UM Professors Receive IHL Excellence in Diversity Awards

Sociologist Willa Johnson and health clinician Hamed Benghuzzi lauded at ceremonies in Jackson

Willa Johnson (center), UM associate professor of sociology, receives the IHL Excellence in Diversity Award. She is congratulated by (from left) IHL trustee Shane Hooper and Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – Faculty members at the University of Mississippi and the university’s Medical Center have been honored with diversity awards by the Mississippi Board of Trustees of the State Institutions of Higher Learning.

Willa Johnson, associate professor of sociology, and Hamed Benghuzzi, professor and chair of clinical health sciences, were recognized at the IHL’s Excellence in Diversity Awards ceremony Feb. 16 in Jackson. Each was presented a plaque by Shane Hooper, IHL trustee and chair of the Diversity Committee.

“Dr. Johnson and Dr. Benghuzzi make a profound difference on the students at the University of Mississippi and the University of Mississippi Medical Center,” Hooper said. “They are committed to ensuring that all students are welcomed and provided every opportunity to succeed. Their dedication creates a better campus climate for all students, faculty and visitors.”

Both Johnson and Benghuzzi said they were humbled by their recognitions.

“I was surprised by the news,” Johnson said. “It is a wonderful honor. None of what has been done would be possible without the stalwart support of my department chair, Dr. Kirsten Dellinger, and my friends and colleagues in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, who are always willing to do whatever they can to further the work of awareness and learning about diversity and inclusion.”

“I was extremely surprised and had no idea who nominated me,” Benghuzzi said. “I am so humbled and thankful to all who nominated me and to the UMMC leadership for allowing me to be part of a team that promotes diversity and inclusion.”

Each IHL member institution, as well as UMMC and Mississippi State University Division of Agricultural, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine, submitted one nomination for consideration to the board of trustees Diversity Committee. Nominees were evaluated based on positive contributions to the campus and the state and advancing diversity among their respective institutions.

Johnson serves on the Chancellor’s Committee on the Status of Women and in other university capacities. However, she considers her diversity-related work as a natural extension of her research and teaching.

Dr. Hamed Benghuzzi (second from right), professor and chair of clinical health sciences at UMMC, receives the IHL Excellence in Diversity Award. He is congratulated by (from left) Shane Hooper, IHL trustee; Dr. Ralph Didlake, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs; and UM Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter. Submitted photo

She teaches courses on Judaism, the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, disability, racism and religion, and also mentors students and faculty on the UM campus and at other universities. She utilizes every opportunity to champion equality and equal rights.

“In other words, this is not a ‘me’ award; it is a campuswide award,” Johnson said. “We live in a space that has a painful racial history, but as folks who have inherited that history we are focused on making a positive difference in the state of Mississippi.

“I simply try to cobble together different groups of campus partners and outside funders to work on issues of mutual concern.”

Benghuzzi’s achievements in diversity include serving as adviser to more than 40 Ph.D. students, a mentor to Jackson-area high school students in UMMC’s Base Pair program and a mentor for Jackson State University’s Bridges to the Baccalaureate program. He also was a mentor for a National Science Foundation-funded biomedical science program for minority high school students.

“I have always believed diversity constitutes strength in the academic setting,” Benghuzzi said. “I have received many national and state awards throughout my career, but this award is most meaningful because I was nominated by people who believe I have demonstrated that all people, regardless of their social status, gender, race or religion, should be treated equally.”

The Board of Trustees voted unanimously to name the Community Service Award in memory of trustee Karen Cummins in recognition that Cummins’ life epitomized what the award is all about: helping to improve Mississippi’s communities with a welcoming and inclusive spirit. Cummins was appointed to the Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning in 2012 by Gov. Phil Bryant and served with commitment and dedication until her recent death.

Johnson was nominated by Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter and Don Cole, assistant to the chancellor for multicultural affairs. Benghuzzi was nominated by Ralph Didlake, UMMC associate vice chancellor for academic affairs, and LouAnn Woodward, UMMC vice chancellor for health affairs.

For more information on diversity and inclusion efforts at UM, go to http://diversity.olemiss.edu/. For more information about the IHL, contact Caron Blanton at cblanton@mississippi.edu.

 

RebelTHON Team Sets High Goal for Weekend Fundraiser

Annual event benefits Batson Children's Hospital; portion to help renovate cancer center

RebelTHON 2017 begins at 3 p.m. Saturday (Feb. 18) at the Turner Center. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – With last year’s RebelTHON fundraising event at the University of Mississippi almost doubling its goal, the bar is set high for the 2017 dance marathon to benefit the Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital at the UM Medical Center.

This year’s event begins at 3 p.m. Saturday (Feb. 18) at the Turner Center. The entertainment will be similar to last year’s event, but some details are being kept secret in hopes of surprising the dancers and families.

“This year, we really wanted to get our name out to the students and faculty even more, which I think we accomplished through various events like bar nights, percentage nights and union tables on campus,” said Marianna Schmidt, a UM senior from Houston, Texas, and executive director of RebelTHON.

RebelTHON organizers have set a goal to raise $150,000 by the end of the 12-hour dance marathon.

“To build up anticipation since the dance is so close, we have taken down our thermometer showing our fundraising progress on the donor drive,” said Schmidt, a business management major.

The organizers to do something a little different with part of their donations this year. They will be giving some of the final total directly to help fund renovation of the hospital’s Children’s Cancer Center.

“It will provide a more comforting area for kids that sometimes spend days in the center,” Schmidt said. “The Cancer Clinic lobby hasn’t changed much since the ’90s, so it will be great for it to receive a facelift.”

The event is a major boost each year for the hospital, said Jennifer Hospodor, director of Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and community-based fundraising for the UM Medical Center.

“RebelTHON is an enormous inspiration to our team, and more importantly, it inspires our patients,” Hospodor said. “To see this group of college students work together like they do, with different personalities and backgrounds, all for the sake of our patients, is extraordinary. And then to see how their hard work pays off in such a big way makes their efforts truly astounding.

“We are all so grateful for these students and the countless hours of hard work they put in for the kids. Inspiring may not cover it.”

