Annual day of service expected to draw nearly 2,000 participants
OXFORD, Miss. – Hundreds of University of Mississippi students are expected for this year’s installment of The Big Event, the largest day of community service in the state of Mississippi, to say “thank you” to the Oxford and Lafayette County communities.
Set for March 25, The Big Event begins at 8 a.m. at The Pavilion at Ole Miss. Students will volunteer for various projects throughout the community, including painting homes, organizing garages, helping with yard work and cleaning up highways.
“The Big Event is about service and gratitude to the community for everything they do for us,” said Alex Martin, a senior from Madison who is one of this year’s co-directors of the initiative. “I think this is a really cool way to let students meet the community. I love getting to hear them talk about who they met and what they did.”
The Big Event began in 2011 with about 1,000 students volunteering. Martin, who is majoring in mathematics and international studies with minors in Arabic and economics, and co-director Miller Richmond began planning this year’s event soon after last year’s event in the hopes to make it the most successful yet.
Some 1,700 students have registered for this year’s day of service, and organizers hope to reach at least 2,000 volunteers.
Martin and Richmond look forward to seeing the impact not only upon the community, but also their fellow students. They said they hope the Big Event will lead to students continuing to volunteer their time to other projects in the future.
“We always work closely with the city, county, local nonprofits and residents,” said Richmond, a senior from Madison who is majoring in international studies with minors in Arabic and chemistry. “A lot of students get that first taste of community service and then they realize they want to come back again.”
Ole Miss students interested in volunteering for the event should sign up through the myOleMiss portal. Once signed in, they should select the “Get Involved” tab, click on “Big Event Volunteer Registration” and complete the form. The deadline to register is Friday (March 3), but walk-ins are welcome on the day of the event.
Volunteers get breakfast and a free T-shirt before heading out to work on a variety of projects.
Community members interested in registering a project should visit http://www.bigevent.olemiss.edu and click “Register Projects” to fill out the form. The deadline is March 3.
Major corporate sponsors for The Big Event include The Hub, C Spire and Heritage Properties. Many other businesses and campus organizations have contributed to the effort, organizers said.
Women's soccer posts highest team GPA with a 3.63
OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi student-athletes weren’t just successful on the courts and fields this fall, but also in the classroom. Rebel student-athletes posted the highest cumulative semester grade point average in recorded history.
Ole Miss also had its highest number of mid-year graduates, with 22 student-athletes completing their degree requirements, while more than 50 percent of student-athletes earned a 3.00 GPA or better.
In total, 174 student-athletes were named to the Chancellor’s or Dean’s Honor Roll, with 25 student-athletes earning 4.00 GPAs for the fall semester.
“Our Rebel scholar-athletes finished strong in the classroom this fall,” said Derek Cowherd, senior associate athletics director for student-athlete development. “Our student-athletes earned the highest number of 3.00 GPAs (216 of 396) and we had 22 mid-year graduates. Additionally, we recorded the highest overall semester GPA in recorded history with a host of other team and individual successes.
“It’s a great way to send off such an accomplished senior class as they embark on the next chapters of their lives.”
The women’s soccer team continues to impress in the classroom, and for the second consecutive year posted the highest overall team GPA with a 3.63. Eleven student-athletes were named to the Chancellor’s Honor Roll with GPAs of 3.75 or better, while 90 percent of the team earned a 3.00 GPA or higher. Melissa Capocaccia and Gretchen Harknett were named to the CoSIDA Academic All-District team for their efforts in the classroom and on the field.
The women’s tennis team posted the second-highest team GPA with a 3.48, while seven of nine student-athletes made either the Dean’s or Chancellor’s Honor Roll.
Fresh off a fall in which they won three tournaments, the men’s golf team posted a 3.31 GPA the fifth consecutive fall semester with a team GPA north of 3.00.
The Ole Miss track and field teams were also successful with a 3.01 GPA for the men’s team, which is the highest in recorded history, and 19 student-athletes earning a spot on the honor roll. The women’s team posted its best GPA since 2010 and had seven student-athletes earn 4.00 semester GPAs. On the women’s side, Bo Ummels and Britt Ummels completed coursework for their master’s degrees this fall.
