Jim Zook Named UM Associate Vice Chancellor

Communications leader will oversee continued development of key strategic priorities

Jim Zook

OXFORD, Miss. – Jim Zook, a veteran communications and marketing leader, has been named associate vice chancellor for strategic communications and marketing at the University of Mississippi.

Zook brings more than 25 years of expertise to UM from a career spanning corporate communications, consulting and media. Following a national search, Zook was selected to serve as the university’s chief public relations officer and chief communications and marketing strategist, working to create and implement an overarching strategic communications plan addressing marketing and public affairs.

“The power of higher education to transform lives, expand our understanding of the world and improve our quality of life has always inspired me,” Zook said. “I am thrilled to take on this role and support the work of the University of Mississippi to create opportunity and expand horizons for people across the state, the region and beyond.”

In this new role, Zook will continue the ongoing mission put forth by Chancellor Jeffrey S. Vitter in 2016 with the reinstatement of the Office of University Relations to provide more comprehensive and strategic coordination across communications, marketing and other key areas of the university.

“Our communications, marketing and branding efforts are integral to successfully advancing our mission as a flagship university,” Vitter said. “The addition of Jim Zook provides the Ole Miss leadership team with exceptional experience at a national level across a broad range of areas including crisis communications, brand leveraging and content development.

“We are excited about the fresh perspective that Jim brings to the university in his new role and look forward to his arrival on campus.”

Zook, who is based in Atlanta, comes to Ole Miss from Deloitte, a global professional services firm where he served most recently as head of communications in the U.S. for the Big Four auditor Deloitte & Touche. Previously, Zook served in a variety of leadership roles during nine years with Deloitte, including U.S. crisis communications lead.

Before joining Deloitte, Zook worked for the global consulting firm Mercer, the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Education in Washington, D.C., and as a reporter for The Chronicle of Higher Education, the Houston Chronicle and The Dallas Morning News.

Zook’s wife, Frances Flautt Zook, is an architect licensed in Georgia and Mississippi and a native of Greenwood. The Zooks have two sons: Jack, a junior at Ole Miss, and Will, a high school senior. The Zooks are members of the Ole Miss Family Leadership Council.

A 1987 graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Zook holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and political science. He received a master’s degree in American studies from the University of Sussex in England in 1989, as well as a Master of Business Administration from the University of Texas at Austin in 2001.

During his time in Atlanta, Zook was actively involved in a variety of community leadership roles. He’s served as president of the Pace Academy Booster Club, vice chair and director of the UNC-Chapel Hill General Alumni Association, assistant scoutmaster with a local Boy Scout troop, and junior warden and vestry member of All Saints’ Episcopal Church.

Zook will officially assume his duties Aug. 1. His office will be located in Sam-Gerard Hall, where he will oversee the staff of strategic communications, marketing and brand strategy, and printing and creative services.

Scholarship Recipients Display Attitudes of Gratitude

UM Kelly Gene Cook scholars enjoy opportunity to thank donors

The Kelly Gene Cook Charitable Foundation board and Executive Director Katy Pacelli (front, fourth from left) joins Chancellor Jeff Vitter and Sharon Vitter for a spring luncheon to celebrate the Cook and Mikell Scholars. JoAnn Mikell (front, in pink), secretary; Carolyn Bost (front, fifth from right), director; Deborah Rochelle (front, fourth from right), chair; and Ron Page (front, third from right), treasurer; are surrounded by the undergraduate and graduate scholars at Ole Miss. UM photo by Bill Dabney

OXFORD, Miss. – “As I look around this room, it’s hard to not get teary-eyed,” Samantha Brewer told a crowd at a recent luncheon at the University of Mississippi. “Because I know it was you. You all made this possible.

“You all made me possible. You made me being a teacher possible. And I can’t thank you enough. So let me start now. Thank you. Really, thank you.”

These were the sentiments expressed by Brewer when she and fellow Kelly Gene Cook Foundation scholars had an opportunity to meet donors at a recent luncheon hosted by Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter at his home on the Oxford campus.

Brewer, a senior elementary education major from Southaven, and her cohorts received a full scholarship to Ole Miss, thanks to the Cook Foundation.

The late Kelly Gene Cook Sr., of French Camp, was a pipeliner for more than three decades who joined Houston Contracting Co. in 1956 and became vice president and general manager for domestic and foreign operations in 1971. In this capacity, he dealt with pipelines throughout the Middle East, Brazil, Trinidad, Ecuador and Nigeria.

In 1976, he and a partner formed Gregory & Cook Inc., a pipeline contracting firm in Houston, Texas.

Cook was active in the industry associations, serving on the boards of the International Pipeline Contractors Association and the American Pipeline Contractors Association. In 1986, he and his wife, Peggy, formed the Kelly Gene Cook Sr. Charitable Foundation Inc., which primarily provides funds to support religious, charitable, scientific and educational organizations in Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

Cook Foundation representatives at the Ole Miss luncheon were president Deborah Rochelle, of Folsom, Louisiana; treasurer Ron Page, of Houston, Texas; secretary JoAnn Mikell, of Madison; director Carolyn Bost, of Madison; and executive director Katy Pacelli, of Jackson.

“They say teachers are difference-makers,” Brewer told her donors. “That’s true. But you all are difference-makers too. You’ve made a difference in my life.

“Throughout my college education, not once have I had to worry about being able to buy my books or pay my tuition. I’ve never wondered if I’d be able to pay off student loans because I have don’t have any. Because of you, I did not have to shift my focus from school to work just to pay my bills, and that’s incredible because a lot of my friends cannot say the same thing.”

Kayton Hosket, of French Camp, who earned a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from UM in May, echoed Brewer’s comments.

“The investment of the Kelly Cook Foundation in my education has been a life-altering blessing,” she said. “I am grateful for your support of me as a student and a young professional.

“The members of the Cook Foundation have been personable and interested in my life over the past eight years. Your generosity has opened the door for learning opportunities that will be used to impact students and educators both locally and nationally.”

