UM Alumna Returns to Ford Center with ‘The Sound of Music’

Christina Tompkins will perform role of Sister Sophia

Christina Tompkins, a 2009 UM graduate, will perform with ‘The Sound of Music’ national tour Wednesday (Jan. 24) at the Ford Center. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Mississippi is hosting the national tour of “The Sound of Music” at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday (Jan. 24), and a familiar Ole Miss face will be among the cast for the sold-out show.

Christina Tompkins earned her bachelor’s degree in musical theatre from Ole Miss in 2009. The White Plains, New York native is the female swing for “The Sound of Music,” meaning she must be able to perform nearly every female adult role. Tompkins began rehearsal for touring company last summer and the traveling performance opened in Yakima, Washington, in September.

She’s been on a tour bus since.

As the swing, Tompkins must be know about 10 different musical tracks and be ready to fill in at a moment’s notice in case another performer cannot fulfill their duty.

“I sort of call myself the insurance policy,” she said. “I have to be ready sometimes even a couple hours’ notice or just a half-hour before the show.”

Tompkins said she is honored to perform in this production.

“It’s a truly fulfilling experience and it’s the highlight of my career since leaving Ole Miss,” she said. “I think the story of ‘The Sound of Music’ is as extremely relevant today as it was then, and I’m proud to be part of the production.”

Tompkins is slated for Wednesday to perform the part of Sister Sophia, a nun who asks the question, “How do you solve a problem like Maria?” This performance is a homecoming of sorts for Tompkins.

“I haven’t performed on that stage since my senior year of college,” Tompkins said. “It’s a feeling that I can’t really put into words. It’s so great to come full circle and have my former professors there to see me perform.”

When choosing colleges, Tompkins visited UM on a whim with her father and fell in love with the campus. She stayed four years in Oxford and said her peers and professors in the theater department became some of her closest friends.

Alumna Christina Tompkins will portray Sister Sophia in the national tour performance of ‘The Sound of Music.’ Submitted photo

“I’m so excited to see my professors,” she said. “I wouldn’t be where I am without my education from the University of Mississippi.”

Rene Pulliam, associate professor of theatre arts, plans to be in attendance to see her former student perform.

“Christina has deserved this,” Pulliam said. “She works hard and she’s extremely talented. It’s been very exciting to see her progress, and I can’t think of anyone more deserving of this opportunity.”

The production, which tells the musical story of Maria and the von Trapp family, features music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II.

“We are looking forward to bringing this wonderful family show to the Ford Center,” marketing director Kate Meacham said. “It’s a great story of love and family, and the songs are classics. We are also happy to welcome back Ole Miss alumna Christina Tompkins to the Ford Center.”

For more information about upcoming performances at the Ford Center, visit

Classics Professor Receives Humanities Fellowship to Greece

Brad Cook to study origins, meanings of two ancient Greek inscriptions from university's collection

Brad Cook

OXFORD, Miss. – Brad Cook, an associate professor of classics at the University of Mississippi, will spend the spring in Athens, Greece, researching two ancient inscriptions that are part of the David M. Robinson Memorial Collection of Greek and Roman Antiquities at the University Museum.

Cook has received a $21,000 National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship to fund the research for five months at the American School of Classical Studies. The two Greek inscriptions he will study aren’t made of marble, like others in UM’s collection, but rather made of gold and bronze.

The gold inscription records terms of a treaty made in 202 B.C. between the king of Macedon and the city of Lysimachia, the most strategic location on the Dardanelles. The bronze inscription records the freeing of a slave woman named Philista in northwestern Greece at about the same time.

“If my research in Athens bears out my current interpretations, the gold inscription looks to have been the personal, epitomized copy of this strategic treaty made for Philip V, king of Macedon from 220 to 179 BC, as a memento of his incessant efforts to control as much of the Greek world as possible,” Cook said. “The bronze inscription was very likely the personal copy of Philista’s manumission, her ‘free papers’, a guarantee of her freedom in 111 grams of bronze.”

Several inscriptions in the Robinson collection are stone, and all those have been the subject of published works over the last 80 years. The two inscriptions Cook will study, both about the size of the palm of your hand and only a few millimeters thick, have not been in published papers. Both inscriptions are completely legible, Cook said. 

The two items are part of more than 2,000 artifacts in the Robinson collection, which is considered to be the best of its kind in the South.  Besides the extensive collection of Greek vases of all periods, Greek and Roman sculpture, bronzes, terra cottas, inscriptions, coins, oil lamps and household objects, there are collections of potsherds dating from the Neolithic Age to the Late Roman Empire.

The collection is available to students for research and study. Many of the artifacts in the collection need further study, and students are encouraged to make use of these collections in classwork and research. 

The collection is named for the former Ole Miss professor David Moore Robinson, and it came to the university at the bequests and gifts of him and his widow, Helen Tudor Robinson. The majority of the collection was purchased from the estate of Mrs. Robinson by Mr. and Mrs. Frank S. Peddle Jr., of Oxford, who generously gave it to the university. 

