Academic Enrichment Gets a Boost

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July 15, 2013

OXFORD, Miss. -- A gift of $25,000 by Melissa Mullens Kuhl, a University of Mississippi staff member and former tutor to student-athletes, has created a new endowment to support the Ole Miss FedEx Student-Athlete Academic Support Center.

The Kuhl Tutor Scholar Endowment will provide support for the UM FedEx Academic Support Center and grant scholarships exclusively to its tutors. Its main objective is to increase awareness of academic tutors and appreciation for their accomplished roles and responsibilities.

"We are blessed to have such an advocate in Ms. Kuhl for the tutoring program," said Derek Cowherd, senior associate athletics director for academic support. "The 100-plus tutors who support our student-athletes are called upon to be consistently prepared, knowledgeable of the material and operate with the utmost integrity at all times. The Academic Enrichment Program will benefit greatly from the added incentive of an undergraduate tutor scholarship program. This will help attract some of the best and brightest undergraduates that Ole Miss has to offer."

Now a coordinator in the UM Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, Kuhl previously worked as a tutor in the FedEx Academic Center in 2008 after moving back to Mississippi to help care for her mother.

"In my previous work, I always looked forward to one-on-one preparation with students. Although the student wasn't aware of it, we were working together to create a special moment: that surprise and delight in their eyes when they found acceptance for who they could be and what they could learn. I have seen that satisfaction at the FedEx Center in both tutors and student-athletes. It is an inspiring thing to see."

Among those Kuhl tutored were Rebel standouts Brandon Bolden, now playing for the New England Patriots, and Enrique Davis, both running backs on the Ole Miss football team from 2008 through 2011. Davis received a bachelor's degree in criminal justice in 2011.

"Ms. Kuhl is a sweet woman who is always willing to help others," said Davis, who recently signed with the Green Bay Blizzard, a professional indoor football team. "She always pushed us to go the extra mile and showed us the proper instruction to complete assignments, tests or exams. She was definitely a blessing in my life. I'm glad I got the opportunity to learn from her. She is the true definition of what being a tutor is all about."

Kuhl had several inspirations to make this gift, one being her sister, Merri Mullens Willis, a UM alumnus and professional educator who has taught and tutored in mathematics for 34 years since her graduation in 1977. The other inspiration was a recent read, In Pursuit of Excellence by Terry Orlick. "Everyone has a natural excellence within," said Kuhl. "By interacting and helping one another, we help each other bring out that excellence in a way that one can't do on his or her own." Kuhl hopes likeminded donors will help to grow the endowment and allow for additional tutoring scholarships.

"We are so pleased to help facilitate this endowment," said Sarah Hollis, associate director of university development. "This is a great bridge between academics and athletics."

Kuhl was impressed with the environment created at the FedEx Center and has not forgotten the hard work that goes on inside its walls. "Having been a tutor at the FedEx Center, I experienced firsthand the encouragement, high scholastic standards, relationship building and interfacing between staff, tutors and students - all integral components for measuring academic success. I admired the student-athletes and their discipline and that of the other tutors as well."

"I am extremely excited about the Kuhl Tutor Scholarship and what it brings to our tutorial program," said April Thompson, assistant director of the center and director of athletic enrichment. "Not only will this scholarship allow us to reward our most deserving tutors, but it also will give us another avenue in recruiting talented and dedicated staff for the continued success of our student-athletes."

Originally from Clarksdale, Miss., Kuhl graduated from UM in 1973 with a degree in speech and theatre. After college, she moved to New York City where she worked in theatre for five years while earning a master's degree in educational theatre, then accepting a position with a major airline. Her job transferred her to Atlanta, leading her to an eventual position as adjunct professor for business speech fundamentals at Gwinnett Technical College in Lawrenceville, Ga.

Kuhl has served in the UM Office of Research and Sponsored Programs since late 2008, working with the internal database to populate and verify records. "I find the dedication, expertise, and camaraderie of the professionals in our department to be awesome. It is such a gift to me to be a part of it."

The Kuhl Tutor Scholar Endowment is open to receive gifts from individuals and organizations by sending a check with the fund noted in the memo line to the University of Mississippi Foundation, P.O. Box 249, University, Miss. 38677 or visiting www.umfoundation.com/makeagift. To learn more about the Kuhl Tutor Scholar Endowment, contact Sarah Hollis at (662) 915-1584 or shollis@olemiss.edu.

Contact: Katie Morrison, UM Foundation

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