UM English Major Wins Prize at Southern Literary Festival

Junior Page Lagarde took top honor in nonfiction category

Page Lagarde recently won the nonfiction category at the Southern Literary Festival. Submitted Photo

OXFORD, Miss. – Page Lagarde has always aspired to write professionally. Still, the University of Mississippi junior wasn’t expecting her first entry in a prestigious regional competition to win first place.

An English and French major from Winchester, Virginia, Lagarde won in the nonfiction category at the Southern Literary Festival. Besides receiving a cash prize, she will read her story at the event, set for March 30-April 1 at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith.

“I was so surprised,” she said. “I found out via email while studying with friends, and they can tell you that I gasped very audibly. It was very exciting!”

Lagarde won for a story titled “To Thaw.” In the piece, the fledgling author reflects upon an Outward Bound dogsledding experience she had.

“It’s a story about faith and surrender when we’re pushed to our limits,” she said. “This is the first writing contest I’ve ever entered, so this one is particularly exciting because I want to eventually be a published writer.”

Lagarde deserves the recognition, said Ivo Kamps, UM professor and chair of English.

“Page’s win is a testament to her talents, and we like to think that the instruction she received in her English and creative writing classes also played a role,” Kamps said. “Thanks to Beth Spencer, lecturer in English, the English department has had robust student participation in the Southern Literary Festival in recent years.

“Each year, Ms. Spencer mentors some of our fine young writers and takes them to the festival, where they can meet their peers as well as a group of impressive professional writers.”

While Lagarde is still processing this honor, she already has her sights set on even bigger achievements.

“After graduation, I hope to pursue an MFA in fiction writing,” she said. “After that, I want to continue writing and also teach.”

As for her publishing dreams, Lagarde said she remains hopeful.

“Creative writing is a fairly new endeavor for me, and I know that it’s so hard to be successful in this field,” she said. “This was really encouraging.”

The Southern Literary Festival is an organization of Southern colleges and schools founded in 1937 to promote Southern literature. For more about the event, go to

For more information about the UM Department of English, visit


UM Museum Readies Major Exhibition Honoring Kate Freeman Clark

Curators hope to broaden awareness of painter's works and raise support for conservation

University Museum workers hang a portrait for the ‘Lasting Impressions: Restoring Kate Freeman Clark’ exhibit, set to open March 28. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The largest exhibit in more than two decades featuring works by acclaimed Mississippi painter Kate Freeman Clark is set to debut March 28 at the University of Mississippi Museum.

“Lasting Impressions: Restoring Kate Freeman Clark” includes more than 70 paintings from the Kate Freeman Clark Art Gallery and several artifacts from the Marshall County Historical Museum to illustrate different times and aspects of the artist’s life.

The exhibition was developed by Guest Curators James G. Thomas Jr., associate director for publications at the university’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture, and Annette Trefzer, UM associate professor of English.

“The fact that there was an accomplished and prolific female artist in our neighborhood whose name I had never heard before was the magnet that drew me first to the Holly Springs museum,” said Trefzer, also owner of Bozarts Gallery in Water Valley.

“And visiting there, I was overwhelmed by the quality and depth of her work: hundreds of canvases of landscapes, portraits and still lifes reside in the little museum. What a treasure and what a story!”

The exhibition is a major event for the University Museum and for art lovers across north Mississippi, said Robert Saarnio, museum director.

“The University Museum is honored and thrilled to have developed this major exhibition of the work of Kate Freeman Clark, in partnership with our guest curators, the Holly Springs lending institutions and our donors who so graciously provided the required funding,” Saarnio said.

“The compelling story of this exceptional artist and the beauty of her work will captivate audiences and inspire a renewed appreciation for one of Mississippi’s artistic treasures.”

A colorful garden scene from the ‘Lasting Impressions: Restoring Kate Freeman Clark’ exhibit, set to open March 28 at the University Museum. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

A Holly Springs native, Clark spent many years in New York City, where she studied under teacher, mentor and well-known American impressionist William Merritt Chase. She produced hundreds of paintings and had major exhibits at the Boston Art Club, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Corcoran Gallery, Carnegie Institute, New York School of Art, National Academy of Design and the Society of American Artists.

