Professor Uses NSF Grant to Study Interpersonal Communications

Graham Bodie and colleagues study conversations about everyday stressors, levels of support

Graham Bodie

OXFORD, Miss. – Graham Bodie believes that if people can feel that they’re being heard during times of stress, their lives will improve. With that in mind, he is working to find the best way to teach critical listening skills that could enhance lives.

A visiting professor of integrated marketing communications at the University of Mississippi, Bodie is conducting his research through a three year-grant from the National Science Foundation.

UM received the grant from the NSF’s Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences as part of a collaborative effort to study what happens during conversations about everyday problems. Penn State University and the University of Minnesota also were awarded grants in support of the collaboration, which seeks to clarify how discussing everyday stressors with others conveys support and leads to different emotional outcomes.

Bodie’s work will look at how a listener’s supportive comments influence the way a person talks about their stressful experience.

“My academic background is in how humans process information and how they behave as listeners, particularly within the context of talking about stressful events,” Bodie said. “What do we say that allows others to better understand their unique stressors and ultimately to cope with those events?

“How should we best train people in this capacity? What can listening to others teach us about ourselves, our society and our world?”

Bodie previously conducted research on listening and the social cognitive foundation of human communicative behavior. This project will expand on the nuances of what people do when they offer support to others, a facet that he said has not been thoroughly explored.

“Although there is work on specific features of supportive messages, it tends to be hypothetical, asking participants to imagine they receive support,” Bodie said. “Likewise, although there is work that pairs people together to talk through stressful events, most of this work explores general impressions of the conversation – how supported they felt after the conversation.”

This grant will allow Bodie to work with data from four previous studies, which includes more than 450 videotaped conversations of a person describing a stressor to another, while the listener provides support.

The research conducted with this grant fits in with the university’s Community Wellbeing Flagship Constellation research initiative, where researchers identify factors that impair the well-being of individuals and work to implement programs to build stronger, more vibrant communities.

“Dr. Bodie and his team’s recent National Science Foundation grant award demonstrates the opportunities we have to increase knowledge and improve practice and policy through cutting-edge research,” said John Green, constellation team leader and director of the UM Center for Population Studies. “As an active part of the Community Wellbeing Flagship Constellation and a committed member of the steering committee, Dr. Bodie is contributing to the University of Mississippi’s leadership in scholarly endeavors that will improve people’s lives.”

The research will examine how variations in these particular types of interactions result in differences in how the distressed person continues to express their thoughts and feelings throughout the interaction.

“What is missing is an understanding of how messages unfold over the course of a conversation to regulate the emotions of a person in distress,” said Denise Solomon, principal investigator and professor of communication arts and sciences at Penn State. “Our project will focus on studying the conversation linkages between one person’s supportive messages and the other person’s cognitive and emotional responses in an effort to map those dynamic patterns.”

The investigators will analyze every element of these conversations and develop strategies to show how emotion and cognitive processing are affected during the course of an interaction. The researchers have predicted that distressed individuals who are responsive to high-quality supportive messages during an interaction leave the conversation with an improved emotional state and a new understanding of their issue.

“The main prediction is the interaction between support quality and how disclosers talk about their event,” Bodie said. “I feel like if people can feel heard in times of stress, their lives will improve, and I want to know how we can best teach these skills toward bettering our lives.”

The researchers hope their findings will ultimately be able to assist support providers and counselors, while also leading to additional research to determine why some individuals or relationships show different levels of responsiveness during supportive conversations.

“The novelty in this research is mapping responsiveness within interactions onto important conversational outcomes, which opens the door to new questions about why those patterns differ between people and between relationships,” Solomon said.

“We also envision that the tool kit we develop can be used to illuminate the dynamics of other types of consequential conversations, such as in conflict negotiations or attempts to influence a partner’s health behavior.”

Other investigators on the project include Susanne Jones, associate professor of communication studies at the University of Minnesota, and Nilam Ram, professor of human development, family studies and psychology at Penn State.

Funding for this research was provided through grant no. 1749474 from the NSF Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences.

Law Professor to Lead National Academic Organization

Ron Rychlak will serve as president of SEALS for the upcoming year

Ron Rychlak

OXFORD, Miss. – A University of Mississippi law professor will lead an organization representing more than 100 institutions as head of the Southeastern Association of Law Schools for the coming academic year.

