Ruckdeschel Takes Lead Role in UMMC’s Cancer Fight

National leader in cancer research and treatment looks forward to 'conducting' efforts

Dr. John Ruckdeschel is the new director of the UMMC Cancer Institute.

JACKSON, Miss. – Dr. John C. Ruckdeschel has joined the University of Mississippi Medical Center as Cancer Institute director and Ergon Chair in Cancer Research.

Ruckdeschel brings a wealth of experience to the job, said Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the school of medicine.

Ruckdeschel will work with Cancer Institute members from UMMC and the Oxford campus, with practicing physicians and with Mississippians to lower cancer deaths in the state. The Cancer Institute has a tri-fold mission of treatment, research and education.

“UMMC brings a long tradition of academic excellence in oncology to the state of Mississippi, and I would like to help take that to the next level,” Ruckdeschel said.

“Dr. Ruckdeschel has a rich and broad background in developing a focus on cancer, and a national reputation as an established leader in this area,” Woodward said. “I look forward to his leadership of our Cancer Institute.”

Ruckdeschel succeeds Dr. Srinivasan Vijayakumar, who served three years as Cancer Institute director. Vijayakumar will continue as professor and chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology.

“The Cancer Institute needs a full-time director,” Vijayakumar said. “I’m looking forward to working with him.”

Ruckdeschel, who previously served as the director of the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida, led that institution to National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center designation and to become the third-largest clinical cancer program in the United States.

He then moved to the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Center in Detroit, where he re-acquired its NCI comprehensive status and completed the process of making Karmanos a free-standing cancer hospital. In both settings, he built strong clinical networks by working with community physicians and patients, developing effective interdisciplinary clinical teams and creating strong programs across clinical, basic, translational and population research.

In Mississippi, Ruckdeschel said, he’s found a place with a solid foundation, but one that needs coordination to finish the structure.

“All the pieces of the orchestra are here,” he said. “It needs a conductor.”

The plans fit with UMMC’s goals of offering cutting-edge therapies for Mississippians and working with medical providers statewide to meet health care needs.

Together, UMMC, the community and state can lessen cancer deaths in the state, he said.

“The pieces are in place to make something really special in Mississippi,” he said. “I’d like to get us off some of those lists we shouldn’t be on, like cancer mortality, smoking and screening.”

As a clinician, Ruckdeschel’s career has focused on lung cancer and other thoracic malignancies. He’s credited with more than 150 peer-reviewed manuscripts and co-editorship of the Textbook of Thoracic Oncology. He is a North American editor for the Cochrane Lung Cancer Review Group.

Ruckdeschel completed undergraduate education in biology at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and received his medical degree from Albany Medical College in New York. He went on to an internship at Johns Hopkins, residency at the Beth Israel Medical Center in Boston and fellowship at the National Cancer Institute’s Baltimore Cancer Research Center.

Ruckdeschel is an avid ornithologist, having most recently served as vice president of the Red Rock Audubon Society in southern Nevada. He and his wife are enthusiastic “foodies” and enjoy both cooking at home and dining out.

“I love to cook. I enjoy getting to know how people eat, what they eat,” he said, adding he’s looking forward to having his own garden again and using locally grown vegetables in his meals.

And, just what does he expect from his new community? “Send me some recipes.”

Cooper Tire Trainer Co-Teaches UM Engineering Wintersession

Chemical engineering alumna Nichole Williams returned to assist with course

Nichole Williams (left) gives instructions for drawing a pig as UM professor John O’Haver observes during a Wintersession manufacturing class. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss – When Nichole Williams asked seven University of Mississippi students to draw a pig on graph paper, they all thought it would be easy. But the chemical engineering alumna, who has found career success at Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. in Tupelo, wasn’t the least bit impressed.

“Those are not good,” she said. “Let’s try it again. Only this time, I will give you step-by-step instructions.”

The results?

“Much, much better,” Williams said, smiling as she looked at the drawings.

