UM Graduate School Dean Receives NASA Honor

John Z. Kiss to be awarded Outstanding Public Leadership Medal

From left: Ariel Dauzart, Kathy Millar, Dr. John Kiss, Logan Williams, Neel Patel.

From left: Ariel Dauzart, Kathy Millar, Dr. John Kiss, Logan Williams, Neel Patel.

OXFORD, Miss. – The dean of the University of Mississippi Graduate School is the recipient of NASA’s Outstanding Public Leadership Medal.

John Z. Kiss is being awarded the prestigious honor, which recognizes nongovernment employees for notable leadership accomplishments that have significantly influenced the NASA mission. The renowned scientist has worked with NASA for nearly three decades, having served as vice chair of the International Committee on Space Research.

As TROPI (an experiment to investigate the growth and development of plant seedlings under various gravity and lighting combinations) spaceflight project director from 2004 to 2010, Kiss supervised 36 scientists and engineers at four NASA centers and two centers of the European Space Agency. These efforts resulted in two successful projects on the International Space Station.

“I have worked with NASA for 27 years and feel humbled and honored to receive this medal,” Kiss said. “We have had seven spaceflight projects, which have been on the space shuttle and now the International Space Station. Thus, this award is shared by the numerous colleagues, co-workers, undergraduates and graduate students who have been part of these exciting projects.”

Kiss’ Seedling Growth-1 experiment was aboard SpaceX-2, which brought the payload to the ISS last year. A professor of biology, he is principal investigator on “Novel Explorations into the Interactions between Light and Gravity Sensing in Plants.” Part of the Fundamental Space Biology program at NASA, the program is designed to study light and gravity signaling in plants, and their effects on cell growth and proliferation. It also has potential for improving crop species on Earth to obtain increased production and sustainability.

“I feel very privileged to contribute, in a small way, to the excitement of space research and to be part of NASA’s broader mission to educate and inspire the next generation,” Kiss said.

The OPLM award honors sustained leadership and exceptionally high-impact leadership achievement in advancing the agency’s goals and image in present and future terms.

Two NASA officials said Kiss is most worthy of the award.

“I’ve had the pleasure of knowing John for about 10 years and all during those years, I’ve been impressed with John as a leader,” said Sidney Sun, chief of NASA’s Space Biosciences Division. “He’s been a leader in plant physiology, identifying how plants respond to different lighting and gravitational conditions.”

Kiss is a pioneer in studying plants in fractional (or reduced) gravity, research that is impossible to do on Earth, Sun said.

“His leadership of the American Society for Gravitational and Space Biology was critical during a time when scientific funding became precariously low,” he said. “I’ve also seen him be a tremendous mentor and professor to young scientists, helping them grow in their career paths.”

Marianne Steele, project manager at Lockheed Martin, said Kiss is an excellent researcher in plant biology, well known internationally and nationally for his critical questions and results in exploring and understanding the fundamental behaviors and underlying mechanisms of plants.

“Dr. Kiss is a people person of great integrity who steps-up to challenges, follows through and is accountable,” Steele said. “It has been and continues to be a very positive personal and professional experience for me to work with him.”

Kiss and his colleagues are continuing to work with NASA-Ames on the Seedling Growth-2 project, which is scheduled to launch Sept. 19 on the SpaceX-4 mission to the ISS.

“Since plants will be a necessary part of bioregenerative life support needed to send humans to Mars and beyond, the knowledge obtained from our spaceflight experiments will be critical for developing ways to effectively use plants in these life-support systems,” Kiss said.

Kiss collaborated with F. Javier Medina of Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas in Madrid. UM post-doctoral researchers Kathy Millar and Josh Vandenbrink, and undergraduates Neel Patel of Water Valley, Logan Williams of Collinsville, Tennessee, and Alison Neel of Hattiesburg, assisted Kiss. Private contractor SpaceX is responsible for launching the experiments.

The hypothesis of their research is that positive red-light sensing, which was known in older plant lineages, is masked by normal 1-g conditions in more recently evolved lineages. Through the experiment, the scientists aim to confirm and characterize the red-light-dependent phototropic response (how the seedlings germinate under the deep-space illumination) in flowering plants.

The experiment was conducted with different genotypes of the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana in experimental containers placed in the European Modular Cultivation System, a large incubator that provides control over the atmosphere, lighting and humidity of growth chambers to study plant growth on the ISS. The experiment containers contained white, blue and red lights that can be controlled from the ground to expose the plants to different kinds of light.