Molly Pasco-Pranger, chair and associate professor of classics, said she and her colleagues are proud of Cook for receiving the fellowship.

“His project will bring a pair of inscriptions in our own University Museum’s collection to international attention and contribute to our understanding of these two very different, but similarly small-scale and personal inscriptions,” Pasco-Pranger said. “This is a much deserved honor for Dr. Cook, and I am excited and proud to see a colleague who demonstrates his excellence as a teacher and scholar regularly here on our campus also receive national recognition and support for his research.”

TEDxUniversityofMississippi Brings ‘Ideas Worth Spreading’ to UM Feb. 3

Seven speakers set for this year's program

UM hosts its third TEDxUniversityofMississippi conference Feb. 3 at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi will host its third TEDxUniversity of Mississippi conference Feb. 3 at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts with seven speakers to give brief, thought-provoking lectures on the theme of “MomentUM.”

This year’s lineup includes faculty members, a graduate student, a law student and others who will discuss a variety of topics, including how substance abuse is treated by the criminal justice system, lessening the dependence on foods that come from slaughterhouses and forming your worldview. 

The series is completely organized and designed by Ole Miss students with the original theme ‘MomentUM,’ which celebrates the diversity of people and ideas that are collectively moving our world forward, said Marvin King, associate professor of political science and African American studies, who serves as TEDx faculty adviser. 

“We are thrilled to invite the community to what will be the best TEDx event we have hosted here in Oxford since its founding,” King said. “The ‘MomentUM’ talk series is designed to embody the spirit of both the university and of TEDx, so we are excited for a full lineup of great talks that reflect that.”

King said he’s proud of the energy the Student Planning Committee brought to getting the event together. 

“They are selecting the speakers, designing the artwork and stage presence,” King said. “They’re all in. Each year we produce a better event, and this year will be no exception.

“We’re very excited to bring TEDx back to Ole Miss for a third time. We think it’ll be a fun and engaging show, complete with a live music intermission.”

Will Tribble, a junior mechanical engineering major from Charlottesville, Virginia, and one of the event’s coordinators, said that inviting students to speak was important to the committee this year. 

“Our speaker selection process was intended to reflect the nature of our event: showcasing the best of Mississippi while introducing new perspectives as well,” Tribble said. “As a student-run event, we made it our goal this year to showcase students for the first time.

“Due to the overwhelming enthusiasm for this opportunity, we were able to select multiple students to speak.”

TEDx uses the widely popular TED Talks conference format, which brings together lecturers and other participants in a global set of conferences under the slogan “Ideas worth spreading.” TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience.

For the first time in the event’s history, students will be among the speakers taking the stage to share their ideas worth spreading. Besides the headlining speakers, the event will also feature a talk from a local middle school student with the Lafayette Middle School TED-Ed club.

The professional speakers headlining this year’s event represent Mississippi, Southern California and Brooklyn, New York. Their talks will highlight topics ranging from the interpretive power of storytelling to the future of global food production.

General admission tickets are $20, and student tickets are $10. Doors will open at noon, and the event begins at 1 p.m. Tickets and more information are available here. 

Speakers for this year’s event are: 

  • Jandel Crutchfield, a UM assistant professor of social work, who will ask the audience, “What is your worldview? And what experiences have helped you develop it? Before engaging in a debate of any kind, what if individuals truly understood their answers to these two questions? Communicating a worldview as one single number compels us to not only look outward, but inward.”
  • Brian Foster, a UM professor of sociology and Southern studies, who will talk about the “interpretive power of missing stories – the absence of an entire demographic group from certain spaces, the desire of an individual to repress or ‘move on from’ certain memories, the quiet pauses of conversation – that teaches us about ourselves, each other and how societies change – or don’t.”
  • Emily Frith, an Ole Miss graduate student, who will talk about the complex process of creative thinking, where the goal is not merely to be creative, but to produce a solution that has value, either on a personal level or on a broad scale. She will explore how society can learn to problem-solve and problem-find using trainable creativity tactics. The implications could be instrumental in this modern age of excellence in education and innovation.
  • Josh Horton, a UM law student, who will talk about his conviction that addiction should not be treated as a stigmatized moral failure, and that society should start re-integrating those who have been pushed to the fringes. From inmate to advocate, Horton’s journey from a substance abuser with a criminal rap sheet to a magna cum laude J.D. influences his passion to advocate for restorative communities and legal processes for recovering addicts nationwide.
  • Janet McCarty, who will talk about how being introduced to simple, instinctual behaviors from an unconventional mentor can transform the human perspective and the way we pursue goals and dreams. She will introduce a few simple behaviors she learned from her mentor and applied to her life. Putting these behaviors into practice gave McCarty a unique perspective on life, allowing her to achieve her dream of becoming an entrepreneur.
  • Leena Patel, who will address “Gamulation,” the practice of using games and simulation to improve teaching and learning, specifically in the workplace. She will answer the question, “Wouldn’t work be a better place for most of us if we were having more fun?”
  • Jacy Reese, who will talk about “clean meat,” which refers to real meat made from animal cells without animal slaughter. He will focus on social solutions informed by breakthroughs and historical successes will eventually allow for an ethical and efficient food system where slaughterhouses are obsolete.