Ron Rychlak, professor of law and Jamie L. Whitten Chair of Law and Government, will serve as president of SEALS for 2018-19.

“It’s both an honor and a challenge,” Rychlak said. “I believe this type of professional development is important, and it reflects well on the university to have so many of our faculty involved in organizations like this.”

SEALS began in 1947 as a regional association of law schools that came together to host an annual meeting each summer. The meeting features panel discussions, debates and lectures from members of the legal community around the world, giving law faculty an opportunity to present their research, attend workshops and receive feedback from peers and mentors.

The organization has grown beyond the Southeast and includes more than 100 member schools.

Rychlak has been active in the organization for the last 20 years, serving on multiple committees. In 2012, the association honored him with its Distinguished Service Award. He will be installed as president Aug. 11 at the conclusion of this year’s annual conference in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Also UM’s faculty athletics representative, Rychlak will give presentations at the conference about NCAA legislation, as well as bar exam performance and what can be done to better prepare students.

“I’d like to have a successful academic conference where people feel they have been nourished intellectually, but also maintain the family-oriented feeling that SEALS is known for,” Rychlak said.

His goal as president is to continue to develop the organization, specifically helping young faculty members who are just beginning their careers.

“It’s a great chance for young people to develop their presentation and writing skills while getting feedback from those in legal academia,” Rychlak said. “That’s what really separates us from other groups.”

Ben Cooper, a professor and senior associate dean for academic affairs at the School of Law, also has been actively involved in SEALS, serving as chair of the program formatting committee, where he edits the full conference program and daily schedule. Cooper said he is proud that his colleague will lead the organization for the coming year.

“I think it’s a great honor for him and it’s an appropriate recognition of his contributions to the success of SEALS over the years,” Cooper said.

Throughout the history of SEALS, four other Ole Miss faculty members have served a term as president.

For more information about SEALS, visit

UM Graduate Earns Top Recognition for Editorial Cartoons

Jake Thrasher won first place in SPJ's Mark of Excellence Competition

Jake Thrasher, a 2018 UM graduate and Hall of Fame inductee, won first place in the Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence competition for his editorial cartoons in The Daily Mississippian. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – Many people have diverse interests, but to be highly skilled in several areas is a rarer quality.

Jake Thrasher, of Birmingham, Alabama, graduated from the University of Mississippi in May with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, but he recently earned national honors in an entirely different field: editorial cartooning. He won first place in the Society of Professional Journalists’ Mark of Excellence competition.

Thrasher has always been interested in art. He attended high school at Shades Valley Visual Arts Academy, which gave students preparation for creative problem-solving in visual art for those interested in pursuing a creative career. He began working for The Daily Mississippian as a freshman at Ole Miss.

“I’d always created what would be considered fine art and I was always interested in making something meaningful,” he said.

While at a social event, an editor approached him to ask that he begin drawing editorial cartoons.

“I had never created cartoons before and I wasn’t big into politics, but I immediately fell in love with it,” he said.

It quickly became more than just art for Thrasher and developed meaning.

“I realized early on as an editorial cartoonist that I’d been given a position that gave me a platform to speak out,” he said. “It would be irresponsible of me to not use that platform to change the state, the nation and our campus for the better.”

Thrasher drew his inspiration from political and social issues. He created two or three originals cartoons each week for The Daily Mississippian during his undergraduate career.

“I tried to stay constantly up to date politically, socially and on current campus issues,” he said.

Each cartoon took Thrasher a minimum of four to five hours to complete for a more simplistic drawing, or up to eight or 10 hours for a detailed drawing that involved the use of watercolor and other elements.

Patricia Thompson, assistant dean for student media at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media, said Thrasher’s work for The Daily Mississippian has been “nothing short of stunning.”

“The quality of his editorial cartoons rivals that from top professionals,” she said. “He has the ability to zone in on important issues and capture the essence of his opinion in artistic ways. His illustrations gracing the DM’s pages were creative, eye-catching and beautifully drawn.”

Thompson said he also went above and beyond his role by hiring and helping develop the skills of younger cartoonists and staying involved with student media.

“He wasn’t required to attend daily news meetings, but he often did so to learn what stories the staff was pursuing so he could make his work more timely and relevant,” she said.

