UM Biology Professor Aims to Reduce Shark Deaths

New device could help commercial fishermen to avoid bycatch

University of Mississippi Professor of Biology Glenn Parsons is researching ways to reduce shark deaths from accidental catches.

UM biology professor Glenn Parsons is researching ways to reduce shark deaths from accidental catches.

OXFORD, Miss. – Fishermen unintentionally catch millions of sharks each year, and many don’t survive the physical stress of being reeled in, but University of Mississippi biology professor Glenn Parsons is designing a device that could prevent them from ever being hooked.

Accidental catches, referred to as “bycatch”, are a nuisance for commercial and recreational fishermen who are usually after tuna, swordfish and other seafood instead. The problem threatens to upset the ocean’s ecosystem, in which sharks play a major role but are dying in large numbers.

Parsons recently began testing a prototype and expects to make several trips into the Gulf of Mexico to fine-tune it. If his “entangling leader” device is successful, fisherman may not have to handle sharks, which have roamed the ocean mostly unchanged for some 400 million years.

“Commercial fisherman don’t want to catch these sharks,” Parsons said. “It’s dangerous to handle them. It takes time away from fishing and they also damage their gear. They’d rather not hook them at all.”

Some experts estimate that as many as 100 million sharks are killed each year. Many of them are larger, open ocean-dwelling sharks such as hammerheads, makos, tigers, great whites and others.

The deaths prompted the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is working on a National Bycatch Strategy for sharks and other species, and the National Marine Fisheries Service to award research funds to find solutions. Parsons has received a $120,000 federal grant to develop his device and has an online crowdfunding campaign for his graduate students’ research. 

The problem with bycatch isn’t that fish are simply hooked; rather it’s that the physical stress of fighting the reel, or being on the line for as long as six hours and then being hauled into the boat, that can kill them. Even if they’re released after many hours on the line, the outcome usually still isn’t good.

“Mostly everyone agrees that a huge percentage of those sharks die,” Parsons said.

Parsons’ entangling leader has several of loops of line near the hook. The design is based on the idea that the way sharks eat their food is much different than tuna or swordfish.

Sharks have larger, sharper teeth that they use for slicing prey into manageable pieces before swallowing them. Tuna, which have small teeth, and swordfish, which only have a rough a gripping surface along the edges of their mouths, both hold their food only long enough to swallow it whole.

The theory is that the loop design allows tuna and swordfish to take the bait and be hooked, but sharks would be prevented from doing the same. 

“When a typical fish, one without sharp, cutting teeth, takes it, those loops will just spool out and hopefully the fish will be captured,” Parsons said. “When a shark takes it, the teeth entangle in the loops and that either breaks it immediately or it compromises the integrity of the line, so when they pull on it – and a big shark can pull like the dickens – it pops and they swim away.”

Recently, Parsons and his graduate assistants left from Destin, Florida, and ventured into the Gulf of Mexico to test the leader. Using a GoPro camera submerged near the hook, the Ole Miss team observed that for every shark that took the bait, about 10 looked at it and swam away. The ones that actually took the bait also broke the leader, Parsons said.

“The initial tests were really good,” Parsons said. “We have caught the larger sport fish, but the sharks break off.”

Further testing could determine if the bait is still attractive to other fish with the loop device in place. Parsons’ team will make trips from the Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi coasts into the Gulf later to continue the research.

The team caught four different shark species on the recent trip to Destin, said Lauren Fuller, a biology graduate student from Cabot, Arkansas, who is helping with the research.

“We had many entangling leaders break as they were supposed to,” Fuller said. “After looking at the GoPro video, we’re pretty certain these were sharks and we know one was for sure. The research looks promising but, of course, we’ll have to wait until we analyze all of the data to know more.” 

Fuller’s graduate research focuses on finding ways to reduce the stress on caught sharks. She is examining whether using clove oil to sedate them could help.

“It is my hope that this will lead to higher chances of survival after release,” Fuller said.

Ehlana Stell, a biology graduate student from Booneville, studies fish biology and has been working with silver carp, but is also helping with the shark project. She has hope Parsons’ device can greatly reduce shark deaths. 

“The preliminary data for the entangling leader is looking very promising and hopefully this summer’s work will continue to allow Dr. Parsons to improve his design,” Stell said.

This project received funding under award NA15NMF4720378 from NOAA Fisheries Service, in cooperation with the Bycatch Reduction Engineering Program. The statements, findings, conclusions and recommendations are those of the investigators and do not necessarily reflect the views of NOAA Fisheries.

Two UM Graduate Students Selected for Prestigious Writer’s Conference

Participants to spend two weeks studying under veteran authors at University of the South

Molly Brown

Molly Brown

OXFORD, Miss. – Two University of Mississippi graduate students have been selected to participate in the 27th session of the Sewanee Writers’ Conference this summer in Tennessee.

Molly McCully Brown and Jan Verberkmoes are John and Renee Grisham Fellows in the university’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program. Both were nominated by faculty members for the highly competitive conference and will attend on scholarship.

