UM Graduate Student Leads State’s Largest High School Chinese Program

Linfei Yi teaches two classes at Holly Springs High School

Victoria Nabors (left), T’khya Williams, Kelvisha Conner, Fredrekia Campbell and Kennytra Martin, all Chinese 1 students at Holly Spring High School, show off their Asian-themed paper cuttings at the school. UM photo by Linfei Yi

OXFORD, Miss. – When Linfei Yi began teaching Chinese at Holly Springs High School two years ago, the University of Mississippi graduate student had no idea it would quickly become the largest such program in Mississippi.

Besides Holly Springs, three Mississippi schools – Oxford High School and Lafayette High School in Oxford and St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Ridgeland – have Chinese language programs. The UM Department of Modern Languages is involved with the Lafayette and Holly Springs program through its partnership with Alliance for Language Learning and Educational Exchange Foundation.

The alliance works mostly to set up Chinese and Japanese programs within universities, but it also helps recruit graduate students into the university’s Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages programs. Native Chinese speakers are required to teach in one of the high schools while they pursue their degrees.

“It’s a wonderfully innovative way for the university to bring new academic programs to area high schools,” said Daniel O’Sullivan, UM chair and professor of modern languages. “Yi has been a model graduate student in our program and has made a positive impact at Holly Springs.

“She was a finalist last year in the graduate school’s 3MT (Three-Minute Thesis) Competition, and everyone in the department was very proud of her.”

Yi’s students also have traveled to Oxford to participate in the Moon Festival and to watch the Chinese Speech Contest, which was held Chinese New Year. These events and others are observed through the university’s Chinese Language Flagship Program.

“I have seen just how big of an impact Yi has had on her students,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s really inspiring.”

Yi has taught 62 students in two classes at the north Mississippi high school. Since its inception, two graduates have continued their Chinese studies.

Tiffany Nichols, a student in the Chinese language program at Holly Springs High School, writes her first ‘good luck’ poster with the Chinese brush. UM photo by Linfei Yi

“The most rewarding aspect of my teaching experience is always to see my students can speak more and more in Chinese and become more and more interested and curious about the language and the culture,” said Yi, a native of Guilin, China who earned her bachelor’s degree from Guilin University of Technology and her master’s degree from Guangxi Normal University.

Yi said students in her Chinese Level 2 class are the best example of this progress. She recalled how some of them initially wanted to take Spanish rather than Chinese, but couldn’t transfer out of the class.

“The first day of my Chinese 1 class, they were not happy at all,” she said. “But through the first year of learning the language, doing group projects and presentations on Chinese culture and attending events held by the Ole Miss Flagship Chinese program, the students took the initiatives to learn more.

“Now, I don’t have to worry about if they (as Chinese 2 students) will misbehave in the classroom, if they will delay their assignments or if some of them will fail a test because their performance in the class has shown their achievements day by day.”

Yi said she entered the modern languages and liguistics program because she wanted to continue to teach Chinese as a second language to English speakers.

“I wish to continue to work either as a language teacher or to promote cultural exchange between China and the U.S.,” she said.

Several of Yi’s Holly Springs students praised her efforts on their behalf.

“Ms. Yi is a very inspirational person,” said Kuelteria Crane, a senior. “She never gives up on teaching new things and opening our minds to new ideas. She is the greatest teacher and deserves to be recognized greatly.”

UM Libraries Celebrates Anniversary as a Federal Documents Repository

GPO superintendent Laurie Hill to speak April 25 in Faulkner Room

Laurie Hall

OXFORD, Miss. – Laurie Hall, superintendent of the U.S. Government Publishing House, will visit the University of Mississippi’s J.D. Williams Library on April 25 for a special celebration event.

“Becoming a Citizen” will begin at 2 p.m. in the Faulkner Room of the library. With funding from a Mississippi Humanities Council grant, UM Libraries has been celebrating 135 years as a federal depository library. This is the last event recognizing the important anniversary.

“Hall, who leads the GPO in providing public access to government information published by the U.S. Congress, federal agencies and the federal courts, will deliver the keynote address,” said Cecilia Botero, dean and professor of university libraries. “There will also be two representatives from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services there who will discuss the steps to naturalization and answer questions about the process.”

The program will also highlight the U.S. Citizen Resource Corner.

