UM Gets Custom Commencement Regalia

New attire to debut at 2016 ceremonies

For the first time in its more than 160 year history, the university has its own custom regalia, which graduates will wear at the 2016 Commencement.

For the first time in its more than 160 year history, the university has its own custom regalia, which graduates will wear at the 2016 Commencement.

OXFORD, Miss. – Starting in May 2016, University of Mississippi graduates will don custom-designed red and blue Commencement caps and gowns bearing the Lyceum logo, the first time in school history that the university has had its own custom regalia.

A university committee led by Brandi Hephner LaBanc, vice chancellor for student affairs, and Alice Clark, vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs, studied options. They picked eye-catching navy blue gowns, complete with a Lyceum logo on the chest and double red stripes down the sides.

“They’re absolutely beautiful,” Clark said. “The Lyceum is an iconic symbol. Featured on the robe, it jumps out and brings distinction to the entire regalia.”

While they were waiting in line at Commencement 2014, university officials discussed how some universities have their own impressive custom gowns, caps and tams for graduation and it was time Ole Miss had its own. Then-Provost Morris Stocks charged Hephner LaBanc and Clark to find a custom university cap and gown for Ole Miss graduates. They put together a team to study options.

The committee settled on a design from R.M. Hendrick Graduate Supply House, a Mississippi company that has supplied UM’s regalia for years. 

Stocks said he’s very pleased with the new graduation garb and excited to see it used. 

“I look forward to a landscape of Ole Miss blue at our beautiful Commencement ceremony on May 14, 2016,” the acting chancellor said. “I am also excited that our Ph.D. graduates will proudly represent us wearing distinctive University of Mississippi regalia at commencement ceremonies around the world.” 

The undergraduate cap and gown rental prices will remain the same for the coming year. The doctoral gowns are also available for purchase, and many doctoral students opt to buy their regalia to wear when they participate in future commencement ceremonies. With the university having its own custom regalia, it’s likely many more will opt to own it.

“I just think it builds more pride in our community and in our institution,” Hephner LaBanc said.

One side benefit of the new regalia is that it will also be much more visually appealing than the previous black robes, which the university used for much of its more-than-160-year history.

“I can’t wait until this coming May to look out and see a sea of these new caps and gowns,” Hephner LaBanc said.

Acting Provost Noel Wilkin praised Hephner LaBanc and Clark’s work to find the best option.

“Dr. Hephner LaBanc and Dr. Clark have done an outstanding job of researching and working with the campus community to design the new regalia,” Wilkin said. “We look forward to this enhancement to our Commencement ceremony. Offering our own distinctive regalia will add to the growing academic traditions of the University of Mississippi.”

Oxford Public Relations Professional Earns Accreditation

Erin Garrett among three certified staff members at UM

Erin Garrett

Erin Garrett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liebenberg Wins ARIA Excellence in Teaching Award

International honor recognizes distinguished record in mentoring and education

Andre Liebenberg

Andre Liebenberg and Patricia Born, ARIA president.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet August’s Staff Member of the Month, Bonnie Black

Bonnie Black

Bonnie Black

Bonnie M. Black, administrative coordinator II for Landscape Services, was selected as Staff Council’s Staff Member of the Month for August. To help the university community get to know her better, she answered some questions for Inside Ole Miss.

IOM: How long have you worked at Ole Miss? 

Black: Since November 2008.

IOM: What is your hometown? 

Black: Water Valley, Mississippi.

IOM: What is your favorite Ole Miss memory?

Black: Coming to Ole Miss with my parents to watch Archie Manning play football. 

IOM: What do you enjoy most about your position or the department in which you work? 

Black: I love being with (Director of Landscape Services) Jeff McManus, (Superintendent of Landscape Services) Denise Hill and all the guys. They are a very special group! The guys call me “mom.” I feel very blessed to be a part of their lives.

IOM: What do you like to do when you are not at work?

Black: Read, cross stitch, play with our two cocker spaniels and go to Mountain View, Arkansas.

