UM Technology Summit Sheds Light on Opportunities for Economic Growth

Renowned tech leaders discuss ways to address challenges and encourage entrepreneurship

Silicon Valley legend Jim Clark delivers the keynote address Wednesday (Aug. 30) during the second annual University of Mississippi Technology Summit at The Inn at Ole Miss. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Experts from industry, government and higher education discussed advances on the horizon and ways that universities can help meet workforce demands and spur entrepreneurship Wednesday (Aug. 30) at the University of Mississippi’s second annual Technology Summit.

Dozens of widely recognized professionals from the computer, telecom, internet and cyber security industries shared insights about trends and advancements in technology during the summit, hosted by Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter at The Inn at Ole Miss.

“As chancellor, I want the University of Mississippi to be a national leader in STEM education, to partner with great companies, to shape students who will be exceptional employees in the industry and to remain a cutting-edge research institution in higher education,” Vitter said. “We want to face the challenges of today and meet the opportunities of tomorrow.”

Vitter commended U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker for launching the inaugural summit in 2016.

Recognizing the contributions of Dr. Arthur Guyton, the legendary physiologist and faculty member in the UM School of Medicine, and fellow alumni Fred Smith and Jim Barksdale, Wicker praised the university as a place for innovation and growth.

“People in (William) Faulkner-land most definitely can come up with profound inventions while still being versed in literature, the humanities and other academic disciplines,” said Wicker, who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation and the Internet. “What products of Mississippi brainpower will we be proud of two decades from now? We’re here today to stimulate those brain cells.”

The senator said he also witnessed the signing of a memorandum of understanding between UM and Globalstar Inc. on Tuesday (Aug. 29). The agreement will establish a satellite ground station at the university with access to Globalstar’s constellation of satellites, providing limitless opportunities, he said.

The event reinforced Vitter’s commitment to strengthening STEM education, growing the university’s capacity to address future workforce needs and enhancing its status as a Carnegie R1 Highest Research Activity Institution.

The summit also complemented many of the university’s recent efforts in this area, including a new STEM building under development on campus and the chancellor’s initiative to establish a leading, interdisciplinary research and education program in data science.

Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter (third from left) enjoys a humorous moment with (from left) Jim Barksdale, Jim Clark and U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker during the UM Technology Summit. Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

In his keynote address during the morning session, Jim Clark, founder of Silicon Graphics, highlighted the commonalities of companies he has founded over his professional career.

“I started Silicon Graphics in 1982 with seven grad students from Stanford,” Clark said. “By the time I left it 12 years later, it employed more than 10,000 worldwide. We pioneered the idea of 3-D graphics.”

Clark recalled how he and Barksdale co-founded Netscape in mid-1994. The company was met with skepticism initially, but later revolutionized online communication, he said.

“Nobody believed that we could make the internet a commercial entity,” he said. “Twenty-five years later, our patented encryption technology is still the security backbone of the internet. I believe that is the singular most important thing Netscape ever did.”

He also shared how, following Netscape’s acquisition by AOL, he began Healtheon. The health care network later merged with and remains a standard in the industry, Clark said.

Nicholas Degani, senior counsel of the Federal Communications Commission, followed Clark’s address. The FCC is working diligently to close the communications digital divide between broadband users in urban and rural communities, he said.

“Through inclusion, investment and innovation, our goal is to make fast broadband connections available and affordable to all people everywhere,” Degani said. “We’re not where we want to be or need to be, but we’re extremely excited about the possibilities being presented by 5G networks and private capital investments.”

Barksdale, former president and CEO of Netscape, moderated a roundtable discussion, asking participants to identify opportunities and make predictions about technological advancements. Participants also explored how regulatory forums and government entities can balance competing demands of consumer privacy, national security and economic growth.

The afternoon session consisted of three concurrent panel discussions in which industry professionals and tech entrepreneurs underscored the need for more STEM-trained professionals to meet future demands on their industries.

Josh Gladden, UM vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs, led a discussion focused on strong defense and protecting the homeland. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor and dean of medicine at the UM Medical Center, facilitated conversations around expanding access and opportunities to rural communities. Allyson Best, UM director of technology management, led talks on unleashing economic innovation.

For a full list of panelists and participants, visit

Ole Miss Student Union Food Service Locations Open

Students enjoying expanded choices and dining space in new facility

Construction fences are gone around the Ole Miss Student Union expansion, which opened Wednesday (Aug. 30). Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – All food service locations in the new portion of the Ole Miss Student Union – including Chick-fil-A, Panda Express, Qdoba, Which Wich and McAlister’s Deli – opened earlier today (Aug. 30) to the University of Mississippi community.

