Religion Course Open to LOU Community

Free sessions focus on comparing Christianity and Islam

Professor Mary Thurlkill will open her religion class to community members this fall. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – A University of Mississippi professor is opening her fall religion course to people in the Lafayette-Oxford-University community, inviting them to come learn what both the Bible and the Quran teach on several topics.

The class, REL 300: Comparative World Religions: Bible and Quran, meets from 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays at various religious establishments across Oxford.

The course is divided into four themes: sacred stories, ritual and performance, community and ethics, and death and afterlife. Mary Thurlkill, associate professor of religion, will discuss what both religious texts say about these topics.

This is the first time Thurlkill has opened the course to the community, but she hopes to try this format more in the future.

“It is one of our department’s main goals to encourage the academic study of religion,” Thurlkill said. “I hope such a class will appeal to a wide range of students interested in learning more about Christianity and Islam.”

She also said she wants to provide an opportunity to learn in a community setting, which she does not often get to do as a medieval historian.

“My natural habitat is a library surrounded by old, arcane texts,” she said. “What better ‘service’ to the community might we offer than an opportunity to engage in such dialogue and conversation?”

Besides Thurlkill’s lectures, the course will include videos and guest speakers.

One of those speakers in September is John Kaltner, religion professor at Rhodes College. Kaltner has published several books on introducing the Quran to readers more familiar with the Bible and will present some of his work about what the texts say about Moses, Abraham, Jesus and other notable figures.

The course will follow the semester schedule for students registered through the university, but it will run 12 weeks for nonstudents.

The first and last meetings of the class will be for Ole Miss students only. However, beginning Aug. 29 through Thanksgiving break, community members can attend the course at no charge. At each meeting, a reception from 5:30 to 6 p.m. will serve as a break for students and an opportunity for fellowship for all participants.

“Community engagement plays an important part in our university’s mission,” said Steven Skultety, associate professor and chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religion. “Professor Thurlkill’s innovative class serves as a wonderful example of how faculty in higher education can better serve the citizens of our city and state.”

UM students will complete scholarly readings and assignments as well as design and host an “Interreligious Dialogue Conference” in November, which also will feature guest speakers.

“I have students from a wide range of majors already registered for the class, and I’ve tried to tailor the course a bit to their various skill sets,” she said. “For example, some students will be responsible for marketing and advertising the conference while others will document the sessions and provide podcasts for community groups.”

Space is limited at some of the venues, so community members interested in taking the course should register by contacting Thurlkill at or 662-202-7536.

McLean Institute Hosts Virtual Reality Experience

Public will get a glimpse of technology work conducted in the Delta

Vince Jordan, CEO of Lobaki, works with Clarksdale students to create a technology hub in the Delta. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi’s McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement will host a virtual reality experience for students in the Catalyzing Entrepreneurship and Economic Development program Thursday (Aug. 24) at the Innovation Hub at Insight Park

Vince Jordan, CEO and president of virtual reality production company Lobaki, will join the 15 Innovation Scholars and Innovation Fellows from 5 to 8 p.m. The students will learn from Jordan, a seasoned entrepreneur, about how he is engaging the community in his work.

Lobaki has established The Virtual Reality Center and Academy in downtown Clarksdale as part of the Indigo Impact Initiative. The goal is to revitalize the Delta through technology and entrepreneurism through partnerships with Meraki Cooperative, the Crossroads Cultural Arts Center and the city of Clarksdale, including Clarksdale Public Schools.

“We are excited to see how this new development in Clarksdale can impact entrepreneurship and economic development throughout Mississippi,” said J.R. Love, Catalyzing Entrepreneurship and Economic Development project manager.

Jordan began the program in Clarksdale this summer to get young people interested in technology, hoping to make the town a tech hub for Mississippi.

“We had good success with this program this summer and are looking forward to expanding it during this school year in the community and the region,” Jordan said.