Thrasher submitted three drawings to the competition, and the one featured on the SPJ website is titled “GOP Operation,” which is a satire of the children’s board game that also combines several issues.

“I’d have to say that was one of my favorites,” he said. “I spent a long time on that cartoon and it was one of my last drawings for the DM during my fall semester. I was happy to see it featured.”

Thrasher has a passion for helping others, and he served as president of Rebels Against Sexual Assault during his undergraduate career. He plans to attend Yale University this fall to pursue a doctorate in biology and biological sciences while conducting cancer and HIV research.

This spring, he was among 10 students inducted into the university’s 2017-18 Hall of Fame, one of the highest honors afforded Ole Miss students. He was also a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.

“Jake exemplifies what it means to be citizen scholar for the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College,” Dean Douglas Sullivan-González said. “He took the challenges and the risks to explore both the arts and the sciences during his tenure, and these national awards represent an acknowledgement of his great risks to live the answers to the tough questions of the day. We are proud of Jake.”

Journalism Students Earn National Accolades

Reporters and designers recognized for their work by national organizations

UM journalism students visit Orange County, Texas to cover the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey for a multimedia project, earning placement in the top 20 of Hearst Journalism Awards Multimedia Team Reporting competition. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – An education at the University of Mississippi’s Meek School of Journalism and New Media often results in recognition, and several Ole Miss students have been honored nationally for their journalistic endeavors.

A team of students led by instructional assistant professors Ji Hoon Heo and John Baker placed in the top 20 in the Hearst Journalism Awards Multimedia Team Reporting competition. Marlee Crawford, a senior from Oxford; Lana Ferguson, a senior from Mechanicsville, Virginia; Abbie McIntosh, a junior from Cypress, Texas; Italiana Anderson, a senior from Ridgeland; and MacKenzie Ross, a senior from Oxford, were recognized for their multimedia coverage of Hurricane Harvey.

The group spent three days in Orange County, Texas, last September, accompanying a relief group sent from a local church. While much of the news coverage nationally focused on the metropolitan area of Houston, not many outlets covered the stories of recovery in this small, blue-collar refinery town.

“We wanted to tell the important story of recovery, help and community,” said Baker, who is originally from the region. “We decided to put together this special project that utilizes the internet for what it will do.”

The result was a multimedia piece that included written stories, videos, maps, audio clips and encompassing views shot with a drone.

“The idea was that all of these stories could stand alone, but could also fit together and give the viewer an experience that’s a little more than just what the stories would do,” Baker said.

The students immersed themselves in the experience, building relationships with community members and sharing meals and lodging with the relief workers.

“They really latched onto that group, which helped us get the good story, rather than just an outside view of what was going on,” Heo said. “All of these students were trained journalists, but waking up early, researching, finding sources and identifying the stories on the spot is stuff you can’t learn in the classroom.

“The students did things they’ve never had to be before, and they experienced real journalism.”

The project, found at, earned the school’s first honors from Hearst in this multimedia competition.

“It was satisfying to see that we broke a barrier for the university and were placed among some of the most prominent journalism programs in the nation,” Baker said. “The students did a superb job, and I was really impressed with their efforts. This was a much different experience than what they’re used to, and they handled it like champs.”

The endeavor involved a lot of late nights and extra work from students on a purely volunteer basis over the course of about seven months, but the students, instructors and members of the Orange County community were pleased with the result.

“Most of the folks in the stories were so happy that they were part of this project,” Heo said. “We really got to know them, and I think we did justice in telling their story.

“The people of that community that we highlighted thought we did right by them, and that’s the most important thing.”

Ross also received recognition for her design of the multimedia project from the Society for News Design student competition. She earned third place recognition for the piece, as well as third place recognition for her design of the magazine cover for The Struggle for Sri Lanka.

Maria Morrissette, a recent graduate from Oxford, earned second place honors for her stand-alone multimedia piece “An Emerging Jewel,” found at

The Society for News Design is an international professional organization for visual communicators that hosts workshops, conferences and other development opportunities each year.

The Broadcast Education Association recognized Lauren Layton, a senior from Huntsville, Alabama, with an Award of Excellence for her short form documentary “Feeling the Music.”

The video tells the story of 12-year-old Sarah Harmon, a young girl who was born blind and excels in music, specifically playing the piano. It can be seen at

The Broadcast Education Association is an academic media group that hosts a variety of programs to advance careers for educators, students and professionals in the field of broadcast journalism.

