Walter Isaacson to Deliver UM’s 165th Commencement Address

Acclaimed biographer and journalist to speak May 12 in the Grove

Walter Isaacson will deliver the University of Mississippi’s 165th Commencement address May 12. Photo by Patrice Gilbert courtesy of the Aspen Institute

OXFORD, Miss. – Walter Isaacson, acclaimed biographer and historian who also was head of both CNN and Time magazine, will deliver the University of Mississippi’s 165th Commencement address May 12 in the Grove.

Isaacson is a professor of history at Tulane University in New Orleans, where he grew up. He’s also a graduate of Harvard College and also Pembroke College of Oxford University, in Oxford, England, where he was a Rhodes scholar.

He said he’s honored to be giving the Commencement address, as well as coming back to a place he loves. 

“I’m pleased because the university has been at the forefront of making Mississippi and the South a better place,” Isaacson said. “I admire the innovation the university is doing in cross-disciplinary studies. And I enjoy spending time in the real Oxford.”

Isaacson played a major role in the success of the university’s inaugural Tech Summit in 2016, and UM officials are honored to welcome him back to campus as this year’s speaker, Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said.

“I am delighted our campus community will once again have the extraordinary opportunity to hear Mr. Isaacson share his exceptional knowledge and unique insight from his accomplished career as a journalist, scholar, author and so much more,” Vitter said. “We are pleased to count Mr. Isaacson among the distinguished Commencement speakers we have featured over the years for our graduating students and their families.” 

Isaacson began his career at The Sunday Times of London and then the New Orleans Times-Picayune. He joined Time in 1978, where he worked as a political correspondent, national editor and editor of digital media before becoming the magazine’s editor in 1996.

In 2001, he became chairman and CEO of CNN, and then president and CEO of the Aspen Institute in 2003.

Besides having headed two of the most important media organizations in the world, Isaacson is a prolific biographer and nonfiction writer. He is the author of the best-seller “Steve Jobs” in 2011, as well as “The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution,” “Einstein: His Life and Universe,” “Benjamin Franklin: An American Life” and “Kissinger: A Biography.” He also coauthored “The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made.”

His most recent work, “Leonardo da Vinci” (Simon & Schuster), released in October, offers new discoveries about the artist’s life and work, weaving a narrative that connects his art to his science. Isaacson plans to stress the importance of this kind of connection to Ole Miss graduates.

“I want to stress the importance of creativity and the need to connect the arts with the sciences, the humanities with engineering,” he said. “Also, I hope to celebrate the diverse backgrounds and interests of the student body and say why I believe that creativity comes from being in such an environment.”

Isaacson is also chair emeritus of Teach for America. From 2005 to ’07, he was vice chair of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, which oversaw the rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina.

President Barack Obama appointed him to serve as the chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which runs Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and other international broadcasts of the United States. He held that post from 2009 to 2012.

He is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and serves on the board of United Airlines, Tulane University, the New Orleans City Planning Commission, the New Orleans Tricentennial Commission, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Society of American Historians, the Carnegie Institution for Science and My Brother’s Keeper Alliance. He is also an advisory partner at Perella Weinberg, a bank and financial firm based in New York.

Isaacson holds honorary degrees from Tufts University, Cooper Union, Franklin College in Switzerland, University of New Orleans, University of South Carolina, City University of New York (Hunter College), Pomona College, Lehigh University, Washington College and Duke University.

UM Provost Noel Wilkin said he is pleased someone with the experience and wisdom of Isaacson will address graduates on such an important day. 

“He is an accomplished journalist and author whose work has helped us to more fully know and appreciate icons in American and world history: icons such as Leonardo da Vinci, Steve Jobs, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein and Henry Kissinger,” Wilkin said. “His success, and his work to outline the lives and successes of these individuals, will help all of us appreciate the roles that human effort and creativity play in great accomplishments.”

Accountancy Students Post Strong Showing at Regional Tax Competition

UM team takes second place in finals

Three graduate students from the UM Patterson School of Accountancy, (from left) Grayson Giles, Freda Sun and Hannah Farmer, won second place in the Southeastern Regional Tax Challenge Competition. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – Three graduate students from the University of Mississippi Patterson School of Accountancy recently won second place in the Southeastern Regional Tax Challenge Competition. 

