UM College of Liberal Arts Launches New Minor in Society and Health

Interdisciplinary program is collaboration with the Center for Population Studies

John Green Photo by UM Photographer Kevin Bain

John Green Photo by UM Photographer Kevin Bain

OXFORD, Miss. – A new academic minor with an emphasis on society and health is available at the University of Mississippi.

Housed within the College of Liberal Arts and directed through the Center for Population Studies, the interdisciplinary academic program consists of 18 credit hours. The minor was created in association with the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College to build a broader social and cultural understanding of the context of health outcomes and health care through perspectives from the individual to population levels.

“The minor in society and health arose partially as a result of changes in the medical school entrance exam, shifting expectations for the education of health professionals and recognition of the need for interdisciplinary approaches to address health problems,” said John Green, professor of sociology and anthropology and director of both the Center for Population Studies and the new minor.

“An advisory committee comprised of faculty representing several disciplines across the College of Liberal Arts helped craft the curriculum for the minor. The Honors College, School of Applied Sciences, the Meek School of Journalism and New Media and the School of Pharmacy are also represented on the committee.”

Required courses include Elementary Statistics and one of the two advanced courses: Society and Population Health or Medical Humanities. Following the completion of one of these courses, Ole Miss students can then apply to the minor program It is also recommended that students take General Psychology and Introductory Sociology to complete the general education social science requirements.

“In Society and Population Health, students learn about health disparities in Mississippi and the value of interdisciplinary and interprofessional teams in tackling these issues,” Green said. “They also make field visits to medical/nursing schools and public health programs.”

Medical Humanities is a combined readings and field experience course in a hospital setting to study the ethical, social and cultural issues in medicine. Additionally, students must take advanced elective courses.

Students must take courses from at least two different departments when completing the last requirement of 12 credit hours of advanced social science and humanities courses. They should note that the same course may not satisfy requirements for both the major and the minor.

Students who complete relative internships, special topics, study abroad or directed study courses must consult with the director before enrollment in the course for approval.

“This unique and timely minor provides a social science and humanities perspective to the understanding of health,” said Lee M. Cohen, UM liberal arts dean. “I believe such a perspective will foster an appreciation and respect for team-based problem-solving to improve the delivery of health care. The College of Liberal Arts is proud to provide this new program for our students.”

For more information about the minor in society and health, visit or contact Lynn Woo, research associate with the Center for Population Studies, at or at 662-915-7288.

Franklin Wins Berlin Prize, Fellowship in Germany

Author plans to use time to focus on his latest novel

NJL_1749-AYOXFORD, Miss. – Tom Franklin, a celebrated novelist and University of Mississippi associate professor of fiction writing, is a 2016 recipient of the Berlin Prize, which the American Academy in Berlin awards to scholars, writers and artists. The prize includes a semester-long fellowship in Germany.

Franklin, who has taught at UM since 2003, is among 23 recipients of the prize and will begin his fellowship this fall. He will work on a novel, which is currently titled “Country Dark,” about a rural Alabama police officer named Rick Miller who mainly investigates farm-related crimes. While probing a strange animal death, Miller, who is referred to as “The Cow Man,” uncovers something entirely unexpected, including a connection to a cultish church with an interesting past. 

The opportunity to focus on the project is much appreciated, Franklin said.

“The fellowship will give me the greatest gift of all for a writer: time,” Franklin said. “Normally, I teach full-time and direct several master’s of fine arts and Honors College theses. So when I sit down to work here, student stories and novels fill my mind.

“But, at the academy where I won’t have classes to prepare for, student work to read and critique, theses to edit, the only thing, hopefully, filling my mind will be The Cow Man, and whatever’s gone wrong in Buford, Alabama.”

The Berlin Prize is awarded annually to artists, scholars, composers and artists from the United States who represent the highest standards of excellence in their fields. The prize’s fellowship includes a monthly stipend, partial board and accommodations at the academy’s lakeside Hans Arnhold Center in Berlin-Wannsee.

The program is designed to allow recipients the time and resources to step back from their daily obligations to work on projects they might not otherwise be able to pursue. The fellows are urged to work with the academy’s network of professionals and institutions and create connections and lasting transatlantic relationships.

The fellows will use public lectures, concerts, performances and readings, which take place at the academy but also throughout Berlin and Germany, to engage audiences.

Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke and other distinguished Germans and Americans created the American Academy in Berlin in 1994. The intent was to foster greater understanding and relationships between the United States and Germany. The academy is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan center for advanced research in a range of academic and cultural fields.

“We look forward to welcoming another group of outstanding fellows to the academy,” said Gerhard Casper, the institution’s president. “By working with their peers and partner institutions in Berlin and presenting their projects to the public, they will actively contribute to the exchange of ideas between the U.S. and Germany.”

New UM Museum Exhibit Highlights Antiquities Collection

Most Greek and Roman artifacts included have not been on display in at least six years

Gods and Men features artifacts from the UM Museum's David M. Robinson permanent collection, such as this sculpture of Emperor Tiberius.

