UM Takes Down State Flag

University administrators heed campuswide call to remove banner

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi Police Department officers lowered and furled the state flag in a Lyceum Circle ceremony as the campus opened Monday morning. The flag will be preserved in the University Archives along with resolutions from students, faculty and staff calling for its removal.

The university’s removal of the flag is the latest development in discussions within the state about whether to change the official state flag, which includes the Confederate battle flag in one corner.

Interim Chancellor Morris Stocks first joined other state and university leaders calling for a change in the state flag in a statement last June.

“The University of Mississippi community came to the realization years ago that the Confederate battle flag did not represent many of our core values, such as civility and respect for others,” Stocks said. “Since that time, we have become a stronger and better university. We join other leaders in our state who are calling for a change in the state flag.”

In recent weeks the focus of campus discussions has shifted from whether the state should change the flag to whether it should fly on campus. After news spread that the Associated Student Body Senate would take up a measure to endorse removing the flag, more than 200 people attended an Oct. 16 campus rally in support of the idea.

On Oct. 20, the student senate voted 33-15-1 to request that the university remove the flag, following three hours of respectful and impassioned debate. Within the next two days, the Faculty Senate, the Graduate Student Council and the Staff Council joined the student government in asking for the flag to come down.

Stocks lauded the way students, faculty and staff treated one another in the course of debating resolutions encouraging removal of the flag.

“Their respect for each other, despite genuine differences of opinion, was an inspiration to us all,” Stocks said.

Stocks noted that the decision to no longer fly the state flag was not an easy one, adding that the flag means different things to different people.

“As Mississippi’s flagship university, we have a deep love and respect for our state,” Morris said. “Because the flag remains Mississippi’s official banner, this was a hard decision. I understand the flag represents tradition and honor to some. But to others, the flag means that some members of the Ole Miss family are not welcomed or valued. That is why the university faculty, staff and leadership have united behind this student-led initiative.”

Stocks noted that other public universities and local governments have already taken this step, and he continues to encourage state leaders to create a new flag.

“Mississippi and its people are known far and wide for hospitality and a warm and welcoming culture. But our state flag does not communicate those values,” Stocks said. “Our state needs a flag that speaks to who we are. It should represent the wonderful attributes about our state that unite us, not those that still divide us.”

UM Croft Institute Awards Scholarships to 10 Exceptional Students

Incoming, returning students come with impressive pre-college pedigrees

2015 Croft Scholars include (front , from left): Zac Herring, Abby Bruce, Alexis Smith; (middle, from left): Marguerite Marquez, Caroline Bass, Jarvis Benson, (top, from left to): Jacob Gambrell, John Chappell and Wes Colbert. Not Pictured: Delaney Holton. (Courtesy photo by Joe Worthem Photography).

2015 Croft Scholars include (front , from left): Zac Herring, Abby Bruce, Alexis Smith; (middle, from left): Marguerite Marquez, Caroline Bass, Jarvis Benson, (top, from left to): Jacob Gambrell, John Chappell and Wes Colbert. Not Pictured: Delaney Holton. (Courtesy photo by Joe Worthem Photography).

OXFORD, Miss. – The Croft Institute for International Studies at the University of Mississippi has awarded full scholarships to 10 exceptional students, eight of whom are members of its largest freshman class ever.

Freshman Croft Scholarship recipients include Caroline Bass of Murfreesboro, Tennessee; Jarvis Benson of Grenada; John Chappell of Albuquerque, New Mexico; Wes Colbert of Amory; Jacob Gambrell of Ringgold, Georgia; Zac Herring of Olive Branch; Delaney Holton of Plano, Texas; and Marguerite Marquez of Gulfport. All are also members of the university’s Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.

In addition, sophomores Abby Bruce of Saltillo received the Rose Bui Memorial Scholarship and Alexis Smith of Picayune is the Michael Aune Memorial Scholarship recipient. As part of the Bui scholarship, Bruce will receive $8,000 per year for three years. The Michael Aune Memorial Scholarship is awarded to a rising sophomore concentrating on Latin America.