IOM: What is one thing on your bucket list? 

Black: I want to go to the Northeast in the fall to see all the beautiful colors.

IOM: What is your favorite movie? 

Black: “Steel Magnolias.”

IOM: What is a fun fact about you? 

Black: I’m a huge Elvis fan.

University Announces New Attendance-Keeping Procedures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Student Activity Association to Host Welcome Week Aug. 21-28


The Ole Miss Student Activity Association is again hosting Welcome Week.

With the beginning of a new school year just around the corner, the Ole Miss Student Activity Association is again hosting Welcome Week. The annual week of events is a great way for faculty and staff, both new and old, to get involved with the campus community.

“Welcome Week provides Ole Miss students, faculty and staff with many opportunities to experience community-building, entertainment and a slice of campus culture,” said Nathan Darce, coordinator of student activities. “We invite everybody to come out and sample the activities to kick off a new semester.”

This year’s Welcome Week kicks off on Friday (Aug. 21) and runs through Aug. 28. Events of interest to faculty and staff include:

Sunday, Aug. 23
Noon – Women’s Soccer vs. Boise State, Ole Miss Soccer Stadium

Monday, Aug. 24                
10 a.m.-2 p.m. – Welcome Back Day, Student Union Plaza
Noon – OrgSync Training, Weir Hall, Room 107

Tuesday, Aug. 25
9 a.m.- 4 p.m. – Mississippi Blood Services blood drive, bus on the Circle
11 a.m.- 1 p.m. – Get Involved Fair, Circle
1:30 p.m. – “Ready, Set GOAL! Goal Setting for the New Academic Year!”, Student Union Ballroom
7 p.m. – Fall Convocation, Tad Smith Coliseum

Wednesday, Aug. 26
9 a.m.- 4 p.m. – Mississippi Blood Services blood drive, bus on the Circle
11 a.m.-1 p.m. – Get Involved Fair, Circle
3 p.m. – House Calls, residence halls
4:30 p.m. – Multicultural Perspective Program in the Student Union Ballroom
5:30 p.m. – CARE Walk, Grove

Thursday, Aug. 27
11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. – Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement open house, Stewart Hall
1:30 p.m. – OrgSync Training, Weir Hall, Room 107
4 p.m. – “Ready, Set GOAL! Goal Setting for the New Academic Year!”, Student Union Ballroom

Friday, Aug. 28
6 p.m. – Women’s volleyball vs. Oral Roberts, Gillom Center
7 p.m. – Women’s soccer vs. Louisiana-Lafayette, Ole Miss Soccer Stadium

9 p.m. – Concert featuring “American Idol” winner Fantasia, Grove

For more information or for a full list of Welcome Week events, visit

Historic 1960 Bowl Victory Created Sweet Memories

Robert Khayat sugar

Sugar Bowl officials gave each player on both teams a portrait of themselves – drawn onto a sugar cube.

With football season just around the corner, many fans are thinking and talking about great games in Ole Miss football history. Two of the greatest came during the 1959 season, both against the same team.

On Halloween night in 1959, LSU’s Billy Cannon scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter on an 89-yard punt return, leading his team to a 7-3 defeat of the Ole Miss Rebels in Tiger Stadium. But the Rebels didn’t forget it.

So when Ole Miss and LSU met for the 26th Annual Sugar Bowl Classic on New Year’s Day in 1960, the Rebels were out for revenge and welcomed the rematch opportunity. The 1960 Sugar Bowl also marked the first Rebel game to be televised in color. In front of a crowd of 81,000 in New Orleans, plus millions more watching across the country, the Rebels shut out LSU 21-0.

Chancellor Emeritus Robert Khayat was a kicker and offensive lineman for the Rebels, and he recalled the awards dinner the day before the big game. Sugar Bowl officials gave each player on both teams a portrait of themselves – drawn onto a sugar cube.

Khayat wrapped his gift in plastic and put in the top drawer of a cabinet at his home in Moss Point for years before giving it to the athletics department.