‘Gods and Men’ features artifacts from the UM Museum’s David M. Robinson permanent collection, such as this bust of Emperor Tiberius.

OXFORD, Miss. – Dozens of ancient Greek and Roman artifacts are coming out of the vault for “Gods and Men: Iconography and Identity of the Ancient World,” the newest exhibit at the University of Mississippi Museum, which debuts Tuesday (May 24) with an opening reception.

“Gods and Men” offers a preview of the extent of the David M. Robinson Greek and Roman Antiquities collection, more of which will be on display in the reinstalled Mary Buie wing of the museum.

The opening reception is set for 6-8 p.m. and will be part of the Oxford Arts Crawl. A Greek-themed menu catered by Party Waitin to Happen and Greek-inspired cocktail are available at the reception.

“The UM Museum’s summer exhibition ‘Gods and Men: Iconography and Identity in the Ancient World’ represents a significant moment in the history of the museum’s internationally-renowned Greek and Roman antiquities collections,” Director Robert Saarnio said. “The ‘Gods and Men summer exhibition represents a tip-of-the-iceberg view into the 2,000-object collection and is a perfect opportunity for potential supporters to familiarize themselves with the exceptional range and depth of these university cultural treasures.

“We expect this show to be a catalyst that will deepen the interest of our Oxford and campus communities in new and meaningful ways, as we plan for the exciting future that the reinstallation project represents.”

The temporary exhibit from the permanent collection vault highlights more than 200 artifacts, including terra cotta mythology lamps and figurines, coins, Roman surgical instruments, inscriptions, and sculptural heads and busts. Most of these items have not been on display for at least six years.

These items differ vastly from the Greek and Roman antiquities on regular display, and this exhibit includes narratives and anecdotes with each piece to provide historical context for it.

“This exhibit has been an opportunity to show the diversity of the collection in material and learning potential while also providing a preview of the visual look and reinterpretation that has been in development behind the scenes,” said Melanie Munns, the museum’s antiques collection manager and exhibit curator.

Munns said she hoped by displaying these smaller items along with magnifying glasses, viewers would be encouraged to look more intently at the artifacts.

“What many people don’t realize is that the coins and lamps also contain these rich narratives and beautiful illustrations,” Munns said. “I hoped that by isolating these smaller objects into groups set in wider spaces, that it will encourage viewers to look closer and stay longer.”

Planning for this exhibit has been a universitywide effort. Munns worked closely with the Department of Classics and student interns for three years to study and reinterpret the items in this collection.

UM faculty members Aileen Ajootian, Brad Cook, Jonathan Fenno, Hilary Becker and Jeffrey Becker and students Sarah Sloan, Libby Tyson, Alicia Dixon, Chelsea Stewart, Hali Niles and Zac Creel assisted with research to provide accurate historical context to these pieces.

Sloan, a May graduate from Madison with a bachelor’s degree in English and art history, has interned with the museum for two years to learn collections management, exhibition planning and curating. She assisted in researching, writing text for the artifacts, determining paint colors and organizing the exhibit.

“As an aspiring curator, my experience working on ‘Gods and Men’ has been invaluable,” Sloan said. “While working on ‘Gods and Men,’ I felt like my opinion was valued in the planning of this exhibit and that is something you do not always get with an internship. I feel like my hand was in ‘Gods and Men’ and that is immensely exciting for someone who is just out of undergrad.”

The exhibit includes the technology of an interactive iPad kiosk and would not be possible without the moral and financial support of Friends of the Museum, said Rebecca Phillips, the museum’s coordinator of membership and communications.

All visitors to the exhibit are encouraged to take photos and share them with the hashtag #UMGodsandMen and even take selfies with the bust of the Unknown Roman using hashtag #HadriansJohnDoe

The museum is continuing fundraising efforts for the installation of the Mary Buie wing, which is slated to house more items from the Robinson Collection. The first gallery there will showcase items in the near future as fundraising continues for the rest of the project.

Gifts in support of the reinstallation can be made on the museum’s website.

The museum will also host programs later this summer to highlight the exhibit. Eta Sigma Phi and the Vasari Society will partner with the museum Aug. 19 for a toga trivia night, moderated by Ole Miss art history and classics professors.

On Aug. 24, the museum will host a panel discussion that focuses on the exhibition as well as the permanent collection of Greek and Roman antiquities. Former museum director and retired classics professor Lucy Turnbull will be the guest of honor. Turnbull assisted in moving the Robinson collection from Bondurant Hall to the museum in 1977.

University Museum, at the corner of University Avenue and Fifth Street, is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays. Admission is free to most exhibits. More information about the University Museum and its exhibits can be found at

UM Students Win Top Honors at Undergraduate Research Conference

Group competed against representatives from USM and JSU at Pi Sigma Alpha event

UM political science professor Sue Ann Skipworth and students Connor Somgynari, Christine Sim and Katie Reid show off their Grand Champion trophy at the Pi Sigma Alpha Conference.

UM political science professor Sue Ann Skipworth and students Connor Somgynari, Christine Sim and Katie Reid show off their Grand Champion trophy at the Pi Sigma Alpha Conference.

