Billy Crews Hired as Education Development Officer

Former Daily Journal executive joins UM in fundraising role

Billy Crews education development officer ole miss university of mississippi daily journal school of education um foundation tfa oxford

Former newspaper executive and public education proponent Billy Crews joins the UM School of Education as its new development officer.

OXFORD, Miss. – Longtime newspaper executive and public education proponent Billy Crews has joined the University of Mississippi as the new development officer for its School of Education.

Crews’ position is a new one, in which he will head fundraising efforts from within the school in collaboration with the UM Foundation.

“I believe the School of Education is one of the most important units at the university in terms of potential impact on our state,” said Crews, an Oxford native. “After 35 years in business, I am committed to a new career focused on supporting public education in Mississippi.”

Crews joins the university after more than two years working for Teach for America’s Mississippi region, where he served as vice president for strategic partnerships. Before TFA, he led the Tupelo-based media company Journal Inc., which owns the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, serving as chairman and chief executive before retiring in 2010. Crews also previously served as chief operations officer and as a member of the board of trustees for the Tupelo Public School District.

“Billy Crews is an asset to the University of Mississippi because of his experience and his genuine passion for education,” said David Rock, UM education dean. “We are very fortunate to have his experience and expertise as we advance our mission to support and improve education in Mississippi and beyond.”

Crews’ experience in support of public education dates to the late 1970s when, while working as a community service representative for the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, he helped establish the Mississippi Reading Improvement Program, an endeavor that placed assistant teachers in K-2 public classrooms throughout the state. More recently in 2010, he helped lead a citizen initiative to raise $100,000 to fund pre-K classrooms in Tupelo public schools. Crews also helped establish Mississippi’s first multicorporation pre-K learning center for employees of five Tupelo-based organizations.

A UM alumnus, Crews received a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1978 and was the Associated Student Body president and a Rhodes Scholar finalist. The son of former UM English professor John Crews, he spent much of his childhood on the Ole Miss campus.

“In a sense, I’ve come full circle from growing up on this campus, graduating college here and now returning for a new career,” he said. “I’m looking forward to working with Dean Rock and the School of Education’s faculty and staff to enhance the university’s commitment to excellence in education.”

Tyner to Lead Higher Education Lawyer Group

UM general counsel to become head of the National Association of College and University Attorneys

UM General Counsel Lee Tyner (left) has been chosen to lead the National Association of College and University Attorneys.

UM General Counsel Lee Tyner (left) has been chosen to lead the National Association of College and University Attorneys.

OXFORD, Miss. – Lee Tyner, general counsel at the University of Mississippi, has been elected board chairman of the National Association of College and University Attorneys, a group of more than 4,000 higher education lawyers across the country. He begins his new role in June.

UM Chancellor Dan Jones said those who have the honor of working with Tyner on a daily basis aren’t surprised by his selection to head a national group of his peers.

“It’s gratifying that his peers have selected him for this large honor and responsibility,” Jones said. “This brings recognition to our friend, Lee, that he deserves and certainly puts our university in the national spotlight. We value leadership and service. We are grateful to Lee for his leadership and service to both Ole Miss and this important national organization.”

Tyner, a Columbus native, earned a bachelor’s degree from UM in 1987 and his law degree from the University of Virginia in 1990. He worked as a litigation attorney for Butler Snow in Jackson for six years before coming back to Ole Miss in 1998. At UM, he worked for Mary Ann Connell, who was the university’s chief legal officer. When she retired in 2003, then-Chancellor Robert Khayat hired Tyner to become her replacement.

Tyner said NACUA is the best professional organization with which he’s ever been involved.

“My primary goal in my year as board chair is to do no harm because it’s such a highly effective, highly functional and healthy professional association,” Tyner said.

He has been active with NACUA for years and said he’s looking forward to leading the impressive group of lawyers from all levels of higher education, representing many universities and community colleges. He’ll assume his duties at the NACUA annual conference in Washington, taking over from the current board chairman, Tom Cline, vice president and general counsel at Northwestern University.