“For our M.F.A. program to have two students receiving funding says a lot about the quality of work that both Molly and Jan are producing,” said Derrick Harriell, the program’s interim director.

The conference, held each summer at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, allows selected writers to teach and work with up-and-coming writers during the 12-day event, from July 19 to 31.

“I’ve heard about the conference from writer friends for years and I’m thrilled to be able to participate, to talk and study with a host of great writers I admire enormously and to have the chance to meet so many other writers working all over the country,” Brown said. “A community of fellow writers has been one of the biggest gifts that graduate school has given me, and I hope my time at Sewanee will only expand that community even further.”

Brown, from Amherst, Virginia, earned her bachelor’s degree from Stanford University. Several of her poems and essays have appeared in various publications.

Distinguished faculty from across the country will provide instruction and criticism through workshops and lectures focused on poetry, fiction writing and playwriting.

Jan Verberkmoes

Jan Verberkmoes

Verberkmoes, a Roseburg, Oregon, native who earned a bachelor’s degree in German at the University of Oregon, said she is eager for the conference to begin.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to work with writers whom I admire and I’m looking forward to meeting and getting to know other workshop participants,” she said.

The conference experience is invaluable, said Beth Ann Fennelly, a UM English professor and renowned poet.

“I had a scholarship to this same conference when I was young and the lessons I learned and friends I made are still a big part of my writing life, so I am very excited for two of my students to have this amazing opportunity,” Fennelly said.

“I also am proud of how their selection reflects on the M.F.A. program as a whole. It’s very unusual for a program to have two students so honored.”

Recent Ole Miss M.F.A. graduate Corinna McClanahan Schroeder also will be attending the conference on a fellowship.

“Our program is well represented at one of the most prestigious summer conferences,” Fennelly said.

UM Graduate Wins Elizabeth George Foundation Fellowship

Rachel Smith plans to use time to complete book of stories about interconnected characters


Rachel Smith

OXFORD, Miss. – Rachel Smith, a 2012 graduate of the University of Mississippi’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program, has received an Elizabeth George Foundation fellowship, which will allow her to move to a mountain cabin to work on a collection of stories.

The Seattle native who lives in Oakland, California, with her husband, said the couple plans to move to the Cascade region of Washington so she can work on her stories in a peaceful, isolated setting. She thinks the spot will be perfect for writing.

The best part about the grant is that it gives her a chance to be there and just focus on her craft, something that is rare for a budding author, she said.

“It’s kind of a dream,” Smith said. “If you are a writer you just want time to focus on your book and that’s what I got. It doesn’t happen very often. It’s a very big gift, and I’m hugely excited about it.”

Her stories involve many different female protagonists and are set in years spanning from the early 1980s through the present. Many different cities provide the backdrop, and her tales are often connected by characters who may appear as major players in some stories and secondary characters in others.

Though Smith said she isn’t really focused on themes, complicated romantic relationships often are present in her writing. 

“A lot of the characters are grappling with relationships or attractions that exist outside the boundaries of what is socially acceptable,” Smith said.

“I think we’ve probably all experienced emotions that we can’t act on without doing damage to our lives or relationships, and I’m interested in exploring those sorts of situations imaginatively. I want to present my characters with emotional obstacles to grapple with or surmount.”

The Elizabeth George Foundation, which is named for the New York Times bestselling author, makes artistic grants to unpublished fiction writers, poets and emerging playwrights, and also to organizations benefiting disadvantaged youth. Smith’s fellowship is worth $33,600.

She previously received a competitive two-year Wallace Stegner Fellowship for the Creative Writing Program at Stanford University, which she started in 2013. The university offers only 10 two-year fellowships each year, five in fiction and five in poetry.

That fellowship program is named after Stegner, a novelist and the creative writing program’s founder. Smith received a living stipend of $26,000, plus tuition and health insurance. She was the first graduate from UM’s MFA program to receive the fellowship at Stanford.

Smith also directed a documentary “MINUSTAH Steals Goats,” which deals with her time in Haiti. There, she was an outsider trying to understand a strange situation involving United Nations peacekeepers. The film was screened at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam in 2010 and was picked up by 7th Art Releasing.

Smith is one of the MFA program’s most talented recent graduates, said Ivo Kamps, chair of the UM Department of English. Her thesis, written under the direction of famed authors Richard Ford and Tom Franklin, included a collection of short stories that Kamps called “superb.”

“Upon graduation (from UM), she traveled for a year in China and returned to the U.S. after obtaining a prestigious two-year Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University, where she worked with Tobias Wolff and Adam Johnson,” Kamps said. “Winning the Elizabeth George Foundation fellowship is only the most recent of Rachel’s impressive successes, and it will allow her to continue on her fiction uninterrupted.”

Smith’s eagerness to learn has always set her apart, said Franklin, a celebrated novelist and UM associate professor of fiction writing.

“Rachel is one of the best students we’ve had because she wasn’t afraid to admit what she didn’t know,” he said. “Add a dazzling talent to that openness and you’ve got something special, which she is.”

