Nutrition Professor Develops Food-based STEM Curriculum

UM researcher expands FoodMASTER program with Deep South Network

David H. Holben (left) and members of his project team prepare bags of food to be delivered to students at Bruce Elementary School through the 2016 Farm-to-YOUth! initiative. Helping are (from left) Sydney Antolini, Michelle Weber and Kelsey Reece, all nutrition graduate students at Ole Miss. Photo by Bill Dabney

OXFORD, Miss. – Kids are accustomed to hearing adults tell them, “Don’t play with your food,” but they won’t hear it from David H. Holben.

Holben is a University of Mississippi professor of nutrition and hospitality management who wants children to learn through an initiative aimed at using food as a tool to teach mathematics and science.

Holben is a part of the Deep South Network, a research collective that recently received a $1.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to support the science, technology, engineering and math learning pipeline for underserved minority youth through informal science learning environments with a curriculum built around food.

East Carolina University’s Melani Duffrin, a former doctoral student of Holben’s, leads the effort with researchers from UM, the universities of Alabama at Birmingham and South Carolina, Auburn University and Georgia State University who are working together to enhance access to learning opportunities and favorably affect science attitudes and career decisions in the health professions among this underrepresented population.

“Our partnership with Mississippi and other Deep South partners is to collect larger regional data to inform efficient, affordable and effective positive impact practices in creating a science culture for underserved youth,” Duffrin said. 

“Our goal of expanding the program has a broad application of building stronger partnerships between K-12 teachers and health professionals to achieve an increase in health science literacy for the general population and to better prepare underserved populations in pursuing science careers.”

Duffrin successfully developed and implemented food-based curricula designed for students in third grade through college.

The Food, Math and Science Teaching Enhancement Resource, or FoodMASTER, program uses hands-on, inquiry-based learning activities to help students learn science, math and nutrition concepts. Students who have participated in the curriculum became increasingly interested in the subject matter of food and were able to conduct scientific observations.

“David Holben is an experienced researcher with great attention to detail and a passion for working with underserved populations,” Duffrin said. “It was obvious that he was a great choice as a partner to begin building the initiative in Mississippi. Under his direction, this project will inform best practices and bring resources to the Mississippi region.”

This new grant will develop new FoodMASTER curricular materials, establish the Deep South Network to serve as a model to others, create and implement formats, assess impact on attitudes toward science and create field trip experiences for underserved minority youth.

“One of the reasons I’m excited about this project is it targets underserved minority youth, and my work has traditionally looked at food insecurity and health outcomes of underserved groups,” said Holben, who has studied food insecurity among these populations since 1997.

The first two years of the five-year project will allow the researchers to “build their team,” with opportunities for professional development, including conferences related to STEM education, Holben said.

“In years three and four, each of us will implement a FoodMASTER program,” he said. “The team at UM will develop a program for Mississippi youth, and then we’ll do it for one year to see what works to improve the second year.”

Holben could utilize his existing partnerships in Calhoun County formed through his work with Farm-to-YOUth!, an initiative supported by the UM Foundation’s Food and Nutrition Security Support Fund that increased almost 1,200 children’s exposure to nutritious food in public schools and sent nutritious produce home to area households.

“They don’t have a summer feeding program in Calhoun County, so implementing a FoodMASTER program there would allow us to meet a need over the summer for food for the children, while incorporating STEM education,” Holben said. “Regardless of where the program is implemented, we are going to teach math and science skills using food.”

Food insecurity means not having access to nutritionally adequate food for an active, healthy life, and Mississippi ranks last in the nation, with food insecurity in 18.7 percent of Mississippi households.

“The 2016 estimates just came out on Sept. 6,” Holben said. “We are getting better, but we are still well above the national average (12.3 percent) in the U.S.

“We do have high need here. If we’re providing food while we’re providing STEM education, perhaps we can change the food insecurity in the home.”

Funding for this research is provided through the Science Education Partnership Award Number R25OD023721 from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences within the National Institutes of Health.

