BOONEVILLE — Jeffrey Darrell Powell was many things to Northeast Mississippi Community College.
A student, a webmaster, a technology specialist, a Career Development Academy director, an Apple Distinguished Educator, the college’s first African American head coach (tennis), a trailblazer, a networker, a dreamer, a history maker, a friend…Powell was all that and much more.
Sadly, Powell passed away on Tuesday, June 23, 2020 at the North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo at the age of 44.
“The Northeast Family is heartbroken from the passing of Jeffrey Powell,” said Northeast president Dr. Ricky G. Ford. “Jeffrey was a huge face of Northeast and will be missed tremendously. His passion for technology usage in the classroom was amazing. He was definitely a driving force that moved our technology initiative forward.”
A native of Tishomingo, Powell arrived on the Northeast campus in 1994 as a student and completed his associates of arts degree in biology before heading off to a four-year university, but, it wasn’t long before Powell returned to Northeast and left his legacy on the college.
In 2001, Powell revived his love for Northeast as the college’s webmaster and was bitten by the technology bug. Powell’s appreciation for technology would cause him to become the go-to person during his 19 years at Northeast when it concerned technology in the classroom.
As one of northeast Mississippi’s experts when it came to Apple products, Powell quickly became one of the trusted sources of information when instructors had questions or concerns.
One of Powell’s greatest achievements was the implementation of a 1:1 iPad initiative, which gave every student the chance to embrace technology. Powell realized his dream in 2018 when Northeast became the first community college in the country to offer an all-inclusive iPad initiative that included academic and technical instruction.
In 2020, Powell’s vision of embracing technology and sharing it with the students was put to the test, when Northeast along with many other educational institutions was forced to take all their courses online due to the global COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) pandemic.
As with most of Powell’s projects, it passed with excellence as Northeast became one of the first higher education institutions to transition over 600 classes online in the span of a few days thanks to the iPad initiative.
Known for his joyous personality and laugh, Powell’s love for technology also gave birth to the Mobile Learning Conference, which celebrated its twelfth year last week and had its largest attendance ever with over 2,000 people from 38 states and 22 countries. Powell’s intensive three-day conference helped instructors better understand the value of technology and how to leverage it in the classroom.
From a first-time Apple products user to those wanting to know more about complex server processors, Powell’s Mobile Learning Conference opened doors for many instructors to embrace technology in the classroom during their ‘downtime’ in the summer months by bringing in technology specialists around the world to help promote a student-first mentality in the classroom.
In his position as Institutional Technology Specialist, he created his own niche by connecting all offices to help Northeast become an Apple Distinguished School and a Top 10 Digital College.
“Northeast Mississippi Community College is much better because of the time Jeffrey Powell was here,” said Ford. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to Jeffrey’s family and friends.”
However, while Powell was a trailblazer in the world of technology at Northeast, the Tishomingo native was also a history maker.
In 2013, he became the school’s first Apple Distinguished Educator and in 2017, he became the first person in the state to receive the Olon E. Ray Leadership and Innovation Award at the 2017 Creating Futures Through Technology Conference in Biloxi for technological innovation.
Powell was the founder of the augmented and virtual reality festival at Northeast and helped push for an AR/VR lab at the college as well.
Powell also helped start the Northeast Mississippi Community College Youth Career Development Academy that benefits children in Booneville/Prentiss County, Corinth/Alcorn County and New Albany/Union County by providing after school and summer academic and enrichment programs. During after school sessions with the Career Development Academies, students receive intensive tutoring in academic work, life skills lessons and career development advice.
Through his leadership, Powell helped guide a team of students to the state championship in web design, third place in spirit and sportsmanship at the state level, rookie of the year team and a ninth-place placement at the BEST Robotics competition.
Powell even proved his prowess in athletics when he became the college’s first African American head coach, taking over the reins of the Northeast tennis program in 2007 after a brief hiatus. Powell did not back down from a tough schedule – playing powerhouses such as Itawamba Community College, Jones County Junior College, Hinds Community College and Holmes Community College. Powell’s rigorous scheduling helped the tennis team return to dominance one year later as it shared the opening-day lead at the national tournament and finished in ninth place at the National Junior College Athletics Association’s Division III National Championships in Plano, Texas.
Powell traveled the world giving insight into what it took for teachers to stay on the forefront of technological advancements.
But his work did not stop there, in his free time, Powell dedicated his time to helping those outside the world of education and just completed “First Steps to Freedom: Corinth Contraband Camp,” a multi-year project that brought the Contraband Camp in Corinth to life through augmented and virtual reality. Powell, along with retired Northeast history instructor Carla Falkner and the National Parks Service, Mississippi Humanities Council, Mississippi Hills, the City of Corinth and the Corinth Convention and Visitors’ Bureau (Corinth Tourism), the “First Steps to Freedom: Corinth Contraband Experience,” gives viewers insights into the lives of freed slaves – whether freed by orders, claimed as ‘contraband’ or self-emancipated. While many of the Corinth Contraband Camp residents were self-emancipated, the Corinth Contraband Experience allows people to see what life was like for those tasting freedom for the first time.
In addition to his work outside Northeast, Powell often donated his time to speak at local civic clubs such as The Alliance in Corinth to aid businesses that would like to know more about technology and helped veteran photographers Dr. Larry Anderson and Michael H. Miller host the 2017 Fall Foliage Photo Safari at Tishomingo State Park that saw over 60 professional and amateur photographers from as far away as Indianapolis, Indiana attend the one-day event.
Powell was also a member of the Executive Board for the Boys and Girls Club of Northeast Mississippi, on the board for the Booneville Boys and Girls Club and a member of the Carter’s Branch Missionary Baptist Church in Tishomingo County.
Deaton Funeral Home in Belmont was in charge of arrangements. Visitation was held on Thursday, June 25 at the funeral home from 5-8 p.m. with graveside services on Friday, June 26 at 12 p.m. at Carter’s Branch Cemetery in eastern Tishomingo County.