“This center contains free information, forms and study materials for anyone interested in becoming a citizen,” said Ashley Dees, research and instruction librarian and regional depository coordinator. “The resource corner is located on the first floor of the J.D. Williams Library.”

Through the Federal Depository Library Program, approximately 1,150 libraries nationwide work with the Government Publishing Office to provide public access to authentic, published information from all three branches of the federal government in print and electronic formats.

The program’s antecedents can be traced back to the act of Congress dated Dec. 27, 1813 (3 Stat. 140), which provided that one copy of the journals and documents of the Senate and House be sent to each university and college and each historical society in each state.

The J.D. Williams Library, main library at Ole Miss, has been a federal depository library since 1883.

For more about the 135th anniversary of the Government Depository Library at UM, visit

Veterans with Purple Hearts Honored with Reserved Parking

Dedication ceremonies scheduled April 24 in front of the Lyceum

Veterans Association students and their dependents gather in the new Veterans Resources Center on campus. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Most University of Mississippi students are restricted from parking in certain areas of campus, but that is about to change for Don Zielenski and other Purple Heart recipients at Ole Miss.

The sophomore from south Texas is the first to receive the new Purple Heart Parking Pass, which allows owners to park anywhere on campus. The permit will be unveiled during the university’s Purple Heart Recognition Program at 10 a.m. April 24 on the Lyceum steps.

The event will highlight efforts by the Office of Veteran and Military Services to honor the university’s veteran community and promote access across UM’s official Purple Heart University campus.

“The Purple Heart Recognition Program allows students, faculty, staff and retirees the opportunity to exchange their current parking pass for a Purple Heart Parking Pass,” said Andrew Newby, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and UM assistant director of veteran and military services. “This pass allows the recipient to park in any lot within any space on campus.

“We will have a dedicated space in the Lyceum Circle that is marked with a Purple Heart placard, which will allow visitors with proper proof of Purple Heart credentials to access the space as well.”

The April 24 program schedule includes the March of the Colors by the ROTC Color Guard and the official party, the national anthem performed by the University Low Brass Group and opening remarks from Evan Ciocci of Sandwich, Massachusetts, a sophomore information systems management and computer science major and president of the Student Veterans Association.

Newby will discuss VMS programming, present the parking pass and unveil the parking spot on the Circle as the ceremony ends.

Zielenski was a cavalry scout in the U.S. Army. While on deployment as a turret gunner on mounted vehicle patrol, he was struck during a mortar attack. Pushing through his injuries, Zielenski continued to fire on the enemy, which resulted in a Bronze Star Medal with Valor device and a Purple Heart.

Months later on the same deployment, he was on foot patrol when an improvised explosive device triggered a set of explosives placed on top of a building. The building collapsed onto Zielenski, rupturing his spleen, which was removed in transit aboard a helicopter, collapsing a lung and crushing his skull. His injuries left him deaf and blind on the left side of his face, and he was awarded a second Purple Heart.

“Don recovered from his injuries and is now majoring in psychology,” Newby said. “He intends to work with veterans experiencing PTS and TBI. We look forward to great things from Don, and are excited to honor him here at this Purple Heart campus.”

Zielenski said he is honored to have been chosen as the first student to receive the Purple Heart Parking Pass.

“Andrew has helped our Student Veterans Association progress by leaps and bounds in the short time he has been here,” said the veteran, who was stationed at Camp Hovey South Korea in 2008, then deployed to Afghanistan in 2011. “Being part of the Student Veterans helped tremendously upon arriving my freshman year. This organization gave me a great group of people I could associate with.”

Three years ago, UM, the city of Oxford and Lafayette County were named a Purple Heart University, a Purple Heart City and a Purple Heart County for their efforts to create a welcoming environment for veterans and Purple Heart recipients. The Purple Heart is a military decoration given only to those wounded or killed in combat.

While UM is one of four SEC institutions to hold the Purple Heart University designation, it is the first university in Mississippi to receive the designation in conjunction with the city and county in which it is located.

“The special things that Ole Miss does specifically for veterans that attend the university are what qualify them to become a Purple Heart University,” said Ben Baker, commander of the Oxford Purple Heart Chapter.

The university’s Office of Veteran and Military Services was created in April 2013 to provide comprehensive resources for veterans, active members of the military and their dependents, and to assist them in becoming successful as Ole Miss students.