The competition, which was hosted by the University of Alabama, included 19 teams, including teams from all Southeastern Conference schools. The team from Ole Miss – Hannah Farmer, Grayson Giles and Freda Sun – made it to the final round to compete against two teams from the University of Tennessee and one from the University of Missouri. 

J Shaw, associate professor of accountancy instruction, served as the team’s faculty adviser. 

“I am proud of these students,” Shaw said. “They worked very hard to research and understand the case and they did an excellent job of presenting their findings.

“I am grateful to have such high-quality students in the Patterson School of Accountancy. Hannah, Grayson and Sun are very smart and were impressive representatives of the University of Mississippi.” 

The students gave presentations about how to tackle complicated tax problems, and a panel of judges selected the winners. The team was excited to finish second in a very strong field, said Farmer, a master’s student in taxation from Tupelo. 

“The competition was a really great way for us to get more involved in tax research,” Farmer said. “While tax is considered a part of accounting, tax relates more to law, since the all tax law derives from the Internal Revenue code.

“The main point of the competition was being able to find the issue in the law, properly interpret the law in order to provide the best answer, then communicate this answer to the client.”

Giles, a master’s student in taxation from Madison, said the experience should serve the students well in their careers. 

“The competition was an excellent opportunity for us to gain real-world, practical experience,” Giles said. “Our success wouldn’t have been possible without the support from our adviser, J Shaw, and the Patterson School of Accountancy.

“It was an honor to be given the opportunity to compete and represent the School of Accountancy.”

Sun, a Master of Accountancy student from Chengdu, China, said the tax situation was open-ended and required a lot of research and understanding.

“It helped me build my critical thinking skills and analysis skills, as well,” Sun said. “I felt honored to represent Ole Miss at the competition, especially when the judge announced that we won second place and participants from other schools came to say congratulations to us.”

Robust Approach to Campus Safety Places UM in National Rankings

Ole Miss comes in second among SEC universities

The University of Mississippi Police Department has several programs in place that have helped the university become one of the nation’s safest campuses, according to the National Council for Home Safety and Security. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi, which has a mobile app, training and other programs aimed at preventing crime, has been named one of the nation’s safest college campuses.

The National Council for Home Safety and Security ranked Ole Miss, which has an enrollment of more than 23,000, No. 64 nationally among public universities. UM placed second on the list among Southeastern Conference schools, trailing only Texas A&M University.

The safest campus on the list is Brigham Young University-Idaho in Rexburg, Idaho. The only other Magnolia State campus on the list is Mississippi State University, which comes in at No. 121 among public universities.

UM ranks among the top 28 percent of college campuses on the list of 243 public and private higher education institutions with enrollments of more than 10,000.

“The men and women of the University Police Department are committed to providing the best safety services possible,” said Ray Hawkins, assistant university police chief. “We have a group of creative, proactive problem-solvers who take pride in serving this campus community.

“They are a well-rounded group who are committed to patrolling the campus, conducting crime prevention programs and thoroughly investigating crimes when they occur.”

Hawkins said personal safety resources such as the LiveSafe app, a mobile safety communications platform for students, faculty and staff; the “Deny, Apply, Amplify” or “DA2” personal safety program; as well Rebel Patrol safe walk program and training to prepare for an active shooter incident for all incoming freshmen, have helped. He also notes that UPD undertakes customized security assessments ahead of most campus events and the university has installed security cameras throughout campus.

The National Council for Home Safety and Security used the most recent data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reporting and the U.S. Department of Education’s Campus Safety Security Survey to determine where schools ranked.

The highest-ranked campuses boast low total campus and local area crime. University campuses with a significant lack of reported data were excluded, as well as all nonaccredited universities offering four-year degrees.

The NCHSS is a trade association made up of home security professionals across the United States. It advocates for safe communities and home safety with a strong focus on community involvement.

