Alcorn to expand in Vicksburg, new president says|[05/09/08]

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 9, 2008

Adding to renewed discussions on the direction of Alcorn State University, its president made things crystal clear as he met some alumni in Vicksburg for the first time.

“There will be an expansion of Alcorn State University in Vicksburg, Mississippi,” Dr. George E. Ross said during opening comments of Alumni Weekend 2008 Thursday at the Vicksburg Convention Center.

Continued expansion of the historically black university’s Lorman-based campus into Vicksburg has been a topic for years. It has been reinvigorated with the arrival of Ross, 56, a Utica native hired in April 2007 from Central Michigan University to replace Dr. Clinton Bristow after his death eight months earlier.

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A location for a satellite campus to either complement or replace its small Cherry Street outpost is the “last step” in talks Ross termed “preliminary.”

Ross started the job Jan. 3 after spending several months in a Michigan hospital battling leukemia, now in remission.

President George Ross”I’ve only been here four months,” Ross said after speaking briefly to alumni. “But, there’s lots of chances for developing the curricula,” Ross said, adding the federal presence in Vicksburg, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, made the area all the more attractive for growing ASU’s computer and engineering courses already offered here.

Vicksburg leaders met with Ross and Warren County supervisors twice in recent weeks, Ross said. The most recent session yielded multiple ideas but no decisions. Mayor Laurence Leyens said the talks had a citywide focus.

“We want an active campus, either in the downtown model or elsewhere,” Leyens said, adding Vicksburg is the “best fit” for locating any additions to Alcorn’s class offerings.

“A lot of their students and professors live here,” Leyens said, adding that a lot of working parents could benefit from programs to offer more four-year and master’s degrees here. Alcorn and Mississippi State Universities have had limited course offerings in a consortium. In a major expansion from the 3,000-student main campus, Alcorn started offering a master of business administration program in Natchez several years ago.

SportsBasketball coach Larry Smith is going home againSpace to house classes will be a major challenge. In the past, Leyens said, buildings were offered as they became available, such as the downtown post office, the former ParkView Regional Medical Center and the Southern Cultural Heritage Center. Leyens said plans to have ASU use them were “lost in committee.”

Most recently, the closed All Saints’ Episcopal School buildings on Confederate Avenue have been offered “potentially” as a site, Leyens said.

Even if final plans center on a non-contiguous campus, Leyens said, it will be a “long-term investment.”

“He’s a lot like me in trying to get things done,” Leyens said.

Ross said any progress in trying to get more classes offered locally will depend on “a solid business plan.”

As Alcorn staff officially welcomed Ross and his wife, Elizabeth – with 42 members of its Class of 1958 looking on – Alcorn’s 17th president stressed open minds and teamwork.

“I’ve talked to 1,200 people in the last four months. I’ve taken copious notes. But what’s important is that we communicate. It’s not about me, or Elizabeth. It’s about Alcorn State University. I can’t do it by myself. But we can do it together,” Ross said.

Alcorn was founded in 1871.