HATTIESBURG – One
obstacle after another in the life of Southern Miss elementary education
student Robin Hill Sila of McComb has led to a reward for her tireless
efforts to obtain a college degree.
Sila was named the 2005 Judge R.J. Bishop Mississippian
Award recipient during The University of Southern Mississippi Awards
Day ceremony on April 12. She was presented a $5,000 check to be
used at her discretion.
This award, established in 1978 by Elna Bishop in
loving memory of her father, Judge R.J. Bishop, honors men and women
who have endured economic, family or physical hardships to pursue
their education so that they, their children and other Mississippians
might have a better life. The USM Foundation is the administrator
of the fund.
“Robin deserved this reward for the way
she has run the race and finished this chapter, ready for the rest
of what life has to offer,” said Anna Collins Trest, clinical
assistant professor in the College of Education and Psychology Department
of Curriculum and Instruction at Southern Miss. “She continues
to struggle along with the help of family and friends and what she
calls ‘a newfound belief’ in herself and her ability
to be successful.”
The 20th graduating senior to receive this annual
award, Sila was selected because she is a Mississippi native who
possesses work ethics and determination in spite of difficulties.
Sila, a divorced mother of two children, also suffers from a debilitating
rheumatoid arthritis condition. Despite her adversities, she remains
focused on accomplishing a lifetime goal — to earn a bachelor’s
degree in elementary education on May 13 from The University of
“I have never known a student quite like
Robin,” said Trest of Laurel, who nominated Sila for the award.
“She was an excellent student whose attitude was positive
and work was also exemplary.”
Sila enrolled in Trest’s children’s literature
class in spring 2003. It was months into the semester before Trest
learned of Sila’s real-life situations through her best friend,
Tonya Adams of McComb. The only thing Trest saw “was a smiley-faced
blonde who sat on the front row, nodding her head during our class
“Robin is a nontraditional student in
her mid-30s, who knew returning to school at her age with two children
and a household to run wouldn’t be easy, especially since
she was often incapacitated by a severe case of rheumatoid arthritis.
What she didn’t know was that an unexpected divorce would
happen in 2000. Already tight finances instantly became strained
to the breaking point. With no other choice, she lived on grants
and loans. Insurance was gone, meaning, among other things, she
was unable to receive the treatments she needed for RA.”
According to Mayo Clinic, rheumatoid arthritis is
an inflammatory condition. It causes joints to ache and throb and
eventually become deformed. The exact cause is unknown, but it is
believed to be the body's immune system that attacks the synovium
— the tissue that lines joints. There is no cure for rheumatoid
arthritis, but with proper treatment, a strategy for joint protection
and changes in lifestyle, individuals can live a long, productive
life with this condition.
“I am sure that there are others who
have struggled to complete their education, too,” said Robin
Hill Sila, who was surprised to be named the Bishop Award recipient.
“I hope that others who suffer from rheumatoid or any other
disability can see through my story that anything is possible if
you believe. God has a way of giving you the strength you need to
keep going, you just have to believe and rely on Him.”
To complete the required course study at Southern
Miss for the past three years, Sila has had to travel more than
150 miles a day, back and forth from McComb to Hattiesburg, and
even more miles every other weekend to Flora, a halfway place to
meet the father of her two children — 14-year-old son Robbie
and 12-year-old daughter LeeAnna — for visitation.
“There were many times, after walking
on campus carrying a backpack all day that she was unable, due to
her illness, to get out of her car when she arrived home. Her children
would bring her walking cane to help her inside the house,”
said Southern Miss senior Tonya Adams of McComb, Sila’s best
friend who rotates her class schedule to help with each other’s
children. “That’s the only way we can make it through
this is by helping each other. She is just like the sister I never
Although Sila has a right deformed arm, she managed
to complete her student teaching at North Pike Elementary School
in Summit this spring semester. She has maintained a high grade
point average and has been on either the dean’s or president’s
list every semester. After graduation she plans to seek employment
and eventually pursue a master’s degree and become nationally
certified in education.
In 2003, Sila married Jeremy, who serves in the U.S.
Air Force and was sent to London two weeks after they exchanged
wedding vows. She also devotes her spare time to the First Baptist
Church of Summit, where she volunteers with fifth- and sixth-graders.
“The last time I had the opportunity
to be her instructor was fall 2004 in a practicum lab for elementary
teacher candidates,” said Trest. “So many times I saw
her offer help and show care and concern for the children as well
as her peers. Even though her life has been in turmoil, she is not
turned inward. It’s just not in her to appear pitiful or hopeless.
She is forever looking outward and considering others. She will
be an excellent teacher; I have no doubt.”