Jeff Kellum, UPD’s crime prevention coordinator, said rankings are a good place to start when evaluating a campus’ security. He also advises seeking out answers from the institutions about how the campus cultivates a culture of safety, how it communicates with students during an emergency, whether police are stationed on campus and who investigates allegations of sexual assault and harassment.

He also suggests asking about prevention programs in place to educate students.

The UPD program with the most participation is the active shooter response training, but UPD’s personal safety classes have seen the largest growth, Kellum said. Several semesters ago, he began working with student leaders to develop classes that address the specific needs of the campus community.

The end product is the DA2 class, a personal safety program that promotes campus risk-reduction strategies while building recognition and response skills through weekly classes. UPD officers and student instructors give training on developing justified responses to multiple threat levels.

UPD has students who serve as lead instructors for its weekly classes, and more are training to become assistant instructors.

“We developed an instructor manual so we can continue to train student instructors for the future,” Kellum said. “Student leaders have made a huge impact on participation. In the past, we would average 24-30 participants annually. We now train 40-45 weekly.”

Brandi Hephner LaBanc, UM vice chancellor for student affairs, said she’s pleased that UPD officers and the campus community are receiving recognition for efforts to keep students safe.

“I am extremely proud of the service and 24/7 commitment provided by the men and women of UPD to keeping faculty, staff and students safe,” Hephner LaBanc said. “I am most impressed with their responsiveness and level of care for every person they serve.

“I am proud to work with UPD and will continue to advocate for ways to keep our campus safe.”

Employee Health Center Adds Dr. Hubert Spears as Staff Physician

New doctor brings surgical skills to boost patient services

Dr. Hubert Spears

OXFORD, Miss. – Dr. Hubert Spears has joined the physician staff of the University of Mississippi Employee Health Center, bringing more than 30 years of medical experience, new areas of expertise and his “careful and kind” approach to serving patients.

Spears, a native of Grenada who earned his M.D. from UM in 1980, has a surgical background, which adds to the services offered at the health center for employees. He joins Dr. Jean Gispen at the health center, which gives the center two doctors to see patients. Spears, who joined the staff in January, said he’s excited to be on campus. 

“I’m an Ole Miss grad and I’ve always thought the Ole Miss campus is one of the best places in the world,” Spears said. “I’m enjoying being here.”

He said he’s also looking forward to working with and learning from a doctor the caliber of Gispen, who has been a staff physician at the health center since 2005.

Before coming to the Oxford campus, Spears was a general surgeon with the UM Medical Center at Grenada, and he also had a general surgery practice in Grenada. Before he moved there, he practiced general surgery in Oxford for more than 20 years.

“A good portion of my practice has always been surgery,” Spears said. “I won’t be doing much surgery here, but I can do some things that Dr. Gispen hasn’t been doing, little minor procedures like removing skin cancers, ingrown toenails, and things like that will be beneficial.”

The employee health center, part of the V.B. Harrison Health Center on Rebel Drive, offers care for acute medical problems, general wellness examinations, laboratory testing, radiology services, immunizations and, now, some light surgical services. 

Gispen said she’s happy to have Spears at the center.

“Because Dr. Spears has surgical training, he can do skin biopsies, incise and drain abscesses, and sew lacerations,” Gispen said. “This broadens the scope of what Employee Health Services can offer, as I do not biopsy skin lesions or sew. He also has excellent skills in family practice and internal medicine, learned from years of pre-op and post-op care of his surgical patients.

“He is a careful and kind physician.”

Having a second doctor has improved patient service, said Dr. Travis Yates, director of the University Health Services. 

“I am very pleased to have Dr. Spears on board in Employee Health, as he offers an additional source of compassionate and competent care that our faculty and staff have become accustomed to,” Yates said. “He has already had an impact in reducing the number of delayed appointments as compared to last fall, prior to his arrival.”

Yates expects Spears to be an asset to the health center for years to come. 

“I anticipate that our staff and faculty will develop an appreciation for his care and expertise,” Yates said. “I feel fortunate to have attracted a physician with his experience to our staff and look forward to enjoying a long term relationship with him.”