Smith said she won’t be satisfied unless she completes her book of stories by the end of the fellowship.

“It’s really a privilege to have received the grant,” Smith said. “It is great, as a reflection on the MFA program at Ole Miss that I have this opportunity, but as great as it is, I won’t consider something like this a success until I really have done something with it. Hopefully, I can report that I have a year from now.”

Gravitational Waves Detected from Second Pair of Colliding Black Holes

UM physicists part of team working with data from Advanced LIGO detectors

Massive Bodies Warp Space-Time. Image Credit: T. Pyle/Caltech/MIT/LIGO Lab

Massive bodies warp space-time. Image Credit: T. Pyle/Caltech/MIT/LIGO Lab

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi researchers are among scientists worldwide elated that gravitational waves – ripples in the fabric of space-time – have been observed for a second time.

The gravitational waves were detected Dec. 26, 2015, by both of the twin Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO, detectors, in Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington. The discovery has been accepted for publication in the journal Physical Review Letters.

Funded by the National Science Foundation, the LIGO facilities were conceived, built and are operated by Caltech and MIT. The discovery was made by the LIGO Scientific Collaboration – which includes the GEO Collaboration, the Australian Consortium for Interferometric Gravitational Astronomy – and the Virgo Collaboration using data from the two LIGO detectors.

Gravitational waves carry information about their origins and about the nature of gravity that cannot otherwise be obtained, and physicists have concluded that these gravitational waves were produced during the final moments of the merger of two black holes – 14 and 8 times the mass of the sun – to produce a single, more massive spinning black hole that is 21 times the mass of the sun.

“The black holes producing the gravitational waves were about three times smaller in size than the black holes we observed in September,” said Marco Cavaglia, UM associate professor of physics and astronomy and assistant spokesperson of the LSC. “Their size is closer to what astronomers observe in galactic X-ray binaries.

“LIGO data also show with very high confidence that at least one of the black holes was spinning before it collided with its companion. This is the first detection of a spinning black hole in a binary system which does not rely on X-ray observations.”

During the merger, which occurred some 1.4 billion years ago, a quantity of energy roughly equivalent to the mass of the sun was converted into gravitational waves. The detected signal comes from the last 27 orbits of the black holes before their merger.

Based on the arrival time of the signals – with the Livingston detector measuring the waves 1.1 milliseconds before the Hanford detector – the position of the source in the sky can be roughly determined.

“In the near future, Virgo, the European interferometer, will join a growing network of gravitational wave detectors, which work together with ground-based telescopes that follow up on the signals,” said Fulvio Ricci, the Virgo Collaboration spokesperson. “The three interferometers together will permit a far better localization in the sky of the signals.”

The first detection of gravitational waves, announced Feb. 11, was a milestone in physics and astronomy; it confirmed a major prediction of Albert Einstein’s 1915 general theory of relativity and marked the beginning of the new field of gravitational-wave astronomy.

“It is very significant that these black holes were much less massive than those observed in the first detection,” says Gabriela Gonzalez, LIGO Scientific Collaboration spokesperson and professor of physics and astronomy at Louisiana State University. “Because of their lighter masses compared to the first detection, they spent more time – about one second – in the sensitive band of the detectors. It is a promising start to mapping the populations of black holes in our universe.”

“The LIGO detectors are the most precise measurement devices ever built,” said Katherine Dooley, a UM assistant professor of physics and astronomy. “The gravitational waves create phenomenally small changes in the distance between two points in space, and we use laser light to measure that change in distance.”

The second discovery “has truly put the ‘O’ for Observatory in LIGO,” said Caltech’s Albert Lazzarini, deputy director of the LIGO Laboratory. “With detections of two strong events in the four months of our first observing run, we can begin to make predictions about how often we might be hearing gravitational waves in the future.

“LIGO is bringing us a new way to observe some of the darkest, yet most energetic, events in our universe.”

In the short time since the first announcement, the observation of gravitational waves has already changed how scientists view information coming from across the universe, said Luca Bombelli, a UM professor of physics and astronomy.

“Scientists have used it to find out about a distant astrophysical event that we would not have detected otherwise, to study the gravity of black holes and even as a tool to learn more about quantum theory and test predictions of theories on the nature of space-time,” Bombelli said.

“From a practical point of view, the detection has increased the chances of funding for future experiments. This second announcement confirms the fact that we are now in a new era in the study of the cosmos.”

Both discoveries were made possible by the enhanced capabilities of Advanced LIGO, a major upgrade that increases the sensitivity of the instruments compared to the first-generation LIGO detectors.

“With the advent of Advanced LIGO, we anticipated researchers would eventually succeed at detecting unexpected phenomena, but these two detections thus far have surpassed our expectations,” said France A. Córdova, NSF director. “NSF’s 40-year investment in this foundational research is already yielding new information about the nature of the dark universe.”

Advanced LIGO’s next data-taking run will begin this fall. By then, further improvements in detector sensitivity are expected to allow LIGO to reach as much as 1.5 to 2 times more of the volume of the universe. The Virgo detector is expected to join in the latter half of the upcoming observing run.

