School of Pharmacy Begins Clinical Study of Antimalarial Drug

Volunteers sought to help researchers improve safety, efficacy of essential medication

Abbas Ali, a principal scientist in the UM National Center for Natural Products Research, works to develop insect repellents from natural products, part of the School of Pharmacy’s efforts to fight malaria. UM photo by Sydney Slotkin DuPriest

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy Research Clinic is looking for students and residents in the Oxford and Lafayette County area to participate in a clinical study for the antimalarial drug primaquine.

The World Health Organization lists primaquine as one of the safest and most essential medications in the world. The study begins later this month and will coincide with WHO’s World Malaria Day observance April 25, which highlights the need for continued commitment to malaria control and prevention worldwide.

“We are eager to begin this research in hopes of getting closer to the very real possibility of one day eradicating malaria worldwide,” said David D. Allen, dean of the School of Pharmacy.

Researchers in the school are continuing research on primaquine that has been ongoing there for 25 years in hopes of improving the drug and broadening its use. Preventative research such as this is crucial in making further advancements toward a final cure for malaria, said Larry Walker, director emeritus of the university’s National Center for Natural Products Research.

“In the long run, these studies will help us to better understand the safety and metabolism of this class of drugs, and perhaps make it more useful in the fight against malaria,” Walker said. “It may also allow us to apply the findings to newer drugs in this class.”

Malaria kills more than 1 million people per year and affects anywhere from 300 million to 600 million people annually, according to data compiled by UNICEF. Children under 5 are most susceptible to dying from malaria, and more than 40 percent of the world’s population lives in malaria-prone regions.

Primaquine is an inexpensive drug that is very effective against the liver stages of malaria parasites, Walker said. However, its use is limited because people with a genetic deficiency in a specific enzyme (glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase, or G6PD) have negative reactions to the drug that can cause severe damage to their red blood cells.

The UM School of Pharmacy is recruiting volunteers for a study of improved antimalarial drugs. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

“This deficiency is very common around the world and in regions where malaria is prevalent, so many public health programs are reluctant to use primaquine,” Walker said. “If we could find a way to stop that reaction, the drug would be safer and could be used more widely.”

Primaquine is composed of two chemicals, or forms, that are difficult to separate, yet separating them is what Ole Miss researchers hope will help them discover how to make primaquine safer.

“Researchers have studied primaquine-type drugs for many years and developed methods for the separation and preparation of the two forms,” Walker said. “We’ve shown that both forms work in animal studies, but they are metabolized differently, and one has fewer side effects than the other.

“Ultimately, we want to determine whether the two forms of the drug are metabolized differently in humans, and whether one of them is safer.”

The clinical trials will begin by studying the metabolism of the two forms of primaquine in normal human volunteers without the G6PD enzyme deficiency. The drugs are being prepared by an Oxford company, ElSohly Laboratories Inc.

The pharmacy school is collaborating with the UM Medical Center on the project.

Ole Miss students in the pharmacy program are very interested to see what new advancements come out of this trial, said Alix Cawthon, a second-year pharmacy student from Abita Springs, Louisiana.

“Everyone is very excited to see the school participate in a human study,” Cawthon said.

Participants in the study must be healthy adults between 18 and 60 years old. The study requires participants to visit the research clinic several times over a four-week period. Monetary compensation is also available for those who participate.

This research is supported by the Defense Health Program under Award No. W81XWH-15-1-0704. For more information or to volunteer for the study, contact Kerri Harrison at 662-915-2103.

Alan McKay Named UM Pharmacy Alumnus of the Year

Honoree is dean emeritus of Shenandoah University School of Pharmacy

Dean David D. Allen (left) presents Alan McKay with the UM School of Pharmacy’s 2017 Distinguished Alumnus of the Year Award at the Alumni Weekend banquet. UM photo by Sydney Slotkin DuPriest

OXFORD, Miss. – Alan McKay, founding dean emeritus of the Shenandoah University Bernard J. Dunn School of Pharmacy, has been named the 2017 University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy Distinguished Alumnus of the Year.

