Seven Receive UM Outstanding EEO Awards

Employees recognized for excellence in service categories

Kathy Tidwell (right), contractual services manager and director of university licensing, receives a standing ovation during annual Staff Appreciation Awards on Friday. Tidwell, who has worked at UM for 49 years, is recognized by Johnny Price (left) Staff Council president. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

A custodial worker in the Facilities Management Department is the University of Mississippi’s 2018 Overall Outstanding Staff Member.

Nettie Tyson of Oxford, who has been employed at the university since 2010, was recognized during the annual Staff Appreciation Awards program Friday (May 18) in the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts. She will receive a $1,000 stipend and two season tickets to Ole Miss football games.

“The people in this room know more than anyone else the depth and breadth of what we do here at the University of Mississippi,” said Noel Wilkin, provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs who presented all the EEO Service Awards. “Each one of you plays an amazing role in making our university the wonderful place that it is.”

Six other employees were presented Service Awards, including a $500 stipend, in their respective EEO categories. Winners included Laura D. Brown, director of the Office of Financial Aid, for EEO1; Joseph Baumbaugh, systems analyst III in the Office of Alumni Affairs, for EEO 3; Kathy McCluskey, senior human resources assistant, for EEO 4; Lynn Reece, distance learning coordinator at the Desoto regional campus, for EEO 5; Hunter Snow, power line specialist III, for EEO 6; and Michael Lewis, trucking worker in the Facilities Management Department, for EEO 7.

The Office of Student Disability Services was honored with the Dan Jones Award for Team Service.

Long-standing employees were presented either a certificate, lapel pin, plaque or keepsake in recognition of each person’s 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30 and 30-plus years of service to the institution.

Staff in the Office of Student Disability Services accept the third annual Daniel W. Jones, M.D. Outstanding Team Service Award during the UM Staff Appreciation Awards program. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

“The outstanding staff awards were created in 1990 as a way to honor staff members for their contributions to the university,” said Johnny Price, classroom technology specialist and outgoing president of the UM Staff Council. “The person with the most votes in their respective EEO category is recognized at our awards day ceremony.”

Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter was unable to attend, but filmed a video, which played during the ceremony.

“It’s the people of Ole Miss – all of you at today’s ceremony – that make it great,” Vitter said. “You’re outstanding people with a rich diversity of talents and backgrounds. As my Chief of Staff Sue Keiser describes, ‘Staff keep this place running like a spinning top, for themselves and all others.'”

Congratulations to all this year’s winners!

Faculty and Students Honored at Annual Lavender Graduation

Vice chancellor and journalism lecturer receive Vicki Mahan Ally of the Year Awards

Brandi Hephner LaBanc, UM vice chancellor for student affairs, speaks to LGBTQ students at the Lavender Graduation earlier this month. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – For three years, the University of Mississippi has held a Lavender Graduation, an annual ceremony to acknowledge the achievements of LGBTQ and ally students. Thirty-one undergraduate and graduate students participated in this year’s ceremony, with each receiving lavender cords to wear at Commencement.

Besides the graduates, two members of the UM community were honored for their contributions and dedication to inclusiveness regarding the LGBTQ community.

Brandi Hephner LaBanc, vice chancellor for student affairs, and Robin Street, senior lecturer in journalism, were recipients of the Vicki Mahan Ally of the Year Award for their ongoing efforts to support inclusivity.

Hephner LaBanc was honored for her commitment to providing resources for LGBTQ students at Ole Miss. When she arrived at the university in 2012, Hephner LaBanc made sure inclusion was a priority, and other faculty took notice.

“Many folks at the university and in the community have worked to build a more supportive culture over the last five years, but none of that would have been possible with leadership in the Lyceum, leadership that began with her arrival,” said Jaime Harker, director of the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies.

“Dr. Hephner LaBanc has empowered, supported and embraced the LGBTQ community here like she is one of us. Because of her leadership and empathy, she has helped to improve the lives of LGBTQ students at the University of Mississippi.”

