Andy Flores went from ‘taking up space’ to become a Truman scholar.
MAY 1, 2023 BY EDWIN B. SMITH
Ask Andy Flores how his life has changed since he enrolled as a freshman at the University of Mississippi and he will answer, “a lot.”
From his modest beginnings in Ocean Springs, the public policy leadership and philosophy major has emerged one of the most accomplished graduating seniors in the Class of 2023. Among the achievements and honors Flores is most proud of is being named a Harry S. Truman Scholar in 2022.
“Being named a Truman Scholar for the state of Mississippi has been my most gratifying award, because the award’s purpose matches my life’s goal to a tee,” Flores said. “I want to dedicate my life to public service, and nothing will ever change that.”
Flores is also a 2023 inductee to the university’s student Hall of Fame, a Taylor medalist and Ventress Scholar. He is also founder of HelpSaveHELP, a statewide initiative to prevent the Mississippi HELP Grant’s elimination.
Flores’ journey to Commencement started with his decision to attend Ole Miss in the fall of 2019. Even as a freshman, he instinctively knew that he wanted to study public policy leadership at the Lott Leadership Institute.
“I attended here because of the university’s unparalleled opportunities for financial aid,” he said. “Through robust merit aid and need-based supports, like Mississippi’s HELP Grant, I was able to become the first in my family to go to college.”
Yet even with financial assistance, Flores said he found remaining at the university challenging.
“My greatest challenges at UM have stemmed from being a first-generation, low-income college student,” he said. “There were many times when I did not know how I was going to pay for opportunities that I was qualified for, or how I was going to support my family during brutal financial circumstances.”
To overcome these obstacles, Flores undertook a strategy that many other first-generation, low-income students are familiar with.
“Work so hard, so intentionally and so brilliantly that no one can tell you ‘no,’” he said.
Through it all, Flores’ mother, Katia Kerns, was his greatest supporter and his inspiration, he said.
“I am constantly inspired by my mother, who has toiled, sacrificed and supported me to the best of her ability throughout this wild journey,” he said. “Together, we are a working-class family, and making it this far has been anything but easy.
“However, her humor, work ethic and resilience have been vital in keeping me afloat.”
Flores said he views his leadership and other college involvements as an attempt to make the world a better place for people like his mom, whose dreams and essential roles are too often unnoticed.
Since his freshman year, Flores said he’s grown more comfortable with “taking up space.”
“Through the support of my friends, mentors and professors, I’ve found my voice and cultivated my ability to inspire others to action,” he said. “Whereas I used to feel insecure about myself and the contributions I can make, I have a newfound confidence that I believe is essential to steering society’s most difficult conversations.
“I feel ready to get to work on the most important issues of our time.”
Among the professors whom Flores acknowledged as having contributed to his growth are Melissa Bass, assistant professor of public policy leadership, and Ashleen Williams, instructional assistant professor and senior Barksdale fellow in the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.
“Learning in their classrooms changed the course of my life because they inspired me to apply myself to the best of my ability,” Flores said. “Through personalized feedback and individual meetings after class, each of them made me feel that my ideas were truly interesting, inventive and worth putting to paper.
“They took me seriously, and this initial care of theirs, during my first year of college, is what guided me to finally believe that I, like other first-generation college students, have undeniable assets – academically, socially and professionally.”
Williams said it has been a pleasure to witness Flores’s transformation over the past four years.
“I’ve been excited to watch him discover what he’s passionate about and pursue his goals with increasing confidence, courage and dedication.”
— Ashleen Williams, instructional assistant professor and senior Barksdale fellow in the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College
“Andy is absolutely fantastic,” she said. “I remember when he was a freshman in my class, him being eager to learn, but holding himself back.
“Over the past four years, I’ve been excited to watch him discover what he’s passionate about and pursue his goals with increasing confidence, courage and dedication.”
Having found his voice during his tenure at Ole Miss, Flores said he is more than ready to face the world. It starts this summer in Washington, D.C., where he is set to intern at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Right Under Law, working with attorneys at the Educational Opportunities Project.
“After my internship, I will begin a full-time position at the Vanderbilt Policy Accelerator for Political Economy and Regulation in Nashville, Tennessee,” he said. “There, I will support Vanderbilt Law School’s brand-new, cutting-edge think tank through communications, outreach, operational support and research.
“In my day-to-day role, I will serve as the special assistant to Ganesh Sitaraman, a groundbreaking constitutional law scholar and the founding director of VPA.”
In the long term, Flores plans to continue his studies at law school.
“I want to propel society forward as an attorney, educator and lawmaker,” he said.