McKay accepted the award April 8 at the annual School of Pharmacy Alumni Weekend banquet.

McKay completed his master’s and Ph.D. in health care administration, now called pharmacy administration, at UM in 1980 under the guidance of Mickey Smith, then chair of the Department of Health Care Administration.

“Everybody at Ole Miss was like family and it took away the fear,” McKay said. “Mississippi has a way of accepting people and letting them feel comfortable with who they are.”

After completing his master’s degree, McKay, feeling overwhelmed with school, work and family, decided to tell Smith that he wouldn’t be pursuing his Ph.D.

“And Mickey looked at me and he said, ‘McKay, I see smart people come and I see smart people go. The ones that make a difference are the ones who don’t give up,'” McKay recounted. “Everybody has to have somebody who believes in them.”

McKay received his bachelor’s degree in pharmacy from Mercer University in 1975. After receiving his doctorate from UM, he became an assistant professor at Mercer University College of Pharmacy. He joined the faculty of the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy in 1983 before moving to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences as chair of the Department of Pharmacy Practice in 1990.

He began his penultimate position as founding dean of Shenandoah’s School of Pharmacy in 1995 and retired in August 2016.

“Starting a new school of pharmacy 22 years ago was a big challenge,” McKay said. “You can’t just tell people what you want done and what you think is important. Sometimes you have to demonstrate.”

Since retiring, he has continued to use his experience as the director of Shenandoah University’s Design Innovation Center and as a member of a task force charged with creating a new medical school in northern Virginia.

During the planning of the medical school, McKay wrote a curriculum proposal that focused on team-based education, known as a fusion curriculum. As part of his proposal, students from all health care disciplines would take a three-week break from their specialized curricula every semester and work together to solve health care problems using information technology and genomics, a practice called precision medicine.

“We are trying to intentionally incorporate into the next generation of health professionals an understanding and appreciation of two things: one, that technology is changing under your feet, and two, you’re not going to solve all the problems yourself,” McKay said.

Besides his visionary approach to health care education, McKay’s colleagues know him as a caring educator who is deeply interested in the well-being of his students. John Bentley, chair of the Department of Pharmacy Administration at UM, referred to McKay’s “transformative effect” on others.

“Part of it is role modeling,” Bentley said. “We see in Alan someone who has strong values, has a vision for where he wants to go and can see things beyond where a lot of people can see; but it’s also just taking an interest in people.

“Alan sees qualities in people and is able to help develop them.”

The winner of this award is chosen based on character, leadership and contributions to the pharmacy profession, said David D. Allen, dean of the UM School of Pharmacy.

“Alan McKay is one of the most insightful and forward-thinking pharmacy educators I’ve met, and an exceptional representative of the School of Pharmacy,” Allen said. “I’m very pleased we can honor him in this way.”

Pharmacy Student Wins Kappa Epsilon Foundation Scholarship

Alix Cawthon hopes to specialize in infectious disease pharmacy

Alix Cawthon

OXFORD, Miss. – Alix Cawthon, a second-year pharmacy student at the University of Mississippi, is the winner of a Kappa Epsilon Zada M. Cooper Scholarship.

A professional pharmacy fraternity founded in 1921 with the mission to serve women pharmacists, Kappa Epsilon champions women’s health issues. The fraternity’s foundation promotes scholastic and professional advancement among its members with awards, fellowships and scholarships such as the Zada M. Cooper Scholarship, a $750 award given to five students each year.

Cawthon became a member of the UM chapter of Kappa Epsilon as a sophomore in the early-entry pharmacy program. After a year, she became the organization’s secretary and this year serves as the Kappa Epsilon president.

“While Alix has demonstrated she can excel within the academic rigor of a challenging pharmacy curriculum, perhaps one of her most outstanding characteristics is the ability to accomplish so much academically with a humble and quiet approach, coupled with her service to others,” said David Gregory, associate dean for academic affairs in the School of Pharmacy. “She is well respected by the faculty, her fellow students and certainly by our administration.”