New UM Scholarship Honors Randy Noble

Family establishes endowment to benefit liberal arts students

Randy Noble (left) enjoys the 2016 Ole Miss vs. Texas A&M football game with his son, Nathan; wife, Jeana; and daughter, Rachel. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The Noble family name is an institution at the University of Mississippi. Nobles have walked the university’s historic halls, studied in its classrooms and strolled its tree-lined pathways for generations.

Among the grandparents, parents, sons, daughters and cousins who have attended Ole Miss is the late Randy Noble, of Greenville, a 1967 graduate of the UM College of Liberal Arts and a 1972 alumnus of the School of Law.

Now, a scholarship established by his family members will memorialize Randy Noble’s name at his alma mater.

“The Nobles’ gift truly honors Randy’s memory and highlights how much he loved his alma mater,” said Lee Cohen, dean of liberal arts. “We are extremely grateful for their generosity, which will most certainly make a difference in our students’ lives for years to come.”

The Randy Noble Scholarship Endowment will be available to full-time freshmen who are graduates of Washington School in Greenville with a minimum GPA of 3.0 and who have participated in at least one sport.

“Randy was an outstanding quarterback and kicker in high school and was a really good baseball player,” said Richard Noble, of Indianola, Randy Noble’s cousin. The two were in college together and joined the same fraternity, Kappa Alpha.

“He could’ve played college ball but didn’t want to. He was an outstanding student, and we took care of each other as students at Ole Miss. He was just a great guy – more like a brother than a cousin. We were all such a close family.”

In addition to many other cousins, nephews and nieces, Randy Noble’s sisters Rose Marie Noble Turner, of Belzoni, and Jo Ann Noble Blair, of Laurel, earned degrees from Ole Miss in 1960 and 1962 respectively.

His father, Randolph Noble, also attended Ole Miss, and “Randy was proud of the fact that he had two children who graduated from Ole Miss with master’s degrees and whose involvement at Ole Miss strengthened his love for family and the university,” said Jeana Noble, Randy Noble’s wife.

Randy Noble (left) and cousin Richard Noble met for lunch in Oxford every Friday during football season. Submitted photo

Daughter Rachel, a four-year diamond girl for the baseball Rebels, received a bachelor’s degree in education from Ole Miss in 2013 and a master’s degree in 2015; son Nathan, a four-year letter winner in football, earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 2015 and a master’s in 2017.

“When Nathan played football at Ole Miss, we had a little tradition of meeting for lunch every Friday during football season,” Richard Noble said. “Even though we only lived 25 miles apart, watching his children at Ole Miss brought us even closer together.”

Randy Noble was born in Vicksburg but grew up in Lorman. At Ole Miss, he joined the Army ROTC and, after graduating, served two years in the U.S. Army at Fort Gordon, Georgia, before returning to law school, where he was a member of Moot Court and Phi Delta Phi legal fraternity.

After receiving his Juris Doctor, he moved to Greenville and established the law firm of Noble and Rounsavall, where he practiced as a partner until 2017. He was a member of the Mississippi Bar and the Washington County Bar associations.

Noble was active in the First United Methodist Church in Greenville, where he served as legal counsel on the administrative board and as a member of its Outreach Sunday School class.

Regarding the scholarship established in his cousin’s name, Richard Noble says, “Randy would be humbled by it. He wouldn’t stick his chest out. He wasn’t that type of guy. He was caring, just as tenderhearted as can be, just a great guy.

“He would probably say, ‘Can you spend your money better somewhere else?’ and I would say, ‘Absolutely not!’ We want people to contribute to the endowment and make it bigger and better for the students it will benefit.”

Individuals and organizations can make gifts to the Randy Noble Scholarship Endowment by mailing a check with the designation noted in the memo line to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655; visiting or contacting Sandra Guest at 662-915-5208 or

Three Professors Honored with Research and Creative Achievement Awards

College of Liberal Arts honors faculty members with inaugural distinction

Jaime Harker

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi’s College of Liberal Arts has presented its first-ever Research, Scholarship and Creative Achievement Awards to three outstanding faculty scholars. 

The new award, which will be presented annually to tenured liberal arts faculty members, recognizes “sustained exemplary performance in research, scholarship and/or creative achievement at the national and international level.” The 2017 winners are Emanuele Berti, professor of physics and astronomy, who was recognized for work on gravitational physics; Robbie Ethridge, professor of anthropology, who was recognized for her work on the ethnohistory of Native Americans in the South; and Jaime Harker, professor of English, who was recognized for work on women’s and gender studies.

This year’s winners are some of the university’s strongest scholars, said Charles L. Hussey, professor of chemistry and associate dean for research and graduate education. 

“This is the first instance that the College of Liberal Arts has given such awards to established faculty members,” Hussey said. “The three individuals who were chosen for these awards represent the very best scholars that the college, if not the university, has to offer.

“They have enjoyed distinguished careers at UM and selecting them for this recognition was a simple matter.”