Brandi Hephner LaBanc, UM vice chancellor for student affairs, is the recipient of this year’s Vicki Mahan Award for her efforts to make Ole Miss more inclusive for LGBTQ students. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communication

In her leadership position, she created the Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement, which works to create a supportive environment for all, including LGBTQ students. During Hephner LaBanc’s time at the university, she has supported events involving LGBTQ issues and rode in the Oxford Pride Parade last year.

Before the award presentation, Hephner LaBanc addressed the graduating students.

“This is an exciting time for each of you, and we’re here to celebrate how you’ve contributed to tremendous successes on campus, both personally and academically,” she said. “Please know that we stand with you now and as you transition to alums of the University of Mississippi.”

Street was honored for creating two student-led campaigns over the last seven years with the goal of changing perceptions and creating awareness of the importance of diversity.

“This award is deeply meaningful to me, because my work in diversity topics has come from my heart,” Street said. “It is my sincere hope that my work has helped spread the message to approach each person with understanding, dignity, respect and inclusion and to just pause before stereotyping another person based on only one factor.”

Her first campaign, “Diversity Rocks!” began with the aim of celebrating all types of diversity but was created as a result of struggles of the LGBTQ community.

Robin Street, senior lecturer in journalism, is presented with the Vicki Mahan Ally of the Year Award by Kevin Cozart, operations coordinator at the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies. Photo by Scott Fien

“In 2011, I learned that, nationally, several young men who were gay had killed themselves after being bullied,” Street said. “This upset me greatly and I asked myself how I could help prevent such a tragedy at the University of Mississippi? I remember thinking: What can I do here and now?”

Street turned to the one thing she knew best, her teaching specialty of public relations. The campaign included panel discussions featuring students, faculty, staff and alumni speaking about their own joys and struggles with their sexual orientation, race, mental health issues, religion or disability.

In 2017, she developed a new campaign “It Starts with (Me)ek” to emphasize there is both a responsibility as a journalism school and for each individual to create more awareness, listen to others and increase the scope of diversity. The weeklong campaign featured similar events to “Diversity Rocks,” allowing students to hear more firsthand experiences.

Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter spoke at the event and highlighted how this ceremony brings the UM Creed and the university’s core values to life by respecting the dignity of each person.

“Inclusion is a value that requires a certain degree of vigilance,” Vitter said. “It’s a commitment we must honor time and again. Occasions such as this event provide an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment. We must stay strong in supporting our LGBTQ+ community.

“I truly believe diversity makes our campus a more enlightened, more energizing and more valuable place. With your openness, and by being here today, you’re sharing a part of yourself with the greater community. I applaud you.”

The event was sponsored by the Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement, Ole Miss Student Housing, the Isom Center, Office of Leadership and Advocacy, UM Pride Network, Queer People of Color, OUTGrad, OUTLaw and Ole Miss LGBTQ Alumni and Friends.

Donation Honors Lifetime Dedication to Education

Planned gift establishes scholarship for nursing students

Hazel Brister O’Flaherty

OXFORD, Miss. – A recent $300,000 gift from the estate of Hazel Brister O’Flaherty will establish a scholarship to provide financial assistance to nursing students at the University of Mississippi.

“Aunt Hazel knew the value of a good education,” said Susan Brister Morrison, of Fairview, Tennessee. “When she was a nursing instructor at Contra Costa College in California, she ensured all the nurses who passed through her care were ready to take up their task.

“She knew what would be required of her students and she made sure they were prepared for it, whether they liked it or not.”

Morrison said her aunt, a native of Lincoln County, designated Ole Miss in her will because “it’s a great public university in her home state that produces some of the best nurses in the country.”

The Hazel Brister O’Flaherty Scholarship Endowment in Nursing will be awarded to full-time students enrolled in the UM Bachelor of Science nursing program who had a high school GPA of at least 3.5. First preference will be given to students from Lincoln County.

“Aunt Hazel pushed herself to be the best she could be, and she pushed her students as well,” Morrison said. “She was a strong, fierce woman who did what she could to make the world better. She continues to do so even now in providing these scholarships to prospective nurses from Mississippi.”

