BLOG: Ole Miss’ Gerald McRaney and Jack Pendarvis Take Home Emmy Awards

Jack Pendarvis. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

For those of you who missed the 69th Primetime Emmy Awards show Sunday night on CBS, it was yet another night of witty banter, none of which was directed towards politics.

The Emmys is in the same family – think: Uncle Oscar, Uncle Tony and, of course, sweet Grammy – that recognize some of the most talented members and contributors to entertainment. The award that looks like an angel holding up a Hoberman ball smothered in real gold, you ask? Yes, precisely.

University of Mississippi alumnus Gerald McRaney and former faculty member Jack Pendarvis were amongst the list of winners Sunday night.

You may recognize McRaney as Dr. Nathan Katowski, aka Mandy Moore’s lady doctor on the hit show we love to love, “This Is Us.” This was his first Emmy Award in his nearly 50-year acting career, for Outstanding Guest Performance in a Drama.

McRaney, from Collins, married actress Delta Burke in 1989. Burke was part of the popular show “Designing Women,” in which she played a young woman who graduated from Ole Miss. See folks, love is clearly where the Grove is.

Pendarvis,who came to Ole Miss as a Grisham writer-in-residence, took home his second Emmy Award on Sunday for Outstanding Short Form Animated Program, celebrating his work on “Adventure Time,” an animated series on Cartoon Network that’s been on air since 2010. Pendarvis’ first Emmy win was back in 2015, followed by two nominations in 2016.

The creative vision of Pendarvis’ writing has been sure to touch the hearts of even the baddest-of-the-bad college students who claim they’re too cool for cartoons. Hint: he’s yellow, square, giggly all over, and if he attended Ole Miss, he’d be ready every time. That’s right, Pendarvis is a former “SpongeBob SquarePants” writer, having written 10 episodes for the series during Season 9.

Both McRaney and Pendarvis have made great strides in the world of entertainment. I think a hearty “HYDR” are in order for these two Ole Miss talents that prove if you work hard and have passion for what you do – you can do anything.

Students with Disabilities Find Welcoming Environment, Assistance

ADA-compliant facilities, disability services assist in adapting to campus routines

Rhett Unbehagen and his service dog, Scout, enjoy a playful moment together in the Grove. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Before Valentine’s Day 2011, Rhett Unbehagen did not consider himself to be a person with a disability.

But while running on his high school campus that day, the University of Mississippi student experienced a 70 percent loss in his lung capacity. Barely breathing and covered with hives, he was rushed to the emergency room at Highland Community Hospital in Picayune.

After treatment of his condition, Unbehagen was diagnosed with exercise-induced anaphylaxis. Before then, fewer than 1,000 confirmed cases existed and the condition wasn’t considered fatal.

“I now realize that I had been disabled ever since I was originally diagnosed,” said the junior investment banking major from Carriere. “Two months later, I discovered I also have hypohydrosis (meaning he doesn’t sweat) and dermagraphia (a painful skin irritation).”

While Unbehagen’s particular disabilities are rare, he is far from alone. Of the more than 11,000 students enrolled at UM last spring, an estimated 1,130 had registered disabilities that had to be accommodated in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“The vast majority have what we call ‘invisible disabilities,'” said Stacey Reycraft, director of Student Disability Services. “These include things like chronic illness, learning disabilities, psychiatric disorders and traumatic brain injuries.

“Our office helps with classroom accommodations, such as assisting with testing, lecture acquisition and attendance difficulties.”

Unbehagen said he was somewhat depressed following his attacks. Once he decided to embrace the necessary lifestyle adjustments caused by his medical conditions, things quickly began to improve for him.

“I decided that I needed a medical service dog to help me keep all my medications, such as epinephrine, close,” he said. “Before coming to Ole Miss, I had never seen anyone with a service dog.”

Through social media, Unbehagen contacted other owners of medical service dogs and began searching for his own canine companion. His search came to an end March 28 when he obtained a newborn Great Dane puppy, whom he has given the name “Scout.”

After undergoing training together, the pair has been inseparable.

Rhett Unbehagen and Scout. Photo by Thomas Graining/Ole Miss Communications

Service animals, such as dogs or miniature horses, are considered to be equipment – much like a wheelchair or crutches – and are permitted to accompany their owners wherever they might go, Reycraft said. Emotional support animals, including cats and birds, are restricted to residential areas and not allowed in classrooms, food service areas and elsewhere.

