The February UM education student of the month, Cornell grew up as the youngest of six children in Azusa, California. He graduated from Bishop Amat High School in 2006 with a football scholarship to Ole Miss. He graduated in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in political science.
“He’s become an outstanding teacher in a short time,” said Aaron Johnson acting Teacher Corps program manager who nominated Cornell. “I think it’s because he’s extremely positive and wants to share his experiences. He came from a challenging background in California, then became a successful football player, then he became a teacher in a critical needs school. He reaches out to his students and teaches in an almost coaching fashion.”
During his undergraduate years, the athlete-turned-teacher said he became intellectually inspired by several UM faculty members including political science professor Susan Allen—one of multiple teachers, he remembers, who inspired him to think deeper and even apply the mindset of a linebacker to his studies.
“I knew we were reaching him when he started drawing parallels between theories of international conflict and football,” said Allen. “I have no doubt that his students in Meridian are starting to make connections between the things they learn in Mr. Cornell’s class and their everyday lives.”
During one of Allen’s political science classes, Cornell remembers submitting drafts of a research paper while the professor continually asked him to reevaluate his work with questions such as “Why do you think this?” and “Why do you propose that?”
Former University of Mississippi middle linebacker Jonathan Cornell has gone from breaking through offensive linemen to teaching Meridian High School students about African American literature and public speaking during his first year in the Mississippi Teacher Corps.