“I was humbled that my colleagues around the country who do what I do would ask that I serve in this way, particularly when I think of the other lawyers who have played this role nationally, whether it’s my mentor, Mary Ann Connell, who served in this role several years ago, or other professionals that I respect so much who have gone before me,” Tyner said.

The group is full of many dedicated professionals with whom Tyner enjoys working, he said.

“The thing about higher education lawyers is they are lawyers who like their job. They’re happy lawyers, which is not always an easy thing to find. They’re typically very interesting people and highly competent people and they are passionate about higher education. It makes for a pretty good combination of colleagues.”

The job of a university lawyer has become more challenging in recent years as federal regulations have become more far-reaching. The vast network of lawyers is a good resource for members of the group because the members have encountered almost any issue that can arise on a college campus, Tyner said. They often talk by phone or through email.

The group doesn’t take positions on issues, but does help other higher education trade groups with issues they encounter, he said.

“We’re trying to be a resource for these other organizations,” Tyner said. “We don’t take positions, but we’re trying to figure out how to have a seat at the table and have healthy discussions of our regulatory climate and how our student experiences are enhanced and not inhibited by that regulatory climate.”

Tyner was chosen for many reasons, including his record of leadership and service to the group, his commitment to its mission and also his modeling of NACUA‘s values of civility and collegiality, said Kathleen Santora, NACUA president and chief executive officerHe’s also always willing to help his colleagues with any issues they encounter, she said.

“Lee is held in the highest regard by NACUA’s members, and election to board leadership is clear evidence of that esteem,” Santora said. “If you ask NACUA members what stands out most about Lee, though, I am virtually certain they would respond that it is the warmth, graciousness and generosity of spirit with which he treats everyone he meets. It is my honor to know and to work with Lee, and we all look forward to working with him when he becomes board chair at the annual conference in late June in Washington.”

Tyner’s former boss, Mary Ann Connell, served in the same role at NACUA in 1999. Connell works in private practice with the Mayo-Mallette firm in Oxford and is still active with the organization. She said she’s also not surprised by the choice.

“He is the most capable person I think I’ve ever known,” Connell said. “He’s an excellent choice to be board chair. He’s a great leader, he’s brilliant, kind, considerate and hardworking. He gets along with people beautifully. He has all the qualities you want in a leader for such a large organization like NACUA.”

Award Created for Environmental Toxicology Students

Recognition named in honor of influential former faculty member

Kristine Willett (left), William Benson and David D. Allen

Kristine Willett (left), William Benson and David D. Allen

OXFORD, Miss. – To honor a former faculty member and environmental toxicology research leader, the School of Pharmacy has created the William H. Benson Distinguished Graduate Student Award.

“I was honestly in disbelief when I first learned of the plans for the award,” said Benson, who served as a professor of pharmacology and toxicology at the school for a decade. “I am just incredibly flattered and honored that it would even be considered.”

The award will recognize the most outstanding graduate student in environmental toxicology each year. Recipients will receive a plaque and monetary gift. Kristine Willett, professor of pharmacology, developed the idea for the award after realizing that other graduate programs had similar recognitions.

“Dr. Benson really spearheaded the environmental toxicology research program here at the University of Mississippi,” Willett said. “Many of his former students and mentees are still actively involved with our School of Pharmacy and provide networking opportunities for our current students.”

Benson joined the School of Pharmacy as a faculty member in 1988. He served as director of environmental and community health research at the school’s Research Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences before leaving in 1999.

The associate director for ecology at the Environmental Protection Agency fondly remembers his time at Ole Miss.

“The beauty of the pharmacy school was our ability to work across departments,” he said. “We worked together in the best interest of our students. It was so easy to work in a multidisciplinary culture because everyone pitched in. It was almost like a family, not a lab.”

Willett said that Benson continues to influence the University of Mississippi, despite being away from campus for nearly 15 years.

