UM Physics Department Offers Hair-Raising Night of Science

'Spooky Physics Night' shows off scientific principles in educational, fun format

Fairy princess had a hair-raising experience at previous Spooky Physics Night. Photo by Nathan Latil maging Services, The University of Mississippi

Fairy princess had a hair-raising experience at previous Spooky Physics Night. Photo by Nathan Latil maging Services, The University of Mississippi

OXFORD, Miss. – Frights, food and fun are the order of the evening when the University of Mississippi Department of Physics and Astronomy presents its annual “Spooky Physics Night” demonstrations from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday (Oct. 28) in Lewis Hall.

The program will include a stage show at 8 p.m. Hands-on activities for the public through the evening include freezing objects in liquid nitrogen (at minus 320 degrees), generating sound waves with Bunsen burners and tubes, and levitating magnets with superconductors. Other fun presentations include optical illusions with mirrors, hair-raising encounters with a Van de Graaff generator, a bed of nails and other contraptions.

Physics department personnel also will prepare ice cream with liquid nitrogen and award prizes for the most original, scariest and cutest costumes to kids 12 and under.

“We at the Department of Physics and Astronomy really look forward to this event,” said Marco Cavaglia, associate professor of physics and coordinator of the evening’s activities. “As in the past years, there will be shows and a lot of hands-on science demonstrations with a Halloween twist to experience weird physics phenomena, from electricity to heat and pressure to the ultra-cold.

“And to make the evening sweeter, guests will be able to taste our world-famous liquid nitrogen ice cream!”

Visitors can park across the street in the various lots around the Turner Center. For more information or for assistance related to a disability, call the Department of Physics and Astronomy at 662-915-5325.

Sue Keiser Named UM Chief of Staff

Longtime staff member represents chancellor's office on campus and beyond

Sue Keiser. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

Sue Keiser. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Chancellor Jeff Vitter has announced that Sue Keiser, special assistant to the chancellor, is his new chief of staff.

“I am very pleased that Sue has agreed to assume the role of chief of staff,” Vitter said. “For almost 20 years now, she has been a cornerstone for our university and brings tremendous experience, knowledge and dedication to the position.

“Sue is one of our most respected and well-known ambassadors. She is absolutely the best representative Ole Miss could have, and I rely on Sue on a daily basis.”

Keiser has been with the university since early 1998, serving primarily as assistant to four chancellors. However, her connection to Ole Miss goes back much further. She came to UM from Greenville as a nontraditional student in the late 1970s, when she earned a bachelor’s degree in English.

“To be asked to serve as chief of staff to the chancellor for the University of Mississippi – an institution that opened the doors to a completely new world of knowledge and opportunity that changed the direction of my life and my children’s lives more than 35 years ago – is one of the most wonderful things that has ever happened to me,” Keiser said.

“I am honored that Chancellor Vitter has entrusted me with this responsibility, and I look forward to working with him as we continue to change and transform lives through education in the future.”

Her duties include responding to a variety of questions and concerns from IHL board members, alumni, students and other members of the university community. She acts as a liaison between the office of the chancellor and vice chancellors and various departments and constituents on the Oxford campus.

Keiser also oversees the chancellor’s office and its staff, and serves as a chancellor’s office representative on many university committees.

She was honored with the Staff Council’s Outstanding Staff Member-Overall award in 2006.

She is married to Edmund Keiser, professor emeritus and chair emeritus of the university’s Department of Biology. She has four children, Mark, Skip, Julie and Jen, and six grandchildren.

UM Engineering School Raises Admission Standards

Move makes entrance more stringent, odds of student success higher

Enrollment in the UM School of Engineering has nearly tripled in recent years, even as the school has raised its admission standards to help ensure students are adequately prepared for the rigors of the curriculum. Photo by Kevin Bain-Ole Miss Communications

Enrollment in the UM School of Engineering has nearly tripled in recent years, even as the school has raised its admission standards to help ensure students are adequately prepared for the rigors of the curriculum. Photo by Kevin Bain-Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – To give its students better chances to graduate and launch successful careers, the University of Mississippi School of Engineering recently raised admission standards for most of its degree programs.

To enroll in the Bachelor of Science programs in chemical engineering, civil engineering, computer and information science, electrical engineering, geological engineering, geology, and mechanical engineering, students must have a minimum ACT math subscore of 25 and high school core GPA of 3.0.

