UM Moves Up in Measures of Academic and Research Performance

University included in several rankings of the nation's and world's best institutions

The University of Mississippi is ranked among the nation’s best public institutions in several third-party evaluations of academic and research performance. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Efforts by faculty, staff and students to excel in their pursuit of knowledge have given the University of Mississippi, the state’s flagship university, new momentum in its mission to lead the way in learning, discovery and engagement for the state and nation.

UM has been ranked among the nation’s best public institutions in several third-party evaluations of academic and research performance, and the university has climbed in recent measures of those areas.

In 2016, the university was included for the first time among the elite group of R1: Doctoral Universities – Highest Research Activity by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, the definitive list of the nation’s top doctoral research universities. UM is among a distinguished group of 115 institutions, including Harvard, MIT and Johns Hopkins in the highest research category, which includes the top 2.5 percent of institutions of higher education.

The university also achieved its highest-ever standing in the 2017 U. S. News & World Report annual rankings of Best (Undergraduate) Colleges and Universities, where UM tied for No. 64 in the Top Public Universities category, up seven places from the previous year’s rankings. The rankings reflect 15 indicators of academic excellence, such as graduation and retention rates, undergraduate academic reputation, faculty resources, financial resources and alumni giving rates.

Chemical engineering students conduct an experiment. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

“These achievements and rankings reinforce our flagship status and are a testament to the value of our degrees, the impact of our research and the competitiveness of our students, staff and faculty,” Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said. “While they provide important benchmarks for our university, we remain committed to achieving even higher levels of excellence.

“We will focus upon growing the reach and impact of Ole Miss to continue making a positive difference for Mississippi, our nation and the world.”

The university ranked in the top 20 percent of U.S. institutions for total research and development expenditures in a report issued by the National Science Foundation based upon 2015 expenditures. For the 10th consecutive year, the university was ranked in the top 20 percent in this report.

The university also performed well in the inaugural ranking of U.S. colleges and universities by The Wall Street Journal and Times Higher Education publications. This measure ranked UM 74th among all the nation’s public universities.

This ranking constitutes a comparative assessment of more than 1,000 colleges and universities, measuring factors such as university resources, student engagement, outcomes and environment. The latter includes a gauge of the university’s efforts to build a diverse and inclusive environment for students, faculty and staff.

“Many of our academic offerings continue to gain exposure and recognition,” said Noel Wilkin, the university’s interim provost and executive vice chancellor. “I fully expect this trend to continue because of the quality and commitment of our faculty and staff.”

Success in international education and research partnerships contributed to the university’s standing on U.S. News’ 2017 list of Best Global Universities. Among the top 1,000 research universities in 65 countries, UM ranked in the top third on this year’s list.

Ole Miss students attending the PULSE Sophomore Leadership get to interact with Corporate Execs from FedEx, Hershey’s, Chico and others. PULSE is a two-day sophomore leadership workshop that brings together sophomore students from a variety of roles on campus to learn about themselves and their leadership potential. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

The Best Global Universities list ranks each institution’s international and regional research reputation, including a statistical analysis of peer-reviewed publications, citations and international collaborations. The university ranked in the top 10 percent in international collaborations, and the university’s research areas of physics and pharmacology/toxicology were ranked in the top 20 percent.

“The reputation of the university in national and international research circles has been steadily growing over the past few decades,” said Josh Gladden, interim vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs. “We have seen this trend through an increasing number of national leadership positions in societies and consortia, an increase in the number of grant awards, as well as in statistical reports such as U.S. News and World Report.

“It is an exciting time for the research community at the university, and I look forward to increasingly higher impact of UM research.”

U.S. News and World Report ranked two of the university’s graduate academic programs in the top 25 nationally among public universities: the online MBA program (No. 19) and pharmacy (No. 23). Here are some of the other U.S. News rankings of UM graduate programs among public universities:

  • School of Education online program (tied No. 35)
  • History (tied No. 48)
  • Master of Business Administration (tied No. 51)
  • English (tied No. 56)
  • Clinical psychology (tied No. 67)
  • Civil engineering (tied No. 70)
  • Education (tied No. 72)
  • Social work (tied No. 77)
  • Physics (tied No. 84)
  • Electrical engineering (tied No. 85)
  • Mathematics (tied No. 91)

In national rankings by other sources, the university achieved several additional accolades among all public and private universities:

  • Patterson School of Accountancy (all three degree programs ranked in the top 10 nationally by the journal Public Accounting Report)
  • Patterson School of Accountancy master’s and doctoral programs (No. 1 in SEC)
  • Patterson School of Accountancy undergraduate program (No. 2 in SEC)
  • Creative writing (No. 6 among “Top 10 Universities for Aspiring Writers” by CollegeMagazine.com)
  • Online health informatics undergraduate program (No. 3 by the Health Informatics Degree Center)
  • Business law program in the School of Law (one of only four schools to earn a perfect score of A+ by preLaw Magazine, ranking it as one of the country’s top programs)

The university’s efforts to achieve excellence in all its endeavors also has helped recruit talented students to learn and contribute on all its campuses. The Chronicle of Higher Education named the university as the nation’s eighth-fastest growing among both public and private colleges in its Almanac of Higher Education, moving up from 13th in 2014.

