UM Educational Research Center Named in Honor of Maxine Harper

Lori Wolff leads Dr. Maxine Harper Center for Educational Research and Evaluation

CERE staff Joey Rutherford and Lori Wolff met with Harper's sister Wanda Clark during the dedication of the center at Guyton Hall.

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi’s Center for Educational Research and Evaluation has been named in honor of its former director, the late Maxine Harper. The designation was announced Friday (Nov. 8) after a memorial service at Paris-Yates Chapel.

Harper, a special education professor, was a quadriplegic whose cerebral palsy confined her to a motorized wheelchair throughout most of her life. She passed away June 11 of pneumonia after more than 13 years of service at UM. She was 57.

Under new leadership from longtime UM faculty member Lori Wolff, the Dr. Maxine Harper Center for Educational Research and Evaluation will continue to provide support services for major contract- and grant-funded education projects at UM and across the state. Besides naming the center after Harper, officials are planning a new endowment in her name.

“Our center will continue to build upon the great work and reputation built by Dr. Harper and others who have supported the efforts of so many at UM and elsewhere,” said Wolff, CERE’s director and a professor of higher education. “This center was such a major a part of Maxine’s life. We seek to honor her legacy of professionalism.”

A full-service center for organizations or individuals seeking or administering grants or contracts, CERE has been housed in the UM School of Education – Mississippi’s largest producer of teachers and educational leaders – since 1999 and provides support for multiple publicly and privately funded programs, including the Tallahatchie Early Learning Alliance funded by the Rock River Foundation, Parents for Public Schools funded by the Kellogg Foundation and multiple programs funded by the National Science Foundation.

During Harper’s tenure, she was an inspiration to thousands of students, faculty and staff. Although Harper could type with only one finger at a time using a specialized keyboard, she completed thousands of grant proposals and evaluations and rose in the ranks at CERE from a research analyst to associate director to director in 2010. In 2012, she published a 196-page memoir “Maxine Harper’s Journey of Hope.” She also worked closely with Oxford chapter of United Way to help the city obtain Excel by 5 status in 2013.

“Dr. Harper was my friend, teacher and mentor, and I hope that by naming the center after her, we can honor her legacy of compassion and professionalism,” said Joey Rutherford, CERE project manager.

Wolff’s directorship marks her fifth major move at UM. She previously served as coordinator of the university’s higher education program, director of assessment for the School of Education, associate dean of students and as an institutional research associate. She has also served as an administrator or faculty member at William Penn University, Drury University and Saint Louis University and was a judicial law clerk for the Missouri Court of Appeals.

Wolff holds a Ph.D. in higher education and a J.D. from St. Louis University, as well as bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics from Creighton University.

“We hope to continue working collaboratively with faculty and staff across campus and build more awareness of our services with off-campus entities,” Wolff said. “It’s an honor to lead a center with Dr. Harper’s name on it.”

About Andrew Mark Abernathy