Faculty & Staff

Albert Nylander, Ph.D., Director

Dr. Albert Nylander is Professor of Sociology and the Director of the Grisham-McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement. Dr. Nylander was the University of Mississippi’s inaugural 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 31 years of university experience, with 26 years as an administrative leader in Higher Education. At the University of Mississippi, he directs the community engagement efforts at the Grisham-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 11 years directing the Grisham-McLean Institute, Dr. Nylander has supported the efforts to institutionalize community engagement at the University of Mississippi. Under his leadership, the Grisham-McLean Institute has developed multiple programs to fight poverty through education and to create transformative experiences for UM students. One significant project that has created pathways for community-campus partnerships has been the Catalyzing Entrepreneurship and Economic Development program, a multi-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 75 proposals, receiving more than $15,000,000 in external funding from grants and philanthropic initiatives. Dr. Nylander is known for developing and leading practical and multi-disciplinary programs in leadership and community development in the social sciences.


Office: Howry 311

Email: nylander@olemiss.edu

Phone: (662) 915-2052

Laura Martin, Ph.D., M Partner Director and 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 Grisham-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.


Office: Howry 310

Email: lemartin@olemiss.edu

Phone: (662) 915-2078

Emily Echols, Project Manager

Emily Echols serves as a project manager for the Grisham-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.




Office: Howry 304

Email: emily@olemiss.edu

Phone: (662) 915-2713

Tracee Brooks, Project Manager

Tracee Brooks serves as a project manager for the Grisham-McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement.

Tracee Brooks previously served as the project coordinator for the North Mississippi VISTA Project. In this role she assisted with the recruitment of VISTA members for the project. Tracee is a Mississippi native. She holds a Bachelor’s of Music and Master’s of Music in Instrumental Music Education from the University of Mississippi. At UM Tracee was active in several performing ensembles though out her time as a student. As project coordinator Tracee worked closely with those serving as AmeriCorps VISTA in their work to build capacity and fight poverty through education.







Office: Howry 303

Email: tkbrooks@olemiss.edu

Phone: (662) 915-1072


Angie Benson, Operations Coordinator II

Angie Benson is the Operations Coordinator II at the Grisham-McLean Institute and the newest member of the team.  She previously held positions on campus at the Bursar’s Office and the Law School before finding a place of like-minded individuals with a determination to change the stigma of the place we love to call home. 









Office: Howry 307

Email: acbenson@olemiss.edu

Phone: (662) 915-2052

Jacee Palmer, VISTA Leader

Jacee Palmer is a VISTA Leader with the North Mississippi VISTA Project at the Grisham-McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement. She previously served as the Program Development VISTA for the University of Mississippi School of Education for both the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 program years. Jacee holds a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from the University of Mississippi. While pursuing her degree, her coursework mostly focused on social inequality and gender studies. Her passion for social justice and educational equity led her to pursue community engagement work.  


Office: Falkner 212

Email: japalme1@olemiss.edu | vista@olemiss.edu

Phone: (662) 915-2397


Dayton Ashby, VISTA Leader


Dayton Ashby serves as a VISTA Leader for the North Mississippi VISTA Project at the Grisham-McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement. He previously served as the Program Development VISTA for the M Partner Initiative during the 2022-2023 program year. In his role as a VISTA Leader, he empowers and supports VISTA members placed with the North Mississippi VISTA Project through personal outreach and program management. He also maintains NMVP infrastructure and resources, conducts recruitment, and designs professional development curricula for NMVP VISTA members. 

A graduate of the University of Mississippi, he graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Studies and Political Science. While taking courses, he focused his studies on political economy, particularly on the welfare state, and comparative politics while developing a multidisciplinary understanding of the world and its population.


Office: Falkner 211

Email: drashby@olemiss.edu | vista@olemiss.edu

Phone: (662) 915-2397