Freeman Foundation Renews Grant for Asia Internships

Information sessions start this week for interested students

A grant from the Freeman Foundation for a UM student internship program in Eastern Asia has been renewed for 2019. Summer intern grantees for 2018 include (front row, from left) Meredith Brown, Tyler Caple, Emily Rodriguez, Emma Scott, Tina Ng, Navodit Paudel, Sydney Bush, Jasmine Nguyen and Lucy De la Cruz, and (back row, from left) David Pfaehler, Jordan Holman, Sarah Liese, Sarah Berry, Mo Karzon, Stewart Eaton and Daria Herasymova. Submitted photo by Joe Worthem

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi students can again participate in a select internship program in Eastern Asia next summer, thanks to the renewal of a grant from the Freeman Foundation of Stowe, Vermont.

The programUM Experiential Learning in Eastern Asia, will allow 18 undergraduates to complete a summer internship of at least eight weeks in summer 2019. Each recipient will receive a $7,500 participation stipend from UM – with $5,000 of that coming from the Freeman Foundation grant and the other $2,500 provided by the university’s Office of Global Engagement and the successful applicants’ respective Ole Miss school(s) or college.

Last year was the first year UM received the grant, and 17 students participated. The university recently received news the grant was renewed for summer 2019 internships.

“We are excited that the Freeman Foundation has renewed the internship grant based on the work we put into designing this new program,” said Oliver Dinius, executive director of the Croft Institute for International Studies. “It lines up perfectly with both the university’s and the Croft Institute’s institutional goals for internationalization and experiential learning.

“We will draw on the experience of our first cohort to get many more students excited about this opportunity.”

Students interested in learning more about the program are encouraged to attend upcoming information sessions. The sessions, held in Croft Institute, Room 305, are scheduled for noon Wednesday (Oct. 17), noon Oct. 23, 4 p.m. Oct. 24 and noon Oct. 31. Additional information sessions are being scheduled for the week of Nov. 5-9.

“Students interested in the program will learn about the application process, the benefits, paths to secure an internship and hear from past Freeman grantees,” said Blair McElroy, UM senior international officer and director of study abroad.

UM Experiential Learning in Eastern Asia funds internships, not study abroad programs. Grantees must intern full time, at least 20 hours per week, for a minimum of eight weeks.

Freeman grantees must be full-time, degree-seeking undergraduate students in good academic standing in the fall of 2018, spring 2019 and fall 2019. Applicants cannot be in their last year of school. Students do not have to be U.S. citizens but cannot use the grant to intern in their home country.

International students must be four-year students to apply. There are no foreign language proficiency requirements to receive a grant, but proficiency in a relevant foreign language may strengthen an application.

The priority application deadline is Nov. 30.

Dinius administers the program and works with Joshua Howard, Croft associate professor of history and international studies; Bree Starnes, Croft coordinator for alumni relations and career planning; Minjoo Oh, associate professor of sociology; and McElroy to design the application process, select award recipients and assist students as they prepare for internships.

The goal of the Freeman Foundation’s grant is to help students gain real-life experience while interacting regularly with local populations. Established in 1994 by the estate of AIG co-founder Mansfield Freeman, the foundation’s general mission is “to strengthen the bonds of friendship between this country and those of the Far East” and “to stimulate an exchange of ideas in economic and cultural fields which will help create mutual understanding.”

Headed by Mansfield’s grandson, Graeme Freeman, the foundation donates annually to programs such as study abroad scholarships for Asian and American students and The National Consortium for Teaching About Asia, which has supported the Croft Institute’s efforts to strengthen teaching about East Asia for more than 15 years.

This grant lets the Croft Institute and other participating campus units deliver on the university’s commitment to educate and engage global citizens and to support experiential learning, two core principles in the university’s Flagship Forward strategic plan.

Students chosen for UM Experiential Learning in Eastern Asia will learn how a foreign culture affects the work environment and help prepare them to succeed.

Grant recipients from summer 2018 were Meredith Brown and Emma Scott, both of Oxford; Sarah Berry, Stewart Eaton, Mo Karzon and Jasmine Nguyen, all of Brandon; Lucy De la Cruz, of Southaven; Tina Ng, of Walls; Sydney Bush, of Gulfport; Jordan Holman, of Petal; Tyler Caple, of Huntsville, Alabama; Sarah Liese, of St. Louis; Scott Givhan, of West Hollywood, California; Emily Rodriguez, of Portland, Oregon; David Pfaehler, of Independence, Kentucky; Daria Herasymova, of Ukraine; and Navodit Paudel, of Nepal.

For more information about the UM Experiential Learning in Eastern Asia program, including eligible countries, the application process, recipient responsibilities and more, visit http://croft.olemiss.edu/home/freeman-internships-in-east-asia.

UM, JSU Join Accelerator Hub for Biomedical Technologies

Group includes consortium of academic institutions in Southeast

The University of Mississippi has joined a consortium of Southeastern academic institutions to create a technology transfer accelerator hub for biomedical technologies. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. and JACKSON, Miss. – The University of Mississippi and Jackson State University have joined a consortium of academic institutions to create a technology transfer accelerator hub for biomedical technologies in the Southeastern U.S.

The consortium is led by the University of Kentucky in partnership with the University of Louisville and West Virginia University, along with XLerateHealth, a Louisville, Kentucky-based health care technology accelerator that focuses on startups and commercialization. XLerateHealth is the primary awardee of $491,840 for the first year of a potential three-year, $3.5 million grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health.

The grant creates the accelerator hub in the Southeast Institutional Development Award region, or IDeA, which includes Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Puerto Rico, South Carolina and West Virginia.

The hub will be one of four funded hubs around the country to help IDeA states accelerate early-stage biomedical technology from the laboratory to market. The goal is to enhance the capacity to move scientific results from academic institutions into commercialization and to promote a sustainable culture of biomedical entrepreneurship.

“We are thrilled to partner with Jackson State University on our commercialization and entrepreneurship efforts,” said Allyson Best, director of the UM Office of Technology Commercialization. “There are many opportunities for collaboration among our biomedical research programs, and we look forward to coordinating Mississippi’s contributions to the accelerator hub.”

UM and JSU are part of the Mississippi Research Consortium, which also includes Mississippi’s two other research universities, Mississippi State University and the University of Southern Mississippi, in the aim of developing and sustaining nationally competitive research programs in the state.

Allyson Best

“This grant is the first of its kind at JSU and we are pleased to partner with the University of Mississippi, XLerateHealth, the University of Kentucky and the other partnering institutions in accelerating biomedical technologies in the Southeast,” said Almesha L. Campbell, director of technology transfer and commercialization at JSU. “This partnership will also help to enhance the tech transfer operations at JSU and provide our faculty and students with the tools to commercialize their ideas.”

The grant will fund the creation of an online “virtual hub” through which XLerateHealth, the University of Kentucky, the University of Louisville and West Virginia University can connect and coordinate programming, resources and commercialization tools for utilization across the network of participating institutions. The hub will develop and share educational curriculum at participating institution sites across the region.

A focused intellectual property and technology transfer support services component for regional and historically black colleges and universities will be available to assist where those services are not otherwise available.

