Faculty & Staff
Albert Nylander, Ph.D., Director
Dr. Albert Nylander is Professor of Sociology and the Director of the McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement. Dr. Nylander was the University of Mississippi’s first ever Director of Community Engagement. The Institute’s mission is to advance transformative service throughout the University and to fight poverty through education in Mississippi. Dr. Nylander has 28 years of university experience, with 22 years as an administrative leader in Higher Education. At the University of Mississippi, he directs the community engagement efforts at the McLean Institute.
Prior to joining the University of Mississippi, Dr. Nylander served as Dean of Graduate Studies & Continuing Education, and Department Chair at Delta State University. His academic leadership focuses on developing and institutionalizing programs with an applied development emphasis. While serving as department chair he developed an academic program in community development, graduating more than 100 students in an 11-year period. Many of these students remain employed throughout community and economic development organizations.
During the past eight years directing the McLean Institute, Dr. Nylander has supported the efforts to institutionalize community engagement at the University of Mississippi. Under his leadership, the McLean Institute has developed multiple programs to fight poverty through education and to create transformative experiences for University of Mississippi students. One significant project that has created pathways for community-campus partnerships has been the Catalyzing Entrepreneurship and Economic Development program, a $2.1 million dollar grant from the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation.
Dr. Nylander’s research interests involve examining social networks and power structures of institutions, particularly education, and the importance of these social structures in changing life opportunities for those seeking to improve their social and economic standings. As an academic entrepreneur, Dr. Nylander has written and participated in more than 35 proposals, receiving more than $7,000,000 in external funding. Dr. Nylander is known for developing and leading practical and multi-disciplinary programs in leadership and community development in the social sciences.
Laura Martin, Ph.D., Associate Director
Dr. Laura Martin brings nearly 15 years of experience working on poverty alleviation programs at the grassroots and public policy levels. After college, she facilitated service learning trips and managed a community development project in rural Nicaragua. Most recently, Laura worked as a Policy and Research Coordinator at the Texas Association of Community Health Centers, where she analyzed legislation and regulations impacting health centers, and coordinated trainings for a federal grant to conduct CHIP and Medicaid outreach and enrollment in the Rio Grande Valley. As Legislative Director for Texas State Representative Armando Walle, Dr. Martin developed legislation regarding juvenile justice and stemming the high school dropout rate.
At the McLean Institute, Dr. Martin works to engage faculty, staff, students, and community partners in mutually beneficial efforts to improve quality of life in Mississippi. She directs M Partner, a university-wide community engagement initiative, and supervises staff and graduate assistants leading the North Mississippi VISTA Project and LOU Saves.
Dr. Martin holds dual undergraduate degrees in Hispanic Studies and International Relations from Brown University, where she graduated with honors. Additionally, she holds a Master of Public Affairs degree from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, where she completed a Portfolio Program in Nonprofit and Philanthropic Studies, and a Doctorate of Higher Education from the University of Mississippi.
JR Love, Ph.D., Project Manager
Dr. J.R. Love serves as a project manager at the McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement at the University of Mississippi. In this role, he manages the Catalyzing Entrepreneurship and Economic Development (CEED) Initiative and supports the implementation of M Partner. He is responsible for supervising undergraduate and graduate students as well as supporting faculty research around community and economic development in Mississippi.
He also serves as an instructor for the BUS 400: Values-Based Entrepreneurship in the Mississippi Delta course though Study USA at the University of Mississippi. Dr. Love was born in Greenville but grew up in Glen Allan in the MS Delta.
He has held faculty and staff positions at the university and community college settings including Mississippi State University, Delta State University, Kansas State University and Barton Community College. Before coming to Oxford, he served as an instructor of leadership and management for Barton Community College at Fort Riley, KS (United States Army). Dr. Love earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Mississippi State University, a Master of Business Administration from Delta State University, and a Ph.D. in Higher Education in Student Affairs from Kansas State University.
As an undergraduate student at MSU he served as president of the student body and also chaired the student body president’s council of MS. Also, while at MSU he worked in the Office of the President for retired four-star general (USAF) “Doc” Foglesong serving as the Assistant Chief of Staff. He served as the inaugural graduate recruiter for Delta State University in the Division of Graduate and Continuing Studies. While at Kansas State University, he taught leadership courses in the Staley School of Leadership Studies while completing his doctoral degree.
From 2010-2015, Dr. Love served as the leadership director to a 120 member student organization, the Delta Upsilon chapter at Kansas State University. During this time, the DU chapter won the top international chapter award for three consecutive years – 2012, 2013, and 2014. Dr. Love is an active member of NASPA – the national organization for student affairs administrators in higher education.
Emily Echols, Project Manager
Emily Echols serves as project manager for the McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement. In this capacity, she oversees management, recruitment, and professional development for the North Mississippi VISTA Project.
Emily brings over 15 years of professional experience at the University of Mississippi and the University of Mississippi Alumni Association. The knowledge and experience gained in working with a broad network of campus and community stakeholders affiliated with the Alumni Association have prepared her to develop synergies among the many organizations affiliated with the North Mississippi VISTA Project that are working to fight poverty through education.
Emily holds a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and a Master of Arts in Higher Education and Student Personnel, both from the University of Mississippi. She is an instructor of EDHE 305, the Transfer Student Experience Course, and serves on the Staff Council Executive Committee.
Adriana Cooper, VISTA Leader
Adriana Cooper is a native of Blue Mountain, Mississippi. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree with a Minor in Art History from the University of Mississippi. As an undergraduate, Adriana was active in fine arts organizations and earned recognition in collegiate arts competitions.
Adriana joined the North Mississippi VISTA Project as the inaugural Program Development VISTA with the Minority PUL Alliance. Her term of service focused on strengthening the network of minority-owned business owners and developing a volunteer program for the organization. As VISTA Leader, Adriana supports all VISTA members and Summer Associates and strengthens the program through data management and recruitment.
Grace Starks, Youth Engagement VISTA
Grace Starks is a native of Nashville, Tennessee. As an undergraduate, Grace served over 300 hours as an AmeriCorps Jumpstart member at Bramlett Elementary School working with first grade students. This year of service ignited in Grace a passion for empowering communities. Grace decided to take a gap year between her sophomore and junior year joined the North Mississippi VISTA Project and currently serves as the Youth Engagement VISTA with the McLean Institute. She works to alleviate poverty by developing educational programming and sustainable community partnerships to strengthen the impact of her site.