RebelTHON Fundraiser Shatters Goal

UM dance marathon raises more than $172,000 for Blair E. Batson Children's Hospital

UM students dance the night away during RebelTHON 2017. The annual marathon fundraiser generated more than $172,000 for the Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The annual RebelTHON charity fundraiser celebrated hope and generated more of the same for ailing children by exceeding the $150,000 goal set for the dance marathon.

After last year’s event almost doubled its goal to raise $60,000, RebelTHON organizers set the bar high this year with a goal of $150,000. When the final tally came in around 3 a.m. Sunday (Feb. 19), participants had eclipsed that mark, bringing in $172,169.22 for the Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital at the UM Medical Center.

“It was always the expectation to not only meet our goal, but to surpass it,” said Charlie Walker, a UM senior from Carmel, Indiana, and 2016-17 development director for RebelTHON. “It was a really awesome feeling to know that we did exactly what we set out to do for the kids.”

Ole Miss students danced nonstop for 12 hours beginning at 3 p.m. Saturday (Feb 18) at the Turner Center. During each hour, students listened as families shared their stories and experiences from Batson.

The visiting children danced and played games with the students throughout the night. Members of the Ole Miss football, baseball, basketball and track and field teams, plus cheerleading and Rebelette squads came out to spend time with the children, walking them down the runway for a surprise fashion show, posing for photos and signing autographs for the families.

Ken and Brittney Bullock, of Pearl, attended RebelTHON for the first time with their son Colton, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at 3 years old.

“Batson means the world to us because it was right there in our backyard, and we didn’t even really know it was there,” Ken Bullock said. “We have a jewel right here in Jackson, and the money being raised is awesome.”

This year, part of the money raised at RebelTHON is going to the renovation of the Children’s Cancer Clinic at Batson Hospital. The center has not been updated since the 1990s.

“So Batson is about to expand and it’s going to get a new cancer clinic,” Ken Bullock said. “It’s awesome that part of this money is going straight to that. It’s so great that these students danced the night away and raised that money for Batson. It is truly a blessing.”

Angela Cook and daughter Analiese, both of Brookhaven, also were first-time RebelTHON participants. At age 3, Analiese was diagnosed with high-risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia at Batson.

“You see this hospital and you hear all of the wonderful things, but until you are actually a part of it and you feel it, you can never really understand the magnitude of it and the effect that it has on this community and this place,” Angela Cook said. “That is why RebelTHON is so important in celebrating because this money goes straight to the kids, and these kids fight and fight hard and fight for their lives, and it’s the least we can do to give them the chance to fight.”

Brandi Mead, of Madison, attended RebelTHON for the second year with daughter Sydney, who was born with a rare genetic disease called Williams syndrome and had heart surgery only days after birth.

“We are so thankful for Batson and so blessed to be 10 minutes away from it because we have had many ER visits, and it is so great to know that we can get in the car, drive to Batson and be with all of her doctors,” Brandi Mead said.

At the beginning of the dance marathon, the children were introduced one by one and ran down a red carpet to the stage. RebelTHON is one of few dance marathons that brings children and their families to the events, said Andrew Russell, Children’s Miracle Network coordinator.

“I think RebelTHON is our most unique event, and it’s one of our cooler events for our patients,” Russell said. “These students literally roll out the red carpet for these kids.

“The money raised goes to a good cause, but the way they make these kids actually come to the event is so special. We are so appreciative of the students and we know they work hard throughout the year.”

The unique nature of RebelTHON makes it fun for participants, said Walker, who has been involved in the event every year at Ole Miss and has participated in similar dance marathons since middle school.

“The really cool thing about this organization is that it is unlike any other thing on this campus,” he said. “The ability to be so close to the cause, to see actually where your money is going and see and be a part of the difference you’re making is unprecedented to any other organization I have ever been a part of.”

“We work really hard all year putting on events, and it all culminates in this one night where we get to stand on our feet for 12 hours for kids who can’t stand for themselves. We are legitimately making a difference in the lives of these children and their families who really need it at Batson.”

RebelTHON Team Sets High Goal for Weekend Fundraiser

Annual event benefits Batson Children's Hospital; portion to help renovate cancer center

RebelTHON 2017 begins at 3 p.m. Saturday (Feb. 18) at the Turner Center. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – With last year’s RebelTHON fundraising event at the University of Mississippi almost doubling its goal, the bar is set high for the 2017 dance marathon to benefit the Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital at the UM Medical Center.

This year’s event begins at 3 p.m. Saturday (Feb. 18) at the Turner Center. The entertainment will be similar to last year’s event, but some details are being kept secret in hopes of surprising the dancers and families.

“This year, we really wanted to get our name out to the students and faculty even more, which I think we accomplished through various events like bar nights, percentage nights and union tables on campus,” said Marianna Schmidt, a UM senior from Houston, Texas, and executive director of RebelTHON.

RebelTHON organizers have set a goal to raise $150,000 by the end of the 12-hour dance marathon.

