UM Graduate Juggles Life as a CPA, Trading Card Artist

Gordon Wills' second set of Marvel trading cards recently released

University of Mississippi alumnus Gordon Wills designs Marvel-licensed art for Upper Deck trading cards. Images courtesy of Gordon Wills

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi alumnus Gordon Wills (BAccy 07, MAccy 08) is like a superhero in some ways. By day, he has a desk job, but by night, he finds himself in a world full of characters battling evil for the good of mankind. 

He isn’t Superman though. He’s a husband, dad and CPA, but he’s also been working as a sketch artist for the Upper Deck Co. on Marvel trading cards, drawing characters he grew up admiring. Wills, a Memphis native, had drawn for fun during his childhood but laid down his art supplies until he was finishing his master’s in accountancy at Ole Miss. Most of his friends had already graduated and moved on, so he found he had more time to draw. 

He and another Ole Miss graduate, Megan Sellers Wills (BAEd 07, MA 08), married, settled in Metairie, Louisiana, and started a family. The family would watch TV shows on Disney Junior, and Gordon Wills became fascinated with the animation he saw on the screen. Spreading a large piece of butcher paper on the kitchen table for art time became something fun he and his daughter could do together. 

“She would follow me around the table and color it in,” Wills said. “It kind of got me used to the drawing the muscles again. It was something I could do with her that nobody else could do.”

He also found that drawing helped him decompress from the stress of daily life. This outlet was extremely valuable to him while he was studying for the CPA exam. He was also using social media sites to connect with other artists. He posted short animation and other artwork to his Instagram page, and his profile was getting noticed.

He’d had Marvel comic trading cards during his childhood and started drawing his own Marvel cards for fun. He began talking to other artists on social media about finding opportunities to draw them professionally and came across an online form for submissions to be considered. The decision wasn’t easy though. 

“I was nervous about submitting to this for fear of failure,” Wills said. “It took a while to take that step out there, but it was good for me to get the positive reinforcement to get the confidence.”

His submission was well received. He was commissioned to do his first set of cards in August. In November, he delivered his first set, which featured Thanos, Spider-Man, Cyclops and Avengers characters. He was proud of how it turned out.

Gordon Wills

Earlier this year, Upper Deck ordered another set of Marvel characters from him. This time, the subject was “Black Panther,” the international blockbuster movie that has smashed box office records and drawn critical praise for offering the world one of the first black superheroes. His “Black Panther” set was recently released. Wills joins Ole Miss alumnus Jesse Holland Jr. (BA 94) in having a connection to the film. Holland was commissioned by Marvel to author an origin story novel ahead of the film’s release. 

Wills continues to look for opportunities to draw professionally and has enjoyed networking with the community of comic book artists, editors and other creative professionals. One of those people was familiar. Trey Treutel (BBA 07), editor at The Cardboard Connection, a website about sports cards, entertainment cards and other collectibles, had also graduated from Ole Miss. The two had known each other from living in the same residence hall. 

Treutel’s website has checklists and other resources for artists such as Wills to use. Treutel said he’s been impressed with his friend’s success. 

“I appreciate how he can capture the essence of these iconic Marvel characters but still maintain a style that is uniquely his,” Treutel said. “I think it is very cool that my dorm neighbor from freshman year supplies drawings for Upper Deck and Marvel.”

Wills will continue to work on art projects, in addition to his job at a bank in Covington, Louisiana. He’s hoping to start selling his art at conventions. As a father of a young daughter and son, he’s also hoping to get involved in a children’s book project at some point. 

He said his wife, family and friends have been supportive of him and his art, which brings him joy. 

“It doesn’t feel like work,” Wills said. “It has really been a neat experience for me, and it kind of opened up a whole new world of opportunities for me.”

Q&A: UPD Capt. Thelma Curry Reflects on 40-Year Career

Longtime officer has been a part of university's transformation and growth

University of Mississippi Police Capt. Thelma Curry (left) has retired. Looking back on her 40-year career, she said she cherishes the time spent interacting with students at events like this ‘Coffee With A Cop’ in 2016. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Thelma Curry, a captain in the University of Mississippi Police Department, has been a familiar face on campus for more than 40 years, but she recently put down her badge for good. 

Curry, UPD’s captain of support operations, retired May 31 after a career that began on campus when she was an Ole Miss undergraduate. She was an intern with UPD and was encouraged to apply for an open patrol officer position. She was hired and never looked back.