“This accelerator hub is timely and will make a huge impact on the acceleration of biomedical technologies in Mississippi and the Southeast,” said Joseph A. Whittaker, JSU associate provost and associate vice president for academic affairs. “We are currently making strides in our technology transfer, innovation, commercialization and entrepreneurship activities at JSU, and this grant will only help to increase our capacity to support our faculty and students.”

The UM School of Engineering launched a new biomedical engineering degree program in fall 2017. Biomedical engineering is the application of principles and design concepts in engineering to problems in medicine and biology for health care purposes.

“This is an important grant not just for the two named campuses, but the entire state,” said Josh Gladden, UM vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs. “The objective is to network as many resources as possible in order to catalyze biomedical innovation out of the state’s academic institutions.”

Josh Gladden

The IDeA program was established in 1993 to broaden the geographic distribution of National Institutes of Health funding and builds research capacities in states that historically have had low levels of NIH funding by supporting basic, clinical and translational research; faculty and student development; and scientific infrastructure improvements.

The institutions in the consortium who have pledged their support and who will be participating in managing the program’s various committees and initiatives include: the University of Kentucky, University of Louisville, West Virginia University, Benedict College, Clemson University, Coastal Carolina University, Eastern Kentucky University, Jackson State University, Louisiana State University Health Sciences, Medical University of South Carolina, Northern Kentucky University, Puerto Rico Science, Technology and Research Trust and University of Puerto Rico, Southern University, Tulane University, University of Arkansas, UM, Western Kentucky University and Winthrop University.

About Jackson State University

Jackson State University, founded in 1877, is a historically black, high-research activity university in Jackson, the capital city of Mississippi. Jackson State’s nurturing academic environment challenges individuals to change lives through teaching, research and service. Officially designated as Mississippi’s urban university, Jackson State continues to enhance the state, nation and world through comprehensive economic development, health care, technological and educational initiatives. The only public university in the Jackson metropolitan area, Jackson State is located near downtown, with five satellite locations throughout the area.

About the University of Mississippi

The University of Mississippi, affectionately known as Ole Miss, is the state’s flagship university. Included in the elite group of R1: Doctoral Universities – Highest Research Activity by the Carnegie Classification, it has a long history of producing leaders in public service, academics and business. With more than 23,000 students, Ole Miss is the state’s largest university and is ranked among the nation’s fastest-growing institutions. Its 16 academic divisions include a major medical school, nationally recognized schools of accountancy, law and pharmacy, and an Honors College acclaimed for a blend of academic rigor, experiential learning and opportunities for community action.

Croft Institute Marks Its 20th Anniversary Friday

Events include alumni panels, commemoration ceremony

Since its first graduating class in 2001, 520 students have graduated from the Croft Institute for International Studies. Photo by Nathan Latil/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – The Croft Institute for International Studies at the University of Mississippi celebrates its 20th anniversary Friday (Oct. 5) with several events for UM alumni, students, faculty and staff.

The institute welcomed its first cohort in 1998 after being created following a generous $60 million donation from the Joseph C. Bancroft Charitable and Educational Fund in September 1997.

In its 20-year history, 520 UM students have graduated from the institute. The intensive foreign language studies, at least a semester of study abroad and the passionate work of Croft faculty and staff have created an institute and legions of graduates who have changed the UM campus, the state of Mississippi and the world.

Equipped with these international skills, Croft alumni work around the globe in nongovernmental organizations, public sector occupations such as the military or the U.S. Department of State, and fields ranging from banking and finance to business and manufacturing. Similarly, Croft students are preparing themselves for global careers during their coursework at Croft and when they study abroad.

That past and the future of Croft is being celebrated this Friday with a series of events. Alumni of the Croft Institute will speak to current students about their careers in a set of alumni panels. The commemoration ceremony in the afternoon formally celebrates Croft’s 20 years of success, and the evening reception provides an opportunity for alumni from different cohorts and current students to meet and mingle.

“We are excited about celebrating the Croft Institute’s 20th anniversary,” said Oliver Dinius, Croft executive director and associate professor of history. “This is a wonderful opportunity to bring together current students with all the people who – over the last 20 years – have made Croft into a special place: the generous donors who supported the institute’s founding, the administrators who offered the vision for a special program, the faculty who created the excitement in the classroom and the Croft alumni who put in the work to earn the degree and turn it into an exciting career.

“Personally, I am thrilled to see many of the former students with whom I had the opportunity to work over the last 14 years.”

The events include:

Alumni Panels and Breakout Sessions, 10 a.m.-noon, Joseph C. Bancroft Conference Room (Croft Institute, Room 107) – There will be two separate sessions: 10-11 a.m. and 11 a.m.-noon. Each session is split into two parts: a 30-minute panel with five alumni, followed by a 25-minute breakout session to give a smaller group of students an opportunity to follow-up by talking to one alumnus about their career.

The alumni for the session are Buddy Apple, Class of 2004; Allie Cleaver, Class of 2013; Vanessa Cook, Class of 2002; Anne Corless, Class of 2013; Christine Day, Class of 2006; Patrick Dogan, Class of 2008; Emilie Dayan Hill, Class of 2011; Bob Lynch, Class of 2008; John Martin, Class of 2009; and Josh Norris, Class of 2009.

Commemoration Ceremony, 2-3:30 p.m., Joseph C. Bancroft Conference Room (Croft Institute, Room 107) – This formal ceremony will officially recognize the institute’s 20th anniversary. The ceremony includes a welcome by Dinius and special guest speakers Gerald M. Abdalla, CEO and president of Croft LLC and chairman of the Joseph C. Bancroft Charitable and Educational Fund; Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter; Chancellor Emeritus Robert Khayat; and Provost Noel Wilkin. Two Croft alumni – Susan Hedglin, Class of 2009, and Patrick Woodyard, Class of 2010 – also will speak. Refreshments will be served on the porch following the ceremony.

Reception, 7-11 p.m., Powerhouse Community Arts Center – The reception will be an evening of food and live music for Croft alumni, students, faculty and staff.

Josh Gladden Appointed to Top Research Position at UM

Vice chancellor role oversees Office of Research and Sponsored Programs

Josh Gladden

OXFORD, Miss. – Josh Gladden has been named vice chancellor for the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs at the University of Mississippi following a nationwide search. The vice chancellor serves as the university’s chief research officer.

Gladden, who joined the university in July 2005 as an assistant professor of physics and moved up through the ranks, had held the title of interim vice chancellor since 2016. The office serves and supports UM faculty, staff and students who are pursuing research or other sponsored projects funded by federal, state or private agencies and organizations.

“I am absolutely thrilled and honored to have been chosen for this role,” Gladden said. “My time as interim vice chancellor reinforced how interesting and fulfilling this job is.

“I have come to understand the incredible breadth and quality of research and creative activities happening at UM, and am most excited about partnering with deans, directors, chairs, faculty and research staff, along with our hardworking and knowledgeable team, to help them achieve their goals in this important component of our mission as a university.”

While serving as interim vice chancellor, Gladden developed or played a leadership role in various initiatives such as Flagship Constellations, which includes multidisciplinary research teams of UM faculty and staff addressing grand challenges in the areas of big data, brain wellness, community wellbeing and disaster resilience.

He also initiated or helped initiate programs at UM such as research development fellows and undergraduate research fellows, strengthened and expanded relationships in both the public and private sectors, and aided the university’s existing centers and institutes while fostering the creation of new ones, such as the Center for Graphene Research and Innovation.