For more information about the journalism education at UM, visit

Family Leadership Council Funds Student Affairs Programs

Volunteer parents help improve UM experience for all

Nancy Maria Balach Schuesselin, UM associate professor of music, addresses the Ole Miss Family Leadership Council at its spring meeting. UM photo by Bill Dabney

OXFORD, Miss. – The Ole Miss Family Leadership Council has allocated $149,000 to fund several programs and initiatives in the University of Mississippi Division of Student Affairs.

The council consists of 54 families representing 18 states whose children are enrolled in the university. These families have donated their time and money to benefit programs within the division.

At the council’s biannual meeting at the end of spring semester, the group approved funding for programs within the Office of Admissions, Department of Campus Recreation, Career Center, Office of Student Disability Services, University Counseling Center and the University Police Department. The contributions allow campus groups to continue fostering a healthy student environment.

“All 15 departments within the Division of Student Affairs work extremely hard to ensure Ole Miss students are successful and have an incredible collegiate experience,” said Brett Barefoot, director of development. “However, a lot of people don’t realize that funding is limited.

“These departments always have a goal of better serving our students. The resources provided by the Family Leadership Council continue to help turn these goals to realities, and the Ole Miss experience only continues growing stronger for our students.”

Campus Recreation will develop wellness programming for students, including alcohol and drug education; wellness workshops on sleep, stress, exercise and anxiety; and the process of making healthy lifestyle choices.

The Family Leadership Council has provided funding for Campus Recreation and the University Counseling Center, among other departments, to provide students with wellness resources such as stress and anxiety management. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

“The support of the Family Leadership Council has been significant in helping to address student issues regarding alcohol and other drug misuse, and providing educational programming for students regarding strategies that enhance their well-being and success,” said Peter Tulchinsky, director of campus recreation. “The issue of student well-being has become a major conversation on our campus, and the generosity of the council is helping us respond to some of the critical needs of our students.”

The Career Center will introduce the “Am I Job Ready?” software program, designed to prepare students for job interviews and provide them with more resources for career preparation. The program, to be launched this fall, evaluates students on transferable job skills and helps suggest careers and majors based on their interests and personalities.

“We want to make sure students understand the professional competencies that employers look for, including soft skills that are applicable across all industries,” said Toni Avant, Career Center director. “This software will help students be able to articulate those skills they have gained at the university in and out of the classroom in interviews.”

The funding also will allow the Career Center to upgrade its facilities with equipment to allow students to engage in remote video interviews with potential employers.

Several other departments on campus will benefit from the FLC funding as well:

  • The Office of Admissions will introduce new tools to recruit prospective students.
  • Student Disability Services will be able to purchase iPads and other adaptive technology to better serve students.
  • The University Counseling Center will launch an initiative that encourages a culture of respect and will develop a suicide awareness and prevention program, and psychological education programs to remind students about the importance of mental health.
  • UPD will purchase personal safety training supplies and body cameras for its officers to keep Ole Miss one of the safest campuses in the nation.

“Being part of the Family Leadership Council has allowed us to better understand how we can help the needs of university students,” said parent and FLC member Bill Linginfelter. “It has been a wonderful experience and a great way for us to be involved and support our students.”

For more information about the Ole Miss Family Leadership Council, visit or contact Barefoot at or 662-915-2711.

Wellness Education Broadens Focus to Promote Student Well-being

New office, formerly Health Promotion, will be part of the Magee Center

The Wellness Education office focuses on promoting healthy choices for students regarding physical fitness and mental health. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi Department of Campus Recreation is working to ensure all members of the campus community achieve well-being through its newly-named Wellness Education office.

Formerly known as the Office of Health Promotion, the mission of Wellness Education is to serve as an advocate for informed and healthy choices while encouraging students to strive for wellness. The name aligns with the William Magee Center for Wellness Education, which will provide comprehensive drug and alcohol education for students.

The Magee Center is expected to open in the new South Campus Recreation Center in spring 2019.

Erin Cromeans, assistant director for wellness education, said she hopes the name change will continue the conversation around student health and well-being.

