Student’s Photos Are Picture-Perfect

Yasmine Malone among 22 female photographers featured in The New York Times

UM sophomore Yasmine Malone uses her iPhone to take photos that have appeared in The New York Times. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – Yasmine Malone definitely has an eye for photography.

The University of Mississippi student was among 22 young female photographers selected to participate in a recent New York Times feature project. The newspaper asked the women to take photos for “This is 18,” which explores daily life for girls around the world who are becoming adults this year.

The attention Malone has gained from her national exposure has put her on the path to joining the ranks of such renowned women photographers as Annie Liebovitz and Sally Mann.

“I was honored and humbled to be selected for such a unique opportunity,” said Malone, a 20-year-old sophomore English and public policy leadership major from Clarksdale. “Although I think I was deserving of it, I never saw it coming. It was truly a miracle.”

Ironically, Malone, who is minoring in political science and journalism, discovered her interest in photography almost by accident.

While in high school, Malone was selected to participate in Blue Magnolia Films’ “Celebrating Storytellers” project last year.

Commemorating Mississippi’s bicentennial, 100 voices from 13 cities were trained by film company staff in the craft of photography and storytelling during a full-immersion workshop. The resulting images have graced the covers of newspapers across the state, as well as The New York Times.

“I took pictures on my iPhone7 for the Mississippi bicentennial project,” she said. “I never thought that my high school experience would lead to something like this.

“I got to highlight a bright spot in our community. That’s how I ended up being chosen by The New York Times for the ‘This is 18’ project.”

Tieryaa Metcalf, of Clarksdale, Malone’s aunt and seventh-grade honors English teacher, said she noticed her niece was well-spoken and saw her gift of “gab” as potential for future success. To that end, Metcalf urged Malone to write a piece for the Mississippi Public Broadcasting National Writing Project.

Throughout Malone’s high school years, Metcalf encouraged her niece to enter several oratorical contests as well.

“She informed me that I was the first teacher to push and challenge her to think deeper into the context of the different readings and writings that were taught in my class,” Metcalf said. “I am both excited, yet humbled, by her success. I know that she will do great things with her ability to write, speak and be an activist for voices unheard.”

While the New York Times experiences have definitely been a highlight in her life, Malone said she hopes to work as a student photographer for The Daily Mississippian, the Ole Miss campus newspaper. If she joins the staff, it will be in addition to her standing involvements with the Black Student Union and the Associated Student Body Freshman Forum.

“This experience has inspired me to commit myself 100 percent to everything I do,” she said. “I know that as I do that, nothing but good things will eventually come my way.”

To view Malone’s photos and story, visit

Former UM Officials, Staff Recall George H.W. Bush’s Visit, Legacy

Late 41st president spoke during Commencement exercises 33 years ago

Vice President George H.W. Bush spends time with Leone King (center) and Chancellor R. Gerald Turner before his Commencement address in Tad Smith Coliseum. Photo courtesy Leone King

OXFORD, Miss. – As the world mourns the passing of George H.W. Bush, former administrators and staff at the University of Mississippi are reflecting on the 41st president’s campus visit more than three decades ago.

Bush, then-vice president under President Ronald Reagan, delivered the address during the university’s 132nd Commencement exercises in May 1985. R. Gerald Turner, president of Southern Methodist University since 1995, was chancellor at UM at the time.

“It was my first year as chancellor at Ole Miss, and we wanted someone of note for this occasion,” Turner said. “Through my associations with U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran and (U.S. Rep.) Sonny Montgomery, who regularly played golf with the vice president, we invited Mr. Bush to come and deliver the keynote address. He graciously accepted our invitation.”

Turner remembered “intense” preparations between the time Bush agreed to attend Commencement and his arrival on campus.

“The Secret Service came in the day before and did an extremely thorough check of the entire campus and all the areas where Vice President Bush would be while here,” he said. “The day before, my wife Gail and I noticed they had snipers in the woods behind the chancellor’s home to prevent any unauthorized intruders from entering the premises. They really left no stone unturned.”