Fulbright Scholarship Program Director Visits UM

Goal is to raise awareness of opportunities for study and research abroad, encourage nominations

Daniel Kramer, director of the Fulbright Scholarship program, visits UM Thursday. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – Daniel Kramer, director of the Fulbright Scholarship program, will visit the University of Mississippi on Thursday (March 1) to speak with students and faculty members. 

Kramer will meet with students and faculty members as part of an overall effort by UM to raise awareness about scholarship opportunities through Fulbright and also other programs. The visit will also help students and faculty, who nominate applicants, learn more about what is expected to be accepted into the program. 

A workshop for potential Fulbright Student Program applicants is set for 3-4:30 p.m. at the Honors College, Room 331.

Oliver Dinius, director of the Croft Institute for International Studies, has been working to bring Kramer to campus. Administrators want more Croft students to apply for Fulbright scholarships, he said. 

“Dr. Kramer’s visit is a unique opportunity for our students to learn directly from someone overseeing the selection process what makes for a strong application,” Dinius said. “This is also an opportunity for faculty and administrators to learn more about how the Fulbright program can help us to strengthen the University of Mississippi’s international profile more generally.”

The Fulbright program is one of the most prestigious and generous aid programs available to students and professionals for an international exchange. The scholarship is named for the late Arkansas U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright, who served more than 30 years in Washington. 

Fulbright earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Arkansas in 1925 and went on to Oxford University, where he earned a master’s degree. He was profoundly affected by the experience of learning overseas. In the U.S. Senate, he sponsored the legislation that created the Fulbright program in 1946.

The U.S. government supports the program, which also has partnerships with foreign governments to help sponsor U.S. and foreign participants for exchanges. They come from sciences, business, academe, public service, government and the arts. The goal is for them to continue to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and those of other countries. 

To date, there have been more than 250,000 Fulbright students, scholars and teachers. 

Each year, 15-20 Ole Miss students submit grant applications to conduct research, teach English or pursue graduate degrees supported by the Fulbright US Student program, said Tim Dolan, director of the Office of National Scholarship Advisement in the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College

“We feel like we have many more qualified students who simply don’t yet know about the Fulbright and we’d like to encourage them to apply,” Dolan said. “Dr. Kramer will provide valuable insight into the mission of the Fulbright and how students can create competitive applications.

“Current students who are Fulbright semifinalists will be on hand to talk about the process they went through in choosing a grant and putting together their applications. We hope to build enthusiasm among University of Mississippi students so that more will take advantage of the opportunity to go abroad and promote peace and mutual understanding between people with different cultural traditions.”

University to Unveil History and Context Plaques March 2

Six markers offer history and insight into campus sites

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi will hold a ceremony Friday (March 2) to unveil six history and context plaques, which contain wording recommended by the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on History and Context following months of study and feedback from hundreds of stakeholders.

The ceremony begins at 11 a.m. at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts. Plaques will be unveiled for Barnard Observatory, Lamar Hall, Longstreet Hall and George Hall; another recognizing the university’s enslaved laborers in the construction of Barnard Observatory, the Old Chapel (now Croft), the Lyceum and the Hilgard Cut; and a plaque for the stained-glass Tiffany windows in Ventress Hall recognizing the University Greys, a company of primarily UM students during the Civil War that suffered 100 percent casualties – killed, wounded or captured.

The ceremony will include:

  • Welcome remarks by Chancellor Jeffrey S. Vitter
  • Keynote address by John R. Neff, associate professor of history and director, Center for Civil War Research
  • Introduction of plaque readings by Katrina Caldwell, vice chancellor for diversity and community engagement
  • Reading of the plaques by student ambassadors
  • Closing remarks by Alice M. Clark, interim vice chancellor for university relations
  • A reception will be held in the lobby following the ceremony. Shuttles from the Ford Center to the plaque sites will be available after the ceremony. Student docents and a member of the CACHC will be located at each plaque.

Shuttles from the Ford Center to the plaque sites will be available after the ceremony.