Through the years, she’s worked for seven different UPD chiefs and has seen the university grow from just a few thousand students to more than 20,000 on the Oxford campus. 

On her last day of work, she took a break from cleaning out her office to talk with Inside Ole Miss about her time at the university. Here is the interview in its entirety: 

IOM: Tell us how you got started at Ole Miss.

Curry: I came to school here as a freshman in 1975, and in 1977 I started working for the police department as a student worker. Along the way in my junior year, I was getting ready to do my internship and a position came open within UPD, so I decided, with some encouragement from some other folks, who said, “Why don’t you apply?” I did. Luckily, I got the position.

It’s so funny because when I was asked then how long I expected to be here, I said, “Two years at most, until I finish my degree (laughs).” Along the way, I finished the police academy and then before you knew it, it was five years. The years just passed so fast.

 The beauty about UPD is every day at work is different. You never know what you’re going to do.

IOM: Talk a little about how you went from easing into that job when you were young to figuring out this is where you wanted to be, and what you wanted to keep doing. How did it hit you?

Curry: I just felt that I was helping the students. I was continually taking classes, so I was in school and in classes with a lot of students and just seeing them around, and if they needed something, even though I was a patrol officer, they felt comfortable coming to me and talking to me.

Then, being involved in a lot of different staff activities, it just kind of like, “This is OK. This is where I want to be.”

IOM: What is it you like best about working on campus?

Curry: I guess it’s truly the family atmosphere that you see here. Every August and September, you get a new group of people to speak to and be involved with, and, of course, seeing the campus grow as it has. There were 4,000 or 5,000 students when I started, up to more than 20,000 now.

You can tell how the campus has changed and grown for the betterment of the students. Throughout all of the years, UPD has been focused on the students and their safety and making sure we get them out of here in a safe environment.

IOM: Talk a little about that. I know you have seen a change in the campus since you started 40 years ago. Talk about what it was like when you started, compared to what it is like now.

Curry: Oxford itself wasn’t as full blossomed, you may say, as it is now. There were very few activities for students to participate in off-campus. The majority of their activities were on-campus and we didn’t have as many residence halls as we do now.

It was just that wholesome feeling, and the students pretty much got along. There always have been some type of issue going on, but through it all, the students always come together with the administration and they always work through the problems.

IOM: Are there moments in your career that stand out to you? A few memories that you’d like to share that will always stand out to you, things you’re proud of?

Curry: In recent years, I think one of the biggest things is seeing students in various activities like the Big Event, when it first started and getting students involved in different activities, going out and helping the community. If they get out and give back to the community, through events like RebelTHON, they’re doing stuff for other people.

I think that makes a person well-rounded, when you’re looking after the needs of others. That makes them feel like part of the community and it sets some standards for them in life, like placing an importance of taking care of others and looking after the needs of others.

IOM: Today is your last day. What are thinking about? What’s going through your mind?

University of Mississippi Police Capt. Thelma Curry

Curry: I had a moment this morning. I was like, “Oh, Lord. This is my last day leaving the house to go to work at UPD.” It’s bittersweet.

At some point, everyone has to call it quits, in a sense, but it’s been a great career. I look back – we only had 13 patrol officers, and now we’re up to, like, 22. I’ve served through seven UPD chiefs. Just going through all of the different changes and each one of them had a different focus, missions, but still we all worked toward the greater good and toward the university’s mission to provide security for our students, the staff and visitors alike.

For the most part, UPD has always been well-received by students. We try to be interactive with them. They don’t see us as the bad guy, so to speak. People know we’re here to provide law enforcement services, but there are those other things that we do.

When I first started, we provided ambulance service to the campus, as well as police duties. We had EMTs. That was a service we provided, and just watching that change go over, it is just different aspects of the whole campus. We have substations for students. We have tried to be in the community with students so we’re more accessible to them.

IOM: What’s next for Thelma Curry? What do you plan to do?

Curry: First I’m going to rest a little bit (laughs). I’ll also work part-time at Kroger, so I will do that for a little while longer. I want to still be involved in the community, but some things I’ll stop doing.

For a while, I didn’t know how to say no, then I had to learn how to say no. I want to get back involved with some things. I have served on various committees.