“By using the two centrifuges in the EMCS, it was possible to carry out the experiment in microgravity and fractional gravity, along with the 1-g control, within the same space environment,” Kiss said. “Following a six-day time course in the EMCS, the samples were either frozen or chemically fixed and returned to us. Additionally, images were taken throughout the whole experiment and downloaded real time.”

For information, on the latest mission, go to

RebelWell Announces Fall Schedule

Activities promote health, nutrition and wellness education and opportunities for all levels

Fitness Classes

Fitness Classes

RebelWell fall activities begin today (Sept. 2) with a 28-Day Quit or Commit Challenge.

The goal of the initiative is to either quit a bad habit or commit to a healthy habit. Participants are urged to set a goal, stick to it each day, mark their log and evaluate how they feel at the end of the challenge. Logs should be turned in at Howry Hall, Room 108 by noon Oct. 3.

“Every day that you make your goal of quitting a bad habit or adding a healthy habit, your name will be entered into a prize drawing,” said Wendy Carmean, project coordinator. “One grand prize winner will be drawn, three runner-up winners will be drawn and everyone that quits or commits at least 25 or more days will receive a RebelWell T-shirt. Winners will be announced in October.”

Other RebelWell activities include:

  • National Bike Challenge: Began May 1 and ends Sept. 30. Faculty, staff, students and community members should sign up for the UM team and log their rides. Prizes will be given away each month to reward participants.
  • Wellness Wednesdays: Each week, RebelWell and Ole Miss Dining will highlight a “red plate” (for those trying to reduce caloric intake) and a “blue plate” (for those who require more calories). Follow us on social media to see the weekly red and blue plates.
  • Transformation Tuesdays: The first and third Tuesday of every month, Active Health will conduct a workshop with varying topics such as healthy eating, stress relief, diabetes and stretching.
  • Office Bikes: Bicycles are a healthier way to move about the campus. So hang up the golf cart keys and hop on a bike to get to your next meeting or make a delivery. If you are interested, contact Andrea Jekabson at 915-1530 or
  • Nutrition Counseling Course: RebelWell, through the UM Nutrition Clinic, offers a 12-week course that includes a 30-minute group session and personal nutrition counseling for faculty and staff. The course includes grocery store tours, lessons in reading and understanding food labels, menu planning and other necessary information to help optimize nutrition goals whether they be weight loss, weight gain or healthy weight maintenance. Courses meet each Wednesday at noon.
  • Six-Week Fall Walking Challenge: UM faculty and staff walk 30 minutes each day Oct. 1-Nov. 11. Walkers who daily reach the goal have their names entered into a drawing for gift cards and prizes. Five winners will be selected and one department will receive a healthy catered lunch.
  • Wellness Champions Challenge: Participants will be able to understand and explain the wellness program to co-workers, visibly participate in programs, relate to the health challenges of co-workers and generate interest in the program. Anyone interested in serving as a RebelWell Wellness Champion, contact Wendy Carmean at
  • Faculty-Staff Group Fitness Classes: Meet 5-6:15 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays in the atrium of the Thad Cochran Research Center. Membership in the Turner Center is not required.
  • Healthy Eating Walking Tours: Each Thursday at 12:15 p.m., spend 30 minutes walking the campus while nutrition experts provide information about healthy dining options. Tours are free, but advance registration is appreciated. Call 915-7371 or stop by Lenoir Hall to register.

For more information about RebelWell, go to

University Museum Offers Enriching After-School Art Program

ArtZone draws from permanent collection and traveling exhibitions to inspire students

Art Zone

ArtZone will begin Sept. 9 and run through Dec. 4

OXFORD, Miss. – Summer break is over and with schools starting back up, it is almost time for Fall 2014 ArtZone at the University of Mississippi Museum. This year’s ArtZone will revolve around exhibits from the museum’s permanent collection and traveling exhibitions.

The ArtZone semester begins Sept. 9 and runs through Dec. 4, with sessions going from 3 to 5:05 p.m. weekly. Participants will be inspired by ancient civilizations, folk art and special exhibits.

“ArtZone is a truly unique program here in Oxford as each week, children are inspired by art and artifacts from our collections and beyond in an educational, fun and hands-on way,” said Emily Dean, the museum’s curator of education. “The museum comes to life for these young learners in a way that they will remember for years to come. We travel back in time, dabble in modern art and push the limits of creativity, all culminating in a final exhibit of student work here at the museum.”

