Blair McElroy Named Senior International Officer at UM

Ole Miss alumna brings global perspective, experiences to role

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blair McElroy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Croft Institute Marks Two Decades of Preparing State for the World

More than 500 graduates have launched successful global careers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Different cultures have different ways of doing things.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UM Student Broadens Horizon with Year in Japan

Gwenafaye McCormick wraps up studying abroad as Bridging Scholar

UM student Gwenafaye McCormick spent the 2017-18 academic year studying at Waseda University, a private, independent research university in central Tokyo. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – For the past year, University of Mississippi student Gwenafaye McCormick started her school day about 6,600 miles and 14 time zones from Oxford – in Japan.

McCormick, a rising senior international studies major from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, spent the 2017-18 school year studying at Waseda University, a private, independent research university in central Tokyo.

The distance and time from home meant that while McCormick was headed to Friday morning classes, Ole Miss students were gearing up for a Thursday evening.

“I grew up interested in Japan and Japanese culture, so of course I had some idea of what to expect, but getting to see places in real life that I had only ever seen in photos before was almost breathtaking, even for sort of silly things, like lines of vending machines lighting up a neighborhood street at night,” she said.

“Getting to experience everyday life in Japan has been the best part, in my opinion. I’ve made great friends at my university from Japan and from all over the world, and have had so many wonderful experiences with them.”

The “dream-come-true” experience has ended as McCormick’s Japanese school year came to a close. That means McCormick, the inaugural recipient of the Ira Wolf Scholarship from the U.S.-Japan Bridging Foundation, will be home for two weeks of “summer vacation” before UM classes start Aug. 20.

McCormick brought back experiences and memories from her Japanese sojourn that stretch beyond the classroom and her studies, such as eating “real sushi” for the first time on her 20th birthday surrounded by new friends, singing karaoke for the first time and playing games such as Janken, the Japanese version of rock-paper-scissors.

A member of both the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and Croft Institute for International Studies, she even met U.S. Ambassador to Japan William Hagerty IV at the ambassador’s residence, where McCormick represented the U.S.-Japan Bridging Foundation at a reception.

McCormick’s year of Japanese studies came through the foundation, a nonprofit organization created in 1998 at the recommendation of the Japan-US Friendship Commission to strengthen the two countries’ relationship.

Her Ira Wolf Scholarship is named after a U.S. trade representative and, most recently, an employee of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America trade group in Tokyo. Wolf died in January 2016 after spending half his adult life in Japan.

Gwenafaye McCormick’s studies in Japan included several cultural opportunities, such as eating ‘real sushi’ for the first time and visiting Japanese temples and gardens. Submitted photo

“Gwenafaye has a global perspective, similar to Mr. Wolf,” said Jean M. Falvey, deputy director of the U.S.-Japan Bridging Foundation. “Gwenafaye has carried on Mr. Wolf’s legacy with poise, intelligence and humility. She was chosen to represent the Bridging Scholars at a reception that U.S. Ambassador William Hagerty IV hosted at his residence in Tokyo, in honor of the Bridging Foundation’s 20th anniversary.

“Her articulate, grateful remarks were a huge hit among the major donor and government officials in attendance, and exemplified the value of study abroad to building the U.S.’s pipeline of next-generation workforce and global leaders.”

Thankful for the foundation’s encouragement and support, McCormick said it has been “incredibly rewarding to know that established members of the field I am entering see me as an active member as well and want to help me succeed.”

McCormick’s studies at Waseda University were focused on Japanese culture and history. Her courseload in Japan included classes such as one on paternalism and Japanese society, which focused on the differences between and complexities within Western and Japanese business cultures.

“It’s been really exciting to learn about Japanese culture and history from a Japanese perspective, especially since I have some background knowledge on events, given previous research and study I did at Ole Miss,” McCormick said. “In some ways, it’s very similar to what I’ve learned through my international studies classes (at UM) since the department I’m in is international studies/relations-oriented, teaches most of their courses in English and is a magnet for international students coming to Japan.

“But given that most of my teachers have been Japanese, I’ve had the chance to hear a real-life and modern-day Japanese perspective on many issues, which has been such a great opportunity.”

McCormick is the daughter of Paige McCormick, an associate professor of English literature at the Stillman College, and Mark McCormick, Stillman’s vice president of academic affairs. While she briefly visited Switzerland, Paris and London in high school, her love for Japan and Japanese culture arose through watching and reading Japanese cartoons, respectively called anime (animation) and manga (comics).

