OXFORD – A University of Mississippi student and Winona native is heading to Virginia this May to study leadership at the home of the country’s first leader, George Washington.
Mitchell Palmertree, a sophomore public policy leadership major from Winona, has been selected as a Mount Vernon Leadership Fellow. The program is a highly selective, six-week institute for 16 rising college juniors across the country that offers unparalleled leadership learning and networking opportunities at Mount Vernon, the historic home outside Washington, D.C., of the country’s first president.
“This truly is an opportunity to experience something very few people could ever dream of,” Palmertree said. “To call such a historic place my home and experience some of the same experiences as our first president for even a short time will be both awe-inspiring and transformational.
“In addition to this, for six weeks I will be surrounded by other highly driven individuals much like myself. Just the thought of being able to problem-solve with and bounce ideas off of these other fellows is amazing.”
Over the course of his May 25-July 5 stay at the institute, which includes housing, transportation, meals and a $3,000 stipend, Palmertree will study a character-based leadership and decision-making curriculum modeled after Washington’s military and political career. He also will learn about institution building, identify areas for growth and meet with national leaders in government, military, industry and nonprofits, learning from their journeys and counsel.
A highlight of the program is turning a personal passion into a blueprint for action in the form of a capstone project.
“I feel Mount Vernon will inspire me further simply with the location, the caliber of fellows and the variety of speakers,” Palmertree said. “I fully expect that I will come out of this summer a better leader and a better person simply by experiencing that.”
Palmertree, who studies in the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, is the second student from the college in as many years to be selected to the Mount Vernon Leadership Fellows Program. Elizabeth Boyer, of Houston, was selected last year, becoming the first Ole Miss student ever admitted to the program, which started in 2015.
“Mitchell’s passion emerges from his convictions and his ability to align his actions with these deep-felt commitments,” said Douglass Sullivan-Gonzalez, dean of the Honors College. “Rare are the young people who can follow through on their passions to implement strategies to mitigate the challenges in a community.
“Mitchell’s track record mirrors those convictions and proves that he has already made a difference. We are very proud of his accomplishments and elated with this national recognition.”
Palmertree’s proposed capstone project is inspired by his work last summer, when he interned at the Sunflower County Freedom Project, an educational nonprofit program in the Mississippi Delta for middle and high school students. Having grown up only 50 miles east of Sunflower, Palmertree recognizes the challenges facing young people in rural Mississippi, especially when it comes to educational opportunities, and he would like to create a project similar to the Sunflower County Freedom Project in Winona.
The Mount Vernon Leadership Fellows Program presents a roadmap for bringing such a project to Winona, along with needed resources and support, he said.
“I am hoping Mount Vernon equips me with the necessary skills to turn my dream of the freedom project in Winona into a reality,” he said. “I want the freedom project in Winona to be so much more than just another summer or after-school program; mediocracy is not a goal of mine. I want it to be an engine for change and progress in my hometown.
“Simply starting it is a tall task by itself, and developing it into the vision I see it as is even more challenging. My deepest hope is that I leave Mount Vernon this summer with the complete confidence that I can turn this dream into a reality.”
The Mount Vernon Leadership Fellows Program selects young people – just like Palmertree – who have a passion for making the world a better place and inspires young leaders while connecting them to mentors and helping them design a workable plan to carry out their dreams, said Tim Dolan, director of the UM Office of National Scholarship Advisement.
“Mitchell cares deeply about Mississippi and wants to work to help the state move past its legacies of racism and segregation,” he said. “He has a plan to begin in his hometown of Winona, and I believe they recognized his vision and willingness to invest his energy into creating positive change.”