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UM Graduate School to Host Expo

Event to showcase more than 100 programs of study

Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi Graduate School is preparing for its first-ever expo showcasing the possibilities for graduate education spanning a wide range of programs and UM campuses.

The expo is set for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday (Feb. 15) at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts.

Designed to showcase more than 100 graduate programs of study, the event will be structured similar to a career fair. Representatives from more than 60 master’s programs, 40 doctoral programs and five specialist programs will be on hand to answer questions about areas of study, admissions and funding.

“We encourage all students to attend this event to get answers to any questions they may have concerning graduate school,” said Brenteria Travis, manager of graduate admissions. “We hope that this event will ignite an interest and erase any apprehension students may have about graduate education.”

Representatives from the School of Law and UM Medical Center also will be in attendance to talk to students about their programs. Other attendees include faculty and staff members from Ole Miss organizations with information regarding funding and research opportunities.

“We are excited to be hosting this event that aims at encouraging our current students and alumni to consider attending graduate school here in one of our esteemed programs at the University of Mississippi,” said Christy Wyandt, professor of pharmaceutics and interim dean of the Graduate School.

All undergraduate, graduate and former students are invited to attend.

Internship Helps Political Science Student Prepare for Graduate School

NSF program provided intensive academic atmosphere and research opportunities

Jacob Smith presents his research on human trafficking at the National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates in Civil Conflict Management and Peace Science at the University of North Texas.

Jacob Smith presents his research on human trafficking at the National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates in Civil Conflict Management and Peace Science at the University of North Texas.

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi political science major Jacob Smith was accepted to the National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates in Civil Conflict Management and Peace Science this summer at the University of North Texas.

Smith, a senior from Corinth, was recommended to the program by his UM mentor, Matt DiGuseppe, assistant professor of political science. DiGueseppe describes Smith as an ideal candidate for the program that exposes and prepares exceptional undergraduates for graduate programs in conflict management and peace science.

“Jake can often find the core of an argument very quickly and offer his own, often on point, critique,” DiGuseppe said. “In other words, he not only digests class material but has sharp critical thinking skills that are necessary to generate, instead of consume, research. Knowing that Jake had plans to attend graduate school, I thought this program offered the opportunity for him to hone his skills and provide him with a competitive advantage over other graduate school applicants.”

Faculty members in the UM political science department were readily available to answer questions and offer advice on participating in such an intensive academic atmosphere, Smith said.

“The University of Mississippi did an excellent job of preparing me for the rigors of a condensed NSF program that describes itself as the first year of graduate school in an eight-week program,” he said. “I was as prepared as I could possibly be for the amount of work required on a daily basis due to the excellent teaching of the Ole Miss staff.”

The eight-week residence program hosted by UNT’s renowned political science department provides eight undergraduates with opportunities to engage in graduate-level empirical research and present their results at local and national conferences. Participating students receive a $4,000 stipend, free room and board, and paid travel expenses.

Smith’s research focuses on human trafficking, a topic he says is a fairly under-researched area of political science. With plans to pursue his doctorate, he hopes to expand his research to include new variables such as how geographical features effect human trafficking. Smith plans to present his project at the Midwest Political Science Association Conference in April 2016.

After completing the program, Smith took a much-needed vacation to visit a high school friend in Vancouver, Canada. Although it gave him little time to prepare for the upcoming semester, he was able to relax and explore Vancouver.

Smith encourages other students to seek learning experiences outside their comfort zones.

“Don’t be afraid to take opportunities you don’t feel that you are prepared for,” Smith said. “Oftentimes the journey will prepare you better than the classroom ever could.”

UM Graduate School Dean Receives NASA Honor

John Z. Kiss to be awarded Outstanding Public Leadership Medal

From left: Ariel Dauzart, Kathy Millar, Dr. John Kiss, Logan Williams, Neel Patel.

From left: Ariel Dauzart, Kathy Millar, John Kiss, Logan Williams and Neel Patel.

