Attending college is a Dyess family affair at MSU-Meridian

Contact:  Lisa Solliea white male, young woman and middle age woman outside of gates

MERIDIAN, Miss.—When Katelyn Dyess dreamed about going to college to be a teacher, she never envisioned her mother and father would be there too. Last summer all three family members began course work at Mississippi State University-Meridian—Katelyn in elementary education, and her parents, Jason and Dawn Dyess, in applied science.

Diehard Mississippi State fans, the Meridian residents never considered getting a degree from anywhere else.

A teacher at heart

As a teenager Katelyn Dyess began babysitting and helping with children’s church before eventually becoming a lead teacher at a local daycare.

“I always knew I wanted to be a teacher even when I was in kindergarten. Even after working with kids all these years, I never changed my mind or wavered,” she said.

This fall she will move one step closer to her goal as a kindergarten assistant at Northeast Lauderdale Elementary school.

“I did my class observation in kindergarten so when Northeast offered me the position, I was so excited. In the fall I will also participate in the Professional Advancement Network for Teacher Assistants initiative on the MSU-Meridian campus so I can earn a paycheck while I’m finishing my degree,” she said. “Everyone I’ve spoken with said PANTA will enable me to get so much more experience since I will be in the classroom for the entire year.”

That’s what excites Dyess the most.

“I can’t wait to see the kids evolve from the beginning of the school year to the end when they are ready to transition to first grade,” she said.  “As part of the PANTA initiative I will spend this fall as a teacher assistant —and then transition to my student internship in the spring. I’m ready!”   

Dyess is on point to graduate in May 2024, sticking to her four-year college plan, and after sitting out for the summer, she wants to begin her graduate studies in the fall of 2024.

Bachelor’s degree on bucket list

Jason Dyess wanted to earn a bachelor’s degree from Mississippi State for as long as he can remember, and next year he can finally check this off his bucket list, thanks to East Mississippi Electric Power Association’s tuition reimbursement.

He began working for the local electric power association in 2021 as fiber inventory coordinator.

He and his wife thought about returning to school several years earlier but were discouraged when they discovered their technical credits wouldn’t transfer to MSU-Meridian at that time and they would have to start over. That changed in 2020 when Dyess learned about MSU’s new Bachelor of Applied Science degree while station manager for WMER, a local Christian radio station.

“I landed at the station when CertainTeed Ceilings, where I’d worked at for 18 years, closed their doors. I heard rumblings about a new degree at Mississippi State, so I invited Dr. Terry Dale Cruse, head of MSU-Meridian, to come to the station and talk about it on air,” he said. “I knew then I finally had a pathway to finish college and earn my degree. Once I began working at EMEPA and learned about the company’s tuition reimbursement program – I also knew it was time.”

Staying the course

Dawn Dyess began working at the bookstore on the College Park Campus in 1996, eventually becoming manager. Seven years ago, when the store closed, the university hired her as manager of the Bulldog Shop at the Riley Campus downtown. That career change would prove fortuitous for her family.

As an employee of Mississippi State, Dyess became eligible for tuition remission, and her dependents’ tuition also could be reduced by half.

“When Jason and I looked into going back to school years ago, I really didn’t see the need and I didn’t want to have to start over," she said. “But when Jason decided to go back and earn his bachelor’s degree in applied science, he encouraged me to join him.”

New degree program makes the difference

The BAS degree, with opportunities in more than 30 career fields, allows students like Jason and Dawn Dyess to apply their technical education credits earned from a community college or the military to a bachelor’s degree. Students in the BAS degree program also select two concentration areas to study.

“Business was our first choice of study,” Dawn Dyess said. "I chose psychology for my second concentration and Jason’s choice was communications.”

“This really was the perfect time for all of us to go back to school, and we are so grateful for our employee benefits from MSU and EMEPA that made it possible," she said.  "There is no other way we could do this at the same time without incurring a lot of debt.”

Since starting college, the family has learned how to make schoolwork a priority in their home and be respectful of one another.

“It can get a little comical at times, as we all have different study and homework habits,” said Jason Dyess. “Many nights and weekends Dawn and I are sitting at opposite ends of our dining room table with our laptops and books all spread out, while Katelyn may be in her room or my home office since she often completes her schoolwork earlier in the day.”

“It has also made studying easier because everyone is of the same mindset so you don’t feel like you are missing out on anything,” added Dawn Dyess.  

The couple isn’t interested in earning an undergraduate degree just to check an item off their bucket list or even for their own personal satisfaction. They look at it as an insurance policy if life throws another curve ball their way.

“After my company closed its doors and I was scrambling to find work, I realized not having a degree often disqualified me from even applying for a job,” said Jason Dyess. “So many jobs are online and if you couldn’t check the box that you had at least a bachelor’s degree — your application was rejected. I have no plans to leave my current employer, but at least now I’ve positioned myself in case the unthinkable happens.”

“I’m blessed I’m still here after all these years,” added Dawn Dyess, “but who’s to say after retirement I won’t want to do something else. Now I’ll be able to.”

As the family gears up for another semester of college, at least two in the family have their sights set on graduation next year.

“I always thought when I graduated from college it was just going to be me,” said Katelyn Dyess. "Although it’s kind of weird when I think about Dad graduating with me, I am proud and excited for him.”

For Jason Dyess, graduating with his daughter feels like a full circle moment.

“When I first understood I might possibly finish at the same time as Katelyn, I hesitated. I didn’t want to do anything to take away from her accomplishments,” he said, “but finishing together would really mean a lot to me. And once Katelyn realized that us graduating together meant more graduation tickets for family and friends, she was all for it!”

For more about MSU-Meridian, visit

For more information about the Bachelor of Applied Science degree and to view all emphasis areas at Mississippi State University, visit

Mississippi State University is taking care of what matters. Learn more at

← Back