“We recognize wellness cannot be achieved solely with Campus Recreation, but with strong campus collaborations, co-curricular practices and evidence-based, effective initiatives,” she said. “Wellness education offerings will undoubtedly increase with the new center to provide innovative prevention services to our campus community.”

The new name and logo also reflects a broader scope of wellness focus, said Peter Tulchinsky, director of campus recreation.

“We feel that Wellness Education better suits the priority of educating our campus community on holistic well-being,” he said.

Tulchinsky hopes students will recognize Wellness Education and its initiatives as part of the Magee Center and gain a clear understanding of the office’s mission.

“We really like the new marks for Wellness Education and their connections to the different dimensions of well-being,” he said. “I think people are going to see the ‘WE’ logo and be able to identify the brand and the relationships to those dimensions.

“There are also some nice connections to the UM Creed, which we feel we’ll be able to highlight in our education sessions with students.”

For more information on wellness education at Ole Miss, visit      

Journalism Student Receives Prestigious National Scholarship

Brittany Brown awarded $10,000, participating in investigative fellowship

Brittany Brown

OXFORD, Miss. – A University of Mississippi rising senior has been recognized for her commitment to journalism with a $10,000 scholarship.

Brittany Brown, a journalism major from Quitman, is the recipient of the Ed Bradley Scholarship from the Radio Television Digital News Foundation.

The award, named in honor of the late CBS News’ “60 Minutes” correspondent, is presented to an outstanding student of color. The foundation’s recipients represent the best and brightest in all areas of journalism and have demonstrated a commitment to informing the community.

“To be the recipient of RTDNF’s Ed Bradley Scholarship is an honor, not only because this lifts an extreme financial weight from my family’s shoulders, but also because Ed Bradley paved the way for journalists of color,” Brown said. “This generous scholarship allows me to complete my senior year at Ole Miss without any financial responsibility on my family and could possibly help offset some of the costs of graduate school.

“I am just happy to see my dedication to journalism paying off, and I am proud to represent the Meek School of Journalism and New Media.”

Brown is heavily involved in student media at Ole Miss, where she serves as assistant news editor for The Daily Mississippian and worked as a digital content producer for the student-led “NewsWatch Ole Miss” broadcast.

She will also be recognized at the Excellence in Journalism conference this fall in Baltimore. She was among 12 journalists awarded more than $31,000 in scholarships this year.

“Brittany Brown is an exceptional student in that she is right at home producing and analyzing traditional academic research and also a whiz at learning the latest media technologies, plus she’s able to put all those skills and attributes into practice as a journalist,” said Deb Wenger, assistant dean at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media.

“This is a young woman who is reliable, hard-working, takes critique well and who is always striving to be better. She’s also delightful to be around, and I don’t think I overstate things when I say she’s on her way to becoming the type of journalist our country and our world needs.”

The foundation has awarded more than $1 million in scholarships since 1970 to promote education. Recipients of these awards have pursued careers in journalism as reporters, anchors, news directors and White House speechwriters, among others.

Brown’s passion is investigative journalism. She is participating in the prestigious Carnegie-Knight News21 Fellowship program this summer at Arizona State University, which focuses on investigative reporting.

Brown is working alongside 37 other journalists across the U.S., Ireland and Canada to produce in-depth, national coverage of hate in America. Under the leadership of Len Downie, former executive editor of The Washington Post, and award-winning investigative journalist Jaquee Petchel, Brown is traveling around the country to report on hate groups and hate crimes in America.

“This program is providing the first opportunity to do investigative reporting, and this topic is very timely, especially in America today,” Brown said. “I am extremely appreciative of the opportunity to work with such talented journalists and editors, and I am getting the opportunity to travel to and report in 14 states this summer.”

She said the fellowship has been challenging, but rewarding.

“I believe this program is setting me on the right path for my career, and I am glad to be learning the skills of investigative journalism while still in my undergraduate years,” she said.

The final project from the fellowship will be completed in August, but ongoing news stories are published on

Brown plans to pursue a graduate degree to further her knowledge of the field and ultimately pursue a career in investigative journalism.

With Miss Mississippi Crown, UM Student Preps for Miss America Stage

Rising junior, IMC major Asya Branch hopes to use spotlight to promote motivational platform

Miss Tupelo, Asya Branch, reacts to being crowned Miss Mississippi 2018 during the Miss Mississippi Pageant. Photo by Courtland Wells/The Vicksburg Post

OXFORD, Miss. – Last month, Asya Branch was just a young woman with dedication and a dream.