When I became crime prevention coordinator in 1977, I became a board member of Family Crisis Services of Northwest Mississippi, and throughout the years I stayed involved with that because, at first, it’s kind of like a grassroots organization in that it has very little funding, so the volunteers and the staff do a lot of the work. I saw how it benefited those victims of family violence.

Of course, I will stay involved with United Way. You can see the good that United Way does for all the different organizations and people that they help. I resigned from the board last fall, but I will continue to help out. Also, I have been volunteering with the food pantry. That is another need that is being fulfilled. I also plan to be more involved in church activities. 

IOM: Is there anything else you’d like to say to the Ole Miss community?

Curry: The faculty and staff have been great. As far as the students, I have had so many people that I have met along the way, people I can call on for various reasons and there is always an answer or a willingness to help out in any way possible.

I think when they say that this is one of the best workplaces, I can truly say that it is, but you have to put your heart into it and be involved with everything that is going on and do your part. This is the only way a real family works; it is everyone being a part and looking for the greater good. The greater good is the education of the students and having a welcoming atmosphere so that anyone who steps on this campus can feel like they belong.

If we get all of that accomplished, this will continue to be a great university and a place that people will want to come and enjoy.

UM Team to Scan Columbus Site for Unmarked Graves of Union Soldiers

Work to begin this fall using advanced remote sensing technologies

More than 2,100 Confederate soldiers are buried at Friendship Cemetery in Columbus, and researchers believe about 10 Union soldiers are also buried there in unmarked graves. A UM team is helping lead a high-tech search for those soldiers’ resting places. Photo by Tony Boudreaux

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi’s Center for Archaeological Research will use remote sensing technology to find unmarked graves of Union soldiers in a Columbus cemetery where some of the country’s first Memorial Day traditions began in the 1860s. 

UM researchers and students will be working with the U.S. Grant Association and Presidential Library and the Billups-Garth Foundation, a Columbus-based nonprofit, to find the unmarked graves of about 10 Union soldiers in Friendship Cemetery. They are buried alongside Confederate soldiers killed in the Civil War.

A year after the Civil War had ended, local women went into the cemetery and decorated the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers. This act of reconciliation, the predecessor of our modern Memorial Day holiday, was called “Decoration Day” and became an annual event that was adopted all over the country. 

Identifying the final resting place of the soldiers in Friendship Cemetery is important work, said Tony Boudreaux, director of the UM Center for Archaeological Research and associate professor of anthropology.

“There is something very powerful about helping identify a place,” Boudreaux said. “You can actually find objects and rediscover places. The cemetery is already valuable and important, but this will add another layer of interest to an already important site.”

The group, which will include Ole Miss students, hopes to begin work this fall, Boudreaux said. They will use different kinds of remote sensing technology, chiefly ground-penetrating radar, to send an electronic pulse up to 20 feet into the ground. The pulses will be used to generate images of what the area beneath soil looks like.

The team also will use a magnetometer, which can pick up localized differences in underground magnetic fields. 

Surveying the spot should take about a week, and events are in the works to allow the public to experience the project at the site. 

Tony Boudreaux

The country’s national day of honoring all who died in U.S. wars is called Memorial Day now, but it began as “Decoration Day” to honor those who died in the Civil War. Columbus is one of the U.S. cities that claims the first Decoration Day.

Macon, Georgia; Columbus, Georgia; Richmond, Virginia; and Carbondale, Illinois are among the more-than-25 places the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs identifies as being named in connection with the origin of Memorial Day.

At the end of the 19th century, ceremonies across the country honoring the dead were being held on May 30. Following World War I, Memorial Day, was expanded to honor all of those who died in American wars, and in 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday to be observed the last Monday in May. 

In 1867, one year after the first Decoration Day, efforts began to move the Union soldiers’ graves from Columbus to Corinth National Cemetery. It was believed at least 51 Union soldiers died in Columbus, and it had been assumed that all of the bodies had been moved.

Recent research uncovered that only 32 were found in Friendship Cemetery, and another nine were found in Sandfield Cemetery, also in Columbus. This leaves 10 Union remains unaccounted for to this day. 

Each Decoration Day in the decades following the Civil War, locals continued to place flowers in the corner of Friendship Cemetery where it is believed the Union troops were buried in unmarked graves, near the remains of more than 2,100 Confederate soldiers. 

The work will be done in a sensitive manner through a partnership between the university, the two foundations and the city of Columbus, said Rufus Ward, chairman of the Billups-Garth Foundation.