Logistics and planning for the March 2 event are being led by a committee of members of the Oxford campus community:

  • Katrina Caldwell, co-chair, vice chancellor for diversity and community engagement
  • Alice Clark, co-chair, interim vice chancellor for university relations
  • Don Cole, assistant provost and associate professor of mathematics
  • Jennifer Ford, head of archives and special collections and professor, J.D. Williams Library
  • Jeff Jackson, associate professor of sociology
  • Dion Kevin III, Associated Student Body president
  • Amy Lewis, external affairs director, University Relations
  • John Neff, associate professor of history
  • Ethel Young Scurlock, associate professor of English and African American studies and senior fellow of Luckyday Residential College
  • Deetra Wiley, applications analyst and business communications specialist, Office of Information Technology, and marketing coordinator for UM Staff Council

Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter established the CACHC in the summer of 2016 to address Recommendation 5 of the university’s 2014 Action Plan, which urged the university to “offer more history, putting the past into context” and to do so “without attempts to erase history, even some difficult history.” The university’s contextualization efforts were an academically- and fact-focused process.

The CACHC’s full recommendations, its final report, and renderings and map locations of the plaques can be found here.

UM Waste-Reduction Work Leads to ‘Recycler of the Year’ Award

Recycling, compost program and educational outreach cited among university's achievements

UM campus volunteers sort through items collected in the Grove. The university has been named ‘Recycler of the Year’ among educational institutions in the state and recognized at Recycling Day at the state Capitol. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi’s campuswide work to reduce waste that winds up in landfills has led to the university being named “Recycler of the Year” among educational institutions in the state and recognized at Recycling Day at the State Capitol.

The Mississippi Recycling Coalition honored the university with the award for its 2017 efforts, which included composting, recycling waste collected on Ole Miss football game days, “tree cycling” and mulching, and education programs. Several campus entities, including Facilities Management, Landscape Services and the Office of Sustainability, as well as the city of Oxford Recycling Department, contributed to the work.

“This is truly a collaborative effort among multiple departments on campus, and it’s great to see recognition for their hard work,” said Ian Banner, UM director of sustainability and facilities planning, and university architect. “While we are grateful for the publicity, it is important to know there is a huge amount of work still to do. There is demonstrated commitment of all those involved, and we fully intend to continue our push toward a healthier environment.”

UM’s growing recycling program, compost program and educational outreach such as Green Week were cited among the university’s notable achievements in the area of waste reduction, said Lindsey Abernathy, associate director of the Office of Sustainability. She accepted the award at the Capitol on behalf of the university.

“While we still have much work to do, it’s important to take a moment to recognize that we have taken significant steps forward in recent years, all of which have been achieved through cross-campus collaboration,” Abernathy said. “We thank everyone for their support of these efforts and look forward to future projects.”

The university has taken on several programs that have helped make UM a greener campus.

A campuswide recycling program, which is operated by Facilities Management and through the city of Oxford Recycling Department, allows UM students, faculty and staff to recycle mixed paper, cardboard, plastics No. 1 and No. 2, aluminum and steel in recycling stations in all campus buildings.

The Green Grove Gameday Recycling Program is a popular and well-known program in the Ole Miss student community. More than 650 students have volunteered with the program over the past two years.

In 2017, the program diverted 2.78 tons of recyclables from landfills. This program is made possible through a partnership with Landscape Services, the Office of Sustainability and the city’s recycling department.

The UM Compost Program has diverted more than 45 tons of pre-consumer food waste from landfills since its establishment in 2013 through collecting materials from campus dining locations. The finished compost is used in educational gardens on campus and is available to community members for purchase.

The program also engages about 50 student volunteers each academic year through regular sifting events. While sifting the compost, students learn about the program, the importance of composting and the process through which composting takes place.

Students working with the UM Food Bank, UM Garden Club and UM Compost Program have worked together to provide fresh food to students. They also reduce food waste and support the campus garden’s efforts to employ organic methods, such as the use of compost instead of chemical fertilizer, to grow produce.

The Office of Sustainability employs students in its Green Student Intern Program each year to operate the Green Grove Gameday Recycling Program, UM Compost Program and to support additional waste-reduction initiatives. Students can also participate in the Green Grove Ambassadors Program.

