Insight Park Tenant Health Check Audit Grows into a Powerhouse Firm

Company has hired numerous UM graduates since relocating to campus

Jon Scala, a University of Mississippi graduate, is president and principal of Health Check Audit, a tenant of the university’s Insight Park that has grown into a major health care auditing firm. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Health Check Audit, with offices at the University of Mississippi’s Insight Park, has become one of the nation’s leading health care revenue recovery firms since adding office space on campus in 2014. The company recently went through mergers to position itself for even more growth. 

Health Check, founded in 1995, provides revenue cycle services to hospitals throughout the country. Its main job is to conduct audit and recovery services for commercial insurance payments to hospitals. In 2014, Health Check invested in new equipment, leased office space and hired new staff at Insight Park.

The company represents more than 1,400 hospitals in some of the nation’s largest health care systems. 

Health Check merged with Revint Solutions Oct. 31, then New Mountain Capital bought Revint and IMA Consulting and rolled them into one large company, which will continue to be called Revint Solutions.  Ole Miss graduate Jon Scala, Health Check’s president and principal, and business partner Mark Koppel, the firm’s CEO, will keep shares in the much larger company.

The deal means that Health Check has gone from 40 employees to nearly 300 employees in the last three years. The changes position the company for a bright future with more resources for its clients and room to hire more employees, Scala said.

“Health Check is in a bigger, stronger position,” Scala said. “With the additional service offerings, subject matter experts and thought leadership, we are now able to provide additional value and critical lost revenue for our clients.

“Revint Solutions is the visionary firm the industry has been demanding for years. I am humbled to have the opportunity to continue to be a part of such a dynamic revenue integrity team.” 

Health Check found a niche for itself in the complex world of health care reimbursement, tapping into a great need for cash-strapped hospitals. The company audits payments from insurance companies against the hospital’s bill in conjunction with the contractual obligations the payer has made with the hospital.

After an auditor finds an underpayment, other team members begin working on the lost revenue recovery process on behalf of the hospital. Health Check has identified nearly $100 million this year for hospitals across the country, including in the state of Mississippi.

“We put the money back into the hospital system that they never knew about, didn’t plan on and didn’t collect,” Scala said. “Every dollar is a blessing for them.”

William Nicholas, Insight Park’s assistant director, has watched the company grow since moving to campus and is impressed. 

“I am delighted for Jon and the entire Health Check family,” Nicholas said. “I watched as Jon and Mark boldly purchased the company and immediately went to work hiring some of the university’s best and brightest graduates to help him achieve his vision for Health Check. I am so pleased that his courage and hard work has been rewarded.”

Scala, 34, who earned a Bachelor of Accountancy in 2005 and a Master of Accountancy in 2006, began working with Health Check in 2013. As part of his hiring agreement, he had the option to purchase the company and became its CFO. He decided Oxford would be an ideal spot for new company team members. 

When it moved to Insight Park, Health Check quickly hired 10 graudates of the Patterson School of Accountancy to start. The company also has had interns from Ole Miss and has maintained a close relationship with the university to place students in jobs post-graduation in a fast-paced entrepreneurial environment. 

“Insight Park is the ideal location for Health Check,” Scala said. “The amenities available to tenants, combined with the proximity to top university talent, allowed us to take advantage of the intersection of talent, place and innovation.” 

The company has become more tech-focused of late, and Scala wants to find more ways to partner with the UM Department of Computer Science

Revint Solutions has about 300 employees nationwide and 15 times the revenue it had when it moved to Oxford. Health Check has hired nearly 20 Ole Miss graduates. Three of them, who are all 25 years old, hold key positions in the company, and two manage national health systems ranked among the top 10, Scala said.

One of the company’s young stars, Blake Pruett, may be familiar to Ole Miss fans. While a UM student, Pruett was a member of the rap group King Kobraz, which scored a major hit in 2013 with Ole Miss fans dubbed “Feed Moncrief,” a tribute to then-Ole Miss wide receiver Donte Moncrief.

Pruett, who began working as an auditor with Health Check during the final semester of his MBA classes, is the client services manager for Optum360, which provides end-to-end revenue cycle services for some of the largest health systems in California.

He manages the company’s product lines, client expectations and communication. His work experience has been very different and much more dynamic than others in his age group, he said, crediting Ole Miss for having connections to companies like Health Check. 

“I have been extremely fortunate with the merit-based performance growth and additional responsibility at my age to never have to look outside to find work that suits me better,” Pruett said. “I believe this to be super-unique and really speaks to the power of the networking our school provides.”

IMA Consulting is a full service health care consulting firm that provides revenue management, operations management and interim management services to hospitals and health systems nationwide. Tony Scarcelli, co-managing partner of IMA Consulting, said the company works with more than 1,100 hospitals to solve complex problems, but he’s most proud the company is consistently being named one of the “Best Places to Work” by Modern Healthcare.

The merger creates a new market-leading company offering a full suite of technology-enabled revenue integrity and recovery solutions in addition to consulting and interim management solutions for health care providers, Scarcelli said.

Company officials look forward to the future of its relationship with the university, he said. 

“We are extremely excited to be able to drive more value for our clients, drive innovation and provide new opportunities for our current and future team members,” Scarcelli said. “Revint Solutions will continue to add top talent to our organization to further enhance our market leader position.

“Accordingly, we are very excited to have access to a pipeline of highly qualified and talented students from Ole Miss.”

UM Researchers Working on Acoustic Detection for Undersea Oil Leaks

Team gets $591,000 grant for work to make crude production safer for the environment

Zhiqu Lu, senior research scientist at the UM National Center for Physical Acoustics, is leading a team working to develop technology to detect leaks in offshore deep-water oil and gas lines and production equipment. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Snaking beneath the waters of the Gulf of Mexico are thousands of miles of pipelines carrying oil and natural gas from offshore wells. They carry the fuel that keeps the American economy rolling, with Gulf production accounting for 17 percent of total U.S. crude oil production and 5 percent of total U.S. dry natural gas production, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Even with safety protocols in place, though, a grave threat to offshore oil and gas operations is the leakage of hydrocarbons – a chief component of oil and natural gas – and the resulting damage to human health and safety, the environment and infrastructure.

