Pathways to nursing eased as Jones College partners with area nursing programs 

ELLISVILLE – The Covid-19 pandemic pushed a strained medical community into crisis two years ago and it also forced area nursing programs to search for ways to help more nurses obtain degrees. The University of Southern Mississippi recently signed a Memorandum of Agreement with Alcorn University, anticipating Jones College and Pearl River Community College could also assist with the plan to maximize resources to best help nursing students exceed their goals.

“Nursing education is the most important thing we do in the community,” said Jones College President, Dr. Jesse Smith. “We have a long history of working together with our community and there’s nothing more important than providing excellent health care. A great number of talented students can benefit from this exceptional partnership.”

The new partnership affords solutions for nursing students faced with obstacles in obtaining their degree, with the end goal of finding solutions to end the critical needs in health care and access to services. Dean of the College of Nursing and Health Professions at USM, Dr. Lachel Story said the partnership offers two pathways for USM undergraduate nursing students seeking their first nursing degree options to finish their degree when obstacles would normally put their degree on hold.

“We turn away many highly qualified applicants every semester, like many nursing programs, because we have more qualified applicants than we have the capacity or resources to enroll them,” said Story. “This pathway will provide those students an opportunity to complete their initial nursing degree with one of the three college partners and return to USM for a B.S.N. for a seamless process.”

Typically, nursing applicants who were not accepted into USM’s program could have applied to other schools. Unfortunately, most students were forced to wait at least a semester to begin the application process again. The new partnership will allow USM nursing administration another enrollment option for students. Instead of denying nursing applicants, students will be offered the option to enroll into another partner nursing program.

“We are looking beyond ourselves and what’s best for the nursing profession and our state,” Story said.

The second pathway allows students who have difficulty in nursing courses to complete their degree with an associate or practical nursing degree at Jones College or Pearl River Community College and then return to USM for their B.S.N.

“There are some students who are academically talented, who can have difficulty for a variety of reasons, which can put them in a potion which is challenging for them to overcome. These students will be identified before they fail a course or the program, and they will be offered an opportunity to finish their initial nursing degree with these colleges and then return to USM for a B.S.N. with the same seamless process,” said Story.

When nursing students quit before completion, it takes longer for them to enter the workforce and it limits financial aid options. By increasing the students’ opportunity to succeed with additional support and these new options to complete their degree will allow them to begin working in the medical field a lot sooner.

“Some students have taken courses in other programs like Psychology, Sociology and Healthcare Administration while they wait to be accepted into the nursing program. They usually end up getting degrees in those fields, but they really want to be a nurse,” said Jones College’s Assistant Dean for the College of Health Sciences, Teresa McDonald. “This partnership is all about the qualified students’ desire to become a nurse and helping them reach their goal.”

Additionally, Smith recognized the impact this new partnership can have on ending the nursing shortage by helping students reach their desired educational and career goals.

“We’ve all been touched by nurses that have been educated in these outstanding programs at USM, our community colleges, JC and PRCC, and at Alcorn University,” said Smith. “We know we’re going to have a solid impact on our state with this partnership by ensuring more competent, caring nurses can earn their degrees with the support to exceed their goals and ease the nursing shortage.”

For more information about the partnership For more information about Jones College’s nursing programs click on these two websites or


Jones College grad shines in the global spotlight

ELLISVILLE – If you’re streaming movies on Amazon and other Reel One Entertainment services located in Canada, you may find a familiar face in the movie, Love, Game, Match. Oak Grove resident and 2022 Jones College graduate, Emma Burge plays Ariella in the newly released movie.

“Working on the set of the movie, Love, Game, Match was an incredible and extremely affirming experience! I had a lot of ‘aha moments’ where I felt like I was exactly where I wanted to be, doing what I was born to do. The cast and crew were beyond welcoming, and they are people I keep in touch with daily. I really appreciate the kindness and encouragement they offered and showed me throughout filming, and we continue to be in touch today,” said Emma Burge.