Williams returned to her alma mater earlier this month at the request of John O’Haver, professor and chair of chemical engineering, to lead Six Sigma Green Belt Training.

Six Sigma is a set of techniques and tools to improve processes and output quality for manufacturing. The American Society for Quality oversees training and certification for professionals, including the awarding of belts in yellow, green and black, as they complete higher levels of training and proficiency.

Williams, leader for the Cooper Tupelo facility’s process capability improvement efforts, said she was honored and happy to be invited to temporarily join the Ole Miss faculty.

“It feels like coming home, but so much has changed,” said the Iuka native, who is also responsible for facilitating Lean Six Sigma Green Belt training. “It’s exciting to be back, but different, too.”

O’Haver said he asked Williams to return to campus to help equip UM chemical engineering students for future employment.

“In listening to company representatives from manufacturing companies at our career fair, some said they would consider hiring our graduates if they knew Lean Six Sigma,” he said. “Since Nichole is a trainer and Cooper afforded her the opportunity to teach this Wintersession, I felt it was the absolute best thing for our students to have her here.”

Students in O’Haver’s class said they have indeed benefitted from Williams’ teaching.

“This course has given me real-world experience, and not just academic theory,” said Catherine Klara, a junior chemical engineering major from Lafayette, Louisiana. “Knowing this will definitely be useful when I begin looking for work.”

Williams agreed.

A UM engineering student works on her drawing of a pig during a class exercise. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

“The ability to provide well-written, precise, easy-to-follow work instructions is of great importance to operators who must follow these instructions in whatever processes they are doing,” she said. “The quality of production often depends upon the instructions given to the workers.”

But Williams’ presence on campus was more than just a favor to one of her professors, said Anne Roman, Cooper’s vice president of communications and public affairs.

“Nichole’s work at Ole Miss is an extension of her involvement with Cooper’s ‘Dream Team,'” Roman said. “The team comprises 40-plus early-career employees selected from throughout the corporation to promote manufacturing career possibilities to students within their local communities.

“It’s a part of Cooper’s overall involvement in efforts of the National Association of Manufacturers, which include significant Manufacturing Day opportunities nationwide. Cooper’s Dream Team is usually focused on students in grades 8 through 12 to capture them early in their thinking about careers, but this was an opportunity to expose students at the college and university level to what manufacturing careers are all about.”

A 2013 graduate, Williams joined the company four years ago as a Six Sigma Black Belt.

“I love the challenge that comes with being a Black Belt,” Williams said. “I get the opportunity to work in several different areas of the plant and get exposure to different levels of our organization. I might go from a project that addresses a specific problem on a specific machine, to a project affecting an entire department, to a project that requires me to interact with our corporate office.”

Recently, Williams was awarded a 2016 Emerging Leader Award by the Manufacturing Institute’s Science Technology Engineering Production Ahead program. A hundred women are chosen to be honorees for achievements in manufacturing, with about 30 of the younger women chosen as Emerging Leaders.

Williams was one of only two to deliver a speech during the awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., that highlighted the importance of encouraging the next generation, particularly girls, to pursue careers in manufacturing. 

“Dr. O’Haver is such an inspirational teacher who makes you feel like you can achieve anything,” Williams said. “Dr. (Paul) Scovazzo provided great guidance for a professional career, and I credit him with pushing me to a career in engineering, as opposed to just an education.”

UM Launches Online Master of Arts in Teaching Degree

Program offers alternate route to 7-12 teaching careers

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi School of Education has launched a new online Master of Arts in Teaching degree designed for people who want to be licensed teachers in public 7-12 schools across the state.

Through the online, alternate route program, graduate students can qualify for a Class A teaching license from the Mississippi Department of Education after the completing the program’s first three courses, which will be offered beginning this summer.

Program graduates can qualify for an advanced, Class AA teaching license after completing the 36-credit program. Applications for the program’s first cohort are due by March 1.