Robbie Ethridge

Chosen from among all categories of liberal arts disciplines, the recipients have achieved scholarly recognition and influence well beyond the Ole Miss campus. Each receives a $2,000 cash prize and a medal presented at the College of Liberal Arts graduation ceremony in May.

Harker, who also serves as director of the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies, said she feels honored to be among the first awardees. 

“I am delighted to be one of the inaugural recipients of the 2017 Research, Scholarship and Creative Achievement Award,” Harker said. “Valuing humanities research is important, and so is recognition of interdisciplinary scholarship like gender studies.

“The College of Liberal Arts is filled with brilliant scholars, and I look forward to their achievements in the future.”

The creation of the award reflects the university’s renewed emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math education, Berti said. 

Emanuele Berti

“I am happy and grateful for this award,” Berti said. “For me, it is particularly meaningful because it recognizes the growth of the gravity group, of the physics department and of the university as a whole as one of the leading research institutions at the national and international level.

“The creation of this award and other institutional initiatives, like the Flagship Constellation program and the construction of the STEM building, are promising signs that this growth will continue in the future.”

Ethridge said she is honored to be included among this group of esteemed scholars. 

“I’m honored to have won this award, and I am especially humbled to be in the company of Jaime and Emanuele, both of whom have made impressive contributions to knowledge,” Ethridge said. “Such recognition is relatively rare in this game and I much appreciate the university’s efforts to highlight research, scholarship and creative achievement among its faculty. It is indeed very special.”

Department chairs and tenured faculty members with the rank of professor are invited to submit nominations. Each nominee’s unique contributions to research, scholarship and/or creative achievement, as well as the candidate’s CV, are evaluated by a select committee.

The dean’s office will solicit nominations from all college departments by March 1 of each year. More information on the nomination process can be found here.

UM Students, Staff Join Community for MLK Day of Service Activities

Volunteers gathering to honor King's legacy through community engagement

Brian Foster, UM assistant professor of sociology and Southern studies, speaks during the opening ceremony of the 2017 MLK Day of Service. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi students, staff and community partners are spearheading efforts to promote community engagement and encourage a spirit of service in Lafayette County and Oxford during 2018 Martin Luther King Jr. Day observances.

The Lafayette-Oxford-University MLK Day of Service opening ceremony is set for 10:30 a.m. Jan. 15 at the Burns-Belfry Museum and Multicultural Center.

Program participants include: Oxford Alderman Ulysses “Coach” Howell; Jeff Busby, of the Lafayette County Board of Supervisors; and Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter. The Rev. C. Edward “CJ” Rhodes II, pastor of Mt. Helm Baptist Church of Jackson, will deliver the keynote address.

“I am very humbled and honored to be asked to deliver the keynote for such a historic occasion,” said Rhodes, the 23rd and youngest pastor of Jackson’s oldest historically black church. “As we look back on the achievements and sacrifices of Dr. King and others, this generation is challenged to do great things not just for themselves, but for others and the world as well.”

The son of famed civil rights attorney Carroll Rhodes Sr., Rhodes earned his bachelor’s degree in philosophy from UM in 2004. He continued his education at Duke Divinity School, where he served as vice president of the Black Seminarians Union in Raleigh, North Carolina.

The Rev. Carroll Edward Rhodes II, pastor of the Mt. Helms Baptist Church in Jackson and a UM alumnus, will deliver the keynote address during the community’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day observance. Submitted photo

Rhodes serves on the board of the Urban League of Greater Jackson, the Center for Ministry and the Mississippi Religious Leadership Conference, and is the former president of the Farish Street/Main Street Project. The recipient of numerous awards and recognitions, he also serves as host of “The CJ Rhodes Show” on WRBJ-97.7 FM and is author of “Thy Kingdom Come: Reflections on Pastoral and Prophetic Ministry.”

Following the keynote, awards will be presented to outstanding LOU volunteers in four categories: a community member and one student apiece from the Oxford School District, the Lafayette County School District and the university. All recipients are to be announced at the ceremony.

“The Office of Leadership and Advocacy is proud to work once again, side-by-side with so many excellent community partners,” said Hal Sullivan, coordinator of student affairs programs at UM. “Our goal, in the spirit of Dr. King, is to encourage reflection, action and redefine ‘service’ for this community.”

Other activities scheduled are:

Saturday (Jan. 13):

Second Annual Community Reading of “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” 5 p.m., Off-Square Books. Readers include members from the LOU community to acknowledge one of King’s most powerful works.

Monday (Jan. 15):

  • Community breakfast, 8:30 a.m., Second Baptist Church
  • Opening ceremony and keynote address, 10:30 a.m., Burns-Belfry Museum. Attendees also can participate in activities for children ages 3-10 and listen to recordings of oral histories that illustrate what life was like for north Mississippians during the civil rights era.
  • Community showing of “The Long Walk Home,” 1:30 p.m., Burns Belfry Museum. A community conversation about the film, hosted by the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation, follows. Kiese Laymon, UM professor of English, will facilitate discussion about the movie.
  • Community give-back benefiting the Exchange Club Family Center, 4-9 p.m., Chili’s Bar & Grill.
  • Community food drive benefitting the Food Pantry, all day, Abundant Truth Salt and Light Ministry in Taylor. Donations can be brought to any of the day’s events.