“To build up anticipation since the dance is so close, we have taken down our thermometer showing our fundraising progress on the donor drive,” said Schmidt, a business management major.

The organizers to do something a little different with part of their donations this year. They will be giving some of the final total directly to help fund renovation of the hospital’s Children’s Cancer Center.

“It will provide a more comforting area for kids that sometimes spend days in the center,” Schmidt said. “The Cancer Clinic lobby hasn’t changed much since the ’90s, so it will be great for it to receive a facelift.”

The event is a major boost each year for the hospital, said Jennifer Hospodor, director of Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and community-based fundraising for the UM Medical Center.

“RebelTHON is an enormous inspiration to our team, and more importantly, it inspires our patients,” Hospodor said. “To see this group of college students work together like they do, with different personalities and backgrounds, all for the sake of our patients, is extraordinary. And then to see how their hard work pays off in such a big way makes their efforts truly astounding.

“We are all so grateful for these students and the countless hours of hard work they put in for the kids. Inspiring may not cover it.”

 Anyone interested in attending the event should visit and click “Register.” Participants can sign up until the day of the event, but each person must raise $100 in order to attend. For those who cannot attend the full dance marathon, a community block party is set for 6-9 p.m., when any student or member of the L-O-U community can pay $5 to see what RebelTHON is all about.

Anyone interested in donating to RebelTHON can go to the website and click “Donate.” The site allows donors to designate a specific dancer or give to the event in general. Donations will be accepted throughout the event until one hour before the final reveal.

Chili’s will host a RebelTHON percentage night tonight (Feb 15) at the restaurant on West Jackson Avenue. A flyer will be posted on social media that participants must show in order for RebelTHON to get a percentage of purchases.

“We would love to see people there getting ready for the dance,” Schmidt said.

To learn more about RebelTHON, go to To view a YouTube video from the 2016 Ole Miss RebelTHON, visit

My Life as a Social Media Ambassador


This past semester, Alex Hicks was chosen as one of two ambassadors for the Ole Miss Communications Department.

Alex Hicks: Ole Miss Social Media Ambassador. It’s a pretty cool title, right? Well, let me tell you, the experience I had as an ambassador this past semester was everything I could have imagined and more.

This past semester, I was chosen as one of two ambassadors for the Ole Miss Communications Department. This was the first time this position had been offered, so we were considered the test subjects for this program. Will Hamilton, communications specialist for Ole Miss, came to my public relations class to advertise the position. It sounded like an awesome internship, and since I am a senior, I knew this would look great on my resume when applying to grad school.

But, part of me thought this position was too good to be true. Am I even qualified for something like this? I mean sure it’s all ‘a learning experience’ when it comes to interning somewhere, but since I had never previously worked with public relations in any company before, it scared me. After a lot of deliberation, I finally decided to apply, and I filled out the application soon as I got home. I heard back about a week later with news that I was being offered an interview. I scheduled the time, went in for the interview and skills test, and heard back the next day that I had been offered the internship.

I was so excited, but I truly had no idea how rewarding this experience would be.

During my first day in the office, we were given the grand tour of the Communications Department. If you don’t know where it is, like most students, it is located in Sam-Gerard Hall, which is right across from Kinard. Downstairs is the printing workshop, where all of the brochures, posters, cards, pictures and basically anything you could ever think of is printed for the university. Upstairs on the left is where all the public relations gurus and communications specialists are located, and to the right are all the writers, graphic designers, videographers, photographers and web page designers. Basically, the Communications Department is home to some of the coolest and most talented artists behind the University of Mississippi. After introducing myself to all of these really important people, we were told what would be expected of us this semester.

As a social media ambassador, you are the eyes and ears of the university. They needed a student’s perspective, and we were the ones to offer that. If there was something cool happening around campus, we were told to snap a picture and tweet about it. We immediately sat down and brainstormed creative ideas we had for social media along with campaigns and ways for students to be more interactive and connected with the social media accounts.

It did not take me long to feel comfortable at the Communications Department. We developed a routine, and it immediately began to feel like home. Every week, we would come in and create our social media calendar for the week. We would go through our WordPress site looking for interesting content that we could use on Facebook or Twitter. We would take a look at the university calendar and plan accordingly based on what events were scheduled. Then, we came up with any other creative ideas we had, and we threw those into the mix. After that, we would split up the days and write the posts for each piece of content we were sharing.

This was definitely a learning experience for me. It sounds easy, but there are so many small details you have to remember when writing these. There are different audiences for our different outlets, which means you have to adjust the way you say things and the language that you use. Also, for Twitter, you often use abbreviations or more casual slang since there is a limit to how many characters you can use. Eventually, I got the hang of it, and it ended up being one of my favorite parts of the internship.

We learned how to work with the analytics software that the university uses for the social media accounts. I love working with numbers, so this was so interesting to me. It is really cool getting to see the statistics behind the posts that we share. These programs allow you to see how many people these posts reached along with the demographics of these audiences. This helps you create insights about your target audiences and what posts to consider sharing next time. You can also see who is mentioning our university and if it is negative or positive which is extremely helpful for the people who are monitoring our sites.

