Freshmen Make History At USM Gulf Park

USM Gulf Park Professor Mary Sison was in the middle of her opening day lecture, when she quoted the Frederick Jackson Turner. "Turner said that every generation rewrites history," she told the class.

Angela Brown, Maria Torres and Kyle Letts listened to the History 102 lecture and realized they were living proof of that statement. The threesome became the first freshmen to ever attend USM Gulf Park.

Brown waited three years to become a freshman at the Long Beach campus. "I just liked it better," the Diamondhead resident said. "I wanted to go to a university. I didn't want to do a two-by-two system."

USM Gulf Park first pitched the four year concept in 1997. But a lengthy legal battle against junior colleges kept freshmen out of Long Beach until this week.

Kyle Letts said so far, he's the only male member of the rather small freshman class. "I wanted to go to a four year college," the recent St. John High School graduate said. "I was going to USM in Hattiesburg. But I figured why go there when I can come right down here and drive only 20 minutes to go to college."

The summer school students took advantage of a February Supreme Court ruling that opened the Long Beach campus to freshmen and sophomores.

"It hasn't sunk in yet," Maria Torres said. "I'm trying to take it day-by-day. But it's really exciting just to be in college."

Less than 10 freshmen signed up for summer classes at what is now a four year college. Late registration may add a few names to that number.

In the fall, IHL guidelines allow USM Gulf Park to enroll up to 150 first year students. Because of funding limitations, Dr. Jim Williams said the school only plans to admit 75 freshmen. "It has been our plan all along to admit the freshman class in the fall, but to try to accommodate those who wanted to take some summer courses," Dr. Williams said.

So far, about 100 fall applications have been submitted to USM Gulf Park's admissions office. Long Beach staff members said they were about to call those applicants to see if the students are serious about a Gulf Park education.

Dr. Jim Williams said the low number of applications was expected. "You have to remember that the court decision was only about two months ago," he said. "So we think to have that many applications at this point is a good indication that the need really was out there for it."

State lawmakers already gave USM Gulf Park $236,000. Another $250,000 is in next year's budget.

Dr. Williams said the money will be used to hire four teachers, so freshmen at the Long Beach campus can get a quality education.