Students Gain Valuable Experience During Summer in Bolivia

Croft Institute, sociology and anthropology faculty start field school as study abroad opportunity

Founded in 2010, the Bolivia Field School is a partnership between the University of Mississippi and the Universidad Catolica Boliviana Social Science Field School in La Paz.

Founded in 2010, the Bolivia Field School is a partnership between UM and the Universidad Catolica Boliviana Social Science Field School in La Paz.

OXFORD, Miss. – Eight University of Mississippi students immersed themselves in the culture and history of Bolivia this summer as they explored ethnography, the study of the customs of people groups and cultures, and social scientific methods, all against the backdrop of the Andes Mountains.

Victoria Burrow, a junior from Pascagoula; Allie Gersdorf, a senior from Grossenaspe, Germany; Andrew Hayes, a senior from Saltillo; Caroline Malatesta, of Lyon, who graduated in August; Sarah Meeks, a junior from Madison; Thomas Moorman, a senior from Madison; Lizzy Pitts, a senior from Indianola;  and Alexis Smith, a junior from Picayune, spent four weeks in the South American nation.

Their time there included intensive hands-on training in the social scientific and ethnographic fields under the supervision of Kate M. Centellas, Croft associate professor of anthropology and international studies, and Miguel Centellas, Croft instructional assistant professor of sociology.

“Bolivia is a fascinating place, very dynamic and diverse, so there are plenty of opportunities for a range of interests,” Kate Centellas said. “We also strongly value service learning and international experience, and we were particularly happy that a partner NGO, Fundación Suyana, took us to visit some of the families in the rural Altiplano that had benefited from their health promotion projects.

“This visit was powerful for our students and made the importance of social science research real for them in terms of how it can be applied to impact peoples’ lives for the better.”

The Bolivia Field School allows students to travel to La Paz, conduct individual research and study the politics, history and culture of the Andes through active and experimental learning.

The UM students used the Bolivia culture as a case study. Specifically, they studied the impact and implications Spanish colonization had on the culture and languages of South America.

The experience was particularly fulfilling for Pitts, who is majoring in Spanish and liberal studies with minors in society and population health, biology, and chemistry. Because Pitts is from the “flatlands of the Mississippi Delta,” she always found mountains appealing, and that is what initially drew her to the Bolivia program, she said.

The campus culture at Ole Miss prepared her well for studying abroad, Pitts said.

“It taught me to love strangers more than I thought was possible; to embrace others for who they are despite our differences in political views, race, gender identification, sexual orientation or religion,” she said. “It taught me how to find joy in the difficult times when we blew big football games; it taught me to listen when others are speaking; it taught me to deal with adversity and move forward confidently.

“All of my experiences helped prepare me because Ole Miss prepares you for life outside of school and our quaint bubble of Oxford.”

Kate and Miguel Centellas founded the Bolivia Field School, which they co-run, in 2010. The school is in partnership with UM and the Universidad Católica Boliviana Social Science Field School in La Paz, where Miguel Centellas serves as the co-director of the joint program.

“The field school in La Paz, Bolivia, is an excellent study abroad opportunity for students who wish to gain hands-on research training in a range of social scientific research methods,” said Kirsten Dellinger, UM chair and professor of sociology and anthropology. “This program reflects our dedication to in-depth methodological training, engaged learning and global citizenship.”

The program’s goal is to provide students with firsthand experiences with archives, nongovernmental organizations and research institutions while developing a research project, Kate Centellas said.

The work “is a shining example of the role faculty should be playing in university efforts to internationalize our curriculum,” Dellinger said.

The Croft Institute for International Studies, where both professors work, is a rigorous undergraduate program geared for students majoring in international studies and who are interested in developing an understanding extending beyond the borders of the United States.

Students choose a foreign language to specialize in, then a corresponding region and finally a focus, such as economics, politics or culture. Students in Croft are required to study abroad in their country of study for a semester.

Both Kate and Miguel Centellas are working to return to Bolivia in summer 2017 and include new opportunities for students, such as working in a rural health clinic.

Any undergraduates interested in the Bolivia Field School should contact Kate or Miguel Centellas at or Information can also be found at the Study Abroard office in Martindale Hall.

Students Prepare for Careers through New York and D.C. Internships

UM program offers insight, connections and course credit

UM students share their experiences from the Washington and New York Internship Experiences program with Chancellor Jeffery Vitter (left) at the Lyceum. Joining Vitter are (from left) Graham White of Biloxi; Harris Ormecher of Austin, Texas; Gabriella Berlanti of Bradenton, Florida; Divya Gosain of Clinton; and Jesse Webb of Atlanta.

UM students share their experiences from the Washington and New York Internship Experiences program with Chancellor Jeffery Vitter (left) at the Lyceum. Joining Vitter are (from left) Graham White of Biloxi; Harris Ormecher of Austin, Texas; Gabriella Berlanti of Bradenton, Florida; Divya Gosain of Clinton; and Jesse Webb of Atlanta.

OXFORD, Miss. – Learning more about personal strengths and weaknesses is a big part of the college experience. The University of Mississippi‘s Washington, D.C., and New York Internship Experience programs in the Division of Outreach is helping more students have those learning experiences.

“Students involved in this program can gain so much from the real-world experience,” Chancellor Jeffery Vitter said. “An internship in the field they are interested in can really help them get the most out of their summer break.”

From attending the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia to helping uncover the next New York Times best-seller, UM students who participated in the 2016 Internship Experience Program each had their own extraordinary moments. They shared these highlights recently with Vitter and program faculty during a special presentation in the Lyceum.

“The program is a two-way pipeline between these cities and our university,” said Laura Antonow, UM internship experience program director. “Our students get the opportunity to work with successful UM alumni in their field of interest. In return, these alumni have the opportunity to stay connected to the students and happenings on our campus.”

Networking and gaining professional experience are key roles of the program, which also helps students earn UM academic credit while they intern in a large metropolitan city. The 2016 class consisted of juniors and seniors majoring in criminal justice, public policy leadership, computer science, psychology, exercise science, political science, journalism and marketing.