“Virtual reality is where web design was in the early ’90s and smartphones in the early 2000s. It is a great opportunity for entrepreneurs and economic development in Mississippi and beyond.”

The event is open to the public. Formal remarks will be given at 5:30 p.m. by Jordan and Albert Nylander, McLean Institute director and UM professor of sociology.

Jordan also will visit other units at Ole Miss, including the Center of Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the Center for Mathematics and Science Education.

For more information, contact Love at

Archaeology Field School Led by UM Professor Gets National Attention

Carter Robinson mound site also to be featured this fall in American Archaeology magazine

UM undergraduate student Ben Davis, American University graduate student Erin Cagney and UM undergrads Conor Foxworth and Emily Warner excavate the burned wall of structure that dates back to the 1300s at the Carter Robinson site in Virginia. Photo by J.C. Burns

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi students participated this summer in a four-week field school excavating the remains of a Native American house at the Carter Robinson Mound site in Ewing, Virginia.

The field school, led by Maureen Meyers, assistant professor of anthropology, returned to a house on the site that was partially excavated in 2007 and 2008.

“We knew from the past work that there were three houses built on top of one another in this location, which is unlike any of the other houses at the site,” Meyers said. “This year, we uncovered about half of the second house.

“To my surprise, we found burned walls and logs in really good preservation. We uncovered these walls, mapped and photographed them, and excavated posts from this house and the house above it.”

The site also will be featured in American Archaeology magazine later this fall.

Archaeologists first identified the site, which is privately owned by the Robinson family, in 1962. Meyers began excavations there in 2006 and held field schools at the site five times over the last decade.

Meyers has identified and partially excavated remains of six houses at the site. To date, more than 90,000 artifacts have been recovered from excavation, including ceramics, lithics, animal bones, botanical remains, building material from burned walls and other smaller items, such as shell beads.

This year, the group recovered ceramic sherds, mostly deer bones, drills, projectile points and flakes from making stone tools.

A collection of drilled items and drills were found at the Carter Robinson site. Submitted photo

“This site is unique because it is located at the edge of the Mississippian cultural world,” she said. “The Mississippian culture and time period is recognized by archaeologists as a time when Native Americans were organized into hierarchical societies known as chiefdoms.

“Their sites generally consist of villages with an earthen mound, a plaza and a village of square houses surrounding the mound and plaza.”

The Mississippian cultural time period, from A.D. 900 to 1550, is located predominately in Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, western North Carolina and southern Kentucky. The Carter Robinson site is one of two Mississippian mounds in southwest Virginia.

“It’s an important site for understanding interaction at cultural frontiers, for understanding craft production in prehistoric societies and understanding the role of craft production and frontiers in the formation of inequality in societies,” Meyers said.

Work at the site has been funded by a UM College of Liberal Arts Summer Research Grant, a National Geographic Society Exploration and Research Grant, a Sigma Xi Grant-in-Aid, a Virginia Academy of Sciences Research grant and a University of Kentucky Dissertation Enhancement Award..

Meyers has published multiple book chapters and articles about the site, including the most recent issue of Southeastern Archaeology. She has trained more than 50 students at the sites over the years through field schools, and three Ole Miss students are working on master’s theses using data from the site.

Dalton Capps, a graduate student in anthropology from Columbus, is building his thesis based on lithic tool productions from the site.

“I am looking at how the different structures that have been excavated at Carter Robinson differ when it comes to lithic production,” Capps said.

He also participated in the field school as an Ole Miss undergraduate student in 2015.

“I have always loved going out into the field, so I jump at any opportunity I get to go out into the field,” he said. “It was nice to be able to concentrate on one house in such detail for an entire field season.

“The most interesting finds for me were the large amount of shell and the few drills that we found. In 2015, we found some very interesting ceramics, including what may have been part of a human effigy.”

Capps also will analyze the finds from this site from previous excavations years in which Meyers has brought students to the field school.

