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DSU’s Bennett-Fairs named to 2020 Millennium Leadership Initiative


Dr. Vernell Bennett-Fairs, vice president for student affairs at Delta State University, is one of 31 senior-level higher education professionals who will participate in the 2020 Millennium Leadership Initiative (MLI), a premier leadership development program of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU). MLI provides individuals traditionally underrepresented in the highest ranks of postsecondary education with the opportunity to develop skills, gain a philosophical overview, and build the network and knowledge needed to advance to the presidency.

“I’m honored to have been chosen as a member of the 2020 MLI cohort,” said Dr. Bennett-Fairs. “It will be a privilege to represent Delta State University at this prestigious executive training institute. I’m grateful for Delta State President William N. LaForge’s support as I seek this level of professional development.”

“I am so pleased that Dr. Bennett-Fairs has been chosen for this prestigious program,” said Delta State President LaForge. “At Delta State, she is responsible for a very important portfolio of responsibilities, and she will bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to a program that is well-known for sharpening the leadership skills of its participants. She is the ideal participant for one of AASCU’s premier programs, and I salute AASCU for selecting her.”

She joined Delta State as vice president for student affairs in 2016 after holding a similar position at Kentucky State University. Dr. Bennett-Fairs earned a doctorate in instruction and administration from the University of Kentucky, a master’s degree in vocal performance from Eastern Michigan University, and a bachelor’s degree in vocal performance from Fisk University. She is a graduate of Leadership Kentucky and the Mississippi Economic Council’s Leadership Mississippi and was named a top minority business leader in Mississippi in 2019 by the Delta Business Journal. Dr. Bennett-Fairs also completed executive leadership training at the Scott Hawkins Leadership Institute (part of The Links, Incorporated) and the Executive Leadership Summit.


Over its more than 20-year history, MLI has produced 632 graduates, of which 131 have become first-time presidents or chancellors.

“It is important that leadership within higher education represent our institutions’ diverse student body—implementing efforts to help our students succeed, shaping inclusive and effective learning environments, and continuing to advance equity, diversity, and social and economic justice across our campuses,” said Dr. Mary Evans Sias, director of the program and assistant to AASCU’s president. “I am proud to welcome our stellar 2020 MLI class.”

AASCU restructured the 2020 MLI to continue to advance the next generation of higher education leaders during the COVID-19 pandemic. This year’s MLI Institute will include two webinars per month from July to November 2020 and an in-person conference in January 2021. Protégés will also have a yearlong mentorship with an experienced president or chancellor and four months of professional coaching from a retired president or chancellor.

“The network of presidents I gained from participating in MLI has remained invaluable to me throughout my career. I am honored this year’s class will be afforded the same opportunity to cultivate their leadership skills in these unprecedented times for our country,” said AASCU President Dr. Mildred García, a protégé in MLI’s inaugural class in 1999. “The voices and contributions of these emerging leaders will be critical to the future of our institutions.”


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