DeSoto Campus Accountancy Major Receives CMA Scholarship

Alexander Beene plans to become a Certified Management Accountant

Alex Beene

SOUTHAVEN, Miss. – Alexander Beene, a senior accountancy major at the University of Mississippi at DeSoto Center-Southaven, has accepted a Certified Management Accountant Program Scholarship.

The scholarship was awarded last spring by the Institute of Management Accountants. It covers the entrance fee to the CMA program, registration fees for both parts of the CMA exam and up to three years of IMA membership. It also provides access to exam support programs and information.

“I am honored by all of my professors, student peers and colleagues that are supporting me throughout the tough years of completing my degree,” Beene said. “I was extremely excited and honored to be nominated and receive this scholarship.”

The IMA allows 10 students per school per academic year to be nominated for the scholarship. Beene was nominated by Howard Lawrence, clinical professor of accountancy at the DeSoto regional campus. Fellow accountancy major Timothy Nagle also encouraged Beene.

“Alex’s ‘secret’ to success is really no secret at all,” Lawrence said. “He shows up for all classes with his homework in hand and a clear understanding of the topics to be discussed. He does this by studying – not just reading – the material in advance.”

Originally from Lake Cormorant, Beene graduated in 2017 from Northwest Mississippi Community College with an associate degree specialized in accounting. He chose to continue his education at UM-DeSoto by enrolling in the university’s nationally acclaimed accounting program.

“When I was looking into going back to school early in 2015, I decided that I needed to push further than an associate degree and attempt a good career,” he said. “I looked at the different degrees that were offered fully at UM-DeSoto and analyzed their pros and cons.

“After seeing the high placement rate for accountancy graduates, I had to go in that direction.”

Beene plans to take both parts of the CMA exam in the summer of 2019.

“This gives me one year to prepare and I will have my bachelor’s degree all but completed,” he said.

Working while attending classes has been a challenge for Beene, who is married with two children. However, he hopes that the experience will help him after he receives his degree.

“By graduation, I hope to be a few steps ahead of my other peers in the accountancy program,” he said. “I just started working in June as a staff accountant at Vertrauen Chemie Solutions in Memphis after working at ABB as an operations coordinator.”

For information about the accountancy program at the UM-DeSoto campus, visit

Alumna Creates Scholarship, Commits to Mentoring Students

Tupelo native honors her roots through new Women's Council scholarship

Karen Moore (left), an Ole Miss Women’s Council member and former chair, visits with Matthew, Margaret, John and Anna Caroline Barker, and Mary Haskell, OMWC member and former chair, after a Rose Garden ceremony celebrating the Barkers’ new OMWC scholarship. Margaret and John Barker are alumni, and both son and daughter are Ole Miss students. Photo by Marlee Crawford/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – Mississippi has always owned a piece of Margaret Pryor Barker’s heart, inspiring her to give back to a place and a university that have given her so much.

The 1990 graduate of the University of Mississippi’s School of Business Administration has made a generous gift to establish an Ole Miss Women’s Council for Philanthropy scholarship in hopes of giving students the support needed to realize their career goals.

“It is so much more than just a university to me,” said Barker, a Tupelo native who lives in Nashville, Tennessee. “It is family, friends, traditions, fond memories and love.”

In its 18th year, the OMWC has built a scholarship endowment worth almost $14.5 million. The $40,000 named OMWC scholarships, which are among the largest on campus, are awarded each year to both female and male students who are incoming freshmen.

Thus far, 145 OMWC scholars, in addition to a cohort of eight freshmen entering this fall, are the beneficiaries of the program, which provides scholarships, mentoring, leadership development, travel and other cultural opportunities.

During Barker’s time at Ole Miss, she was engaged in many campus organizations, and she continued her involvement with her alma mater after moving to Nashville with her husband, John Barker, also a 1990 Ole Miss business school graduate, whom she met during their freshman year.

Barker said she is excited to see who will benefit from the new scholarship endowment and stands ready to be an influential mentor in those recipients’ lives during their undergraduate years.

“Because of our love, passion and gratitude to Ole Miss, John and I wanted to give young people an opportunity to fulfill their hopes and dreams at the University of Mississippi,” she said. “Ole Miss gave me so many wonderful opportunities and experiences that helped guide me and shape me into who I am today.”

Ole Miss has played a large role throughout the Barker family, and their tradition continues as son Matthew and daughter Anna Caroline are attending the university.

The Barkers own and operate Two Rivers Ford dealership in Nashville. Margaret Barker also contributed her time and talents to formerly serve on a variety of community organizations, such as the board of the Susan G. Komen Foundation and the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt as well as chair of the Harding Academy Auxiliary Board.

“I am very proud that Margaret chose to pursue this opportunity to give back to her roots,” John Barker said. “After moving to Nashville around 26 years ago, she has been wanting to find a way to give back to the university, especially since she is a Mississippi native.

“I am looking forward to seeing how her endeavor will make an impact on students pursuing their dreams.”

Besides funding a scholarship, Margaret Barker is one of three new members invited to join the OMWC. Council members devote many hours to mentoring students who are scholarship recipients and to attracting funding to establish new scholarships.

Through an array of programming activities, council members also encourage scholars to become servant leaders in their communities and at Ole Miss.

“Both John and Margaret are not only Ole Miss graduates, they are also longtime supporters of the university,” said Karen Moore of Nashville, an Ole Miss alumna and former OMWC chair. “Knowing the philanthropic spirit they have for Ole Miss, the time they spend in Oxford and the leadership they have shown over the years, it was a perfect fit for Margaret to become an OMWC member.”

For more information on the OMWC, visit To learn how to establish a new Women’s Council scholarship, support the OMWC Global Leadership Circle or join the OMWC Rose Society, contact Suzanne Helveston at or 662-915-7273.

Student Pharmacist Begins Journey to Dream Career

Tia Holloway excited about pharmacy school after completing degree at Jackson State

Tia Holloway receives her white coat from pharmacy Dean David D. Allen (left) and pharmacy student body president-elect Will Haygood during ceremonies in August. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – What started out as a high school class assignment turned into a career path for Jackson native Tia Holloway. The University of Mississippi student’s journey to pharmacy school took a different route than she originally planned, but Holloway is excited to reach her destination.