After completing her Pharm.D., Cawthon, an Abita Springs, Louisiana native, plans to complete at least one year in a hospital residency program, where she hopes to specialize in infectious diseases.

“Receiving this national scholarship will hopefully give me a leg up in the residency application process, and, of course, it also helps alleviate the burden of student loans,” Cawthon said.

Cawthon spent an extensive amount of time on the scholarship application, which required several essays about her career goals and how she will contribute to Kappa Epsilon in the future.

“Alix is a very bright young woman with innate abilities,” said Rachel Robinson, pharmacy practice professor and faculty adviser of Kappa Epsilon. “She has an intellectual curiosity that is indicative of her skills and willingness to learn.”

Kappa Epsilon presented the Zada M. Cooper Scholarships at the American Pharmacists Association annual meeting and exposition March 25 in San Francisco.

UM School of Pharmacy Prepares for Busy Weekend

Highlights include alumni golf tournament and awards, student competitions in Pharmacy Olympics

UM pharmacy student Ethan Casey (left), Andrew Smelser, Blake Burcham and Jonathan Doles, all of whom are in their fourth professional year of the program, show off their trophy from the 2014 golf tournament. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy is gearing up for one of its biggest weekends of the year, as both alumni and students gather for a full slate of competition, fellowship and awards.

The school’s annual Alumni Weekend is set for Friday and Saturday (April 7-8), complete with class reunions, a golf tournament, a cookout and an awards banquet. Meanwhile, student teams will be facing off against one another in the annual Pharmacy Olympics, which run through Sunday.

Scott Thompson, assistant director of the Alumni Association, plans the Alumni Weekend each year.

“The best part of putting the Alumni Weekend together is that I get to connect with alumni who are eager to invite their classmates back to campus,” Thompson said. “The brochures and emails we send can only do so much, but a personal phone call, email or social media message from a friend can do so much more.”

Alumni from all graduating classes are invited, and this year’s event includes reunions for the classes of 1957, 1967, 1977, 1987, 1997 and 2007. Attendees form teams to compete in the golf tournament, which raises money for student scholarships.

“We are so grateful to the alumni who work to make the golf tournament and the whole Alumni Weekend a success,” said David D. Allen, dean of the School of Pharmacy. “It’s wonderful to see the Ole Miss pharmacy family come together and our students appreciate being able to meet and seek advice from practicing pharmacists.”

As part of the banquet on Saturday night, the school will present the Distinguished Alumnus of the Year award to Alan McKay, founding dean emeritus of Shenandoah University’s Bernard J. Dunn School of Pharmacy. McKay graduated from the Ole Miss pharmacy school in 1980 with a master’s and Ph.D. in health administration, now called pharmacy administration.

For a complete schedule or to sign up, visit

Meanwhile, the Pharmacy Olympics kick off Friday with a talent show at the Thad Cochran Research Center, followed by a trivia night in downtown Oxford. Sport competitions on Saturday include tennis, basketball, ping-pong and volleyball at the Turner Center. The events conclude Sunday at Avent Park with flag football, a water balloon toss, a donut-eating contest and kickball.

Each Pharmacy Olympics team consists of students from the same year, from a team of Early Entry pre-pharmacy students to fourth-year students in their final year of the professional program.

UM pharmacy students compete in a Pharmacy Olympics event. Submitted photo

Student body officers organize the event, which is the culmination of a yearlong effort by each class to earn points through community service and other competitions. Another portion of the Olympics is the Pharmacy Fitness Challenge where students and faculty earn points all semester by logging their workouts.

“The competitiveness between the classes is probably the highest I have seen it since I came to Ole Miss,” said Regan Tyler, a second-year pharmacy student from Collierville, Tenn. and president-elect of the pharmacy student body. “Students from each class have been getting together to practice, and the first- and second-year students already have nearly 8,000 fitness points.”

