USM president tells JCJC Honors College students how to get "to the top!"

ELLISVILLE, MS (WDAM) - This is a news release from Jones County Junior College

ELLISVILLE – While in college, his future plans were very different from what actually happened, acknowledged Dr. Rodney Bennett.  The tenth President of the University of Southern Mississippi was  speaking to Jones County Junior College's Honors Institute students when he shared his original career goal was to make film documentaries. Being a college president was not in his plans.

"I was the most unlikely person to be named president," Dr. Bennett said.  "My fraternity brothers were shocked!"

The former University of Georgia VP of Student Affairs earned a B.S. degree in mass communications before his mentor caused a change of plans and the discovery of his destiny.

"I was asked to help a friend with his responsibilities in the residence hall.  That's when I discovered my love for helping students in a college environment," said the Knoxville, Tenn., native.

Dr. Bennett went on to become the dean of students at the Athens, Ga., University while earning a specialist in education, a master of education in educational administration, and being awarded a doctor of education degree in educational administration from Tennessee State University in Nashville. What caused the turn of events for the current USM President?

"I had a really good mentor.  He told me I have some talent and challenged me to exceed my own expectations," Dr. Bennett shared with the JCJC students and asked,   "Who can mentor you?"

That idea is something JCJC Honors Institute student and Laurel freshmen, Ryan Shoemake has been wondering and sees the positive impact it can have on the state.

"Dr. Bennett's message echoed ideas that I have contemplated in the past. I do agree that in order to empower the state of Mississippi, its denizens must educate themselves and bring good business to the state. By mentoring the younger generations, the current populace of Mississippi can set in motion a continuous wave of change that could benefit the state in many ways."

Dr. Bennett was named USM's President one week before the devastating February 10, 2013 tornadoes that decimated parts of the Hattiesburg campus. When tragedy struck the campus, he drove all night to help lead the recovery efforts instead of waiting until his official first day on the job, April 1, 2013. He confessed to Jones students, he didn't have the opportunities they have studying in an Honors College and some of the resources they have been offered.  However, Dr. Bennett hasn't regretted how he got to the top either. He believes he is carrying out his life's purpose by being President of the Hattiesburg, Miss. based university.

"I could've stayed in Georgia. I had a convenient, tenured job but I didn't have the challenges I saw here at USM.  I didn't see myself being successful by staying there.  I wanted to have an impact and connect with people….I was so excited about the opportunity to provide leadership to young people I didn't even ask about the pay for the job.  I'm inspired by the impact I think I can have on people," explained Dr. Bennett.

Dr. Bennett challenged students to pull together and be civic minded.  He also discussed the importance of integrating technology with communication skills as being vital for success.  Education is a gift you are giving yourself, he said and added, "Take advantage of what college offers.  Education is a lifetime investment that will sustain you for your entire life."

He went on to unashamedly recruit the roomful of freshmen and sophomores to transfer to USM. Dr. Bennett emphasized his focus is on students and how he can help each individual, rise to the top!