Museum’s Latest Exhibit Explores Culture with ‘Unwritten Memoir’

Holly Spring native Randy Hayes uses his work to reflect memories of travels

‘Athenia’ by Randy Hayes is one of the work on display in the ‘Unwritten Memoir’ exhibit. His work will be on display through Dec. 9. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi Museum debuts “Unwritten Memoir,” an exhibit by Holly Springs artist Randy Hayes, on Tuesday (Aug. 22).

“Unwritten Memoir” reflects visual memories of Hayes’ time spent in Turkey, Japan and the American South from 2004 to the present. These memories present three different cultures through photographs, objects and paintings.

“To paraphrase the novelist Bharati Mukherjee, I am trying to make the familiar exotic and the exotic familiar,” Hayes said.

The exhibit opens at 10 a.m. Tuesday and will be a featured stop on the Oxford Arts Crawl later that evening.

“The University of Mississippi Museum is honored and excited to share with its audiences and its campus community the work of exceptionally gifted artist Randy Hayes,” said Robert Saarnio, museum director. “We’ve been privileged to have exhibited Mr. Hayes’ work previously in 2009, with this show offering a more comprehensive representation of the range of this artist’s remarkable skills, and his dynamic approach to layering of imagery in its overlays of the photographed with the painted.

“Associated with objects from the artist’s personal travels, the wall-hung works resonate powerfully and their gridded formatting rewards repeated viewing. We eagerly look forward to our visitors’ experiences of these compelling and fascinating pieces.”

Though a native Mississippian, Hayes spent the majority of his career in Seattle. His work is featured in many public and private collections, including the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, the Mississippi Museum of Art and the U.S. Department of State. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York also previously exhibited his work.

An opening reception with Hayes is scheduled in conjunction with the museum’s annual membership party for 6-8 p.m. Sept. 14.

The exhibit will be available for viewing through Dec. 9.

For more information about the museum and its exhibits, visit

Honors College Debuts Exhibit in New Building with ‘America Selfie’

Mississippi native Laura Elkins offers a portrait of America through paintings

Laura Elkins’ ‘America Selfie’ installation debuts Tuesday (Aug. 22) at the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College will debut a site-specific exhibit by painter Laura Elkins this week in some of its renovated space that was dedicated last spring.

The installation, titled “America Selfie,” is a contemporary take on history painting and uses current events, American history, national symbols and both contemporary and art historical imagery to create a portrait of America.

The Honors College will host an opening reception for the exhibit from 3 to 4 p.m. Tuesday (Aug. 22). The installation also will be a location stop later that evening on the monthly Oxford Art Crawl, from 6 to 8 p.m. The installation, which also will be a stop on the Sept. 26 Art Crawl, runs through Sept. 29.

Debra Young, associate dean of the Honors College, had enjoyed Elkins’ monograph of paintings “Summer in the City,” which she said made her think through gender, power, history and friendship all at once.

This edginess of Elkins’ work matched up with Dean Douglass Sullivan-Gonzalez’s plan to use space in the new Honors College to provide a place for interaction and lively discussion. This exhibit demands both, Young said.

“The SMBHC concept of ‘citizen scholar’ has always accommodated the notion of ‘citizen artist’ as one of the manifestations of thoughtful, informed, courageous response and leadership,” Young said. “The artistic talent, linked to this urge to prod and probe – an introduction to Dean Sullivan-Gonzalez’s and his consequent invitation to do something for our new building – was a no-brainer.”

The artist’s monograph “Summer in the City” was published by Enlightening Press in 2015. Upshur Street Books in Washington, D.C. and Square Books in Oxford hosted signings and exhibitions in 2016.

Soon after the signing, Sullivan-Gonzalez invited Elkins to speak to Honors College students as part of a series titled “From the Edge of Inside,” inspired by an editorial in the New York Times by David Brooks. From there, the idea of creating an exhibit that reflects current and historic issues was born.