Leone King (left) greets Barbara Bush at Tad Smith Coliseum. Photo courtesy Leone King

Despite the Secret Services’ best efforts, Bush threw caution to the wind on one occasion, Turner said.

“The Secret Service people were holding the Bushes, my wife and I behind closed doors waiting for a reception to begin,” Turner said. “As the people began to arrive, we could hear the increasing noise of their voices.”

At some point, Bush asked Turner what was going on. After explaining to the vice president what was about to happen, Bush asked, “What do you want to do?”

“I told him, ‘I’d rather we were out there meeting and greeting the people,'” Turner said. “Mr. Bush then responded, ‘Well then, let’s go.’

“He just opened the closed door, entered the room and began introducing himself to everyone. That’s the kind of warm and friendly person he was.”

Other former UM staff members who worked the events connected to Bush’s appearance include Chancellor Emeritus Robert Khayat; Leone King, former assistant to the chancellor; and Robert Jordan, former director of university photography.

“It was my privilege to visit with President Bush on several occasions,” Khayat said. “I found him to be warm, bright, funny and with the unusual ability to make you feel he was interested in you and your comments. I believe he was the personification of the values that made America a great nation.”

“I remember President Bush and his wife as being very gracious people,” King said. “Security was tight, so I didn’t get to spend much time with him other than hooding him, which was something I did for all Commencement guest speakers.”

Vice President George H.W. Bush delivers his address at the University of Mississippi’s 132nd Commencement in May 1985. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

Jordan, an award-winning photographer at UM for more than three decades, took pictures before, during and after Commencement. His memories of the late president’s visit remain vivid years later.

“I remember having to get clearance from Secret Service,” Jordan said. “I had a spot meter in my camera bag that somewhat resembled a gun, I guess. That momentarily made them a little nervous. Everything else after that remains pretty much a blur.”

Following the Ole Miss visit, Turner maintained close contact with the Bush family, even after he left the university 11 years later.

“Because his son’s (George W. Bush) presidential library is housed at SMU, we’ve had both ’41’ and ’43’ on our campus and in our home on several occasions,” Turner said.

Alumni Couple Hosts Prospective Students in Houston

John Cleveland is a civil engineering alumnus and ExxonMobil employee

John and Beth Cleveland (center) welcome UM staff and Houston, Texas, area high school students into their home for conversation and treats. Submitted photo

A University of Mississippi alumni couple recently welcomed a group of high school students and their families into their home to provide information about the university. 

John and Beth Cleveland hosted the group in Houston, Texas, with a team of Ole Miss representatives. John Cleveland (BSCE 87) is the central region and national oil & gas manager for ExxonMobil’s U.S. lubricants business unit and is an annual guest lecturer in ENGR 400: Leadership & Professionalism in Engineering. He is also a member of the UM Engineering Advisory Board.

He and Beth Cleveland (BAEd 87) both hail from Fulton, and with three Ole Miss Rebel daughters, they have been tremendous supporters of the schools of Engineering and Education, and the university as a whole.

“Ole Miss provided a foundation of opportunity for our family, and we believe it our duty to help others as they seek their path in life, knowing that Ole Miss can be their launching pad too,” John Cleveland said.

“The recruiting event, complete with Grove-style food and atmosphere, was delightful for us and very beneficial for the high school prospects, having a great opportunity for casual conversations with Ole Miss representatives,” said Marni Kendricks, assistant dean for academics in the School of Engineering. “We are most appreciative to the Clevelands for hosting such a wonderful event.”

Thomas Werfel Joins Biomedical Engineering Faculty

Assistant professor brings research experience, scholarship to position

Thomas A. Werfel is an assistant professor in the University of Mississippi’s new biomedical engineering program. Submitted photo

Recognizing it as a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to be involved with something “very special,” Thomas Werfel has joined the faculty of the newly launched biomedical engineering program at the University of Mississippi.