“We are so pleased that Dr. Josh Gladden will serve as the chief research officer for the University of Mississippi,” Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said. “Dr. Gladden brings a wealth of experience and recognition as a national leader in his field.

“In addition, he has demonstrated tremendous dedication to elevating the impact of the university’s scholarly research and discovery. Through his collaborative and innovative approaches, Dr. Gladden embodies the exceptional standard we’ve come to expect of this position.”

Increasing the impact of the university’s research and scholarly activities will require efforts on many fronts, Gladden said.

Foremost among those endeavors are “firmly establishing the multidisciplinary Flagship Constellation teams, broadly telling the story of research at UM, growing undergraduate research opportunities, continuing to grow partnerships with both the public and private sectors, transitioning UM technologies into the marketplace and mentoring early career faculty in grantsmanship,” he said.

Gladden was among four candidates for the position invited to campus for interviews and public presentations.

“Dr. Gladden has a distinguished record as a researcher and university administrator who holds the respect of his colleagues,” said Donna Strum, the university’s associate provost, who chaired the search committee.

“Dr. Gladden’s vision will build upon our strengths and enable our research enterprise to grow and thrive. We welcome his expertise in building on our successes and guiding us to the next level of excellence.”

Before joining the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, Gladden served as director of the UM National Center for Physical Acoustics from 2013 to 2016. During that time, external funding for the center increased from $2.8 million to $6.2 million.

Gladden was an assistant professor until 2011, when he was promoted to associate professor of physics. In July of this year, he was again promoted, this time to full professor of physics.

Josh Gladden is the new UM vice chancellor for the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs following a nationwide search. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

“I am elated that Josh Gladden has accepted our offer to be our next vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs,” Provost Noel Wilkin said. “He has a solid understanding of what it takes to facilitate growth in the research enterprise, appreciates the dynamics involved in faculty productivity and has a commitment to foster scholarship and creative achievement in all disciplines.

“I am confident in his ability to facilitate our institutional research and creative achievement goals, and I thank the committee and the Parker Executive Search firm for conducting a well-run search.”

Gladden earned his Ph.D. from Pennsylvania State University in 2003 and worked as a postdoctoral fellow in physics and mathematics at Penn State before joining UM.

Before receiving his doctorate, he worked three years as a physics instructor at the Armand Hammer United World College of the American West in Montezuma, New Mexico. The college is an international school for gifted students representing approximately 75 countries with a network of 16 sister campuses on five continents.

Gladden received his master’s degree in physics from the University of Montana in 1994 and his bachelor’s in physics from the University of the South in 1991.

His research interests are focused on energy-related materials and include developing novel methods of acoustics and vibration sensing in harsh environments and using these methods to study numerous energy-related materials. Recently, his research has started focusing on vibrational and acoustic energy harvesting methods, as well as structural health monitoring in harsh or complex environments such as in storage casks for spent nuclear fuel rods.

Gladden serves as president of the University of Mississippi Research Foundation and as chair of the Mississippi Research Consortium, which represents Mississippi’s four research universities – UM, Jackson State University, Mississippi State University and the University of Southern Mississippi – in developing and sustaining nationally competitive research programs.

Gladden is a fellow and member of the Acoustical Society of America and a member of the American Physical Society and The Minerals, Metals and Materials Society.

He has authored or co-authored 28 refereed publications and made 34 invited presentations. In 2007, Gladden co-authored a paper, “Motion of a Viscoelastic Micellar Fluid Around a Cylinder: Flow and Fracture,” which was listed in “Physics News of 2007” by the American Physical Society.

Study Abroad Gives Croft Students Experience of a Lifetime

Semester, year overseas creates global citizens out of institute's students

Since its first graduating class in 2001, the Croft Institute for International Studies has graduated some 520 students. Photo by Nathan Latil/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – Since its beginning in 1998, the Croft Institute for International Studies at the University of Mississippi has supplied students with the tools to become global citizens.

Chief among these tools are acquiring a high level of proficiency in a foreign language and studying abroad, for either a semester or a whole year, in a country whose language they have been studying.

Immersing oneself in the culture, history, language and day-to-day existence of a foreign land while studying abroad has proven to be a highlight of a student’s undergraduate career and aptly prepared Croft students for their future careers, either at home or elsewhere.

“Any study abroad experience gives the student a newfound appreciation for a different country and its culture,” said Oliver Dinius, Croft executive director and associate professor of history. “What is special about the semester or year abroad for Croft is that students will see firsthand how the language skill and the regional knowledge allow them to gain a much deeper understanding of their temporary home.

“It reinforces the hard work students have invested in the classroom during their first two years at Croft – and it adds that practical application that makes it all worthwhile. It provides the student with the confidence that she or he can actually do it: live and work in a different language and culture.”

As the institute celebrates its 20th anniversary this fall, it has sent hundreds of students to countries around the globe for their study abroad adventure. During the 2017-18 academic year, 43 Croft students studied abroad for either a semester or year.

Those students return to campus changed: more independent, more adept at tackling global challenges and more skilled at charting a career path in the world.

Dinius studied abroad twice: first as an exchange student from Germany at the University of Oregon and at Harvard University, where he earned his doctorate, and later when conducting 18 months of field research in Brazil.

Those diverse exploits helped him master foreign languages, be comfortable in different cultural environments and develop key skills to be a resident of the world.

Here are what a few current Croft students remember about their study abroad experience and how that time affected their lives.

Caroline Bass, senior

An international studies and Spanish major from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Bass spent spring 2018 studying in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, at the Instituto Filosofico Pedro Francisco Bonó.

Senior international studies and Spanish major Caroline Bass spent the spring of 2018 studying in the Dominican Republic as part of her Croft Institute studies. Submitted photo

While there, she took a variety of literature and history classes for her major – with all of the classes in Spanish. In the streets of Santo Domingo and around the Caribbean country, Bass also said she heard very little English, so the experience greatly improved her language skills.

More learning came from outside of the classroom as Bass said the semester in the Dominican Republic made her “a more open-minded and curious student” that will affect how she studies and learns at UM.

“Living and studying in another country provides insight and perspective that you cannot attain in Oxford,” she said. “It showed me that there are countless things in the world that are more important than my life and ideas. It is a humbling experience that all students can benefit from and has given me a passion for the world, but has also given me a new understanding and love for Mississippi.”

“My study abroad experience was very meaningful and forced me out of my comfort zone. I met a lot of wonderful people and experienced new things that I never would have if I stayed in Oxford.”

Lauren Burns, senior

How much does Burns enjoy studying abroad? Enough that the Gulfport native has made three separate study abroad trips.

The international studies and Arabic major first studied at the Modern Arabic Language International Center in Amman, Jordan, in summer 2016 and then returned the following summer. This spring, she returned to Amman for an internship with CET Academic Programs, a study abroad organization.

Croft Institute senior Lauren Burns has journeyed to Jordan three times for study abroad. Her trips have allowed her to immerse herself in Jordanian culture, including trips to places such as Jerash. Submitted photo

At the center, Burns studied Modern Standard Arabic along with a Jordanian dialect of the language. This spring, she again studied Modern Standard Arabic and dialect for a semester in addition to taking a course on the refugee crisis in Jordan and interning twice a week with Partners-Jordan, a democratic and civil society organization.