OXFORD, Miss. – Three University of Mississippi students earned the title of Grand Champions recently at the Pi Sigma Alpha Undergraduate Research Conference at the University of Southern Mississippi.

In its second year, the conference for the national political science honor society was held April 16. Students from UM, USM and Jackson State University presented original research they had conducted or are in the process of conducting.

“Participation in conferences such as these provides excellent opportunities for students to network with students from other schools in the state and hear what type of research they are conducting,” said Sue Ann Skipworth, UM assistant professor of political science. “Students are able to receive feedback from discussants on how to improve their research and hopefully move forward in their research to the publishing phase.”

Katie Reid, a junior from Eaton Rapids, Michigan, presented her research on why Afghanistan was never able to build a successful state, using European failed state frameworks. Reid, who is pursuing a double major in political science and economics, is hoping to show that building a state in the Middle East is not much different from building one in the western world.

“It was an amazing learning experience for me to be able to partake in this research conference,” Reid said. “I hope it will be my first of many.”

Christine Sim, a senior from Metairie, Louisiana, presented her research on voter identification laws and their effect on voter turnout.

“It is an absolute honor to be recognized for my hard work and research I have spent over a year intensely studying vote identification laws,” said Sim, a political science major on track to graduate in May. “It’s a great joy to be able to share that research within the field of political science.”

Connor Somgynari, a senior international studies major from Lindenhurst, Illinois, presented his research on ethnic ties that influence rebel diplomacy.

“My work focuses on whom, how and when armed groups seek to lobby states and other parties for support or recognition,” Somgynari said. “Since I’m starting my Ph.D. in political science this fall at Penn State, early recognition of my research is very encouraging as I go forward into my future academic career.”

This type of recognition for research validates the hard work and effort students put forth in conducting their research projects, Skipworth said.

“As the faculty adviser for the Pi Sigma Alpha organization at Ole Miss, I was extremely proud of Christine, Connor and Katie as they not only demonstrated their exceptional capacity for research but also served as a great representation of the students at our university,” she said.

The students’ accomplishments reflects well on the entire department, said John Bruce, chair and associate professor of political science.

“We have an outstanding group of students active in our chapter of Pi Sigma Alpha, and the work they presented in Hattiesburg speaks to that,” he said. “We have students that can easily compete on any regional or national stage and represent the university in an outstanding way.”

Recent UM Graduate Awarded Prestigious Health Fellowship

Research on impact of Ebola virus disease to take place in Liberia

Gigi Bastien, has been awarded a Fogarty Global Health Fellowship from the National Institutes of Health for her research in the African nation of Liberia.

Gigi Bastien, has been awarded a Fogarty Global Health Fellowship from the National Institutes of Health for her research in the African nation of Liberia.

OXFORD, Miss. – A recent graduate of the University of Mississippi’s Department of Psychology, Gigi Bastien, has been awarded a Fogarty Global Health Fellowship from the National Institutes of Health for 11 months of research in the African nation of Liberia.

The research will focus on both the mental health and psychosocial impacts of Ebola virus disease. Bastien, a native of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, who moved to the United States at age 8, will also study the existing strengths, resiliency and resources among Ebola survivors in Liberia.

“I am thrilled to have been offered the opportunity to contribute in some small way to the growing body of literature around evidence-based global mental health disaster/emergency response,” Bastien said. “I look forward to working with and learning from the people of Liberia, whose resilience in facing one of the greatest epidemics of our lifetime is truly inspiring.”

From a psychological standpoint, Bastien’s research will address the lack of knowledge surrounding resiliency in the aftermath of large-scale emergencies. It will help professionals understand strategies to support knowledge exchange, mental health literacy and interventions in ways that are respectful of communities.

Ebola is a virus that causes hemorrhagic fever in humans, leading to death in about 50 percent of cases. The disease was first identified in 1976 in Africa.

The deadliest epidemic of the disease since its discovery began in March 2014, when outbreaks of Ebola were reported in West Africa. From that time until January 2016, Liberia accounted for more than 4,800 Ebola-related deaths. Of all countries affected by the virus, Liberia had the most fatalities.

“The award of the NIH Fogarty Global Health Fellowship to Gigi for intervention research in Liberia is exciting and satisfying news,” said Laura Johnson, a UM associate professor of psychology. “It is an excellent accomplishment in international psychology and reflects well on our department, given the competitive nature and prestige of the Fogarty awards.”

Bastien, who earned her master’s degree in 2011 and her doctorate in 2013, both from UM in clinical psychology, has previously conducted research in similar areas. Her dissertation involved the research of disaster response and resilience following the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

International research cases of this nature are rare in the clinical research field, but are increasingly valued and called upon.

“I am particularly proud that Gigi’s project in Liberia is an outgrowth of work she began as a student at the University of Mississippi, where her dissertation focused on resilience and culturally responsive interventions among displaced persons in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti,” Johnson said.

“I could not be more excited about Gigi’s upcoming project and I am also happy to have ongoing, international collaborations with a great colleague.”