Members of the Green Student Intern Program, staff and volunteers regularly involve K-12 students in waste-reduction education programs. In fall 2017, staff and UM Eco Reps members helped collect food waste for composting at Oxford Elementary School as part of its annual Food Day Celebration. Staff members frequently speak to students about recycling and conduct tours of the compost site.

Several other campus programs are part of the university’s broad efforts to reduce its carbon footprint and reuse as many materials as possible.

Ole Miss has been a very active member of the Mississippi Recycling Coalition for several years, so the committee was familiar with its work, said Jennifer Milner, state recycling coordinator for the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. But the overall scope of the programs impressed even those committee members.

“Ole Miss has really gone above and beyond to change the culture by getting buy-in from students, faculty, staff, campus visitors and the surrounding community on putting their wastes to work,” Milner said. “It has set itself apart to serve as an example for other educational institutions and communities in the state.”

Q&A: Meet Amanda Drew, UM’s New Emergency Management Coordinator

Amanda Drew. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Amanda Drew, who has worked for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and also as a firefighter in Massachusetts, became the University of Mississippi’s new emergency management coordinator Feb. 19. 

Drew, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Anna Maria College in Paxton, Massachusetts, was a FEMA applicant services programs specialist before coming to Ole Miss. She also previously held the position of head dispatcher and emergency management coordinator at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts. 

She said Ole Miss seemed like the perfect fit for her because she wanted to work on a larger campus, and the town of Oxford also won her over on her visit here.

“Ole Miss is a flagship university; even with the size of the university, I could see what a close community it is,” Drew said. “There is something about college communities I enjoy. They are vibrant and a great environment to enhance my skills and knowledge as well as making a contribution to the university’s safety and preparedness.” 

Drew answered some questions for Inside Ole Miss to let the university community learn more about her role and the services her office provides.

IOM: Tell us a little about your background in emergency management.

Drew: My background in emergency management starts in the fire service. I was a volunteer and paid on-call firefighter for about 10 years, I started getting into emergency management about the time I finished my bachelor’s degree in 2013. I went on to complete my master’s and had the opportunity to work as the deputy emergency management director for a small town outside Worcester, Massachusetts.

Through my work as a campus police dispatcher at Assumption College I was given the opportunity to help with the campus emergency management. The work at Assumption included developing pre-plans, designing and facilitating trainings for the emergency response team, and I wrote a program design for a Community Emergency Response Team program.

Through both of these experiences, I worked very closely with city and state emergency management agencies. I took part in many training sessions offered by the state and coordinated efforts between the state and Assumption, as well as the town for which I was the EMD.


IOM: Tell us about your role with the university and what some of your new duties will be.

Drew: My role at the university is emergency management coordinator. Some of my duties will include comprehensive planning for the university and completing an analysis to be sure the plan meets the needs of the university. I will also be meeting with the Oxford fire chief, police chief and emergency manager, in addition to the county emergency manager to discuss the preparedness of the university and coordinate training, preparedness, response and recovery operations for incidents on campus.

I will be exploring different preparedness activities for students, staff and faculty to partake in, in addition to seeking out opportunities for them to volunteer and grow within the emergency management capacity.


IOM: What can we expect from the emergency management coordinator job with you at the helm?

Drew: The university can expect whole-community involvement! I believe in training and empowering the students, staff and faculty of Ole Miss in emergency management practices to help them prepare for emergencies.

The programing and skills will not only help the Ole Miss community on campus, but these life skills that can be taken off-campus to enhance their own communities. Training and programs will be interactive and engaging, community input and ideas will be encouraged to ensure the campus needs are met. Preparedness is a community effort.


IOM: Talk about some of the most critical aspects of responding to an emergency situation.

Drew: The best response to a critical incident begins with proper pre-planning and training. This preparedness goes beyond the emergency response team and includes the whole university community.

Teaching students and staff how to respond to an emergency will help during those critical moments before first responders arrive. During an incident, response must be timely, with priorities of life safety, incident stabilization and preservation of property.

Listening to directions from university officials is also a critical aspect; this will ensure we help the university community in the most safe and efficient manner. 


IOM: What are the keys to being safe during an emergency?

