University to Host STEM Summit July 18-19

Meeting focuses on impact of forensic science on 21st century workforce

Students learn about forensic

The second annual STEM Summit will take place July 18-19.

OXFORD, Miss. – Representatives from governmental agencies, including the FBI and DEA, grades K-12 and higher education are scheduled to participate in a national conference this weekend at the University of Mississippi.

The second annual Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Summit meets July 18-19. The two-day event is being sponsored by UM’s forensic chemistry program, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Department of BioMolecular Sciences, the Mississippi State Crime Laboratory and the Committee for Action Program Services-Analytical Training Laboratory.

“The focus of this summit is to continue the effort to create a consortium of colleges, universities, corporations and government agencies,” said Murell Godfrey, UM director of forensic chemistry and associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry. “Our purpose is to address how forensic science will have an impact on the U.S. and the 21st century workforce.”

Scheduled UM speakers Friday include Godfrey; Tucker Carrington, director of the Mississippi Innocence Project and professor of law; and Maurice Eftink, UM associate provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs. Other presenters are Darrell Davis, former director of the DEA South Central Laboratory and CEO/president of CAPS-ATL, and Sam Howell, director of the Mississippi State Crime Laboratory.

Friday events include tours of the university’s marijuana field and medicinal plant gardens, the city of Oxford and an agency panel discussion featuring representatives from the Army Crime Laboratory, Mississippi State Crime Laboratory, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, DEA, FBI and Aegis Analytical Laboratory.

Saturday’s session includes presentations by Christopher McCurdy, UM professor of medicinal chemistry and pharmacology, and representatives from the UM STEM research panel, Bay Waveland Middle School, Oxford-Lafayette County schools and the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science.

Registration is $100 for out-of-towners and $50 for Oxford residents. For more information, contact Murrell Godfrey at 662-915-5143 or visit

Research Program Has Staying Power

UM search for antifungal antibiotics marks 30th year

Alice Clark prepares for a lab experiment (circa 1995).

Clark and Charles Hufford began UM’s search for antifungal antibiotics in 1984.

OXFORD, Miss. – What began in 1984 as a contract to screen compounds for activity against opportunistic infections that threaten the lives of people with suppressed immune systems has become one of the longest continually funded antifungal research programs in the history of the National Institutes of Health.

The program’s principal investigator is the University of Mississippi’s vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs, Alice Clark, who first received funding for the work from NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, or NIAID, 30 years ago.

At the time, a host of opportunistic infections were ravaging the bodies of people with suppressed immune systems due to AIDS, cancer chemotherapy or immune-suppressing drugs, but treatments were sorely lacking.

With that first NIH-NIAID funding, Clark, co-principal investigator Charles Hufford and others in the university’s School of Pharmacy focused on finding new drugs to treat fungal infections such as systemic candidiasis. Candidiasis is caused by Candida albicans, which produces localized yeast infections (i.e., oral thrush, vaginitis and diaper rash) that are not a problem for people with healthy immune systems. But in people with suppressed immune systems, the organism can invade the whole body and attack the organs.

During the project’s early years, Clark and her team found and patented several compounds that kill or inhibit C. albicans, and the compounds represented totally new and different classes of antifungal antibiotics. That’s because, rather than synthesizing analogs of existing drugs, which were likely to have the same toxicities and resistance problems as the parent drug, the researchers focused on isolating compounds from higher plants – trees, shrubs and flowers – as well as microorganisms, the traditional source of antifungal antibiotics.

Because of such progress, Clark and Hufford received a $1 million contract renewal in 1987 (one of only three awarded nationwide) to continue their work for five more years. Two years later, they received a grant from NIAID for similar work. With Clark as its principal investigator, that grant (RO1-AI-27094) has been renewed four times and been funded with nearly $5.9 million since 1989.

“I believe this is probably the longest antifungal research program in NIH history,” said Hufford, Clark’s spouse and the pharmacy school’s associate dean for research and graduate programs.

