By STEVEN NALLEY
For Lisa Sollie, it’s worth a 198-mile round trip to Starkville to provide Mississippi State University’s ice cream for the right kind of party.
Sollie, project coordinator in recruiting and marketing for MSU-Meridian, said the MSU Student Association in Meridian makes a point of securing MSU’s ice cream for a “Welcome Back” week.
“We do that all the time,” Sollie said. “We drive up there, get the ice cream and bring it back. Why get another kind of ice cream when Mississippi State has its own?”
It’s not every day, however, that MSU-Meridian gets MSU ice cream for its own birthday party.
Mississippi State University in Meridian will celebrate its 40th anniversary Friday, with a party open to the public at its College Park campus from 1-3 p.m.
Sollie said there will also be a celebration dinner closed to the public Thursday evening, where Meridian Mayor Cheri M. Barry will issue a proclamation declaring Friday MSU-Meridian Day. At Friday’s celebration, Sollie said, there will be two cakes and door prizes, including tickets to shows at the MSU Riley Center.
“We (will also) have scrapbooks set up starting from 1972 to 2007,” Sollie said. “It’s basically trying to show a pictorial history as well as articles. It’s really a time for people to visit and celebrate.”
Steven Brown, MSU-Meridian dean, said MSU first built a presence in Meridian through the leadership of its first dean, Charles Moffett, who became the campus’s first dean in 1972 and did not retire until 1998.
Brown said Moffett will speak at the dinner celebration Thursday evening.
“Really, (MSU-Meridian) was a result of a lot of determination over a long period of time by a number of education and business interests in this region,” Brown said. “The primary thrust of the campus as it was first envisioned was to work closely with four community colleges.”
MSU-Meridian started in what is today Meridian Community College’s Hardin Hall, and it has since not only established a College Park campus across the street from MCC, but also a downtown campus adjacent to the MSU Riley Center. Brown said MSU-Meridian maintains strong ties to area community colleges.
“We’ve always had a large preponderance of non-traditional students here,” Brown said. “In the last five years, we’ve begun to see sort of a shift, and we’re enrolling more and more students who are traditional college age, some of whom are coming from community colleges.
“Generally speaking, when we first began, probably 80 percent of our student body would be above the age of 35, people in established careers who had started families and were returning to complete degrees,” Brown added. “At this point, we are more 50-50, (with) almost an equivalent number now who are completing community college or junior college work and are transitioning to MSU to complete an undergraduate degree.”
Brown said MSU-Meridian would not be where it is today without the Riley Foundation, established by two brothers in Meridian’s medical community. Their most publicized contribution is the restoration of Meridian’s former Grand Opera House that created the MSU Riley Center, he said, but he considers the foundation’s Next Step Scholarship, established in 2010, to be equally important.
“It permits students from our four community colleges ... (with competitive GPAs) ... to attend MSU-Meridian at no cost,” Brown said. “As a result of that ... the overall GPA has increased, and we are seeing more of our students named to the dean’s and president’s list. It has really improved the academic achievement levels of our students.”
Future plans for MSU-Meridian include two libraries, Brown said, including a 2,200-square-foot library at the College Park campus and a 4,500-square-foot library downtown. Construction on the College Park library is scheduled to start in four to six weeks, he said, and both are made possible by another major supporter, the Phil Hardin Foundation.
“We received, about a year ago, an award of a little over $1 million from the Phil Hardin Foundation to actually create two libraries,” Brown said. “We’re blessed in a lot of ways.”