“Besides the obvious benefit of improving my foreign language skills, I really got to immerse myself in Jordanian culture,” Burns said. “By living and studying there for a total of eight months over the past three years, I truly came to understand the phrase ‘you had to be there.’

“I’d read tons of articles and books for class about the refugee crises in the Middle East, but seeing the conflicts and their effects firsthand and befriending Syrian, Palestinian and Iraqi refugees really put things into perspective.”

Tyler Caple, senior

Caple, an international studies and Chinese major minoring in environmental studies, also has made three study abroad trips – all to China.

Senior Tyler Caple, an international studies and Chinese major minoring in environmental studies, has made three study abroad trips to China while a student at the Croft Institute. Submitted photo

The Huntsville, Alabama, native first studied abroad in Shanghai for an intensive language program in summer 2016. The following summer, she went to Changchun on a Critical Language Scholarship and took intensive Chinese classes again.

This past summer, she interned with a social enterprise called Women in Leadership League in Shanghai, thanks to a substantial grant from the Freeman Foundation in Stowe, Vermont.

With each trip, she was prepared because of her Croft studies.

“The Croft program does an amazing job of preparing students for study abroad,” she said. “Even before my first summer in China, I possessed a strong background knowledge of Chinese history and culture that helped me navigate potentially awkward conversations. Croft professors also encourage students to be constant learners, which inspired me to seek out opportunities to learn about my host country while abroad.”

As a three-time study abroad student, Caple has some simple advice for students – Croft or not – considering going abroad to study: Go for it.

“Even if you think it might not relate to your studies, go ahead and seek out information because you never know what kind of programs or interdisciplinary fields are out there,” she said.

Madeline Cook, sophomore

“An amazing adventure” is how Cook, an international studies major minoring in sociology, describes her study abroad trip to Spain this June.

Cook, of Flowood, studied Spanish culture and history, and the Spanish language at Universidad de Alcalá in Alcalá de Henares, Spain, about 20 minutes outside Madrid.

Croft Institute sophomore Madeline Cook studied Spanish culture, history and language while at Universidad de Alcalá in Spain this summer. Submitted photo

The suburb was once a Roman settlement, then a prominent medieval town with a rich literary history. Now, it is “a bustling, working Spanish metropolis with a quaint old town and a lot of history,” she said.

“I learned an incredible amount in a city that really epitomized Spain as the intersection between ancient and modern,” said Cook, a 2017 Stamps Scholarship recipient.

Well-prepared for speaking Spanish because of her Croft studies, Cook said the experience of living in Spain for a month made her more confident in her Spanish-speaking ability.

“I understand that language learning comes in waves – some days were difficult just saying something nuanced while others were brilliant, and that’s something every language learner must remember and accept,” she said. “I was very lucky to have many, many kind strangers start conversations with me and give their time to me.

“It’s the interactions like this on a daily level, seeing how things work up close, that really fascinates and teaches.”

Zac Herring, senior

Zac Herring, a senior at the Croft Institute majoring in international studies, German and economics, visited the Berlin Wall during his studies this year at the University of Cologne in Germany. Submitted photo

Herring had heard that the study abroad experience is often called a unique semester in the life of a college student. After studying three months this spring at the University of Cologne in Cologne, Germany, Herring understands why.

“I had a wonderful and exciting time,” said Herring, from Olive Branch.

The international studies, German and economics major studied German and participated in the Global Study Program, where he studied several different topics, most notably European Union economic law, EU development policy and the effect of globalization on European political discourse.

While his time abroad this spring helped with his language skills, he really discovered how to solve problems and address challenges he hadn’t faced in the U.S.

“You get to spend a great deal of time with people who are very different than you, and it really gives you a sense for how vast the world actually can be,” he said. “I think I have a much better understanding of what life is like in an entirely different political climate, with a radically different political history.”

Herring also offers some advice: “Make sure to find out as much as you can about what you need to do” before heading abroad, especially if you are responsible for your housing.

David Pfaehler, junior

A native of Independence, Kentucky, Pfaehler did not have the typical study abroad experience.

Thanks to a substantial grant from the Freeman Foundation in Stowe, Vermont, Pfaehler spent June and July of this year not studying at a university, but at the Vietnam National Children’s Hospital in Hanoi.

A recipient of a Freeman Foundation grant, David Pfaehler visits a mountain in the Ninh Binh Province, about an hour south of Hanoi, while interning this summer at the Vietnam National Children’s Hospital as part of his Croft Institute study abroad experience. Submitted photo

“I observed surgery and studied congenital anomalies in three different departments: plastic and craniofacial surgery, cardiovascular surgery and orthopedic surgery,” said Pfaehler, who is majoring in international studies and French along with minors in Spanish and chemistry.

Pfaehler spent about 45 hours a week shadowing and assisting doctors at the hospital.

“I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Vietnam and I believe that the Croft Institute prepared me for this experience by opening my mind to trying different things, whether it be learning new languages, talking to complete strangers or exploring the lesser-known parts of the world,” he said.

The trip was a motivating and humbling experience, one that reminded him that “there are still so many differences to be made in this world to make life easier and happier for all people.”

“My internship in Vietnam expanded my knowledge and love for medicine, allowing me to make a difference in the lives of young children born into very disadvantaged situations,” he said.

Emily Wang, junior

Wang, a native of Randolph, New Jersey, has enjoyed her study abroad experiences so much that she is still overseas, studying at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco, this semester.

Emily Wang, a junior in the Croft Institute, visits the ancient city of Petra while completing an intensive language institute program in Amman, Jordan, this summer. Submitted photo

Her latest studies are part of a whirlwind study abroad journey that started in Meknes, Morocco, at the Arab American Language Institute studying intensive Arabic in summer 2017.

After a year at UM, this summer she completed an intensive language institute program with the U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarship Program in Amman, Jordan. She also briefly studied Moroccan Arabic dialect in Rabat, Morocco, before starting her fall at Al Akhawayn University.

“The Croft Institute has afforded me incomparable opportunities to accumulate exposure, appreciation and understanding in unfamiliar cultural contexts,” said Wang, an international studies, Chinese and Arabic major. She also is pre-medicine, minoring in chemistry.

“Study abroad creates student ambassadors who will mature into world leaders that comprehend various cultural sensitivities and offer bridges over potential miscommunication.”

Her pre-medical studies are following an unconventional path, she said, but that’s intentional, as cultural understanding and study abroad help individuals develop greater empathy.

“Through close collaborations with the UM’s intensive Chinese and Arabic programs, Croft has been able to offer me an extraordinary program to holistically study the world,” she said.

For the last 20 years, Croft students have had opportunities to experience a foreign culture during their semester or year abroad. With the institute’s 21st academic year underway, another cohort of Croft students will be heading abroad, and while they may go to the same countries and programs as in years past, the individual experience always will be unique.

UM, Shorelight Education Partnership Broadens Global Access

Ole Miss International will welcome first students in the fall of 2019

Officials from the University of Mississippi and Boston-based Shorelight Education gather in the Lyceum to observe the signing of a contract that will help attract more international students to the state’s flagship university. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. and BOSTON – The University of Mississippi and Shorelight Education have launched a joint program, Ole Miss International, to broaden global access to UM’s highly regarded undergraduate and graduate programs for international students.

Ole Miss International will welcome its first cohort starting in fall 2019.

