Texas Couple Looks to Expand UM Student Recruiting

Crosswells underwrite student recruiter position for Lone Star State

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

University Launches LiveSafe Mobile App

Resource available for free download for all students, faculty and staff

The LiveSafe mobile app is now available for the Ole Miss community. Photo by Mary Knight University Communcaitions

The LiveSafe mobile app is available for the Ole Miss community. Photo by Mary Knight/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi has partnered with the mobile safety communications platform LiveSafe to offer Ole Miss students, faculty and staff a tool for real-time security communication.

The app, available for free download for iOS in the App Store and for Android on Google Play, will allow the campus community to report nonemergency tips including threats, disturbances, assaults, theft, stalking, suspicious activity, drug and alcohol abuse and traffic and parking issues, among others.

Users of the app can include a picture, video or audio clip when submitting their tip, which can be anonymous. Once someone reports a tip through the app, the appropriate department will respond based on the tip type. A chat option is also available through the app to allow direct and immediate communication with on-campus resource officers. Full instructions for the app are available at olemiss.edu/livesafe.

“We want everyone to download the app immediately and begin using it as a personal safety tool,” said Brandi Hephner LaBanc, vice chancellor for student affairs. “Additionally, community members are always encouraged to report concerns to the police or other appropriate authorities so swift action can be taken.”

Another feature of the app is called SafeWalk, which allows users to virtually walk their families and friends home using GPS-enabled location technology.

Ole Miss students tested the app last week, noting the safety benefits of the various aspects of the app.

“I used to live on campus and walk long distances at night by myself, so it’s really nice to know that I can have friends keep an eye on me and they can call someone if I can’t,” said Elizabeth Romary, a senior international studies and Spanish major from Hillsborough, North Carolina.

LiveSafe was founded nearly five years ago by a survivor of the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech with the intent of fostering safe and secure campus environments. The app is used by more than 130 colleges and universities.

“LiveSafe is excited to partner with Ole Miss to take the important step of providing a groundbreaking safety and prevention tool for all students, faculty and staff,” LiveSafe CEO Carolyn Parent said. “Utilizing LiveSafe demonstrates Ole Miss’s commitment to safety and makes them a leader in the education market providing higher duty of care for their community.”

The university will use the app to send RebAlerts and safety information to the campus community.

UM also has launched a website called UMatter, which serves as a support site for students, faculty and staff to provide assistance to peers and colleagues who may be in distress. Through the website, individuals can report concerns or gain access to support for problems ranging from physical and mental health issues to financial hardships, and concerning behavioral issues and drug and alcohol abuse.

To view all available resources, visit http://umatter.olemiss.edu/.

UM Administrators Say Thank You to Donors

More than 480 alumni and friends receive calls of gratitude

E.J. Jackson, project center manager for the UM Call Center, helps Chancellor Jeffrey S. Vitter navigate the system as he begins to make calls, personally thanking donors for their recent contributions. Photo by Bill Dabney

E.J. Jackson, project center manager for the UM Call Center, helps Chancellor Jeffrey S. Vitter navigate the system as he begins to make calls, personally thanking donors for their recent contributions. Photo by Bill Dabney

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi Chancellor Jeffrey S. Vitter surprised a number of alumni and friends recently, when he called to personally thank them for their financial support.

Vitter participated in UM’s fourth annual “Thank You Power Hour” along with academic deans, faculty and staff members who volunteered to spend an hour calling more than 480 university supporters to express their appreciation. The event was sponsored by the Office of University Development and the University of Mississippi Foundation.

“This year’s event was a bit of a contest,” said Angie Avery, the foundation’s annual giving coordinator. “The chancellor was in the lead for the most calls until he had to step away to attend to other university business. Nevertheless, the Power Hour was a fantastic opportunity for the Ole Miss leadership to personally experience our Call Center environment.”