After 27 years of painting and following the deaths of Chase and her mother and grandmother, Clark stored her entire collection in a New York City warehouse in 1923 and returned to Holly Springs, where she remained until her death in 1957. She left her collection and estate to the city.

“I was first drawn to Kate Freeman Clark’s fascinating life story, and as I examined her vast body of work, she became all the more intriguing to me,” Thomas said. “How could a person with such great talent and obvious drive to create, and who had achieved a not inconsiderable measure of success, suddenly abandon her passion?”

An opening reception is set for 6 p.m. March 28 in conjunction with the Oxford Arts Crawl. The city’s double-decker busses will stop at the museum every 20 minutes for guest convenience. The event is free and open to the public.

A landscape from the ‘Lasting Impressions: Restoring Kate Freeman Clark’ exhibit, set to open March 28 at the University Museum. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

“The main concept of our show is to highlight her work as that of a woman artist,” Trefzer said. “We also want to show the variety of work in terms of styles, themes and media that she created as a student. We call the show ‘Lasting Impressions’ because we want the viewer to confront her ‘impressions’ of the world around her, a domestic life largely dominated by her mother and grandmother, and her love of the landscapes, both cultivated and natural, that she painted.”

Only a fraction of Clark’s paintings have been exhibited for many years, so the exhibit represents a rare opportunity for art lovers to view the works, Thomas said.

Both Thomas and Trefzer expressed special thanks to Walter Webb, director of the gallery in Holly Springs, for his assistance in developing the exhibit. They also hope the showing will boost support for continued conservation of the artist’s works, Trefzer said.

“These canvases have lasted more than 120 years, and we hope that with ongoing restoration efforts, more of them will be preserved for the future,” she said. “This is why we are also showing unrestored work. We want to make the public aware of this woman’s tremendously accomplished work so worth preserving and of her unique story that should be included in books of art history.”

A panel discussion on “The Art of Kate Freeman Clark” is slated for 1:30 p.m. March 30 at the museum, as part of the Oxford Conference for the Book. A reception will follow the discussion.

Panelists include writer, editor and scholar Carolyn Brown, who published award-winning biographies of Eudora Welty and Margaret Walker, as well as “The Artist’s Sketch: A Biography of Painter Kate Freeman Clark” (University Press of Mississippi, 2017). She will sign copies of the book at the reception.

Other panelists are Thomas, Trefzer and Beth Batton, an art historian and executive director of The Oaks House Museum in Jackson.

Funding for the exhibition was provided by Lester and Susan Fant III, Tim and Lisa Liddy, David B. Person, the Bank of Holly Springs, Ellis Stubbs State Farm Insurance, First State Bank and Tyson Drugs Inc.

The museum, at Fifth Street and University Avenue, is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Admission is free. For more information, visit

UM Liberal Arts Graduate Programs Jump in Rankings

English, history and political science doctoral programs named among nation's best

Several programs in the UM College of Liberal Arts, headquartered in Ventress Hall, have risen in the latest rankings of graduate programs by U.S. News & World Report. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – On the heels of achieving the university’s highest-ever standing in the 2017 U.S. News & World Report annual rankings of Best (Undergraduate) Colleges and Universities, the publication’s most recent graduate academic program rankings confirm the university’s commitment to academic excellence.

Doctoral programs in English, history and political science all made significant strides in the 2018 graduate program rankings, indication of the growing strength and upward trend for UM’s graduate programs in social sciences and humanities.

The U.S. News & World Report graduate rankings for the three programs were last updated in 2013.

“We are proud of the faculty who have worked hard to distinguish our graduate programs, and these new rankings clearly indicate that they are gaining recognition for their efforts,” said Noel Wilkin, UM interim provost and executive vice chancellor. “We have encouraged each of our programs to pursue excellence and I am pleased that this pursuit is bringing recognition to our faculty, our university and our state.”

The English doctoral program demonstrated the biggest jump as it improved 16 spots, where it tied for No. 40 in the nation among public universities with fellow Southeastern Conference institutions the universities of Florida and Missouri.

A Ph.D. in history from the university has never been more valued, as the graduate program cracked the Top 40 for the first time. UM tied for No. 37 in the category – up nine spots from 2013 – and shares the position with fellow SEC and Carnegie R1 research universities Texas A&M and Kentucky.