“Our ideal candidate is someone who is looking for a second career in teaching or a college student who is already a senior and has decided that he or she wants to teach,” said Joe Sweeney, coordinator of the MAT program. “Having the MAT degree online helps us expand our potential student base across the entire state.”

The MAT program is designed to be completed in two years of part-time study and begins with a summer term where students complete the graduate level education courses required to earn a state teaching certificate. After the first summer term, students will complete two courses per semester.

The curriculum focuses on providing future teachers with skills for effective 7-12 teaching and can be combined with undergraduate training to prepare graduate students to teach in multiple fields, including English, mathematics, science (biology, chemistry or physics) and social studies.

This is the sixth online program offered by the School of Education, which is ranked among the nation’s top institutions for online education programs by U.S. News and World Report. Other online education programs at UM include master’s degrees in early childhood education, elementary education and higher education. The school also offers an educational specialist degree in play therapy and a graduate certificate in program evaluation.

“We believe our expanding repertoire of online degrees provides the most flexibility possible in allowing students to fit coursework into both their work and personal schedules,” said John Holleman, director of graduate studies at the School of Education. “The Ole Miss reputation is built on a century-and-a-half of providing outstanding education, and our online programs accommodate the needs of working adult students whom can’t rearrange their obligations to study at the Oxford campus.”

Admission into the MAT program requires an undergraduate degree with sufficient coursework in the field the applicant wishes to teach. Other requirements include a 3.0 undergraduate GPA, a writing sample and a passing score on the Praxis Core and Praxis II exams. However, a 21 on the ACT (990 SAT) may be submitted instead of Praxis Core results.

Priority will be given to applicants who have passed the Praxis II before March 1.

For more information about the online MAT program, visit or email

Alumnus Plans Ahead to Spur Growth, Improvement at UM

Whitehead's gift will support generations of student-athletes

UM alumnus Greg Whitehead, left, meets with football Coach Hugh Freeze. Whitehead has established an endowment to provide ongoing scholarships for Ole Miss student-athletes. Courtesy photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The Tampa Bay Ole Miss Club was fairly inactive when University of Mississippi alumnus Greg Whitehead became president two years ago. Today, with 121 active Alumni Association members, the Florida club is thriving.

The Ole Miss Alumni Association has had a club in the Tampa Bay area for several years, but it has taken off over the past two years,” said Port Kaigler, assistant director of alumni affairs. “We knew we needed to increase our presence in the Tampa Bay area and we have started to, thanks to Greg’s leadership and the work of his board.”

Board members of the Tampa Bay club are UM alumni Frenchie Barron, Jessica Gillum, Elizabeth McConnell, Erin and Ryan Pew, and Hayden Sutherland.

The owner of a Tampa-based sales and marketing company in the wholesale home furnishings industry, Whitehead likes to have a hand in improvement whenever possible. He knew he could help make the alumni club better, just as he constantly strives to enhance his own life by staying in shape and by expanding his knowledge through books, music and travel.

Now, he hopes to help improve athletics and, ultimately, academics at Ole Miss.

Whitehead has agreed to donate a portion of his estate to establish an endowment that will provide ongoing scholarships to Ole Miss student-athletes. This planned gift awards Whitehead membership in the 1848 Society, which recognizes generous donors who thoughtfully provide for the university through planned and deferred gifts.

“I want to give back to my school that I love,” said Whitehead, a Zion, Illinois, native who moved to Mississippi with his family during high school. He played baseball for Itawamba Junior College for two years before transferring to UM, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

“I fell in love with Ole Miss,” he said. “It has a special quality that can’t be put into words, something spiritual or even mystical. In addition to being the most beautiful campus in the country, it has a charm that can’t be quantified. It’s a place that keeps calling you back.

“Ole Miss is my family, so I’ve earmarked this amount for athletics because I believe a strong athletics department helps esprit de corps and reputation, which in turn help to increase enrollment, improve academics and foster growth and achievement in many areas.” 

Whitehead’s gift sets an example for others to follow, said Keith Carter, senior associate athletics director for development and executive director of the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation.