“As environmental toxicology-associated faculty members have prepared training grant proposals, Dr. Benson has volunteered his laboratories as internship locations for our students,” she said. “When I teach environmental toxicology, I use slide sets from short courses he has taught. Most importantly, he is always on the lookout for job opportunities for our students. At meetings, he enthusiastically encourages them and introduces them to other experts in the field.”

Benson said he hopes the award will give opportunities to deserving students who are dedicated to improving the state of Mississippi.

“I hope it goes to students who really believe in doing the right thing for the right reason,” he said. “I hope they work toward public, environmental good and that their work is beneficial to the people of Mississippi, while having impact on the nation and the world.”

To contribute to the William H. Benson Distinguished Graduate Student Award, send a check with the fund noted in the memo line to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655. For more information, contact development director Raina McClure at

UM Ranks Among Nation’s Best Online MBA Programs

U.S. News & World Report lists university in Top 25

Graduates from the online MBA program share their exhilaration at 2014 commencement ceremonies.

Graduates from the online MBA program share their exhilaration at 2014 commencement ceremonies.

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi’s online MBA program is ranked in the U.S. News & World Report’s 2015 list of 25 Best Online MBA Programs.

UM tied Ball State University for No. 16. Other SEC schools on the list include Florida at No. 4, Auburn (No. 10) and Mississippi State (tied with the University of Tennessee at Martin for No. 18). Indiana University, Temple University and the University of North Carolina all tied for No. 1.

“We are very proud of the success of the online MBA program and the recognition of the incredible value this program provides to our students,” said Ken Cyree, dean of the UM School of Business Administration. “The fact that they can continue working and provide for their families while furthering their education is a wonderful opportunity. It is especially satisfying to be able to help our men and women in uniform to further their education.”

Besides this overall ranking, U.S. News & World Report ranks UM as a top university in the areas of:

  • Faculty credentials and training rank: 49
  • Student services and technology rank: 53
  • Student engagement rank: 35
  • Admissions selectivity rank: 20
  • Peer assessment score (out of 5): 3.1

MBA logo

UM’s online MBA program is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. The program may be completed in two years by taking two courses in fall, spring and summer. There is no residency requirement and students are not charged nonresident fees. More than 70 percent of the online students complete the MBA program in two years.

“We strive to be accessible to students through both predetermined interactions such as weekly discussion board meetings, in addition to the ability to ask questions to the class or professor,” Cyree said. “We also have several opportunities for students to meet face-to-face to develop connections with their classmates. The courses are rigorous and demanding and are a companion to our on-campus program, and in many cases the same professor teaches online and on-campus.”

The online program’s student population is a combination of young professionals and experienced, successful professionals.

“They are located from coast to coast and abroad,” said Ashley Jones, director of MBA/MHA Administration. “We have bankers, engineers and entrepreneurs. Along with those in the fields of business and accounting, we have students in the field of medicine that include a surgeon, anesthesiologist and a pharmacist. All have different career goals, and they each bring learning opportunities to the class.”

For more information about U.S. News & World Report rankings, visit For more information about UM’s online MBA program, go to


UM Staff, Students Join MLK Day of Service

Volunteers gathering to improve area schools, assisted living facilities

Dr. Marvin King will deliver the keynote address at the MLK Day of Service on Jan. 19.

Marvin King will deliver the keynote address Jan. 19 at the MLK Day of Service .

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi students and staff are leading efforts to improve living conditions in Lafayette County and Oxford during 2015 Martin Luther King Jr. Day observances.

The Lafayette-Oxford-University MLK Day of Service opening ceremony begins at 9:30 a.m. Jan. 19 at the Oxford Activity Center. Program participants include UM Dean of Students Melinda Sutton, Oxford Mayor George “Pat” Patterson and Lafayette County Board of Supervisors President Jeff Busby. Marvin P. King Jr., UM associate professor of political science and African-American studies, will deliver the keynote address.

The senior fellow at UM’s Residential College South, King received his doctorate in political science from the University of North Texas after earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin. He has co-authored or authored publications on racial polarization in the electorate, representation of the black electorate and the effect of race in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. King teaches undergraduate courses in Introduction to American Politics and African American Politics, and an undergraduate and graduate course in Politics of the American South.

