LORMAN – Dr. Clinton Bristow Jr., president of Alcorn State University (ASU), has a certain term he uses in describing the efforts of the university to improve the economy and quality of life in southwest Mississippi – “communiversity.”
This concept follows through in the School of Business as well, as the school provides offices in Adams, Claiborne, Wilkinson, Jefferson and Franklin counties to assist with community and business development, such as business plans, marketing assistance, loan packaging and more. In fact, an ASU business specialist is located at each county office one day per week to assist in writing business plans and marketing strategies through a grant awarded to ASU from the USDA-Rural Business Cooperative Service.
“Also, our new MBA building for the Natchez Campus will permit the community to use the new building for conferences and technology training,” Bristow said. “The project gives our ‘communiversity’ concept the boost to move to a higher level and improve the quality of service in the Center for Rural Life and Economic Development.”
Until the fall of 1997, ASU had no MBA program for its business students. But after incorporating one into the Natchez branch campus, the program has really taken off. ASU graduated its first MBA class last May.
At the undergraduate level, ASU offers the BS degree in accounting, business administration and administrative office management at the main campus in Lorman. These undergraduate programs have an enrollment of about 300 students, almost all of whom are full-time. The MBA program on the Natchez campus is primarily directed toward non-traditional students who attend evening classes on a part-time basis.
The School of Business at ASU has a business advisory council, and recently it was divided between the MBA program in Natchez and the main campus’ undergraduate programs.
ASU is aggressively pursuing accreditation by AACSB – the American Association for Collegiate Schools of Business – in order to verify the quality of the university’s programs.
“The faculty of Alcorn State University represents a tremendously valuable resource to the business community,” said Dr. John Gill, dean of the ASU School of Business. “We have recognized experts in the areas of finance, human resource management and management science as well as marketing. The state has made a significant investment in putting this business school in the area, and we’re trying to make sure they realize the return on their investment.”
In one form or another, ASU has had business programs for more than 30 years. The oldest historically black land grant institution in the nation, the primary thrust of the school had been teacher education and agricultural science, but business has, for decades, been an important component of course offerings at the university.
The ASU MBA program came as a result of the Ayers case. Currently the MBA program is involved in the university’s pursuit of increasing other race enrollment, and it has been successful, say faculty and staff.
“We are very proactive, particularly in our MBA program, in recruiting other race students,” Gill said. “We have been successful with doing that in the MBA program.”
Gill, who has been with ASU for 2 1/2 years, enjoys living and working in the Lorman community.
“It’s remote, but there are a lot of really good people down here working really hard. I feel very fortunate to be here.”
Dr. Steve Wells, director of the MBA program, has lived in Southwest Mississippi all his life. He has served in the Legislature, run his own business as a CPA, and taught at a private institution for 25 years before joining the ASU faculty.
“As goes Alcorn State University, so goes Southwest Mississippi,” Wells said. “I think there’s an integral relationship between the improvement and the overall quality of life for the students, faculty and staff of Alcorn State University and the citizens of Southwest Mississippi.
“We’ve attracted very high quality faculty for our MBA program. All of them also have career experience, so they bring real world experiences into the classroom, and then they’re able to relate to the business community because they understand the problems of the business community. Our bottom line issue for our program for each course is, ‘Does it improve the decision- making skills, communication skills and people skills of the student?’”
Bristow believes ASU’s School of Business compares favorably with other business schools around the state. Already the faculty is proposing to add new high- demand programs, such as a master’s in accountancy, finance, hospitality, management and commodities and futures trading.
Consistent outreach efforts to community groups and working with the area’s cooperative extension programs have helped to get minorities involved with the ASU School of Business. Current projects underway include the Natchez Farmers’ Market and the Mound Bayou Sweet Potato Project. ASU has a Small Farm Outreach Training program through the School of Agriculture, Research, Extension and Applied Sciences and other programs that minorities benefit from.
The Legislature has provided funds for a new 56,000-square-foot facility on the Natchez branch campus for the School of Business. ASU faculty and staff will meet with architects soon to finalize the specs on the building, Wells said. The facility is estimated to cost about $9.5 million and will be used for the MBA program and other business programs that may come later on the campus.
Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at email@example.com or (601) 364-1042.