Freshman Croft Scholarship recipients receive $8,000 per year for four years, a total of $32,000, which may be combined with other scholarship support. Between 15 and 20 applicants are interviewed annually by a five-member, Croft-affiliated panel. Interviewees are asked the same round of questions that range from current global political issues to students’ personal interest in the international studies major. Winners are chosen based upon their answers.

“This cohort is unique in a lot of ways, but the fact that we enrolled our largest Croft cohort to date, as well as increasing our average overall ACT to 30.845, was exciting,” said Will Schenck, Croft Institute associate director. “Previously, we have had 60 students, but now we have an incoming class of 71 total students, which is an increase of 18 percent. Also, 55 percent are in-state and 45 percent are from 16 different states.”

All the students selected were extremely involved in several different high school organizations.

Each one held at least one type of leadership role in some capacity – whether it was a sports team, an academic club or a school student council.

“After an intensive application and interview process, we selected an outstanding crop of students for 2015-16,” said Kees Gispen, executive director of Croft Institute. “Each student selected was heavily recruited by top-ranked academic institutions.”

Here’s a closer look at each of this year’s Croft scholars:

A graduate of Siegel High School, Bass was a class representative for the Student Council, a project leader for Key Club and a member of the Excalibur National Honor Society and Beta Club. She also led a nonprofit organization called Sustaining a Village Everyday.

“We raise money by hosting events in our area and use the money to do sustainability work in a village in Haiti called Boukeron,” Bass said. “We travel there each summer to communicate with the villagers and assess their needs.”

The main reason Bass, daughter of David and Michele Bass, wanted to be in Oxford is because of the Croft Institute.

“I have always been very interested in other cultures and international work,” she said. “The Croft Institute is an amazing program that I feel confident will allow me to achieve my goals and dreams in this field. The people of Ole Miss also worked with me to find scholarships that made coming here an easy choice.”

After graduation, Bass hopes to attend graduate school for social work or psychology. “I would love to use the knowledge I gain from the Croft Institute to move to another country and work with an organization that rescues and rehabilitates victims of sex trafficking,” Bass said.

A Grenada High School graduate, Benson was drum major of the marching band, dance captain and vocal captain of the show choir, senior class president, National Honor Society president, Spanish Club president, Anchor Club treasurer and debate team vice president. A National Merit Achievement finalist, he also participated in the Quiz-Bowl team, Mu Alpha Theta and GHS Wellness Council, was awarded the highest average in STEM and was selected Bandsman of the Year.

“I decided to attend Ole Miss ultimately because the Croft Institute seems to have a warm and inviting, yet challenging, spirit about it, and that is exactly what I was looking for in a college,” Benson said. “I chose the international studies major with a concentration on Latin American countries and the Spanish language because I wanted to learn more about the world around me.”

The son of Patrick and Regina Benson, he plans to attend graduate school and hopes to pursue a career in the Department of State as a foreign service officer.

A graduate of the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science, Bruce was a Hall of Fame member, a Spirit of MSMS award recipient and an emissary.

“After all my college searching, Ole Miss was the best fit,” said Bruce, an international studies and Spanish major who is minoring in business administration. “The Honors College was one of the best I encountered and the Croft Institute for International Studies tied together several of my interests.”

After graduation, Bruce, daughter of Mike and Faye Bruce, is considering earning an MBA.

“I am interested in the fair trade movement and would love to have a career regarding alternate, more transparent ways of conducting international business,” she said.

Finishing from Albuquerque Academy, Chappell was most involved in Model United Nations, speech and debate, and Model International Criminal Court. A National Merit Finalist and a track and field athlete, he was an AP Scholar with Distinction in world history, U.S. history, comparative government, microeconomics and macroeconomics.

Honors Chappell received include the John “Wolfie” Smeltzer Memorial Award from the University of New Mexico World Affairs Delegation, the high school’s history department Book Award, world languages Book Award and Nancy Lynne Parker Memorial Award.

“I am double majoring in Arabic and international studies,” said Chappell, who studied the language in high school and would like to reach native speaker proficiency. “After graduating, I intend to pursue a master’s degree. I am unsure as to what I would like to do for a career, but some areas of interest are foreign policy, intelligence, diplomacy and work for an intergovernmental organization or NGO.”

Chappell is the son of Cael and Mary Chappell.

