Students to Give Back to L-O-U Community through the Big Event

Annual day of service expected to draw nearly 2,000 participants

UM students work on landscaping as part of The Big Event, a day students dedicate to community service and building relationships with the citizens of Oxford. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Hundreds of University of Mississippi students are expected for this year’s installment of The Big Event, the largest day of community service in the state of Mississippi, to say “thank you” to the Oxford and Lafayette County communities.

Set for March 25, The Big Event begins at 8 a.m. at The Pavilion at Ole Miss. Students will volunteer for various projects throughout the community, including painting homes, organizing garages, helping with yard work and cleaning up highways.

“The Big Event is about service and gratitude to the community for everything they do for us,” said Alex Martin, a senior from Madison who is one of this year’s co-directors of the initiative. “I think this is a really cool way to let students meet the community. I love getting to hear them talk about who they met and what they did.”

The Big Event began in 2011 with about 1,000 students volunteering. Martin, who is majoring in mathematics and international studies with minors in Arabic and economics, and co-director Miller Richmond began planning this year’s event soon after last year’s event in the hopes to make it the most successful yet.

Some 1,700 students have registered for this year’s day of service, and organizers hope to reach at least 2,000 volunteers.

Martin and Richmond look forward to seeing the impact not only upon the community, but also their fellow students. They said they hope the Big Event will lead to students continuing to volunteer their time to other projects in the future.

“We always work closely with the city, county, local nonprofits and residents,” said Richmond, a senior from Madison who is majoring in international studies with minors in Arabic and chemistry. “A lot of students get that first taste of community service and then they realize they want to come back again.”

Ole Miss students interested in volunteering for the event should sign up through the myOleMiss portal. Once signed in, they should select the “Get Involved” tab, click on “Big Event Volunteer Registration” and complete the form. The deadline to register is Friday (March 3), but walk-ins are welcome on the day of the event.

Volunteers get breakfast and a free T-shirt before heading out to work on a variety of projects.

Community members interested in registering a project should visit http://www.bigevent.olemiss.edu and click “Register Projects” to fill out the form. The deadline is March 3.

Major corporate sponsors for The Big Event include The Hub, C Spire and Heritage Properties. Many other businesses and campus organizations have contributed to the effort, organizers said.

For more information on the Big Event, visit http://www.bigevent.olemiss.edu. To view a video from the 2016 Big Event, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TMd6sITeV7Q.

Blog: ‘Why I move more’

Andrea Jekabsons holds up a photo of her parents, who inspired her to ‘move more.’ Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

Those who know me or meet me sometimes refer to me as the “RebelWell Lady.” The “HR Lady” is a close second. So, not being an exercise or nutrition professional, how did “RebelWell Lady” come to be?

A few weeks after relocating to Oxford, my father passed away. My father was a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who went on to work in Human Resources (Personnel in those days) for Xerox and Ford. Then, finally hitting his harmonic gait, he recruited minority engineering students for NASA programs.

Dad described himself as “a peaceable man,” and everyone he met was a friend. He appreciated a hotdog, root beer float and my mother’s cooking. Long gone were his collegiate baseball seasons and military exercise drills. The lack of exercise and a love of food led to obesity and diabetes, the demise of many Americans. My mother, who spent most of her years raising nine children, found herself caring for my father.

After his death, I walked and I walked often. I had always enjoyed walking, but these were “grief” walks, not power walks.

In 2009, a colleague asked me to join her to meet with a personal trainer. So sure, this mom of two, with a full-time job, who had gained a little weight, agreed to go. That night proved to be my rock bottom. The sit-ups were challenging. The push-ups (on my knees) were nearly impossible. And who ever thought that high knee runs were a good idea for cardio never considered what might possibly jiggle on a 41-year-old. Sore and stiff the next morning, I thought of my parents (my mom was also suffering from diabetes), and I decided that I didn’t want to wake up at 45, 50, 55 feeling old, sick and tired. I didn’t want that for my children. The journey began.

My schedule didn’t allow for me to continue working out with that personal trainer, and the fitness classes were mostly attended by young flexi-bendy students. I began jogging and riding my stationary bike again. I ate out less. I also tried different home workout DVDs and programs that included Oxford Adventure Boot Camp.

