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Katie Summer

COLUMBUS, Miss. -- Mississippi University for Women’s mission to serve the community doesn’t stop in the summer.

Thanks to the Ina E. Gordy Honors College’s Summer Community Engagement Program, 12 students from The W are assisting local partners in their mission and earning valuable hands-on experience. The students, who are called Nancy Yates Fellows in recognition of W alumna Dr. Nancy Yates, were paired with non-profit community partners in Columbus or Starkville and are working 32 hours a week. They also spend one day a week together as a cohort exploring the role of non-profits and engaging in leadership development.

“The Yates family’s financial contribution has been instrumental in helping to launch the Summer Community Engagement Program,” The W President Nora Miller said. “Nancy Yates has dedicated so much of her life to serving her community and her alma mater, so it is fitting that these students be recognized as Nancy Yates Fellows. I am grateful for the opportunities this program provides for our students and for our community.”

Karina Garcia and Kaitlyn George (Boys & Girls Club of Columbus), Kaitlyn Lowe (Catch-A-Dream Foundation), Emma Beeler (Columbus Arts Council), Faith Langford (Columbus Cultural Heritage Foundation), Santania Thompson (Columbus Housing Authority), Shirli Salihaj (Columbus-Lowndes Habitat for Humanity), Kaitlyn Lewis (Columbus-Lowndes Humane Society), Ali Glasgow (Columbus-Lowndes Public Library), Charity James (The Salvation Army of Columbus), Katie Summer (Sunshine Stables) and Chesne Joyner (YMCA) are participating in the five-week program, which began in May and runs through June 25.

Dr. Kim Whitehead, director of the Ina E. Gordy Honors College, proposed the program last summer. She said the Gordy Honors College has long emphasized high-impact experiences outside the classroom and since 2018 has been matching students with local non-profits for community service. Anna Lee Fairley, who graduated from The W in 2019 and just finished two terms with AmeriCorps in California, is the program mentor.

“Proposing this summer program was a natural outgrowth of the Honors College’s community engagement courses,” Whitehead said. “We had already seen how transformative these experiences are for our students and how much our students can offer to the community. Receiving the very generous gift to create the Fellowship and the program made it possible for more students to be involved and to have a much greater impact in the Golden Triangle.”

In addition to the work the students do to help build the capacity of their non-profit community partners, on Fridays they also study community issues, explore the value of service and leadership and plan and reflect on their projects with program faculty and mentors.

Garcia, who is working with children at the Boys & Girls Club of Columbus, said the program offers students a variety of engaging experiences with their non-profit partners.

“It requires a lot of energy and enthusiasm to actively engage with the children and motivate them to reach their full potential,” said Garcia, a second-year nursing major at The W. “It is extremely rewarding because I get to build strong relationships with students while I support their dreams and goals.”

Whitehead said the students have had great stories to tell in the first few weeks and that the program is a transformative experience for everyone involved.

“The 12 Fellows are deeply invested in their on-site work with their community partners to the point that they have worked weekend events and volunteered more hours than required,” Whitehead said. “By the end of the program, they will have provided over 1,800 hours of service to 11 community partners. And as they share their experiences with the cohort, it is clear they are learning how vital non-profits are to building strong communities and what a difference they themselves can make.”

The 2022 program will be open to rising sophomores, juniors and seniors. Students can propose non-profit areas they are most interested in when they apply. Fellows will be matched with community partners from the program’s roster.

To apply, students must meet academic requirements and write a proposal explaining their goals for their community engagement and the skills they wish to offer and further develop in their placement with a community partner.

For more information about the program or if you are a non-profit community partner that wants to get involved, please contact Whitehead at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or call her at (662) 241-6850.