Ole Miss staff involved in planning of MLK Day of Service events expressed enthusiasm about participating in such a worthy cause.

“We are inspired by the members of the North Mississippi VISTA Project, who are collaborating with the Oxford and Lafayette school districts to offer lessons and activities on the civil rights movement,” said Laura Martin, assistant director of the McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement. “In the spirit of lifting up agents of change, we encourage people in the LOU community to nominate deserving individuals for the MLK Service Awards.”


For more information about MLK Day of Service events, contact

Gift Supports UM Liberal Arts Faculty

Growing Ole Miss family inspires Morgans' gift

The home that Kirk and Shelly Morgan purchased in Oxford has kept them connected with campus and friends, renewed their love for the area and provided an excuse to visit. The whole family often meets here to enjoy Rebel sports and all that Ole Miss and Oxford have to offer. Photo by Bill Dabney/UM Foundation

OXFORD, Miss. – Kirk and Shelly Morgan of Lexington, South Carolina, say their recent gift to the University of Mississippi’s College of Liberal Arts is, in a sense, simply supporting their family.

“Our Ole Miss family just gets bigger,” said Kirk Morgan, a native of Charleston, South Carolina, who knew no one when he arrived at UM his freshman year. But the relationships he formed on campus and beyond have inspired his desire to give back by establishing the Shelly and Kirk Morgan Fund for Faculty Excellence.

“All of these relationships stem from my graduation from the College of Liberal Arts,” said Morgan, a 1980 graduate with a bachelor’s degree in political science.

During his sophomore year, Morgan met his wife, Shelly Stefoniak, a Dallas native who earned a bachelor’s degree in education in 1981.

“I have been fortunate enough to realize that Ole Miss is as much an important factor in our entire family’s lives as any other group deserving of support,” he said. “I am hopeful that the College of Liberal Arts can utilize our financial assistance to continue improving the faculty and facilities and encourage other young students to attend.

“I have particularly enjoyed the fact that, like our family, many out-of-state students attend Ole Miss.”

The Shelly and Kirk Morgan Fund for Faculty Excellence supports the recognition of outstanding teaching, scholarship and service by a faculty member within the College of Liberal Arts as deemed appropriate by the dean.

“The Morgans’ generous gift is a testament to how much they care for the quality of instruction at the University of Mississippi as well as their desire to ensure that Ole Miss students continue to receive the very best higher education has to offer,” liberal arts Dean Lee Cohen said. “Their gift will have a significant impact for years to come.”

Besides meeting his wife on campus, Morgan’s ties to Ole Miss include an uncle, John Gainey, a former All-American Rebel baseball player.

“He encouraged me to visit Ole Miss to meet the coach so that I might get an invitation to join the team, which I got,” said Morgan, who also lettered in golf his sophomore year.

Family ties continued as both of the Morgans’ sons, Eddie and Sam, became UM graduates, as well as Eddie’s wife, Alaina McClain-Morgan of Houston, Texas.

And one person in particular is like family to the Morgans, even though she’s not a blood relative. Linda Spargo, coordinator of special projects in the chancellor’s office, became a friend and trusted educational counselor to both Eddie and Sam. Additionally, Spargo remained “on call” for the family when Eddie and Alaina were seriously injured in a car wreck their junior year.

“During Eddie’s convalescence, the support, friendship and practical advice we received from Dr. Linda Spargo was a prime motivation in my realization that Ole Miss was not just a great school but also a family,” Morgan said.

After graduating from Ole Miss, Morgan remained on campus for his first year of law school while his wife finished her senior year and graduated. They transferred to South Carolina, where he finished law school, then worked briefly in Dallas before returning to South Carolina, where Morgan has practiced as a trial lawyer ever since.

He recently served as president of the South Carolina Trial Lawyers Association among other achievements.

Morgan found great value in his final year as a student in Oxford.

“We made many great friends who remain so today and are a big part of our continued involvement and commitment to Ole Miss,” he said. “We look forward to continuing our support of the College of Liberal Arts for the balance of our lives, to enjoying many new relationships and friends made as a consequence of our gift, and to watching the College of Liberal Arts have an impact on the lives of faculty and students because of this gift.

“It’s a chance for us to return the favor and make a difference in our university. We want to be a part of its future successes.”

Nikki Neely Davis, a UM development director, thanked the Morgans for their gift.

“We appreciate so much their vision in making this type of gift,” she said. “While scholarship endowments are crucial, endowments that provide support for faculty and programs are equally important to supporting the university’s future.

“The Morgans are gracious and generous people whom I’ve greatly enjoyed getting to know.”

The Shelly and Kirk Morgan Fund for Faculty Excellence is open to gifts from individuals and organizations. To contribute, send checks with the endowment name noted in the memo line to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655; visit; or contact Davis at or 662-915-6678.