“Through the use of noninvasive remote sensing technologies, archaeologists from the University of Mississippi will attempt to locate the resting place of these American heroes whose graves played a central role in the origins of Memorial Day,” Ward said.

UM Delves into Ethics to Prepare Students to Debate Society’s Issues

New courses and competitions equip participants to engage in civil discussion

UM Ethics Bowl team member Madison Bandler (second from left), discusses the question, ‘Should the standard of sexual consent be an affirmative verbal yes?’ during the Great Debate of 2018. Photo by Marlee Crawford/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi Department of Philosophy and Religion has created new classes, and conducts an annual Ethics Bowl and a Great Debate with the goal of equipping students to respectfully grapple with some of life’s most pressing questions.

Specialized ethics classes have become more common at universities around the country over the last 20 years against the backdrop of many high-profile scandals that involve unethical behavior. The department has courses on medical, environmental, professional and business ethics, among others.

Deborah Mower, an associate professor of philosophy, came to UM in 2016 and specializes in moral psychology, applied ethics and public policy, and moral education. Unlike many academic subjects that deal only with professional situations, the curriculum can be applied to all aspects of life, said Mower, whose work is supported by the Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Hume Bryant Lectureship in Ethics Endowment. 

“Everything is an ethical issue,” Mower said. 

Films, books, the legal system and other aspects of our culture all have ethical theories imbued in them, so people pick up a variety of beliefs, but they can become a hodgepodge. Those beliefs don’t all fit together nicely, and in some context, one might apply one principle but ignore it in another situation.

This idiosyncrasy is problematic, Mower said.

The value of an ethics class is not just applying what is learned, but also figuring out how some of your beliefs fit into single coherent theories, she said. Seeing students figure this out is always rewarding, Mower said.

“You always get that moment in the semester when you are teaching them some particular theory and they get this ‘aha!’ look on their face where they’ve realized, ‘I’m a Kantian and I never knew it,’ or, ‘I’m a virtue theorist and I never knew it,'” she said.

Mower also praised the students on the first two UM Ethics Bowls teams, which competed in 2017 and 2018. They spent hours each week practicing, which included being questioned about specific topics by experts and applying their teachings to the answers they gave.

The UM Ethics Bowl participants also held a Great Debate of 2018 earlier this semester.

At the Great Debate, two groups handled the topic “Should the standard of sexual consent be an affirmative verbal ‘yes’?” One team spoke in favor of the “affirmative, verbal ‘yes'” while another spoke against it.

Their presentations were followed by judges’ questions and a question-and-answer session with emphasis on how to address specific claims and arguments civilly for a productive conversation. A reception afterward allowed students to discuss the issue further with attendees.

Madison Bandler, a senior biology major from Decatur, Illinois, completed a fellowship last year in which she worked at the UM Medical Center in Jackson. There, she learned about ethical issues surrounding medicine, which led her to begin taking classes under Mower.

Mower urged her to become involved with the Ethics Bowl, but she wasn’t immediately on board.

“I thought, ‘Oh, that sounds really complicated and intense; I don’t know,'” Bandler said. “I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I came to the first practice, but it ended up becoming one of the most influential and inspiring parts of my academic career.”

The team studied issues ranging from quarantines, euthanasia, a ban on Muslims and psychiatrists diagnosing someone with mental illness through television and without seeing them in a clinical setting, which is also known as “the Goldwater rule.” Exploring so many diverse topics with such great depths challenged her.

The coursework and competitions will serve the aspiring physician well, she said.

“I want to go to medical school, so I’ve always had an interest in medicine,” Bandler said. “To mold that with an interest in humanities and ethics is really something I’m passionate about.”

Ethan Davis, a senior philosophy major from Laurel, said he enjoyed the Ethics Bowl and Great Debate for one reason that might sound weird. He believes formal academic debate has grown stale, but the Ethics Bowl offers something new and different.

It is designed to begin a conversation, rather than win an argument. It rewards friendliness and the ability to engage the opposing team’s viewpoint in interesting ways. Ethics Bowl teams can actually agree. 

“You find yourself using your response time to say things like, ‘We completely agree with your position, and here are some elements that we think are important that you didn’t get a chance to speak about. Could you elaborate on them?” Davis said. 

