M Partner Deploying Volunteers Across Mississippi

Charleston, Lexington, New Albany focus of ambitious initiative

UM Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter speaks at the M Partner announcement in March 2018. The university will send 150 M Partner volunteers to work Saturday (Oct. 13) in Lexington, Charleston and New Albany. Photo by Photo by Thomas Graning/ Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – More than 150 volunteers will work Saturday in Charleston, Lexington and New Albany during M Partner Community Day to tackle some of each city’s major priorities. M Partner is the University of Mississippi’s hands-on new approach to addressing community needs in the state.

M Partner, which was unveiled in March, was outlined in the university’s comprehensive strategic plan, Flagship Forward. It is the result of a meeting of leaders from all UM campuses to create an ambitious new approach to the university’s longstanding commitment to improving quality of life in Mississippi.

M Partner Community Day engages students in the three partner cities through volunteer projects.

“This Community Day of Service embodies the tenets of M Partner and gets to the core of our university’s commitment to building healthy and vibrant communities,” Chancellor Jeffrey S. Vitter said. “It is extremely rewarding to see our students so overwhelmingly and enthusiastically embrace this tremendous opportunity.

“I am excited about this community collaboration and the experiences our students will gain as well as the measurable impact this M Partner event will have upon our partner communities.”

Besides the day of service on Saturday, business development forums are set for Tuesday and Wednesday (Oct. 16 and 17) in New Albany and Charleston. These forums are hosted in partnership with the Entrepreneur Center at the Mississippi Development Authority, as well as the university’s Insight Park and McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement.

Transportation and lunch will be provided at the business forums. To register, email mclean@olemiss.edu or mlcoope4@olemiss.edu.

Vitter laid out the vision for M Partner in his November 2016 inaugural address, noting the considerable potential in channeling the talents of the university to support towns and cities as they work together to improve community life. Service efforts such as M Partner Community Day will be complemented by faculty members teaching academic courses that align with priority projects identified by community members.

The work to this point is only the beginning. M Partner will act as a pilot program for up to two years. The Division of Diversity and Community Engagement has a lead role in M Partner, and administrators have been working to find community goals for the program through ongoing discussions in each of the three cities.

M Partner programs began over the summer, when students in the McLean Institute’s Catalyzing Entrepreneurship and Economic Development initiative worked with youth from each M Partner city to help them understand how the entrepreneurial mindset can be used to address challenges. Faculty members from the Ole Miss departments of Sociology and Anthropology and Management; the School of Law; and the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College worked with those students.

Community partners including the James C. Kennedy Wellness Center, Mississippi Development Authority – The Entrepreneur Center and the Mississippi Main Street Association have pitched in as well.

Locals have spoken passionately about what they love about their cities, as well as their economic development, education, community well-being and beautification ideas in meetings the institute has conducted with partner cities over the last few months, said Laura Martin, M Partner director and associate director of the McLean Institute.

“We are thrilled that M Partner Community Day will be an opportunity to contribute to the beautification projects identified by each community,” Martin said. “And we are excited for our student volunteers to see how their efforts in this day of service are connected to a much larger community-university initiative.”

Volunteers will be sent to each community to help with beautification and landscaping, and they will even work Charleston’s Gateway to the Delta Festival, said Michaela Cooper, the AmeriCorps VISTA supporting M Partner.

Some Ole Miss students from these towns will talk with volunteers and leaders about life in their towns and the importance of this day to them personally to provide perspective to the helpers, Cooper said.

“On days of service, it is vital that we constantly think about how to maintain the sustainability of these partnerships and how to bring lessons learned from our partner communities back to our campus,” Cooper said. “We plan to accomplish this by making this not just a day of community service, but also a day of reflection and a call to action.”

More information about the M Partner program is available at http://mpartner.olemiss.edu/.

Anchorage to Oxford: Student Travels 4,500 Miles for Graduate School

Son, father drive eight days to begin Ole Miss IMC program

Chris Lawrence saw stunning scenery, such as Destruction Bay, Yukon, during his drive to Oxford. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – Chris Lawrence and his father spent eight days on the road from Anchorage, Alaska, to Oxford, going through a CD case full of classic rock, telling stories and taking in diverse landscapes on a 4,500-mile adventure to start a new journey as a graduate student at the University of Mississippi.