“I was completely enthralled by their variety of artistic styles and the difference in set storylines, humor and focuses,” she said. “I was always interested in the editor’s notes in the back of my manga volumes, where untranslatable jokes were explained, given that they relied on some knowledge of the kanji (Chinese characters) used to write characters’ names, or how two words sounded similar in Japanese but were written/pronounced differently. I wanted so badly to be able to be in on the joke.

“So I knew I had always wanted to learn Japanese, but it wasn’t until high school when a Japanese-American friend of mine encouraged me after I told her about my interest that I decided to really go for it. I’ve always loved learning languages, and Japanese was no different. I fell completely in love with it and knew I wanted to become fluent, so I pursued it wholeheartedly at Ole Miss.”

McCormick’s extended time living, traveling and studying in Japan provides a much deeper understanding of her target culture than the more typical semester stay, said Noell Wilson, chair of the university’s Arch Dalrymple III Department of History and Croft associate professor of history and international studies. Wilson also serves as McCormick’s senior thesis adviser.

“This more complex engagement with all things Japanese – from pop culture to history to food – will make her scholarly analysis of Japan on return to Oxford both more authoritative and more authentic,” said Wilson, whose background is in East Asian studies.

Following a brief vacation, McCormick will turn to her senior year at UM. Her tentative plans following graduation include entering the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program, a competitive employment opportunity that allows young professionals to live and work in Japan, whether in rural villages or brightly lit metropolises.

She would like a locale a little more rural than the center of Tokyo but is interested in the challenge of teaching her native language in her chosen, learned language, as well as having more of an immersive Japanese language experience.

Still, with a year left at Ole Miss, McCormick said nothing is set.

“I am keeping my mind open to all possibilities,” she said. “I’ve learned that a lot can happen in just one year.”

$60 Million Gift Launched Croft Institute onto Global Stage

Donation from Joseph C. Bancroft Charitable and Educational Fund endowed institute 20 years ago

Before the Croft Institute for International Studies called the ‘Y’ Building, or the old chapel, home, the building, constructed in 1853, underwent about a $3.5 million renovation funded by the Joseph C. Bancroft Charitable and Educational Fund. In June 1998, the Croft board of directors toured the ongoing renovations with Chancellor Robert Khayat (third from left), Provost Carolyn Staton (right) and others. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The Croft Institute for International Studies celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, but before that first cohort entered in August 1998, the institute’s story began with a man walking into an office.

The man was Gerald M. Abdalla, CEO and president of Croft LLC and chairman of the Joseph C. Bancroft Charitable and Educational Fund. The office, located in the Lyceum at the University of Mississippi, was occupied by then-Chancellor Robert Khayat.

A native of McComb, Abdalla had graduated from the UM School of Law in 1973 (where Khayat was a professor of his), earned a master’s in taxation from New York University and joined Croft Metals as corporate counsel after five years in private practice. He had been promoted to lead the McComb-based company, founded by Joseph C. Bancroft, in 1996.

Bancroft died in March 1996, but his will set up the fund, with an eye toward funding educational pursuits. And Abdalla had an idea for using some of the money, so he called his former professor, set up a meeting and soon walked into Khayat’s office in September 1996.

“He came in and we had a little conversation preceding ‘the conversation,’ and I said, ‘Well, Jerry, what can I do for you?'” Khayat recalled.

I want to give Ole Miss some money, Khayat remembered Abdalla saying.

Good, because we need it, Khayat replied.

I want to give $60 million.

What did you say? Khayat asked.

$60 million.

“It got very quiet for a moment because I’d never heard of that before – or since,” Khayat said. “I said, ‘What would you like us to do with that money?’ He said, ‘What do you want to do with it?'”

Abdalla said when he first met with Khayat, he mentioned establishing an institute incorporating majors he had studied, such as accounting, law and taxation. After he met more with Khayat, Associate Provost Carolyn Ellis Staton and other university officials, the decision was made to use the $60 million for an international studies program.

“That was foreign to me, but as far as myself and the other members of the board, we figured if that’s what the university wanted, and they were going to be there to be involved in it, we’d go ahead and do that one,” Abdalla said. “That’s what we did.”

About a year later, on Sept. 18, 1997, after negotiations and drawing up contracts, the $60 million gift – largest in the university’s history – was publicly announced, with Khayat stating the gift would create a premier international studies institute, the Croft Institute for International Studies.