Drew: In the fire service, we have a saying, ‘Train like you work.’ Just like athletes need to practice and actors and actresses need to rehearse, safety needs to be planned and practiced in order to be successful.

Incorporating simple safety habits into everyday life will make them second nature during an emergency, when our ability to think clearly may be compromised. Some of the habits include knowing two ways out of buildings, checking surroundings and being observant to everything going on around you. 

During an emergency, it is imperative that all community members listen to the directions of campus police and follow these directions. Community members should also be observant to hazards that might be present during an emergency.


IOM: Tell us about what sort of services you will offer to faculty and staff.

Drew: I would like to see what services the university currently offers and what the staff and faculty would like to have offered.

My hope is to train the staff and faculty in leadership roles within the buildings they work in, should an emergency occur. I would like to look into offering volunteer opportunities to anyone that would like to participate in emergency management activities on the campus. Input will always be welcome.

Faulkner Stories Selected for 2018 UM Common Reading Experience

Incoming students to read selections this summer

OXFORD, Miss. – Ten selected short stories of a University of Mississippi alumnus and one of the most acclaimed American authors of the 20th century will be the focus of the university’s 2018 Common Reading Experience. 

The Common Reading Experience will showcase Nobel Prize-winning author William Faulkner’s short stories, many of which are set in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County. All incoming Ole Miss freshmen and transfer students will get the collection of short stories with instructions to read selections before the fall semester begins.

Instructors will utilize the texts in their classes, and faculty and staff are also encouraged to read the works.

A committee of faculty, staff and students chose 10 thought-provoking stories, said Stephen Monroe, chair of the Department of Writing and Rhetoric and of the Common Reading Experience Steering Committee.

“In reading the stories together, our community will engage invigorating themes and Mississippi realities,” Monroe said. “Before Faulkner became a Nobel laureate, he was a member of the university community, as both a special student and staff member.

“Everyone affiliated with UM should read at least a little Faulkner. I’m pleased that we’ll have that opportunity this fall.”

Faulkner studied at the university and wrote many literary classics at his home, Rowan Oak, which sits on 32 acres off Old Taylor Road. He lived and worked there from 1930 until his death in 1962.

In 1972, his daughter, Jill Faulkner Summers, sold the house to the university to secure it as a place for people to learn about her father and his work.

When the Common Reading Experience was created in 2012, the founders had envisioned focusing on a Faulkner work one year. This year, the committee worked with Jay Watson, Howry Professor of Faulkner Studies, to choose several short stories from the “Collected Stories of William Faulkner,” which students will all receive. 

The CRE subcommittee met recently and selected the following stories for participants to read:

  • “Barn Burning”
  • “Two Soldiers”
  • “Shall Not Perish”
  • “A Rose for Emily”
  • “Hair”
  • “Dry September”
  • “Uncle Willy”
  • “Mule in the Yard”
  • “That Evening Sun”
  • “The Brooch”

Bryan Stevenson’s “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” was the 2017 CRE selection. Previous selections include “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot, “Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter” by UM professor Tom Franklin, “The Girls of Atomic City” by Denise Kiernan and “The Education of a Lifetime,” a memoir by Chancellor Emeritus Robert Khayat.

The Common Reading Experience is designed to acclimate new students to the academic life of the university, said Leslie Banahan,  assistant vice chancellor for student affairs and co-chair of the CRE selection sub-committee. 

“At its best, the Common Reading program helps us build a learning community and provides opportunities for discussion centered around one book,” Banahan said. “Reading is at the core of the college experience; what better way for a new student to begin his or her college career than by reading a great work of literature such as short stories written by Faulkner?”

For more information on the Common Reading Experience, go to

Alumnus Jesse Holland Jr. Pens ‘Black Panther’ Superhero Novel

Film is expected to soar at the box office for opening weekend

UM alumnus Jesse Holland Jr. has written a novel for Marvel to reintroduce its 1960s superhero ‘Black Panther,’ the main character in a new blockbuster film.

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi alumnus Jesse Holland Jr. was tapped by Marvel to reintroduce the world to the 1960s “Black Panther” superhero franchise through a new novel ahead of this weekend’s release of the blockbuster film about T’Challa, ruler of Wakanda. 