As a freshman at McLaurin High School, Holloway took a career placement test that suggested she explore a career in pharmacy. She then began to research the field and developed a 10-year plan for entering the profession.

“I barely scratched the surface, since pharmacy has so many different aspects,” Holloway said. “I learned that pharmacy was more than just standing behind a counter and passing along medication. It is the threshold to the entire art of healing.”

Holloway had initially planned to start her pre-pharmacy studies at Ole Miss. However, an opportunity to stay close to her family and her church’s choir and youth development ministries in Jackson changed her plans, and she enrolled at Jackson State University.

Holloway finished her pre-pharmacy degree at JSU in May 2018, after just three years. This fall, she entered her first professional year at the UM School of Pharmacy.

“I wouldn’t have been content going to any other pharmacy school except Ole Miss,” Holloway said. “The school selects students who are the best in several areas, and it offers a variety of services specific to the advancement of each individual student.

“I love that I have the opportunity to learn, develop and network, as well as practice in my home state. Logistically and holistically speaking, Ole Miss was the perfect decision for me.”

The School of Pharmacy and Jackson State are partnering to help other JSU students who want to pursue pharmacy with the Preferred Admissions Program. This program offers pre-admission to pharmacy school for JSU freshmen who excel in pre-pharmacy classes and demonstrate a passion for service activities.

“The Preferred Admissions Program, which partners with Jackson State, Alcorn State University and Touglaoo College, is essential to expanding pharmacy education across the state,” said Chelsea Bennett, UM assistant dean for student services. “Bright, engaging and motivated students like Tia will enhance each of the institutions and the future of the profession.”

Holloway is helping fellow JSU Tigers interested in pharmacy by participating in a mentoring program that assists them with their applications to Ole Miss.

“My commitment to Ole Miss pharmacy began way before the Preferred Admissions Program, so hearing about this program upon my last year at Jackson State felt almost kismet,” Holloway said.

“I feel that this is a monumental opportunity for Jackson State University ­– a historical university dedicated to the advancement of minorities – and for inclusive diversity at the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy.”

Soon Holloway will be able to share her firsthand experience in everything Ole Miss offers. She said she’s excited to apply the knowledge and skills she learns in class to her Introductory Pharmacy Practice Experience and in her internship with Kroger Pharmacy.

“The world of pharmacy is so diverse in that it ranges from law to pediatrics,” Holloway said. “After my matriculation from this program, I hope to direct my passions into a pharmacy specialty and serve those who are underprivileged or less fortunate than me.”

Ole Miss Esports Ushers University into Video Game Competition World

UM, MSU announce inaugural Esports Egg Bowl for Oct. 13

Cray Pennison (left), president of the Ole Miss Esports club, is joined by Noel Wilkin, UM provost and executive vice chancellor, and Jason DeShong, president of MSU Esports, to announce the Esports Egg Bowl set for Oct. 13 in The Pavilion at Ole Miss. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – The dream goes a little something like this: A few short years down the road, several thousand fans are gathered in an arena on the University of Mississippi campus, enthralled in a game. The crowd cheers and gasps as the tension builds, Hotty Toddy cheers echo and the announcer furiously spits out a play-by-play.

Instead of players hustling up and down a basketball court, though, the throng is zeroed in on two teams of people sitting in sleek, comfortable chairs, controllers in hand, facing off against each other in a video game. As the pixelated combat unfolds, with video boards beaming the battle around the packed arena, millions more are watching on monitors around the globe.

This is the National Collegiate Esports Tournament, an event that is now fictitious but could one day decide the top collegiate esports team in the country.

It is a dream that is arising, as the popularity of esports – competitive video game playing – is booming, with Ole Miss Esports, the university’s official esports organization, riding that surging wave into a bright future.

On Thursday (Sept. 13), Ole Miss and Mississippi State University announced the first-ever Esports Egg Bowl, an electronic matchup Oct. 13 in The Pavilion at Ole Miss between the two schools whose football rivalry stretches back to 1901.

The history of Ole Miss Esports is not nearly as lengthy. The club, designed to establish a community of gamers and promote competitive esports play on the UM campus, was founded in January 2017 by junior Cray Pennison, of Mandeville, Louisiana.

Pennison, an English major with a creative writing emphasis, serves as president of the club. Junior Gage Angle, from Colorado Springs, Colorado, (though a Tupelo High School graduate) is vice president and co-founder.

“The fact that Ole Miss pulled the trigger on (supporting an esports club) is a really smart move,” said Angle, an economics major. “They are taking it seriously. That’s making people realize that this is going to be real.”

The club, born out of a defunct League of Legends club on campus, convened with about five members at its first meeting. At a club social Aug. 23 in Brevard Hall, 85 people signed up for the club, with more than 100 students in attendance, chowing down on pizza and playing video games. More than 50 students attended the club’s first official fall meeting.

The explosion of the group mirrors the mushrooming popularity of esports around the globe. Newzoo, a games, esports and mobile market intelligence provider, forecasts that the total, global esports audience will grow from 395 million this year to 580 million by 2021. 

Newzoo also states that the global esports economy will grow to $905.6 million this year, a year-on-year growth of 38 percent.

The Ole Miss Esports club was founded in January 2017 to establish a community of gamers and promote competitive esports play on the UM campus. Photo by Shea Stewart/Ole Miss Communication

Games are played on a trio of platforms – mobile (smartphone and tablets), PC and console games – in genres that include fighting and multiplayer online battle arena, first-person shooter or real-time strategy games. Some of the most popular games are “Call of Duty,” “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive,” “Dota 2,” “League of Legends,” “Overwatch,” “Rocket League,” “Super Smash Bros. Melee” and “Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege.” 

Players go by game aliases. Pennison’s is “Syliris” because he likes the combination of sounds; Angle’s is “Geiji,” a Japanese pronunciation of his first name.