“Requests for emotional support animals have to be approved in our office before they can stay in residence halls,” she said.

Reycraft and her staff regularly listen and respond to the concerns of students such as Ubenhagen.

“Right now, we have appointments to see students scheduled through mid-September,” Reycraft said. “Our office has ordered an online management system which will allow us to serve these students more efficiently, improve communication and the registration process.

“The system has to be customized and we all have to learn it, so it won’t be operational before early 2018.”

Wheelchair ramps, handicapped parking spaces, braille buttons on mechanical equipment, including elevators, and handrails on stairs and in restrooms are among the adaptations that have been made campuswide.

“The University of Mississippi is definitely ‘disabled friendly,'” said Denny Buchannon, project engineer in the Department of Facilities Management. “We aim to be fully compliant. Due to the age of the campus and some of the buildings, it is an ongoing process.”

Scout is able to keep Unbehagen’s medications at the proper temperature constantly in a vest the dog wears. Impossible to go unnoticed, the dog draws others to Unbehagen and generates positive discussions.

Such ongoing dialogue about disabilities is useful, Reycraft said.

“The biggest struggle people with disabilities face are the attitudinal barriers most people without disabilities have,” she said. “Often, students express their frustrations at being an invisible minority who are not always understood or accepted by the majority.”

For that reason and others, the Office of Student Disability Services seeks to promote awareness on campus. During Disability History Month each April, a panel discussion is scheduled for disabled students to share their experiences with the public.

“This is helpful, but we need more,” Reycraft said. “It would be most helpful if more disabled faculty and staff on campus would join in these discussions as well.”

Other than having his lovable dog with him constantly, Unbehagen said he and other disabled students live much like every other UM student.

“I’m basically just like everyone else,” he said.

Reycraft said she remains hopeful that attitudinal barriers will eventually be erased.

“Twenty years ago, students with disabilities rarely made it to college campuses,” she said. “As more disabled young people attend institutions of higher learning, the laws have changed to require facilities, equipment and programs to meet their special needs.

“Cultural shifts have been known to take decades and even centuries. Hopefully, people’s thinking about people with disabilities will continue to evolve.”

North Mississippi VISTA Project Receives Seventh Year of Funding

Grant renewal brings $595,000 to region for programming and resources

OXFORD, Miss. – The Corporation for National and Community Service has approved a $595,000 grant to fund the North Mississippi VISTA Project, housed in the University of Mississippi’s McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement, for the 2017-18 year.

The Volunteers in Service to America project, commonly known as VISTA, officially moved to the McLean Institute in fall 2016. The program was previously administered by the College of Liberal Arts.

NMVP sponsors 17 organizations and has the capacity to recruit 25 full-year VISTA members to serve throughout north Mississippi and the Delta.

“The North Mississippi VISTA Project continues to establish and foster beneficial partnerships and programs that advance education in underserved communities across the state,” said Albert Nylander, McLean Institute director and UM professor of sociology. “The work that our VISTAs do has the singular purpose of fighting poverty through education.”

The project’s volunteers help provide a wide range of educational enrichment activities, said Laura Martin, assistant director of the McLean Institute.

“From writing grants that sustain programming to recruiting and training volunteers, North Mississippi VISTAs help to connect our flagship university’s capacity with nonprofits and school systems all over our state,” she said.

VISTA members commit to one year of service where they focus on building sustainable capacity within local organizations and delivering a measurable impact on the populations they serve. VISTAs work to manage and recruit volunteers, create opportunities for low-income youth, foster social entrepreneurship, write grants, increase access to higher education and more.

“Service is a vital and impactful experience for many of us,” said VISTA leader Shannon Curtis. “The opportunity to serve as a VISTA, as well as a VISTA leader, has allowed me to develop the skills to ensure that our campus and community partners create sustainable systems to further their missions to alleviate poverty through education.”

NMVP service members are serving with several organizations based on campus and in Oxford. This includes United Way of Oxford and Lafayette County, Horizons at UM, Doors of Hope Transition Ministries, the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies, and Yoknapatawpha Arts Council.

Partners outside Lafayette County include the Sunflower County Freedom Project in Sunflower, Quitman County School District in Marks, Rosedale Freedom Project in Rosedale and the Rust College Community Development Corp. in Holly Springs.

