BLUE (Building Leadership Understanding & Education), the networking and mentorship event hosted annually by the MUW Alumni Association, brought more than 100 students, alumni, and faculty together.

Students appreciated the expert advice provided by a diverse alumni panel that included professionals in nursing, government, military, healthcare and business. Networking with alumni, engaging in table discussions and asking professional development and career questions helped students get a taste of after-college experiences while also making a connection with alumni in their field.

“We want to continue evolving this networking experience between alumni and students, especially upper-class students. We feel this event is just the first step in helping them make those alumni connections and transition from students to members of the Long Blue Line,” said Symone Bounds, MUWAA board member and Mentoring Committee Chair.

“We wanted to give the event more longevity. We are rolling out a mentorship program from that event so students and alumni can continue the conversations we started at BLUE. And we expect these mentorship relationships to grow over time.”

Bounds also highlighted the diversity of the panel, which included alumni from different graduating decades, industries, as well as sex and race, “so students could see a panel that reflects the current student population.”

Phyllis Polk Johnson, MSN, RN, FNP-BC, executive director of the Mississippi Board of Nursing and the 2018 Mississippi’s Businesswoman of the Year, provided advice on how to work with different personalities and the characteristics to exhibit as students transition to professional life.

Panelists Sally Doty, state senator and attorney; Lt. Col. Andy Thaggard, Mississippi National Guard command historian; Katherine Shell Benson, owner of Bella Baxter Special Events; and Jianwen J. Crump, Ed.D., CCCSLP, speech language pathologist, also answered questions on networking, mentorship and professional development.

Students were especially eager to talk to Crump after the panel about opportunities in her field and professional advice, as well as advice on being a recent graduate.

“The panelists were a great resource for guidance,” one student remarked after the event. Other students expressed appreciation for what to look for in a mentor and how to find one in their field.

Students made up nearly two-thirds of the attendees, many of whom were sponsored by 13 supporters. “The event raised about $3,000, and each sponsorship paid for about eight to 10 students to attend BLUE this year,” Bounds said.

The MUWAA exists to support and promote the mission of The W while providing alumni engagement opportunities. Any former student who has completed at least 12 semester hours at the university and who has made an annual contribution to the MUW Foundation is an active member eligible to vote and hold office for the year. For more information, visit the Mississippi University for Women Alumni Association website at