Outreach has always been at the center of Mississippi University for Women’s mission, contributing to the region’s quality of life, as well as its creative economy.


The W is connecting culturally with the community through culinary experiences made possible by the Culinary Arts Institute and by offering intellectually stimulating noncredit courses through the Life Enrichment Program (LEP).

From a themed cuisine to the Guest Chef Series or a healthy treat from the Project CHEW food truck, the CAI is usually serving up a menu sure to delight one’s palate.

“While Columbus has that small town feel, it doesn’t mean limited offerings,” explained Chef Alexei Harrison, CAI director. “We try to highlight Mississippi products while also bringing in guest chefs, different cooking techniques and unusual ingredients to educate our students and the community on the limitless possibilities that exist in the culinary field.”

Nutritionist works with childThe CAI reaches out to the community through various initiatives, including healthy cooking classes for children and adults; grocery store tours, where participants walk the aisles of grocery stores to learn to choose ingredients wisely and products they have never used before; at the Columbus Farmer’s Market and Wellness Pop-ups; providing healthy, residence hall cooking classes; participating at Wassail Fest; offering Culinary Camp for Kids during the summer; training high school culinary teachers, as well as members of the Army’s Connelly team of foodservice professionals; and certificate classes. There is a fee for some of the noted activities.

As part of Project CHEW, local elementary children participated in “I Ate a Rainbow” classes. “These children were exposed to fruits and vegetables of different colors, many of which they had never tasted and probably would not have had the opportunity to taste had it not been for this program,” said Amanda Dahl, culinary instructor.

Harrison said that the MS Guest Chef luncheon offered in the fall featured Chef Ty Thames from Restaurant Tyler, Bin 612 and City Bagel Café. Thames led W culinary students in preparing a ticketed luncheon for the community.

“Our students benefit by learning from and working beside an industry chef just like they would in a restaurant kitchen. They learned the importance of sustainability and supporting our local farmers.”

Students from the CAI were invited to assist in catering the grand opening gala of the Civil Rights Museum in Jackson. Harrison said it was honor.

“Our students worked during frigid temperatures out of the mobile kitchen to feed 1,500 distinguished guests. Our students had the opportunity to work with local celebrity Chef Nick Wallace, current Food Network Chopped Champion,” she said.

Additionally, the CAI’s faculty chefs volunteer at numerous culinary competitions and mentor students, as well as other instructors, in the field.

Harrison said as a state-supported entity, the CAI has a responsibility to the community as well as students to provide educational benefits and outreach.

“Our students benefit just as much as the community members by working together on special events or classes. We also assist in job or internship placements as we keep communication lines open with our industry partners.”


LEP tour in Selma, Alabama

Individuals who share a love of learning and/or teaching have to look no further than The W’s LEP.

Courses cover a wide range of subjects and are designed to meet the physical, intellectual and social needs of participants.

Taught by volunteers from the community who are experts in their field, the classes allow participants to take up to three courses each term for $35. Classes are held during the day, early evening, and Saturday mornings, and meet once a week for 1 to 2 hours over a six-week period in spring and fall and four weeks in the summer.

“Our courses are taught by instructors who come from very diverse backgrounds. They are taught by Columbus Air Force Base spouses, stay-at-home mothers, retirees, as well as educators,” said Janie Shields, LEP coordinator. “Many of them are lifelong learners, who also share their love of teaching others.”

One can find topics ranging from learning Japanese to health and wellness to the latest in social media.

The program has also sponsored day trips to the home and birthplace of Helen Keller in Tuscumbia, Ala.; a historic tour of Selma, Ala.; the GRAMMY Museum Mississippi in Cleveland; the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum; Museum of Mississippi History and home and birthplace of Eudora Welty in Jackson, the Pink Palace Museum and the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tenn.

Dianne Webber, a retired business education teacher from New Hope School, has taken advantage of the many learning opportunities provided through the LEP.

Webber has also participated in several of the day trips.

“I think it is a wonderful opportunity for The W to offer these experiences, especially for the senior citizens. It gives us an opportunity to travel and learn about these interesting places that are in this area.”