday giveaway to encourage Mississippians to begin saving for college.

College Savings Mississippi, a division of the State Treasury, will be giving one lucky family a $1,000 scholarship when they open a Mississippi Affordable College Savings account between Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

“With Black Friday as the traditional kick-off to holiday shopping, we’re hoping to remind Mississippians that the gift of a college degree is a gift that will keep on giving,” McRae said in a news release. “Whether you’re a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle, consider making a contribution to a loved one’s college savings plan this gift-giving season.”

A tax-advantaged MACS account, which can be opened for as little as $25, offers families maximum flexibility. The money contributed to this account can be used for tuition, books, supplies, and certain room and board expenses, as well as elementary and secondary tuition expenses for younger students.

For the Black Friday Giveaway, any family who opens a new MACS account between Nov. 27 (“Black Friday”) and Nov. 30 (“Cyber Monday”) will be entered to win the $1,000 scholarship. The winner will be drawn at random.

To open an account, visit Treasury.MS.gov/CollegeSavings. For complete rules for the giveaway, download this document (PDF).

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Project SEARCH provides internships for students with disabilities in Vicksburg

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The Project SEARCH interns at Merit Health River Region are eager to learn new skills. (photo courtesy MHRR)

A national program designed to help students with disabilities obtain competitive community-based employment has expanded to Vicksburg through a strategic collaboration of the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services, Merit Health River Region and the Vicksburg Warren School District.

Project SEARCH Merit Health River Region is offering up to 12 students from the Vicksburg Warren School District an eight-month internship position during the 2020-21 school year. This opportunity allows the students to work on employability and functional skills in several areas including team building, technology, communication, job search skills and money management.

“We are proud to partner with the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services and the Vicksburg Warren School District to provide skill development opportunities for the Project SEARCH interns,” said Ben Richaud, CEO of Merit Health River Region, in a statement. “The interns have been a great addition to our team, and I’m impressed by their enthusiasm and work ethic.”

“Our District’s vision is to graduate all students college, career and life prepared — and all means all,” said Chad Shealy, superintendent of the Vicksburg Warren School District. “We are excited about this opportunity and appreciate the partnership with Merit Health River Region and Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services. Providing real-life work experiences for our students with disabilities will help build the foundation these kids need to be successful in the workplace. Project SEARCH positively changes the trajectory for these children by giving them a head-start on a meaningful career that they want and deserve.”

“Our mission as a state agency is perfectly matched with that of Project SEARCH,” said Chris Howard, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services. “Our goal is for these interns to gain full-time employment with benefits after they have completed this program. Our partnership with Merit Health River Region and the Vicksburg Warren School District is making this goal possible for these students.”

Project SEARCH first came to Mississippi in 2015 and now includes 11 sites across the state.

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