The opening is an important milestone for the project, which, when complete, will expand the facility from 97,000 square feet to 173,000 square feet, said Larry Sparks, UM vice chancellor for administration and finance.

“We’re pleased to open the food service portion of the Union,” Sparks said. “While there’s still work to be done, we’re proud of what this represents for our university community and, most importantly, our students.”

The additional dining locations have created nearly 250 jobs for students and local community members, said Clay Jones, assistant vice chancellor for administration and human resources.

“Throughout the summer, Ole Miss Dining Services worked diligently to hire and train personnel who are eager to provide a positive dining experience for our campus community,” Jones said. “They’re excited to begin work and we’re glad to offer a wide array of choices, thanks to our new vendors.”

As workmen continue the finishing touches of Phase 2, students said they can already see their new space coming to life.

Dale Hall, a senior biology major from Magnolia was among the first to visit the facility. He praised the number of healthy food service options.

“The new Student Union is definitely a success in progress and I can’t wait to see the finished project,” Hall said. 

McAlister’s Deli is on the second floor of the Student Union and serves as a stand-alone restaurant with dedicated seating. Other dining options are on the first floor in the building’s food court and are accessible by entering on the side facing the Women’s Terrace.

The Student Union will be open 7 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. On Saturdays and Sundays, the Union generally will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., beginning this weekend.

On Sept. 9, the Union will open at 7 a.m., before the Ole Miss vs. UT-Martin football game, which is scheduled for an 11 a.m. kickoff.

During Phase 3 of the project, crews will continue renovation work on the lower level of the Student Union. Construction is expected to be completed by 2019.

The Student Union food court features an expanded lineup of options and more seating for students and visitors. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

Alumni and Friends Provide $153.6 Million in Support

University's endowment enjoys double-digit growth over past year

Private support for UM topped $100 million for the sixth consecutive year, providing needed funds for student scholarships, faculty support and facility upgrades. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – With generous private support and high-performing investments, fiscal year 2017 saw the University of Mississippi’s endowment climb to approximately $675 million – a notable increase of 12 percent, attributed to effective management and a strong market.

The stellar year of philanthropy was further evidenced in private gifts that totaled $153.6 million, marking the sixth consecutive year donors gave at least $100 million. Cash gifts of all sizes combined for $94.2 million, with new pledges (as yet unrealized) adding up to more than $36.6 million. Donors committed more than $22.8 million in current and future planned gifts to Ole Miss.

Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter pointed to private support as key to ensuring the margin of excellence expected of a nationally- and internationally-recognized educational and research institution.

“We have imagined a future for the University of Mississippi as a preeminent international research university and leading force for innovation in Mississippi, our nation and our world,” the chancellor said. “We will realize that future only with the extraordinary investments of alumni and friends and the dedicated efforts of faculty, staff and students.

“We are grateful for the commitment to excellence that permeates our university family. While all great institutions share many outstanding attributes, none is more primary than the continual drive to get ever greater – to desire more, to give more and to be more.”

Private support to UM provides scholarships for students, resources for faculty members and other researchers, funds for new programs and program expansion, investments in health professionals’ educational preparation and health care services for Mississippians, capital for facility construction and renovation, support for Ole Miss athletics programs, and more.

Wendell Weakley, president and CEO of the UM Foundation, spoke to the growth of the university’s endowment, which represents permanently held funds that are invested and managed for the university. The investments benefited from historic peaks in the stock market.

“In a year of incredible university achievements, we are particularly proud of the growth of our endowment,” Weakley said. “We enjoyed a double-digit rate of return on investments, which are managed by the foundation’s diligent Joint Committee on University Investments. In addition to generous donors and the expertise of our investment committee members, the university benefits from the leadership of a deeply committed UM Foundation board of directors.

“We are honored to be entrusted with generous gifts and are constantly aware of our serious responsibility to steward them. With all of our continued, combined efforts, we can ensure this flagship university will continue to benefit generations to come.”

Among major gifts directed to the Oxford campus were $28 million (with half shared with Mississippi State University) from the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation of Jackson for the Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program; $7.25 million from the Luckyday Foundation of Jackson for the Luckyday Success Scholarship program; $2.1 million from the estate of the late Wilton Ernest Dyson of Birmingham, Alabama, for the Patterson School of Accountancy; and $1 million from Pam and Brook Smith of Louisville, Kentucky, for the Southern Foodways Alliance.