“It has been an honor to be supported by NIH, and through NIH by my peers in the scientific community, for 30 years,” Clark said. “I feel extremely fortunate to have had such a long and successful relationship with them. I am also grateful to Chris Lambros, my program officer at NIH, who has been extremely engaged, knowledgeable, helpful and visionary. He has been an incredible resource to my group and to the whole scientific community.”

Today, drugs such as fluconazole and caspofungin are frequently used to treat infections caused by Candida and other fungi (e.g., lung infections caused by Aspergillus and meningitis caused by the yeast Cryptococcus), but resistant strains of these pathogens are diminishing the drugs’ utility and effectiveness. Because of that, Clark and her colleagues are not only evaluating natural products for antifungal activity but also their ability to work in combination with fluconazole and caspofungin to restore their effectiveness.

With the help of pharmacy school research scientists such as Ameeta Agarwal, Xing-Cong Li and Melissa Jacob, Clark’s team has identified a small number of compounds that do just that. Some help keep fluconazole inside fungal cells, where it can do its work, while others prevent fungal cells from repairing the damage to their walls that caspofungin causes.

“Over time, microbes and other pathogens develop resistance, so it is important to continually develop new drugs that kill them or that restore the effectiveness of existing drugs in resistant strains of the pathogens,” Clark said. “We evaluate thousands of samples of plants and microorganisms from all over the world to see if they can do either or both of these things. We then isolate, purify and determine the chemical structure of the individual natural product compound most responsible for the effect and determine its mechanism of action.”

Unravelling just what makes fungal pathogens susceptible, or resistant, to drugs is the key to devising new ways to kill them and treat the infections they cause.

“From that information, we can design new biological tests to help discover other new compounds,” Clark said.

For these particular studies, the researchers use the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, because of its simple genetics and biochemistry, and a host of sophisticated genomic, genetic and proteomic (analysis of structure and function of proteins and/or enzymes) technology.

“We use technology that shows how an organism’s genes respond after exposure to the natural product,” Clark said. “First, we use transcript profiling technology to identify biological pathways that respond to the candidate drug. Once a target pathway is identified, we conduct follow-up studies to pinpoint the precise drug target.”

Those follow-up studies include testing to determine whether mutant strains of yeast that lack those biological pathway genes are more sensitive to the potential drug, or to search for specific enzymes or metabolites in the target pathways, Clark said. Finally, the researchers test the effectiveness of the potential drug against fungal pathogens, using similar approaches to what they use in model organisms.

Restoring the potency of existing antifungal drugs presents multiple advantages, Clark said. “Increasing the intracellular concentration of the primary drug, for example, can lead to shorter durations of therapy, reduced dosages and fewer side effects.”

Although the goal of Clark and her team is to improve the quality of life of millions of people with immune disorders worldwide, their work is a continual cycle of concurrent and interrelated studies.

“Collaboration is the key to success of this project,” Clark said. “The work simply could not be done by any single investigator, and we benefit from collaborations with researchers in other academic institutions, government labs and companies.

“I have had the great privilege of working with many outstanding collaborators throughout my career but none more so than my UM colleagues on this project: Drs. Agarwal, Li and Jacob, who lead our efforts in molecular biology, natural products chemistry and antifungal screening, respectively.”

ChE Alumnus Recalls Good Ole (Miss) Days

C. J. Fayard reflects upon tenure as student, military service and successful career



George Bailey’s not the only man who can claim “It’s been a wonderful life!”

Like the fictional lead character in Frank Capra’s popular Christmas movie, C. J. Fayard (ChE 52) has lived to fulfill the dreams he had as a young man growing up in Bay St. Louis.

“I attended and was valedictorian of St Stanislaus College, a college prep for boys dating back to 1854, and was taught by Sacred Heart brothers,” Fayard said. “After I graduated in 1948, I was awarded a minor scholarship to Loyola University in New Orleans.”

After learning Loyola did not have a chemical engineering department, Fayard looked northward.

“I decided to go to Ole Miss to study chemical engineering,” he said. “My decision was based on my older brother’s advice, as he graduated with a C.E. degree.”

