UM Receives $575,000 Grant to Maintain VISTA Project

College of Liberal Arts given federal funding for fifth consecutive year

Susan Nicholas (left), North MS VISTA Project assistant director at UM, welcomes new volunteers Allen and Susan Spore.

Susan Nicholas (left), North Mississippi VISTA Project assistant director at UM, welcomes new volunteers Allen and Susan Spore.

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi College of Liberal Arts  is leading the fight against poverty through education, thanks in part to a federally-funded volunteer program.

The North Mississippi Volunteers in Service to America project entered its fifth year of funding from the Corporation for National and Community Service. Directed by Stephen Monroe, assistant dean of the college, VISTA brings more than $575,000 annually into the region.

“In the last four years, VISTA has partnered with university departments, local nonprofits and schools in rural areas to build and strengthen programs that fight poverty through education,” Monroe said. “Our VISTAs serve with passion and energy. They are selfless people who work behind the scenes to improve lives in Mississippi.”

Examples of VISTA projects include a back-to-school fair in Tupelo that benefited thousands of low-income students, a community mentoring program to help children in the DeSoto County Youth Court system, tutoring and fundraising collaborations between UM’s LuckyDay Academic Success Program and Crenshaw Elementary School in Panola County, and the Horizons Summer Learning Program on the Ole Miss campus.

Most VISTAs have been recent graduates from UM programs, such as the Croft Institute for International Studies and the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. Doug Odom, a 2013 graduate with bachelor’s degrees in classics and English, spent last year building academic support programs for low-income college students and raising funds and recruiting volunteers for youth programs. He is attending graduate school at Vanderbilt University this fall.

“The most fulfilling aspect of the VISTA project, at least in my eyes, is the fact that it’s so focused on education,” said the Jackson native, who launched an after-school and summer program in Abbeville during his time as a VISTA. “I had the chance to help coordinate educational programs for elementary students in impoverished areas, as well as programs for first-generation college students from low socio-economic backgrounds. The students may have differed in age, but the underlying focus of all of the programs was the same: improving education in my home state.”

Many other VISTAs have followed a similar path, going into graduate programs at New York University, the University of Georgia, Harvard University and Stanford University.

“VISTA service benefits include a living allowance and education award,” said Susan Nicholas, assistant director of the program. “I believe the greatest benefit is the professional experience volunteers receive while honing their skills in program development, fundraising and engaging in diverse communities. All these are important to future employers and graduate school admissions committees.”

Although most VISTAs come from the university, others such as Susan and Allen Spore of Oakland, California, are recruited from out-of-state. The retired couple will be stationed at different schools in north Panola County.

“We had been researching for full-time volunteer programs, including the Peace Corps and VISTA, and were interested in working with youth and in public schools,” Susan Spore said. “We did extensive research on the Internet and felt the University of Mississippi had the best all-around VISTA support and had projects that were in line with our interests.”

The couple’s son, a Jackson attorney, encouraged them to consider Mississippi. After visiting Oxford, the Spores decided that it would be a great place to live during their assignment.

“My short-term goal is to start a literacy reading program for the lower grades at Crenshaw Elementary,” Susan Spore said. “A long-term goal is to develop and train volunteers to expand the program and ensure sustainability and investigate the feasibility of writing programs.”

Her husband shared similar objectives.

“My short-term plan is to assess the needs for college/career awareness programs, determine potential resources and partners, and recommend possible programs for the North Panola High School,” Allen Spore said. “My first long-term goal is to develop and implement college/career awareness programs, including recruiting volunteers to staff the programs and ensure sustainability. Secondly, I want to develop a fine art photography program for North Panola High/ Junior High and to recruit volunteers to implement and sustain the program.”

Monroe said he is grateful to CNCS for the work made possible by its grant.

“We’re inspired everyday by our VISTAs,” he said. “They are people of action who are strengthening our state.”

For more information on VISTA service opportunities, contact Susan Nicholas at or 662-915-1905.