Jekabsons and colleague Jessica Hughes jog on the South Campus Rail Trail. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

As the story goes, I began to feel better. I have more energy, feel happier, and think more creatively and clearly with much more confidence. I recently shared with a colleague that since I began practicing energy management, the world seems brighter, problems seem smaller, and my patience continues to grow.

I recognized how my improved wellness was benefiting my work and have been fortunate enough, with the support of our university leaders, to be in a position to enhance our work-site wellness programs and policies. The benefits of a healthy workforce include increased productivity and lower absenteeism. Healthier employees also tend to be happier – and their co-workers appreciate that! Our RebelWell campus partners offer support, infrastructure, enthusiasm and programming.

Why I move more? I move because of my family history. I move more for my family. And along the way, I have found my harmonic gait.

More on RebelWell: http://rebelwell.olemiss.edu/

More on harmonic gait: https://www.tugboatinstitute.com/video-finding-your-teams-harmonic-gait/

Recommended Reads:

The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Andrea M. Jekabsons is associate director of Human Resources at the University of Mississippi.

Employee Self-Service helps staff take care of business online

Photo by Nathan Latil/University Communications

Employee Self-Service, or ESS, allows you to view and change some of your employee information via myOleMiss.

From ESS you may:

  • Update your payroll direct deposit information
  • Update your employee address and communication preferences
  • View your semimonthly pay stubs
  • Elect to receive and view your Form W-2 online
  • Record time worked and leave taken
  • View current benefit selections via the Benefits Confirmation Statement

Addresses & Communication Preferences

You may use the Employee Self-Service application and Addresses & Communication Preferences to update your home address, office address and emergency contact information. Additionally, you can provide your cell phone information, which allows you to receive emergency text message notifications from the university. You may also set your preferences to receive optional text messages or emails about campus news and events.

To access Employee Self-Service, log in to myOleMiss =>  choose the Employee tab => Self Service => then, select Address/Communication Preferences from the “Detailed Navigation” menu located on the left.

Record Time

Eligible employees are required to use the Employee Self‐Service interface in myOleMiss to record time worked and leave taken for the payroll pay period. In general, permanent employees who do not record their time against Facilities Management or Telecommunications work orders are required to log into the myOleMiss portal to record their time. Employees who currently use approved time clock systems, student employees and Rebel Reserve employees may not use the online time sheet and should continue to use Form UM4/HR12.

Open Enrollment

Since October 2011, Employee Self-Service has been available for employees to make changes to their benefit plans during the entire month of October.

“The university is excited about using SAP’s Employee Self-Service module for the implementation of Online Open Enrollment,” said Pamela Johnson, assistant director of benefits.

Administratively, the online system streamlined the enrollment process, enabled the university to extend the Open Enrollment period and hold employees accountable for benefit elections. The system is easy to navigate and meets the university’s Open Enrollment needs.

All employees are encouraged to become familiar with the myOleMiss portal and enjoy the benefit and ease of using the features.

 

411 on supplemental retirement programs

Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

Retirement is the goal of all employees. Whether this event will happen soon or several years down the road, financial stability is a common concern. 

Questions you may be asking yourself are will I be able to retire on my scheduled date, have enough money to support the retirement lifestyle I want, or have sufficient funds to last throughout retirement?

If these thoughts have crossed your mind and you are looking for opportunities to increase future assets, consider taking advantage of the university’s supplemental retirement programs.

The university offers two voluntary, supplemental retirement programs, 403(b) and Deferred Compensation. Participation is available to all employees (faculty and staff), student workers and re-employed retirees. If you receive compensation via the university payroll system, then you may participate. These individual retirement accounts are funded by employee contribution only. The university does not match contributions. The amount you contribute is at your discretion.

Both programs offer a diversified set of investment options to include but not limited to global/international, small cap, large cap and bonds. For calendar year 2017, the contribution limit is $18,000. Employees age 50 or older may contribute an additional $6,000, which increases their contribution limit to $24,000.

With the 403(b) program, there are three authorized providers with which you may invest (TIAA, Voya and VALIC). To participate is a two-step process. First, you must select the provider(s) in which you will invest and establish an investment account. Second, you must complete and submit to 108 Howry Hall a Salary Reduction Agreement, or SRA, to set up payroll deduction. Contributions may be pre- and/or post-tax. Please ensure you provide the pay period contribution amount in the appropriate box designating pre-tax versus post-tax on the SRA.