OXFORD, Miss. – The dean of the University of Mississippi Graduate School is the recipient of NASA’s Outstanding Public Leadership Medal.

John Z. Kiss is being awarded the prestigious honor, which recognizes nongovernment employees for notable leadership accomplishments that have significantly influenced the NASA mission. The renowned scientist has worked with NASA for nearly three decades, having served as vice chair of the International Committee on Space Research.

As TROPI (an experiment to investigate the growth and development of plant seedlings under various gravity and lighting combinations) spaceflight project director from 2004 to 2010, Kiss supervised 36 scientists and engineers at four NASA centers and two centers of the European Space Agency. These efforts resulted in two successful projects on the International Space Station.

“I have worked with NASA for 27 years and feel humbled and honored to receive this medal,” Kiss said. “We have had seven spaceflight projects, which have been on the space shuttle and now the International Space Station. Thus, this award is shared by the numerous colleagues, co-workers, undergraduates and graduate students who have been part of these exciting projects.”

Kiss’ Seedling Growth-1 experiment was aboard SpaceX-2, which brought the payload to the ISS last year. A professor of biology, he is principal investigator on “Novel Explorations into the Interactions between Light and Gravity Sensing in Plants.” Part of the Fundamental Space Biology program at NASA, the program is designed to study light and gravity signaling in plants, and their effects on cell growth and proliferation. It also has potential for improving crop species on Earth to obtain increased production and sustainability.

“I feel very privileged to contribute, in a small way, to the excitement of space research and to be part of NASA’s broader mission to educate and inspire the next generation,” Kiss said.

The OPLM award honors sustained leadership and exceptionally high-impact leadership achievement in advancing the agency’s goals and image in present and future terms.

Two NASA officials said Kiss is most worthy of the award.

“I’ve had the pleasure of knowing John for about 10 years and all during those years, I’ve been impressed with John as a leader,” said Sidney Sun, chief of NASA’s Space Biosciences Division. “He’s been a leader in plant physiology, identifying how plants respond to different lighting and gravitational conditions.”

Kiss is a pioneer in studying plants in fractional (or reduced) gravity, research that is impossible to do on Earth, Sun said.

“His leadership of the American Society for Gravitational and Space Biology was critical during a time when scientific funding became precariously low,” he said. “I’ve also seen him be a tremendous mentor and professor to young scientists, helping them grow in their career paths.”

Marianne Steele, project manager at Lockheed Martin, said Kiss is an excellent researcher in plant biology, well known internationally and nationally for his critical questions and results in exploring and understanding the fundamental behaviors and underlying mechanisms of plants.

“Dr. Kiss is a people person of great integrity who steps-up to challenges, follows through and is accountable,” Steele said. “It has been and continues to be a very positive personal and professional experience for me to work with him.”

Kiss and his colleagues are continuing to work with NASA-Ames on the Seedling Growth-2 project, which is scheduled to launch Sept. 19 on the SpaceX-4 mission to the ISS.

“Since plants will be a necessary part of bioregenerative life support needed to send humans to Mars and beyond, the knowledge obtained from our spaceflight experiments will be critical for developing ways to effectively use plants in these life-support systems,” Kiss said.

Kiss collaborated with F. Javier Medina of Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas in Madrid. UM post-doctoral researchers Kathy Millar and Josh Vandenbrink, and undergraduates Neel Patel of Water Valley, Logan Williams of Collinsville, Tennessee, and Alison Neel of Hattiesburg, assisted Kiss. Private contractor SpaceX is responsible for launching the experiments.

The hypothesis of their research is that positive red-light sensing, which was known in older plant lineages, is masked by normal 1-g conditions in more recently evolved lineages. Through the experiment, the scientists aim to confirm and characterize the red-light-dependent phototropic response (how the seedlings germinate under the deep-space illumination) in flowering plants.