Most recently, in October, an oil pipe fractured in the Gulf about 40 miles southeast of Venice, Louisiana, releasing between 7,950 and 9,350 barrels of oil before being halted. And, in 2010, the Deepwater Horizon spill leaked more than 3 million barrels into the Gulf.

“Oil exploration in the Gulf brings new economic development opportunities but also brings risks,” said Josh Gladden, University of Mississippi interim vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs. “The University of Mississippi has developed expertise in a number of areas, from engineering and sensing technologies to Biosystems, that can be brought to bear to minimize these risks and mitigate the impact.”

With that in mind, a team of UM researchers is working on technology that could quickly detect, locate and characterize these undersea hydrocarbon leakages in offshore deep-water oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico.

Last week, the trio of scientists received a $591,000 grant from the Gulf Research Program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to assist in their research.

The research is focused on utilizing acoustic technologies to develop a functional real-time monitoring system that can find leaks in deep-water oil and gas production in the Gulf over a large area while still being cost-effective. Early detection and location of leaks could minimize their impact. Current monitoring techniques are limited, including being unable to monitor in real time.

The Ole Miss team consists of three active researchers in acoustics, physics and electrical engineering. Zhiqu Lu, a senior research scientist at the National Center for Physical Acoustics, is responsible for the experimentation and overview of the project. Likun Zhang, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy, is responsible for the implementation and development of acoustic bubble modeling. Lei Cao, professor of electrical engineering, is responsible for the development of localization algorithms.

The researchers also are recruiting three graduate students to assist in experiments, programming and investigation in signal processing and acoustic signal modeling.

“When we heard the grant approval news, we were very excited and a little bit surprise, since among 66 submitted proposals only six projects were approved,” Lu said.

“This grant will provide a great opportunity to expand our research area that exploits the advantages of both underwater acoustic sensing techniques and oil spill-induced underwater sound mechanisms, along with an advanced localization technique.”

This project’s results could have tremendous applications in petroleum industries, environmental monitoring and other fields, he said.

“Further testing in the ocean, along with prototyping and commercializing efforts, will be immediately pursued upon the success of the current project,” Lu said. “That will be the next project.”

An “early warning system … is essential for preventing the next oil spill as well as for seafloor hydrocarbon seepage detection,” he said.

The researchers plan to build a network-based, real-time passive monitoring system of hydrophones, or underwater microphones, for detecting, locating and characterizing hydrocarbon leakages.

During an oil spill, the leaked hydrocarbon is injected into seawater at high speeds, creating an underwater sound through gas bubbles. The sounds of the bubbles can be recorded via the hydrophones over long distances that would indicate an oil spill.

“Using a hydrophone network, a triangulation localization method, similar to GPS-based navigation, can be developed to determine the leak location,” Lu said. “The oil-bubble sounds can be further analyzed to estimate the sizes and intensities of the oil leakages.

“Before the technology is full-developed and employed in ocean environments, we are going to first develop and test our detection and localization techniques/algorithm in a small-scale water tank under controlled oil spill conditions. This functional system will help us to acquire the acoustic signatures of bubble sound, improve detection and location techniques, and gain better understanding of bubble sound.”

The grant was one of six announced Dec. 7. The grants, involving research into new technologies that could improve the understanding and management of risks in offshore oil and gas operations, totaled $10.8 million.

Zhiqu Lu demonstrates his team’s approach for developing acoustic technology to detect gas bubbles from deep-water oil and gas leaks. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

“These projects address several facets of risk in offshore operations,” said Kelly Oskvig, program officer for the Gulf Research Program’s Safer Offshore Energy Systems initiative. “This includes research on the problem of gas unloading within deep-water drilling risers, development of remote detection capabilities of hydrocarbon releases, design of improved cementing mixtures and better techniques for sealing wells, and development of tools to assist team decision-making in the offshore environment.”

The six projects were selected after an external peer-review process.

The UM researchers are closely collaborating with GOWell International, an international oil and energy company, to ensure the relevance of the experiment to real scenarios and to aid in early prototyping of potential technologies, Lu said.

“The NCPA at the University of Mississippi has a long history of developing acoustics-based solutions for a wide variety of problems,” said Gladden, who is former director of the center. “Dr. Lu has many years of experience in linear and nonlinear acoustics in sediments and soils, and will provide excellent leadership on this project.”

In 2016, U.S. crude oil production in the Gulf of Mexico set an annual high of 1.6 million barrels per day, surpassing the previous high set in 2009, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The administration estimates that annual crude oil production in the Gulf could increase to an average of 1.7 million barrels per day in 2017 and 1.9 million barrels per day in 2018.

For more information about the National Center for Physical Acoustics, visit

The National Academies’ Gulf Research Program is an independent, science-based program founded in 2013 as part of legal settlements with the companies involved in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. The program seeks to enhance offshore energy system safety and protect human health and the environment.

The program has $500 million for use over 30 years to fund grants, fellowships and other activities in the areas of research and development, education and training, and monitoring and synthesis.

Visit to learn more.

Center for Population Studies Receives Portion of Kellogg Grant

Shared $1.8 million award to help build health care workforce in Mississippi Delta

John Green (back row, fourth from left) meets with community leaders in Clarksdale for the Problem Solving for Better Health project. Submitted photo by Emma Willoughby

OXFORD, Miss. – The Center for Population Studies at the University of Mississippi is part of a collaborative partnership receiving W.K. Kellogg Foundation funds to help develop the health workforce in the Mississippi Delta.

Building on more than a decade of successful collaboration in the Delta region, the Rogosin Institute and its Dreyfus Health Foundation division have received a $1.8 million grant to fund the New Pathways to Health and Opportunity initiative over the next three years.

Core partners for the initiative include the Center for Population Studies, which will receive $340,450 of the total amount; the Aaron E. Henry Community Health Services Center Inc.; the Mississippi Hospital Association Foundation; and the Tri-County Workforce Alliance.