Likewise, Savannah Fairley, of Lucedale, told donors she never imagined how much having the Cook Scholarship would change her life.

“The support from the Kelly Gene Cook Foundation allowed me to devote my efforts to better my mind,” said Fairley, who graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in biological science. “It afforded me the opportunity to spend summers in Germany, taking language classes, and winter breaks doing research in a medicinal chemistry lab, rather than working to make sure I could pay for the books I would need for the upcoming semester.

“I was able to find my passions and dive into them. I was able to network and make connections with some truly amazing people. Being a Cook Scholar gave me the ability to get the most out of my university experience and I will forever be grateful. Thank you so much for the life-changing work that you do.”

The Cook Scholarship is open to entering freshmen from Mississippi who have scored at least a 24 on the ACT and have a GPA of 3.5 or higher. They also must have proven financial need and academic ability.

Rochelle, Cook’s niece, said her uncle was very proud of the way his foundation selected scholars and subsequently offered them stewardship and mentorship.

“He often said our youth are our most precious natural resource and that we should take care of them,” she recalled. “Of course, we want our students to be happy in their fields of study and to become successful members of our society.

“We have been very proud of our Ole Miss students and have had many graduate in various occupations. We also look forward to continuing our partnership with Ole Miss – a partnership that offers scholars donors who keep in touch with them and help them mature into self-assured individuals who graduate with no measurable debt.”

For more information about the Cook Scholarship, go to https://scholarsapp.com/scholarship/kelly-gene-cook-foundation-scholarships/.

StartUp Camp Provides Training for Young Entrepreneurs

McLean Institute and CIE team to sponsor a week of activities for future business leaders

Participants in the UM StartUp Camp for young entrepreneurs (from left) Kevin Hernandez, of New Albany; Andrew Wharton and Tony Parks, of Memphis; and Verkeria Price, of Sardis, show off materials related to their businesses. Photo by Tong Meng

OXFORD, Miss. – Negotiation skills, competitive pricing, lunch etiquette, business plans, the importance of a proper handshake, proficiency in Excel, and commercial development and filming were just a few of the opportunities offered to a group of middle schoolers recently at the University of Mississippi.

The activities were part of StartUp Camp, sponsored by the university’s McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement and the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The students, all sixth- through eighth-graders, were from Como, Lambert, Marks, New Albany, Newton, Oakland and Sardis, as well as Lakeland and Memphis, Tennessee.

The young professionals kicked off the week learning the four basic types of businesses: manufacturing, wholesale, retail and service. After the students decided on the business they wanted to develop for the week, they quickly jumped into negotiations – the cornerstone of almost any business.

Jessica Clarke, a camp leader and recent UM graduate in integrated marketing communications from Nashville, entered into a negotiation about a calculator with Kevin Hernandez, a rising seventh-grader at New Albany Middle School. Ultimately, Hernandez agreed to pay Clarke $9.50.

“She started at $15 and I countered with $6,” said Hernandez, whose business is a 24-hour-day medical clinic and drugstore called “Life Saver Clinic and Drugstore” with free flu shots and price-matching minus 20 percent for B-12 shots – services to attract customers.

“She then said $10 and said she would go no lower,” he said. “So, I took a chance and offered her $9.50, and she took it. So, I won the challenge.”

“The Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is so pleased to co-sponsor the very first StartUp Camp for young entrepreneurs,” said Tong Meng, the center’s director of student and alumni programs. “This is a great opportunity for us to connect our alumni entrepreneurs with the community and to promote entrepreneurship education in a fun way.”

Verkeria Price, a rising eighth-grader at North Panola Junior High, was chosen by her school’s guidance counselor to attend the camp along with classmates Shaniyah Brown and Sabria Henly. Price’s business, “Curl Me Crazy,” is a hair salon.

Price, who would like to be a registered nurse one day, said she chose a hair salon as a side business. Inspired by her mom, Price said “She knows how to do hair a little bit and she inspired me. I also watch a lot of YouTube videos on hair and make-up.”

“The McLean Institute is pleased to partner with the CIE to offer this entrepreneurial camp for secondary school students,” said Albert Nylander, the institute’s director. “Since 2014 McLean’s Catalyzing Entrepreneurship and Economic Development program (CEED) has invested $1.6 million into the Mississippi economy and provided academic scholarships to more than 50 UM students.

“These university students are then leading K-12 students in developing a mindset of becoming an entrepreneur.”

Andrew Wharton, a rising seventh-grader at Grace St. Luke’s Episcopal School in Memphis, and business partner Tony Parks, a rising sixth-grader at Christ Methodist Day School in Memphis, were busy scripting the commercial for their business, “A&T Hangers,” a clothing hanger recycling business “kind of like eBay,” Wharton said.

“We pay for the containers, and then we pay a reduced cost for the hangers – depending on the condition – and then we sell them back to the cleaners,” Wharton said.

“I have learned teamwork and how to come up with a cool business idea that is also environmentally responsible,” Parks said as the two partners headed out to film their television commercial with Hernandez.

The judges for the camp were Clay Dibrell, UM professor of management and CIE co-director; Allen Kurr, vice president of Oxford-Lafayette County Economic Development Foundation; Robert Patterson, a graduate student in health promotion and a CEED Innovation Fellow; Armegis Spearman, learning specialist at the UM FedEx Student-Athlete Success Center; and Lynn Woo, research associate in the UM Center for Population Studies and the State Data Center of Mississippi.

“Leading these young entrepreneurs through the experience of starting a business has allowed me to witness a powerful transformation in these children,” said Ashley Bowen, program coordinator, a CEED Innovation Fellow from Lambert and an Ole Miss graduate student in computer science.

“They realize that their dreams can become a reality, and that it can be done right in their hometowns.”