UM Department of Art Receives Its Largest Private Gift

Bequest from wife of artist William Hollingsworth will provide student scholarships

Self-portrait sketch of William Hollingsworth, namesake of an endowment recently awarded to the UM Department of Art and Art History.

Self-portrait sketch of William Hollingsworth, namesake of an endowment recently awarded to the UM Department of Art and Art History.

OXFORD, Miss. – William Hollingsworth had an innate love for art and a volume of work that belies his brief life. A bequest from the estate of his late wife ensures that his legacy of talent will continue as generations of University of Mississippi students receive scholarships bearing his name.

“Hollingsworth is a fixture in the pantheon of Southern art,” said Hunter Cole, author of “William Hollingsworth: An Artist of Joy and Sadness.”

Inspired by French impressionist painters Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) and Henri Matisse (1869–1954), many of Hollingsworth’s paintings depicted the lives of African-Americans in Jackson during segregation. He also painted the Mississippi landscape, sunsets and sunrises and won prizes from the Chicago Arts Club, Southern States Art League and the National Watercolor Society.

Nearly 300 of Hollingsworth’s originals were bequeathed to the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson, where they are included in the museum’s permanent collection.

“William Hollingsworth just had a capacity to render life in Mississippi – people and places in urban and domestic scenes – with great sensitivity,” said Betsy Bradley, director of the Mississippi Museum of Art. “He also influenced many artists in his day and is still revered among collectors nationwide.

“When we have visitors who are not from Mississippi and who may even be international visitors, Hollingsworth’s work is one that really captures their attention. They always want to know more about him. He stands out because of the quality and skill he demonstrated as an artist.”

Tormented by frequent bouts of deep depression throughout his life, the prize-winning artist killed himself at the age of 34 before realizing his dream of becoming a recognized original.

“Since his death, he has been rediscovered repeatedly as new appreciators are enchanted by his paintings,” Cole said. “The multitude of watercolors and oil paintings that he produced in the short span of a decade is an astonishing achievement. In select art collections, mostly in the South, his works are cherished as unique and masterly.”

Bradley agreed: “Had he lived and continued painting, his reputation would have only grown. He had already received significant awards for his work. He was about to turn the corner to really being recognized nationally when he died.”

Upon her own death, his wife, Jane Oakley Hollingsworth, left a $238,000 bequest from her estate to establish the William Robert Hollingsworth Jr. Art Scholarship Endowment, which will provide financial support to full-time students in the UM Department of Art and Art History.

This is the department’s largest private gift to date and will be awarded to students studying painting, drawing or sculpture primarily.

“We offer smaller scholarships in the amount of $500 and $2,500, but this is going to be really exciting because we can now offer a full tuition waver,” said Ginny Chavis, chair and associate professor of art. “We have never before been able to compete for students who may be eligible for higher scholarships elsewhere. Now, we will be able to attract some of the top art students in the country.

“This is an opportunity that we are so grateful to have. We will be forever grateful to the Hollingsworth family for including us in this endowment. We know it’s very generous and an appropriate honor for William Hollingsworth because it seems so fitting to pass on the knowledge of art to another student and to keep that knowledge going. This is a way to carry his legacy forward, and we’re really happy to be a part of that.”

Lee Cohen, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, echoed Chavis: “It’s rare that specific departments within the College of Liberal Arts receive private support, much less a contribution of this magnitude. We believe it will be game-changing with respect to our ability to recruit the best and brightest art students. And that’s so important to our mission to be a great public university.”

Jane Hollingsworth would be pleased to know that her gift is appreciated, said longtime friend and legal counsel Dan Singletary, an Ole Miss law graduate who treasures a framed portrait of William Hollingsworth sketched on letterhead by the artist himself; the drawing is prominently displayed on the wall just outside Singletary’s office.

“Her bequest to the art department at Ole Miss was because of her love and adoration for her late husband, who had attended Ole Miss for a couple of years,” Singletary said. “He later honed his artistic skills at the Art Institute of Chicago, where he met and fell in love with Jane who was from Illinois.

“Because both she and William were art students together, and that’s the way they met, I believe she wanted to help young developing art students further their education and training in some meaningful way.”

Interestingly, an if-then stipulation in Jane Hollingsworth’s will might have kept Ole Miss from receiving the endowment at all.

According to Cole, Jane Hollingsworth’s hometown was Moline, Illinois, and her outlook was Northern; William Hollingsworth’s was decidedly Southern. However, drawn together in their discussions of art, they grew close, fell in love and married. A year later, their son Billy was born.

The late Billy Hollingsworth grew up in Jackson and inherited his parents’ talent for art. He was a cartoonist, a self-taught pianist with a gift for jazz improvisation and the lead performer in a dance band he founded.

As a youth, he became an Episcopalian and, at age 24, he was received into the full communion of the Roman Catholic Church. At 27, he entered Saint Joseph Abbey in Louisiana and made profession as a monk.