 Anyone interested in attending the event should visit http://www.rebelthon.org and click “Register.” Participants can sign up until the day of the event, but each person must raise $100 in order to attend. For those who cannot attend the full dance marathon, a community block party is set for 6-9 p.m., when any student or member of the L-O-U community can pay $5 to see what RebelTHON is all about.

Anyone interested in donating to RebelTHON can go to the website and click “Donate.” The site allows donors to designate a specific dancer or give to the event in general. Donations will be accepted throughout the event until one hour before the final reveal.

Chili’s will host a RebelTHON percentage night tonight (Feb 15) at the restaurant on West Jackson Avenue. A flyer will be posted on social media that participants must show in order for RebelTHON to get a percentage of purchases.

“We would love to see people there getting ready for the dance,” Schmidt said.

To learn more about RebelTHON, go to http://www.rebelthon.org. To view a YouTube video from the 2016 Ole Miss RebelTHON, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BAfak4pzGks.

Dental Community Remembers Couples Lost in Crash

Oxford dentists left behind families, legacy of caring service

dental_memorial_top_artJACKSON, Miss. – Just before noon on Aug. 14, Mississippi’s dental community suffered a great loss. Six University of Mississippi alumni on their way home from a dentistry continuing education event in Florida were killed in a plane crash in Alabama. Four were graduates of the School of Dentistry.

On board were Drs. Jason and Lea Farese, Dr. Austin and Angie Poole, and Dr. Michael and Kim Perry, all of Oxford. They leave behind multiple practices, hundreds of patients, colleagues, friends and family. Most heartbreaking is the loss suffered by their combined 11 children.

The dental community has rallied together in an attempt to fill the void left by these special lives. Fellow alumni have stepped in to keep practices open and staff employed, and a fund has been started to provide for the children’s care and education.

Drs. Jason and Lea Farese

Drs. Jason and Lea Farese

Drs. Jason and Lea Farese

Jason and Lea Farese met in dental school and were married in 2002. He was a Vanderbilt graduate, captain of the baseball team his senior year, and she graduated from Belhaven University. The two were a perfect pair – of contrasts.

“He was like the fiery guy, and she was like the calming of the waters,” said Dr. David Duncan, professor emeritus in the Department of Care Planning and Restorative Sciences. “They just meshed together really well.”

Duncan recalls Jason coming to him during dental school for some personal advice. “He was wringing his hands, and he said, ‘I just don’t know. I’m thinking about asking Lea to marry me.’ And I said, ‘Duh! Yeah! Y’all are perfect for each other.'”

Lea worked in public health for a few years while Jason worked on getting a private practice started. They joined in practice as Farese Family Dentistry in Oxford. They were members of the Tri Lakes Dental Study Club, which includes a coverage group to provide clinic coverage for members who are injured or ill and unable to practice for a time.

Both Lea and Jason had participated in helping cover two other dental practices since the group was formed, said Dr. Thomas Hodge, a 1995 graduate of the School of Dentistry. Now it was time for the group to give back to the Fareses, the first time the group has covered for a death in the dental community, Hodge said.

“We tried to get in there and keep their normal business hours going, keep the staff in place until the family could sell the practice,” he said.

However, the person who traveled the farthest to help out was not a member of the Tri Lakes group. Dr. Lauren Timmons, who graduated in 2002 with Jason Farese and Austin Poole, traveled from his practice in Ocean Springs to help keep the practice going.

“I really felt like God spoke to me when I heard it happened. I knew, in that minute,” said Timmons, who received the call while driving back from Orlando, where he had attended the same conference from which the three couples were returning when their plane crashed.

“The second thought that was in my head was do it for the kids. I knew this was their retirement. The value of the practice would slip away quickly if people didn’t step in.”

The Fareses had one of the most technologically advanced practices in Mississippi. Attending the seminar in Florida was a testament to their commitment to staying on the cutting edge of dentistry.

However, Timmons said the group skipped one day of classes to take in the sights at Universal Studios.

“I didn’t want to skip class,” he said. “I am kind of glad now that they did, not knowing it was going to be one of their last few days.”

Timmons said that he talked to Jason on the day before the crash. “Farese just came and sat down beside me before this class started,” Timmons said. “He talked to me for just a little bit, which was kind of unusual, I thought. He’s always busy, somewhere to go and something to do.”

John Green, a family friend of all three couples who lives in Oxford, described Jason as the little brother he’d never had.

“I’ve known Jason since the time he was born,” he said. “His older brother and I were best friends.

“Jason was a consummate perfectionist in everything he did – academically, professionally and even spiritually. You could say that about all of them. They donated a lot of their time and did a lot of pro bono work for people who couldn’t afford it.”

Lea was great with children who came into the clinic, Green said.

“She was kind of Jason’s alter ego, if you will,” he said. “She was a great mom and a great mentor to a lot of children. She was always at Jason’s side and always at the children’s side.”

“They were not just good dentists – and they were very good dentists – but they were good people,” Hodge said. “They were people whom you’d want your families to be around. They are going to be missed by many, many, many people.”

The Fareses leave behind three children: Luke, Alexa and Layla.

Dr. Austin and Angie Poole

Dr. Austin and Angie Poole

Dr. Austin and Angie Poole

Austin and Angie Poole met later in life. Austin worked his way through college to a degree from Delta State University. Angie was an Ole Miss alumna. Theirs was a second marriage for both, and together they parented five children: Katie, Walker, Kingsley, Wesley and Jack. As a family, they enjoyed spending time outdoors.

“They spent a ton of time outdoors with all their children,” Green said. “They were outdoors all the time.”

Austin is remembered for his Delta roots by many. Dr. Neva Penton Eklund wrote in the Mississippi Dental Association publication MDA Insider about Austin wearing his hunting boots to class “because he had either just come from hunting that morning or was headed that way as soon as he could after the afternoon lab class.”

Former chair of periodontics and preventive services at the School of Dentistry, Dr. Frank Serio remembers the stories Austin told of time spent in the woods, hunting and fishing.

“I loved talking to Austin because he was just a country boy, no question about it,” Serio said. “He would rather spend time out in the woods chasing hogs or hunting deer than just about anything else in his life. He was also a really good fisherman. He taught me a few things about fishing. I really enjoyed his company.”