Branch, a rising junior at the University of Mississippi, competed in beauty revues during her teenage years, but wanted to try her luck in the Miss Mississippi scholarship pageant.

“I’m the only one in my family that participates in these competitions and my family was not really connected to the pageant world, so at first I didn’t know how to make that happen,” she said.

After winning her local pageant and competing on the Miss Mississippi stage for the first time in 2016, the Booneville native was hooked.

“I knew I wanted to return and continue to get better until I won, but I just never expected it to happen so soon,” she said.

On the night of June 23 in Vicksburg, Branch’s name was called and her dream became a reality. She is Miss Mississippi 2018.

“When the last three of us finalists were standing there, there was a calmness that came over me,” she said. “We were all there to win, and I knew it would be fine, no matter what the results.”

Branch said time seemed to stand still before that moment.

“It felt like an eternity before the winner’s name was called, but in reality when I watched it over again, it was only about three seconds,” Branch said.

The feeling of getting to represent her home state on the Miss America stage is indescribable, she said.

“It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had in my life,” Branch said. “I’m still trying to wrap my mind around how my dream is now a reality.”

Her new title also gives her a louder voice to discuss her platform “Finding Your Way: Empowering Children of Incarcerated Parents.”

Branch is one of those children. Her father has been in prison since she was 10.

“Being a child with an incarcerated parent takes a negative toll, with the stigmas that surround it,” she said. “There’s emotional distress, financial instability and so many questions about why a parent isn’t there.”

She wants to influence people’s lives by speaking at schools, churches, civic organizations and jails.

“It’s an underdiscussed topic and I hope to bring light to it by sharing my story so others can see that I’m doing something positive,” she said. “It’s perfectly fine to share and embrace the circumstances, because it’s part of who we are and it’s going to shape you. By talking about it, we can take down the gate of judgment.”

Instead of dwelling on the challenges her family has faced, Branch has turned it into her purpose, providing resources for children that she did not have when she was younger.

“There is no reason for these children to be any less successful than their peers,” she said.

Branch’s father remains one of her biggest supporters.

“He has told me to strive to be successful,” she said. “He sees a bright future for me and doesn’t want me to settle. He wants me to achieve my goals.”

Her continued relationship with her father has led to her creating a love letters program, which provides jails with stationery so prisoners can continue to communicate with their families, mending the relationship between parent and child.

Branch is majoring in integrated marketing communications at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media. She stays involved around campus as a member of the Student Activities Association.

“Asya is an incredible person, and an outstanding representative for not only the University of Mississippi, but the state of Mississippi,” said Bradley Baker, director of the Ole Miss Student Union.

Asya Branch (right), speaks at the Serving Children of Incarcerated Parents inaugural meeting. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

“Whether serving as a member of the Student Activities Association Homecoming committee or starting her own student organization, Empowering Children of Incarcerated Parents, Asya possesses all of the skills needed to succeed not only at the Miss America Pageant in September, but in life as well.”

Branch is a gifted speaker and presenter who lights up the screen when she is on camera, said Debora Wenger, associate professor of journalism and assistant dean for innovation and external partnerships at the journalism school.

“With all that, one of the things that impresses me most about Asya is her dedication to improving the lives of children who have parents in jail or in prison,” Wenger said. “She cares deeply about this issue because of her own personal experience and because she is the kind of person who sees possibilities rather than obstacles.”

On campus, Branch always rose to take on whatever obstacle was before her, so her winning the crown comes as no surprise, said Alysia Steele, assistant professor of multiple platform journalism.

“I know I pushed her in class, and she always met the challenge,” Steele said. “Asya has no problem speaking up for things she believes in, so I could always count on her to give her thoughts and opinions about work we were discussing in class.”

She added that through all Branch has accomplished, she remains humble and grounded.

“She has a warm personality that makes it hard to forget her,” Steele said. “I couldn’t be prouder, because I think she represents our university and state with integrity and grace. I can’t wait to see what she does next.”

Branch continues to stay informed on current events and lead a healthy lifestyle to prepare for the Miss America competition.

“I support this organization and all it stands for,” she said “It gives young women the confidence to be successful and thrive in life.”