LIGO research is carried out by the LSC, a group of more than 1,000 scientists from universities around the United States and 14 other countries. More than 90 universities and research institutes in the LSC develop detector technology and analyze data; about 250 students are strong contributing members of the collaboration. The LSC detector network includes the LIGO interferometers and the GEO600 detector.

UM has been a member of the LSC since 2007. Researchers in the university’s LSC group include not only faculty, but also many active student researchers at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Ole Miss contributions to LIGO research are in the areas of instrumentation and data analysis.

“We are constantly working on developing new technologies to improve the sensitivity of the gravitational wave detectors, so that we can detect other types of events that are weaker than black hole collisions,” Dooley said. “One such line of work that is researched at Ole Miss is the manipulation of the quantum nature of light.”

Virgo research is carried out by the Virgo Collaboration, consisting of more than 250 physicists and engineers belonging to 19 different European research groups: six from Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in France; eight from the Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare in Italy; two in The Netherlands with Nikhef; the MTA Wigner RCP in Hungary; the POLGRAW group in Poland and the European Gravitational Observatory, the laboratory hosting the Virgo detector near Pisa in Italy.

“The University of Mississippi is thrilled to again be part of the historic developments of the LIGO team,” said Josh Gladden, interim vice chancellor of research and sponsored programs and associate professor of physics and astronomy. “This second detection of two black holes merging further demonstrates that gravitational wave astronomy will be a powerful new tool to help us better understand our universe.”

The weaker signal of this event is important because it shows the detector is sensitive enough to pick up not only large events with extreme energies, but also lower energy events, which are more common, Gladden said.

“Every event detected brings new data that can be compared to theory, which pushes our understanding of our universe forward,” he said.

The NSF leads in financial support for Advanced LIGO. Funding organizations in Germany (Max Planck Society), the U.K. (Science and Technology Facilities Council) and Australia (Australian Research Council) also have made significant commitments to the project.

“We are all very excited to hear of the LIGO detection of a second gravitational wave event and congratulate the Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington, LIGO detectors for this new finding, and the UM team of scientists on LIGO,” said Lucien Cremaldi, chair of UM’s Department of Physics and Astronomy. “A second event discovered in the LIGO 2015 data set seems to indicate that gravitational waves are all around, just awaiting our detection.”

For more information about LIGO, visit

Mississippi-Made Mandarin Recognized as World-Class

UM Flagship Chinese Program draws fevered students, yields fluent alumni

Henrietta Yang teaches students in the Chinese Language Flagship Program.

Henrietta Yang teaches students in the Chinese Language Flagship Program.

OXFORD, Miss. – Offering the immersive experience of any Language Flagship Program is a tremendous plus for any university, but being the country’s best program is far better. And that’s exactly what faculty and students in the Chinese Language Flagship Program at the University of Mississippi have succeeded in doing.

The Language Flagship program began in 2002 and includes intensive programs in languages deemed critical for American government, business and military interests – including Arabic, Chinese, Korean and Russian – at several U.S. colleges and universities. UM was among the first institutions to launch a Chinese Language Flagship Program.

“The Language Flagship began as a small pilot project to challenge a few U.S. universities to build programs of advanced language education,” said Donald Dyer, UM chair and professor of modern languages. “Being one of The Language Flagship’s Chinese programs means this is a program designed to take students to the superior level of Chinese, a program on steroids.”

UM is among a dozen institutions offering the intensive program, and the university’s success in preparing its students for careers involving Chinese language and culture attracts students from across the country.

“Ole Miss has one of the most effective Chinese programs in the country, which is why I chose to come here in the first place,” said Liana Tai, a senior international studies and Chinese major from Arlington, Virginia.

Flagship programs are results-driven. One factor used to determine just how good a program is involves examining how many students it can send to the Flagship Capstone. To participate, students must fulfill all required courses, apply, pass all qualifying tests and be accepted by the Flagship Chinese Council.

From 2003 to 2013, Ole Miss sent only 12 students to Capstone. From 2014 to 2016, UM has sent 20 students to Capstone.

“For the past two years, the University of Mississippi has had the largest group among the 12 Chinese Flagship Capstone Programs,” said Henrietta Yang, Croft associate professor of Chinese and co-director of the program.

“During the selection process, all students were ranked based on their application packages, which included a personal statement, a Chinese writing sample, a Chinese speech sample, transcripts, three recommendation letters and a Chinese resume. Three of the top five selected and admitted were UM students, and eight of 13 were ranked above 30.”

The Ole Miss CLFP also is the only Chinese Flagship program that operates an intensive domestic summer program before the freshman year and a post-freshman summer program at Shanghai University in China. This program aims to raise students’ linguistic proficiency and cultural knowledge considerably within an eight-week period.

The university’s CLFP Shanghai Program is open to take students from the other 11 flagship programs.

“Establishing our Shanghai program, which is very well-respected and replete with high standards, is another huge success that is very rewarding to me,” Yang said.