The experiment was conducted with different genotypes of the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana in experimental containers placed in the European Modular Cultivation System, a large incubator that provides control over the atmosphere, lighting and humidity of growth chambers to study plant growth on the ISS. The experiment containers contained white, blue and red lights that can be controlled from the ground to expose the plants to different kinds of light.

“By using the two centrifuges in the EMCS, it was possible to carry out the experiment in microgravity and fractional gravity, along with the 1-g control, within the same space environment,” Kiss said. “Following a six-day time course in the EMCS, the samples were either frozen or chemically fixed and returned to us. Additionally, images were taken throughout the whole experiment and downloaded real time.”

For information, on the latest mission, go to

Engineering: Three Seniors Accepted into Top Graduate Schools

Johns Hopkins, MIT, Texas welcome UM graduates

Many graduating seniors across the country are eagerly awaiting word from graduate schools regarding admission to their competitive programs, but for three outstanding University of Mississippi School of Engineering students, the wait is over.

Charles “CJ” Jenkins and Frances Sullivan-Gonzalez, both of Oxford; and John Stefancik of Pace, Florida, have each been accepted into some of the nation’s strongest graduate programs for engineering. Jenkins is bound for Johns Hopkins University, Sullivan-Gonzalez is headed for the University of Texas and Stefancik is going to Massachusetts Institute of Technology.







“Our program and faculty prepare students well for job placement and graduate education,” said Alex Cheng, dean of the UM engineering school. “While some of our best students are choosing to stay to pursue their graduate education at the university, I am so pleased to see that some have the opportunity to study at the nation’s best engineering schools.”

A civil engineering and public policy leadership double major, Jenkins was also accepted at the Georgia Institute of Technology and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. At Johns Hopkins, he will pursue a Ph.D. in civil engineering on a research fellowship. His emphasis area will be either cold-formed steel or structural-topology optimization.

“The School of Engineering’s setting in a liberal arts university has exposed me to a wide range of people from all majors,” Jenkins said. “Also, the networking opportunities provided by a small engineering school have been excellent and unique.”

Jenkins’ short-term goals include completing his master’s degree and his engineer-in-training period, allowing him to begin tenure as a licensed structural engineer. He can also see himself completing his doctorate and securing a position with a boutique structural-design firm. Long term, Jenkins hopes to continue work as a structural engineer, designing high-rise buildings.

While at Ole Miss, Jenkins was a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and the Trent Lott Leadership Institute. He served as president of Tau Beta Pi engineering honor society and credits Elizabeth Ervin, associate professor of civil engineering, as being critical to his success as an undergraduate student.

A mechanical engineering and accountancy double major, Stefancik plans to pursue a master’s degree in technology and policy as part of the Engineering Systems Division. Recipient of a research assistantship, he also was admitted to Texas A&M University and Georgia Tech. Stefancik plans to pursue a Ph.D. or potential consulting work after completing his master’s. Long-term, he hopes to pursue an opportunity in upper-level management in a technology or engineering-based company.

“The School of Engineering provided me one-on-one interaction and access to educational resources that helped me realize the best means to pursue and achieve my career goals,” said Stefancik, a Taylor medalist. “I had the chance to complete an internship with C Spire as well as classroom projects through Viking Range and Parker Hannifin in my manufacturing coursework.”

During his tenure, Stefancik was a member of the Center for Manufacturing Excellence, Phi Kappa Phi and Delta Psi fraternity. He credits Ellen Lackey, professor of mechanical engineering; James Vaughan, CME director and professor of mechanical engineering; and Jim Chambers, senior scientist at the National Center for Physical Acoustics and associate professor of mechanical engineering, as being outstanding instructors and personal resources throughout his graduate school application process. He also acknowledged Mark Wilder, dean of the School of Accountancy, and Dave Nichols, associate professor of accountancy, as instrumental to his success as a student.

A chemical engineering and mathematics double major, Sullivan-Gonzalez will attend the Cockrell School of Engineering at UT, where she plans to study environmental and water resources engineering. Sullivan-Gonzalez received an Environmental and Water Resources Engineering assistantship, Graduate School Diversity Mentoring Fellowship, UT-Austin Graduate School Fellowship and a Cockrell School of Engineering Fellowship. She was also offered admission to University of Colorado and Tufts University.