“I was excited to come here and help build the new program in biomedical engineering because I can’t imagine anything more rewarding than looking back 30 years from now and being able to reflect on the immense impact this program will have for students, industry partners and the University of Mississippi,” said the new assistant professor of chemical engineering.

“I was also drawn to the University of Mississippi because of the university’s emphasis on strong undergraduate education and reputation as a liberal arts college. I think studying engineering at a liberal arts institution generates a unique student compared to graduates from engineering and technology schools.”

Werfel said he wants his students to excel in reading, writing, communication and creativity.

“I am convinced that those who do so will differentiate themselves from their peers and find rapid career advancement,” he said. “Thus, I felt that the strengths of UM aligned well with my teaching philosophy.”

Werfel is a welcome addition to the biomedical engineering program, said John O’Haver, chair and professor of chemical engineering.

“Dr. Werfel brings some exciting research, which dovetails nicely with that done by Dr. Adam Smith (associate professor of chemical engineering),” O’Haver said. “Their collaborations should prove very productive and raise the national visibility of them both.”

Werfel teaches Biomaterials, Immunoengineering, and Drug and Gene Delivery. He said he hopes to develop more electives for upperclassmen and graduate students over the next few years.

“I perceived that my research program would benefit by synergizing with existing strengths here in the School of Pharmacy, departments of Biology, Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, the National Center for Physical Acoustics and the University of Mississippi Medical Center,” Werfel said, adding that his experience at UM has been excellent so far.

“The staff here are (second) to none and have been so helpful for helping me get oriented,” he said. “The other faculty are very welcoming and collegial. The students are positive and hardworking. And there are ample opportunities to collaborate in research.”

Werfel said his short-term goals are to make his research lab fully functional, recruit graduate students, secure independent research funding, develop the courses mentioned above, and identify opportunities to serve at UM, in Oxford and with professional organizations.

His long-term goals are to maintain an independently funded, highly active research lab, publish primary research articles in highly visible journals, teach exciting and interactive courses, contribute to the growth of the biomedical engineering program and become a leader at UM.

“I have created a career development plan that focuses on growth in teaching, research, service and leadership to achieve my short- and long-term goals,” Werfel said. “Through my career development plan, I identified where I want to be five years from now and created a ‘roadmap’ to get there.”

Werfel said a fulfilling professional achievement was being awarded an F32 Postdoctoral Fellowship from the National Institutes of Health on his first try.

“Receiving the award was really a culmination of all the hard work I put in as a graduate student and was a strong validation that pursuing a career in research and academics was the right choice for me,” he said.

Werfel earned his bachelor’s degree in physics from Murray State University and a master’s degree and Ph.D. in biomedical engineering, both from Vanderbilt University. He and his wife, Ashton, have a daughter, Finley Beth. The family loves to spend time exploring the Square, playing in Avent Park or having a picnic in the Grove.

“I spend a lot of time cooking,” Werfel said. “I also love to be outdoors, whether it be walking, hiking, camping or gardening.”


An Era Passes

Eassons retire aprons after two-decade tailgate service to UM engineering family

Greg and Darlene Easson have cooked out at School of Engineering tailgates for 20 years. Photo by Bill Dabney

Time is money.

If the adage is accurate, Greg and Darlene Easson have, by now, made a major gift to the University of Mississippi School of Engineering.

For the past 20 years, the Oxford couple has spent football-weekend Friday nights shopping and cooking, preparing to serve the next day’s breakfast and lunch in the Circle, pre- and postgame, to hundreds of members of the School of Engineering’s extended family.

“When we started out, we were just cooking about three-dozen burgers for a few friends on a Weber grill that we carried up here. Then it got bigger and bigger,” said Greg Easson, the school’s associate dean for research and graduate programs, director of the Mississippi Mineral Resources Institute, and professor of geology and geological engineering.