And while millions play the games, millions more watch online, thanks to sites such as Twitch and YouTube. Twitch, a subsidiary of Amazon, is a live-streaming video service and social site with an estimated daily viewership in the last 30 days of more than 1.1 million viewers. By comparison, ESPN – the leading U.S. basic cable sports network – had an average of 2.5 million total viewers in primetime for the week of Sept. 3.

Besides the free, live event sponsored by C Spire at the Pavilion, the Esports Egg Bowl will likewise stream online – time and place to be announced.

“One of the things I get is, ‘So you enjoy watching other people play video games?'” Pennison said. “I always joke back, ‘You like watching people play football as you sit on the couch?’ It’s the same thing.”

That growing worldwide fascination with esports, the popularity of which first bloomed in South Korea, is gaining notice in the U.S. ESPN has added esports to the growing list of sports it covers. And the Mississippi High School Activities Association added esports as a pilot program in 2018-19.

Esports also has become a varsity collegiate sport. In 2014, Robert Morris University in Illinois announced a scholarship-sponsored “League of Legends” team.

Since then, the esports scene has skyrocketed, with a national governing body known as the National Association of Collegiate Esports representing more than 90 institutions, ranging from tiny Culver-Stockton College in Missouri to larger schools such as the University of North Texas and Georgia State University.

In March, the University of North Georgia captured the first-ever Peach Belt Conference League of Legends Championship. The championship was the first of its kind in the nation as the PBC is the first NCAA conference to present a league title for esports.

About a year-and-a-half ago, Pennison approached the UM Department of Computer and Information Science requesting financial support for Rebel Rumble 2017, a campus club gaming tourney. The department, under the direction of Chair Dawn Wilkins, again assisted with Rebel Rumble this spring, and the club’s momentum was ignited.

“The timing just seemed right,” said Carrie Long, administrative assistant for the department and a self-described “ally” of the club. “Esports is undoubtedly a very popular event worldwide and can be used in the university setting in multiple facets.

“It is a good team-building unit, much the same as any team sport; it can be used to help motivate students to participate in leading roles as well as collaborate with others working toward common goals.”

Scholarly pursuits, including research into programming, psychology, kinesiology and virtual reality, also can be linked to esports, Long said.

And esports can be supportive in assisting a student’s mental health.

“Our hope is this will help students find others in the community who have similar interests, as well as support their interest but also make them accountable for going to class and encouraging them to be more social,” Long said.

Long and Wilkins approached Provost Noel Wilkin about administration support for the club. It did not take much to persuade him.

“This is about embracing the future: the future of online gaming, the future of sports and the future of understanding how the online world brings society together,” Wilkin said. “The future is here, competition is changing and the need for new talent is emerging. Ole Miss is changing the world.”

As the esports conversation accelerated over the summer, the idea arose for an Esports Egg Bowl, with Ole Miss and MSU battling it out for esports supremacy in the state.

The popularity of esports – competitive video game playing – is booming, with an estimated global audience of 395 million in 2018. Photo by Shea Stewart/Ole Miss Communications

Yes, the showdown will be a battle, because esports is competitive. The Ole Miss Esports club has finished highly ranked at some competitions, including two top 10 finishes in the Collegiate Battleground Association’s fall 2017 and spring 2018 PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds tournaments.

The idea is for the club to compete this year in the most popular esports games, with club members split into their respective games of interest and each game overseen by a chairman. Some games have multiple teams, and each team is coached by a captain.

Much like other team sports, esport captains develop game plans by researching opponents, searching for patterns in play or weaknesses, and poring over data. Players, especially in a multiplayer online battle arena game such as “League of Legends,” are always searching for that most efficient tactic.

“In the ‘Call of Duty’ team here, our practices consist of (playing training games against) other schools for at least 15 hours a week in-game, watching hours of video-on-demand to get intel on other school’s teams, and even writing down strategies and critiques of our own play to use in-game,” said Sergio Brack, alias “Physix,” a pre-pharmacy major from Chicago who is the club’s “Call of Duty” chairman.

All this takes time, and it takes a great amount of time to become even competent at a game. But esport players do not have to be athletic freaks of nature, able to hit a nasty 85 mph slider or slalom up and down a soccer field, dribbling the ball while avoiding opposing players.

“(Esports) seem more accessible than other sports,” Angle said. “You see athletes, and it is like, ‘Those guys are big and tall, and they have the genetics and they’ve been working out their whole lives,’ and then you see guys playing video games and it’s like, ‘Oh my God, I do that.’

“In esports, there is not much you can be born with for talent. You have to work hard. You have to get ahead of everybody.”

While athletic ability, beyond talents such as hand-eye coordination and quick reflexes, is not necessary for excelling at esports, a competitive spirit is beneficial.

“I noticed with esports, people who play competitively, when they were younger, they usually played sports so they have that competitive nature,” Pennison said. “And then they played video games, so it becomes where you can play the thing you really like to do – video games – and enjoy the high of being competitive and being good at it.”

Still, the games are essentially supposed to be fun, an escape from stress and the tasks of being a student. That is the role these games have played in Ole Miss Esports players’ lives since they started playing video games, which have been a near-constant since birth.

Austin Turner, a junior computer science major from Yazoo City, remembers playing as a child on his PlayStation, thinking it was the “coolest thing ever.” By high school, he was playing “League of Legends,” and when he arrived at UM, he started playing “Overwatch” for “hours on end with no end in sight.”

“For me, the joy is just the pure rush,” said Turner, the club’s “Overwatch” chairman. “I play competitive games and also survival games, so the rush for me comes when I am able to overpower another player in a game and get rewards from it.”

Esport players compete in a number of games, with some of the most popular being ‘Call of Duty,’ ‘Counter-Strike: Global Offensive,’ ‘League of Legends’ and ‘Overwatch.’ Here, Ole Miss students play ‘Super Smash Bros.’ Photo by Shea Stewart/Ole Miss Communications

So where does all this lead? Down the road to that fictional National Collegiate Esports Tournament in a dedicated Ole Miss arena? (It’s not so far-fetched: The University of California at Irvine opened its UCI eSports Arena in September 2016.)