Gabriella Berlanti, an Ole Miss junior from Bradenton, Florida, interned with Interpol Washington.

“It wasn’t as James Bond as everyone thought, but it was still very exciting,” she said.

Berlanti worked in the transnational organized crime unit, particularly the violent crimes division.

“We sent out notices around the world about violent criminals, their activities and whereabouts,” she said. “It was such an amazing learning experience.”

Berlanti is double-majoring in criminal justice and psychology with a minor in intelligence studies. During her internship, the bombings in Paris became a major topic within her workplace.

“After that incident, our supervisors decided that all personnel needed to participate in active shooter response training,” Berlanti said. “It was pretty eye-opening, and I learned when and how to run, hide or fight if needed.”

Berlanti shared housing and participated in group tours and events with fellow UM students interning in the nation’s capital. They included Linda Bardha of Tirana, Albania; Patricia DeFelice of Southaven; Allison Hemmer of Tuscola, Illinois; Harris Ormecher of Austin, Texas; Emily McKee of Dyersburg, Tennessee; and Camille Walker of Tupelo.

UM senior Linda Bardha, a computer science major from Tirana, Albania, spent her summer serving as an intern in Washington with the broadcasting organization Voice of America. VOA is funded by the U.S. government and works to supply accurate, balanced and comprehensive information to an international audience.

UM senior Linda Bardha, a computer science major from Tirana, Albania, spent her summer serving as an intern in Washington with the broadcasting organization Voice of America. VOA is funded by the U.S. government and works to supply accurate, balanced and comprehensive information to an international audience.

Interning with Washington, D.C., shadow Sen. Paul Strauss was an interesting lesson in the political world for Ormecher, who helped host town hall meetings to gauge the concerns of constituents in the D.C. area. He was also involved in the New Columbia Statehood Initiative, tracking policy to help the District of Columbia gain autonomy.

“Mr. Strauss does not have actual voting privileges in the Senate, but he is playing an integral role in making sure the needs and concerns of D.C. citizens are heard,” Ormecher said.

Five UM students headed to New York City over Memorial Day weekend for welcome week events and tours to get them acclimated. The group enjoyed a tour at Fox News headquarters and a meet-and-greet with Ole Miss journalism alumnus Shepard Smith.

Graham White, a senior marketing major from Biloxi, spent the summer interning at the White Space Group, a marketing and digital rebranding company in New York.

“It was eye-opening to be a part of important sales meetings and learn how branding happens on the front end of promotion,” White said. “I learned more about the fast-paced atmosphere of the marketing world.

“Being a part of this program showed me the importance of getting outside of your comfort zone and how beneficial it can be if you do that.”

Divya Gosain, an Ole Miss junior from Clinton, also worked in the city this summer. She is majoring in psychology with a minor in business and has taken a particular interest in industrial and organizational psychology to study human behavior in the workplace.

“By interning with the Interdependence Project, I helped with research to see if meditation during the workday had any effect on the increased productivity of employees,” Gosain said.

She also interned with the law firm of Dewan and Associates, hoping to learn more about employment law and legal issues concerning various workplace settings.

UM senior Harris Ormecher, a marketing major from Austin, Texas, attended the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this summer as part of his work with Washington, D.C., shadow senator Paul Strauss.

Graham White, a senior marketing major from Biloxi, lived in Brooklyn, New York, this summer as he participated in the UM New York Internship Experience Program. He served as a marketing intern for the White Space Group, a digital rebranding company.

“I definitely have a new perspective due to these experiences,” Gosain said. “I believe I have grown personally and professionally. I am more motivated than I was before. I want to be more involved in campus activities now because I just feel more comfortable with putting myself out there and getting to know people.”

Jesse Webb, a senior marketing major from Atlanta and member of UM’s Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, is interested in a career in publishing. He was accepted for an internship with the Inkwell Management Literary Agency.

“I feel that as a publisher, I could play a part in our culture and help effect it in a positive way,” Webb said. “I received feedback on reports I was asked to write that helped me learn how to discuss writing better. I got to see the process of how a manuscript becomes a published and marketed book from the very beginning.”

Webb read more than 30 manuscripts and queries, helped to plan a book tour for a new publication about yachting and learned about international contracts and the auction process.

“It was a neat experience to think I might have played a tiny part in helping to get an interesting book to the public,” Webb said. “I’m really happy to have had this experience.”

Also, interning in New York this summer were Lynley-Love Jones of Oxford and Breanna Lomax of Indianapolis.

The university’s Washington and New York Internship Program is taking applications for spring and summer 2017 participants. Juniors and seniors interested in the program should visit The deadline to apply is Nov. 11.

Three UM Students Accepted into Rural Physician Scholarship Program

Scholars agree to serve four years in small Mississippi communities after graduation

Cal Wilkerson, Kaleb Barnes, and Judi Beth McMillen have been selected to participate in the undergraduate portion of the Mississippi Rural Physicians Scholarship Program.

Cal Wilkerson, Kaleb Barnes, and Judi Beth McMillen have been selected to participate in the undergraduate portion of the Mississippi Rural Physicians Scholarship Program.

JACKSON, Miss – Kaleb Barnes of Booneville and Judi Beth McMillen of Mantachie, juniors at the University of Mississippi, along with Cal Wilkerson, a senior from Woodville, have been selected to participate in the undergraduate portion of the Mississippi Rural Physicians Scholarship Program.

Barnes is the son of Rodney and Melissa Barnes, McMillen is the daughter of Tracy and Michelle McMillen, and Wilkerson is the son of Mr. and Mrs. David Wilkerson.

Created in 2007, MRPSP identifies college sophomores and juniors who demonstrate the necessary commitment and academic achievement to become competent, well-trained rural primary care physicians in the state. The program offers undergraduate academic enrichment and a clinical experience in a rural setting.

Upon completion of all medical school admissions requirements, the student can be admitted to the UM School of Medicine or William Carey University College of Osteopathic Medicine.