The political science graduate program entered the rankings for the first time and tied for No. 58 among public institutions.

Lee Cohen, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, says the rankings are a testament to the university’s strong faculty, staff and students.

“These rankings demonstrate what we have believed for some time: that we have strong, competitive doctoral programs on our campus that are well-respected at the national level,” Cohen said. “Of course, without the hard work of our faculty, staff and students, and the support of university administration, none of this would be attainable.”

The rankings are based on data collected last fall via surveys sent to administrators or faculty members at schools that granted five or more doctorates in each discipline from 2011 to 2015.

“Graduate education is increasingly important and valued in today’s competitive global marketplace,” Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said. “A UM graduate degree marks someone as a leader who will exceed employer expectations and be a real-world change maker.

“In order to continue the rise of our graduate programs, we are committed to enhancing our R1 standing as well as faculty excellence, research and scholarship.”

Donors Underwrite Southern Foodways Alliance’s ‘Gravy’

Major gift will allow UM center to continue telling stories of the region through its food

Brook and Pam Smith at Castle & Key Distillery, where the couple are partners, outside Frankfort, Kentucky. Photo by Steven Freeman

OXFORD, Miss. – Knowing the unifying qualities of food, Brook and Pam Smith of Louisville, Kentucky, have pledged $1 million to support “Gravy,” a podcast produced by the Southern Foodways Alliance at the University of Mississippi.

“Folks in different places appreciate when someone from one cultural segment takes the time to dine with others from a different cultural segment,” Brook Smith said. “It’s a show of respect and appreciation for a culture that may be different from their own, and that’s what we seem to be missing in our country today.”

Whenever the Smiths travel, they try to meet members of the Southern Foodways Alliance along the way. A member-supported nonprofit institute of the UM Center for the Study of Southern Culture, the SFA sponsors scholarships, mentors students, stages symposia, collects and shares oral histories, and produces and publishes books, podcasts and films.

On a recent trip to visit Pam’s family in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, the Smiths detoured to Hemingway, South Carolina, where Scott’s Bar-B-Q, praised by The New York Times, attracts customers from hundreds of miles away.

“My whole life has been barbecue,” said pitmaster Rodney Scott, who just opened his own barbecue restaurant in nearby Charleston, South Carolina. “I grew up doing it, hanging around it and hanging around other people that do it. And there’s just no other way to bring people in quicker. It’s like a beacon sign; it just draws them right in there.”

That spirit drew in the Smiths. So did the storytelling work of the SFA.

“‘Gravy,’ which was awarded publication of the year in 2015 by the prestigious James Beard Foundation, shares stories of the changing American South through the foods we eat,” said John T. Edge, SFA director. “‘Gravy’ showcases a South that is constantly evolving.

“We use food as a means to complicate stereotypes, document new dynamics and give voice to the often unsung folk who grow, cook and serve our daily meals.”

Edge is grateful for the Smiths’ generous gift.

“This sort of long-term commitment offers funding stability so that the SFA can take risks to tell stories in new and bold ways,” Edge said. “At a moment when ‘Gravy’ recently delivered its 1 millionth download, Brook and Pam have invested deeply in our most scalable and sharable effort.

“They are long-time members of the organization who know and respect the role that food plays in the cultural life of our nation.”

Smith found success in the surety bonding business. He’s also a wine and distillery owner as well as a philanthropist with an interest in organizations that focus on improving life for young people and those like the SFA, which inspires communities to invest in their culinary customs and, in so doing, establishes lasting, cross-cultural relationships.

Smith also has an ongoing commitment to Appalachian Kentucky and recently established a private philanthropic fund focused on economic development in the region that includes an interest in development driven by local mountain food traditions and small-scale farming.

He and Pam have three sons: Reed, 21; Mac, 18; and Grayson, 16.

Before establishing the Smith Family Gravy Boat Fund, the Smiths donated $250,000 in 2014 to support the SFA’s Smith Symposium Fellows program, which invites individuals whose work promises a positive impact on the South to be guests at the SFA’s fall symposium.

Brook Smith trusts his gift will boost operating funds, enabling the organization to better document, study and explore the diverse food cultures of the American South.