The ranking is based upon enrollment growth from fall 2006, when the university enrolled 14,497 students, to fall 2016, with 24,250 students registered.

The university’s incoming freshmen continue to be better-prepared for the rigor of college, posting an average ACT score of 25.2 in fall 2016, surpassing the school record of 24.7 set in 2015. The high school GPA of incoming freshmen also increased, growing from 3.54 to 3.57, another university record.

“Ole Miss is committed to student success,” Vitter said. “The demand for a University of Mississippi degree is unprecedented, and the success of our programs and initiatives aimed at helping students stay in school and graduate is clear in our increasing retention and graduation rates.

“Each and every day, our faculty and staff demonstrate strong commitment to transforming lives through higher education.”

University Launches LiveSafe Mobile App

Resource available for free download for all students, faculty and staff

The LiveSafe mobile app is now available for the Ole Miss community. Photo by Mary Knight University Communcaitions

The LiveSafe mobile app is available for the Ole Miss community. Photo by Mary Knight/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi has partnered with the mobile safety communications platform LiveSafe to offer Ole Miss students, faculty and staff a tool for real-time security communication.

The app, available for free download for iOS in the App Store and for Android on Google Play, will allow the campus community to report nonemergency tips including threats, disturbances, assaults, theft, stalking, suspicious activity, drug and alcohol abuse and traffic and parking issues, among others.

Users of the app can include a picture, video or audio clip when submitting their tip, which can be anonymous. Once someone reports a tip through the app, the appropriate department will respond based on the tip type. A chat option is also available through the app to allow direct and immediate communication with on-campus resource officers. Full instructions for the app are available at olemiss.edu/livesafe.

“We want everyone to download the app immediately and begin using it as a personal safety tool,” said Brandi Hephner LaBanc, vice chancellor for student affairs. “Additionally, community members are always encouraged to report concerns to the police or other appropriate authorities so swift action can be taken.”

Another feature of the app is called SafeWalk, which allows users to virtually walk their families and friends home using GPS-enabled location technology.

Ole Miss students tested the app last week, noting the safety benefits of the various aspects of the app.

“I used to live on campus and walk long distances at night by myself, so it’s really nice to know that I can have friends keep an eye on me and they can call someone if I can’t,” said Elizabeth Romary, a senior international studies and Spanish major from Hillsborough, North Carolina.

LiveSafe was founded nearly five years ago by a survivor of the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech with the intent of fostering safe and secure campus environments. The app is used by more than 130 colleges and universities.

“LiveSafe is excited to partner with Ole Miss to take the important step of providing a groundbreaking safety and prevention tool for all students, faculty and staff,” LiveSafe CEO Carolyn Parent said. “Utilizing LiveSafe demonstrates Ole Miss’s commitment to safety and makes them a leader in the education market providing higher duty of care for their community.”

The university will use the app to send RebAlerts and safety information to the campus community.

UM also has launched a website called UMatter, which serves as a support site for students, faculty and staff to provide assistance to peers and colleagues who may be in distress. Through the website, individuals can report concerns or gain access to support for problems ranging from physical and mental health issues to financial hardships, and concerning behavioral issues and drug and alcohol abuse.

To view all available resources, visit http://umatter.olemiss.edu/.

Jeffrey Vitter Inaugurated as UM Chancellor

Leader unveils several initiatives to move university 'from great to greater'

Jeffrey Vitter was officially named 17th Chancellor of the University of Mississippi during his Investiture ceremony Thursday, Nov. 10. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Jeffrey Vitter was officially named 17th chancellor of the University of Mississippi during his investiture ceremony Thursday (Nov. 10). Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi community celebrated a momentous occasion in the university’s life Thursday (Nov. 10) afternoon with the investiture of its 17th chancellor, Jeffrey S. Vitter.

In his inaugural address, Vitter called on the Ole Miss family to imagine what the future could look like if the full power of higher education was used to help people lift themselves above their circumstances and disadvantages.

He went on to recognize and praise the legacy of excellence that has grown at the university over recent decades through the efforts of visionary administrators, faculty, staff, students, alumni, government leaders and friends who have invested their time, talents and resources.