During medical school, each MRPSP scholar is under consideration for $30,000 per year, based on available funding.

Consistent legislative support of MRPSP translates to 60 medical students receiving a total of $1.8 million to support their education this fall. Additional benefits include personalized mentoring from practicing rural physicians and academic support.

Upon completion of medical training, MRPSP scholars must enter a residency program in one of five primary care specialties: family medicine, general internal medicine, medicine-pediatrics, obstetrics/gynecology or pediatrics.

Each MRPSP scholar must provide four years of service in a clinic-based practice in an approved Mississippi community of 20,000 or fewer population located more than 20 miles from a medically served area.

MRPSP provides a means for rural Mississippi students to earn a seat in medical school, receive MCAT preparation, earn a $120,000 medical school scholarship in return for four years of service and learn the art of healing from practicing rural physicians.

For more information, contact Dan Coleman, MRPSP associate director, at 601-815-9022 or, or go to

Derek and Kelly King Honored with Inaugural Mullins Scholarship

Mississippi Teacher Corps alumni pursue graduate degrees with help from new scholarship

Derek and Kelly King stand with Andy Mullins in Lyceum at UM. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Derek and Kelly King stand with Andy Mullins in Lyceum at UM. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Just ask University of Mississippi alumni Derek and Kelly King about their students in the North Panola School District in Sardis, and the husband and wife team light up with excitement.

As the instructional coach for North Panola High School (Kelly) and the assistant principal at North Panola Middle School (Derek), the Kings can personally name more than 710 students between their two schools this year – just ask them.

“Both of us love teaching and being in the classroom,” said Kelly, who provides instructional leadership to more than 32 faculty members at her school. “Once you get into teaching, it’s really addictive. I’ve directly taught at least three-fourths (of those students) myself.”

The Kings are UM’s inaugural recipients of the Andrew P. Mullins Jr. MTC Alumni Scholarship, which supports Mississippi Teacher Corps alumni who wish to pursue advanced graduate study.

The endowed scholarship is available to Teacher Corps alumni with at least three years’ of teaching experience in K-12 education and may be awarded twice to individuals. Recipients may pursue an advanced degree in any field of their choosing on the Ole Miss campus.

Founded in 1989, the Teacher Corps has placed more than 630 new teachers in critical-needs school districts throughout the state. The alternate-route teaching program is highly competitive and has attracted recruits from 216 colleges and universities around the country. All participants receive job placement and two years of funding to earn a master’s degree in education from UM.

Derek and Kelly were selected for the honor by a committee of administrators within the School of Education and will each receive $1,500 per semester toward tuition throughout the next academic year.

“It’s an honor to receive anything with Dr. Mullins’ name on it,” said Derek, who has also served as head coach for men’s track and football at North Panola. “I think (Dr. Mullins) is proud to see Teacher Corps people who are still working in education here in Mississippi. It’s an honor to just to be a small part of what he originally envisioned for the program.”

In addition to their full-time jobs at North Panola, Derek and Kelly – who met during their first year in the Mississippi Teacher Corps – are enrolled in UM graduate programs in K-12 leadership. Derek hopes to finish a doctorate within the next two years, and Kelly is on track to claim her second Ole Miss diploma in December when she finishes a Specialist in Education degree that will grant her a state school administrator’s license.

“It warms my heart to see this scholarship awarded to two such worthy recipients,” said Mullins, Mississippi Teacher Corps co-founder and former chief of staff to the chancellor. “They have both been valuable resources to the school districts in which they have served.”

As 2010 recruits for the Teacher Corps, the Kings came from very different parts of the country before joining the program and landing their first teaching jobs at Byhalia Middle School.

Kelly, a Boston native, received a bachelor’s degree in black studies from Amherst College. Derek, a native of Fairfield, Alabama, earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Rhodes College, where he played football and baseball and even began his coaching career as an undergraduate while working for Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Memphis Grizzlies Preparatory Charter School.

Back then, the Teacher Corps offered opportunity for the two aspiring educators to enter the classroom after college. After an intensive summer training program, Kelly took a job teaching social studies. Derek taught English and coached men’s track and football.

They did not, however, expect that it would lead to a whole new life. After dating for four years, the couple found themselves both working at North Panola High School and soon married. The couple, alongside numerous other current and former Teacher Corps members, played key roles in the school’s drastic graduation rate turnaround. Between 2010 and 2014, the school increased its graduation rate by nearly 30 percent and rose from failing to “B” status.

“This is my sixth year in education,” Kelly said. “I have been able to see how Teacher Corps has transformed (North Panola) over the years. It’s as close as you can get to a ‘Teacher Corps School.’

“There are several other Teacher Corps people at my school. One in her seventh year of teaching and one in her fifth, and before that we had other people who stayed at least four or five years. The program has made a strong lasting impact in that district.”

After their graduate studies, the Kings hope to continue pursuing opportunities in education. Kelly hopes to pursue a leadership position at the district level, helping teachers develop and coordinate curricula, and Derek hopes to one day serve as a full principal or perhaps a career in academic development for student-athletes.

“When two people are doing graduate school at the same time, it’s definitely a big investment,” Derek said. “So, it is amazing to receive this first scholarship. Any amount of scholarship helps, but to have one named after Dr. Mullins makes us both very proud.”

Brokaw Touts Service, ‘Real’ Life Experiences to UM Graduates

Veteran newsman delivers Commencement address to thousands in the Grove

Journalist and former NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw addresses graduates during the University of Mississippi’s 163rd Commencement. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Journalist and former ‘NBC Nightly News’ anchor Tom Brokaw addresses graduates during the University of Mississippi’s 163rd Commencement. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Respected journalist Tom Brokaw warned the University of Mississippi’s graduates that they’re living in an age of violence and social media noise and he challenged them to cherish “real” experiences and help make their world a better place.

Brokaw, best known as the longtime anchor of “NBC Nightly News,” gave the university’s 163rd Commencement’s main address Saturday morning in the Grove under powder blue skies that turned overcast. He stood at the podium wearing an Ole Miss baseball cap.