But first steps first, such as opening a practice room for Ole Miss Esports members, then maybe becoming an officially recognized sport and offering scholarships. Then the arena and national tournament.

Wilkin said UM will work toward establishing “sites where Ole Miss gamers can gather, practice and connect with expert gamers recreationally and in preparation for tournaments.”

“We will work toward establishing a competitive program that will enable our Rebel gamers to compete against the best collegiate gamers in the country. It is consistent with our efforts to build excellent programs that give students the knowledge and understanding necessary to enable them to unleash their potential and prepare them for the lifelong learning necessary in their careers.”

James Zhou, a junior managerial finance major from Madison who goes by the gamer alias “icytea,” sees a big future for Ole Miss Esports, especially with the university’s support.

“It’s still a long shot for any school, but hopefully we can become national contenders for multiple popular esports,” said Zhou, who is the club’s “League of Legends” chairman. “Universities from around the world have been hopping on the esports train.

“I definitely did not expect the amount of growth that we’ve had in the past few years, so props to everyone involved, especially the leadership.”

And by supporting the development of the Ole Miss Esports club, the university is doing more than creating a new team; it is giving students a new channel for developing their talents.

“Esports, here at OleMiss, is an outlet for some very talented people to come and show off a skill that doesn’t involve having to be physically good at something,” Turner said. “This is an opportunity for people that may have social issues, physical issues, medical issues, etc., to come and show off that they don’t have to conform their bodies to a certain sport or face the negative stigma around gaming.

“We’re all geeks in some way or fashion but together in this organization, we can come together and push boundaries that have never been reached at Ole Miss.”

Moon of Saturn Topic for First Science Cafe of Fall Semester

Visiting professor Jennifer Meyer to discuss tides, oceans and the possibility of life on Enceladus

Jennifer Meyer, a visiting assistant professor of physics and astronomy from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will discuss the discovery of liquid water on one of Saturn’s moons Sept. 18 at Uptown Coffee. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The surprising discovery of liquid water on one of Saturn’s moons is the topic for a monthly public science forum organized by the University of Mississippi Department of Physics and Astronomy.

The fall semester’s first meeting of the Oxford Science Cafe is set for 6 p.m. Tuesday (Sept. 18) at its new location of Uptown Coffee, 265 North Lamar Blvd. Jennifer Meyer, visiting assistant professor of physics and astronomy, will discuss “Tides on Enceladus.” Admission to the event is free.

The Oxford Science Cafe features monthly conversation about science known and unknown. Speakers and topics are scheduled through the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

“This is the first meeting at Uptown Coffee,” said Marco Cavaglia, professor of physics and astronomy. “We are very thankful to Uptown Coffee’s owners for sponsoring the Oxford Science Cafe. We hope to have many more meetings there.”

“Enceladus, a small moon of Saturn, has a surface temperature of minus 200 degrees C, or minus 330 degrees F,” Meyer said. “Surprisingly, in 2005, the Cassini mission found evidence that this seemingly frigid moon has liquid water under the surface – and jetting out from the surface in geysers more active than any on Earth.”

Meyer’s 45-minute presentation will include discussion about how tides impact the geology and orbit of moons such as Enceladus. She also will discuss why Enceladus is one of NASA’s prime spots to look for life.

“If Enceladus was warmed by sunlight only, the moon would be solid ice,” she said. “The most likely source of the energy powering the geysers and maintaining the subsurface ocean is tidal heating, but scientists are still working on making the numbers add up.”

Cavgalia said Meyer’s appearance should be most interesting.

“Dr. Meyer is an expert in lunar explorations within our solar system,” he said. “Her presentation is sure to be fascinating and enlightening.”

Meyer earned her doctorate in planetary science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

For more information about Oxford Science Cafe programs, go to For more information about the Department of Physics and Astronomy, visit or call 662-915-7046.

UM Welcomes New and Returning Students for Fall Semester

University continues focus on providing flagship education and experience

Incoming students and their parents receive a tour of the UM Oxford campus during orientation this summer. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi enrolled 23,258 students across its six campuses for fall 2018 – fourth-highest enrollment in the university’s history – while its first-year retention rate climbed to 86 percent, second-highest in school history.

Total 2018 enrollment reflects a 2.2 percent decrease from last year. At the same time, the university continues to rank among the nation’s fastest-growing universities, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education, as national demographic trends have produced a 5.2 percent decrease in the number of college and university students across the country since 2010.

During a decade of unprecedented growth, the university has adopted a series of progressive steps to manage growth to maintain the quality of the student experience and the expected level of service. As a result, the university is attracting a higher proportion of well-prepared students to its excellent academic programs while maintaining its commitment to access.

“We are seeing the benefits of a number of investments and strategic choices made in recent years to assure a stellar academic and campus life experience for students,” Chancellor Jeffrey S. Vitter said. “Students at the University of Mississippi study in high-quality academic programs, bolstered by an academic support system that enables them to stay on track, graduate and compete effectively in today’s global job market.”

Another Accomplished Freshmen Class

This year’s freshman class of 3,455 students delivers on several indicators that reflect the university’s ongoing focus on academic excellence. Over the last five years, the average ACT score has increased from 24.1 to 25.1. Likewise, the average GPA has grown from 3.46 in fall 2013 to 3.57 – a testament to the outstanding programs created by UM faculty that attract high-quality students.

This year’s first-time students include 84 class valedictorians, 48 salutatorians, 96 student body presidents, 100 Eagle Scouts and nine Girl Scouts who achieved the Gold Award, the organization’s highest youth honor.

The university continued to attract high-achieving students from across the state and nation.

This fall, the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College enrolled a record 1,605 students, a 7.2 percent increase over last year’s class and more than double the enrollment of 781 students from fall 2008. This includes 416 new Honors College enrollees, with 55.8 percent of them Mississippi residents.

The Honors College class posted an average ACT of 31.5 and an average high school GPA of 3.98.

The Provost Scholars program, which recruits and rewards high-achieving students with special seminars, workshops and other academic opportunities, has enjoyed significant growth from 394 students when the program was established in 2010 to 2,704 scholars this fall.