Cobie Watkins, director of programs and alumni affairs at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, thanked the most donors, followed by Denson Hollis, senior director of development for the College of Liberal Arts, and Brooke Barnes, director of development for the Patterson School of Accountancy. Lionel Maten, assistant vice chancellor for student affairs, took home this year’s spirit award, which is given to the most enthusiastic caller.

“Can you imagine former students receiving a call from the chancellor or from their favorite professors to thank them for recent contributions?” said Suzanne Thigpen, director of annual giving. “It really sends a powerful message to our donors. We have such involved and generous alumni and friends, so our message is always one of deep gratitude for this continued support.”

Private giving helps fund student scholarships, faculty needs, academic programs and external educational opportunities.

Typically, the Call Center is staffed by students who are paid to call donors each evening.

“We employ student callers to give alumni and friends the opportunity to hear about their experiences as students at Ole Miss today,” Thigpen said. “The students, in turn, benefit from career advice from alumni who have been passionate about improving experiences for current students and future generations.”

Individuals and organizations interested in supporting any area of the university can contact Thigpen at 662-915-6625, sthigpen@olemiss.edu or by visiting http://www.umfoundation.com.

UM Students Start Coaching for Literacy Chapter

Group focusing its efforts in state, with funding going to three Mississippi-based partners

University of Mississippi students, mostly from Sigma Nu, Phi Delta Theta, and Kappa Alpha fraternities, have started a chapter of a new nonprofit group called “Coaching For Literacy" to raise money for literacy efforts across Mississippi.

University of Mississippi students, mostly from Sigma Nu, Phi Delta Theta, and Kappa Alpha fraternities, have started a chapter of a new nonprofit group called Coaching For Literacy to raise money for literacy efforts across Mississippi.

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi students have started a chapter of a new nonprofit group to raise money for literacy efforts across the state by raffling off the opportunity for fans to become an “assistant coach” during an Ole Miss sporting event.

Matt Bolton, an Ole Miss sophomore from Memphis, started the chapter of the nonprofit Coaching for Literacy with fellow sophomores Conner Adkins of Jackson, Tennessee, and Wade Meena of Jackson, Mississippi. Bolton is president, and Adkins and Meena serve as vice presidents. They’ve been working with James-Roland Markos, who is president of the Interfraternity Council and the Associated Student Body cabinet’s director of athletics.

Coaching for Literacy, which also has chapters at Vanderbilt University, Southern Methodist University and Mississippi State University, cites staggering data. The group estimates that 32 million, or 1 in 7, American adults can’t read. They also believe 19 percent of today’s high school graduates are functionally illiterate. They also say two thirds of students who can’t read well by the end of the fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare.

“Illiteracy is a huge problem,” Bolton said. “If you can’t read, you can’t fill out a job application. You’re pretty much stuck. Illiteracy is something tangible we can work on.”

The group describes its mission as being to increase awareness about the number of Americans who are functionally or totally illiterate and the social problems associated with illiteracy. They leverage “the unique power of collegiate and professional sports” to raise money for effective local literacy programs and schools that work with elementary and middle school students. 

Coaching for Literacy was started by SMU basketball player Jonathan Wilfong and Andrew Renshaw, a Vanderbilt student. While in high school at Memphis University School, Wilfong and Renshaw were challenged by a teacher to make a difference in the world. They formed the chapter in August 2013. Bolton was a classmate of Wilfong and Renshaw at MUS. 

The Ole Miss chapter is made up of 16 students, mostly members of Sigma Nu, Phi Delta Theta and Kappa Alpha fraternities. They’ve held one auction already, which gave someone the chance to be with Ole Miss basketball coach Andy Kennedy when the Rebels took on Georgia in February at Tad Smith Coliseum.

“Most efforts in life are not successful without the coordination of a great team of individuals, each possessing specific skills and gifts, which they give to support the greater goal of the team,” said Ryan Viner, executive director of Coaching for Literacy. 

“This effort to allocate nearly $15,000 to Mississippi-based literacy programs would not have been a success without the literacy programs, our corporate sponsor, C Spire, Ole Miss Athletics, the administration and the students of the University of Mississippi, the support of the Oxford community and the work of the Ole Miss Coaching for Literacy Chapter.”