“Many people feel the need to give to Ole Miss athletics in the present, and we are very grateful for those gifts, but it’s also important to know that a planned gift for athletics is another viable way to provide support,” Carter said. “Generations of our student-athletes will receive the return on this particular investment. Greg should feel very proud of that.”

For information on including the university in long-term estate and financial plans, visit or contact Sandra Guest, UM Foundation vice president, at 662-915-5208 or

UM Museum Opens Photography Exhibit of Buddhist Caves

Images from China illustrate artistic and architectural achievements

The exhibit “Dunhuang through the Lens of James and Lucy Lo” is now open at the UM Museum. Submitted Photo

OXFORD, Miss. – Photographs of the intricately painted Mogao and Yulin Caves in Dunhuang, China are on exhibit at the University of Mississippi Museum.

“Dunhuang Through the Lens of James and Lucy Lo” features photographs taken of the caves by the Los in the 1940s. The nearly 500 caves containing artwork are in the northwestern area of China along the ancient Silk Road and are a major Buddhist pilgrimage site. The caves, which served as spaces for meditation and worship, were painted between the fourth and 14th centuries.

The exhibit opened Jan. 10 in conjunction with the Southeast Conference of the Association for Asian Studies, held on the UM campus Jan. 13-15. The free exhibit runs through April 29, and an opening reception is set for 6-8 p.m. Jan. 31.

Joshua Howard, Croft associate professor of history and international studies and a Chinese historian, proposed this exhibit to the University Museum.

“These photographs have high artistic value,” Howard said. “James and Lucy Lo used natural light and often placed mirrors in the caves to create special lighting effects and create a sense of the caves’ spirituality.

“James Lo also experimented with his photo angles; for instance, shooting a 50-foot reclining Buddha from the vantage point of the head of the statue rather than from the feet looking toward the head. The result is a more intimate and serene shot of the Buddha. Other landscape photos they took give a sense of the harsh but beautiful desert terrain the caves inhabit.”

The collection of 31 black-and-white photographs is from the Lo Archive and the P.Y. and Kinmay W. Tang Center for East Asian Art at Princeton University. The Mogao and Yulin caves illustrate artistic and architectural achievements, as well as provide an intimate look at the history of Buddhism and other religions of the region.

Museum officials were excited about the opportunity to open the exhibit to conference attendees, said Robert Saarnio, museum director. The conference included workshops, panel discussions, lectures and film screenings of Asian poetry and literature, history, language, art, philosophy and politics.

“These are exactly the kinds of multidisciplinary and cross-campus partnerships that the museum seeks to foster and welcome, wherein great art and artifact content can be exhibited in such close correspondence to curricular, research and teaching endeavors,” Saarnio said.

The museum, at the corner of University Avenue and Fifth Street, is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.

UM Winter Institute Has Key Role in National Day of Racial Healing

Initiative of W.K. Kellogg Foundation includes more than 130 organizations across the country

OXFORD, Miss. – The William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at the University of Mississippi is collaborating with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and more than 130 organizations for a National Day of Racial Healing on Tuesday (Jan. 17).

The observance is an effort to heal wounds created by racial, ethnic and religious bias and build an equitable and just society where all children can thrive.

“We have to be truthful when looking at ourselves as individuals and as a nation,” said Portia Espy, the Winter Institute’s director of community building. “Although we’ve made positive strides in the area of race relations, there is still a deep divide in this country, one that if we’re not careful will become even deeper; undoing the good work that has been done.

“We each have to take responsibility in playing our individual and collective parts in bridging the divide and bringing us together as one. The National Day of Racial Healing is intended to call attention to this need and to kick off an ongoing effort to bring the healing that many in our nation are calling for.” 

In the next few weeks, the Kellogg Foundation and its Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation colla­borating organizations will carry out a variety of events to mark the first-ever National Day of Racial Healing. The TRHT community, corporate and nonprofit partners represent a collective network of nearly 300 million Americans.