Financial consultants from TIAA, Voya and VALIC are available to discuss this program and assist in setting up an investment account, selecting investment options and completing the SRA. The SRA and contact information for financial consultants can be accessed at http://www.olemiss.edu/hr/retirement.html.

Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

Deferred Compensation is administered by the Public Employees’ Retirement System of Mississippi with investment accounts managed by Empower Retirement. 

To participate, complete the Participant Enrollment Form, and fax or mail it to Empower Retirement. The form is available at https://mdcplan.gwrs.com/login.do via the Resource Center tab. This step must occur one month in advance of when the payroll contributions will begin. Deferred Compensation is a pre-tax contribution.

Questions about these programs should be directed to Pamela Johnson, assistant director of benefits, at pkjohnso@olemiss.edu or 662-915-5432.

Further reading: https://www.dol.gov/sites/default/files/ebsa/about-ebsa/our-activities/resource-center/publications/top10ways.pdf

It’s OK to ‘disconnect’

Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

That notification ping from a new email on your phone while you lie in bed isn’t just another work matter you feel obligated to respond to after hours.

It’s also a contributing factor to increased “anticipatory stress,” which is causing burnout and harming productivity and work-life balance for employees around the country, new research has shown.

A federal labor law that was scheduled to take effect in November but is on hold reclassified many university employees as hourly, which gives those employees the right to “disconnect” when not on duty.

Salaried workers are also encouraged by the Human Resources department to take steps to unplug when possible. Many supervisors and employees on campus are reaping the benefits of time to disconnect.

“I try not to use email after hours and on weekends, and I encourage those who report to me to do the same,” said Leslie Banahan, assistant vice chancellor for student success and wellness. “If there is an emergency or an issue that needs immediate attention or response, we call or text. After-hours emails do not require immediate responses and can wait until the next workday.”

Banahan has worked for decades in higher education, including the time before email existed. She said this helped her understand that the strain on workers caused by 24/7 connectivity can actually be worse for productivity than some periods of unresponsiveness.

A study titled “Exhausted but Unable to Disconnect” found that it’s not simply the amount of time spent on work emails, but anticipatory stress and being expected to answer emails at all times also drains employees. The study by researchers at Lehigh University, Virginia Tech and Colorado State University was presented in August at the annual meeting of the Academy of Management.

Information from 297 workers was sampled, focusing on the role of their employer’s expectation for after-hours emailing. They concluded employees’ emotional states are negatively affected, which can lead to “burnout” and harm to work-family balance.

“Email is notoriously known to be the impediment of the recovery process,” the study’s authors wrote. “Its accessibility contributes to experience of work overload since it allows employees to engage in work as if they never left the workspace and, at the same time, inhibits their ability to psychologically detach from work-related issues via continuous connectivity.”

The proposed federal labor law is in part designed to improve work-life balance for employees.

Hourly employees should completely disengage from work outside business hours. Some exceptions apply, however. A supervisor may require workers to be on call or participate in activities that require the need for response. However, without prior approval from the supervisor, employees who are paid hourly should not respond to email or text messages outside the normal workday.

Employees’ time spent responding to work emails after the workday should be documented because employees may receive compensation for that time. New university time sheet protocols say hourly workers’ time should be recorded in quarter-hour increments, and, for example, eight minutes or less is rounded down and eight minutes or more is rounded up.

The university has also taken steps to improve work life on campus.

UM leaders created the UM 2020 strategic plan with specific wellness objectives. They included developing and implementing a multiyear plan for promoting and advancing health, nutrition, exercise and individual wellness among all workers.

The university’s leadership has also made changes to two employee policies in 2015 to promote a healthier work environment. Department heads are allowed to be flexible with scheduling to let employees participate in physical activity and UM wellness programs.

With the department heads’ approval, employees are also allowed to take two breaks, up to 20 minutes each day. These breaks are designed to encourage workers to stretch, walk or take short bike rides around campus, which can benefit work performance and individual health. These breaks are crucial for “disconnecting” and recharging, employees said.

But, completely unplugging isn’t always easy to do, said Jessica Hughes, a UM human resources generalist. She admits she loves her iPhone and enjoys the diversion of social media when not working.