“These are things that have always been part of America, so I’m looking at the whole picture while using current and art historical imagery,” Elkins said. “I wanted to create a portrait of this bizarre place we live.”

Elkins, an Oxford native, began painting as a child while attending Saturday morning classes at the University Museum and the UM Department of Art. She returned to Oxford after earning a degree in architecture from the University of Virginia to paint full-time.

She was mentored by visionary painter and Mississippian Theora Hamblett and spent time in the acclaimed folk artist’s home and studio. Later, Elkins would share Hamblett’s earlier patronage with renowned art dealer Betty Parsons, who exhibited Elkins’s work in 1980.

Elkins’ recent exhibitions in New York include a 15-year retrospective of “The White House Collection” paintings, “First, She’s a Lady” at Tikhonova & Winter. Allen Frame, in the Creative Independent called it “one of the best shows of 2015.”

Other shows in New York include “Fabrications: Constructing Female Identity” at Dixon Place, and an exhibition and benefit auction for the Film-makers Coop at Next to Nothing Gallery that opens Thursday (Aug. 24).

Elkins lives in Washington, D.C., where 39th Street Gallery will exhibit “America Selfie” in January 2018. Her other exhibitions in the D.C. metropolitan area include “Portraits of US” at Montpelier Arts Center, “United in Passion and Pride” at 39th Street Gallery, “Portrait of Self as Other” at Studio Gallery and three solo shows at The Fridge.

For more information about Elkins, visit Follow her on Instagram at @LauraElkins and on Facebook to see more of her work.

Chucky Mullins Roundabout Open

Roundabout includes pedestrian crosswalks

The new roundabout at Chucky Mullins Drive opened Friday afternoon. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The roundabout at the Chucky Mullins Drive entrance to the University of Mississippi campus opened to traffic beginning Friday afternoon (Aug. 11).

Construction began in May on the roundabout, located at the intersection of Hill Drive and Hathorn Road, to alleviate increased traffic congestion in the area over the past few years. Pedestrian crosswalks have also been placed at each point of entry to the roundabout.

“Since roundabouts allow for the continuous flow of traffic at reduced speeds, we believe this design will improve traffic flow and allow more cars per minute to pass through than the old, four-way stop,” said Dave LaBanc, project coordinator.

Drivers are reminded to:

  • Approach roundabouts with caution and at a reduced speed
  • Watch for pedestrians and cyclists
  • Enter the roundabout only after yielding to oncoming traffic
  • Choose a clearly marked lane in the roundabout based on which direction they will exit
  • Use their turn signal as they approach the exit

Drivers should never stop in the middle of the roundabout, as that will cause congestion and increase the likelihood of an accident.



UM Alumnus Featured on ‘American Ninja Warrior’

Episode airs at 7 p.m. Monday on NBC

Josh Butler, pictured with is wife Katie, son Braxtel (right) and photograph of their son Dewey. Butler will compete on American Ninja Warrior on NBC Monday night. Submitted Photo

University of Mississippi alumnus Josh Butler will showcase both his athletic ability and inspirational story Monday (Aug. 7) on NBC’s “American Ninja Warrior.”

Butler, a 2010 Ole Miss graduate originally from Jackson, has trained for the challenging obstacle course program over the last three years and auditioned three times before being asked to compete in the show’s ninth season.

“I have obstacles in my backyard that I built, I’m a member of a rock climbing gym and I’m a member at a regular gym, too,” Butler said. “I have always been active, though, and participated in pretty much every sport.”

However, Butler and his family have conquered many other obstacles over the last three years. In 2015, his wife, Katie, gave birth to their first son, Dewey, but he was born with an unbalanced translocation of chromosomes, causing breathing problems.

After 132 days in Vanderbilt’s Children’s Hospital, their son died.

The Butlers then decided to help care for other children. In 2016, they fostered their now-adopted 3-year-old son, Braxtel, who was born with chronic respiratory failure and breathed through a ventilator until recently.