Fees for the 12-week ArtZone semester are $70 per family for museum members at the family level or higher and $150 per family for nonmembers. All supplies and snacks are included. Parents can choose to enroll their children in the Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday classes. Each day will offer two different classes to suit different age groups.

Space is limited and the registration deadline is Sept. 1. Parents can pick up a registration form at the museum or download a copy here.

For more information about the museum’s Fall 2014 ArtZone, visit•-fall-2014/ or contact Emily Dean at

The University Museum, which is celebrating 75 years of exhibitions and service to the community, is at the intersection of University Avenue and Fifth Street. Hours are 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays. For more information, visit or call 662-915-7073.

Meet Clara Rock, August Staff Member of the Month

Clara Rock

Clara Rock, an adviser in the Office of Financial Aid at the UM regional campuses in Tupelo and Booneville, has been selected as Staff Council’s Staff Member of the Month for August. To help us get to know her better, Rock answered a few questions for Inside Ole Miss.

IOM: How long have you worked at Ole Miss?

Rock: Three years.

IOM: Where is your hometown?

Rock: Tremont, Mississippi.

IOM: What is your favorite Ole Miss memory?

Rock: My favorite Ole Miss memory would have to be seeing my students that I helped assist with their financial aid graduate with their degrees and go on to pursue corporate jobs in the workforce. Nothing makes me happier than seeing our students be successful.

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

Rock: I enjoy the satisfaction of helping the students complete their educational goals financially.

IOM: What is one thing on your bucket list?

Rock: To visit Hawaii, one day.

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

Rock: When I am not working, I enjoy spending time with my family.

IOM: What is your favorite movie?

Rock: “License to Drive”

IOM: What are three words you would use to describe yourself?

Rock: Optimistic, driven and passionate.

To nominate a colleague for the September Staff Member of the Month, email with the name of the individual you’d like to nominate as well as why you feel he or she should be recognized.

University of Mississippi Joins Planet Forward Consortium

Students raise awareness of environmental issues through innovative storytelling

The Meek School of Journalism at Farley Hall

The Meek School of Journalism at Farley Hall

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi is among 11 international institutions to form the Planet Forward University Consortium, which 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 part of the collaboration, UM assistant professor of journalism Kristie Swain will represent the university on the Planet Forward Program Committee. She and five students will attend an annual, invitational sustainability summit in Washington, D.C., where they will receive media production training and connect with policymakers and innovators. Planet Forward also provides toolkits, internships, teaching materials and support to member schools.

“Planet Forward was formed to promote innovative ideas to address food, water, energy and environmental challenges confronting the planet,” said Tara Sonenshine, coordinator of strategic partnerships at Planet Forward and distinguished fellow at George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs. “The overall theory is that if we get people to focus on individual stories, innovations and inventions, you can explain the topics on a more understandable level.”

UM will host a campus video competition to select a student correspondent for Planet Forward and its partner media organizations, Swain said. University officials also will select a study abroad student to produce multimedia coverage of sustainability stories while overseas.

Ole Miss students began working with Planet Forward, housed within GWU’s School of Media and Public Affairs, when it launched in 2009. The students have since produced more than 200 videos for the initiative, as part of Swain’s reporting classes.

“Of all our partners to date, Professor Swain’s classes have had the most regular and high-quality feature packages,” said Mike Devito, Planet Forward managing editor.

Swain said many of her students are enrolled in the beginning multimedia writing class, so they had never produced a video before.

“It is exciting to see them learn to produce a video, polish it using feedback from each other, me and Planet Forward producers, and finally get international exposure for their work,” Swain said.

At the end of each semester, UM students emerge with portfolio pieces published by a national outlet. The students’ work has been featured regularly on the Planet Forward home page, as well as in national webisodes and in blogs including the Huffington Post. A video about Oxford-University Transit innovations was a top finalist in an annual PBS competition.

Swain’s students often collaborate with researchers from the engineering and pharmacy schools, as well as the Office of Sustainability and Students for a Green Campus. Planet Forward has supported proposed outreach programs in several of UM’s major federal grant applications and has sparked many interdisciplinary conversations, Swain said.

As part of a Planet Forward project, Swain’s student Mary Frances Stephens interviewed civil engineering professor Waheed Uddin about whether finely ground recycled glass could be used to improve road safety and reduce heat-island effect. After his conversation with Stephens, Uddin developed a research paper on this topic to present at an international conference, Swain said.