“In those days, it was a big deal for a school to go to the Sugar Bowl,” he said. “It was such an unusual gift and I wanted to keep it. I believe I’m the only one from Ole Miss that has kept it all this time, and it may be the only one still in existence.”

The block of sugar given to Khayat is on display in the Ole Miss Athletics M-Club room, a little faded but fully intact, the perfect souvenir to commemorate such a sweet victory.

Rebel Fans Encouraged to Support UM in College Colors Challenge

Grand prize winners to receive trip to the College Football Playoff National Championship game.

the University of Mississippi is participating in the inaugural College Colors Challenge and encouraging fan support across social media for the Rebels.

The University of Mississippi is participating in the inaugural College Colors Challenge and encouraging fan support across social media for the Rebels.

OXFORD, Miss. – As part of the 11th annual College Colors Day celebration, the University of Mississippi is participating in the inaugural College Colors Challenge and encouraging fan support across social media for the Rebels. The grand prize is a chance to win an all-expenses-paid trip to the College Football Playoff National Championship game.

“When I was named athletics director in 2012, I asked the Ole Miss family to ‘pull the rope in the same direction’ and there is no better way to show our togetherness than to support the College Colors Challenge,” said Ross Bjork, Ole Miss athletics director. “Our partnership with the Collegiate Licensing Company has more than doubled in the last two years and the Ole Miss brand has never been stronger. All of us look forward to Rebel Nation showing the rest of the collegiate athletics world how passionate we are about our university and athletics program. Hotty Toddy!”

The College Colors Challenge is a new socially-fueled national contest celebrating the excitement of college football as the season begins. Through participating in a series of photo and video challenges on social media, fans can flaunt their colors, express their school spirit, and vie for a trip to college football’s title game. The challenges revolve around three categories represented by the hash-tags: #SQUADPIC for large groups, #FAMPHOTO for families and #SELFIE for individuals. Some of the challenges include fans posting an epic trick shot video while wearing their colors, an awkward college colors family photo and college colors displayed at the office.

Ole Miss fans are encouraged to download the College Colors app – available in both the iOS App Store and Google Play Store – and visit for full challenge details. The grand prize winner will receive round-trip airfare, hotel accommodations and two tickets to the national championship game in Glendale, Arizona, courtesy of CLC and the College Football Playoff.

The College Colors Challenge kicks off Monday (Aug. 10). Winners for the first set of challenges will be announced via on College Colors Day, Sept. 4. Each month during the college football season, three new challenges will be issued for a chance to win exciting prizes, including two more opportunities to win two tickets to the national championship game.

College Colors Day, created by the Collegiate Licensing Company, which represents the trademark licensing programs of more than 150 of the nation’s leading universities, is an annual celebration dedicated to promoting the traditions and spirit that embody the college experience. Fans across the United States are encouraged to wear the apparel of their favorite college or university throughout the day. College Colors Day is celebrated by thousands of organizations, retailers, classrooms and millions of individuals who don their team colors and share their school spirit with friends and colleagues.

Ole Miss Delegates Explore Food Innovations at D.C. Summit

OXFORD, Miss. – In its first year as a founding member of the new Planet Forward academic consortium, the University of Mississippi participated in three teleconference food policy salons, a campuswide multimedia storytelling workshop, Skype conversations between Planet Forward producers and journalism classes, and an international food policy summit in Washington, D.C.

Planet Forward, focuses on the use of multimedia and digital storytelling to educate and give voices to sustainability issues.

Planet Forward, focuses on the use of multimedia and digital storytelling to educate and give voices to sustainability issues.

Planet Forward, a digital storytelling collaborative housed at George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs, focuses on the use of multimedia and digital storytelling to educate and give voices to sustainability issues such as food security, water, energy and climate change.

“As one of 13 consortium schools in the U.S. and abroad, UM has worked with Planet Forward longer than any other school,” said Kristen Alley Swain, UM’s Planet Forward coordinator and associate professor in the Meek School of Journalism and New Media. “Our six-year involvement has given us more and more opportunities to share our storytelling and digital media with international audiences, participate in events with top experts and decision-makers, and connect with a global conversation about sustainability issues and solutions.”