At the end of the voyage, Chris Lawrence enrolled this fall as an integrated marketing communications graduate student at Ole Miss. Jay Lawrence got to see the town before heading back to Alaska by plane.

“I was able to show him Oxford and Ole Miss a little bit, and that meant a whole lot,” Chris said.

After Chris earned his undergraduate degree in journalism and public communications at the University of Alaska at Anchorage, he decided he would go to graduate school and continue his education in Mississippi. His mother, Kelly Lawrence, lives in Amory, and growing up, he spent summers in the Magnolia State with her.

“I thought, well, why not see what Mississippi has to offer so I could be close to my mom while continuing my education,” he said. “I did a little research and discovered Ole Miss had a great IMC program, and decided it was for me.”

Once the decision was made to enroll at Ole Miss, the daunting 600-mile-a-day, eight-day trip lay ahead of the father-and-son team. They stuffed Chris’ Dodge Caliber full of moving essentials and mementos and drove in five-hour shifts each day.

Jay enjoyed the long trip with his son and the ability to spend so much bonding time with him.

“We had a good time,” Jay said. “It was an opportunity to spend more time with him.”

The many different types of landscapes and wildlife between Anchorage and Oxford served as the main source of entertainment for the pair.

“We unfortunately didn’t spend a lot of time at places, but we definitely took in the sights and wonders of nature,” Chris said. “Just to be able to have a piece of a place and kind of know a little about what it’s like was nice.”

Some of the places the two stayed were the Canadian cities of Destruction Bay, Yukon; Fort Nelson, British Columbia; and Edmonton, Alberta. Cities in the United States included Bozeman, Montana; Scottsbluff, Nebraska; St. Joseph, Missouri; and Forrest City, Arkansas.

Lethbridge, Alberta, was a particular favorite.

Kelly, Chris and Jay Lawrence take a picture with the statue of William Faulkner upon their arrival to Oxford. Submitted photo

“We drove through there and saw a 100-year-old steel viaduct and rolling hills all around town,” Chris said. “Lethbridge seemed runner- and biker-friendly, too. It was really, really cool.”

Bozeman, Montana, on the other hand, was bustling with tourists there to take in Yellowstone National Park. Besides the traffic and crowds there, Montana was lovely.

“We went over a bunch of rivers,” he said. “There was also a lot of open areas where you could see nothing but the sky. You could see for miles and miles.”

He enjoyed Montana and British Columbia for the scenery that the two places offered.

“British Columbia had a lot of open views,” he said. “You could see the gorgeous trees, rivers and lakes, so that was really awesome and majestic. We saw six black bears on the side of the road alone through B.C., and about 10 wild horses in Montana.”

To pass the time during the trip to Ole Miss, Chris and his father had conversations about past times and what lies ahead, while jamming out to rock bands such as Pearl Jam and Tom Petty.

Luck was also on their side. The two encountered few problems that slowed them down along the journey. They even said they were always ahead of bad weather.

“Surprisingly, we only saw two or three accidents the entire way so that was good traffic didn’t hold us up,” he said. “I’d say we drove through only 60 minutes of rain combined along the way.”

Once they reached Forrest City, they knew they were close to their final destination. The food was a dead giveaway.

“I had catfish with the bone-in, slaw and baked beans,” Chris said. “So I definitely knew I was home in the South.”

Chris Lawrence stands at mile 0 of the Alaska Highway (ALCAN Highway) in Dawson Creek, British Columbia. Submitted photo

The father-son team was relieved to get to Oxford after that. Before Jay flew back to Anchorage, Chris and his mom showed Jay around Oxford and Ole Miss, which was special to all of them.

Chris is familiar with Oxford because he used to visit the town with his mom during summers.

“I always really liked it,” he said. “I thought it was a beautiful place.”

His mom was relieved the trip went well, and she was elated to see her son.

“When he got here, I was so happy to see him and am so excited knowing he’s at Ole Miss now,” she said.

The Lawrences made unforgettable memories over those 4,500 miles.

“It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences saying you could do a cross-country trek like that,” Chris said. “It was the end of my Alaska chapter and the beginning of my chapter here in Mississippi.”

Dialogues on Diversity Series Runs Through Oct. 10

Events include exhibit, keynote from award-winning photographer


John Noltner

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi Division of Diversity and Community Engagement is hosting a Dialogues on Diversity series this week with the goal of fostering change through public discourse. 