“I think it’s something everyone in today’s society struggles with – finding the right balance between social media and disconnecting,” Hughes said. “The idea of always being available has made unplugging that much more difficult.”

Hughes said taking a workout session led by an instructor forces her to unplug, and she tries to use the “do not disturb” feature on her phone when she needs some time to herself.

“Going to a workout class led by an instructor forces you to be 100 percent in the moment with your workout, so you really zone out for an hour and have 60 or so minutes of ‘no screen’ time,” Hughes said.

Jill Layne, a senior accountant at the university, has two young children, which leaves her with very little personal time, except daily lunch breaks. She either runs or takes group fitness classes at the Turner Center to de-stress and unplug.

“I have learned that by taking this break during the middle of the day, it has allowed me to recharge,” Layne said. “I may have a crazy morning where I can’t seem to get anything done. If I step away and leave it for a while and clear my head, I can usually come back and turn the day into a productive one.”

She said she’s in the best shape of her life and doesn’t get sick very often, partly because of her wellness efforts. She has also become friends with employees from many different campus departments whom she might not have ever met without the classes.

Judy Hopper, UM’s manager of compensation and classification in HR, said salaried employees should consider taking their lunch away from their work space, which can help remove the temptation to answer the phone or an email.

“It’s OK,” Hopper said. “Give yourself permission for periods of complete disengagement.”

 

 

New payroll manager joins the HR team

HR payroll manager Desha Ferguson. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

Desha Ferguson assumed the role of payroll manager in the UM Department of Human Resources in November. Previously, Ferguson served as a senior accountant for the Office of Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance, where she had an opportunity to learn about the payroll function.

“We are excited to have Desha join the Human Resources team as the campus payroll manager,” said Clay Jones, assistant vice chancellor of administration and human resources. “Desha is very bright and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to this position.

“We also want to say thanks to Audrey Floyd for her years of service in this role. She is very deserving of her opportunity to serve the university as director of budget.”

The university’s payroll office processes payroll distribution for over 8,000 individuals a year, including faculty, staff and student employees.

Ferguson will join Kathy McCluskey and Cheri Provence of payroll and Ethelene Beard and Kirstie Manning of reconciliation. She has nine years of experience as an accountant, general manager and store manager, and graduated from UM’s accountancy program in 2004.

Fun Facts about the Payroll Office

  • 8,425 W-2s prepared: 6,098 printed, 2,327 online for CY 2016
  • 136,497 payroll direct deposits for FY 2016
  • 3,700 payroll checks printed for FY 2016
  • Over $218 million total gross payroll for FY 2016

Rebels Strong Competitors in the Classroom during Fall 2016

Women's soccer posts highest team GPA with a 3.63

Rebel student-athletes posted the highest cumulative semester grade point average in recorded history. Photo by Nathan Latil Ole Miss Communications

Rebel student-athletes posted the highest cumulative semester grade point average in recorded history. Photo by Nathan Latil/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi student-athletes weren’t just successful on the courts and fields this fall, but also in the classroom. Rebel student-athletes posted the highest cumulative semester grade point average in recorded history.

Ole Miss also had its highest number of mid-year graduates, with 22 student-athletes completing their degree requirements, while more than 50 percent of student-athletes earned a 3.00 GPA or better.

In total, 174 student-athletes were named to the Chancellor’s or Dean’s Honor Roll, with 25 student-athletes earning 4.00 GPAs for the fall semester.

“Our Rebel scholar-athletes finished strong in the classroom this fall,” said Derek Cowherd, senior associate athletics director for student-athlete development. “Our student-athletes earned the highest number of 3.00 GPAs (216 of 396) and we had 22 mid-year graduates. Additionally, we recorded the highest overall semester GPA in recorded history with a host of other team and individual successes.

“It’s a great way to send off such an accomplished senior class as they embark on the next chapters of their lives.”

The women’s soccer team continues to impress in the classroom, and for the second consecutive year posted the highest overall team GPA with a 3.63. Eleven student-athletes were named to the Chancellor’s Honor Roll with GPAs of 3.75 or better, while 90 percent of the team earned a 3.00 GPA or higher. Melissa Capocaccia and Gretchen Harknett were named to the CoSIDA Academic All-District team for their efforts in the classroom and on the field.