Pittman’s Gifts Provide Equity above Access

Supplemented scholarships help Grove Scholars stay in school

Renvy Pittman (right) chats with Grove Scholars Jontae Warren (left), a May graduate from Booneville, and Devante Yates, a senior from West Point. UM photo by Bill Dabney

OXFORD, Miss. – An afternoon spent visiting schools in the Mississippi Delta inspired a University of Mississippi alumna to make a series of gifts totaling nearly $1 million over the past six years, helping build a program that improves students’ chances of graduating.

Renvy Pittman’s most recent $350,000 gift further bolsters the Grove Scholars program, which facilitates academic success and job placement among Mississippi residents seeking degrees related to science, technology, engineering and math and who have also received Ole Miss Opportunity scholarships.

The Grove Scholars program is the brainchild of Stephen Monroe, chair and assistant professor of writing and rhetoric and former assistant dean of the College of Liberal Arts.

“Stephen is an amazing person; he is brimming with ideas about how to help more students from all types of backgrounds be successful at Ole Miss,” said Pittman, who grew up in Jackson and lives in Los Angeles. “After talking extensively with him, it became clear to me that I wanted to help ensure that more Mississippi residents come to the University of Mississippi and graduate with a STEM degree.”

Monroe and Pittman realized Ole Miss Opportunity recipients interested in STEM would benefit from a bridge program that would help orient them to the university and college-level work. With Pittman’s support, 12 scholars were selected for the summer program in 2014.

The program has grown to serve more than 70 students and consists of classes in math and sciences for academic credit as well as tutoring, social events and exposure to labs and lectures on campus – all occurring the summer before the students’ freshman year.

Because the Ole Miss Opportunity Scholarship does not cover summer tuition, the Grove Scholars program also provides opportunities for students to take summer classes throughout their undergraduate career. The newest initiative provides financial support for Grove Scholars seeking a career-relevant internship during the summer term.

Students find that being introduced to college life before their freshman year gives them a chance to bond with each other and with the program’s director, Gray Flora.

“What’s so great about what Renvy’s done is she’s enabled a lot of students to have what they need over and above their scholarships,” Flora said. “It’s one thing to say, ‘Yes, you can come to the University of Mississippi,’ but it’s another thing to give them the tools and the equity to really be able to thrive at a major public university.

“It’s more than just being able to come. You have to know how to navigate this place. There are all these extracurricular needs that you don’t think about, and Renvy has enabled us to provide those for the students. That’s the difference between access and true equity.”

Jontae Warren, of Booneville, is a Grove Scholar who graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in pharmaceutical sciences and has already transitioned into the School of Pharmacy’s Pharm.D. degree program. After completing that, he plans to pursue a residency and ultimately specialize in pediatric pharmacy related to oncology.

“The Grove Scholars program allowed me to meet other students who had the same aspirations as I, and we were able to become a support system for each other,” Warren said. “I am still great friends with many in my cohort today.”

“It’s a community,” Pittman said. “Students need community to be successful in college. So Grove Scholars identifies these young people, brings them in and empowers them to unlock their potential and encourage each other.”

Warren said being a Grove Scholar helped him financially, academically and emotionally.

“Both (former program coordinator) Ben Pinion and Gray Flora have been great mentors, and anytime I needed advice on what to do next, their doors were always open,” he said. “I am very thankful to have been a part of this program and hope that it continues to grow.”

Pittman hopes so, too.

“I would like to look back after 10 years and see these kids, who are not children anymore at all, using their degrees in science, technology, engineering or math to make their communities in Mississippi a better place,” she said.

Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said he greatly appreciates the support of alumni such as Pittman who want to play an active role in the university’s vision to have a transformative influence in communities throughout the state.

“Our hope is that as students from disadvantaged areas graduate from Ole Miss, their lives and those of generations to come will be significantly enhanced, which will help advance their communities and make great improvements for our state and ultimately our nation,” he said.

“The Grove Scholars program is a key component of the big picture – to truly make a significant impact upon the world around us. Renvy has set an example of generosity that I hope others will want to follow.”

To help support the Grove Scholars program financially, contact Denson Hollis, executive director of development, at 662-915-5092 or dhollis@olemiss.edu. For more information and student profiles, visit Grove Scholars online.

UM Pharmacy and Alcorn State Partner in Admission Program

ASU becomes second state institution to join Preferred Admission Program

Alcorn State University has agreed to join the Preferred Admission Program for the UM School of Pharmacy, which will offer admission to qualified Alcorn State students. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy has signed an agreement with Alcorn State University to offer admission to qualified Alcorn State students who excel in freshman pre-pharmacy courses and participate in service activities.

This partnership, called the Preferred Admission Program, is part of both the School of Pharmacy’s and Alcorn State’s more-than-century-old traditions of dedication to the health of the state and its communities.

UM Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter praised the agreement, saying that it demonstrated a commitment to the university’s mission of contributing to the well-being of Mississippians.

“Facilitating broader access to education is one of the University of Mississippi’s foundational priorities,” Vitter said. “The School of Pharmacy’s Preferred Admission Program will benefit not only the students involved, but the overall pharmacy profession as well.”

Alcorn State is the second of three Mississippi institutions, along with Jackson State University and Tougaloo College, that are part of the Preferred Admission Program.

UM pharmacy students work in a skills lab on the Oxford campus. UM photo by Sydney Slotkin DuPriest

“Alcorn is incredibly excited to be launching this unique collaboration with Mississippi’s premier pharmacy school,” said Alfred Rankins Jr., Alcorn State president. “This engaging partnership will greatly benefit our high-achieving student scholars by providing direct access to post-graduate opportunities in a critically important health care profession.”

Once admitted, students in the Preferred Admission Program will be on the pharmacy school’s traditional graduation track to earn a Doctor of Pharmacy degree.

“This partnership is an integral part of our school’s commitment to educating pharmacists who will provide the best possible care for patients,” said David D. Allen, dean of the School of Pharmacy. “We recognize that providing more opportunities for motivated students ensures the continued quality of pharmacy’s essential contributions to health care.”