Fayard came to Ole Miss in 1948, excelling as a student and earning many honors, including membership in Phi Eta Sigma engineering society and the Arnold Air Society.

“I thought Ole Miss would be my best choice,” Fayard said. “My favorite subjects were heat transfer, which was taught by Frank Anderson, and calculus.”

After being commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force, Fayard was called to active duty during the Korean conflict. After being indoctrinated at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, he was assigned to the 4925th Test Group, a top-secret entity dealing with atomic weapons.

“My major projects included testing the B-2 trailer, which was used to load H-bombs,” Fayard said. “We also conducted escape maneuvers of aircraft carrying atomic weapons.”

Upon completing his two-year tour of duty, Fayard, by then a first lieutenant, retired from the military. He was employed with Copolymer Corp. in Baton Rouge for a year before being hired by Shell Chemical in Norco, Louisiana.

“After two years, I transferred to Shell Chemical in Houston, Texas,” Fayard said. “I was hired in the computer programming department and later went into training. Some courses I taught were ‘Presentation and Communication Skills,’ ‘Creative Problem Solving’ and ‘Time Management.’”

Fayard was later assigned to Gesimar, Lousiana, to lead the startup of an oxygen plant.

After 33 years with Shell, Fayard retired but he didn’t stop working.

“I formed CJF Seminars,” he said. “I designed many techniques taught by Dr. Anderson into my seminars. I had great respect for him and he was a great influence on my success. I had workshops in all the courses previously mentioned, plus new ones. I traveled all over and was even invited to teach on a 12-day cruise.”

After enountering some health issues, Fayard retired from teaching. He and Shirley, his wife of 52 years, enjoy spending time with their four married children and 12 grandchildren.

“Without question, my years at Ole Miss were some of the best years of my life,” Fayard said. “It’s been quite a ride.”

UM Alumni Margaret and Kat King Celebrate Third Book

Oxford natives hold book launch at Off Square Books

King Book

Margaret and Kat King

OXFORD, Miss. – Oxford authors and Ole Miss alumni Margaret and Kat King will celebrate the publication of their third book, “Our Josephine,” at 5 p.m. Tuesday (July 1) at a book-signing event at Off Square Books.

The identical twins’ most recent publication is a memoir set in Vicksburg in 1957, when the King sisters were sent to stay with their 88-year-old great grandmother for 10 days. The book focuses on the duo’s relationship with a young woman named Josephine, a 16-year-old African-American caregiver to their great-grandmother. In the memoir, Kat and Margaret experience the complexities of race relations in the 1950s South from a 9-year-old white child’s perspective.

“I remember we went into town one day and there were two water fountains: white and colored,” Margaret recalled. “So, I remember that I wanted to drink some colored water. I went over there and thought it was broken. It was just like the water out of the white fountain. We went through a lot of different phases of trying to understand what was going on in the world. We realized our lives were so different from Josephine’s.”

The alumni aren’t looking to turn a profit with the publication of “Our Josephine.” The pair said that if success does come their way, they plan to invest it into the Oxford community. They also hope to help Josephine, who is still alive and well in Vicksburg, build a nice house on her family’s land with profits from the book. Josephine is scheduled to attend the book-signing event.

Graduates of the Ole Miss School of Education, Margaret and Kat have previously published two other works concerning their childhood, the first being “Y’all Twins?” and the second book “Which is Which?” Their debut work, Y’all Twins?” is set in Oxford in the 1950s and paints a picture of their hometown when the Oxford and Ole Miss community was a fraction of its current size.

During this time, the King sisters had more than one run-in with Nobel Prize-winning author William Faulkner, who lived just down the road. When they weren’t sneaking rides to the corner of their street in the back of Faulkner’s wagon, the two were usually getting into some other sort of trouble or adventure.

Kat, Margaret King Book Cover“I’d be Lucy and she’d be Ethel,” said Kat, speaking in reference to her sister. “Lucy was always the one that got them into trouble. That was pretty much always me.”

