Local educator recognized as Outstanding Graduate Student at MSU-Meridian

Contact: Lisa SollieYoung white male in lab coat in science lab

MERIDIAN, Miss.—A fourth-generation educator is the Outstanding Graduate Student for the Division of Education at MSU-Meridian this semester.

Dunnam Shirley of Meridian is in his second year of teaching eighth-grade science at Southeast Middle School. At home in his white lab coat in a room filled with flasks and beakers, Bunsen burners and balances, Shirley actually never intended to be an educator. Instead, he spent summers during his youth at veterinary camps and working after school at local veterinary clinics—anticipating the day he would attend veterinary school at Mississippi State.

His plans changed during his senior year of high school.

“Nothing dramatic happened to steer me away from my dream of becoming a vet,” Shirley said. “I can’t really explain it other than I just woke up one day and knew it was not for me. I believe the idea of becoming an educator was planted in my head by my principal at Southeast Lauderdale High School, Mr. Russell Keene. He was my mentor and suggested more than once I should combine my love of school and learning with my passion for animals and science—and I realized he was on to something.”

His career path set, Shirley attended Meridian Community College, and then went on to Mississippi State’s Starkville campus—earning an undergraduate degree in secondary education with a concentration in biology in 2021. He had several job offers after graduation, but the opportunity to come home to his alma mater and impact the next generation in the same community he grew up in was hard to pass up.

Before his first year of teaching at Southeast Middle School ever began, Shirley decided to continue his education at MSU-Meridian in education leadership with a concentration in teacher leadership.

“I grappled that summer with which graduate program to pursue, discussing it extensively with Dr. Rosalind Operton, a phenomenal advisor and professor at the Meridian campus, who walked me through my options, and showed me a path individualized for my future career,” he said.

Shirley finished the program this summer and will walk in the fall commencement [Dec 8] at 11 a.m. at the MSU Riley Center.

“I can’t say enough about the faculty at MSU-Meridian. They truly had my best interest at heart—expressing care and intentionality, as did those in my cohort who took me under their wing and provided tips on classroom management and project ideas that helped make my first year of teaching a successful one,” he said. “Through this program I have an arsenal of resources and information I can share with my colleagues, as well as my students.”

Shirley’s impact at Southeast Middle School has been far reaching. According to Principal Brittney Chaney, “He played an integral part in the planning, building and implementing of the new STEAM lab at the school and has increased science proficiency by more than 30 percent in his first year in the classroom.” He also has been selected by his peers as Teacher of the Year for the 2022-23 school year.

“I love my job, my school, my community and my students,” Shirley said. “I know I’m exactly where the Lord wants me at this period of my life. But I’m not done learning. Once I’m able, I plan to continue my education at Mississippi State pursuing an education specialist degree in school administration.”

MSU-Meridian serves east Mississippi and west Alabama. Learn more at www.meridian.msstate.edu.

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.

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