Angie and Austin spent their days together. As office manager, she ran his practice in Clarksdale. Together, they drove an hour each way from Oxford to Clarksdale to provide care to patients in the underserved, rural area.

Often Poole treated patients regardless of their ability to pay, Duncan said.

“Angie was just kindhearted,” Green said. “She was very confident and constantly involved in all of their children’s lives. She was a great mom, very welcoming. Her house was open to everyone.

“They’d take in total strangers. Austin and Angie were just great to everyone they knew. They never met strangers.”

Timmons said that Austin was one of the nicest people he had ever known.

“Austin Poole would, literally – if it was during finals, if there was a war going on, if the building was on fire – he would stop and help somebody,” he said. “He would sacrifice his time.”

Timmons summed up the way many friends and colleagues are feeling.

“It’s really sad and tragic,” he said. “It is a tremendous loss to the dental community.

“Jason was way ahead of his time in dentistry with technology. That was a great loss. Michael Perry did so much for the community, as you know, and so did all of them, really. They were just an inspiration to live our lives that way.”

Dr. Michael and Kim Perry

Dr. Michael and Kim Perry

Dr. Michael and Kim Perry

Michael Perry and Kim Westerfield grew up together in Brandon. They started dating when he was in ninth grade and she was in the eighth. They both attended UM after high school.

She received a degree in nursing. After receiving a math degree in Oxford, he went on to attend the School of Dentistry and then completed postdoctorate training in periodontics at Baylor College of Dentistry while Kim earned a master’s degree from Texas Woman’s University and post-master’s degree as a family nurse practitioner from Mississippi University for Women.

The high school sweethearts married in 1997. They settled in Oxford, Michael to establish a periodontal practice and Kim as a nurse practitioner at the UM Health Center.

Kim was a committed wife, mother and health care provider, Green said.

“She spent her entire adult life taking care of others,” he said. “That’s common with all of them. They were all just very giving people.”

Michael’s brother, Robert Perry, said that his brother was passionate about his work, his patients and his staff. More than one person described him as driven. He grew five practices in north Mississippi and the Memphis area, and his staff followed him to each location to provide care.

“People say that he ran 90 miles an hour everywhere he went,” Robert Perry said. “He wanted to cover as much of an area as possible and see as many patients as possible.”

He also went the extra mile to show how much he cared for his patients.

“I’ve received a lot of letters – the whole family has – about how Michael would call his patients after he had seen them that day,” Robert said. It was the first time most patients had ever received a telephone call from a doctor or a dentist checking on them, and it meant a lot. “He really did care.”

He showed his caring in other ways as well. Inspired by Serio, Perry traveled with him to the Dominican Republic to provide care to the less fortunate. Perry took his oldest children along to nurture in them an appreciation for helping others.

Robert said that his brother’s legacy will be the 73-acre Oxford-Lafayette Sports Plex he built with his own money.

“Michael always knew how important sports were growing up and how there were role models in coaches and good support in youth sports,” Robert said.

“They were very motivated for the youth in this town. They took care of people who couldn’t financially take care of themselves.”

Serio said that Michael was not just tireless for himself but for everyone around him.

“He and Kim really did so much for the Oxford community,” Serio said. “Any way that Michael touched people was just tremendous, and of course Kim was right by his side the whole time.”

The Perrys leave behind three children: Sarah McConnell, John West and Anna Reed.

Our Oxford Family

Green has formed a memorial fund to help the children of all three families.

“Our Oxford Family was set up to take care of the short- and long-term needs which should arise for the children who were left when their parents passed away,” he said. “Short- and long-term needs include education or basic needs going forward.”

Those who wish to contribute may visit the Our Oxford Family website.

Cochlear Implant Enhances Adult Patient’s Quality of Life

Medical Center team helps people rejoin world of hearing

Lindsey Edmondson gets lots of support from husband Brad as she transitions to life with a cochlear implant, allowing her to hear well for the first time in her life.

Lindsey Edmondson gets lots of support from husband Brad as she transitions to life with a cochlear implant, allowing her to hear well for the first time in her life.

JACKSON, Miss. – When pondering two of her biggest life decisions, Lindsey Edmondson didn’t waste time and didn’t look back.

The first: She met husband Brad Edmondson in February 2003 when they were students at East Central Community College, went on a horseback-riding date in March, got engaged in May and tied the knot in August.

The second: Lindsey, who’d coped with progressive hearing loss since toddlerhood, was evaluated for a left-ear cochlear implant in May 2014 by Dr. Tom Eby, professor of otolaryngology and communicative sciences at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. A whirlwind of tests later, she was able to fast-track the surgery to that July 25.

About a month later, Lindsey and Brad returned to the Medical Center and sat next to Dr. Vicki Gonzalez, chief of audiology and assistant professor of otolaryngology and communicative sciences, as Gonzalez pushed the keys on a computer that turned on the half dollar-sized implant for the first time.

Lindsey went from reading lips with her eyes to reading sounds with her brain.

At age 32, after years of muffled hearing at best, “I could hear the air blowing through the vent,” Lindsey said.

“She said, ‘Do y’all hear that?'” remembered Brad, 37, a Mississippi Highway Patrol trooper and National Guard member. “We spent three or four minutes trying to figure out what she was talking about.”

Dr. Vicki Gonzalez, left, observes as Edmonson demonstrates positioning her cochlear implant.

Dr. Vicki Gonzalez, left, observes as Edmonson demonstrates positioning her cochlear implant.

Over the next few months, Lindsey – one of the Medical Center’s 205 adult cochlear implant patients – patiently trained herself to lean on the implant for sound, even when what she heard wasn’t her idea of normal. At work as an X-ray technician, she wore her implant in addition to a hearing aid for her right ear.

“As soon as I got home, I forced myself to take out the hearing aid,” the Union resident said. “Your brain needs to learn how to process the sounds. There were a lot of frustrating moments. But, it finally clicked.”

As the hearing in her left ear grew from just 7 percent speech understanding to 91 percent, she heard birds chirping. Her husband driving up in his truck. “Plucking my eyebrows. I can actually hear the clicking,” Lindsey said.