Winter Institute namesake, former Mississippi Gov. William F. Winter, serves as the TRHT enterprise’s honorary co-chair, along with former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. 

One of the Winter Institute’s most powerful tools is the Welcome Table and its story circles, which build trust and understanding among participants. The institute has developed a toolkit that individuals can use to lead story circle sessions in their communities as part of National Day of Racial Healing events. The toolkit can be accessed at

Communities are encouraged to share their TRHT efforts, on Jan. 17 and afterward, by posting photos and statements on social media using the hashtag #mississippihealing.

“Communities, organizations and individuals are being asked to acknowledge that there are still deep racial divisions in America that must be overcome,” said Gail Christopher, senior adviser and vice president for TRHT at the Kellogg Foundation. “We have to come together to heal and commit to truth telling, engaging representatives from all racial, ethnic, religious and identity groups in genuine efforts to increase understandi­ng, communication, caring and respect for one another.”

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation, founded in 1930 as an independent, private foundation by breakfast cereal pioneer, Will Keith Kellogg, is among the largest philanthropic foundations in the United States. Guided by the belief that all children should have equal opportunities to thrive, WKKF works with communities to create conditions for vulnerable children so they can realize their full potential in school, work and life.

Based in Battle Creek, Michigan, the foundation works throughout the United States and internationally, as well as with sovereign tribes. Special emphasis is paid to priority places where there are high concentrations of poverty and where children face significant barriers to success. WKKF priority places in the U.S. are in Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico and New Orleans.

For more information about the Winter Institute’s National Day of Healing, email Portia Espy at

Future of Nanomedicine Topic of January Science Cafe

Previous TEDxUM presenter is first lecturer for spring semester

Randy Wadkins. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Recent breakthroughs in nanomedicine and their impact is the topic for a monthly public science forum organized by the University of Mississippi Department of Physics and Astronomy.

The spring semester’s first meeting of the Oxford Science Cafe is set for 6 p.m. Jan. 24 at Lusa Bakery Bistro and Bar, 1120 North Lamar Blvd. Randy Wadkins, professor of chemistry and biochemistry and associate member of the UM Medical Center Cancer Institute, will review his 2015 TEDxUM talk, “A Fantastic Voyage to the Future of Nanomedicine.” Admission is free.

Organizers of TEDxUM 2017 said they teamed up with the Science Cafe as a promotional activity for the main event, scheduled Jan. 28 in the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts. Wadkins was one of 10 speakers at the inaugural TEDxUM in October 2015.

“Imagine shrinking down robots to a size so small that they can be injected into humans,” Wadkins said. “Imagine them swimming around in our bodies until they reach the sites of disease, where they apply treatment. That future is called nanomedicine, and it is almost here.”

Wadkins’ 30-minute presentation will include how nanomedicine has moved from science fiction in the 1970s to reality. The fluorescent properties and common uses of nanomaterials in daily household products are also highlighted.

“On the nanometer scale, the very small things, such as molecules, are on one end, while the larger things, such as bacteria, are on the other end,” he said. “In between the two is where a lot of new and exciting things in science is happening.”

Wadkins’ research focuses on biologically compatible nanomaterials for possible medical purposes within the human body.

“In 2006, a scientist at Cal-Tech discovered a way to weave nanomaterials with DNA,” Wadkins said. “These can be manipulated into robots that can do things. The future of medicine lies at the nano-scale.”

The university’s first TEDx talk featured 10 brief lectures from Ole Miss faculty members to showcase “ideas worth spreading.” Though the event was open to only 100 attendees, those talks are available on YouTube for everyone who missed it.

“TEDxUM 2015” used the TED Talks conference format, which brings together lecturers and other participants in a globally popular set of conferences run by the Sapling Foundation. Under the rules set by TED, seating was limited for the event, although interest was very high.

UM administrators and professors said Wadkins’ appearance should be most interesting.