“Being named a Purple Heart University means we support, honor and welcome veterans to this great campus,” said Matt Hayes, senior military instructor for Army ROTC and a Purple Heart recipient. “When you have a campus that is supportive of your goals and ambitions, it really gives the veteran the inspiration and drive to succeed.”

Ole Miss is home to 1,355 military-connected students, 959 of whom are using GI Education Benefits.

To learn more about veteran and military services at Ole Miss, visit

Nanomedicine Topic for Semester’s Final UM Science Cafe

Chalet Tan to discuss how nanotechnology is transforming diagnosis, imaging and treatment of diseases

Chalet Tan

OXFORD, Miss. – The use of nanotechnology in the diagnosis, imaging and treatment of human diseases is the topic of the University of Mississippi’s next monthly Science Cafe.

Chalet Tan, associate professor of pharmaceutics and drug delivery and research associate professor in UM’s Research Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, will discuss “NanoMedicine: Less is More” Tuesday (April 24) at the fourth and final Science Cafe of the semester. The meeting is set for 6 p.m. at Lusa Bakery Bistro and Bar, 1120 North Lamar Blvd. Admission is free.

Tan’s 30-minute presentation will explore how nanoscale drug delivery systems can improve the efficacy of anticancer drug therapies while minimizing their detrimental side effects, a research area being pursued in her laboratory.

“Nanomedicine is transforming the detection, diagnosis and treatment of human disease,” she said. “Fifty years ago, physicist and Nobel Laureate Richard P. Feynman proposed the concept of the nanosurgeons and nanodevices, where he urged researchers to develop nanosystems capable of interacting with the body at the cellular and molecular level.

“Today, nanotechnology has become a vital force behind the development of nanomaterials and their applications in medicine.”

Tan’s talk should be most interesting, said Marco Cavaglia, professor of physics and astronomy and organizer of the Science Cafe programs.

“Dr. Tan’s research is timely and engaging,” Cavaglia said. “She is a highly recognized scientist and her research on nanomedicine is published in top journals.

“Dr. Tan enjoys transmitting her research in a way that appeals to the general public. We are going to have fun and I hope that many people come to know her and enjoy her presentation.”

A postdoctoral fellow in cancer biology and therapeutics at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, Tan earned her doctorate in pharmaceutical sciences from the University of Georgia. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy from Shanghai Medical University (now Fudan University) in China.

Tan’s primary research interest in her laboratory focuses on the synthesis and evaluation of novel long-circulating nanocarriers for the delivery of microRNAs and small-molecule anticancer drugs. By combining approaches in pharmaceutical sciences and cancer biology, she aims to construct robust nano-sized drug delivery systems with broad applicability to improve the efficacy of anticancer agents.

For more information about Oxford Science Cafe programs, go to For more information about the Department of Physics and Astronomy, visit or call 662-915-7046.

University Sets STEM Fest for Weekend

Multiple open houses, demonstrations and lectures planned for Friday and Saturday

OXFORD, Miss. – In celebration of scientific investigation and its benefits and in support for publicly funded science, the University of Mississippi is hosting a two-day focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics this weekend.

The university’s STEM Fest, scheduled for Friday (April 20) on the Oxford campus and Saturday (April 21) at the UM Field Station, is co-sponsored by several STEM entities on campus, the College of Liberal Arts, the Meek School of Journalism and New Media and the Office of the Chancellor. All events are free to the public.

“The promotion of STEM education is at the forefront of plans for the future at the University of Mississippi,” said Marco Cavaglia, professor of physics and astronomy and one of the co-organizers of the weekend.

“This festival will celebrate achievements in all areas of STEM,” said Jan Murray, professor of art and another festival co-organizer. “The Oxford community and K-12 families are especially welcome.”

Scheduled activities begin at 2 p.m. Friday with a panel discussion on opioids at the Overby Center Auditorium. That will be followed by open houses at the department of Physics and Astronomy, Mathematics, and Chemistry and Biochemistry; the School of Engineering; the National Center for Physical Acoustics; and Kennon Observatory.

The Society of Physics and Astronomy Students will showcase the “physics of baseball” from 3 to 5 p.m. at Swayze Field, before the evening Ole Miss vs. Georgia game. The presentation will include explanations of why curve balls curve, how to hit a perfect home run and more.

A screening of the movie “Hidden Figures” with an introduction by the UM Women in Physics group begins at 5 p.m. at the Overby Center Auditorium.