The football team made great strides in the classroom, with 19 student-athletes finishing their degree requirements this fall, spearheaded by Senior CLASS Award nominee and All-SEC selection Chad Kelly. As a whole, the squad posted the second-highest fall semester team GPA in recorded history.
The volleyball team, led by CoSIDA Academic All-American Aubrey Edie, also had an outstanding academic semester, earning a 3.35 semester GPA, the highest in seven years with 75 percent of the team earning 3.00 GPAs.
From a historical perspective, Ole Miss student-athletes are performing at a very high level in the classroom, moving from a 2.81 GPA in the spring of 2011 to a 3.00 GPA – the highest ever – in the spring of 2016, a number set to continue to rise throughout the 2016-17 academic year.
December 2016 Graduates
Mai El Kamash
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Engineering students and faculty work together to provide infrastructure for West African villages
OXFORD, Miss. – In Africa, there is a saying: “Cross the river in a crowd and the crocodile won’t eat you.” Or, in the words of the Dalai Lama, “Universal humanitarianism is essential to solve global problems.”
Western visitors to the low, sandy terrain of the West African nation of Togo find a world far different than where they live. It is a world where locals drink polluted water from the same open source. A world where resources are scarce and where health care and education are not always options. A world unlike this one in many ways but connected through its people and their desire for a stronger community.
A team of faculty members and students at the University of Mississippi, all members of the UM chapter of Engineers Without Borders, is working to help residents of one village strengthen their community. Among them is Cristiane Surbeck, an associate professor of civil engineering who is committed to “actually doing” good for this community to make a major impact on the people who live within it.
“I hope to help the people of Togo with projects that require engineering labor and teach UM students how to be engineers,” Surbeck said.
Engineers Without Borders is an organization of engineering professionals, academics and students who are dedicated to the empowerment of impoverished communities abroad. They travel to places such as Togo, bringing with them resources that strengthen and encourage the communities they adopt.
These resources include students and faculty educated in engineering, as well as manpower and useful tools for building.
In the last four years, members of the UM chapter have dedicated themselves to helping the small village of Hedome.
The children of Hedome aspire to be doctors and layers and engineers; some even hope to be congressmen. Learning, however, was difficult without a school.
In 2012, the UM chapter of Engineers Without Borders recognized the community’s need for a place of learning, where the children of Togo could be encouraged to expand their education. The chapter collectively developed plans for an infrastructure and raised funds to start work.
After much hard work, a schoolhouse for the children of Hedome village was completed. The school has been the group’s greatest accomplishment thus far, Surbeck said.
Vera Gardner, a senior mechanical engineering major from Memphis, Tennessee, agreed.
“When we saw the students attending classes and learning in their new schoolhouse, it showed that the community’s efforts and the UM-EWB chapter’s work was being used for its intended use and a good cause,” he said. “Everyone’s hard work paid off.”
With this great accomplishment, the chapter members have plowed forward into their next project, the installation of a deep water well in the village of Akoumape. The UM chapter began planning the project in January 2016, and it remains in development.
This deep water well will replace the shallow well that the village has been using. A deeper well means cleaner water both for the residents and for a local children’s hospital in the village. This installation will mean all-around better health and should help to energize the Togo community.
“When we complete the job, I can see the faces of the people we are helping.” said Zack Lepchitz, a UM graduate student in geological engineering who is involved with the developing construction projects in Togo.
Students involved with the chapter’s trip to Togo “are learning the technical and social skills necessary to complete a construction project to the client’s satisfaction,” Surbeck said.
Oxford dentists left behind families, legacy of caring service
JACKSON, Miss. – Just before noon on Aug. 14, Mississippi’s dental community suffered a great loss. Six University of Mississippi alumni on their way home from a dentistry continuing education event in Florida were killed in a plane crash in Alabama. Four were graduates of the School of Dentistry.
On board were Drs. Jason and Lea Farese, Dr. Austin and Angie Poole, and Dr. Michael and Kim Perry, all of Oxford. They leave behind multiple practices, hundreds of patients, colleagues, friends and family. Most heartbreaking is the loss suffered by their combined 11 children.