Holland, a Holly Springs native who graduated from the university in 1994 with a degree in journalism, was tasked in 2016 with retelling the story through a 90,000-word origin story novel based on material in six comics. The goal was to create a new world for the main character, T’Challa, set in modern times.

The novel was released last fall as part of efforts to promote the new $200 million movie, which stars Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, and features Forest Whitaker and Lupita Nyong’o. Rap megastar Kendrick Lamar produced the soundtrack. 

Being asked to write the novel, “Black Panther: Who is the Black Panther?” was a dream come true, Holland said. 

“I’ve been reading comic books my entire life,” Holland said. “When I was at Ole Miss, me and my friends would drive from campus all the way to Memphis to comic book shops on Wednesday or Thursday nights when the new ones came out and pick them up. 

“I told Marvel I’d love to take it on and they offered to send me some Black Panther comic books for research, and I said, ‘Don’t bother. I already have them all in my basement right now.”

The movie is poised for a majorly successful box office opening weekend. Drawing attention as one of the first superhero movies to feature a person of color as the main character, it follows the release of “Wonder Woman,” which featured the first female superhero star on the big screen.

Audiences are clamoring for something different from traditional Hollywood superhero movies, and there’s a much broader appeal than normal that is driving the high expectations, Holland said. 

“This is not a recycled superhero story,” he said. “It is not the third different actor playing the same character. This is something that is completely new, completely different as far as superhero movies go.

“One of the things we are going to see behind the success of this character is that we as Americans don’t need to see the same story over and over. We are accepting of new heroes and new mythologies, and in fact we’re more accepting of heroes of all colors and genders. America is ready for a different type of hero.”

In the film, T’Challa returns home to the isolated, but technologically advanced, African nation of Wakanda to succeed the throne that was recently vacated when his father, the king, died. The country is able to be technologically advanced because it’s the only source of an advanced metal known as vibranium.

When another nation attempts to invade Wakanda to take the ultrarare material, T’Challa is forced into a role as his nation’s protector. 

Jesse Holland Jr.

He is a complicated character, Holland said. 

“When people ask me about T’Challa, I tell them to imagine if the president, the chief justice of the Supreme Court and the pope were all the same person,” Holland said. “On top of that, he’s a superhero.

“His superhero outfit is bound with vibranium, which makes him almost indestructible. He also takes a special herb that gives him super powers.”

“Black Panther” is drawing high marks from critics. The New York Times called it, “A jolt of a movie,” and said it “creates wonder with great flair and feeling partly through something Hollywood rarely dreams of anymore: myth. Most big studio fantasies take you out for a joy ride only to hit the same exhausted story and franchise-expanding beats. Not this one.”

Over six months, Holland wrote the updated origin story based on a 2005 version.

“It’s actually pretty cool to not have to start from scratch and to take a storyline by an absolutely great writer like Reginald Hudlin,” Holland said. “He based his work (in 2005) on the great work that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby started with.

“To be able to take that work and make it your own and be able to add and subtract and mold it to something you’re happy with is just fabulous.”

Doing this kind of work is nothing new for Holland. Disney Lucasfilm Press commissioned him to write the history of the Star Wars franchise’s newest black hero, “Finn.” He told his story in the 2016 young adult novel “Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Finn’s Story.”  

He’s also penned award-winning nonfiction. His book “The Invisibles: The Untold Story of African American Slavery in the White House” (Lyons Press, 2016) won the 2017 silver medal in U.S. History in the Independent Publisher Book Awards. 

He teaches creative nonfiction writing as part of the Master of Fine Arts program at Goucher College in Townson, Maryland. He is also a race and ethnicity writer for The Associated Press. 

Holland recently saw a screening of the movie, which he said is “fabulous.” He expects the release will create a major payday for everyone involved.

“From everything we’re seeing – all of the sold-out movie theaters, pop-up bars, pop-up art shows and pop-up screenings, it seems like this is going to be a record-breaking weekend for Marvel, and maybe the movie industry,” Holland said. “It’s going to be amazing to see the final numbers.”