“Should he leave a monastic life, all trust funds shall be paid over to him and the trust shall be terminated,” Jane Hollingsworth stated in her will. “If, at the time of his death, my son is still a member of the monastic order, I direct that the Trustee shall pay the then existing corpus of this trust over to an education institution in the State of Mississippi for the establishment of one or more scholarships in the name of my late husband for students of (art).”

Brother Anselm Hollingsworth – Billy – remained a monk until his death, leaving the door open for a Mississippi institution of higher learning to become one of the beneficiaries of his mother’s estate at a time when private support is critical to providing a margin of excellence in academics.

When UM graduate Kathryn Simmons, vice president and trust officer with Trustmark Wealth Management, realized that Jane Hollingsworth’s wishes were not specific to one institution, she contacted friends at UM to determine how Ole Miss could benefit from the bequest.

“The art department at Ole Miss seemed most appropriate since William Hollingsworth attended the university and also because Mrs. Hollingsworth specifically wanted to provide scholarships for art students,” Simmons said, adding that a portion of the bequest is also shared by the Mississippi Museum of Art, where it is being used to support a fellowship.

Besides scholarship support, the art department needs private funds to support graduate stipends, faculty research, faculty and student travel, student-run organizations and visiting artists to campus, Chavis said.

Individuals and organizations may make gifts to the Hollingsworth Art Scholarship Endowment or to other areas of the UM Department of Art by mailing a check with the designation noted in the memo line to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655; visiting; or contacting Denson Hollis at 662-915-5092 or

UM College of Liberal Arts Honors Faculty Members for Excellence

Three professors noted for inspiring students and peers with their passion for teaching

College of Liberal Arts Dean Lee Cohen, second from left, with award recipients Gerard Buskes, Matthew Murray and Joshua Brinlee. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

UM liberal arts Dean Lee Cohen, second from left, with award recipients Gerard Buskes, Matthew Murray and Joshua Brinlee. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi College of Liberal Arts recognized three faculty members Friday (May 13) for their outstanding work in educating students.

Joshua Brinlee, an assistant professor of art and art history, received the Cora Lee Graham Award for Outstanding Teaching of Freshmen. Gerard Buskes, professor of mathematics, was named the Liberal Arts Outstanding Teacher of the Year. The Liberal Arts Outstanding Instructor of the Year award went to Matthew L. Murray, instructional associate professor of sociology and anthropology.

“The College of Liberal Arts has a strong commitment to excellence in teaching,” said Lee Cohen, UM liberal arts dean. “As such, it is an honor and a privilege to recognize Mr. Brinlee, Dr. Buskes and Dr. Murray as this year’s award recipients. I am certain that our students appreciate these outstanding educators.”

Brinlee was awarded the Cora Lee Graham Award because of his commitment to excellence in freshman education, intellectual stimulation of students and concern for students’ welfare. Brinlee earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fine arts at the Memphis College of Art. He arrived at UM in 2012 as an adjunct professor and in 2014 accepted the position of assistant professor and foundations coordinator.

Brinlee said he is humbled and honored to receive this award.

“This award of recognition was totally unexpected,” he said. “To be given the opportunity to teach students how art enriches and informs their daily lives is an award all by itself. The students are the reason I chose to be an arts educator, and why I will always commit myself to helping them achieve their educational goals.

“Every year I see my former freshmen students graduating and moving on with their lives. My hope is that one day they will look back on their college experience and know that there was a teacher that cared, encouraged, challenged and supported them.”

“He has made a terrific and excellent difference in our department in a short time,” faculty member Sheri Reith said in a letter of nomination. “The students he is teaching are attentive and interested in the information he is giving. Josh teaches hands-on problems and calls on his students to produce written work as well.

“At the end of his classes, I see his students talking with him, and he is smiling and so are they. He cares for them.”

Buskes has been at UM since 1985, after receiving advanced degrees in mathematics from Radboud University in the Netherlands. He received the Outstanding Teacher of the Year award for his excellence in teaching and dedication to his students.

“He truly cares about his students understanding the material in his class, a trait which unfortunately is a rare find in mathematics,” UM student Maegan Easley said in a nomination letter. “His 50-minute lectures often seem like 10 minutes because he makes his class so fun and engaging! He creates a rapport with his students that is unique in the mathematics department.”

Buskes has also inspired other faculty members. David Fragoso Gonzalez co-taught a calculus course with Buskes for the last three fall semesters.

“To ensure a seamless transition between our classes, we have sat in each other’s lectures many times, which has allowed me to observe the impact that Dr. Buskes has over his students,” Gonzalez said in a letter of nomination. “By example and by mentorship, my experience with Dr. Buskes has also shaped the way that I try to teach my own classes, and the way that I develop a relationship with students.”

However, Buskes said other faculty members continue to inspire him as well.

“I am so honored by this award and the affirming statements of my colleagues and students,” Buskes said. “I certainly had teachers who inspired and guided me, and to be seen in that light is such a thrill.”

Murray arrived at UM as an assistant professor in 2003. He studied at the University of Connecticut and the University of Salzburg in Austria, and was awarded a doctorate from Harvard University in 1995.