Kat, a lifelong educator, is a mathematics instructor at Northwest Mississippi Community College, and Margaret is a retired government employee. The twins built a house together on land in Oxford that their father bought in the mid-1950s. Their writing process consists of the two recalling memories in their living room with one laptop.

“Margaret always insists that we write it together,” Kat said. “If I did it all, I would probably just paint the entire picture to make myself look better.”

The event will be catered by Louisiana Rub Down and will also feature wine, cheese and chocolate chip cookies baked personally by the King twins. The sisters will sign copies of their book that will be available for purchase at the event.

CE Doctoral Student’s Paper Voted ‘Best’ at Geophysics Conference

Leti Wodajo invited to present this fall in Greece

Leti Wodajo

Leti Wodajo

A University of Mississippi civil engineering doctoral student’s research into the early detection of dam and levee problems has launched him onto the national and global stage.

Leti Wodajo of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, has been conducting research in applications of geophysics and geotechnical engineering since becoming a master’s student at Ole Miss. His academic prowess and scholarly presentation yielded him an invitation to present a paper at the Symposium on the Application of Geophysics and Environmental Engineering Problems meeting in April in Boston.

“We submit our abstract, and session committees will review it and notify us if it is accepted for presentation,” Wodajo said. “Over 200 technical papers were presented, including oral and poster presentations. It was a great opportunity to know what is being done in the world of geophysics and its application. It also gave me a great chance to talk to and to learn from distinguished professors in the field and professionals in the industry.”

A few weeks later, Wodajo received an email informing him that his paper, titled “Enhancement of SRT and ERT Interpretations Using Time-Lapse Measurements and Cross-plot Analysis,” was voted on the evaluation ballots as one of the best delivered at the conference. As a result, the organization has invited Wodajo to attend the Near Surface Geoscience Division of the European Association of Geoscientists and Engineers meeting, set for Sept. 14-18 in Athens, Greece, to deliver his paper.

Wodajo has accepted the invitation and begun preparing to attend.

“I was really excited by the news,” Wodajo said. “My hope is it will be a great learning experience and that I will receive insightful comments to help improve my work.”

For the past several years SAGEEP have been exchanging the “Best Of” papers with the NSG/EAGE Division in Europe. SAGEEP is covering Wodajo’s delegate badge and gala ticket. Airfare, hotel accommodations and meals are his responsibility.

It is an honor and a worthwhile investment in his future success as a scientist, UM engineering faculty members said.

“This is a great platform for us to present our work and also to learn from the European geophysical society,” said Chung Rak Song, associate professor of civil engineering and Wodajo’s academic co-adviser.

Craig Hickey, interim associate director of applied research at the National Center for Physical Acoustics at UM and Wodajo’s research co-adviser, concurs.

“Only four papers out of the 160 oral presentations were selected to attend the Greece meeting,” Hickey said. “So it is a great recognition to the collaborative work we do at the National Center of Physical Acoustics and the civil engineering department and also a validation to what we are contributing.”

Wodajo earned his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Jimma University in Ethiopia and a master’s degree in civil engineering from UM. His brother, Bikila Wodajo, received his doctoral degree from UM before him.

“That is how I first heard about the university and their civil engineering program,” Wodajo said. “He encouraged me to apply and got me in touch with Dr. Song and Dr. Hickey. I was able to communicate with them and find out the different types of research they do. I was also offered a generous scholarship covering the whole length of my study, which made my decision easy.”

Previous honors and awards include memberships in Phi Kappa Phi, the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Environmental and Engineering Geophysical Society and Mississippi Academy of Science.

After graduation in 2015, Wodajo’s long-term plan is to return to Ethiopia and assume a faculty position, continue doing research and also teach while being involved in the industry as a consultant.

“But in the short term, I would like to be able to stay for a while and do a post-doc and work on different projects,” he said. “This will help me further the work I am doing now and gain experience on the overall aspect of running a research program, starting from proposal preparation to project management and fund allocation.”

Cathy Grace is Amazing!

Geology lecturer recognized for excellence in academic advising of students

Cathy Grace

Cathy Grace

Perhaps the only thing more rewarding than knowing you have done a job well is the acknowledgement that others know it, too.

