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As school grows, so too does economic development in region

DSU strengthens mission to become a ‘regional university’

CLEVELAND — Today Delta State University is a three-site institution, each site created as a part of its mission to serve the entire Mississippi Delta; the school is working with Coahoma Community College (CCC), Mississippi Delta Community College and Mississippi Valley State University.

But not long ago the university was known only as a teachers’ college.

DSU, which has seen an increase in incoming freshman classes over the past several years — from 432 students in 1998 to 473 in 2000 — was created as Delta State Teachers College by a Senate bill signed into law by Gov. Henry L. Whitfield on April 9, 1924.

In 1955 the name was changed to Delta State College to reflect the institution’s expansion, and in 1969 a reorganization of the academic structure was authorized for the school.

Soon Delta State had a School of Arts and Sciences, School of Business, School of Education, School of Graduate Studies and a School of Nursing and enrollment was up to more than 4,000 students. Finally, on March 15, 1974, the institution was officially designated Delta State University.

Since that time, a lot has happened to the school, including the recent development of a number of regional interdisciplinary centers, something the university’s officials hope will strengthen its mission to become a regional university.

Among the interdisciplinary centers are the Center for Community Development, the Delta Center for Culture and Learning, the Center for Science and Environmental Education, the Madison Center and the Bologna Performing Arts Center.

“I think they are worth celebrating,” said Dr. David Potter, DSU’s president.

The Center for Community Development has been in operation about five years and is funded mainly through the Kellogg Foundation. Its concentration is on leadership development and technical assistance for Delta communities.

The Delta Center for Culture and Learning’s purpose is to bring focus to the heritage and history of the Delta and to develop programs so people can celebrate and keep alive the region’s heritage. Literature and art of the Delta that relates to the university’s role as a river community and a focus on the agricultural history of the Delta are just a few of the things the Center for Culture and Learning touches on.

The Center for Science and Environmental Education was developed to strengthen science education in grades K-12 as well as DSU’s relationship with the community.

The Madison Center’s focus is on constitutional and civic issues related to the Delta; it is engaged in bringing people to the Delta to help students understand democracy and governmental processes.

The Bologna Performing Arts Center brings to the campus world class programs in the performing arts. The purpose of the center is to help teachers use the arts to strengthen teaching in all programs.

But the new interdisciplinary centers created by DSU are only a part of the university’s establishment of its general theme: to build the strongest undergraduate programs and to contribute to the development of the Delta region.

“If you look at the Delta, Cleveland is widely recognized as one of the more viable communities in the Delta,” Potter said. “I think we create the ambiance that makes this town attractive for businesses and people who want to locate here.”

DSU works closely with the Delta Council and with the chamber of commerce on projects like the Delta Education and Delta Health initiatives and with industrial development and tourism.

“We see again as part of our regional mission a strong obligation to contribute to the community and economic development of the Delta,” Potter said.

Potter is excited about the year ahead with last year’s completion of an indoor baseball practice facility and a world caliber natatorium on campus. A student services classroom building is on the way as well, as is the refurbishment of the Cutrer mansion and other buildings on the grounds in Clarksdale, which will all be shared with CCC.

“We’re optimistic about the future and think we can make a difference here,” Potter said.

Steve Watson, dean of enrollment services at DSU, hopes the university’s student body will continue to grow in the future, and said that all indications are that it will. He and others in his department recently retooled the school’s recruitment process.

“One of the things we’ve done at the university is to centralize part of our processes in creating a division of enrollment services,” Watson explained. “Our admissions and registrar had been together in academic affairs and our recruitment piece had been in student affairs. We’ve combined those offices and all three are now in student affairs.”

Watson, who was formerly known as dean of student development, now has the new title of dean of enrollment services. He said putting the registrar, admissions, recruitment and student development offices together has made for a much easier time of recruiting new students.

At one time, DSU recruiters were sent all over the state. One day a recruiter might have a college-day show on the Coast and an appointment in Tupelo the next day. But recruitment for the upcoming year will be a bit different. Recruiters will be assigned regions so they can build better relationships with students they are trying to recruit.

As DSU grows, so too does the economic development of the region. And, said Watson, “We do see ourselves as being a potential player in that arena in the Delta and have to partner with the entities there. In my opinion, as education goes, so does economic development, and so many of the corporations that are looking at the state that might possibly place their businesses here want to know what the educational opportunities are and what is the education of the workforce we want to draw from.”

Watson said it is important that DSU look at things from a grassroots level. “If we want to have opportunities, we also need to fund education,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what region we’re in, we’ve got to fund education.”

Educated at Mississippi State University and Mississippi College, Watson said he is extremely proud of the “educational product DSU turns out.”

“I couldn’t be more proud of the opportunity students have from a quality level and economic cost factor,” he said. “You’re not going to find a better economic deal anywhere in the state. Delta State is a great place to get an education.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at ekirkland@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1042.

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