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.

Jones College’s All-Mississippi Academic Team named

ELLISVILLE- Two Jones College students earned individual honors through the International Honor Society for two-year colleges, Phi Theta Kappa. Sophomore law and political science major from Waynesboro, Mya McLain was selected to Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society’s All-Mississippi Academic First Team. Social work major from Petal, Shayna Clark was chosen for the All-Mississippi Academic Second Team.

“I have never felt more honored because I put my heart and soul into the application,” said McLain. “Being the first black valedictorian at a predominantly white school, and now winning this honor is validating to me. I proved I did every step of it and I won on my own merit.”

Besides serving PTK as the Rho Sigma Chapter President, McLain was a member of the Charles Pickering Honors Institute, Student Government Association, and she played the character, Taylor McKessie in Jones College’s recent musical theater production, High School Musical. McLain has also earned the Letter “J” Award and Hall of Fame honor. She can be found volunteering at the Waynesboro Animal Clinic and at Laurel’s Glory House in addition to numerous campus events.

“Coming to Jones has enabled me to do this because my first two years of college were paid for with academic scholarships, allowing me to save up and get other scholarships. All that weight and pressure of being in debt is coming off my shoulders piece by piece. I’m really elated!” said McLain.

The self-described “change agent” has lofty goals for her future endeavors. She hopes to use her degrees in law and political science from Mississippi State University to change the world.

“Hopefully my degrees will set the stage for me entering the political field. I’d like to be in Congress and hopefully run for President one day. This PTK scholarship is setting me up for all these big dreams I have. I’m really excited!”

Shayna Clark also has dreams of changing the world and working within the legal system. The 34-year-old Jones College graduate explained she missed her opportunity for college when she graduated from Lamar Christian High School in 2005. Her mother passed away her senior year of high school after a long battle with cancer. The Petal resident said she couldn’t cope and “went off the deep end.”  Over the next 10 years, until she was 29, she was homeless and landed in jail on drug charges.

“I completely hit rock bottom and I ended up getting arrested. I was put in drug court and it made a massive change in my life,” said Clark. “It was the first time anyone in the court system looked me in the eyes and said, ‘You can do better than this and we’re going to help you’ and they did.”

She went through treatment at Clearview Recovery for the first time and learned a lot. After three years in drug court and staying sober, Clark earned a job in mental health at Clearview Recovery Center for a year. In 2020, she decided she was ready for college. Joining PTK, Clark said has allowed her to discover new goals and dream again.

“It really means the world to me to win this academic award!” said Clark. “I had so much doubt about my ability to go back to school after 14 years since high school. I also have a husband, a 3-year-old and a 17-year-old stepson, a job and I’m active in A.A. Knowing I graduated and did really well feels amazing! JC has given me a whole new confidence in myself and in my recovery.”

Clark graduated with a 4.0 GPA and is now working as a Case Manager/Peer Support for the Forrest/Perry County Drug Court. With three-and-a-half years of experience working in mental health, Clark proudly explained that personnel at Drug Court contacted her for this job in February. She is celebrating six years of being sober and free from addiction. Now, the Social Work major’s goal is to open her own non-profit that helps counsel people through alcohol and drug recovery.

“Only two percent of the IV drug users get better. A lot of the reason is there are so many negative voices out there telling you can’t get better in that situation. I want to be a loud voice, so loud that they can’t hear all those negative voices, on every platform I can find,” Clark explained.

Both students were chosen as Jones College’s nominees from a larger pool of Jones applicants that also boasted impressive resumés. The nominees were then evaluated by PTK officials on effective writing skills, the academic rigor of their majors and their leadership impact at their colleges.

“Our nominees distinguished themselves scholastically with excellent grades, and they each have notable records of community and campus service. Their accomplishments and successes are truly highlighted by being named as the college’s nominees for this prestigious academic competition,” said Eric Shows, Assistant Dean of Science and Engineering and PTK Co-Advisor.