That raffle raised more than $17,000 through the sale of $10 raffle tickets, which were mostly bought by Ole Miss students. Of the proceeds, nearly $15,000 was allocated to three Mississippi literacy partners. 

Leap Frog Oxford, an Oxford tutoring and mentoring program for first-, second- and third-graders, received help starting a summer program for students.

“We recently lost a funder, as frequently happens with nonprofits, and were in search of funding to keep the program afloat,” said Teresa Adams, Leap Frog Oxford executive director. “I cannot tell you how much it meant to receive financial support from CFL. We are now able to serve our very deserving students and continue with our plans for a summer program.”

The Barksdale Reading Institute received help with an electronic library project in Quitman County.

The Mississippi Children’s Museum’s summer literacy program, called “Planting Seeds to Read,” also received funds. The program gives reading help and school supplies to children in kindergarten and first grade who are struggling in Jackson public schools. 

“Literacy is one of our key initiatives and our exhibits, programming and outreach efforts all correlate with each other to encourage early language skills development,” said Susan Garrard, Mississippi Children’s Museum president. “Our staff work especially hard planning experiences that encourage children to not only develop reading proficiency but also to discover the delight that stories and reading can bring.”

The UM chapter of Coaching for Literacy has purposely focused its work on Mississippi, which often ranks low in national literacy studies.

“It stays in Mississippi,” Markos said. “We do what we can locally, but it also has an impact statewide. It’s not just Oxford. We care about the whole state.”

They believe their efforts can grow exponentially and they’ve received support for the idea from the UM Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. 

“We are excited to once again partner with Coaching for Literacy in order to bring attention and support to a very worthy cause,” Ole Miss head basketball coach Andy Kennedy said. “The ability to read and write at a productive level is the foundation from which all success is achieved. Coaching for Literacy’s mission is to aid in this fundamental skill and we wanted to be involved in that pursuit.”

Miss University Delivers 1,600 Books to Delta Schools

Miss University France Beard and James C. Rosser Elementary School Principal Angela Winters.

France Beard and Angela Winters, principal at James C. Rosser Elementary School, look over some of the books Beard delivered to the school.

Miss University France Beard visited the Mississippi Delta earlier this week to deliver more than 1,600 books to schools in need.

Beard organized book drives in her hometown of Madison and in Oxford, the latter through the service honor society Gamma Beta Phi at the University of Mississippi. After research and several phone calls, she determined that Moorhead Middle School, James C. Rosser Elementary School, Quitman Elementary School and Quitman County Middle School had the greatest need for new books.

Miss University France Beard reads to a second grade class at Quitman Elementary School.

France Beard reads to a second-grade class at Quitman Elementary School.

“I think the best way to overcome illiteracy in Mississippi is to provide the tools the students need,” Beard said. “Stocking libraries makes a lasting difference. That’s the first step to take, especially in schools that need it.”

Beard plans to deliver more books later this month to Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital in Jackson.

Ole Miss Food Bank Open Over Holidays

Recognizing the holiday season can be tough time for some people, the UM Food Bank will have volunteers on hand throughout the holiday break to serve Ole Miss students or employees in need.

Started in 2012, the UM Food Bank is open to any Ole Miss student or employee regardless of their financial income. Anyone in need is encouraged to take advantage of the resource, particularly during a time when most campus resources are unavailable.

The UM Food Bank is supported by donations from the community. If you are interested in donating canned goods, hygiene products or other monetary gifts find out more at: www.umfoundation.com/makeagift/.
For more information about the Food Bank visit: http://dos.orgsync.com/org/umfoodbank/home.

Outstanding UM Fraternity Members Win National Awards

Gregory Alston, Anish Sharma and William Fowler recognized as outstanding leaders, scholars

Gregory Alston

Gregory Alston

OXFORD, Miss. – Three University of Mississippi students were presented awards this summer by their respective fraternities in categories such as outstanding leadership and academics.