The freshman class also includes seven Stamps Scholarship recipients, among the largest and most prestigious scholarships in the state. Funded through the Stamps Family Charitable Foundation, the 13th class of Stamps Scholars includes 230 students nationwide selected from almost 300,000 applicants. UM is among only 41 universities nationally that is able to admit Stamps Scholars.

Along with exceptional scholars, the university attracts students uniquely interested in being campus leaders in the short term and state, national and global leaders in the long term, said Brandi Hephner LaBanc, UM vice chancellor for student affairs.

“The Ole Miss experience provides flagship academic programs coupled with personalized and transformative engagement programs where students develop holistically and excel as leaders,” Hephner LaBanc said.

Supportive Environment Resulting in Higher Retention and Graduation

The university’s focus on investing and fostering a supportive academic environment continues to return great dividends. With efforts to help new students adjust to college life and achieve success, including programs such as the First Year Experience and FASTrack, student retention remained near record levels, with 86 percent of last year’s first-time students returning to continue their studies this fall.

Retention rates have climbed steadily since 2015, when student retention efforts and programs were combined within the Center for Student Success and First Year Experience. In addition, the university took steps to enhance coordination across all first-year programs and collaborate on piloting new ideas.

The center provides academic advising to about 80 percent of the freshman class and other students who have not declared a major, and it coordinates several first-year student experience initiatives. The center also offers resources targeting the needs of approximately 1,300 students who are veterans of the military or their dependents.

“Enrollment is not simply about attracting more students; it is about helping students at all levels of personal and academic preparation succeed (and) first-year retention is the primary indicator of a university’s ability to do this,” Hephner LaBanc said. “Through our myriad academic, residential and leadership communities, our students find meaningful connections with faculty and staff, resulting in unparalleled levels of support and a true sense of care and community.”

The university also recently recorded its highest-ever five-year graduation rate and anticipates similar gains for the six-year graduation rate when it is announced later this fall. That graduation rate data will be fueled in part by a distinction for the Class of 2018, which earned 910 degrees in STEM fields – the highest number of STEM degrees ever conferred by the university.

Since 2013, STEM degrees awarded by the university have increased 117 percent.

The Mississippi University of Choice

A clear majority of Ole Miss students, 58.3 percent, are residents of Mississippi, representing 221 high schools across all the state’s 82 counties. At the same time, the university continues to attract a geographically diverse student body as nonresident students, who make up 41.7 percent of the student body, come from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and 90 foreign countries.

For the Oxford and regional campuses, minority enrollment totals 4,821 students, or 23.6 percent. African-American enrollment totals 2,559 students, or 12.5 percent of overall enrollment. The university experienced a 6.3 percent increase in the number of African-American transfer students.

The university’s focus on investing and fostering a supportive academic environment continues to return great dividends. With efforts to help new students adjust to college life and achieve success, including programs such as the First Year Experience and FASTrack, student retention remained near record levels, with 86 percent of last year’s first-time students returning to continue their studies this fall. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

Enrolling for a Healthier Mississippi

Enrollment at the University of Mississippi Medical Center saw a 1.7 percent decrease to 2,840 students, but the UM School of Medicine enrolled its largest class ever. After opening its new building last August, the school has enrolled 165 first-year medical students, up from 155 last year.

In only its second year, the John D. Bower School of Population Health’s enrollment grew from five students to 24. One of only three population health schools in the United States, it has been designed to offer new strategies and capacity to improve health status of Mississippians. 

“We are working hard to grow the physician workforce in Mississippi,” said Dr. LouAnn Woodward, UM vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the medical school. “As we graduate more students, we’re also proud of the fact that we are among the most effective schools at retaining our medical graduates to practice in-state, ranking sixth in the nation.”

Continued Academic Growth at All Levels

The university experienced strong growth across a number of graduate and undergraduate programs.

“The desire to maintain excellence and a caring environment within our academic programs led us to add faculty and staff in such areas as our Meek School of Journalism and Patterson School of Accountancy,” said Noel Wilkin, UM provost and executive vice chancellor. “We also have added new programs to be responsive to the changing national economy and emerging fields.”

The Patterson School of Accountancy continues to offer innovative graduate programs that reflect the university’s commitment to the future of the audit and tax professions. Enrollment in accountancy graduate programs has skyrocketed 66 percent, thanks in part to two new degrees developed in partnership with KPMG in the high-growth field of data analytics.

The Master of Accountancy and Data Analytics and the Master of Taxation and Data Analytics both require 30 credit hours to complete and are the only programs of their kind in the state.

For eight consecutive years, the school’s undergraduate, master’s and doctoral degree programs have been ranked among the nation’s top 10 by Public Accounting Report.

The university’s biomedical engineering program, in its second year, also has experienced meteoric growth, with 105 students, three new full-time faculty positions and a new School of Engineering dean, David Puleo, who is a biomedical engineer.

This program capitalizes on existing strengths to prepare engineering students to meet the expected demand in biomedical industries in Mississippi and across the nation. It also will provide additional human resources for the practice of medicine and to address public health issues.

“The rapid growth of our biomedical engineering program demonstrates the desire for this discipline in Mississippi and for the application of engineering principles to drive discovery of new knowledge in the life sciences and development of advanced biomedical technologies,” Puleo said. 

“In addition to enhancing the state’s biomedical device workforce with top-notch students, the collaborative nature of the discipline will promote interaction between departments within the school, across the Oxford campus and with the Medical Center in Jackson.”

Another program that continues to enjoy significant growth is the Meek School of Journalism and New Media, where enrollment increased 5.6 percent, growing from 1,557 students in fall 2017 to 1,644 this year. The Bachelor of Science in Integrated Marketing Communications accounted for much of this growth, with an 11.7 percent increase in enrollment.

Construction crews have reworked the roundabout in front of Guyton Hall to align with Guyton Place and Magnolia Drive. The new design, which opened Aug. 10, allows for a safer roadway for pedestrians and motorists. Photo by Marlee Crawford/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

Building for the Future

To enable academic excellence and enhance the campus environment, the university is managing $709 million in building projects planned or underway across its campuses, including renovations and construction of new facilities. Just days before the fall semester commenced, the Oxford campus opened a new pedestrian plaza and street improvements in front of Guyton Hall, home to the School of Education, to improve access and safety.