“We are standing atop a peak in our history, and, from where we now stand, we can see higher peaks,” Vitter said. “In becoming what we are, we have created greater capacity for what we can be.”

The new chancellor declared that the university must continue to seek greatness and announced that he will call on the UM community to develop ideas for high-impact multidisciplinary research initiatives called Flagship Constellations.

These clusters of faculty, staff, students, alumni and partners will tackle compelling challenges that require multidisciplinary collaborations. The Flagship Constellations will include joint degree programs across disciplines and campuses, engage in strategic growth of graduate programs, and develop key partnerships revolving around innovation and entrepreneurship.

“Just imagine what we can do if we identify universitywide priorities where we can be international leaders in addressing the important challenges in our state and world,” Vitter said. “Imagine what we can do if we take our collective strengths, leverage them, exploit multidisciplinary synergies and in the process come up with imaginative solutions to these grand challenges.

“No one discipline has all the answers, and only collaboration and deep insights from multiple points of view will discover solutions. Intersecting our disciplines will take many forms.

“As an example, imagine what we can do when we build upon the momentum from our recent CEO Technology Summit to establish an interdisciplinary program in data science and big data, which will inform and support discovery and decision making across the spectrum from health and medicine to science and engineering to the arts, humanities and social sciences.”

This is not the first time Vitter has encouraged input and collaboration from the Ole Miss community. In January, he conducted the Flagship Forum, a 100-day listening and learning tour from which emerged four themes for the university to create a roadmap into the future: academic excellence, athletics excellence, building healthy, vibrant communities and being key enablers of people, places and resources.

He also held a town hall meeting in August based on these four themes that resulted in more than 550 ideas for opportunities at the university.

Vitter also announced plans Thursday to develop a cultural gateway to the UM campus east of the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts. The goal is to bring together arts and cultural programs and create space for performance, experiential learning and enrichment opportunities.

He also plans to increase the university’s endowment from the existing $600 million to $1 billion. Those plans include an athletics endowment initiative, an endowment specifically to support the development, retention and engagement of talented staff, and growth of faculty excellence by creating new endowed professorships around the Flagship Constellations.

About 1,200 state officials, guests and members of the university community gathered for the ceremony at the Ford Center. Glenn Boyce, Mississippi commissioner of higher education, administered the oath of office.

“Dr. Vitter, I charge you to preside with fairness, humility and strength, striving always for excellence, knowledge and truth,” Boyce said. “I charge you to maintain and celebrate a climate that encourages the search for truth, a passion for justice and an expansion of the limits of knowledge. I charge you to serve the university with good stewardship, to protect and defend the university and to build the university to heights never before seen.”

In response to Boyce’s charge, Vitter responded in a uniquely Ole Miss fashion with the opening lines of the Hotty Toddy cheer: “Hell yeah, damn right.”

U.S. Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker highlighted previous accomplishments and welcomed Vitter to Ole Miss.

“Ole Miss continues to grow and prosper, producing leaders that have helped shape it into the world-class university it is today,” Cochran said. “I look forward to working with Chancellor Vitter to build on these successes. I look forward to seeing Ole Miss prosper and grow under his leadership.”

Wicker noted the historic nature of opportunities ahead.

“Chancellor Vitter has an impressive record upon which to build,” Wicker said. “His job is straightforward. Keep this historic university a place where Faulkner and Welty and Willie Morris can coexist with cutting-edge technology.

“Know this, Dr. Vitter: hundreds of thousands of alumni, students, faculty, staff and friends are counting on you and wishing you the best.”

Vitter said he was drawn to Ole Miss because of its rich tradition of academic excellence, strong sense of community and recognized history as an economic driver and thought leader.

He closed his address with a challenge to the university community.

“The next chapter in the life of this magnificent university sits squarely in all of our hands, waiting to be written – and read by future generations,” Vitter said. “All of us will ultimately be defined by what we leave behind.

“It is our destiny as a flagship university to desire more, to give more, to be more and to leave more behind. It is our calling to transform lives, communities and the world.”

For the full text, visit http://inauguration.olemiss.edu/.

Sue Keiser Named UM Chief of Staff

Longtime staff member represents chancellor's office on campus and beyond

Sue Keiser. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

Sue Keiser. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Chancellor Jeff Vitter has announced that Sue Keiser, special assistant to the chancellor, is his new chief of staff.

“I am very pleased that Sue has agreed to assume the role of chief of staff,” Vitter said. “For almost 20 years now, she has been a cornerstone for our university and brings tremendous experience, knowledge and dedication to the position.

“Sue is one of our most respected and well-known ambassadors. She is absolutely the best representative Ole Miss could have, and I rely on Sue on a daily basis.”