That’s why when Cathy Grace received word she had been chosen for the Academic Advising Network’s Excellence in Advising Award, she was both surprised and gratified.

“I was very honored and humbled to learn of this award, as I know the level of commitment exhibited by my faculty colleagues,” said the lecturer in the Department of Geology and Geological Engineering at the University of Mississippi. “I look forward to representing the university at these competitions. I also look forward to hearing from the real ‘experts’ in advising on how I might improve interacting with my students, as advising is not my full-time gig.”

Grace’s amazing journey to honor began when she joined the UM community in 1991 as an “over-the-hill” undergraduate student worker for the Mississippi Mineral Resources Institute.

“I teach a lot,” Grace said. “I was instructor of record for over 600 students last semester and there just aren’t enough hours in the day for interactions with all of my students. So, I look forward to learning how the pros do it.”

Those who know her said Grace is truly deserving of her latest accolade.

“It gives me great pleasure to announce the 2014 Academic Advising Network’s Excellence in Advising Award winners,” said Travis Hitchcock, assistant director for advising in UM’s Center for Student Success and First-Year Experience. “Cathy will represent the University of Mississippi for regional and national awards from the National Academic Advising Association.”

A native of Meridian, Grace received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in geology from the university in 1994 and 1996, respectively. Before becoming an instructor in 2008, she was employed as a coordinator of academic and administrative affairs and a project coordinator within the geology department and a marine projects coordinator at MMRI and the Center for Marine Resources and Technology.

Grace is a consulting and registered professional geoscientist with the Texas Board of Professional Geoscientists. Her principal publications include the Geological Society of America and the American Association of University Women.

Previously, Grace received the 2005 Outstanding Staff Award in the UM School of Engineering and was named Best University Professor by votes to Best of Oxford in 2013.

Her institutional and professional service included reviewing a chapter for “Exploring Geology,” reviewing three chapters in the Laboratory Manual for Physical Geology and being an invited speaker for the 2009 math and science conference at UM’s Tupelo campus.

Since 2004, Grace has delivered multiple presentations regarding geology and geological engineering in Mississippi’s public schools. She has also conducted annual Naturalist in Training seminars and served as a judge for the Lott Leadership Institute’s intra-collegiate debate competition. Grace attended the 2010 National Conference of College Student Women Leaders.

When she’s not spending quality time with her mother in Meridian, Grace enjoys being outdoors.

“I live on a small lake and enjoy fishing and paddling around, either on the little lake or taking my kayak to Sardis and fishing, floating and paddling there,” Grace said. “I also enjoy puttering around on my two acres with flowers, weeds, critters and herbs.”

Jackson Prep Offering Engineering Courses

First dual credit courses scheduled for fall 2014 and spring 2015

Seated from left: Alex Russell and Lila Burton Standing: Camp Geary and Marsha Hobbs

Seated from left: Alex Russell and Lila Burton. Standing: Camp Geary and Marsha Hobbs

The University of Mississippi School of Engineering is offering its pre-engineering curriculum to students at Jackson Preparatory School.

Beginning in August, students will be able to enroll in dual credit courses taught at Jackson Preparatory that can earn them college credit. ENGR 207, a computer graphics course, is available during the fall semester. Introduction to Engineering (ENGR 100) will be taught in spring 2015.

“The purpose of the initiative comes from an effort to stimulate science, technology, engineering and mathematics education in the state of Mississippi and encourage more students to pursue degrees in these fields at the college level,” said Alex Cheng, dean of the UM engineering school.

The courses will be taught by Marsha Hobbs, a Jackson Prep faculty member, in close collaboration with Ole Miss faculty. Additionally, UM faculty will provide guest lectures and students will have opportunities to visit the Oxford campus.

“We are excited about the dual credit course,” Hobbs said. “It will also be our first foray into distance learning, and we will partner with Marni Kendricks in her Engineering 207 course, which teaches AutoCad.