The women’s tennis team posted the second-highest team GPA with a 3.48, while seven of nine student-athletes made either the Dean’s or Chancellor’s Honor Roll.

Fresh off a fall in which they won three tournaments, the men’s golf team posted a 3.31 GPA the fifth consecutive fall semester with a team GPA north of 3.00.

The Ole Miss track and field teams were also successful with a 3.01 GPA for the men’s team, which is the highest in recorded history, and 19 student-athletes earning a spot on the honor roll. The women’s team posted its best GPA since 2010 and had seven student-athletes earn 4.00 semester GPAs. On the women’s side, Bo Ummels and Britt Ummels completed coursework for their master’s degrees this fall.

The football team made great strides in the classroom, with 19 student-athletes finishing their degree requirements this fall, spearheaded by Senior CLASS Award nominee and All-SEC selection Chad Kelly. As a whole, the squad posted the second-highest fall semester team GPA in recorded history.

The volleyball team, led by CoSIDA Academic All-American Aubrey Edie, also had an outstanding academic semester, earning a 3.35 semester GPA, the highest in seven years with 75 percent of the team earning 3.00 GPAs.

From a historical perspective, Ole Miss student-athletes are performing at a very high level in the classroom, moving from a 2.81 GPA in the spring of 2011 to a 3.00 GPA – the highest ever – in the spring of 2016, a number set to continue to rise throughout the 2016-17 academic year.

December 2016 Graduates

Football
Quincy Adeboyejo
Tony Bridges
Terry Caldwell
Tony Conner
Robert Conyers
Drew Davis
Issac Gross
Akeem Judd
Chad Kelly
Jeremy Liggins
Tyler Pittman
Hunter Thurley
Grant Warren
Taz Zettergren

Men’s Track
Adam Aguirre
Kevin Conway
Craig Engles
Branden Green

Rifle
Alison Weisz

Women’s Basketball
Erika Sisk

Women’s Tennis
Mai El Kamash

Women’s Track
Bo Ummels
Britt Ummels

For further academic accolades, follow @UMTrueRebel on Twitter.

Crossing the River Together: A UM Humanitarian Project

Engineering students and faculty work together to provide infrastructure for West African villages

Workers drill a borehole with a rig and drilling mud as Zack Lepchitz and Dillon Hall examine soil cuttings.

Workers drill a borehole with a rig and drilling mud as Zack Lepchitz and Dillon Hall examine soil cuttings.

OXFORD, Miss. – In Africa, there is a saying: “Cross the river in a crowd and the crocodile won’t eat you.” Or, in the words of the Dalai Lama, “Universal humanitarianism is essential to solve global problems.”

Western visitors to the low, sandy terrain of the West African nation of Togo find a world far different than where they live. It is a world where locals drink polluted water from the same open source. A world where resources are scarce and where health care and education are not always options. A world unlike this one in many ways but connected through its people and their desire for a stronger community.

A team of faculty members and students at the University of Mississippi, all members of the UM chapter of Engineers Without Borders, is working to help residents of one village strengthen their community. Among them is Cristiane Surbeck, an associate professor of civil engineering who is committed to “actually doing” good for this community to make a major impact on the people who live within it.

“I hope to help the people of Togo with projects that require engineering labor and teach UM students how to be engineers,” Surbeck said.

Engineers Without Borders is an organization of engineering professionals, academics and students who are dedicated to the empowerment of impoverished communities abroad. They travel to places such as Togo, bringing with them resources that strengthen and encourage the communities they adopt.

These resources include students and faculty educated in engineering, as well as manpower and useful tools for building.

In the last four years, members of the UM chapter have dedicated themselves to helping the small village of Hedome.

The children of Hedome aspire to be doctors and layers and engineers; some even hope to be congressmen. Learning, however, was difficult without a school.

In 2012, the UM chapter of Engineers Without Borders recognized the community’s need for a place of learning, where the children of Togo could be encouraged to expand their education. The chapter collectively developed plans for an infrastructure and raised funds to start work.

After much hard work, a schoolhouse for the children of Hedome village was completed. The school has been the group’s greatest accomplishment thus far, Surbeck said.

Vera Gardner, a senior mechanical engineering major from Memphis, Tennessee, agreed.