“The University of Mississippi and the state of Mississippi will be forever changed by the work of the Croft Institute,” Khayat said during a press conference announcing the gift.

Twenty years later, no one can argue with the foresight of that statement. Since the institute’s inception in 1998, the program has sent its graduates out into the world, placing both UM and its graduates on the global stage.

“We have just completed a survey of our alumni, and it shows that a Croft degree opens doors to a broad range of exciting jobs all over the world,” said Oliver Dinius, Croft executive director and an associate professor of history. “This confirms that the original vision for the Croft Institute was right on target, and it is rewarding to hear directly from graduates of Croft how well its educational model prepared them for their careers, often in fields that one may not associate with international studies.

“The generous support of the Bancroft Fund and the dedicated work of Croft faculty and staff over two decades have created something unique. Croft offers an education that is at the same time specialized – command of a foreign language and knowledge about world affairs – and general by emphasizing strong writing and research skills. Prospective employers value that, and Croft truly has become a brand.”

Following this year’s Commencement, the institute has more than 500 graduates. Every year, between 40 and 50 students are expected to graduate from the institute with a bachelor’s in international studies, developing a growing network of Croft alumni that support one other and spread the reputation of the institute.

Though it was Abdalla who walked into Khayat’s office that day, plans for an international studies program had been floated earlier, by people such as Robert J. Haws, former chair of the UM Department of History, who joined the university in 1969; and Staton, who joined the university in 1977 and served as a professor and interim dean in the School of Law, associate provost and provost before her retirement in 2009. Staton died in May 2017.

When campus members begin hearing of the plans for the institute and the generous gift from the Joseph C. Bancroft Charitable and Educational Fund that would make it possible, a palpable energy began spreading on campus.

“There was tremendous excitement,” said Kees Gispen, who served as executive director of Croft from 2007 to 2016 and who has taught in Croft since its inception. “This was a dedicated program in international studies, which is something the university sorely lacked.

The announcement of the $60 million gift from the Joseph C. Bancroft Charitable and Educational Fund to the university to endow the Croft Institute for International Studies made headlines around the state and nation. Submitted photo

“It has historically been a pretty inward-looking school and concerned with Mississippi, and we’re always measuring ourselves in Mississippi, and the whole idea of looking beyond the boundaries of the state and, more than that, beyond the borders of the country was very innovative and exciting and electrifying.”

The students entering Croft in 1998 were educated in the George Street House, as the “Y” Building or the old chapel (built in 1853), where Croft calls home, underwent about a $3.5 million renovation, a project also funded by the Joseph C. Bancroft Charitable and Educational Fund.

Those first students entered Croft in a changing world, one shaped by globalization spreading via new trade agreements, the internet, increasing free trade, imaginative technologies and more. Croft was designed to prepare students for this new world.

Douglass Sullivan-González, dean of the UM Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, was in 1998 an Ole Miss history professor who was selected to teach in Croft. He also was part of the Croft organizing team.

The Croft planners knew the importance to the institute and international studies of students learning a foreign language.

“Any diplomat will tell you that once you can understand and express yourself in the native language, you have an inside; you’re not on the outside always,” Sullivan-González said. “We envision our students obtaining positions at the highest levels in the nation as an outgrowth of this program, which would include the diplomatic corps. …

“Language carries our students farther. I would say our experiences have borne this out, especially beyond our wildest expectations. We have one of the best teaching corps in the nation here, and our students are catching prize possessions of jobs, given their language proficiencies.”

Another key decision early on required Croft students to spend at least a semester abroad in a country that speaks their chosen language, said Peter Frost, who was interim Croft director during its planning year and taught in the program for 15 years.

“I do not remember any debate over this wise decision,” he said. “Here Ole Miss faculty instantly understood what living abroad in a qualified program could do for a student’s maturity, let alone language fluency.”

Class sizes also were purposely kept small, Frost said, as “a small, carefully guided discussion group is much better at training students to think, participate and retain information than a faculty member droning on in a large, often sleepy, lecture hall.”

Also, students are required to write an honors thesis, Frost said. That senior honors thesis “is an amazing, tough and super-beneficial part of Croft that develops a close bond between the director and the student,” he said.

Jeremy Mills was an early Croft student, graduating from the institute in 2002. He works as the military program manager for the Winchester Division of Olin Corp. in Oxford.

