Tupelo Advance Education Center

Seven UM-Tupelo Students Awarded UM's Highest Academic Honor

2017 graduates among most to receive the Taylor Medal

TUPELO, Miss.­­­— Serving others and working to make their community better, is the common goal of seven recent graduates from The University of Mississippi-Tupelo campus who this spring were awarded UM’s highest academic honor- the Marcus Elvis Taylor Medal.

Taylor Medals, recognize no more than one percent of the entire UM student body for meritorious scholarship and deportment. Recipients of the award must have no less than a 3.90 grade-point average. This was the largest group of UM-Tupelo campus students who have ever received the University-wide accolade all in the same year.

“This is truly an incredible feat for these students ,” Derek Markley the executive director of the UM-Tupelo and UM-Booneville campuses recently said.

“We are honored to see so many exceptional students go back into the Northeast Mississippi community and make a difference in the lives of others.”

The recipients were nominated by UM faculty members within their department and asked to submit letters of reference to be considered.

Sherry Barnes, of Baldwyn, had been out of high school for 23 years and raised two children before she made the decision to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming a teacher.

“After high school I had my heart set on getting married and raising a family,” Barnes said. “I did that but as my children were finishing up school I was ready to  start on a new journey.”

Barnes said it was a bit intimidating when she began taking college courses at Northeast Community College in 2012, but that as she began to get to know her instructors and fellow students she knew that she had made the right decision.

She transferred to the UM-Tupelo campus in the fall of 2015 majoring in elementary education and quickly became involved on campus as a student ambassador and member of the Teachers of Tomorrow organization.  During her senior year she learned that her father had stage-four lung cancer. She cared for him and the rest of her family while attending school full-time and observing in local elementary classrooms.

“My dad was so excited when he heard that I had been nominated for the Taylor Medal,” Barnes said. “I was the first in our immediate family to attend college, and he was so proud.”

As a proud mother and recent grandmother, Barnes hopes to land a job teaching in Prentiss or Lee counties this fall.

“It’s awesome to know that I can help children learn,” Barnes said. “I hope they will learn to think for themselves and become great problem solvers and citizens.”

“I’m really glad that I went back to school,” Barnes said. “I have no regrets.”

Bethanie Harris of Mantachie, was a 2013 graduate of Itawamba Agricultural High School in Fulton. Both of her parents were educators at local schools for numerous years, as well as her sister. Harris said that growing up she thought she would go into the medical field for her career. 

Well into her first year at Itawamba Community College, Harris visited a kindergarten class at Mooreville Elementary where her older sister was teaching. She says that is when she realized that she would never get to experience the joy of teaching if she didn’t change her career goals.

She changed her major and took a position as a tutor in the student success center on the ICC-Fulton campus. This is where her love for teaching and helping others grew.

“They called me the college algebra guru,” Harris said. “I loved it.”

After transferring to the UM-Tupelo campus for her junior year, she worked in the Writing Center helping fellow students navigate through the writing process for their different class assignments.

“I had the opportunity to encourage others in their writing. It was a great way to improve my skills as well.

Harris was nominated for the UM Taylor Medal by UM-Tupelo Writing Center Coordinator Rachel Johnson. Johnson says that she was impressed with the way Harris worked to make teaching others exciting and worthwhile.

“As I grew to know Bethanie better, it was clear to me that she was exactly the kind of student that professors hope for,” Johnson said “She is inspired by her classes and yearns to know more.”

Mallory Mahon of Blue Springs graduated from East Union High School in 2013, she said she had planned on becoming a pharmacist before a mission trip to Louisiana sparked her interest in the education field.

“I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I was meant to be a teacher,” Mahon said.  

She enrolled at ICC-Tupelo in 2013 and two years later transferred to the UM-Tupelo campus.

“The two plus two program in Tupelo made perfect sense to me,” Mahon said. “I had the opportunity to work on campus as a student worker and make some life-long friends.”

Mahon said she hopes to mimic one of her favorite UM-Tupelo instructors, Dr. Alida Moore, when she steps into her own classroom this fall.

“Dr. Moore made class so enjoyable, I couldn’t wait to come in to see what we would be discussing,” Mahon recalled. “I want my students to be interested in the subjects we are learning, just like she did. That’s when true education takes place.”

Also, hailing from the UM-Tupelo campus was Lindsey Murphree of Pontotoc who received a Taylor Medal from UM’s School of Education.

Murphree says she has been playing school since she was a young girl, and always knew that she would become an educator.

“The people who have impacted me the most in my life have been different teachers I have had along the way,” Murphree said.
Murphree said after learning about her academic honor she made a goal of going into school administration one day. 

“There is something about helping others, especially children who have their lives in front of them,” Murphree said. “I think I can make a difference just like my teachers did for me.”

Serving in the Lee County Sheriff’s Department for many years, taught Smithville native Amy Swan a lot about local youth that were in the court system.

“This is their chance to make a change,” Swan said. “I’ve seen it go both ways, but I always feel good when we can help one of these kids get their life on a positive path.”

Swan was awarded the Taylor Medal this spring from UM’s social work department.

In 2012, Swan went back to school to earn her bachelor’s degree in the hopes of continuing her career of helping others.

“I think my classes, case studies, and practicum opportunities have better prepared me for the numerous facets of social work,” Swan said.

Swan brought along her 13-year-old daughter Addie and husband to the Taylor Medalist award ceremony in April.

“It just made all the hard work worth it when my daughter told me she was proud of me.”

Breanna Long of Mooreville was a fall 2016 graduate of the UM-Tupelo campus, and was included in this year’s Taylor Medalist class for her outstanding academic performance in UM’s social work program. Another fall 2016 graduate who received the honor was Beth Robbins of Tupelo. She was one of the highest-ranking graduates in the UM School of Education.

The University of Mississippi has been offering college courses in Tupelo since 1978. The Advanced Education Center on Briar Ridge Road in east Tupelo has been the home of the UM-Tupelo campus since 2001. Since that time thousands of Northeast Mississippians have had the opportunity to earn their college degrees close to home.