Following King’s speech, three awards will be presented to outstanding LOU volunteers in student and community categories. Honorees include Victoria Burgos of Oxford, a UM student who implemented a pilot composting program on campus; Barbara Wortham of Oxford, GED program instructor at the Oxford School District Learning Center; and Matt Gaw and Mari Susan Massey of Oxford, United Way volunteers.

Other activities scheduled during the day include a service fair featuring representatives from local nonprofits and organizations, a book drive for local correctional facilities, a letter-of-appreciation writing campaign for three area civil rights leaders and activities at five local assisted living facilities.

“It is exciting that University of Mississippi students and staff are choosing to make a difference in the lives of others,” sad Coulter Ward, assistant dean of students for leadership and involvement. “Volunteering builds communities and strengthens relationships. To have our students take opportunities to participate in endeavors like these is awesome.”

UM staff involved in planning of MLK Day of Service events expressed enthusiasm about participating in such a worthy cause.

“Learning the larger history surrounding civil rights and MLK is important, but we see a need to educate our students about living leaders who made great movements right here in Mississippi,” said Haley Kesterson, coordinator of the letter writing campaign. “We hope to give proper gratitude to local leaders. We hope to educate students on the civil rights movement here in Mississippi and give them a local, current perspective about the continuous issue.”

Campus participation is crucial to the success of the observance, said Sarah Ball, director of Volunteer Oxford.

“This national day of service honors Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy and commitment to transforming our nation through service to others,” Ball said. “The LOU MLK Day of Service offers community members a chance to engage in a variety of volunteer opportunities that are designed to give back to the community.”

A recreation administration major, Burgos was awarded a $3,000 grant from the UM Green Fund for the pilot composting project, followed by an additional $5,234 grant to continue and expand it. She has also volunteered at Habitat for Humanity and Camp Lake Stephens, a United Methodist Church facility.

A two-time recipient of the Learning Center Teacher of the Year award, Wortham is the Lafayette County Adult Basic Literacy Education program coordinator. Through her work with the GED Prep course at Burns United Methodist Church, she has helped an estimated 100 people obtain their GEDs.

Working together, Gaw and Massey were the first to assist local non-profits with fundraising, donating equipment and countless hours of volunteer time. Their work has been essential in the building of Lafayette County’s first Born Learning Trail in Avent Park.

For more information about LOU MLK Day of Service, contact Coulter Ward at or Sarah Ball at

Nutrition Clinic Begins Weight Management Classes in January

Classes open to the public and include weekly group meetings, cooking demos and one-on-one consults

Janie Cole gives a tour of a local grocery store.

Janie Cole gives a tour of a local grocery store.

OXFORD, Miss. – Janie Cole, registered dietitian and adjunct professor in the Department of Nutrition and Hospitality Management at the University of Mississippi, leads a group of six through an Oxford grocery store.

She hands out a “Grocery Store Shopping guide that provides tips such as “Plan ahead and make a list” and “Don’t be on your phone while shopping. It gets you off task.” Cole tells the group to examine and compare nutrition facts for deli meats, bread, cereal and bacon.

In one of the aisles, Cole says, “Pay attention to calories, sodium content and saturated fat.”

The grocery store tour is a part of the weight management program organized by UM’s Nutrition Clinic, which is devoted to helping the community with weight loss, eating disorders and other nutrition issues. The program offers weekly group meetings, food record analysis, cooking demonstrations, tastings and one-on-one consults.

“Walking through the store and comparing labels helps the participants make healthy choices,” Cole said, regarding the grocery store tour. “Oftentimes, they are pleasantly surprised by what is considered a healthy choice.”

The program started in 2011 after the clinic got requests to begin a weight management class. But people take the class for reasons beside weight loss, Cole said.

“They want to eat better, improve their overall health and basically have a healthier lifestyle in general,” she said.

And the classes are improving lifestyles. The program has consistent success in lowering weight, blood sugar and cholesterol, and improving energy levels.

