HOULKA • Most students earn a high school diploma before getting a college degree.

Not Elizabeth Collums.

The Houlka Salutatorian graduated from Itawamba Community College May 13, then graduated from Houlka May 21.

She’s the first Houlka student to earn a college diploma before completing high school, according to school records and her parents, Betsy and Jimmy Collums.

They would certainly know. Dr. Betsy Collums spent 31 ½ in local education, beginning as an elementary school teacher and recently retiring after 8 ½ years as Chickasaw County Superintendent of Education.

Elizabeth was awarded an Associate of Arts degree during commencement ceremonies at the Davis Event Center at the Itawamba Community College Fulton campus.

She earned 61 hours of college credit as part of a Middle College program offered at Houlka Attendance Center and other area high schools.

The program began in August 2019.

“Our junior and senior students can take dual credit courses – which provide credit for both high school and college courses – through ICC at no cost, thanks to a grant from the Bovay Foundation,” Dr. Collums said this week.

The Harry E. Bovay Foundation, located in Houston, Texas, provides financial assistance to public school graduates in order to cover college expenses. It has previously provided grant money to HAC to purchase graphing calculators for students.

In June 2019 Houlka Attendance Center approved the Dual Credit Agreement with Itawamba Community College for FY 20. Under the agreement, high school juniors and seniors who are enrolled full-time at HAC and meet certain criteria can take courses for college credit at ICC.

“Students have the opportunity to build a college transcript that will benefit their future college enrollment in any university or community college. Students may work either towards an associate degree or take courses that will lay the foundation for a specific bachelor’s degree, ” Dr. Collums said.

As a junior, Elizabeth began taking as many courses as possible, and quickly began piling up credits under the arrangement.

Academic interest coupled with a combination of factors led to her decision to take the courses, Elizabeth said.

She played first base and third base for the Lady Wildcats. “When the pandemic hit and we were uncertain on what was to happen with high school and sports, I decided it would be in the best interest for myself and my future to go ahead and finish up my first two years of college since I was so close with dual enrollment,” Elizabeth said.

“The biggest hurdle I had to overcome to accomplish this dual major was deciding to just go for it. I knew it would benefit me the most in the long run.”

The pandemic-triggered scheduling problems gave her a lot of extra time, despite working at the Down Yonder Boutique in Houston for a time, and now working at Jake’s Restaurant in Okolona.

She turned a negative into a positive, putting the extra time to good use. As the old saying goes, she turned lemons into lemonade.

Said Betsy: “She took every elective she could take, regular classes and virtual, through ICC, and an Economics class on line through Booneville High School. As a result, by her senior year she only lacked one credit – Economics and Government. By the end of December, she had all the classes she needed to graduate here.”

She will begin as a junior this fall at Mississippi University for Women in Columbus. Among the scholarship offers she received, including three from four-year colleges, was one from The W for $18,000, and one from Phi Theta Kappa, an international honor society for students, for $16,000.

She plans to major in Speech and Language Pathology. Speech-language pathologists (SLPs), often called speech therapists, work to prevent or assess, diagnose, and treat disorders in speech, language, social communication, cognitive-communication, and swallowing in children and adults, according to the American Speech-Language Hearing Association.

“I want to become a SLP because I will be able to touch people of all ages. Speech pathology will give me the opportunity to make a difference in many people’s lives in countless ways because of all the different opportunities that it can hold,” Elizabeth said.

She said this week: “I had decided on that major at the end of my junior year. I visited the W campus in spring, 2020, received a course syllabus and followed that.”

Reinforcing the decision to pursue that major was a visit she made to the Regional Rehabilitation Center this spring, where she saw how speech and language pathology can help improve client’s lives.

“During my first years at The W, I hope to gain as much knowledge as possible in all areas of speech therapy; therefore, I will know more about what I would like to focus on more.

“My five year goals include finishing my bachelor’s and master’s degrees and securing a job in either a clinic, hospital, or nursing home setting.

“As for more long term goals, I would love to pursue a doctorate degree in SLP to eventually be able to teach speech pathology at a university,” she concluded.

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