Several major projects are scheduled to be completed in the new academic year, including the expansion and renovation of the Ole Miss Student Union. The $59 million project increases the Student Union’s size from 97,000 to 173,000 square feet, adding space for student government offices, a ballroom and an expanded food court, which opened last fall.

When renovations are complete in early 2019, Paul B. Johnson Commons East will house Developmental Studies and the Center for Student Success and First Year Experience. University and Public Events will be housed on the second floor, alongside three renovated event spaces.

Other projects on tap for completion in 2019 include the 121,000-square-foot South Campus Recreation and Transportation Hub, which also will house the William Magee Center for Wellness Education. In addition, renovation work is underway on Garland, Hedleston and Mayes, which will accommodate the School of Applied Sciences.

For more information on enrollment and programs at UM, go to

‘Green is the New Pink’ Program Searching for Young Environmentalists

Second year of program looks to recruit seventh- to 10th-grade students to study local ecology

Scott Knight, UM Field Station director, shows participants in last fall’s ‘Green is the New Pink’ environmental program some of the interesting creatures found in local water sources. Young ladies in grades 7-10 are invited to participate in this year’s program, set for four Saturday mornings this fall and two in the spring at the Field Station. Interested students should apply online by Sept. 20. Photo by Pam Starling/UM Division of Outreach and Continuing Education

OXFORD, Miss.­­­ – If you know a seventh- to 10th-grade young woman who would enjoy spending Saturdays hiking by a local river, hunting for salamanders, fishing for rare species or tracking invasive organisms, she should check out the University of Mississippi’s “Green is the New Pink: Young Women Environmentalists in Action” program.

The environmental leadership program, created by the UM Office of Pre-College Programs, gives students tools and resources to create positive change in their community, to encourage the adoption of resource conservation activities and to ensure the safety of our planet for future generations.

“Last year’s participants had unique research opportunities and learned so much about the world around them that we wanted to be able to offer the program to a new group of students,” said Wendy Pfrenger, UM assistant director of pre-college programs.

This year, Pfrenger and Ellen Shelton, pre-college programs director, submitted a grant proposal to the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks to fund the program. The proposal was accepted last month.

The “Green is the New Pink” program will give students a chance to explore different elements of the UM Field Station while collecting and examining data that they will later share with younger students who participate in the Ecology Day Camp program.

“We think it is a great opportunity for the participants to share what they discover with the next generation of environmental researchers,” Pfrenger said.

Shelton and Pfrenger are working with Scott Knight, UM Field Station director, to provide specific learning and research activities for participants.

They will be working alongside Oxford High School teacher Angela Whaley, Corinth Middle School teacher Martha Tallent and Lafayette Middle School teacher Katie Szabo during the six Saturday morning activity days of the program that will take place this fall and in spring 2019.

Students interested in participating in the 2018-19 program are invited to apply online by Sept. 20 at

Law School to Host Originalism Debate in Constitution Day Observance

Free event is part of the Boyce Holleman Debate Series

UM law professor Chris Green will debate Georgia State law professor Eric Segall on originalism Sept. 17 to commemorate Constitution Day. Photo by Christina Steube/UM School of Law

OXFORD, Miss. – On Sept. 17, 231 years ago, delegates who had been meeting in Philadelphia that summer made their work public, signing the U.S. Constitution and proposing it for ratification by “We the People.”

The University of Mississippi School of Law will celebrate that triumphant day by hosting a Constitution Day commemoration Sept. 17 in the Robert C. Khayat Law Center. The 12:30 event in Weems Auditorium is free and open to the public.

This year, the celebration will feature a debate between UM associate professor of law Christopher Green and Georgia State University law professor Eric Segall titled “What is Originalism, and Is It a Good Idea?” They will discuss how the Constitution should be interpreted today.

“We are proud to host the annual commemoration of this foundational moment in our history,” said Michele Alexandre, the school’s associate dean for faculty development and intellectual life. “Professor Green and Segall are two dynamic scholars in the field with divergent views on the constitution.

“Their conversation will provide valuable food for thought and useful information to the audience.”

The event is sponsored by the Boyce Holleman Debate Series.

“It’s not surprising that Congress has told all of the universities in the country to set aside some time thinking about the Constitution every Sept. 17,” Green said. “Developing views about the Constitution, however tentative or incomplete, is an important obligation of everyone in the country.

“Love it or hate it, no matter what you think the Constitution is, no one should just be apathetic about it.”

The Constitution should not be left solely to the experts, Green said, who invites everyone to hear the debate in person.

“Anyone who grows up in places governed by the Constitution really ought to start thinking about it shortly after they learn to read,” he said.

Green joined the Ole Miss faculty in 2006. He is a graduate of Princeton University, Yale Law School and earned his doctorate in philosophy from the University of Notre Dame.

He clerked for UM law school alumnus Judge Rhesa H. Barksdale on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Green also is author “Equal Citizenship, Civil Rights, and the Constitution: The Original Sense of the Privileges or Immunities Clause” (Routledge, 2015).

Segall has taught at Georgia State University since 1991. A graduate of Emory University and the Vanderbilt University Law School, he clerked for U.S. District Court and U.S. Circuit Court judges Charles Moye Jr. and Albert J. Henderson in Georgia.

He also wrote “Supreme Myths: Why the Supreme Court Is Not a Court and Its Justices are Not Judges” (Praeger, 2012).

Green and Segall also have both authored numerous articles and essays on constitutional theory.

“It’s exciting to be able to have a debate with someone like Eric Segall so soon after school begins,” Green said. “Eric and I have been Twitter ‘frenemies’ for several years, so it will be fun to translate our battles in that medium into a more formal debate, even though we disagree about nearly everything.”

