A Retirement Tribute to Robin Buchannon

So Long, My Boss, My Mentor, My Friend

Robin Buchannon and husband, Denny, stop for a quick break during a hike in Patagonia this past February. Submitted photo

I’ve known for many months that my boss and my friend, Robin Buchannon, associate vice chancellor for university relations, was retiring after 34 years at Ole Miss. This day was coming, and, despite my constant cajoling and begging, there was nothing I could do to change it.

So, as a writer, I figured the next best thing I could do was to pen a tribute to her from my perspective as one of her longest employees and mentees.


My first interaction with Robin came when I worked in Old Chemistry (now Brevard Hall) in the 1990s. I have vague memories of the very nice, soft-spoken blonde woman who worked on the second floor. I didn’t really know much about her other than she was Bob Woolsey’s right hand in the Mississippi Mineral Resources Institute.

So, for those of you who don’t know, Robin came to Ole Miss in 1981 as a graduate assistant in the Department of Geology and Geological Engineering. She went on to earn her M.S. in Geology and her Ph.D. in Engineering Sciences from Ole Miss before assuming roles of research assistant professor and associate director and research geologist in MMRI. She’s a registered professional geologist and, for many years, chaired the program committee for the Offshore Technology Conference for the Society of Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration.

I guess you can trace the roots of her rock-solid reputation back to her academic beginnings!

The Permanent Interim

I didn’t really know Robin during the first half of her career at Ole Miss as a geologist. Rather, for the last 16 years, I have known her as a stellar supervisor, an exceptional role model and an administrator extraordinaire. In fact, I have very succinct memories of Robin from 2002, when she assumed the role of interim administrative director of the Mississippi Space Commerce Initiative. It was the first time that Robin was asked to step up into an interim role to be the steady hand to guide a struggling program, but it wouldn’t be the last.

In fact, over the next 15 years, Robin would serve in special assignment leadership roles for more than five programs, centers and departments. The extent of her knowledge ranges from remote sensing to economic development to food services and a little bit of everything else in between!

Some of her greatest successes came during her time in the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, including being named assistant vice chancellor in 2008. During this time, she never met a budget she didn’t like and honed her airtight knowledge of institutional policies and procedures. Robin was also instrumental in enhancing the credentials of the department by encouraging and supporting staff to follow in her footsteps and become Certified Research Administrators – it was the first time in the history of UM that such a level of external credentialing had been achieved by the staff of the sponsored programs administration.

Robin Buchannon and husband, Denny, enjoy cake during an Office of Research celebration thanking Robin for her many years of service before she transitioned to University Relations. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

A Tough Exterior

I know that many see Robin as a tough nut to crack – and she is. But it was because she always did things the right way: following and enforcing policies and procedures, holding people accountable and handling the most difficult and challenging situations with a quiet, assured confidence. She approached every aspect of her job with the utmost integrity, always keeping the university’s best interest as her guiding principle. It was never in doubt that she truly loves this university.

I consider myself one of the lucky ones who got beyond that tough exterior and had the privilege of knowing her as a friend. Over the last 16 years, we’ve shared long lunches and fun dinners. We’ve shared tailgating Saturdays in the Grove. We’ve shared shopping trips and birthday gifts. And maybe best of all, we’ve shared our love of birthday cake!


Whether or not she intentionally set out to be a role model for others, for me, Robin has served as one of the outstanding women at this university whom I have tried to emulate and learn from. Alice Clark is another one of these remarkable women, but that is a story for another day.   

Over the last 16 years, Robin has nurtured my potential and encouraged me to learn more, take on more responsibility and aim for the next steps in my career at the university. She had great confidence in me, always recognizing my abilities and talents way before I knew I was ready.

Her knowledge of this university is unsurpassed. She has amazing working relationships across every aspect of UM and is widely respected. In the face of working in some of the most challenging situations, I can’t ever remember Robin being ruffled – I think her superpower is her steady, even-tempered, calming influence. But keep an eye out … if you are ever lucky enough to get a glimpse of her sense of humor, she is wickedly funny!

Bet You Didn’t Know

So, while Robin’s reputation for being the epitome of grace under pressure may be widely known, you may not know that she and her husband, Denny, are avid travelers. In fact, they’ve traveled to more than 20 countries. Their travels have included climbing to basecamp at Mount Everest and hiking in Patagonia. They’ve even been known to hop on a last-minute flight to spend the weekend in Paris!