“Education and workforce development to address population health needs is critical, and we need to provide more opportunities for young adults from economically vulnerable areas to pursue professions in these fields,” said John Green, director of the Center for Population Studies, professor of sociology and director of the university’s society and health minor program.

“There are a range of health system career opportunities from frontline care to management and research that they can pursue to fill important gaps and achieve livable incomes and benefits, thereby further stimulating the economy. There is the potential for mutual benefit and the uplift of the Delta region, and our state more broadly.”

The New Pathways initiative works to improve health by increasing access to jobs and building a well-prepared health workforce in the Delta community. The program will provide educational opportunities for young adults and parents in Sunflower and neighboring counties, including job shadowing; health professions training for jobs such as certified nursing assistants, phlebotomists and community health workers; hands-on training and externships for nursing students; and leadership development workshops.

Officials for the other collaborating agencies concurred with Green.

“In Mississippi, recruiting and retaining quality health professionals, of any discipline, to a rural or remote community is challenging,” said Aurelia Jones Taylor, chief executive officer for the Aaron E. Henry Community Health Services Center. “The New Pathways program provides an innovative approach to introducing young adults to careers in the health care industry that develops workforce capacity for years to come.”

Barry H. Smith, president and CEO of Rogosin, said he is thrilled that the company is able to continue working with its partners in Mississippi to develop the health workforce, and is grateful to the Kellogg Foundation for this grant opportunity.

“Over the course of nearly 15 years of partnership, this collaborative network has truly turned into a community-based movement for better health and better lives,” Smith said. “We know that by building livelihood security, we are creating healthier communities and improving the quality of the lives of vulnerable children and families.”

The Center for Population Studies educates, conducts research and engages in public outreach concerning population issues. Working with the Department of Sociology and Anthropology and other partners within UM and beyond, it is the lead agency for the State Data Center for Mississippi, a joint program of the U.S. Census Bureau and the state. For more information, visit

The Rogosin Institute is an independent not-for-profit treatment and research center focused on providing the best possible health care and quality of life for people with kidney disease, as well as those with diabetes, lipid and cardiovascular disorders, and cancer. For more information, visit

Founded in 1930 as an independent, private foundation by breakfast cereal pioneer Will Keith Kellogg, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation is among the largest philanthropic foundations in the United States. Guided by the belief that children should have an equal opportunity to thrive, WKKF works with communities to create conditions for vulnerable children so they can realize their full potential in school, work and life. For more information, visit

University Researchers Discover Key Ingredient for Skin Care Line

Products include UM's patented aloe vera extract

David Pasco (left) and Nirmal Pugh have studied the chemistry of aloe for many years. Their work led to the discovery of aloeride, an immune-enhancing extract patented by the university. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Scientists at the University of Mississippi’s National Center for Natural Products Research spend much of their time working to discover new pharmaceutical products, botanical dietary supplements and agrichemicals. Once in a while, however, discoveries made at the center benefit something a little more cosmetic.

Among other things, ongoing NCNPR research on botanicals led to the launch of a skin care line called Sustainable Youth brand products, owned by Woodcliff Skincare Solutions Inc. The key ingredient is Alasta brand aloe product, a patent-pending ingredient that includes aloeride, an immune-enhancing extract patented by the university.

“Aloeride’s activity is predominantly derived from aloe’s bacteria,” said Nirmal Pugh, principal scientist at NCNPR who worked on the discovery of aloeride with other Ole Miss researchers. “As with all plants occurring in a natural state, aloe has communities of bacteria.

“Aloe’s beneficial bacteria produce immune-enhancing components that we concentrated to create the aloeride that Woodcliff uses in Alasta.”

At the time of the discovery, Pugh was working as a graduate student with David Pasco, now the associate director of the UM natural products center.

Pasco, who has studied the properties of aloe for more than 20 years, observed that the active components in aloeride were beneficial for skin health. That information was used to guide clinical studies and product development for aloeride.

Sustainable Youth brand products contain a compound discovered and patented by researchers at the UM National Center for Natural Products Research. Photo courtesy Woodcliff Skincare Solutions Inc.

Once NCNPR published the team’s findings, a cosmetics industry executive approached the center about licensing the extract. After licensing aloeride, cosmetic expert formulators combined it with other ingredients to create Alasta brand aloe product, which can be applied topically.

“This kind of discovery is indicative of the commercial and medical potential of natural products, and is just one example of the impact of NCNPR’s research,” said David D. Allen, dean of the UM School of Pharmacy.

Alasta brand aloe product is at the center of all Sustainable Youth brand products, said Mary Coon, a brand development consultant with Woodcliff.

“The Sustainable Youth collection includes five innovative, clean, anti-aging skin care products, all made with organic and natural ingredients purposefully selected for their ability to enhance Alasta’s properties for healthy-looking skin.”

University officials are “thrilled” to see the product line on the market, said Allyson Best, UM director of technology management.

“We appreciate Woodcliff’s commitment to transforming this UM discovery into a commercialized product,” Best said. “This is another great example of maximizing the impact of our research enterprise.”

The internationally-renowned National Center for Natural Products Research was founded in 1995 to research, develop and commercialize potentially useful natural products. Based at the UM School of Pharmacy, NCNPR collaborates with academia, government and the pharmaceutical and agrochemical industries to create natural products that can be used to improve human health and agriculture as crops, pharmaceuticals, dietary supplements and agrochemicals.

For more information on research programs at the center, visit

Using an exclusive selection of proprietary technologies, Sustainable Youth from Woodcliff Skincare Solutions has developed a collection of topical anti-aging formulas that offer a unique, differentiated experience. Each product features the clinically-proven Alasta active complex, rich antioxidants and a natural preservative alternative, resulting in a 99.7 percent organic proprietary formulation with synergistic effects.

For more information on Sustainable Youth brand products, go to

Theatre Students Make Dresses for Young Girls in Need

Costume design class partnered with St. Peter's Episcopal Church's Little Dresses Ministry

Hannah Bosworth, a freshman theatre arts major from Coronado, California, sews a dress for St. Peter’s Episcopal Church’s Little Dresses Ministry as part of her Introduction to Costumes for the Stage class at UM. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Several University of Mississippi theatre arts students are spending the end of the semester making a difference by sewing dresses that will be distributed to young girls in need.

