MERIDIAN, Miss.—The retirement this past week of a senior academic advising coordinator leaves Mississippi State-Meridian colleagues with nearly three decades of fond memories of the service and dedication she gave the institution.
In addition to advising, Regena Clark has filled roles for more than 27 years of counselor, “mom” and friend to thousands of students at the Lauderdale County-based university campus.
Clark’s tenure began in September 1988 when the “branch,” as it was then known, was located in a single building at Meridian Community College and offered only night classes. As academic program assistant under chair Habib Bazyari, she initially was responsible for evaluating and advising all Division of Business majors.
While enjoying the work with Bazyari and founding campus dean David Moffett, Clark said it was her experiences helping students that kept her returning year after year. “Back then, I really would get to know the students I advised. They were non-traditional, working full time and typically taking just a few classes each semester.
“This meant,” she continued, “they often would attend our campus for four or five years before earning their degree” and many “became like family to me.”
In recalling some of those students’ names, she expressed particular pride in two that went on to become local community leaders after graduation. They are C.D. Smith, an AT&T regional director and current member of the Board of Trustees, State Institutions of Higher Learning, and Jacqueline VanZyverden Hogan, CEO Van Zyverden Inc., one of the nation’s largest wholesale distributors of flower bulbs.
Her list also includes multiple business majors now in management roles at area banks and financial firms, as well as others working as accountants. “Several are running their own businesses,” she noted.
In 2000, Clark’s promotion to academic advising coordinator expanded her duties to include both business and the Division of Arts and Sciences.
As she went about packing up her office earlier this week, Clark reflected on the change and progress MSU-Meridian has experienced over the decades. Perhaps the most exciting came in the fall of 1993 when she and others departed the grounds of MCC for what now is known as MSU-Meridian’s College Park Campus.
“The students and faculty were so excited to finally have their own campus,” she recalled. “They even convinced Dean Moffett to hold the May 1994 commencement ceremonies in Kahlmus Auditorium even though the ceiling wasn’t finished and there was no air conditioning.
“They wanted to be the first ones to have commencement in our beautiful new building,” she said with a chuckle.
The majority of those first MSU-Meridian students were older and non-traditional, a fact Clark said remains the case to the present day. Yet, many she has advised in recent years tended to be younger and of traditional university age who desired to remain close to home due to work or family obligations.
“Over the years I’ve seen more students in the 20-24 year age range than when I first started,” she said. In recent years, she continued, “even children of former students also have walked through my office door.”
Listening to Clark sum up her career, it becomes clear that she really will be miss her co-workers, but it’s the students she most will miss.
“I have worked with siblings, spouses, as well as parents and children,” she said. “A few years ago, we even had two young women who were sisters-in-law enrolled in the MBA in accounting program. There is nothing better than to watch families that attended the university together also walk across the stage at commencement together.”
At a recent retirement reception, the feelings of her former “family” members obviously were mutual. The event drew numerous current and former students, including Chad Golseth who travelled all the way from Texas to express his appreciation.
Terry Dale Cruse, MSU-Meridian’s head of campus, spoke for all assembled when he praised Clark for successfully “guiding thousands of students, locally and from around the state, in reaching their educational and career goals.
“We celebrate her dedicated service and wish her well in the next chapter of her life story,” Cruse said.
Photo: Regena Clark shows off the cowbell she received from her colleagues at Mississippi State University-Meridian.