For more information about academic programs in nutrition and dietetics at UM, email

Willie Price Students Plant New Learning Garden at UM

Partnerships, volunteers help shape real food curriculum

Parent and volunteer Tess Johnson helps Willie Price Lab School students sow seeds at the School’s new learning garden. Photo by Kevin Bain/University Communications Photography

OXFORD, Miss. – The seeds are planted for a new learning garden at the University of Mississippi’s Willie Price Lab School, which will allow the pre-K facility to integrate gardening and an understanding of food sources into its curriculum.

Several 3- and 4-year-olds at Willie Price, part of the UM School of Education, recently planted radishes, lettuce, carrots and garlic with the help of FoodCorps service member and parent Tess Johnson and others.

Sarah Langley, director of Willie Price, also partnered with preschool parents UM Landscape Services, the Office of Sustainability and the Mississippi Farm to School Network to reinstall the garden, which had previously been part of the school’s curriculum.

“Tess became involved with FoodCorps and she approached us about revitalizing the space and has volunteered to lead a parent committee and organize all of the planting and harvesting events for our Willie Price students,” Langley said. “Before, the garden was an amazing space with tomatoes, blackberries, carrots and herbs everywhere, and the children were out there all the time.

“They were working with two gardeners, but for budget reasons, from what I understand, the space became neglected and we were no longer able to maintain that partnership.”

Johnson said that it was her work with Oxford Elementary School students that inspired her to help bring gardening back to Willie Price.

“I’m always blown away when I ask even fourth- or fifth-graders, ‘What’s your favorite food?’ and, if they say French fries, they think they came from McDonald’s or the grocery store,” Johnson said. “They have no idea that someone grew those potatoes and that’s how their food got there.”

Johnson also helped Willie Price students make a healthy snack of homemade hummus with pita chips and carrots on the day of the planting.

“It’s just so important for kids to be outside with fresh air, green space and to know where their food comes from,” she said.

In addition to enthusiastic parents, Willie Price also received a $500 grant from the Mississippi Farm to School Network to reopen the garden.

“We are interested in reaching out to more early child care programs with our school garden grants because we know that the earlier we can reach kids with good produce, fruits and vegetables, the more likely they will be interested in those foods when they are older,” said Sunny Young Baker, co-director of the Mississippi Farm to School Network.

 Langley said she feels there’s a bright future for Willie Price’s garden.

“We are partnering with landscape services, which is awesome because we have the most beautiful campus in the country,” Langley said. “They’ve been coming over to help us and just do as much as they can to help us protect the space.”

Langley also partnered with the UM Office of Sustainability to obtain compost from the university’s compost program for the garden.

Before the installation of the garden, Willie Price students learned about nutritious food and healthy living in a two-week unit on health that concluded with planting seeds in the reopened garden.

The Willie Price Lab School is a preschool facility on the UM campus. It provides opportunities for Ole Miss students and faculty to provide services and conduct research.

Embry Legacy Continues with Latest Scholar

Wilson receives 2017 award created in UM football player's memory

UM freshman Lori Wilson is the 2017 Joey Embry Scholar. UM photo by Bill Dabney

OXFORD, Miss. – In receiving this year’s Joey Embry Scholarship, University of Mississippi freshman Lori Wilson carries on the legacy – and in many ways, the spirit – of the student-athlete who died tragically in 1998, just months before he was expected to be a major contributor on the Rebel offensive line.

According to Bobby Killion, Embry’s teammate, “Joey touched the lives of so many people while having an influence on those who came in contact with him.”

The same can be said of Wilson. The Water Valley native has always worked hard to make life better for those around her. For example, when she realized her high school was struggling to overcome negativity, she organized and led a booster committee, encouraging her fellow seniors and some juniors to serve as mentors for younger students.

“I was like, ‘Maybe we can do something to fix things,” Wilson recalls. “I said, ‘Let’s put fun back into school and show these kids that you don’t have to sell drugs or be that type of person’ because a lot of the younger kids were heading toward the wrong path.