She could hear their two children whisper.

Lindsey’s parents didn’t know she was losing her hearing until she was 3. “A friend asked them: ‘Doesn’t she pay attention?’ My parents thought I was just hard-headed,” she said.

She immediately began speech therapy. “They didn’t want me to learn sign language. They wanted me to read lips,” Lindsey said. And her parents wondered – correctly – if Lindsey’s deafness was related to that suffered by her grandfather, who despite his disability was a successful teacher and coach.

Lindsey excelled, reading lips to make up for her limited hearing and refusing to let it define her.

Her grandfather received a cochlear implant in 1987, when the device was in its infancy. Lindsey took note and gave it some thought as she grew into an adult.

The big difference between cochlear implants in adults and very young children is that adult candidates are longtime hearing aid users, Eby said.

“They’ve experienced living with hearing loss,” he said. “The usual story is that, over time, the hearing gets worse and hearing aids are no longer useful.”

He looks for their ability to discriminate words. “Hearing aids help to a point, but there’s a cutoff we use for whether hearing aids, or an implant, is the better option. If you can understand 50 percent of words with a hearing aid, you’re better off with that. But if it’s less, that’s not the best option.”

At age 30, after the birth of her two children, Lindsey had an epiphany. She and Brad were living in Columbus due to his job in the National Guard.

“I met a patient in his 50s who had one,” she said. “I was getting frustrated with my communication boundaries. This man said he’d had one for six months, and he didn’t know how he’d made it without it.”

About the time Lindsey decided to pursue the surgery, Brad had a routine health assessment required by the Guard. It included a hearing test. “My audiologist suggested we go to UMMC,” he said.

Lindsey got an appointment with Eby.

“I’d been told it would be several months before we’d know if I’d be a candidate,” Lindsey said. “Dr. Eby said I looked like a good candidate, but he needed to follow it through with tests. I said, ‘Can we get them all done today?”’

She did – a hearing evaluation, CT scan and full audiology workup. “God definitely opened all the doors that day,” Lindsey said.

The outpatient surgery comes at a price, but one many profoundly deaf adults are happy to pay. The ear getting the implant generally loses any hearing it previously had.

“You’re terrified, because you could lose it all,” Gonzalez said. “When Lindsey decided to commit, she did it all the way.”

Lindsey Edmondson examines the model of cochlear implant that she received to restore her hearing.

Lindsey Edmondson examines the model of cochlear implant that she received to restore her hearing.

An external device that hooks behind Lindsey’s ear, much like a hearing aid, is the processor. A wire attached to a magnet aligns the internal device with the external device.

Gonzalez explains to her patients that when she activates their implant, they won’t immediately have perfect hearing, or perhaps even a magical moment. “For some people, their expectations going in are too high,” she said. “It’s not a fit-and-go. It’s a process.

“Some of them think that they have superhuman hearing, and sometimes they say it sounds like Mickey Mouse or a cartoon character,” she said. “For some people, that’s more than they’ve ever had.”

Patients literally must train their brains to interpret the new sounds. “There are some days where patients get frustrated,” Gonzalez said. “But, it will become more and more natural with time.”

And so it’s been with Lindsey. “It’s so much clearer,” she said. “When I don’t have my cochlear implant on and just my hearing aid on, I can hardly hear anything.”

Not exactly following doctors’ orders, Lindsey returned to work in a week. The 2001 Miss Neshoba County Fair made it to her reunion of fellow crown-holders just three days after surgery.

Throughout her journey, Brad has been by her side, even if only in spirit.

“We were married for seven years before I had six consecutive months at home,” he said. “I was in the middle of a deployment when we got married. She was strong enough, and willing enough, to keep a flawless house through all that. She treated her hearing loss like it was nothing.”

There isn’t a hard-and-fast age parameter for adults who have the surgery, Gonzalez said. “I have a patient who is 96 with a cochlear implant, and doing fantastic. Retirees do it for quality of life.”

But many younger patients, like Lindsey, opt for an implant because they want to continue an active lifestyle and be better able to communicate at home and in the workplace. Insurance often covers a good bit, but the procedure and post-op rehabilitation is expensive, costing upward of $40,000, the American Speech-Language Hearing Association estimates.

Fifty percent of those receiving one implant go on to have the second. That’s Lindsey’s plan. She understands about 47 percent of speech in her right ear.

Lindsey said her grandfather did well with his implant at first, but now, “he doesn’t wear it except on Sundays for church. He doesn’t hear himself. He definitely has communication issues.”

Maximum benefit from an implant “comes more naturally to people who are social,” Eby said. “My elderly women do better than my elderly men because they have their own social circles, and they converse. A lot of my elderly men are very solitary.”

Brad puts his life on the line as a state trooper and member of the Guard. “The real hero is her,” he says of his wife.

“The world is a noisy place,” Lindsey said. “I’ve been frustrated sometimes because there’s a lot of sound in a big crowd. But I’m just glad I can hear it. I want to experience this 100 percent of the time.”

$1.9 Million NIH Grant to Fund Children’s Health Research

Medical Center will use award to build infrastructure, expand pediatric clinical trials

The team of medical experts involved in the National Institutes of Health ECHO grant to UMMC includes, from left, Dr. Richard Summers, Dr. Norma Ojeda, Dr. Rob Annett, Dr. Rick Barr and Dr. Whitney Herring.

The team of medical experts involved in the National Institutes of Health ECHO grant to UMMC includes, from left, Dr. Richard Summers, Dr. Norma Ojeda, Dr. Rob Annett, Dr. Rick Barr and Dr. Whitney Herring.

JACKSON, Miss. – The University of Mississippi Medical Center has received a National Institutes of Health grant for more than $1.9 million to support research into how environmental factors from conception through early childhood influence the health of children and adolescents.

The funds, from the NIH Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes, or ECHO, program, will be distributed over four years to create a research infrastructure at UMMC, opening the door to increasing pediatric clinical trials in Mississippi, particularly among traditionally underserved populations.

“This will help children’s research in Mississippi step up to a new level,” said Dr. Robert Annett, professor of pediatrics and director for research and education at UMMC’s Center for the Advancement of Youth. “This will ultimately help pediatric clinical research have a positive impact upon the health of children across the country.”

