Meridian student joins new cohort in Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program at MSU

Contact:  Lisa SollieAlyssa “Ali” Cochran of Waynesboro, the first Meridian recipient of the Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program, one of the state’s most prestigious teacher education programs. (Photo by Lisa Sollie).

MERIDIAN, Miss.— Mississippi State University-Meridian student Alyssa “Ali” Cochran of Waynesboro is one of thirty new scholarship recipients in one of the state’s most prestigious teacher education programs.

The Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program scholarship includes full tuition, with room, board and books, a $1000 technology stipend, and a fully-funded study-abroad experience.  The award is available to students majoring in elementary education, special education, or secondary education with a focus on mathematics, science and English.

Funded by the Jackson based Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation, the METP scholarship is valued at approximately $100,000 over four years.  METP is housed in MSU's College of Education  and is a collaborative effort with the University of Mississippi.

Competitive applicants should have at least a 28 ACT – or 1310 SAT – score and a 3.5 high school grade point average. Applicants participate in an interview with faculty, write an essay about    why they want to enter the teaching profession, and commit to teaching in Mississippi  in their program area for five years after graduation, though the obligation may be deferred if students decide to pursue graduate degree programs.

Cochran, a first grade teacher assistant at Clara Elementary School, is studying elementary education at MSU-Meridian through the Professional Advancement Network for Teacher Assistants (PANTA) initiative, designed to help teacher assistants complete the educational requirements to become licensed teachers.

“I am so grateful to Rachel Tentoni, who was my adviser at MSU-Meridian, who encouraged me to apply for the METP program. Earning this scholarship is quite an honor and such a blessing to me,” said Cochran.

Cochran remembers playing school with her brother and friends as a child. However, during high school, she changed her mind about becoming an educator, and decided she pursue veterinary medicine instead.  

“I loved animals so I thought a career working with them would be ideal,” she said.

Accepted into the pre-vet program at Mississippi State, Cochran headed to Starkville in the fall of 2013. While on Christmas break, she got the opportunity to volunteer at a local veterinary clinic in her hometown, but the hands-onexperience indicated it was not the career path for her.

She finished her freshman year at MSU, but enrolled at Jones County Junior College for the following year and she earned an associate's degree in 2015. With a few business ideas in mind, Cochran planned to enroll at MSU-Meridian to study business, but her mother encouraged her to apply for a position at her former elementary school. 

“I’d spent the last three years struggling to figure out what I wanted to do with my life,” said Cochran, “and I thought I had a plan already in place, but I talked it over with my family, including my aunt who has been an educator for 23 years.  She helped me see what I think I already knew deep in my heart - I was meant to be a teacher.”

Cochran applied for and was hired on as teacher’s assistant in first grade at Clara Elementary, although there was a caveat.

“Both my principal, Donna Hopkins and the vice principal Michael West, who were former teachers of mine and have known me for years, jokingly said I couldn’t have the job unless I went back to school. They, along with my parents, have really been my biggest supporters.”

 In August 2017, four years after she first attended Mississippi State, Cochran returned.

“I was bound and determined that I started my degree at Mississippi State and I was going to finish there,” she said. 

The switch from majoring in business to elementary education meant Cochran needed a different set of pre-requisites, so she had to re-enroll at JCJC as well.

“Since August I’ve been taking classes at both institutions, and I have about four more classes at JCJC before I finish there,” Cochran said. “I’m so thankful for this scholarship.  Beginning this fall,  it will cover the rest of my costs at the university, enable me to buy a new computer and hopefully next summer I’ll have the opportunity to study abroad.”

From her first day in the classroom she knew she was where she belonged.

“I wake up every morning excited to see my kids.  I love their individual personalities and seeing their faces when they finally understand something and it clicks. I cannot even express how much I am looking forward having my degree one day and teaching my own class. It’s been a long and winding journey, but I’m on the right path and I couldn’t be happier.”

To apply or learn more about the Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program at MSU, visit

For more information about MSU-Meridian, visit

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