Four Ole Miss students were chosen to serve as delegates at Planet Forward’s “Feeding the Planet” summit in April at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. They joined students from more than 30 colleges and universities who contributed ideas and experiences to a collaborative “story of food in the age of climate change.”

The chosen delegates were Alex Borst, an international studies major from Madison; Victoria Boatman, a journalism major from Orlando, Florida; Debra Nelson of Oxford, who recently graduated with a general studies degree; and Chandler McKinley, an accountancy major from Salisbury, North Carolina.

“I learned many intriguing facts, methods and ideas that surround the sustainable food world,” McKinley said. “The greatest experience I had was when walking around the city and speaking to others about this summit. To me, this is what Planet Forward is all about: sharing our stories, our diverse obstacles and solutions, to make a better world around us for all.”

Swain and Anne McCauley, director of the UM Office of Sustainability, coordinated the competitive selection process last spring and secured travel funds from the Meek School, Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, and Office of Sustainability.

Ole Miss students contributed two videos to Planet Forward’s “Storyfest.” Nelson produced a video about bee colony collapse, and Borst and Boatman produced a feature about a sustainable hog farm in Como. Contest winners at the summit included pieces about urban gardening and farm power in developing countries.

Summit videos and coverage can be viewed at Planet Forward’s next summit, in April 2016, will focus on urban sustainability.

“Getting to see firsthand what all of the Planet Forward consortium schools are doing across the country was both intimidating and empowering,” Borst said. “We have the most tools at our disposal as college students, and it is up to us to define our own goals and utilize these tools to accomplish them. The Feed the World Summit showed me what the human spirit is capable of, especially when we are united under a common purpose and goal.”

UM delegates met with international food leaders, including Sonny Ramaswamy, director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture; Hunter Biden, chairman of World Food Program USA; Krysta Harden, deputy U.S. secretary of agriculture; and hunger fighter Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.). Corporate summit sponsors included Land O’Lakes Inc., Monsanto, Bayer CropScience, World Food Program USA, GW Sustainability Collaborative, Gannett Foundation, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, USDA, Revolution Foods, Food Tank, Fair Oaks Farms, Numi Organic Tea, Discovery Communications and Opts Ideas.

“Feeding The Planet harnessed the power of student voices and the exponential reach of digital media in a unique dialogue about the innovations needed to feed a climate-challenged planet,” said Frank Sesno, director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University and Planet Forward founder.

Since 2009, Planet Forward has been produced by the Center for Innovative Media at George Washington University. It shares multimedia stories about food security, water, energy, climate change and other sustainability innovations with policymakers, academia, private sector, the public and media partners including National Geographic magazine.

Planet Forward hosted three teleconference policy salons over the past year, focusing on food security and climate change, the role of women in mitigating climate change and ClimateSmart agricultural innovations. UM salon participants represented several student organizations, departments and community organizations.

Swain’s students have produced sustainability videos every year since 2009, in collaboration with researchers from the engineering and pharmacy schools, as well as the Office of Sustainability and Students for a Green Campus. Planet Forward also has supported outreach activities proposed in several of UM’s federal grant applications and has sparked many interdisciplinary conversations, Swain said.

“I hope more students and faculty at Ole Miss will participate in our storytelling initiatives, events, and collaborations,” she said. “Planet Forward gives us an outstanding platform to showcase the university’s best sustainability innovations and ideas.”

UM Named Among ‘Mississippi’s Healthiest Workplaces’

Designation honors campus efforts to create a 'culture of wellness'

The University has been named one of the healthiest places to work for in Mississippi.

The University has been named one of the healthiest places to work for in Mississippi.

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi, which has aggressively implemented many health and wellness initiatives for its nearly 2,900 employees, has been named one of Mississippi’s Healthiest Workplaces for 2015.