For more information on the Preferred Admission Program, contact Kris Harrell, the School of Pharmacy’s associate dean for academic affairs, at kharrell@olemiss.edu.

A Retirement Tribute to Robin Buchannon

So Long, My Boss, My Mentor, My Friend

Robin Buchannon and husband, Denny, stop for a quick break during a hike in Patagonia this past February. Submitted photo

I’ve known for many months that my boss and my friend, Robin Buchannon, associate vice chancellor for university relations, was retiring after 34 years at Ole Miss. This day was coming, and, despite my constant cajoling and begging, there was nothing I could do to change it.

So, as a writer, I figured the next best thing I could do was to pen a tribute to her from my perspective as one of her longest employees and mentees.


My first interaction with Robin came when I worked in Old Chemistry (now Brevard Hall) in the 1990s. I have vague memories of the very nice, soft-spoken blonde woman who worked on the second floor. I didn’t really know much about her other than she was Bob Woolsey’s right hand in the Mississippi Mineral Resources Institute.

So, for those of you who don’t know, Robin came to Ole Miss in 1981 as a graduate assistant in the Department of Geology and Geological Engineering. She went on to earn her M.S. in Geology and her Ph.D. in Engineering Sciences from Ole Miss before assuming roles of research assistant professor and associate director and research geologist in MMRI. She’s a registered professional geologist and, for many years, chaired the program committee for the Offshore Technology Conference for the Society of Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration.

I guess you can trace the roots of her rock-solid reputation back to her academic beginnings!

The Permanent Interim

I didn’t really know Robin during the first half of her career at Ole Miss as a geologist. Rather, for the last 16 years, I have known her as a stellar supervisor, an exceptional role model and an administrator extraordinaire. In fact, I have very succinct memories of Robin from 2002, when she assumed the role of interim administrative director of the Mississippi Space Commerce Initiative. It was the first time that Robin was asked to step up into an interim role to be the steady hand to guide a struggling program, but it wouldn’t be the last.

In fact, over the next 15 years, Robin would serve in special assignment leadership roles for more than five programs, centers and departments. The extent of her knowledge ranges from remote sensing to economic development to food services and a little bit of everything else in between!

Some of her greatest successes came during her time in the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, including being named assistant vice chancellor in 2008. During this time, she never met a budget she didn’t like and honed her airtight knowledge of institutional policies and procedures. Robin was also instrumental in enhancing the credentials of the department by encouraging and supporting staff to follow in her footsteps and become Certified Research Administrators – it was the first time in the history of UM that such a level of external credentialing had been achieved by the staff of the sponsored programs administration.

Robin Buchannon and husband, Denny, enjoy cake during an Office of Research celebration thanking Robin for her many years of service before she transitioned to University Relations. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

A Tough Exterior

I know that many see Robin as a tough nut to crack – and she is. But it was because she always did things the right way: following and enforcing policies and procedures, holding people accountable and handling the most difficult and challenging situations with a quiet, assured confidence. She approached every aspect of her job with the utmost integrity, always keeping the university’s best interest as her guiding principle. It was never in doubt that she truly loves this university.

I consider myself one of the lucky ones who got beyond that tough exterior and had the privilege of knowing her as a friend. Over the last 16 years, we’ve shared long lunches and fun dinners. We’ve shared tailgating Saturdays in the Grove. We’ve shared shopping trips and birthday gifts. And maybe best of all, we’ve shared our love of birthday cake!


Whether or not she intentionally set out to be a role model for others, for me, Robin has served as one of the outstanding women at this university whom I have tried to emulate and learn from. Alice Clark is another one of these remarkable women, but that is a story for another day.   

Over the last 16 years, Robin has nurtured my potential and encouraged me to learn more, take on more responsibility and aim for the next steps in my career at the university. She had great confidence in me, always recognizing my abilities and talents way before I knew I was ready.

Her knowledge of this university is unsurpassed. She has amazing working relationships across every aspect of UM and is widely respected. In the face of working in some of the most challenging situations, I can’t ever remember Robin being ruffled – I think her superpower is her steady, even-tempered, calming influence. But keep an eye out … if you are ever lucky enough to get a glimpse of her sense of humor, she is wickedly funny!

Bet You Didn’t Know

So, while Robin’s reputation for being the epitome of grace under pressure may be widely known, you may not know that she and her husband, Denny, are avid travelers. In fact, they’ve traveled to more than 20 countries. Their travels have included climbing to basecamp at Mount Everest and hiking in Patagonia. They’ve even been known to hop on a last-minute flight to spend the weekend in Paris!

In addition to traveling, she is passionate about music – the Beatles and Paul McCartney in particular. Did you know that she has been to 13 Paul McCartney concerts in four countries?

But perhaps she is most truly passionate about her relationships. Whether it is her volunteer work with the Pilot Club, the friendships she has nurtured over many years, her beloved nieces and nephews, or her feisty cats, Robin is genuine, giving and loyal. I am grateful that my professional life brought with it one of my most treasured friendships.

A Well-deserved Rest

In 2016, Robin was ready to take it to the house. She had enjoyed a magnificent career full of exceptional achievements. But her beloved university called her to serve once more. This time – for her swan song – Robin would serve as associate vice chancellor for university relations to round out an already stellar career.

I can already see her now, sitting on her back porch enjoying the solitude of no HR forms to process or budgets to reconcile. Or, I can see her making the rounds of visiting friends and family far and wide. Or, I can see her jetting to far-off, exotic places. Well, Robin, whatever you choose to do, here’s to all your many, well-deserved future adventures.

And although a decade-and-a-half was not enough time to learn all I could from you, I’m so very grateful that I was able to spend such a significant part of my Ole Miss adventure with you.