“This class is different from others available in that we teach you how to eat healthy without eliminating your favorite foods,” Cole said. “It’s so simple, but it works.”

The weight management classes begin Jan. 21 at Lenoir Hall and are open to the public. The fee for the 12-week course is $150. Participants can register for the classes by calling the UM Nutrition Clinic at 662-915-8662 or by emailing

UM Employees Play Santa’s Helpers

Books and Bears program changes venue, sets new record for donations distributed

UM's annual Books and Bears event.  Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

UM’s annual Books and Bears event. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – There will be many more presents under a lot of University of Mississippi Physical Plant employees’ trees on Christmas Day, thanks to the generosity of the campus community and its Black Faculty and Staff Organization.

Smiles abounded Friday morning (Dec. 19) in the Gertrude Castellow Ford Ballroom at the Inn at Ole Miss as BFSO members distributed more than 1,000 gifts through the group’s 17th annual Books and Bears program. The items were donated by UM faculty, staff, students and alumni over the past three weeks. The number of presents given reached a new record.

Reception at the event was enthusiastic.

“Without this event, lots of kids wouldn’t have very much on Christmas Day,” said Pauline Beard of Oxford, a general maintenance worker. “Every little bit helps and a little goes a long way.”

Alice Fryson of Oxford, who has attended every Books and Bears distribution since the program began, said she hoped to leave with a very special present for one of her nieces or nephews.

“I’m trying to get that bike,” Fryson said. “Maybe today is the day. If not, I definitely hope it will happen before I retire.”

Specificity is not a requirement for Randall Pino of Oxford.

“It doesn’t have to be any particular thing for my children,” the 10-year employee said. “Just seeing the excitement on their faces over whatever they receive is a blessing.”

The donations were noticed and greatly appreciated by BFSO officials.

“The thoughtfulness and outpouring of support from the UM family has been nothing short of amazing this year,” said Donald Cole, associate provost and assistant to the chancellor for multicultural affairs. “By helping others, we have truly captured the spirit of the holidays.”

The spirit of generosity generated by the program appears to be contagious.

“I don’t have any children myself, but one of my co-workers is adopting several kids and couldn’t be here today,” said James Tindle of Oxford. “He doesn’t even know I’m doing this for him. I just wanted to help him and his family out in any way that I could.”

Spreading the good will beyond the boundaries of the main campus, all employees videotaped a group holiday greeting, which will be shown to Chancellor Dan Jones and his wife, Lydia. Jones, who has been a cancer patient at the UM Medical Center in Jackson since late October, has actively supported and attended past Books and Bears distributions.

“Merry Christmas and happy new year!” the crowd shouted.

BSFO members expressed their pleasure over the assistance in obtaining toys and books for the children.

“Over the years, Books and Bears just keeps growing and growing,” said Jackie Certion, senior academic adviser in the UM College of Liberal Arts. “We outgrew the Union Ballroom, which is why it was moved here. Next year, we’ll probably pack out the Jackson Avenue Center. Then we’ll need the Ford Center and maybe the coliseum after that. Who knows?”

New teddy bears, children’s books and toys have been collected for children of custodial and grounds workers each year since 1997.

Space Plants on Way Back to Earth

Following six months aboard the International Space Station, UM researcher's experiment germinates

Scene from the launch of SpaceX-4 in September 2014.

Scene from the launch of SpaceX-4 in September 2014.

OXFORD, Miss. – Farming in deep space is explored in the recent movie “Interstellar,” but a University of Mississippi biologist’s research program appears to be bringing the sci-fi scenario closer to reality.

The Seedling Growth Series of plant biology experiments is part of an agreement between NASA and the European Space Agency, said John Z. Kiss, dean of the UM Graduate School and NASA’s principal investigator for the project. PIs from both agencies combined proposals to maximize scientific returns.

“The major goals are to determine how gravity and light responses influence each other in plants and to better understand the cellular signaling mechanisms of phototropism and cellular response of light stimulation involved,” Kiss said.