“When we saw the students attending classes and learning in their new schoolhouse, it showed that the community’s efforts and the UM-EWB chapter’s work was being used for its intended use and a good cause,” he said. “Everyone’s hard work paid off.”

With this great accomplishment, the chapter members have plowed forward into their next project, the installation of a deep water well in the village of Akoumape. The UM chapter began planning the project in January 2016, and it remains in development.

This deep water well will replace the shallow well that the village has been using. A deeper well means cleaner water both for the residents and for a local children’s hospital in the village. This installation will mean all-around better health and should help to energize the Togo community.

“When we complete the job, I can see the faces of the people we are helping.” said Zack Lepchitz, a UM graduate student in geological engineering who is involved with the developing construction projects in Togo.

Students involved with the chapter’s trip to Togo “are learning the technical and social skills necessary to complete a construction project to the client’s satisfaction,” Surbeck said.

Dental Community Remembers Couples Lost in Crash

Oxford dentists left behind families, legacy of caring service

dental_memorial_top_artJACKSON, Miss. – Just before noon on Aug. 14, Mississippi’s dental community suffered a great loss. Six University of Mississippi alumni on their way home from a dentistry continuing education event in Florida were killed in a plane crash in Alabama. Four were graduates of the School of Dentistry.

On board were Drs. Jason and Lea Farese, Dr. Austin and Angie Poole, and Dr. Michael and Kim Perry, all of Oxford. They leave behind multiple practices, hundreds of patients, colleagues, friends and family. Most heartbreaking is the loss suffered by their combined 11 children.

The dental community has rallied together in an attempt to fill the void left by these special lives. Fellow alumni have stepped in to keep practices open and staff employed, and a fund has been started to provide for the children’s care and education.

Drs. Jason and Lea Farese

Drs. Jason and Lea Farese

Drs. Jason and Lea Farese

Jason and Lea Farese met in dental school and were married in 2002. He was a Vanderbilt graduate, captain of the baseball team his senior year, and she graduated from Belhaven University. The two were a perfect pair – of contrasts.

“He was like the fiery guy, and she was like the calming of the waters,” said Dr. David Duncan, professor emeritus in the Department of Care Planning and Restorative Sciences. “They just meshed together really well.”

Duncan recalls Jason coming to him during dental school for some personal advice. “He was wringing his hands, and he said, ‘I just don’t know. I’m thinking about asking Lea to marry me.’ And I said, ‘Duh! Yeah! Y’all are perfect for each other.'”

Lea worked in public health for a few years while Jason worked on getting a private practice started. They joined in practice as Farese Family Dentistry in Oxford. They were members of the Tri Lakes Dental Study Club, which includes a coverage group to provide clinic coverage for members who are injured or ill and unable to practice for a time.

Both Lea and Jason had participated in helping cover two other dental practices since the group was formed, said Dr. Thomas Hodge, a 1995 graduate of the School of Dentistry. Now it was time for the group to give back to the Fareses, the first time the group has covered for a death in the dental community, Hodge said.

“We tried to get in there and keep their normal business hours going, keep the staff in place until the family could sell the practice,” he said.

However, the person who traveled the farthest to help out was not a member of the Tri Lakes group. Dr. Lauren Timmons, who graduated in 2002 with Jason Farese and Austin Poole, traveled from his practice in Ocean Springs to help keep the practice going.

“I really felt like God spoke to me when I heard it happened. I knew, in that minute,” said Timmons, who received the call while driving back from Orlando, where he had attended the same conference from which the three couples were returning when their plane crashed.

“The second thought that was in my head was do it for the kids. I knew this was their retirement. The value of the practice would slip away quickly if people didn’t step in.”

The Fareses had one of the most technologically advanced practices in Mississippi. Attending the seminar in Florida was a testament to their commitment to staying on the cutting edge of dentistry.

However, Timmons said the group skipped one day of classes to take in the sights at Universal Studios.

“I didn’t want to skip class,” he said. “I am kind of glad now that they did, not knowing it was going to be one of their last few days.”

Timmons said that he talked to Jason on the day before the crash. “Farese just came and sat down beside me before this class started,” Timmons said. “He talked to me for just a little bit, which was kind of unusual, I thought. He’s always busy, somewhere to go and something to do.”