An astronomy open house concludes the day’s activities from 8 to 10 p.m. at Kennon Observatory. Faculty members from the Department of Physics and Astronomy will host viewings of the moon, Jupiter and interesting celestial objects, weather permitting.

Events scheduled Saturday at the field station include a science research conference with talks, poster presentations and more demonstrations. Tom Marshall, professor of physics and astronomy, will discuss his lightning research at 10:40 a.m., and science demonstrations are scheduled for 2:30-3:30 p.m.

University Museum will present a self-guided tour of the Millington-Barnard Collection of Scientific Instruments both days from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The weekend’s events are designed to promote the core values and benefits of science.

“My hope is that people with similar interests will discuss possible areas of common interests and potential collaboration,” said Marjorie Holland, professor of biology and one of the organizers of Saturday’s events. “Anyone who is interested in learning what research is conducted at the field station is invited to attend.”

For more information and updates, visit

Jaz Brisack Named UM’s 15th Truman Scholar

Oxford junior was among three Ole Miss finalists for prestigious award

Jaz Brisack (center) is congratulated by Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter (left) and Douglass Sullivan-Gonzalez, dean of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, on being named the university’s 15th Harry S. Truman Scholar. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Jaz Brisack, a junior at the University of Mississippi, has been named the university’s 15th Harry S. Truman Scholar. Brisack was one of three UM finalists for the coveted scholarship.

Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter surprised the Oxford native and Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College student Wednesday (April 11) with the announcement in the Lyceum.

“Jaz Brisack is upholding our strong and distinguished tradition of student excellence and public service,” Vitter said. “We are so pleased to offer programs and learning opportunities that prepare our students to be competitive on a national stage.”

Brisack’s honors include having an article, “Organizing Unions as Social Policy,” published in the Global Encyclopedia of Public Policy, being a winner in the Creative Nonfiction division of the Southern Literary Festival and receiving the UM Outstanding Freshman award. A National Merit Scholar finalist, she is also a member of the UM debate team and a recipient of Honors College Extraordinary Research Funds and Penny Leeton Service Award.

Brisack’s plans include earning a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and later working with a small and independent union or network of unions to help empower workers to bring democratic processes to their workplaces. 

“I want to help create a network of independent locals with self-determination that retain nationwide leverage while maintaining a decentralized approach,” Brisack said.

The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation, the federal memorial to the 33rd U.S. president, awards merit-based scholarships to college students who plan to pursue careers in government or elsewhere in public service. Truman Scholars receive up to $30,000 for graduate or professional school, participate in leadership development activities and have special opportunities for internships and employment with the federal government.

For more about the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, visit

Campus Organization Offers Support for Children of the Imprisoned

New group sets first meeting for April 17

Asya Branch (left), president of Serving Children of Incarcerated Parents, discusses plans for the new UM student organization’s inaugural meeting with Deetra Wiley, SCIP adviser. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – A new support group at the University of Mississippi aims to provide support and offer a voice for students whose parents are incarcerated.

Serving Children of Incarcerated Parents will have its kickoff meeting at 6:30 p.m. April 17 in the Guyton Annex, Room 210.

Membership is limited to Ole Miss students, faculty or staff with an interest in helping children and youth develop their full potential and agree to volunteer in one or more of the organization’s activities. The meeting is open to the public.

“The overall purpose of the organization is to facilitate and promote mentoring relationships with children whose parents are incarcerated, in order to enable those children to reach their full potential and become productive, caring and responsible citizens,” said Asya Branch of Booneville, a junior integrated marketing communications major and president of SCIP. “We will achieve this goal through education, career programs, character leadership, health, life skills and the arts.”

The daughter of a previously incarcerated parent, Branch became interested in starting the new group after she met several others on campus who either had similar experiences or knew families who did.

“I wanted to organize this group because it is an overlooked topic that needs an advocate and an increase in awareness,” said Branch, who was named UM’s 2018 Most Beautiful. “Service is one of my passions and having the opportunity to serve those who have been through the same or similar circumstances as myself allows me to truly connect and make a difference.

“It’s such an honor to be an inspiration and mentor to many.”

Deetra Wiley, applications analyst-business communications specialist in the university’s Office of Information Technology, serves as SCIP’s staff adviser.

“I want to start it off with a huge awareness of this organization allowing others to get involved,” Wiley said. “Dr. Randall Rhodes, adjunct professor in legal studies, will be our guest speaker via Adobe Connect. He will share his work with this population of children and disadvantaged youth.”