In addition to traveling, she is passionate about music – the Beatles and Paul McCartney in particular. Did you know that she has been to 13 Paul McCartney concerts in four countries?

But perhaps she is most truly passionate about her relationships. Whether it is her volunteer work with the Pilot Club, the friendships she has nurtured over many years, her beloved nieces and nephews, or her feisty cats, Robin is genuine, giving and loyal. I am grateful that my professional life brought with it one of my most treasured friendships.

A Well-deserved Rest

In 2016, Robin was ready to take it to the house. She had enjoyed a magnificent career full of exceptional achievements. But her beloved university called her to serve once more. This time – for her swan song – Robin would serve as associate vice chancellor for university relations to round out an already stellar career.

I can already see her now, sitting on her back porch enjoying the solitude of no HR forms to process or budgets to reconcile. Or, I can see her making the rounds of visiting friends and family far and wide. Or, I can see her jetting to far-off, exotic places. Well, Robin, whatever you choose to do, here’s to all your many, well-deserved future adventures.

And although a decade-and-a-half was not enough time to learn all I could from you, I’m so very grateful that I was able to spend such a significant part of my Ole Miss adventure with you.

Telling Her Story

For those familiar with the wildly popular Broadway show “Hamilton,” there is a very poignant tune about who will tell your story, how it’s the people who remember you who shape your legacy. In keeping with this theme, I reached out to a several people who have had the distinct privilege of working with Robin over her many years at Ole Miss. Here is how they will tell her story…

“Robin has an amazing ability to resolve complex issues in a quiet, professional manner. I worked closely with Robin for 14 years and admired her ability to analyze a situation and quickly get to the heart of the matter. She involved as few people as absolutely necessary to develop a plan forward and always approached situations with the mindset of ‘what is best for the university.’ She also has a great sense of humor and knows when to use it to put others at ease.

“I know it is a cliche, but Robin is irreplaceable, and deserves a tremendous amount of credit for building the research infrastructure that is needed to manage an R1 research enterprise.”

– Walter G. Chambliss, interim associate vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs and professor of pharmaceutics and drug delivery


“Robin was one of the first people that I met when I came to the University of Mississippi in 1995. Over the years, we have worked together on many different initiatives and projects. Robin and I spent many hours in car rides to the Stennis Space Center, as part of ‘Driving Miss Robin,’ and during those drives we developed a warm friendship. She has always been a trusted friend that I could go to for advice and counsel. I always appreciated her candor, her advice and her support. The University of Mississippi and I will miss having her on campus.”

– Greg Easson, director and professor, Mississippi Mineral Resources Institute, and associate dean for research and graduate education


“Sometimes it is hard to find the right words to acknowledge and describe someone as wonderful as Dr. B. I met her in 2002 while working at Stennis Space Center for the Mississippi Space Commerce Initiative when she was introduced as our interim director. It was evident during our first meeting that she was a person who truly cared about her job, the university and its mission.

“She is one of the most dedicated people I’ve ever met – strong and soft-spoken. I’d like to thank her for being my inspiration, for helping me grow and become the person I am today. She’s truly one of a kind, a leader who makes everyone else stronger. I’ve never been able to call her Robin as I preferred Dr. B., but I will forever call her my friend.” 

Christine Narcisse, retired


“I met Robin for the first time on a group trip to Tuscany, Italy. It was an eclectic mix of people and personalities, and it was truly an adventure from beginning to end. Many fond memories were made through cooking classes, wine tastings, goat farms, chocolate and quirky tour guides. Looking back, I realize that I was one of the lucky few who got to know Robin while pursuing one of her true passions: travel!

“Two years later, Robin and I would cross paths again when Dr. Clark was named vice chancellor for university relations. Initially, I joked with her that she probably didn’t want to see me again after ‘Italy,’ but you learn important things about people when you travel with them and when you work with them. In the short time we worked together, we celebrated small victories, struggled through difficult times and she taught me to approach each new challenge fearlessly – with an open heart and mind.

“From those experiences, I learned that Robin has strength, character and grace that I will strive to emulate for the rest of my career. I’m truly grateful to call Robin a mentor, friend and personal hero!” 