Strong private support helps UM faculty members ensure the university maintains a high level of teaching and research excellence. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Recent investments in the university will help ensure there are more physicians and top-tier services to take care of Mississippians. A $74 million, state-of-the-art School of Medicine building opened in August, facilitating plans to expand entering class sizes from around 145 students to 155, and to eventually top off at approximately 165 – the total considered necessary to meet the state’s goal of 1,000 additional physicians by 2025.

“As much as UMMC needed a modern facility that our medical students can call their campus home, our state needs even more the additional physicians that this larger and more advanced building will allow us to graduate over a lifetime of service,” said Dr. LouAnn Woodward, UM vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine.

In addition, the Medical Center experienced remarkable momentum with the Campaign for Children’s Hospital, reflecting the importance benefactors place on children’s health. Children’s of Mississippi is the umbrella organization that includes Batson Children’s Hospital and all UMMC pediatric care, including clinics offering specialty care around the state.

A lead gift of $10 million came from campaign co-chairs Joe and Kathy Sanderson. Friends of Children’s Hospital pledged an additional $20 million and a $10 million planned gift was committed by an anonymous donor. Other significant gifts included $1 million from Eli and Abby Manning of Summit, New Jersey, honorary co-chairs of the campaign; $1 million from the children of Dr. and Mrs. Rodney Faser Triplett through their Jackson-based family foundation; and a gift from Robbie Hughes of Jackson, the widow of the late Dudley Hughes, who previously endowed a distinguished chair in UMMC’s MIND Center.

Funds raised in the campaign will help the Medical Center enlarge and update its space dedicated for pediatric care, including an expanded and renovated neonatal intensive care unit, more rooms for the pediatric intensive care unit, more operating rooms and the creation of an imaging clinic especially for pediatric patients. A new pediatric clinic will make care for outpatients more convenient and comfortable for families. Expansion of the Children’s Heart Center is also on the drawing board.

Ole Miss athletics continued to enjoy strong donor support, with more than $30 million in cash gifts and more than $5 million in new pledges. The $200 million Forward Together campaign has attracted $172 million, as a new phase of projects gets underway.

“Thanks to the Rebel Nation, Ole Miss athletics – that is, our talented student-athletes and coaches – received continued excellent support this year,” said Keith Carter, senior associate athletics director and executive director of the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation.

“Our donors will be excited, we believe, to see their gifts at work through construction and renovation of our athletic facilities, giving Ole Miss student-athletes the highest quality of experiences both on and off fields and courts. Our generous, loyal and dedicated fan base continues to fuel new heights of excellence.”

A number of capital projects supporting athletics are underway on the Oxford campus. The recently renovated Gillom Center, which is the home to the soccer, softball, volleyball and rifle programs, just saw its $11 million renovation come to completion. Both tennis programs soon will see an $11 million, 52,000-square-foot indoor facility, set to open in January 2018. Features include six courts for practice and competition and seating for 300 spectators.

The nationally-prominent track and field programs saw their facility receive major upgrades in the last year, and Rebel baseball is undergoing a facelift that will completely change the dynamic for student-athletes and fans. Construction around Vaught-Hemingway Stadium continues for the north plaza featuring the Jake Gibbs Letterwinner Walk and Lloyd Bell Tower, which will further enhance the game day experience for Rebel Nation.

“The generous philanthropic investment in the university by our alumni and friends is a hallmark of their passionate belief in the power of education,” Vitter said. “We are tremendously thankful for all the generous donations, which are such a vital part of our university’s sustained growth, reach, impact and success.”

UM’s Rebel Relief Disaster Fund Donations to Help Harvey’s Victims

Money is the greatest need to help victims rebuild lives

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi’s Rebel Relief Disaster Fund will aid victims of Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall in Texas last week and continues to cause historic flooding in Texas and Louisiana as a tropical storm.

The Ole Miss community is seeking ways to help victims of the storm, as the university has many students from the affected areas, said Brandi Hephner LaBanc, UM vice chancellor for student affairs.

“We have more than 500 students with home addresses in the impacted counties in Texas,” Hephner LaBanc said. “Each of them will get an email from me today (Wednesday) outlining the resources that are available on campus to assist them. These students can also call my office (662-915-7705) for more information about our support services.”

