Endowment ensures McMillen’s legacy at MSU

Endowment ensures McMillen’s legacy at MSU

David McMillen

Born in Columbus, Ohio, and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, David McMillen came to call Starkville and Mississippi State University his home. He devoted some four decades to the betterment of the university and the local community through his personal and professional leadership. In particular, he made a lasting difference in the lives of many students during his tenure at MSU. Today, an endowment created in memory of the late McMillen continues to uphold his commitment to higher education.  

McMillen earned a bachelor’s degree from Memphis State University and later completed a doctoral degree in social psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. A career opportunity at Mississippi State University brought McMillen, along with his growing family, to Starkville in 1968. He was among a small group of faculty members hired to build the Department of Psychology in MSU’s College of Arts and Sciences and was also an integral part of the MSU Social Science Research Center. 

During his early career, McMillen’s research areas included social psychological factors involved with impaired drivers and increasing the use of vehicle restraints. In 1996, he began focusing on college graduation rates and academic success. This research led to the establishment of MSU’s Pathfinder Program, which he led as director. This award-winning program, designed to improve retention, academic performance, and graduation rates for first-year students, has been successful and resulted in improved freshman academic performance and student retention at the university. As a result of this achievement, McMillen’s advice for student retention was sought by multiple colleges and universities. 

Outside of his career, McMillen was a supporter of local arts and artists. He served as vice president for membership with the Starkville Community Theatre (SCT) in the late 1980s, leading efforts to send SCT to its first regional competition. He also assisted with the Howlin’ Wolf Blues Festival in its early years. He strongly believed in the power of learning and took an interest in the lives, educations and careers of his children, their spouses, and his grandchildren, many of whom followed in his footsteps and joined the Bulldog family. 

McMillen’s legacy includes many in his family who were educated at MSU. Further, all three of his children—Robert McMillen, Eleanor Green and Randall McMillen—are employed on campus, as are his daughter-in-law Lisa Long and son-in-law John Green. Robert earned his master’s degree in experimental psychology from MSU in 1994 and now serves as a professor in the Department of Psychology and associate director of the Social Science Research Center; Eleanor is a 1998 sociology graduate of MSU who serves as assistant director of the Delta Scholars Program in the Shackouls Honors College; and Randall earned his 2002 bachelor’s and 2012 master’s degrees from MSU and now serves as a research associate at the Geosystems Research Institute in MSU’s research park.  

McMillen’s influence led directly to his son-in-law John’s education at MSU, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1997 and a master’s degree in sociology in 1998. Today, John serves as a professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics and director of the Southern Rural Development Center, based at MSU. McMillen’s grandson Anthony also is a graduate of MSU, earning a bachelor’s degree in physics in 2014. He carries on his grandfather’s commitment to education as a teacher at the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science. 

When McMillen passed away in 2022, his family and colleagues at MSU wanted to commemorate his life and career at the university in a meaningful way. Their collective support established an annual fund bearing McMillen’s name within the psychology department.

In effort to ensure a lasting impact that further cements McMillen’s legacy, a recent gift from his children and their spouses made possible the Dr. David McMillen Psychology Endowed Fund for Excellence. As an endowment, the fund will provide perpetual support for value-added resources and engagements including research initiatives, conference attendance, travel and internship support for professional development and other areas of need or opportunity that promote successful academic journeys for students in MSU’s Department of Psychology.

“I’m glad to know the fund will now be a permanent source of support for a program my dad helped build and was so passionate about,” said Robert. “He was committed to his work and students’ success, and this endowment will carry his name and legacy on at MSU for future generations to benefit from.”