She said the competition allows women to form bonds with other competitors while simultaneously learning to be more well-rounded individuals.

“There was so much I gained from competing that I didn’t even know was possible,” she said. “I feel like I can conquer the world.”

The Miss America pageant is set for Sept. 5-9 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The final night of the competition will be televised at 8 p.m. on ABC.

Besides Branch, UM journalism alumna Christine Williamson recently was crowned Miss Tennessee and also will compete at Miss America.

“We’re going to just have to hope for an unprecedented tie for the title,” Wenger said. “Either way, you can bet the Meek School’s TVs will be tuned to the Miss America pageant on Sept. 9.”

Magazine Association Establishes Endowment to Assist UM Students

Internship assistance program awards grants for pursuit of media job opportunities

Samir Husni (left), director of the UM Magazine Innovation Center, and magazine students Kiara Manning, Hannah Hurdle, Brittany Abbott and Daniel Dubuisson (right) visit with Susan Russ (second from right), MPA senior vice president of communications, at the association’s headquarters in New York. The four students are the first recipients of a new MPA grant. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – MPA – The Association of Magazine Media has awarded a $25,000 endowment to the University of Mississippi’s Magazine Innovation Center to launch a fund that will support the next phase of magazine education through the Meek School of Journalism and New Media.

The award is earmarked to assist with the cost of educational internship expenses and travel, up to $1,500 per student. It is to be awarded to as many as four students each summer.

“The beauty of the deal between MPA and the Magazine Innovation Center is that it helps remove one major stumbling block from the pursuit of a career in magazines,” said Samir Husni, journalism professor and Magazine Innovation Center director. “Every semester, we have eager and talented students who want to enter the magazine media field, and are offered wonderful internship opportunities, but can’t afford the cost of travel or stay in the major cities to get started.”

This year’s inaugural recipients are Brittany Abbott, a senior majoring in journalism and English from Holly Springs; Daniel Dubuisson, senior journalism major from Pass Christian; Hannah Hurdle, senior journalism major from Oxford; and Kiara Manning, senior journalism major from Jackson. The award made it possible for the four to participate in the Magazine Media Making May intersession course, a two-week class, last month in New York.

MPA is a trade group with more than 150 members in the magazine media industry. The organization serves as an advocate and voice for magazine brands by promoting leadership and strategies while amplifying the research supporting the effectiveness and credibility of magazines.

Through its work, MPA attracts students to careers in magazine media. Many students are interested in pursuing internships, but sometimes the cost of travel and extended stay in places such as Manhattan can be a deterrent.

Even a little bit of money can go a long way for students, said Linda Thomas Brooks, president and CEO of the trade group.

“Internships are vital for the career-starting process, but the expenses associated with the experience can make them prohibitive,” Thomas Brooks said. “There are tons of smart, young students who dream of working in magazine media, and MPA wanted to give some of them a path to make that happen.”

The group’s members felt enough of a need for an internship assistance program at the Magazine Innovation Center that they worked with Husni to make their donation an endowment that can support many semesters of students. The award helps fulfill MPA’s desire to recruit students to the magazine media industry while directly supporting the university’s strategic goals to enhance student success.

Individuals or organizations interested in the Internship Assistance Program can contribute to the endowment to benefit future students by contacting Husni at

About Magazine Innovation Center

The Magazine Innovation Center, founded in 2009 at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media at the University of Mississippi, is an international collaboration linking the best thinkers in publishing, marketing, printing, advertising and distribution. It seeks to generate focused innovation in magazines and other print media. The magazine and magazine media industry employ the world’s great minds. The center will channel their creativity and intellect (away from the grinds of everyday work and challenges) to provide blueprints for productive change.

About MPA
MPA – The Association of Magazine Media is the primary advocate and voice for the magazine media industry, driving thought leadership and game‐changing strategies to promote the industry’s vitality and increase its revenues and market share. Established in 1919, MPA represents more than 150 domestic, associate and international members. MPA is headquartered in New York City, with a government affairs office in Washington, D.C.

Four UM Students Awarded Scholarships by U.S. State Department

Students majoring in international studies and modern languages studying abroad this summer

Biloxi native Olivia George is studying the Korean language and culture this summer in South Korea. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – Four University of Mississippi students are spending their summer overseas immersed in a variety of cultures and languages.