The Butlers are also foster parents to three other children, who they hope to make permanent members of their family later this year.

“My wife and I are a team, and having a home health nurse at the house most days of the week helps us have a ‘break’ for things like training,” he said. “I wake up before everyone else to exercise and train. I also use my lunch breaks to fit in a workout.

“While Dewey was alive and in the hospital, it was a hard decision to leave his NICU room to train, but I knew that I needed to take care of my own health, too, to be the best dad to him.”

Butler said it has been his dream to compete on “ANW.”

“I love that the show showcases the whole person, not just the athletic side, by including their inspirational back stories,” he said. “I also want to share how faithful God is even in the midst of tragedy. He has a plan, and we trust him.”

Tune in to NBC at 7 p.m. Monday to hear more about Butler’s inspiring story and watch him compete for a $1 million prize.

Heidelbergs Donate $30,000 to University Museum

Gift will support exhibits and programs with a focus on young and emerging artists

Jane Becker Heidelberg and her husband, Rody Heidelberg, met at UM. Their son, Web Heidelberg, and his wife, Michelle, have established a gift to the museum in Jane Becker Heidelberg’s name. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – Jane Becker Heidelberg adored her time at the University of Mississippi. She met her husband, Rody Heidelberg, in 1940 at their first dance as students in the old gym. They were together almost 50 years.

She loved collecting art and supporting Mississippi artists, so when she died in 2011, the family began thinking of ways to preserve her memory at the university she loved so much.

Her son, Web Heidelberg, and his wife, Michelle, of Hattiesburg, have established the Jane Becker Heidelberg Endowment for the Arts for the University Museum with a $30,000 gift. The gift will be used for exhibitions and programming, with an emphasis on the work of young or emerging artists.

“The Jane Becker Heidelberg Endowment for the Arts represents arts philanthropy at its very best, and the University Museum is deeply grateful to the Heidelberg family for the creation of this fund in support of emerging artists,” said Robert Saarnio, museum director. “Their generosity will transform the museum’s capacity to engage with younger and newly emerging artists in meaningful and creative partnerships, whether by exhibition, acquisition or public programs.

“Working with emerging artists is now assured for the museum’s future, and the ultimate beneficiaries are the public and university audiences who will experience some of the Mid-South’s most creative new artistic talents.”

This is not the first time the Heidelbergs have contributed to the university that brought Jane and Rody together. When Rody died in 1989, Jane established the Rowland W. Heidelberg Jr. Scholarship at the School of Law. The scholarship is awarded to a promising incoming law student for three years.

“Hopefully, the endowment will help provide the kind of support and encouragement that mother provided personally during her lifetime,” Web Heidelberg said. “And, of course, to do so at a place that meant so much to her is especially meaningful and appropriate.”

Web Heidelberg earned his bachelor’s degree from Ole Miss in 1967 before attending law school at Tulane University.

To contribute to the University Museum, contact Angela Barlow Brown at 662-915-3181 or

Oxford Medical Waste Disposal Company to be Featured on Program

Segment on GreenServ Inc. to air July 10 on 'World's Greatest'

Greenserv, a medical waste company, and its employees will be featured July 10 on ‘World’s Greatest.’ Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – An Oxford startup that provides a vital service to hospitals and medical clinics in the Southeast is getting national exposure through an episode of a television program focusing on innovative companies and products.

GreenServ Inc., a medical waste and compliance firm, spent the month of May filming for “World’s Greatest,” a television show that highlights the best companies, products and places around the world. It is scheduled to air at 5 a.m. July 10 on DirecTV channel 305 and Dish Network channel 250.

University of Mississippi alumnus John Alford and business partner Will Fountain started the company in 2012. With a combined 35 years of experience in medical sales, Alford and Fountain noticed something missing in the medical industry.

“We saw a need in the medical waste market for a company that will provide the quality service at a competitive rate,” Fountain said. “Through market research, we discovered customers needed an alternative.”