Donna Buckley, instructional assistant professor of costume technology, has been teaching students the basic techniques of sewing in THEA 272: Introduction to Costumes for the Stage so they learn the process of how to design a costume.

Buckley said she’s always wanted to participate in a sewing outreach program and when she found out about the Little Dresses Ministry at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Oxford, she knew she wanted to get her students involved.

“I saw this as a great opportunity for students to participate in a service project,” Buckley said. “Students tend to get so involved in their own little world, so this allows them to see a need and make a difference for others.”

The Little Dresses Ministry is an ongoing effort of the church to provide clothing to less-fortunate children around the world and in the poorest counties of Mississippi. Buckley heard about the opportunity through Leslie Banahan, UM assistant vice chancellor for student affairs and a member of the church.

“I read about and participated in a similar ministry in Tupelo, and as a lifelong collector of fabric, thought I could put my fabric stash to good use,” Banahan said. “Turns out, many women at St. Peter’s had similar fabric stashes, so we got together and began sewing.”

The church has been making dresses for almost five years and has distributed more than 300 pieces of new clothing to young children.

UM theatre arts students in Donna Buckley’s costume design class sew dresses that will be distributed to young girls in need through St. Peter’s Episcopal Church’s Little Dresses Ministry. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

The sewn dresses, made of cotton or cotton-blend fabric and adorned with embellishments such as ribbons, buttons and lace, go to the Mississippi Delta and several foreign countries, including Honduras, Haiti and Nigeria. Volunteers also make simple shorts for young boys.

“Some of our volunteers have been fortunate to personally deliver the dresses and shorts to children both in Mississippi and abroad,” Banahan said. “The photos show smiling, proud, happy children twirling in their new clothes. This ministry has been a true joy.”

Buckley picked out several fabrics to allow her students an opportunity to add their own design to the effort, which is part of their final project for the course. The class will donate more than 20 dresses to the ministry.

“I strongly feel that it’s beneficial for students to help people in less-fortunate situations,” she said. “It helps them grow as individuals when they can help others.”

Gabrielle Quintana, a freshman theatre arts major from Marietta, Georgia, has enjoyed learning in this course and using her knowledge to help others.

“I think it’s fun and it’s such a wonderful experience to be able to apply what you learn for a good cause,” Quintana said. “We’ve all gotten to know each other better, and my classmates and I have really bonded over this project.”

Buckley encourages anyone who wants donate a half-yard or more of cotton fabric to contact her at She plans to continue this effort with her costume class every semester.

Anyone who would like to become involved in this project can contact Leslie Banahan at

Academic Traveler Program Offering Sicilian Culinary Adventure

UM faculty member will lead Sicily culture and cuisine excursion this spring

Participants in the UM Academic Traveler culinary tour of Sicily will explore many fascinating locales, including the picturesque main square of Noto. Registration for the trip is open through Feb. 1. Photo by Getty Images

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi’s Academic Traveler program is offering a unique gift idea this holiday season that will send participants off to bask in the Mediterranean sun while enjoying delightful cuisine and historic beauty.

Candis Varnell, a lecturer in hospitality management, will lead the “Sicilian Culture and Cuisine” tour, set for May 14-21, 2018 in and around Syracuse, Sicily. The Academic Traveler program is a unique way to travel and discover with a seasoned Ole Miss instructor.

“Sicily is under the radar,” Varnell said. “Many people travel throughout Italy, but the arts, culture, food, wine – everything can be found right there on this historic island.”

The trip will feature cuisine teeming with the fruits of local gardens and vineyards. From private vineyard tours and behind-the-scenes chocolate-making demonstrations, the program aims to relate the history, beauty and culture of the Sicilian island to participants.

“Travel changes everything,” Varnell said. “It’s an eye-opening experience that lets you see how other cultures live life.”

Varnell, a world traveler herself, has lived in Jordan and journeyed extensively throughout Europe and the Mediterranean region. She teaches service and event management courses and serves as the internship director in the Ole Miss hospitality management department.

Founded by ancient Greeks, Syracuse was often described as “the greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of them all.” The 2,700-year-old seaside city sits on the southeastern coast of Sicily.

Ancient Greek structures and ruins are found throughout the city and the surrounding regions.

“It’s almost frozen in time,” Varnell said. “There is so much to see with historical significance. It truly transports you to another world.”

The group will arrive in Syracuse on May 14, a Monday, and enjoy a guided tour through the historic city center and Ortygia Island before enjoying a welcome dinner with their fellow guests.

The next day, the group heads to the Syracuse Market to take in local flavor while sampling homegrown vegetables, nuts, fruits and cheeses.

“Italians take pride in local produce,” Varnell said. “They cook with only what is in season. They love their olive oil, wines and cheeses.

“Americans usually get these super-fresh ingredients when we go to a fine-dining restaurant, but this is how the Sicilian people eat every day.”

After the market tour, the group will continue to the Syracuse archeological museum and the Greek Theatre that was originally constructed in the fifth century B.C.

The group will travel to the pink villages lining the sea on Wednesday, with excursions to Noto and Marzamemi. They will enjoy lunch by the sea in one of Marzamemi’s open-air restaurants.

On Thursday, participants will get their turn in the kitchen for a special Sicilian cuisine cooking class taught by area chefs. The group will cook and enjoy a light lunch with local flavor.

That afternoon, the tour continues around the city with a local instructor from Syracuse Academy. The discussion will touch on the origins of the Mafia and how the “Cosa Nostra” began out of Sicily’s farming communities in the early 1800s and later traveled to America, and the declining state of the crime organization today.

Participants will take in the beautiful architecture dripping from the baroque towns of Ragusa and Modica on Friday. Participants will have opportunities to see the world-renowned jutting cornices, gargoyles, scrolls and any number of decorative embellishments that have given Sicily a unique identity.