Faculty members and friends of the school donate snacks, water and Gatorade for the competitions, and students coordinate the entire event, said Chelsea Bennett, the school’s assistant dean of student services.

“Our students work very hard, so it is always great to see them having fun during Pharmacy Olympics,” Bennett said. “I hope the alumni find time to stop by for some fun and reminisce about their own Pharmacy Olympics days.”

Henry Harris, a first-year pharmacy student from Olive Branch, said he is excited to participate in his first Pharmacy Olympics.

“I’ve heard that it gets very competitive, but I’m confident that my class will ultimately win the weekend,” he said.

UM Natural Products Center Director Wins Prestigious Botanical Award

Ikhlas Khan honored for scientific community-building

Ikhlas Khan

OXFORD, Miss. – Ikhlas Khan, director of the National Center for Natural Products Research at the University of Mississppi School of Pharmacy, was honored Monday (April 3) night with the 2016 Mark Blumenthal Herbal Community Builder Award from the American Botanical Council.

The presentation came at the 17th annual International Conference on the Science of Botanicals, hosted by NCNPR this week at the Oxford Conference Center.

The American Botanical Council focuses on using science-based and traditional information to promote and educate about the responsible use of herbal medicine. The Mark Blumenthal Herbal Community Builder Award is given to an ABC member who exceeds expectations in promoting community and collaboration among those passionate about furthering the study of botanicals.

“All of us here at ABC are profoundly grateful to Dr. Khan for countless invaluable and exemplary contributions to the organization’s nonprofit educational mission, publications and programs,” said Mark Blumenthal, namesake of the award and founder of the ABC.

Previous winners include entrepreneurs, authors, activists and herbalists. Khan, who was instrumental in establishing the annual International Conference on the Science of Botanicals, is the first scientific researcher in the organization’s history to receive the award.

Khan’s research interests are in drug discovery from natural products and developing standards for botanical purity. He helped establish a partnership between the Ole Miss natural products center and the FDA dedicated to assessing the safety and chemical makeup of dietary supplements.

The UM Research Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences that houses the center has partnered with ABC for many years in the Botanical Adulterants Program, which educates the herbal and dietary supplement community about ingredient and product adulteration. Khan serves on the ABC advisory board and, in 2009, won its Norman R. Farnsworth Excellence in Botanical Research Award.

Khan said he was happily surprised to receive the Community Builder Award and honored to be in the company of the award’s previous winners.

“Building a global scientific community is very important for educating about botanicals,” Khan said. “Science alone cannot solve a problem. You have to work with manufacturers, herbalists, regulatory agencies – every stakeholder has to play a role.”

Newton Teacher Wins Geography Awareness Award

Gina Gordon chosen for her creativity and dedication to community involvement

Gina Gordon

OXFORD, Miss. – The Mississippi Geographic Alliance, headquartered at the University of Mississippi, has selected Gina Gordon, a gifted teacher at Newton Elementary School in Newton, as this year’s recipient of the Karen Wallace Geography Awareness Award.

Gordon conducted a semester-long unit with her gifted students in second through sixth grades focused on Mississippi geography, history and culture. She incorporated experiential learning into her teaching by taking her students to the state Capitol, Governor’s Mansion and relevant historical markers.

Some of Gordon’s students had never left their hometown before the class trip, she said.

“These kinds of experiences will help them make connections in reading, math and language,” Gordon said.

She also invited dancers from the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians to the school for a performance. All students and community members were welcomed.

Gordon credits Kay Killens, the school’s principal, and Virginia Young, Newton Municipal School District superintendent, for encouraging teachers to go beyond the core basics in their classrooms and engage the students in their community.

The Karen Wallace Geography Awareness Award is named for Karen Stockton Wallace, MGA’s Geography Awareness Week coordinator who died unexpectedly. A National Board Certified educator with nearly 36 years in the classroom, Wallace was a teacher consultant with the alliance for more than 20 years.