These standards are based on the level of preparedness students need for the first-year engineering curricula, Dean Alex Cheng said.

“As a professional school in the state’s flagship university, the School of Engineering’s mission is to give its graduates, through an interdisciplinary background, the abilities to adapt to the rapid changes in engineering,” Cheng said. “The school is committed to its mission of providing a liberal arts-enhanced professional education of the highest quality that broadens students’ experiences and future success.”

As the standards have gotten tougher, demand for the school’s program has soared, said Marni Kendricks, assistant dean for undergraduate academics.

“During my 12 years in the engineering dean’s office, I have witnessed undergraduate enrollment in this school go from 576 to 1565, total annual graduates go from 78 to 221, admission standards go from none to 25 on the ACT math, and career fair participation go from fewer than 10 companies to more than 50 companies,” Kendricks said.

“I am totally confident that we’re on the right track for the next decade. The rising tide of engineering-interested high school students has allowed this program to set new high water marks in terms of admission standards, academic expectations and graduate achievement.”

Since fall 2004, the average overall ACT score of the entering freshman class has increased from 23.9 to 27.3, and the GPA from 3.24 to 3.66.

For less-prepared students, a pathway to success is created in the General Engineering degree program. Students with a minimum ACT math subscore of 20 and high school core GPA of 2.8 can be admitted to the pre-engineering program in general engineering.

Preparatory math and first-year student experience courses are provided to assist students in meeting the prerequisites of the first-year curricula. Students get individual advice for a successful transfer into the engineering degree programs they choose, for an on-time completion or a minimum amount of extra time to degree.

The General Engineering degree is one of the school’s most innovative and versatile programs. Students in this program can pursue different emphases, such as pre-med, pre-law, business, education, manufacturing, public policy and military leadership.

“The five engineering degrees – chemical, civil, electrical, geological and mechanical – have been accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology since the 1950s,” Cheng said. “The computer and information science degree is accredited by the Computing Accreditation Commission of ABET.”

Many engineering students are enrolled in the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, one of the nation’s top honors programs. Many students have opportunities to pursue undergraduate research, study abroad or to enroll in special programs, such as the Chinese Language Flagship Program and the Haley Barbour Center for Manufacturing Excellence.

In collaboration with the School of Law, the engineering school also has a 3+3 accelerated engineering and law degree program. Most Ole Miss engineering students are engaged in service, including the highly successful Engineers Without Borders chapter that renders service in Africa.

The school’s broad-based education has produced well-rounded engineers, and many of them have become national leaders in the industry, government and higher education sectors. Graduates enter not only the professions of engineering and technology, but also the diverse fields of medicine, law, business and public service.

“I’m so very optimistic about the future of Ole Miss engineering,” Kendricks said. “I can hardly wait for Summer Orientation to welcome our incoming 2017 freshmen class.”

John R. Gutiérrez Named UM Humanities Teacher of the Year

Honoree to present lecture in linguistics Nov. 9 on campus

John R. Gutiérrez

John R. Gutiérrez

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi College of Liberal Arts and the Mississippi Humanities Council have named John R. Gutiérrez, Croft professor of Spanish, as the university’s Humanities Teacher of the Year.

Gutiérrez joined the UM faculty in 2000 to teach and mentor students with the Croft Institute for International Studies and to develop Spanish-language instruction in Mississippi as a form of outreach.

In celebration of the award, Gutiérrez will present a lecture on “Untapping a Linguistic Resource: Teaching Spanish as a Heritage Language in the United States” at 7 p.m. Nov. 9 in Bryant Hall, Room 209. A Q&A session and reception will follow the lecture.

“Dr. Gutiérrez has been an exceptional teacher on the faculty of the Department of Modern Languages for many years, an educator who has demonstrated throughout his career that he puts his students first and who offers the highest quality education for those around him,” said Donald Dyer, UM chair of modern languages.

“He has worked steadfastly to improve the teaching of Spanish not only for students at the University of Mississippi but also through K-12 in the state itself.”

From 2000 to 2007, he worked with the National Foreign Language Center to secure grants from the U.S. Department of Education’s Foreign Language Assistance Program to implement Spanish language programs for elementary students in school districts across Mississippi. Since then, Gutiérrez has also worked with the UM Office of Study Abroad to establish international studies programs in Spain, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Ecuador, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay.

“Anytime I walk across campus, I see my colleagues in other departments quietly toiling away at their jobs,” Gutiérrez said. “They impart their knowledge and their passion for their specific area of expertise, never seeking any recognition for doing what they love.