UM and Boston-based Shorelight created this personalized program to enrich the university’s campus community and enhance its educational experience with unparalleled international student support services. Shorelight uses a proprietary database that identifies the strongest areas of international demand for a U.S. higher education experience.

With a distribution network in more than 150 countries, Shorelight operates across multiple channels, including digital marketing, high school promotion, sponsorship agencies and a network of counselors.

Despite overall declines in international student enrollment numbers nationwide, Shorelight’s partner university enrollments are up more than 40 percent nationally.

“This strategic initiative advances our university’s priority of educating and engaging global citizens,” Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said. “We look forward to expanding our international footprint and extending educational opportunities to even more students across the world.”

In January, the university and Shorelight agreed on a partnership that will support the recruitment, retention and success of international students at UM, as well as elevate the global presence of the university. Shorelight Education partners with top-ranked, nonprofit American universities to build comprehensive programs and services that are both high-touch and technology-driven to help talented students succeed on campus and become globally minded alumni.

With the first students of the program set to arrive next fall, Vitter emphasized the importance of providing robust learning environments with a rich diversity of talents, cultures and contributions.

“I believe that excellence and diversity go hand in hand,” he said. “Diversity makes our ideas better, our approaches more effective, our results stronger and our relationships deeper.

“Not only will this partnership expand the diversity of our global outreach, but it also will enhance the academic and social experience for all of us in the Ole Miss community.”

Shorelight Education CEO and co-founder Tom Dretler signs a contract partnering with the University of Mississippi to attract more international students to the university. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

Shorelight has seen a 92 percent progression rate for its students across all its partnerships – well above the national average.

Shorelight CEO Tom Dretler attributed continued enrollment growth in the company’s programs to the quality of its partners, its multichannel approach to identifying talented students and its industry-leading support services to ensure academic success.

“There is extraordinary international student demand for undergraduate and graduate degrees from top U.S. universities like Ole Miss,” Dretler said. “Our approach is to tap into that demand in over 150 counties and use our technology platforms and best-in-class support services to deliver an outstanding experience.

“Our programs would not be thriving as they are today without our partnerships with top-tier universities like Ole Miss that provide international students with access to high-demand degree programs.”

Through this new partnership, UM and Shorelight share a common mission centered on student success.

“It’s not just about recruiting the right students for the university,” Dretler said. “Our focus is on equipping students with the tools and resources needed to succeed and become globally minded alumni.”

For the current academic semester, UM has 875 international students enrolled, not including students enrolled in Optional Practical Training, a temporary employment that is directly related to an international student’s major area of study.

“The accelerator programs offered by the University of Mississippi with Ole Miss International will provide a comprehensive path for international students in their cultural adjustment, career development and academic success at the University of Mississippi,” said Blair McElroy, UM senior international officer and director of the Study Abroad Office.

According to the NAFSA: Association of International Educators, international students in Mississippi contributed $87.1 million to the state’s economy in 2016, supporting 907 jobs.

Ole Miss Esports Ushers University into Video Game Competition World

UM, MSU announce inaugural Esports Egg Bowl for Oct. 13

Cray Pennison (left), president of the Ole Miss Esports club, is joined by Noel Wilkin, UM provost and executive vice chancellor, and Jason DeShong, president of MSU Esports, to announce the Esports Egg Bowl set for Oct. 13 in The Pavilion at Ole Miss. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – The dream goes a little something like this: A few short years down the road, several thousand fans are gathered in an arena on the University of Mississippi campus, enthralled in a game. The crowd cheers and gasps as the tension builds, Hotty Toddy cheers echo and the announcer furiously spits out a play-by-play.

Instead of players hustling up and down a basketball court, though, the throng is zeroed in on two teams of people sitting in sleek, comfortable chairs, controllers in hand, facing off against each other in a video game. As the pixelated combat unfolds, with video boards beaming the battle around the packed arena, millions more are watching on monitors around the globe.

This is the National Collegiate Esports Tournament, an event that is now fictitious but could one day decide the top collegiate esports team in the country.

It is a dream that is arising, as the popularity of esports – competitive video game playing – is booming, with Ole Miss Esports, the university’s official esports organization, riding that surging wave into a bright future.

On Thursday (Sept. 13), Ole Miss and Mississippi State University announced the first-ever Esports Egg Bowl, an electronic matchup Oct. 13 in The Pavilion at Ole Miss between the two schools whose football rivalry stretches back to 1901.

The history of Ole Miss Esports is not nearly as lengthy. The club, designed to establish a community of gamers and promote competitive esports play on the UM campus, was founded in January 2017 by junior Cray Pennison, of Mandeville, Louisiana.

Pennison, an English major with a creative writing emphasis, serves as president of the club. Junior Gage Angle, from Colorado Springs, Colorado, (though a Tupelo High School graduate) is vice president and co-founder.

“The fact that Ole Miss pulled the trigger on (supporting an esports club) is a really smart move,” said Angle, an economics major. “They are taking it seriously. That’s making people realize that this is going to be real.”

The club, born out of a defunct League of Legends club on campus, convened with about five members at its first meeting. At a club social Aug. 23 in Brevard Hall, 85 people signed up for the club, with more than 100 students in attendance, chowing down on pizza and playing video games. More than 50 students attended the club’s first official fall meeting.

The explosion of the group mirrors the mushrooming popularity of esports around the globe. Newzoo, a games, esports and mobile market intelligence provider, forecasts that the total, global esports audience will grow from 395 million this year to 580 million by 2021. 

Newzoo also states that the global esports economy will grow to $905.6 million this year, a year-on-year growth of 38 percent.

The Ole Miss Esports club was founded in January 2017 to establish a community of gamers and promote competitive esports play on the UM campus. Photo by Shea Stewart/Ole Miss Communication

Games are played on a trio of platforms – mobile (smartphone and tablets), PC and console games – in genres that include fighting and multiplayer online battle arena, first-person shooter or real-time strategy games. Some of the most popular games are “Call of Duty,” “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive,” “Dota 2,” “League of Legends,” “Overwatch,” “Rocket League,” “Super Smash Bros. Melee” and “Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege.” 

Players go by game aliases. Pennison’s is “Syliris” because he likes the combination of sounds; Angle’s is “Geiji,” a Japanese pronunciation of his first name.

And while millions play the games, millions more watch online, thanks to sites such as Twitch and YouTube. Twitch, a subsidiary of Amazon, is a live-streaming video service and social site with an estimated daily viewership in the last 30 days of more than 1.1 million viewers. By comparison, ESPN – the leading U.S. basic cable sports network – had an average of 2.5 million total viewers in primetime for the week of Sept. 3.

Besides the free, live event sponsored by C Spire at the Pavilion, the Esports Egg Bowl will likewise stream online – time and place to be announced.

“One of the things I get is, ‘So you enjoy watching other people play video games?'” Pennison said. “I always joke back, ‘You like watching people play football as you sit on the couch?’ It’s the same thing.”

That growing worldwide fascination with esports, the popularity of which first bloomed in South Korea, is gaining notice in the U.S. ESPN has added esports to the growing list of sports it covers. And the Mississippi High School Activities Association added esports as a pilot program in 2018-19.

Esports also has become a varsity collegiate sport. In 2014, Robert Morris University in Illinois announced a scholarship-sponsored “League of Legends” team.

