(January 26, 2022) – If there’s anything you can take away from talking to Ole Miss junior Preston McWilliams, it’s the fact that he loves Ole Miss.
However, if you showed him that sentence five years ago, he may not have believed he said those words and actually meant them.
You see, his two older sisters went to Ole Miss, and McWilliams attended games in Oxford through middle school and high school. All the time he spent there on game days made him feel like there was nothing else for him to experience at the university.
But, as started narrowing down his college choices, Ole Miss started looking like the best fit.
“It was almost hiding in plain sight for me,” said the junior general engineering major. “I really started looking in-depth into the different opportunities various universities offered, and when comparing Ole Miss to a lot of other universities I had on my mind as being really well-renowned, I realized that Ole Miss actually had a lot of really great opportunities, especially with the honors college and the CME (Center for Manufacturing Excellence).
“Those are programs I felt were more impressive than anywhere else that I looked. And honestly, I almost assumed they would be less impressive because they were so familiar to me.”
After a campus tour during his senior year at Jackson Academy, McWilliams realized the familiarity he had with the school had nothing to do with what his college experience would be like.
“I had never been on campus during an academic day prior to my campus tour, I had only come for game days,” he said. “So, I had a very skewed reality of what it would actually be like to go to school here. So, after I took my campus tour, I met with the CME. That program is just incredible. They offer a lot of really incredible facilities and opportunities that really called me there.”
Now, three years later, the final semester of his junior year is underway. Not only is he over halfway through his time at a school he didn’t think he would attend, he’s also been doing something the high school version of himself probably wouldn’t have believed, either, and that’s giving campus tours to prospective students.
It’s a job he’s held since he was a freshman.
“Giving tours is so enjoyable. It makes you so happy to go to Ole Miss after a tour, because you’re spending twice a week, an hour of your day, just talking about the good things the university has to offer. It really makes me grateful for Ole Miss in a lot of ways,” McWilliams said. “The culture of Ole Miss is unique, it’s something that’s really special. The students here genuinely enjoy being here. When they’re walking around between classes, oftentimes they’re walking with another student. They’re actually enjoying standing in the Grove and seeing people, and it’s hard to walk across campus and not see five people you know.
“I really like to harp on the culture that Ole Miss has because I believe that is what sets us apart. It is unique to Ole Miss. I want to be able to share that with people who are trying to make their college decision because I think it’s important.”
Martin Fisher is the Associate Director of Admissions for Orientation and Campus Visit Programs. He said it’s rare for a freshman to hold a position as an Ambassador, but he said he was confident in McWilliams’ abilities and potential.
“He’s exceeded our expectations,” said Fisher. “Preston has the unique ability to make whoever he is talking to feel heard and valued. He’s a great conversationalist and is intelligent and articulate. Whether he was walking around campus with one family or touring a large group, parents and students consistently say that he was engaging, knowledgeable, and relatable. We are fortunate to have him on our team.”
McWilliams has big plans for his future as he intends to go to medical school after he graduates. While most pre-med students opt for a biology track, McWilliams said his engineering path is more useful.
“The biggest difference for me is the way that engineering teaches classes is different than other schools, and in my opinion, better. My engineering classes are very much, teach you a method, and then kind of let you go and allow you to do lots of problem solving just utilizing the method that you’ve learned,” McWilliams said. “And my biology and chemistry classes are much more memorization based, there’s a little bit of problem solving there but not nearly to the same degree.
“I grasp the material and retain the material better. I think problem solving is a really valuable skill to have and [I] know it’s going to help me in the future.”
A perfect example of those problem-solving skills came during his first year on campus. McWilliams and some friends were planning a trip out West, but McWilliams realized they didn’t have enough room for everyone and their luggage in his Toyota 4Runner. So, with $70 worth of steel and $30 worth of powder coating paint, he built a steel roof rack on the CME factory floor to help stash luggage for the trip. It was a project that saved him over $1,000.
“The CME taught me how to weld, and I was able to use a lot of their cutting and measuring equipment,” he said. “It was really cool because they were extremely hands-off. They basically taught me how to weld and they were like, this is your project, you go for it.
“I think that kinda ties back into the learning method that engineering takes as a whole. We’re gonna teach you how to do this, we’re gonna teach you the methond, but then you are going to have to solve the problem.”
Those skills leave him well-equipped for his future as a doctor, and he also said his engineering background could possibly faciliate a career in designing medical equipment. With that being said, becoming a doctor is his first priority, and the Mississippi Manufacturers Association’s Endowed Scholarship has certainly had a positive effect on his education.
“It helps me to really focus on my studies during the school year because I don’t have to be distracted with trying to work a job at night to help me make ends meet,” McWilliams said. “It takes off a lot of external pressure and allows me to focus specifically on the academic work that I’m trying to accomplish.
“In the future, that’s really gonna pay dividends, having the time to have focused in college and learn the material more clearly. It’s just gonna help me retain it for a longer period of time. It’s been a huge help, absolutely.”