The JC students competed with more than 1,800 nominations from each of the 15-community colleges. As part of the Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society’s annual academic and workforce competition, each student submitted an essay, answered discussion questions, and described their leadership roles and activities while in college

The highest scoring nominees from each of the 15 two-year colleges earned First Team All-Mississippi honors and $500 scholarships provided by the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges. All team members received special medallions, certificates, and printed resolutions from the Mississippi Legislature.

Three Drum Majors to lead Jones College’s Maroon Typhoon Marching Band 

ELLISVILLE – Three ladies beat out the competition to lead Jones College’s Maroon Typhoon Marching Band this fall. Freshman, Melania Sanders of Columbia, Jessica Manning of Quitman and sophomore, Rachel Turner of Runnelstown will lead the nearly 180-member organization.

“Being drum major is a whole new level of leadership and you get to know everyone in the band, not just one or two sections. That’s what I wanted; that relationship with people and also being able to help, lead and guide as much as I could. This is a really great environment to do that and that’s why I wanted to be a drum major,” said the Perry Central 2021 graduate.

During her freshman year at Jones College, she was a member of the Color Guard. However, she served as drum major at Perry Central and her family has strong ties to the Maroon Typhoon and Jones College.  Her mother, Lynn Turner played trumpet in the Maroon Typhoon and her father was the sound engineer for the theater. Rachel said her parents loved Jones and she is thrilled to have the opportunity to work with the Maroon Typhoon Band Directors before transferring to a university to pursue her career as a cattle rancher.

“When we finish the song or even the whole program, the roar of the crowd puts it in perspective for me. I am part of something so big and people love this! I love being a part of it and the fact the crowd enjoys our performances makes it all worthwhile for me,” said Turner.

While new to the Maroon Typhoon this year, Jessica Manning has served as drum major for three years at Quitman High School. The alto saxophonist has plans to make music her career and is thrilled to include being a drum major at Jones as part of her preparation for her future.

“As drum major in Quitman, it just felt like I fell in love with people and I realized, that’s what I wanted to do here, at Jones. This will give me more experience to go into the field as a band director and music education major.  Knowing Dr. Burge also plays saxophone is a bonus!”

Manning’s family is also rooted at Jones. Her parents, Douglas and Carla Manning are JC alumni with their daughter Hannah, being a 2021 member of the Maroon Typhoon as a trumpet player. Jessica said she will also be sharing her vocal talents singing in the Concert Choir at Jones.

Melania Sanders’ family tree also includes several JC Bobcats. Her sister, Kimberly played trumpet in the JC band and convinced Melania to pick up the horn too. Her mother and her cousin came to JC and one of her cousins works in the horticulture department at Jones. Sanders said a lot of her friends have made Jones College their choice too. However, her rodeo skills and the agricultural opportunities at Jones are what sold Sanders on being a part of the Bobcat family.

“My ultimate goal is to be a vet. Nevertheless, my band director in Columbia encouraged me to audition for the drum major role at Jones. I’ve been playing trumpet since I was in sixth grade, I was the drum major for the last two years at Columbia High School and I love making new friends. I’m excited to be here!”

Director of Bands, Dr. Ben Burge explained the three were selected after a competitive audition that included demonstrations, a lengthy interview and a presentation of their field conducting and showmanship.

 “I’m really proud of each of these young ladies who each had a wonderful audition with our judging panel. They each bring a very unique perspective to their leadership role! Their diverse backgrounds from very different high school experiences and personal interests are going to make them a very strong team,” said Burge.

After meeting and working today for the first time, he is confident they will be a dynamite leadership team.

“They are already communicating well together and have each displayed wonderful leadership and interpersonal skills. They are going to make a wonderful addition to our long and distinct Maroon Typhoon history!” said Burge.

For more information about the JC Band and the Fine Arts program click or email Dr. Burge at