Rhodes is the chief justice officer for the 32nd Judicial District Circuit of Missouri. In 2016, he was appointed by the Missouri Supreme Court to serve on the Juvenile Standards Work Group that produced the Missouri Juvenile Officer Policy and Procedures Manual.

He recently was approved by the Missouri Department of Corrections to create a pilot program expanding inmate visitation with their children through video conferencing.

“I am hoping to get from this some suggestions on how to better support youth before they get college age, but also listen to the students at the university,” Rhodes said. “As an instructor, I want to know what I could do to be more supportive.”

A doctoral student in the university’s higher education program, Wiley is focusing her dissertation on children of incarcerated parents.

“One of SCIP’s goals is to work in conjunction with area agencies, churches, schools and civic organizations to provide at the local level specific mentoring relationships to assist children achieving the goals set for them by their teachers, leaders and parents,” she said. “SCIP does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, sexual orientation, group affiliation, handicap/disability or veteran status.”

For more information about Serving Children of Incarcerated Parents, contact, or either Aysa Branch at or Deetra Wiley at

Ten Seniors Named UM Hall of Fame Inductees

Recipients honored for service, achievement and potential for success

The 2018 University of Mississippi Hall of Fame. Photo by by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Ten University of Mississippi seniors have been inducted into the university’s 2017-18 Hall of Fame, one of the highest honors afforded students at Ole Miss.

The inductees were honored Friday afternoon (April 6) in a ceremony at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts. A campus committee chooses Hall of Fame members in accordance with policy developed by the Associated Student Body. Selections are based on outstanding contributions in all aspects of campus life.

This year’s Hall of Fame members are Allen Coon of Petal; Christopher Feazell of Mendenhall; Terrence Johnson of Shuqualak; Jiwon Lee of Oxford; Megan McLeod of Highlands Ranch, Colorado; Savannah Smith of Corinth; Austin Spindler of Savannah, Tennessee; Elizabeth Taylor of Whitesboro, Texas; Jacob Thrasher of Birmingham, Alabama; Ingrid Valbuena of Maracaibo, Venezuela.

“Each of the students selected for Hall of Fame has a record of scholarship and service to the university community and has impacted the Ole Miss campus in a positive way,” said Mindy Sutton Noss, assistant vice chancellor for student affairs and dean of students. “Hall of Fame is a fitting way to recognize the legacy that each of them leaves at the University of Mississippi.”

The 10 students were among 200 seniors recognized for inclusion in Who’s Who Among Students at the University of Mississippi.

“The Hall of Fame is a time-honored process that has identified students who have gone on to make a true difference in the world,” said Noel Wilkin, provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs. “This year’s inductees have made a mark on our institution and have developed abilities that will serve them well in their careers.”

Allen Coon

Pursuing a double major in public policy leadership and African American studies, Coon is a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and the Trent Lott Leadership Institute. As an ASB senator, Coon worked with NAACP student organizers to remove the Mississippi state flag from campus and co-organized the #OccupytheLyceum protest, a spontaneous sit-in demanding an administrative response to campus racism. He previously served as president of UM College Democrats and UM Voters Everywhere. After graduation, he plans to attain both a master’s degree in public policy and a law degree and become a community organizer and civil servant. Coon’s parents are Kay Kolwe Coon and Howard Coon, both of Petal.

Christopher Feazell

Feazell, an accountancy major, is a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. He served in several roles over the course of his education, including vice president of programming for the National Association of Black Accountants, vice president of the Black Student Union, treasurer of the Accountancy ASB, Luckyday Scholar and the Columns Society. Fezell plans to pursue a master’s degree in taxation in the university’s Patterson School of Accountancy, pass the CPA exam and begin a career at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP in Atlanta upon graduation. His parents are Stephanie Berry of Mendenhall and Christopher Eugene Feazell of Mt. Olive.

Terrence Johnson

A journalism major, Johnson has served as president of the Men of Excellence, the largest male minority organization at the university. He also served as public relations director for the Columns Society, anchor for NewsWatch TV, co-president of the UM Association of Black Journalists, an orientation leader and coordinator. After graduation, Johnson plans to pursue a master’s degree in video storytelling and narrative writing at the University of California at Berkeley. His parents are George Lee and Angela Johnson of Shuqualak.

