When she first stepped on The W campus four years ago, Menuka Ban had never been to the United States, much less to Mississippi. She was the first woman from her small village of Chhaling, Nepal, to study overseas.
On May 11, she graduated magna cum laude from the university that she said has given her opportunities of a lifetime. Student government president this year, the political science and math major is earning two major scholarships to continue her graduate studies at The College of William and Mary.
"I've had such a chance to grow at The W," she said. "I would have been lost on a much larger campus."
Ban leaves The W with a $10,000 International Peace Scholarship from the Philanthropic Educational Organization, as well as a $39,000 Trice Fellowship from William and Mary—a campus she has never visited.
PEO, which promotes educational opportunities for women, awards the International Peace Scholarship for international women students to pursue graduate studies. The Trice Fellowship is awarded to students who pursue projects addressing international issues.
"From the first time I met Menuka Ban her freshman year, I thought she was a one-in-a-million type of student," said Dr. Bridget Pieschel, director of women studies and chair of the Department of Languages, Literature and Philosophy. "She is intent on making the world a better place for everyone."
Pieschel, who told Ban about the PEO scholarship and encouraged her to apply, is delighted that Ban is realizing the potential her mentor saw. "She is a born leader, and although she thought I was joking when I told her I believed she would be president of Nepal someday, I am completely serious about that prediction. I am very, very glad that we have been fortunate to have her here for four years; she personifies everything that we value at The W."
Dr. Brian Anderson, chair of The W's political science department, echoed Pieschel's confidence in Ban's abilities. "She has always been a motivated and engaged student and she had the respect of her classmates in all courses in which I taught her," he said. "Her plans are to eventually work for an international organization in the area of economic and political development, especially as it impacts women in South Asia. I have no doubt she will become a great contributor to policymaking/implementation in this challenging area of world politics."
Even though she is the only young woman from her village now studying abroad, Ban hopes that she can change that. "I'm trying to convince my younger sister to attend The W," she said. "I love this school."
Terence Nicholson, a legal studies major and recent W graduate, used his knowledge in his field to turn his passion for leadership into a reality. He started an organization on campus that helped students develop leadership skills and emphasized the importance of academic success. Nicholson enrolled at The W in 2009, after attending West Point High School, with hopes of creating a solid foundation that would help him become successful in the field of law.
With plans to work in a law firm and one day start his own practice, Nicholson understood that developing public speaking skills would help him in his future endeavors.
Rather than waiting for an opportunity to come to him, he brought opportunities to others by founding Stand-Up Speak-Up Toastmasters Club, a local chapter of the national public speaking organization.
"Being a student, I know that public speaking is very important and a skill that is very essential to have," said Nicholson.
Toastmasters International is recognized around the world as a leader in communication and leadership development, which boasts more than 280,000 members. Nicholson made it possible for The W to be a part of the 13,500 clubs worldwide.
"I wanted to bring this club to campus to empower and help individuals improve their public speaking skills and become better leaders."
But his mission to involve himself and others in leadership roles did not end with the founding of Stand- Up Speak-Up. He also became president of The National Society of Leadership and Success, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc.-Alpha Omicron Alpha Chapter and the Bench and Gavel Club.
As the president of these organizations, Nicholson played a leading role in teaching other students how to take control of their own education.
Since the inception of The National Society of Leadership and Success on the W campus in 2011, 180 students have been inducted into the society.
"I feel that leadership is important because of the impact that can be made in the lives of individuals, communities and the world as a whole. I believe everyone should dare to lead," said Nicholson.
The Society encourages community action, volunteerism, personal growth and strong leadership from its chapters and members around the world. Its core belief is that one can achieve one's dreams with the proper support and dedicated action, and that people can accomplish more together than they would achieve alone.
Not only was he responsible for overseeing four organizations, he was also a member of five other organizations on campus including Mortar Board Honor Society, TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) Investment Club, The National Pan Hellenic Council, Aristos Honor Society and Class Council.
While being heavily involved in campus activities, he also maintained a 3.5 GPA and received numerous honors including the college of business and professional studies senior scholar award, the NPHC fraternity scholar of the year and the student achievement gala outstanding leadership award.
Most recently he was named Mississippi University for Women's Mr. Henry L. Whitfield Man of the Year and the Spirit Award winner.
"The W has given me opportunities to grow as a student and sharpen my leadership and professional skills which can be transferred to my future career," said Nicholson.
Nicholson has proven that if you really want success in your career field you have to take the initiative and open your own doors to gain experience.
Karen Lott, W class of 2013, aspires to be an effective policy maker one day. In order to realize her goal, the political science major is getting ground-level experience through a national service organization.
Lott is among only a few graduates and professionals nationwide chosen by Teach For America (TFA), an organization that recruits a diverse group of leaders with a record of achievement to teach for two years in a low-income community.
The national nonprofit is one of the largest educationalleadership programs in the country and has seen applications jump from nearly 25,000 in 2008 to almost 48,500 today, according to a March 2012 Bloomberg Businessweek article.
"Those applicants include students from some of the nation's most elite colleges and universities, including 17 percent of the graduating class at Harvard and 13 percent of the seniors at Brown," according to the article.
With an acceptance rate of about 10 to 15 percent, Lott is one of the chosen few. This fall, the 22-year-old from Leakesville heads to the Canton Public School District to teach high school English. She is doing so through TFA's alternative route to certification.
"I cannot be an effective policy maker if I have never been in a classroom," she said.
The job will come with some challenges, and Lott is preparing herself for the task at hand. This summer she will train in the classroom in the Delta for five weeks. She also will go through training specific to the Mississippi region for two weeks. Lott also spent the spring semester performing pre-work, including classroom observation hours.
"I am going in with a positive attitude," she said, adding, "I've also been trying to catch up on what I feel an English teacher needs to read: British literature and contemporary American literature."
Serving others has always been a calling for Lott. Over the past few years, she explored the possibility of working with service programs such as Teach For America and even AmeriCorps.
"I've felt like I've always been given a lot," she said. "The idea of community service was solidified here at The W. I see what the educators do here for our students."
She served on the Hearin Council under the Hearin Leadership Program, which provides opportunities for scholarship, leadership development and community service.
She also volunteered with HEARTS (Helping Every Age Reach and Teach Students), a local after school tutoring program.
Last summer Lott interned in Washington, D.C., where she worked with education policy non-profit For the Love of Children and took for-credit seminars through The Washington Center.
As part of her internship, she worked with high school students doing mock interviews and ACT preparation. She also worked with college students, enhancing their resumes and putting on workshops about succeeding in college.
"I really liked that," she said. Her advice to students: "Make those connections with your faculty," she said, noting that many students don't take advantage of the resources available to them.
She added, "In today's world, it's really not enough to have a degree. Success is about being a well-rounded person. We're all leaders in some way. We're all leaders in the way we lead our lives."
Lott attributes her educational success to the relationships she has developed at The W. "If I had not come here, I would not have gotten that [Washington, D.C.] opportunity. This is a really supportive community."
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