Oxford Public Relations Professional Earns Accreditation

Erin Garrett among three certified staff members at UM

Erin Garrett

Erin Garrett

OXFORD, Miss. – Erin Garrett, communications specialist for the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy in Oxford, has successfully completed her Accreditation in Public Relations certification.

“Pursuing my accreditation has been a challenging, but highly rewarding journey,” said Garrett, a native of Oxford. “I first knew that I wanted to become accredited after speaking with my former public relations professor and APR mentor, Robin Street. I am honored to now be included among a group of stellar practitioners who are striving to uphold the standards of our profession.”

The APR is awarded to public relations professionals who successfully complete the rigorous process, which includes presenting their portfolio to a readiness review panel and sitting for a computer-based examination. Through this process, candidates are assessed in 60 areas of knowledge, skills and abilities.

“Earning the APR reflects a mastery of the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to succeed in our increasingly complex profession,” said John E. Forde, a PRSA fellow and 2015 chair of the Universal Accreditation Board. “Practitioners who achieve the designation are demonstrating their commitment not only to our profession, but also to a strong code of ethics and to the betterment of their organization and clients.”

Some 40 professionals in Mississippi are accredited, with three at Ole Miss. Garrett said she is thankful for the support that the School of Pharmacy provided during the process.

“We are extremely proud of Erin for earning her accreditation,” said David D. Allen, the school’s dean. “She has been an asset to our school during her time here.”

Responsible for all communication efforts within the School of Pharmacy, Garrett manages the school’s website, newsletters, social media and magazines. She serves as vice president of the Public Relations Association of Mississippi’s Oxford-Ole Miss chapter.

Garrett has been a member of PRAM for five years. In 2011 she was named Outstanding PR Student by the organization. She has also been recognized with a PRAM Certificate of Achievement for her work.

She received her bachelor’s degree in journalism with a public relations emphasis in 2011 from UM.

A Decade Later, Katrina Evokes Strong Memories

UM recalls deadly storm, the response and lessons learned

A team from Ole Miss helps clean up and rebuild after Hurricane Katrina at Lynn Meadows Discovery Center in Gulfport. Photo by Robert Jordan

A team from Ole Miss helps clean up and rebuild after Hurricane Katrina at Lynn Meadows Discovery Center in Gulfport. Photo by Robert Jordan

OXFORD, Miss – On Aug. 29, 2005, Mississippi was changed forever as Hurricane Katrina, the worst natural disaster in United States history, ravaged the Gulf Coast, killing hundreds of people in the state and displacing thousands.

When the storm passed through, recovery efforts began immediately. Emergency agencies and personnel partnered with research institutions to get many forms of aid to the damaged area as soon as possible. The University of Mississippi, far enough north of the storm’s landfall to avoid significant damage, was able to respond in a variety of ways, as students collected and sent relief supplies to shattered communities and faculty members and students helped counsel evacuees and provide vital information to rescuers.

Almost immediately after the storm passed through the state, a team from the UM School of Engineering headed south to help in preparing maps and images for emergency response personnel and decision makers using Geographic Information Systems, or GIS. Gregory Easson, director of the UM Geoinformatics Center and professor of geology and geological engineering, took several graduate students and their equipment to Jackson to help develop a variety of maps needed by personnel in the emergency response center and in the field.

“There were a lot of people who just wanted to help,” Easson said.

Just two days following the storm, Easson and five graduate students, along with other university partners and government agencies, were set up at an emergency operations center in Jackson to make maps of everything from locations of food and ice distribution sites to cell tower coverage.

Another important service provided by the GIS support volunteers was geocoding addresses of Mississippians in need of medical help or evacuation. These maps were critical because most landmarks and street signs were destroyed in the storm, making it difficult for rescue workers to find people who needed help. Whenever the National Guard received a call with an address, the GIS team converted that address to geographic coordinates that could be used to find the person in need.