UM Student Helps Batesville Mounds Open as Public Education Site

Nikki Mattson worked on the park as part of her thesis

UM graduate student Nikki Mattson worked as a consultant on signage to help explain the significance of the Batesville Mounds site to visitors. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The city of Batesville has opened the Batesville Mound Site as a public park, partially thanks to the efforts of Nikki Mattson, a University of Mississippi graduate student in anthropology who has worked to develop signage and content for the site.

The Batesville Mounds are a Native American mound complex consisting of four mounds and two village areas. The park opened Nov. 21 with informational signs, walking trails around the mounds and nature trails through nearby wooded areas. The mound portion of the site is 35 acres, situated within 90 scenic acres that constitute the entire park.

Mattson has been working on the project, which began more than 30 years ago, as part of her master’s thesis. She partnered with the city and the Panola Partnership economic development organization to conduct surveys aimed at gauging previous knowledge of the site and getting ideas about how community members would like to see it utilized for educational opportunities.

“I believe learning about the people who lived on and from the land that is practically right in our own backyards will help raise awareness of the importance of preservation, conservation and stewardship,” Mattson said. “We are a part of this land now, too, and being aware of its full history can and will foster a sense of respect and protection, not only for the past but also as we move into the future and pass the knowledge on to future generations.”

The site dates to the Early to Middle Woodland Period between 500 B.C. and A.D. 500. Archaeological surveys and excavations conducted at the mound site indicate that the Batesville Mounds were used by Native Americans approximately 2,000 years ago for ceremonial and feasting activities.

Although it is not possible to directly trace the relationship between the builders of the Batesville Mounds and late Native American groups, the people who built and used the mounds clearly were ancestral to the different groups of native peoples who were living in north Mississippi at the time of European contact, Mattson said.

The site was first recorded in the 1950s by UM professor William Haag, who submitted the site card to the state. Researchers from the university’s Center for Archaeological Research and Ole Miss graduate students have conducted archaeological excavations there since the early 1990s in preparation of opening the site for public use.

“Native Americans were living in what would become Mississippi for over 10,000 years before they were contacted by Europeans, and many people today are not aware of the full diversity of how Native Americans lived prior to contact,” said Tony Boudreaux, the center’s director.

“Making the Batesville Mounds accessible as a park is an opportunity for many people today to learn about this place that was very important to a community of people who lived there and hosted ceremonial gatherings there around 2,000 years ago. It is great to see this important part of Mississippi’s Native American heritage being conserved and celebrated.”

UM graduate student Nikki Mattson celebrates at the grand opening of the Batesville Mounds to the public. Submitted photo

Mattson also has worked as a consultant on signage with the city engineer and architect in addition to attending events and engaging with community members. She is working to inventory and catalog artifacts from the site in the university’s collection to add more information and context to the mounds.

“Ole Miss has been a part of it from beginning to the end,” Mattson said. “I am so excited and honestly beyond humbled to see my words on the first signage designed for the site.”

The city plans to build a museum, a covered pavilion and public restrooms at the site, Mattson said.

The Batesville Mounds, at 515 Highway 35 North, are part of the Mississippi Mound Trail, which consists of more than 30 Native American mound sites throughout the state.

For more information about the Center for Archaeological Research, visit

Professor Sheds Light on Overlooked Artistic Side of Vikings

Nancy Wicker is completing a book about the art and culture of ancient Norsemen

Nancy Wicker, UM professor of art history, is working to shed light on the artwork Vikings made, including pieces like the replica jewelry she is wearing. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Vikings are often portrayed as brutish, violent Norse conquerors, but a University of Mississippi professor wants to shed light on the often-misunderstood peoples’ artistic side that led them to make intricate golden jewelry and impressive wooden carvings on the prows of their ships.

Nancy Wicker, a professor of art history, is involved in projects that aim to broaden what the world knows about the early Scandinavians, who continue to capture the public imagination through TV shows such as “Vikings.” She hopes to shift some of the focus from stereotypical characteristics to the art they made, as well as how they traveled like no group before them.

“I ask people who are interested in Vikings, ‘Do you know about Viking art?'” Wicker said. “They say, ‘Did they have art? They were a bunch of barbarians. Would they have had art?’ Of course they had art. All cultures produce art.”

Her goal is ambitious, given that the public’s basic understanding about the group is often oversimplified or just plain inaccurate. Even the iconic “Viking helmet” with horns protruding from the sides isn’t historically correct. They didn’t wear them. But, misperceptions aside, the public has a longstanding fascination with the Norse warriors and explorers.

“People are fascinated,” Wicker said. “We art historians and museum curators laugh about it. Everyone is interested in Vikings, mummies and dinosaurs. If museums have any of those three, they’re golden.”

During the 2016-17 academic year, Wicker was on sabbatical to write a book about art of the Viking Age. She was a fellow-in-residence at the National Humanities Center at Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. The experience provided her with access to some of the world’s best library collections and also gave her a work site very conducive to writing, she said.

