Texas Couple Looks to Expand UM Student Recruiting

Crosswells underwrite student recruiter position for Lone Star State

Allen Crosswell and his wife, Leah, (center) enjoy a recent visit with UM administrators (from left) Provost Morris Stocks; Brett Barefoot, development officer for parents leadership; Chancellor Jeff Vitter; and Brandi Hephner LaBanc, vice chancellor for student affairs. Photo by Bill Dabney

OXFORD, Miss. – With a recent $400,000 gift to the University of Mississippi, Allen and Leah Crosswell of Houston, Texas, have provided the means to hire and support a new recruiter whose goal will be to get more high-achieving Texas students to choose Ole Miss for college.

Crosswell, a 1989 graduate of the UM School of Business Administration, agreed to underwrite the expenses that will support a senior-level admissions counselor in Houston. The university has only one other Texas admissions counselor, who recruits out of Dallas.

“The Crosswells graciously offered a solution to an identified need, and for this gift we are very grateful,” Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said. “The Crosswells’ generous philanthropic investment in our university reveals their passionate belief in the power of education and their vision for improving opportunities available to young people.”

Though Texas recently has taken Tennessee’s place as the second state after Mississippi with the most students at Ole Miss, too many outstanding Texas high school students are enrolling elsewhere, Crosswell said.

“We’re primarily trying to increase the awareness of the value of a degree from the University of Mississippi,” said Crosswell, whose businesses are active in retail development, industrial acquisitions and asset lending. “We’re not getting the students with the upper grade-point averages and upper ACT and SAT scores. They’re going to the other competitive colleges primarily because they don’t know what we have to offer.”

Crosswell believes these high-achieving prospective students would be more likely to choose Ole Miss if they knew of its many benefits: the curricula, faculty and culture that made a difference in his own values and life views, so much so that he felt compelled to give back.

“Most of them don’t even know we have the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College,” Crosswell said. “They’re not hearing about the national ranking of our schools or that our Patterson School of Accountancy is ranked in the Top 10, for example.”

And it’s just a matter of spreading the word, said Crosswell, who has worked with the Office of Admissions to develop a program that will get these students’ attention.

“We’ll make sure they know what we have to offer, make sure they get set up to come visit here, make sure they can meet other Ole Miss students from the major metros of Dallas, Houston, Austin, San Antonio and also visit with some of our professors,” Crosswell said, adding that the whole experience will be prearranged by the recruiter. “I think it will help us build awareness for what we have to offer.”

It will also provide a personal touch, Leah Crosswell said.

“Everybody wants to be wanted, so all of sudden they have somebody who wants them and who’s showing them a program that will have real value when they graduate,” she said.

“It’s going to be an eye-opener for some of these kids,” Allen Crosswell continued. “They’ll see that they can get the excellent academics they need in a really fun, Southern setting with fraternities and sororities and SEC football.

“You can’t find that in most places. We’ve just got to sell it. So that’s what we’re trying to do, and we believe a recruiter can show that culture to students in Texas.”

It’s a unique concept, said Brandi Hephner LaBanc, UM vice chancellor for student affairs.

“The Crosswells’ gift is unprecedented for the university as far as providing resources to our admissions office and is going to increase our exposure and give us an opportunity to be more high-touch in Texas, where we get a number of wonderful students,” she said. “It will allow us to continue to expand the wonderful Ole Miss brand and that feeling of being an Ole Miss family.”

Both LaBanc and the Crosswells hope the Texas Recruiting Initiative Fund will be an example to others who may want replicate the program throughout Texas and in other states.

“It says that people value the work of the Office of Admissions,” LaBanc said. “They are a staff that is always out all year long. If they’re not working on the incoming class, they’re working on the following year’s class.

“They’re such a hard-working group of individuals and for someone to recognize that and want to help them expand their scope and expand the impact that they already have is such a real blessing.”

The Crosswells, who have a home in Oxford, frequently visit the university, where their son Holcombe is a junior integrated marketing communications major. Their son Greyson is a high-school senior who plans to attend Ole Miss in the fall.

The Texas Recruiting Initiative Fund is open to receive gifts from individuals and organizations. Checks to the University of Mississippi Foundation, with the name of the fund noted in the memo line, can be mailed to 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655. Gifts also can be made online at http://www.umfoundation/makeagift.

For information on establishing a similar fund, contact Brett Barefoot, development officer for parents, at 662-915-2711 or bmbarefo@olemiss.edu.

Kristie Willett Named Chair of UM Department of BioMolecular Sciences

New leader brings 17 years' experience and research expertise

Kristie Willett. Photo courtesy Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry

OXFORD, Miss. – Kristine Willett, professor of pharmacology and environmental toxicology, has been chosen as chair of the Department of BioMolecular Sciences in the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy.