Between the foreign language component, studying abroad and more, Mills’ Croft education distinguished him from his peers by making him adaptable, he said.

“The diversity of experiences I had and people I met while a student at the Croft translates today into me being able to adapt to pretty much any situation with relative ease,” he said. “Many people get uncomfortable and nervous with new places and people; for me, I crave those experiences.

“You never really get rid of the nervous part, but as someone told me, ‘It isn’t about getting rid of the butterflies; it is about making them fly in formation.'”

Blair McElroy also graduated from Croft in 2002 as part of the first cohort who started in 1998. As a high school student, she loved language and math and knew she wanted to study abroad, hence her decision to study at Croft.

She studied in China as part of her Croft education, and that exposure of studying and living in a different country – along with her other Croft experiences – has influenced her career.

McElroy is director of UM’s Study Abroad program and senior international officer.

“Majoring in international studies was incredible preparation for working in the field of international education,” she said. “The ability to communicate in another language, the intercultural communication skills gained through study at UM and abroad, and the knowledge imparted by the Croft program has given me the tools to facilitate programs in many disciplines, encourage partnerships around the world, and connect with faculty and staff on campus.”

Nearing its 20th anniversary, the Croft Institute has helped the university, the state of Mississippi and its people become players on the international stage. Powering that journey has been the Joseph C. Bancroft Charitable and Educational Fund, including a new $5 million commitment to the institute in 2016.

“Mississippi is part of the global economy just as much as any other state in the United States,” Abdalla said. “Large multinationals – such as Nissan and Toyota – and many smaller multinational companies operate in the state, and their management is looking for employees who have an understanding of the global connections in today’s economy.

“Even if they do not require command of a foreign language skill, employers like the fact that our students have experienced a different culture and know how to adapt to different practices at the workplace and beyond.

“If the United States wants to remain a world economic leader, it needs people who are truly international. … Every time a U.S. company wants to go global or expand its worldwide reach, it will be looking for employees willing to relocate to a foreign country. Students trained at Croft are ready to do that.”

Beyond moving the boundaries of the university internationally, the Croft Institute also has made UM a global destination for students.

“Having it in Mississippi is another wonderful thing … because it brings students from all over the world,” Gispen said. “People from other states have these perceptions of our state, and the more you can mix that up and bring people here and let them see with their own eyes, the more you gradually whittle down the stereotype of Mississippi.

“We’ve worked on that, and I think all of us continue to work on that. That’s a very important endeavor.”

Croft students are bright, motivated, inspired and grasp opportunity, Khayat said, and no matter where they go, they move forward as ambassadors of the university and the state, opening up a world of possibility.

“It’s become one of the stellar programs in America,” Khayat said. “Really a leading, cutting-edge international studies program.

“Croft … gets you focused on the larger world and gives you a chance to be a part of it.”

UM Doctoral Student, Graduate Named US Fulbright Finalists

Eric Rexroat headed to Belgium, Andrew Hayes going to Spain

Eric Rexroat, a doctoral history student, will study at the University of Antwerp in Belgium. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – A University of Mississippi doctoral student and a recent graduate will study in European countries this fall, thanks to the 2018 Fulbright U.S. Student Program.

Eric Rexroat, a Ph.D. candidate in the university’s Arch Dalrymple III Department of History, and Andrew Hayes, a graduate of the Croft Institute for International Studies and Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, are both finalists in the prestigious awards program.

A St. Charles, Missouri, native, Rexroat will be at the University of Antwerp, Belgium, from this September until March 2019. He will conduct research at the Royal Library of Belgium and National Archives of Belgium, both in Brussels, as well as work under the direction of professor Hilde Greefs and some of her colleagues.

Hayes, a Tupelo native who planned to pursue a master’s degree at the London School of Economics before receiving his Fulbright notification, will teach English at a public high school in Madrid, Spain, during the 2018-19 academic year.

The highly selective program chooses undergraduate seniors, and graduate and terminal-degree students from the U.S. to study at select colleges around the globe.

“This year’s University of Mississippi awardees are exceptionally qualified as strong students and researchers,” said Tim Dolan, director of UM’s Office of National Scholarship Advisement. “They also all demonstrated their commitment to language and culture through their civic engagement, study abroad or language study. They had to think through and articulate their qualifications and goals, and to imagine ways to engage with the people and culture in their host community.”