In the next year and beyond, the NVMP will continue to develop host sites around north Mississippi, cultivating projects and placing VISTAs with community partners that fight poverty through education. Examples of VISTA projects include the creation of College Corps, the Mississippi Presenters Network, programmatic and fundraising collaborations for LOU Excel By 5 and many other nonprofits around the community, the Travelling Trunks program at the University Museum, and the College Aspiration Initiative, which supports high school juniors and seniors in three different school districts who wish to go to college.

Many VISTAs are recent graduates of Ole Miss programs, such as the Trent Lott Leadership Institute, Croft Institute for International Studies and Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.

Sara Baker, who graduated from UM in 2015 and served as the Student Opportunities VISTA before becoming a North Mississippi VISTA leader, is the cross service year programming coordinator for NYC Service, an initiative of the city of New York.

“Service has long been a part of my life,” Baker said. “The most fulfilling aspect of being able to serve as a VISTA, VISTA leader and through UM College Corps was getting to know different communities around Mississippi and seeing the hard work that not only organizations and programs, but also community members and volunteers put into fighting poverty.

“I feel truly privileged to have had the opportunity to work with the VISTAs, students and Mississippians who were engaged in the struggle to alleviate poverty. I gained and honed many skills needed to make my professional aspirations a reality while being able to dedicate years of my life to making my home state better.”

Many other VISTAs have continued their education after their year of service. NMVP alumni have gone into graduate programs at Brandeis University, Princeton University, Stanford University, the University of Georgia and Vanderbilt University.

Nylander said he is inspired about the prospect of expanding the program and continuing to strengthen connections between the NMVP and the McLean Institute’s other initiatives.

“The goals and mission of NMVP and the McLean Institute align perfectly, and we look forward to NMVP’s future growth and continued success,” he said.

For more information on VISTA service opportunities, contact VISTA leaders Shannon Curtis and Edy Dingus at or 662-915-2397.

UM Offers Fall Rebel Quest Camp for First- through Sixth-Graders

New program offers learning opportunities during fall break.

UM’s Rebel Quest program for first through sixth graders is adding a fall session of the popular camp on Nov. 20 and 21st on the Oxford campus. Participants will enjoy fun, learning activities from 8 a.m.- 5 p.m. each day. Submitted photo.

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi faculty and staff looking for activities for their school-aged children during the week of fall break have a new option this year with the extension of the popular UM Rebel Quest camp.

The new Fall Rebel Quest will be held Monday and Tuesday (Nov. 20-21) on the Oxford campus.

“There are many employees who need activities for their elementary-aged children during the week of Thanksgiving,” project coordinator Amy Goodin said. “We wanted to give children a fun, learning environment where they could be while local elementary schools are closed.”

Fall Rebel Quest will feature hands-on activities, reading enrichment, indoor and outdoor play, and team building activities for first- through sixth-graders.

The camp costs $70 and will be held 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. both days in Lamar Hall.

Twenty seats are available for the first- through third-grade group and 20 seats for the fourth- through sixth-grade group. Registration is on a first-come, first-served basis.

For more information, visit or call 662-915-7621.

School of Pharmacy Expands Residency Programs

Residencies offer recent graduates experience in practice settings

Austin Crocker, a Post-Graduate Year 1 Community Pharmacy Resident at UM, administers a blood pressure screening at Tyson Drugs in Holly Springs. UM photo by Lauren Bloodworth

JACKSON, Miss. – For recent pharmacy graduates looking to continue their education, the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy has expanded its residency program to five positions, with three focused in community pharmacy and two in ambulatory, or outpatient, care.

The expansion is partly due to an increased demand for residency opportunities. In 2017, 69 percent of the 6,027 pharmacy graduates nationwide who applied were accepted to a residency program, according to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.

Several professional organizations advocate for all pharmacists in direct patient care settings to receive residency training as a prerequisite for entering the pharmacy workforce by 2020, said Seena Haines, chair of the UM Department of Pharmacy Practice who oversees the school’s residency programs..

“Our residency programs develop highly qualified and independent practitioners who are able to provide patient-centered care in a variety of health care settings with a high level of maturity and leadership to conduct practice-related projects,” Haines said.