John Green, a family friend of all three couples who lives in Oxford, described Jason as the little brother he’d never had.

“I’ve known Jason since the time he was born,” he said. “His older brother and I were best friends.

“Jason was a consummate perfectionist in everything he did – academically, professionally and even spiritually. You could say that about all of them. They donated a lot of their time and did a lot of pro bono work for people who couldn’t afford it.”

Lea was great with children who came into the clinic, Green said.

“She was kind of Jason’s alter ego, if you will,” he said. “She was a great mom and a great mentor to a lot of children. She was always at Jason’s side and always at the children’s side.”

“They were not just good dentists – and they were very good dentists – but they were good people,” Hodge said. “They were people whom you’d want your families to be around. They are going to be missed by many, many, many people.”

The Fareses leave behind three children: Luke, Alexa and Layla.

Dr. Austin and Angie Poole

Dr. Austin and Angie Poole

Dr. Austin and Angie Poole

Austin and Angie Poole met later in life. Austin worked his way through college to a degree from Delta State University. Angie was an Ole Miss alumna. Theirs was a second marriage for both, and together they parented five children: Katie, Walker, Kingsley, Wesley and Jack. As a family, they enjoyed spending time outdoors.

“They spent a ton of time outdoors with all their children,” Green said. “They were outdoors all the time.”

Austin is remembered for his Delta roots by many. Dr. Neva Penton Eklund wrote in the Mississippi Dental Association publication MDA Insider about Austin wearing his hunting boots to class “because he had either just come from hunting that morning or was headed that way as soon as he could after the afternoon lab class.”

Former chair of periodontics and preventive services at the School of Dentistry, Dr. Frank Serio remembers the stories Austin told of time spent in the woods, hunting and fishing.

“I loved talking to Austin because he was just a country boy, no question about it,” Serio said. “He would rather spend time out in the woods chasing hogs or hunting deer than just about anything else in his life. He was also a really good fisherman. He taught me a few things about fishing. I really enjoyed his company.”

Angie and Austin spent their days together. As office manager, she ran his practice in Clarksdale. Together, they drove an hour each way from Oxford to Clarksdale to provide care to patients in the underserved, rural area.

Often Poole treated patients regardless of their ability to pay, Duncan said.

“Angie was just kindhearted,” Green said. “She was very confident and constantly involved in all of their children’s lives. She was a great mom, very welcoming. Her house was open to everyone.

“They’d take in total strangers. Austin and Angie were just great to everyone they knew. They never met strangers.”

Timmons said that Austin was one of the nicest people he had ever known.

“Austin Poole would, literally – if it was during finals, if there was a war going on, if the building was on fire – he would stop and help somebody,” he said. “He would sacrifice his time.”

Timmons summed up the way many friends and colleagues are feeling.

“It’s really sad and tragic,” he said. “It is a tremendous loss to the dental community.

“Jason was way ahead of his time in dentistry with technology. That was a great loss. Michael Perry did so much for the community, as you know, and so did all of them, really. They were just an inspiration to live our lives that way.”

Dr. Michael and Kim Perry

Dr. Michael and Kim Perry

Dr. Michael and Kim Perry

Michael Perry and Kim Westerfield grew up together in Brandon. They started dating when he was in ninth grade and she was in the eighth. They both attended UM after high school.

She received a degree in nursing. After receiving a math degree in Oxford, he went on to attend the School of Dentistry and then completed postdoctorate training in periodontics at Baylor College of Dentistry while Kim earned a master’s degree from Texas Woman’s University and post-master’s degree as a family nurse practitioner from Mississippi University for Women.

The high school sweethearts married in 1997. They settled in Oxford, Michael to establish a periodontal practice and Kim as a nurse practitioner at the UM Health Center.

Kim was a committed wife, mother and health care provider, Green said.

“She spent her entire adult life taking care of others,” he said. “That’s common with all of them. They were all just very giving people.”

Michael’s brother, Robert Perry, said that his brother was passionate about his work, his patients and his staff. More than one person described him as driven. He grew five practices in north Mississippi and the Memphis area, and his staff followed him to each location to provide care.

“People say that he ran 90 miles an hour everywhere he went,” Robert Perry said. “He wanted to cover as much of an area as possible and see as many patients as possible.”

He also went the extra mile to show how much he cared for his patients.