The Department of BioMolecular Sciences encompasses the divisions of environmental toxicology, medicinal chemistry, pharmacognosy and pharmacology. Several members of the department nominated Willett, a native of Wooster, Ohio, as a candidate for the position and encouraged her to pursue the opportunity.

As chair, recruiting new faculty and graduate students to enhance the school’s research and teaching expertise is one of her highest priorities, Willett said.

“We are in an exciting time in our department,” she said. “We must remain committed to strengthening our graduate program and recruiting and nurturing the best graduate students from local, regional and international pools.”

John Rimoldi, professor of medicinal chemistry, chaired the search committee for Willett’s position. They have worked together since Willett joined the school in 2000.

“Kristie brings commitment, service and optimism to this position,” Rimoldi said. “The faculty will benefit from her collective experiences in toxicology research and education at the university and national levels. I am confident she will provide inspired leadership to the department.”

Willett’s research focuses on understanding the molecular mechanisms of toxicity and human diseases. Her lab uses zebrafish to screen for potential ways to control seizures and study the effects of environmental contaminants on early development. Her research is supported by the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The School of Pharmacy has recognized Willett as a Distinguished Teaching Scholar, and she has taught courses in the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College since 2009. Nationally, she is chair of the Society of Toxicology’s undergraduate education committee and mentors the graduate student council as part of the board of directors of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.

“Kristie is deeply and diversely involved on campus and in the School of Pharmacy,” said David D. Allen, dean of the School of Pharmacy. “She has a strong vision for the future of the department and an incredibly positive and can-do attitude, which are absolutely essential to lead in this capacity.”

Willett said she hopes to help ensure the success of the department’s faculty, staff and students by “reflecting a positive attitude and commitment to place.”

“I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to develop my career here at the University of Mississippi, and I look forward to facilitating the continued success of our department and school,” she said.

UM Professor Honored Among Nation’s 10 Best Journalism Educators

Debora Rae Wenger selected by magazine's readers, other professionals for recognition

Debora Wenger (center) gives advice to journalism students Taylor Shelley (left) and Jason Bailey. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The day Debora Rae Wenger received her doctorate from Kingston University, Tuesday (Jan. 17), was already meaningful, but it became even more memorable when the University of Mississippi professor learned that she is among 10 journalism educators being recognized by NewsPro magazine.

“Frankly, I was humbled when I got the news,” said Wenger, associate professor and head of journalism undergraduate studies in the Meek School of Journalism and New Media. “There are some truly outstanding educators on the NewsPro list, and I’m honored to have my name printed on the same page with them.”

Each honoree is profiled in the publication’s January issue. To view the list, visit http://www.crainsnewspro.com/assets/newspro/pdf/2017-01-newspro.pdf.

To recognize some of the nation’s best journalism educators, NewsPro asked readers and other media professionals to nominate an outstanding academician. The list of honorees includes professors, department chairs and directors of media centers from such universities as Fordham, Purdue, Missouri, Boston, Ball State, Columbia, Syracuse, Rhode Island and Florida.

Wenger’s achievement bodes well for both the university and its journalism school, UM administrators said.

“What an incredible honor and recognition for Dr. Wenger and her work here at the University of Mississippi,” Chancellor Jeffery S. Vitter said. “Her expertise and teaching excellence greatly contributes to the university’s academic success as well as the prominence of the Meek School of Journalism and New Media. We are so proud to have someone of her talent and caliber guiding our students to new heights.”

Journalism Dean Will Norton shared Vitter’s sentiment.

“The Meek School is fortunate to have her in its leadership team,” he said. “Dr. Wenger was a traditional journalist who keeps up with developments in new media and has a network of outstanding educators and journalism educators with whom she works closely.”

A 17-year broadcast news veteran, Wenger was cited for bringing her “well-rounded, real world experience working in large market, network-affiliated newsrooms” to the classroom. Her passion for strong writing and creative storytelling was lauded as a newsworthy asset that “sets her apart from most college professors.”

“My goal is to have all students leave every class a little better informed than they were before they walked in the door,” Wenger said. “Whether it’s learning a new app, a new video editing technique, a new way of thinking about storytelling or simply discovering that there are other perspectives out there to consider, I want students to feel that time in my classes is well-spent.”

The NewsPro honor is not the first for Wenger. In 2000, she led a team of journalists at WFLA-TV in Tampa, Florida, in winning the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Television Political Journalism. Throughout the presidential, state and local election seasons, the station had committed to providing its audience with coverage that was as thorough and informative as possible.

Debora Wenger and her journalism students. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

“Receiving national recognition for the work we did made me proud of my station, my colleagues and my profession,” Wenger said. “The NewsPro Award is one that has my name on it, but like the Cronkite Award, it was a team effort.