“On a normal weekend, when we have a pregame in the afternoon, we don’t count people but we look at the number of plates. So we start out with a package of 250 plates, and we’ll go through two of those.”

That’s a lot of breakfast burritos, bratwurst and burgers. The Eassons also serve up two kinds of wings, pulled pork and a variety of sliders. Not to mention the sides: coleslaw, mac and cheese and more – all of which they assemble from scratch at home on those football Friday nights.

For an 11 a.m. game, they arrive before sunrise, light their Sterno warmers and begin serving a piping-hot breakfast cafeteria-style. The location is always the same, strategically located between Brevard Hall and the Center for Manufacturing Excellence – both of which house engineering classes. Crowds return to the tent week after week, year after year.

It’s good for business, Dean David Puleo said.

“School of Engineering tailgating has been an outstanding event, where we have a mix of future students, current students, faculty, staff and alumni who come back and engage in conversations,” he said. “It’s the past, present and future meeting together to enjoy a social activity and to get to know one another and ultimately enjoy a good football game.”

Puleo said the tailgate often serves as prospective students’ introduction to campus, one that frequently results in their ultimate enrollment at Ole Miss.

It’s not only the food that welcomes visitors but the atmosphere as well. The School of Engineering tent is well-appointed with big-screen televisions and comfortable seating, where Rebel fans and visitors alike share a tailgating experience like no other.

“When TVs in the Grove were a novelty, we would get huge crowds around the tent, and both teams would be cheering or booing or whatever,” Darlene Easson said. “It’s always been a really good atmosphere. We’ve always been the place where both students and families know they can gather on game days.”

Rain or shine. For 20 years. This year, however, the Eassons will hang up their aprons. They’re ready to take a turn on the receiving end of those serving spoons.

“It’s great to see somebody like him do what he’s done, and I don’t know what they’re going to do because he’s going to retire after this year,” said Tom Riddell of Madison, a neighboring tailgater who has supported the School of Engineering tent with monetary gifts for years. “Who’s going to take his place?

“He’s doing God’s work, in my opinion, and that’s the reason I support him and the engineering group so much, because this tailgate is open to anybody.”

A pin Darlene Easson wears seems to capture the essence of the couple’s philosophy.

It simply says, “Kind.”


Three Faculty Win Digital Learning Innovation Award

Trio recognized as national leaders for advancing student success through personalized learning

UM faculty members Karen Forgette (left), Guy Krueger and Andrew Davis have won the Digital Learning Innovation Award from the Online Learning Consortium. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – Three University of Mississippi faculty members have earned a national award from Online Learning Consortium for advancing student success through adoption of digital courseware. Their work is having an impact across introductory writing courses and producing direct cost savings for students.

Karen Forgette, Andrew Davis and Guy Krueger won the OLC Digital Learning Innovation Award for their project, “Addressing Access, Assessment and College Readiness Gaps in First-Year Composition: Personalized Open Educational Resources Courseware Modules at the University of Mississippi.” The honor includes a $10,000 stipend.

The UM team, in collaboration with Lumen Learning, applied principles of OER to develop and implement customized, low-cost, modular courseware in first-year writing curricula. The courseware addresses student preparation gaps in foundational content knowledge and rhetorical skills, areas often under-assessed in writing classes.

“We have worked together on adaptive/personalized courseware for six years, and it was very satisfying to see such a payoff after this time,” said Krueger, core lecturer and Writing 101 curriculum chair. “More importantly to us, though, was that it was fulfilling to know that the work we do for our students is recognized as valuable.”

To overcome the limitations of generalized, pre-packaged course material restricted by traditional copyright, the trio adapted open content to their own institutional context. This approach produced courseware that’s relevant, engaging and connected to the needs and experience of Ole Miss faculty and students.