“Food starts conversations,” he said “You get into who makes it and where the products come from. It’s an ice breaker.

“People talk about the weather, but talking about barbecue is a lot more interesting.”

Private gifts are crucial to the university’s well-being and especially to programs such as the SFA, which depend on donor support to operate, UM Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said.

“We are tremendously grateful to receive generous donations, especially from such passionate supporters as the Smiths,” Vitter said. “It speaks to the impact of our university programs, not just in the state, but across the country and around the world.

“The Smiths’ gift will ensure that many more people will be enriched by the SFA for years to come. These kinds of contributions are a vital part of our university’s sustained growth, reach, impact and success.”

Individuals and organizations can make gifts to support the Southern Foodways Alliance or the Center for the Study of Southern Culture by mailing a check with the endowment noted to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655; visiting or contacting Nikki Neely Davis, development officer for the CSSC at 662-915-6678 or

Download “Gravy” for free from the iTunes store and the SFA website. For more information, visit and follow on Twitter @Potlikker.

Asian Art Expert to Discuss Significance of UM Museum Photo Exhibit

Angela Howard to lecture Tuesday on Dunhuang exhibit

The inside of a cave in Dunhuang, China, displays intricate paintings and a Buddha statue. Photo courtesy Angela Howard

OXFORD, Miss. – An expert on the Buddhist art of China will discuss what we can learn about the evolution of religion and culture of Central Asia through photographs of the intricate cave paintings of Dunhuang, China, during a lecture Tuesday (March 21) at the University of Mississippi Museum.

Angela Howard, professor of Asian art at Rutgers University, will speak at 5 p.m. in the museum’s Speaker’s Gallery. The event, held in conjunction with the museum’s “Dunhuang through the Lens of James and Lucy Lo,” is free and open to the public.

“The University Museum is very pleased to offer this lecture by such a distinguished international scholar,” said Robert Saarnio, the museum’s director. “Professor Howard’s teaching spans Chinese and Japanese art and has focused primarily on the development of Buddhist art in China, making her a perfect speaker to accompany this exceptional Silk Road photography exhibition.”

The exhibit features photographs taken of the caves in the 1940s by the Los. The nearly 500 caves are in the northwestern area of China, along the ancient Silk Road, and are a major Buddhist pilgrimage site. Each one features intricately painted artwork, dating to between the fourth and 14th centuries.

Joshua Howard, UM Croft associate professor of history and international studies and Angela Howard’s son, approached the museum staff about partnering for this event in conjunction with the exhibit of the Los’ photographs.

“Dr. Angela Howard is an authority on the Buddhist art of China and Central Asia, and she happens to be my mother,” Joshua Howard said. “When the University Museum was able to borrow the photographic exhibit on Dunhuang caves, which was facilitated by my mother’s contacts at Princeton University, I reached out to my mother to present a talk.

“Dunhuang is very much on her mind these days as she’ll also be teaching an on-site workshop there this summer sponsored by the Woodenfish Foundation.”

Angela Howard specializes in the Buddhist art of China and Central Asia and has studied the culture and area extensively. She said she plans to discuss “how the photos of the Dunhuang caves’ architecture and paintings enable us to reconstruct the type of Buddhism practiced at Dunhuang, a Chinese transformation of Indian and Central Asian traditions.”

The “Dunhuang through the Lens of James and Lucy Lo” exhibit is on display through April 29.

The museum, at the corner of University Avenue and Fifth Street, is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Admission is free. For more information about museum exhibits and events, visit

Physics of the Sun Topic of March Science Cafe

Sabrina Savage of NASA Marshall Space Flight Center is third lecturer of spring semester

NASA astrophysicist Sabrina L. Savage will discuss ‘The Physics of the Sun’ March 21 at Lusa Bakery Bistro and Bar. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The sun and solar flares are the topic for a monthly public science forum organized by the University of Mississippi Department of Physics and Astronomy.

The spring semester’s third meeting of the Oxford Science Cafe is set for 6 p.m. March 21 at Lusa Bakery Bistro and Bar, 1120 North Lamar Blvd. Sabrina L. Savage, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, will discuss “The Physics of the Sun.” Admission is free.