Lauren Beyers, executive director of advancement services, University Development


“I had the pleasure of working with Dr. Buchannon during the final two years of her career at the university. In that short time, I found her grace, candor and sharp wit to be unmatched; her commitment to this university to be unparalleled; and her trust to be inspiring. Dr. Buchannon is a true servant leader. My only regret is that I didn’t get to work with her longer than I did. Her impact at Ole Miss will be felt long after she’s retired to her next great adventure.”

Ryan Whittington, director of marketing and brand strategy, University Communications


“It’s impossible to sum up Robin Buchannon’s impact on our university in a short statement. There is no one I respect more, value more or trust more than Robin. She embodies all that we hope for in a colleague and a friend: she’s trustworthy, thoughtful, honest, knowledgeable, dependable, loyal and a delight to work with every day. Day after day, year after year, it’s people like Robin Buchannon who have worked hard to shape the acclaimed Ole Miss culture of integrity, quality, helpfulness and a commitment to the greater good.

“She is highly respected across campus, is always professional, kind and helpful to all, knows everything about everything (or where to find it), is willing to take on any job asked of her and can solve any problem. She has been a gift to our university, and her absence will be deeply felt throughout the university.”

Alice Clark, interim vice chancellor for university relations and F.A.P. Barnard Distinguished Professor of Pharmacognosy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

University of Mississippi Police Capt. Thelma Curry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet Katherine Slone, May’s Staff Member of the Month

Katherine Slone

Katherine Slone, executive assistant in the Office of the Provost, has been selected as Staff Council’s Staff Member of the Month for May. To help us get to know her better, Slone answered a few questions for Inside Ole Miss.

IOM: How long have you worked at Ole Miss? 

Slone: Six years.         

IOM: What is your hometown?

Slone: Oxford, born and raised!

IOM: Talk about your favorite Ole Miss memory. 

Slone: When Ole Miss beat Alabama in 2014!

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

Slone: My co-workers and the diverse visitors that come through the university.

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

Slone: I enjoy spending time with my family and working on DIY projects with my husband.

IOM: What is one thing on your bucket list?

Slone: To retire!

IOM: What is your favorite movie?

Slone: “Just Go with It.”

IOM: What is your favorite Ole Miss tradition?

Slone: Hotty Toddy! I love the enthusiasm of the cheer.

IOM: What is a fun fact about you?

Slone: I completed my first half-marathon last year.

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

Slone: My brother – I would love to see him again and exchange stories about everything that’s happened in the past 26 years.

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

Slone: Compassionate, dependable and resourceful.

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

Slone: The future in 100 years. I would like to see all the technological advances and how they impact daily society.

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

Slone: A dolphin.

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

Persistence Leads to Perseverance

Mary Knight, a friend and colleague, has been a tremendous support in my journey. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

“A failure is not always a mistake, it may simply be the best one can do under the circumstances. The real mistake is to stop trying.” – B.F. Skinner

The inaugural Red and Blue Celebration for graduating faculty and staff is a testament to those who have worked hard to overcome obstacles of balancing life, work and family, all while bettering themselves through education.

For some of us, such as myself, it was a journey filled with many setbacks.

In 2013, I was ready to graduate. I began looking at graduate programs, took the GRE and even joined the Ole Miss Alumni Association. I even have a brick with my name on it in the circle under the Class of 2013. That’s how ready I was to graduate. Then, as it tends to do so, life happened. I ended up lacking one single class and, due to several setbacks, was not able to finish.

Four years would pass before I would finally have a chance to complete my degree.

On Wednesday (May 9), I participated in the inaugural Red and Blue Celebration. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

During my undergraduate years, I was not always the best student. Life tended to get to me, and attempting to balance working 35 hours or more while taking 15 hours of classes was trying on top of other events occurring in my personal life.

I admit I did get lost along the way, briefly, but with time, I grew to understand and learn how to cope with whatever life threw my way. I learned how to better manage my time and how to better cope with circumstances, whatever they maybe.

If college teaches us anything, it is how to adapt to whatever life may have in store. Actually, it teaches us not only to adapt, but never to give up.

I went through every administrative process imaginable during those five years, hoping to finally graduate. Even after the many unsuccessful attempts to finish, I rarely took no for an answer. With the help of an unbelievably gracious friend, I was finally able to take my last class this past fall.