Alex Hicks during the Chancellor's Investiture.

Alex Hicks during Chancellor Vitter’s investiture.

During Chancellor Vitter’s investiture, we were able to work on behalf of the Communications Department. We were handed our media credentials and placed at the front of the auditorium with the rest of the professionals and representatives from other media outlets. We took photos and videos and sent them to our boss in the sound room at the top of the auditorium, where they tweeted them out from there. Working the investiture was something that I never would have had the opportunity to do if it weren’t for this position. It was truly an incredible thing to be a part of.

In my interview, I mentioned that I loved creating videos. So, they allowed me to work alongside the videographer on a few occasions. I learned so much about filming and producing, and I had a lot of fun in the process. I helped shoot some of the “This Week in the Grove” videos, and I actually got to star in one of them when we had trouble finding someone. It was definitely an experience that I would not have had the opportunity in doing if it weren’t for my position.

One afternoon, the other intern and I thought of a cool idea for National Cake Decorating Day. Our boss bought us a cookie cake and some icing, and we did our own little photo shoot. I took still shots of the cake while the other intern decorated. After that, I created a time-lapse video from the shots, added some music behind it and shared it on our social media accounts. Before Thanksgiving break, we thought it would be cool to go around and ask students what they were thankful for this holiday season. The videographer helped us shoot the footage and they handed it all over to me to create the video. This was by far my favorite experience. I edited all the footage and created the video from scratch. I was so proud of my work, and I absolutely loved the way it turned out.

We had ideas for National Taco Day, Daylight Savings, National Smile Day and so many others, and we were the ones to make it happen.

Representing the Communications Department as a social media ambassador has been an amazing experience to say the least. The staff is incredible, and they teach you so many things that you would never learn in the classroom. I would do it all over again if given the opportunity!

Ole Miss Communications is looking for two more social media ambassadors for the spring, and you don’t want to miss out on this opportunity. If you are interested in public relations or social media, I suggest you head over to and apply today! You will learn so much and meet so many awesome professionals throughout this internship.

UM Swahili Program Provides Exotic Option for Students

East African language is 11th offered at university

OXFORD, Miss. – Like hundreds of students each year at the University of Mississippi, Estelle Blair signed up last fall for Spanish 101. But when the Brandon native decided that Spanish was not for her, she found a dramatically different alternative to fulfill her foreign language requirements.

Neema Loy (left), a graduate teaching assistant from Tanzania, leads UM students in her Swahili language class in traditional Tarab dances. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

Neema Loy (left), a graduate teaching assistant from Tanzania, leads UM students in her Swahili language class in traditional taarab dances. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

Blair has joined a small, but growing, group of UM students studying Swahili. One of the university’s more uncommon academic offerings, the East African tongue is the 11th language taught by the Department of Modern Languages.

Although she took two years of French in high school, Blair’s decision to try Swahili was not totally out of the blue.

“When I was in high school, I took a trip with my family to Tanzania to go on a safari,” said Blair, a sophomore pursuing a major in biology with a minor in chemistry. “The people there were just amazing. Their attitudes and culture and their outlook on life were just amazing, and I just loved them.”

Swahili, also known as Kiswahili, is the primary language of the Swahili people and a common language across eastern and southeastern Africa, including Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mozambique. It is the national language of Tanzania and Kenya.

Beginning its fifth year of operation, the Swahili language program is expected to enroll 26 students in two levels for the 2016-17 academic year. That’s far behind popular offerings such as Spanish, Chinese, Arabic and French, but the number of UM students studying Swahili is expected to grow significantly, said Don Dyer, UM chair of modern languages.

Crissandra George explores the area around Ngorongoro Crater in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area of Tanzania. The UNESCO World Heritage Site, which includes the world's largest inactive volcanic caldera, is noted for its natural beauty and abundant wildlife. George was among 12 UM students who visited East Africa this summer as part of a study abroad course. Photo courtesy Crissandra George

Crissandra George explores the area around Ngorongoro Crater in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area of Tanzania. The UNESCO World Heritage Site, which includes the world’s largest inactive volcanic caldera, is noted for its natural beauty and abundant wildlife. George was among 12 UM students who visited East Africa this summer as part of a study abroad course. Photo courtesy Crissandra George

“Swahili is really making some strides nationally,” Dyer said. “The most rapidly growing languages at American universities are Korean, Italian and American Sign Language, but Swahili is sort of an up-and-coming language.

“We are proud to be one of a small and elite group of universities in the country that offers courses in Swahili.”

Neema Loy, a graduate teaching assistant from Tanzania, teaches the four Swahili courses offered at UM. Studying the language can provide insights into life in another part of the world, Loy said.

“To learn Swahili is to learn the language of East African people,” she said. “You also learn their way of living: their food, music, religion and culture.”

It also provides opportunities to broaden one’s perspectives, said Gracie Snyder, a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism.