One way to help is to make a tax-deductible donation to the Rebel Relief Disaster Fund, which aids UM students who have been affected, said Barbara Russo, UM emergency management coordinator.

“It is in our nature to want to jump in and assist others during times like these,” Russo said. “But in reality, what the victims need right now is money because people have lost homes and have no housing, no place to store things if they wanted to. Organizations are already taking care of basic needs and then some.”

Funding is the most important asset to help victims in the wake of a storm like Harvey, Russo said.

“What they need is money to keep providing services and resources,” Russo said. “The majority of donated items in these events sadly end up in landfills.”

The UM community helps Hurricane Katrina’s victims in 2005. The university is seeking donations to the Rebel Relief Disaster Fund to help students affected by Hurricane Harvey. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

The Rebel Relief Disaster Fund was established in March in response to calls to assist others in times of disasters. The University of Mississippi Foundation administers the fund. Its sole purpose is to provide support for students who have been affected by recent unforeseen circumstances such as natural disasters or other significant events.

“Our hearts go out to those affected by the storms and to those students whose families have been affected,” said Noel Wilkin, interim provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs.

“The devastation causes all of us to stop and think about how quickly natural disasters can change our circumstances. This is even more difficult for those who have families in the affected areas.”

Affected students should check with the Office of Leadership and Advocacy to learn which resources and assistance are available.

Those who wish to give to the Rebel Relief Disaster Fund can visit the University of Mississippi’s Foundation website and click on ‘Give Now.’ Users should select ‘Other’ and enter ‘Rebel Relief Disaster Fund’ in the comments section. Donors may also drop off or mail contributions to the University of Mississippi Foundation at 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655.

The American Red Cross, Salvation Army and other giving sites can be accessed at the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters website.

UM to Host Second Annual Technology Summit

U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, industry leaders to discuss technology trends and STEM education

Chancellor Vitter will host the 2017 UM Technology Summit.

OXFORD, Miss. – For the second year, Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter and the University of Mississippi will host U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker and technology industry leaders Wednesday (Aug. 30) for the annual UM Technology Summit.

The event, which begins at 9 a.m. in the Gertrude C. Ford Ballroom at The Inn at Ole Miss, is open to the public. The summit will bring together leaders from government, business and higher education to explore trends in technology and stimulate discussions about technology-related needs in industry and education.

“The University of Mississippi is committed to preparing the next generation of students who will make an impact in a technology-driven world,” said Vitter, UM’s 17th chancellor and distinguished professor of computer and information science. “We are so pleased to be hosting this tech summit event for the second year, which offers us the opportunity to explore trends in technology and to discuss future needs for industry and education as they relate to technology.”

Wicker, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation and the Internet, said he expects great results from this year’s summit.

“I often get a front-seat view of the innovative ways that technology is increasing productivity, creating jobs and driving our economy forward,” Wicker said. “Mississippi is continuing to lead with groundbreaking advances in technology, health care and defense.

“I look forward to participating in this summit and discussing how we can equip Mississippi’s students with the skills and tools they need to drive this technological innovation forward into the future.”

During the morning session, James H. Clark, founder of Silicon Graphics, will deliver the keynote address. Clark said he looks forward to discussing trends in the industry.

Guest speaker Nicholas Degani, senior counsel for the Federal Communications Commission, is scheduled to follow Clark.

“(FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai has made clear that closing the digital divide is goal No. 1 for the FCC,” Degani said. “Mississippi has made great strides in facilitating broadband deployment, and I look forward to hearing about the challenges innovators and investors still face and how we can overcome them.”

Ole Miss alumnus and major donor James Barksdale will moderate a morning roundtable discussion featuring representatives from technology industries and government agencies.

This discussion will include participants from Barksdale Management Corp., Raytheon, Silicon Graphics, the Federal Communications Commission, AT&T Mississippi, Microsoft, Department of Homeland Security, Toyota, the office of U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, FedEx Corp., C Spire, GlobalStar, InterDigital, MortgageTrade, Comcast, Federated Wireless, the U.S. Senate and UM.

The afternoon includes three concurrent breakout sessions. Panelists will discuss strong defense and protecting the homeland, expanding access and opportunities to rural communities, and unleashing economic innovation.

Last year’s summit brought together longtime professionals from the computer, telecom, internet and cyber security industries, among others. They discussed advances on the horizon and ways that universities can help industry meet its new workforce demands and spur entrepreneurship.