These students will put their linguistic knowledge to the test across the globe after being awarded the 2018 Critical Language Scholarship by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs.

International studies majors Olivia George, a rising junior from Biloxi; Paul Hunt, a rising senior from Madison, Alabama; Isabel Spafford, a rising sophomore from Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Emily Wang, a rising junior from Randolph, New Jersey, each received the award to study critical languages this summer. All four are members of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and the Croft Institute of International Studies.

“I cannot begin to describe what an amazing opportunity it is to be a part of the CLS Korean program this summer,” said George, who is studying Korean in Gwangju, South Korea. “Studying Korean at Ole Miss and interacting with the Korean exchange community there has taught me so much about cultural exchange, a process in which you learn not only about the world you live in but also about yourself – your aspirations, your values and even your limits.”

The Critical Language Scholarship program gives undergraduate and graduate students an opportunity to study and master one of 14 critical languages: Arabic, Azerbaijani, Bangla, Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Punjabi, Russian, Swahili, Turkish or Urdu. These languages are not taught as often in U.S. schools as some other languages.

Emily Wang is spending the summer in Amman, Jordan, studying the Arabic language as part of the Critical Language Scholarship Program. Submitted photo

More than 550 students across the country received the scholarship this year. The goal of the program is to encourage U.S. citizens to learn critical foreign languages and to prepare students for a globalized workforce, ultimately allowing them to contribute to U.S. economic competitiveness and national security.

Each student spends eight to 10 weeks in the country of his or her chosen language living with host families. The program includes intensive language instruction combined with cultural enrichment activities to provide students with opportunities to master the language.

Hunt is spending the summer in Lucknow, India, learning Urdu; Spafford is traveling to Ibri, Oman, to study Arabic; and Wang is learning learn Arabic in Amman, Jordan.

George hopes to use these language skills to work with Korean companies or organization and conduct research about Korean society in the future.

“Through this program, I hope that I can improve my language skills and better my understanding of Korean culture,” she said.

Wang hopes to improve in Arabic through the program.

“Language learning is a means to gain new perspectives and eyes upon the world, so I am very ecstatic and honored to have received the CLS award in Jordan,” Wang said. “Since intensive and immersive language-learning goes hand-in-hand with linguistic success, more time I can spend immersing myself abroad will correlate with my success.”

Spafford is excited to study Arabic in a country where the language is spoken.

“Being able to see how Arabic is used by those who think and dream in it adds a dynamic to my studies that deepens both my ability and my desire to learn the language,” Spafford said. “In addition, learning alongside intelligent, like-minded students from across the country affords me connections that will be valuable to me across my career and friendships that make this this intense program a joy.

“I hope to use Arabic to work with refugees, ideally through the foreign service.”

Paul Hunt

Although this program does not require any previous language experience, nearly all Ole Miss students who receive the scholarship are committed to their chosen language and have studied it for several semesters or years, said Tim Dolan, director of the Office of National Scholarship Advisement. The ONSA office is housed in the Honors College but works with all Ole Miss students.

“CLS builds upon the students’ prior language skills and gives them an unparalleled immersion in and exposure to the nuances of culture that can only come from living with native speakers and exploring places with historical and cultural significance,” Dolan said.

Faculty in the Department of Modern Languages, Croft Institute for International Studies, Chinese Language Flagship Program and the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College all work to recruit and prepare students to be competitive in education and the work force.

Isabel Spafford is studying Arabic this summer in Ibri, Oman, as a Critical Language Scholarship recipient from the U.S. Department of State. Submitted photo

“The CLS program takes the best and the brightest of young people and helps them achieve a high degree of linguistic and cultural competence in areas of the world that are vital for our country’s political and economic future,” said Dan O’Sullivan, chair and professor of modern languages. “We couldn’t be prouder of the University of Mississippi students that have been accepted into the program.”

The university has a reputation of attracting students who are serious about studying another language, which provides the program with many qualified candidates, Dolan said.

“The Critical Language Scholarship program encourages students from diverse backgrounds and from a wide range of majors to apply,” he said. “It is a great opportunity for science, engineering, math and computer science students to learn a vital language and explore professional opportunities abroad.”

The CLS program began in 2006 and has awarded scholarships to more than 5,700 American students. Students interested in learning more about the program or other national scholarships should contact Dolan at