The school offered its first residency program in 2009, a Post-Graduate Year 1 Community Pharmacy Residency Program on the pharmacy school’s Jackson campus under the direction of Leigh Ann Ross, associate dean for clinical affairs. Over the next eight years, the pharmacy school expanded the programs and graduated 15 residents with the help of local pharmacies and outpatient clinics.

The most recent addition is a Post-Graduate Year 1 Community Pharmacy Residency Program at Tyson Drugs in Holly Springs. Tyson Drugs’ owner, Bob Lomenick, pioneered a medication synchronization program that the school wanted pharmacy graduates to experience.

This year’s resident at Tyson Drugs is Austin Crocker, a 2017 Pharm.D. graduate of Samford University’s McWhorter School of Pharmacy and a native of Madison. Crocker and Lomenick recently began providing community organizations with information about the opioid abuse crisis and overdose reversal agent training.

“Community pharmacy continues to expand beyond the traditional dispensing role,” Crocker said. “As the resident, my goal is to help develop and implement new services offered at the pharmacy and in prescriber offices. 

“There are countless opportunities for pharmacy to expand in Mississippi, and that was a major draw to this residency program.”

Lomenick has been energized by the collaboration and the impact it’s having in his practice.

“I didn’t know what a residency program was, and it was out of my comfort zone, but I was willing to try,” Lomenick said. “Now that I’m a part of it, I realize that training residents aligns with the direction where community pharmacy practice is headed.

“I can honestly say it has carried my practice to a new level, and I see it continuing to grow.”

Stephanie Ostling

Stephanie Ostling, a Pharm.D. graduate from the University of Michigan College of Pharmacy, practices in several different half-day clinics as one of two PGY-2 Ambulatory Care Pharmacy residents in the Ole Miss program. Ostling also teaches and precepts at the school as part of the residency, along with other PGY-1 and PGY-2 residents.

“I wasn’t sure that I wanted to pursue a PGY-2, but when I learned about the opportunities this residency offered, I reconsidered,” Ostling said. “My goals for this year are to develop my role as an educator and preceptor, while also strengthening my clinical practice.

“In addition, serving in clinics aligns with my long-standing interest in population health.”

The school continues to seek new ways to train well-qualified residents, bringing together Mississippi-based programs to discuss ways of advancing clinical practice. As a result of these discussions, the school developed a formal program for training preceptors – the pharmacists who train residents – as well as a Teaching and Learning Certificate Program for its residents.

The program is rigorous, with each resident designing, developing and implementing instructional activities throughout the curriculum, said Stuart Haines, professor of pharmacy practice and the certificate program’s coordinator. He hopes to expand the program.

“Many residents want to learn more about being an effective educator, which is why we introduced the Teaching and Learning Certificate,” Haines said. “We couldn’t be more pleased with how engaged the residents and faculty mentors have been this year.”

To support the goal of expanding residents’ academic training, some of the school’s faculty serve as program directors, site coordinators and preceptors for the residency programs, which include programs at UMMC, the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, St. Dominic’s Health System and Baptist Memorial Hospital.

The benefits of residency training are numerous, said Joshua Fleming, clinical assistant professor of pharmacy practice and director of the school’s ambulatory care residency program.

“With the pharmacy profession’s increased focus on patient care, the training the School of Pharmacy offers will help pharmacists enhance those skills and put them into practice,” Fleming said. “Whether a resident is preparing for a career in community pharmacy, academia or any other pharmacy setting, a residency offers invaluable, hands-on experience that will give them a deeper understanding of their practice.”

Engineering Faculty Collaborates on Deep-Space Communications

Work could improve reliability of connections with spacecraft, improve cellular service on Earth

UM researchers, from left, Kenneth S. Andrews, Ramananarayanan Viswanathan, John N. Daigle, Jon Hamkins, Dariush Divsalar and Lei Cao meet in NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in July 2015. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – Three University of Mississippi engineering professors are collaborating with colleagues at Jackson State University and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to improve communications with deep-space probes and, perhaps even, manned missions.

Lei Cao, Ramanarayanan Viswanathan and John Daigle, all professors of electrical engineering, are working with researchers at Jackson State University and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on a project funded by NASA’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, or EPSCoR.