Jiwon Lee

Lee is a music performance major with an emphasis on flute and violin performance. She was drum major for the Pride of the South Marching Band, principal flutist of the Ole Miss Wind Ensemble and ensemble violinist for the LOU Symphony. A member of Phi Kappa Phi honor society, Lee was president of the Korean Student Association and recipient of the Marcus Guinn Spirit Award. She plans to pursue a master’s degree in music education and music performance at the university. Lee’s parents are Jongbok and Aeran Moon Lee of Oxford.

Megan McLeod

McLeod, an economics major with a minor in chemistry, is a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and the Columns Society, and founder of the Hotty Toddy Tutors LLC, a student-run tutoring company. She is founding vice president of the UM chapter of the American Medical Women’s Society, vice president of chapter development for Phi Mu fraternity and recipient of the Trailblazer Award from Fraternal Leadership and Learning. After graduation, McLeod plans to pursue a medical degree at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. Her parents are Bill and Christine McLeod of Highlands Ranch, Colorado.

Savannah Smith

Smith is completing a double major in journalism and public policy leadership. A member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and Trent Lott Leadership Institute scholar, she is Miss Ole Miss, executive director of the Big Event, vice president of the Columns Society, an orientation leader and an executive officer in Chi Omega sorority. After graduation, Smith will attend New York University to pursue a master’s degree in journalism with a magazine emphasis. Her parents are Tim and Tracy Smith of Corinth.

Austin Spindler

Spindler is a public policy leadership major in the Trent Lott Leadership Institute. He has served as assistant director of the Big Event, senior executive assistant to the ASB president, ASB secretary, staffing director of the UM Food Bank and IFC vice president of public relations. Spindler plans to move to Washington, D.C., to pursue a career in consulting. His parents are Richard and Dana Spindler of Savannah, Tennessee.

Elizabeth Taylor

A sociology major, member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and a Ronald E. McNair Scholar, Taylor served as a mentor in the McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement. She also served as a peer educator for Rebels Against Sexual Assault and was the first junior-entry student to receive the Barksdale Award. After graduation, Taylor plans to pursue a doctorate in sociology at the University of Missouri. Her parents are Elizabeth A. Taylor of Sadler, Texas, and the late Marshall Lee Taylor.

Jacob Thrasher

Thrasher, a chemistry major in the biochemistry track, served as president of Omicron Delta Kappa, past president of Rebels Against Sexual Assault and a panelist for the Huffington Post’s Listen to America Tour. An editorial cartoonist for the Daily Mississippian and Oxford Eagle, he received the Society of Professional Journalists’ Mark of Excellence Region 12 Award for best political cartoonist. Thrasher has been accepted to graduate school at Yale University. Where he plans pursue a doctorate in biology and biological sciences. His parents are Christy Branton Thrasher of Birmingham, Alabama, and the late Michael Aaron Thrasher.

Ingrid Valbuena

Valbuena is an integrated marketing communications major and a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. She served as vice president of administration for Alpha Omicron Pi sorority and was an orientation leader and coordinator. A member of the Columns Society, Valbuena also hosted “sad girls, bad girls,” a weekly program on Rebel Radio. Her plans are to earn a master’s degree in IMC and advertising and become a college professor. Valbuena’s parents are Marcos Valbuena and Omarly Acina of Maracaibo, Venezuela.


Ray Hawkins Named New UPD Chief

Former associate director has been with department for more than two decades

University Police Chief Ray Hawkins (center) talks with Sgt. Jesse Richards (left) and campus EMA Director Amanda Drew at the station. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Though Ray Hawkins has officially been chief of the University of Mississippi Police Department less than a week, he’s been preparing for the position for a lifetime.

Hawkins was named the new chief March 30 by Brandi Hephner LaBanc, UM vice chancellor for student affairs. He replaces former Chief Tim Potts, who resigned earlier this year to return to his native Indiana and be near family.

“I am extremely honored to have the opportunity to lead the University Police Department,” said Hawkins, who earned his bachelor’s degree in public administration with an emphasis in criminal justice from UM in 2001. “To have started out here over 20 years ago as a patrolman and progress through various areas of responsibility to now have the privilege of directing the department as the chief is a dream come true.”

The Division of Student Affairs held open forum interviews on campus in early March for the final four candidates to allow public feedback in their search process.

“We conducted a national search that drew a strong applicant pool, and Ray Hawkins came out on top – he earned this position,” Hephner LaBanc said. “Chief Hawkins’ knowledge and experience in campus-based law enforcement is undeniable.