“I have done this at Ole Miss for several years now, and the award came not only as a big surprise, but it served to recognize that the university and the College of Liberal Arts have appreciated my attempts to instill my students with the passion for linguistics and the Spanish and Portuguese languages that I have cultivated over my long career.”

Each year since 1995, the award has been given to a humanities scholar at each of the state’s institutions of higher learning. The criteria include excellence of classroom instruction, intellectual stimulation of students and concern for students’ welfare.

More than 70 percent of the students Gutiérrez has mentored have achieved an advanced score on the ACTFL Oral Proficiency Interview before graduation. His research focus includes exploring the factors that hinder American students from achieving high levels of proficiency in Spanish and Portuguese.

Andrew Hayes, a junior from Saltillo majoring in international studies, struggled with Spanish in high school, but after spending a year learning with Gutierrez, he’s traveled to Spanish-speaking countries without using English.

“None of this would have been possible without Dr. Gutiérrez’s clear instruction, simple breakdown of complex ideas and, most importantly, his enduring patience with his students,” Hayes said. “Every time Dr. Gutiérrez steps into the classroom, you know that he is just bursting to teach anyone who will listen everything he knows about Spanish, and that energy is infectious among the students.

“He has not only taught me how to speak another language, but he has opened up a whole new world of experiences and opportunities for me. That, more than anything else, is the gift that Dr. Gutiérrez has given to me in his Spanish class, and I think any of his students would agree that he has earned his recognition for excellence many times over.”

Gutiérrez earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from New Mexico State University and his doctorate in romance languages from the University of New Mexico. Before his arrival at the Croft Institute in 2000, he served as director of the Basic Language Program at the University of Virginia, director of undergraduate studies and associate professor of Spanish linguistics at Penn State University and director of the Spanish for Heritage Learners Program at the University of Arizona.

For the 2014-2015 academic year, he was invited as a distinguished visiting professor to the U.S. Air Force Academy, where he consulted faculty on their Spanish language program and created a Spanish for Heritage Learners course at the academy.

Willie Price Students to Trick-or-Treat on Campus

Children from the University of Mississippi's Willie Price Lab School will trick or treat on campus Oct. 31. Photo by UM Photographer Kevin Bain

Children from the University of Mississippi’s Willie Price Lab School will trick or treat on campus Oct. 31. Photo by UM Photographer Kevin Bain

This Halloween, the sidewalks around the University of Mississippi will be packed with superheroes, princesses and other costumed sorts as the 3- and 4-year-olds of Willie Price Lab School come trick-or-treating.

The Willie Price students will begin their walk at 8:30 a.m. Monday (Oct. 31) from Kinard Hall to Martindale Hall, then head to the Lyceum. Finally, they’ll visit Howry Hall before heading back up the hill to Kinard.

The annual event is a treat for the students and their parents, said Sarah Langley, Willie Price director.

“University faculty and staff go the extra mile to make this a fantastic experience for our students,” she said. “The Lyceum (staff) transforms their office spaces with decorations, and they even play Halloween music and bring out a fog machine or two.”

Langley is appreciative of the effort put in by staff members, such as those in Howry Hall who will be dressed in “Toy Story” costumes, saying that they make an impression that touches the community.

“This experience is truly unique to Willie Price and UM,” Langley said. “Our students, parents and teachers are grateful to all university employees who help make this day exciting, fun and special. And a big ‘thank you’ to the UPD for escorting us as we walk around campus.”

UM Alumni, Guests are Among Prominent Freedom Award Recipients

Former Gov. William Winter latest to join list of National Civil Rights Museum honorees

The Honorable Gov. William Winter will receive a 2016 Freedom Award from the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis this month. Photo by Nathan Latil/Ole Miss Communications

The Honorable Gov. William Winter will receive a 2016 Freedom Award from the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis this month. Photo by Nathan Latil/Ole Miss Communications

When former Gov. William F. Winter receives a National Civil Rights Museum’s 25th annual Freedom Award Oct. 20 in Memphis, no doubt University of Mississippi administrators, staff and faculty will take great pride in having the renowned former governor as both an alumnus and founder of the Institute for Racial Reconciliation here that bears his name.

Obviously, Winter is most deserving of the prestigious honor. Both in and out of office, the Grenada County native has accomplished a long list of achievements advancing education, civil rights and economic growth for the state of Mississippi and beyond. Of course, his UM education has contributed to his legendary career.

