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Terrance Burks: sparking a love for STEM in students

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L to R: John Starritt and Terrance Burks

STEM fields—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—are full of surprises. They offer endless career positions, opportunities and success stories.

Professor Terrance Burks is one of those success stories. 

Born and raised in Vicksburg, Burks admits that he didn’t start college with an interest in STEM subjects.

“I had no idea what an engineer was when I was in high school,” Burks said. “I would hear my friends talk about their parents as an engineer, but I had no idea what they did.

“So this young lady, [who] was my entire heart when I was younger, and I were talking, and she said ‘I want to be a chemical engineer one day.’ I replied ‘Oh really?’ I liked her and thought I’d do the same.”

While pursuing an education in engineering, Burks had many second thoughts regarding his choice of discipline. It was his parents who kept him focused. 

“Back in my day, you couldn’t just give up,” he said. “My parents came too far for me to give up, so even if I didn’t like it, I had no choice but to keep going.”

Burks went on to graduate from the University of Colorado. Shortly after crossing the stage, career opportunities began to cross his path.

“I went to high school here, and then I went to college in Colorado and received my bachelor’s in chemical engineering and petroleum refining, and master’s degree in mathematics and computer science,” he said. “I then went to work with Intel.”

At Intel, Burks traveled throughout the U.S. and internationally, first as a graduate rotation engineer for seven years, and then as an operations manager in Portland, Ore., for two years.

“After completing some other programs, I was asked if I wanted to do a summer internship in Stockholm, Sweden. Initially, I said no because I didn’t have a reason to go, but they’d already put my name into the hat for the position,” he said. “So long story short, it was already paid for, and I completed the internship and spent almost 10 years in Sweden.”

Burks completed his graduate studies at Stockholm University.

Despite a lack of interest when he set foot in the field, Burks prospered and fell in love with his work. When he came back to Vicksburg in 2016, he was given an opportunity to show the city’s youth how STEM could play a beneficial role in their lives.

“When I came to Vicksburg, I met Dr. Robert Carr. I was doing some initial work with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund before I came to Alcorn,” Burks said. “I was sitting in the Alcorn Branch in Vicksburg, and Dr. Carr, who was the dean of the education department, I think he was watching me for my work ethics.

“He pulled me aside one day and just asked me some questions, and based upon my response and my excitement for education, particularly in the STEM field, he asked me if I would work for Alcorn under him. I never in my wildest imagination thought that I would be in a university setting. I’m a researcher by heart, but sometimes God allows you to go out and to see how your work can be applicable to people.”

In addition to being a professor at Alcorn State University, Burks has also served as the co-director of the Thurgood Marshall Foundation’s Vivian Burey Marshall Academy, which allows students in sixth through 10th grades to learn more about STEM by competing in a variety of competitions all over the U.S.

Burks credits his amazing support system and his ever-growing faith for keeping him strong minded throughout every situation he encounters.

“I can get through anything if I have prayer and God,” Burks said. “I have the ability to strip who I am and pick up what I need to to navigate myself through this world.”

As a professor at Alcorn State University, he dedicates his life to the younger generation and does his best to spark an interest in STEM subjects with them.

Burks proves that hard work and consistency pays off.

“Never compare yourself to anyone else,” he said. “I cannot compare myself to anyone because we all have a different purpose, and we all will have a different outcome in life.”

Education

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.

 

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Education

State Board of Education seeks a rising high school junior as representative

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The Mississippi State Board of Education is seeking applications from rising high school juniors who wish to serve as the junior student representative to the State Board starting in the 2020-21 school year.

The SBE student representative program includes one high school junior and one high school senior who serve as non-voting SBE members and provide input on policy decisions that affect Mississippi public schools. The current junior SBE representative, Omar Jamil of DeSoto County Schools, will serve as the senior representative in 2020-21.

Through a competitive process, the SBE will appoint one rising junior to serve as a student representative for a two-year term starting in 2020-21.

Student representatives are responsible for attending monthly SBE meetings and any standing committees or subcommittees to which they are assigned. Student representatives are excused from school to attend SBE meetings as official school business.

The SBE adopted a policy in 2018 outlining the criteria for adding student representatives to the State Board.

Students who wish to apply to serve as the SBE junior representative starting in the 2020-21 school year must complete the application posted on the MDE website.

Completed applications are due by 5 p.m. January 31, 2020.

For questions, contact Donna Hales at 601-359-2331 or dhales@mdek12.org.

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Muse announces his retirement from Hinds CC

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Hinds Community College President Dr. Clyde Muse announced to the college Board of Trustees today his intention to retire on June 30, 2020.

Muse has served 42 years as president of the college and 68 years as an educator. He became president of then-Hinds Junior College on July 1, 1978. He is the longest serving community college president in Mississippi history and among the longest-serving college presidents in the nation.

“Although I was called as a ‘servant’ early in my life, I could never have imagined the path that God would lead me and the blessings I would receive on my journey,” Muse said in a statement to Hinds employees. “Any success for which I have been credited is because I had the best team standing beside me.

“Over these years, we’ve enjoyed a great deal of success, and it is most certainly due to the dedication and commitment of each one of you. We are often considered as one of the best community colleges.”

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