“Dr. Wadkins is one of the most prominent scientists in the U.S. using DNA as a nanomaterial,” said Marco Cavaglia, associate professor of physics and astronomy. “His wealth of knowledge is sure to inspire and inform those in attendance.”

Wadkins earned his doctorate and bachelor’s degrees from UM. He was a postdoctoral fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Germany and at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. He was an assistant professor of oncology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine before returning to UM.

He also was a 2015-2016 AAAS Science & Technology Congressional Fellow, working in the office of U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen of Memphis. His research interests are biophysical chemistry, molecular dynamics, fluorescence microscopy and imaging, DNA structure and structural transitions and biosensors.

For more information about Oxford Science Cafe programs, go to For more information about the Department of Physics and Astronomy, visit or call 662-915-7046.

UM Professor Hopes to Shed Light on Voter Wait Times

Election Day study introduces students to data collection and analysis

Julie Wronski

OXFORD, Miss. – A University of Mississippi political science professor and her students are collaborating with researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dartmouth University and 25 other universities to study wait times at polling places in the 2016 presidential election. 

Julie Wronski, an assistant professor of political science, had the help of 40 students from her Political Science 251 class to collect data on how long people spent at the polls. The hundreds of pages of information students collected from Lafayette, Yalobusha and Desoto counties will be paired with data collected in urban and rural areas across the country. 

Researchers want to better document the variability of voter wait times across the country and understand the factors that lead to long lines.

“If we do find that there are certain precincts or certain regions where there are consistently longer times to vote, we can identify these areas and the factors that could lead to longer wait times,” Wronski said. “These issues can be ways of disenfranchising voters and making them more apathetic to the process. The fewer barriers to vote, the better.” 

The UM team was the only one from Mississippi to participate. Data was collected in New York, Boston and other urban areas, as well as rural areas across the country. 

The study offered a chance for students to see firsthand how states and localities conduct elections, Wronski said. The work also helped them better understand how data is collected, as well as its importance. 

UM students went to polling places to sample how long voters waiting in line to check in and the amount of time voters take to cast their votes, among other information.

Mississippi law required the team to remain outside the polling places and to not interact with voters. The students respected those rules, but were still able to gather the information they needed. 

“The poll workers and election officials were very welcoming to us as nonpartisan observers in a very contentious election,” Wronski said. “Just being able to see anything was great.” 

The work resulted in a thick stack of records that will be compiled along with information collected by other participating universities. The findings will be analyzed along with demographic information about each precinct. 

“It’s going to be matched with precinct-level data on income, race and education level, and then also matched to the precinct-level voter file to see the percentage of Republican or Democratic voting,” Wronski said. “So, we can make those empirical connections on where the longer lines were. Were they in the more Republican-leaning or Democrat-leaning, or more urban or rural, areas?” 

The national team of political researchers will write up their findings for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. The information may be ready by the summer of 2017.

The team also plans to use the data to educate the general public and nonprofit groups who are passionate about voting issues on the causes, costs and remedies for long lines at polls. 

The class, which is an introduction to empirical analysis, is a perfect venue for giving students a chance to participate in the process of inquiry, said John Bruce, UM professor and chair of political science. The work brings the ideas discussed in class into a more concrete focus and gives students an “extraordinary experience,” he said. 

“The collaborative study that Dr. Wronski is working on cuts to the very heart of our democracy,” Bruce said. “Voting has to be a reasonable exercise, and all voters should expect similar experiences when they vote. … Gathering this type of data is a way to begin to understand how well our citizens are able to engage in democracy.” 

Haley Simmons, a political science doctoral student from Starkville, helped with the data collection project on Election Day. As a graduate assistant for Wronski, he was responsible for logistics of the research, while Wronski managed student involvement and coordinated with lead researchers from other institutions. 

Simmons said he hopes the students involved in the project will eventually conduct their own research using the skills they learned. 

“Introducing students to research practices and showing them that research can be fun as well as academically rewarding was the highlight of my involvement with this project,” Simmons said. “Skills we learn in graduate school classrooms are often abstract, and this opportunity allowed me to apply abstract skills to real-world research.”