Planned gifts award donors membership in the 1848 Society, named for the year the university welcomed its first students. The society recognizes those who thoughtfully provide for the university through bequests and deferred gifts.

“Through her vision in endowing this scholarship, Hazel O’Flaherty will help give young men and women the opportunity to make their dreams of a higher education come true,” said Sandra Guest, vice president of the UM Foundation. “In turn, the students she helps will then go on to help save lives in the health care profession. This gift greatly illustrates the importance of private giving.”

O’Flaherty made a life for herself by working her way through the Mather School of Nursing in New Orleans, finishing in 1941. She then trained at Southern Baptist Hospital before taking her new skills where she believed they would do the most good: the Office of Civilian Defense, Emergency Medical Protection Service.

Hazel Brister O’Flaherty

There, O’Flaherty was assigned to work aboard a U.S. Army transport ship as chief nurse with the International Refugee Organization, which helped resettle displaced refugees from Europe and Asia following World War II. Also aboard was Staff Sgt. John O’Flaherty, who would become her husband in New York City in 1958.

Upon returning to the states, Hazel O’Flaherty decided to broaden her knowledge base to be better equipped to train nursing students. She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Columbia University in New York in 1959 and 1960, respectively, while working at Memorial Hospital Cancer Center.

The couple later moved to California, where Hazel O’Flaherty began teaching at Contra Costa College, educating young men and women in the same path she followed.

“Even though she spent most of her life elsewhere, Aunt Hazel loved her home state,” Morrison said.

Hazel O’Flaherty was a member of the American Nurses Association; Pi Lambda Theta, the national honor society for women in education; and Daughters of the American Revolution. She also had a passion for animals, gardening and a glass of good champagne.

For information on including the University of Mississippi in long-term estate and financial plans, alumni and friends can visit or contact Sandra Guest at 662-915-5208 or

Students Win Journalism Awards at Various Conferences

More than 50 honors in regional competition include work in newspaper, TV, radio and online

UM students, along with Patricia Thompson (left), assistant dean of student media show off the recognitions they received for their work at the Southeastern Journalism Conference at Harding University. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi students earned more than 50 awards in three regional contests this spring for their outstanding work in newspaper, television, radio and online journalism.

“The Student Media Center is one of the best recruiting tools for the university and the Meek School,” said Patricia Thompson, assistant dean for student media and an assistant professor of journalism. “We have students from every classification, from freshmen to graduate students, working in our vibrant newsroom every afternoon. 

“They get a chance to develop communications skills and they learn to work with others to produce award-winning journalism. They love it. They are passionate about providing our campus community with news and information they won’t get anywhere else.”

The Southeastern Journalism Conference, held this year at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas, featured more than 200 participants from 28 colleges and universities in seven states. UM was named Grand Champion at the conference for on-site competitions, where 15 students had to produce content on a deadline.

In the SEJC Best of the South competition, Ole Miss students won 17 awards, including first places for Abbie McIntosh, a junior from Cypress, Texas in the television news reporting category, and for Thomas DeMartini, a senior from Flowood, and Austin Hille, senior from Boise, Idaho, in the broadcast commercial category.

The Daily Mississippian won first place for best all-around daily newspaper and best affiliated website in the Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence competition. The SPJ region includes universities in Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee and Louisiana.

“I’m so proud of The Daily Mississippian team and the other student media staff members that earned top honors this past year,” said DM editor-in-chief Lana Ferguson, a senior from Mechanicsville, Virginia. “So many of us put hard work in every day and we don’t do it for awards, but it’s always a great feeling to be recognized.

“The student journalists at Ole Miss are creating high-quality content, and I’m glad it’s getting the attention it deserves.”

Clara Turnage and Malachi Shinault, both 2017 UM graduates from New Hebron and Booneville, respectively, took home first-place awards in all three competitions for their online feature package of text, photo, video and audio published on about activist Correl Hoyle as he prepared for graduation last spring.