“So I thought it would be a good idea to get the seniors – the ones on the honor roll and those that participated in all the clubs – to come together and show the younger students that it starts with us; we can change things. And it turned out so great.”

Wilson also was involved in the music, art, family consumer science and Beta clubs. She served on the student council and supported the athletics teams as a cheerleader. In her free time, she volunteered at the local nursing home.

“I got to talk to a lot of the people there,” she said. “You learn a lot from them. They have so much to tell. I always connected with them.”

At Ole Miss, Wilson is majoring in exercise science because it will be a good foundation for the nursing degree she hopes to attain on her way to becoming a doctor, a logical career path for someone like Wilson whose desire has always been to help others.

But one step at a time, said Wilson, who also received a Luckyday scholarship and was selected for the university’s FASTrack program, which provides freshmen an enhanced learning environment.

Just weeks into her freshman year, Wilson is already finding ways to make a difference. She’s active in two networking organizations and the student organization E.S.T.E.E.M., or Educated, Successful, Talented, Evolving, Empowered, and Motivated, a club for minorities that works to boost women’s confidence.

She gets her motivation from her role model.

“I never see my mom cry,” Wilson said. “She’s a very determined person. I always have aspired to be like my mom, strong-willed. And she always fixes things.”

They have that in common.

“All the things I went through and all the things I saw in my community and in my school just made me want to be the fixer,” Wilson said. “I realize I can’t fix everything, but I definitely try. I’m a perfectionist and try my best to help in any way I can.”

Gwen Embry, Joey Embry’s mother, said she and her husband, Bill, are pleased that the scholarship was awarded to someone who obviously shares their son’s spirit.

“Joey gave everything for there to be this scholarship, and we want to make sure it’s used to the best of its ability – that the students will devote their time and efforts to school and keep their priorities in the right direction,” she said.

Wilson said she’s honored to receive the scholarship and understands its gravity.

“Just to know that I got the scholarship, I feel very heartened by it,” she said. “I’m honored to carry on Joey Embry’s legacy. I always try to do my best here at Ole Miss.”

Since the Embrys have lived in Calhoun and Yalobusha counties, they offer the scholarship in each geographical area. Students interested in applying for the scholarship should speak with their high school guidance counselor.

Individuals and organizations can contribute to the Joey Embry Memorial Scholarship Fund through the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS; phone 800-340-9542; or online at

UM Students, Faculty Take Learning on the Road

Study USA program gearing up for hands-on Wintersession courses in four exciting locales

UM geological engineering faculty members Bob Holt, Dennis Powers and Doug Granger visit the Clinton P. Anderson overlook outside Santa Fe, New Mexico, with their students during the ‘Geological Engineering Design Field Camp’ course offered through UM’s Study USA program in August. During Wintersession 2018, students will once again have opportunities to travel with UM faculty members as they study biology, education, English, gender studies, hospitality management, philosophy, political science and more. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – Whether students are capturing biological field samples in nature or capturing the essence of a culture, the eye-opening experience of experiential learning will be on full display through the University of Mississippi’s Study USA Wintersession 2018 classes.

This year’s offerings are: “Writing Gender and Sexuality in the Crescent City” in New Orleans; “Californian STEAM: Microbial Science, Conservation and Society” in Riverside, Monterey Bay and San Francisco, California; “Las Vegas Resort Course” in Las Vegas; and an Honors course in “Biomedical Ethics” in Washington, D.C.

New Orleans native Jaime Cantrell is among the UM faculty members leading a Study USA learning adventure in January. A visiting professor of English and faculty affiliate for the university’s Sarah Isom Center for Women’s and Gender Studies, she said she wants to share her knowledge of the community and culture with students.

“Like its gumbo, New Orleans is richly diverse,” Cantrell said. “It’s our plan for this course to highlight those transnational, multicultural and indigenous legacies.”

The dual-listed course titled, “Publics and Subcultures: Writing Gender and Sexuality in the Crescent City” can be taken for Writing 398 or Gender Studies 395 UM course credit. Participants will travel to New Orleans January 4-9 and conduct a virtual presentation on January 12.

