This story is part of the "Journey to Commencement" series that highlights University of Mississippi students and their academic and personal journeys from college student to college graduate.
La Shon Brooks is no stranger to wearing several hats at once. As chief of staff to Mississippi Valley State University President Jerryl Briggs, Brooks' days are filled with the broad duties of an executive cabinet member.
This often means collaborating with a range of faculty, staff and students to help MVSU meet strategic goals.
"I always say I have the best seat in the house because I am not restricted to just one area of higher education," Brooks said. "Being chief of staff enables me assess what's working well in every aspect of the university and to identify areas for improvements and facilitate growth."
Besides her internal role at MVSU, Brooks, a Delta resident for the past 20 years, also serves as the university's legislative liaison to the state Legislature, which requires her to keep open channels of communication with lawmakers. To top it off, Brooks is a doctoral student in higher education at the University of Mississippi, a professional doctorate for college and university professionals.
"I feel like the Ed.D. program has helped me think more deeply not just about education, but life itself," Brooks said. "Access has been a major topic in the program.
"For me, taking the time to think more deeply about access in terms of jobs and education in the Delta helps me make connections to what we can do to enhance opportunity – not just for MVSU students but middle and high school students who have aspirations of higher education, as well."
Brooks is in the midst of writing her dissertation, a statistical analysis of the Emerging Scholars Program, a residential, university-based summer curriculum for high school students that is offered at all eight Mississippi public institutions of higher learning. She hopes to see how the MVSU branch of the program is influencing student success.
"I am looking at our program and comparing the Emerging Scholars students to those who didn't start in that program," she said. "The goal is to measure their academic performance through an examination of GPAs."
Before working in higher education, Brooks, who holds an undergraduate degree and MBA from MVSU, held careers in the banking and automotive industries. A Compton, California, native, she also lived in Kansas, Texas and Michigan before arriving in the Mississippi Delta in 1992.
Her move to the Delta was a moment that changed the course of her personal and professional life. After the unexpected death of her brother, she was looking for a change.
"I was in a transitional period and I had family here," Brooks noted. "I'd been to community college after high school and then worked for several years. But, when I landed in the Delta, I decided it was time for me to finally finish my degree."
In addition to her role as chief of staff to Mississippi Valley State University's president, La Shon Brooks is in the midst of writing her dissertation, a statistical analysis of the Emerging Scholars Program, a residential, university-based summer curriculum for high school students that is offered at all eight Mississippi public institutions of higher learning. Photo courtesy of MVSU
Several years after receiving her bachelor's degree, Brooks took a job at MVSU and rose in the ranks from compliance and monitoring officer to financial aid compliance officer to assistant to the president to executive assistant to the president, and, eventually, to chief of staff.
Her most recent title change added the role of legislative liaison.
"The easy explanation is that I inform the Legislature," Brooks said. "But it is also about building relationships with legislators and letting them know about what's going on at Valley, what our needs are and why these needs are important."
As a university leader, part of Brooks' role is to help university administrators collaborate on projects across institutions, both inside and outside higher education. She serves on the Board of Delta Council, the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area, and the Steering Committee of the Leflore County Chapter of Mission Mississippi.
In 2018, La Shon Brooks graduated from the Delta Leadership Institute hosted by the Delta Regional Authority. The program seeks to give graduates the tools to create jobs, build communities, and improve lives across Mississippi and the Delta region. Photo courtesy of DRA
Partnerships are important, and there are meaningful partnerships going between universities throughout the state, she said.
For instance, the University of Mississippi Medical Center and MVSU serve as member institutions of the Delta Health Care Services grant. Dubbed: "D.E.L.T.A. Initiative: Diagnostics, Education, Quality of Life, Telehealth, Access," the project's goal is to better meet the health needs of communities in the region by improving communication, outreach, infrastructure and more.
As a result of this project, MVSU students provide blood pressure monitoring in Humphreys Country.
Brooks also has helped facilitate corporate partnerships with Ingalls Shipbuilding and Nissan to provide opportunities for students and faculty members to connect theory and practicum while preparing for a global workforce.
Upon finishing her Ed.D., Brooks said she is open to pursuing numerous opportunities. But, she's sure she wants to stay connected to education in some way.
"I think if you asked me two years ago, I would have said my ambition is to be a university president," Brooks said. "But I'm open to other opportunities where I can be an advocate for equitable access to education, whether that's in education, the corporate or nonprofit fields.
"It wouldn't matter as long as I can reach out to our communities through providing education and opportunity."
Story by Andrew M. Abernathy/School of Education