Rodrigo Rodriguez Escutia

Defined by Determination badge

“I couldn’t have made it without Dr. Coats. She is like no other. She is strong, determined, respectful, honest and a source of pure empathy. She cares for her students, and I was drawn to her energy. My fear and doubts all went away when I was around her. She was my light at the end of the long tunnel.”

Melissa Stanford


Alumna achieves dream of teaching despite odds

…Credits Ole Miss DeSoto staff, faculty for encouragement

Melissa Stanford knew she was fighting an uphill battle to achieve her goal of becoming a teacher, but she was unafraid of the challenge.

“As a first-generation and a nontraditional student, the odds were not in my favor,” Stanford said. “My stubborn, yet determined, soul saw things differently though.”

Today, Stanford is a 2020 alumna of the University of Mississippi at DeSoto Center-Southaven with a bachelor’s degree in multi-disciplinary studies. She is living out her dream as a history teacher at Strayhorn High School.

While it is common for students to switch majors, Stanford knew at a young age she wanted to pursue a career in education.

“I used to teach my stuffed animals,” said Stanford, a Como native. “I have dreamed of teaching for as long as I can remember.”

Her fierce determination to succeed came around the time of her high school graduation – which also happened to be the time she became a mother. Fully aware of the struggles that teenage moms face, Stanford made a vow that neither she, nor her daughter, would “become a statistic.”

Sixteen years later, Stanford began her college journey at Northwest Mississippi Community College. She was now a mother of three taking night courses while working full time during the day. She obtained her associate degree after three years, then enrolled in the University of Southern Mississippi’s online elementary education program. While there, she hit a roadblock.

“After several attempts to reach the magic number to pass the math portion of the common core Praxis exam, and failing every time, I decided to withdraw from school,” she said. “I was crushed. All of these nights away from my children and family for three years felt like a waste.”

This setback was short lived, however, and she was admitted to Ole Miss DeSoto in 2018. She selected the multi-disciplinary studies program with the intention of pursuing the alternate route to teaching.

Stanford had some help from key individuals at the DeSoto Center, she said. In particular, Pat Coats, assistant director of academic support services, provided a great deal of support. Receptionist Rosemary Parsley served as a confidant to Stanford as well.

As Stanford approached graduation, she had to navigate many changes and challenges in her personal life. Perhaps the biggest obstacle came when her husband had a traumatic accident that resulted in a long recovery. Finding the balance between school and family became increasingly difficult. However, Coats was “there at every turn.”

“I couldn’t have made it without Dr. Coats,” Stanford said. “She is like no other. She is strong, determined, respectful, honest and a source of pure empathy. She cares for her students, and I was drawn to her energy. My fear and doubts all went away when I was around her. She was my light at the end of the long tunnel.”

Coats is proud of all that Stanford has accomplished.

“Melissa faced a lot of adversity during her years in school, but she rose to the occasion,” she said. “It has been my privilege to get to know her. She accomplished so much, and now has reached her ultimate goal of teaching. Her students are lucky to have her.”

At age 38, not only did Stanford graduate, but she also achieved an impressive 3.9 GPA.

“I now wake up every day and get to teach students. I fight back tears every single day because of how much I love my job and the students in my classroom. I pray every day the same prayer, ‘Thank you Lord for these children. Thank you for trusting me with them. May I be just what they need. May your light shine through me to them.’

“I am beyond blessed and grateful for my journey. It made me humble. It might have been bumpy and the road less traveled, but it got me where I wanted to go. I hope I can be an inspiration to my students and my own children. I hope they know that they can truly do anything that they set their mind to and work hard for. If I can, anyone can.”