Cantrell said she hopes the course will prepare students to understand how their university educational experience parallels communities, publics and subcultures outside their learning walls.

“This can be seen where people work together in meaningful, creative and unexpected ways to transform lives and preserve historical and cultural memory,” she said.

Students who are interested in the teaching and exploration of the scientific process have an opportunity to get their hands dirty during the “Californian STEAM” course set Jan. 4-14 in various Californian coastal areas.

“California is a hotbed for both microbial sciences, conservation research and STEM education,” said Erik Hom, UM assistant professor of biology. “This course is looking at how microbes are everywhere and affect all areas of life.”

Hom, along with Renee Cunningham, assistant professor of education, will lead the class in conducting field samples and exploring conservation issues at various Pacific coast locations, including Monterey Bay and Joshua Tree National Park.

Students interested in education, environmental science, biology, premedicine, pharmacy, chemistry, biochemistry, geoscience, ocean sciences and engineering are all encouraged to take part in this course.

Hospitality management and business majors have a chance to learn more about the business of managing resorts and tourism while interacting with industry leaders during the Las Vegas resorts course set for Jan. 3-8.

Led by Jim Taylor, associate professor of hospitality management, the class will offer informative meetings with upper-level management to discuss how various amenities of a resort property add to the overall guest experience.

“Las Vegas is a real-world laboratory for hospitality management,” Taylor said. “Where else can students see a destination that was once a desert and has now become one of the premier convention, vacation and dining locations in the United States?”

Students will learn more about large-scale hotel operations and how lodging components interact with resorts. They will also find out more about how different facets of resorts work together to increase productivity and customer satisfaction.

Students from the UM Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College can dive into ethical theories and principles at work in our nation’s health care system during “Biomedical Ethics,” led by philosophy professor Neil Manson.

The class will meet Jan. 2-6 in Oxford and Jan. 7-13 in Washington, D.C.

“Students will get to meet with experts addressing some of the most interesting issues in medicine right now,” Manson said. “They will be discussing questions like ‘What can we do with a person’s genetic information’ and ‘How should the American health care system be structured?’

“Also, ‘Is medicine just about restoring people to “normal” health, or should we feel free to use medical technologies to enhance human abilities?'”

Manson said he hopes the class helps students learn how to be professional, prepare, ask intelligent questions, overcome their fears and feel comfortable interacting with experts in the workplace.

“I also hope they get some sense of how Washington works – not just the branches of government, but the think tanks and the lobbyists,” Manson added. “Whether or not they aspire to careers in or near government, there is just no substitute for seeing up close how the system works.”

The application deadline for Study USA’s Wintersession 2018 courses is Nov. 9. Some scholarship opportunities are available. For more information, visit

Data Day Presentations to Feature Experts from Amazon, The Gazette

UM journalism school hosts annual event for students and community members

Erica Huerta. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi students and community members can learn from experts in the field about the value of data and how it is used and analyzed to build customer relationships and deliver content at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media’s fourth annual Data Day.

The Nov. 2 event will feature presentations by Max Freund, managing editor of digital strategy for The Gazette in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Erica Huerta, competitive intelligence manager at Amazon and Whole Foods.

Freund will speak at 8 a.m. and Huerta is slated for 11 a.m., both in the Overby Center Auditorium. The event is free and open to the public.

“Understanding data and being able to communicate insights drawn from data has become an essential skill, touching all areas of mass communications, regardless of whether you’re in journalism, IMC, PR, or any other area related to the field,” said Jason Cain, assistant professor of integrated marketing communications. 

“The Meek School hosts Data Day both in order to provide students the opportunity to learn the depth of this relationship from data professionals and to demonstrate that working with data is not just a purely analytical pursuit, but very often a creative one as well.”

Huerta has eight years of experience in the private sector dealing with analytics in the tech hub of Austin, Texas. Her passion for data and continuous learning has led to a successful career in building business strategy for companies including Expedia, Home Depot and Amazon.