“This is designed to be a very diverse program,” Sonenshine said. “(UM) has a lot of the things that we’re interested in: innovative research, connections to the medical school and law school and the National Food Service Management Institute.”

Along with UM, the Planet Forward University Consortium includes George Washington University, Middlebury University, Drake University, University of Arizona, Syracuse University, Sewanee, Clark Atlanta University, Furman University, Roger Williams University, University of Calgary and University College Cork in Ireland.

To learn more about Planet Forward, visit

Honors College Welcomes Bruce Levingston as Artist-in-Residence

Acclaimed classical pianist is inaugural recipient of honor

Bruce Levingston

Bruce Levingston

OXFORD, Miss. – Playing music and changing lives are Bruce Levingston’s passions. So when the renowned concert pianist was offered an opportunity to combine artistry and altruism at University of Mississippi, he immediately obliged.

Levingston has been named the Chancellor’s Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College Artist-in-Residence. Through the leadership of Chancellor Dan Jones, Provost Morris Stocks and Honors College Dean Douglass Sullivan-Gonzalez, the new position is made possible thanks to a generous endowment from Lester “Ruff” Fant through the Lester G. Fant III Charitable Lead Annuity Trust. Fant’s father taught at UM for 30 years.

“Dr. Sullivan-Gonzalez kindly invited me to join the staff of this wonderful school,” Levingston said. “I accepted the position this summer, after previously serving as a senior fellow in the Honors College and the adviser on the arts to the chancellor.”

Levingston will work with students to develop their interests and opportunities, both in the arts and in general.

“So much about life is learning to take a series of variables or situations and making something really positive and productive out of them, which often requires spontaneous and creative thinking,” he said. “My hope is that whether or not students pursue a career in the arts, they will learn to be thoughtful, innovative and resourceful, so that they may build fulfilling and meaningful lives for themselves and for the communities in which they live and work.”

UM administrators and faculty expressed appreciation and enthusiasm for Levingston’s contributions.

“We are fortunate to have him in this key role in the university,” Jones said. “His knowledge of the arts broadly and his national stature and connections in the arts, political and donor communities are great assets he shares with us. Just being around him makes me and others better people.”

Stocks agreed.

“Bruce Levingston has already demonstrated his ability to create learning opportunities for our students, to open doors for our faculty and staff and to bring wonderful talent to our campus,” Stocks said. “We are very pleased that he is joining the University of Mississippi.”

Sullivan-Gonzalez anticipates that Levingston will continue to have a significant impact upon students.

“Bruce Levingston has already touched our students’ lives with his extraordinary work, introducing them to the world’s best at the Boston Ballet and at Carnegie Hall,” Sullivan-Gonzalez said. “Bruce brings a vision of what the arts can be in Mississippi and in the nation with his dedication to the highest expression of arts. We look forward to great opportunities to engage the fundamental questions through Bruce’s leadership and vision.”

The artist-in-residence is optimistic about discovering talented yet unknown future musicians and artists while at UM.

“While I’ve had wonderful opportunities to commission and work with many gifted and established artists, perhaps the most exciting time for me has been when I’ve commissioned something from a really talented but unknown artist and then that person goes on to achieve great praise and acclaim for their work,” he said.

“Sometimes doing this requires taking a risk, but when it turns out you’re right, that your belief is validated and has even proved inspiring, it just feels wonderful. Sometimes just the act of believing in someone’s potential can bring out the very best in them, their own special magic. That is what I try to do with every student I meet.”

A childhood interest in playing the piano set the Cleveland native on the path to winning competitions, studying with the masters and his own stellar career success.

“After I played a very difficult piece of Bach, both the general audience and other musicians told me they had been touched in their hearts by what I did,” Levingston said. “I found that very powerful and moving personally. I realized that it’s an incredible thing to be able to touch hearts and souls with music. That’s when I felt maybe I had something to give as a musician and an artist.”

Appearances Levingston has scheduled during his first year at Ole Miss include:

  • an Oct. 26 performance at the Lyric Theater in Oxford in a world premiere of a new oratorio based on the life of the civil rights figure Booker Wright;
  • Dec. 5-6 concerts at the Brooklyn Academy of Music Opera House with famed composer Philip Glass;
  • a March 27 concert at the UM Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts;
  • and a spring tour of opera houses throughout Italy.

