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Luckyday Scholars Program

Founded by the late Frank R. Day, the Luckyday Foundation funds scholarships for Mississippi high school seniors who are exemplary students with outstanding leadership skills and a commitment to their community. The Luckyday Citizenship Scholars Program at The University of Southern Mississippi was proposed and funded in 2001 and welcomed in its first class of 94 freshmen to the campus in the fall of 2002. Since that beginning, the program has added some 100-130 Mississippi freshmen each year who have at least a high school GPA of 3.0 and good records as citizens and leaders. Luckyday Citizenship Scholars are immersed into a residential living and learning community that focuses on community service learning and leadership development. The original and sustaining goals of the program are to create at least a 90% freshman to sophomore retention rate and a 70% graduation rate. The program is proud of its continued retention rates at 93-98% each year with graduation rates of 80-85% graduating from Southern Miss.

Housed in the Division of Student Affairs at Southern Miss, the Luckyday Citizenship Program was created to enhance student development thus increasing retention and student success. The program is informed by Astin’s theory of involvement, Kuh’s theory on education outcomes outside of the classroom, Schlossberg’s theory of Mattering vs. Marginality, Greenleaf’s Servant Leadership philosophy, and Kendall’s characteristics of effective service learning. The primary aspects of the program are built around these theories with student transition and student development as core foci of the program.

When the program first began, scholars received $2,000 per year, but over time the scholarship amount has increased and is now about $5,000 per year. This scholarship is renewable for four years and dependent on academic success, maintaining program requirements, and continued community service involvement. The Luckyday Foundation, based out of Ridgeland, MS, has given over 27 million in scholarships, program funds, and capital gifts to Southern Miss over the past fourteen years.





What makes the Luckyday Scholars Program unique?

The Luckyday Citizenship Program is so much more than a scholarship: It’s an opportunity to engage and as some students would say, to be part of a family. From the students’ perspective, the program allows them to have financial assistance for four years. However the students would also tell you that there are so many opportunities that are available through Luckyday that go beyond the basic scholarship. There are opportunities to develop leadership skills by serving on the Leadership Team, develop event planning skills through our Welcome Team that plans event for incoming freshmen, serve as an upperclassman mentor and live in the freshmen halls, and study abroad with the help of additional scholarship monies.

Even though the Luckyday Program consists of two full-time staff, one 9-month staff member, and one graduate assistant, we strive to have intentional programming and make ourselves available to our 450 scholars. Through the living/learning communities in the freshmen residence hall where new students live alongside upperclassmen mentors as well as through the freshman seminar class, first-year students in the program generally have an easier transition into college. They have an initial group to belong to, or as some would come to say, a family away from home. As staff, we try to assist with this transition through programming and helping the students to connect to services and organizations on campus. We have close relationships with staff in other departments on campus, and we regularly collaborate with other departments to plan programming that benefits new and upperclassmen scholars.

Can you speak to some challenges that the Luckyday Scholars Program has overcome?

The Luckyday Program is funded through the Luckyday Foundation as an outside donor, but we are housed on campus under the Division of Student Affairs. We have had to be deliberate and proactive about establishing strong working relationships across academic affairs, student affairs, and institutional advancement divisions of the university representing the interests of students, the university, and our donor simultaneously. This can often result in some differing view points and demands that must be navigated. By keeping the student at the center of our model, we have been able to negotiate productive and effective relationships across all constituents in a timely and balanced fashion. As a program that tends to be more student development focused than market driven, challenges have also developed out of a desire to be innovative and proactive in meeting the needs of students for our future.

How do you see the Scholars Program growing in the next 5 to 10 years? What are some long term programmatic goals?

We foresee the program growing in the area of leadership development and increased classroom based initiatives that can complement students’ chosen course of study. We will be introducing more opportunities for students to choose tracks of involvement to challenge them at the level of engagement at which they are most interested and suited. We hope to grow the number of opportunities we can offer students as funds will allow and find means to better help students deal with the challenges that growing up in a digital age has given them.

How do you think the Luckyday Scholars Program relates to character development?

All of our scholars are enrolled in a freshman seminar course their first semester at Southern Miss. This course provides an introduction to life as a college student, engaging in the university community, and being a good citizen in the greater Hattiesburg community. The seminar is a 3-credit hour course that covers the concepts of servant leadership described by Robert Greenleaf. Students engage in readings, discussions, writing assignments, and activities throughout the semester covering topics of awareness, listening, healing, stewardship, empathy, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, building community, and commitment to the growth of people. At the end of the semester, students partner with local non-profits to complete projects and then present to classmates on their experiences related to the ten characteristics they have been discussing all semester. Beginning the spring semester of their freshman year, students are asked to begin volunteering in the community for at least twenty hours a semester, taking with them the tools and concepts they learned in the class.

What advice would you give to student affairs professionals working with service-learning programs?

The are so many great growth opportunities for students in service-learning but it is a messy and, at times, complicated endeavor. Strong relationships with community partners cannot be over-valued as they are such an important part of the student learning experience. Projects and service with non-profit partners certainly need to benefit those organizations and derive from their needs. We try to instill in our students the idea that service done for non-profit partners should arise out of the needs of the organizations in the community and not from their own personal desires or gains. Emphasis on establishing long-term relationships, as opposed to quick, short-term service, is also held in higher regard. The opportunities for students to reflect upon the whole service experience can be a powerful tool to help them synthesize their classroom experience into practice. The human element of service, with all of its challenges and complexities, is what brings such rich learning opportunities through this high impact educational practice.


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