Other students who won first-place awards from SPJ are:

  • Devna Bose, senior from Philadelphia, for feature writing
  • Marlee Crawford, senior from Oxford, for breaking news photography
  • Lauren Layton, senior from Huntsville, Alabama, for online/digital feature videography
  • Jules Marcantonio, senior from Franklin, Tennessee, for television general news reporting
  • Ariyl Onstott, 2017 UM graduate from Carriere, for online news reporting
  • Jake Thrasher, senior from Birmingham, Alabama, for editorial cartoons

All first-place winners will compete against winners in the 11 other regions of SPJ for national titles, which will be announced later this month.

In the Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press Contest, the student news broadcast NewsWatch Ole Miss took home first place for its Dec. 1, 2017 newscast, which included coverage of the NCAA sanctions announced that day.

“Our students dedicate so much time into the show and providing our audience with the top news of the day, and to be recognized for that day-in and day-out hard work makes it all worth it,” said Abbie McIntosh, NewsWatch manager. “I’m honored to have received some awards on top of what NewsWatch won. It makes me happy to know people think our work is good.”

Matthew Hendley and Joseph Katool, from Madison and Jackson, were awarded first place in the Associated Press contest for their radio coverage of NCAA sanctions.

Ferguson took home first-place honors from the AP for her feature story about an Oxford church helping a Texas community rebuild after Hurricane Harvey.

Other students who won first place in the AP and SEJC competitions are:

  • Devna Bose, arts and entertainment writing, SEJC
  • Lana Ferguson, feature writing, AP
  • Alana Mitius, freshman from Olive Branch, for radio feature, AP
  • Ethel Mwedziwendira, senior from McKinney Texas, for current events, SEJC
  • Marlee Crawford, sports photography, SEJC

Second- and third-place winners and finalists representing Ole Miss are:

  • Grant Gaar, senior from Walnut, finalist for television feature reporting, SPJ
  • Hayden Benge, junior from Tulsa, Oklahoma, design, SEJC
  • Marisa Morrissette, senior from Oxford, media history/ethics/law, SEJC
  • Clifton Carroll, senior from Yazoo City, public relations, SEJC
  • DeAndria Turner, sophomore from Gauter, radio reporting, SEJC; radio sports, AP; radio journalist SEJC
  • Matthew Hendley, TV anchoring, SEJC
  • Lana Ferguson, feature writing and news writing, SEJC
  • Erin Pennington, sophomore from Fulton, radio feature, SEJC
  • Madison Heil, 2017 graduate from Mandeville, Louisiana, journalism research paper, SEJC
  • Jake Thrasher, DM editorial cartoonist, SEJC
  • Ethel Mwedziwendira, newspaper layout and design, AP
  • Lana Ferguson and Clara Turnage, breaking news, AP
  • Abbie McIntosh and Marlee Crawford, documentary, AP
  • Italiana Anderson, senior from Ridgeland, radio news, AP

Social Work Advances in National Rankings of Top Master’s Programs

U.S. News and World Report ranks UM at No. 62 among public universities

Susan Allen (center), director of the UM Master of Social Work program, discusses crisis counseling and domestic violence with her students. The program has moved up significantly in national rankings and is among the nation’s top 100 programs. UM photo by Sarah Sapp

OXFORD, Miss. – U.S. News and World Report has ranked the University of Mississippi’s graduate program in social work among the top 100 in the country, up an impressive 60 spots in the national rankings since the program started in 2011.

The latest report ranks the Master of Social Work at UM tied at No. 62 among the nation’s public universities.

Since 2014, the Department of Social Work grants and contracts have grown 111 percent. Faculty generated peer-reviewed articles are up 230 percent, and national and refereed faculty presentations have increased by 250 percent.

“The School of Applied Sciences has invested the resources needed to build and promote the Department of Social Work,” said Daphne Cain, department chair.

“We have hired nine tenure-track faculty from premier schools of social work across the U.S., and in collaboration with our more senior faculty, the more junior faculty have dedicated themselves to research, teaching and service that has translated into national visibility through scholarship, teaching and service. That positive national visibility translates into improved national rankings.”

