Making a Difference Back Home

Dr. Stacey McNeil (front, third from left) was named Mississippi Collegiate DECA Advisor of the Year at the 2019 statewide convention. Here she is surrounded by MSU-Meridian DECA members, who turned in strong performances in the conference competitions.“Just tell the story that needs to be told.”

That’s the request from Dr. Stacey Reynolds McNeil as her Dividends interview commences. The titles she holds at Mississippi State-Meridian’s Division of Business provide rich avenues for storytelling: Assistant Clinical Professor of Management, Director of the Professional MBA Program and MSU-Meridian Collegiate DECA advisor. Joining the faculty here landed McNeil back in her hometown after years away.

“I just couldn’t miss this opportunity,” she says. “Meridian made me a leader, starting in middle school. I went through the public school system and was President of the Student Council and Miss Meridian High School, really always in some leadership role. Now, it’s fulfilling to give back to the community that believed in me before I knew who I was.”

Armed with a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering degree from Georgia Tech, McNeil began her career in West Texas sizing pumps and compressors, clad in a hard hat and steel-toed boots. Soon changing wardrobe and direction, she moved into marketing for the same company and promoted its technical jobs.

“They wanted engineers selling to engineers,” she explains.

Not one to sit still or become bored, McNeil continued to pursue her education. She earned a BS in mathematics from Jackson State University, an MBA from Georgia State University and a PhD in Management, also from Jackson State. But where would those degrees lead? Her affinity for learning combined with her professional and personal experiences to steer her course.

“I had worked in a Fortune 500 company and in our family’s multi-cultural marketing business, had traveled throughout the U.S. in my sales job and engineering role and had personally traveled because I like to travel – I’ve been to all seven continents,” she says. “I decided I want to help the next group of people. I’m a double minority, African American and female…and then Southern, too. There are certain things I do that people wouldn’t think I could do, but that’s because great people have always helped me. Now I want to be that person who helps. I love learning and enabling people to grow.”

One such group of individuals at the Meridian Division of Business is not fledgling freshmen but rather, seasoned business leaders seeking the next level of learning. As Director of Meridian’s Professional MBA Program, McNeil welcomes established achievers back to the classroom for one night a week per course to earn the advanced degree.

“It’s rich for the classroom because these people are experienced,” she explains. “A lot are civic leaders, people who work for the hospital systems here and company leaders. They come to study leadership skills, financial accounting, supply chain management, strategic market management, entrepreneurship and more. This program allows them to fill in things they may be missing and to become even more fully rounded.”

Halfway through its second year, the Professional MBA program boasts 38 students from East Mississippi and West Alabama. Candidates may take one course at a time or pursue several classes per semester; the first graduating class is finishing in December. McNeil stresses that the Professional MBA degree is wholly a “Mississippi State degree, not a Meridian degree.”

She adds, “We advocated for this program because the community needed it. This is a happening trend, people wanting to be ‘tooled up’ no matter how they’re doing in their professions. They want to know the latest, and we want to infuse the opportunity into the great state of Mississippi, regardless of what corner of it someone lives in.”

McNeil’s focus also extends to undergraduates. Though DECA was not on her agenda when she arrived on the Meridian campus three years ago, she now serves as the undergraduate collegiate group’s lead advisor. DECA is an international society that aims to prepare emerging leaders and entrepreneurs in the fields of marketing, finance, hospitality and management.

“This organization helps develop students’ business acumen through leadership training and competitions,” says McNeil, who was named Mississippi Collegiate DECA Advisor of the Year after only six months in her role.

Meridian’s DECA students will travel to Chicago during the year for the Engage national leadership conference, bringing them in close communication with top professionals in a variety of relevant fields. They’ll have opportunities for similar interactions within Mississippi, too.

“I want to see these students develop,” McNeil says. “I believe in formal training and apprenticeships, and I believe in learning by experience. This is a robust program for them.”

McNeil has accomplished much in her three years on the Meridian campus, in addition to participating in the launch and leadership of the Professional MBA program and overseeing the DECA chapter. She has established a formal orientation for undergraduate students, earned her certification for global social entrepreneurship and accepted an invitation to participate in an International Council for Small Business forum at the United Nations.

“[The forum] was like a think tank for advancing entrepreneurship throughout the world,” McNeil explains. “They brought in educators, entrepreneurs and politicians – people who can make things happen – and it was amazing. I met people from all over the world; I had actually visited some of their countries. I particularly got to know women entrepreneurs from Malaysia. They want to place their products in the U.S. to get their people out of their different levels of poverty.”

Students in her Cross-Cultural Management class hear about the Malaysian women and all the other experiences McNeil shares from her worldwide travels.

“I explain things they have no idea about,” she says. “I can bring my exposure to the world into the classroom and tell students that it’s just miles between nations – to put your heart to it, get your plane ticket and just go.”

Lately, McNeil’s travels have focused on the road between Meridian and Atlanta, where her 13-year-old son attends the prestigious Marist School. The weekly four-plus hour drive allows her more time to learn.

“I listen to articles that help me advance my knowledge and research, and I use the time to reflect on what’s next,” she remarks. “When I travel the world, I get clarity and perspective about things. People say I am adventurous, but I call it passion for learning.”

Dr. Stacey Reynolds McNeil is an educator who lives to teach and lead. She is a natural fit at the Meridian Division of Business where, as she puts it, “We have a student-centric and knowledge-centric community. When you have those things, the University is vibrant.”

She is appreciative in particular of her predecessor, Dr. Natasha Randle, as well as Suzanne Parker, Division Administrative Assistant; Dr. William Hill, Division Head of Business and Dr. Terry Dale Cruse, Associate Vice President and Head of Campus.

“They really support and focus on the students,” she states.

There is another group who inspires her and to whom she is thankful, and they bring her back to the very reason she returned to Meridian.

“I have a great role model in my mother, the consummate educator,” she says. “My aunts were educators, and my stepfather was an educator. But my mother, Mable Oatis – a Mississippi State alumnus and master’s and specialist degree holder from Meridian – was a STAR teacher in the state of Mississippi. I’ve been trained for this since I was a baby!”

McNeil’s students seem to recognize that spark, that bright mission on her part to make their lives better.

“I tell them, ‘You’ve been trained well in Mississippi. You can go all over the world with your knowledge. Put your time in, and you can do that,’” she states.

In return, those students give positive feedback.

“They say to me, ‘Dr. McNeil, you really care!’” she shares. “That’s a great gift to me because I wake up every morning wanting to make a difference.”

And that’s the story that needs to be told.

2019 DIVIDENDS Magazine, College of Business
Story by Carolanne Roberts; Photo by Beth Wynn, MSU Photographer

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