Other maps showing damage on the Mississippi Gulf Coast were used by the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency for personnel briefings, and maps created to illustrate the progress in restoring electrical power provided a good indicator of the recovery progress. The maps were distributed via the media, used in press briefings and by decision makers at MEMA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“The students were getting to use what they learned in their coursework in a vital, real-life situation,” Easson said. “It was an incredibly gratifying experience to see the amount of people that stepped up to help any way they could.”

Due to the mass outage of electricity and cell towers, many Gulf Coast-area students attending Ole Miss were unable to contact family members, said Sparky Reardon, who was the university’s dean of students at the time.

“After the storm, a father from San Antonio called me because he couldn’t get in touch with his daughter,” Reardon said. “She had a Coast telephone number and since the towers were out, nothing would go through. Someone suggested to try texting her. Shortly after that, she found a landline and called us in tears, excited that we were able to put her through to her father. That was great to be able to help with.”

The Office of the Dean of Students offered practical advice for students traveling to help their parents in the damaged area, including road damage information, and helped coordinate with instructors about class absences, Reardon said.

“The amount of issues we were dealing with was incredible,” he said.

He took the efforts a step further that October, leading a team of students to the Gulf Coast to assemble furniture for a Long Beach public school so that classes could resume.

Student groups organized collection drives on campus that netted two truckloads of bottled water, canned food and paper goods that were sent to agencies coordinating relief efforts along the Gulf Coast.

The university also established a fund for Ole Miss students displaced by the storm. Alumni, students, football fans and other donors contributed more than $250,000 to the fund, which provided direct financial assistance to more than 400 students affected by the hurricane.

On Oct. 1, 2005, the university also hosted a star-studded telethon to raise money for Gulf Coast recovery efforts. “Mississippi Rising,” a three-hour program broadcast live on MSNBC from Tad Smith Coliseum, was organized by Ole Miss alumnus and former Hollywood agent Sam Haskell. The event, which featured more than three dozen celebrities, raised more than $15 million for the Mississippi Hurricane Recovery Fund.

Stefan Schulenberg, a UM associate professor of psychology, and a multidisciplinary team of researchers have conducted research on the long-term psychological impact of the storm, in one study examining the relationship between self-efficacy and symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

Schulenberg was also involved in the mental health response to Katrina. Following the storm, evacuees began to head north, many coming to Oxford, where an American Red Cross Resource Center was established at the university’s Jackson Avenue Center. Evacuees were provided with a variety of aid, including food, water and mental health assistance.

While the primary focus was on helping survivors of the storm, these efforts also gave UM graduate students a way to train in clinical disaster psychology in a real-life, critical scenario.

These research and service experiences laid the groundwork for Schulenberg and his team to study the psychological impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill among Gulf Coast communities. Both Hurricane Katrina and the oil spill were integral to the development of the university’s Clinical-Disaster Research Center in 2012. Schulenberg serves as director of the center, which is dedicated to research, training and service work in the area of disaster mental health.

“Through the center, we hope to train our graduate students in clinical psychology how best to assist mental health efforts during a time of disaster,” Schulenberg said. “Disaster preparedness, mitigation and response should be key focal areas for the state of Mississippi in preparation for the next disaster.”

Kate Freeman Clark Exhibit Opening at UM Museum

Painter's works get rare showing outside her hometown

Kate Freeman Clark

‘Mill Pond Moors Mill’ is among more than 500 landscapes from the collection of the Kate Freeman Clark Art Gallery.

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi Museum features a new exhibit this fall showcasing the work of Kate Freeman Clark, one of the most talented 20th century Mississippi artists.

“Kate Freeman Clark: A New Look at a National Treasure,” a collection of pieces on loan from the Kate Freeman Clark Art Gallery, opened Aug. 11 and will be on display at the museum through Feb. 20, 2016. An opening reception is set for 6-8 p.m. Tuesday (Aug. 25).

Clark grew up in Holly Springs and enrolled at the Art Students League in New York in 1894 under the tutelage of painter and well-known art instructor William Merrit Chase. Thus began a formidable teacher-pupil relationship where Chase’s work in impressionism paved the way for Clark to become one of the best landscape and plein-air painters of her time.