Although thrilled to move up in the rankings, Susan Allen, director of the Master of Social Work program, points to other important indicators of success that reinforce those numbers.

“For example, Patricia Tortora, a 2015 graduate, was the only M.S.W. student selected for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Leadership Initiatives for Tomorrow Fellowship,” Allen said. “Based on a competitive nomination process, only 22 students were selected nationwide and 21 were Ph.D. students.

“I believe that is a quality measure based on a tangible indicator. Our 100 percent pass rate on the Licensed Master of Social Work exam last year is another tangible indicator of the quality of the program.”

Viktor Burlaka, assistant professor of social work, agreed that the infusion of faculty from some of the nation’s top programs has significantly enhanced the department’s teaching and research capacity.

“I feel proud that our students have the ability to learn from dynamic scholars with active research agendas,” Burlaka said. “Surrounded by caring and enthusiastic faculty, they thrive academically, develop critical thinking and hone their clinical skills to become competitive and successful social workers.”

Despite the incredible growth in enrollment – nearly doubling the number of full-time M.S.W. students from 2016 to 2017 – the department has purposely maintained a low student-to-faculty ratio, said Jandel Crutchfield, assistant professor of social work.

“The program has been able to maintain its small class sizes while expanding its reach and rigor,” Crutchfield said. “The rise in the rankings of our M.S.W. program reflects the concerted effort of our faculty and the exemplary students in each cohort.”

Maintaining that small class size and close-knit relationship between faculty and students is a major factor in student success, said Younghee Lim, associate professor of social work.

“I also think that the caring mentorship these talented faculty provide to the students increased retention and graduation rates, which contributed to the increased ranking,” Lim said.

Recent graduate Claire Griffin, of Decatur, said the program helped her grow both as a professional and as a person.

“The smaller classroom setting provided a positive environment for students to have healthy discussion on the variety of topics covered within this program,” Griffin said. “The relationships I built with teachers helped me to develop a confidence in myself and in my capacity to be a clinician that I never thought possible.

“The best takeaway I gained was the importance of taking the time to stay up-to-date with the latest research because delivering the best services for clients is, in part, a result of knowing this information.”

Consistent student success leads to consistent employment for graduates. In a 2016 employment survey conducted by the department as a part of its accreditation process, 89 percent of the program’s graduates found employment within six months of graduation – 25 percent in community mental health, 25 percent in aging/gerontology, 13 percent in child welfare, 13 percent in schools, 13 percent in nursing home/assisted living and 13 percent in in-patient mental health.

For more information about the Department of Social Work, visit

UM Professor Awarded Fellowship at The Huntington Library

Jaime Harker to spend a month this summer working on research in California

UM professor Jaime Harker is set to participate in a monthlong fellowship this summer at The Huntington Library in San Marino, California. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Jaime Harker, an English professor and director of the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies at the University of Mississippi, will participate in a monthlong fellowship this summer at The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in California.

Harker was among four individuals appointed as a Christopher Isherwood Foundation Fellow. She was chosen from 125 applicants, 60 of whom received awards of some kind.

Isherwood was an English-American author of novels, plays and screenplays, among other texts. As a gay man, Isherwood was interested in the role of sexuality in identity and culture, and he explored this in his novels and essays. Born in northern England in 1904, Isherwood became a citizen of the United States in 1946 and died at his home in Santa Monica, California, in 1986.

“I have never been able to spend a full month at an archive, so this gives me a remarkable opportunity to uncover material that hasn’t been analyzed and discussed before,” Harker said. “I feel very fortunate.”

Her project proposal, titled “Pacific Rimming: Christopher Isherwood, Queer Expatriatism and Cold War Orientalism,” will build on Isherwood’s critique of queer orientalism through a case study of his spiritual and intellectual commitments and how his critique coexisted with sexual colonialism and Eurocentric revulsion. The project will explore how this influenced his writings and persona.