Since then, the esports scene has skyrocketed, with a national governing body known as the National Association of Collegiate Esports representing more than 90 institutions, ranging from tiny Culver-Stockton College in Missouri to larger schools such as the University of North Texas and Georgia State University.

In March, the University of North Georgia captured the first-ever Peach Belt Conference League of Legends Championship. The championship was the first of its kind in the nation as the PBC is the first NCAA conference to present a league title for esports.

About a year-and-a-half ago, Pennison approached the UM Department of Computer and Information Science requesting financial support for Rebel Rumble 2017, a campus club gaming tourney. The department, under the direction of Chair Dawn Wilkins, again assisted with Rebel Rumble this spring, and the club’s momentum was ignited.

“The timing just seemed right,” said Carrie Long, administrative assistant for the department and a self-described “ally” of the club. “Esports is undoubtedly a very popular event worldwide and can be used in the university setting in multiple facets.

“It is a good team-building unit, much the same as any team sport; it can be used to help motivate students to participate in leading roles as well as collaborate with others working toward common goals.”

Scholarly pursuits, including research into programming, psychology, kinesiology and virtual reality, also can be linked to esports, Long said.

And esports can be supportive in assisting a student’s mental health.

“Our hope is this will help students find others in the community who have similar interests, as well as support their interest but also make them accountable for going to class and encouraging them to be more social,” Long said.

Long and Wilkins approached Provost Noel Wilkin about administration support for the club. It did not take much to persuade him.

“This is about embracing the future: the future of online gaming, the future of sports and the future of understanding how the online world brings society together,” Wilkin said. “The future is here, competition is changing and the need for new talent is emerging. Ole Miss is changing the world.”

As the esports conversation accelerated over the summer, the idea arose for an Esports Egg Bowl, with Ole Miss and MSU battling it out for esports supremacy in the state.

The popularity of esports – competitive video game playing – is booming, with an estimated global audience of 395 million in 2018. Photo by Shea Stewart/Ole Miss Communications

Yes, the showdown will be a battle, because esports is competitive. The Ole Miss Esports club has finished highly ranked at some competitions, including two top 10 finishes in the Collegiate Battleground Association’s fall 2017 and spring 2018 PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds tournaments.

The idea is for the club to compete this year in the most popular esports games, with club members split into their respective games of interest and each game overseen by a chairman. Some games have multiple teams, and each team is coached by a captain.

Much like other team sports, esport captains develop game plans by researching opponents, searching for patterns in play or weaknesses, and poring over data. Players, especially in a multiplayer online battle arena game such as “League of Legends,” are always searching for that most efficient tactic.

“In the ‘Call of Duty’ team here, our practices consist of (playing training games against) other schools for at least 15 hours a week in-game, watching hours of video-on-demand to get intel on other school’s teams, and even writing down strategies and critiques of our own play to use in-game,” said Sergio Brack, alias “Physix,” a pre-pharmacy major from Chicago who is the club’s “Call of Duty” chairman.

All this takes time, and it takes a great amount of time to become even competent at a game. But esport players do not have to be athletic freaks of nature, able to hit a nasty 85 mph slider or slalom up and down a soccer field, dribbling the ball while avoiding opposing players.

“(Esports) seem more accessible than other sports,” Angle said. “You see athletes, and it is like, ‘Those guys are big and tall, and they have the genetics and they’ve been working out their whole lives,’ and then you see guys playing video games and it’s like, ‘Oh my God, I do that.’

“In esports, there is not much you can be born with for talent. You have to work hard. You have to get ahead of everybody.”

While athletic ability, beyond talents such as hand-eye coordination and quick reflexes, is not necessary for excelling at esports, a competitive spirit is beneficial.

“I noticed with esports, people who play competitively, when they were younger, they usually played sports so they have that competitive nature,” Pennison said. “And then they played video games, so it becomes where you can play the thing you really like to do – video games – and enjoy the high of being competitive and being good at it.”

Still, the games are essentially supposed to be fun, an escape from stress and the tasks of being a student. That is the role these games have played in Ole Miss Esports players’ lives since they started playing video games, which have been a near-constant since birth.

Austin Turner, a junior computer science major from Yazoo City, remembers playing as a child on his PlayStation, thinking it was the “coolest thing ever.” By high school, he was playing “League of Legends,” and when he arrived at UM, he started playing “Overwatch” for “hours on end with no end in sight.”

“For me, the joy is just the pure rush,” said Turner, the club’s “Overwatch” chairman. “I play competitive games and also survival games, so the rush for me comes when I am able to overpower another player in a game and get rewards from it.”

Esport players compete in a number of games, with some of the most popular being ‘Call of Duty,’ ‘Counter-Strike: Global Offensive,’ ‘League of Legends’ and ‘Overwatch.’ Here, Ole Miss students play ‘Super Smash Bros.’ Photo by Shea Stewart/Ole Miss Communications

So where does all this lead? Down the road to that fictional National Collegiate Esports Tournament in a dedicated Ole Miss arena? (It’s not so far-fetched: The University of California at Irvine opened its UCI eSports Arena in September 2016.)

But first steps first, such as opening a practice room for Ole Miss Esports members, then maybe becoming an officially recognized sport and offering scholarships. Then the arena and national tournament.

Wilkin said UM will work toward establishing “sites where Ole Miss gamers can gather, practice and connect with expert gamers recreationally and in preparation for tournaments.”

“We will work toward establishing a competitive program that will enable our Rebel gamers to compete against the best collegiate gamers in the country. It is consistent with our efforts to build excellent programs that give students the knowledge and understanding necessary to enable them to unleash their potential and prepare them for the lifelong learning necessary in their careers.”

James Zhou, a junior managerial finance major from Madison who goes by the gamer alias “icytea,” sees a big future for Ole Miss Esports, especially with the university’s support.

“It’s still a long shot for any school, but hopefully we can become national contenders for multiple popular esports,” said Zhou, who is the club’s “League of Legends” chairman. “Universities from around the world have been hopping on the esports train.

“I definitely did not expect the amount of growth that we’ve had in the past few years, so props to everyone involved, especially the leadership.”

And by supporting the development of the Ole Miss Esports club, the university is doing more than creating a new team; it is giving students a new channel for developing their talents.

“Esports, here at OleMiss, is an outlet for some very talented people to come and show off a skill that doesn’t involve having to be physically good at something,” Turner said. “This is an opportunity for people that may have social issues, physical issues, medical issues, etc., to come and show off that they don’t have to conform their bodies to a certain sport or face the negative stigma around gaming.

“We’re all geeks in some way or fashion but together in this organization, we can come together and push boundaries that have never been reached at Ole Miss.”

Blair McElroy Named Senior International Officer at UM

Ole Miss alumna brings global perspective, experiences to role

Blair McElroy, UM senior international officer, signs a memorandum of agreement with the National University of Civil Engineering in Vietnam for student and faculty exchanges and research collaborations in May. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – During the 2017-18 academic year at the University of Mississippi, Blair McElroy watched over 877 international students as interim senior international officer.

In that position, she served as an advocate for those students, ensuring their education at UM went as smoothly as possible, while also championing international education on campus by organizing international collaboration agreements, assisting faculty in their teaching-abroad opportunities and creating new partnerships with international universities.

She even served as principal of the North Mississippi Japanese Supplementary School, a UM school where Japanese families and students settled in the area can maintain their education and culture.