For 20 years, she found inspiration in “En plein aire,” or French for “in the open air,” alternating between dark and light concepts. Chase was also a great influence on her work until his death in 1916. After a cataclysm of Chase’s death and the death of her grandmother in quick succession, Clark hung up her brushes and returned to Holly Springs.

“She was before her time,” said Rebecca Phillips, the museum’s coordinator for memberships, events and communications. “She was a woman that created in a man’s world. Clark never signed her paintings with ‘Kate,’ but as ‘Freeman Clark, F. Clark or not at all.'”

Back home, Clark returned to a lifestyle of a proper Southern lady. Many of her friends were unaware of her major accomplishments as a painter, as she rarely talked about her time as an artist in New York. At her death in 1957, she gave instructions and funds in her will to construct an art museum in Holly Springs, including an inventory in a New York warehouse of more than 1,200 sketches and paintings.

“The exhibition helps the board of trustees fulfill its mission to enlarge Kate Freeman Clark’s recognition, regionally as well as locally, as a gifted artist and a treasure that will be available for the enjoyment of generations to come,” said Walter Webb, the gallery’s director.

Robert Saarnio, director of the UM Museum, said he is especially pleased to exhibit works of such a renowned artist who does not get nearly the exposure she should.

“The University Museum is exceptionally pleased to exhibit several remarkable paintings of Mississippi’s renowned visual artist Kate Freeman Clark,” Saarnio said. “Her paintings are rarely exhibited outside the Kate Freeman Clark Art Gallery in her hometown of Holly Springs, with whom we are proud to be partnering on this exciting show. We look forward to sharing these significant artworks, which will be displayed to dramatic effect in our museum’s handsome gallery space.”

Phillips said Clark’s works are great for the museum because they are a nice change from recent exhibits of contemporary artists.

“The last few rotating exhibits have showcased living, contemporary artists, so it’s pleasing to experience an early 20th century painter’s work in the museum,” Phillips said. “Kate Freeman Clark is a Mississippi painter, and she isn’t talked about as much as she should be. It is nice to partner with Holly Springs and exhibit Kate Freeman Clark’s paintings outside of her hometown. Her paintings are timeless, and everyone can find something they like or appreciate.”

Kennon Observatory Transit Hub to Open Aug. 26

Completion of the new Kennon Observatory Transit Hub for bus traffic has been delayed. Buses will begin using the location starting Wednesday (Aug. 26). Pedestrians will be able to walk through the area starting Monday (Aug. 24). Green and Yellow lines will continue to pick up and drop off at the Turner Center stop. The Gold Line will continue to pick up and drop off at the Athletics offices until Wednesday.

Starting at 7 a.m. Wednesday, the Transit Hub will be fully functional. The Green, Yellow and Gold Line buses will run as scheduled and riders may use the new bus stop between Brevard and Lewis halls, which will replace the aforementioned Turner Center and Athletics stops.

The ADA ramp on the Lewis Hall side of the walkway up to the Civil Rights Monument will be closed for two more weeks until safety rails are installed.

Liebenberg Wins ARIA Excellence in Teaching Award

International honor recognizes distinguished record in mentoring and education

Andre Liebenberg

Andre Liebenberg and Patricia Born, ARIA president.

OXFORD, Miss. – Andre P. Liebenberg, the Robertson Chair of Insurance and associate professor of finance at the University of Mississippi, recently was honored with the American Risk and Insurance Association Excellence in Teaching Award at the group’s global conference in Munich, Germany.

The award, which is given only when an exceptional candidate emerges, was created in 2007. It recognizes excellence in risk management and insurance teaching. Applicants must show a distinguished record of teaching throughout their academic careers. The award isn’t monetary, but Liebenberg received a certificate Aug. 4 at the ARIA Awards Luncheon in Munich.

“I was very humbled,” Liebenberg said. “One of my mentors (Rob Hoyt) from the University of Georgia, where I got my Ph.D., won the award in 2007. I’ve always thought of him as an incredible teacher and someone I really look up to as a scholar and teacher. It was very humbling to be recognized with an award he previously received.”