The new series begins with award-winning photographer John Noltner and his project “A Peace of My Mind,” which is on display in Bryant Hall Gallery from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through Wednesday (Oct. 10).

“A Peace of My Mind” is a multimedia arts project built around the simple question, “What does peace mean to you?” The project began as Noltner’s effort to rediscover humanity in an increasingly polarized world. 

“In order to demonstrate our true commitment to creating an inclusive campus, we must insist that every student’s voice, every student experience, informs our work,” said Katrina Caldwell, UM vice chancellor for diversity and community engagement. “The Dialogues on Diversity series will be an annual program that provides our community opportunities to engage in civil and transformative conversations that advance diversity and equity at the University of Mississippi.”

The first exhibit encourages individuals to consider the humanity that connects us through a unique and interactive collection of portraits and personal stories to celebrate our shared experience. 

The public will have opportunities to speak to Noltner during his visit. Ole Miss students, faculty and staff are invited to share stories with him during brief 10-minute interviews. Participants will respond to his question, “The UM I want to create is…”

Interviews will be conducted today and tomorrow (Oct. 8-9) at the exhibit at Bryant Hall. Drop-ins are welcome, but time slots can be reserved by filling out the Pre-registration Form

Those who participate in the interviews will be entered to win a pair of tickets in the chancellor’s skybox for the Oct. 20 Ole Miss-Auburn football game. 

Noltner also will present the keynote address, “This Is UM,” at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in Fulton Chapel, where he will share insights and themes found during the interviews. A reception and final viewing of the exhibit follow the address. 

Plans are underway for more Dialogues on Diversity events, which will be announced soon. 

For more information, contact the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement at diversity@olemiss.edu or 662-915-2933. For assistance related to a disability, contact Tanya Nichols at tmnicho2@olemiss.edu.

Battling Brain Tumors, UM Alumna Embodies ‘Never Quit’ Spirit

Abby Loden joins LOU community for Great 38 Race later this month

Abby Loden poses for a portrait at the Ole Miss track facility. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – Several brain surgeries have left Abby Loden deaf, and she still has tumors on her brain and spinal cord, but she finished her latest round of chemotherapy in August and is pushing ahead with plans to run in the Great 38 Race, slated for Oct. 26-28 at the University of Mississippi

Loden, a UM alumna from Fulton, isn’t an avid runner by any means. Her last brush with any extended jogging was when she played basketball in junior high school. 

“I’ve never ran just to run,” Loden said. “I feel like I’m fortunate with all of the other issues, especially with the spinal issues. Other people like me aren’t able to run.

“I am able to, so with that opportunity, I’m going to do it. If I like it, I will keep doing it.”

Loden began suffering hearing loss in high school and was diagnosed in 2005, when she was 16, with neurofibromatosis type 2. The condition is characterized by the growth of noncancerous tumors in the nervous system.

A surgery for a brain tumor kept her from competing last year, but she jumped at the chance this year to enter the race, which includes a 5-kilometer run, an 8-mile race, a half-marathon, a 5-K plus a half-marathon and 8-mile race plus a half-marathon. 

Throughout the difficult last 10 years, she has been inspired by the slogan “Never quit,” the motto of former Ole Miss football player Chucky Mullins, who was paralyzed during a game in 1989 but returned to the classroom in January 1991. Mullins died from complications from a blood clot in May 1991, but his courage and upbeat attitude were an inspiration to Ole Miss fans and the sports world alike. 

The Great 38 Race, named for Mullins’ jersey number, benefits the Chucky Mullins Scholarship fund, which aids UM students with either a physical disability or extreme financial hardships. 

While she was an Ole Miss student, Loden was a recipient of the scholarship, and she is eager to run this year to raise money for the fund. With her condition, she knows she shouldn’t put off anything. A few weeks after the race, she will undergo another round of radiation treatments.

“I have a tumor in my spinal cord,” Loden said. “While it is good right now, I have learned (that) with NF, anything can change in six months.

“I just want to do it while I know I have the opportunity to do it, instead of taking a chance and putting it off a year and not being able to if something comes up in six months.”

Loden’s battle with the condition began when an MRI for an unrelated situation revealed it. She waited on surgeries and struggled through the condition until she was nearly finished with college. The reasoning was that she wanted to have as normal a college life as possible and not struggle with hearing loss that would result from the operation. 