Her research was part of completing her thesis for the Honors College.

“I worked with Dr. Paul Scovazzo (associate professor of chemical engineering) for two years, working on the dehumidification of methane using room-temperature ionic liquid membranes,” Sullivan-Gonzalez said. “I do believe my work in the lab was beneficial to my grad school applications since the grad programs are all research-based. Previous research experience is always beneficial because it demonstrates a student’s ability to think and work beyond the theoretical education we receive in the classroom.”

She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi, the American Institute for Chemical Engineers and the Society of Women Engineers. Sullivan-Gonzalez was also an active member of the Ole Miss Ultimate Frisbee team. She hopes to work for an environmental consulting firm upon completion of graduate school. She credits John O’Haver, professor of chemical engineering; Debra Young, associate dean of the Honors College; and Paul Scovazzo as being outstanding mentors and advisers.

Kiss Selected Head of Conference of Southern Graduate Schools

UM dean will lead organization focused on promoting programs, monitoring standards

John Z. Kiss.  Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

John Z. Kiss. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss – John Z. Kiss, dean of the University of Mississippi Graduate School, has been elected president of the Conference of Southern Graduate Schools for 2015. He is the 2014 vice president of the organization.

“CSGS is an excellent organization providing opportunity for graduate school deans to discuss common problems and solutions of their schools,” Kiss said. “I also hope my election will give a bit more prominence to the University of Mississippi.”

One of the main purposes of CSGS, which includes more than 200 graduate schools in 15 Southern states including Alabama, Florida and Mississippi, is to develop topics for the annual meeting that are relevant to graduate studies and research. CSGS was founded in 1971.

Kiss said his new role is important to him because it will complement his position as dean and add to his portfolio. He said he sees his new job and his deanship working in a synergistic manner.

Kiss assumed his deanship at UM on Sept. 1, 2012, and has been a member of CSGS for a year-and-a-half. The recent past-president of the conference, Edelma Huntley, dean of research and graduate studies at Appalachian State University, was optimistic about Kiss’ election.

“I believe that Dr. Kiss will be a good leader for CSGS when he takes the reins in February 2015,” Huntley said. “He was a good choice for the organization, and when he takes over, I know that he will continue the positive momentum into the future that has been started by his predecessors.”

Kiss is the second from UM to be president of the conference after Michael R. Dingerson, who served as UM associate vice chancellor for research and dean of the graduate school, in 1993-1994.

As a distinguished professor of biology and research professor in the UM Research Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Kiss has worked on national and international scientific research focusing on plant space biology. Kiss was a faculty member at Miami University for almost two decades. He has mentored 45 undergraduate research projects and served as major professor for 12 master’s students, seven doctoral students and five post-doctoral scholars.

Kiss will take over from Paul Gemperline, CSGS president and dean of research and graduate studies at East Carolina University, in 2015.

Kiss’ new job comes in three phases: vice president to the current president, president himself in 2015 and then past-president, where he will serve as chair of the organization’s nomination committee. Kiss’ major role in these three phases is to work with the elected executive committee to find locations for future meetings, and to work on regional and national levels to find topics for graduate studies and research.

The university benefits because Kiss’ new position will bring visibility to the school, he said.

“It can inform prospective students that University of Mississippi has a strong graduate school, and this can help to increase enrollment,” Kiss said.

At home, Kiss is working on increasing enrollment in the Graduate School. As part of these efforts, last year, he increased the number of research awards given to exceptional graduate students from 10 to 20.

Kiss will attend the CSGS executive meeting in June in New Orleans, where the conference’s annual program for 2015 will be drawn.

WHLT: Kiss named dean of UM graduate school

Read the story

John Z. Kiss Hired as New Dean of UM Graduate School

John Kiss

John Kiss

… Assumes duties Sept. 1; sets goal for school to continue progress.