ENGR 207 introduces students to microcomputer-based sketching and drafting, interpretation of graphics, flow and circuit diagrams, graphical representation of data. ENGR 100 provides students with an introduction to the problem-solving methods that engineers use when applying scientific principles for the creation of realistic solutions to everyday technical problems.

Eighteen Jackson Prep students have enrolled in the fall engineering course and are excited about the possibilities of learning new skills.

“I am not sure that I will pursue engineering as part of my career, but I thought it would be beneficial to try it while I can still consider it as a field of study,” said Alex Russell, a senior from Ridgeland. “I enjoy being creative, and to me, engineering sounded like an opportunity to take a science class that embraced this passion.”

Russell said his career plan is to do something in film production, but that he’s still figuring out his options.

“That is why I am going to take this class with an open mind,” he said. “Who knows? I might end up changing my focus onto a more engineering-type career.”

Jackson Prep senior Lila Burton of Brandon echoed Russell’s optimism about the course.

“I enrolled in the course to learn more about engineering because I have gained an interest in what it is,” she said. “I hope to major in political science and have a career in international relations.”

Courses at Prep will mirror the courses at Ole Miss each semester, so that students at both campuses can have the same educational experience, said Ryan Upshaw, assistant dean for student services in the engineering school.

“The courses are meant to give students a better sense and understanding of the opportunities and careers available to them if they earn a degree in engineering or a related field,” Upshaw said. “They will also help them identify if their interests and skills are a good fit for the field.”

Founded in 1900, the UM School of Engineering has been educating engineers for more than 110 years, is accredited by the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology and offers seven degree programs. School officials hope to develop partnerships with more schools throughout the state to continue to expand STEM education in Mississippi.

Founded in 1970, Jackson Preparatory School was the first and continues to be the largest secondary independent school in the Jackson metropolitan area. Established as a premier coeducational college preparatory day school for grades 7-12, it has exhibited more than four decades of excellence in education and has more National Merit semifinalists and finalists than any other school in Mississippi.

For more information, contact the School of Engineering at 662-915-7407.

Couple Provides Major Support for Fastest-growing Program

John Thomas family creates endowed faculty position for marketing communications major

John and Mary Thomas with Chancellor Dan Jones.

John and Mary Thomas with Chancellor Dan Jones.

OXFORD, Miss. – A new and forward-looking degree at the University of Mississippi will have an endowed chair, thanks to a forward-looking alumnus and his spouse who want others to experience the same inspired boost to their careers as he did.

“This gift is about helping Ole Miss students by investing in the best and brightest professors, those who will ensure the legacy of this great school is passed on through the generation of our children and their children after that,” said John B. Thomas, who with his wife, Mary, created the John and Mary Thomas Chair in Integrated Marketing Communications in the Meek School of Journalism and New Media.

The Thomas family gift is part of the Barnard Initiative, a faculty support campaign named for Frederick A.P. Barnard, UM chancellor from 1856 to 1861 and later chancellor at Columbia University. The Thomases’ gift will be partially matched by Abbott Laboratories for a total $1.5 million contribution. Annual income from the endowment will enhance the compensation of a leading IMC faculty member in perpetuity.

A 1985 UM graduate, John Thomas recently retired from Abbott Laboratories, where he was vice president for investor relations and public affairs, as well as president of the Abbott Fund, which provides grants to promote science, expand access to health care and strengthen communities globally. Headquartered in North Chicago, the pharmaceutical and medical supply company had 91,000 employees in 150 nations until early 2013, when Abbott Laboratories split into two separate, publicly traded companies: Abbott and AbbVie. The Thomases live in Glenview, Illinois, with their two daughters and son.

“John was an exceptional student,” said Will Norton, dean of the journalism school. “His integrity and transparency were matched by intellectual depth and rich spiritual insight. To me, this is the reason for his uncommon stewardship. Gratitude, whether based on reality or not, is a quality of a person’s character. John exemplifies character and integrity in everything he does. I am so delighted to have known him as a student and now as an alumnus with a wonderful family.”

UM Chancellor Dan Jones applauds the Thomases for their vision and generosity.