The tour continues as group members experience the secrets of making Modica’s world-famous chocolate delicacies.

On Saturday, an excursion to Italy’s largest volcano, Mount Etna, will include a vineyard tour and group lunch while learning about the mountain that has shaped the history of Sicily.

The final day in Italy, May 20, includes an olive oil tasting tour around the city. The evening farewell dinner will be hosted during a boat tour around Syracuse Bay.

Group members will depart from Sicily on May 21.

“If you are looking for an exceptional Christmas or graduation gift, this is it,” said Mary Leach, director of noncredit programs and Academic Traveler organizer. “This will truly be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

The deadline to register for the trip is Feb. 1, 2018, but participants who sign up by Dec. 20 will get a special gift certificate that would be great for placing under the tree.

For more information on the trip and to see the full itinerary, visit


UM Museum, Ford Center Host Weekend of Holiday Festivities

Music, activities and a winter wonderland on tap to help families get into the spirit

The Holiday Village, featuring an enchanting array of edible structures, is open Dec. 1-15 at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts and the University of Mississippi Museum have a weekend of fun-filled holiday activities scheduled for the whole family.

The Ford Center invites families to an evening celebrating the holiday season Friday, (Dec. 1) with “Amahl and the Night Visitors” and “Handel’s Messiah.”

Gian Carlo Menotti’s renowned one-act opera “Amahl and the Night Visitors” shows how faith, charity, unselfish love and good deeds can produce miracles. The performance is a collaborative project involving alumni, students and community members.

Ole Miss alumnus Paul Gamble will sing “Balthazar” during the performance and university opera theatre and dance students will perform in several roles. Six community guests also will join opera students in the Shepherds’ Chorus, including Oxford dentist Walker Swaney, emeritus music faculty Cynthia Linton, College of Liberal Arts project coordinator Patti O’Sullivan, theatre arts staff member Ed Neilson, alumna Sissy Neilson and Oxford attorney Jim DeLoach.

The second half of the night features “Handel’s Messiah.” The hourlong production includes performances by the UM Choir, a select orchestra and alumni guest artists as soloists, including Allison Stanford, Viola Dacus and Kyle Davis.  The orchestra of professional musicians and students is conducted by Selim Gray, professor of music and orchestra, and UM Choirs, conducted by Don Trott, professor of music and director of choral activities, also will perform.

These performances are made possible through funding by Nancye Starnes and the Kite Foundation.

Tickets for the show are available at the UM Box Office, inside the Ford Center. They are $30 for orchestra/parterre and tier 1 box levels, $26 for mezzanine and tier 2 box levels, and $18 for the balcony level. A 20 percent discount is available for Ole Miss faculty, staff and retirees when tickets are purchased at the box office. Tickets also can be purchased online at

The UM Museum will host a Santa’s Workshop Family Activity Day on Saturday (Dec. 2). The drop-in workshop, set for 9 a.m.-noon, will allow participants of all ages to create seasonal art, eat holiday snacks and learn about winter wonders, including holidays from around the world.

The museum also will have a sensory play area for the youngest artists, and all ages are welcome to participate.

Children create their own holiday-inspired art at last year’s installment of the UM Museum’s Santa’s Workshop. Submitted photo

“Santa’s Workshop is one of our favorite events as we celebrate the magic of winter, snow and holidays,” said Emily McCauley, the museum’s curator of education. “We also hope to expand our horizons this year and look at what is happening around the world during the winter holidays.”

Santa does not attend the event, but participants can take a Flying Tuk sleigh ride between the museum and the Ford Center’s Holiday Village, a collection of locally-themed gingerbread houses.

“We are so thrilled to have the Flying Tuks partnering for rides to the Holiday Village again, as that was a highlight from last year’s event,” she said.

The museum’s Family Activity Days are sponsored by Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi and the Ignite Ole Miss campaign. For more information about Santa’s Workshop Family Activity Day, contact McCauley at To keep up with museum exhibits and upcoming events, visit

The Holiday Village will feature 19 gingerbread houses, made entirely from edible confections. The Ford Center also is adding a miniature Christmas Village to celebrate holiday traditions from around the world.

The village is also open for group reservations, which can be scheduled by contacting marketing director Kate Meacham at 662-915-6502 or

Here is the full schedule of Holiday Village Hours:

Friday (Dec. 1) – 1-7:30 p.m.

Saturday (Dec. 2) and Sunday (Dec. 3) – 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Monday (Dec. 4) – 1-7:30 p.m. Guests can visit the village after the Oxford Christmas parade for hot chocolate.

Tuesday (Dec. 5) through Friday (Dec. 8) – 1-5 p.m.

Saturday (Dec. 9) – 1-5 p.m. The Oxford Civic Chorus will perform at 1 p.m., and Santa will be in the village from 1 to 4 p.m.

Sunday (Dec. 10) – Noon-3 p.m.

Monday (Dec. 11) through Friday (Dec. 15) – 1-5 p.m.

For more information, visit

Dean of Local Photographers to Retire in December

Robert Jordan has shot more than a million photos across his 33-year career

After 33 years of shooting photographs for the university, Robert Jordan is looking forward to a slower pace. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – For more than three decades, Robert Jordan has profoundly shaped how the world perceives the University of Mississippi. His photographs have documented the natural beauty of the Oxford campus through all seasons, captured critical moments of thrilling athletic triumphs and conveyed the dedication and achievements of its faculty, staff, students and alumni.

But after shooting more than a million photos, Jordan, director of university photography, is looking forward to a slower pace. He’s retiring at the end of the fall semester and already has a few goals for the coming months.

“I’m looking forward to sleeping late, playing some golf, reading some books and spending time with my wife,” he said. “I’ll always have that itch, and I’ll be taking photographs as long as I’m able, but it will be for fun, not how I make my living.”

University Communications is hosting a retirement reception for Jordan from 3 to 5 p.m. Wednesday (Nov. 29) in the Farrington Gallery of Bryant Hall. The event is open to the public.

Jordan’s work played a critical role in the university’s rise as a respected public university, Chancellor Emeritus Robert Khayat said.