Survey results following the fall 2017 pilot of roughly 1,000 students revealed that 68.5 percent felt the courseware contributed to their success on major writing projects. Data also revealed that students used the courseware in various ways without being prompted, indicating the platform is versatile enough to accommodate individual student needs.

“We feel that we are out in front of our field in a lot of ways since adaptive/personalized learning isn’t used much in writing courses,” Krueger said. “So to be able to help our students and save them money is rewarding on its own. But to receive a national award for this work – we couldn’t be happier.”

The open courseware has substantially reduced textbooks costs for students. After the team’s success with the pilot, the courseware has been implemented programwide for the fall 2018 semester and is being used by at least two other schools.

“Andrew Davis, Karen Forgette and Guy Krueger are innovative teachers who think first and foremost about their students,” said Stephen Monroe, chair of the Department of Writing and Rhetoric. “With the support of PLATO, a UM program funded by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, this incredible team has developed low-cost digital modules that personalize learning for UM students.

“These tools are making an enormous impact across our introductory writing courses. The University of Mississippi is a national leader on this front because of Andrew, Karen and Guy.”

The trio was presented the award and recognized at a ceremony Nov. 13 in Orlando, Florida.

“The OLC Award for Digital Learning Innovation by a faculty team is a testament to the successful combination of collaborative course revision for multiple sections, low cost/high impact digital learning tools and a department-level commitment to continual improvement,” said Patti O’Sullivan, PLATO program director.

“The PLATO Program provided the First Year Writing course directors financial and organizational support, but Guy, Karen and Andrew put in hundreds of hours to create learning and practice modules. I am so pleased to see them recognized nationally for their work.”

Lee Cohen, dean of the university’s College of Liberal Arts, agreed.

“Our faculty team in the Department of Writing and Rhetoric spent many months developing innovative online modules to complement proven, traditional teaching methods,” Cohen said. “We are very proud of what we are doing on our campus in this regard and are grateful to the OLC for recognizing the outstanding work of our faculty as a national best practice.”

Capitol View: UM Course Sheds Light on Legislative Process

Through floor debates and committee votes, students learn ins and outs of Legislature

Liz Welch, secretary of the Mississippi Senate, talks to students in the Model Mississippi State Legislature class about her experiences and how the Senate works. Submitted photo by Dason Pettit

OXFORD, Miss. – Neal Lancaster wanted to gain practical knowledge about how the Mississippi Legislature functions. And thanks to an immersive University of Mississippi political science course aimed at preparing future state legislators, that’s what Lancaster is getting.

The senior political science major from Corinth is among 18 Ole Miss students enrolled in POL 399: Model Mississippi State Legislature. The course offers participants an opportunity to expand their understanding and deepen their appreciation of the state legislative process.

Divided into two components, the course includes a student-led simulation based on the Mississippi Senate in which students research, write and debate legislation. It also allows them to meet and listen to guest speakers from state agencies/departments whose work is relevant to the legislative process.

“Experiencing everyone’s input during the first floor debate really showed how complex and intricate it can be to pass an agreed-upon version of any bill,” said Lancaster, who represented his home district on the finance committee. “Our main bill was a lottery bill, which we passed out of committee and are currently in the floor debate phase trying to hammer out an amended version of the bill.”

Sue Ann Skipworth, instructional assistant professor of political science, divides the students into the finance and education committees. During the committee phase, the students discuss new potential ideas and rule out old ones, only to come full circle back to the old ideas after further debate. While Skipworth does advise on certain issues, the whole process is essentially self-guided by the students.

This semester, Lancaster and his classmates met with guest speakers Liz Welch, secretary of the Mississippi Senate; Emelia Nordan, college savings plans and policy director of the Office of the State Treasurer; and David Pray, evaluation division manager at the Mississippi Legislative PEER Committee. Meeting and discussing issues with the administrators has proven invaluable to the students.

