MSU-Meridian recognizes outstanding graduates at commencement

MERIDIAN, Miss.—Four Mississippi State University-Meridian graduates are being recognized for outstanding achievements during the 2015-16 school year.

They were among the 110 receiving diplomas during Friday [May 6] spring commencement ceremonies at the MSU Riley Center.

The honored group includes:

—Rayanne K. Craven of Newton, named the Division of Arts and Sciences’ Outstanding Undergraduate. While pursuing a criminology degree, she was a President’s List Scholar and selection for the G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery Meridian Scholarship. Earlier at East Central Community College, she was a member of Phi Theta Kappa national honor society.

—Luiza D. Dobbins of Quitman, the Division of Business’ Outstanding Undergraduate. A business administration in accounting graduate, she was a President’s List Scholar and MSU-Meridian Riley Scholar. Earlier at Meridian Community College, she was a member of the Honors College and Phi Theta Kappa.

—Suzanne P. Stokes of Ocean Springs, the Division of Education’s Outstanding Graduate-Level Student. Prior to receiving an MSU-Meridian master’s degree in school counseling, she earned a bachelor’s in communication/public relations on the Starkville campus. [Editor’s note: Graduate students are not eligible for inclusion on the Dean’s and President’s lists.]

—Tyler A. Vick of Collinsville, Division of Education’s Outstanding Undergraduate. A secondary education graduate, he was a Dean’s List Scholar who transferred from Meridian Community College, where he was a Phi Theta Kappa member.

Staying close to home

Craven maintained a perfect 4.0 grade-point average at MSU-Meridian while also working 30 hours a week as a veterinary assistant with the Newton Animal Clinic. She also regularly entered two of her three Labradors in various agility competitions in Mississippi and Alabama.

She said the dogs, along with the fact that her father Chris was an MSU-Meridian business administration graduate, led her to pursue higher education on her own. “I couldn’t see myself going off to school with three dogs in tow, so I thought I’d see what MSU-Meridian had to offer,” she explained.

Craven gave praise to Amanda Cook, assistant professor of criminology/sociology, for helping allay some initial fears about pursuing a criminology degree. She said Cook “always presented multiple viewpoints either through documentaries or lectures” that “really made me look at things like the criminal justice system in a different light.”

As she pursues fulltime employment in data analysis, Craven said she plans to continue at the animal clinic and, of course, train her dogs for competition.

Putting down roots

Dobbin, a native of Brazil, said she first came to the United States as a 2010 exchange student at Southern Choctaw High School in Gilbertown, Alabama. After returning home, she earned a general education degree before deciding to come back to the U.S. and marrying Calob Dobbins of Quitman in 2013. The following year, she entered MSU-Meridian to seek a degree that could mesh well with the operations of her family’s South American businesses.

In addition to MSU-Meridian’s family-like atmosphere, Dobbins said she came to appreciate the dedication of faculty members there. “They were really willing to get to know you, and I could tell they wanted to help their students succeed both academically and professionally,” she said.

Having reached spring semester’s conclusion with a near-perfect GPA, Dobbins said she wants to continue at A&B Electric, a local contracting firm she joined in January, and begin study for the certified public accounting examination this fall.

Finding the right fit

Stokes, a single mother of two, said her life has experienced many unexpected twists but she now has found her true calling. While an undergraduate student in Starkville, she pursued a major in communication/public relations “because I wanted a career that would have something new happening every day,” she explained.

After graduation there, she moved to Atlanta and spent nearly a decade working with the Georgia State Assembly—one of the nation’s largest legislative bodies—as well as with a professional fundraising firm and an international chemical company. Along the way, she became the mother of Nicholas, now 11, and Philip, 9. Still, she added, “something was missing, career-wise.”

When life took another turn and she suddenly became single again, Stokes, with two small children in hand, moved to Meridian to be closer to her family. It was at this point that MSU-Meridian’s graduate program in counseling captured her attention, she recalled.

Somewhat ironically, that decision has led to a profession she spent almost 20 years trying to avoid. “My mother and sister both work in counseling and I didn’t want to choose this path just because they both were part of the field,” she admitted. “I needed to know this was the right fit for me.”

After relocating to Ocean Springs in fall 2015, she began satisfying the 1,200 required hours in a counseling practicum, as well as accepting an internship focused primarily on fifth-graders at Ocean Springs Upper Elementary School. The Gulf Coast experiences “worked together to help me as I counseled students” and led her to accept that “this is where I’m meant to be,” she emphasized.

Hearing the call

Vick said he was 19 and actively involved with MCC’s Baptist Student Association when he felt a call to ministry. As he began pursuing an MSU-Meridian education degree in fall 2014, he also was named youth minister at Meridian’s Oak Grove Baptist Church. 

Vick credits his campus courses and a student internship completed at Southeast Lauderdale High School for helping him become “more effective in student ministry.” He said MSU-Meridian proved to be “a really great fit” that provided an “affordable option to allow me to not only stay close to family but also work part-time and attend school full-time.”

As for faculty members, he expressed particular appreciation for Toby Bates, associate professor of history. “I really enjoyed my classes with Dr. Bates; he’s a great instructor and his classes were always interesting and often entertaining.”

As he makes plans to enter seminary in the fall for a master’s degree in divinity, Vick said he will continue working with Oak Grove’s youth and, whenever possible, serve as a substitute teacher at area schools.

For more about MSU-Meridian, visit

Photo:  (l to r) Suzanne P. Stokes, Tyler Vick, Luiza Dobbins and Rayanne Craven

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