She was the geography awareness coordinator for the state of Mississippi, working with National Geographic Society to create innovative partnerships and promote geography at the community level. She also was one of the leaders of the alliance’s giant map program, which takes a floor map to K-8 schools around the state.

“The applications were judged on creativity and community engagement, two things in which Karen Wallace excelled,” said Carley Lovorn, MGA assistant director. “Gina’s work on Mississippi political and human geography embodied that excellence and creativity. Karen would have loved it.”

Gordon received a monetary award and will present her ideas to other teachers at a state professional conference.

The Mississippi Geographic Alliance works to strengthen geographic literacy throughout the state. A member of the nationwide network of state alliances sponsored by the National Geographic Society, MGA uses workshops, online resources and other programs to help educators prepare students to embrace a diverse world, succeed in the global economy and steward the planet’s resources.

For more information, visit, or contact Lovorn at or 662-915-3776.

UM Foundation Welcomes New Development Officer

Port Kaigler brings new opportunities to School of Pharmacy

Port Kaigler

OXFORD, Miss. – For Port Kaigler, being an Ole Miss Rebel is not just a career move, it’s a family tradition. This legacy, established by his parents, was cemented for the University of Mississippi’s newest development officer when he visited his older brother at UM.

“There’s a lot of red and blue in our family,” Kaigler recalled. “We didn’t really know anything else growing up. I visited my brother when he got here in ’96 and knew where I was going from day one.”

Kaigler, who graduated from Ole Miss with a bachelor’s degree in political science in 2010, will help raise funds as development officer for the UM School of Pharmacy. Kaigler hopes the next chapter of his Ole Miss story will produce a legacy of excellence that helps take the pharmacy school to greater heights.

“The ultimate goal is for the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy to be the top in the nation,” said Kaigler, who also earned a master’s degree in higher education from UM. “We already are No. 24 in rankings published by U.S. News & World Report and No. 9 in total research funding and we only want to go up.

“The way to do that is to attract the highest quality students by offering the best teachers and the best facilities.”

Kaigler’s career has revolved around service to the university. He began as an undergraduate, working in the camps and conference services office of the Division of Outreach and Continuing Education, where he remained until he was hired by the Ole Miss Alumni Association seven years ago.

Through his work with the Alumni Association, Kaigler built a network he hopes will prove fruitful in his new position.

“A lot of what you hear from development work is a greater need for private giving,” Kaigler said. “I thought that the relationships I have built would transition very well into helping the university raise money.”

In his time at the Alumni Association, Kaigler helped cultivate a stronger relationship between the university and its 74 alumni clubs by handling integral aspects of their operations, such as communications and endowment efforts. He also managed the Rebel Road Trip throughout the Southeast with Coach Hugh Freeze and Athletics Director Ross Bjork, as well as sports travel for Ole Miss alumni and friends.

“We are thrilled that Port will be working for our program and are confident that his experience and skillset will play a significant role in advancing our mission,” said David D. Allen, dean of the School of Pharmacy. “Port’s passion for the education of students will be a driving force behind the continued success of the Ole Miss pharmacy school.”

Kaigler and his wife, Kelley, also an Ole Miss graduate, have a daughter, Rowan, 7, and a son, Davenport, 4.

To make a gift in support of the UM School of Pharmacy, contact Kaigler at 662-915-2712 or by email at

Local Officials Join to Volunteers for Service Recognition Day

Event spotlights community involvement and needs

OXFORD, Miss. – Local elected officials will join representatives of volunteer organizations serving the Lafayette-Oxford-University community Tuesday (April 4) at the Pantry to observe Mayor and County Recognition Day for National Service.

Oxford Mayor Pat Patterson and Jeff Busby, president of the Lafayette County Board of Supervisors, are set to join volunteers and staff from the Lafayette County RSVP, Lafayette County Foster Grandparent Program, the North Mississippi VISTA Project at the University of Mississippi and Volunteer Oxford at 8:45 a.m. for a morning workday.