The surgery carried risks, but not having it also was risky. Once she had no choice but to undergo the operation, she was out of school seven months, missing a summer term and a fall semester. She worried about losing the Chucky Mullins Scholarship, but it was there for her when she returned to campus. 

The scholarship is important because having a disability creates lots of medical and related expenses for students, and battling a serious health condition makes it hard to keep up the grade-point average requirements of most other scholarships.

Loden is immensely grateful for everything the scholarship fund provided for her. 

“I got back to Ole Miss in seven months, when they told me that I would never get back to college,” she said. “I used the scholarship. It was important to me.”

While at Ole Miss, she advocated for accessibility issues. People with disabilities face many small challenges that most people never think about, she said.

For example, the mechanisms that open and close doors on campus often had the tension set too tight for disabled students to operate. It was an easy fix, but it made a big difference, Loden said. 

“People care and want to help, but unless you keep these issues in the discussion, people just don’t realize how small thing can make a huge difference in helping people,” she said. 

Abby Loden

Since she graduated in 2012, Loden has suffered a stroke and endured five more major surgeries. She battles issues related to dysfunction in the central nervous system, such as balance problems. Deaf due to her condition, she uses an iPad equipped with software that transcribes what people are saying so she can read it and carry on a conversation.

Still, she works as a sports coordinator for the Itawamba County Times. She covers three different high schools. 

More than 480 runners have signed up for the Great 38 Race, and the group is on pace to surpass last year’s 800-plus entries, said Marvin King, race director and associate professor of political science. Organizers hope that a big push in the weeks leading to the third annual event will improve upon the $5,000 it has risen toward scholarships for each of the last two years. 

“What happens with races is it’s the same amount of work whether we have 5,000 people or 800,” King said. “If I’m designing a shirt, you just get more printed up, and we get more water and bananas, but it’s the same course.

“We’re trying to raise money for the Chucky Mullins scholarship, but with economies of scale, we’d be able to donate more. This scholarship supports a great cause.”

The top three male and female finishers in each of the races receive prize money, and those who run the 8-mile race or the half-marathon get a Great 38 Race medal.

The race sticks to the football theme. The route finishes at the 38-yard line of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. The Ole Miss spirit squad will be on hand, and runners can see themselves on the video board as they cross the finish line.

The day before the race, an expo will feature activities designed to get kids excited about exercise. 

Besides raising money for students in need, the goal of Run Oxford, which co-sponsors the event with the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics, is to promote healthy habits. 

“The mission of Run Oxford is kid-friendly and getting kids interested in exercise, so that way they become lifelong runners,” King said.

The group still needs volunteers to work the day of the race, he said. For more information and ways to sign up, volunteer or donate, visit the Great 38 website.

As she gears up for the race, Loden bristles at the notion of being an “inspiration,” but acknowledges that she gets called one. She hopes running the race will encourage others to “never quit.” 

“I don’t really understand why people say it,” Loden said. “But sometimes I think it’s because they don’t know when I’m having trouble or struggling with things. I came to look at it like if I can help somebody through what I’ve been through with NF, that helps makes it easier to deal with everything. Easier – it’s still hard.” 

From 14 to 64, UM Freshman Class Spans the Ages

Gifted teen, veteran highlight wide range of educational opportunities

Ryan Mays (center), is taking classes at the University of Mississippi this fall as a 14-year-old freshman, one of the youngest in the university’s history. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – One grew up in the age of “flower power” and the Vietnam War, while the other was born after the launch of Apple iTunes, but both are part of the University of Mississippi’s 2018 freshman class. 

A 64-year-old grandfather and military veteran who takes all his classes online from his home in southwest Mississippi, and a 14-year old wunderkind who aspires to be a surgeon make up the extreme outliers in the incoming class that spans 50 years in age.

Ryan Mays was home-schooled by his mom, a college professor with a Ph.D., before being accepted into UM. He entered as a 14-year-old, one of the youngest students in the history of the university. The 2015 freshman class had four 15-year-olds, but it’s highly unusual to find a student Mays’ age at any university.

If his life were normal, he would be beginning ninth grade, but there’s nothing typical about Mays. From an early age, his mother, Vikki Spann, knew he was far more intellectually advanced than most peers. He’d been reading since he was 3 years old. 

