Putting power into the hands of people is what University of Southern Mississippi graduate student Owen Parker believes is the best solution for many of the world’s problems.
And the Hattiesburg native believes an education from both Southern Miss and Cambridge University will give him the power to advance that philosophy.
Parker, a graduate of the university’s Honors College, was recently accepted to Cambridge’s rigorous Master of Philosophy in Development Studies program. He hopes it will be a launching pad for his plans to pursue a doctorate in business and become engaged in researching effective international development initiatives.
He will graduate from Southern Miss with a master’s degree in social work in August after having completed his undergraduate in social work here.
“I’d like to contribute to research that supports local solutions for economic development worldwide,” he said. As an example, he points to the social business model of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh that gave poor people access to a local bank so they could start small businesses and earn a living, while also providing opportunities for their children.
“Those bottom-up local solutions are the answer, and they represent a move away from ‘charity’ and toward ‘social enterprise’,” he said.
Parker first expressed interest in going to Cambridge when he applied for the Gates Cambridge Scholarship in 2008. But early in 2009, he was disappointed to discover that among the 752 applicants, he was not one of the 37 Americans awarded the all-expenses scholarship to Cambridge.
Based on that, he anticipated he would be denied admission, so he made plans to stay in Hattiesburg during 2009-2010 while his wife Carina, a violinist from Brazil, completed her doctorate in musical arts.
In June, his fortunes changed when he got the unexpected news that he'd been offered admission to the program. “It was a great feeling to get the word that I had been accepted,” he said.
“The program at Cambridge is multi-faceted; it draws from business, sociology, community planning, and other disciplines to teach us to address a variety of issues. I’m looking forward to benefitting from both the education and experience it offers,” he said.
Accomplished student, citizen
Active in civic life, Owen is a founder of the Hattiesburg Council for Community Consensus, which has empowered local neighborhoods to address pressing issues. He used a venture grant from the United Way of Southeast Mississippi to pilot an improved needs assessment strategy in the Hattiesburg area, which developed into his six-month voluntary internship as a data analyst for the United Way.
He’s worked extensively with the School of Social Work’s Family Network Partnership, a juvenile delinquency prevention agency.
“Already he's amassed a terrific record of public service at a young age, and shows every indication of fulfilling his goal of increased and expanded public service in the future,” said Southern Miss Honors College Dean Dr. David R. Davies.
Parker has earned multiple scholarships and academic and service awards. As a senior at Hattiesburg High School in 2003, he was a member of the All-State Lions Band, and was named a Sam Walton scholar and Robert C. Byrd scholar. He also was named a Coca-Cola National Scholar, one of 51 students nationwide.
Among the many organizations and activities he has been engaged in at Southern Miss, Parker has performed with the Southern Miss Trumpet Ensemble and The Pride of Mississippi Marching Band; was a member of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity, Eta Phi Chapter and served as its president from 2003-2004; was a member the Residence Hall Association; served as a representative on the University Activities Council; and worked for the Department of Residence Life for five years in various capacities.
At Southern Miss, he was named a Leadership Scholar, Academic Excellence Scholar, Outstanding Freshman Male, won the Honors College Book Award, and was inducted into several honor societies. He was one of eight inductees into the University of Southern Mississippi’s Hall of Fame as a senior.
Parker was named the Mississippi Undergraduate Social Work Student of the Year by the state chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, and was named to the Dean’s and President’s Lists on multiple occasions. He has also been published and has made presentations on his community service and research.
Solutions that work
In his community service work, Parker admits frustration with “symptom management,” preferring to focus on solutions to societal ills that include strategies aimed at empowering those less fortunate to be active participants in their own recovery.
Dr. Tim Rehner, director of the Southern Miss School of Social Work, praised Parker for being “a hard worker, eager to learn and someone who enjoys challenges and works hard at creating plans and implementing strategies to overcome those challenges.”
“Being selected for this acceptance to Cambridge is an honor. Mostly, however, it is earned,” Rehner said. “Owen is very deserving of this selection and I’m certain he will make all of us proud.”
Parker believes the reason aid programs don’t work as well as they should is because they fail to engage recipients. “This isn’t just my idea,” he said. “The research tells us that if you don’t listen to what people say they need, and you don’t work out a sound business model to achieve the objective, you might as well be pouring money down the drain.”
He advocates for expansion of the “social business” model that has worked in numerous developing economies around the world. This venture-investment approach would reduce costs and help recipients become self-sufficient in the long term, he said.
“Since the world’s population is growing and our land mass is not, we have to find ways to manage our resources to not only save the planet, but to make life sustainable and empowering for the world’s poorest citizens.”
To support Parker or learn more about his acceptance to Cambridge, visit www.sendowentocambridge.com.
About The University of Southern Mississippi
The University of Southern Mississippi, founded in 1910, is a comprehensive doctoral and research-extensive university fulfilling its mission of being a leading university in engaging and empowering individuals to transform lives and communities. In a tradition of leadership for student development, Southern Miss is educating a 21st century work force providing intellectual capital, cultural enrichment and innovation to Mississippi and the world. Southern Miss is located in Hattiesburg, Miss., with an additional campus and teaching and research sites on the Mississippi Gulf Coast; further information is found at www.usm.edu.