“I knew at the outset in ’95 that Robert would be a key player in what we were doing here at Ole Miss,” Khayat said. “I knew we had a beautiful campus, attractive people and gorgeous trees and buildings and spaces, and we just needed to show everybody.

“Robert is a gifted artist. He could make that camera talk. He is quiet, unobtrusive, humble, kind and patient. He would take the time to shoot an assignment over and over until he got exactly what we needed, and he made remarkable contributions to the university that will be treasured and studied forever.”

In a field where people frequently change jobs, Jordan has spent virtually his entire professional career at Ole Miss. He graduated in December 1983 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and got a job in Greenville as a photographer at the Delta Democrat-Times.

“Newspaper work is exciting, but I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my degree,” he recalled.

So barely four months later, when somebody from the UM Department of Public Relations called with the news that Jack Cofield was retiring as university photographer, Jordan jumped at the opportunity to return to his alma mater.

“The thing that’s so cool about being a university photographer is that you never know from one day to the next what you’re going to be doing,” he said. “You may be shooting an event for the chancellor’s office one day and then going into a lab to photograph some researcher’s work the next. And then you may shoot outstanding students right after that.

“The challenge every day is to see the campus with new eyes and see something you’ve never seen before. I still get excited when I see something new.”

Over his 33 years on campus, Jordan has shot an estimated 10,000 assignments and mentored dozens of rising young photographers. Among them are Kevin Bain, who has worked as one of the university’s photographers for 18 years, and Thomas Graning, the department’s newest photographer.

Bain began working for the old Imaging Services Department as a student, answering phones and helping customers with orders.

Chancellor Emeritus Robert Khayat says this 1998 image of him walking with students and staff members is his favorite photo of himself. The photo, shot by Robert Jordan, was distributed statewide by the Associated Press. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

“That was back in the film days, and if he saw I didn’t have much to do, he was cool about saying, ‘Here’s a roll of film. Go out and see what you can do,'” Bain said. “I was an English major, and he was really good about showing me how to get different kinds of shots.”

Jordan also befriended Bruce Newman, photographer at the Oxford Eagle for the past 31 years, shortly after he started working for the newspaper.

“He’s always been very helpful to me, whether we’ve been shooting games together or just hanging out talking about photography,” Newman said. “He’s very technically gifted, and he likes to help solve problems and figure out how to get the best shot.

“I’ve always enjoyed working with him, but more importantly I have always valued his friendship.”

During Jordan’s time on campus, advancing technology has dramatically changed how the job is done.

In the beginning, his job was primarily to shoot and develop black-and-white photos to accompany news releases. He took on the task of shooting color for recruiting materials and other publications, and later helped convert the entire operation to digital when that technology replaced film.

He’s also experimented with underwater camera housings, special lenses, infrared film and camera drones to shoot campus scenes and activities.

“I’ve just tried to stay up with the technology and find new ways to capture Ole Miss,” he said. “I feel like I was in the right place at the right time to have a great career. I’ve had fun and most days, I feel like I’ve made a difference.”

Besides shooting assignments, Jordan supervises the department’s other photographers and helps maintain equipment and technology. He also puts those organizational skills to work for the University Photographers’ Association of America, serving on the organization’s board for the last 14 years.

“He’s the best,” said Glenn Carpenter, the association’s president. “He’s been a tremendous asset in helping organize events and programs, and being able to see things clearly and offer advice on how to make them run better.”

Jordan frequently has helped new members become oriented to the group, and also helps fellow members figure out the best way to get difficult shots, Carpenter said. He also has been honored many times for his creativity in the Nikon Shoot-Out, a competition sponsored at the group’s annual convention by the camera maker.

“In our group, Robert has won that contest more than anybody else,” Carpenter said. “He’s that good at taking somebody else’s idea and transforming it into a finished photo.”

Jordan can visualize how a photo will turn out even before shooting a single frame, Bain said.

“He’s one of the best, if not the best, photographers in the South,” he said. “He’s a wizard with light. I can set up lights and flashes to get a good shot, but Robert can always tweak it and make it better. That’s a big part of why his shots look so great.”

Around Oxford, many people know Jordan for this work with Nine Lives Cat Rescue and the Oxford-Lafayette Humane Society, where he photographs cats available for adoption. Jordan and his wife, Clarissa, have had cats in their home for more than a decade, so this work came naturally, he said.

“Some people are cat people, some people are dog people,” he explained. “I’m a cat person. I don’t dislike dogs; I just like cats better.”

Surprisingly, Jordan’s career almost took a far different path. In his hometown of Ocean Springs, he worked as a bank teller through a high school co-op program, so he initially enrolled at the University of South Alabama to major in banking and finance.

Jordan assembled this photo illustration of UM physicist Luca Bombelli for a story on gravitational physics research at the university. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

But his parents had gotten him a Canon AE-1 as a Christmas gift during his senior year in high school, and he later landed a job at the student newspaper at South Alabama.

“I had a horrible GPA because I was skipping all my business classes to shoot photos,” he recalled. He transferred to Ole Miss as a journalism major and quickly began winning accolades for his work in the department’s annual awards program.

Although he looks forward to spending more time with his wife, who retired seven years ago from the North Mississippi Regional Center, Jordan concedes that he’ll probably be a frequent visitor to campus, and notes that he’s available to help shoot Commencement and special projects.

“I’ll be available, but I’m leaving the office in the capable hands of two fine photographers,” Jordan said. “They’re doing a great job, and I’m going to enjoy watching their work.”

Alice Clark, vice chancellor for university relations, credits Jordan’s longtime leadership at the university for a seamless transition.

“In my 35 years at UM, I have had the privilege of sharing the years with Robert, working with him and watching him as he captured the heart and soul of Ole Miss,” she said. “His images and his talent have been instrumental in communicating to the world about the university’s role in transforming lives. The impact of his work will be felt for decades.”

UM Launches Flagship Constellations to Tackle ‘Grand Challenges’

Multidisciplinary teams seek significant and innovative solutions

Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter explains the UM Flagship Constellation initiative at its debut Nov. 17 at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi unveiled its Flagship Constellations initiative, which includes multidisciplinary teams with the goal of creating solutions in the areas of big data, brain wellness, community wellbeing and disaster resilience, on Friday (Nov. 17).