Keiser has been with the university since early 1998, serving primarily as assistant to four chancellors. However, her connection to Ole Miss goes back much further. She came to UM from Greenville as a nontraditional student in the late 1970s, when she earned a bachelor’s degree in English.

“To be asked to serve as chief of staff to the chancellor for the University of Mississippi – an institution that opened the doors to a completely new world of knowledge and opportunity that changed the direction of my life and my children’s lives more than 35 years ago – is one of the most wonderful things that has ever happened to me,” Keiser said.

“I am honored that Chancellor Vitter has entrusted me with this responsibility, and I look forward to working with him as we continue to change and transform lives through education in the future.”

Her duties include responding to a variety of questions and concerns from IHL board members, alumni, students and other members of the university community. She acts as a liaison between the office of the chancellor and vice chancellors and various departments and constituents on the Oxford campus.

Keiser also oversees the chancellor’s office and its staff, and serves as a chancellor’s office representative on many university committees.

She was honored with the Staff Council’s Outstanding Staff Member-Overall award in 2006.

She is married to Edmund Keiser, professor emeritus and chair emeritus of the university’s Department of Biology. She has four children, Mark, Skip, Julie and Jen, and six grandchildren.

Campus Event to Help Community Prepare for Disaster

Students urged to check out first-ever UM ReadyCampus on Wednesday

Mississippi's tornado season includes March, April and November. Photo by Robert Jordan UM Brand Photography Services

Mississippi’s tornado season includes March, April and November. Photo by Robert Jordan UM Brand Photography Services

OXFORD, Miss. – As November approaches, the beginning of another tornado season threatens the South. On Wednesday (Oct. 19), an interactive campus disaster preparedness event will help University of Mississippi students and employees prepare for the worst.

ReadyCampus, a Federal Emergency Management Agencysponsored event, is set for 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the Ole Miss Student Union plaza. The event is designed to educate students, faculty and staff through interactive and informational booths as well as a disaster response vehicle.

“This is a campuswide preparedness event, and ReadyCampus is a keystone program for FEMA,” said Barbra Russo, the university’s emergency management coordinator. “They are excited we are hosting it for the first time at Ole Miss.”

Booth sponsors include the American Red Cross, National Weather Service Memphis, Oxford Police Department, Oxford Emergency Management, University of Mississippi Medical Center Emergency Management, Mississippi Department of Homeland Security, and the UM Emergency Management Services and Clinical-Disaster Research Center.

Stefan E. Schulenberg, UM professor of psychology and director of the Clinical-Disaster Research Center, conducted the most recent disaster preparedness survey this past spring.

Interactive and informational booths will be set up in front of the Student Union on October 19, from 11a.m.- 2p.m. for ReadyCampus, an effort to teach students about disaster preparedness. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

Interactive and informational booths will be set up in front of the Student Union on October 19, from 11a.m.- 2p.m. for ReadyCampus, an effort to teach students about disaster preparedness. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

“It is through this kind of preparation that we can help people and communities to be empowered when adversity occurs on a large scale,” Schulenberg said. “We know from the data we’ve collected that many students at UM are not prepared for the wide range of disasters that may occur.”

Unknown to many UM students, Oxford is near the New Madrid earthquake fault. To promote earthquake awareness, the Great American ShakeOut Drill will occur the following day (Oct. 20) at 10:20 a.m.

The drill, occurring at universities, businesses and schools across the nation that day, will prepare students how to protect themselves and others, survive and recover rapidly.

“We are hoping to change the awareness by educating, motivating, and inspiring our students, as well as our faculty and staff,” Schulenberg said. “Disaster preparedness is something that we can do together as a means of building a stronger, more resilient community.”

For more information follow #ReadyRebs on social media or visit https://www.ready.gov/campus.

UM Journalism Professor Presents Katrina Archive Work at UCLA

Cynthia Joyce will discuss efforts to recover and republish online writings from era after the storm

Cynthia Joyce, University of Mississippi assistant professor of journalism, will present her research on recovering lost Hurricane Katrina online blogs and articles Friday at the University of California Los Angeles.

Cynthia Joyce, UM assistant professor of journalism, will present her research on recovering lost Hurricane Katrina blogs and online articles Friday at the University of California Los Angeles. Submitted photo.

OXFORD, Miss. – A professor in the University of Mississippi’s Meek School of Journalism and New Media will present her work to discover and republish an archive of lost blogs, emails and other online writing from the years after Hurricane Katrina on Friday (Oct. 14) at the University of California at Los Angeles.