“I wanted to take the course because I thought it would be fun and it would further develop my knowledge of the legislative process,” Lancaster said. “Not many people may realize truly how much discussion goes into passing bills to potentially become the law.”

Nordan said the students have been eager to learn.

“For most, there was an evident thirst to learn more and to truly understand,” Nordan said. “It has been a delight to meet them all, and I look forward each year to being asked back.”

Welch said she, too, has been impressed with the students’ participation.

“Students were very bright and asked lots of questions,” she said. “We actually used some of the students as senior pages (university students who serve as interns for legislators); impressive group every time.”

Skipworth and Welch have discussed having the class visit Jackson for the legislative session, which typically runs from January to April.

“I think that is a great idea,” said Welch, who has been a guest lecturer for seven years. “I think is always helpful to experience the real process versus reading about it.”

As state political discussions remain prevalent, Nordan said it’s especially important to expose students to such an important issue like the legislative process.

“These students may very well be the future leaders of our state,” she said. “Equipping them with the knowledge of how our state operates is important not only because they may being doing the job one day, but also because by knowing the process you know how you can make a difference.”

For more information about the UM Department of Political Science, visit

Alexander Bernstein Discusses Father’s Legacy, ‘Artful Learning’

Son of Leonard Bernstein visited UM for legendary maestro's centennial birthday celebration

Ole Miss students chat with Alexander Bernstein following his lecture in Nutt Auditorium. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – Alexander Bernstein’s connection to the legacy of his iconic father, Leonard Bernstein, probably began with a conversation they had in the family tree house when the younger Bernstein was 9 years old.

The son of the world-renowned composer, conductor, pianist, educator and activist visited the University of Mississippi on Tuesday (Nov. 6) as part of a global, two-year series of events celebrating what would have been the patriarch’s centennial birthday.

During his time on the Ole Miss campus, Bernstein gave interviews and a lecture and attended a commemorative concert of his father’s music presented by guest conductor Dennis Shrock, several soloists, the Bernstein Festival Orchestra and the UM Chorus, directed by Donald Trott.

“I remember my father asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I said, ‘a teacher,'” Bernstein said. “He’d already subtly let me and my sisters know he wanted one of us to pursue the same musical path he had.”

Bernstein and his siblings all grew up seeing and hearing their father make connections between the arts and other academic disciplines.

Leonard Bernstein’s practices – which later officially became known as ‘artful learning,’ an interdisciplinary educational model that uses fine arts to strengthen learning in all academic areas – in the family home were inconsistent with traditional educational models used in the preparatory schools the Bernstein children attended.

“I certainly feel my learning life at home was different from my learning at the private schools I attended,” Alexander Bernstein said. “As a result, I was a terrible student. Just coasting along, never particularly interested in any particular subject.”

Years passed before Leonard Bernstein’s passionate thirst for knowledge and desire to share it with others was fully embraced by his son.

“I’d tried and failed at becoming an actor,” Alexander Bernstein said. “While earning my master’s degree at Harvard, I had an opportunity to substitute teach in one of the local schools. Through that experience, I became passionate about teaching.

“The connections between the arts and other disciplines my father spoke of finally began to make sense to me.”

When Leonard Bernstein received a grant to establish his foundation, the son helped launch the first Artful Learning model in the Nashville school system in the late 1980s. Reception to the new educational approach was initially far from enthusiastic.

“They told me I should have been carrying on my father’s musical legacy instead and fighting for more funding for music education instructors,” Alexander Bernstein said. “Instead, there I was – trying to get all teachers to incorporate the arts into their subject areas.”

Over time, schools using the model began to spread across the country, changing the landscape of teaching and learning. With his son serving as president of Artful Learning, Leonard Bernstein’s vision to use music and the other visual and performing arts as a means of instilling a lifelong love of learning in students is being fulfilled.

“Artful Learning creates an environment where students, parents and the community start to realize from the ground up how important the arts are,” Alexander Bernstein said. “Rather than teachers and performers telling them these things are important, they see for themselves that they are important to life. They matter.”