Telling Her Story

For those familiar with the wildly popular Broadway show “Hamilton,” there is a very poignant tune about who will tell your story, how it’s the people who remember you who shape your legacy. In keeping with this theme, I reached out to a several people who have had the distinct privilege of working with Robin over her many years at Ole Miss. Here is how they will tell her story…

“Robin has an amazing ability to resolve complex issues in a quiet, professional manner. I worked closely with Robin for 14 years and admired her ability to analyze a situation and quickly get to the heart of the matter. She involved as few people as absolutely necessary to develop a plan forward and always approached situations with the mindset of ‘what is best for the university.’ She also has a great sense of humor and knows when to use it to put others at ease.

“I know it is a cliche, but Robin is irreplaceable, and deserves a tremendous amount of credit for building the research infrastructure that is needed to manage an R1 research enterprise.”

– Walter G. Chambliss, interim associate vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs and professor of pharmaceutics and drug delivery


“Robin was one of the first people that I met when I came to the University of Mississippi in 1995. Over the years, we have worked together on many different initiatives and projects. Robin and I spent many hours in car rides to the Stennis Space Center, as part of ‘Driving Miss Robin,’ and during those drives we developed a warm friendship. She has always been a trusted friend that I could go to for advice and counsel. I always appreciated her candor, her advice and her support. The University of Mississippi and I will miss having her on campus.”

– Greg Easson, director and professor, Mississippi Mineral Resources Institute, and associate dean for research and graduate education


“Sometimes it is hard to find the right words to acknowledge and describe someone as wonderful as Dr. B. I met her in 2002 while working at Stennis Space Center for the Mississippi Space Commerce Initiative when she was introduced as our interim director. It was evident during our first meeting that she was a person who truly cared about her job, the university and its mission.

“She is one of the most dedicated people I’ve ever met – strong and soft-spoken. I’d like to thank her for being my inspiration, for helping me grow and become the person I am today. She’s truly one of a kind, a leader who makes everyone else stronger. I’ve never been able to call her Robin as I preferred Dr. B., but I will forever call her my friend.” 

Christine Narcisse, retired


“I met Robin for the first time on a group trip to Tuscany, Italy. It was an eclectic mix of people and personalities, and it was truly an adventure from beginning to end. Many fond memories were made through cooking classes, wine tastings, goat farms, chocolate and quirky tour guides. Looking back, I realize that I was one of the lucky few who got to know Robin while pursuing one of her true passions: travel!

“Two years later, Robin and I would cross paths again when Dr. Clark was named vice chancellor for university relations. Initially, I joked with her that she probably didn’t want to see me again after ‘Italy,’ but you learn important things about people when you travel with them and when you work with them. In the short time we worked together, we celebrated small victories, struggled through difficult times and she taught me to approach each new challenge fearlessly – with an open heart and mind.

“From those experiences, I learned that Robin has strength, character and grace that I will strive to emulate for the rest of my career. I’m truly grateful to call Robin a mentor, friend and personal hero!” 

Lauren Beyers, executive director of advancement services, University Development


“I had the pleasure of working with Dr. Buchannon during the final two years of her career at the university. In that short time, I found her grace, candor and sharp wit to be unmatched; her commitment to this university to be unparalleled; and her trust to be inspiring. Dr. Buchannon is a true servant leader. My only regret is that I didn’t get to work with her longer than I did. Her impact at Ole Miss will be felt long after she’s retired to her next great adventure.”

Ryan Whittington, director of marketing and brand strategy, University Communications


“It’s impossible to sum up Robin Buchannon’s impact on our university in a short statement. There is no one I respect more, value more or trust more than Robin. She embodies all that we hope for in a colleague and a friend: she’s trustworthy, thoughtful, honest, knowledgeable, dependable, loyal and a delight to work with every day. Day after day, year after year, it’s people like Robin Buchannon who have worked hard to shape the acclaimed Ole Miss culture of integrity, quality, helpfulness and a commitment to the greater good.

“She is highly respected across campus, is always professional, kind and helpful to all, knows everything about everything (or where to find it), is willing to take on any job asked of her and can solve any problem. She has been a gift to our university, and her absence will be deeply felt throughout the university.”

Alice Clark, interim vice chancellor for university relations and F.A.P. Barnard Distinguished Professor of Pharmacognosy

University Launches Flagship Society

Campuswide giving program to benefit academics

The Flagship Society is the first campus-wide leadership annual giving program at the University of Mississippi. Individuals can join this fiscal year and become charter members, providing crucial private support to our academic community. Photo by Kirsten Faulkner

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi has launched the Flagship Society – its first campuswide leadership annual giving program – to recognize annual donors, share the impact of their giving and increase philanthropic support for academic programs and scholarships at a time when higher education costs are escalating.

“The Flagship Society will add to the margin of excellence at Ole Miss, advancing the university’s ability to transform lives and make a profound impact in Mississippi, the nation and the world,” said Charlotte Parks, UM vice chancellor for development. “We thank all the dedicated Ole Miss faculty and staff who work hard every day for our students and the university and also hope they will consider joining the Flagship Society.”

For the seventh consecutive fiscal year, which ended June 30, Ole Miss alumni, friends, students, faculty and staff have committed in excess of $100 million in private support, much-needed resources as state support covers only 13 percent of the university’s annual budget.

Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said he is constantly inspired by donors’ desire to give back to ensure future generations have exceptional educational opportunities and society has a higher quality of life.

“Through their giving, Flagship Society members will be expressing a strong belief in the power of higher education and the positive impact of private support,” he said. “Our alumni and friends are known far and wide for their continuous and generous investments in the Ole Miss student experience, our academic environment and outreach efforts.

“The University of Mississippi is honored to recognize these annual donors who step up, year after year, to propel the flagship forward.”

The Flagship Society name pays homage to the university’s flagship status as the oldest and largest public university in Mississippi. The name also represents members of the Ole Miss family who serve as philanthropic leaders in the academic, service and cultural programs, Parks said.

“We want to honor the Flagship Society members’ generosity by selecting a name that reflects their impact on the university,” she said. “Each Flagship Society gift combines with others to produce powerful resources.”