Each team consists of faculty, staff and students through a collaborative effort to explore and solve complex issues through the diversity of ideas. The constellations also will include subthemes, allowing groups to work on multiple projects at once.

“These four constellations are made up of brilliant individual stars, yes, but it’s together that they can make their legendary impact,” Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said. “By working together, we can address compelling challenges where no single discipline has all the answers and where only deep insights from multiple points of view will discover solutions.”

Vitter also announced a donation of $1 million in support of this effort by Tommy and Jim Duff to create the Ernest R. Duff Flagship Constellation Fund, in honor of their father.

“With this gift, they are commemorating their late father’s love for Ole Miss, his alma mater,” he said. “This support will allow us to truly maximize and launch the potential of the Flagship Constellations.”

Big Data Team to Pursue Best Ways to Compile and Secure Data

The team will pursue the development of more creative and useful ways to analyze and visualize data to gain new insights and drive innovative research. Its work will encompass many industries, including medicine and health, engineering, security, business, policy and education.

The use of electronic medical records have already provided health care professionals with more information than ever, but there is more to health than what those records say, said Dr. Richard Summers, Billy S. Guyton Professor and professor of emergency medicine, physiology and biophysics at the UM Medical Center.

“The myriad of social and economic factors that impact patient’s disease states and general well-being are just now coming into focus,” Summers said. “It is possible that your health risks may be more associated with the numbers of your ZIP code than even the measures of your cholesterol.

“So a multidisciplinary approach to understanding and managing diseases in our populations is required in a way that draws on information from many varied sources.”

The Meek School of Journalism and New Media hosts Data Day each year to emphasize the importance of learning to apply data in both market research and the spread of information. The group is already engaged in several studies using big data, including the impact of Twitter on the political process.

Dr. Richard Summers (left) and Dawn Wilkins describe the efforts of the Big Data teams at the debut of the UM Flagship Constellations initiative. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

“This Flagship Constellation provides opportunities for collaboration among content creators, those with deep backgrounds in data science and others with broad technological expertise to make assessments about the information people in our state are consuming and to find ways to ensure that they have what they need to make informed choices,” said Deb Wenger, assistant dean and associate professor of journalism.

Mark Wilder, dean of the Patterson School of Accountancy, explained how the digital revolution has opened opportunities for individuals and companies that can identify creative new products or services.

“A recent Forbes article predicts the data analytics market to exceed $200 billion by the year 2020, creating great opportunities for businesses in Mississippi and beyond,” Wilder said.

From a student perspective, learning about data can increase job prospects upon graduation, but it doesn’t mean everyone needs to major in computer science.

“It does mean that in most jobs, across a wide range of disciplines, employers are looking for employees who have some technical abilities and experience working with big data,” said Dawn Wilkins, professor and chair of computer science.

“A new minor in digital media studies, or DMS, was recently created on the Oxford campus for exactly this purpose. The minor allows for an emphasis in computing, digital communications or digital arts.”

Brain Wellness Team Seeks Understanding of Brain Function and Impairment

The academically diverse team will engage in population-based research, clinical care, education and basic research to develop technologies and practices help prevent and promote recovery of brain impairment.

“As neuroscientists, we hope to not only understand the normal functions of the brain, but also what goes wrong in brain disease and after nervous system injury,” said Michael Lehman, professor and chair of neurobiology and anatomical sciences at UMMC. “With this knowledge, we hope to ultimately prevent and reverse the human suffering caused by conditions such as stroke, spinal cord injury, addiction and autism.”

This year, more than 41,000 Mississippians will suffer strokes, and 12,000 of those people will experience permanent disabilities as a result. The cost to the state for this care exceeds $1 billion.

“The brain wellness constellation positions the University of Mississippi to be at the forefront of ending this epidemic,” said Dr. Chad Washington, UMMC assistant professor of neurosurgery. “In fact, we are doing this already.

“Whether it is discovering new drugs to help prevent or treat strokes, improving recovery through novel methods in rehabilitation or making use of UMMC’s Telehealth network, we are improving the lives of Mississippians every day.”

The initial focus on the study of addiction will concentrate on the opioid epidemic, but the team hopes to ultimately understand addiction and drug abuse from a broader perspective.

Community Wellbeing Team to Foster Stronger and More Vibrant Communities

Rural communities, especially in Mississippi, face many challenges to their economies, personal and environmental health, food security, housing and infrastructure. Members of this constellation will work in communities to identify factors that are impeding upon quality of life and implement new programs and methods to foster stronger and more vibrant communities.

Major concerns both in the United States and around the world are lifestyle and behavior health issues causing premature births, fetal origins of adult diseases, obesity, heart disease, diabetes and disability.

“These issues don’t stand alone,” said Kate Centellas, Croft associate professor of anthropology. “They are very often coupled with limited access to appropriate and local care.

“Many of them disproportionately impact the poor and people of color. That means we not only face a health care crisis; we’re also facing a crisis of equality and lost potential.”

The central goal is to develop innovative methods in addressing these issues. The constellation is already working to implement telemedicine in Bolivia, along with two projects in Mississippi: one to help residents of the Mississippi Delta improve water safety, and another to help premature and low-birth weight children and mothers attempting to breast-feed these children.

“Working with the most vulnerable babies and offering state-of-the-art support to their families, the insights from this work will help to inform new models of care that span across the rural-urban continuum,” said Dr. Josh Mann, chair of preventative medicine at UMMC.

Disaster Resilience Team to Develop Technology and Tools to Reduce Impact of Catastrophies

The impact of disasters can be detrimental to a community or area. For example, Hurricane Katrina caused more than 1,800 deaths and an economic damage exceeding $200 billion in 2005. In the last decade, disasters cost $1.4 trillion worldwide and have affected 1.7 billion people.