Yet a quick look at past years shows that Winter is not the first Freedom Award recipient to have connections to the university. At least six others have spoken or performed on campus.

For starters, fellow 2016 recipient Soledad O’Brien delivered the keynote address during UM’s 2014 Black History Month observances. The former CNN anchor’s lecture and presentation preceded the #BlackLivesMatter movement and helped advance conversations about race and race relations.

NBC News veteran Tom Brokaw received the Freedom Award in 2014. He has broadcast live from campus, delivered the 2016 commencement address and been a visiting lecturer in the Meek School of Journalism and New Media.

Civil rights activist Myrlie Evers-Williams also delivered the commencement address from the Grove in 2014. The widow of slain activist Medgar Evers received her Freedom Award in 2009.

Known as “King of the Blues,” Mississippi-born guitarist and singer Riley “B.B.” King was given the Freedom Award in 2008. Before his death, King appeared in concert here several times and donated his record collection and memorabilia to the J.D. Williams Library’s Archives and Special Collections.

Legendary actor and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte is a 1999 recipient of the Freedom Award. Like O’Brien, he delivered the keynote address during Black History Month observances in 2015.

Lastly, author Elie Weisel, who won the Nobel Prize for his autobiography “Night,” was a Freedom Award recipient in 1995. The late author gave the keynote address during the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College‘s annual Fall Convocation in 2013.

Several other Freedom Award recipients have had significant connections to Mississippi history.

A 2014 honoree, Robert “Bob” Parris Moses is an educator and civil rights activist whose name is synonymous with the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project. As a leader in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, Moses traveled to counties in Mississippi to educate and register voters, facing relentless violence and intimidation. By 1964, he had become co-director of the Council of Federated Organizations, an umbrella organization for the major civil rights groups working in Mississippi.

The Rev. Ed King, 2011 recipient, worked closely with Mississippi Movement leader Medgar Evers and was a key leader in the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party with Fannie Lou Hamer.

A 2005 honoree, native Mississippian Oprah Winfrey has created an unparalleled connection with people around the world. As supervising producer and host of the top-rated “Oprah Winfrey Show,” she has entertained, enlightened and uplifted millions of viewers for more than two decades.

In 1964, John Lewis coordinated SNCC efforts to organize voters’ registration drives and community action programs during the Mississippi Freedom Summer. Forty years later, he received a Freedom Award in 2004.

The Freedom Award is an annual event for the National Civil Rights Museum. Presented each year in the fall, the Freedom Award honors individuals who have made significant contributions in civil rights and who have laid the foundation for present and future leaders in the battle for human rights. Since 1991, the Freedom Award has served as a symbol of the ongoing fight for human rights both in America and worldwide.

The event will be held at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts and the Memphis Cook Convention Center. Sponsors of this year’s awards are the Ford Motor Co., The Hyde Family Foundation, FedEx Corp. and International Paper. The event will be hosted by Michael Eric Dyson, who delivered the keynote address during UM Black History Month observances in 2015.

Besides Winter and O’Brien, this year’s honorees include Benjamin Crump, a civil rights attorney who has represented the families of Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice; Tawakkol Karman, a Yemini journalist and the second youngest person ever awarded the Nobel Peace Prize; Damon Jerome Keith, the longest serving judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit Court; and Brian Stevenson, a clinical professor at the New York University School of Law and an attorney who works for equality for the poor and minorities in the U.S. criminal justice system.

UM Communiversity Helping Community Capture the Holidays

New 'Happy Holiday Hour' lunchtime classes offered for just $10

Area residents are invited to come prepare to deck the halls with the UM Communiversity program's array of holiday classes being offered this fall. Seasonal favorites returning this year are 'Wreath Making' and 'Holiday Sweet Treats.' New this year are $10 lunchtime classes to help participants spruce up their homes in a hurry.

Area residents are invited to come prepare to deck the halls with the UM Communiversity program’s array of holiday classes being offered this fall. Seasonal favorites returning this year are ‘Wreath Making’ and ‘Holiday Sweet Treats.’ New this year are $10 lunchtime classes to help participants spruce up their homes in a hurry.

OXFORD, Miss. – As the leaves begin to turn bright red and orange on the University of Mississippi campus, the Division of Outreach’s Communiversity program is ready to help local residents prepare for the hustle and bustle of the upcoming holiday season.