Cynthia Joyce is editor of “Please Forward: How blogging reconnected New Orleans after Katrina,” an anthology released Aug. 29, 2015, the 10th anniversary of the storm. The anthology mined blog posts and widely circulated emails from more than 75 blogs and online websites, many of which are no longer live. It weaves an intimate narrative of the first two years after the storm and the lives of the people who lived through it.

“The contributors to this anthology were so generous in allowing us to resurface their reflections from such a difficult part of their lives,” Joyce said. “We pulled those up and put them into print.

“Those posts – and the original blogs they were excerpted from – also deserve to be discoverable in an online context. Working with Archive-It made that possible.”

Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall on Aug. 29, 2005 near the Mississippi-Louisiana state line, killed 1,833 people in five states, including 231 in Mississippi. It’s often referred to as the most destructive natural disaster in U.S. history.

Joyce is participating in the “Dodging the Memory Hole: Saving Online News” forum at UCLA’s Young Research Library, hosted by Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri. She is part of the lightning round of participants, in which each panelist has three minutes to deliver their message.

Will Norton, dean of the Meek School, said Joyce’s colleagues are proud of her work.

“Cynthia Joyce is a first-rate journalist who brings years of work at the cutting edge of new media to her presentation at UCLA,” Norton said. “It says a lot about the Meek School that our faculty members are making presentations at prestigious institutions with other pioneering innovators.”

Joyce and the others involved in the anthology project used Archive-It, a web archiving service of Internet Archive used by more than 450 libraries, archives, universities, governments and researchers to collect, preserve and provide ongoing access to cultural heritage materials published on the web.

The anthology, which was published by University of New Orleans Press, will also be accessible and searchable online via the Internet Archive’s Archive-It database later this year. Jefferson Bailey, director of web archiving at Internet Archive/Archive-It, is also presenting at the conference.

“The web is the most significant publishing platform of our era, democratizing the ability to document our lives and communities for a global audience,” Bailey said. “Yet content on the web is highly ephemeral, often eluding the traditional process of historical preservation.

“We are excited to be able to collaborate with researchers like Cynthia Joyce, who bring local expertise and community knowledge, and work together to identify, archive and provide access to these historically valuable resources so that they remain available long into the future.”

UM, Oxford Again Ranked Among Nation’s Best and Most Beautiful

University and its hometown pick up four new accolades

The University of Mississippi and Oxford have recently been recognized by several major publications for having the nation's most beautiful campus, the most unique tailgating experience and being among the nation's best college towns. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

The University of Mississippi and Oxford have recently been recognized by several major publications for having the nation’s most beautiful campus and most unique tailgating experience and for being among the nation’s best college towns. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi and Oxford often rank at the top of annual lists of beautiful campuses and best college towns, and this fall has brought a new set of national accolades upon the area.

USA Today’s Reader’s Choice travel awards contest has named UM the nation’s most beautiful campus, while Thrillist named the university on its unranked list of the 20 most beautiful public college campuses. The NCAA recognized Ole Miss’ tailgating environment as the nation’s best. FanSided, which is run by Sports Illustrated and owned by Time Inc., named Oxford the second-best college town in the nation.

Chancellor Jeffrey S. Vitter, who moved to Oxford from Kansas in January, said there’s a magic here that quickly grabs visitors.

“Over the last 34 years, I have lived and served in a number of great university towns, and there is something truly special about Ole Miss and Oxford,” Vitter said. “Ours is a unique place with extraordinary people. All it takes is just one visit here and you quickly realize why it captures the hearts and minds of so many.”

The university was the only Southeastern Conference school and the only one in Mississippi chosen in USA Today and 10best.com’s list of beautiful campuses. Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, came in second place and Sewanee: The University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, came in third.

The USA Today/10best.com ranking notes Ole Miss “comprises 2,000 acres of expansive lawns, wooded trails and historic architecture, like the Greek Revival-style Lyceum.”

Thrillist, which ranks UM alongside the universities of Michigan and Hawaii and other schools, praised the Greek revival architecture of the Lyceum and the beauty of the surrounding buildings.

“When you think of great collections of Greek architecture, only one place comes to mind: Mississippi. No?” Thrillist writes. “Well, the original campus building, the Lyceum, is a classic white-columned structure with massive brick wings that anchors an entire historic district within the campus.

“The Circle, as it’s known, looks more like an area you’d find in D.C. than Oxford, with long, brick buildings stretching throughout. And Ole Miss’ beauty isn’t limited to the architecture, as anyone who’s spent a Saturday tailgating in the Grove can attest.”

Jeff McManus, UM director of landscape services, said the university and his team is “humbled and honored” by recognition of the campus’ beauty. He thanked the administration, including the chancellor, Provost Morris Stocks and Vice Chancellor Larry Sparks for supporting his efforts.

