JCJC Honors College students hear how education opened doors for MSU President

Written By: Teresa McCreery
Email Address: teresa.mccreery@jcjc.edu
Date Submitted: 2014-05-14 08:52:51

ELLISVILLE – The President of Mississippi State University, Dr. Mark Keenum spent an evening with students in the Charles Pickering Honors Institute at Jones County Junior College, sharing the highlights of his career while imparting wisdom on various subjects. As the guest speaker for the Innovative and Competition Speakers Series, the community college graduate and Starkville native shared he was not motivated when he started college and tried to follow in his father’s footsteps as an accountant. After transferring to MSU, Dr. Keenum quickly realized he was better suited as a business major. With his agriculture background, he saw the opportunity to be a part of a growing business in Mississippi. However, the early 1980’s economy was rough and jobs were scarce so the decision to get his master’s degree was the beginning of a series of opportunities leading to his current position.
“I thought I would be more competitive with a master’s degree which led to my job at MSU as an instructor,” said Keenum, thinking he was finished with school. He explained, one month later, one of his professors enlightened him on the fact he would have to earn his Ph.D. to stay at MSU. Dr. Keenum said he was upset at the prospect of more school.
“I had a free education and no excuse not to do it, so I reluctantly pursued my doctorate degree,” said Keenum. “Very rewarding things are very hard to accomplish successfully,” he reminded students.
Four years later, he was asked by a co-worker to head up the department. With a job and being married, Dr. Keenum thought he had the perfect life. When Senator Thad Cochran’s Chief of Staff asked him to be his policy advisor a year later, Dr. Keenum told JCJC students, “Washington was not for us.” However, the MSU president at the time shed some wisdom about how the opportunity to serve in Washington D.C. will benefit Mississippi and Dr. Keenum, with the promise of job when he returns. Eighteen years later after being the Under Secretary for the Department of Agriculture, he returned to MSU but for the President’s position. 
“Learning never stops,” he reminded JCJC students. “Surpass any expectations you have of yourself. Apply yourself and get outside your comfort zone. You’ll do things you never would imagine,” said Dr. Keenum.
Technology has changed so quickly, he confessed he’s had a hard time keeping up. Conversely, this generation has grown up with the Internet and technological advances quickly hitting the mainstream market, it is easier for the younger generation to keep up. 
However he warned the group, “Think about the next 20 years. We can’t even think about products that don’t exist that will be developed. You’ll have to adapt like I did to solve problems of your generation.”
Challenging JCJC’s Honors College students, Dr. Keenum asked if they would be ready to bear the burdens and challenges of their generation, like transportation and malnourishment. Offering advice, the former community college football star shared integrity, working hard and respecting others will help ensure success as leaders.
“If you are a hard worker, people will trip over themselves to help you.”
JCJC freshmen from Laurel, Anna Houston is concerned her generation may not be ready for the future.
“I don't think my generation is ready to deal with these problems, but I know we will have to deal with them. There is a level of immaturity in my generation compared to other generations. In the past, a higher level of maturity and responsibility was required at younger ages. Because of this immaturity, my generation will need to rely on God perhaps even more than previous generations. He will need to be the focus of our nation if we are to survive,” said Houston.
Warning about the traps of social media, Dr. Keenum reminded students most companies do back ground checks, including social media posts. He also cautioned students about picking the right life partner. To help make wise decisions, he offered these tips: Get the facts and stay humble.
His wisdom and experience in Washington were impressive to the political science major. Houston shared, “What I found most impressive about Dr. Keenum was the great value he puts on following God's will. In life, the path God sets out for each person is important. We should not only endeavor to have a strong personal relationship with God, but also be open to whatever He has appointed for us to do.”


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