Gregory Alston, a Hattiesburg native and former ASB president, was awarded the Sigma Chi Fraternity Balfour Award for the Eta chapter. Recognizing the fraternity’s most outstanding member, the award goes to only one member of each Sigma Chi Fraternity chapter each year.

“Sigma Chi has given so much to me, not only through the friendships that I have made but also through the leadership values that Sigma Chi instilled in me,” Alston said. “It is a true honor to represent my fraternity in this way, and I am very appreciative and thankful for this award.”

Anish Sharma

Anish Sharma

Anish Sharma of Greenwood was awarded the Sigma Nu Fraternity Man of the Year award, which recognizes excellence in leadership. He also won the Scholar of the Year based on outstanding academics. The Sigma Nu Fraternity recognizes only one member to receive each of these awards.

William Fowler, a native of Destin, Florida, and the Phi Delta Theta president, won the Phi Delta Theta Fraternity Arthur R. Priest award. This award recognizes the most outstanding undergraduate Phi Delta Theta in the nation.

“It is a great honor to accept this award on behalf of my family and the men of Phi Delta Theta Mississippi Alpha,” Fowler said. “I would also like to sincerely congratulate Anish and Gregory on their well-deserved recognitions.”

William Fowler

William Fowler

Alston and Sharma were inducted into the University of Mississippi 2013-2014 Hall of Fame. Sharma and Fowler served on Alston’s 2013-2014 ASB Cabinet.

UM Programs Drive Record Freshman Retention Rates

Michelle Obama called for better student support programs, many of which already exist at UM

New UM freshmen practice 'Locking the Vaught' at the Class of 2016 Kick-Off Picnic Sunday evening in the Grove.  Photo by Nathan Latil - Ole Miss Communications

New UM freshmen practice ‘Locking the Vaught’ at the Class of 2016 Kick-Off Picnic Sunday evening in the Grove. Photo by Nathan Latil – Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – While many U.S. universities are losing 20 percent to 30 percent of their freshmen each year, the University of Mississippi is gaining attention for a revamped program that is helping 85.6 percent of its freshmen stay in college.

The high rate of college dropouts has prompted the Obama administration and experts across the country to look for ways to improve retention. In fact, the president has called for initiatives that in some cases are already in place at UM, where freshman retention rates have improved from about 81 percent to 85.6 percent since the creation of the Center for Student Success and First Year Experience.

The center’s director, Kyle Ellis, characterized the nearly five-point jump in freshman retention this year as “phenomenal.” Tailoring its work to the needs of each student has been the single biggest driver behind those record rates.

“Years of research with our freshmen revealed that the most common reasons for a freshmen to drop out are financial, social fit (friendships and homesickness), health and academics,” Ellis said. “And within each of those challenges are as many different issues as there are students. To be effective, the solution must be customized one-to-one for each student, and the problems must be identified early enough in the semester to avert disaster on the semester report.”

For many years, student retention efforts existed in parts within several different departments across campus. Last year, many of these programs were combined within the new center and a committee was formed to better coordinate all first-year programs and collaborate on piloting new ideas.

The center provides academic advising to about 80 percent of the freshman class, as well as undeclared students, and also coordinates several first-year student experience initiatives. It also has resources for veterans and members of the military, among other services.

The center’s leadership cites the new first-year experience course, EDHE 105, as a significant factor in the success of the program. The lesson plan and 391-page text for this course were developed entirely by university faculty and staff.

Representatives of the center coordinate with all UM academic departments and faculty, the dean’s offices, the Department of Student Housing, Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning and the Office of Financial Aid, among others, to ensure they identify student problems early and provide individual support.

“We’re really lucky in this university and this learning community to have support so broadly for these initiatives,” said Dewey Knight, associate director of the Center for Student Success and First Year Experience. “From the chancellor to the provost, to the deans, to all the Student Affairs workers, there is a culture that says this is something we need to do. This is something that is important to our students.”