The event reinforced Vitter’s commitment to strengthening STEM education, growing the university’s capacity to address future workforce needs and enhancing UM’s status as a Carnegie R1 Highest Research Activity Institution.

The summit also complemented many of the university’s recent efforts in this area, including work on a 207,000 square-foot, $140 million STEM building and the chancellor’s initiative to establish a leading interdisciplinary research and education program in data science.

Vitter concluded the previous summit by thanking Wicker for his “insightful leadership” and the panelists for sharing their experience and expertise.

“It has been extraordinary to explore the future of technology and the role of higher education, UM in particular, with these thought leaders,” Vitter said.

“The University of Mississippi is well-positioned to be a national leader in producing STEM graduates educated in a new paradigm that prepares them for the global, fast-paced, team-oriented workplace of the future. We look forward to continuing the dialogue on addressing the challenges of today and growing the opportunities of tomorrow.”

For more information, including how to register to attend the event, visit

Holocaust Survivor Marion Blumenthal Lazan Speaks at UM

Aug. 29 speech at Paris-Yates Chapel is open to the public

Holocaust survivor Marion Blumenthal Lazan, who endured six and a half years in concentration camps during World War II, will speak at the University of Mississippi Aug. 29. Photo courtesy of Marion Blumenthal Lazan.

OXFORD, Miss. – Holocaust survivor Marion Blumenthal Lazan, who endured six-and-a-half years in concentration camps, will bring her story of sheer determination, faith and hope to the University of Mississippi and the local community.

Lazan speaks at 7 p.m. Tuesday (Aug. 29) at Paris-Yates Chapel in an event free and open to the public. She also plans to speak with local public school groups and UM students Aug. 28, 29 and 30. Her story is important for people of all ages to hear, she said.

“Audiences of all ages need to know that one can overcome adversity,” Lazan said. “Sharing my childhood experiences during the Holocaust goes beyond just the story and the facts.

“I always say it’s the lessons learned from that dark period of our history that is so important: 1. To be kind, good and respectful toward one another – that is the basis for peace. 2. Not to blindly follow a leader. 3. Not to generalize and judge an entire group by the actions of some in that group.”

Lazan and her family made it out of refugee, transit and prison camps, including Westerbork in the Netherlands and Bergen-Belsen in Germany, during World War II. Though all the Blumenthals survived more than six years in the camps, Marion’s father, Walter Blumenthal, died of typhus just after liberation.

Marion Blumenthal Lazan, then 7 years old, at Westerbork concentration camp in the Netherlands. Photo courtesy of Marion Lazan Blumenthal.

Her story is told in her critically acclaimed autobiography, “Four Perfect Pebbles,” which will be available for purchase and signing during her visit. Besides being an author, Lazan regularly speaks to school groups and religious groups of all denominations and faiths throughout the United States, Germany and Israel. She previously spoke at Ole Miss twice in 2005. 

The UM Hillel and the Jewish Federation of Oxford worked to bring Lazan to campus and are co-sponsoring the events.

The two groups are proud to host Lazan, particularly given recent events, said Richard Gershon, UM professor of law and spokesman for the Jewish Federation of Oxford.

“Ms. Lazan’s message is especially important after the events in Charlottesville earlier this month,” Gershon said. “As one of the last survivors of the Holocaust, she experienced, firsthand, the evil that can occur when hatred becomes the guiding principle of a society.”

McLean Institute Hosts Virtual Reality Experience

Public will get a glimpse of technology work conducted in the Delta

Vince Jordan, CEO of Lobaki, works with Clarksdale students to create a technology hub in the Delta. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi’s McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement will host a virtual reality experience for students in the Catalyzing Entrepreneurship and Economic Development program Thursday (Aug. 24) at the Innovation Hub at Insight Park

Vince Jordan, CEO and president of virtual reality production company Lobaki, will join the 15 Innovation Scholars and Innovation Fellows from 5 to 8 p.m. The students will learn from Jordan, a seasoned entrepreneur, about how he is engaging the community in his work.

Lobaki has established The Virtual Reality Center and Academy in downtown Clarksdale as part of the Indigo Impact Initiative. The goal is to revitalize the Delta through technology and entrepreneurism through partnerships with Meraki Cooperative, the Crossroads Cultural Arts Center and the city of Clarksdale, including Clarksdale Public Schools.

“We are excited to see how this new development in Clarksdale can impact entrepreneurship and economic development throughout Mississippi,” said J.R. Love, Catalyzing Entrepreneurship and Economic Development project manager.