The annual observance spotlights the importance of citizen engagement, recognizes the dedication of national service members such as RSVP volunteers, foster grandparent volunteers and AmeriCorps VISTAS, and inspires more people to get involved in their community.

“Overall, we want to recognize the positive impact of national service in Oxford and Lafayette County, to thank those who serve and encourage more people to give back to the community,” Patterson said.

The group will get to pitch in to help meet a community need, said Arledia Bennett, director of the Lafayette County RSVP and Foster Grandparent Program.

“Tuesdays are usually busy days at the Pantry with food trucks coming in and shelves needing to be stocked, so we thought helping the Pantry would be a perfect way to celebrate Mayor and County Day and highlight national service volunteers that give back daily through so many volunteer activities” Bennett said.

Given the many social needs facing communities, county and city leaders are increasingly turning to national service as a cost-effective strategy to meet local needs. The day is sponsored by the Corporation for National and Community Service, the National League of Cities, the National Association of Counties and Cities of Service.

“AmeriCorps members and Senior Corps volunteers make our counties better places to live,” Busby said. “As president of the Board of Supervisors, we are grateful for the dedication of these citizens, who are helping make our county stronger, safer and healthier.”

For more information, contact Arledia Bennett at 662-232-2773 or

School of Pharmacy Hosts International Botanical Conference

Attendees share advances in technology, research and policy

Visitors examine specimens of various botanicals growing at the UM Maynard W. Quimby Medicinal Plant Garden. Researchers at the National Center for Natural Products Research can use the samples grown there to test various plants for potential use as medicines or agricultural chemicals. Photo by Nathan Latil/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Oxford is again the destination for scientists and other visitors from around the world gathering to discuss the ancient, yet rapidly evolving, study of botanical medicines.

The 17th annual International Conference on the Science of Botanicals is set for April 3-6 at the Oxford Conference Center. The National Center for Natural Products Research at the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy organizes and hosts the conference.

As the nation’s premier hub for natural products research, the NCNPR is internationally known for its botanical products expertise.

“The ICSB is an incredible opportunity for the School of Pharmacy and the NCNPR,” said David D. Allen, Ole Miss pharmacy dean. “We love that we get to show people from all over the world not only our facilities, but also the beauty and hospitality of Oxford.”

More than 250 people from universities, government and business institutions attend the conference to learn about advances in technology and research that can benefit their organizations. Presenters include representatives from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Pharmacopeia and Procter & Gamble.

Cara Welch, senior adviser at the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition in the Office of Dietary Supplement Programs of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will deliver the keynote address.

Besides promoting the sharing of knowledge among the world’s medicinal plants experts, the conference is designed to promote rapport and collaboration.

Many of the repeat attendees have become friends, and ICSB is also their chance to get together. As part of this camaraderie, attendees eat dinner as a group each evening, sample international food and have a picnic one afternoon, complete with competitive field games and entertainment.

“The study of botanical plants as medicine is a pressing global issue,” said Ikhlas Khan, NCNPR director. “With global health at stake, creating a scientific community of trust and teamwork makes it easier to share research among stakeholders.”

Khan was instrumental in establishing the ICSB and will be honored on the first night of the conference with an award from the American Botanical Council for his work in fostering scientific community.

For more information on research and education programs in the School of Pharmacy, go to

Ole Miss Insurance Symposium Tackles Critical Issues

Risk Management and Insurance program hosts 22nd annual meeting of industry leaders

UM Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter (left) and Andre Liebenberg (right), associate professor of finance, congratulate Bill Bryson of Jackson, a member of the first class of Ole Miss risk management and insurance graduates in 1947, at the Ole Miss Insurance Symposium. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Key industry issues, including the Affordable Care Act and catastrophe management, were examined in depth at the annual Ole Miss Insurance Symposium, hosted for the 22nd consecutive year by the University of Mississippi’s risk management and insurance program.

The event, held March 22-23 at The Inn at Ole Miss, continues to attract industry leaders to campus and is one of the hallmark events of the School of Business Administration.

