Jones College graduate earns CPRAM scholarship

ELLISVILLE – Jones College 2024 graduate, Jaylynn Conner continues to accumulate scholarships after being selected to receive one of only three, College Public Relations Association of Mississippi scholarships awarded recently. The Waynesboro native was selected from students applying for a scholarship provided by the membership consisting of public relations and communications professionals from the state’s community colleges and universities. Conner submitted an essay about the changes in communications, professional references and a resume’ to qualify for the $1,250 scholarship. Additionally, applicants were required to major in public relations, communications, journalism, advertising, mass communications, political communications, crisis management, graphic design or another communication-oriented major, and attend one of Mississippi’s community colleges or universities.

“I am overjoyed and grateful to be receiving the CPRAM Scholarship. It is an honor to have been selected and it will be a great help as I transition to a four-year institution of learning,” said Conner, who also earned a Community College Leadership Scholarship from the University of Mississippi.

Additionally, the journalism major was selected as one of only five, Jones College students to be a Tullos Scholar. She also earned the Letter “J” Academic Award, Academic Gold Key Award for a 4.0 G.P.A., while serving as the Senior Editor for the yearbook, The Lair, and as the Editor of the student newspaper, Radionian. Conner was selected to be a member of the Charles Pickering Honors Institute, and was an active member of the Philosophy Club, and she anchored and reported for the “Bobcat Broadcast” student news show.

Jones College expands its agricultural roots with state’s first Livestock Show Team  

ELLISVILLE –Agricultural science courses have always been a part of the curriculum and lifestyle at Jones College since Jones County Agricultural High School was established in 1911. Now, the two-year college is expanding its agricultural roots with the creation of the state’s first, Livestock Show Team. Six Jones College students, Karley Cotton of Heidelberg, Lilli Dixon of Smithdale, Bri Fenton of Ellisville, Hayden Kilgore of Taylorsville, Faith Sullivan of Mize and Tucker Woods of Seminary, are the first members of the newly formed Livestock Show Team at Jones College.

“I’m ready for the new challenge and to widen my knowledge on a different breed of cattle,” said Karley Cotton. She began helping on a neighbor’s farm at the age of 11, showing Black Angus cattle. Enjoying the opportunity, her parents launched out on their own buying Simmental cattle for Karley to show. In 2021, she earned the title of Mississippi Junior Simmental Association Queen and a 2022-23 tuition scholarship to be on the Jones College Livestock Show Team.

Her story is like most of the members of the JC Livestock Show Team who all have been raising cows since they were at least eight years old. As Animal Science and/or Agricultural Science majors, they are preparing for a career in the agricultural industry. Now more than ever, Jones College Agriculture Science instructor and advisor for the Livestock Show Team, Leanne Kilgore, said the role of agriculture is very important in our daily lives. Educating the public on the role of farmers has really become a vital priority.

“Generally, the public is so far removed from agriculture; two or three generations removed from farm experiences. They don’t have any idea where their food sources are coming from. We need to do a better job of being the voice of agriculture and promoting our farmers,” said Kilgore.

Adding the Livestock Show Team for Jones College students already invested in the agricultural lifestyle provides more opportunities to continue competing, expanding their knowledge, and developing an ag science network for their futures. The six-member team will care for the daily needs of four Red Angus heifers and compete throughout the state and region. Plans also include a trip to Oklahoma City for the annual Cattlemen’s Congress in January.

“The students on this team have a tremendous amount of responsibility,” said Jones College’s Farm and Cattle Manger, Jason Mills. “They will live on campus and the animals will be their responsibility, even on holidays. They will wash, feed and care for the animals’ daily needs, even when school is closed.”

Freshman, Faith Sullivan of Mize said she enjoys having the opportunity and responsibilities that come with being in the “ring” again. The criminal justice major has been showing cattle since she was 11 years old through 4-H and the Future Farmers of America (FFA). She’s won numerous Sale of Champions awards and agriculture accomplishments, including the title of Watermelon Teen Queen 2020. Sullivan said she may change her major to animal science now that she is on the JC Livestock Show Team.