Jordan began the program in Clarksdale this summer to get young people interested in technology, hoping to make the town a tech hub for Mississippi.

“We had good success with this program this summer and are looking forward to expanding it during this school year in the community and the region,” Jordan said.

“Virtual reality is where web design was in the early ’90s and smartphones in the early 2000s. It is a great opportunity for entrepreneurs and economic development in Mississippi and beyond.”

The event is open to the public. Formal remarks will be given at 5:30 p.m. by Jordan and Albert Nylander, McLean Institute director and UM professor of sociology.

Jordan also will visit other units at Ole Miss, including the Center of Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the Center for Mathematics and Science Education.

For more information, contact Love at

UM Beautification Guru Shares Leadership Tips in New Book

Jeff McManus urges readers to strive for greatness by turning 'weeders into leaders'

Jeff McManus, UM director of landscaping, airport and golf operations, has compiled a wealth of lessons he learned as head caretaker of the ‘Most Beautiful Campus in America’ into a new book on leadership. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Jeff McManus, director of landscape services, and airport and golf operations at the University of Mississippi, has published a new book titled “Growing Weeders into Leaders.” It’s not another gardening tome but rather a collection of “leadership lessons from the ground level.” 

The man in charge of keeping the “Most Beautiful Campus in America” looking photogenic is also an authority on leadership, frequently providing keynote addresses and professional training on the subject. His latest book, published by Morgan James, features a foreword by Chancellor Emeritus Robert Khayat, who hired McManus at Ole Miss 17 years ago.

McManus said the book is intended to be an inspirational guide.

“My hope is those who finish the book will have two takeaways,” McManus said. “One: Greatness, whether it be personal or professional/institutional, is a process. It takes time. It takes communication and commitment. Greatness is accessible to us all.

“Two: The team of front-line workers at Ole Miss finds and expresses their greatness daily; so can we all.”

The book is his second release. In 2015, he published “Pruning Like a Pro” (CreateSpace). 

McManus has been the mastermind of keeping the Oxford campus – more than 1,500 acres, including the Ole Miss Golf Course – looking gorgeous. Those beautification efforts have been nationally recognized five times during his tenure, including being named Most Beautiful Campus by the Princeton Review, Professional Grounds Management Society and Newsweek.

Last year, McManus won the Professional Grounds Management Society’s President’s Award and was named the Auburn University Department of Horticulture’s outstanding alumnus for 2016. 

Khayat hired McManus following a national search to find the best landscape manager in the business to turn UM into a five-star property. McManus had made a name for himself after leading landscape efforts at two large resorts in Florida, Grand Cypress Resort in Orlando and Turnberry Isle Resort and Club in North Miami.

The former chancellor has said McManus “changed the landscape culture and the general culture in the local community of Oxford, Mississippi, in a very positive way.” McManus challenged his staff to develop the best-landscaped campus in the country and got them new uniforms and equipment to make their jobs easier.

“He challenged his staff to ‘own’ the campus,” Khayat said. “He created teams such as ‘delta force,’ ‘all stars,’ the ‘rough riders’ and provided motivational information and guidance.

“He coined the phrase ‘weeders into leaders.’ The staff bought in and became highly respected … and gained self-respect.” 

Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter also lauds McManus’ authority on leadership in the book’s endorsements section. 

“Far more than a dry collection of management tips, ‘Growing Weeders Into Leaders’ is filled with personal experiences and insights aimed at empowering employees and helping them unleash their own creativity and drive,” Vitter said. “No matter what business you’re in, Jeff can help your team reach its full potential.”

McManus has book signings set for 5 p.m. Sept. 6 at Square Books in Oxford and 4 p.m. Oct. 12 at the Barnes & Noble Ole Miss Bookstore on Jackson Avenue. Other signings are in the works.  


Student Union Reopening Delayed

Renovated facility to be operational later than anticipated

The Ole Miss Student Union is undergoing a renovation and expansion from 97,000 square feet to 173,000 square feet. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – As University of Mississippi students return to campus for the fall semester, the reopening of the expanded Ole Miss Student Union has been unexpectedly delayed.

The facility will be operational later than its originally scheduled reopening on Monday (Aug. 21), UM administrators said.

“The project team is working diligently to ensure the opening of this building maintains the standard of excellence that our university family expects and deserves,” said Chad Hunter, associate university architect. “We will update everyone as we get closer to the opening date.”