Andre Liebenberg, associate professor of finance and the university’s Gwenette P. and Jack W. Robertson Chair of Insurance, praised the Ole Miss Insurance Advisory Board for developing this year’s program.

“We are proud to host over 200 industry guests on our beautiful campus and to showcase our nationally ranked program and, more generally, our exceptional university and town,” Liebenberg said. “In addition to being our largest fundraiser, the symposium provides us an opportunity to serve the industry by providing continuing education.”

Ken Cyree, dean of the School of Business Administration, praised the dynamic lineup of presenters.

“We are thrilled that the RMI program is able to attract first-rate speakers (and) attendees and provide such an extraordinary experience for leaders in the insurance industry,” Cyree said.

Leigh Ann Pusey, president and CEO of the American Insurance Association, opened the symposium with a discussion of critical issues facing the industry in 2017. She noted the need for talent in the insurance industry and commended the RMI program on the strength of its students.

“Life is full of ethical dilemmas, and we have to make decision,” said Lance Ewing, executive vice president of risk management for Cotton Holdings Inc., who led the large audience through a myriad of situations where their judgement would be called into action.

Using leadership examples of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Adolph Hitler, along with corporate policies of Caesars Casino and Wal-Mart, Ewing weaved through complicated situations and philosophies RMI industry professionals deal with often.

“We are in the business of ethics,” he said. “Our word is our bond.”

Introduced by his daughter, Isabelle, a sophomore from Southlake, Texas, David Repinski, CEO for the Americas of Cunningham Lindsey and a self-admitted “claims guy,” discussed catastrophe management.

“Plan when the skies are blue,” Repinski said. “Make sure your team knows what to do when a cat happens.

“Run drills. Find out who is available to be on site when it happens, and who is around to rapidly process 5,000 claims if necessary.”

The worst catastrophes of the past 15 years were the 2011 flood in Bangkok, the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, followed by Hurricane Katrina in the U.S. in 2005, Repinski said.

Cunningham Lindsey is the second-largest insurance concern of its kind in the world, with offices in 63 countries and annual revenue of nearly a billion dollars.

In a concurrent session, Aaron Sisk, president and CEO of Magnolia Health Plan, spoke about the proposed repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the implications of the potential changes in health insurance legislation for insurers and citizens of Mississippi.

“The two biggest challenges in our industry are lack of human capital and technology,” said Glenn Spencer, COO and president of Lockton U.S., who spoke to a packed room of industry practitioners and Ole Miss students.

“If we aren’t growing, we can’t award and retain our people. We want to be the best place in the world to work.”

In an address to the group, Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter congratulated the insurance program on its 70th anniversary and recognized alumnus Bill Bryson, a member of the first class of graduates in 1947.  He acknowledged the program’s high job placement rate for graduates and noted that its rank has risen to the ninth-largest RMI program in the country.

“It is a common will and drive to always get better,” Vitter said. “Nothing is more important than higher education. It inspires innovation and allows people to improve their lives.”

The chancellor emphasized the UM community’s commitment to service locally and around the globe.

“We focus on the people and resources of our state to make a difference around the globe,” Vitter said.

Hank Watkins, president of North American operations for Lloyd’s of London, presented a brief history of the company, which was founded by Edward Lloyd in 1688, and explained that few new insurance companies are being launched because start-up costs and risks are intimidatingly high.

Many new industry professionals use Lloyd’s as a start-up incubator to grow their own businesses underneath the Lloyd’s umbrella. The firm has a franchise board to make sure compliance issues are met, he said.

The symposium concluded with a panel featuring Mike Chaney, Mississippi insurance commissioner, and Joel Wood, senior vice president of government affairs for the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers.

Chaney and Wood led the audience through a lively discussion of insurance concerns in Mississippi under the Trump administration, regarding flood issues and the low tax rate the state receives. They examined efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which failed the day after the symposium concluded.

The UM School of Business Administration was established in 1917 and the insurance major was introduced in 1947. For more information on the RMI program, go to