The dental community has rallied together in an attempt to fill the void left by these special lives. Fellow alumni have stepped in to keep practices open and staff employed, and a fund has been started to provide for the children’s care and education.
Drs. Jason and Lea Farese
Jason and Lea Farese met in dental school and were married in 2002. He was a Vanderbilt graduate, captain of the baseball team his senior year, and she graduated from Belhaven University. The two were a perfect pair – of contrasts.
“He was like the fiery guy, and she was like the calming of the waters,” said Dr. David Duncan, professor emeritus in the Department of Care Planning and Restorative Sciences. “They just meshed together really well.”
Duncan recalls Jason coming to him during dental school for some personal advice. “He was wringing his hands, and he said, ‘I just don’t know. I’m thinking about asking Lea to marry me.’ And I said, ‘Duh! Yeah! Y’all are perfect for each other.'”
Lea worked in public health for a few years while Jason worked on getting a private practice started. They joined in practice as Farese Family Dentistry in Oxford. They were members of the Tri Lakes Dental Study Club, which includes a coverage group to provide clinic coverage for members who are injured or ill and unable to practice for a time.
Both Lea and Jason had participated in helping cover two other dental practices since the group was formed, said Dr. Thomas Hodge, a 1995 graduate of the School of Dentistry. Now it was time for the group to give back to the Fareses, the first time the group has covered for a death in the dental community, Hodge said.
“We tried to get in there and keep their normal business hours going, keep the staff in place until the family could sell the practice,” he said.
However, the person who traveled the farthest to help out was not a member of the Tri Lakes group. Dr. Lauren Timmons, who graduated in 2002 with Jason Farese and Austin Poole, traveled from his practice in Ocean Springs to help keep the practice going.
“I really felt like God spoke to me when I heard it happened. I knew, in that minute,” said Timmons, who received the call while driving back from Orlando, where he had attended the same conference from which the three couples were returning when their plane crashed.
“The second thought that was in my head was do it for the kids. I knew this was their retirement. The value of the practice would slip away quickly if people didn’t step in.”
The Fareses had one of the most technologically advanced practices in Mississippi. Attending the seminar in Florida was a testament to their commitment to staying on the cutting edge of dentistry.
However, Timmons said the group skipped one day of classes to take in the sights at Universal Studios.
“I didn’t want to skip class,” he said. “I am kind of glad now that they did, not knowing it was going to be one of their last few days.”
Timmons said that he talked to Jason on the day before the crash. “Farese just came and sat down beside me before this class started,” Timmons said. “He talked to me for just a little bit, which was kind of unusual, I thought. He’s always busy, somewhere to go and something to do.”
John Green, a family friend of all three couples who lives in Oxford, described Jason as the little brother he’d never had.
“I’ve known Jason since the time he was born,” he said. “His older brother and I were best friends.
“Jason was a consummate perfectionist in everything he did – academically, professionally and even spiritually. You could say that about all of them. They donated a lot of their time and did a lot of pro bono work for people who couldn’t afford it.”
Lea was great with children who came into the clinic, Green said.
“She was kind of Jason’s alter ego, if you will,” he said. “She was a great mom and a great mentor to a lot of children. She was always at Jason’s side and always at the children’s side.”
“They were not just good dentists – and they were very good dentists – but they were good people,” Hodge said. “They were people whom you’d want your families to be around. They are going to be missed by many, many, many people.”
The Fareses leave behind three children: Luke, Alexa and Layla.
Dr. Austin and Angie Poole
Austin and Angie Poole met later in life. Austin worked his way through college to a degree from Delta State University. Angie was an Ole Miss alumna. Theirs was a second marriage for both, and together they parented five children: Katie, Walker, Kingsley, Wesley and Jack. As a family, they enjoyed spending time outdoors.
“They spent a ton of time outdoors with all their children,” Green said. “They were outdoors all the time.”
Austin is remembered for his Delta roots by many. Dr. Neva Penton Eklund wrote in the Mississippi Dental Association publication MDA Insider about Austin wearing his hunting boots to class “because he had either just come from hunting that morning or was headed that way as soon as he could after the afternoon lab class.”