Rexroat, who earned his bachelor’s degree at Southeast Missouri State University in 2012, vividly recalls how he received notification of his award.

“I learned while in Paris doing research that I had been chosen as an alternative (which he said he viewed as an achievement in itself), but my understanding was that there would be little chance of my being promoted to a finalist,” he said. “Obviously something changed, and it was a very pleasant surprise.”

Hayes, who earned his bachelor’s degrees in international studies (with a specialization in Spanish) and economics from UM this past May, said he had a similar reaction upon receipt of his notice.

“I was humbled to have received such a prestigious award and excited for the opportunity to work with students abroad,” he said. “I hope to possibly expand upon my senior thesis, which described trends of youth unemployment in Spain.”

Andrew Hayes, an international studies and economics graduate, will teach at a public school in Madrid, Spain. Photo by Kevin Bain/ Ole Miss Communications

For the past three springs, Rexroat has been recognized for his achievements. He received the Tenin-Alexander Prize from the history department for Best Graduate Student Paper in 2015, the Graduate Achievement Award from the College of Liberal Arts in 2016 and officially passed his comprehensive exams with distinction in 2017.

“My career goals include teaching European history at a college or university, as well as continuing my research and eventually publishing on 19th-century Europe,” Rexroat said. “Receiving this Fulbright award will enable me to work closely with and benefit from the feedback of my adviser at the University of Antwerp, as well as to expand my research by providing the opportunity to spend further time in Europe. The experiences I have during this stint abroad will be invaluable to my development as a scholar and a person.”

Hayes’ previous achievements include memberships in both Phi Beta Kappa and Phi Kappa Phi academic honorary societies.

“I plan to become a professor of economics,” Hayes said. “I hope that this opportunity will give me some experience in working with students across cultures.”

UM administrators and faculty members said both finalists deserve their awards.

“Andrew was a hardworking student who excelled in all the areas of the international studies curriculum: writing, critical thinking, quantitative analysis and language learning,” said William Schenck, associate director of the Croft Institute, who worked with Hayes on his senior thesis as a member of his committee. “The written thesis and his defense demonstrated the breadth and depth of his intellectual curiosity as well as his sense of humor.”

“Eric came as an M.A. student and has excelled ever since he stepped foot on campus, impressing faculty and colleagues alike with his seriousness of purpose and focus,” said Marc Lerner, associate professor of history and director of Rexroat’s dissertation.

“His dissertation research on free trade as ideology and political controversy in the mid-19th century is fascinating and important work. The comparative and international perspective is what makes this a particularly challenging and powerful dissertation topic. I am excited to see the results of his research.”

Hayes and Rexroat are the second and third UM students to be named Fulbright finalists during the 2018-19 academic year. Maria Mulrooney, a graduate student in higher education, was selected for the prestigious Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program to serve as an English teaching assistant in South Africa next year.

Established in 1946, the Fulbright program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.

The primary source of funding for the Fulbright program is an annual appropriation made by the U.S. Congress to the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Recipients of Fulbright grants are selected based on academic or professional achievement, as well as demonstrated leadership potential in their fields.

Fulbright awards allow the Croft Institute and the other participating units on the Oxford campus to deliver on the university’s commitment to educating and engaging global citizens and supporting experiential learning, two cores established in the university’s new strategic plan, Flagship Forward.

Students interested in applying for the Fulbright U.S. Student Program award are encouraged to contact the Office of National Scholarship Advisement at onsa@olemiss.edu.

 

Go Forth and Prosper: Croft Alumni Take on the World

Six graduates reflect on their experience

OXFORD, Miss. – On a Saturday afternoon in May 2001, the first five graduates of the Croft Institute for International Studies at the University of Mississippi received their diplomas. The group included the program’s very first graduate, Lauren Michelle Gent, a Gulfport native who had completed her degree in May 2000.

The ceremony was short. The graduates and guests gathered in the Joseph C. Bancroft Conference Room in the newly renovated Croft building. There were congratulatory remarks. Then the five students – Gent, along with Julie Anna Newton, Martine Louise Schaefer, Jenny Christine Senften and Emily Melissa Sindelar – were presented their diplomas. A reception followed.

Two decades later, as the institute celebrates the 20th anniversary of its 1998 opening, Croft boasts 520 alumni, including 33 who are set to graduate Saturday (May 12).