I was so nervous to get back into class after being out for nearly five years and now working a full time job at the university. I knew with the time away, I had been able to reflect on those mistakes and use them as lessons to drive positive change in my life. I was prepared to prove, not only to myself, but everyone, that I am capable.

I am extremely proud to say that in December 2017, I passed my last class with an A to complete my bachelor’s degree in psychology. The lesson here: Being patient and persistent pays off.

I immediately applied for a graduate program, only to be rejected. I made connections and voiced how I knew I would succeed in the program and that my undergraduate time is not a reflection of what I can accomplish. I then reapplied and will be beginning my master’s degree this summer.

Without the support of family, like mine here, many faculty and staff members would not have been able to achieve the success celebrated during the Red and Blue Celebration. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

You cannot simply take rejection as the end-all, be-all. I hold strong to the idea that if one keeps pushing and striving, you can succeed.

It will not always go according to plan, but being able to quickly and effectively adapt to what life has to offer is a valuable lesson all its own. If you’re willing to accept help and know that you are never alone in your journey, there is a tremendous support system here at the university, and at home with family and with friends.

I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to participate with others in such an outstanding celebration of our hard work. It was the perfect closing to this chapter in my life. It’s also the beginning of bigger and better things.

The one thing my family, friends and colleagues have learned from my experience is to believe in yourself, keep pushing and always be patient and persistent.


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

Martina Brewer

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

IOM: How long have you worked at Ole Miss? 

Brewer: Fourteen years. I started in April 2004.

IOM: What is your hometown?

Brewer: Cleveland, Mississippi. 

IOM: Talk about your favorite Ole Miss memory. 

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

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

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

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

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

IOM: What is one thing on your bucket list?

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

IOM: What is your favorite movie?

Brewer: My favorite movie is “Fireproof.”

IOM: What is your favorite Ole Miss tradition?

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

IOM: What is a fun fact about you?

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

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

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

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

Brewer: Honest, compassionate and strong-minded

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

Brewer: Africa

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

Brewer: An eagle

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

School of Applied Sciences Lauds Annual Research Symposium Winners

Students present research in broad range of fields

Ovuokerie Addoh (left) and Emily Frith bring home first- and second-place awards in the Eighth Annual Graduate Student Council Research Symposium. Photo by Paul Loprinzi

OXFORD, Miss. – Administrators and faculty in the School of Applied Sciences offer congratulations to the school’s winners of the Graduate Student Council’s Eighth Annual Research Symposium:

  • Christopher Hill, Sam Wilson, James Grant Mouser, Caleb Williams, Lauren Luginsland and Harish Chander for their third-place podium session, “Impact Of Repeated Balance Perturbations on Lower Extremity Lean Muscle Activity”
  • Daegeun (Dan) Kim, Eun-Kyong (Cindy) Choi, Euntae (Ted) Lee for their second-place podium session, “The Secret to Winning the Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence: A Case Study on Hotels”
  • Jeremiah Blough and Paul D. Loprinzi for their first-place podium session, “Experimentally Investigating the Joint Effects of Physical Activity and Sedentary Behavior on Depression and Anxiety: A Randomized Controlled Trial”
  • Kurt Pollack, Georgianna Mann and Kathy Wachter for their third-place poster session, “The Relationship Between Millenials’ Health-Related Lifestyle Behaviors and Label Attitudes and Their Purchase Intention of Organic and Non-GMO Produce”
  • Emily Frith and Paul Loprinzi for their second-place poster session, “Experimental Investigation of Exercise-Related, Perceived Hedonic Responses to Preferred Versus Imposed Media Content”
  • Kirby Rhodes for her second-place poster session, “Police Officers and Procedural Justice: The Forgotten Perspective”
  • Ovuokerie Addoh and Paul D. Loprinzi for their first-place poster session, “Experimental Investigation of Priming Hedonic Responses to Acute Exercise: Pilot Study”

The symposium acts as a mini-conference, allowing graduate students to discuss their research through podium and poster presentations in the categories of social sciences, education, business, accounting, physical and life sciences, arts, humanities, journalism, mathematics, computer science and engineering.

For more information on graduate programs in the School of Applied Sciences, go to http://sas.olemiss.edu/.