Samantha Priest, a senior philosophy and psychology major from New Albany, said the Ethics Bowl taught her the importance of listening to other people’s opinions with a charitable mind, with the goal of finding the strongest, most rational interpretation of a speaker’s argument.

“It is not civil to ignore the strong points in another’s argument and focus on the weak points,” Priest said. “Focusing there only causes negative discourse, but being charitable allows for a positive discussion among people who disagree.” 

It also drove home the importance of knowing that she not only needs to look at an issue from all perspectives, but also to consider solutions, she said. 

“It is not enough to voice an opinion about an issue if the goal is progress,” Priest said. “Progress takes solutions, and the best way to get to progress is start by not only talking about the issues, but figuring out how to solve the issue in the most ethical way possible.”

University Honors Thad Cochran with Mississippi Humanitarian Award

Former senator known as 'The Quiet Persuader' helped shape state as well as his alma mater

The University of Mississippi honored former U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran with its Mississippi Humanitarian Award Saturday at Commencement. Cochran, who was not able to attend, is shown speaking at Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter’s investiture in 2016. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – During its 165th Commencement on Saturday, the University of Mississippi honored former U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran with its Mississippi Humanitarian Award, which is presented only rarely to exceptional figures who have played a major role in shaping the state. 

Cochran, a UM alumnus, was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1972, and in 1978, he began a nearly 40-year career in the U.S. Senate – many of those years serving as the longtime chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, a powerful and coveted post on Capitol Hill.

Time magazine dubbed the Pontotoc native “The Quiet Persuader” for his polite manner and knack for consensus building. He retired April 1 as the 10th longest serving senator in American history. 

“The University of Mississippi is dear to me, and I am humbled by this award,” said the senator, who wasn’t able to attend the ceremony. “It was an honor to serve Mississippi in Washington, and I am proud of our state’s progress to increase opportunities for its citizens.

“I hope future generations will dedicate themselves to doing their part to make Mississippi the best place to live, work and enjoy life.”

Chancellor Jeffrey S. Vitter said he is proud the university had an opportunity to recognize Cochran for his tireless support of its research efforts. 

“Honoring Sen. Cochran with the Mississippi Humanitarian Award is a tremendous opportunity to recognize his outstanding contributions to our university, our state and our nation,” Vitter said. “I’m grateful for the senator’s longstanding efforts to support and grow the university, especially our research enterprise.

“He’s an excellent representative of an Ole Miss graduate and a true statesman.”

This is the fourth time the Mississippi Humanitarian Award has been presented since it was created in 2001. That year, it honored Jim and Sally McDonnell Barksdale. In 2003, former Gov. William Winter and his wife, Elise, were honored. The last winner of the award was Myrle Evers-Willams in 2013. 

Cochran majored in psychology and minored in political science at Ole Miss, and was the head cheerleader and a member of the Phi Kappa Phi honor society. After graduation, he served in the U.S. Navy and later returned to campus to earn his law degree.

In 1978, the young congressman won an election to replace longtime U.S. Sen. James O. Eastland, who had retired. While he served in the Senate, Cochran held many leadership roles and journalists praised him for his focus on getting things done, rather than playing politics.

His record of being re-elected to the Senate, six times, is a testament to the respect constituents had for him, Vitter said. 

Hurricane Katrina, often called the worst natural disaster in American history, hit in 2005 while Cochran was chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He was greatly affected by touring the devastation and vowed after seeing it to get whatever resources needed to help the Gulf Coast recover. 

He shaped the recovery of Mississippi and other devastated Gulf Coast states by using consensus building and bipartisanship to lead an initially hesitant Congress to offer an unprecedented $29 billion relief package. The funds included more than $5 billion in discretionary U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funds for Mississippi to help devastated homeowners.

Those funds helped affected states recover from widespread damage to public and private property, the likes of which the country hadn’t seen before.

Vitter announced the award Saturday in the Grove, just steps from the Thad Cochran Research Center, home of the National Center for Natural Products Research. The senator played a central role in the late 1980s in securing federal funding for NCNPR, and his efforts helped strengthen the university as an international leader in natural products research.

Cochran also has been a strong advocate for numerous other campus research programs, which address many national needs, especially in national defense and agriculture. 

Those programs have helped UM become more competitive in securing research funding and have helped it earn the designation of being a Carnegie R1 Highest Research Activity institution, the highest ranking a university can attain in the Carnegie classification.