The project, “A New Paradigm for Efficient Space Communications: Rateless Coding with Unequal Error Control and Data Fusion,” has achieved good results in theory and simulations. The team has proposed a new protocol for deep-space communications that may both improve the reliability and increase the reception rate of images or data received from spacecraft.

The results may provide a basis for improving data transfer rates over wireless systems, such as cellular phones, on Earth. The project also may help enable the co-existence of different wireless communication systems for sharing the same frequency spectrum.

“Our simulation results demonstrated that the new protocol could improve the telemetry channel throughput by 46 percent over a fixed-rate communication method,” Cao said. “It could also achieve 92 percent of the theoretic upper-bound, while eliminating the need of retransmission.”

The primary challenge in deep-space communications is that as spacecraft travel farther from Earth, the vast distances cause substantial round-trip delays in the signal and high bit error rates in wireless communications.

“For instance, the round-trip time for (a) radio signal is from 8 to 40 minutes between the Earth and Mars,” Cao said. “This feature makes the protocols based on the receiver acknowledgment and transmitter retransmission of lost data packets that are currently deployed in our daily-used, land-based wireless communications networks no longer appropriate for deep-space communications.”

Also, the long distances cause large attenuation (loss in the signal’s strength along the path), various noise and distortion due to the Earth’s atmosphere and the sun’s corona.

“The water vapor, in particular, affects higher-frequency microwave signals, such as 32 gigahertz Ka-band,” said Kenneth Andrews, of the JPL. “If a spacecraft is on the far side of the sun, and the sun-Earth-probe angle is less than about 3 degrees, then the received signal that passes close enough to the sun will also be distorted by the tenuous plasma of the sun’s corona.”

“Therefore, the signal-to-noise power ratio at a receiver is often extremely low, which easily raises the bit error rate to higher than 1 percent in many deep-space communication scenarios.”

Solving these difficult problems is critical because the need for higher data-rate communications for various exploration missions continues to grow, said Viswanathan, who also is chair of the UM Department of Electrical Engineering.

“Through this cooperative agreement, the research team at UM has made significant contributions to improve both the quantity and quality of information obtained through deep-space exploration,” he said.

Data in communications are in the form of binary bit sequences. One bit sequence is often segmented into a number of packets, or basic data units. For example, a few thousand bits could be grouped into one packet. Bits in the packet can be coded together to increase their resilience to signal distortion.

To deal with the effects of long round-trip time, instead of transmitting the original data packets, the researchers encode the packets into a large number of new packets for transmission. At the receiver, the original packets are recovered by using sophisticated algorithms to decode a number of new packets.

“The success of recovery will not depend on which new packets are received but on the number of packets received, which is slightly more than the number of original packets,” Daigle said. “As a result, the new protocol eliminates the need of requesting the transmitter to resend any unsuccessfully delivered packets.”

Together with this new protocol, a number of advancements, including effective coding and decoding algorithms, dynamic selection of the code rate of error control codes and channel prediction algorithms, have been made so that substantial improvements in data transmission over space-to-earth channels can be achieved.

In addition, efficient methods of fusing data to improve the quality of information derived from the collected data have also been developed. New strategies have been proposed to determine what kind of information should be sent to the fusion center from different observers and what optimal fusion rule should be used to maximize the detection probability while minimizing the false-alarm probability.

“The theoretic advancements and practical implementation methods made through this project have been documented in more than 20 peer-referred publications and invited talks and conference presentations,” Viswanathan said.

Besides the technical achievement, a research team, which includes three professors and several graduate students in the Department of Electrical Engineering, has been formed to focus on areas of fountain codes, signal detection and wireless communications. This team, working with other faculty within School of Engineering, has been pursuing collaboration and research opportunities with other agencies and companies.

One prominent success is the establishment of the UM site of the Broadband Wireless Access and Applications Center in 2016. BWAC is a multi-university National Science Foundation Industry/University Cooperative Research Center, led by the University of Arizona in partnership with UM, Virginia Tech, University of Notre Dame and Catholic University of America.

With NSF support, the center works to advance wireless technologies and provide cost-effective and practical solutions for next-generation – 5G and beyond – wireless systems, millimeter-wave communications, wireless cybersecurity, shared-spectrum access systems, full-duplex transmissions, massive multiple input, multiple output techniques, and more.

“The mission of BWAC is to collaborate with industry research partners to create flexible, efficient and secure wireless networks that satisfy broadband communication needs in businesses, in the home and in the lives of individuals,” Daigle said.