She plans to discuss the relevancy of data and how companies apply it to everyday decisions using both art and science.

Max Freund. Submitted photo

A University of Iowa graduate, Freund has degrees in both journalism and informatics. He is passionate about digital storytelling through data and interactive web development. He previously worked as a digital reporter for The Gazette, followed by a career at the creative marketing agency Fusionfarm as product manager and web developer.

Since returning to the Gazette, Freund oversees the company’s suite of digital products, strategies and offerings. He also teaches at the University of Iowa as an adjunct instructor, focusing on journalistic web development and interactive storytelling.

Legal Studies Offers 3+3 Option with School of Law

Paralegal studies enhances program, adds new fast-track to Juris Doctorate

Susan Duncan, UM law dean (center) and Macey Edmondson, interim assistant dean for admissions and scholarships (left) join Linda Keena, interim chair of legal studies, to announce the launch of the Bachelor of Paralegal Studies 3+3 emphasis. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi is offering a new fast-track to the School of Law through a Bachelor of Paralegal Studies 3+3 emphasis in the Department of Legal Studies, reducing the time and tuition dollars needed to complete a bachelor’s and law degree.

Under this new pre-law emphasis for paralegal studies majors, a student’s fourth-year requirements for the B.P.S. are satisfied by completing first-year law school classes. The student must meet the law school’s admissions requirements, which are established each year based on the previous year’s data on grade-point averages and Law School Admission Test scores for students admitted to the school.

While there is no guaranteed entry to law school, students who designate this new emphasis of study are signaling their passion for the field.

“The fact that they picked an undergraduate degree that closely aligns with the legal profession shows us they have a strong interest in law,” said Susan Duncan, UM law dean.

In their first three years of study, students take courses in legal research and writing, civil litigation, and criminal law and procedure, providing them with a critical understanding of the total system of justice and the society in which it functions. An extensive internship program enables students to link classroom learning with practical experience.

In their fourth year, students will begin taking classes offered to first-year law students, including contracts, torts, civil procedure, property and constitutional law.

“We have students tell us, ‘I’m interested in law school. What should I major in?'” said Linda Keena, interim chair of legal studies. “Paralegal studies, if you look at the curriculum, is a perfect entree to law school. If you look at how the curriculum is set up, the focus is on critical thinking in every course, which is so beneficial in law school.”

Recruiting the best and brightest students to law school is a priority for Duncan and Macey Edmondson, the school’s interim admissions director.

“This program allows us to get strong students from our own institution,” Edmondson said. “We can work with them earlier and help them map out their law school path.

“I think students who engage in the 3+3 program are a little ahead of the curve because they will have had some experience with law firms and different legal backgrounds, so we can meet them where they are and guide them on their path.”

A student who chooses this emphasis but does not meet law school admissions requirements or elects not to attend law school can switch to legal studies’ paralegal emphasis and complete a fourth year of undergraduate study to earn their B.P.S.

“If a student decides not to go to law school, they will still have the expertise to do most of the legal research and work done in a law office under the supervision of a licensed attorney,” said Whitman Smith, UM admissions director. “This will be a major attraction to students interested in the legal profession.”

Campus leaders concerned about overall affordability point out the program’s cost savings for students.

“I think we have an obligation to try and hold down student debt,” Duncan said. “This is really attractive, because the students can take a whole year off the process and get into the workforce faster.

“These people know what they want to do, so let’s help them get there quicker and eliminate part of the tuition burden.”

The new emphasis is the brainchild of now-retired legal studies professor, Robert Mongue, who recently returned to Ole Miss as an adjunct faculty in legal studies.

“Once I began discussing this type of program with faculty from other institutions, it became clear that we owed it to our students, the university and the state of Mississippi to implement a 3+3 option for qualified students,” he said.

Several similar programs exist across the nation and seem to being doing well, Mongue said. In fact, the 3+3 concept appears to be a trend in legal education.

“My alma mater, the University of Maine, has one initiated by the law school,” Mongue said. “It has agreements with three undergraduate educational institutions, so some of my initial investigation was based there.