Success in the film business didn’t come easy or quick for Burge. The Oak Grove resident began acting at 11 years of age after responding to an “open call” for children for the Mississippi Made Film, As I Lay Dying.  Despite not getting a part in the William Faulkner novel inspired film, it opened the doors for the Oak Grove resident for another project. She was later cast in the James Franco remake of the screen adaptation of William Faulkner’s, The Sound and the Fury.  

“Being on the set, Emma said she fell in love with the process and decided she wanted to explore acting more,” said her father, Dr. Ben Burge. “Emma sought agency representation and is currently a client with Action Talent Agency.”

The rising star with long red-hair is the daughter of Jones College’s Director of Bands, Dr. Ben Burge and his wife Cindy. They explained after Emma fell in love with acting, she has continually found her way back to the stage. Whether it’s to dance, sing or play the flute, Emma has embraced all the Fine Arts.

Her dad shared, “Emma was a theatre student in middle school and high school. She credits her middle school acting teacher, Emily Wright of Northwest Rankin Middle School for inspiring her. Ms. Wright is a consummate professional and a wonderful arts educator. Emma was inspired by her and admires her middle school acting teacher.”

Over the last nine years, Emma has been cast in a variety of projects, including horror, romantic comedy and sci-fi projects on screen and commercial projects for television and print. Additionally, she has years of modeling experience, and she has enjoyed a wealth of opportunities to work with talented photographers and fellow models. Emma has worked alongside Loretta Divine, Janet Gretsky, and Mississippi actor, Kylen Davis. In the film, Don’t Kill It, Emma worked for the horror genre director and creative genius, Mike Mendez. Additionally, Emma has worked on films for actor-director John Krasinski, Tate Taylor, and New Orleans filmmaker, Nathan Tape. She worked alongside Christine Prosperi (Degrassi, Bring it On), and Dale Moss (The Bachelorette).

The 2022 Jones College music industry graduate has 14 years of competitive dance training, she also plays the flute in addition to being a member of the color guard and drum major in both high school and college. On top of it all, her talents include being a vocalist with the JC Jazz Band and she was a member of the Bobcat Brigade leadership and ambassador group for the college.

“I loved my experience at Jones! I enjoyed my service in the Bobcat Brigade and the Maroon Typhoon Marching Band. I made lifelong friends and professional connections I will always have while at JC. I know that my first two years of college have set me up for success along my path. I will always be thankful for my time at Jones. I am a proud alumna!” said Burge.

She added that access to the recording studio and individualized instruction in the music industry program were key factors in choosing Jones to continue her education. Also, being close to New Orleans and accessible to auditions were another major factor for staying in the Pine Belt. She encourages young performers to pursue their passion and learn from the “no’s.”

“I’m excited that this film (Love, Game, Match) is the one that lifted me back up in confidence affirming that I can do this and that not every audition will be a ‘no.’ I’m honored for being cast in this film and was trusted with the role of Ariella. I’m very thankful for the support of my family and friends that have reached out, watched the movie, and have been supportive behind the scenes for the auditions and trips to the film set.”

Currently, Burge said she is working on a television series this summer, which is filming in New Orleans, along with a few other projects in the works. Her last feature film, Off Ramp, is currently in post-production. She was cast with veteran Actor Reid Diamond, Scott Turner Schofield, and Ashely Smith (fashion model and actress).  Next fall, Emma will head off to the New York Film Academy to earn her certification in film production and acting. To learn more about the rising actress, check out Emma Burge’s IMDb bio at

Jones College’s Dr. Burge nominated for Grammy Music Educator Award

ELLISVILLE- Jones College’s Director of Bands, Dr. Ben Burge is a Quarter Finalist/Legacy Applicant for the 2023 Grammy Music Educator Award. Beginning his sixth year at Jones College, Burge has been teaching music and serving as band director for 22 years combined between Belhaven University, Northwest Rankin High School, and Pearl River County School District.

“I am honored to be among the nominations for the Grammy Music Educator Award,” said Burge. “I appreciate the Grammy Foundation for their recognition of so many music educators and their contributions to education in America. The nomination list is complete with wonderful educators, performers, creative minds, and dedicated professionals. I am truly grateful to be mentioned!”