Former chair of periodontics and preventive services at the School of Dentistry, Dr. Frank Serio remembers the stories Austin told of time spent in the woods, hunting and fishing.
“I loved talking to Austin because he was just a country boy, no question about it,” Serio said. “He would rather spend time out in the woods chasing hogs or hunting deer than just about anything else in his life. He was also a really good fisherman. He taught me a few things about fishing. I really enjoyed his company.”
Angie and Austin spent their days together. As office manager, she ran his practice in Clarksdale. Together, they drove an hour each way from Oxford to Clarksdale to provide care to patients in the underserved, rural area.
Often Poole treated patients regardless of their ability to pay, Duncan said.
“Angie was just kindhearted,” Green said. “She was very confident and constantly involved in all of their children’s lives. She was a great mom, very welcoming. Her house was open to everyone.
“They’d take in total strangers. Austin and Angie were just great to everyone they knew. They never met strangers.”
Timmons said that Austin was one of the nicest people he had ever known.
“Austin Poole would, literally – if it was during finals, if there was a war going on, if the building was on fire – he would stop and help somebody,” he said. “He would sacrifice his time.”
Timmons summed up the way many friends and colleagues are feeling.
“It’s really sad and tragic,” he said. “It is a tremendous loss to the dental community.
“Jason was way ahead of his time in dentistry with technology. That was a great loss. Michael Perry did so much for the community, as you know, and so did all of them, really. They were just an inspiration to live our lives that way.”
Dr. Michael and Kim Perry
Michael Perry and Kim Westerfield grew up together in Brandon. They started dating when he was in ninth grade and she was in the eighth. They both attended UM after high school.
She received a degree in nursing. After receiving a math degree in Oxford, he went on to attend the School of Dentistry and then completed postdoctorate training in periodontics at Baylor College of Dentistry while Kim earned a master’s degree from Texas Woman’s University and post-master’s degree as a family nurse practitioner from Mississippi University for Women.
The high school sweethearts married in 1997. They settled in Oxford, Michael to establish a periodontal practice and Kim as a nurse practitioner at the UM Health Center.
Kim was a committed wife, mother and health care provider, Green said.
“She spent her entire adult life taking care of others,” he said. “That’s common with all of them. They were all just very giving people.”
Michael’s brother, Robert Perry, said that his brother was passionate about his work, his patients and his staff. More than one person described him as driven. He grew five practices in north Mississippi and the Memphis area, and his staff followed him to each location to provide care.
“People say that he ran 90 miles an hour everywhere he went,” Robert Perry said. “He wanted to cover as much of an area as possible and see as many patients as possible.”
He also went the extra mile to show how much he cared for his patients.
“I’ve received a lot of letters – the whole family has – about how Michael would call his patients after he had seen them that day,” Robert said. It was the first time most patients had ever received a telephone call from a doctor or a dentist checking on them, and it meant a lot. “He really did care.”
He showed his caring in other ways as well. Inspired by Serio, Perry traveled with him to the Dominican Republic to provide care to the less fortunate. Perry took his oldest children along to nurture in them an appreciation for helping others.
Robert said that his brother’s legacy will be the 73-acre Oxford-Lafayette Sports Plex he built with his own money.
“Michael always knew how important sports were growing up and how there were role models in coaches and good support in youth sports,” Robert said.
“They were very motivated for the youth in this town. They took care of people who couldn’t financially take care of themselves.”
Serio said that Michael was not just tireless for himself but for everyone around him.
“He and Kim really did so much for the Oxford community,” Serio said. “Any way that Michael touched people was just tremendous, and of course Kim was right by his side the whole time.”
The Perrys leave behind three children: Sarah McConnell, John West and Anna Reed.
Our Oxford Family
Green has formed a memorial fund to help the children of all three families.
“Our Oxford Family was set up to take care of the short- and long-term needs which should arise for the children who were left when their parents passed away,” he said. “Short- and long-term needs include education or basic needs going forward.”
Those who wish to contribute may visit the Our Oxford Family website.