“I am delighted to accept the award as Outstanding Instructor of the Year,” Murray said. “In all of my classes, I encourage students to engage personally and collectively with complex ideas and difficult problems, which I hope prepares them to become informed and involved global citizens.”

Kirsten Dellinger, chair of sociology and anthropology, nominated Murray for the award based on his method of teaching and care for students.

“Dr. Murray’s student evaluations and peer observations have consistently ranked him as an excellent or superior teacher,” Dellinger said in a nomination letter.

“The sheer number of written comments for all courses indicates an enthusiasm and engagement in Matthew’s courses rarely seen when reviewing faculty who have been nominated for teaching awards.”

Dellinger said Murray encourages students to “learn by doing” and gives students the resources they need to do that.

“We are fortunate to have such a well-rounded, research-active faculty member in the department introducing students to anthropology and geography as well as providing advanced training for students who will move on in the field of archaeology,” she said. “I am thrilled that he has received this well-deserved honor.”

All three recipients were recognized at the spring faculty meeting and will be honored Saturday during the college’s commencement ceremonies. Each received a commemorative plaque and $1,000.

UM Alumnus Begins New Career with Service Dog Arliegh at Side

Ben Stepp applies personal experiences in military to new role as counselor

UM graduate student Ben Stepp and service dog Arliegh have attended every class together since 2014. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

UM graduate student Ben Stepp and service dog Arliegh have attended every class together since 2014. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – When graduate student Ben Stepp walks across the stage during the University of Mississippi’s Commencement ceremonies Saturday (May 14), he will do so in the company of his canine companion, Arliegh, a service dog who rarely leaves his side.

A retired U.S. Army staff sergeant and an infantry veteran of the Iraq War, Stepp, 36, is set to receive his third UM diploma – a master’s degree in community and mental health counseling. But what makes this accomplishment even more thought-provoking is that Arliegh, a nearly 3-year-old Labrador retriever mix, has attended virtually every class alongside her owner since 2014.

“(Arliegh) is a highly trained medical device,” explained Stepp, a husband and father of two. “When my heart rate gets elevated, she can sense it and places her paw or head on my leg for me to pet her. You might see me petting her a lot on graduation day.”

Stepp and Arliegh are preparing to begin a new career in which Stepp plans to eventually become a Licensed Professional Counselor, hoping to specialize in counseling veterans adjusting to life after military service.

As a service dog, Arliegh helps Stepp manage anxiety related to the effects of PTSD, one of two wounds the Fairbanks, Alaska, native received during his 15 years of military service. Stepp’s other injury is a still-bothersome grenade wound to his right ankle, which resulted in long-term pain from reflex sympathetic dystrophy, or RSD, a type of nerve damage that causes a burning pain in the injured area among other symptoms.

Stepp joined the LOU community in 2006 when he returned from his service in Iraq. While deployed, first in 2003 then later during parts of 2004 and 2005, he served as the leader of an infantry fire team, a group of four to five soldiers.

After transferring from the regular Army into the Mississippi Army National Guard, Stepp enrolled in undergraduate courses at UM with a plan to finish a bachelor’s degree in economics – which he had started at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke – and return to active duty as an officer.

However, Stepp faced challenges he did not expect as a tried to “normalize” into life as a college student and war veteran.

“I was in a lot of denial about my problems at the time,” he recalled. “I was easily agitated, easily set off. I had nightmares and flashbacks.”

At the urging of Ole Miss ROTC faculty, Stepp began seeing a therapist on campus and later at the VA office in Memphis, Tennessee. It was an important and necessary decision for Stepp, but it was also a decision that set his life in a new direction.

“I was then medically disqualified from being an officer,” he said. “They said I could stay as an enlisted man, but I couldn’t be an officer.”

This was a hard blow to Stepp, who had first joined the military at age 17 with the consent of his mother. But, after refocusing his efforts on academic pursuits, Stepp earned a bachelor’s degree in economics in 2009 and a master’s degree in criminal justice in 2011, while working as a University Police Department officer, a position he held from 2007 to 2013.

The same year he earned his bachelor’s degree, Stepp also married his wife, Erin. The couple welcomed their first child in 2010 and carved out a life together in Oxford.

However, Stepp still had personal battles to fight. He was becoming increasingly frustrated with the care offered through the VA. He struggled privately with chronic anxiety and longed for therapists who better understood issues faced by veterans. And, there was also his lingering ankle wound, which he continued to manage with regular nerve block injections and opiates prescribed by VA physicians.

“I was tired of being treated like a science experiment,” Stepp said. I wasn’t happy with the way any of us vets were being treated. So I decided to seek out my own treatment.”

Soon after in 2013, Stepp resigned from UPD, a position he felt passionately about but could no longer complete to the best of his abilities due to personal difficulties.

“I was in a lot of pain, physical pain,” he said. “I thought I was doing a good job of covering it up. But it all finally kinda came to a boil, I guess, and I decided that the best thing for me was to really get help and ‘get right.'”

After seeking out a pain specialist, Stepp began to wean off opiates and underwent new treatments to manage his pain. He wears a device that allows him to walk more freely without help from drugs.