The Pearl River County native is one of 207 music teachers from 180 cities that has been announced as quarter finalists for the 2023 Music Educator Award, which is a partnership and presentation of the Recording Academy and GRAMMY Museum. In total, nearly 1,500 initial nominations were submitted. In addition to the quarter finalists, 125 legacy applicants from 2022 will also be eligible to win the award this year. The semi finalists will be announced in September, according to the Recording Academy and Grammy Museum website.

“I was nominated by someone and then contacted by the Grammy Foundation to submit some materials. The process is quite extensive,” explained Burge. “I had to complete different forms and submit my resume’ along with examples of my teaching in video and photos, etc. I also had to submit letters from former students. It was a really special process mostly to have former students involved.”

The Music Educator Award was established to recognize current educators, kindergarten through college, public and private schools, who have made a significant and lasting contribution to the field of music education and who demonstrate a commitment to the broader cause of maintaining music education in the schools. The recipient will be recognized during GRAMMY Week 2023, which takes place ahead of the 2023 GRAMMYs, officially known as the 65th GRAMMY Awards.

Each year, one recipient is selected from 10 finalists and recognized for their remarkable impact on students’ lives. The 10th annual honoree will be flown to Los Angeles to attend the 65th GRAMMY Awards and a range of GRAMMY Week events. The nine additional finalists will receive a $1,000 honorarium, and the schools of all 10 finalists will receive matching grants.

Burge is a 1994 graduate of Pearl River Central High School and began his music education career at Pearl River Community College. He transferred to Mississippi State University where led the band as Drum Major and graduated in 1999. After earning his master’s degree in music education at the University of Southern Mississippi in 2006, while also working for the Pearl River School District, he moved his family to teach at Northwest Rankin High School. In 2014, Burge began his doctorate degree while working at Belhaven University. Upon completion of his doctorate in education degree, he began working at Jones College in 2016.

Jones College receives Dollar General Literacy Foundation Grant

ELLISVILLE- Participants of the Jones College Adult Education program should benefit from a $7,500 Dollar General Literacy Foundation Grant. The grant money will be used to purchase books for the students to check out according to the Director of JC’s Integrated Pathways, Wendy Evans. She explained the Dollar General Literacy Foundation Grant will also purchase Reading Horizon, TABE, and Essential Education licenses.

“Overall, this grant money will be used to help adult education and literacy students improve reading skills to gain a High School Equivalency and/or job skills to become a successful part of our workforce and communities. We will also purchase reading materials and workbooks as well as seats in online learning platforms to increase these skills,” Evans shared.

The software Jones College’s Adult Education Program utilizes targets the 4th grade level and below students, which accounts for approximately 80 percent of the students. The rest of the grant money will be used for other supplies and materials needed for the program.

Jones College is one of nine organizations/colleges in Mississippi that has received a grant from Dollar General’s Literacy Foundation to help Adult Literacy in the state. This local grant is part of the Dollar General Literacy Foundation’s recent award of $10.5 million donation to support summer, family, and adult literacy programs, representing the organization’s largest one-day grant donation in its 29-year history.

“For nearly 30 years, the Dollar General Literacy Foundation has been proud to invest in literacy and education programs in our hometown communities,” said Denine Torr, Executive Director of the Dollar General Literacy Foundation. “The recent and significant shifts in the educational landscape have made the Foundation’s mission more critically important. As we work to create access to high-quality instruction for all individuals, we share our gratitude for the educators who are working to uplift and empower others. We hope these funds will have a meaningful impact on students and teachers across the country and look forward to seeing the positive impact they have on learners.”