He reminded the 4,000-plus graduates that though social media is a big part of their lives, many experiences transcend anything that comes from inside an iPhone. Those are the moments that should be cherished the most.

“No text will ever replace the first kiss,” Brokaw said. “No email will ever compete with the spoken phrase, ‘I love you. I want to spend the rest of my life with you.’ No selfie can ever take the place of holding a first child moments after birth. Life will always be most rewarding when real, not virtual, emotions are involved.”

Ole Miss is where a lot of the important nondigital experiences Brokaw referred to have occurred for Saturday’s graduates. For many, the friendships and memories made in college will be cherished for the rest of their lives.

Not much in life compares to being beneath Grove’s oaks on a Saturday in the fall, Brokaw said.

Suggested caption: Tom Brokaw delivers the 2016 Commencement address to more than 4,000 University of Mississippi graduates on Saturday, May 14. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Tom Brokaw delivers the 2016 Commencement address to more than 4,000 University of Mississippi graduates on Saturday, May 14. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

“For the rest of your life, Ole Miss will be a prominent part of your formative years,” Brokaw said. “You’ll go to great parties and you’ll think, ‘Not bad, but it’s not the Grove.'”

Brokaw is very familiar with the university, which he calls a “special place” in the state. He served as a guest lecturer in UM’s Meek School of Journalism and New Media in 2010 and discussed presidential politics in a campus program before the first 2008 presidential debate between then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama and U.S. Sen. John McCain, which was held in the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts.

Brokaw has also visited campus several times over the last decade, often attending football and baseball games. He was here for the football victory over Alabama in 2014, which he enjoyed. A verbal jab directed toward the University of Alabama drew laughter from the Commencement crowd.

“I’m so relieved to be speaking to a graduating class from Ole Miss,” Brokaw said. “If I were speaking at Alabama, I would have to use smaller words and shorter sentences.”

Brokaw, who holds a political science degree from the University of South Dakota, has enjoyed a long and distinguished career, including covering the Watergate scandal of the early 1970s that led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation. He also served as host of the “Today” show from 1976 to 1982, when he became an anchor of “NBC Nightly News.”

Since retiring as anchor in 2004, he’s kept busy with journalism projects. He worked on documentaries for the Discovery Channel, the History Channel and Fox Sports Net and also moderated the second McCain-Obama presidential debate at Belmont University in 2008.

He is also author of “The Greatest Generation,” which is about those Americans who grew up during the Great Depression, went on to fight World War II, won and came home to transform their country.

As a young journalist, he witnessed the many struggles of people of color to find equality in the United States. He sees great progress at the university, which was the scene of deadly riots over James Meredith’s enrollment as the first black student in 1962.

“As a reporter in the South in those days, I must tell you I could never have imagined I’d be here one day with the affection I have for Ole Miss and speaking to a student body that is ever more diverse, or that I would walk into the chancellor’s box during a football game and find James Meredith as the guest of honor, or that the president of the Ole Miss Alumni Association would be an African-American mother of a student here who also happened to be an executive at FedEx,” Brokaw said.

“These are important, historic steps forward in Mississippi but in most of the country, in every state and in every institution, the issue of race, reconciliation, resolution – these are the unfinished businesses of our time. It’s not confined just to states in the great South, but it’s across state lines, from sea to shining sea in our nation.”

Continuing to address these issues is critical, he said.

“The dream of equality for all is not an obligation of one race or another,” Brokaw said. “It is a common calling in our unique society. We are still a nation of immigrants, where the rule of law is inadequate if the rule of the heart is not also an equal part. All shades of the American palette matter.”

The graduates live in a country where mass shootings in schools and other public places, police-involved killings, terrorism and racially motivated violence are common. Brokaw said he owns “a closet full of guns” and is an active sport shooter, but he supports more stringent gun control laws to help lessen the violence.

He said no one will take his guns away, but he’s “appalled” by an ongoing movement to arm more people with even more lethal weapons without considering the consequences.

“More guns and more firearm tolerance will mean more homegrown acts of terror,” Brokaw said. “Yes, you have a constitutional right to own guns. I believe strongly in the Second Amendment, but with that right comes the personal obligation to be on guard against the promiscuous use of guns, not to pretend no limits means no trouble.”

He called graduates to use their skills to address the state and nation’s problems. Noting that social media wields great influence over communication, social, scientific, academic, commerce, political and research endeavors, Brokaw urged graduates take what they’ve learned at Ole Miss and dedicate part of their life to working for increasing tolerance, education, economic opportunity, social acceptance for all Mississippians.

“Take as much pride in where Mississippi ranks on those metrics as it does on the national football standings,” he said.

UM Chancellor Jeffrey S. Vitter, presiding over his first Commencement at the university, took a panoramic photo of the Grove full of graduates to post on his Twitter account. He wished them luck.

“Today, you complete your work as students at the university when you graduate,” Vitter said. “You also begin the next chapter of your life at Commencement. Our collective prayer for you is a life filled with joy, good health, successful, meaningful careers and peace. God bless each of you.”

Edward C. Maloney, president of the UM Alumni Association, paraphrased the biblical parable of the talents from Matthew 25:14-30 to charge graduates to live up to their potential.

“Some of you were given five talents,” Maloney said. “Some of you were given two talents; some, one talent. Whatever talent you have been given, be the best you can be.”

Mary Katherine Berger, president of the senior class, said that during their time here, classmates have had to be Rebels by making tough decisions and standing up for what they believe is right.

“As we leave the spot that ever calls, I charge each of you with the task of remaining a Rebel in your everyday life,” Berger said. “To take a stand for what you believe in, to always uphold the Creed, to go against the status quo and to always shout ‘Hotty Toddy’ at the random person you see in the street wearing an Ole Miss T-shirt wherever life may take you.”