It was also announced that the former senator is donating his papers to the university’s Modern Political Archives. Ole Miss is “deeply honored” to receive such an important collection, Vitter said. 

“These records not only document his years of service representing Mississippi in the U.S. House and Senate, they will also offer future researchers insight into matters of local, state and national significance,” Vitter said. 

Cochran’s impressive legacy includes giving Ole Miss students countless opportunities, and he has poised the state for a bright future, the chancellor said. 

“Although he retired in April of this year, his legacy will continue to shape the state of Mississippi for a long time to come,” Vitter said. “Sen. Cochran has been a great champion for the University of Mississippi. 

“We can say without hesitation that he has been one of the key figures in moving Ole Miss from the small stage to the ‘big time’ in terms of our research enterprise and the educational offerings we can provide.”

UM to Offer Film Production, Acting for Stage and Screen Degrees

Expanded programs will prepare students for careers onstage and on both sides of the camera

The UM Department of Theatre Arts has created a new Bachelor of Fine Arts in film production and another in acting for stage and screen. Submitted photo by Jordan L. Smith

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi Department of Theatre Arts has created a major in film production and another that combines acting and musical theater to give students more diverse skill sets to enter today’s ever-changing entertainment industry.

Classes for the two new Bachelor of Fine Arts programs begin this fall.

The new degree in film production should be a big improvement from what students were able to accomplish when only an interdisciplinary cinema minor was offered, said Michael Barnett, chair of the Department of Theatre Arts.

“We’re very excited about the work that we’re going to be able to do with our students and also the work that they’re going to be generating,” Barnett said. “We’ve already seen a lot of student success in filmmaking, through the minor, with a number of students having their films being accepted into film festivals, not just here but internationally.

“We have every expectation that with a more concentrated curriculum we will broaden that success.”

Barnett also notes that the department wanted to integrate the film production major into the department’s curriculum, so they took the existing B.F.A. in acting and the existing B.F.A. in musical theater, merged the two programs and added a screen acting component to it to create a B.F.A. in acting for stage and screen.

“The students will have a foundation in acting for the stage and acting for the screen and musical theater,” Barnett said. “We will have a number of electives they can take to focus where their interests lie while still having the exposure to all these different areas, which will make them a more well-rounded performer.”

The new curriculum offerings also include capstone classes in which students from both majors will work together to create films. The department faculty sees a future in which all students in the program will collaborate. 

The new majors create an environment in which students can experience the industry connections between theater and film, said Alan Arrivée, associate professor of cinema and head of the B.F.A. in film production program.

“It is a sea change for this department and an exciting moment both for those teaching the various aspects of these two related areas and those learning from them,” Arrivée said. “Students will understand the close similarities and distinct differences between these fields and have the skills at their disposal to better navigate the professional world.”

Students also will benefit from the department hiring a new postproduction specialist, Sarah Hennigan, who comes to Ole Miss from the University of Texas, which is one of the nation’s top film schools, said Harrison Witt, assistant professor of film production. Hennigan starts in August. 

“Her editing and color-grading background will have an immediate impact on the quality of student work, as well as the level of professional skills students will have upon graduating from the University of Mississippi,” Witt said. 

Lucinda Roberts, a freshman from Picayune, who is pursuing a B.F.A. in theater arts with an emphasis in film production, said, “I want to be in an environment where freedom of expression is not only welcome, but expected, and I look forward to the immersive experience that this program will offer me.”

The new acting curriculum has a solid core of movement and voice and also rigorous actor training, said Matthew R. Wilson, assistant professor of performance. In the first year, students will train in realism for screen, which then in the second year is expanded into other styles for stage, such as classical acting and musical theater performance. 

Then students will have an opportunity to select from a variety of specialized electives, including more dance and musical theatre, additional classical styles, or more advanced screen-acting techniques. 

“Our belief is that the performer of today needs the skills to move across various styles and media, so we want them to graduate having touched all aspects of performance, further developing their strengths and also improving on their areas for growth,” Wilson said.

Gregor Patti, a freshman theatre arts major from Jackson, said he’s looking forward to broadening his skills through the new stage and screen major. 

“Knowing that our faculty has spent so much time collaborating on and creating this new and improved curriculum has me beyond excited to be a part of the B.F.A. in acting for stage and screen program,” Patti said. “I am ready to diversify myself as a performer.”