“Through this UM site, the research team has been collaborating with companies including Intel, Qualcomm, Raytheon and C Spire in various projects in wireless communications, particularly in antenna design, 3-D printing and cognitive radio in 5G wireless systems.”

Some of the work directly links to the technologies and expertise developed through this NASA project.

“To contribute to the higher education in the state of Mississippi, the research team has also actively involved undergraduate U.S. citizen students into the project to gain them hands-on research experience,” Cao said. “Using Universal Software Radio Peripheral and GNU radio, the undergraduate students at UM have built up some interesting projects in wireless communications.”

For example, they have built a small network that can perform the same basic functions as a commercial Global System for Mobile network, including voice, Short Message Service, Multimedia Messaging Service and General Packet Radio Service.

“The advantage of this implementation is that a self-contained cellular network can be created with a single computer,” Viswanathan said. “This simple network can be extended with multiple nodes to ideally use for situations where mobile communications infrastructure is absent or compromised, such as in disaster-struck areas.”

The students presented their work at the 31st National Conference on Undergraduate Research and published a paper in the UM Undergraduate Research Journal.

This project is funded by NASA cooperative agreement No. NNX14AN38A. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the researchers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.”

Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program Admits 29 UM Freshmen

Unique scholarship funding extended for five more years, draws students from nine states

METP’s fifth cohort hails from nine states and has an ACT average of 29.7. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The fifth cohort of the Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program at the University of Mississippi consists of 29 outstanding freshmen from nine states. With an average ACT score of 29.7, the group sets a high standard for the elite scholarship.

The program, originally designed for secondary education majors, expanded to include special education and elementary education last year following a $28 million investment from the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation in Jackson, which agreed to fund the teaching scholarship for five more years.

“METP is one of a kind,” said Ryan Niemeyer, METP director. “There are similar programs, but there’s not really another one in the country that is on this level that receives funding from a private foundation. METP focuses on a broader picture and preparing high-quality students to teach our state.”

The freshman recently attended the program’s orientation in the Lyceum, where they met faculty and administrators. Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter and David Rock, Ole Miss education dean, provided advice and encouragement during their prepared remarks.

The new class brings the METP scholarship recipients to 104, with the first cohort graduating last May.

The new cohort includes six secondary education math majors, 12 secondary education English majors, three secondary education science majors, five elementary education majors and three special education majors.

The incoming freshmen are: Eleanor Atkinson of Memphis, Tennessee; Ally Blomberg of Belleville, Illinois; Kaylynn Buskirk of Brandon; Brady Cairns of Lake in the Hills, Illinois; Zady Carden of Chickamauga, Georgia; Christian Clark of Collierville, Tennessee; Sa’mya Clayton of Oxford; Lauren Colliau of Austin, Texas; Dylan Dowty of Booneville; Hannah Farnlacher of Birmingham, Alabama; Olivia Flowers of Scottsboro, Alabama; Hunter Hardy of Madison; Hali-Ana Harvey of Waynesboro; Alyssa Hetterich of Hamilton, Ohio; Virgina James of Lexington, Kentucky; Rebecca Junkin of Summit; Mackenzie Ladewig of Horn Lake; Levi Manos of Senatobia; Kennedy Moore of Purvis; Jessie Norris of Grady, Alabama; Willow Olier of Pascagoula; Reann Parker of Gulfport; Madeleine Porter of Jackson; Chyna Quarles of Oxford; Bonnie Smith of Florence, Alabama; Cory Tune of Chester, New Jersey; Mary Frances Ward of Jasper, Alabama; Brianna Whiteside of Senatobia and Hanna Wilson of Laurel.

Established in 2012 with nearly $13 million from the Hearin Foundation, the METP scholarship covers up to four years of tuition, housing and living expenses, study abroad and more.

The program is designed to help stimulate Mississippi’s economy by recruiting top-performing students into Mississippi’s education workforce.

After graduation, METP fellows must teach in a public school in Mississippi for five years immediately after graduation. However, this can be postponed for up to three years if graduates wish to pursue a master’s degree.

The program also includes a study abroad trip. Last summer, students visited Canada to study education outside the United States. Rising juniors also have an opportunity to study American education from a policy perspective in Washington, D.C.