Since taking over the program in 2013, Yang has redesigned the curriculum, which has high standards, thematic courses, domain mentoring and cultural preparation. Unlike some Chinese Flagship programs around the country, which offer only upper-level courses, the Ole Miss CLFP allows for entry at various skill levels.

The university also boasts one of the finest language teaching teams in the nation. Joining Yang are two assistant professors and three full-time instructors. Approximately 100 alumni of the program have gone on to successful careers in international business, public policy leadership, medicine and politics, to name a few fields.

Instruction extends far beyond the borders of the Oxford campus.

“We have seeded Chinese instruction at Oxford, Lafayette and Holly Springs high schools,” Dyer said. “More than 10 students from OHS have matriculated into our flagship program. Students come here from all over the country to study Chinese at a high level.”

Students enrolled in the program are singing their praises of the professors’ instruction and the valuable learning opportunities being received.

Prospective job opportunities in the international business arena are what drew Conner Clark, an international studies and Chinese major, to the UM Chinese Flagship program. The senior from Dallas also participated in the Capstone Year Program.

“During the first semester, we were direct-enrolled at Nanjing University,” Clark said. “For the second semester, we applied to whichever organizations that we were interested in and completed a full-time internship for a minimum of 16 consecutive weeks. This second semester was the most fulfilling for me.”

James DeMarshall, a junior Chinese and international studies double major with a minor in mathematics, said he knew that the Ole Miss program would make him proficient in the language.

“The culture of this program is infectious,” said the native of Glassboro, New Jersey. “Everyone is very supportive of each other, almost like a big family. When I visited campus and sat in on classes, I knew I wanted to be part of this special atmosphere the flagship program has cultivated here.”

Having studied consecutive summers in Shanghai and Harbin, DeMarshall recently learned he was awarded a U.S. Department of State’s Critical Language Scholarship to spend this upcoming summer studying in the city of Xi’an, in China’s Shaanxi province. He is also the incoming president for the UM chapter of a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization called Global China Connection, of which the Chinese Language Flagship Program has been very supportive.

“I recently had the opportunity to travel to New York City to participate in a conference for GCC, and I was one of maybe 10 or 15 non-Chinese people in attendance,” he said. “As the event went on, I realized how far my Chinese had come in such a really short period of time spent here at Ole Miss.

“I was able to comfortably function in Chinese, which made it easier for me to network and connect with all the other young professionals in attendance. In essence, there was no language barrier. I can entirely thank the UM Flagship Program for that capability.”

As a result of the Chinese program’s success, the department applied for an Arabic flagship program in 2015. Although the request was not granted, the university’s Arabic program is good enough to achieve flagship status, Dyer said.

“Our Arabic program is also exceptional, modeled after Chinese, and reaching the same level of productivity and success,” he said.

Meanwhile, Yang is anticipating even greater levels of success for the Chinese program.

“We are preparing for as many as 19 students for Capstone next year,” she said. “Ours has dominated among the 12 Chinese Flagship Programs in the past two years. I would have to agree that UM has the best Chinese Flagship program in the country.”

McLean Summer Program Turning High School Students into Entrepreneurs

Inaugural weeklong program helped develop leadership and creativity

Terrius Harris and Albert Ball learn yoga in the grove.

Terrius Harris and Albert Ball learn yoga in the Grove.

OXFORD, Miss. – Twelve high school students from across Mississippi gained exposure to innovative problem-solving skills by participating in an entrepreneurial leadership program at the University of Mississippi.

The inaugural class of the McLean Entrepreneurial Leadership Program, or MELP, met May 29-June 3 on the Oxford campus. The weeklong series of activities was sponsored by UM’s McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement in partnership with the Office of Pre-College Programs.

Terrius Harris and Ryan Snow, innovation scholars with the McLean Institute’s Catalyzing Entrepreneurship and Economic Development initiative, were instrumental in planning and facilitating the program.

“In this first summer, we sought to introduce an initial cohort of students from around the state to the entrepreneurial approaches to addressing pressing community needs,” said Albert Nylander, director of the McLean Institute and a professor of sociology.

“Our initial assessment indicates that at the beginning of the week, only one student believed that he or she could become an entrepreneur. By week’s end, the overwhelming majority of participants believed they had the potential to become entrepreneurs.”

MELP was structured to cultivate an innovative approach to solving problems that students identified in their communities. Throughout the week, participants studied principles of entrepreneurship, data and demographics, environmental sustainability, and health and wellness through readings, lectures from UM faculty and staff, and field trips to meet with community leaders.

Snow, of Summerville, South Carolina, and Harris, of Eagle River, Alaska, reflected on their experiences planning and leading the program.

“I am excited to see this program develop into a statewide initiative,” Snow said. “As I begin my next phase of involvement with the McLean Institute as a graduate innovation fellow, I intend to continue the work of MELP by working with the students to implement the projects they planned during the program.”

Working with students in the inaugural MELP program has been rewarding, Harris said.