This academic year, McElroy will continue her work in international education – while maintaining her concurrent role as director of the Study Abroad Office – but no longer with the interim tag. McElroy, a 2002 graduate of UM’s Croft Institute for International Studies and the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, has been named senior international officer at UM after holding the interim title for about a year.

“I see the Office of Global Engagement as a resource for the university in expanding its already prominent global footprint,” McElroy said. “OGE’s faculty and staff are incredible resources for opportunities such as faculty exchange, student exchange, joint research projects, supporting international students on campus and leading study abroad programs.

“Our forthcoming new website will host opportunities for global engagement for constituents on campus and in the community.”

McElroy joined the Ole Miss staff in November 2006 as a study abroad adviser after graduating from the UM School of Law. She was named director of the Study Abroad Office in July 2015.

Blair McElroy

“Blair brings a wealth of experience and expertise to the position, which has enabled her to be a stabilizing force in the Office of Global Engagement,” Provost Noel Wilkin said. “For many years, she has demonstrated her ability to navigate the issues and advance the initiatives within the office.

“This background and experience prepared her well to work with faculty, staff and students to help us pursue a global Mississippi.”

A native of Jackson, Tennessee, McElroy majored in international studies, minoring in Chinese and French, at UM. She also studied abroad in Beijing for a semester, and at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom.

She also worked in the Study Abroad Office as an undergraduate student worker and while in law school.

Don Dyer, co-director of UM’s Chinese Language Flagship Program and new Arabic Language Flagship Program, has known McElroy for about 15 years and worked with her in several capacities.

“I have great admiration for her as an administrator on this campus,” said Dyer, who also serves as associate dean for faculty and academic affairs in the College of Liberal Arts and distinguished professor of Russian and linguistics. “She is someone who sets her mind to a task and stays with it to its completion.”

In an effort to strengthen UM’s international bonds, McElroy spent two weeks this spring at an International Education Administrators seminar in South Korea. The trip was made possible through a Fulbright award.

While there, McElroy visited 12 South Korean universities on a whirlwind tour, learning about South Korean history and culture. Her visit also boosted the university’s program offerings in Korea by structuring strategic partnerships in academic areas and deepening institutional connections to Korea through meetings with faculty, administrators and government officials.

“It was an amazing experience,” she said. “Not only did I learn more about the Korean culture, history and people, but also how to better support Korean students on our campus. I can also happily and knowledgeably encourage study abroad in Korea.

“I would love to host information sessions focusing on study in Korea throughout the academic year and reach out to our Korean students. Having met many of their advisers during our visits, the connections will hopefully help them feel more at home here at UM.”

As director of the Study Abroad Office, McElroy oversees the recruitment of outgoing and incoming study abroad and exchange students – a task that includes being a risk and crisis manager, which can lead to some restless nights.

UM sent 685 students overseas in the 2017-18 academic year through its study abroad programs, a 22 percent increase from the previous year.

With so many students overseas – either for a year, a semester or a summer – crises arise, whether it is students eating bad street food or natural disasters or political unrest. Through it all, the Study Abroad Office is there for students.

Difficulties aside, the experience of studying overseas is invaluable, McElroy said.

“The things you learn about another country, another culture and yourself still resonate even 20 years later,” she said. “I still remember the uncertainty and excitement of traveling to another country for an extended period of time, and I want to make the transition to another country smooth, enjoyable and educational for our students.

“Having been an international student myself in China and the United Kingdom, I remember how it feels to know no one and learn to be resourceful and independent. But I also remember the kindness of people abroad who were hospitable and helpful, and I hope that we are fostering that kind of environment here on our campus for our international students.”

So McElroy’s advice when it comes to studying overseas? Do it.

The real world following graduation might not afford many opportunities for travel, and UM offers several programs for study abroad, she said. Plus, scholarships and financial aid apply, so students can often find a program that fits their budget and academic needs.

And if students cannot go abroad, opportunities are plentiful on campus to engage with international students through the Office of Global Engagement or by participating in UM’s International Education Week activities in early November.

“Regardless of how a student interacts with people from other cultures, the opportunity to do so creates global citizens, people who understand that there exists a world community and know their place within it,” McElroy said.

“People who use the tools they have learned by ‘walking in other people’s shoes’ to become more empathetic, learn intercultural communication skills, learn what they value and can contribute positively to a local, national and global community, and the effects of their experience resonate forever.”

Croft Institute Marks Two Decades of Preparing State for the World

More than 500 graduates have launched successful global careers

A degree from the Croft Institute for International Studies serves as a passport into the world economy. Here, the 2018 class celebrates its graduation. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – Since its first class graduated in 2001, the Croft Institute for International Studies at the University of Mississippi has sent hundreds of students into the world.

A Croft Institute degree serves as a passport, a stamp of approval recognizable in the global marketplace of a student who is prepared for a career on the worldwide stage.

The first cohort entered Croft in 1998, and as of May, 520 UM students have graduated from the institute, going on to work in global fields with international expertise, working alongside people from various backgrounds.

Just as remarkable is what the institute has done at home – both on the Ole Miss campus and in the state of Mississippi. It has been at the forefront of internationalizing the university and the state. The institute, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this fall, is both raising the profile of the state through outreach programs and helping UM attract new initiatives.

“A major reason for the creation of the Croft Institute was to help bring an international outlook to the state of Mississippi,” said Oliver Dinius, Croft executive director and associate professor of history. “Part of that agenda was to offer outreach programs, especially for teachers at high schools, which would strengthen their ability to teach on international topics and to recruit talented students from the state of Mississippi for the Croft Institute, where they could receive the education to become global leaders.”

Besides offering outreach programs for Mississippi’s kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers (such as its National Consortium for Teaching about Asia-funded workshops), Croft has stimulated the internationalization of the state and university through study abroad for Ole Miss students, partnerships with the Department of Modern Languages and more.

Each of these initiatives tells a story of how Croft has moved beyond the walls of its beautifully restored Y Building home on campus and helped usher the university and Mississippi onto the global scene.

Douglass Sullivan-González, dean of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, served on the organizing team for the Croft Institute. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

When UM and the Joseph C. Bancroft Charitable and Educational Fund announced in September 1997 the $60 million donation from the fund that would create the institute, decisions were already being made on the focus of the international studies major offered at Croft.

The interdisciplinary major offered under the College of Liberal Arts would focus on politics, economics and culture in one of three regional concentrations – East Asia, Europe and Latin America – along with language courses every semester related to the regional concentration.

Students also were expected to study abroad – either for a semester or a whole year – in a country whose language they had been studying.

“The three regions were selected because of their dominance in Mississippi’s international trade,” said Michael Metcalf, who served as Croft’s executive director from 1998 to 2007. “The university had relative strength in European and Latin American studies, so the first new Croft faculty hires were made in 1998 and 1999 to initiate instruction in Chinese language and to start to build strength in East Asian history, society and religion.

“The importance of studying these three regions was for students who might work there with Mississippi firms to learn about their social, political and cultural backgrounds and thus be more effective.”

Choosing Latin America as one of the three initial regional concentrations was an opportunity to redefine what the South is and reshape it as a “global South,” said Douglass Sullivan-González, dean of the UM Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.

In 1998, Sullivan-González was an assistant professor of history selected to teach in Croft and serve on the institute’s organizing team. Sullivan-González first became interested in Latin American studies as a freshman at Samford University during a trip to rural northern Mexico working on a water project.