Croft was established in 1997 by a generous gift and funded annually by the Joseph C. Bancroft Charitable and Educational Fund. Each class has fulfilled Croft’s mission of broadening the international horizon, with students and alumni traveling around the world, from the Siberian pine forests of Russia to the shining metropolis of Accra, Ghana, to the towering skyscrapers in the financial heart of Hong Kong.

It is not easy to describe a “typical” Croft alumni, but the institute’s selective admission, exceptional academic program, small classes and first-rate facilities – along with the requirement that Croft students study abroad for at least one semester – attract motivated and intelligent students who leave the institute prepared to succeed on the global stage.

“From the inception of Croft, the overarching goal of its curriculum for the international studies major was to educate students who knew how to navigate an increasingly interconnected world,” said Oliver Dinius, Croft executive director and associate professor of history. “The pillars of the curriculum are learning a foreign language, studying one world region in depth and gaining a broad understanding of global dynamics.

“The foreign language is a tool for communication, but its study also provides an understanding of the cultural context. Taking courses in history, social science and economics about a region and beyond trains the ability to analyze problems from multiple perspectives, an essential skill in today’s global market.

“The signature elements of our curriculum – the mandatory semester of study abroad and the writing of a senior thesis – reinforce the commitment to the foreign language and to research-based analysis, and they also serve as the proof that our students are ready to go out into the world as global citizens.”

According to Croft, 55 percent of its graduates are employed in the private sector, with other alumni working in the public sector, nonprofits or education. Those in the private sector hold jobs in banking, finance, insurance and accounting; law; media, marketing and public relations; and other fields such as business and manufacturing, consulting and lobbying, and technology.

Public sector occupations include serving in the military, working for the U.S. Department of State or Congress, and being employed in various federal, state and local government agencies. Croft graduates working for nonprofits run the gamut, from the arts and education to international development and human rights.

About half of Croft alumni in the education field are professors, teachers and researchers, while the other half are administrators.

No two Croft alumni stories are alike. Here are six examples of what Croft alumni do:

Chris Lamont

Chris Lamont, Class of 2002 

Associate professor of international relations at Tokyo International University in Tokyo

Originally from Houston, Texas, Lamont attended the Croft Institute because of “a strong interest in international affairs.”

“Given the program’s focus on languages and study abroad, I thought it was a perfect fit,” he said.

What he found at Croft was a strong interdisciplinary foundation in international studies and rigorous research training, and the opportunity to study abroad, which he did in Croatia. That study abroad experience led to a Fulbright Program scholarship that allowed him to spend a year in Zagreb, Croatia, researching post-conflict justice processes in the former Yugoslavia, which ultimately led him to continue working on the topic for years to come.

“Pretty much every member of the Croft faculty encouraged me to embrace research interests that would remain with me throughout my career,” Lamont said. “The interdisciplinary focus of the major helped give me a broader foundation in international relations that went far beyond the narrow discipline specific training that is offered elsewhere.

“Also, Croft provided me with an opportunity to begin to gain early experience conducting fieldwork and to carry out my own research that would later allow me to get a head start on my Ph.D. dissertation research.”

Daniel Booth

Daniel Booth, Class of 2005 

Worldwide account manager at FedEx in Memphis

Booth, a native of Amory, does not hold back when talking about how Croft affected his life and career.

“Every class, professor and teacher had a positive impact on my life,” he said. “I truly believe the Croft Institute is one of the best undergraduate programs in the international studies field. Dr. Michael Metcalf, Dr. Peter Frost, Dr. Kees Gispen and Dr. Holly Reynolds all come to mind as being extremely impactful on my education and development.”

Also a licensed customs broker, Booth works for a global company that serves more than 220 countries and territories with more than 500,000 team members, moving more than 12 million packages a day.

Having a Croft degree positioned Booth for working on the international stage.

“For much of my life, I had a passion for all things international and different cultures,” he said. “I work with individuals inside of FedEx and customers all over the globe each and every day, and I have been afforded amazing travel opportunities. … I believe my international studies education and study abroad experience through Croft created a great foundation for me to be successful in my career.”

Susan Hedglin

Susan Lawrence Hedglin, Class of 2009 

Consultant for oncology research and development, and finance with Eli Lilly and Co. in Indianapolis

Growing up in Madison in the 1990s, Hedglin witnessed the daily headlines of a changing world, she said, from the post-Soviet economic transitions in Russia to China’s accession to the World Trade Organization in 2001.