“We know everyone is so busy this time of year,” said Sandra Sulton, the university’s Communiversity coordinator. “We wanted to help make decorating, cooking and capturing precious holiday memories a little easier.”

For people who are short on time but would love to decorate like the pros this Christmas, Communiversity will offer five unique one-hour classes that meet during the noon lunch hour.

“These ‘Happy Holiday Hour’ classes pack a lot of great ideas into 60 minutes and cost just $10,” Sulton said.

First up, Robert Jordan, the university’s director of photography services, will pass along his best photo tips for “Capturing Your Christmas Card Photo.” From what to wear to camera settings, Jordan has rounded up some of his tried-and-true tricks for family photos, kids and babies, and even pets, plus some fun Christmas card photo ideas.

The class is set for noon to 1 p.m. Oct. 26 at UM’s Insight Park, off Hawthorn Road near the Ole Miss softball and soccer fields.

Jeff McManus, UM director of landscaping services, is preparing to show participants how to have a beautiful winter arrangement that greets your holiday guests during the “Holiday Container Gardens” class offered at noon Nov. 9 at the University-Oxford Depot.

Participants will learn to use beautiful natural elements from the outdoors including spruce, fir, cedar, holly, dried flowers, pinecones and many other items to create a beautiful outdoor focal point.

On Nov. 16, Jordan Brown, of Oxford’s Discount Building Materials, will teach her favorite techniques for putting together a lovely Christmas tree from start to finish in “Tips for Trimming Your Tree.” The class will meet at noon at the University-Oxford Depot.

Another new class for this year is “Merry Mailboxes,” with Oxford Floral’s Whitney Pullen. The class will show you how to add holiday flair to your street by assembling the perfect holiday display using beautiful greenery on your own mailbox. The one-hour class will meet at noon Nov. 30 at the Depot.

The final “Happy Holiday Hour” $10 class is a special meeting with Mitch Robinson from Strawberry Plains Audubon Center in Holly Springs. Robinson will lead the “Christmas Tree for the Birds” class, where participants will learn different ideas for decorating a tree that can be moved outdoors after the holidays and enjoyed by our feathered friends. The class is set for noon Dec. 14 at the Depot.

Two more holiday-themed classes will be offered in the evening to give participants a little more time to create. The first is “Holiday Sweets and Treats” class taught by Jeff and Kathleen Taylor, owners of Oxford’s Sweet T’s Bakery and recent contestants on the Food Network show “Cake Wars.”

The Taylors will share their best tips for making holiday meringues and other sweet treats from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Dec. 6 at the Depot. The cost is $68.

Oxford Floral’s Whitney Pullen will be back on Dec. 8 to teach the “Wreath Making” course again this year. One of the most popular Communiversity courses from previous years, this one teaches participants to create a beautiful, fragrant holiday wreath that they take home. This class has been a great girl’s night outing in years past. The class meets from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., and the cost includes greenery and a wreath form for just $70.

You can find out more and register for these or any classes being offered this fall at

UM Professors Awarded SEC Faculty Travel Support

Program will allow travel for collaborations on research, teaching and performances

secu_primary_fulclrOXFORD, Miss. – Nine University of Mississippi professors are among more than 100 faculty members from all 14 Southeastern Conference universities selected to take part in the 2016-17 SEC Faculty Travel Program.

The program, in its fifth year, provides support for selected individuals to collaborate with colleagues at other SEC member institutions on research, lectures and other activities.

This year’s UM representatives are Robert Bernard, professor of philosophy; Katherine Dooley, assistant professor of physics and astronomy; Adam Estes, assistant professor of music; Susan Loveall-Hague, assistant professor of communication sciences and disorders; Linda Keena, associate professor of criminal justice; Eric Lambert, chair and professor of legal studies; Samuel Lisi, assistant professor of mathematics; Micah Milinovich, associate professor of mathematics; and Jeffrey Watt, Cook Chair and professor of history.

“The SEC Faculty Travel Program continues to garner significant interest from faculty members across the conference, and we are encouraged by how our universities have identified a range of individuals to participate,” said Torie Johnson, executive director of the SEC’s academic initiative, known as SECU.

“This program allows us to facilitate collaboration that stretches from the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields to include the arts and community engagement.”

Through the program, the SEC provides financial assistance for faculty members to travel to other SEC universities to exchange ideas, develop grant proposals, conduct research and deliver lectures or performances.