Noted for his creative programming, Levingston has collaborated with such artists as composers Philip Glass and Lisa Bielawa; painter Chuck Close; actor Ethan Hawke; authors Michael Cunningham, Nick McDonell and George Plimpton; violinist and cellist Colin Jacobsen and Eric Jacobsen; the Brooklyn Rider Quartet; virtuoso dancers Tyler Angle, Herman Cornejo and Alessandra Ferri; and choreographer Jorma Elo.

Levingston is founder and artistic director of Premiere Commission Inc., a nonprofit foundation that has commissioned and premiered more than 50 new works. He maintains residency in both Oxford and in New York City.

His upcoming professional activities include the fall release of “Heavy Sleep” (Levingston’s fifth solo CD) and the 2015 publication of “Bright Fields: The Mastery of Marie Hull” (a book published by the University Press of Mississippi in celebration of the 125th anniversary of the famed Mississippi artist’s birth).

Levingston earned degrees from the University of Texas at Austin, the Aaron Copland School of Music and also studied in Sion, Switzerland, at the Royal Conservatory of Toronto and the Aspen School of Music. He has performed regularly at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center in New York City, the Boston Opera House, the Library of Congress, the Aspen Music Festival and Aspen Institute and many other international venues.

Many of the world’s leading composers have written works for Levingston, and his world premiere performances and recordings of their works have received critical acclaim in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, The New Yorker and Gramophone, among other publications.

UM Independent Study High School Ranked Among Top 25 Nationally

Program lauded among the best for online diploma programs

Best high schoolOXFORD, Miss.­­­ –The University of Mississippi’s Independent Study High School has made great strides in recent years to serve students who want to earn their high school degrees but need to do so in a nontraditional way. Those efforts were recognized when the program was ranked 24th in the nation for Best Online High School Diplomas by, outflanking academic powerhouses such as the University of Texas and Stanford University.

“We are excited to see this positive national feedback about the program,” said Ellen Shelton, director of the university’s ISHS program. “This ranking confirms that our program is rigorous and students are finding it beneficial in achieving their educational goals.”

Public, charter, private and university high school diploma-granting online programs were evaluated and ranked in one list based on their programming, academic oversight (accreditation status at publication time), state approval, performance, inclusivity, personal attention and cost.

Developed in 2002, the Ole Miss ISHS program has seen a large increase in students enrolling this past year. Some students enroll to accelerate the completion of their high school degree, and others enroll to catch up on missed requirements.

Some students complete their high-school graduation requirements with the program due to nontraditional circumstances, such as being in a military family that is required to move or being involved in competitive sports.

With more than 250 students enrolled in courses, the program has 43 class options available to students looking to complete their high school diploma online.

James Barham, who holds a doctorate in the history and philosophy of science from Notre Dame University, heads the Best Schools organization. His ranking system is based on three master criteria: academic excellence, return on investment and incidental benefit. advises that “in determining the value of an online high school program, you will want to consider the following: rate of successful program completion, ease of communication with the school and with teachers, flexibility and delivery of classes, counseling and tutoring services, individualized programming, availability of specialization (engineering, religion, arts, etc.), dual credit offerings, and extracurricular activities or clubs.”

One factor in the decision to rank the Ole Miss ISHS program so highly is its national AdvancedED-Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools and NCAA accreditations, both of which require high standards of excellence to be met.

For more information about the UM Independent Study High School and to view a full listing of available courses, visit

School of Applied Sciences Welcomes New Chair in Social Work

Daphne Cain sets goals to boost department's visibility, strengthen experiences for students

Dr. Daphne Cain, chair and associate professor of social work

Dr. Daphne Cain, chair and associate professor of social work

OXFORD, Miss. – Out of the blue, Daphne Cain received an email from the University of Mississippi asking if she would consider serving as chair of the Department of Social Work.

“I was surprised to get the email,” Cain said, “and flattered.”

She was then serving as interim director and associate professor of social work at Louisiana State University, where she had been since 2001.

“I get a phone call from (UM) in November, and they were talking about expanding the social work program,” she said. “They wanted to grow their bachelor’s and master’s programs. They wanted to create a Ph.D. program. The University of Mississippi wanted to provide quality experiences for its students. I wanted to be a part of that.”

As new chair and associate professor, Cain brings a host of experiences to the department. After earning her M.S.W. from East Carolina University in 1995, Cain spent a few years in residential child treatment, providing services to abused and neglected youth, before becoming a trained marriage and family therapist.