Annual gifts can, for example, bolster scholarship support for students, increase funds for the recruitment and retention of faculty, increase graduate stipends to support doctoral students, heighten access to research grants whose results help people live healthier lives, increase maintenance funds to keep up the university’s array of facilities and beautiful campus, and increase support for the cultural arts.

Having these resources enables university leadership to be flexible and prompt in addressing needs and opportunities without diverting resources from elsewhere, said Alyssa Vinluan, an annual gifts officer in the UM Office of University Development.

Membership in the Flagship Society is open to anyone or household that gives at least $1,000 to academics during the fiscal year (July 1-June 30). Donors can make unrestricted gifts to the Ole Miss Fund – resources used at the discretion of UM leadership for the university’s greatest needs – or donors can choose to direct their gifts to a specific school, program or scholarship, Vinluan said.

Membership can also be met by pledging a commitment of $1,000 or more, beginning at $84 a month, or for university employees, approximately $42 a pay period. Membership is renewable each fiscal year.

Flagship Society members will be recognized in several ways and will receive an exclusive Flagship Society car decal and invitations to special events. Donors who join in the Flagship Society’s inaugural year, July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2019, will be identified as charter members.

With the support of alumni, friends, university leaders, faculty and staff, the Flagship Society stands to influence many areas of our campus for years to come.

“The Flagship Society can help elevate the value of all University of Mississippi degrees; organizations such as U.S. News and World Report factor alumni giving participation into their rankings of the best universities in America,” Parks said. “We deeply appreciate each and every gift that fuels our reach for even greater heights of excellence.”

Gifts can be made by sending a check in support of academics to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655; or by visiting http://www.umfoundation.com/flagshipsociety. For more information, contact Alyssa Vinluan, annual giving officer, at alyssa@olemiss.edu or 662-915-1311.

Alice Clark Retiring as UM Vice Chancellor for University Relations

Clark leaves nearly 40-year legacy of shaping the university as a researcher, mentor and leader

Alice Clark and late husband Charlie Hufford enjoy some downtime during a professional conference they attended as colleagues. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – Alice Clark, a senior University of Mississippi administrator whose nearly four decades of visionary leadership have driven major advancements, is retiring at the end of June. Clark is an F.A.P. Barnard Distinguished Professor of Pharmacognosy and the university’s vice chancellor for university relations.

Clark earned both her master’s and doctoral degrees in pharmacognosy at UM and joined the university as a research associate and faculty member in 1979. She later served as the first director of the university’s National Center for Natural Products Research.

As a result of her strategic efforts, the center grew from a small unit to one of the world’s preeminent research centers for natural products drug discovery. The success of NCNPR has led to longstanding collaborative partnerships with industry and federal agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“It was my privilege to work for 35 years with Alice in various capacities – as a collaborator when she was professor in pharmacognosy, as associate director during her time as director of the NCNPR and as a researcher under her leadership in the administration,” said Larry Walker, who became the center’s director following Clark’s tenure. “She has been a great pillar in this university, with vision, boundless energy and drive to excel. But on top of all that, she’s a mentor to me and to so many, and a cherished friend.” 

In 2001, Clark became the university’s first vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs. In this role, she championed the university’s research enterprise while overseeing its growth with strategic vision.

The results of these efforts helped the university attain “R1: Highest Research Activity” designation by the Carnegie Classification of Institutes of Higher Education, the definitive honor for doctoral research universities in the United States, representing only 2.5 percent of universities nationwide.

“The first time I met Alice Clark, she was a young faculty member in the School of Pharmacy,” Chancellor Emeritus Robert Khayat said. “The gleam in her eyes told me that she was very bright. As I followed her career, I learned about her acclaimed reputation as a scientist.

“It was an easy decision to invite her to join our dynamic team as vice chancellor for research. Our research programs prospered during her leadership years. The designation as a Carnegie R1 research institute is a tribute to her life’s work.”

As vice chancellor, Clark sought and secured support for several new research centers and institutes on campus. She was instrumental in securing more than $23 million in funding for the establishment of the university’s research park, Insight Park, and the Innovation Hub at Insight Park.

She built a Division of Technology Management (now Office of Technology Commercialization) to assist university researchers in bringing their discoveries to the marketplace.

In 2016, at the request of Chancellor Jeffrey S. Vitter, Clark assumed the role of vice chancellor for university relations, where she continued to oversee the university’s economic development and federal relations efforts. She also became the chief administrator for development, public events and communications, and served as a key figure in implementing recent universitywide strategic initiatives.

“Alice is well-known for her steadfast commitment, visionary leadership and immense institutional knowledge,” Vitter said. “She has had a tremendous role shaping so many of the university’s successes during her decades at Ole Miss.

“As the longest-serving member of the university’s leadership team, the impact of her retirement will most certainly be felt at the leadership level and across so many different facets of our university.”

Alice Clark

A renowned pharmaceutical scientist, Clark has published extensively on the discovery of novel biologically active natural products and pharmaceuticals, authoring and co-authoring more than 100 original research articles, reviews and book chapters. As a principal investigator, she received continuous peer-reviewed NIH funding from 1984 to 2014 to conduct research related to the discovery and development of new drugs for opportunistic infections. The grant, one of the longest continually funded antifungal research programs in NIH history, led to the identification of many new natural products.

Her late husband, Charles D. Hufford, associate dean emeritus for research and graduate programs and professor emeritus of pharmacognosy, was a longtime collaborator. In total, Clark secured more than $20 million in research support.

Clark’s scientific expertise has informed public policy at the federal and state levels. She has testified to Congress on issues related to antimicrobial resistance and the safety and quality of dietary supplements.

She served on the charter advisory council for the NIH Center for Scientific Review and is a member of the National Advisory Council for Complementary and Integrative Health for NIH. She has also served on many expert review panels for NIH, chairing panels on AIDS and related research and drug discovery and antimicrobial resistance.