He was part of a group of history professors who pushed for the inclusion of Latin America as a regional concentration.

“That conviction was: We know there is a growing immigration wave of people who are speaking Spanish who are coming from Mexico and Central America, and it is going to affect the culture,” he said. “It did. We’ve seen the change.”

During that first academic year of Croft, in 1998-99, Sullivan-González also taught a course that included a trip to Queretaro, Mexico – one of the early study abroad opportunities through Croft.

Since its first graduating class in 2001, 520 students have graduated from the Croft Institute for International Studies. Photo by Nathan Latil/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

“(Students) have to see how the questions that haunt us here come alive there,” he said. “You see how the questions come alive in Latin America and all of a sudden, you realize: They’re struggling with the same things we are, but it’s a very different path and a very different history, and it enriches the conversation today to look at which groups have made better strides, which groups have made weaker strides, and compare and contrast that.”

Other early study abroad opportunities included students visiting Europe and East Asia.

The benefits of studying abroad are numerous, said Kees Gispen, who served as executive director of Croft from 2007 to 2016. Gispen has taught in Croft since its inception.

“When students study (abroad), they become aware,” he said. “And when they live in it, when they study abroad, they see how it functions. They come back and more often than not, it helps them come up with new ideas of how to improve our own situation.

“Different cultures have different ways of doing things.”

While Croft students were heading abroad, the institute was quickly making a difference within Mississippi; for example, through early outreach programs such as the National Consortium for Teaching about Asia, which looks to increase teaching and learning about East Asia in elementary and secondary schools.

Peter Frost, who served as Croft’s interim director in 1997 and ’98, had been involved with the consortium’s director before coming to UM. Once at Ole Miss, Frost had offered NCTA workshops to Mississippi teachers even before Croft was started.

Understanding Asia is a crucial part of understanding the world, both for cultural understanding and politics, Frost said.

“NCTA aims to help K-12 teachers enrich their (often required) world history courses, develop the imagination and cultural understanding of younger students, and helps give older students and adults a better grasp of the many issues surrounding our relations with Asia,” he said. “Teachers enjoyed getting educational materials and references, educational credits, learning more and developing lesson plans with other teachers.”

Besides summer workshops and online continuing education units and professional development opportunities in East Asia, through courses such as “Sake, Sushi and Soft Power” and “Korea in the Modern World,” the Croft Institute during its first two decades also has offered outreach programs to Mississippi teachers in Latin American and European studies.

Oliver Dinius is executive director of the Croft Institute and an associate professor of history. Photo by Nathan Latil/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

With students going into the world, and Mississippi teachers coming to UM to learn more about the world, strengthening the opportunity for the study of foreign languages became an early mission of Croft, too, Dinius said.

“The institute made high levels of oral proficiency in at least one foreign language a requirement for the international studies major, and it supplemented the resources available in the Department of Modern Languages with three faculty positions: in Chinese, Spanish and Japanese,” he said. “The focus remained on the so-called critical languages, and Dr. Metcalf was instrumental in securing a grant to bring a Chinese Language Flagship Program to the university.”

Started in 2002, The Language Flagship programs are a federal initiative to graduate students who have a superior fluency level in foreign languages deemed critical to U.S. interests.

Work on attracting a Flagship program to Ole Miss began in 2000, Metcalf said, with the Croft Institute and Department of Modern Languages working in tandem to land a program in Chinese. UM received its Chinese Language Flagship Program in 2003.

The program is a tremendous resource for students who wish to become highly proficient in Chinese and pursue careers in such fields as business, government and journalism in which they will use Chinese to give themselves and their employers a professional advantage, Metcalf said.

Croft and the modern languages department also worked together to attract a second Language Flagship program, in Arabic, which was awarded in August. The department’s work on building a prestigious program in Arabic also enabled the Croft Institute to add the Middle East as a fourth geographical concentration, adding two Middle East faculty positions, when Gispen served as executive director.

“This is an area where we are constantly involved,” he said. “This is an area we can’t afford to ignore.”

Even as Croft has internationalized the Ole Miss campus and Mississippi, the institute’s purpose has remained the same: to give students the best possible preparation to launch successful global careers.

“I’ve always thought the strongest part of the Croft Institute was its really good students … and a good curriculum, a good plan,” Gispen said. “The core strength is these high-achieving students whom we can attract from all over the country who can make a real contribution.”

Hodge-Penn Named UM Assistant Vice Chancellor for Research

Research administration veteran brings 15 years of experience

Melissa Hodge-Penn

OXFORD, Miss. – Melissa Hodge-Penn is the new assistant vice chancellor for the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs at the University of Mississippi. She brings more than 15 years of experience in program development, grant management and research administration at the university level.

Hodge-Penn joined UM earlier this month after a national search. She most recently served as director of the Office of Research and Sponsored Projects in the College of Education and Human Development at Georgia State University in Atlanta.

“I’m excited about being at Ole Miss,” she said. “I felt as though (this position) was an opportunity for me to leverage my experiences to help the university expand its research portfolio.

“I also thought that it was an opportunity for me to grow my own scope of work and what I’ve been able to accomplish over the years.”

As assistant vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs, Hodge-Penn’s roles will include oversight and management of the office’s sponsored programs administration (the pre-award team), while also serving on the office’s leadership team and managing office budgets. She also will work closely with faculty, research staff and other administrators to improve the office’s processes and service as it expands the level of external support for the university’s research mission.

“We are excited for Melissa Hodge-Penn to join our team in the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs at the University of Mississippi,” said Josh Gladden, interim vice chancellor for the office. “Ms. Hodge-Penn brings with her extensive experience in research administration accrued at Georgia State University and Emory University.”

Hodge-Penn entered the realm of higher education as director of the Senior Corps Program in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University in 2002. She later worked in the Technical College System of Georgia in the Office of Adult Education, leading first the Workplace Education/Health Literacy program and later becoming director of the Workforce Education – Transition Services program.

While there, she provided oversight to subgrantees at 25 technical colleges and managed the statewide professional development process for senior administrators and instructional staff with more than 90,000 students.

In 2014 and 2015, she was grants manager in the Department of Pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine, where she managed a $45 million sponsored research grants and contracts portfolio.

She returned to Georgia State University in 2015 as associate director of the Office of Grants and Sponsored Programs at GSU’s Perimeter College before being promoted to her former role.

While at Georgia State University, Hodge-Penn led the restructuring of the College of Education and Human Development’s Office of Research and Sponsored Projects, making it more efficient in proposal development and award management, aligning it with university policies and practices, and building capacity for projected funding growth.

A native of Atlanta, Hodge-Penn received her bachelor’s degree from Grambling State University and her master’s from Liberty University. She graduated from Georgia State University’s Executive Leadership Academy for Women in 2017.

She is a member of the American Society for Public Administration, National Council of University Research Administrators, Society of Research Administrators International and other professional, social and civic organizations.

Beyond her professional achievements, Hodge-Penn also has experience in community service, leadership and engagement roles. She was a member of the Georgia Parent Teacher Association, served on the Dekalb Community Service Board and was a member of the superintendent search committee for the Atlanta Public Schools in 2013 and 2014.

Hodge-Penn and her husband, Derex, have one child, 14-year-old Dilyn.