“Because the Earth resides in the atmosphere of our nearest stellar neighbor, events occurring on the sun’s surface directly affect us by interfering with satellite operations and communications, astronaut safety and, in extreme circumstances, power grid stability,” Savage said.

“I will walk through our current understanding of why flares occur, show several examples of these fantastic explosions and describe the technology and instrumentation being developed at Marshall Space Flight Center to observe these phenomena.”

Savage’s 30-minute presentation will include why solar flares, the most energetic events in our solar system, are a substantial source of hazardous space weather affecting our increasingly technology- dependent society.

“While flares have been observed using ground-based telescopes for over 150 years, modern space-borne observatories have provided nearly continuous multiwavelength flare coverage that cannot be obtained from the ground,” she said. “We can now probe the origins and evolution of flares by tracking particle acceleration, changes in ionized plasma and the reorganization of magnetic fields.”

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

“Dr. Savage shares fascinating yet understandable knowledge gained from her research at NASA,” said Marco Cavaglia, associate professor of physics and astronomy. “Her discussion of solar flares and their effects upon the Earth should be most enlightening.”

This colorful graph depicts the many levels of solar radiation and flares emitted by the sun. Submitted photo

A native of Mobile, Alabama, Savage received her bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of South Alabama. She participated in the University of Wyoming’s Summer Undergraduate Research Assistantship Program, where she worked with the Red Buttes and  Wyoming Infrared observatories before receiving her master’s degree in Physics from UW in 2005.

Savage earned her Ph.D. in Physics from Montana State University as part of MSU’s internationally renowned solar physics research group. She then worked as a NASA post-doctoral fellow at Goddard Space Flight Center outside Washington, D.C., before assuming her current duties at Marshall Space Flight Center.

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.

Celebrate the Written Word at the Oxford Conference for the Book

Three-day event set for March 29-31

OXFORD, Miss. – For those who relish getting lost in a good story, the 24th annual Oxford Conference for the Book is an opportunity to gather with authors, editors and scholars.

On March 29-31, the conference at the University of Mississippi, which is free and open to the public, includes readings, panel discussions and lectures by award-winning writers and first-time novelists.

“Oxford is an incredible community for writers and readers alike,” said James G. Thomas Jr., conference director. “I’m happy that the Center for the Study of Southern Culture and Square Books continue to partner to bring this diversity of ideas and wealth of talent to the community. There’s certainly something for everyone this year.”

Events will take place across the Ole Miss campus and in Oxford. The conference begins with a welcome luncheon at 11 a.m., sponsored by the Friends of the Library, in the Faulkner Room of the Department of Archives and Special Collections at the J.D. Williams Library, followed by a lecture by Jay Satterfield, special collections librarian at the Rauner Special Collections Library at Dartmouth College, at 11:30 a.m.

Lisa Lucas. Photo courtesy Beowulf Sheehan

Satterfield, who was in Oxford for the 2015 Faulkner Conference, said some of the ideas he first presented then have new relevance for writers trying to navigate the shifting landscape of today’s publishing world, and he is looking forward to exploring those ideas in a new context.

“I will discuss the skillful and timely marketing strategies Random House employed to re-establish the Faulkner brand, a brand that would later help to cement Faulkner’s place in the American literary canon,” Satterfield said.

Other panels on March 29 and 30 take place at the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics, the University Museum and Southside Gallery. The closing day’s panels take place in the historic Lafayette County Courthouse.

Conference panels explore a wide range of topics, including nature writing, African-American cookbooks, the life and work of Harry Crews, working with an editor, literature as activism and the National Book Award. The full lineup and registration for social events is at

George Gibson, executive director at Grove Atlantic, reflects on the process between editor and author during his more than 40 years in the business during a panel at 1:15 p.m. March 29.

“I’m thrilled to be coming to the conference, as it brings together all the constituencies in the book world in a storied location in American letters,” Gibson said.