“This program attracted high-caliber high school students from across Mississippi,” he said. “I believe we’re off to a great start and on the verge of something truly significant for our state’s economic growth and community development.”

MELP’s first-year goal was to pilot a scalable and replicable program that will stimulate an entrepreneurial interest among high school students that can be utilized to solve community and state problems through community engagement.

“With entrepreneurial problem-solving as the central focus of the week, students were required to complete a weeklong project with the goal of generating an actionable plan to address a community challenge,” said Zack Grossenbacher, another innovation fellow in the McLean Institute. “This project was developed in conjunction with faculty and community members with the intention of allowing students to actively practice the skills that they acquired throughout the week.”

The inaugural participants were Albert Ball and Ajene Buchanan, both of Oxford; Dylan Dickerson, Kyarria “Ari” Hardy, Tyteanna Wragg, Hailey Fox, Kendall Dawkins, Mister Clemmones and McKinley Ware, all of Newton; Abidemi “Titi” Ayegbaroju and Jimeya Mayes, both of Greenwood; and Baylea Brown of Magee. All enter the 10th, 11th or 12th grade in the fall.

Several of the students weighed in on their expectations versus their experiences. Ayegbarojou said she had a particularly emotional moment during a session at the Robert C. Khayat Law Center.

“They asked us to share what we value the most, and I discovered what I value most is myself,” the Greenwood High School sophomore said. “I also found out that in order to be a good leader, you must first be a good follower. And that you must have no fear of failure in order to succeed.”

Brown said she thought she’d feel disconnected and isolated from the others during the week.

“Instead, I found we all made a great connection and learned how well we can communicate,” said the junior from Magee High School. “By sharing like we did, we each built one another up.”

Dickerson, a sophomore at Newton High School, said he was expecting “a bunch of boring meetings.”

“But, that’s not what happened at all,” he said. “Everything and everyone has been wonderful. I hope we all get to return if they do this again next year.”

As followup, the McLean Institute conducted exit interviews and had students fill out surveys to evaluate the program. When asked to define the term “entrepreneurship,” one student responded with “having the courage to speak up about a problem and make a plan to fix it and follow through with your plan.”

The goal of MELP was to bring about this type of inspired and innovative thinking, said J.R. Love, project manager for the Catalyzing Entrepreneurship and Economic Development initiative.

“Thanks to our CEED students, program partners and the students who joined us this week, we have come together to learn from one another and join forces to address pressing social and economic problems in Mississippi,” Love said. “I am optimistic that we can expand this program in the future and develop a network of partnerships across the state that will impact quality of life in Mississippi.”

Besides support from the Office of Pre-College Programs, other MELP partners included the Center for Population Studies, Office of Sustainability, RebelWell, the UM Food Bank, Square Books in Oxford and Home Place Pastures in Como.

To learn more about the McLean Institute, visit

Living Blues Hires New Publication Manager

Melanie Young hopes to broaden awareness of the magazine, including digital editions

Melanie Young. Photo by James G. Thomas Jr.

Melanie Young. Photo by James G. Thomas Jr.

OXFORD, Miss. – With her new position as publication manager of Living Blues magazine, Melanie Young feels as though she’s come home.

She first began working with the magazine, produced by the University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture, in 2009 as its circulation manager. At the same time, she had an editorial internship with the publication. Since then, she’s been a contributing writer for Living Blues and even wrote her Southern studies master’s thesis on the magazine in 2012.

“Growing up in Mississippi, I was drawn to elements of the blues in popular music without really understanding what the blues was, or where it came from,” Young said. “As a student, the Center for the Study of Southern Culture and Living Blues gave me the opportunity to deepen my knowledge of the art form within its cultural context – something that’s forever changed me and how I see the world.”

As publication manager, Young’s duties include managing the day-to-day tasks necessary to the upkeep of the magazine, which consists of subscription services, publishing, distribution, marketing and accounting. She also trains and supervises graduate assistants and student workers.

In her new position, Young hopes to increase the magazine’s circulation and prominence by attending more events, broadening the magazine’s presence on social media and making readers more aware of its digital edition.

“Hundreds of blues artists have shared their stories through the pages of Living Blues over the years, and I’m honored to further my association with a publication that continues to do such important work,” Young said.

Before accepting her new position at Living Blues, Young worked as a freelance writer for the magazine, as well as a professional assistant for Diann Blakely, a Georgia-based poet.

Young was born in Mobile, Alabama, and her family moved in 1989 to Lucedale, where they have lived since. In 2008, Young earned her bachelor’s degree in English literature at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Adam Gussow, associate professor of English and Southern studies, said he is thrilled to have Young join the magazine’s staff. He was a member of Young’s master’s thesis committee and said she completed her thesis in an extremely detailed and precise manner.

Gussow said he is confident Young will carry on the standard of excellence that her predecessor, Mark Camarigg, had established, as well as bringing new and fresh ideas.