Colbert, Amory High School valedictorian, served as the student body president and state president of the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America. He was also involved in Amory Students for Change, the National Honor Society and National Spanish Honor Society. The son of Kerry Colbert and Jim and Holly Reeves, he was a STAR student and a National Merit Finalist.

“My decision to attend Ole Miss was rooted primarily in scholarship opportunities and in the relationships I had with many members of the faculty,” he said. “I am double majoring in international studies and Spanish because of my love for Spanish and because of my attraction to politics.”

Upon graduation, Colbert plans to attend graduate school, either in the Northeast or at the University of Oxford in England, and later pursue a career in immigration law.

The Boyd-Buchanan School valedictorian, Gambrell played football and soccer and wrestled. An actor in four musicals, he also served as co-president of both the student body and student council and was charter president of the Junior Civitan Club. Gambrell held memberships in the National Honor Society and National Spanish Honor Society and earned class awards in AP Biology, current events and modern history, government, economics, AP statistics, honors pre-calculus and AP world history.

“I received the school Service Award, Ronald Reagan Citizenship award, the AP scholar with distinction and was voted Most Likely to Succeed,” he said. “My highest achievement was setting the school record for the physics class trebuchet competition at 127 yards.”

After being impressed by Croft and the Honors College, Gambrell, son of Tim Gambrell and Jim and Jennifer Owens, applied and made plans to visit in January.

“At my visit I fell in love with the campus,” Gambrell said. “It was definitely the most beautiful I had seen. And to seal the deal, the university gives great financial aid. I really felt like I was properly rewarded for all of my hard work in high school. Ole Miss is the place for me.”

Gambrell said his future plans are to work for the U.S. State Department and someday be an ambassador, but recently he’s had more of a desire to work for an NGO and help people around the world more personally and hands on.

“I want to go to grad school and get my master’s, and possibly even pursue a doctorate depending on my career aspirations at the time,” he said. “After I retire from international service, I wish to teach social studies and coach at a high school.”

A DeSoto Central High School graduate, Herring started a speech and debate club, was president of the Model United Nations Club and won either a speaking or writing award at every tournament he attended. He was the captain of the school’s News Channel 3 Knowledge Bowl team, which made it to the semifinal round – the farthest in school history – in the annual, televised tournament.

The son of Tom and Shannon Herring, he was also vice president of the Mu Alpha Theta mathematics honor society, played varsity football and soccer, and was selected for the all-county soccer team.

“My older sister, who was also a ‘Croftie,’ and several of my teachers were instrumental in my decision to attend the University of Mississippi,” Herring said. “Her experience is what first inspired in me a vision for the international studies program through Croft. It matched perfectly with my desire to study abroad and my interest in the German economy.”

Herring plans to graduate with degrees in German, international studies and economics. After graduation, he would like to work as a financial analyst in the United States or abroad.

Holton, a Plano West Senior High School graduate, was devoted to Key Club and the French National Honors Society. A National Merit Scholar, she received a scholarship through the National Security Language Initiative for Youth to study Korean in Seoul, South Korea, for six weeks.

“Ole Miss offers great programs in my chosen areas of study, Chinese and international studies,” Holton said. “I’m considering pursuing a career within the intelligence community, in organizations like the CIA or NSA. Such a job would allow direct application of the international relations topics I will be studying, as well as the opportunity to continue developing language skills.”

Holton is the daughter of Steven and Joyce Holton.

The valedictorian at Gulfport High School, Marquez received the Kiwanis District Foundation Scholarship, Gulfport Chamber of Commerce Whittemore Scholarship and Gulfport Rotary Club Scholarship, and won the Get to College Essay Scholarship Contest. A GHS Hall of Fame inductee, she held leadership positions in Mu Alpha Theta, Key Club, Student Council, Beta Club and the National Honor Society.

The daughter of Johnny and Margaret Marquez, she was selected Lindy Callahan Scholar Athlete, Ray Bishop Scholar Female of the Year, “Who’s Who” Most Likely to Succeed Female, Graduation Herald, Rotary Youth Leadership Award winner, Mississippi Girls’ State Representative, Common Core Top Student and Mississippi Eminent Scholar. She was also captain of the championship varsity soccer team and a varsity track and cross-country finalist.