The grant to UMMC is part of $157 million awarded this year for the seven-year ECHO program, which focuses on the effects of exposure to certain environmental factors – including physical, chemical, biological, social, behavioral, natural and built environments – on child health and development. The studies will target four key pediatric outcomes that have a high public health impact: upper and lower airway health; obesity; pre-, peri- and post-natal outcomes; and neurodevelopment.

Annett and Dr. Rick Barr, the Medical Center’s Suzan B. Thames professor and chair of pediatrics, are principal investigators in the project, which brings together a team of pediatric clinical researchers to address those four focus areas.

“Mississippi has many health care challenges, and they can all have a profound impact upon our children,” Barr said. “Through research, we seek to improve children’s health from the womb to adulthood, meaning future generations will have the care they need to reach their greatest potential.”

Co-investigators include Annett in neurodevelopment; Dr. Norma Ojeda, associate professor of pediatrics; Dr. Mark Majure, professor of pediatric pulmonology; and Dr. Whitney Herring, an assistant professor of pediatrics specializing in childhood obesity.

Advisory committees for the effort include, within UMMC, Dr. Richard Summers, associate vice chancellor for research; Dr. Bettina Beech, dean of the John D. Bower School of Population Health; Dr. Michael Griswold, director of the Center of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics; Dr. Dan Jones, director of clinical and population sciences for the Mississippi Center for Obesity Research; Dr. Joshua Mann, Preventative Medicine chair; Dr. Gailen Marshall, Allergy and Immunology chair; Jane Reckelhoff, Women’s Health Research Center director; and Dr. James Shwayder, chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

External advisers include Dr. Mary Currier, Mississippi state health officer; David Dzielak, Mississippi Division of Medicaid executive director; Theresa Hanna, Center for Mississippi Health Policy CEO; Dr. Juantina Johnson, Choctaw Health Center chief medical officer; Dr. Joe Olmi, University of Southern Mississippi psychology chair; Linda Southward, Mississippi Health Policy Research Center research scientist; and Dr. David Kimberlin, chair of pediatric diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“We are bringing together the best minds and are embracing experts from around the state,” said Annett, noting that UMMC will also be collaborating with other institutions to share data and findings.

ECHO will create a pediatric clinical trials network, leveraging existing infrastructure to address gaps in access to health care for rural children. Children’s of Mississippi pediatric clinics around the state would be a part of that system, helping connect clinical trials with children and families, Annett said.

Children’s of Mississippi is an umbrella organization that includes Batson Children’s Hospital and all UMMC pediatric care.

The program seeks to promote best practices for children’s health.

“Every baby should have the best opportunity to remain healthy and thrive throughout childhood,” said Dr. Francis S. Collins, NIH director. “ECHO will help us better understand the factors that contribute to optimal health in children.”

Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, sees pediatric research as central to the Medical Center’s mission.

“What could be more important than researching how children can lead healthier lives?” she said. “Studies that can be life-changing are at the heart of our purpose, and we thank the National Institutes of Health for supporting the work of our researchers.”

Summers sees the role of pediatric clinical research as central to a healthier population.

“The National Institutes of Health ECHO grant will help us gain insights through research that will ultimately allow children and families everywhere to live healthier lives,” he said. “Through this funding, we will create the collaborative network needed for Mississippi to progress in pediatric clinical research.”

UM Welcomes Most Accomplished Freshmen Class Ever

State's flagship university celebrates record enrollment as it builds for future

Students head to class at the University of Mississippi, which has experienced record enrollment again this year. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

Students head to class at the University of Mississippi, which has experienced record enrollment again this year. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi has recorded its 22nd consecutive year of rising enrollment, registering its largest and most academically qualified freshman class ever.

Enrollment at the state’s flagship university hit 24,250 across all campuses, largest in the state, according to preliminary data. The freshman class of 3,982 students posted an average ACT score of 25.2, surpassing the UM record of 24.7, set last year.

“Students and families across the state and nation are noticing that great things are happening here at the University of Mississippi,” Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said. “They recognize the academic excellence and outstanding college experience we offer and continue to join us in record numbers.

“Our faculty and staff work very hard to deliver the very best academic programs at a competitive price, providing all qualified Mississippi students the educational opportunities to transform their lives and our communities. It’s gratifying to see those efforts acknowledged by a growing Ole Miss family.”

Total enrollment is up 412 students, or 1.7 percent, from last fall.

This year’s first-time students include 87 class valedictorians, 54 salutatorians, 94 student body presidents, 92 Eagle Scouts and 13 Girl Scouts who achieved the Gold Award, the organization’s highest youth honor.

“Our university has a long history of attracting and developing student leaders,” Vitter said. “We offer them valuable experiences and help them hone their talents.

“I look forward to seeing what this talented group of freshmen can accomplish. I fully expect them to have a tremendous impact on our local and global communities during their time here and beyond.”

The high school GPA of incoming freshmen also increased, growing from 3.54 last year to 3.57, another university record.

The group bucked declines in average ACT scores both nationally and on the state level. Among new freshmen from Mississippi, this year’s average was 24.8, up from last fall’s 24.4.

The progress in freshman ACT scores actually has been maintained over the past nine years, growing 2.5 points over that span. Several factors have contributed to that success, Provost Morris Stocks said.

“We offer more and more outstanding programs for excellent students,” Stocks said. “For example, the Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program is now admitting 30 students per year. These are honors-quality students planning to be teachers, and they have committed to teach in Mississippi upon graduation.

“Then there’s the Center for Manufacturing Excellence, which brings in 60 top-level freshmen each year who are interested in the intersection of engineering, business and accounting. And over at the School of Accountancy, we’re admitting more students with ACT scores over 30 than we’ve ever had, and a lot of that stems from the school being ranked in the Top 10 for several years in a row now.”

Stocks also cited the university’s Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, Croft Institute for International Studies, Chinese Language Flagship Program and the Arabic language and Provost’s Scholars programs for helping attract more high-achieving students. The university also offers more top-level scholarships, such as the Stamps Leadership Scholarships, than in the past, he said.