“I thought I was done showing after Dixie Nationals this year, but I’ve always been interested in investigating; I want to know why things happen and why people do the things they do. I could do farm investigating of stolen animals with my agriculture background. Regardless, I’m just excited to be on the team at Jones,” said Sullivan.

For Bri Fenton of Fenton Farms in Ellisville, her goal is to take over and expand the family business. Being on the team is just another way to reach that goal. She has been raising Simmentals for the family’s cow/calf program and training horses since she was nine-years old.

“I’ve always enjoyed showing cattle, traveling and meeting new people. I really like to venture out and see what all there is because there’s always something new to learn,” said Fenton. “It was really exciting in Oklahoma recently, meeting all the big name people.”

Lilli Dixon of Smithdale, the former president of the Mississippi Junior Red Angus Association and Dixie National Sale of Junior Champions winner, said she loves the idea of establishing a new gateway for college students to continue to work in agriculture.

“I would like us to be something people see and say, ‘Wow! That’s awesome and I want to be a part of it!’ They can look at us at Jones College and see agriculture can be fun, you can learn a lot, and it can offer you new experiences,” said Dixon.

The barn and related facilities for the Livestock Show Team are currently under construction. However, that will not delay training and preparations for the newly established team that is ready to show off Jones College’s newest agriculture programs. The college is also preparing to re-establish the Livestock Judging Team and establish a Rodeo Team in the next five years.

Livestock Show Team Advisor, Leanne Kilgore (right) with team members pictured left to right, Faith Sullivan, Bri Fenton, Karley Cotton and Lilli Dixon along with Hayden Kilgore and Tucker Woods who are not pictured.

Jones College graduation keynote speaker inspires grads to live like a TOPGUN pilot

ELLISVILLE – At Jones College’s 94th Commencement Ceremony held outdoors on the North Lawn of Jones Hall, Jones College President, Dr. Jesse Smith offered a special thank you to the approximately 660 graduates participating in the ceremony. The college’s motto, “Inspiring Greatness” is especially fitting for this class because as the president acknowledged publicly, the class of 2022 has inspired administrators, faculty and staff as they persevered through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You were required to adapt in unprecedented circumstances. The level of success you attained in the midst of this season of uncertainty is remarkable. Your commitment to the classroom, your strong work ethic and your engagement in the Jones community are evidence of the future impact you will have in the world,” said Smith.

Just like the Jones College Class of 2022, President Smith said the keynote speaker and former TOPGUN Navy pilot, Major Nick Laviano also embodies the college’s theme. The Ellisville native graduated from Jones County Junior College in 2005 as a student athlete, playing soccer and golf. He earned his Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering from Mississippi State University in 2008 and was accepted into the United States Navy Officer Candidate School and was commissioned as an Ensign in January 2009. A few years later after being designated as a naval aviator, his first operational assignment was in Lemoore, California, attached to the Strike Fighter Squadron 86 (VFA-86) where he flew the FA-18E Super Hornet. While there, he decided to pursue a lifelong dream and apply to the Navy Fighter Weapons School known as TOPGUN.

“The (TOPGUN) course was three months long and it was extremely demanding. To this day, I still consider graduating TOPGUN as the highlight of my career. I was also lucky enough to remain on staff as a TOPGUN instructor at the conclusion of my class. Over the following three years, I worked with the most talented group of individuals I’d ever met. It was extremely humbling and rewarding,” said Laviano.

After serving 12 years active duty in the Navy, Major Laviano has recently joined the District of Columbia Air National Guard, flying the F16 while living in Alexandria, Virginia with his wife Alicia and son, Myles. As he was preparing for the JC commencement address, Laviano realized a mantra repeated at TOPGUN would be the best advice he could share with the Class of 2022.

“Be humble, approachable and credible. These three words are how you are expected to act as a student, and more importantly, how you are expected to act as an instructor. If you are not humble, approachable and credible, you will not be an effective instructor. Therefore, you will not be able to pass on the knowledge you gained through your training. I realized, this doesn’t just pertain to the military side of things, but also to everyday life,” said Laviano.

At some point in our lives, Laviano reasoned, everyone will be a teacher, mentor, advisor, or a consultant and part of the responsibility of having this knowledge is passing it on to future generations.