When GreenServ was in its beginning stages, Alford and Fountain worked two jobs for five years. Now, the company has grown to 17 employees in three locations and covers all of Mississippi, western Tennessee and half of Louisiana.

GreenServ has also implemented a mail-back program that will service medical care providers across the country.

“World’s Greatest” reached out to Alford and Fountain nearly a year ago and after several interviews, the company was selected to appear on the program.  

“When we actually got the call letting us know we had been chosen, it was extremely exciting,” Alford said. “We are continually working to develop our brand, so that the health care providers in our region think of GreenServ first when it comes to regulated medical waste and regulatory compliance.”

Alford added that GreenServ’s employees are excited about the program and said each employee has been a key part of the business successes over the years.

“They have bought into and contributed to the system we have, and it’s fun for them to see it working as well,” he said. “We have been extremely blessed in more ways than we can count, and are looking forward to the next five years.”

The program will explore GreenServ’s growth, ability to save customers money and its mail-back program. It will also feature GreenServ’s focus on technology and how the company works to make the customers’ businesses more cost-effective and easier.

UM Alumnus Develops Apps for College Students

First offerings help users locate peer tutors and develop campus marketplaces

Kenneth Akpati, 2011 Ole Miss graduate, has developed mobile apps to assist students with tutoring and selling items. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – Mobile apps to enhance students’ college experience through tutoring and a marketplace are available at the University of Mississippi.

My Campus Concierge was founded in March 2016 as a tech startup by Ole Miss alumnus Kenneth Akpati. His goal was to help students improve their grades through peer-to-peer tutoring and make money through a campus marketplace for goods and services.

Akpati released his first app, Dean’s List Tutoring, in August 2016. The app allows students to connect with peers who have previously passed a particular course to assist with homework and studying through tutoring.

“The advantage of using DLT is in the fact that it is campus-specific, and students would be finding fellow students that have already been in the same class with the same professor, hence giving the students more of a mentoring feel that just the regular homework/test help tutoring,” he said.

The second mobile app, Quintana Campus Marketplace, debuted at the CSpire CTX Experience in April at The Pavilion at Ole Miss. The campus-specific marketplace makes it safer and easier for students to buy and sell goods and services within the campus community, Akpati said.

“We created this app with the intention to help students save money off of the things and services they need and make money selling things they don’t need and by providing simple services for their fellow members of the campus community,” he said. “We hope that this app will enable students to build their own private economy and be less dependent on their parents while they are in college.”

Both apps are available for Android, iPhone and via webpage.

Ole Miss students were involved in the way the app looks. Akpati visited Dawn Wilkins’ computer science class in the spring, and the students evaluated the app, providing feedback. His design team incorporated most of the changes suggested by the class, said Wilkins, chair and professor of computer and information science.

“Mr. Akpati was very passionate about getting students to consider entrepreneurial ideas and giving back to the university and the community in general,” she said. “His story is very inspiring and his willingness to actively mentor the students is wonderful.

Akpati is also working with the UM electrical engineering and computer science departments to host a Hack-a-thon next year to engage students in a large-scale computer programming effort, Wilkins said.

“We haven’t made detailed plans yet, but he is already working on identifying corporate sponsors,” she said. “He is a very enterprising young man and an excellent role model for our students.”

Ole Miss is the fifth campus to embrace the app, along with Trinity University and the University of Texas campuses at Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio.

Akpati, who lives in Dallas, graduated in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering. He was inspired to create the company and mobile apps based on his college experience and his passion to help college students.

“This company was created out of my passion to make the sharing economy safer and more relevant through localization,” he said. “I had to work around the clock as a tutor to be able to sustain myself and stay enrolled in classes.

“I wanted to make it easier for future generations of students by creating a way for students to help one another so no student would ever have to deal with that burden alone.”

The company is developing a third app, which will act as a social platform for college students to keep up with happenings at their school and other campuses, he said. Students will be able to post messages, photos and videos to the network when the app launches later this fall.