“Not only does METP help me financially, but it also provides me with a unique opportunity during my time in college to learn from the best to become a successful teacher,” said Farnlacher, an elementary education major.

“Knowing that I will be entering the field of teaching with all that knowledge and experience I can possibly receive will really be beneficial and give me the confidence I might not have otherwise.”

For more information on programs in the School of Education, go to

Several Construction Projects Progressing on Campus

Work includes new facilities for students, faculty and staff to learn and work

Site work has begun on the new STEM building along All-American Drive. This is one of several construction projects underway on the Ole Miss campus. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi has enjoyed tremendous growth in recent years, and campus planners are working to create the best possible space for students to learn, discover and live.

Several construction projects are underway on campus that, when completed, will provide state-of-the-art facilities for students, faculty and staff. These projects include:

Ole Miss Student Union

A redesigned and renovated Student Union, which was built in 1976, includes a 60,000-square-foot addition on the north side of the original 97,600-square-foot structure. The expansion is the first phase to open and provides food court dining services.

Construction is continuing to complete the ballroom, support kitchens, loading dock and transportation hub, as well as a total renovation of the original building, which will be the home base for student activities. Completion of the project is anticipated in early 2019.

North Parking Garage

The new parking structure in the north area of campus behind Kinard Hall has opened. The seven-level parking garage provides 1,300 additional parking spaces for on-campus residents.

STEM Building

The university received a $25 million lead gift in 2015 from the Gertrude C. Ford Foundation for construction of a new science, technology, engineering and mathematics building in the science district. The building will provide 207,000 square feet of space for classrooms and laboratories.

Last year, the site was prepared for the massive project by removing the Smith Engineering Science Building, Central Heating Plant and Old Power Plant along All-American Drive. All existing utilities in the area also are being relocated.

Construction on the STEM building is scheduled to start in 2018. If this schedule is not interrupted, the facility can be built in 24 months, with an opening date in fall 2020.

Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field

The area behind home plate is being renovated to create a Dugout Club with club seating. A two-story Performance and Operations Center also will be added to provide player facilities. This work will be done in phases and completed by March 2018.

Garland, Hedleston and Mayes Renovation

These buildings, constructed in 1938 as men’s dormitories, are no longer viable as housing options, but they are appropriate for academic and administrative use. The buildings are undergoing a full renovation, including the replacement of windows, roofs and mechanical, electrical, fire-protection and plumbing systems.

The School of Applied Sciences is scheduled to move into the space by August 2018. A two-story addition will provide classroom space, and the north entrance will be updated with an elevator and stair connector. The south courtyards will be updated with more plaza space with an ADA entrance.

Johnson Commons East

Following its partner to the west, Johnson Commons East is receiving a full renovation. The upper floor will continue to provide banquet and large meeting spaces. The lower floor, formerly the Department of Human Resources, will be renovated to house the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, Developmental Studies and the Center for Student Success – First-Year Experience.

Construction is expected to finish by August 2018.

South Campus Recreation Facility and Transportation Hub

The university acquired a 500,000-square-foot manufacturing plant, the old Whirlpool factory, on 68 acres on the southwest edge of campus. Portions of the existing building will be repurposed to provide space for fitness activities, departmental offices, classrooms, food service and a hub for Ole Miss Campus Recreation and the Department of Parking and Transportation.

Renovations to the exterior will transform the manufacturing plant into an active destination for students. This project is ongoing and is expected to be complete in October 2018.

Indoor Tennis Facility

The Department of Intercollegiate Athletics is adding an indoor tennis facility to the east of the track-and-field stadium and south of the Manning Center. The building will contain six indoor courts for competitions, spectator seating, sports storage and bathroom facilities.

Letterwinner Walk and Bell Tower

The Letterwinner Walk will provide recognition space for every student-athlete who has ever represented Ole Miss. The plaques will be mounted on brick pillars organized radially around the final yards of the Walk of Champions on the north side of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. A bell tower also is being added to the plaza area.

When visitors look north toward the Grove from the Letterwinner Walk, through the opening in the bell tower, they will see the relationship between these two elements and the STEM building, National Center for Natural Products Research, Faulkner Garden, and Shoemaker and Faser halls, all organized along a north-south axis. The space will be even more striking from the Grove, with a clear view of and straight path to the stadium.