“However, since our model is a UM undergraduate-to-UM School of Law only, it is closer in operation to those at Fordham University, University of Central Florida, Florida State University and the University of Iowa, a top-50 law school that started its program in 2013.”

Before his retirement, Mongue created a supervisory board, soliciting help from legal professionals, educators and alumni to modify the paralegal studies curriculum, get valuable input about trends in the field and promote the program. He worked to enrich the curriculum with more critical thinking by adding courses such as logic and LA 440: Access to Justice.

Heather Joyner, paralegal studies coordinator and instructor. Submitted photo

Students who take Access to Justice can work for legal organizations, such as North Mississippi Rural Legal Services, that help populations without appropriate access to legal representation or services, said Heather Joyner, paralegal studies coordinator and instructor. Students get hands-on experience doing intakes and writing legal document, such as wills, for people with financial need.

Program internships also are available, ranging anywhere from the U.S. Attorney’s Office to private law firms, during students’ junior or senior year of undergraduate study.

“If a student wants to have part-time employment while they’re in law school, these internships and classes that give them real-world experience open doors for jobs in the legal profession,” Joyner said.

Previously an adjunct professor at UM and Northwest Mississippi Community College, Joyner served as assistant district attorney for the 1st Judicial District from 2002 to 2011 and public defender for Lee County Youth Court in 2000-02. She earned her Juris Doctor from the University of Alabama and her master’s degree in political science from Mississippi State University.

“The students entering higher level courses have shown marked improvement in being able to apply foundational knowledge in the upper-level courses since Heather started teaching,” Keena said. “Her contacts in law offices, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, state prosecutors’ offices and the like strengthen her credentials. We are very excited to have her join our faculty on a full-time basis.”

Stakeholders are optimistic that compressing the amount of time and money involved will provide opportunities for students to earn law degrees and apply that knowledge in a variety of fields outside of the courtroom.

“There is so much more you can do with a law degree other than being a litigator,” Keena said. “Many of our students are interested in homeland security, and there are things they can do with a law degree in that capacity.

“Entrepreneurially thinking, it is so helpful to have that law degree, so if at this stage, as freshmen and sophomores, they can start to see that there are options for them beyond being a litigator, I think we’ll see this 3+3 program blossom.”

For more information about the Bachelor of Paralegal Studies 3+3 emphasis, email

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Two Engineering Freshmen Named Stamps Foundation Scholars

Harrison McKinnis of Madison and Robert Wasson of Jackson among 2017 recipients of prestigious academic honor

Ryan Upshaw (left), assistant dean, welcomes 2017 Stamps Foundation scholars Robert Wasson of Jackson and Harrison McKinnis of Madison to the UM School of Engineering. Submitted photo

Two outstanding engineering freshmen at the University of Mississippi are among recipients of the Stamps Foundation Scholarship.

Harrison McKinnis of Madison and Robert Wasson of Jackson, will major in chemical engineering and be members of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. McKinnis will also participate in the Haley Barbour Center for Manufacturing Excellence. Both are also members of the Chancellor’s Leadership Class.

With its partner universities, the Stamps Foundation seeks students who demonstrate academic merit, strong leadership potential and exceptional character. Through the foundation, students have access to funding to engage in internships, undergraduate research or other professional development activities. Potential Stamps scholars are invited to campus for a special weekend visit to get an in-depth look at the university’s academic programs as well as opportunities to interact with campus administrators and current students.

“Harrison and Robert are shining examples of the outstanding students that the Stamps scholarship has helped Ole Miss attract over the past few years,” said Ryan Upshaw, assistant dean for student services for the School of Engineering. “I look forward to their contributions to our academic program and the university as a whole.”

McKinnis said he is grateful to be considered for the scholarship.

“I felt that every candidate was worthy of the scholarship, and I was shocked to find out I was chosen,” he said. “At that point, my college decision process ended, and I knew that I had found my new home, one that wants to support me just as I want to support it.”