“When I first signed up to take Swahili, I was only thinking about fulfilling the core requirements for my major of taking at least two years of a foreign language,” said Snyder, from Eastman, Georgia. “I had no idea that I would fall in love with learning this language and one day visit Tanzania just to study this language further.

“I would definitely recommend this language to everyone because not only is taking Swahili a great conversation starter, but learning this language has been one of the ‘funnest’ experiences I have ever had.”

The emphasis on daily life in East Africa transforms the university’s Swahili program from a mere language class to a cultural education, said Crissandra George, a sophomore from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.

“So many language classes focus only on the grammar and vocabulary, but this class is so much more,” said George, who is majoring in Spanish and linguistics. “You learn the culture and history as well as the slang.”

Learning Swahili can yield benefits for a variety of academic majors, said George, who spent part of her summer studying abroad in Tanzania with Snyder and a group of UM students.

“A lot of environmental research and studies are done in Tanzania and regions surrounding it, thus helping science and engineering majors,” she said. “Also, anthropology, linguistics or really any social science is perfect to study here. The culture and language make it unique to study especially abroad.”

Gracie Snyder (left) and Crissandra George attend a rooftop dinner in Zanzibar, an archipelago off the east coast of Tanzania, where the group learned about Tarab traditions, which are a mix of Arabic and Swahili cultures. Snyder and George were among 12 UM students who visited East Africa this summer as part of a study abroad course. Photo courtesy Crissandra George

Gracie Snyder (left) and Crissandra George attend a rooftop dinner in Zanzibar, an archipelago off the east coast of Tanzania, where the group learned about taarab traditions, which are a mix of Arabic and Swahili cultures. Snyder and George were among 12 UM students who visited East Africa this summer as part of a study abroad course. Photo courtesy Crissandra George

Loy, who earned a bachelor’s degree in English and Swahili from the University of Dae es Salaam in her native country, is pursuing a master’s degree in modern languages with an emphasis on Teaching English as a Second Language. She also serves as faculty adviser for the Swahili Club, which meets weekly during the academic year.

The club offers members and visitors opportunities to meet and have conversation with native speakers from Tanzania and Kenya, as well as activities to learn about Swahili culture.

“We also try our best to bring the actual Swahili world to the learning process, for example: doing real cultural activities in Swahili Club, cooking and dancing,” Loy said. “We also promote collaborative learning by video chatting with learners from other universities.”

The goal is to make learning the language fun, she said. The approach is a success, her students agree.

“Having a native-speaking teacher here at Ole Miss makes it a great place to learn this language,” Blair said. “The university continuously challenges us to grow as a person and a student, and this is just another example.”

Blair, George and Snyder each won one of the department’s language awards at last spring’s Honors Day. Although learning a new language is hard work, the experience of learning Swahili is unlike any other, Snyder said.

“I never thought in a million years that taking a language course would impact my life so greatly and influence the type of career I would want to enter into upon graduation,” she said. “Coming into college, I thought that I wanted to be a sports journalist, but learning Swahili has made me think about possibly working for an embassy one day or pursuing journalism that will allow me to use Swahili.

“Learning Swahili has shown me just how much effort and willingness it takes to learn a language, but how rewarding it can be to know that you are learning something that can help you relate to others around the world.”

Blair also has plans to use the language after graduation. Her goal is to attend medical school and become a physician, and she hopes to work with Doctors Without Borders, an organization that provides medical care for some of the world’s poorest people.

“My desire is to work somewhere in eastern Africa,” she said. “I want to learn the language so I’ll never need a translator.”

To learn more about the program, go to or contact Loy at or 662-915-1295.

Month of Welcome Helps Students Make Transition to Campus Life

MoW LogoWhen students arrive for the fall semester at the University of Mississippi, a much larger than usual slate of fun and engaging activities – more than 75 in all – await to help them meet new friends and enjoy their transition into the Ole Miss family.

The Ole Miss Student Union and Student Activities Association has assisted in coordinating a weeklong schedule of events for Welcome Week. But this year, through collaborations with various departments within Student Affairs and across campus, the schedule of events has been expanded to include an entire month’s worth of activities dubbed the Month of Welcome.

The Month of Welcome begins Tuesday (Aug. 16) and runs through Sept. 15.

Upon moving into their residence halls, students can socialize with their peers at events coordinated by the Residence Hall Association. They also will have an opportunity to explore the Turner Center and many of the activities offered by the Department of Campus Recreation from 8 p.m. to midnight Thursday (Aug. 18) at Splash into Ole Miss.

The university welcomes the Class of 2020 with a kickoff picnic, followed by a pep rally featuring the Pride of the South marching band, cheerleaders and Rebelettes, at 4:45 p.m. Friday (Aug. 19) in the Pavilion at Ole Miss.

As Welcome Week kicks off, the SAA will host events ranging from Laser Tag and Silent Disco in the Grove to a reduced ticket show with comedian Lewis Black, set for 7:30 p.m. Aug. 26 at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts.