To accommodate food service for faculty and staff, Ole Miss Dining will extend hours of operation in all its dining locations, including the temporary options offered since January.

“I am disappointed about the delay in opening the Student Union,” said Brandi Hephner LaBanc, vice chancellor for student affairs. “It was a hard decision, but the correct one.

“We want to provide students the best experience at Ole Miss, and prematurely opening the building would have disappointed them much more than waiting on a completely finished product.”

The Student Union is being renovated in two phases that will expand the facility from 97,000 square feet to 173,000 square feet. Phase 1, which is opening soon, will include both familiar and new food vendors.

“Previous staples will return, including Chick-fil-A, Panda Express and Qdoba, but we are especially excited to welcome Which Wich and McAlister’s Deli,” said Bradley Baker, Student Union director. “McAlister’s will be located on the second floor and will serve as a stand-alone restaurant. The other dining options will be located on the first floor of the building.”

Also, a transit center will open on the lowest level of the Student Union, allowing students to wait for OUT buses in air conditioning and out of the weather.

With the renovation ongoing and all work expected to be complete in 2019, several offices have moved temporarily. They include the:

Students, faculty and staff will not lose the value of their meal plans. Students with Rebel 100 will maintain a block of 100 meals. Students with Rebel 50 Plus 1 and Upperclassmen 50 meal plans will have a block of 50 meals.

Block meals will be available at the Rebel Market, the Marketplace at the Residential College, breakfast or lunch at the Grill at 1810 or an $8 equivalent of menu items at Freshii, Chick-fil-A Mobile and P.O.D. Mobile.

Rebel Unlimited Plus 1, faculty and staff meal plans, Spring Greek Plus 1, Upperclassmen Plus 1 and Upperclassmen Weekday Plus 1 will not be affected.

For a schedule of food services from Aramark, visit

William Magee Center an Expression of Love

Donors step up with gifts to help Ole Miss students

William Magee

OXFORD, Miss. – The late William Magee’s infectious smile could bring light and laughter to a room.

The talented young man was an alumnus of the University of Mississippi’s Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and Croft Institute for International Studies. He also ran track for Ole Miss and was named to the SEC academic honor roll. The beloved son and brother was a good friend to many – the kind of guy who’d be a pleasure to know.

Before his unfortunate 2013 overdose while trying to beat drug addiction, he had hoped to one day help others win their own battles against substance abuse.

Now he will – his legacy bringing light to Ole Miss students through a heightened focus on drug and alcohol education and prevention. The William Magee Center for Wellness Education is planned to open in 2018, when construction is completed on the university’s new South Campus Recreation Facility.

Gifts for the initiative have surpassed $500,000, with a deferred gift of $850,000 also committed.

“At the University of Mississippi, when we identify a problem, we seek to address it assertively and energetically,” Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said. “Drug and alcohol abuse is a prevalent issue on college campuses across the country.

“Our intention with the Magee Center is to direct expertise from several disciplines across our campuses to develop creative solutions that will significantly reduce alcohol and drug misuse.”

Donors include William’s parents Kent and David Magee, Diane and Dick Scruggs, and Cris and Jay Hughes, all of Oxford; Becca and Phil Mehlin of Little Rock, Arkansas; American Addiction Centers of Brentwood, Tennessee, owner of the Oxford Treatment Center’s residential center and outpatient clinics; and the Sigma Nu and Kappa Alpha fraternities.

Fundraising for the Magee Center will continue as the university seeks to enhance student success by taking a closer look at substance abuse issues, while implementing best practices to educate and intervene with students affected. In addition, the Magee Center will host a biennial symposium to bring in prominent thought leaders.

David Magee “came home” to Oxford and Mississippi to help make a difference.

Gathering at the construction site of the South Campus Recreation Facility where the William Magee Center for Wellness Education will be housed are (from left) Brett Barefoot, UM development officer for parents and family leadership; Billy Young, co-founder and CEO, Dr. Stephen Pannel, medical director from the AAC-owned Oxford Treatment Center; Jay and Cris Hughes, Kent and David Magee, and Diane and Dick Scruggs, all donors; and Brandi Hephner LaBanc, vice chancellor for student affairs. UM photo by Bill Dabney

“One of our primary reasons for returning to Oxford (from Birmingham) was to be nearer to Ole Miss and find ways to contribute,” Magee said. “I was blessed to grow up in Oxford and know that students should always come first.