The first phase of the space seedlings experiment was aboard the SpaceX-2 launch in March 2013 and returned on the SpaceX-3 in May 2014. The second phase traveled to the International Space Station on SpaceX-4 last September and is due to return on SpaceX-5 in January 2015.

Preliminary data indicates the plants are taking root, showing promise for future such experiments and eventually leading to actual extraterrestrial crops and harvests.

“In SG-2, we have successfully completed the reduced gravity series, which can be added to the series in SG-1,” said Kiss, whose leading role as a NASA spaceflight researcher spans more than 20 years. “To our knowledge, for the first time in the course of plant space biology, we will have information on a physiological response across a continuum of gravity conditions.”

Scientists are confident they have a sample size that will produce statistically significant results due to the robust design of their experiment. Findings will be published in respected peer-reviewed journals.

F. Javier Medina, a researcher at the Spanish National Research Council and ESA’s PI on the space seedlings project, indicated the development of SG-2 operations in flight is quite satisfactory.

“The seeds have germinated at a good rate, and seedlings of all genotypes have shown a robust growth,” Medina said. “In the first run of the experiment, we have attempted for the first time the growth of seedlings under the constant conditions of gravity throughout the entire growth period, either micro-G or one-G.”

Following the return of the seed cassettes and subsequent findings next month, NASA and ESA will develop SG-3, which is expected to launch on SpaceX-9 in late 2015. The development of SG-4 is to be determined.

For updates on the Space Seedlings Growth Series project, visit view video of astronaut Butch Wilmore harvesting seedlings on the ISS at the end of the experiment in November, go to

ISS Minor Becomes Internationally Certified Program

Certification is dream come true for UM intelligence studies faculty, staff

Dr. Carl Jensen teaching a course

Dr. Carl Jensen teaching a course

OXFORD, Miss. – The Intelligence and Security Studies minor at the University of Mississippi is officially an internationally certified program.

The UM minor is the first program to receive certification from the International Association for Intelligence Education, or IAFIE. The endorsement helps CISS remain a leader at the forefront of intelligence education.

Following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, U.S. intelligence agencies sought ways to improve the critical task of analysis. As part of this effort, the UM School of Applied Sciences created the CISS to train students for careers in intelligence analysis and provide educational and scholarly resources to the national intelligence community.

IAFIE’s decision to certify the CISS minor is a validation of the hard work faculty and staff have done building the program over the last six years, said Carl Jensen, the center’s director.

“We have sought this IAFIE certification since the first day it was offered,” Jensen said. “Being the first program to receive it is an incredibly rewarding experience.”

IAFIE certification required meeting 32 standards, including intelligence history, organizations, planning, collection, analysis, counterintelligence and security. The organization has more than 230 member institutions and agencies.

“These days, we have a steady stream of students from all over the country visiting the center,” said Melissa Graves, associate director and instructor of the center. “Having this certification allows us to provide evidence that people from within the intelligence community and academe have reviewed our program inside and out and concluded that we meet their rigorous standards.”

The IAFIE certification further enhances the minor’s appeal to potential students, UM Provost Morris Stocks said.

“The Intelligence and Security Studies minor is one of the premier programs offered at the University of Mississippi,” he said. “Students have come to Ole Miss from across the country to become part of this important program.”

Formed in 2003, IAFIE has become the organization generally recognized for advancing the interests of intelligence educators. IAFIE began as the brainchild of Bob Heibel, founder of the intelligence studies program at Mercyhurst College in 1992. Heibel saw the need for an organization that could bring together intelligence educators from around the country and the world.

For more information about CISS, visit For more about IAFIE, visit

Documenting the Culinary Wealth of the South

Jim 'N Nick's founder, wife make major gift to Southern Foodways Alliance

Barnard Observatory houses the Center for the Study of Southern Culture and the Southern Foodways Alliance.

Barnard Observatory houses the Southern Foodways Alliance, a nonprofit institute of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture.