OXFORD, Miss. – John Z. Kiss, distinguished professor and chair of botany at Miami University in Ohio, is the new dean of the University of Mississippi Graduate School.

His appointment begins Sept. 1, pending approval from the Board of Trustees of Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning.

Kiss served 19 years as a faculty member at MU and is internationally known for his research in botany and space technology, particularly for his studies of gravity and light perception mechanisms in plants. His prolific research activity has garnered $5 million in funding from more than a dozen agencies in the sciences, including NASA, the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

Morris Stocks, UM provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, said he’s pleased that Kiss is coming to the university.Read the story …

Meek School Faculty Member, Graduates Earn Honors from PR Association

Robin Street lauded for lifetime achievement; UM Communications wins Best in Show for PR projects


Kristina Hendrix (right), president of the Southern Public Relations Federation, presents UM lecturer Robin Street with a framed certificate and medallion. Street received the group’s Professional Achievement Award, its highest honor for lifetime achievement. Photo by Leo Ridge, Big Top Photo Booth

OXFORD, Miss. – A faculty member from the University of Mississippi’s Meek School of Journalism and New Media has been presented the highest award for lifetime achievement given by the Southern Public Relations Federation.

Also, graduates of the Meek School working in the University Communications office won Best in Show, the top award in the competition for public relations projects, along with multiple other awards.

Robin Street, lecturer in the Meek School of Journalism and New Media, was honored with the Professional Achievement Award. The recipient is chosen from among professionals representing SPRF-member states. Each nominee had previously received his or her state association’s Professional Award. Street represented the Public Relations Association of Mississippi.

In 2009, Street was named Educator of the Year by both PRAM and SPRF. Although it is rare for an educator to receive the professional award, the judges, who remain anonymous, commented, “Ms. Street’s achievements are stellar. She is innovative in her field. She is continually engaged in professional development. Her awards and accomplishments are well above what would be outstanding.”

Toni Richardson, SPRF vice president for professional development, oversaw the competition.

“As I read through each of the nominee biographies, I was impressed with each of them,” Richardson said. “However, my thoughts kept coming back to Robin and what an incredible teacher, educator, mentor, friend and inspiration she is. Our judges scored Robin a perfect 100 percent.”

Street is a “charismatic and determined public relations practitioner who truly embodies the qualities for which this awards stands,” SPRF President Kristina Hendrix said.

Will Norton Jr., professor and dean of the Meek School of Journalism and New Media, has watched Street’s career evolve.

“For decades, Robin Street has been demonstrating the best practices of public relations and teaching those practices in the classroom,” Norton said. “It is only appropriate that her uncommon excellence should be recognized in this way. Clearly, students in the Meek School have long recognized the quality of Ms. Street’s professionalism.”

Hendrix presented the award to Street Sept. 16 at the association’s annual conference in New Orleans. Also presented at the banquet were Lantern Awards for public relations projects in multiple categories. Awards are given at three levels. A Lantern is the highest award, followed by an Award of Excellence, then a Certificate of Merit.

The University Communications office, led by Meek School graduate Danny Blanton, director of public relations, won Best in Show chosen from all categories, and a Lantern in their category for a communications program on parking changes at Ole Miss. Graduates Lindsey Abernathy, former communications specialist; Ryan Whittington, assistant director of public relations for social media strategy; and William Hamilton, public relations assistant, were key in creating that program.

Abernathy also won a Certificate of Merit for the Inside Ole Miss newsletter. Communication specialists Edwin Smith and Michael Newsom won a Certificate of Merit and an Award of Excellence, respectively, for news releases.

Street won a Lantern in her category of communication programs, as well as an Award of Excellence for writing and a Certificate of Merit for PR tactics.

For more information on the Meek School of Journalism and New Media, visit or email

ChE Graduate Staying at UM for Law School

Sneed seeking juris doctor and career with successful firm


Lindsey Sneed

At a time when many University of Mississippi engineering graduates are securing their first position with an engineering company or pursuing graduate work in their fields, Lindsey Sneed of Jonesboro, Arkansas, is taking a different route.