“I think I knew Ole Miss was my school when I discovered the Croft Institute,” Marquez said. “Suddenly, the horizons broadened, and it was possible for me to get the best of both worlds throughout my college experience: Mississippi, and then the rest of the world.”

Marquez’s plans are to attend medical school and work in pediatrics. “Ideally, I would like to serve lower income areas; possibly somewhere that has the need for a French-speaking doctor,” she said.

A Picayune High School graduate, Smith just finished her first year at UM, where she was involved in International Justice Mission, Honors Senate and More Than a Meal. She received the Omicron Delta Kappa Freshman Leader Award and is a member of Lambda Sigma honor society.

“I decided to attend Ole Miss because, frankly, I love Mississippi,” said Smith, an international studies major with an emphasis in Latin America. “The Honors College and Croft Institute are both comparable to Ivy League and top-tier schools, and I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to be a member of the Ole Miss family.”

After graduation, the daughter of Tony and Angie Smith hopes to earn her doctorate in sociology.

“I’d either like to work in a nonprofit or to teach at a university while simultaneously conducting research,” she said.

For more information about the Croft Institute, visit

UM Graduates to Compete at SEC Symposium

Entrepreneurs hope to connect job-seekers with companies that fit their personalities

Alexander Ray (center) of Zyn careers claiming first place at innovate Mississippi competition.

Alexander Ray (center) of Zyn Careers claims first place at Innovate Mississippi competition.

OXFORD, Miss. – Two 2015 University of Mississippi graduates will introduce their business venture, a Web-based services that helps connect job-seekers with employers that match their personality profile, Sept. 20-22 at a pitch competition during this year’s SEC Symposium in Atlanta.

Jackson native Alex Ray, who earned a bachelor’s degree in economics, and Madison native Caleb Robinson, who earned his bachelor’s in computer science, will present their business plan for The entrepreneurs, both 22, will make their presentation before 14 judges, all alumni of SEC schools.

“Their idea is a cross between eHarmony and,” said Richard Gentry, assistant professor of management and director of the UM Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “There is a clear definition of a problem when hiring potential employees. Through research and management of this idea, it can help connect people with a style to an organization similar to their own personality.”

Ray began working on the idea last December after he grew frustrated in his own job search. He approached Robinson because of his background in computer science.

“When I started looking for a job, I was frustrated that I couldn’t find an exciting enough place to work,” Ray said. “I went to Caleb with the idea, and then in February we started researching traits that made people happy in their jobs.”

“Alex approached me at the entrance of the Turner Center talking about an exciting idea that he had,” Robinson said. “Usually I would be pretty cautious if someone approached me with a tech-based idea, but I know Alex is the kind of person to follow through on something that he starts, so I was really excited to start on it.”

Ray and Robinson spent countless hours researching factors that affect cultural fit between a prospective employee and employer, such as job satisfaction, organizational commitment and tenure. They also worked closely with a professor in organizational psychology to develop their algorithm.

“We have put in a lot of work over several iterations of the algorithm,” Robinson said. “I was familiar with algorithms before this venture because of my computer science background. The difference about this project was that the problem – matching people to jobs – is very broad compared to some of the problems that we might solve in class.”

The algorithm examines up to 60 factors to produce “Zyn” scores associated with levels of happiness at a job, Ray said. Zyn scores range from 1 to 100, with 100 being rated extremely happy.

So far, has amassed 150 corporate profiles to match with prospective users, with businesses such as Facebook, FNC Inc., Coca-Cola and C Spire.

Ray and Robinson started to introduce their idea last spring in competitions and to students at UM. In April, they entered the university’s Gillespie Business Plan and finished in the top three. Faculty members encouraged Ray to enter the business into the Rebel Venture Capital Fund, and he received $4,000 to help get the business running.

In a trial run, 100 Ole Miss students signed up for initial assessment and gave the site reviews, Ray said. In May, Ray and Robinson received a boost when placed first in the Innovate Mississippi New Venture Challenge.

“It’s been really exciting, and something that I’ve dreamt about since the creation of the idea,” Ray said. “At the beginning, I just focused on how I could use this to find a job. Once I talked to others and noticed this was a widespread problem, I realized that this could be a business.”