“Our Landscape Services vision, on the ground, in the weeds and trees is to ‘Cultivate Greatness’ – to inspire our students, faculty and staff – to give them an environment in which they can grow and produce,” McManus said. “We set our standards high and today, we are especially proud to be Landscape Rebels.”

The NCAA recently released a video of college football’s most unique tailgates, with the Grove being ranked No. 1, referred to as “the Holy Grail of Tailgating.” Others listed include University of California’s Tightwad Hill, which lets fans view into the stadium and see the game for free, and the University of Washington’s Husky Navy and University of Tennessee’s Vol Navy, which both allow partying near the football stadiums on boats.

FanSided ranks Oxford as the country’s second-best college town, bested only by Athens, Georgia, home of the University of Georgia.

“Ole Miss is another school where enrollment somehow outnumbers the town it resides in in terms of population,” FanSided writes. “The enrollment may be hovering around 23,000, but go to one tailgate in Oxford, MS and you’ll think it’s 100,000. Students and non-students alike love their Rebels.”

Of all the reasons Oxford is getting such attention, the biggest is that people love to call the city home, said Jon Maynard, president and CEO of the Oxford-Lafayette County Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Foundation. For decades, locals have been serious about making their growing community the best it can be, he said.

“Attention to detail, high expectations and adherence to a plan to be great is why we are what we are today,” Maynard said. “The university, the city and the county are all committed to making sure that the quality that we have now will remain quality into the future. The toughest challenge that our community faces is growing without messing up that which is Oxford.”

The area’s health care system, beautiful parks, artists and musicians, business owners, entrepreneurs and longtime residents have all helped attract new businesses and also new Oxonians, he said.

“Oxford is the place where great things can happen,” Maynard said. “People from all walks of life, some without any previous affiliation to Ole Miss or Oxford, are finding that they can come and be welcomed into the community.

“They are coming for many reasons, but they are staying because of the quality that is pervasive in our community.”

Gispens Create Endowment to Support Croft Institute

Fund will provide for discretionary spending to enhance programs, opportunities

Kees and Jean Gispen relax on the back porch of the Croft Institute.

Kees and Jean Gispen relax on the back porch of the Croft Institute.

OXFORD, Miss. – Though he recently retired as executive director of the Croft Institute for International Studies at the University of Mississippi, Kees Gispen’s interest in the institute will continue indefinitely.

Gispen and his wife, Dr. Jean Gispen, who has been the university’s employee-health physician since 2005, worked with the UM Foundation to create the Croft Institute Enhancement Endowment, which will ultimately provide income for discretionary spending by the institute’s executive director.

The Croft Institute helps students develop and strengthen an outward orientation – to transcend the horizons of their local community, their region and the nation as a whole – and learn about the world beyond U.S. borders. Its rigorous, interdisciplinary curriculum is designed to prepare students to meet America’s global challenges.

“My wife and I are true believers in the mission of the Croft Institute,” Gispen said. “We think it is especially important that there is a program such as this in Mississippi. Our years as the stewards of the institute have been enormously rewarding, and so we decided that as a small token of our gratitude and appreciation, we wanted to make this contribution.”

Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter praised the Gispens for their generous support and echoed the importance of the mission of the Croft Institute.

“The education and experiences offered by the Croft Institute produces graduates who have an impact on the health and vibrancy of lives and communities, here at home and around the world,” Vitter said.

The institute is generously supported by the Joseph C. Bancroft Charitable and Educational Fund and the university with much of the budget committed to salaries, faculty support, operations and Croft scholarships.

“When members of our faculty have such deep passion for the university and its programs that they want to give back, it makes me proud of the academic experience that undoubtedly fosters such loyalty,” said Morris Stocks, UM provost and executive vice chancellor.

“The Gispens have been part of the fabric of our university for decades and we are thankful for the generosity they’ve shown with this gift and in many other ways.”

Kees and Dr. Jean Gispen

Kees and Dr. Jean Gispen

Gispen joined the faculty in 1983 as assistant professor of European history. He started teaching for the Croft Institute at its inception in 1998 and was named associate director in 2005. Two years later, he began to lead the institute.

“Looking back to the time when I first arrived here by myself in a U-Haul truck with my car in tow and a load of student debt, I am deeply grateful to Mississippi for giving me an opportunity to make so many friends, meet my wife, develop my potential as a teacher, researcher, and in the phase of my career that just ended, as the head of the Croft Institute,” Gispen said.

“Mississippi has been good to me, and I have given it my best.”

During his time as executive director, the size of the Croft Institute student body nearly doubled, with the entering freshman class increasing from 45 in 2007 to 85 this fall.

“It’s probably the most selective program on campus, and the institute’s reputation nationally has grown to the point that more than half our students are from out-of-state,” Gispen said.