McKinnis also noted that his visits to campus were a major factor in his decision to enroll at the university and in the School of Engineering.

“I found that the University of Mississippi had a chemical engineering program that would challenge me academically but also support me in finding opportunities to advance in my professional and personal lives,” said McKinnis, who was named salutatorian and STAR student at Madison Central High School.

A National Merit Finalist and AP Scholar with Honor, he scored a perfect 36 on the ACT. Named Mr. Madison Central High School, McKinnis was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame and received highest average honors in 18 subjects. He was also a member of the MCHS Engineering Academy for three years.

Beyond academic excellence, McKinnis was also a top leader at Madison Central. He served as co-president of the MCHS Student Government Association after serving as class treasurer for two years. He also served as a junior ambassador for the Chamber of Commerce, Madison County Youth Leadership ambassador and represented his school at the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Conference.

McKinnis was also a student-athlete as a member of the MCHS soccer team. In the community, he has given time to a variety of organizations including the Mississippi Food Network, American Cancer Society and Soccer Kids Camp.

He hopes to participate in a co-op or internship with an engineering firm at some point in his undergraduate education to gain the experience and knowledge to become a professional engineer. McKinnis is considering entering the practice of chemical engineering or pursuing further education upon graduation.

Like McKinnis, Wasson’s academic and leadership record afforded him various college options. However, it was the personal attention he received during his visits to campus that helped him decide to attend Ole Miss.

“After touring many other engineering departments nationwide, I decided to attend Ole Miss because it felt the most like home,” he said. “The Ole Miss chemical engineering department was a welcoming environment that I knew would provide me with the opportunities to have one-on-one contact with professors and other opportunities not available at other institutions. Additionally, Ole Miss encourages its engineers to be involved outside of the classroom and to pursue other interests.”

Wasson was also excited to learn that he had been named a recipient of the Stamps scholarship and ready to take advantage of the unique opportunities the award offers.

“When I learned of my selection as a Stamps Scholar, I was deeply humbled and honored to be chosen out of such a competitive field full of great applicants,” he said. “I then realized the tremendous charge I had been given to do great things with such an amazing opportunity.”

Wasson was salutatorian at Jackson Preparatory School. A National Merit Finalist and STAR student, he scored a 36 on the ACT as well. Wasson was featured in Portico Magazine’s “25 Students Who Will Change The World” edition and the Jackson Free Press “Amazing Teen” issue in 2016.

During summer 2015, Wasson spent time on the Ole Miss campus participating in the Heads in the Game summer research program through the School of Engineering, where he conducted research on concussions in student-athletes. In 2016, he was selected to participate in the Trent Lott Leadership Institute at UM, where he took courses in political science and speech as well as traveled to Washington, D.C.

Active in the community, Wasson earned Eagle Scout status and volunteered with the Youth Ambassador Council for the Mississippi Children’s Museum as well as Batson Children’s Hospital. He was also a part of Youth Leadership Jackson and attended Mississippi Boys State. He served on the senior advisory board for Jackson Prep’s Global Leadership Institute and as a member of the Prep Patriot League, the school’s student ambassador program. He was also a student-athlete on the cross-country team.

Wasson hopes to take full advantage of the opportunities available to him via the Stamps scholarship and plans to attend medical school after graduation.



Computer Science Student Wins Quip Diversity Technology Scholarship

Blake Lewis visited organization's San Francisco offices in August

Blake Lewis of Ocean Springs, a senior computer and information science major, has received a Quip Diversity in Technology Scholarship. Submitted photo by Ryan Upshaw.

A University of Mississippi engineering student has been awarded the Quip Diversity Tech Scholarship.

Blake Lewis, a senior computer science major with minors in mathematics and sociology, visited software company Quip’s office in San Francisco in August. The scholarship supports students who are underrepresented in STEM fields, particularly computer science, and includes but is not limited to women, African-Americans, Latinos, American Indians, LGBTQ+, first generation, and/or people with disabilities.

The Ocean Springs native heard about the scholarship opportunity via an intradepartmental email.