UM Alumnus Begins New Career with Service Dog Arliegh at Side

Ben Stepp applies personal experiences in military to new role as counselor

UM graduate student Ben Stepp and service dog Arliegh have attended every class together since 2014. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

UM graduate student Ben Stepp and service dog Arliegh have attended every class together since 2014. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – When graduate student Ben Stepp walks across the stage during the University of Mississippi’s Commencement ceremonies Saturday (May 14), he will do so in the company of his canine companion, Arliegh, a service dog who rarely leaves his side.

A retired U.S. Army staff sergeant and an infantry veteran of the Iraq War, Stepp, 36, is set to receive his third UM diploma – a master’s degree in community and mental health counseling. But what makes this accomplishment even more thought-provoking is that Arliegh, a nearly 3-year-old Labrador retriever mix, has attended virtually every class alongside her owner since 2014.

“(Arliegh) is a highly trained medical device,” explained Stepp, a husband and father of two. “When my heart rate gets elevated, she can sense it and places her paw or head on my leg for me to pet her. You might see me petting her a lot on graduation day.”

Stepp and Arliegh are preparing to begin a new career in which Stepp plans to eventually become a Licensed Professional Counselor, hoping to specialize in counseling veterans adjusting to life after military service.

As a service dog, Arliegh helps Stepp manage anxiety related to the effects of PTSD, one of two wounds the Fairbanks, Alaska, native received during his 15 years of military service. Stepp’s other injury is a still-bothersome grenade wound to his right ankle, which resulted in long-term pain from reflex sympathetic dystrophy, or RSD, a type of nerve damage that causes a burning pain in the injured area among other symptoms.

Stepp joined the LOU community in 2006 when he returned from his service in Iraq. While deployed, first in 2003 then later during parts of 2004 and 2005, he served as the leader of an infantry fire team, a group of four to five soldiers.

After transferring from the regular Army into the Mississippi Army National Guard, Stepp enrolled in undergraduate courses at UM with a plan to finish a bachelor’s degree in economics – which he had started at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke – and return to active duty as an officer.

However, Stepp faced challenges he did not expect as a tried to “normalize” into life as a college student and war veteran.

“I was in a lot of denial about my problems at the time,” he recalled. “I was easily agitated, easily set off. I had nightmares and flashbacks.”

At the urging of Ole Miss ROTC faculty, Stepp began seeing a therapist on campus and later at the VA office in Memphis, Tennessee. It was an important and necessary decision for Stepp, but it was also a decision that set his life in a new direction.

“I was then medically disqualified from being an officer,” he said. “They said I could stay as an enlisted man, but I couldn’t be an officer.”

This was a hard blow to Stepp, who had first joined the military at age 17 with the consent of his mother. But, after refocusing his efforts on academic pursuits, Stepp earned a bachelor’s degree in economics in 2009 and a master’s degree in criminal justice in 2011, while working as a University Police Department officer, a position he held from 2007 to 2013.

The same year he earned his bachelor’s degree, Stepp also married his wife, Erin. The couple welcomed their first child in 2010 and carved out a life together in Oxford.

However, Stepp still had personal battles to fight. He was becoming increasingly frustrated with the care offered through the VA. He struggled privately with chronic anxiety and longed for therapists who better understood issues faced by veterans. And, there was also his lingering ankle wound, which he continued to manage with regular nerve block injections and opiates prescribed by VA physicians.

“I was tired of being treated like a science experiment,” Stepp said. I wasn’t happy with the way any of us vets were being treated. So I decided to seek out my own treatment.”

Soon after in 2013, Stepp resigned from UPD, a position he felt passionately about but could no longer complete to the best of his abilities due to personal difficulties.

“I was in a lot of pain, physical pain,” he said. “I thought I was doing a good job of covering it up. But it all finally kinda came to a boil, I guess, and I decided that the best thing for me was to really get help and ‘get right.'”

After seeking out a pain specialist, Stepp began to wean off opiates and underwent new treatments to manage his pain. He wears a device that allows him to walk more freely without help from drugs.

He also continued seeing local counselors, including Marc Showalter, an assistant professor of counselor education at the UM School of Education. It was during this time that Showalter approached Stepp about a potential career move into counseling. It was one of multiple ideas he put in front of Stepp as he planned to the future.

“What I saw in Ben early on was perseverance,” Showalter said. “I have seen him grow and overcome so many difficulties, and always with the desire to help people. Even as he was trying to find his own way, I always heard from him that he wanted to find some way to help others, especially veterans. So I put the idea of becoming a counselor in front of him.”

Before beginning UM’s Master of Education program in counseling in 2014, Stepp connected with Arliegh through the K9s for Warriors organization in Pontre Vedra, Florida. Through his experience with the Wounded Warriors Project, he’d become aware of other veterans with similar backgrounds who use service dogs to help manage anxiety related to trauma.

After some soul-searching, Stepp decided to pursue using a service dog for his own anxiety. The application process took about a year.

“(Having a service dog) was hard at first,” Stepp said. “For a lot of vets … you sometimes feel like you are always being watched and the need to make sure there is no one trying to hurt you. Then, once you get a dog, everyone actually is always looking at you. Well, actually they are mostly looking at the dog. But you feel like ‘Oh, all eyes are on me.’ That was a struggle at first.”

K9s for Warriors supports veterans by connecting them with specially trained service dogs that help manage and address anxiety related to stress. The program brings in former warriors for an intensive three-week orientation and training period, during which they learn about working with service dogs. Most service dogs are rescued from shelters and trained for months before being paired with a veteran.

“The saying is, ‘We rescue them so they can rescue us,'” Stepp said.

Like any dog, Arliegh can be playful and enjoys attention from others. But when her service vest is on, Arliegh is at work. As a rule of thumb, it’s OK to pet and play with Arliegh when she is not wearing her vest. Otherwise, she is on duty.

Besides helping lower anxiety, service dogs can help individuals identify “triggers,” the sights, sounds or smells that can cause panic or flashbacks among individuals recovering from PTSD. Having a service dog gives those who need it a specialized tool to identify sources of stress and learn to process them in a productive way.