The annual Fall Convocation is slated for 7 p.m. Aug. 23 at The Pavilion at Ole Miss, where the freshman class and transfer students are officially welcomed to the university.

The always-popular Ballpit with Strangers on the Union Plaza, happening each day of the first week of classes, is a collaboration between the SAA, Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement, William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation and One Mississippi. Other events during Welcome Week include the Get Involved Fair, Aug. 23-24 in the Circle, where registered student organizations recruit new members and promote their respective organizations.

Following Welcome Week, the events and activities continue with a watch party in the Grove at 7 p.m. Labor Day as the Rebels take on Florida State at the Camping World Kickoff in Orlando.

The Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement kicks off its events at 11:30 a.m. Aug. 30 in the Student Union Ballroom, with an African-American Male Networking Luncheon as well as a dialogue series with conversations on first-generation students, set for noon Aug. 31 in Stewart Hall, Room 129. The center is also coordinating events during the Hispanic Heritage Month in September.

Events surrounding the first home game Sept. 10 include Everybody’s Tent in the Grove sponsored by the Associated Student Body, the annual freshman Rebel Run before kickoff against Wofford, and the Green Grove Initiative sponsored by the Office of Sustainability.

Opportunities abound for students to get plugged in once they arrive on campus. For more information regarding the Month of Welcome, visit or email

Ole Miss’ Saunders Places Fifth in Olympic Shot Put in Rio

Rising Junior Tosses Big PR of 19.35m/63-6

Aug 12, 2016; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Raven Saunders (USA) competes in the women's shot put event at Estadio Olimpico Joao Havelange in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Aug 12, 2016; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Raven Saunders (USA) competes in the women’s shot put event at Estadio Olimpico Joao Havelange in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

RIO DE JANEIRO – Raven Saunders trained and competed all year to get to the Olympics, and her first appearance on the world’s biggest stage did not disappoint.

The Ole Miss rising junior used a personal-best heave of 19.35 meters (63-6) on her last throw of Friday night’s shot put final to earn fifth place. Her U.S. teammate Michelle Carter won gold also on her last attempt, an American record 20.63m/67-8.25. She edged out silver medalist Valerie Adams of New Zealand (20.42m), while Hungary’s Anita Marton (19.87m) won bronze and China’s Lijao Gong (19.39m) placed fourth.

“I can’t tell you how proud I am of Raven,” said her Ole Miss head coach and U.S. women’s track & field head coach Connie Price-Smith. “She competed like a champ. She was throwing with her role model, who is now an Olympic champion. I told Raven that she couldn’t ask for anything more, because to come in here as a baby and walk out with a PB and fifth place the first time through an Olympic Games is priceless.”

It was a somewhat awkward series for Saunders before her massive final throw that bettered her own collegiate record of 19.33m/63-5. She came out with a strong first attempt of 18.88m and then fouled four straight times. As she has done throughout her young career, she came through at the end when the pressure mounted the most.

Saunders, the youngest shot putter among the 36 women in Rio, made a big statement on her second qualifying attempt at the Olympics, heaving the shot 18.83 meters (61-9.5) to easily surpass the 18.40-meter line needed to automatically advance to the 12-woman final. The 20-year-old who just finished her sophomore year of college also reached the automatic qualifying line on her first attempt, a foot foul.

A track season that started all the way back in December finally came to a close for Saunders after some sensational sophomore achievements. She won the NCAA outdoor shot put title with a collegiate record of 19.33m/63-5, and then she captured silver at the U.S. Olympic Trials to punch her ticket to Rio. She also broke the all-time collegiate indoor shot put record with a mark of 19.23m/63-1.25 back in February.

Ole Miss volunteer assistant coach Gwen Berry also suited up for Team USA on the first day of track & field competition at Rio’s Olympic Stadium. The Southern Illinois alum finished 14th in the hammer throw qualifying to just miss the 12-woman final. Her mark of 69.90m/229-4 was four-tenths of a meter out of 12th.

Four former Rebel athletes will compete in Rio throughout the next week, including U.S. pole vault champion Sam Kendricks who will compete in the qualifying round Saturday. The others are Brittney Reese (USA, defending long jump champion), Ricky Robertson (USA, high jump) and Antwon Hicks (Nigeria, 110-meter hurdles).

Follow all the Ole Miss contingent in Rio at

For more information on Ole Miss Track & Field, follow the Rebels on Twitter (@OleMissTrack), Facebook and Instagram.

Friends of Children’s Hospital Pledges $20 Million to Capital Campaign

Friends of Children's Hospital board chair Sara Ray, left, is thanked by Dr. LouAnn Woodward, UMMC vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, for the nonprofit group's $20 million pledge to the Children's of Mississippi capital campaign.

Friends of Children’s Hospital board chair Sara Ray, left, is thanked by Dr. LouAnn Woodward, UMMC vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, for the nonprofit group’s $20 million pledge to the Children’s of Mississippi capital campaign.

JACKSON, Miss. – Friends of Children’s Hospital, a nonprofit group dedicated to raising funds for Batson Children’s Hospital, has committed to raising $20 million over the next 10 years to go toward the $100 million Children’s of Mississippi capital campaign.

