From left, East Mississippi Community College Chief Financial Officer Tammie Holmes, Vice President of Instruction Dr. James Rush and Scooba campus Mathematics and Science Division Chairperson Marion Smoot completed the Community College Policy Fellows Program, a one-year leadership development initiative focusing on public policy and advocacy for Mississippi community colleges.

June 22, 2022

Three East Mississippi Community College faculty and staff participated in the Community College Policy Fellows Program, or CPFP, which culminated in a trip to Washington, D.C. to advocate on behalf of Mississippi’s community colleges.

EMCC Vice President of Instruction Dr. James Rush, Chief Financial Officer Tammie Holmes and Scooba campus Mathematics and Science Division Chairperson Marion Smoot were members of the 2021-2022 Mississippi cohort of the CPFP, which was comprised of representatives from community colleges across the state.

“By working with our peers, we were better able to advocate for the needs of community college students across the state,” Holmes said.

Topics of study for the group included leadership training and professional development, and the process for adoption and implementation of policies by legislators at the state and federal levels. They also learned about networking and relationship building, and wrapped up with informational sessions on advocacy strategies, tactics and communication techniques.

In April, the cohort traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with Mississippi’s congressional leaders and staff with the U.S. Department of Education. While there, they advocated for expanding the use of Federal Pell Grant funds for high-quality, short-term skills and job training programs. They also asked for future consideration to redefine short-term training to include programs requiring fewer than 150 clock hours and those that are less than eight weeks in duration.

“Many Mississippians are unable to afford the training to acquire the skills needed to obtain well-paying, in-demand jobs,” Rush said. “Lowering the threshold for Pell eligibility would provide our residents an opportunity to access those jobs, which would also benefit our local industries and grow our local and state economies.”

In February, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Levin-Gonzalez Amendment to the America COMPETES Act of 2022, which would expand Pell Grant eligibility for short-term programs at private nonprofit and public institutions for select programs, including Commercial Truck Driving, Structural Welding, Maintenance Technician and Electrical Linemen, to name a few. The cohort lobbied for full Congressional approval of the amendment, with the addition of programs not covered by Levin-Gonzalez, such as EMTs, Robotic Fundamentals, Phlebotomy Technician and Manufacturing Skills Basic Certification, among others.

The cohort also advocated for the expansion of broadband throughout the state, which is an initiative supported by the American Association of Community Colleges. The lack of access to stable and affordable internet service by many students was punctuated in 2020 by the nationwide shift to online learning necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

A lack of internet access was especially acute in many rural communities where broadband is not widespread.

“There is a wealth of online resources available to students today and those without access to internet at home are not playing on a level field with their peers,” Smoot said. “Library study materials, tutoring, labs and classes are all available online at EMCC and have played an integral part in the success of many of our students. Too many students don’t have those same opportunities available to them.”

A graduation ceremony for the 2021-2022 class of the Community College Policy Fellows Program took place in May.

Rush is an EMCC graduate who has worked at the college since 2007. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with a focus in Management from the University of West Alabama, where he completed a Master of Science in Counseling/Psychology, with 18 additional credit hours in Education. In May of 2020, Rush was awarded a Doctor of Philosophy in Higher Education Administration from the University of Southern Mississippi.

Holmes was named EMCC’s CFO in February 2020, bringing more than 22 years of financial management experience in the education and manufacturing sectors to the position. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Accounting from Rust College and a master’s degree in Business Administration from Mississippi State University. She is a tax and accounting business owner, real estate investor, adjunct professor and former mayor of the town of Brooksville.

In addition to her role as the division chair of the Mathematics and Science Division, Smoot teaches mathematics at EMCC’s Scooba campus and is a boutique owner, cosmetologist and former mayor of the city of Scooba. She is a 2001 EMCC graduate who majored in Computer Science and earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree from the University of West Alabama in Mathematics-Computer Information System and MAT-Mathematics. Smoot is pursuing a Doctor of Education in Higher Education Leadership and Management.

CPFP is sponsored by the Mississippi Community College Board and directed by Tyson Elbert of AdvocacyBuild, LLC.