Throughout Stepp’s latest experience in graduate school, Arliegh has been a constant companion as he worked as a full-time student. The program is intensive and rigorous, requiring students to complete year-round, full-time coursework over two years.

During this time, Stepp has gained experiences through internships, including one at Oxford Counseling Center, where he will begin working full time following graduation. He hopes to finish the requirements to become a Licensed Professional Counselor within the next year.

“You know, for me, (becoming a counselor) isn’t very different from a lot of my experiences,” Stepp said. “When you’re a squad leader, you have people who always look to you. You become their dad, brother, friend, teacher or even banker. Everyone needs something different.

“As a police officer, you find people who just need some help from someone, even when it’s 2 a.m. and a confused student desperately needs someone to speak to and you are the first one they find. I did these things for such a long time that when I decided to become a counselor, it wasn’t the huge leap you might imagine.”

UM Journalism School Wins Third Kennedy Award

Depth reporting class exposé on 50th anniversary of Voting Rights Act winner in college category

University of Mississippi student Mollie Mansfield, right, interviews civil rights activist and business owner Vernice Sanders, center, with Professor Bill Rose at Vernice's Upholstery in Leland, Miss., Tuesday, March 11, 2014. (Photo/Thomas Graning)

University of Mississippi student Mollie Mansfield, right, interviews civil rights activist and business owner Vernice Sanders, center, with Professor Bill Rose at Vernice’s Upholstery in Leland on March 11, 2014. Photo by Thomas Graning

OXFORD, Miss. – For the third time in seven years, the Meek School of Journalism and New Media at the University of Mississippi has won an annual Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Journalism Award.

UM’s depth reporting class won in the college category for “Land of Broken Promises.” The exposé examines the impact of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in the Mississippi Delta 50 years later.

The winning project was led by Willard “Bill” Rose, visiting professor and a fellow of the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics; Mikki Harris, assistant professor; and Darren Sanefski, assistant professor of multiple platform journalism.

“Winning the Kennedy Award for college journalism is a testament to the quality of teaching by Mikki Harris, Bill Rose and Darren Sanefski,” said Will Norton Jr., professor and dean of the journalism school. “These three individuals have demonstrated repeatedly that they are uncommonly effective, student-oriented teachers. We are grateful to have professionals of their caliber on our faculty in the Meek School.”

Twenty-seven students spent spring break 2014 conducting interviews and photographing images for the 132-page, four-color magazine. It was published and distributed in January 2015.

Students who worked on the project included Eliza McClure, Debra Whitley, Erin Scott, Jason Burleson, Logan Kirkland, Thomas Graning, Clancy Smith, Katie Adcock, Karson Brandenburg, Phil McCausland, Cady Herring, Phillip Waller, Mary Marge Locker, Kayleigh Skinner, Alex Edwards, Allison Moore, Mollie Mansfield, Christina Cain, Taylor Davenport, Kristen Ellis, Conner Hegwood, Jessica Hotakainen, Lauren Keossian, Ignacio Murillo, Savannah Pounds, Kimberly Sanner, Madisen Theobald and Ellen Whitaker.

Three reporters both wrote and captured photographs. One worked on the design and captured photographs, and four were dedicated to photojournalism for the project.

“This was a wonderful and unique opportunity for our journalism students to work as multimedia journalists in a very diverse setting,” Rose said. “It’s one of the things I love about working here. Students who are driven to be the best can get opportunities here they won’t get at other journalism schools.”

The project focused primarily on documenting the work of activists in the civil rights movement and their struggles to help people in impoverished areas register and vote in local, state and national elections.

“These students tracked down civil rights legends Andrew Young and John Lewis and lesser known, but influential, civil rights workers to capture what happened here after the Voting Rights Act was passed,” Rose said. “They tackled the tough conversations on race and did it impressively.”

The result was a print depth report produced to raise awareness of this community.

The award is nice, but the experience with the students is the best reward, Harris and Sanefski agreed.

“We used a significant number of archival photos to tell a visual story of major events that happened in the past,” said Harris, who edited the photos to fit the written stories. “The process of spending hours looking at the AP’s archive of images was eye-opening and emotional.”

Archival images selected for inclusion in the project showed activist Fanny Lou Hamer speaking to delegates attending the Democratic National Convention in 1964, civil rights leader Lawrence Guyot as a young man in 1963, covered with marks from a police beating, and Martin Luther King, Floyd McKissick and Stokely Carmichael marching together for equality.

“The images from the 1960s provide a visual of the blood, sweat and strength that laid a foundation for today,” Harris said.

Sanefski’s digital design students spent more than a semester designing the award-winning publication.

“We were not able to accomplish it in one semester, so me and three other students from that class wrapped it up early the next semester,” Sanefski said. “Design is always about making content easier to understand. I’m very proud of my students and all the students who have pooled their talents together to create a great product.”

The journalism school has won previous RFK Awards for magazines on poverty in the Delta and attempts to help residents of an island off the coast of Belize.

“Throughout his life, my father held a deep commitment to freedom of expression and freedom of the press,” said Kerry Kennedy, president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “He would invite reporters and news crews to join him in the most impoverished city neighborhoods, to Indian reservations and communities in Appalachia, California’s Central Valley or rural Indiana – places that often lacked electricity and plumbing – and he would ask the press corps why it wasn’t covering those issues and these places.

“The journalists who followed his ’68 campaign created the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards in his name, to honor those who covered the issues most important to him.”

This year’s Book and Journalism Award winners were chosen from more than 300 submissions. Historian Michael Beschloss chaired the judges’ panel for the 2016 Robert F. Kennedy Book Award.

The journalism awards ceremony, in its 48th year, will be presented May 25 by Mrs. Robert F. Kennedy at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. All honorees will receive a bust of Robert F. Kennedy in recognition of their award.