ARIA, founded in 1932, is constituted of academics, insurance industry representatives, students and retirees. It bills itself as the “premier professional association of insurance scholars and other thoughtful risk management and insurance professionals.”

The honor comes with a rigorous set of qualifications. Some of the requirements include a teaching portfolio with a statement of teaching philosophy, summaries of student evaluations for at least two recent courses, grade distributions for a several recent courses, a list of previous teaching awards and letters of recommendation from students and colleagues, among other requirements.

Liebenberg said he’s very pleased to be a part of the UM risk management insurance program, which has an award-winning group of instructors. The success of the group as a whole speaks to the university’s ability to attract and retain excellent teachers who are focused on their students, he said.

Liebenberg makes many contributions to the university, said Ken Cyree, dean of the UM School of Business Administration.

“We are thrilled to have Dr. Liebenberg’s contributions recognized and we are grateful for his dedication to our students,” Cyree said. “Andre is an excellent and award-winning teacher as well as an accomplished scholar in his field. He is engaged with our Insurance Advisory Board and in helping mentor graduates and helping them gain employment. We are thrilled to have him on our faculty and appreciate ARIA recognizing his contributions.”

William H. Rabel, who is the John & Mary Louise Loftis Bickley Endowed Teaching Chairholder in Insurance and Finance at the University of Alabama, is president of ARIA’s Award Committee. He is also a previous winner of Excellence in Teaching Award. Competition for this year’s honor was fierce, but Rabel said he believes Liebenberg’s enthusiasm and dedication to his students makes him an amazing teacher.

“Dr. Liebenberg is recognized for his ability to energize students through his enthusiasm in the classroom,” Rabel said. “He has great success in developing their understanding of the nuances of the subject and also in tying it to broad issues affecting society. Students credit him with truly helping them learn to think in addition to gaining a large amount of knowledge that will help them in their future careers.”

Liebenberg also helps instill confidence in his students, which is incredibly valuable to them in their careers, Rabel said.

“Dr. Liebenberg also enriches the Ole’ Miss RMI program by bringing in internationally recognized speakers who inspire students and help them recognize that their future is limitless,” Rabel said.

UM Arabic Student Awarded Prestigious Boren Scholarship

Corey Fuller will spend the fall 2015 semester in Jordan studying the language

Corey Fuller

Corey Fuller

OXFORD, Miss. – A University of Mississippi student majoring in Arabic is the recipient of a prestigious Boren Scholarship from the U.S. Department of State.

Corey Fuller, a senior from Pinson, Alabama, will study the language in Jordan this fall. Fuller, whose award covers up to $10,000 per semester, plans on using the funds to cover all the costs of studying abroad that his ROTC scholarship does not cover.

“I am truly thankful for all the people who have helped me through this process and to the Boren Scholarship people for allowing me to broaden my Arabic language skills and greatly enhance my readiness for service in the U.S. military,” said Fuller, who has a minor in military science. “By receiving this award, I will be able to focus more on my studies rather than how I will be able to pay for the language immersion program. This scholarship truly relieves the financial burden I would have incurred if I had not received it.”

Fuller is the 17th UM student since 2000 to earn a Boren Scholarship to advance his or her language skills while studying abroad. This is the first Boren award to UM for Arabic study.

While attending UM, Fuller also received a Project Global scholarship, was inducted into the Phi Kappa Phi honors society and presented other various awards.

“The Boren Scholarship to me is a culmination of all these awards because I believe it is my past experiences that made me competitive for the scholarship,” Fuller said. “All my scholarships and awards I have received in academia have either been from the university or Army ROTC. I am glad to see that I can compete in a broader pool of applicants comparative to what I am accustomed to.”

Following his post-graduation commission as a second lieutenant in the U. S. Army, Fuller is anticipating active duty wherever it may take him. The Boren Scholarship allows him to enhance his readiness by sharpening his Arabic language skills and his knowledge of other cultures.