“She’s proven herself over the past several years to be a skilled and compassionate writer, interviewer and reviewer for the magazine,” Gussow said. “I think that her ability to wear that other hat, as it were, will help solidify Living Blues’ longstanding and deserved reputation as the blues magazine of record, with extended interviews and a reputation-making CD review section.”

UM Faculty at Forefront of Effort to Reduce Textbook Costs

Three-year initiative will expand open educational resources in state's public higher education

Ross Whitwam, Jocelyn Tipton, and Rachel Johnson Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

Ross Whitwam (left), Jocelyn Tipton and Rachel Johnson work on Phase 1 of the Z-Degree program. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi faculty are among the leaders of a new program designed to improve teaching and learning in the state’s higher education institutions by reducing textbook costs and enabling faculty customization of curricula.

“Z-Degree Mississippi” is a three-year plan to expand adoption of open educational resources, or OER, at the state’s eight public universities and four community colleges. The effort is funded by a $200,000 grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and $80,000 from the UM College of Liberal Arts.

“When faculty adopt OER for their courses, those courses are tagged as ‘Z-Degree’ on the course schedule, indicating that they have zero textbook cost,” said Robert Cummings, chair of the Department of Writing and Rhetoric and associate professor of English. “Once enough courses are designated Z-Degree, it is possible for students to earn a degree with no textbook costs.”

Z-Degree Mississippi will unfold in three phases. Phase 1, which runs through June, entails establishing at least one OER course at each of the 12 colleges and universities.

Phase 2, which begins in July and runs through June 2017, involves expanding OER adoptions at four universities and two community colleges, focusing on those schools with the most faculty champions and momentum. It also includes the development of new OER courses to achieve 50 percent completion of general education/associate’s degree pathway.

Phase 3, July 2017 to June 2018, is to complete the OER general education/associate’s degree pathway at two Mississippi schools and continue expanding the pathway at others. The goal is to achieve a four-year Z-degree pathway by 2020.

UM faculty in the inaugural phase are Heather Allen, assistant professor of Spanish; Susan Grayzel, professor of history; Rachel Johnson, instructor of writing and rhetoric at the Tupelo regional campus; Rhona Justice-Malloy, professor of theatre arts; Maureen Meyers, assistant professor of anthropology; Jason Solinger, associate professor of English; Joseph Ward, chair and professor of history; Marc Watkins, instructor of composition and rhetoric; and Brooke White, associate professor of art.

“I am pleased that so many faculty members in various departments within the College of Liberal Arts are volunteering to participate in the Z-Degree Mississippi program,” said Lee Cohen, UM liberal arts dean. “Our commitment is to remain a leader in this initiative as it progressively moves from being a vision to becoming a reality.”

Z-Degree Mississippi courses being taught by Ole Miss faculty include Introduction to Anthropology, Beginning Photography, Digital Photography, Advanced Black-and-White Photography, Advanced Digital Photography and Survey of English Literature.

An estimated one-third to two-thirds of students nationwide no longer purchase textbooks. Campus bookstores have difficulty supplying adequate numbers of textbooks, and instructors face challenges teaching effectively with traditional textbooks because students aren’t buying them.

For more information about Z-Degree Mississippi, visit

Isom Center Director Grayzel Returns to Full-Time Teaching

History faculty member says she is proud of accomplishments during her tenure

Susan Grayzel

Susan Grayzel

OXFORD, Miss. – Susan Grayzel, director of the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies for four of the last five years, will soon step down to return to teaching history full time.

Grayzel became the Isom Center’s director in 2013 after having served as interim director since 2011. Having been awarded an American Council of Learned Societies Collaborative Fellowship, she was on leave during 2014-2015 and came back to finish up a four-year term. That is up and the time for a new leader is right, she said. 

“When I came on, I said I thought this position should rotate,” Grayzel said. “I think an interdisciplinary program needs different voices and different visions. I think it is really important that different people have an opportunity to lead at our university.”

Grayzel said she’s proud of the center’s work during her tenure. Leading the center is a rewarding job, and she expects the next director will also find the work fulfilling.

“There are not that many opportunities faculty can have to learn from the experience of engaging with something that is academic, but also has programming functions that are interdisciplinary and put you in touch with so many different parts of the campus,” Grayzel said.

Kirsten Dellinger, chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, is an Isom Center-affiliated faculty member and has served on the center’s advisory board since 1998. She said the university was fortunate to have Grayzel leading the center.

Dellinger is tasked with finding a new director and hopes to find someone with some of Grayzel’s qualities and her dedication to lead the center. 

“She is a brilliant gender scholar with an international reputation and she is dedicated to making this campus a better place,” Dellinger said. “As a longstanding member of the Isom Center-affiliated faculty, I appreciate Sue’s dedication to a democratic approach to leading the center and for all of her efforts to achieve gender equality for a broad range of groups on campus and in the community.”

Grayzel’s accomplishments include increased work on women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers, a trained Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner on campus, high-caliber guest lecturers, a mechanism for applying for conference travel funds for affiliated faculty and graduate students, and increased student involvement, Dellinger said.