Lee Boudreaux

This year’s participants also include poets Ann Fisher-Wirth, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Beth Ann Fennelly, Carolyn Hembree, Alison Pelegrin and Rodney Jones; memoirist J. Drew Lanham; biographers Carolyn J. Brown and Ted Geltner; documentary filmmaker Tom Thurman; American studies professor Sharon Monteith; art historian Beth Batton; UM English professor Annette Trefzer; Lisa Lucas, executive director of the National Book Foundation; foodways writer Toni Tipton-Martin; Lee Boudreaux, editorial director of Lee Boudreaux Books; journalist David Shirley; novelists Peter Heller, Beth Macy, Hari Kunzru and Michael Farris Smith; and comedian-writers Trae “The Liberal Redneck” Crowder, Drew Morgan and Corey Ryan Forrester.

On the evening of March 29, the gala opening-night cocktail reception and dinner begins at 6:30 p.m. at the historic Barksdale-Isom House, 1003 Jefferson Ave., with food provided by James Beard award-winning chef John Currence’s Main Event Catering.

The conference is parterning with the University Museum again this year to include a session paired with an art exhibition. On the afternoon of March 30, the museum will host a session with Carolyn J. Brown, who wrote painter Kate Freeman Clark’s biography, art historian Beth Batton, and co-curators of an upcoming exhibition on Freeman’s work, James G. Thomas Jr., associate director of publications at CSSC, and Annette Trefzer, UM associate professor of English.

George Gibson

An opening reception for the exhibition and book signing by Brown will follow the session.

As in years past, Thacker Mountain Radio will host a special Oxford Conference for the Book show at 6 p.m. March 30 at the Lyric Theater, 1006 Van Buren Ave., including conference authors and visiting musicians.

Two new special events are planned for this year. At 8 p.m. March 30, a screening of Tom Thurman’s documentary “Harry Crews: Guilty as Charged” is set for Lamar Hall, Room 129.

On the closing night, the conference brings the wellRED Comedy Tour to the Lyric Theatre. Earlier that day, Trae “The Liberal Redneck” Crowder, Drew Morgan and Corey Ryan Forrester will discuss their new book, “The Liberal Redneck Manifesto.”

The film screening and reading are free, but tickets are required for the comedy show.

The 2017 Children’s Book Festival, held in conjunction with the Oxford Conference for the Book, will be March 31 at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for Performing Arts, with more than 1,200 first-graders and fifth-graders from the schools of Lafayette County and Oxford in attendance. Chris Van Dusen, author of “If I Built a Car,” will present at 9 a.m. for the first-graders, and Chris Grabenstein, author of “Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library,” will present at 10:30 a.m. for the fifth-graders.

Peter Heller. Photo courtesy John Burcham

The Lafayette County Literacy Council sponsors the first-grade program and the Junior Auxiliary of Oxford sponsors the fifth-grade program. All 1,200 children receive a copy of each book.

At noon March 31, the Lafayette County and Oxford Public Library will host a poetry talk and lunch with poet Alison Pelegrin. Both the lunch and talk are free, but reservations are appreciated.

The Oxford Conference for the Book is sponsored by the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, Square Books, University Museum, Lafayette County Literacy Council, J. D. Williams Library, Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics, John and Renée Grisham Visiting Writers Fund, Junior Auxiliary of Oxford, and the Lafayette County and Oxford Public Library.

The conference is partially funded by the university, a contribution from the R&B Feder Foundation for the Beaux Arts, grants from the Mississippi Humanities Council and the Mississippi Arts Commission, and promotional support from Visit Oxford.

Mississippi Educator Wins Teacher Travel Fellowship

Award presented by UM Mississippi Geographic Alliance

Steven R. White

OXFORD, Miss. – The Mississippi Geographic Alliance at the University of Mississippi has named Steven R. White as its 2017 Travel Fellow. White teaches Advanced World Geography and Honors World Geography at Pearl High School in Pearl.

White, a National Geographic Certified Educator and MGA teacher consultant, has held numerous education leadership positions in the state, including officer positions in the Mississippi Council for the Social Studies and the Mississippi Geographic Alliance. He was Rosa Scott High School’s Teacher of the Year 2012-13, the Mississippi Council for the Social Studies Teacher of the Year for 2003-04 and winner of the Jesse Palmer Award for Mississippi Social Studies Educator of the Year in 2015.

“We are thrilled that Steven is the 2017 MGA Travel Fellow,” said Carley Lovorn, assistant director of the Mississippi Geographic Alliance. “This is a very competitive fellowship, and Steven now joins a cohort of fellows who are dedicated to improving global awareness in the state.”