Additionally, the Croft retention and graduation rate improved with Gispen at the helm, and Croft students are significantly overrepresented among Phi Beta Kappa inductees and Taylor Medal winners.

Under his leadership, the institute facilitated a close relationship with the Korea Foundation, which funded a visiting professorship for two years and awarded the institute a major grant that will help pay for a permanent, tenure-track position in Korean studies.

Croft also added a Middle Eastern regional concentration to complement the Department of Modern Languages’ Arabic program and major – a focus that is supplemental to the institute’s regional concentrations in East Asia, Europe and Latin America.

Gispen said he’s proud of the success Croft graduates have had after college: almost 75 percent go to graduate school, including studying international affairs at top universities in the U.S. and abroad. Many attend top-ranked law schools and medical schools or pursue advanced degrees in business, accountancy, economics, foreign languages, sociology, political science and other fields. Others are lawyers, teachers, business executives, administrators and professors across the country and abroad.

“There is a whole community of Croft alumni working in Washington, D.C., in a variety of functions in government, including the State Department and the intelligence community, in the private sector as government contractors and in nongovernment organizations,” Gispen said. “These talented alumni are living proof of the great contribution our state and university are making to the nation.”

The Croft Institute Enhancement Endowment 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., University, MS 38655; or visit http://www.umfoundation.com/makeagift.

Fennelly Named Mississippi’s New Poet Laureate

Acclaimed author will spend four years working to promote poetry in schools, creating works for state

Gov. Phil Bryant has named noted poet and University of Mississippi educator Beth Ann Fennelly Mississippi's Poet Laureate. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

Gov. Phil Bryant has named noted poet and UM educator Beth Ann Fennelly as Mississippi’s poet laureate. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Gov. Phil Bryant has named noted poet and University of Mississippi educator Beth Ann Fennelly as Mississippi’s poet laureate. The prize-winning author will spend the next four years as the official state poet while working to make poetry more accessible to Mississippians.

Fennelly is director of the UM Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program, and she teaches poetry and nonfiction writing at Ole Miss. She will leave her position as director, which she’s held for six years, to fulfill her new duties.

She said she’s honored to be selected to replace Natasha Trethewey, whom she admires, as poet laureate.

“Southerners in general and Mississippians in particular are known to have produced many of our nation’s greatest writers,” Fennelly said. “It will give me joy to help promote literary arts throughout the state and encourage future generations of Mississippi storytellers and writers.”

Her new duties include creating and reading poetry during state occasions and participating in school and community events that promote appreciation of poetry. The distinction of Mississippi poet laureate dates to 1963. Fennelly said she has major aspirations for her new role.

“I look forward to continuing and deepening my work with the NEA’s Poetry Out Loud Initiative in Mississippi, the fabulous Mississippi Book Festival, and the schools, libraries and organizations that grow and nurture talent from our rich Mississippi soil,” she said.

The governor said he is pleased Fennelly will continue Mississippi’s rich literary tradition.

“Mississippi’s reputation for the written word is unmatched the world over, and Beth Ann will strengthen that reputation,” Bryant said. “I am pleased to appoint her poet laureate.”

W.W. Norton published Fennelly’s second and third collections of poetry, “Tender Hooks” (2004) and “Unmentionables” (2008), as well as her book of nonfiction, “Great with Child: Letters to a Young Mother” (2006). In 2013, HarperCollins published “The Tilted World,” a novel that Fennelly co-wrote with her husband, author Tom Franklin. It was named an IndieNext Great Read, became a finalist for the 2014 SIBA Book Award and has been published in six foreign editions.

Her sixth book, “Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs,” will be published by W.W. Norton in fall 2017.

Fennelly’s poem “The Kudzu Chronicles,” from “Unmentionables,” is grounded in her experience in Mississippi and references William Faulkner, the Neshoba County Fair and her home in Oxford. Its closing stanzas were used as lyrics for Jackson musician Claire Holley’s song “Kudzu.”

In 2011 she was named UM Humanities Teacher of the Year and College of Liberal Arts Teacher of the Year. Her first collection of poetry, “Open House,” was a Book Sense Top Ten Poetry Pick and won a Kenyon Review Prize, a Zoo Press Poetry Prize and a Great Lakes College Association New Writers Award.

Born in New Jersey and reared in the Chicago area, Fennelly has written and taught around the United States and world before settling in Mississippi in 2001. She received a bachelor’s degree, graduating magna cum laude, from the University of Notre Dame, then taught English for a year in a coal mining village on the Czech-Polish border.