“It’s been very rewarding to be blessed with a son that you know has a gift,” Spann said. “You just can’t sit on that. You have to constantly seek God and ask for direction about what to do next. In that regard, only God led us to this place.” 

Mays’ Ole Miss educational journey began over the summer, when he enrolled in intensive Mandarin Chinese courses as a member of Cohort 16 in the Chinese Language Flagship Program. The Mound Bayou native has a double major in Chinese and biology with a minor in neuroscience.

One of the first signs that he would be interested in foreign languages came when he was a baby. Mays would take the family’s TV remote and change the language from English to French, Spanish or Chinese and watch it.

The bright, soft-spoken youth completed his home-school curriculum through a 12th-grade level, but has also been a student and member of the Institute for the Study of Languages and Cultures at Mississippi Valley State University since 2013. There, he was exposed to Arabic, French, Chinese and Russian languages.

He also studied abroad in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and Limon and San Jose, Costa Rica.

He is a member of the Tri-County Workforce Alliance Health Mentorship Program, where he has had the opportunity to shadow Dr. Gregory Norwood, an OB/GYN. Before joining the mentorship program, he interned with Dr. Timothy Lloyd, a veterinarian. He hopes to shadow a surgeon soon. 

So far, his age doesn’t come up here in class much, except when one professor uses him as an example of good study habits for others to follow, he said.

He doesn’t find himself overwhelmed with going from a class of one to large college classes. He’s trained himself to handle it. 

“I wasn’t really that nervous, since I had taken classes beforehand,” Mays said. “I just sort of ignore the sheer amount of people in the classroom and focus on maybe one person at a time in the classroom, whoever is sitting next to me, or just the teacher.”

Mays hopes to become a multilingual surgeon. His mother is an adjunct at MVSU, seeking employment in the Oxford area to eliminate their nearly three-hour daily commute to campus. 

John Smith, of Gloster, is a University of Mississippi freshman this fall. The grandfather, who is retired from the military, is taking online classes toward a philosophy and religion degree. Photo by Nicole Hester for Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

John Smith, of the Amite County town of Gloster, graduated from high school in 1973, but several mitigating circumstances preventing him from attending college.

“I don’t think a lot of people in America think about it, but college was not an option for people who didn’t have the correct income bracket when I was growing up,” Smith said. “My dad was pretty successful considering he didn’t complete the fifth grade. It just wasn’t an option for me. 

“One of the main reasons is I just didn’t have the money to pay the tuition, much less for an apartment or any other housing. I didn’t have a scholarship.”

Instead, he embarked on a 30-year military career, that started in the U.S. Air Force, where he was active duty for eight years, and then he spent 22 years in the Mississippi Air National Guard. During his military career, he took some community college classes.

He retired as a senior master sergeant in 2007 and went to work for a defense contractor based in Atlanta for nine years. Smith spent the bulk of his time on the road. 

When he decided to leave that job, it was time to work on a goal that had been on the back burner for many years: finishing college. 

He decided to pursue a degree through Ole Miss Online, which offered him flexibility, convenience and access to the university’s faculty from the comfort of his home, 265 miles from Oxford.

He had taken about 30 hours of coursework at community college that he transferred to UM. He’s taking a law class, Writing 102, Religion 101 and Philosophy 101 this semester. He’s aiming for a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and religion

He motivates himself to stay on top of his classwork. 

“It is not that hard to stay disciplined,” Smith said. “You have a goal of staying in there and making sure you follow up and stick with it.”

For him, college is about finishing something. He said he doesn’t intend to pursue another career. 

He and his wife of 44 years, Linda Smith, have five young grandchildren, and he wants them to be there when he walks across the stage at his graduation. This will hopefully show them the importance of education at an early age, he said. 

“I’m looking forward to earning a degree that says, ‘Ole Miss’ on it,” Smith said. “That is my No. 1 goal.”

Mays and Smith are a reminder of how many different kinds of people make up the Ole Miss community, said Brandi Hephner LaBanc, UM vice chancellor for student affairs

“Ryan and John’s journeys to Ole Miss remind us of the diversity and complexity of those students we educate and serve,” Hephner LaBanc said. “The wonderful privilege of working on our campus – physically or virtually – is the opportunity to engage with and observe students of all backgrounds and skills find their niche and excel.”