Recently, first lady Michelle Obama issued a letter calling for better support systems for gifted students who might not have the financial means or built-in support networks to help them succeed in college. She used the example of young man named Troy, who was from New Orleans and survived Hurricane Katrina. Troy didn’t originally like school but blossomed during his high school years and now studies at Bard College. The first lady noted many colleges are taking steps to make sure these students graduate, but more need to join the efforts. She called for programs similar to many already in place at UM.

“These kinds of programs aren’t just good for these young people,” Obama wrote. “They’re good for all of us. Because after everything these kids will have overcome to get to college – and get through college – they’ll have all the skills they need to thrive in our businesses, and law firms, and labs. And that’s not just good for them and their families, it’s good for their communities and our country.”

Ellis and Knight point to the Ole Miss Opportunity scholarship program, in which a coordinator will be hired to work with students from freshman year through graduation, and the StudentsFIRST program, which is tailored for first-generation college students, as examples of initiatives the first lady is calling for that already exist here.

At UM, the Center of Student Success is just one of several departments with the goal of helping more first-year students succeed.

The FASTrack program, housed at Ventress Hall, is a learning community for first-year students that divides them into “cohorts” of 20 students or less, in which they take three classes together during the fall semester and three more during the spring. This helps build a sense of community and support from peers. Those FASTrack students typically get to know one other well and also study and socialize with one other.

The program has grown from 25 students in 2007, which was its first year, to 330 students in this academic year, said Stephen Monroe, assistant dean of the College of Liberal Arts. Monroe heads up the FASTrack program.

“All students need a sense of community and support during the first year of college,” Monroe said. “FASTrack provides this foundation to students from a wide variety of backgrounds. Our students are responding with hard work and solid academic achievement.”

Each year, UM also awards 75 Luckyday scholarships, which range from $2,000 to $5,000 annually. In conjunction with that, there’s also the Luckyday Success Program, which assists students during their transition from high school to college. Luckyday is built on the idea that a strong foundation during the first year of college is the key to being successful at a university.

Scholars meet individually with the Luckyday staff every two weeks to talk about any academic issues or social problems they may be experiencing, said Senora Miller Logan, assistant director of Luckyday programs. This has helped retention efforts.

“In a relationship where (students have) built trust with us, they can talk freely about these issues and therefore those things won’t become an obstacle in their academic performance, and they can stay in college,” Miller Logan said. “A lot of the situations we discuss with them can be fixed easily, but to young people, those issues feel like the biggest thing in the world. Really, what they need is just someone they trust and can talk to to work those thought processes out.”

Students Join Community for MLK Day of Service

Events to include mentoring middle school students, community projects

Rev. Leroy Wadlington

OXFORD, Miss. – Groups of University of Mississippi students are working with Lafayette County and Oxford volunteers to improve community organizations and inspire junior high males to further their education.

Members of the university’s Office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, Office of Volunteer Services, McLean Institute and other campus organizations are teaming with Volunteer Oxford in the annual Day of Service in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which is Jan. 21. Events scheduled include a mentor breakfast, opening ceremony, service fair, vigil, poster contest, community service projects and closing speaker.

The Rev. Leroy Wadlington will deliver the keynote address during the opening ceremony at 9:30 a.m. in the Jackson Avenue Center.

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Holidays Typically Bring Uptick in UM Counseling Center Visits

Range of counseling services available in person or through 24-hour crisis hot line over the season

Joshua Magruder

OXFORD, Miss. – The Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s holidays are often thought of as a joyous time, but the staff at the University of Mississippi Counseling Center know that the end of the year also brings more visits from people in need of their services.

The end of the semester, including exam time, accounts for added stress and anxiety among students. Calls from people who are grieving over the deaths of loved ones or having relationship struggles also are regular occurrences. But help is always available from the UM Counseling Center for students and employees, counselor Josh Magruder said.

“We’re readily available during the holidays,” Magruder said. “You can reach us 24/7, 365 days a year. We do our best to accommodate you. We have a great system in place to get people in and out, and we have openings all semester.”

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