The Fall looks to be an exciting season for the Mississippi University for Women. Unlike past years, there isn”t much controversy surrounding MUW. The contentious proposals to merge the W with Mississippi State or to change its name are sidelined for now. The epic battle between past president Limbert and the alumni association, which climaxed when Limbert disassociated the university from the alumni association and started a new one, is over. After a herculean effort by Interim President Allegra Brigham, the united Alumni Association appears to be working well and focused on the W”s future.
Yet, the University faces several storms in the months ahead. The recession has reduced state revenues, and, as a result, the W has had to do more with less and find ways to increase enrollment. To make matters more perilous, the College Board is searching for a replacement to Brigham while many feel the Board should keep her.
Strangely, this current mixture of excitement and uncertainty brought back memories of my Demonstration School days and sparked an idea about how the W could weather these storms. Demonstration, the magnet school before it was cool to be a magnet, had a special relationship with the W. There, W students would sporadically come to our classes to practice teach. Dem teachers, all experienced veterans, would mentor the students and oversee the classes. The college students always prepared creative lessons and taught with positive energy and lots of enthusiasm.
Looking back, experimental teaching is the type of program that could help the W today. I”m sure other colleges offered practical teaching experience, but, to the best of my knowledge, none adopted a school in a similar way. This gave the W an identity apart from its competition and offered prospective students an unique teaching experience. This uniqueness established a strong reputation at the W for training teachers and undoubtedly helped enrollment rates.
As done then, the W should look for niches and specialized careers to attract students, including ones for male students. The W is unlikely to build a sport”s program strong enough to convince athletes to bypass a near by SEC school, so the school should develop other, more creative attractions. It should promote programs geared towards students interested in digital media, advanced scientific technology, Fashion, Journalism, or other emerging careers. Unique and carefully marketed programs may convince students to attend the W and increase enrollment.
The experimental teaching also established a special relationship between the W and the community. Demonstration was probably the most diverse elementary in the city, meaning students from both sides of the railroad tracks benefited from the specialized teaching and attention. This created goodwill for the W across racial and class lines.
Although the Dem School days are gone and unlikely to return soon, an effort is underway by the Roger F. Wicker Center for Creative Learning to use the former building for an after-school program. This shows the W is committed to its relationship with the community. These types of programs provide a community service, give the W new and diverse supporters, and leave a positive mark on the city. All important accomplishments for the future of any college.
My connection to the W is a great example of this. At the time, I barely had an idea what those college students were doing in our class. I was too worried about playing kickball at recess. However, nowadays, because of those fond memories, the W has a special place in my history, even though I attended other schools. Most can probably agree: the more students and people with fond memories of the W, the better off it will be.
Scott Colom is a local attorney.