“John Thomas is an Ole Miss graduate who pursued exceptional opportunities and achieved remarkable professional and personal success,” Jones said. “We are deeply grateful that through his journey, he never forgot his alma mater and the generations of students who will follow in his footsteps. John and Mary have chosen to make significant investments in an academic discipline and a university they love. The results will come as outstanding faculty members teach and mentor our students, preparing them to perform in an ever-changing global community.”

Integrated marketing communications, or IMC, takes a holistic approach, recognizing that each contact a consumer has with a product or service, intended or incidental, has an influence in forming consumer opinion. Contacts may be through traditional channels, such as press releases and advertising, but also through an array of other means arising in the digital era. Practitioners focus on research, accuracy, consistency and clarity in messaging.

The degree in the Meek School was approved by the Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning in late 2010 and was first offered to students in 2011. It has more than 500 undergraduate majors, making it the fastest growing degree program on campus and perhaps in UM history. Scott Fiene, assistant professor of integrated marketing, calls the growth “phenomenal,” reflecting the degree’s value in the marketplace.

“It’s a really solid degree,” he said. “It’s an integrated marketing communications degree, but it also comes with a minor in business administration. The business minor resonates with parents, and there is incredible cooperation with the School of Business Administration. Our students are required to take classes there, and some business students are required to take IMC classes. In the industry, there’s a major need for graduates from an IMC program, but there aren’t a lot of undergraduate programs of this kind, nationally.”

Norton and faculty of the Meek School designed the degree to which the Thomases and other alumni and friends have responded with much enthusiasm.

“The spectacular growth and popularity of the IMC program in the Meek School speaks to the hard work that Dr. Norton and others have put into ensuring that Ole Miss remains one of the premier schools in the country for journalism and communications students,” Thomas said.

The faculty endowment follows two previous initiatives supported by the Thomases. A 2013 gift endowed the Thomas Family Speaker Series to help underwrite the cost of bringing leading specialists for campus visits. In 2011, the couple funded the Thomas Family Scholarship Endowment, which will assist its first student with tuition and expenses during the 2014-15 academic year.

“Mary and I consider our gifts an investment in the future of Ole Miss and the Meek School,” Thomas said. “We both strongly believe in the merits of a rigorous education in journalism – both traditional reporting and writing as well as in-depth studies in the new media that are reshaping the way people communicate.”

Mary Thomas, who also had a career in professional communications, said the whole family is happy about the gift. “It has been great for us to see how important the university is for John,” she said. “He’s a testament to what Ole Miss can do for young people. It makes us feel good to be part of it.”

Gifts of all sizes are strengthening faculty support at Ole Miss. Individuals and organizations interested in providing a gift of any size to support faculty can send a check with the Barnard Initiative and academic area noted in the memo line to the University of Mississippi Foundation, P.O. Box 249, University, MS 38677; call the Office of University Development at 662-915-3937; or visit online at

Pierron Gift Establishes Scholarship for Pharmacy Students

Endowment created in conjunction with alumnus’ 60-year reunion

Pierron family members attend Pharmacy Alumni Weekend.

Pierron family members attend Pharmacy Alumni Weekend.

OXFORD, Miss. – Walter J. Pierron Jr. has a longtime appreciation for the School of Pharmacy at the University of Mississippi.

“I have many fond memories from the pharmacy school,” said Pierron (BSPh 54), a native of Monroe, Louisiana. “I made a lot of friends with the faculty and students. The university has an atmosphere that is so enjoyable, and that’s one of the things I remember most.”

In honor of that appreciation, Pierron’s daughter and son-in-law recently established a scholarship in his name. Their $25,000 gift created the Walter J. Pierron Jr. Pharmacy Scholarship Endowment for pharmacy students.

Recipients of the Pierron scholarship will be full-time students in their final year of the professional pharmacy program who excel academically, demonstrate qualities of leadership and conduct community service.

Pierron’s daughter, Melanie Pierron Patrick (BBA 83), was thrilled to honor her father.

“Dad has always spoken of his time at Ole Miss as some of the best years of his life,” she said. “He loves young people and has been a mentor to so many pharmacy students.”