Alexander Bernstein shares memories of his famous father, Leonard Bernstein, during a lecture commemorating what would have been the music legend’s 100th birthday. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

The model begins with all teachers looking at the subject content that they are required by the state to teach. Together, they choose a concept and a significant question. The teachers then choose a masterwork to model their learning journey.

“In each classroom, the students go through the Artful Learning model process,” Bernstein said. “It includes four parts: experience, inquire, create and reflect.”

The results are exciting, he said.

“Data demonstrates that in every school where Artful Learning is used, the scores are going up,” he said. “Artful Learning helps kids acquire the skills needed to be the curious, focused, problem-solving adults we’ll need to realize the beautiful world that Leonard Bernstein envisioned for us all.”

Trott, who met Alexander Bernstein in 1992, just two years after his famous father died, said the visit was the highlight of the university’s celebration of Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday.

“Alex’s presence elevated the entire performance and overall experience, and we were all captivated by his unique insight and perspective on the music his father had composed that we were about to perform,” Trott said. “I was so appreciative of him taking the time from what is an extremely busy schedule to be with us. He is a very gracious person.”

Bernstein said he firmly believes that Artful Learning schools produce better human beings.

“By making connections between the arts and real life with other students, teachers, parents and the community, such collaborations yield academic improvement and critical thinking, and growth in compassion, understanding and civility,” Bernstein said.

“My father always said, ‘The best way to know a thing is in the context of another discipline.’ I know that he would be gratified to see so many students and teachers bursting with creative energy in their classrooms.”

For more information about Artful Learning, visit

Two Honors College Students Named Marshall Scholar Finalists

Jaz Brisack or Marisa Kutchma could be Britain-bound as university's third recipient

Marisa Kutchma

OXFORD, Miss. – One of two University of Mississippi students may be pursuing graduate studies in the United Kingdom next year, thanks to a prestigious international scholarship program.

Jaz Brisack, of Oxford, and Marisa Kutchma, of St. Louis, have been selected as finalists for Marshall Scholarships. Established by an act of Parliament, the distinctive two-year program finances young Americans of high ability to study for a graduate degree in the United Kingdom. Up to 40 scholars are selected each year for graduate study at a U.K. institution in any field.

If chosen, Brisack or Kutchma would be UM’s third Marshall Scholar. Brent Bonds, of Iuka, and James Robert “JR” Rigby, of Madison, both 2003 alumni, were finalists in 2002. Rigby won the award.

“Jaz and Marisa took advantage of the academic and co-curricular opportunities the University of Mississippi offers its students and are evidence of the caliber and quality of students who choose to attend this university,” said Tim Dolan, director of the UM Office of National Scholarship Advisement.

“To be competitive for the Marshall Scholarship, it is not enough to have accomplished a great deal. In essays, students must craft narratives that capture their unique voice, express their dreams and effectively characterize their abilities.”

Both Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College students are in Atlanta for Nov. 6 interviews. All finalists will be notified whether or not they won by Nov. 17. Each finalist shared her plans if chosen to be a Marshall Scholar.

“I will spend my first year getting my master’s in medical anthropology from University College London and will focus my research on how to bring about changes to health care in developing countries,” said Kutchma, a biology major with minors in neuroscience and chemistry.

“I will spend my second year getting my master’s in reproductive and sexual health research from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. There, I will focus my research on exploring solutions to the long-term effects of female genital mutilation.”

Jaz Brisack

Brisack also plans to pursue two master’s degrees if chosen.

“My first-choice degree program is the Master of Science in labour, social movements and development at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London,” said Brisack, a general studies major with minors in public policy leadership, journalism and English creative writing.

“During my second year of scholarship, I hope to expand my understanding and contextualization of these issues by pursuing the Master of Arts in human rights at the University of Sussex.”