He also continued seeing local counselors, including Marc Showalter, an assistant professor of counselor education at the UM School of Education. It was during this time that Showalter approached Stepp about a potential career move into counseling. It was one of multiple ideas he put in front of Stepp as he planned to the future.

“What I saw in Ben early on was perseverance,” Showalter said. “I have seen him grow and overcome so many difficulties, and always with the desire to help people. Even as he was trying to find his own way, I always heard from him that he wanted to find some way to help others, especially veterans. So I put the idea of becoming a counselor in front of him.”

Before beginning UM’s Master of Education program in counseling in 2014, Stepp connected with Arliegh through the K9s for Warriors organization in Pontre Vedra, Florida. Through his experience with the Wounded Warriors Project, he’d become aware of other veterans with similar backgrounds who use service dogs to help manage anxiety related to trauma.

After some soul-searching, Stepp decided to pursue using a service dog for his own anxiety. The application process took about a year.

“(Having a service dog) was hard at first,” Stepp said. “For a lot of vets … you sometimes feel like you are always being watched and the need to make sure there is no one trying to hurt you. Then, once you get a dog, everyone actually is always looking at you. Well, actually they are mostly looking at the dog. But you feel like ‘Oh, all eyes are on me.’ That was a struggle at first.”

K9s for Warriors supports veterans by connecting them with specially trained service dogs that help manage and address anxiety related to stress. The program brings in former warriors for an intensive three-week orientation and training period, during which they learn about working with service dogs. Most service dogs are rescued from shelters and trained for months before being paired with a veteran.

“The saying is, ‘We rescue them so they can rescue us,'” Stepp said.

Like any dog, Arliegh can be playful and enjoys attention from others. But when her service vest is on, Arliegh is at work. As a rule of thumb, it’s OK to pet and play with Arliegh when she is not wearing her vest. Otherwise, she is on duty.

Besides helping lower anxiety, service dogs can help individuals identify “triggers,” the sights, sounds or smells that can cause panic or flashbacks among individuals recovering from PTSD. Having a service dog gives those who need it a specialized tool to identify sources of stress and learn to process them in a productive way.

Throughout Stepp’s latest experience in graduate school, Arliegh has been a constant companion as he worked as a full-time student. The program is intensive and rigorous, requiring students to complete year-round, full-time coursework over two years.

During this time, Stepp has gained experiences through internships, including one at Oxford Counseling Center, where he will begin working full time following graduation. He hopes to finish the requirements to become a Licensed Professional Counselor within the next year.

“You know, for me, (becoming a counselor) isn’t very different from a lot of my experiences,” Stepp said. “When you’re a squad leader, you have people who always look to you. You become their dad, brother, friend, teacher or even banker. Everyone needs something different.

“As a police officer, you find people who just need some help from someone, even when it’s 2 a.m. and a confused student desperately needs someone to speak to and you are the first one they find. I did these things for such a long time that when I decided to become a counselor, it wasn’t the huge leap you might imagine.”

UM LIGO Among Recipients of $3 Million Award

Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics backed by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs

Members of the UM LIGO Team include (from left) Mohammad Afrough, graduate student; Camillo Cocchieri, visiting scholar; Marco Cavaglia associate professor of of physics and astronomy; Katherine Dooley, assistant professor of physics and astronomy; and Jared Wofford and Hunter Gabbard, both undergraduate research assistants. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

Members of the UM LIGO Team include (from left) Mohammad Afrough, graduate student; Camillo Cocchieri, visiting scholar; Marco Cavaglia associate professor of physics and astronomy; Katherine Dooley, assistant professor of physics and astronomy; and Jared Wofford and Hunter Gabbard, both undergraduate research assistants. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Physicists at the University of Mississippi will share in a $3 million prize being awarded to more than 1,000 scientists for their historic discovery of gravitational waves.

The Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics will be shared among Kip Thorne, Rainer Weiss and Ronald Drever, founders of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory Scientific Collaboration, and scores of physicists and engineers on the team.

The three founders will divide $1 million among them, with the remaining $2 million shared equally by the 1,012 other researchers and engineers on the LIGO team. Each receives about $2,000. The prizes will be awarded at a formal ceremony later this year.

“I was happy to know that the work of all my LIGO and Virgo colleagues and I were recognized in such a way,” said Marco Cavaglia, UM associate professor of physics and astronomy and assistant spokesperson for the LIGO Scientific Collaboration. “The prize itself is not important, but the recognition for being part of a scientific breakthrough, that’s really exciting!”

Katherine Dooley, UM assistant professor of physics and astronomy and senior member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, expressed a similar response.

“The award is certainly a very welcome surprise and honor,” she said. “I appreciate the decision by the selection committee to share the award amongst everyone who worked towards making this discovery possible. I hope the press coverage will result in a continued engagement of the public’s fascination with the discovery and encourage a new generation of curious scientists.”

Thorne, professor of theoretical physics at California Institute of Technology, said it was a “great pleasure” to share the prize with the LIGO team, and spoke of his profound gratitude to the team “for pulling off this discovery so successfully.”