“I’ve received a lot of letters – the whole family has – about how Michael would call his patients after he had seen them that day,” Robert said. It was the first time most patients had ever received a telephone call from a doctor or a dentist checking on them, and it meant a lot. “He really did care.”

He showed his caring in other ways as well. Inspired by Serio, Perry traveled with him to the Dominican Republic to provide care to the less fortunate. Perry took his oldest children along to nurture in them an appreciation for helping others.

Robert said that his brother’s legacy will be the 73-acre Oxford-Lafayette Sports Plex he built with his own money.

“Michael always knew how important sports were growing up and how there were role models in coaches and good support in youth sports,” Robert said.

“They were very motivated for the youth in this town. They took care of people who couldn’t financially take care of themselves.”

Serio said that Michael was not just tireless for himself but for everyone around him.

“He and Kim really did so much for the Oxford community,” Serio said. “Any way that Michael touched people was just tremendous, and of course Kim was right by his side the whole time.”

The Perrys leave behind three children: Sarah McConnell, John West and Anna Reed.

Our Oxford Family

Green has formed a memorial fund to help the children of all three families.

“Our Oxford Family was set up to take care of the short- and long-term needs which should arise for the children who were left when their parents passed away,” he said. “Short- and long-term needs include education or basic needs going forward.”

Those who wish to contribute may visit the Our Oxford Family website.

UM Earns Highest Graduation Success Rate in School History

Four Rebel teams post perfect scores

Commencement in the Pavilion at Ole Miss. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

Ole Miss recorded its highest GSR in school history at 81 percent. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Coming on the heels of a successful weekend on the football field and basketball courts, the University of Mississippi has received more great news, this time on the academic side of things. In the most recent NCAA Graduation Success Rate Report released Tuesday, Ole Miss student-athletes recorded the highest GSR in school history at 81 percent.

Additionally, UM is graduating student-athletes at a rate nearly 2 percent higher than the general student body for the first time since 2009.  This is just one of many accomplishments Ole Miss student-athletes have had in the last year. In the spring, they posted a collective 3.0 GPA for the first time.

Ross Bjork, vice chancellor for intercollegiate athletics, is pleased with the progress Ole Miss student-athletes are making in the classroom.  

“I am extremely proud of our student-athletes, coaches and athletics staff for reaching this new academic threshold,” Bjork said.  “Our biggest responsibility in college athletics is teaching, educating and providing leadership opportunities for our students who compete in athletics. Our intentional approach to enhance our academic performance is now paying off with the best graduation success rate on record.

“Earning a college degree is the ultimate measure of success in higher education and we are extremely proud of all of our Ole Miss Rebels who have received their degree and allowed our university to enrich our academic profile.  While we have come a long way in a relatively short amount of time, our work in this area is never complete, and we will continue to strive for academic excellence for our entire athletics program. We must continue to fulfill our purpose by providing every opportunity for our student-athletes to reach their full potential. ”

Derek Cowherd, senior associate athletics director for student-athlete development, is equally impressed by the dedication of the student-athletes, coaches and FedEx Student Athlete Success Center staff to achieve this milestone.

“It has taken a lot of dedication from our students, staff and coaches to move closer to our target of 90 percent graduation success and to see Ross’ vision for our department coming true,” Cowherd said. “We take the utmost pride in the process and the way we do things with integrity and within our core values. 

“It’s very rewarding to see so many of our student-athletes graduating and having a plan for their lives after their collegiate days are done.  I’m thankful for this talented team who works tirelessly to reach our goal of being in or near the upper third of the SEC in federal and graduation success rates.”

The women’s basketball, women’s golf, volleyball and rifle teams each posted a perfect 100 percent GSR. This will be the eighth consecutive year the women’s golf team has posted a perfect GSR, while volleyball achieves the feat for the sixth straight year.  It’s the fourth year in a row with a perfect score for women’s basketball and the third for rifle.

In 10 years, Ole Miss’ graduation success rate has improved from 69 percent to its current 81 percent, and the Rebels are graduating 2 percent higher than the overall university population and the federal graduation rate.

Additionally, Ole Miss is making strides among its SEC counterparts, continuing to climb into the upper echelon of the SEC.  

For further academic accolades, follow @UMTrueRebel on Twitter.