She gave a public lecture there in April about Viking art, but the room full of scholars quickly shifted the discussions back to the darker aspects of folklore.

“The first question I got was, ‘What about the moral compass of the Vikings?'” Wicker said.

She’s committed to broadening understanding of the misunderstood group. Many people have a simplistic view of them that is mostly portrayed as violent.

Yet Vikings even produced art on their ships, which featured impressive carvings in their own distinctive style. They also made metal objects, most of them very small, featuring likenesses of various animals and people.

“You may have seen the Viking ship woodcarvings,” Wicker said. “They made the jewelry they wore. They had arm rings, neck rings and pendants. … You will see lots of animals, very, very abstracted animals on brooches and pendants that hold clothing together.”

 Metal detecting is very popular and legal in Denmark and the United Kingdom. 

There’s a TV show in the UK called “Detectorists” about hobbyists who hope to find treasure. The show may have boosted the popularity of the avocation.

Metal detecting also has led to new discoveries of Viking art that differs somewhat from what’s traditionally been uncovered in graves.

“In addition to animal art, small figurines are now being found,” Wicker said. “My argument is that the newest discoveries of human figures are changing our view of Viking art. We can’t say it’s all just animal art.”

This small silver pendant, which is around an inch high, found in Sweden, is interpreted as a Valkyrie offering a cup of mead to welcome a fallen warrior to Valhalla, the hall of the slain, according to Norse mythology. Submitted photo by Creative Commons

Besides their artistic endeavors, the great distances Vikings traveled for trade and exploration are worth scholarly treatment. They traveled from Scandinavia to Spain, North Africa and Italy, and in the other direction to Russia, the Black Sea, Istanbul, Greece and Baghdad, among other places, Wicker said.

“There are many theories about why they expanded,” she said. “They were already traveling before the Viking Age – not as far, not to Spain, not to Russia, but certainly across the Baltic and to England.

“They were already on the move, and there was a population boom. What do the second and third sons do when the first son inherits the farm?”

Around the eighth century, just before the beginning of the Viking Age, Scandinavians developed ships that were faster than the vessels that came before them due to use of sails, but they still had a shallow draw. The innovation enabled them to conquer both the seas and rivers with relative ease.

“The new ships were very adaptable, which really allowed them to be on the move and go all around the coast of France and Spain, and across the Atlantic to Greenland, North America and Newfoundland, as well as down the rivers of Russia,” Wicker said. “The development of ships is very important in the eighth century, just on the cusp of the Viking Age.”

Despite their creativity and nautical ingenuity, Vikings suffer from perceptions based on inaccuracies.

Many people who are most fascinated by the idea of pagan Nordic Vikings don’t realize that their world was multicultural. Vikings – both Christian and pagan – were in contact with Christians in Western Europe, Muslims and Jews in Spain, Slavs in Russia and Eastern Europe, and Byzantine leaders in Constantinople, as well as Turkic and Jewish groups in Central Asia.

These people also traveled to Scandinavia to trade and sometimes stay, as indicated by grave finds where Wicker excavated at Birka, in Sweden, for instance, she noted.

“The art of the Viking world fascinates me because it reflects these wide-ranging interactions,” Wicker said. “With my research, I want to show others how these diverse peoples influenced each other’s cultures.”

Wicker is also studying how pre-Viking gold jewelry reveals wear and breakage. She’s lending her expertise in this area to collaborate with Dr. Jason Griggs, associate dean for research in the School of Dentistry and professor and chair of the Department of Biomedical Materials Science at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

Gold is an important metal in dental work because it is sturdy, malleable and noncorrosive.

She made impressions of jewelry breakage at the Swedish History Museum in Stockholm, and Griggs will analyze the fractal geometry of her impressions as part of his analysis of material fatigue and failure.

The department is fortunate to have Wicker, who has achieved national and international recognition, said Virginia Rougon Chavis, chair of the Department of Art and Art History and professor of art.

“To say that Dr. Wicker is actively engaged in scholarly activity would be an understatement,” Chavis said. “Dr. Wicker is not only interested in her own scholarship, but in the advancement of her field as a whole.

“She is well-connected across the globe with other members at the top of her field. She has been an essential collaborator on various projects and is one of the most rigorous of colleagues I have known. She is a truly devoted scholar, and it is an honor to have her as a member of our faculty.”

UM Researchers Working on Acoustic Detection for Undersea Oil Leaks

Team gets $591,000 grant for work to make crude production safer for the environment

Zhiqu Lu, senior research scientist at the UM National Center for Physical Acoustics, is leading a team working to develop technology to detect leaks in offshore deep-water oil and gas lines and production equipment. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Snaking beneath the waters of the Gulf of Mexico are thousands of miles of pipelines carrying oil and natural gas from offshore wells. They carry the fuel that keeps the American economy rolling, with Gulf production accounting for 17 percent of total U.S. crude oil production and 5 percent of total U.S. dry natural gas production, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Even with safety protocols in place, though, a grave threat to offshore oil and gas operations is the leakage of hydrocarbons – a chief component of oil and natural gas – and the resulting damage to human health and safety, the environment and infrastructure.