Celebrating Great UM Women

Inspiring stories reflect observance of Women's History Month

In conclusion of Women’s History Month, celebrate with accomplishments made by great UM women. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

In celebration of Women’s History Month, this selection of stories highlights achievements by great UM women. These are just  few of the wonderful stories about faculty, staff, students and alumni:

Ole Miss Outdoors’ Dog Sledding Trip a Howling Good Time

Excursion to Ely, Minnesota, also includes visit to International Wolf Center

Dog sledding in Ely, Minnesota. Photo courtesy of Logan Vaughan

It’s my first time dog sledding, and I’m standing on a platform, bundled up like a polar explorer and holding onto a bar behind a sled while five Canadian Inuit dogs eagerly wait to hear “Ready, hike!”

Most people think of “Mush” as the command for dog sledding. But “Ready, hike!” is better. “Ready” gets the dogs’ attention. Whether they’re chewing on a paw or socializing with one another or peeing on a bush, they stand at attention as soon as they hear that word.

The dogs react to “Hike” like racers when the starting pistol is fired. They take off and pull the sled up and down trails in snowy woods of pine and spruce. I’m just along for the ride.

A dog-sledding trip to Ely, Minnesota, was organized by Ole Miss Outdoors, a program of the Department of Campus Recreation. The nine-day trip, Jan. 12-20, cost only $600 per person, thanks to the planning of trip leaders-graduate students-intrepid adventurers Francis Liaw and Alison Walker.

Twelve of us, mostly Ole Miss undergraduate and graduate students, went on this adventure. And it was an adventure. To get to Ely, which is 1,148 miles and almost a 22-hour drive from Oxford – you’re practically in Ontario, Canada – we traveled in two Ole Miss SUVs and stayed in unique Airbnbs along the way.

People in Wisconsin and Minnesota seemed both baffled and tickled that a group from Mississippi traveled so far up north in the winter, and everyone we met was friendly and hospitable. One morning, we stopped for breakfast at the Milk Jug Cafe in Ontario, Wisconsin. There, a local named Tor Edess told us that he lived in the town because he had run out of money during vacation and never left. He handed out a business card that read “Tor Edess Music Co.: Live Country Music, ‘for weddings & funerals & most other events in between.'”

When we reached Ely, snow was falling heavily and covering the roads. One student from a Mississippi town commented that he had never seen this much snow. The cabin we stayed in, part of Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge, was comfortable and cozy. Besides several bedrooms, it had one big dining table that seated all 12 of us, a great room with a gas fireplace, and modern kitchen and bathrooms.

We met our main guides, Isaak Ridge and Joe Gleiter, who were not only there for the dog sledding but also checked to make sure we had appropriate clothes, brought and made breakfast and dinner for us (including special meals for the vegetarian among us), as well as shared the meals with us each day.

Isaak loves to talk about everything and anything, and Joe is a mellow surfer-type dude from Illinois who loves salsa at every meal. He also enjoyed snow cream for the first time, which some of our group prepared one night, and we all wondered if snow cream is a Southern specialty since those among us from outside the South had never heard of it. We also met an unexpected guest, Kayuk, one of the sledding dogs, who enjoyed being petted and exploring the cabin.

Before leaving the cabin on the first day of dog sledding, we went over the “Do’s” and “Don’ts” of driving a dog team, such as “DO stand firmly on the brake when stopped or your team may take off without you” and “DON’T panic if you lose the sled – yell “LOOSE SLED” and the guides will get it.” Besides “Ready, hike,” we also learned the all-important “Whoa,” as well as “Gee” (go right) and “Haw” (go left).

We then dressed for the -4 degrees Fahrenheit weather (we were lucky since the temperature had dropped to -30 the week before) and went to the dog kennel. I carried my phone to take photos, but I guess it wasn’t made to function in subzero temperatures. It immediately froze and turned off.

Front row: Wintergreen guides Joe Gleiter (left) and Isaak Ridge, and Ole Miss dog sledders Alison Walker, Rachel Whitehorn, Benita Whitehorn, Logan Vaughan, Pete Dawkins and Sarah Pringle; back row: Noah Allen, Lilli Gordon, Johnathan Taylor, Ashleen Williams, Francis Liaw and Tyler Tyree

At the kennel, we were asked to set up six dog sleds (two drivers each), harness our dogs and then hook them up on a line in front of the sled. For me, this was the hardest part! All these dogs love people, but they didn’t necessarily love one another. Sometimes, we had to pull at the dogs to keep them from fighting each other. It took about an hour, but my sled partner and I were ready with lead dogs Gabe and Millie, swing dog Inuk and wheel dogs Mudro and Okra, as were the other members of the group with their sled-dog teams, and our guides, who were traveling on cross-country skis.