“The process of writing a grant proposal is complex,” said Daniel Schwartz, assistant professor of history at Texas A&M University and a former participant. “The SEC Faculty Travel Program allowed us to sit down for a week in person, as opposed to conference calls or Skype, and discuss project priorities and craft a compelling application.”

Program participants from each SEC university will travel throughout the academic year.

The SEC Faculty Travel Program is part of SECU, the academic initiative of the Southeastern Conference. The SEC supports and promotes the endeavors and achievements of the students and faculty at its 14 member universities.

UM Professors Receive NIH Grant for Breast Cancer Research

Award furthers efforts to discover disease's causes, prevention and cure

Biology Professor Mika Jekabsons (right) and Chemistry and Biochemistry Professor Yu-Dong Zhou discuss their breast cancer research in one of the laboratories. (Submitted photo)

Biology professor Mika Jekabsons (left) and chemistry professor Yu-Dong Zhou discuss their breast cancer research in one of their laboratories. (Submitted photo)

OXFORD, Miss. – Two University of Mississippi researchers working to find new drugs to stop the spread of breast cancer to other organs have received a major award from the National Institutes of Health to continue their studies for three years.

Yu-Dong Zhou, of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry; and Mika Jekabsons, associate professor of biology; are co-principal investigators for “Antimetastatic Drug Discovery that Targets Metabolic Plasticity.” The new National Institutes of Health/National Cancer Institute grant for $426,720 began July 15 and runs through June 30, 2019.

“Over 90 percent of cancer mortality is directly associated with invasion of cancer cells into vital organs,” Zhou said. “No treatment option effectively prevents metastatic progression.”

According to the American Cancer Society, the five-year survival rate for the 162,000 American women with metastatic breast cancer is only 23 percent. The long-term objective of the duo’s research is to discover and develop new drugs – or find new uses of existing drugs – that curb the metastatic spread of breast cancer.

“Surgical removal of tumors within vital organs is often not possible, which leaves molecular-based therapeutics as the only alternative treatment,” Jekabsons said.

To tie in with this project, this research will continue to provide valuable opportunities for training in the biomedical sciences. Zhou and Dale Nagle, professor of biomolecular sciences, have taken on almost a dozen Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College students, all majoring in biology, biochemistry or pre-pharmacy, with the aim of training them in laboratory-based anticancer research and natural product drug discovery.

“I am only an enthusiastic collaborator,” Nagle said. “Under the leadership of Drs. Zhou and Jekabsons, these brilliant and inquisitive minds are making vital contributions to research that looks to eradicate the spread of breast cancer.

“This is certainly an experience that will advance their future careers and that they will be proud of years from now.”

Breast cancers can spread to multiple vital organs such as the lungs, bones, brain and liver. Genetic studies of breast cancer cells that have invaded other organs led to the identification of candidate genes that may predict their potential to invade other tissues.

“We have treated invasive breast cancer cells growing in culture dishes with diverse chemical compounds obtained from natural products as a means of searching for potential drug leads that could stop their growth,” Zhou said. “Our preliminary data support this hypothesis by demonstrating that compounds which disrupt tumor metabolism specifically suppress the growth of breast cancer cells that had previously invaded select vital organs.”

A picture of fluorescent-labeled breast cancer cells. (Submitted photo)

Fluorescent-labeled breast cancer cells. (Submitted photo)

Jekabsons added, “This research validates and expands our initial efforts using FDA-approved oncology drugs by demonstrating that diverse novel chemicals from plants and other natural products may prevent the growth of selective subtypes of breast cancer cells that have invaded specific organs.”

The study was prompted by the finding that some chemicals, which disrupt cellular energy production, prevent the growth of selective subtypes of breast cancers that previously invaded other organs. The Ole Miss researchers are working to evaluate the metabolic profiles of the different subtypes and determine how different natural product chemicals may interfere with specific metabolic pathways.

“Based on our observations, we propose a potentially targetable ‘metabolic plasticity’ model for organ-selective metastasis,” Zhou said. “Specifically, cancers that invade other organs are metabolically adaptable and assume metabolic characteristics that are most suitable for growth in the target organs they invade.”

This project brings together Zhou’s expertise in cancer research and Jekabsons’ in a tumor cell’s energy production to identify promising leads that target the spread of malignant breast cancer cells, especially those that suppress tumor cell “food intake” in those vital organs invaded by them.