University Students, Staff Join Community for MLK Day of Service

Volunteers gathering to raise funds for homeless, share oral histories and more

Martin Luther King Day of Service 2016 brought local families and students together for a family-friendly event benefiting Doors of Hope Transition Ministries and Boys and Girls Club of Oxford. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi students, staff and community partners are spearheading efforts to promote community engagement and encourage healthy lifestyles during 2017 Martin Luther King Jr. Day observances.

The Lafayette-Oxford-University MLK Day of Service opening ceremony is set for 10:30 a.m. Jan. 16 at the Burns-Belfry Museum and Multicultural Center. Program participants include Chancellor Jeffery Vitter; Katrina Caldwell, UM vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion; Oxford Mayor George G. Patterson; and Jeff Busby, president of the Lafayette County Board of Supervisors.

Brian Foster, assistant professor of sociology and Southern studies and a doctoral candidate at the University of North Carolina, will deliver the keynote address.

As part of the ceremony, awards will be presented to outstanding LOU volunteers in two categories. Community member recipients are Daniel Doyle, Jacelyn Frierson, Laura Shields and Joan Vick. Lyndsey Acree of Olive Branch is the student recipient.

“The Office of the Dean of Students is proud to work, once again, side-by-side with so many excellent community partners,” said Hal Sullivan, UM coordinator of student affairs programs. “Our goal, in the spirit of Dr. King, is to encourage reflection (and) action and redefine ‘service’ for this community.”

Other activities scheduled are:

  • 9 a.m. – A community pancake breakfast at Second Baptist Church
  • 10:30 a.m. – Opening ceremony and presentation of service awards at Burns-Belfry. Living history community stories also will be available for public listening. These testimonials, collected by trained VISTAs, help illustrate what life was like for north Mississippians during the civil rights movement. A diverse group of volunteers each will share their personal, unique perspectives, and a small group of these stories will be available for public listening at the ceremony.
  • 1:30 p.m. – Community showing of “Selma” at the Oxford Conference Center. A conversation about the film, hosted by the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation, follows.
  • Community give-back night for Interfaith Compassion Ministries benefiting the Oxford Housing Authority. At Chili’s from 5 to 10 p.m. and at Chick-fil-A from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
  • 5:30 p.m. – Legacy Celebration at Second Baptist Church. Charles Ross, UM professor of history and director of African-American studies, is the speaker.

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

“VISTA members of the North Mississippi VISTA Project have created civil rights lessons for students in Oxford and Lafayette County schools to learn about living leaders who made great movements right here in Mississippi,” said Laura Martin, assistant director of the McLean Institute.

“Through a letter writing project, we hope to express gratitude to civil rights leaders who continue their work to this day. We are also excited about our community stories oral history project, which will lift up local leaders and strengthen community partnerships.”

Volunteer Oxford Director Kaitlin Wilkinson said community and campus participation are crucial to the success of the service observance.

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

Executive director of the Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network, Doyle began his formal role as a volunteer and service member in Mississippi Teacher Corps 11 years ago. He is also a volunteer for Sustainable Oxford, Organic Mothers, Good Food for Oxford Schools, Mississippi Farm to School Network and the Boys and Girls Club.

A senior at Oxford High School, Frierson is actively involved in Girl Scouts, where for the past 13 years she has walked dogs, collected food for the Pantry, visited veterans, made cards for the elderly, read to children, collected books for summer reading, sewed dolls for hospital patients and wrapped gifts at the Christmas Store. She is also president of the African-American History Club at OHS and plays in the Chargers marching band.

A graduate of Harding University, Shields splits her time volunteering for Volunteer Oxford, the American Red Cross, Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi and the Pantry, and coordinating all digital content and social media for the Oxford Church of Christ. She has helped multiple organizations with social media sites, data collection, compiling research and website assistance.