She entered Croft because she was drawn to government and policy, had several friends who went through Croft and raved about it, and knew of the program’s sterling academic reputation.

After graduation, Hedglin gravitated toward business instead of government, but her Croft education is always with her. Her consulting position includes quickly processing data from current events to policy changes to large amounts of internal company information. Croft’s rigorous academics prepared her for that.

Plus, her studies gave her extra benefits.

“I always love the look on people’s faces when I tell them I speak Mandarin Chinese,” she said. “They ask, ‘Where did you learn that?’ and the jaws drop when I say, ‘the University of Mississippi.’

“Even though I am based in the U.S., I work at a multinational company with business partners from around the world. Having knowledge of their background and culture helps me build effective relationships. Lots of people are curious about the world, but Croft helps students see it – and process it – in depth at a young age. It’s a valuable foundation to build a career on.”

Cooper Reves

Cooper Reves, Class of 2010 

Digital director for the office of U.S. Sen. John McCain in Washington, D.C.

Reves’ introduction to international studies started in high school in Madison, where he took a course on Chinese history and Mandarin.

“I learned a deep appreciation for cultures outside my own, and I wanted to continue exploring that curiosity into my college career,” he said. “Thankfully, Ole Miss offered an incredible program in international relations at the Croft Institute that I was able to take advantage of.”

But Reves’ education at Croft went beyond the borders of China; he learned history, economics and how to appreciate differences among cultures.

“But most of all, the Croft Institute taught me analytical reasoning skills that I have been able to adapt into my career in campaign politics and digital organizing,” he said. “No matter what you do after college, the skills you learn debating world issues with your fellow classmates in the Croft building will serve you in any capacity.

“At the Croft Institute, I developed the intellectual self-confidence necessary to thrive in the political world. I also know that the historical perspective on current world events that Croft teaches has been directly applicable to my work. Though I work in American politics, the historical echoes of our current political environment are undeniable, and being well-versed in recent world history has proven to be indispensable.”

Deeneaus Polk

Deeneaus Polk, Class of 2011 

Director of the Mississippi Apprenticeship Program for the Mississippi Community College Board in Jackson

While at Pascagoula High School, Polk spent time in Germany and decided there that he wanted to become ambassador to that country in the future. To reach that goal one day, Polk was drawn to Croft because he knew the strong interdisciplinary program would challenge him.

Still working toward his dream, Polk will begin working on a master’s degree in public policy this fall at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government on a full scholarship. The Pascagoula native said the Croft Institute is a large reason why.

In 2015, Polk became the first Mississippian to land an exclusive German Chancellor Fellowship that took him to Germany for a year of study and research, during which he sought to contextualize the German Vocational Education System to fit within Mississippi.

“There are two individuals who are no longer part of Croft that I would love to express gratitude towards,” he said. “I didn’t grow up with much and was the first in my family to go to college, but Dr. Michael Metcalf saw past all of that and urged me to apply to the Croft Institute while I was still in high school.

“Similarly, Dr. Kees Gispen implored me to apply to Croft. … He challenged me to dig deeper in expanding my academic capacity, because passion is only beneficial for others if it is refined and purposeful in its intent.”

Elizabeth Romary, Class of 2017 

English teacher with Peace Corps in Namibia

Only a year removed from her Croft studies, Romary is roughly 7,500 miles from her home of Hillsborough, North Carolina, teaching English and natural science at a primary school to sixth- and seventh-graders at a village in the southern African nation of Namibia.

Her teaching adventure in Namibia is partly because of Dinius, she said.

“Without Dr. Dinius’ guidance, I wouldn’t be here today,” she said. “So I am grateful for everything he taught me during my four years at Croft. I hope that I’m making him proud.”

Romary’s interest in international studies is an equation that includes an interest in international events, politics, cultures and languages from an early age.

“When I learned about the Croft Institute, I instantly knew that this was the program for me,” she said. “I loved the fact that we would be completely immersed in a language, get to broaden our global horizons on multiple levels and have the opportunity to study abroad in a different part of the world.”

Croft’s foreign language requirement came in handy when Romary was assigned by the Peace Corps to learn Khoekhoegowab, a local language that contains “clicking” sounds.

“It was an incredibly difficult yet rewarding process, and I feel that the language practice I had in Croft helped me to prepare for the classes I took here,” she said.

To read more about Croft alumni, visit http://www.croft.olemiss.edu/alumni/.