She earned her doctorate in social work in 2002 at the University of Tennessee.

Velmer Burton, dean of the School of Applied Sciences, believes Cain’s knowledge and experience will greatly benefit the department.

“With a documented record as a teacher-scholar of social work, Dr. Cain brings both a vibrant and fresh perspective that will have a positive impact at Ole Miss and social work across the state,” Burton said. “We were able to recruit a nationally respected social work administrator and faculty member from LSU, a peer SEC institution. We see her appointment as a major win for the department, our students and the School of Applied Sciences.”

Cain’s vision for the department, which has nearly 400 undergraduate and graduate students, is simple: more regional and national visibility.

She wants Mississippi communities to understand that UM will be the flagship for a social work degree. It is the only institution in the state offering a child welfare training academy. And in 2016, the program is up for reaffirmation of accreditation.

“We’ve already implemented the 2008 educational policies and accreditation standards from the Council on Social Work Education, our accreditation body,” Cain said. “It is infused in the curriculum and syllabi. We’ve been capturing data for two years. We’re in such a good position for reaffirmation.”

In the fall semester, the department will launch a national search for three new faculty members, allowing the program to focus on other areas of social work, such as geriatric, military and mental health social work.

Another area getting students’ attention is cyber addictions.

“They have whole hospitals dedicated to cyber addictions such as texting and gaming,” Cain said. “It’s brand new, and students get really excited about it. There’s so much you can do with a social work degree. It’s highly versatile with lots of significant job opportunities.”

Cain began her new role June 16. Her husband, Daniel Novak, also obtained a faculty position at UM, as an associate professor of English. Together, they bought a house that they enjoy with their five dogs.

“I’m deliriously happy living here,” Cain said. “When I first came for the interview, it felt like home.”

Overby to Receive Women’s Council Legacy Award

OMWC taps defender of First Amendment rights for 2015 honor

Charles Overby

Charles Overby

OXFORD, Miss. – Charles Overby, a champion of the First Amendment and the free press, has been selected to receive the 2015 Legacy Award presented by the Ole Miss Women’s Council for Philanthropy.

The Legacy Award recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions as philanthropists, leaders and mentors and brought about definitive, positive changes in the University of Mississippi, state and nation. A ceremony to present the award will be April 18, 2015 at UM, where Overby was educated as a journalist.

“Charles Overby has traveled the globe in efforts to promote First Amendment freedoms and to discuss media relations,” said Karen Moore of Nashville, OMWC chair. “In Washington, D.C., Mr. Overby led the development of the Newseum, a major specialty museum that explores how news affects our experiences surrounding historic moments.

“At Ole Miss, he continues to have a significant impact on both students and the general public through the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics. The Overby Center gives individuals an opportunity to come together and discuss major issues of our region, nation and world, while creating a better understanding of media, politics and the First Amendment. The Women’s Council believes that discussing issues helps solve them.”

Overby is the former chairman of the Freedom Forum, Newseum and Diversity Institute. For 22 years, he was chief executive officer of the Freedom Forum, a nonpartisan foundation that educates people about the press and the First Amendment. His service as CEO of the Newseum spanned 1997 to 2011, during which time he supervised the building of the Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington.

This interactive museum has been called the “best experience Washington has to offer.” He also was CEO of the Diversity Institute, a school created in 2001 to teach journalists and aspiring journalists while increasing diversity in newsrooms.

The Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics was established at Ole Miss with a $5.4 million gift from the Freedom Forum to honor Overby’s extensive professional contributions. He continues his involvement with Ole Miss students by helping them identify beneficial opportunities and internships.

Before joining the Freedom Forum, Overby was an effective public watchdog – a newspaper reporter and editor for 17 years – with a goal of protecting citizens by keeping them well informed. He covered Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the White House and presidential campaigns for Gannett Co., the nation’s largest newspaper company. He also served as the top editor at Florida Today in Melbourne, Fla., and the executive editor of The Clarion-Ledger and Jackson Daily News in Jackson.

Overby supervised the news and editorial coverage that led to The Clarion-Ledger winning the Pulitzer Prize Gold Medal for Distinguished Public Service in 1983 for coverage of the need for education reform in Mississippi.

