Doctoral student works to help students succeed in STEM fields
November 2, 2015
LaTanya Dixon (BA chemistry ’04) arrived at the University of Mississippi in 2001 to study pre-medicine, but her service as a tutor and mentor at the Boys and Girls Club made her reconsider her career goals.
When Dixon was an undergraduate, a friend introduced her to AmeriCorps, an organization that places college volunteers in nonprofits and schools across the community. On top of her studies, she spent 20 hours a week working with the youth at the Boys and Girls Club and also volunteering with Leap Frog, an after-school tutoring and mentoring program.
She learned the importance of early reading success and of supporting junior high and high school students on their academic journey.
“A small seed was planted in my heart: academic and social support for students must begin before college,” Dixon said. “I tucked that new truth and passion away in my heart assuming I would do something to help once I retired from a career in medicine or science.”
But by the end of Dixon’s senior year at UM, she changed her focus from medicine to higher education with plans to pursue a doctorate in chemistry.
While teaching a freshman chemistry laboratory course as a graduate student at Jackson State University, Dixon recognized the need to improve recruitment and retention of minority students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.
She remembered far too many peers, including herself, falling behind in their undergraduate studies in STEM fields. She watched as many minority students changed their majors or did not use their degrees after graduation.
“I was puzzled as to how most of those ambitious and accomplished students were not succeeding or remaining in STEM,” Dixon said. “Therefore, I stopped at the master’s level in chemistry, and I tried to approach the issue from a different angle.”
She headed to the classroom to teach science at the high school level and worked with local nonprofits in education for almost six years before deciding to pursue her Ph.D. In 2012, Dixon returned to UM, not to study chemistry, but to obtain her doctorate in K-12 educational leadership with a cognate in higher education.
Dixon is continuing her dedication to making a difference in students’ lives while working toward her doctorate. She serves as an academic mentor for the UM Foundations for Academic Success program, known as FASTrack, a program that assists students with the transition to college and offers support throughout their freshman year.
She also coordinates UM College Corps, an AmeriCorps service program, the same organization she volunteered with when she first came to UM.
“LaTanya Dixon is a dedicated educator who cares about her students and her community,” said Stephen Monroe, assistant dean of liberal arts. “She and her colleagues have shaped FASTrack and the College Corps into exemplary programs that are improving UM and our state. The University of Mississippi is a great place to work because of colleagues like LaTanya Dixon.”
Dixon’s commitment to students does not end at the university. As a board member for United Way of Oxford-Lafayette County, she remains committed to early childhood reading success and helped launch LOU Reads, a communitywide coalition that works to ensure all children are reading proficiently by the time they enter fourth grade.
Dixon is the kind of volunteer that every nonprofit dreams of finding, said Alice Ricks, United Way executive director.
“She is committed, passionate, smart and—perhaps more important than anything else—an exceptional team player,” Ricks said. “Now, in addition to her very busy ‘day job,’ her doctoral studies and her many other responsibilities, LaTanya serves on United Way’s board as our secretary while continuing to play a key role with LOU Reads. She is a true asset to our organization and our community.”
November 2, 2015 | By Kelley Norris