Meet Juawice McCormick, UM’s New Employee Assistance Program Counselor

Counseling offered to employees experiencing challenging work, life-related situations

Jauwice McCormick

OXFORD, Miss. – Juawice McCormick is the University of Mississippi’s new Employee Assistance Program counselor, and she offers those who seek her out a safe place to talk and find a path toward healing.

McCormick, who has more than 25 years of experience in the private sector and higher education, joined the University Counseling Center as assistant director in August. She comes to Ole Miss from the University of Southern Mississippi.

At UM, she serves as a resource for employees who need counseling services. She sees her role as helping employees take steps to address the issues they face.

“My office is safe place for anybody who wants to come in and talk about what their concerns are,” she said. “We don’t solve people’s problems for them, but we listen and support them.

“We try to help people work through their issues because only they know what their life is and what the solution or path toward healing might be. We hold the lantern along the way.”

McCormick holds a bachelor’s degree in education from Delta State University, and a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling, a specialist degree in counseling and a doctorate in counselor education and supervision, all from Mississippi State University. She is a licensed professional counselor and is former chair of the Mississippi Board of Examiners for Licensed Professional Counselors.

The UM Employee Assistance-Mental Health Program is a confidential service provided for all administration, faculty and staff members. It’s a short-term program for employees who are experiencing challenging work or life-related situations and might benefit from speaking to a counselor in an individual session.

Common topics include stress related to work or home, interpersonal difficulties or barriers to work productivity.

During a calendar year, employees can receive up to four consultations, with the first being free and the remaining three costing $30 per session, which are billed through payroll deduction. Appointments can be made by calling the UCC at 662-915-3784.

Though there is individual counseling for employees, McCormick said she hopes to expand services to include support or educational groups for faculty and staff. She also will work with outreach programs about the services offered through the University Counseling Center.

She can provide counseling not only for anxiety and depression, but for many other challenges adults commonly face.

“We have many faculty and staff on campus who are caregivers for perhaps elderly parents, or even partners or spouses and children,” McCormick said. “That brings with it extra stress on top of working a full-time job.

“Sometimes people have difficulties at work. We talk about those things, just the regular problems that all humans have, and we try to support people, help them and listen to them so they feel better.”

Signs that indicate someone should speak to a counselor appear in several forms, she said.

“Other people become worried about you and may want to speak to you and tell you that you need some support outside of your friends,” McCormick said. “A supervisor or someone else may be concerned about what may be perceived as changes in your behavior, or you may become less engaged at work or experience family difficulties.

“A counselor can provide you with support you don’t get from a best friend, a partner or spouse and listen in a nonjudgmental way and really hear you.”

The university community is fortunate to have McCormick on campus, said Bud Edwards, Counseling Center director.

“Dr. McCormick brings a wealth of experience as a clinician, a faculty member, a trainer of applied mental health and a number of years in higher education in Mississippi,” Edwards said. “We are very excited to have her at the UCC.”

Meet Loretta Sledge Thomas, September’s Staff Member of the Month

Loretta Sledge Thomas

Loretta Sledge Thomas, an assistant II in the Department of Procurement, has been selected as Staff Council’s Staff Member of the Month for September. To help us get to know her better, she answered a few questions for Inside Ole Miss.

IOM: How long have you worked at Ole Miss?

Thomas: 20 years on Oct. 5

IOM: What is your hometown?

Thomas: Oxford. I’ve been here all of my life.

IOM: Talk about your favorite Ole Miss memory.

Thomas: My older sister Diana graduated from Ole Miss, and my niece Katie Tidwell will graduate in May 2019.

IOM: What do you enjoy most about your position or the department in which you work?

Thomas: I love the people that I get to work with on a daily basis. These folks keep me going on bad days, and we are always laughing. Everyone encourages each other. I’ve worked under Procurement Services my entire time at Ole Miss. Then the people I talk to all over campus, the awesome faculty and staff, make my job enjoyable.

IOM: What do you like to do when you are not at work?

Thomas: Be with my family, my husband and son. We camp out a good bit, and I play the piano at church.

IOM: What is one thing on your bucket list?

Thomas: Visiting Alaska with my husband, Gale, and my son, Bradley.

IOM: What is your favorite movie?

Thomas: “Deja Vu” with Denzel Washington.