Meet Martina Brewer, April’s Staff Member of the Month

Martina Brewer

Martina Brewer, associate director of admissions, has been selected as Staff Council’s Staff Member of the Month for April. To help us get to know her better, Brewer answered a few questions for Inside Ole Miss.

IOM: How long have you worked at Ole Miss? 

Brewer: Fourteen years. I started in April 2004.

IOM: What is your hometown?

Brewer: Cleveland, Mississippi. 

IOM: Talk about your favorite Ole Miss memory. 

Brewer: My favorite Ole Miss memory was receiving my acceptance letter.

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

Brewer: What I enjoy most about my position is the staff I work with, The A-Team, and the relationships I build with prospective students, parents and other colleagues.

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

Brewer: When I am not at work, I enjoy spending time with my family – husband and two sons, 14 years old and 3 years old.

IOM: What is one thing on your bucket list?

Brewer: One thing on my bucket list is to visit Paris, France.

IOM: What is your favorite movie?

Brewer: My favorite movie is “Fireproof.”

IOM: What is your favorite Ole Miss tradition?

Brewer: My favorite Ole Miss tradition is to do House Call. I enjoy meeting the students and hearing their stories.

IOM: What is a fun fact about you?

Brewer: A fun fact about me is I enjoy outdoor activities: gardening, fishing and hunting.

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

Brewer: If I could have lunch with anyone, it would be Mr. Barack Obama. I would love to hear how he overcame the barriers he faced while serving as the commander in chief.

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

Brewer: Honest, compassionate and strong-minded

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

Brewer: Africa

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

Brewer: An eagle

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

Professor Establishes Plantinga Reading Group at UM

Funding from Society of Christian Philosophers runs through end of April

Neil A. Manson, UM professor of philosophy, has established a reading group on the works of Alvin Plantinga, one of the world’s most influential philosophers of religion. Photo courtesy of Neil A. Manson

OXFORD, Miss. – Neil A. Manson, University of Mississippi professor of philosophy, has used a grant from the Society of Christian Philosophers to establish a reading group on the works of one of the world’s most influential philosophers of religion. 

In 2017, Alvin Plantinga, professor emeritus at Calvin College, won the prestigious Templeton Prize, which came with a $1.4 million award. Past winners of the prize, which honors a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, include Mother Teresa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama.

In honor of Plantinga’s achievement, the Society of Christian Philosophers awarded 25 colleges and universities $3,000 grants for 2017-18 for undergraduate reading groups on his works. The fund covers books, food and expenses. 

Manson applied for and received one of the grants to establish an Ole Miss reading group, which convened last fall and will continue through April.

“Alvin Plantinga is perhaps the most influential living philosopher of religion,” Manson said. “The offer of a chance to read Plantinga’s works elicited a tremendous and enthusiastic response, with nearly 30 students across the University of Mississippi signing up.”

Select graduate students and other community members were allowed to participate in the group.

The group began with Plantinga’s “Warranted Christian Belief.” Manson said the book is Plantinga’s most thorough statement of the position that has come to be called “Reformed epistemology.” In October, the group also had lunch with Christopher Weaver, assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Illinois, who discussed some central objections to Plantinga’s position.

Neil Manson

This semester, the group is reading “Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism,” in which Plantinga argues, contrary to popular conceptions, that it is atheism, not theism, that is at odds with modern science. 

“The Plantinga reading group has been incredibly informative, thought-provoking and fun,” said Aaron Graham, a recent graduate of the philosophy master’s program from Jackson. “We have enjoyed a guided tour of some of the principal arguments against the rationality of theistic belief, and against theistic belief’s compatibility with science.

“At each turn, Plantinga gave powerful rejoinders to those arguments.”

Manson agrees with Graham’s assessment and added that the university is fortunate to be able to have the experience with Plantinga’s works, thanks to the grant. 

“Alvin Plantinga is a bold and brilliant thinker, a trenchant writer, an impeccable practitioner of analytic philosophy and one of the kindest people I have ever met,” Manson said. “He provides a model for how to address profound religious and philosophical disagreements in a civil manner. Reading his work is always enriching and enlightening.”

The reading group will conclude its work at the end of the month. Unused funds will go toward getting students additional books on related topics in the philosophy of religion, Manson said. 