“If you are not humble, approachable and credible, people you are expected to train will not seek out your advice and thus break the chain you worked hard to achieve,” said Laviano.

Considering the stereotype of a fighter pilot, Laviano stressed to the audience, from his experience, the loud, cocky, brash type of people exist. However, he explained, they are usually not the best at what they do.

“The ones who are consistently sought out for their advice, are the ones who let their actions and reputation speak for themselves.  There is a high level of confidence in these people, but that is not the same as cockiness,” he explained.

Laviano’s definition of humble in a professional sense, is being a professional with a high standard. He said the leaders he esteemed always held themselves to a higher standard, and he always wanted to meet them with that standard. Laviano urged graduates to be that person who sets the standard with their actions and let their peers be the ones who notice the results.

“Treat others like how you would want to be treated…. You can always find a teachable moment but always pay attention to the type of feedback a particular person responds to best and try to tailor your instruction to help them,” Laviano advised.

Being credible is like building your brand, the Navy pilot shared. As people notice how you execute your job with good results, others will want to emulate you.

“Establish yourself as a credible source and people will naturally seek you out and your advice. In my opinion, there is no greater compliment than others seeking you out based on your expertise,” Laviano explained. “However, as long as it takes to build that credibility, it can be lost in an instant. If you hold yourself to that high standard, you’ll be just fine.”

With Major Laviano’s example of success and words of wisdom, President Smith reminded the class of 2022 the sky is the limit for them too.

“Graduates, I hope you see that your beginning here at Jones College can lead you anywhere in the world. Specifically, from a seat in Calculus Based Physics into the cockpit of America’s most advanced fighter jets. Literally, the sky is the limit! Beyond that, you can see Major Laviano’s flight plan, that you could also climb into the clouds as a TOPGUN. What could we learn from his life? He’s a great American and JC graduate and he certainly embodies our theme, ‘Inspiring Greatness!’”

Jones graduate, Wyatt Reid of Laurel said he thinks Laviano’s three standards are advice that would help him in his future endeavors. For the next seven years, Reid’s plans include getting his accounting degree, become a licensed CPA, and then earn his law degree and tax law certifications.

“My dream job would be a constitutional law, first amendment, intellectual property lawyer and I would love to represent a college or an individual on a first amendment case,” said Reid who is headed to MSU to tackle the first part of his goal.



Shaping the Future of Data Science in Mississippi Creates an Innovative Higher Education Partnership

Written by Dr. Finée Ruffin, Chief Marketing Officer, Jones College

ELLISVILLE – The reality of a multi-year worldwide pandemic causes even the most robust businesses and industries to pause and consider the future of work. Jones College President, Dr. Jesse Smith, was no different. After facing numerous disruptions to business operations, he began to prepare his community college employees for the changing demands created by a new business environment.

At the same time, Dr. Mimmo Parisi, Senior Advisor for Data Science Development & Professor at Mississippi State University, was evaluating the greater need for a holistic digital transformation across the state of Mississippi. Dr. Parisi believes “that data is the center of our state, national, and world economics” and that “step one is establishing a baseline of data literacy across all levels of education and work.”

The advent of Big Data, simply defined as the exponential increase and availability of data in our world, demands members of the labor force possess literacy and competency in data science. Big data analytics helps organizations harness their data and use it to identify new opportunities and make reasonable decisions that create value for the institution.

Mississippi State University, Mississippi’s largest land grant institution, has made an educational investment in Mississippi’s digital literacy foundation by creating a twelve-hour Data Science Advanced Certification Program. This program was designed to catalyze digital transformation across the landscape of community college education in Mississippi. “Mississippi has one of the strongest community college systems in the nation, and the state will be uniquely positioned as a national leader in data science if this program is fully adopted across the entire Community College system,” shared Dr. David Shaw, Provost and Executive Vice President at Mississippi State University.

In pursuit of equipping Jones College students with data science literacy, Dr. Smith concluded that the college’s faculty must first be equipped with the expertise to integrate data science literacy concepts into their curriculum, regardless of school or department. Smith reasoned that an essential change in the mindset of the college’s employees and faculty would spread and instill the same mindset in graduates across campus.