IOM: What is your favorite Ole Miss tradition?

Thomas: Ole Miss football. Love it!

IOM: What is a fun fact about you?

Thomas: Most people don’t know this, but I sing in church and used to sing in a local group when I was in my teens and early twenties.

IOM: If you could have lunch with anyone alive or dead/fictional or real, who would it be and why?

Thomas: My twin sister, Loreen. She passed away from kidney failure eight years ago. I miss her every day and really miss the time she worked on campus, too.

IOM: What are three words you would use to describe yourself?

Thomas: Christian, loyal and devoted.

IOM: If you could visit one time or place in world history – past, present, or future – what would it be?

Thomas: I’m looking onward and upward. I’ll stay right where God wants me to be today.

IOM: If I could be an animal for a day, I would be _____.

Thomas: A dog. 

To nominate a colleague for Staff Member of the Month, email staffcouncil@olemiss.edu with the name of the individual you’d like to nominate as well as why you feel he or she should be recognized.

University Launches ConnectU HR Portal

Platform offers robust functions for applicant searches, performance reviews, more

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi’s Department of Human Resources has launched ConnectU, a new web portal that offers more tools for supervisors to provide feedback for employees and more resources to help employees develop in their careers, among other features. 

ConnectU, which is an SAP Successfactors program, has a performance and engagement module that will be launched Oct. 1, and it also will be used for staff performance reviews. The platform is being used by job search committees during the applicant screening process.

HR is conducting training sessions for supervisors who will use the new web portal, which is the fruit of much discussion and a campus focus group. 

“ConnectU is proving to be a powerful tool benefiting our applicants, employees and supervisors,” said Andrea M. Jekabsons, associate director of human resources. “The platform offers modern technology and a user-friendly experience. 

“While we anticipate everyone investing time to learn the new programs, the long-term benefits will outweigh the temporary inconvenience.”

The performance and engagement module for ConnectU includes tools for new employees’ probationary review and extended probationary review. It also can be used for progressive discipline notices, exit interview questionnaires, new hire checklists and staff performance reviews, including quarterly checks and mid-year reviews.

The new performance review tool is more than just a form and offers more options for supervisors to provide feedback and employees to track their growth and set goals. 

ConnectU was shaped heavily by feedback from surveys and a  focus group on the annual staff performance review process, Jekabsons said. The focus groups asked for the following, which were incorporated into ConnectU:

  • Value-based competencies that align with UM’s mission, vision, core values and creed
  • Mechanisms for feedback on a regular basis, which led the creation of options for quarterly check-ins, but not mandatory ones, with employees through ConnectU 
  • Being available year-round for managers to track performance
  • Ability to be customized by department objectives and job specific competencies 
  • Mechanisms to collect feedback as an opportunity for a supervisor’s manager to collect feedback from the supervisor’s employees as well as constituents on and off campus
  • Support of learning and development
  • More space for comments
  • At least one objective is required of employees
  • More training and computer access for non-computer-literate employees

For more information on ConnectU, visit the Department of Human Resources website.

Hispanic Heritage Series Films Offer ‘Peek into Far-Off Realities’

Movies from Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries slated over coming month

‘The Second Mother’ is among the films featured in The University of Mississippi Department of Modern Languages’ Hispanic Heritage Series films. The series is part of Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs Sept. 13-Oct. 15 at the university. Submitted Photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi’s Department of Modern Languages will present five films from Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries as part of Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs until Oct. 15 at the university. 

The first of five Hispanic Heritage Series films, “Sealed Cargo” a Bolivian black comedy on the topic of dumping toxic wastes in rural areas, kicks off the series at 6 p.m. Thursday (Sept. 13) in Lamar Hall, Room 127. All screenings are free and open to the public. 

“Thanks to the dedication of our Spanish faculty, the Oxford and UM community will have another golden opportunity to explore and learn about Hispanic cultures,” said Daniel O’Sullivan, UM chair of modern languages. “Events like these showcase the dedication to cultural diversity from our department, the university and the surrounding community.” 