Most recently, in October, an oil pipe fractured in the Gulf about 40 miles southeast of Venice, Louisiana, releasing between 7,950 and 9,350 barrels of oil before being halted. And, in 2010, the Deepwater Horizon spill leaked more than 3 million barrels into the Gulf.

“Oil exploration in the Gulf brings new economic development opportunities but also brings risks,” said Josh Gladden, University of Mississippi interim vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs. “The University of Mississippi has developed expertise in a number of areas, from engineering and sensing technologies to Biosystems, that can be brought to bear to minimize these risks and mitigate the impact.”

With that in mind, a team of UM researchers is working on technology that could quickly detect, locate and characterize these undersea hydrocarbon leakages in offshore deep-water oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico.

Last week, the trio of scientists received a $591,000 grant from the Gulf Research Program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to assist in their research.

The research is focused on utilizing acoustic technologies to develop a functional real-time monitoring system that can find leaks in deep-water oil and gas production in the Gulf over a large area while still being cost-effective. Early detection and location of leaks could minimize their impact. Current monitoring techniques are limited, including being unable to monitor in real time.

The Ole Miss team consists of three active researchers in acoustics, physics and electrical engineering. Zhiqu Lu, a senior research scientist at the National Center for Physical Acoustics, is responsible for the experimentation and overview of the project. Likun Zhang, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy, is responsible for the implementation and development of acoustic bubble modeling. Lei Cao, professor of electrical engineering, is responsible for the development of localization algorithms.

The researchers also are recruiting three graduate students to assist in experiments, programming and investigation in signal processing and acoustic signal modeling.

“When we heard the grant approval news, we were very excited and a little bit surprise, since among 66 submitted proposals only six projects were approved,” Lu said.

“This grant will provide a great opportunity to expand our research area that exploits the advantages of both underwater acoustic sensing techniques and oil spill-induced underwater sound mechanisms, along with an advanced localization technique.”

This project’s results could have tremendous applications in petroleum industries, environmental monitoring and other fields, he said.

“Further testing in the ocean, along with prototyping and commercializing efforts, will be immediately pursued upon the success of the current project,” Lu said. “That will be the next project.”

An “early warning system … is essential for preventing the next oil spill as well as for seafloor hydrocarbon seepage detection,” he said.

The researchers plan to build a network-based, real-time passive monitoring system of hydrophones, or underwater microphones, for detecting, locating and characterizing hydrocarbon leakages.

During an oil spill, the leaked hydrocarbon is injected into seawater at high speeds, creating an underwater sound through gas bubbles. The sounds of the bubbles can be recorded via the hydrophones over long distances that would indicate an oil spill.

“Using a hydrophone network, a triangulation localization method, similar to GPS-based navigation, can be developed to determine the leak location,” Lu said. “The oil-bubble sounds can be further analyzed to estimate the sizes and intensities of the oil leakages.

“Before the technology is full-developed and employed in ocean environments, we are going to first develop and test our detection and localization techniques/algorithm in a small-scale water tank under controlled oil spill conditions. This functional system will help us to acquire the acoustic signatures of bubble sound, improve detection and location techniques, and gain better understanding of bubble sound.”

The grant was one of six announced Dec. 7. The grants, involving research into new technologies that could improve the understanding and management of risks in offshore oil and gas operations, totaled $10.8 million.

Zhiqu Lu demonstrates his team’s approach for developing acoustic technology to detect gas bubbles from deep-water oil and gas leaks. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

“These projects address several facets of risk in offshore operations,” said Kelly Oskvig, program officer for the Gulf Research Program’s Safer Offshore Energy Systems initiative. “This includes research on the problem of gas unloading within deep-water drilling risers, development of remote detection capabilities of hydrocarbon releases, design of improved cementing mixtures and better techniques for sealing wells, and development of tools to assist team decision-making in the offshore environment.”

The six projects were selected after an external peer-review process.

The UM researchers are closely collaborating with GOWell International, an international oil and energy company, to ensure the relevance of the experiment to real scenarios and to aid in early prototyping of potential technologies, Lu said.

“The NCPA at the University of Mississippi has a long history of developing acoustics-based solutions for a wide variety of problems,” said Gladden, who is former director of the center. “Dr. Lu has many years of experience in linear and nonlinear acoustics in sediments and soils, and will provide excellent leadership on this project.”

In 2016, U.S. crude oil production in the Gulf of Mexico set an annual high of 1.6 million barrels per day, surpassing the previous high set in 2009, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The administration estimates that annual crude oil production in the Gulf could increase to an average of 1.7 million barrels per day in 2017 and 1.9 million barrels per day in 2018.

For more information about the National Center for Physical Acoustics, visit

The National Academies’ Gulf Research Program is an independent, science-based program founded in 2013 as part of legal settlements with the companies involved in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. The program seeks to enhance offshore energy system safety and protect human health and the environment.

The program has $500 million for use over 30 years to fund grants, fellowships and other activities in the areas of research and development, education and training, and monitoring and synthesis.

Visit to learn more.