The Dollar General Literacy Foundation supports organizations that increase access to educational programming, stimulate and enable innovation in the delivery of educational instruction and inspire a love of reading. Each year, the Dollar General Literacy Foundation awards funds to nonprofit organizations, schools, and libraries within a 15-mile radius of a Dollar General store or distribution center to support adult, family, summer, and youth literacy programs. The Foundation also offers a student referral program for individuals interested in learning how to read, speak English, or prepare for the high school equivalency exam. Referrals to a local organization that provides free literacy services are available online here or through referral cards found in the Learn to Read brochures that are available at the cash register of every Dollar General store. To learn more about the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, visit

Jones College’s Dr. Ruffin earns CPFP Advocacy Award Fellow

ELLISVILLE- Jones College Executive Vice President, Chief Enrollment Management, Information Technology and Marketing Officer, Dr. Finee’ Ruffin was selected to receive the Advocacy Award Fellow after completing the Mississippi Community College Policy Fellowship Program. She was part of a 27-member team of existing community college executives (trustees, presidents, vice presidents, deans, directors), aspiring leaders (those seeking to fill open presidencies in coming years), and young campus practitioners who have been identified as the next generation of leaders.

Dr. Ed Davis, Co-Director of the Mississippi Community College Policy Fellowship Program (left), Kell Smith, Executive Director of the Mississippi Community College Board (left middle), Dr. Ruffin and Tyson Elbert, Founder & Executive Director, Advocacy Build, LLC (right).

“This cohort was full of some of Mississippi’s best and brightest and I am honored to be selected as this year’s Advocacy Award Fellow. I am thankful for the opportunity and experiences this program provided to me personally,” said Ruffin.

The Mississippi Community College Policy Fellowship Advocacy Award recognizes the Fellow who has demonstrated exemplary efforts and results in advocating for legislative or regulatory policies in preparation for and during the program’s Washington Legislative Summit, explained Tyson Elbert, Founder & Executive Director, Advocacy Build, LLC.

“Dr. Ruffin received the Award for her expertise and on-the-ground perspective of the issues facing students, institutions, and communities. Her work was crucial to improving the educational opportunities and general well-being of all students. The ability to conduct research, collect data, and develop stories, anecdotes, and metaphors is critical to effective advocacy efforts,” said Elbert.

Fellows with Senator Roger Wicker-Official U.S. Senate photo by John Klemmer

The 2021-2022 CPFP cohort focused on two policy issues that directly impacts Mississippi community college students. The request to allow the use of short-term Pell grant, particularly focused on Career and Technical Education Programs in the Community College setting, and the re-evaluation of broadband mapping paired with an updated definition of broadband speed was researched and analyzed during the time the group met in September 2021 through May 2022.

Fellows with Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith-Official U.S. Senate photo by Rebecca Hammel

Dr. Ruffin’s group focused on the “digital divide” or the gap between those with and those without consistent, sufficient and affordable access to the Internet which widened during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Her team felt confident sharing specific experiences and provided practical solutions with the Mississippi congressional delegation.

“Our team identified central issues that face each of Mississippi’s 15 Community Colleges related to broadband access, assembled federal level solutions, and hit the ground running in Washington building relationships with our Mississippi congressional delegation,” said Ruffin. “Mississippi’s Community Colleges have a multitude of dedicated leaders who are passionate about moving the people of this state forward. CPFP assisted us in developing new skills to support our efforts both locally, regionally, and nationally. The time I spent working with broadband advocacy efforts will benefit my work from this point forward.”

The CPFP Model focuses on four programmatic pillars: Leadership, Policy, Networks, and Advocacy. Each pillar is designed to address needs and concerns facing colleges and similar institutions. At the conclusion of the eight-month program, the group took a work-trip to Washington, D.C., where Fellows “learned by doing.”

“The Washington Advocacy Summit (WAS) is the capstone experience of the CPFP program and is designed to achieve multiple purposes,” explained Ruffin. “We gained experience advocating policy at the national level, and in doing so, we also gained valuable experience that can be applied at the local, regional, state levels.”

During congressional staff meetings, Fellows advocated the policy they have researched as a team. Time spent in local monthly meetings prepare the Fellows for real advocacy work at the federal level. Additionally, Fellows are exposed to advocacy at a high level to help them better understand policy and influence in federal policymaking, as well as large-scale communications, advocacy, and lobbying operations. Fellows also visit national media operations for insight into the role of the national media.