“Friends of Children’s Hospital is extremely proud of the $17 million we’ve raised since 1989 and the impact that it’s had on improving health care for Mississippi’s children,” said Sara Ray, board chairman of the group. “We were among the first on board when the Medical Center needed support to build Batson Children’s Hospital in 1997 and have contributed annually ever since to enhance the patient and family experience.”

Children’s of Mississippi is the umbrella organization that includes Batson Children’s Hospital and all UMMC pediatric care, including clinics offering specialty care around the state.

The funds raised in the campaign will help the Medical Center expand and update its space dedicated for pediatric care including an expanded and renovated neonatal intensive care unit, more rooms for the pediatric intensive care unit, more operating rooms and the creation of an imaging clinic especially for pediatric patients. A new pediatric clinic will make care for outpatients more convenient and comfortable for families.

Expansion of the Children’s Heart Center is also on the drawing board. Batson Children’s Hospital is the only hospital dedicated exclusively to the needs of children in Mississippi.

“Batson Children’s Hospital provides state-of-the-art health care,” said Ray, “but the increase in patients needing this care means we now have a critical need to expand this facility.”

The campaign, chaired by Joe and Kathy Sanderson, was started in April with a personal $10 million pledge from the Sanderson Farms chairman and CEO and his wife.

Said Joe Sanderson: “We believe that the hospital is at maximum capacity and needs updated infrastructure in several vital areas. The hospital is beyond capacity in the neonatal intensive care unit and is badly in need of additional space. Children are transported long distances to the adult hospital for vital diagnostic imaging procedures, often requiring sedation. And further, there needs to be additional facilities for pediatric surgeries, particularly cardiac surgery.”

This newest Friends of Children’s Hospital pledge is a strong renewal of commitment to the group’s mission, Ray said. “Only 20 years after Friends of Children’s Hospital helped make Batson Children’s Hospital a reality, we are once again committing to make a dream come true for our little ones. We’re dreaming bigger this time and have committed to raise $20 million over the next 10 years to expand our beloved children’s hospital. Our state’s children deserve the best health care available, and we invite you to help us make it happen.”

“We cannot thank Friends of Children’s Hospital enough for all they’ve done for the health of Mississippi’s children,” said Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the University of Mississippi School of Medicine. “This incredible group of dedicated volunteers has, for more than 25 years now, been an integral part of not only the growth of Batson Children’s Hospital but its very existence.”

University of Mississippi Chancellor Jeffrey S. Vitter said the commitment to excellence shown by Friends of Children’s Hospital volunteers and leaders is a testament to their long-time support of the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s pediatric care.

“Part of the University of Mississippi’s mission is improving the lives of Mississippians, and central to that worthy goal is helping our children lead healthy lives through excellent pediatric care at Children’s of Mississippi,” Vitter said. “We thank Friends of Children’s Hospital for their generosity and vision for the future of health care.”

The first $3,000 in the building fund of what would become Batson Children’s Hospital came from Friends of Children’s Hospital. By 1994, when plans for a new children’s hospital were drawn, Friends of Children’s Hospital pledged $175,000 to make the first five floors a reality. Later, when the sixth and seventh floors were added, Friends of Children’s Hospital, which had experienced tremendous growth, pledged $1.7 million to the project.

Later, in 2009, the Eli Manning Children’s Clinics at Batson Children’s Hospital opened, thanks to a partnership between the nonprofit and Eli Manning, which raised $3 million over five years through an annual gala event, An Evening with the Mannings Presented by BankPlus. Friends donated another $1.7 million to the expansion and renovation of the children’s emergency room.

Guy Giesecke, CEO of Children’s of Mississippi, said the generosity of Friends of Children’s Hospital is a lifeline for children who need specialized medical care. “This gift will help provide vitally needed space and equipment for our smallest babies in the neonatal intensive care unit and more room and equipment for our pediatric intensive care unit. It will aid in shortening imaging wait times due to additions of space and equipment and will provide additional equipment for the Children’s Heart Center and expand the number of children we care for. This will absolutely result in improved care for the children of Mississippi.”

UMMC Neonatal Suite, Simulation Area Give Babies Best Possible Start

New facilities aimed to help infants with low birth weight or congenital defects

Nurse practitioners Diane Dukes, left, and Melanie Ellis show the new neonatal resuscitation area, which includes state-of-the-art Giraffe beds and other life-saving equipment.

Nurse practitioners Diane Dukes, left, and Melanie Ellis show the new neonatal resuscitation area, which includes state-of-the-art Giraffe beds and other life-saving equipment.

JACKSON, Miss. – About 2,500 babies are born at the University of Mississippi Medical Center each year, but approximately one-third of them will need intervention at birth due to low birth weight, congenital defects or distress.

To give them the best start in life, the Madison Charitable Foundation donated more than $250,000 to create a new neonatal suite and a simulation lab that helps future and current medical professionals hone their skills to be ready for newborns. The suite and lab both opened in May.

