Smith Aspires to Teach the Next Generation of Duplin County Students

Smith Aspires to Teach the Next Generation of Duplin County Students

December 17, 2020
Contact:  Rhonda Jessup, Director of Public Relations

MOUNT OLIVE – Beautancus native Melissa Smith is a freshmen at the University of Mount Olive.  She is one of the first 12 students enrolled in the University’s Homegrown Teacher Academy (HGTA).

The Homegrown Teacher Academy is an innovative and collaborative program involving Duplin County Schools, James Sprunt Community College, and the University of Mount Olive.  Funded by grants from the William R. Kenan Charitable Trust and other generous contributors, the Academy is designed to identify and recruit students as early as middle school within the Duplin County School system who would be interested in becoming teachers. The Academy provides opportunities for students to shadow teachers when they are in high school, obtain college credits while still in high school through James Sprunt Community College, and complete their teacher education degree at the University of Mount Olive.  Students receive funding to offset the cost of college, thereby minimizing the amount of student debt incurred.  In return, Academy graduates commit to work in Duplin County Schools.

“The best prospect for rural school districts to attract and retain teachers is to grown their own future educators, and the HGTA is doing just that,” said Associate Professor of Education Dr. Tommy Benson.  “This program is truly one-of-a-kind and is an amazing opportunity for Duplin County and its students.”

“This scholarship has meant a great deal to me because it allows financial relief to my parents,” said Smith.  “HGTA feels like a family that gives me the support to succeed in my classes.”

Smith is no stranger to UMO.  Both of her parents, Tim and Lynn Smith are alumni of the University. Her mother and her uncle are also both teachers by profession.  Smith, who graduated from North Duplin Jr./Sr. High School, aspires to follow in their footsteps by being a high school social studies teacher when she graduates.  “I want to be a positive role model for my students, showing them love, kindness, and allowing them to see the different opportunities Duplin County has to offer,” she said.

Not only does Smith talk the talk of being a positive role model, she also walks the walk.  She volunteers with the Bridge Church of Mount Olive, works in the UMO Admissions Office, and is a part of the UMO Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA).  Smith is also quick to give credit to her own role model.  “Mrs. Dupree was my most inspiring teacher growing up, because she showed me that hard work and kindness go a long way,” Smith said.  “She pushed me to do my best and I truly believe that I would not be where I am without her.”

As a student, Smith has observed all types of teaching styles, and believes there are certain characteristics that every teacher should possess to be successful in the classroom.  “To me those successful attributes are being professional, standing your ground, showing understanding, and being kind hearted.”

Discussing positive teaching styles is one of the topics that Smith and the other HGTA students mull over during their required weekly meetings.  They also talk about ways to promote HGTA, coordinate and implement service projects, and discuss the obstacles and opportunities within the Duplin County School system, in an effort to brainstorm creative solutions. “One of the goals of the Homegrown Teacher Academy is to make these students not only better teachers, but also better citizens,” said Assistant Professor of Education Gail Herring.

Herring indicated that applications are currently being accepted for the 2021-2022 UMO Homegrown Teacher Academy with scholarship amounts ranging from $3,000 to $6,000 per year.  “There are other scholarship opportunities available for Duplin County students as well that make earning a degree in education from UMO both affordable and attainable,” she said.

For more information about the University of Mount Olive Homegrown Teacher Academy contact Herring at

The University of Mount Olive is a private institution rooted in the liberal arts tradition with defining Christian values. The University is sponsored by the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists.  For more information, visit