“We do not know when, where or how the next war will be fought,” Fuller said. “It is my job to be the most prepared I can be because I owe it to the American people and the soldiers I will lead to be the most competent leader. In order to accomplish that, I must be culturally competent and able to effectively communicate, partner, influence and operate in complex joint, interagency, intergovernmental and multinational environments.”

UM officials said Fuller’s award is definitely deserved.

“Determination is Corey Fuller’s greatest asset,” said Allen Clark, assistant professor of modern languages and Fuller’s Arabic instructor for the past three years. “Corey’s determination sees him through those muddy times and keeps him soaring, and pushes him to attempt difficult challenges, such as learning Arabic, a language he is certain to master.

“The Boren Scholarship brings with it great prestige, not only to Corey, but to our program, college and university as well. Needless to say, I am proud to have grown to know him as a person, as well as a young scholar and leader. “

Debra Young, associate dean of UM’s Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, said Fuller is “a terrific match for a terrific opportunity.”

“Corey showed up at my office with a plan for where to study, what to study and why to study it, and how it all fit into his future plans and commitment,” said Young, former director of the Office of National Scholarship Advisement housed in the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. “Winning a Boren takes enthusiasm and ambition, but it also takes a lot of hard work and self-assessment. Corey was aces in all areas.”

Any scholarship that provides money for students to study abroad is advantageous for the Department of Modern Languages, said Tim Dolan, director of the national scholarship advisement office. “By allowing Fuller to study the language in the cultural, political and social context in which it is used, it also allows him to experience different styles of education and take in a new culture.

“There are also opportunities to make lifelong friends and foster personal development. Such experiences can make students attractive graduate school candidates or help with the future job hunt.”

Boren Scholarships, an initiative of the National Security Education Program, provide unique funding opportunities for American undergraduate students to study less commonly taught languages in world regions critical to U.S. interests, and underrepresented in study abroad, including Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, Eurasia, Latin America and the Middle East. Recipients represent a vital pool of motivated individuals who wish to work in the federal national security arena. In exchange for funding, they commit to working in the federal government for at least one year after graduation.

UM Named Among ‘Promising Places to Work in Student Affairs’

PPWSA2015LogoThe University of Mississippi has been named as one of the Promising Places to Work in Student Affairs at Research Institutions for 2015 by the American College Personnel Association and Diverse: Issues in Higher Education magazine.

This designation, resulting from a study conducted by Ohio State University’s Center for Higher Education Enterprise, honors the commitment by university administration to workplace diversity, equitable staffing practices and supportive work environments.

“It’s so exciting that we’re recognized for these things because they’re all important elements in our work,” said Brandi Hephner LaBanc, vice chancellor for student affairs. “To have ACPA and Diverse recognize our campus climate and the work that we do is so meaningful and an incredible honor. I’m very proud of the work that we do. We have amazing staff who make incredible things happen on campus, and they do it with such attention to detail, care and love for the students.”

Ole Miss is among two SEC universities selected for this national list of 14 institutions. It is the only Mississippi university on the list.

“This recognition is a testament to the efforts of Dr. Hephner LaBanc and our staff to make our university an inclusive, fair and supportive place to work for all our employees,” Acting Chancellor Morris Stocks said. “Our university is committed to maintaining a rewarding work environment for all employees as they help us further the university’s goals of performing cutting-edge research and also providing our students with a top-flight educational experience.”

The study was conducted using a Web-based survey to examine family friendliness, salary and benefits, and professional development opportunities, among other categories.

“This study yields insight into diversity in the student affairs workplace and offers a useful tool for employers, career services staff and job-seekers across the country,” principal investigator Terrell Strayhorn said. “We hope it continues to serve as a tool for the profession.”

New Parking App Available for UM and Oxford Drivers

The Passport parking app will be available both on campus and in the city of Oxford.

The Passport parking app is available both on campus and throughout Oxford.

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi and the city of Oxford are launching the PassportParking app this month, giving drivers the luxury of paying for parking from their smartphone. Passport will be available at all metered spaces on campus and throughout the city.