In 2010, she received the Marcy Speer Outstanding Reviewer Award, the highest honor for commitment to peer review given by the National Institutes of Health’s Center for Scientific Review. She was the 1996 Rho Chi National Lecturer and is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists.

Clark has also served in several leadership positions in national and international professional associations, including chair of the Pharmaceutical Sciences Section of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and president of the American Society of Pharmacognosy.

In 2017, Clark was named recipient of the UM Distinguished Research and Creative Achievement Award. This annual award, which was instituted during Clark’s time as vice chancellor for research, recognizes an Ole Miss faculty member who has shown outstanding accomplishment in research, scholarship and creative activity. 

Clark’s impact extends beyond research and leadership roles to service and mentorship. She was a founding member of the Ole Miss Women’s Council, a group of philanthropic women committed to developing UM students through leadership, scholarship and mentorship.

She has served on the board of the CREATE Foundation and also served as a mentor to dozens of undergraduate and graduate students.

“Alice Clark is the reason I went into science,” said Melissa Flagg, U.S. Army Research Laboratory Northeast lead and former deputy assistant secretary of defense for research. “She ensured I was never apologetic for having questions, encouraged me to think beyond the traditional career pathways and reminded me that we can be both excellent and kind as leaders. 

“She set me on a career with a foundation of personal responsibility – that I’m responsible for my impacts on those around me, but also responsible for setting my own bar and being true to myself, cultivating excellence in myself and others.”

After 38-plus years of service, multitudes of new programs and initiatives, millions of research and philanthropy dollars raised, and hundreds of educational and career paths shaped in her role as a mentor, Clark is looking forward to a slower pace and spending lots of time on her new back porch that is under construction. She also expects to burn up the roads to Huntsville, Jackson and Nashville to spend time with her beloved family.

“I am deeply grateful for the wonderful opportunities given to me to serve the University of Mississippi in many ways over 38-plus years and for the rich and fulfilling life I’ve enjoyed as a result of being part of this extraordinary community,” Clark said. “Coming to Ole Miss as a graduate student changed the course of my life.

“It has been a privilege and honor to work with some of the finest, most dedicated people anywhere who are committed to providing such opportunities to others. I want to especially thank the countless friends and colleagues who have been so helpful to me throughout my professional life – you all have made the years fly by!”

Foodways Studies Come of Age as a Respected Discipline

Work at UM Center for the Study of Southern Culture includes conferences, books and films

Ava Lowrey’s film ‘Johnny’s Greek and Three,’ looks at Chef Tim Hontzas and the role of Greek-Southern families in shaping Birmingham, Alabama, dining. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – In the conclusion of “The Larder: Food Studies Methods from the American South,” co-editor Ted Ownby writes that it seems likely it will be the last collection of food studies scholarship that must justify the field of study.

John T. Edge, director of the Southern Foodways Alliance at the University of Mississippi, agrees with that assessment.

“I think foodways studies has reached a point of maturation,” Edge said. “There’s a broadening of the field of food studies, which was, at first, often primarily concerned with food system problems.

“Contemporary foodways scholarship defines food as a product of various interwoven cultural processes. The question we’re asking today is, ‘What direction will those linked fields take?’ For the SFA, our investment in those fields has grown more multifaceted each year.”

The hiring of Catarina Passidomo in 2014 as the first UM faculty member specifically teaching foodways classes is part of that investment. 

“Studying foodways offers insight into everyday life, ritual, social interactions and other cultural phenomena,” Passidomo wrote in the syllabus for her class, SST 555: The South in Food. “By studying food – and eating and agriculture – as systems, we can also gain insight into broader patterns of power, identity formation and maintenance, and the meaning and importance of particular places.

“By placing the study of foodways within the context of ‘the South,’ we can better understand – and, perhaps, complicate – what, if anything, makes that place unique.

Another place to see what is happening in the field of foodways is the SFA Graduate Student Conference, which takes place for the fifth year this fall. The conference is one of the most eagerly anticipated dates on the SFA calendar, Edge said.

“It’s a great example of the ways in which we contribute to the careers to these young scholars and also benefit from their presence in our midst,” he said. “A range of senior scholars who have come to speak at that event, people like Krishnendu Ray from NYU and Bart Elmore, now at the Ohio State University, have proven generous thinkers and mentors who see the same promise in the field and see the same promise in these young academics, many of whom are exploring identity through food culture.” 

At the 2017 conference, which focused on foodways and social justice and was co-hosted by the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Bobby J. Smith II, a PhD candidate in the Department of Development Sociology at Cornell University, presented a paper on “Disrupting Food Access: The White Citizens’ Council and the Politics of Food in the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement.”

Smith spoke of food as a weapon, studying the food blockades during the civil rights movement and the ways that the White Citizens’ Council withheld food from black citizens of the Delta. After the conference, the SFA published an excerpt from that paper in Gravy, its quarterly journal.

Ava Lowrey, the Pihakis Foodways Documentary Filmmaker, uses film to share untold food stories centered in the South. In 2017, she produced films on a Greek restaurateur in Birmingham and on the fish camps of the Carolinas, which long served families who worked the region’s cotton mills.

Last spring she taught a Food and Film course, and this spring taught an advanced documentary production course, in addition to working with emerging filmmakers as interns and workshop attendees.

“The teaching parts of my job are the parts that I feel the most overwhelming pride in,” Lowrey said. “I love seeing the projects the students come up with and the discussions that we have in classes.” 

The SFA also curates a scholarly book series, the Southern Foodways Alliance Studies in Culture, People, and Place, published by the University of Georgia press.

For the series, SFA will publish two books this year, including “Catfish Dream: Ed Scott’s Fight for his Family Farm and Racial Justice in the Mississippi Delta,” by Julian Rankin, who wrote that book, in part, book at a Rivendell Writers Workshop fellowship that the SFA funded. Edge, Sara Camp Milam, and Brett Anderson, who serves on the editorial board for the series, all worked with Rankin to develop and polish the manuscript.

