Task force brings wide-scale collaboration

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO Last year’s announcement was unprecedented.
University of Mississippi Chancellor Dan Jones and Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum stood together at the CREATE Foundation’s annual State of the Region meeting in May and announced that the two large research universities were forming a partnership to boost Northeast Mississippi.
For one, it was significant that the two universities, rivals on the playing field, were working together in such a public way.
But more important, the announcement created a great opportunity for Northeast Mississippi. With a task force of leaders from the two institutions now dedicated to the region’s improvement, possibilities are broad.
“I think it is potentially very powerful for the region, and I believe if the universities are successful through this task force, it can serve as a model for other regions in Mississippi,” CREATE Senior Vice President Lewis Whitfield, also a member of the task force, said in July.
The 20-member group includes leaders from both universities in a variety of fields, including student affairs, research, engineering and education.
It has met in Tupelo three times and invited 21 community leaders to participate at its third meeting. That group included Northeast Mississippi superintendents, as well as presidents of colleges and development foundations.
The task force’s work will focus on education, access to higher education and economic development. If Northeast Mississippi is to grow in any of these areas over the next decade, it seems likely the task force will play a big role.
“We can demonstrate a commitment to the region and a commitment to work with leaders in the region on solutions,” said Jerry Gilbert, MSU provost and executive vice president. “We have a lot of talent in our faculty, and those individuals can work to come up with solutions.”
In March, the task force will present a report detailing how it can lead improvement in each of those three areas. A subcommittee will then see that those recommendations are implemented, said Andy Mullins, chief of staff to the chancellor at the University of Mississippi.
“We have gotten to know our counterparts at the other university a little better, and we understand more about what Mississippi State does in the region and they understand more about how Ole Miss contributes to the region,” Mullins said. “I think CREATE will understand more of what goes on that they probably didn’t know about and ways they can access the universities to help improve the lives of those who live in the CREATE region.”
Task force members hope the group will serve as a national model of how universities can develop their home region.
“For Northeast Mississippi, success will be reflected in higher levels of education leading to higher per capita income and healthier individuals, families and communities,” Linda Chitwood, dean of the school of applied science at the University of Mississippi, said in July.
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@journalinc.com.