“But his longstanding service at the University of Mississippi complements that experience with unique institutional knowledge. I am confident he will rise to the occasion. He has prepared for this role.”

Hawkins joined UPD as a patrolman 22 years ago. His faithful service and proven leadership ability led to several promotions, including field training officer, police lieutenant, acting captain of investigation and detective lieutenant. He was named associate director after Potts’ departure.

Hawkins’ ambitious leadership style includes both short- and long-term goals for the police department. Among the former are to review and realign responsibilities within the department, to review operational processes and make changes where needed and to address staff shortages on patrol.

“I also plan to work on recruitment and retention, address officer/staff compensation, create staff recognition initiatives and to create an active social media communications campaign using Facebook, Twitter and Instagram,” he said. “I want UPD to provide computers for patrol vehicles, create electronic version of paper forms and work with ASB to develop a student-led campus safety committee.”

Hephner LaBanc is working closely with Hawkins to implement some organizational efficiencies and enhance staff and community-based training efforts.

“Some of the specific expectations we have discussed include implementation of an internal Insight and Vision Board to enhance staff feedback and engagement, a strategic plan that outlines departmental and campus safety priorities, a leadership development plan for officers and a UPD campus visibility plan,” she said.

Long-range goals Hawkins has for his area include working with the emergency management coordinator to develop a comprehensive University Emergency Response Plan, developing mock and tabletop exercises for campus emergencies and completing the national accreditation process through either the Commission for Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies or the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators.

“I want to address security needs for the university as it continues to expand,” he said. “I also want be prepared to respond to emergency situations and to have an online community complaint process.”

Hawkins credits many people for helping him reach this level of success in his career, including family, co-workers, faculty, staff and supervisors – both past and present.

“Then there are the students who allowed me to be part of their lives, and they a part of mine,” Hawkins said. “Some of my fondest memories at UPD was working in the residential halls at night, as part of our Housing Unit. I still have a relationship with some of those students 15 years later.

“I want to thank my UPD family for their support and encouragement. I look forward to working with them as we continue to provide the best safety services for our students, faculty and staff.”

University Hosts 30th Annual State Geography Bee

April 6 event is preliminary to National Geographic Society competition in Washington, D.C.

OXFORD, Miss. – The 30th annual Mississippi State Geographic Bee, a preliminary to the National Geographic Society’s competition, is scheduled for Friday (April 6) at the University of Mississippi.

The event begins with registration at 8 a.m. in the Jackson Avenue Center. Following a welcome, preliminary rounds start after 9 a.m. The final rounds begin at 11, with the awards ceremony immediately following.

“Bee students, families and educators in Mississippi will take part in an expanded full day of programs and activities called National Geographic Day,” said Dawn Bullion, state bee coordinator and program coordinator of the UM Mississippi Geographic Alliance, which supports the event. “Festivities will include the Geographic Bee, National Geographic educator certification, Explorer Classroom programs, giant map explorations, Virtual Reality Geography, Edible Geography, GPS activities and an ARC/GIS mapping activity.

“Families and educators of the participants are encouraged to come and explore the many geography activities during the day.”

The National Geographic Bee is an annual competition organized by the National Geographic Society, designed to inspire and reward students’ curiosity about the world. Students in grades four through eight from 10,000 schools across the United States will compete in the event for a chance to win college scholarships and the glory of being the National Geographic Bee Champion.

This is the first time the Mississippi State Geography Bee has been held at Ole Miss. Organizers shared the format for the competition.

“It is an oral competition with each student receiving questions in the practice round and eight preliminary rounds,” said Carly Lovorn, regional director of educator networks with the National Geographic Society. “The students with the top 10 scores from the preliminary rounds will advance to the final competition. There may be a need for a tiebreaker to determine the top 10 scorers.”

The final competition includes a final round and a championship round.

“The final round is mostly oral,” Bullion said. “Two questions require all students to write their answers. The final round determines the two finalists who will then compete in the championship round. The two finalists start the championship round with a clean slate.”

Video cameras, recording devices of any kind and computers are not allowed at the preliminary competition, preliminary tiebreaker or the final competition. Anyone identified with such a device will be escorted from the competition.

For more information about the Mississippi Geography Bee, visit For more about the Mississippi State Geography Alliance at UM, go to For more about the National Geographic Society Geography Bee, visit