The app is designed to make driving around the Oxford area more convenient by allowing drivers to use a smartphone or tablet to pay for a parking session, rather than pulling out change or a credit card after parking.

“The city of Oxford has been working toward improvements in our parking program, so the addition of a mobile payment option was a natural progression for us,” said Matt Davis, Oxford parking director. “We found Passport to be the best solution for our parking environment, and with the launch at Ole Miss, it makes this transition seamless.”

The app also sends reminder notifications to drivers before the end of their parking sessions so they have a chance to extend the session and avoid parking tickets. It also keeps track of all user parking history.

“Having the city introduce the same Passport mobile technology as our campus was important to us,” said Mike Harris, UM director of parking and transportation. “Once we decided that we wanted to offer this option for our meters on campus, it made sense to provide the same service citywide from the leader in mobile payments.”

Users can download the free PassportParking app from the iPhone App Store or Android GooglePlay. Following the sign-up process, drivers can type in the zone number found on a parking meter. The zone for campus is 401. Accounts can be managed at

“When we can bring a solution across a city as well as its university’s campus, it’s very exciting,” said Nathan Berry, vice president of sales at Passport. “We’re looking forward to introducing this parking solution to the city of Oxford and the University of Mississippi.”

University Announces New Attendance-Keeping Procedures

New policies will aid retention efforts, ensure financial aid is awarded properly

The new procedures will help the university with its overall goal of providing the best education possible for students.

The new procedures will help the university with its overall goal of providing the best education possible for students.

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi has created new procedures for instructors to verify classroom attendance in an effort to make sure students who don’t go to class also don’t wrongfully receive financial aid.

Starting this semester, instructors will be required to take attendance using the “Attendance Verification Interface” within myOleMiss‘s class rolls and grades section, or use attendance scanners, and to confirm students’ attendance at least once within the first two weeks of class. Starting this semester, if a student’s attendance has not been verified in a class by an instructor, and if the student has not voluntarily dropped the course, the university will administratively drop unconfirmed students from classes.

“Attending classes and interacting with faculty are essential elements of our mission,” said Noel Wilkin, acting provost. “We have a responsibility to document whether students attend classes. This information is critical in our predictions of student success and ensures compliance with federal requirements.”

The new procedures will help the university with its overall goal of providing the best education possible for students, Associate Provost Maurice Eftink said.

“This new attendance verification process extends our efforts over the last several years to incentivize and track attendance,” Eftink said. “We educators have a strong sense that learning happens best when students are in the seats in front of us.”

The administration is appreciative of the efforts of faculty to track attendance and comply with the new procedures, said Brandi Hephner LaBanc, vice chancellor for student affairs.

“We appreciate the time and willingness of faculty and staff to help us track the attendance of all students,” Hephner LaBanc said. “The true beneficiary of this new process is the student – we will be able to use this data to help us reach out to students, support and retain them. This is just another way Ole Miss personalizes the university experience.”

The new system will help identify no-shows very early in the semester and also identify students whose financial aid must be modified because they dropped courses or never attended. Attendance is mandatory for establishing eligibility for aid purposes. The new requirement also helps the university more accurately determine enrollment and credit hour production data, which is submitted to external groups, including the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning.

The data that results will also help the university develop ways to maximize its retention rates.

Another benefit of the new measures is making seats available more quickly to other students who may wish to take a specific class.

Instructors have an important role in upholding the new procedures because the rules have many financial aid repercussions for students, said Laura Diven-Brown, UM financial aid director. Failing to attend has consequences for Title IV financial aid, including Pell Grants and student and parent loans.

The university also will be locking enrollment for federal aid purposes, which is also a new policy. For fall semester, this will happen Sept. 14 at the end of day.

“If the locked enrollment doesn’t match the awards students received, we will have to make adjustments, which could include paybacks,” Diven-Brown said. “So it is very important to confirm students’ attendance during the first two weeks of class, since there may be required financial aid adjustments.”