“We’re now competing against the best universities in the country for the best students in the country,” Stocks said. “At the same time, we remain committed to educating the people of Mississippi and giving all qualified Mississippi students a chance to succeed and make better lives for themselves and their families.”

The university’s efforts to help new students adjust to college life and be successful – including FASTrack and the Freshman Year Experience program – also continue to pay dividends. Student retention remained near record levels, with 85.3 percent of last year’s freshmen returning to campus to continue their studies this fall.

The majority, 59.4 percent, of Ole Miss students are from Mississippi, including students from all the state’s 82 counties. The university also attracts students from around the nation and world. Overall, the student body includes representatives from every state, the District of Columbia and 90 foreign countries.

Minority enrollment totaled 5,548 students, or 22.9 percent. African-American enrollment is 3,166 students, or 13.0 percent of overall enrollment.

With a newly expanded building, the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College continues to grow, enrolling 1,420 students this fall, more than doubling over the past 10 years. It received 1,484 applications for this fall, up 15 percent from last year’s 1,293 submissions. The Honors College has a record 474 incoming freshmen, with 59 percent being Mississippi residents.

Once it settles into its new space and completes renovations on the existing facility, the Honors College has a target enrollment around 1,500 students. The new space allows faculty to broaden the challenges and opportunities for its students, Dean Douglass Sullivan-Gonzalez said.

“It gives us the physical capacity to go deep into conversation in public space,” Sullivan-Gonzalez said. “At a time when civil discourse is so lacking in America, we want to create a space where we can model civil debate on ideas, even ones that appear threatening.”

While many of the university’s schools and programs experienced growth, its accounting and journalism schools enjoyed the largest increases.

Enrollment in the Patterson School of Accountancy grew 9 percent, to 1,380 students this fall, compared to 1,261 last year. The school has been a mainstay in the Top 10 rankings for several years, and all three of its programs are again in the top eight this fall.

In the Meek School of Journalism and New Media, undergraduate enrollment increased 8 percent, growing from 1,375 students in fall 2015 to 1,486 this year. Founded in 2009, the school has benefited from being on a beautiful campus, with economical tuition, excellence in athletics and an exceptionally effective Office of Admissions, Dean Will Norton said.

“We have a program that focuses on preparing graduates for media careers in the modern world, not for 20 years ago, and we have a faculty who held significant positions in the media, many just within the last few years,” Norton said. “Because of this, many of them also are well-versed in social media, and they can help students master those areas.”

The school offers opportunities for students that are rare among journalism programs, he said.

“Not many places offer students a chance to do documentaries or depth reporting courses, or campaigns for companies throughout the region, but we offer all that here,” Norton said. “Our international projects also have been exceptional.”

Fall enrollment at the university’s Medical Center remained nearly level, largely because of space constraints.

“We are near or at capacity in all of our programs, with the exception of some of our online offerings,” said Dr. Ralph Didlake, UMMC associate vice chancellor for academic affairs.

Areas enjoying growth include the School of Medicine, from 563 students to 577; the Medical Center’s residency and fellowship programs, from 626 to 640; and the School of Dentistry, from 143 to 148.

The increase should accelerate with a new 151,000-square-foot, $74 million School of Medicine building set to open in fall 2017, Didlake said. The new building “is not only going to allow the School of Medicine enrollment to increase, but it will decrease pressure on other teaching space, allowing our other programs to grow.”

Enrollment should rise dramatically in the future, including the addition of a new School of Population Health, the seventh school on the medical campus. It opens to students in fall 2017.

To help accommodate the growing student population in Oxford, the university has opened two new five-story residence halls on the former site of Guess Hall, adding housing space for 603 students.

The university has launched a three-year project to expand and modernize the Student Union and is working on a new recreation center and transportation hub, a $32 million project on the south end of campus. Work also has begun on a $20 million renovation to Garland, Hedleston and Mayes halls, providing space for the School of Applied Sciences.

The university’s new STEM building, which will add 200,000 square feet of education and research space in the Science District for an estimated $135 million, will boost the university’s capacity to address workforce needs and enhance UM’s status as a Carnegie R-1 Highest Research Activity institution.

For more information on enrollment and programs at UM, go to http://www.olemiss.edu.

Ruth Cummins of the UM Medical Center contributed to this report.

Eli, Abby Manning Pledge $1M to Children’s of Mississippi’s Campaign

Drive aims to expand neonatal ICU and surgical suites, create new imaging department

Eli and Abby Manning

Eli and Abby Manning

JACKSON, Miss. – A winning play for the health of Mississippi’s children was celebrated this week as Eli and Abby Manning made a personal pledge of $1 million to the Children’s of Mississippi $100 million capital campaign.

The couple, who will be lending their names and faces to publicity for the campaign, are honorary chairs and will be serving on the campaign fundraising committee.

Eli, the University of Mississippi alumnus who has quarterbacked the New York Giants to two Super Bowl victories, has already scored for pediatric care at the UM Medical Center once before, raising more than $2.5 million in partnership with Friends of Children’s Hospital to open the Eli Manning Children’s Clinics at Batson Children’s Hospital. The clinics opened in 2009.

“Abby and I are the parents of three precious daughters, so we know that the health of your children means everything,” Eli said. “We want every family to have the best quality care for their children close to home. That’s why we opened the Eli Manning Children’s Clinics at Batson Children’s Hospital, and that’s why we made this commitment to the future of pediatric care at UMMC.”

“Every mother wants her children to have what they need, and when they need medical care, they want that care to be compassionate and to be available nearby,” said Abby, who graduated from Ole Miss with a degree in family and consumer sciences. “This is why Children’s of Mississippi means so much to our family.”

Eli Manning (left) chats with Batson Children's Hospital patient Davionna Arrington and mom Roshanna during a visit to the hospital by the Ole Miss alumnus and NFL quarterback.

Eli Manning (left) chats with Batson Children’s Hospital patient Davionna Arrington and mom Roshanna during a visit to the hospital by the Ole Miss alumnus and NFL quarterback.