The Data Science Advanced Certification Program was created as a partnership opportunity between Mississippi State University and the Mississippi Association of Community Colleges (MACC). By establishing a partnership with Mississippi’s community colleges, Mississippi communities can be assisted at the ground level, shared Dr. Parisi.

Mississippi State University, in conjunction with Jones College,  introduced its pilot course in the Spring of 2022. A combination of 16 Jones College faculty and staff enrolled in the Introduction to Data Science Literacy Instruction course. The course was designed to teach community college faculty and staff an introductory understanding of data science and how to use it in (1) curriculum writing and (2) college workforce development efforts.

If you would like more information on the Data Science Advanced Certification Program, please contact Dr. Mimmo Parisi at or Dr. Jesse Smith at

Jones College faculty and staff enrolled in the first Introduction to Data Science Literacy Instruction course are pictured left to right, in the back row, Dr. Jason Dedwylder, Clint McMullan, Ty Walters, Jason Cooley, Rod Tolbert, Jon Ryan Fennell and Greg Griffith. Pictured in the front row, left to right are Julie Atwood, Amanda McLeod, Dr. Bharath Kandula, Ashley Holifield, Kelly Robinson, Eric Shows and Jennifer Griffith.

Jones College’s Resource and Referral Center open to the public

ELLISVILLE-After nearly two years of waiting because of COVID-19 restrictions, the Resource and Referral Center at Jones College officially opened to serve the community. The ribbon-cutting and Open House celebration allowed daycare providers and community members to see everything the new Center offers for childcare professionals to family members and college students.

“I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time,” said Gina Carr, Director of the Resource and Referral Center at Jones College. “We are thrilled to finally be able to share with the community these much-needed resources. Having the Resource and Referral Center on the campus of Jones College brings awareness to the importance of high-quality early childcare and education in our community.”

The mission of the Resource and Referral Center Network is to provide technical assistance, professional development, including a lending library for childcare providers and families, to support a nurturing learning environment in the home and the classroom. Ultimately, the goal is to promote healthy growth and learning for all children.

“So much happens in a young child’s brain early on. It is so critical that we capitalize on those formable years and that is what this new Center is about. In a perfect world, every kid entering kindergarten would be prepared socially and educationally, but sadly that’s not true. So, that is what this center is about, preparing kids both socially and educationally,” said Jones College Executive Vice President, Chief Academic and Financial Officer, Rick Youngblood.

The Center offers free resources, like books, toys, and educational materials including math and math manipulatives, science and STEM kits, language and literacy kits, curriculum enhancement materials, resource books for parenting and curriculum development and dramatic play items. Also, the Ellison Die Cut machine and lamination services are available for early childcare providers, elementary education students, parents, grandparents, and community members. By offering these resources and services free of charge, it allows providers the opportunity to invest back into their programs. Partnering with families and the community creates stronger families and a stronger community. The Resource and Referral Center also offers technical assistance for directors and classroom teachers and hosts training workshops for families and childcare providers.

“We work in conjunction with a different college throughout the state of Mississippi and come together monthly for training and professional development. We are one large network of resource and referral centers that functions together,” said Carr.

The materials provided in the Center are developmentally appropriate and are available to residents in Clarke, Covington, Greene, Jasper, Jones, Smith and Wayne Counties. Additionally, the new Center offers students in Jones College’s Early Childhood Education Technology program a wealth of resources to enhance not only their educational journey but also their student teaching experience, free of charge.

In addition, the ‘R & R’ Center provides a one-stop-shop for families and childcare providers, which includes assisting families to find and choose childcare settings that meet their children’s needs. Sensory sensitive toys and resources which parents can try out for two weeks to ensure their child benefits from that toy or resource are also available.

“We do believe that what we’re doing here is very special. Everything matters. What we are doing here is focused on education and our community,” said Jones College President, Dr. Jesse Smith.

Resource and Referral Center Networks are part of a federal law, required in all 50 states and are funded with federal dollars through the Mississippi Department of Human Services Division of Early Childhood Care and Development. Jones College’s Center is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. except when Jones College is closed for holidays. For more information about the JC Resource and Referral Center, call 601-477-4139 or email at,