For more information about the event, contact Alexandre at or operations assistant Carroll Moore at

Celebrating the Arts Sets Big Goal for Ford Center

Campaign launches to build endowment for performing arts

The Ford Center has cloisonne friendship balls for sale as part of the Celebrating the Arts campaign, which runs through May 18. Photo by Kirsten Faulkner

OXFORD, Miss. – Adding $1.5 million in endowment for the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Mississippi is the goal of the Celebrating the Arts campaign, which will increase the total endowment to $3 million.

Mississippi native and UM alumnus Gerald McRaney serves as the celebrity spokesperson.

“It’s important to support the arts, as opposed to supporting simple entertainment, because simple entertainment quite often will fund itself,” said McRaney, who majored in theatre arts at Ole Miss. “But all too often, the arts – like fine, old books in public libraries – won’t be supported on their own.

“They need us to keep them alive, and they are an essential part of our culture. … Without the arts, without those reminders, we’re lost. We’re a rudderless ship at sea with no direction home.

“The arts in Mississippi have a long, long history, and I don’t want to see that history overlooked, and I don’t want to see it end. I want us to continue to make history, not just appreciate it.”

To honor donors to the Celebrating the Arts campaign, the Ford Center has unveiled plans for a large bronze tree sculpture commissioned from Sanford Werfel Studio and hand-carved by artist Richard Teller. The sculpture will be a permanent installation in the theater lobby.

Major initial gifts already include those from the Gertrude C. Ford Foundation, of Jackson; Mary and Sam Haskell, of Oxford; and Nancye Starnes, of Charleston, South Carolina, with their names to be displayed on the tree trunks. Dr. Ralph Vance and his wife, Douglas, as well as Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter and his wife, Sharon, also have made major gifts, bringing the early total for campaign efforts to more than $220,000.

Calling the 15-year-old Ford Center a world-class arts and entertainment venue for the state and region, Vitter said providing cultural arts experiences is a key component of the university’s mission to prepare well-rounded students and provide opportunities to the greater community.

“As a flagship institution, we’re committed to growing the capacity of our extraordinary arts and cultural resources and programs,” Vitter said. “The arts keep everything vibrant and relevant; the arts provide an enduring legacy that offers insight into ourselves, as well as cultures of other times and places.

UM alumnus Gerald McRaney is the celebrity spokesperson for the Celebrating the Arts campaign. Submitted photo

“Friends of the Ford Center have provided amazing ideas and are investing their time and energy to move the Ford Center forward. With continued support of alumni and friends, I am confident that we will have a successful campaign.”

The campaign will conclude May 18, 2019 at the Ford Center’s inaugural Friendship Ball. McRaney and his wife, actress Delta Burke, are expected to perform A.R. Gurney’s “Love Letters,” a two-character piece in the form of a staged reading of the 50-year correspondence between East Coast bluebloods Melissa Gardner and Andrew Makepeace Ladd III.

Those interested in contributing to the campaign can choose from several levels of support with names engraved on different parts of the tree sculpture. The middle trunk represents the Muse of Music and features Gertrude C. Ford rising from the roots with her violin, while the other two trunks hold figures representing the Muses of Drama and Dance.

Nestled among the trees are various sized boughs – representing gifts of $20,000, $25,000 or $30,000 – and on the ground ensuring future trees, golden acorns for gifts of $10,000. In the engraver’s brass gold are also 750 donor recognition leaves, for gifts of $1,000. When a gift is made, the Ford Center will send the donor a form with instructions for personalizing the bough, acorn or leaf.

Most performing arts centers rely upon private contributions from individuals, foundations, corporations and businesses to sustain operations and programming, and the Gertrude C. Ford Center is no different.

University resources can cover salaries and a nominal budget, and other resources come from the Ford Foundation, Friends of the Ford Center and other alumni and friends. These additional resources cover the costs of special appearances or series, as well as programming, advertising and other costs associated with running the facility.

The shows each season are major costs, as large-scale musicals can cost up to $70,000 to bring to campus, Ford Center Director Julia Aubrey said.

“We want to offer the biggest and the best that our facility can present, and this takes support beyond ticket sales,” she said. “The building is now 15 years old, and to maintain its beauty and functionality, we have to continually repair, replace and upgrade. Our technology also must be updated to keep competitive with today’s expectations.”

Investing time, energy and resources in the Ford Center is a worthy endeavor, said Ole Miss alumna and Ford Center volunteer Susan Meredith, of Oxford.

“The Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts is a magical place,” Meredith said. “Where else can live music make your heart soar? Where else can dance make you gasp in amazement? Where else can the spoken word bring tears of sorrow or joy to your soul?

“And we have this amazing facility right here in our own backyard!”

Ford Center Director Julia Aubrey joins UM alumni and friends recently to launch the Celebrating the Arts campaign, which intends to add $1.5 million to the center’s endowment, elevating it to $3 million. A bronze tree sculpture has been commissioned to recognize donors to the campaign. Photo by Robert Jordan

Among highlights of the center’s 2018-19 season are national tours of the “Wizard of Oz” (Oct. 21) and “Jersey Boys” (Nov. 9), as well as “Ferri-Cornejo-Levingston: An Evening of Dance and Music” (Sept. 20), St. Lawrence String Quartet (Oct. 16), Warren Wolf Quartet (Nov. 13), Moscow Ballet’s “Great Russian Nutcracker” (Nov. 30), ensemble 4.1 (Jan. 21), “We Shall Overcome – A Celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.” (Feb. 12), “In the Mood, a 1940s Musical Revue” (Feb. 16), Cirque Éloize Saloon: A Musical Acrobatic Adventure (Feb. 26), Billy Hart and the Academy (Feb. 26) and Junie B. Jones (March 30).

“I believe the arts reflect the heart of a culture and society,” Aubrey said. “We seek out paintings, sculpture and music from the past to learn what people were thinking or feeling – what was important to a previous generation.

“The performing arts that are presented in the Ford Center invite an audience to share someone else’s story for a brief period of time. Whether that story is told through music, drama or dance, we have a chance to share that visceral or intellectual experience. You leave laughing, thoughtful or both, and that makes one a more empathetic human being.”