The Mississippi Business Journal, the Mississippi Business Group on Health and the Mississippi Department of Health hand out the designation each year. The university will be honored at a banquet Friday (July 31) in Jackson along with other recipients of the award. 

“The University of Mississippi is pleased to be recognized for its efforts in improving the health and well-being of our faculty and staff,” Acting Chancellor Morris Stocks said. “This is a great achievement and could not have been done without the joint efforts of many throughout our university who have worked to improve the health and quality of life for all of us.”

The recognition honors the UM community’s hard work on health issues, said Andrea M. Jekabsons, UM assistant director of employment and training and project manager with RebelWell.

“The recognition as one of the ‘Healthiest Workplaces’ is an honor,” she said. “The RebelWell team is working to create a culture of wellness. This includes physical activity opportunities, health screenings, general wellness education and nutrition services, as well as constant visual reminders to encourage healthier habits.”

The university benefits from healthy employees for several reasons, Jekabsons said. 

Healthy employees are likely to be more productive, actively engaged and fully present when at work, and may experience improved job satisfaction and organizational commitment,” she said. “These may seem like benefits to the university, but more importantly, an improved health status is a benefit to the individual.”

Campus health programs have benefited from a $250,000 wellness grant from the Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation. The American Heart Association has also consistently recognized UM as a “Fit Friendly” employer, either at the gold or platinum level since 2009. The university has also made the Chronicle of Higher Education’s “Great Colleges to Work For” list, which measures employee overall satisfaction, seven of the eight years the list has existed.

The university developed the RebelWell program, which provides a range of opportunities for employees to become educated about living a healthy lifestyle and also offers group fitness classes, cooking demonstrations and nutrition counseling, among other services.

Last year, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Brandi Hephner LaBanc joined the RebelWell team, representing the university’s senior leadership. LaBanc is chair of the RebelWell Campus Committee.

“This is such a critical organizational initiative as evidenced by its inclusion in our strategic plan,”LaBanc said. “Efforts like these reinforce the Ole Miss way – we are a place that cares about one another and wants faculty, staff and students to have a positive and rewarding life experience. I believe the work of the RebelWell has contributed to employee wellness and happiness, and in turn, contributes to a more engaging academic environment for students.”

The university has also updated its employee policies to allow more flexibility and time for employees to work on their health.

University leaders created the UM2020 strategic plan with specific wellness objectives. They included developing and implementing a multiyear plan for promoting and advancing health, nutrition, exercise and individual wellness among all workers. UM also set itself as a beacon of leadership on health issues across Mississippi by educating and fostering a community that is committed to healthy and sustainable lifestyles and campus environment. The vision also included developing and integrating industry-leading programs and initiatives that will transform nutrition, health promotion, exercise and employee wellness.

In an effort to enhance the university’s individual health, community well-being and positive work life balance, the university’s leadership has also made changes to two employee policies in 2015 to promote a more healthy work environment.

Department heads are allowed to be flexible with scheduling to let employees participate in physical activity and UM wellness programs. Managers are also allowed to let their employees participate for up to three hours each month in approved wellness-related activities such as university-hosted walks, cooking demonstrations and physical fitness activities on campus. Employees can also be allowed to attend on-campus wellness seminars.

Employees are also allowed breaks twice per day to encourage them to stretch, walk or take short bike rides around campus, which can benefit work performance and individual health.

Each “Healthiest Workplace” honoree will be featured and recognized and will receive their award during the presentation program, said Alan Turner, Mississippi Business Journal publisher. The program is slated for 11:30 a.m. Friday at the Jackson Hilton Hotel. The Mississippi Business Journal will publish a special glossy magazine in August with profiles of all honorees that will be sent to all MBJ print and digital subscribers and will also be available on the website. 

“We’re delighted to see Ole Miss participating in this event and taking the lead in providing a healthy working environment for staff, as well as students,” Turner said. “We’re excited and hope this will translate to many other employers, agencies and institutions, as the importance to our state of improving the physical health and well-being of our citizens can hardly be overstated.”