Okra Scholars

Navigating Success: Complete Your Course


We serve as a GPS for Success – offering students an opportunity to learn and apply skills needed to be successful in college and career. The project works to increase the university’s retention and graduation rates through providing holistic support services. From freshmen to senior year, selected participants receive assistance with determining a major, developing a career plan, and cultivating cultural sensitivity.

Okra Scholars is a First in the World  project supported by a major grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education.

First in the World  Grant Press Release

Participants receive services such as:

  • study skills workshops
  • academic counseling
  • collaborative learning lab
  • learning community groups
  • faculty mentors
  • peer mentors
  • mock interviews
  • on-campus and off-campus employment
  • internships
  • and much more.


Our resource page consists of helpful links to services, tools, and guides for academic success, career development, and cultural competency.



Each fall, the Okra Scholars selects a specific number of first-time freshmen to participate in the project. These students receive holistic support services from freshmen to senior year.

Participants commit to academic achievement, career development and cultural competency. Above all, participants commit to completing their college degree in a timely manner. In few words, participants make “A Commitment to Completion.

Okra Scholars Spring 2015Spring 2015 Cohort: Tristan Ainsworth, Lynn Armon, Jaelin Bankhead, Tykia Barber, Eurekia Beasley, Jarod Bethel, Denzell Bleedlove, Tia Brown, Ben Buckhalter, Talauntra Bullock, Teneal Colbert, Chance Cooper, Aarion Edwards, LaDarrien Evans, Tiffany Ezekiel, Ladarius Gates, Chaketha Gilliam, Paige Griffin, Keuna Hodges, Diamond Jackson, Ashley Keller, Skylar Khen, Ahmad Lewis, Michael Long, Jacob Ludlam, Amanda Lutz, Reckeita Marsalis, Brittney McClendon, Lineshia Miller, LaQuita Minor, Kimberly Molina, David Mullen, Quaneisha Murray, Greg Peacock, Tylesha Price, Jordan Pullen, Dana Rico, Angelica Rivers, Brenesha Smith, Bryson Stubbs, Matthew Talbert, Maggie Turner, Madison Wahlston, Taylor Whatley, Sydnee Williams, Terry Winston, Taylor Wyatt

Faculty/Staff Mentors

Mentors are paired with a small cohort of students who test similarly on the Strong Interest Inventory. Each mentor stays with his/her particular group of students freshman through senior year, providing them with a consistent source of guidance regardless of changes in degree choice.

Spring 2015 Cohort

Lynn ByrdInstructor – Computer Information Systems

Lacey Fitts, Instructor – Science Education

Severine Groh, Assistant Professor – Biology

Rebecca Hochradel, Chair/Associate Professor – Mgt/Mkt/Business Administration

Jonathan Westfall, Assistant Professor – Psychology

Fall 2015 Cohort

Ellen Green, Chair/Associate Professor – Biological Sciences

Brett OleisClassroom & Flight Instructor – Commercial Aviation

Chad Payton, Assistant Professor – Music

AHM Reza, Assistant Professor – Biology

Lisa Sandifer, Instructor – Accountancy

Fall 2016 Cohort

Tom BradyChair/Professor –  Teacher Education, Leadership & Research

Kelvin Davis, Director – Student Business Services

Tricia Killebrew, Division Coordinator – Student Success Center

Tanya McKinney, Associate Professor – Biology

Michaela Merryday, Associate Professor – Art

Wendolyn Stevens, Recruitment/Marketing Coordinator – Graduate & Continuing Studies

Fall 2017 Cohort

Jamie Dahman, Assistant Professor –  Music

Nakikke Johnson, Student Relations Specialist – Career Services

Emily Jones, University Archivist/Library Professor – Archives and Museums

Matt Jones, Senior Associate Athletic Director for External Relations– Athletics

Mary Bess Pannel, Assistant Professor – Counselor Education

Jeanna Wilkes Coordinator of Graduate Studies and Admissions – Graduate & Continuing Studies

Peer Mentors

Peer Mentors give a student’s point of view of college life and promote campus engagement for student success!

Individuals interested in becoming a Peer Mentor should meet the following qualifications: (1) Be an active Okra Scholar, (2) Meet and maintain an 2.5 GPA, and (3) Be knowledgeable of DSU student services and campus resources.

Visit the Okra Scholars’ office for more information.

Okra Scholars interested in becoming Peer Mentors may access the online application here:

Peer Mentor Application

Jon Westfall
Union 215; DSU Box 3232
Cleveland, MS 38733
P: 662.846.4501
F: 662.846.4580

sosbutton1S.O.S. (Stay Okra Strong) Early Alert system helps identify and assist at-risk students through organized outreach.