A retiree, Vick volunteers at RSVP and has given her time to Area 4 Special Olympics, Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi, the American Red Cross, Double Decker Arts Festival, Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts, Love Packs, Lafayette County-Oxford Chamber of Commerce, Yocona International Folk Festival and Good Food for Oxford Schools. She is also the mother of five children.

A senior dietetics and nutrition major, Acree is on the Ole Miss track and field team. Her commitment to service for both athletics and the community have included Reading with the Rebels at local elementary schools, Trunk-or-Treat Halloween event, Books and Bears distribution for UM workers, Thanksgiving Adopt-a-Basket collection, Walking Wednesdays at Oxford Elementary, Senior Lifestyle events at the Oxford YMCA, Food Day Festival and Market on campus and Fresh Fruit Fridays at Della Davidson Elementary School.

For more information about LOU MLK Day of Service events, contact Hal Sullivan at or Kaitlin Wilkinson at

UM Classics Department Honored for Professional Equity

University is third recipient of award

The Department of Classics, housed in Bryant Hall, received the WCC award this month. Photo by Robert Jordan

OXFORD, Miss. – The Women’s Classical Caucus honored the Department of Classics at the University of Mississippi with its WCC Award in Professional Equity at the Archaeological Institute of America/Society for Classical Studies joint annual meeting last week (Jan. 6) in Toronto.

The award, established in 2014, is given to an institution that has worked to improve equality and diversity in the classics field and has served as a model for other institutions. UM is the third recipient of the award.

Molly Pasco-Pranger, UM chair and associate professor of classics, has been a member of the WCC since 1992. The nonprofit organization was founded in 1972 and incorporated in 1992 with both scholarly and professional goals to incorporate feminist and gender-informed perspectives through the study of women in classical antiquity.

“The organization has been a consistent and powerful progressive voice in our field, and a source of professional support for me personally,” Pasco-Pranger said. “This new award, which acknowledges the roles departments have in advancing the mission of the WCC through policy and culture, fits in beautifully with the caucus’s tradition of professional mentoring and advocacy.”

The WCC also includes in its mission the advancement of equality and diversity within the profession, support relationships with scholars concerning gender and linking feminist scholars with other disciplines.

“From my perspective, equity of various kinds has been a leading priority of the department ever since I arrived,” associate professor Jonathan Fenno said. “I see this award as a recognition of the outstanding leadership our department has enjoyed for more than a decade now, which allows us to flourish as individuals and as a group.”

Molly Pasco-Pranger, chair of the Department of Classics.

Fenno praised colleague and former department chair Aileen Ajootian and Pasco-Pranger for their leadership supporting equality and a supportive and professional environment for everyone.

“As one of the oldest units on campus, the Department of Classics has strong ties with the past, but also looks forward, encouraging students and faculty of all genders, races and economic backgrounds to join us,” Ajootian said.

“In the past, the academic discipline of classics was a white, male, elite stronghold, but today its doors are open to all. It is especially significant at the University of Mississippi that one of the oldest departments on campus has been recognized as a beacon of equity.”

Morgan Palmer, visiting assistant professor of classics, nominated the department for the award, citing its record of hiring and promoting women, supporting diversity and inclusion among students and faculty, and incorporating feminist and gender-informed teaching in classics studies.

“This award provides formal recognition from colleagues across North America for the work that the University of Mississippi classics department does to promote equity at the university and in the profession,” Palmer said. “I nominated the department for this award because the University of Mississippi stands out as a place where there is a shared and concerted effort at both the departmental and administrative levels to create a supportive and welcoming environment for everyone.”

The department has fully supported Palmer’s teaching, research and professional development activities, even as a visiting faculty member, she said.

“My colleagues in classics work to ensure that everyone feels welcome, encouraging student-driven activities, and also giving their own time to arrange lunches, reading groups, peer tutoring and information sessions. The professors in the classics department strive to give all of their students and colleagues every possible chance for success, and their efforts represent the best of the University of Mississippi community.”