(Note: While Siberian Huskies are known as the fastest sled dogs and are the breed of choice for racers, these handsome, thick-furred Canadian Inuit dogs are known as hardworking. Also, we were told to pair male and female dogs on the line since the males tend to fight and the same goes for the females.)

What a scenic and crazy ride. We rode through miles of wooded trails. Sometimes it was peaceful, and I could just enjoy the beauty of the surrounding northern woods, part of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness*, made up of more than a million acres of wilderness and waterways. Other times, I felt like I was in a Space Mountain-type bumper car without a seatbelt when the sled would careen off a tree and/or the sled would tilt, and I’d have to lean the other way or go flying off – that was scary.

When going up steep hills, my sled partner or I would lessen the load for the dogs by jumping off the sled. Whenever it was my turn, I’d usually fall, and it was hard to stand back up and keep up with the sled while wearing heavy clothes and boots in powdery, foot-deep snow. Sometimes we went downhill, including one time when we had to duck to avoid an overhanging tree branch (and a major concussion).

More often than not, when we stopped, our dogs literally HOWLED with impatience. We would then pet and praise them to calm them down. They all have endearing personalities and habits. Inuk was steadfast and calm, for instance, while Mudro likes to bury his face in the snow any chance he gets.

We stopped for a campfire lunch, which also gave the dogs a chance to rest. We gathered twigs for the fire, and the guides cooked sugar-cinnamon bagels in a skillet and handed out cups of cocoa, frozen cheese sticks, meat sticks and Snickers bars. It was hard, if not impossible, to unwrap the snacks while wearing thick woolen mittens and outer mitts, but my hands instantly became red and frozen when I took the mittens off. That was the coldest part of the trip, just sitting still.

Toward the end of the day, we rode on the vast, frozen White Iron Lake. At one point I jumped off the sled and tried to walk a while and realized it would be frightening to have to walk across this lake alone, battered by snow, wind and cold, trundling along in my heavy boots and clothes. It wasn’t like a walk in the park. It was more like a walk in a frozen desert. Dog sledding is truly useful for those who live in harsh winter climates.

Just past sunset, we finally unharnessed the dogs and leashed them at a wooded spot down the hill from our cabins in the dark. We put out hay for them to lie on and gave them food and water. 

Back at the toasty warm cabin, I don’t think I ever appreciated warmth, food and sleep as much as I did that night.

The next day, after breakfast, we went out on our second dog-sledding adventure. Unlike the previous cloudy day, this day was sunny and several degrees warmer. In fact, it got up to 14 degrees, the same temperature as Oxford that day.

Video by Lilli Gordon

During another campfire lunch, the dogs lay down in the snow and napped peacefully. We went on a different, even more challenging but fun trail that included a long downhill run. I was getting the hang of this dog sledding thing. It was only when all the dogs were back at the kennel that I realized that I’d only known them for such a short time and I’d miss them.

The day didn’t end there, though. The end of a dog sledding trip at Wintergreen includes an “optional” activity. We put on our bathing suits and socks and went into a very hot sauna, six at a time. Then when we felt like we might faint, we ran down a hill and jumped in icy water, cut out with a chainsaw. It sounds crazy, but all 12 of us did it, and it truly did feel exhilarating.

The next day, we all received diplomas for completing our dog-sledding adventure. Then we packed up and left for the International Wolf Center, also in Ely, where we stayed overnight and were able to watch a pack of “ambassador” wolves in a wooded enclosure though an observation window, as well as learn all about wolves through the center’s educational program.

The following day, we headed home, staying at two Airbnb houses along the way in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and St. Louis, and we made it back to Oxford’s balmy 40-degree weather. On a trip like this, we all got to learn a bit about one another, had a lot of laughs and shared an unforgettable trip. We even learned a secret handshake, but I can’t tell you what it is because it’s secret.

More about Ole Miss Outdoors

Past weeklong Ole Miss Outdoors trips have including backpacking in the Grand Canyon, skiing and snowboarding in the Colorado Rockies, kayaking and snorkeling in the Florida Keys, and another dog sledding trip in Canada. OMOD also schedules daylong and weekend hiking, caving, rock climbing and whitewater rafting trips as well as other types of trips.

