The Mississippi Outreach to Scholastic Talent, or MOST, Conference is a three-day, two-night conference held at the University of Mississippi that prepares rising high school seniors of color in Mississippi for college in a fun, learning atmosphere that creates many lasting networks and friendships.
“I have had so much fun,” said mentee Erin Washington of Clinton High School in Clinton. “I like how it’s a mixture of learning about colleges, having fun and meeting new people that’s in the state.”
The MOST Conference, hosted by UM’s Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement, was held July 15-17. It strives to get participants eager to go to college and gives them a variety of knowledge for their upcoming college experiences including information about student organizations and how to prepare for college and manage their time as a college student.
Activities during the event included informational sessions, panel discussions, a talent show, Greek and campus organization presentations, small-group meetings and a closing awards ceremony.
“The students have a great time,” said CICCE director Shawnboda Mead. “It’s a fun time for them, but it is also a good time to learn about so many different resources that they otherwise didn’t know about.”
Guidance counselors from 140 high schools across the state receive information regarding the conference for them to share with their students and introduce them to the opportunity. The students may even find out about it from the program’s social media pages, which are very active.
They go through an application process to go to the conference. Criteria include meeting the university’s GPA and/or ACT requirements, their extracurricular involvement, leadership positions and an application question on why they want to attend the conference.
Ever since the 1970s, the MOST conference has existed in multiple forms. The conference, as we know it today, was started in summer 2015 by the CICCE during its first summer as a center at the university in cooperation with the Office of Admissions.
Ever since that first year in 2015, the number of applications has continued to increase. This year, about 850 applied, and over 450 attended the conference.
One of the conference’s goals is to reach out to high school students and try to encourage them to attend the university, but the primary goal is to encourage them to go to college anywhere.
“It doesn’t mean they’re actually going to enroll and go to school here, but at least they have a different perspective about who we are as an institution and see the University of Mississippi as a place where they can succeed, they will be welcomed and supported,” Mead said. “Yes, we want students to consider the University of Mississippi as an option for their college education, but we really want them to just think about college anywhere.”
MOST mentor Aurielle Fowler agrees that it does just that.
“This conference really gets students to go to college, period,” she said.
Nonetheless, the conference ends up being an effective way to reach out to these students and persuade them to attend Ole Miss. Out of every class of students that attended the MOST Conference, about 30 percent of them enroll at the university, according to Mead.
“I came in 2015 as a mentee,” said MOST mentor André Smith. “One main reason why I did come to the university was because of the MOST Conference, and now I am a mentor, and it has been very impactful seeing students in my groups come to the university.”
Fowler said the most important part of the conference for her is the connections and relationships she forms with her mentees.
“This conference has impacted my heart in so many ways,” Fowler said. “Not only do we still mentor them through their high schools, but I stay in touch with my mentees even if they don’t go to Ole Miss.”
The MOST Conference is a big influence on Mississippi’s African-American students’ knowledge of college, and desire to go to college and possibly even attend Ole Miss.
“I think Ole Miss is taking a big step towards promoting diversity and inclusion,” Fowler said. “This conference hands-down is one of the biggest factors of getting African-American students here at Ole Miss.”
Mead said she loves it when the conference has changed a student’s perspective of the university.
“It’s always exciting to hear students say, ‘I never would have even considered the University of Mississippi. I can see myself coming here,’” Mead said. “It’s those aha moments for me every year that I love to hear from students.”
However, one of the most rewarding outcomes is to see MOST attendees give back to their community by being a MOST mentor for future mentees, she said.
“Many of them come back and serve as mentors. That’s been a great legacy that the conference continues to offer this as a service. That’s been one of the most rewarding aspects of the program.”
Kendall Patterson is a senior journalism major and an intern in University Communications.