To make a gift to the Celebrating the Arts campaign, send a check made out to the University of Mississippi Foundation, with the Ford Center campaign noted in the check’s memo line, to 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655 or online at More information also is available on the site, and Vitter’s comments from the campaign launch dinner can be found at

The Ford Center also has cloisonne friendship balls available for $50 at its ticket office, with the design featuring the center and Oxford. For more information, contact Kate Meacham, Ford Center marketing director, at or 662-915-6502.

Seven UM Freshmen Named 2018 Stamps Scholars

Students exemplify best of scholarship, community service and leadership

The 2018 cohort of Stamps Scholars at UM is: (front row, from left) Grace Dragna, Grace Marion and Valerie Quach, and (back row) Shahbaz Gul, Jeffrey Wang, Gregory Vance and Richard Springer. Photo by Bill Dabney/UM Foundation

OXFORD, Miss. – Seven members of the 2018 freshman class at the University of Mississippi have the distinction of being Stamps Foundation Scholarship recipients.

The Stamps Scholarships at Ole Miss are the most comprehensive, full scholarship packages for in-state and out-of-state students.

This year’s cohort is: Shahbaz W. Gul and Qihang “Jeffrey” Wang, of Oxford; Gregory Vance, of Jackson; Melvin “Richard” Springer IV, of Biloxi; Grace Louise Dragna, of Mandeville, Louisiana; Grace Elizabeth Marion, of Levittown, Pennsylvania; and Valerie Quach, of Austin, Texas.

“This gifted class of UM Stamps Scholars contributes to our exceptional track record of attracting and retaining the best students from around the state and the nation,” Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said. “We’re very grateful for the generosity of the Stamps Family Charitable Foundation. Our partnership with them provides nationally competitive scholarships and enables extraordinary enrichment opportunities for high-achieving students.”

The 13th class of Stamps Scholars includes 230 top students from across the country at 30 partner universities. Selected from almost 300,000 applications, these scholars have diverse academic interests such as medicine, education, engineering, history, public policy, and visual and performing arts.

With its partner universities, the Stamps Foundation seeks students who demonstrate academic merit, strong leadership potential and exceptional character. Through the foundation, students have access to funding to engage in internships, undergraduate research or other professional development activities.

Potential Stamps scholars are invited to campus for a special weekend visit to get an in-depth look at the university’s academic programs as well as opportunities to interact with campus administrators and students.

An early entry pharmacy major, Gul is a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and the Chancellor’s Leadership Class. His desire is to become a physician and work in pediatrics.

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

“I plan to use the enrichment funds provided by the Stamps Scholarship to attend scientific conferences, present my research and make connections with others doing similar studies,” Gul said. “I’m really honored and excited to be a part of this program.”

Wang said he sees the Stamps Scholarship at Ole Miss as the perfect balance between a fantastic, focused education and a big public school experience.

“The Stamps Scholarship Program provides big opportunities for networking with other student scholars,” said the biochemistry major and a member of the Honors College, Global Ambassadors and the American Chemical Society. “The Stamps family is very kind, courteous and professional, and I am very appreciative for all they’ve done.”

Wang’s goals include doing research in both analytical chemistry and environmental sciences.

The Stamps Scholarship is an extraordinary opportunity, said Vance, a biomedical engineering major with a possible minor in neuroscience. He is a member of the Honors College and University Choir.

“The Stamps Scholarship is an incredible way to help students see beyond the classroom,” he said. “I know we’ll have experiences here that we may never have again. I’m excited about meeting new people and learning about their cultures, all of which will make me a better person.”

Vance said he plans to pursue either medical school or an advanced biomedical engineering degree after graduation. He particularly would like to help treat children with neurological diseases.

Springer said he appreciated the Stamps family for contributing so much energy and effort to help students further their education and pursue their dreams.

“This phenomenal opportunity really means the world to me,” said the mathematics major who also plays trumpet in the Pride of the South marching band. He is a member of the Honors College, Chancellor’s Leadership Class and the Associated Student Body.

Springer’s goals are to study abroad, observe math education techniques and curricula in other countries and then return to help improve instruction in Mississippi and around the United States.

“I’ve been fortunate to have had great teachers all of my life,” Springer said. “I’m not sure yet if I want to become one, but I most definitely want to contribute in some way to the next generation of student scholars.”

Double majoring in public policy leadership and economics, Dragna is a member of the Honors College, Trent Lott Leadership Institute, Rebels Against Sexual Assault, Big Event and the Associated Student Body. She is grateful for the Stamps Scholarship, which is allowing her to attend the university.

“I was really shocked and excited that the school that I love so much was also interested in me,” Dragna said. “It’s really difficult for me to comprehend all of the opportunities I’ve been presented with this honor.”

Dragna said she is passionate about developing public policy in the area of women’s health care in rural areas She aspires to one day become a public servant with the federal government, making decisions for women’s health issues.

“I never could have gone to college without the generosity afforded me by the Stamps Family Scholarship Program,” said Marion, a journalism major with a minor in Spanish. “I am really excited to have been selected and to study at one of the best universities for journalism in the nation.”

Marion is a member of the Honors College and the Daily Mississippian editorial staff. Her goals include studying abroad, volunteering in the local community and continuing to attend national professional journalism conferences. Following graduation, she plans to either become a journalist or attend law school.

“I wasn’t expecting to get the Stamps Scholarship, and was very shocked and happy when I did,” said Quach, an early entry pharmacy major beginning her pre-med requirements. She is also a member of the Honors College and Chancellor’s Leadership Class. “The Stamps Foundation Scholarship Program forms a big, widespread community of student scholars and alumni, both internally and externally. I’m very honored to have been chosen to join it.”

Quach’s focus is on discovering new medications and/or procedures to improve treatment of Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, dementia and other neurological diseases.

“I’ve always been interested in health care, particularly geriatrics,” Quach said. “It’s my passion and I really enjoy doing it. Hopefully, my research will make a difference.”

Launched in 2006 by Georgia native Roe Stamps and his wife, Penny, the program has grown to include nearly 40 partner schools throughout the country.

To learn more about the Stamps Foundation, visit