Pierron’s love of the pharmacy profession began in high school while working at a local pharmacy. After graduating from Ole Miss, he worked for 45 years as a pharmacist in Louisiana. He also taught at the University of Louisiana at Monroe School of Pharmacy for 14 years. He was president of the Louisiana Pharmacists Association and served on the state’s Board of Pharmacy.

In April, Pierron attended his 60-year class reunion at the UM pharmacy school’s annual Alumni Weekend and was pleased to reconnect with a handful of former classmates.

“We’ve been friends a long time, and we stayed in touch over the years – mainly through the pharmacy school,” he said. “I was in the Air Force with Clovis Burch (BSPh 54). We go way back.”

David D. Allen, the pharmacy school’s dean, said he has enjoyed phone conversations with Pierron and was “delighted to finally meet him in person” at the event.

“It’s obvious that he has a genuine passion for the University of Mississippi and our school,” Allen said. “I am so thankful for his family’s generous gift. Education is our top priority, and this scholarship will provide many new opportunities for pharmacy students.”

William Patrick, Pierron’s son-in-law, said that Pierron was “very supportive” of students.

“Since I’ve known him, he has been interested in pharmacy and particularly pharmacy students,” Patrick said. “He’s also been interested in continuing education and other matters related to pharmacy. We wanted to do something in his honor, and we thought this would be an appropriate way to do that.”

For Pierron, it was an emotional gift.

“I’ve always been involved in academics because students are so important,” he said. “This scholarship means a lot to me. The university does a great job, and it’s always been a place I’ve been proud of. It just does something to you.”

To contribute to the Walter J. Pierron Jr. Pharmacy Scholarship Endowment, mail a check made payable to the University of Mississippi Foundation with the fund noted in the memo line to the UM Foundation, P.O. Box 249, University, MS 38677. Online gifts can be made at For more information, contact Raina McClure, director of development, at 662-915-6967 or

University, Americorps VISTA Partner for Community Service

Visiting Grisham fellows build a community garden at Crenshaw Elementary School

Grisham fellows

Grisham fellows help build a community garden at Crenshaw Elementary School

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi’s commitment to service was demonstrated recently when administrators took visiting Grisham fellows from Dallas, Texas, to Crenshaw Elementary School to build a community garden during a weeklong campus visit.

With help from Mclean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement and Americorps Volunteers in Service to America, the fellows helped lift some cultural barriers and made a difference in a small Mississippi community.

Kathy Trabue, Americorps VISTA federal volunteer, said she was thrilled to work with UM to help make that difference.

“We have some cultural isolation here in Mississippi and we try to break that down a bit,” Trabue said. “Seeing that happen makes my students from Dallas believe they can come to Ole Miss and serve the community.”

The fellows had a chance to work with college students and to visualize themselves as college students. They learned about the university and themselves as they prepare to make decisions on where to get a college education.

Cora Bunker, assistant principal at Crenshaw Elementary, was thrilled to partner with UM on another project. Volunteer projects can help open young people’s eyes not only to community service, but also to the endless possibilities that begin with attending college.

“Ole Miss has been an incredible partner throughout the past couple of years,” Bunker said. “The university gets out here to volunteer and they get us out there, and the kids get a different look at the college experience.”

Grisham fellow Victoria Hernandez said she traveled from Dallas because she loves the university and wanted to gain leadership experience.

“I thought it was a cool trip because of the leadership opportunities,” Hernandez said. “I wanted to make a difference outside the state of Texas, and taking part in this garden is a big part of making a difference for me.”

The volunteers constructed benches and tables so the entire Crenshaw community can enjoy the new community garden. An Americorps VISTA representative will stay in the area and help the community maintain the garden.

The McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement creates pathways through which the university cultivates mutually beneficial partnerships to enhance the quality of life for all Mississippians and instill a commitment to community and civic engagement in all members of the UM community.

VISTA was founded as Volunteers in Service to America in 1965 as a national service program designed specifically to fight poverty in America. In 1993, VISTA was incorporated into the AmeriCorps network of programs.