His exemplary career – which began as an 11-year-old delivering newspapers at 5 a.m. for The Clarion-Ledger – also includes serving as vice president of news and communications for Gannett and as a member of the management committees of Gannett and USA Today. He experienced two stints in government, as press assistant to U.S. Sen. John Stennis, a Democrat from Mississippi; and special assistant for administration to Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander, a Republican.

When asked about his successful career, Overby credited his mother, his wife and longtime colleague Al Neuharth, founder of USA Today, the Freedom Forum and the Newseum, for mentoring and supporting him throughout his extensive career.

The Legacy Award is a focus of the 14-year-old OMWC, an organization which recognizes that meaningful lives and careers in and beyond college rely on strong relationships and nurturing support. Mentorship, therefore, is the cornerstone of OMWC scholarships, and almost 100 students have blossomed under this program.

Past Legacy Award recipients have been Netscape president/CEO and education visionaries, Jim and Donna Barksdale; “The Blind Side” mom and co-founder of the Making It Happen Foundation, Leigh Anne Tuohy; the heart and soul of America’s first family of football, Olivia Williams Manning, who has nurtured sons Cooper, Peyton and Eli to be servant-leaders; and Mississippi’s “education governor,” champions for improved race relations and volunteers for Habitat for Humanity, William and Elise Winter.

OMWC’s endowments total about $11 million, and each new scholarship is recognized in the Rose Garden adjacent to the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts.

The Legacy Award is voted on by members of the Women’s Council. Sponsorships for the 2015 event honoring Overby are available by visiting or contacting Sarah Hollis at or 800-340-9542.

University Museum Scores Fashion Touchdown

New exhibit showcases one-of-a-kind designer helmets created to benefit the NFL Foundation

An NFL helmet designed by Alexis Bittar is a highlight of a new exhibit at the University Museum. Photo courtesy of Bloomingdale's.

An NFL helmet designed by Alexis Bittar is a highlight of a new exhibit at the University Museum. Photo courtesy of Bloomingdale’s.

OXFORD, Miss. – Fashionistas and football fans alike will find reasons to celebrate with the University Museum‘s newest installation, “Bloomingdale’s Fashion Touchdown: NFL Haute Couture Helmets.” The exhibit is the only one of its kind featuring designer football helmets from Bloomingdale’s Fashion Touchdown, a project that benefited the NFL Foundation.

In celebration of Super Bowl XLVIII, the first Super Bowl ever held in the New York City area, Bloomingdale’s, the NFL and the Council of Fashion Designers of America seized an opportunity to highlight football and fashion for a great cause. Their collaboration engaged some of the world’s top designers to put their creative touches on 48 NFL helmets, which were auctioned off during an online charity event that raised more than $73,000 to benefit the NFL Foundation.

Robert Saarnio, University Museum director, took part in the auction and acquired three helmets for the museum’s collection. The exhibit will feature the actual helmets designed by Alexis Bittar, Fenton/Fallon and Lela Rose. High-resolution photographs of the remaining helmets – created by fashion icons Helmut Lang, Kenneth Cole, Nicole Miller and others – complete the exhibit.

“No other museum in the country is showcasing all of the helmets, and we are thrilled to be on the cutting edge of this unique concept,” Saarnio said. “The exhibit has the potential to draw in an entirely new audience for us, and we are grateful for the cooperation from Bloomingdale’s to help make this happen.”

Bloomingdale’s is supplying the museum with photographs of the entire collection, as well as an interactive video featuring rotating images of the helmets.

“When planning our marketing campaigns, especially those with a charity component, we hope they reach a large audience,” said Anne Keating, Bloomingdale’s senior vice president of public relations, special events and corporate philanthropy. “For the Bloomingdale’s brand and our commitment to giving back to be a focus of an exhibit in such a prestigious university is more than anyone could hope for, and we are proud to support this exhibit.”

The NFL haute couture helmets exhibit coincides with the 2014 Ole Miss Rebels football season, which includes much-anticipated home games against SEC rivals Alabama, Tennessee, Auburn and Mississippi State. The exhibit is free to the public and runs Aug. 1, 2014-Jan. 15, 2015.

The University Museum, which is celebrating 75 years of exhibitions and service to the community, is at the intersection of University Avenue and Fifth Street. Hours are 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays. For more information, visit or call 662-915-7073.

For more information on the Bloomingdale’s Fashion Touchdown project, contact Katie Nida-Rovano at or 212-705-2443, or Jamie Frankel at or 212-705-3911.