Faulkner Memorial Garden

This garden, in memory of author William Faulkner, is in design and will be a part of the STEM building construction contract. It will serve as a place of reflection but will be adjacent to the busy north-south pedestrian path between the Grove and Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. The Walk of Champions will form its western edge, and it will be bordered by the STEM building to the west and the National Center for Natural Products Research to the east.

Pharmacy Professor Wins UM Faculty Achievement Award

Kristie Willett is chair of the school's Department of BioMolecular Sciences

Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter (left) and interim Provost Noel Wilkin present Kristie Willett with the 2017 UM Faculty Achievement Award at the annual fall faculty meeting. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – For the second consecutive year, a pharmacy professor has won the University of Mississippi’s Faculty Achievement Award.

Kristie Willett, chair of the Department of BioMolecular Sciences in the School of Pharmacy and professor of pharmacology and environmental toxicology, was presented the 2017 award at the Aug. 25 fall faculty meeting.

“This is an amazing honor,” Willett said. “There are so many truly outstanding faculty at the University of Mississippi. I really appreciate the recognition, especially considering the accomplishments of the previous awardees, who are all people I have looked up to over my years here.”

Interim Provost Noel Wilkin commended Willett’s “impeccable and professional profile as a veteran scholar, researcher and educator,” when presenting her with the honor.

“She possesses a unique capacity to connect with students and meet them where they are in their learning journeys,” Wilkin said.

Willett, who joined the Ole Miss faculty as an assistant professor of pharmacology in 2000, was named department chair earlier this year. In the past three years, she was chosen as the 2016 UM Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College Faculty Member of the Year, was selected for a three-year term as a School of Pharmacy Distinguished Teaching Scholar and won the pharmacy school’s 2016-17 Faculty Instructional Innovation Award.

“Kristie’s philosophy of teaching is honest, thoughtful and practical,” said David D. Allen, the school’s dean. “It reveals the spirit of a true educator and mentor.

“She has high expectation of students, teaches them to think independently and engages them to communicate their views.”

Willett has also been the graduate coordinator of the environmental toxicology graduate program since it began and teaches two of the core courses in the department’s environmental toxicology division.

Allen also commended Willett’s collaborative research mindset, citing her creation of the school’s thriving environmental toxicology research program, despite being the only faculty member with a background in such research. Willett’s environmental toxicology research focuses on human diseases.

“As an environmental toxicologist myself, I am really committed to educating the next generation of toxicologists,” Willett said.

Several of Willett’s students said her positive attitude and dedication were vital to their academic success. Environmental toxicology doctoral candidate Dennis Carty credits her with teaching him to become a more independent and creative researcher.

“Her teaching style is full of knowledge, creativity and passion, while never accepting anything less than each student’s personal best,” Carty said. “Dr. Willett has an untiring commitment to her students, community, research, colleagues and family. How one person can do it all is truly inspiring.”

Willett makes the 12th Faculty Achievement Award winner with a full or joint appointment in the School of Pharmacy since the award was established in 1986.

“When you truly like what you do, it is easier to do it well,” Willett said. “Science is a tricky profession that comes with lots of rejections and experiments that don’t always work like you thought they would, so it takes a lot of persistence.

“What I love about academic science is that even during the times that research isn’t going well, the teaching aspect is inspiring and rewarding.”

Calling All Connections

Alumni, constituents asked to submit suggestions for 2017-18 Ole Miss Engineer

Engineering friends,

I have had the privilege of serving as one of the editors the past few years and more recently as editor-in-chief of Ole Miss Engineer magazine. We are gearing up for the 2017-18 edition now. I so enjoy collecting great articles to share with our alumni, friends, prospective and current students, visitors and university community through this publication of the School of Engineering Dean’s Office. This is definitely one of the most fun things I get to do for the school.

In addition to great new material from departments, you will soon read about news from our research groups, engineering advisory board, Center for Manufacturing Excellence, co-op program and other engineering school entities. We’re considering Ole Miss Engineering connections as the theme for this year’s feature story. And there are many!

If you have a story to share about an interesting connection that led you to Ole Miss Engineering, a great job connection after graduation, classmate connection, even a random “Hotty Toddy” in an airport that led to a connection – we want to hear it! I’ve collected a few stories so far and can’t wait to hear more! 

Please email and we’ll get connected!