For more information about the Meek School of Journalism and New Media, visit

Booneville Campus Student Honored with Taylor Medal

Summer Sharplin continues family tradition in education field

Summer Shaplin with Chancellor Vitter Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss CommunicationsUniversity of Mississippi-Booneville campus senior, Summer Shaplin of Ripley, received UM's highest academic award, the Taylor Medal during the Honors Convocation Ceremony held April 7 on the Oxford campus. UM Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter congratulates Shaplin during the annual Taylor Medalist dinner held that evening.

UM Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter congratulates Summer Sharplin, a senior on the university’s Booneville regional campus who received UM’s highest academic award, the Taylor Medal, during the April 7 Honors Convocation on the Oxford campus.

OXFORD, Miss. – Summer Sharplin, a senior majoring in elementary education at the University of Mississippi at Booneville, has been awarded the university’s highest academic award, the Taylor Medal, during the annual Honors Convocation, which was April 7 on the Oxford campus.

She is the daughter of Tony and Tammy Sharplin of Ripley. Attending the awards ceremony with Sharplin were her mother and her 84-year-old grandmother, Thelma Rutherford of New Site. Rutherford herself taught elementary school for 35 years in northeast Mississippi.

“I was so proud to have my grandmother with me,” Sharplin said. “She has been my personal teacher my entire life. I hope I become half the teacher she was.”

For many years, Sharplin has heard the good, the bad and the funny stories from one of the many professional educators in her family.

University of Mississippi-Booneville campus senior Summer Shaplin of Ripley (right) with her grandmother and mentor Thelma Rutherford of New Site during the UM Honors Convocation ceremonies held April 7 on the Oxford campus. Shaplin credits her grandmother with inspiring her to become a teacher.

Summer Sharplin of Ripley (right) visits with her grandmother and mentor Thelma Rutherford of New Site after the UM Honors Convocation. Sharplin credits her grandmother with inspiring her to become a teacher.

The family legacy of excellence in education began when her grandmother and grandfather met while serving as teachers in Marietta. They soon married and started their family while continuing to teach. Her grandfather eventually became superintendent of Tippah County Schools.

Her cousin, Mary Margaret King of New Albany, was honored as Mississippi’s “Teacher of the Year” in 2014 for her work at New Albany High School.

“My mom tells about a time that her dad was actually her history teacher and he threw an eraser at her for talking during class,” Sharplin recalled.

Even though she hadn’t until recently considered pursuing a career as a teacher herself, she became drawn to the profession.

“If anyone had asked me before, I never would have said I was considering becoming a teacher,” Sharplin said. “I really thought I would like to work in the medical profession. I shadowed a few friends who were working in various medical jobs, and I realized it just wasn’t for me.”

Sharplin did, however, enjoy music. She had an opportunity to sing the national anthem at different local and regional events, including a Memphis Redbirds baseball game. Then she began taking courses at the UM Booneville campus.

“I enrolled in the ‘Music for Children’ class at Ole Miss, and I was hooked,” Sharplin said. “It was then that I knew I had made the right choice to alter my career plans.”

Sharplin is interning as a student teacher for a sixth-grade math class at Hills Chapel School in Booneville.

“At first, I was a little leery of teaching math because I have enjoyed teaching English more,” she said. “I think my professors wanted me to challenge myself, and I am so glad that they did. I’m really enjoying it. I want to be confident in every subject area.”

Sharplin said that the students she works with each day are her favorite part of teaching.

“It is just so special to watch a student really grasp a concept we are presenting to them,” she said. “I get to be their guide and help them to comprehend the subject matter. There’s really not another feeling like this.”

Virginia Moore, an associate professor of education on the university’s Tupelo and Booneville regional campuses, noticed Sharplin’s commitment to not only her own education, but to the education of the students she worked with during her practicum experiences.

“Summer demonstrates strong leadership abilities and a strong devotion to the teaching profession,” Moore said. “After observing her work in the college setting, I believe she is an exemplary student and one who represents high personal and teaching standards we expect of an Ole Miss student in teacher education.”

Those qualities led Moore to nominate Sharplin this spring for the Taylor Medal.

Established in 1904 in memory of Marcus Elvis Taylor of Booneville, an honored 1871 UM alumnus, Taylor Medals recognize no more than 0.45 percent of all undergraduates, regardless of campus, for meritorious scholarship and deportment. Recipients must have at least a 3.90 grade-point average.

Sharplin was also inducted into the Kappa Delta Phi education honor society and the prestigious Phi Kappa Phi national academic honor society this spring.

“Summer is extremely passionate about education,” Moore said. “She is motivated and works to keep her students engaged. We are pleased that she has received this honor. She is very deserving.”

Even though she feels she has found the right career path, Sharplin plans to keep learning and hopefully obtain a graduate degree in education.

“I have some big shoes to fill,” she said.

For more information about programs offered at the University of Mississippi at Booneville, go to

Student Continues Education, Cares for Mother Recovering from Cancer

Matt Waldrup hopes to attend law school after receiving degree from UM DeSoto Center

Matt Waldrup and his mom, Johnnie, at the University of Mississippi - DeSoto’s Graduation Celebration on May 3.

Matt Waldrup and his mom, Johnnie, at the UM DeSoto Center’s graduation celebration on May 3.

SOUTHAVEN, Miss. – Matt Waldrup can think of one person who wants to see him graduate more than anyone: his mom.

“Ever since I was little, she always said, ‘I just want to see you grow up, finish your education and be happy,'” said Waldrup, a Memphis native who is finishing his final semester at the University of Mississippi at DeSoto Center in Southaven. “So not only is this my dream, it’s hers also. Soon we will both be seeing things that we have wanted our entire lives.”

Waldrup, who is set to receive a Bachelor of General Studies on Saturday (May 14), has been caring for his mother since she was diagnosed with rectal cancer in 2009. That was the summer that Waldrup planned to enroll as a freshman at the University of Mississippi‘s main campus in Oxford.

The diagnosis was a heartbreaking blow for Waldrup, whose father died of brain cancer just two years before.

