By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – The new director of the University of Mississippi’s McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement aims at focusing its resources on raising the quality of life statewide.
Albert Nylander is a Greenwood native who was most recently dean of graduate studies and continuing education and chair of the Division of Social Sciences at Delta State University, where he was also professor of sociology and community development.
It’s that “community development” that intrigues Nylander with the institute’s potential.
As a graduate student at Ole Miss, he studied under Vaughn Grisham, longtime director of what was then the McLean Institute for Community Development. Grisham coached leaders across America in lifting their communities’ economics and quality of life, often invoking “the Tupelo Model” of development pioneered by the late George McLean, the institute’s namesake, benefactor and longtime Daily Journal publisher who died in 1983.
The institute is now pursuing a more Mississippi-centric approach. Under Chancellor Dan Jones’ theme of “Transformation through service,” the institute will be a university-wide entity, helping coordinate in-state service efforts across all departments – especially as it applies to education.
“We’re one of the few states that doesn’t have universal preschool,” Nylander said. “The real answer to solving our problems is educating our people. It’s about literacy.”
Two programs in which the institute is already involved are Horizons and Jumpstart, both of which aim to fight poverty through education.
“Horizons is a national summer learning program, working with lower-income communities and trying to close that gap that we know occurs over the summer,” he said. Jumpstart trains college students and other volunteers to preschool children from low-income neighborhoods, exposing them to language and literacy they might not get at home to help them be prepared for kindergarten.
Another outreach is an intensive-English program partnership between Ole Miss and the Quitman County Schools.
“Change occurs by introducing these kids to the world,” Nylander said. Ole Miss international students visit the schools and tell about their native lands, drastically expanding the horizons of Delta kids.
Office to move
While Nylander temporarily works in a small walk-up office in Vardaman Hall, he will eventually direct several team members from a suite in the old Law School building, now undergoing renovation. A $600,000 anonymous donation is helping fund the McLean Institute’s expansion and its much more visible role as a part of the “Ole Miss 2020” strategic plan.
Nylander said one of his priorities will be to identify new ways of addressing needs of individual communities and the state as a whole.
“When you have such a strong and passionate leader for service as Chancellor Jones, there’s so much you can do. This university is filled with very smart individuals,” he said. “We’ll have a mission of centrally promoting and supporting all that is community engagement.”