“Carrie Long, the administrative secretary for our department, sent the email from the Career Center about this program to all the computer science students, and she encouraged any of us eligible to apply,” Lewis said. “So I decided it couldn’t hurt.”

Lewis said visiting Quip was a wonderful experience. The team members not only talked about different topics in computer science with the scholarship recipients, such as design, product engineering and site reliability, but also provided professional advice about career growth and job searching. Lewis had the chance to meet with the CEOs of Quip, Kevin Gibbs and Bret Taylor.

“We learned about some things that Bret and Kevin created while working for other companies like Google Map, Google Suggest and Facebook,” Lewis said. “My favorite part of the day, though, was the panel discussion about diversity in tech.”

He said the biggest takeaway of this panel was that companies must ensure those who are creating the products accurately represent the market they wish to reach in order to create innovative products that are accessible to everyone.

“One of the panelists, Erica Baker, talked a lot about Project Include, which is a company that encourages tech startups to think about diversity and inclusion from the start,” Lewis said. “I think it is important for CS and other engineering students who wish to have a tech startup in the future to know about Project Include and the important work they are doing.”

Lewis has developed a passion for diversity and inclusion since he started at the university. Especially being a community assistant for the Department of Student Housing since his sophomore year of college, he has a more profound understanding about diversity.

“As a CA, I have made it my goal to make freshman residents feel welcome, no matter who they are, and help them get connected to the community,” he said. “On the flip side, I’ve also had to have some tough conversations with residents about diversity and inclusion and how things they say and do can affect people and their access to education.”

Lewis has been serving his second year as vice president of community assistant development for the UM Community Assistant Association and president of the National Residence Hall Honorary. He is also an active member of the UM Pride Network.

Outside the classroom, he has served as an ACUHO-I (Association of College and University Housing Officers International) intern at Montana State University Billings, and been an intern at the same institution’s Diversity Center.

He plans to do his senior project for the housing department this year. Deeply influenced by his experience as a CA, Lewis also would like to pursue a master’s degree in higher education/student affairs and hopes to get a graduate assistantship as a hall director for a residence hall while he is getting his master’s.

“Quip’s staff was very diverse, and it was amazing to meet successful queer computer scientists,” he said. “I would definitely encourage other people at Ole Miss to apply.”






Engineering Fall Enrollment Includes Inaugural Biomedical Engineering Class

New admission standard expected to ensure higher quality of students, help underprepared students succeed

New School of Engineering students attend the Engineering Freshmen Convocation. Submitted photo by Ryan Upshaw

The Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering program at the University of Mississippi is off to a successful start. Approved last November by the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning, the inaugural class consists of 37 new freshmen and 17 internal transfers.

“The new freshmen have an average ACT score of almost 31 (30.9) and GPA of 3.92,” said Alex Cheng, dean of the School of Engineering. “Seventy-three percent of them have at least a 30 on the ACT. We anticipate a great success for the program.”

This fall also marks the first time the engineering school raised its admission requirements to reorganize the student body and better develop underprepared students. Incoming freshmen in every UM engineering degree program except general engineering are required to have an ACT math score of 25 and high school GPA of 3.00 to be admitted. Students with an ACT of 22-24 and a GPA of 2.80-3.00 are admitted to the general engineering program.

“These students are in Math 125, EDHE 105 and three sections of Introduction to Engineering classes,” Cheng said. “Once they finish Math 125 with a B to qualify for calculus, and have a 2.50 GPA, they will be moved to the department of their choice.”

This new policy has caused a small decline in new freshmen enrollment (337 versus last year’s 349), but the overall quality continues to improve, Cheng said.

“The whole new freshman class has (an average) 27.7 ACT (+0.4), 3.73 GPA, and 35 percent have at least a 30 on the ACT,” he said. “As the underprepared students (start in) general engineering, each department also sees improvement in student quality. We hope that this new admission policy can help us to continue our path to an elite program, (and) at the same time to take a firm control of less-prepared students to make them successful.”