Sneed, who graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, is staying in Oxford to begin studies at the UM School of Law, where she received a generous scholarship.

After considering the University of Arkansas for her undergraduate work, Sneed chose to attend the Ole Miss because of the opportunities available through the School of Engineering and the affordability of the university. She is confident that her engineering school experience will be beneficial as she pursues her law degree.

“Being a student in the School of Engineering has taught me a completely different way to approach and solve problems,” Sneed said. “Reasoning skills are key to the successful practice of law, and I feel that the Ole Miss School of Engineering has taught me that there is no problem too big or too hard.”

Sneed’s short-term goals include completing her law degree and passing the bar exam. She would also like to live in a larger city (such as Nashville, Tennessee) and join a reputable firm with an environmental or intellectual property practice. Ultimately, Sneed hopes to become a law firm partner or begin her own practice.

As an undergraduate, she has developed a passion for environmental engineering. She participated in a study abroad program at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom that focused on the field. She said she believes that the increasing interest in sustainable energy practices will lead to new technological advancements that require patent protection.

“While abroad at Leeds, I learned a lot about alternative energy, as well as the practicality and feasibility of different types of energy: solar, hydro, tidal, and wind power,” Sneed said. “The use of biomass as a fuel source was also touched upon.

“It was very interesting to analyze climate trends, and then discuss the different ways to try and fix some of the damage we’ve done over the past few decades. It was very much an ‘engineering’ approach to climate change.”

During her time outside of class, Sneed was involved with the Associated Student Body, Alpha Omicron Pi sorority and Mock Trial, and she served as treasurer of the Society of Women Engineers. She credits John O’Haver, director of UM’s Center for Mathematics and Science Education and professor of chemical engineering; and Peter Sukanek, professor of chemical engineering, for their mentoring and advice during her undergraduate experience.

Five Oxford High School Graduates Receive UM’s Highest Academic Award

OXFORD, Miss. – Five Oxford residents are among 59 University of Mississippi students to receive a 2013 Taylor Medal, the university’s highest academic award. The outstanding students were recognized recently during the 70th annual Honors Convocation at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts.

They are seniors Jacqueline Grace Boyce, Samuel Liyang Di, Laura Jansen, Elyse Cosette Jensen and Alexandria Nicole Tidwell. Boyce, Jensen and Tidwell are slated for graduation May 11. Di and Jansen are scheduled to complete their degrees in May 2014.

Boyce is a senior international studies and German major in the College of Liberal Arts. She is a member of UM’s Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and Croft Institute for International Studies. Her other honors include membership in Phi Beta Kappa, UM’s highest academic honor in the liberal arts. She is a Croft Scholar and recipient of the Milden Language Award.

Di is a senior electrical engineering major in the School of Engineering. A member of the Honors College, he received the Eta Kappa Nu Outstanding Junior Engineer Award.

Jansen received the Taylor Medal as a senior hospitality management major in the School of Applied Sciences. She is also majoring in art in the College of Liberal Arts. Her other honors include listing on the Chancellor’s Honor Roll and receiving the Student Art Association Award.

Jensen is a senior physics major in the pre-med curriculum. A member of the Honors College, she is listed on the Chancellor’s Honor Roll. Her other honors include membership in Phi Beta Kappa and in Phi Kappa Phi, UM’s highest academic honor across all disciplines. She is a certified veterinary assistant.

Tidwell is a senior English major in the College of Liberal Arts. Her other honors include the W. Alton Bryant Award and AAUW Sarah Robinson Scholarship.

Taylor Medals recognize no more than 0.45 percent of undergraduates for meritorious scholarship and deportment. Recipients of the award must have at least a 3.90 grade-point average. The award was established at Ole Miss in 1904 by Dr. William A. Taylor of Booneville in memory of his son, an honored 1871 alumnus of the university.