The suite will provide a space where infants in need of intervention can be warmed and, if needed, resuscitated in the same bed they’ll be in at the neonatal intensive care unit nearby.

“This generous gift from the Madison Charitable Foundation has made sure the latest equipment to resuscitate babies is just steps away from them,” said Dr. Renate Savich, professor of pediatrics and chief of the Division of Newborn Medicine. “The infants never have to move from bed to bed, and they are not cold or stressed.”

Organization in the new space has been aided by new carts and shelving, and a blanket warmer helps infants stay warm in those first few minutes of life. A wider door makes sure medical professionals can access their young patients quickly.

The previous resuscitation space adjacent to the labor and delivery area where the highest risk babies are born was crowded and not designed for modern standards of care, Savich said.

Neonatal resuscitation has made significant advances in recent years, Savich said. Having beds that can accommodate the latest in medical equipment and ease babies’ transitions from birthing suite to NICU will allow UMMC to offer state-of-the-art care.

The simulation lab’s focus is a “newborn” that has a heartbeat, “breathes” and can go into all manner of distress. The medical professionals who come to this high-tech mannequin’s aid get to prepare for neonatal medical emergencies before they happen by treating this little one.

“Pilots don’t prepare for emergencies in real jets,” Savich said. “They train on simulators. This allows us to do the same thing, so when an infant is in distress, we are prepared.”

Cameras are in place so video can be replayed and analyzed, she said.

A foundation focused on donating funds to help people in need without publicity or recognition, the Madison Charitable Foundation was formed in 2007 when native Mississippian Wiley Hatcher sold Universal Engineering in Houston, Texas. By 2011, the foundation had given more than $17.5 million to programs in education, arts, health, sports, museums, children’s homes and medicine in Mississippi and nationally.

“Giving to Batson Children’s Hospital is one of our favorite projects since the Madison Charitable Foundation was started in 2007,” said Joc Carpenter, one of the foundation’s four directors. “We want to help give children a healthy beginning in life.”

The gift will welcome some of the state’s smallest and most critically ill babies with equipment that could be life-saving, said Guy Giesecke, CEO of Children’s of Mississippi, the umbrella organization that includes Batson Children’s Hospital and all pediatric care at UMMC.

“We at Children’s of Mississippi are grateful to the Madison Charitable Foundation for their philanthropy toward families and children,” Giesecke said. “The foundation is making it possible for children faced with medical crises early in life to not only survive, but thrive.”

UMMC Confers Record Number of Degrees Four Years Running

Graduates to help university fulfill mission of improving health care for state's residents

Graduates of the UMMC School of Dentistry prepare to accept their diplomas.

Graduates of the UMMC School of Dentistry prepare to accept their diplomas.

JACKSON, Miss. – The University of Mississippi Medical Center for the fourth year is breaking its record for degrees conferred to health care and science professionals.

The Class of 2016 is 950 strong. In 2013, the record was 677. That jumped to 847 in 2014, and in 2015, 863 graduates received degrees.

The graduates of the schools of Medicine, Dentistry, Graduate Studies in the Health Sciences, Nursing, and Health Related Professions are beginning their careers with the aim of improving health and the quality of life for people across Mississippi and the nation. They were recognized during UMMC’s 60th Commencement May 27 at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson.

Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, and Jeffrey Vitter, chancellor of the University of Mississippi, addressed more than 3,000 guests who came to cheer on their family and friends.

“There are just four things I want you to take with you,” Woodward told graduates. “Number one, this is only the beginning of your learning process. Number two, deal with others and those you serve with a deep respect for their differences.

“Number three, our nation will continue to struggle with ways to care for the sick. You can play a role in finding a solution to this struggle. Number four, you will never practice any health profession well if you don’t have a good time doing it.”

“Those of you who will receive your degrees today and soon begin practicing the healing arts share a common legacy with all who have gone before you — and that is a mark of quality,” Vitter said.

“We are confident that you are well prepared for your next steps of training or to assume your responsibility as a health care provider.”

Among the degrees conferred:

School of Medicine, 128 graduates receiving the Doctor of Medicine, or M.D., degree.

School of Dentistry, 34 graduates receiving the Doctor of Dental Medicine degree.

School of Nursing, 433 graduates receiving either the Bachelor of Science in Nursing, Master of Science in Nursing or Doctor of Nursing Practice degree.

School of Graduate Studies in the Health Sciences, 88 graduates receiving either the Doctor of Philosophy degree or the Master of Science degree.

School of Health Related Professions, 267 graduates receiving either the Doctorate in Physical Therapy; Master of Occupational Therapy; Master of Science in Health Sciences or Health Informatics and Information Management; or Bachelor of Science degree in Radiologic Sciences, Dental Hygiene, Medical Laboratory Science, Health Sciences, Cytotechnology or Health Informatics and Information Management.

Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, presents the Waller S. Leathers Award for the medical student with the highest academic average for four years to Amanda Daggett of Jackson.

Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, presents the Waller S. Leathers Award to Amanda Daggett of Jackson.

The 2016 graduates include School of Medicine graduate Zach Johnson, who’s headed to the University of Texas Southwestern in Dallas to complete a residency in neurosurgery. It’s dream that Johnson, born in Greece while his dad was stationed there in the U.S. Air Force, has had for some time.

“My grandfather died of a brain tumor when I was younger, so I had a passion for it,” said Johnson, 26, who attended high school in Ocean Springs and graduated from Mississippi College in Clinton. “I started medical school and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I’ve always been interested in surgery because I love to work with my hands, and I love the complexities of neuroscience.”

Neurosurgery is a plum residency for any School of Medicine graduate. Johnson will spend seven years as a resident. “I had peace knowing I’d done everything I could up to that point,” he said of interviewing with the Dallas medical center. “It’s an incredibly humbling experience.”

The graduates also include Luressie Jones of Isola, who received her Bachelor of Science in medical laboratory science from the School of Health Related Professions. Getting her degree was a journey – in fact, she traveled an hour-and-a-half a day each way, usually six days a week, to attend classes and offer tutoring.

“I did it for my parents,” said Jones, 27, who received a bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences from Mississippi State University in 2012. “Both are retired educators, and I want to make them proud.”

Jones, who grew up in Laurel and finds time to juggle her boyfriend and four dogs, is job-hunting as she studies for her board examination. “I see myself staying in Mississippi, wherever the opportunity is,” she said.

Among those receiving accolades was Dr. Jennifer Bain, assistant professor and interim department chair of periodontics and preventive sciences in the School of Dentistry. She is winner of the 2016 Regions Bank TEACH Prize, given to the person who most represents the highest qualities of the Medical Center’s academic faculty.

The six students who received top honors were:

Amanda Daggett of Jackson, Waller S. Leathers Award for the medical student with the highest academic average for four years;

Brannon Myrick of Pearl, Wallace V. Mann Jr. Award for the dental student with the highest academic average for four years;

Davelin Woodard of Oxford, Christine L. Oglevee Memorial Award for the outstanding School of Nursing baccalaureate graduate;

Robert Rivers of Ellisville, Richard N. Graves Award for the registered nurse deemed most outstanding by the faculty in clinical and overall performance;

Brenna Shoemaker of Flowood, Dr. Virginia Stansel Tolbert award for the student with the highest academic average in the School of Health Related Professions.

Ellen Gillis of Olive Branch, Randall-Trustmark Award for outstanding research achievement by a graduate student.

UM Journalism Student Wins Statewide Public Relations Award

Honor one of many presented to Tori Olker this semester

Tori Olker, a graduating senior, was named Outstanding PR Student by the Public Relations Association of Mississippi, as well as being awarded the Taylor Medal for the highest GPA in the Meek School of Journalism and New Media recently. Olker, a print major with a PR emphasis, is pictured here with her nominating instructor Robin Street. Photo credit: Stan O’Dell

Tori Olker (left), a graduating senior, was named Outstanding PR Student by the Public Relations Association of Mississippi, as well as being awarded the Taylor Medal for the highest GPA in the Meek School of Journalism and New Media. Olker is congratulated by her nominating instructor, Robin Street. Photo by Stan O’Dell

OXFORD, Miss. – A University of Mississippi journalism student has been named Mississippi’s Outstanding PR Student by the Public Relations Association of Mississippi.

That award is just the latest of many for Tori Olker, a senior print journalism major with an emphasis in public relations. Olker was also awarded a Taylor Medal, the university’s highest academic honor, and posted the highest GPA in the university’s Meek School of Journalism and New Media.

She and team partner Victoria Lanza, of Richardson, Texas, also won first place in the Southeast Journalism Conference onsite public relations competition. Olker was named the Oxford-Ole Miss PRAM chapter’s Student of the Year and to Who’s Who and Kappa Tau Alpha Journalism Honorary Society.

“Winning the Outstanding PR Student award provided me with the validation that I am on the right track as a professional journalist, and it showed me how much I want to accomplish after graduation,” said Olker, from Spring Grove, Illinois. “I am extremely proud and humbled to have been selected among so many other college students.”

During her years at UM, she has worked in all aspects of media. She has been a disc jockey on Rebel Radio, a writer for the yearbook and a feature reporter for The Daily Mississippian. She has also completed several public relations and journalism internships.

The PRAM award, which includes a $250 scholarship, was presented April 8 at the organization’s state conference in Jackson. Public relations instructors at all Mississippi universities could nominate a student to compete for the award. Robin Street, a senior lecturer at UM, nominated Olker.

A panel of PR professionals selected the winner based on the nominating letter and on factors including academic excellence, honors, public relations activities, and campus and community involvement.

“I am in awe of Tori’s multiple accomplishments and activities,” Street said. “She truly is one of the most impressive students I have ever taught. She not only excels in the classroom, but in putting that classroom work into reality through her internships and part-time jobs.”

For more information on the Meek School of Journalism and New Media, visit