Psychology major discovers her purpose at MSU-Meridian

Contact:  Lisa Sollie

MERIDIAN, Miss.—Intimidated and uncertain—this was an apt description of Mississippi State University-Meridian student Tina Dukes six years ago following a divorce and a cross-country move from Arizona to Meridian. Dukes, 47 at the time, wasspiked white hair white woman speaks with older brunette with glasses determined to regain her life and discover her purpose—and she knew the best way to do both was to return to school.

“It was scary to step out and enroll at Meridian Community College because it had been so long since I had done anything on my own,” she said. “But everyone was so willing to support and encourage me, I realized the only way I could fail was not to try.”

After earning her associate degree, Dukes transferred to MSU-Meridian in the fall of 2022 to study social work, but then quickly switched her major to psychology.

“I’ve always enjoyed studying behavior and the mind, and the field of psychology provided the education I was looking for,” she said. “Once I began taking classes I discovered there were things I instinctually understood, and I knew it was where I belonged,” Dukes said.

She also found a sense of purpose at Aldersgate Retirement Community where she just completed an eight-week internship through The Riley Foundation’s summer work program, an annual grant program for nonprofit organizations in Meridian and Lauderdale County to hire college students during the summer.

Aldersgate Executive Director Robyn Stephens was looking for someone to assist the director of HUD services and the chaplain this past summer by identifying residents who have needs beyond what the retirement community provides.  She wanted someone to communicate with residents and their family members and assist them in obtaining resources that could enhance their physical and mental health.

According to Stephens, Dukes embraced this role, roaming the hallways of the massive retirement community doling out smiles and hugs to residents. She demonstrated genuine care and concern about their well-being, family and friends, and each encounter was intentional, bringing joy to both Dukes and the residents, Stephens explained.

“Tina is a warm and compassionate person, and residents as well as team members truly enjoyed spending time with her this summer,” said Stephens. “She has a heart to serve others and easily found ways to make a positive impact at Aldersgate.”

“This job was amazing, and I still can’t believe it was offered to me,” Dukes said. “It was so fulfilling to come to work every day and check on the residents, spend time with and love on them and find out what they need.  I believe my journey is to share goodness the best I can and to walk through this world as Christ did, and I was able to do that here.”

While at the retirement community Dukes teamed up with Marion Swindell, an MSU-Meridian social work professor who drafted a grant to purchase large-print books and taught a class on brain health for the retirees. Dukes helped residents sponsor a canned food drive for the Boys and Girls Club and also conducted a few mindfulness sessions.  

“Mindfulness is simply using your breath and becoming aware of your mind and body and your environment. Breath work carries oxygen through our body, and it engages the parasympathetic nervous system, helps our heart and circulatory system function properly, and teaches emotional regulation, which is good for everyone. It’s particularly beneficial for the elderly, school age children and those who deal with anxiety,” she said.

The practice also has helped Dukes overcome events from both her childhood as well as her divorce, which has not only shaped where she is now—but where she is headed.

Dukes currently helps care for her mother whom she lives with, attends her college courses and travels off-grid whenever she can get away. While she isn’t ready to make firm career plans, she does foresee continuing her education through a master’s degree program. She would like to continue helping others and sharing knowledge of mindfulness techniques, whether in venues like Aldersgate or school settings.

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