The summer got even hotter for Ray and Robinson. They did a major site redesign while getting prepared for their biggest competition, the SEC Symposium.

“To categorize, the SEC Symposium is like ‘Shark Tank’ without formal investments,” said Clay Dibrell, associate professor of management and executive director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “If you win the competition, you win a cash prize for your start-up.”

Dibrell and Gentry have worked with Ray and Robinson to help structure the business plan. Both faculty members agree that the site has many practical applications in the business world, and Ray and Robinson have been doing well with initial pitches to investors.

“It’s very rare to find people who are willing to invest in a company,” Dibrell said. “Pitching to other venture capitalists by taking meetings and making presentations are positive indicators of future success.”

“The site can make a big impact,” Gentry said. “It’s a huge problem that has not been well-solved. It could reduce selection costs significantly for big data businesses.”

Recently, Robinson encountered a student from Georgia Tech who was having difficulty finding a job. That instance just added more fuel to the Zyn Careers engine.

“(The student) said he only wanted to be accepted by a single company so he didn’t have to choose between companies because he had no idea where he would be happiest and didn’t want to make the wrong decision,” Robinson said. “He was extremely surprised when I told him that I had been working on that exact problem for the past several months.”

The SEC Symposium will pit Ray and Robinson against teams from other SEC schools. The competition promises to be their hardest yet, but it also could produce the biggest reward.

“I’m excited to see the ideas other groups will bring to the symposium,” Ray said. “But I believe Zyn Careers can make the world a happier place, so that motivates me to work harder and keep tweaking the website.”

Ole Miss, Oxford and Lafayette County Get Purple Heart Designations

L-O-U community first in state to earn this triple distinction

Michael Howland

Michael Howland, UM coordinator of veteran and military services addresses the crowd at the annual LOU 9/11 Day of Service.

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi, city of Oxford and Lafayette County have been named a Purple Heart University, a Purple Heart City and a Purple Heart County for their efforts to create a welcoming environment for veterans and Purple Heart recipients.

The Purple Heart is a military decoration given only to those wounded or killed in combat while serving their country.

“I believe that veterans will recognize that Ole Miss has worked hard to improve its veteran and military support services, and is committed to helping student veterans achieve their academic goals,” said Michael Howland, UM coordinator of veteran and military services. “Our designation as a Purple Heart campus is recognition of this hard work and we’re very proud to receive it.”

“The special things that Ole Miss does specifically for veterans that attend the university are what qualify them to become a Purple Heart University,” said Ben Baker, commander of the Oxford Purple Heart Chapter.

The university’s Veteran and Military Services was created in April 2013 to provide comprehensive resources to veterans, active members of the military and their dependents and to assist them in becoming successful as UM students.

“For me, personally, on the impression on being named a Purple Heart University means we support, honor and welcome veterans to this great campus,” said Matt Hayes, senior military instructor for Army ROTC and a Purple Heart recipient. “When you have a campus that is supportive of your goals and ambitions, it really gives the veteran the inspiration and drive to succeed.”

Ole Miss is home to 205 registered veteran students, 250 ROTC cadets and more than 900 students using GI Bill benefits.

“This is evidence of a lot of hard work by many dedicated professionals over the last few years,” said Morris Stocks, acting UM chancellor. “We are very honored to be recognized, along with Oxford and Lafayette County, for service to our veterans, particularly those who have earned a Purple Heart.”

Upon learning of UM’s designation, Howland approached Oxford Mayor Pat Patterson and Lafayette County Board of Supervisors President Jeff Busby and invited them to join the university by seeking designations as a Purple Heart City and Purple Heart Community.

“Having the city excited simply shows that support of veterans extends beyond the gates of Ole Miss to the greater LOU community,” Howland said. “Oxford and Lafayette County have a strong history of support and designation as a Purple Heart community simply confirms that goodwill.”

While UM is one of four SEC institutions to hold the Purple Heart University designation, it will be the first university in Mississippi to receive the designation in conjunction with the city and county in which it is located.

“Along with the university and Lafayette County, we are honored to have the designation as a Purple Heart City and take particular pride in saluting Purple Heart Veterans,” Patterson said.