“Catfish Dream” is the story of Ed Scott, the first African-American catfish farmer. His life story, framed by Rankin, showcases the vitality of the field and its dynamic relationship to Southern studies. This book makes clear, too, how SFA’s long-term investments in young scholars is paying dividends.

One of the Southern studies graduates who influenced the field of foodways is Georgeanna Milam Chapman, who wrote her master’s thesis about food journalist Craig Claiborne.

“The discovery and research that she did on Claiborne’s life led to a broader understanding of his life and work,” Edge said. “She framed him in a new way as a Southerner, rebelling against the social strictures of the Delta.”

During a session on foodways at the 2018 Oxford Conference for the Book in March, Edge, author of “The Potlikker Papers,” and Jonathan Kauffman, author of “Hippie Food: How Back-to-the-Landers, Longhairs, and Revolutionaries Changed the Way We Eat,” discussed their works. 

“Kauffman’s book is another example of dynamic scholarship that reappraises a moment in American history often overlooked,” Edge said “He frames the so-called hippie food movement as a radical rethinking of the food supply and makes clear how and why so-called hippie food has gone mainstream.”

Through teaching, studying, writing, publishing, sharing and storytelling, the field of food studies fits in seamlessly with Southern studies and its interdisciplinary approach.

This summer, the SFA turned an eye to the food and literature citadel of Lexington, Kentucky. On June 21-23, the Summer Symposium explored the diverse city at the heart of the bluegrass region and on the cusp of Appalachia.

Through lectures, oral history presentations, documentary films, tastings and experiences, the SFA framed Kentucky in the regional food conversation, continuing to tell stories about the South by giving voice to farmers, cooks and writers.

Vazzana’s Generosity Helps Strengthen Health Care

Major gifts to support UM pharmacy scholarships, Manning Fund

Anthony S. Vazzana (seated) enjoys a recent visit with (from left) David Allen, dean of the UM School of Pharmacy; Port Kaigler, the school’s development director; and his cousins Gayton C. Cascio and Michael Casavechia. UM photo by Sydney Slotkin DuPriest

OXFORD, Miss. – A mortar and pestle; a balance; a graduated cylinder; species jars; faience or majolica drug jars; eye-wash cups; Bowls of Hygeia fashioned into ornate candelabra; pill bottles labeled opium, poison and heroin; and various show globes that once contained elixirs, tonics, powders and other medicines.

These pharmaceutical artifacts line the shelves at the entrance to the dean’s office in the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy. They were a gift from UM alumnus Anthony S. Vazzana, of Leland, and are on permanent display as treasures of an era past.

Meanwhile, an additional gift points to the future: Vazzana has designated to the university two Charitable Remainder Annuity Trusts. Given by Vazzana as a memorial in honor of his parents, Sam and Mary G. Vazzana, the gifts will provide scholarships for pharmacy students and support the Manning Family Fund for a Healthier Mississippi at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, a fund that underwrites disease treatment and prevention in the areas of childhood obesity, caregiver training, African-American men’s health and Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

Vazzana was unavailable for comment, but his cousin Gayton C. Cascio of Greenville, said, “He wants to help prepare students for the field of pharmacy. That was always the love of his life: pharmacy and the study of pharmaceutical chemistry. He really wants to see future generations benefit from his generosity.”

Vazzana received a bachelor’s degree in pharmaceutical chemistry from Ole Miss in 1956 and soon after had an opportunity to buy into Turner’s Pharmacy, the largest drugstore by volume in Greenville, where he worked until his retirement in 1982. He also served as a pharmacist in the U.S. Air Force Reserve at the Greenville Air Force Base and was briefly stationed in Colorado.

“The thing that struck me was that Anthony loved talking about his time at the pharmacy and about the people with whom he interacted as a pharmacist,” said UM pharmacy Dean David Allen, who met with Vazzana in January at the Washington Care Center in Greenville. “You could see a smile on his face when he talked about it.”

Vazzana also loves his alma mater.

“He’ll talk about things at Ole Miss as if they were the other day,” Cascio said. “As a youth, he enjoyed sports, especially football. He made All-Conference as a tackle in the old Delta Valley Conference his senior year at Leland High School, so he talked to the Ole Miss coaches about possibly playing for the Rebels.

“He decided not to because he knew he would have afternoons filled with labs because of chemistry and that sort of thing. But he always enjoyed watching it. He’s a loyal fan.”

Vazzana has led a quiet, unassuming life. For many years, he enjoyed annual trips to Cuba before the embargo and then to Mexico; he tinkered with cars and went twice to the Indianapolis 500 with friends; and he was a collector of many things.

“He had a pharmacy scale and he kept all his old textbooks. He kept a lot of old memorabilia there in the house,” Cascio said. “Even the library in Greenville put pieces of his collection on display in the past. He was proud of that.”

His cousin also enjoyed gardening, Cascio said. “He spent a lot of time growing vegetables and spices.”

Thanks to his generous planned gift, Vazzana will grow young minds for the profession he loves.

“Just from the way he talks and the way he lived his life, I know that’s why he wanted to give back to Ole Miss,” Cascio said.

Planned gifts award donors membership in the 1848 Society, named for the year the university welcomed its first students. The society recognizes those who thoughtfully provide for the university through bequests and deferred gifts.

“By endowing this scholarship, Mr. Vazzana will help give students the opportunity to make their dreams of a career in pharmacy come true,” Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said. “In turn, the students he helps will then go on to help save lives in the healthcare profession. 

“Likewise, his support of the Manning Family Fund will significantly bolster continued research in the areas of disease treatment and prevention within our state. We are extremely grateful for Mr. Vazzana’s generosity.”

The Anthony Vazzana Endowment is open to gifts from individuals and organizations. To contribute, send checks with the endowment name noted in the memo line to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., University, MS 38655; or visit http://www.umfoundation.com/makeagift.

For information on supporting the School of Pharmacy, contact Port Kaigler, development director, at 662-915-2712 or port@olemiss.edu.