Grayzel said she’s proud of creating the center’s assistant director position, which could be redefined going forward as an associate director job. She credits Theresa Starkey, gender studies instructor, for excelling in the new role for the center.

Expanding programming, including helping create two “Rethinking Mass Incarceration in the South” conferences in 2014 and 2016, working with stakeholders on issues of sexual violence and child care and parenting, and also instituting an annual “queer studies” lecture were other major achievements. Expanding the gender studies minor to include an emphasis on sexuality was another important project, and Grayzel said she is proud of the first sets of students in the graduate certificate in gender studies who have completed that program.

Susan Grayzel, director of the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies, is stepping down to return to teaching history full time.

Susan Grayzel, director of the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies, is stepping down to return to teaching history full time.

Moving forward, the center is poised to continue offering multidisciplinary programming that includes art and film and music, as well as academics.

The center faces some challenges to overcome to raise its profile at Ole Miss. Many students aren’t aware the Isom Center moved to the Lyceum basement a few years ago when renovations at Johnson Commons began, Grayzel said. The center needs a permanent home, she said.

“Our lack of visibility is really an issue,” Grayzel said. “Students can’t find us.”

Grayzel joined the Department of History in 1996 after receiving her bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of California at Berkeley. She is a scholar of modern Europe, the cultural history of war, and women’s and gender history.

She looks forward to returning to the classroom to focus on teaching about modern warfare, gender and sexuality, and 20th-century Europe, and also to working on a book project examining how in the 1920s and 1930s, European countries such as Britain and France imagined and prepared for the prospect of the first war using weapons of mass destruction, namely chemical arms.

She’s fulfilling one of her long-term goals this fall by teaching the first UM stand-alone class on the global history of World War I during the 100th anniversary of its fighting in 1914-1918. She and Susan Pedigo, a UM biochemistry professor, also plan to teach a course they developed on “science and war in the 20th century” for the second time.

The Isom Center is named for UM faculty member Sarah McGehee Isom, who was also the first female faculty member at a coeducational institution of higher learning in the Southeast. She taught here from 1885 until her death 20 years later. The Sarah Isom Center was established in 1981 with the goal of providing a forum for the study, discussion and advancement of women and gender studies.

When UM opened its doors to women in 1882, 11 female students registered for classes. Today, women constitute half the student body. But, the campus, state and nation will continue to confront sexism, racism, homophobia and other problems, and the Isom Center will always have a vital role in the university’s response to those issues, Grayzel said.

“Our work is not going to go away anytime soon,” Grayzel said. “I know Isom will continue to fight against intolerance generally and fight for gender equality with all of our allies on campus who want this truly to be a welcoming, inclusive space where everyone is safe and valued. That’s the core of what I think this job is.”

UM Administrators Say Thank You to Donors

More than 480 alumni and friends receive calls of gratitude

E.J. Jackson, project center manager for the UM Call Center, helps Chancellor Jeffrey S. Vitter navigate the system as he begins to make calls, personally thanking donors for their recent contributions. Photo by Bill Dabney

E.J. Jackson, project center manager for the UM Call Center, helps Chancellor Jeffrey S. Vitter navigate the system as he begins to make calls, personally thanking donors for their recent contributions. Photo by Bill Dabney

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi Chancellor Jeffrey S. Vitter surprised a number of alumni and friends recently, when he called to personally thank them for their financial support.

Vitter participated in UM’s fourth annual “Thank You Power Hour” along with academic deans, faculty and staff members who volunteered to spend an hour calling more than 480 university supporters to express their appreciation. The event was sponsored by the Office of University Development and the University of Mississippi Foundation.

“This year’s event was a bit of a contest,” said Angie Avery, the foundation’s annual giving coordinator. “The chancellor was in the lead for the most calls until he had to step away to attend to other university business. Nevertheless, the Power Hour was a fantastic opportunity for the Ole Miss leadership to personally experience our Call Center environment.”

Cobie Watkins, director of programs and alumni affairs at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, thanked the most donors, followed by Denson Hollis, senior director of development for the College of Liberal Arts, and Brooke Barnes, director of development for the Patterson School of Accountancy. Lionel Maten, assistant vice chancellor for student affairs, took home this year’s spirit award, which is given to the most enthusiastic caller.

“Can you imagine former students receiving a call from the chancellor or from their favorite professors to thank them for recent contributions?” said Suzanne Thigpen, director of annual giving. “It really sends a powerful message to our donors. We have such involved and generous alumni and friends, so our message is always one of deep gratitude for this continued support.”

Private giving helps fund student scholarships, faculty needs, academic programs and external educational opportunities.

Typically, the Call Center is staffed by students who are paid to call donors each evening.

“We employ student callers to give alumni and friends the opportunity to hear about their experiences as students at Ole Miss today,” Thigpen said. “The students, in turn, benefit from career advice from alumni who have been passionate about improving experiences for current students and future generations.”

Individuals and organizations interested in supporting any area of the university can contact Thigpen at 662-915-6625, or by visiting