The five films have English subtitles. All screenings are at 6 p.m. in Lamar Hall, Room 127: 

  • Sept. 13, “Sealed Cargo” – This Bolivian black comedy focuses on the normally unfunny topic of the dumping of toxic waste in rural areas. It features magnificent photography of the Andean region with haunting images of indigenous culture appearing at crucial moments. 
  • Sept. 27, “Panama Canal Stories” – This film comprises a series of shorts that follow chronologically sequential stories. The connections are finely attuned so they appear to tell a single story on the integration and lack of integration of the Panamanian and U.S. populations in the Canal Zone.
  • Oct. 4, “The Second Mother” – The first Brazilian film to be featured in the series, “The Second Mother” focuses on the estranged daughter of a hard-working live-in housekeeper who suddenly appears, throwing into disarray the unspoken class barriers that exist within the home.
  • Oct. 11, “Summer 1993” – Six-year-old Frida moves in with her aunt and uncle after her mother dies. The rich, saturated tones of this film belie the troubles Frida has in adjusting to her new life.
  • Oct. 18, “Spider Thieves” – Several Chilean teenagers, including one who is pregnant, all of whom are from a poor section of town, decide it would be fun to see how the rich live. They break into upper-level apartments in skyscrapers from the outside. The film is based on a true story. 

The Hispanic Heritage Series is made possible with the support of Pragda, the Spanish Film Club.com, SPAIN Arts and Culture, and the secretary of state for the culture of Spain. See the trailers at Pragda.com.

Major campus sponsors are the Department of Modern Languages, Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, Center for Inclusion and Cross-Cultural Engagement, and Alpha Lambda Delta Honor Society.

Several campus units also helped with publicity for the series, including the UM departments of English, history, political science, and sociology and anthropology; the College of Liberal Arts and its cinema minor program; Croft Institute for International Studies; and the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies, as well as the Oxford Film Festival.

This year’s series offers more diversity in both topics and languages, which was intentional, said Carmen Sánchez, instructor in modern languages and one of the event organizers.

Diane Marting, associate professor of modern languages and another of the organizers, noted the strength of the group of films. 

“This year, the series has several hard-to-see and well-made films from unexpected countries,” Marting said. “As a bonus, we also showcase four female directors.” 

The films do more than simply give viewers a chance to hear Spanish language, said Irene Kaufmann, UM lecturer in Spanish. 

“Watching foreign movies not only gives us an opportunity to peek into far-away realities and to listen to foreign languages; it also exposes us to a wider range of film styles,” Kaufmann said.

For more information, contact Marting at dmarting@olemiss.edu.

Transportation Fair, Bike Share Demo Set for Sept. 12

Event helps Ole Miss community explore alternative ways to travel on campus, in Oxford

Providing safety information to cyclists and motorists is a focus of the 2018 University of Mississippi Transportation Fair as access to bicycles increases through programs like the short-term bike share and the UM Bike Shop’s semester-long rental program. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi will highlight modes of transportation, including busing, biking, ride-sharing and car-sharing, Wednesday (Sept. 12) during the 2018 UM Transportation Fair and Ride O’Rama.

The fair will take place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Galtney Lott Plaza on Business Row.

“As campus continues to grow, so do more sustainable transportation options,” said Lindsey Abernathy, associate director of the Office of Sustainability. “There can be a learning curve when incorporating these modes of transportation into our daily commutes, so this event is meant to be a learning opportunity for students, faculty and staff in a low-pressure, fun setting.”

This year’s fair will include an interactive bike share demonstration, or “Ride O’Rama,” during which students, faculty and staff can try out the Ole Miss Bike Share in a temporary bike lane. Cyclists and Office of Sustainability staff will be on hand with tips for riding safely on the road.

The Bike Share program, which launched in 2017, allows students, faculty and staff the opportunity to ride two hours a day for free.

Fair attendees also can learn how to load their bicycles onto an OUT bus and get more information about Zipcar and Zimride ride-sharing and the UM Bike Shop, among other transportation-related topics.

Mike Harris, UM director of parking and transportation, said he hopes many students, faculty and staff attend the fair to learn more about various options available for getting around campus and Oxford.

“Learning how to navigate bus routes and schedules and experience bike and car share programs helps you to become familiar with these type of transportation options,” Harris said. “(When students graduate), they will most likely be working in a city with these types of mobility options available.”

Participants who complete activities at the fair will be entered to win a “commuter kit,” including a backpack, water bottle and lunch container.

The UM Transportation Fair is hosted by the Department of Parking and Transportation and the Office of Sustainability. To learn more, visit https://sustain.olemiss.edu/.