HATTIESBURG – Long-time Pearl River Community College math teacher Jacki Runnels and military veteran Louie Forsmark will be honored Tuesday, Feb. 26, at Higher Education Appreciation Day-Working for Academic Excellence events in Jackson.
HEADWAE was established in 1987 by the Mississippi Legislature to recognize outstanding students and faculty in Mississippi’s colleges and universities.
The honorees will be introduced to both the Mississippi House of Representatives and the Senate and recognized by name at a luncheon attended by institution leaders, corporate sponsors, and legislators.
PRCC administrators selected Runnels as the faculty nominee and she chose Forsmark as the student honoree because he exemplifies the purpose of community college, she said.
“Louie is a non-traditional student who was in the work place and decided he wanted to better himself,” Runnels said. “He began in our developmental studies program and has excelled. He’s an excellent example of what community college offers to people.”
Forsmark, 41, has served two hitches in the U.S. Army and worked as a painter to support his two daughters, also indulging in a brief stint as an undefeated cage fighter. The economic crisis a few years ago sent him looking for a better future.
With his tuition covered by the GI Bill, he enrolled at PRCC’s Forrest County Center in the fall of 2011.
“Being here has really made my life worth living,” he said. “I’ve got so much more future. I know it’s a cliche but the sky’s the limit. What a great opprtunity I’ve been given.”
Forsmark will receive the associate’s degree in May and hopes to be accepted into the nursing school at the University of Southern Mississippi. He received the 2012 Outstanding Student in Sociology Award at the Forrest County Center.
The HEADWAE honor stunned him.
“I’m very wowed by it,” he said. “I never thought I’d amount to much so this is quite an accomplishment for me. I’m starting to believe I’ve got a little bit of sense. I think if I could do it, anybody could do it. I’m no smarter than anybody else.”
Runnels points to him as the personification of the community college purpose.
“He’s a great representative of what community college is designed to do,” she said.
Runnels has taught at PRCC since 1990, with a break when her son was born, and at the Forrest County Center since 2000. The HEADWAE honor was unexpected, she said.
“I was pleasantly surprised,” Runnels said. “It’s a great honor. I’m excited to represent our college. I feel honored that the college selected me.”
She holds the associate in arts degree from Hinds Community College, a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Mississippi College and a Master in Arts degree specifically for community college instructors from Mississippi State University. She has also completed 30 hours of post-graduate study at MSU and William Carey University.
While working on her master’s degree, Runnels was a teaching assistant. After receiving her degree, she taught finite math at MSU for a year while also teaching math classes for East Mississippi Community College at Columbus Air Force Base.
Runnels came to PRCC’s Poplarville campus in 1990 and began teaching two days a week at the Forrest County Center in 1997.
“I was the first permanent faculty member on this campus,” she said. After time off with her baby, Runnels returned to the Forrest County Center full-time in 2000.
“ At that time, we had a science teacher and a math teacher,” she said. “The other people were adjunct instructors. I began to build the mathematics program and bring stability to the program. As the campus grew, we got additional faculty and were able to add a second math teacher.”
Runnels now chairs a department that includes seven full-time math instructors and is subject area coordinator for accounting, business, computer science, economics and mathematics.
“Jacki has been a devoted teacher of mathematics for Pearl River Community College for several years,” said Dr. Cecil Burt, PRCC vice president for Forrest County operations. “She currently is our department chair and has just worked tirelessly in that role. She is deserving of this kind of recognition.”
Runnels and her husband, Rudy, and their 15-year-old son, Riley, live in Magee.