The MGA Travel Fellowship is awarded to Mississippi educators who are dedicated to bringing the world to Mississippi students and teachers. Students look to their teachers to help them understand the world, and yet Mississippi has the lowest number of passport holders and teacher salaries near the bottom in the country.

Mississippi’s top geography educators often cite a travel experience as integral to igniting their passion to teach others about our world. Fellowship recipients participate in educator-focused travel programs and then bring their experiences back to the state by sharing the education materials they create with all Mississippi teachers.

White will participate in the National Council for Geographic Education’s GeoCamp Iceland Institute. The institute is a graduate-level equivalent short course in geographic inquiry and field methods for educators who conduct professional development activities for teachers.

Participants will explore important geographic themes, including natural hazards and disaster prevention, human settlement and environmental adaptation, changing geopolitical spheres of influence, sense of place, and global environmental change.

“Years ago, as a high school student I dreamed of being able to travel to the Arctic Circle region to see the breathtaking views and natural wonders of Iceland,” White said. “In my upcoming trip I am excited about the awesome opportunity to hike to explore the amazing natural wonders that will challenge my teaching perspective and inspire my approach to creating classroom lessons about the human and physical geography of this amazing nation.”

White said he intends to share his research with students and colleagues.

“My goal is to create, engage and inspire students to become the effective global citizens of tomorrow,” he said.

In recent years, White has served on staff for the Pre-Service Geography Conference, a geography education conference for education students around the state. He also has served as a judge and scorekeeper for the state-level National Geographic Bee and is a three-time winner of educational and technology grants for enhancing classroom geography education.

He is past president and assistant director of the Mississippi Council for the Social Studies and team leader for public policy for the Mississippi Geographic Alliance. In 2013 he was one of eight in the nation to receive the Distinguished Teaching Award for K-12 educators at the National Conference on Geographic Education.

The Mississippi Geographic Alliance works to strengthen geographic literacy throughout the state. A member of the nationwide network of state alliances sponsored by the National Geographic Society, MGA uses workshops, online resources and other programs to help educators prepare students to embrace a diverse world, succeed in the global economy and steward the planet’s resources.

For more information visit or contact Lovorn at or 662-915-3776.

For more information on the GeoCamp Iceland Institute, go to

Susan L. Taylor Calls Women to Action at UM

Former editor of Essence magazine delivered Women's Empowerment keynote Tuesday night

Susan L. Taylor speaks passionately about women uniting to change the world Tuesday night in Fulton Chapel. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Delivering the third annual Women’s Empowerment keynote address for Women’s Month observances Tuesday evening (March 7) at the University of Mississippi, Susan L. Taylor discussed social challenges and urged women to action to help solve our nation’s problems.

The former editor-in-chief of Essence magazine and founder-CEO of the National CARES Mentoring Movement addressed more than 200 students, faculty, staff and community members in Fulton Chapel.

“There’s real work to be done by women,” Taylor said. “We have to be organized, focused, disciplined and have a clear vision. We have to stand up for what’s right.”

After 27 years as chief editor of Essence and the visionary credited with building the brand, Taylor left publishing to devote her life to building an organization that is devoted to breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty among African-Americans. The National CARES Mentoring Movement, which Taylor founded in 2005 and serves as CEO, is a community transformation crusade dedicated to “changing the predictable futures defined for our young who are struggling along the margins and living with the indignity of poverty,” she said.

The National CARES Mentoring Movement is the nation’s fastest growing mentor-recruitment organization. In 58 U.S. cities, CARES affiliates recruit, train and deploy caring adults to schools and a variety of youth-serving organizations that need black volunteers to serve as mentors, tutors, reading buddies and role models.

Shawnboda Mead, director of the UM Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement, said she hopes that all members of the university community will respond to Taylor’s appeal.

“Ms. Taylor’s message was motivational, encouraging and inspirational,” Mead said. “Having engaged with Mrs. Taylor and learned more about her life, including the trials and triumphs, we should all be more determined to fulfill our purpose.”

Students and others in attendance said they were moved by Taylor’s words.