OXFORD, Miss. – Nick and Suzanne Pihakis of Birmingham, Alabama, have made a transformative gift to endow the Pihakis Foodways Documentary Fellow, a filmmaking and teaching position at the University of Mississippi and its Southern Foodways Alliance.

Thanks to their generosity, stories of the South’s diverse food cultures will be filmed and produced for posterity and shared with students, researchers and the general public.

For more than a decade leading up to this major gift, Nick Pihakis, who founded Jim ‘N Nick’s Community Bar-B-Q in Birmingham in 1985, has generously underwritten the documentary work of the SFA, a nonprofit institute of UM’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture.

“Nick and Suzanne have long invested their time and money in the cultural and culinary wealth of the American South,” said SFA director John T. Edge. “With this gift, they help ensure that this important work will continue. This watershed gift will resonate for a long, long time.”

Nick Pihakis, who founded Jim ‘N Nick’s Community Bar-B-Q in Birmingham in 1985, and his wife, Suzanne, have contributed a major gift to support the Southern Foodways Alliance, a nonprofit institute in the University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture. Photo courtesy Melany Mullens.

Nick Pihakis, who founded Jim ‘N Nick’s Community Bar-B-Q in Birmingham in 1985, and his wife, Suzanne, have contributed a major gift to support the Southern Foodways Alliance, a nonprofit institute in the University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture. Photo courtesy Melany Mullens.

Pihakis, who established the business with his late father, Jim Pihakis, has long focused on honest barbecue, community service and locally-sourced crops and goods. A passion for making good food accessible and affordable has driven Jim ‘N Nick’s, led by the younger Pihakis, to become one of the nation’s most respected restaurant groups.

Endowed positions such as this one require a $1.5 million commitment. With investment income from the Pihakis endowment, UM will recruit a documentary fellow to direct films for the SFA and teach documentary classes on the Oxford campus. The start date for the position is expected to be fall 2015.

SFA has long worked with Andy Harper and Joe York of the Southern Documentary Project to make award-winning documentary films, Edge said. This gift will bring a second filmmaker partner to join the SFA team, producing documentaries and teaching students.

Pihakis began contributing to UM in 2004, when the SFA developed a year of foodways programming focused on the state of race relations in the American South. When the SFA staged its Summer Symposium in Birmingham, Pihakis marshaled the resources of his rapidly growing company to make the event a success. Soon after, he developed an innovative philanthropy plan for supporting SFA documentary initiatives, Edge said.

“I thought that what the SFA was doing – telling stories about fried chicken cooks and oystermen and pig farmers and vegetable farmers – was really important,” Pihakis said. “Through food and through hospitality, our company shares those stories. And I think it’s important that our company invest in the documentary work that the SFA does.”

The first investment Pihakis made in 2004 was a commitment to SFA of $2,500 per store annually. Those resources, which are contributed by local owners in markets from Alabama to Colorado, top $75,000 each year. Using Pihakis’ innovative philanthropic strategy, Jim ‘N Nick’s has already given more than $500,000 to support SFA work at the university.

Going forward, Edge said the future looks bright for this cultural partnership because as Jim ‘N Nick’s grows over the next few years, its ongoing SFA contribution will also grow in importance and impact.

Pihakis is proud of this gift. And he’s proud of his relationship with the SFA.

“Working with John T. Edge and his colleagues, I learned so much about the culture of food,” he said. “I recognized that the stories they tell of cooks and farmers are deeply important to my identity and to the identity of the South as a whole. My intent is that our gift ensures that great storytelling work continues for generations to come.”

The Southern Foodways Alliance documents, studies and celebrates the diverse food cultures of the changing American South. The SFA sets a common table where black and white, rich and poor – all who gather – may consider our history and our future in a spirit of reconciliation. A member-supported nonprofit institute of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi, the SFA sponsors scholarship, mentors students, stages symposia, collects and shares oral histories, and produces and publishes books, films and podcasts. For more information, visit and follow on Twitter @Potlikker.

For more information, contact Sara Camp Arnold at 662-915-3327 or