“I met with Chancellor Jeff Vitter and told him that I planned to write about William and to spearhead an initiative to help other students benefit from educational programming; he gave me great encouragement.”

Magee’s “William’s Story,” which was addressed to last fall’s freshmen, has been read by an estimated million-plus people.

“Kent and I expected the story to find an audience since so many families face this challenge, but we did not expect the story to be read from coast to coast. Of all the positive responses, none were as strong as those from the Ole Miss family, which always wants to help our students, tomorrow’s generation, first and foremost.”

Vitter was joined by Brandi Hephner LaBanc, vice chancellor for student affairs, and Leslie Banahan, assistant vice chancellor, in supporting the Magees.

“William was an outstanding student-athlete and will always be a part of this university,” he said. “We are deeply grateful to his parents and other passionate donors for driving this initiative to help bring expanded educational and support mechanisms to our campus. Ole Miss wants to be proactive in supporting our students whatever their challenges may be; having added resources makes a tremendous impact on our work.”

Dick Scruggs said he and his wife, Diane, were led to support the center because they have become alarmed at the “rapid spread and apparent acceptance of highly dangerous drugs among some student populations.

“The increasing availability of cheap and lethal drugs is a relatively new phenomenon in the drug scene, and the mortal risks associated with them is not sufficiently appreciated. Our extended family has had one such deadly tragedy, and every family with young adults is at risk.

“Diane and I want to be part of a robust campuswide effort to identify and intervene with at-risk students, hopefully to prevent more young deaths.

“I hope that our society, not just parents, come to understand that substance abuse is a disease and not a character flaw. The stigma that so often comes with seeking help deters and delays treatment far too often.”

As an intern in a mental health and substance abuse center years ago, Jay Hughes witnessed tragic situations and understands that addiction is a disease in which one body has different receptors than others.

“I also recognize the stigma that comes with the denial of so many who simply think it is just a bad choice or a bad person,” said Hughes, who along with his wife, Cris, was among the first to support the project. “We have to educate people and move forward with treating it for what it is.”

Among resources available to students at the Magee Center will be centralized education and advocacy, peer education programs, counseling and outside referrals, research on prevention and intervention, and recovery support.

American Addiction Centers CEO Michael Cartwright said support for the center is a natural fit for the company, given its own goals in prevention and education. AAC’s Oxford Treatment Center facilities include locations in Oxford, Etta, Tupelo and Olive Branch.

“We have excellent treatment programs in Mississippi where we equip people for long-term recovery,” Cartwright said. “Helping to break through the epidemic of drug and alcohol problems among college students, especially in our home communities, is something our company believes in.”

Addiction affects young people from every background, said Billy Young, co-founder and CEO of Oxford Treatment Center.

“In the work we do, we see the way drugs and alcohol can hijack the future of young people,” said Young, an Ole Miss alumnus. “The university is taking a bold step to intervene, and we’re committed to supporting this effort in every way we can.”

One of Sigma Nu fraternity’s philanthropy chairs, Nicholas Egorshin of Birmingham said the group wanted to pay tribute to William, David and the family’s other son, Hudson, all Sigma Nu members. The fraternity’s gift also recognizes the challenges among college populations.

“The Magee Center has the potential to change so many lives,” he said. “Sigma Nu’s gift shows that our members recognize how significant an issue addiction is and our commitment to doing what we can to help combat the problem.

“We are providing this support in the name of one of our brothers William – an accomplished and well-rounded student – which serves as further testament that addiction does not discriminate and is likely affecting many around us.”

KA philanthropy chair Dillon Pitts said, “Our fraternity members believe it is crucial to enhance the university’s ability to address needs of the student body. Combining our efforts is the best way to offer premier programming and witness positive results; we are all on this journey together and should help one another any way we can.”

The Magees view the new center as an expression of love for William and a passion for helping students.

“Our university has grown, doubling in size over the past decade,” David Magee said. “With growth comes the responsibility of serving a diverse student body with diverse needs. This center can be a point of light that can help so many caught between the fringes of struggle and success.

“Our goal is to see Ole Miss emerge as a national leader that provides world-class wellness education and resources for its students.”

“William’s Story” can be found at

The William Magee Center for Wellness Education is open to receive gifts from individuals and organizations by mailing a check with the center’s name in the memo line to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655. A crowdfunding campaign has been launched at

For more information contact Brett Barefoot, development officer for parents and family leadership, at or 662-915-2711.