“In our state, we are at increased risk for experiencing natural disasters,” said Stefan Schulenberg, professor of psychology. “We mark time by whether events occurred before Katrina or after, whether they occurred before Camille or after. We know natural disasters very well. They are part of our culture.”

The disaster resilience team will combine research from environmental and legal disciplines with material sciences, information technology and public health. Its aim is to develop the technology and tools to reduce the impact of natural, manmade and environmental disasters and to increase the sustainability of affected communities.

“Given our place and capacities, the University of Mississippi can be a test bed for studying disaster management and prevention,” said Richard Forgette, associate provost. “We are a diverse and critical mass of experts, research centers and support infrastructure centered on advancing knowledge in disaster resilience.”

The team hopes to mitigate all types of disasters by understanding and addressing vulnerabilities.

Provost Noel Wilkin said he is excited about the energy Ole Miss faculty and staff have brought to the Flagship Constellations initiative.

“This collaborative initiative has the ability to advance our standing as an academic institution, to magnify the influence of our research on solving major challenges faced by society and to contribute knowledge that will changes the lives of people,” Wilkin said.

“I also hope that it will rekindle your confidence that our faculty and researchers have incredible potential to change the lives of others through their research. I look forward to the meaningful work that will be done and this difference we’re going to make in society.”

For more information about these collaborations, visit

Strong Response Propels William Magee Center

Gifts top $900,000 to increase alcohol, drug education and prevention

Fundraising for the William Magee Center for Wellness Education has exceeded $900,000, with recent gifts from the Chi Omega sorority , Chi Omega House Corp. and others. James O. ‘Joc’ Carpenter (left), chair of the UM Foundation Board of Directors, visits with Fannie Elliott, treasurer of the Chi Omega House Corp.; Shelton Wittenberg, president of Tau Chapter of Chi Omega; and Kent and David Magee. UM photo by Bill Dabney

OXFORD, Miss. – One story shared by one family about a son’s death from an accidental overdose has spurred fundraising efforts exceeding $900,000 to establish a comprehensive alcohol and drug education and prevention center at the University of Mississippi.

The investments, UM leaders say, will touch the lives of countless students and drive research efforts to develop and improve best practices related to prevention and intervention. Alcohol and drug misuse is a serious concern on college campuses across the country.

Ole Miss student organizations – joined by companies, a foundation, alumni, parents and friends – have responded swiftly and generously to a grassroots campaign to fund the William Magee Center for Wellness Education, which will offer centralized education and advocacy, peer education programs, counseling and outside referrals, research and recovery support.

“We are moved by the support we have received from so many,” said Kent Magee, mother of the late William Magee. “We feel strongly that for this initiative to be most effective, we need the involvement of all stakeholders, including student organizations, alumni and parents.”

William Magee, 23, was an accomplished, well-rounded student who excelled in the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and the Croft Institute for International Studies, as well as lettered in track and was named to the SEC academic honor roll. After his 2012 graduation, he sought help through rehabilitation programs but relapsed after a concert with friends.

His parents, Kent and David Magee of Oxford, provided the inaugural gift and launched the fundraising campaign to strengthen resources and support to Ole Miss students. They have been speaking to groups about their son’s experience and the need for the center, which they hope will emerge as a model for world-class wellness education.

The campus resource will be located inside a projected high-traffic area, the new 100,000-square-foot South Campus Recreation Facility, opening in the former Whirlpool plant during the 2018-19 academic year.

Pushing the initiative closer to the $1 million mark was a recent $37,500 gift from the Tau Chapter of Chi Omega sorority and its house corporation. In addition, the university’s crowdfunding platform Ignite Ole Miss started with a goal of attracting $100,000, but matching gifts from the Madison Charitable Foundation, Department of Intercollegiate Athletics and the M-Club Alumni Chapter sent the total climbing to more than $340,000.

An $850,000 planned or deferred gift also has been committed to the Magee Center.

Shelton Wittenberg of Memphis, Tennessee, is leading Chi Omega this year and expressed the Tau Chapter’s support of the Magee Center.

“The Magee Center is a place that is going to change the dynamics of student support on the Ole Miss campus,” Wittenberg said. “It is going to have a positive impact on all students, including the Greek community, and as a chapter, Chi Omega recognizes the importance of personal development, especially during one’s college years.

“Chi Omega is delighted to support the Magee Center and its efforts to improve the availability of counseling and wellness education to students at the University of Mississippi.”

Beth Doty of Oxford, president of the Chi Omega House Corp., said, “The idea of supporting the Magee Center was brought up at our board meeting recently because we have wanted to help address a real need in dealing with drug and alcohol use and abuse among so many college-age students and beyond. Our goal is to be part of the solution in dealing with this problem. Some of our members know and love the Magee family, and it was important to us to support the program.”

David Magee was touched by the gift.

“When I heard that Chi Omega was making such a major contribution, with participation by the house corporation and the chapter, I had tears of joy,” Magee said. “Seeing leadership organizations on campus like Chi Omega show such care for the wellness of all Ole Miss students is inspiring and energizing.

“We have had many Greek organizations invest in making a difference with this alcohol and drug education initiative, and it is powerful.”

Fundraising efforts are continuing, with a goal of building the endowment to $1.5 million in the near future for the center’s operations. The university will host a biennial national symposium to bring thought leaders to campus to share their perspectives.

The strong positive response to fundraising efforts for the Magee Center indicates a broad recognition of the substance abuse issue not only with college students, but throughout society, said Brandi Hephner LaBanc, vice chancellor for student affairs.

“The Ole Miss community is deeply grateful for the generous contributions to the Magee Center over the short span of just 10 months,” she said. “We will steward these gift by finding solutions through an interdisciplinary focus with the mission of changing student behavior.

“A team is working with a corporate partner, American Addiction Centers of Brentwood, Tennessee, to tailor new educational components to college audiences. All investments in this effort will combine to transform lives.”

David Magee – president of Oxford Newsmedia and publisher of The Oxford Eagle and Oxford Magazine, and vice president of Boone Newspapers – first shared his son William’s story in August 2016, addressing incoming Ole Miss freshmen. It has been read online by more than a million people.

Read William’s story here:

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