For a spring 2018 schedule and more information about Ole Miss Outdoors, go to https://campusrec.olemiss.edu/ole-miss-outdoors/.

*On our first night in Ely, some of us attended an environmental lecture about efforts to save the Boundary Waters from being poisoned by sulfide-ore copper mining. For more information about that effort, go to https://www.savetheboundarywaters.org/.

Benita Whitehorn is an assistant director/editor in University Communications.

RebelWell Offers 10 Steps to a Healthier You in 2018

RebelWell is here to help you reach your health goals in 2018. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

The new year is here, which means new goals are being made! Here are some tips from RebelWell to help with goals that will lead to a healthier you!

  1. Make you goals smart.This means that they are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. Instead of “I will work out every week,” say, “I will walk or jog for 30 minutes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the next month.”
  2. Make basic alterations.Making a drastic goal of losing 30 pounds by March is unrealistic and can lead you to becoming discouraged and giving up. Making small changes will add up! These all do not have to be made at once, but changes in what you eat, when you eat and how much you move will ultimately help you lose weight. This is not a temporary change or a quick fix; this is a lifestyle change.
  3. Have someone to hold you accountable.Focus on one or two goals/areas and team up with a friend, relative or personal trainer who will make sure you stick to your plan. It’s much easier to go for a walk at 6 a.m. every day if you know a friend is waiting for you.
  4. Make your goals known!Telling others, especially those you encounter daily, about your goals not only will help keep you accountable, but can even help avoid temptation. If you tell your co-workers that you are limiting high-sodium foods to lower your blood pressure, instead of ordering pizza for the department lunch, they might choose a healthier option.
  5. Keep a diary.Writing down everything you eat or drink – even that little piece of candy – and logging all your exercise will help keep you accountable of the foods you eat. Studies show that people who keep a food diary end up eating 15 percent less than those who don’t keep a food diary.
  6. Make peace with trigger foods.Banning your favorite treat – whether it’s chocolate, soda, Frappuccinos, chips or French fries – is bound to backfire. Instead, remove the temptation from your home or work environment and allow yourself to indulge only once or twice per week.
  7. Find a physical activity you enjoy.Finding a gym you really like is a good start but remember that signing up does not mean you are on your way to losing weight. Instead, first figure out what type of physical activity you enjoy and then work on your specific goals.
  8. Measure you progress wisely.It’s important to check your progress to see how far you’ve come. For example, if you are working on managing your weight, weigh yourself once a week to keep track of your progress. If it’s difficult to measure your goal without proper equipment, use benchmarks to track progress until you have access to the equipment again. For example, to track improved cardiovascular health, you can monitor how far you can walk or how many stairs you can climb.
  9. Ditch the “all-or-nothing” thinking.The idea that you have to either do everything correctly or do nothing at all can set you up for failure. It’s important to know that if you do have a day that you missed your workout or ate more unhealthy foods than you had planned, it doesn’t make you unsuccessful. Instead, recognize your capabilities and move forward to reach your goals.
  10. Be prepared.As stated before, having setbacks does not make you a failure. But having a plan in case of setbacks and obstacles will help you overcome them. This is not an excuse to cut corners, but will help keep you prepared for events that are beyond your control. If you are unable to go for a walk outside due to weather or construction, have a backup place to walk that shield you from these things.

Mariana A. Jurss is RebelWell’s registered dietician. 

Top Stories on Ole Miss News in 2017

Year-end review reveals significant, widely-read headlines

The Ole Miss softball team celebrates a huge win over LSU on May 13th, 2017 in the championship game of the 2017 SEC Tournament in Knoxville, Tennessee. Photo by Joshua McCoy/Ole Miss Athletics

As 2017 draws to a close, we are pleased to share highlights of stories from Ole Miss News.  While we would quickly run out of room if we tried to share the more than 600 stories we produced in 2017, here is a nice sampling of great things that happened across our campuses: 

Be sure to check out our year in review in photos to see all these stories, plus so much more. 

Well, that’s it for 2017! Happy holidays and be sure to continue following us on Ole Miss News to stay up-to-date on all the exciting things happening at the University of Mississippi!