“So many people have helped me grow as a teacher over the years: colleagues who shared strategies, mentors who helped keep me on track and, most of all, those students who did well and whose successes made me want to keep on getting better at teaching.”

Before joining the UM faculty in 2009, Wenger was assistant news director at WFLA-TV. She is co-author of the broadcast, online and multimedia journalism curricula for the Society of Professional Journalists’ Newsroom Training Program, and conducts multimedia training in newsrooms nationwide.

Wenger is also co-author of the journalism textbook, “Advancing the Story: Broadcast Journalism in a Multimedia World” (Sage, 2014), “Managing Today’s News Media: Audience First” (Sage, 2015) and produces a multimedia blog: advancingthestory.com

A native of North Dakota who moved around quite a bit over the years, Wenger considers herself a Midwesterner who very much enjoys the South. She graduated from Moorhead State University and earned her master’s degree in English from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Wenger’s family includes husband, Mitch, a professor in UM’s Patterson School of Accountancy; son, Jay, a ninth-grader at Oxford High School; and the family dog, Nina. Her favorite leisure activities are to travel, read and go for long walks with friends.

Her committee memberships at Ole Miss have included the Undergraduate Council, Meek School Curriculum Committee, Faculty Senate, Chancellor’s Commission on the Status of Women, Council of Academic Administrators, Course Scheduling, Dual- and Second-Degree Policy, Task Force for Engagement, Academic Conduct, School Graduation, and Tenure and Promotion.

“Teaching is most fulfilling when I see how much a student has improved from the start of the semester to the end, or when I get a call from a former student who has embarked on a career and still considers me a resource years after he or she has left my classroom,” she said. “It’s wonderful when you feel like you have helped someone achieve a goal or fulfill a dream.”

For more about UM’s Meek School of Journalism and New Media, visit http://meek.olemiss.edu/.


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 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 http://winterinstitute.org/national-day-healing-toolkit/

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 portia@winterinstitute.org.

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 http://www.phy.olemiss.edu/oxfordsciencecafe. For more information about the Department of Physics and Astronomy, visit http://www.olemiss.edu/depts/physics_and_astronomy 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.”

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.”

UM Online Master of Business Administration Program Ranked in Top 25

U.S News & World Report releases 2017 rankings for online MBA degrees

The UM Online Master of Business Administration program is ranked ahead of several respected national programs for providing a quality, flexible program for working professionals. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi’s Online Master of Business Administration program has been named as one of the best in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. The rankings, released today (Jan. 10), place Ole Miss at No. 22 nationally.

“We are excited for the recognition of the outstanding education received in the online MBA program,” said Ken Cyree, dean of the UM School of Business Administration. “We strive to provide similarities of the on-campus experience, but with the flexibility of the courses needed while working or living in another location.

“We are grateful for the opportunities this program provides our graduates, and that we are receiving this type of recognition. We look forward to the continued success of the online MBA program.”

According to U.S. News & World Report’s briefing, “Master’s degree programs in business administration have greater enrollment, by far, than any other type of graduate business degree program. The 2017 ‘Best Online MBA Programs’ rankings evaluate schools based on data related to their distance education MBA programs.”

For the 2017 edition, U.S. News & World Report ranked online MBA programs using five criteria: student engagement, admissions selectivity, peer reputation, faculty credentials and training, and student services and technology.

“Our online program includes a 36-hour, challenging and comprehensive curriculum that allows professionals to further their education while maintaining ‘real life’ responsibilities, such as work and family,” said Ashley Jones, director of the university’s MBA program. “You can keep your job, stay where you are and earn a quality degree from Ole Miss.”

“Our faculty work very hard to provide an online experience that includes frequent, high-quality interaction between students and instructors,” said Walter Davis, faculty director of the online MBA program.

“We strive to provide opportunities for students to interact with one another, sharing their experiences from a variety of professional contexts. This is a vital part of the learning process and a strength of the program.”

UM placed ahead of several respected online programs, including Northeastern University and George Washington University. The program ranked third in the Southeastern Conference (tied with Mississippi State) behind the Hough Graduate School of Business at the University of Florida and the Harbert School of Business at Auburn University.

“Accreditation, reputation and name recognition led me to choose Ole Miss over the other schools,” said Ray Mathew, of Westchester County, New York, who received his degree in 2016.

“Other than talented faculty, the flexibility to complete the degree at my own pace while working full-time was the greatest strength of the online program.”

U.S. News & World Report collected the data between August and October 2016. Two hundred and fifty-five schools indicated they would be offering online MBAs, up from 228 in 2015.

The UM on-campus MBA program ranked No. 36 among American public universities and No. 68 overall by Bloomberg Business Week News Service in November.

The Ole Miss School of Business Administration was established in 1917 and awarded its first MBA degree in 1946.