Academic co-captain of the Ole Miss women’s soccer team, Kutchma has co-authored a paper on toxic effects of cannabinoids on fetal development. After graduation from Ole Miss, she plans on continuing her education, teaching or working in Africa.

“I want to gain experience in the field of women’s health care before I head to medical school and become an OB-GYN,” Kutchma said. “In the long run, I dream of opening an African clinic to provide medical care for FGM survivors.

“I want to act as a catalyst for change in the realms of women’s health, rights and education.”

A Harry S. Truman Scholar and one of three Ole Miss seniors being interviewed for the Rhodes Scholarship program, Brisack plans to contribute to improved relations between the U.S. and U.K.

“I believe it is essential that the strong relationship between the two countries be based on a mutual respect for human rights and desire to empower all people to achieve self-determination goals,” Brisack said. “I believe my own work as a labor organizer and proposed field of academic study will both contribute to supporting the efforts and centering the stories of workers who are seeking to empower themselves by restructuring the power balance of their workplace.”

UM professors who submitted letters of recommendation praised each student for her exceptional academic achievements and community involvement.

“Jaz Brisack is impressive and unique,” wrote JoAnn Edwards, instructor of speech. “With all her abilities, with all her generosity, she works so hard because she thinks all she is, is not enough to make a difference.

“And yet, she is determined and fearless in her work. This quirky, flawed, passionate intellectual has all the elements of a powerful change-maker.”

Kristine Willett, chair of biomolecular sciences and professor of pharmacology and environmental toxicology, wrote that she has “every confidence” in Kutchma’s capability to excel in the academic program she has outlined.

“To achieve her goal, she understands that she will need additional training in both the social science and medical fields,” Willett wrote. “On a personal level, Marisa is a friendly, respectful and forthright person who is easy to work with and gets along well with all of the lab personnel. It has been a privilege to serve as one of her mentors.”

For more information about the Marshall Scholarships, visit

English Professor Awarded Mississippi Arts Commission Fellowship

Creative writing program director Derrick Harriell plans to use funds to finish poetry book

Derrick Harriell

OXFORD, Miss. – The Mississippi Arts Commission has awarded a $5,000 artist fellowship to Derrick Harriell, director of the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program at the University of Mississippi.

The grant will allow the associate professor of English and African American studies to continue work on his latest book project, a collection of poems. Other books he has authored include “Stripper in Wonderland,” “Cotton” and “Ropes,” for which he won the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters 2014 Poetry Award.

“I was excited to receive the distinguished honor,” Harriell said. “First, because it’s state recognition; with Mississippi having such a legacy of literary excellence, it’s humbling to be recognized.

“Secondly, it’s an honor to be recognized for new work. Whenever I start working on a new book project, I often have no idea if it’s any good. Receiving this recognition for new work lets me know that I might be on to something.”

Harriell’s colleagues praised the selection.

“It’s great to see state agencies like MAC recognizing what we in the English department have known for a long time – which is that Derrick Harriell is not only a poet whose work deeply matters, but a wonderful ambassador for the university and for the arts in Mississippi and beyond,” said Jay Watson, Howry Professor of Faulkner Studies.

The recognition brings honor to Harriell as well as the MFA program, said Beth Ann Fennelly, Ole Miss English professor and Mississippi’s poet laureate.

“Derrick is deeply committed to the state of Mississippi and the student writers of Mississippi,” Fennelly said. “It’s wonderful to see his poems about our land and people being celebrated.”

A native of Milwaukee, Harriell earned his doctorate in English from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee and his M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Chicago State University.

The fellowship, which is a portion of $1.4 million in grants awarded by the MAC in 2018 and 2019, is made possible by funding from the Mississippi Legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Recipients will benefit in several ways, including operating support for museums and community arts centers, arts integration and guest artist presentations in schools, and continuing education and supplies for working artists.

For more information about the UM Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program, visit