Eli was named one of the “Top 20 Philanthropists under 40” by The New York Observer and was a finalist for this year’s Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award. His devotion to Batson Children’s Hospital and philanthropic efforts can also be seen in the article he wrote for The Players’ Tribune, titled “The Autograph,” which tells of his visit with a young man fighting cancer at Batson Children’s Hospital.

Joe Sanderson, CEO and board chairman of Sanderson Farms who, with his wife, Kathy, serves as chair of the capital campaign, welcomed the Mannings to the campaign.

“It is a thrill for Kathy and me to work with Eli and Abby Manning on this effort, and we know that, with their energy and passion for making Mississippi a better place, we will make this project a reality,” Sanderson said.

The Sandersons started the capital campaign by making a personal gift of $10 million, announced in an April 25 news conference at Batson Children’s Hospital.

With the theme of “Growing. So they can grow,” the campaign aims to fund an expansion and update of the neonatal intensive care unit, add more pediatric ICU rooms and surgical suites, create an imaging department just for children and expand the outpatient clinic so that care can be centralized and more convenient for families.

“The selfless way Eli and Abby Manning give back to Mississippi speaks to the qualities of philanthropy and generosity instilled in students at the University of Mississippi,” said Jeffery S. Vitter, UM chancellor. “We in the Ole Miss family are proud of Eli and Abby Manning and the efforts at the University of Mississippi Medical Center to provide state-of-the-art health care to children right here at home.”

Dr. LouAnn Woodward, UMMC vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, said the time to update Batson Children’s Hospital is now.

“Our children’s hospital, the only one in the state, has outgrown its current physical environment,” Woodward said. “We have outstanding medical professionals, but for our children to receive the best care possible, we must provide updated space and equipment.

“The need is great. The stakes are high. We all own the responsibility to develop world-class facilities for our children. We are thankful to Eli and Abby Manning for joining our team.”

Dr. Rick Barr, the Suzan B. Thames Professor and chair of pediatrics, called the Mannings, Sandersons and Friends of Children’s Hospital, a nonprofit fundraising group that in August pledged $20 million to the campaign, valued partners in health care.

“We at UMMC have great allies in the effort to help children live healthy, happy lives,” Barr said.

“We joined this team because we want the very best for the children in Mississippi,” Eli Manning said. “This campaign to build a world-class facility will help shape the future of our state. Supporting it means giving Mississippi’s doctors the tools they need to fight the good fight.

“You’ll be telling Mississippi’s parents that their children matter. You’ll be giving Mississippi’s sickest children new hope. And take it from me, there’s no better feeling than knowing you played a part in giving a child a chance to grow up.”

$19.9 Million NIH Obesity Research Award Largest Ever for UMMC

Funding will allow Medical Center to tackle one of state's biggest health care issues

The Translational Research Center, scheduled for completion in 2017, is just one new resource that will serve UMMC scientists across disciplines.

The Translational Research Center, scheduled for completion in 2017, is just one new resource that will serve UMMC scientists across disciplines.

JACKSON, Miss. – The University of Mississippi Medical Center has received its largest single award ever to confront one of the state’s largest health issues.

The five-year, $19.9 million award from the National Institutes of Health will fund the Mississippi Center for Clinical and Translational Research. Supported by the NIH’s Institutional Development Award, or IDeA, program, the CCTR’s mission will be the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of obesity and related health conditions.

“Mississippi has the highest rate of obesity in the United States,” said Dr. James Wilson, professor of physiology and biophysics and the project’s lead investigator. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 35 percent of Mississippi adults are obese.

“High blood pressure, diabetes, chronic kidney disease and cardiovascular disease are all associated with this one preventable cause,” Wilson said. Obesity also increases a person’s risk of multiple cancers, neurological disorders and stroke. The CDC estimates that obesity-related illnesses cost the United States $150 billion annually.

To address the problem, UMMC scientists and health care professionals need an approach that brings their research from the laboratory bench to the greater population.

“Translational research takes basic science findings and uses them to develop interventions that will affect treatment options and public health,” Wilson said. Example interventions could be community engagement programs or pharmaceutical drugs.

The new award, announced by the office of U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, enhances UMMC’s capability to conduct clinical and translational research. The CCTR’s task is to invest in people who will make those solutions a reality.

“A significant mission of the program will be to train junior faculty into established investigators,” Wilson said.

That training will come through CCTR’s Professional Development Core, whose members will mentor junior faculty conducting obesity-related research. In addition, the Pilot Projects Program will fund promising projects while the researchers seek additional outside funding to sustain their activities.

Dr. James Wilson

Dr. James Wilson

Dr. Richard Summers, UMMC associate vice chancellor for research, emphasized the importance of developing new talent to spur obesity-related clinical research – a theme present throughout UMMC’s history.

“When the Medical Center was built in 1955, most of the faculty who formed our early clinical research programs were young investigators,” Summers said. Organ transplant pioneer Dr. James Hardy was 37 in 1955; cardiovascular physiologist Dr. Arthur Guyton was 36.

“With the CCTR, our goal is to build a pipeline of investigators and clinical research for years to come,” Summers said.

UM Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter thanked Cochran for championing health sciences research and extended his congratulations to the research team at the Medical Center.

“We are honored by this NIH investment to substantially enhance our capacity and success in translating research discoveries and innovations to better health outcomes,” Vitter said.

UMMC has a reputation for strong basic research on cardiovascular function and disease, Wilson said. This will provide a starting point for creating clinical applications.

In recent years, UMMC has built the infrastructure needed to advance its clinical and translational research capabilities. The Center for Bioinformatics and Biostatistics, Enterprise Data Warehouse and Clinical Research Support Program are three important parts, Wilson and Summers said.

When two campus construction projects – one nearly complete and the other in the planning stages – wrap up, UMMC will have a full set of physical tools needed to achieve these goals.

“The timing of this magnificent grant couldn’t be better as it coincides with the development of our Translational Research Center and Clinical Research Unit in the University Hospital, facilities that will be crucial to our success in clinical and translational research,” said Dr. LouAnn Woodward, UMMC vice chancellor for health affairs.

“We look forward to putting these assets to work in the cause of discovering tomorrow’s treatments and cures.”

“All of these pieces brought together give UMMC the infrastructure to enhance clinical research,” Summers said.