“I’ve always admired Ms. Taylor’s words and works,” said Leah Gibson, a senior broadcast journalism major from Starkville and reigning Miss University. “My admiration goes all the way back to my childhood when copies of Essence magazine were always coming into our house and being read.”

“She definitely motivated me to keep on working,” said Martha Thompson of Oxford. “I’m definitely inspired to continue teaching everything we know to the people of the community in which I live.”

Five awards were also presented during the evening’s ceremonies. Recipients and their awards were Brittany Brown, a sophomore broadcast journalism major from Quitman, the Breakout Award; Dominique Scott, a senior sociology major from Dallas, Texas, the Phenomenal Woman Award; Alexis Pam, a sophomore biology and journalism major from Sumrall, a Hidden Figures Award; Lynette Johnson, executive associate director in the Ole Miss Department of Intercollegiate Athletics, a Hidden Figures Award; and Toni Avant, director of the UM Career Center, Women’s Inspirational Award.

For a full list of sponsors and UM Women’s Month calendar of events, visit


UM Hosts State Robotics Competition this Weekend

Center for Mathematics and Science Education prepares for fifth annual FIRST Tech Challenge

Mississippi middle and high school students compete during the 2016 FIRST Tech Challenge at UM. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Middle and high school students from across the state will compete in Mississippi’s fifth annual FIRST Tech Challenge robotics competition Saturday (March 4) at the University of Mississippi.

Hosted by UM’s Center for Mathematics and Science Education, judging begins at 7 a.m. in Tad Smith Coliseum. Public events begin at 10 a.m., and the competition runs through 5 p.m. Admission is free.

Two dozen teams of students, ranging from seventh to 12th grade, will pilot their robots with the hopes of qualifying for FIRST’s South Super Regional competition in Athens, Georgia, later this month. This year’s game is dubbed Velocity Vortex, a challenge where robots are programmed to push or lift different sized balls in a specially designed arena.

“Our goal is to inspire students into learning because we are losing our engineering group,” said Mannie Lowe, FIRST program manager at the Center for Mathematics and Science Education. “Our engineers are aging out and no one is coming up to fill the void in this country.”

The For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, or FIRST, nonprofit organization was founded 25 years ago by inventor Dean Kaman in an effort to build interest in STEM fields.

Teams comprise up to 15 people, and any organization can form a team, not just schools. Students are guided by teachers, coaches, mentors and community members. Teams must design and build their own robots, keep an engineer’s notebook and do some kind of outreach to promote STEM careers.

“I guarantee you, part of my group would not have otherwise thought about a STEM career beforehand,” said Holly Reynolds, team mentor for Bigweld’s Bots and associate dean for the UM College of Liberal Arts.

Bigweld’s Bots is an all-female team featuring members of Girl Scout Troop 33016, one of two Girl Scout trrops in the state that does robotics. The two troops soon will be featured on “Mississippi Roads” a PBS show.

During the competition, teams of two face off against each other. This allows teams to learn how to work with other teams and enjoy healthy competition at the same time.

Each match plays for 2 minutes and 30 seconds. For the first 30 seconds, the robots operate autonomously, then they are operated by the students through handheld driver controllers for the final two minutes.

The robots can be built out of virtually any material as long as teams follow regulation rules. In the past, some teams have built their robots out of PVC pipe, wood and aluminum. However, the competition is about more than just robots.

“The fun in my job is watching and working with the kids,” Lowe said. “When you see their ‘aha!’ light come on, it is amazing. It’s the realization that they can do this. They can build, they can program, they can design.

“Once they realize that, the world is theirs. They can do whatever they want.”

In the past, Mississippi teams have done well at FIRST Super Regional competitions. Last year, a Mississippi team won the Inspire Award, the highest given in the competition.

Some 5,000 teams participate worldwide, and the program has grown tremendously in Mississippi, where only four teams took part in the challenge five years ago.

Students begin designing and building their robots in September when the theme is announced. Last-minute changes are normal, and teams keep working to improve their robots until the competition begins.

“FIRST events are part rock concert, part NASCAR race because of the sponsor logos and team numbers on the side of each robot,” Lowe said. “They are also part chess tournament, due to each team’s different strategy, and just general fun. It’s a big party.”