“Gravitational waves are a whole new way to explore the universe,” he said. “They are the ideal tool for probing phenomena in which gravity is ultra-strong, and space and time are strongly warped, such as colliding black holes and the universe’s big bang birth.”

It is likely, for example, that a great richness of weird phenomena occurred in the first fraction of a second after the universe was born, Thorne said. Gravitational waves are likely to reveal the details.

“For centuries into the future, gravitational waves will be used, hand-in-hand with electromagnetic waves, to explore the universe,” he said.

The LIGO team’s observation of gravitational waves brought a 50-year search to a spectacular conclusion. Using twin instruments sensitive enough to detect distortions in space-time as small as one-thousandth the diameter of an atomic nucleus, they recorded the gravitational shudders released when two black holes spiraled ever closer together and ultimately collided in a violent merger.

“Things that seemed like science fiction when I was a graduate student are now real as a result of the LIGO observation of gravitational waves,” said Ed Witten, chair of the prize selection committee. “Now that we are able to observe gravitational waves, there is no telling what we will find. It may be that the skies are full of ‘cosmic strings’ that we can only observe because of their gravitational signal.”

The cash is the latest to be handed out by the Breakthrough Prize Foundation, an organization backed by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, including the Russian internet billionaire, Yuri Milner, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Anne Wojcicki, the co-founder of 23andme. The foundation has handed out more than $160 million to scientists since the prizes were established in 2012.

The intention, Milner has said, is to raise the public profile of scientists and turn them into the nerdy equivalent of rock stars.

“I am extremely pleased that the organizers of the Breakthrough prize have decided to honor the entire team of people that made the discovery,” said Weiss, professor of mathematical physics at MIT. He feels the prizes could help convey complex science to the public.

“If they are associated with a proper and easy-to-understand explanation of the science, they serve a wonderful purpose to bring everyone into the action,” he said.

That should not be understated, Thorne said.

“Their greatest value, I think, is to raise public awareness of science and its remarkable achievements,” he said. “And that is very important. Science is a crucial tool for the future of humanity and for solving today’s societal problems; but science cannot achieve its potential unless the public understands and appreciates it. Prizes like this are an important part of that.”

The Gruber Foundation also recently presented the 2016 Cosmology Prize to Weiss, Thorne, Drever and the entire LIGO team for pursuing a vision to observe the universe in gravitational waves, leading to a first detection that emanated from the collision of two black holes.

This remarkable event provided the first glimpse into the strong‐gravity regime of Einstein’s theory of general relativity that governs the dynamics of black holes, giving direct evidence for their existence, and demonstrating that their nature is consistent with the predictions of general relativity.”

Last month, Milner and Stephen Hawking launched the Breakthrough Starshot, an ambitious space project that aims to solve the technological problems that stand in the way of hurling a tiny, lightweight probe to our nearest star, Alpha Centauri, 25 trillion miles away.

“I really hope that the Breakthrough Starshot idea will prove to be practical,” Witten said. “There are a lot of technical obstacles to overcome. It probably sounds as far away as gravitational wave detection sounded when LIGO got started around 1970 or so.

“LIGO only became real because people were excited and worked hard and the U.S. National Science Foundation was willing to make a huge and risky investment.”

‘Gravy’ Wins Second James Beard Foundation Award

gravypodcastjbfa-300x300The James Beard Foundation has honored “Gravy,” a product of the Southern Foodways Alliance, an institute of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi, as the nation’s best podcast.

In 2015, the foundation named Gravy, the SFA’s quarterly print journal and podcast, as its Publication of the Year. Gravy shares stories of the changing American South through the foods everyone eats.

SFA members receive the printed journal Gravy four times a year, while “Gravy,” a free 25-minute podcast, is available on the SFA website or through iTunes. Both serve up fresh, unexpected and thought-provoking stories of an American South that is constantly evolving, accommodating new immigrants, adopting new traditions and lovingly maintaining old ones.

It is an honor to win a James Beard Award for the second year in a row, said Sara Camp Arnold Milam, Gravy’s managing editor.

“Though our work is grounded in the U.S. South, we explore issues of universal relevance – including class, race, ethnicity, gender and labor – through the lens of food,” Milam said. “It is extremely gratifying to receive national recognition for Gravy.”

The SFA’s quest to dig into lesser-known corners of the region and give voice to those who grow, cook and serve daily meals couldn’t be bound by print. So, in 2014, SFA launched “Gravy” the podcast, produced and hosted by Tina Antolini, a graduate of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies and a National Public Radio veteran.

Recent podcasts pondered the restaurant chain Cracker Barrel and Southern nostalgia. Another focused on the food world behind the scenes at Indian-owned motels.

“It is so gratifying to have these stories – and their subjects and the radio producers I’ve collaborated with – recognized,” Antolini said in her acceptance speech.

A member-supported nonprofit based at the UM Center for the Study of Southern Culture, the Southern Foodways Alliance documents, studies and explores the diverse food cultures of the changing American South.

For more information on the SFA and Gravy, go to