South Section of Chucky Mullins Drive to Close for Construction

Public will be able to access South Campus Trails throughout project

OXFORD, Miss. – A portion of Chucky Mullins Drive south of Highway 6 will close to through traffic April 16 to allow for ongoing construction of the University of Mississippi’s South Campus Recreation Facility and Transportation Hub.

The public will still be able to access the South Campus Trails, and Oxford-University Transit bus routes will continue in the area. The closure, which is for the area from Old Taylor Road north to the former Whirlpool site, is expected to remain in effect until January.

The university owns the 500,000-square-foot manufacturing plant, the old Whirlpool factory, on 68 acres on the southwest edge of campus. Portions of the existing building are being repurposed to provide space for fitness activities, departmental offices, classrooms, food service and a hub for Ole Miss Campus Recreation and the Department of Parking and Transportation.

Renovations to the exterior will transform the manufacturing plant into an active destination for students. This project is ongoing and expected to open in early 2019.

Traffic restriction points will be installed during the road closure. Roadblocks will be placed north of the old Whirlpool site at the South Campus Trails, east of the construction site at Whirlpool Drive and south of the site at the intersection of Old Taylor Road. Traffic restriction arms will be placed, which will allow the OUT bus Green Route to be redirected around the site through the old Whirlpool parking lot. 

Until the gates are finished, the Green Route will be temporarily rerouted through Old Taylor Road to University Avenue to All-American Drive. 

Once the projects are substantially complete in January, traffic will return to normal, with one addition. Early next year, the university and the city will work together to add a traffic light at the intersection of Chucky Mullins Drive and Old Taylor Road. 

Professor’s Graphic Essays on Fatherhood a 10-Year Labor of Love

Dustin Parsons uses diagrams and text to explore parental experiences

Dustin Parsons

OXFORD, Miss. – The product of 10 years of work and a lifetime of observations, “Exploded View: Essays on Fatherhood, with Diagrams” is immensely important for author Dustin Parsons, partially because it’s his first book, but also because it’s about his own father and his own experiences as a parent.

A book launch and signing for the volume, published in March by the University of Georgia Press, is set for 5 p.m. Tuesday (April 10) at Off Square Books in Oxford. 

Parsons, a University of Mississippi senior lecturer in English, holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Bowling Green State University. The work grew out of his own worries about fatherhood, which makes his connection to the book deep and particularly meaningful, he said. 

“My dad was the peak, in many ways, of what I thought a father was supposed to be,” said Parsons, who joined the Ole Miss faculty last year. “He supported us, suffered some jobs he’d frankly rather not have had, and still had something in the tank for us after such long days in the Kansas oilfields. 

“I guess this book was trying to figure out how to do that too, but with a completely different kind of life.”

The book uses “graphic” essays, a nonconventional way of telling a life story, and the illustrations and text work together in print. Much like a graphic novel, the narrative is formed not only through text, but in the way the text works with the many images that accompany it. 

Parsons’ father was an oilfield mechanic, as well as a woodworker, auto mechanic, welder and artist in his spare time, so diagrams were everywhere during Parsons’ childhood. His father, Max Parsons, had diagrams all around his shop, including manuals that had “exploded views” of parts, that Parsons was constantly studying.

His father always had a visual guide to help him perform any task, from rebuilding a transmission or putting together a diesel engine to assembling a baby cradle. In “Exploded View” Parsons uses his father’s approach to understanding the man himself, as he navigates his own life as he raises his two young, biracial sons. 

He said his wife, poet and essayist Aimee Nezhukumatathil, was immensely supportive on his literary odyssey through parenthood. 

“We are a house full of writers and we do a good job of trying to give each other time to write, but without her support and help, I’d never have finished the book,” Parsons said. “She was always there reminding me that what I had to say was important.

“Most of the early ideas about how the images fit into the essays were her suggestions. It really wouldn’t be a book without her encouragement and support along the way.”

Ivo Kamps, UM chair of English, said the department congratulates Parsons on his work. The university is also fortunate to have someone the caliber of Parsons teaching its students, he said.

“Dustin is an extraordinary writer as well as a superb and dedicated teacher of literature and creative writing,” Kamps said. “He has taught large-lecture sections of the American literature survey and upper division contemporary literature classes.

“His students appreciate his expertise and infectious enthusiasm for his subject. His new book with Georgia University Press is a truly original collection of poetic essays accompanied by many intriguing and wonderful illustrations.”