“All responsibilities of a husband, of a son, of a caretaker – they fell on me,” he said. “It was very scary because I was still what I would consider a young age. My mom had to endure a lot of treatments, surgeries, etc., and being there alone was hard.”

Two years into his mother’s treatment, Waldrup returned to school. He received an associate degree from Northwest Community College in 2014 before enrolling at the university’s DeSoto regional campus. Waldrup, who also works in Southaven, said that his education “would not be possible” without the convenience of having a campus close to home.

Through his major, Waldrup is minoring in psychology, legal studies and English. Kacy Dixon, academic adviser for general studies majors, encouraged Waldrup during his time at Ole Miss.

“Matt has a lot of perseverance,” Dixon said. “I am proud of him for making it this far. Even when he has setbacks, he picks up and keeps going. It takes a lot of character to tackle those types of responsibilities at such a young age.”

One of Waldrup’s proudest moments during his time at the DeSoto campus was when he realized that he couldn’t go it alone.

“I’ve always been a person who has said, ‘Matt, just do it yourself,'” he said. “‘You don’t have time for your own feelings. You have to put your mom and school first.’ I’ve realized that I’m important also. Reaching out to my counselor, Mr. Brian Adams, and getting the help I needed from Ole Miss was a proud moment for me.”

Counseling services at the university have been essential to Waldrup’s success, he said. Though his mother is still battling severe complications from radiation treatment, he is determined to stay optimistic.

“Even though it has been a struggle, I take it one day at a time,” he said. “I just give it my best every day. Whether it’s school, whether it’s work or at home – no matter what situation I’m in – I give it my best. That’s what I’ve learned. If you try your best, something good will come of it.”

Through the ups and downs of Waldrup’s daily life, he said he is thankful for those who have helped him along the way.

“I’ve realized that there are so many people supporting me,” he said. “One of my friends even started a GoFundMe page called ‘Mercy for Matt.’ It is really overwhelming to witness this outpouring of kindness.”

Waldrup wishes to pay it forward by encouraging students who might be in similar situations.

“Never give up, give it your best, count your blessings and don’t look at what’s wrong in your life, but what’s good,” he said. “If you don’t feel that you can do that, then seek some help. Help can always get you to another place like it did me, though I’m still a working progress. With this campus and university, I’ve learned that you aren’t alone.”

After he receives his degree, Waldrup plans to attend law school when the timing is right. Dixon said she looks forward to seeing what Waldrup’s future holds.

“I’m excited to celebrate with Matt and his mom at Commencement,” she said. “It will be a special time.”

UM Senior Prepping for International Service

Outstanding general studies student working toward education to serve others

UM Outstanding Student in the BGS program, Connor Edwards, with his 7th and 8th grade students in Satun, Thailand where he first taught English during the summer of 2014.

Connor Edwards (center), the UM Outstanding Student in the BGS program, with his seventh- and eighth-grade students in Satun, Thailand, where he first taught English during the summer of 2014.

OXFORD, Miss.­­­ – Although University of Mississippi senior Connor Edwards is from a small town – Pickens, in Holmes County – he has his sights set on some big-world experiences and has set his future in motion with the goal of helping people on the other side of the world.

A transfer student from Holmes Community College, Edwards has excelled during his time at UM. He recently was named the 2016 Outstanding Senior in the Bachelor of General Studies degree program as well as the class marshall. He will deliver an address during the university’s May 14 graduation ceremonies.

“I knew Connor was a remarkable young man when I began recruiting him to transfer to Ole Miss,” said Jason McCormick, a UM development officer and former community college admissions counselor.

Edwards earned the prestigious Lyceum Scholarship when he transferred to the Oxford campus  to begin his junior year in fall 2014. When he arrived at Ole Miss, he was considering a career in the medical profession, but a summer trip to Thailand changed his mind.

“I spent the summer before coming to Ole Miss as an English teacher for seventh- and eighth-graders in Thailand, and my whole mindset changed,” Edwards explained. “I wanted my future career to be one where I could help change people’s lives for the better. That is when I decided that completing a well-rounded education would be of great use to me in the real world.”

Edwards changed his major to a specialized BGS degree. The BGS program at UM is a cross-disciplinary degree plan offered to maximize opportunities for individuals who want to reach personal goals, meet job requirements and advance their careers. Students can choose any three minors offered at the university and create a specialized educational path.

“By changing my major, I was able to study things I was interested in, like language and philosophy,” he said.

Edwards’ degree comprises minors in biology, chemistry and religion.

“I had taken many science classes preparing for the medical field,” he said. “These classes helped me learn to think through problems and really examine situations in a thorough way. I’m grateful for the skills I learned.”

The travel bug had bitten and in the summer of 2015, Edwards headed back overseas to teach English to college students in Japan.

When he returned, he helped start the “Global Café” on the Oxford campus to give international students an opportunity to meet and foster friendships with American students.

“I enjoy languages and learning about different world-views,” Edwards said. “It’s exciting to see communication and friendship come out of our exchanges. It has really been a learning experience for me to find ways to connect with others even when we are speaking a different language.”

When Edwards returned to campus following his Japan visit, his learning didn’t stop. He dove into a strenuous senior year of courses and continued to achieve. His hard work paid off as he was selected to receive membership in the prestigious Phi Kappa Phi academic honor society in November.

“The significance of this honor is that it recognizes Connor’s school and service work as being at the highest level for a college student,” said Tony Ammeter. UM dean of general studies.

Upon graduation in May, Edwards plans to pursue his master’s degree in Teaching English as a Second Language.

“I think this career path will be very rewarding,” Edwards said. “I can help others learn a new skill that could possibly improve their future.”

McCormick said he has stayed in touch with Edwards since his arrival in Oxford and has been especially proud of his work with international students.

“Connor is the definition of a servant leader; you don’t find kids like him every day,” McCormick said. “We were lucky to have him at Ole Miss. He really found his niche working with international students, and he’s a great ambassador for Ole Miss.

“A unique student like Connor has reached out and done a great job welcoming others into the university.”

For more information about the BGS program at UM, visit