She returned to the United States to earn her M.F.A. from the University of Arkansas. She then completed a Diane Middlebrook Fellowship at the University of Wisconsin and went on to teach at Knox College in Illinois. She has completed residencies at the University of Arizona and MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire, fellowships at Middlebury’s Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference and Sewanee, and a 2009 Fulbright grant studying poetry in Brazil.

Fennelly has received a number of national awards, including a 2001 Pushcart Prize and a 2002 National Endowment of the Arts grant in poetry. She received a United States Artist Grant in 2006 and the Subiaco Award for Literary Merit in 2012.

The Mississippi Arts Commission awarded Fennelly grants for nonfiction in 2005 and 2015, and for poetry in 2010. In 2015, the A Room of Her Own Foundation presented her with the Orlando Award in Nonfiction, and in 2016, she received the Lamar York Prize in Creative Nonfiction from The Chattahoochee Review.

The poet laureate title has been a time-honored way of drawing attention to the importance of poetry in national discourse, said Ivo Kamps, UM English chair. The title dates back to 1616, when King James I of England gave poet and playwright Ben Jonson a pension, with the expectation he would write occasional verses to commemorate the country’s major events.

“It is an incredible honor for Beth Ann Fennelly and for the University of Mississippi that she is called to join in this tradition,” Kamps said. “I can’t think of a better person in the role than Beth Ann because she has written lyrically, lovingly, but also poignantly about the state of Mississippi.

“Her verse confronts readers with poetry’s best attributes: a clear understanding of proportion and form, captivating rhythms, striking imagery and startling insights.”

Malcolm White, executive director of the Mississippi Arts Commission, said he’s also thrilled with the selection.

“Beth Ann’s accomplishments in literature are too numerous to mention,” White said. “We are thrilled that she has chosen to make her home in Mississippi and contribute to arts and education in our state. She is an excellent choice for Mississippi’s poet laureate.”

CMSE Staffer Receives International Award for Robotics Work

Mannie Lowe honored for growth, impact of FTC Robotics Challenge statewide

Mannie Lowe is recognized as the FIRST Tech Challenge Volunteer of the Year. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Mannie Lowe (left), pictured with John O’Haver, is recognized as the FIRST Tech Challenge Volunteer of the Year. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Mannie Lowe, a staff member at the University of Mississippi, is the 2016 recipient of the International Volunteer of the Year Award from FIRST, an organization that promotes an interest in STEM fields among students, with programs such as the FIRST Tech Challenge robotics competition for middle- and high-schoolers.

As this year’s honoree, Lowe, a program manager at UM’s Center for Mathematics & Science Education, was selected from more than 200,000 volunteers in 80 countries worldwide for his more than 12 years of service to the organization. He received an honorary certificate from FIRST at a surprise ceremony in July at Ole Miss.

“I’m touched by this award because I hold other people who have won this honor in such high admiration,” he said. “People who have won this in the past have done some truly amazing work with FIRST and with students. I didn’t realize I was held in such high esteem.”

As the manager for FIRST Tech Challenge robotics, Lowe, who previously ran FTC programs as a volunteer in Georgia, has spent the past five years carving out an infrastructure to allow Mississippi middle and high school students, as well as home-schooled children, the opportunity to design and build their own robots and compete in tournament-style competitions at the local, state, regional and even international level.

The competitions allow students to learn and apply knowledge in such disciplines as engineering, computer science, physics and mathematics. Many students participating in FTC programs go on to earn valuable scholarships to study STEM fields at colleges and universities around the world.

Under Lowe’s leadership, FTC programs in Mississippi have grown from just four robotics teams in 2012 to more than 40. Lowe spends about two days a week on the road, working with students and teachers to help FTC teams with their robot designs, a task that requires countless hours of travel and work after hours.

“First and foremost, Mannie has a passion for what he does,” said John O’Haver, CMSE director. “He loves what he does and is loved for it. He will use his vacation time and weekends to drive across the state to work with students and teachers. He will tell you himself that he feels like he is living the dream.”

Lowe also helps plan other events related to the robotics competitions, such as regional qualifying tournaments in communities across the state. Each February, the CMSE hosts a statewide competition at UM. This year, the event attracted more than 450 students.

Besides his work in Mississippi, he serves on the FIRST game design team, which brings together an international group of robotics mentors and volunteers who design a new challenge for students each year. This year, the FIRST Res-Q challenge required robotics teams to design a robot that can simulate a mountain rescue mission by lighting beacons, clearing debris and climbing an uphill rack made to simulate a mountain ascent.

“One of the things that amazes me is that we will come up with an idea and say, ‘There’s no way the students will be able to do this,'” he said. “But every year they find a way to top our challenge. It really is amazing to see.”

Lowe said he hopes to help FTC robotics programs continue to grow across the state and to see the number of participating teams rise to 50 in 2017.