However, UMMC cannot solve the obesity epidemic in Mississippi on its own. Tougaloo College and the University of Southern Mississippi will also collaborate in the CCTR.

“Those institutions will be key in community outreach efforts,” Wilson said.

The CCTR will also pursue extensive collaborations with two NIH-funded clinical and translational research centers. Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has expertise in nutrition and metabolic disease, valuable to UMMC’s obesity efforts, Wilson said.

The other center is based at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. UMMC and Mayo entered into a collaborative agreement in 2014 that allows the institutions to share data tools and trial participants. Close ties have already developed around cancer research.

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences funds IDeA awards, which support biomedical research programs in states with limited history of federal funding. The Clinical and Translational Research program enhances research on health issues impacting medically underserved populations and health concerns specific to those states.

Wilson said that after five years, “We hope to have 10 or more junior investigators successfully funded as a direct result of this grant” and on a trajectory to independent obesity research programs. In addition, other CCTR core infrastructure such as regulatory, logistics, epidemiological and evaluation support will be operating.

“As an additional result, we hope to recruit senior-level population and clinical investigators with the ability to collaborate with each other.”

Summers said he is “very proud of Wilson and his efforts so far” and that he looks forward to the future.

“This award has the potential to be transformational for us,” Summers said.

Friends of Children’s Hospital Pledges $20 Million to Capital Campaign

Friends of Children's Hospital board chair Sara Ray, left, is thanked by Dr. LouAnn Woodward, UMMC vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, for the nonprofit group's $20 million pledge to the Children's of Mississippi capital campaign.

Friends of Children’s Hospital board chair Sara Ray, left, is thanked by Dr. LouAnn Woodward, UMMC vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, for the nonprofit group’s $20 million pledge to the Children’s of Mississippi capital campaign.

JACKSON, Miss. – Friends of Children’s Hospital, a nonprofit group dedicated to raising funds for Batson Children’s Hospital, has committed to raising $20 million over the next 10 years to go toward the $100 million Children’s of Mississippi capital campaign.

“Friends of Children’s Hospital is extremely proud of the $17 million we’ve raised since 1989 and the impact that it’s had on improving health care for Mississippi’s children,” said Sara Ray, board chairman of the group. “We were among the first on board when the Medical Center needed support to build Batson Children’s Hospital in 1997 and have contributed annually ever since to enhance the patient and family experience.”

Children’s of Mississippi is the umbrella organization that includes Batson Children’s Hospital and all UMMC pediatric care, including clinics offering specialty care around the state.

The funds raised in the campaign will help the Medical Center expand and update its space dedicated for pediatric care including an expanded and renovated neonatal intensive care unit, more rooms for the pediatric intensive care unit, more operating rooms and the creation of an imaging clinic especially for pediatric patients. A new pediatric clinic will make care for outpatients more convenient and comfortable for families.

Expansion of the Children’s Heart Center is also on the drawing board. Batson Children’s Hospital is the only hospital dedicated exclusively to the needs of children in Mississippi.

“Batson Children’s Hospital provides state-of-the-art health care,” said Ray, “but the increase in patients needing this care means we now have a critical need to expand this facility.”

The campaign, chaired by Joe and Kathy Sanderson, was started in April with a personal $10 million pledge from the Sanderson Farms chairman and CEO and his wife.

Said Joe Sanderson: “We believe that the hospital is at maximum capacity and needs updated infrastructure in several vital areas. The hospital is beyond capacity in the neonatal intensive care unit and is badly in need of additional space. Children are transported long distances to the adult hospital for vital diagnostic imaging procedures, often requiring sedation. And further, there needs to be additional facilities for pediatric surgeries, particularly cardiac surgery.”

This newest Friends of Children’s Hospital pledge is a strong renewal of commitment to the group’s mission, Ray said. “Only 20 years after Friends of Children’s Hospital helped make Batson Children’s Hospital a reality, we are once again committing to make a dream come true for our little ones. We’re dreaming bigger this time and have committed to raise $20 million over the next 10 years to expand our beloved children’s hospital. Our state’s children deserve the best health care available, and we invite you to help us make it happen.”

“We cannot thank Friends of Children’s Hospital enough for all they’ve done for the health of Mississippi’s children,” said Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the University of Mississippi School of Medicine. “This incredible group of dedicated volunteers has, for more than 25 years now, been an integral part of not only the growth of Batson Children’s Hospital but its very existence.”

University of Mississippi Chancellor Jeffrey S. Vitter said the commitment to excellence shown by Friends of Children’s Hospital volunteers and leaders is a testament to their long-time support of the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s pediatric care.

“Part of the University of Mississippi’s mission is improving the lives of Mississippians, and central to that worthy goal is helping our children lead healthy lives through excellent pediatric care at Children’s of Mississippi,” Vitter said. “We thank Friends of Children’s Hospital for their generosity and vision for the future of health care.”

The first $3,000 in the building fund of what would become Batson Children’s Hospital came from Friends of Children’s Hospital. By 1994, when plans for a new children’s hospital were drawn, Friends of Children’s Hospital pledged $175,000 to make the first five floors a reality. Later, when the sixth and seventh floors were added, Friends of Children’s Hospital, which had experienced tremendous growth, pledged $1.7 million to the project.

Later, in 2009, the Eli Manning Children’s Clinics at Batson Children’s Hospital opened, thanks to a partnership between the nonprofit and Eli Manning, which raised $3 million over five years through an annual gala event, An Evening with the Mannings Presented by BankPlus. Friends donated another $1.7 million to the expansion and renovation of the children’s emergency room.

Guy Giesecke, CEO of Children’s of Mississippi, said the generosity of Friends of Children’s Hospital is a lifeline for children who need specialized medical care. “This gift will help provide vitally needed space and equipment for our smallest babies in the neonatal intensive care unit and more room and equipment for our pediatric intensive care unit. It will aid in shortening imaging wait times due to additions of space and equipment and will provide additional equipment for the Children’s Heart Center and expand the number of children we care for. This will absolutely result in improved care for the children of Mississippi.”

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 jdcoleman@umc.edu, or go to http://mrpsp.umc.edu.