Busby agreed, noting that, “it is an honor for Lafayette County to named a Purple Heart Community and to honor the men and women that served this country so diligently.”

Ole Miss, the city of Oxford and Lafayette County made a joint announcement of the designation during Friday’s LOU 9/11 Day of Service event and at Saturday’s football game against Fresno State.

To learn more about veteran and military services at Ole Miss, visit

7 Things You May Have Missed This Summer

Students enjoy the fall colors on campus between classes.

Students enjoy the fall colors on campus between classes.

Maybe you’ve heard by now that the University of Mississippi is the state’s flagship university. That status helps generate overwhelming support from alumni and friends, who gave a record $133 million this past fiscal year. Take it from Acting Chancellor Morris Stocks, these funds allow the university to strengthen its faculty, increase student scholarships, contribute to research and improve health care.

This summer, UM hosted 16 high school students from around the country to assist with research aiding in the prevention of concussions in athletes. This program is a partnership between Ole Miss athletics, the Department of Electrical Engineering and the Division of Outreach and Continuing Education. Sensors worn by athletes are providing data to help coaches and trainers monitor the health and safety of their players. The Ole Miss football team is testing the technology in a pilot program this season.

Have you ever been concerned about an older relative who might be at risk for falling? Technology designed right here at UM by research scientist James Sabatier can be used to measure and score the movements of aging adults in order to assess them for possible treatment or intervention. The UM-patented sonar technology soon could help ease the minds of those who care for the elderly.

Even before this was announced, anyone on campus could’ve told you that our student affairs team rocks. They are genuine in their efforts and enthusiastic about their work. They have earned UM the honor of being named one of the Promising Places to Work in Student Affairs for their commitment to workplace diversity, equitable staffing practices and supportive work environments. UM is one of two SEC schools to be recognized, and the only school in Mississippi.

Leading the pack as one of Mississippi’s Healthiest Workplaces, UM and the RebelWell team are working diligently to promote a “culture of wellness” among our faculty and staff. Exercise opportunities, health screenings, general wellness education and nutrition services are all available to help create a healthy work-life balance for our employees. And you know what they say: Happy faculty and staff make for happy students.

Have we talked enough about what a great place UM is to work? Fortunately, we can let someone else do the talking for us. The Chronicle of Higher Education has once again named UM one of the “Great Colleges to Work For.” Based on a survey of our own employees, we were noted for our strengths in collaborative governance, employee confidence in the university’s senior leadership and supervisor/department chair relationship. UM has received the recognition seven years running.

Perhaps the biggest story of 2015 is UM’s nationwide search for a new chancellor. The UM Board Search Committee, appointed by the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning, hopes to have a preferred candidate by the end of the year. The committee, assisted by a UM Campus Search Advisory Board, met with the boards of the UM Foundation and Alumni Association and held listening sessions to hear firsthand what faculty, staff and students want in a new leader.

UM Panhellenic Council Receives Top Award

National honor places Ole Miss Greek community among nation's elite

The 2015 Panhellenic Executive Council

The 2015 Panhellenic Executive Council

OXFORD, Miss. – The National Panhellenic Conference has recognized the University of Mississippi’s Panhellenic Council with its College Panhellenic Excellence Award.

Ole Miss is among 21 universities to receive the award, out of 672 colleges and universities with Panhellenic organizations across the United States and Canada.

The award is based on core competencies of Panhellenic organizations, including recruitment planning and execution, structure, communication, implementation of judicial procedures, programming, academics and community impact.

“We proud of the Panhellenic community on earning such distinction from the National Panhellenic Conference,” said Jenell Bukky Lanski, UM coordinator of fraternity and sorority life. “The efforts from students, local alumnae, national organizations and the university in creating a meaningful experience for sorority women are inspiring. We look forward to the new academic year and future accomplishments.”

The university demonstrates those characteristics and other important qualities of a successful Greek community, said Julie Johnson, Panhellenic chairman.

“NPC is excited to recognize the outstanding efforts of undergraduate sorority women who are working together,” Johnson said. “These awards are given to those who are following the standards of excellence set for college Panhellenic associations.”

Ole Miss students on the Panhellenic Council will travel to Dallas in October to accept the award.

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.”