“Our ultimate goal is to find an effective approach that can improve the prognosis of patients affected by metastatic disease,” Zhou said. “Such an interdisciplinary research is only possible when people in different fields of science work together towards a common goal in a highly supportive environment.”

Zhou and Jekabsons have been collaborating for a decade. Nagle and Ikhlas Khan, new director of UM National Center for Natural Products Research in the School of Pharmacy, plan to continue their collaboration with Zhou and Jekabsons on this project.

“We are all extremely grateful to both Drs. Charles Hussey and Alice M. Clark for actively making Dr. Zhou’s transition from the School of Pharmacy to the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry possible,” Nagle said.

In line with Academic Research Enhancement Award program objectives, this project will strengthen the UM natural products and metabolism research environment and give students hands-on experience in antitumor drug discovery and tumor bioenergetics research.

The project is funded through NIH grant No. 1R15CA199016-01A1.

‘Heart of the Center’ Retires this Fall

Sarah Dixon Pegues leaves UM Southern studies program after 35 years

Sarah Dixon Pegues plans to retire in December after 35 years with the university's Center for the Study of Southern Culture. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

Sarah Dixon Pegues plans to retire in December after 35 years with the university’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – After being a constant in Barnard Observatory for 35 years, Sarah Dixon Pegues is preparing to retire from the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi.

As the center’s administrative assistant since 1980, she handles all financial matters including budgets, payroll, travel requests, procurement and purchasing, as well as processing grant applications and helping with reports for externally funded projects.

An Oxford native, she earned her bachelor’s degree from Mississippi State University. After finishing college, she job-hunted all that summer, and the center was the last of six interviews she had with various university departments.

After meeting (former director) Bill Ferris and hearing about the mission and projects of the center, I felt this would be a very interesting place to work, and it has been,” Pegues said.

Ferris, senior associate director at the Center for Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina, said Pegues has been essential to the center’s growth over the years.

“Sarah Dixon Pegues is truly the heart of the center,” said Ferris, UNC’s Joel R. Williamson Eminent Professor of History. “For over 35 years she kept a watchful eye on center staff and their programs, and she made sure their finances were in order.

“I was blessed to work with Sarah during my 18 wonderful years at the center. She is a true star for all who know her.”

During her three-and-a-half decades on campus, she has seen many shifts in the center and Ole Miss.

“The biggest change has been the growth of the center – from the number of B.A. and M.A. students to the number of faculty-staff (Southern Foodways Alliance, Living Blues, and Media and Documentary Studies, joint appointments, etc.) and outreach projects,” she said.

“The biggest change at the university is how it has grown in the number of programs, projects and buildings. When I first started in 1980, you could name the departments and knew where they were located. Now there are tons of departments, institutes and research centers. I would be a terrible tour guide!”

Ted Ownby, the center’s director, said that Pegues knows how to get things done.

“I’ve said a lot that Southern studies tends to attract people who want to do things their own ways and want to break the rules, or never learn them,” said Ownby, who has worked with her since 1988. “People like that can sit around theorizing and redefining all day, but we need someone like Sarah to make sure we get our bills paid.

“I should also mention that she’s the master of a rare form of communication in universities: the one-line, completely clear and successful email message.”

Great people, including her former bosses and current colleagues, are one of the best parts of working at the center, she said.

“I really appreciate how I’ve been entrusted to do my job without any supervision,” Pegues said. “Plus I’ve met a few celebrities along the way. I still have the photo I took with Alex Haley, author of ‘Roots,’ from when I first started.”

Those memories, along with seeing Ferris play his guitar and sing the blues, are among her favorite recollections.

Professor emeritus Charles Reagan Wilson, who joined the center a few months after she did as managing editor of the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, said the center is blessed by Pegues’ presence.

“In the early 1980s, it was a lively place, full of interesting people experimenting with ideas and projects about the South,” Wilson said. “Sarah was always the down-to-earth one who assisted us with managing the finances of projects that often didn’t have enough financing, but she always figured out easy to help and keep on budget.”

Throughout Wilson’s directorship of the center from 1998 to 2007, he appreciated her professionalism and good spirits.

“I always thought I detected a half-skeptical eye to some of our wilder ideas, but she kept us grounded,” he said.

It’s not all numbers for Pegues, though.

“I love to read romance/romantic suspense novels, listen to music – as everyone knows when they pass by or enter my office – and hang out with family and friends,” she said.

Pegues’ last official day is Dec. 31.