Harker was initially interested in Isherwood because of his conversion to Hinduism and how that allowed him to reconcile his spirituality and sexuality. She wrote a book about Isherwood titled “Middlebrow Queer: Christopher Isherwood in America.”

“I look forward to going back to Isherwood’s complicated relationships to the Pacific Rim, both as a sex tourist and a Hindu convert, to consider the ways these connected and informed his writing, identity as a gay man and identity as a religious devotee,” she said. “I think the ongoing question of how to reconcile one’s spirituality and sexuality is particularly germane, especially for my LGBTQ students, and I like the idea of adding Isherwood to the larger conversation.”

The Huntington, in San Marino, California, is a collections-based research and educational institution that provides scholars with access to a collection of rare books, manuscripts, photographs, maps, paintings, prints, sculptures and other decorative arts.

Harker will begin her research there by looking through diaries, drafts and correspondence with gay men to find unexpected topics of discussion. She is hoping to also review photographs and home movies housed in the archives.

She was recommended to The Huntington by Chris Freeman, English professor at the University of Southern California.

“Jaime Harker’s work on Isherwood and mid-20th century popular culture is simply brilliant: groundbreaking, original and resourceful,” Freeman said. “In ‘Middlebrow Queer,’ she used archival material, including fan mail, to assess Isherwood’s readership.

“Her new work, drawn from her talk at a recent Huntington conference on Isherwood, will be published in ‘Isherwood in Transit.’ These are major contributions to our thinking about Isherwood and his world.”

For more information about The Huntington, visit

Two UM Master’s Graduates Selected for Poetry Fellowships

Both recipients to attend literary gatherings in June

Samyak Shertok

OXFORD, Miss. – Two University of Mississippi graduates of the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program have been selected to participate in prestigious fellowship programs in poetry.

Both Samyak Shertok, of  Kathmandu, Nepal, and Jan Verberkmoes, from Roseburg, Oregon, graduated May 12, earning high praise from faculty members and administrators in the UM Department of English.

Shertok has accepted the Emerging Writer Fellowship from Aspen Words, while Verberkmoes, also a Grisham fellow in the English department, has accepted a fellowship from the Trans-Atlantic Summer Institute on “Transforming Environments in Europe and North America: Narratives, Histories, Cultures.”

“This is a huge accomplishment for both Samyak and Jan,” said Derrick Harriell, assistant professor of English and African American studies, and director of the M.F.A. program. “We couldn’t be more proud. Both students have exhibited excellence in and outside the classroom so it’s befitting that they’ve received these prestigious recognitions.”

Ann Fisher-Wirth, UM professor of English, has worked closely with both students, directing each of their theses.

“They came up with the ideas for their thesis, but I am helping them with their manuscripts,” Fisher-Wirth said.

Shertok was among 10 selected from 180 nominations for the Emerging Writer Fellowship.

“I am very grateful for the judge(s) at the Aspen Words who saw some promise in my work,” Shertok said. “I am very grateful to my mentor, Ann Fisher-Wirth, for nominating me and going over my writing sample with me, and to Melissa Ginsburg for her incredible feedback on my writing sample.

“This fellowship feels to me like a lovely treat for completing my M.F.A. But simultaneously I feel the great pressure to continue growing even more as a poet in order to honor this blessing.”

Shertok’s past achievements include awards such as a Northern Greece International Fellowship, the Mayhew Short Story Prize, the Bondurant Prize in Poetry and the Grand Prize in the Three-Minute Thesis Competition at Ole Miss. He also performed his poetry about his parents and the ongoing immigration crisis in Europe during the TEDxUniversityOfMississippi.

The fellowship allows Shertok to attend the annual Summer Words literary gathering, set for June 17-22 in Aspen, Colorado.

Jan Verberkmoes

Verberkmoes writes primarily eco-poetry, which focuses on the environment. She is working on a series of German- and English-language hybrid poems about the bird specimens that American zoologist Brooke Dolan II and German SS officer and zoologist Ernst Schäfer collected over the course of three natural history expeditions to Tibet in the 1930s.

The highly competitive 2018 Trans-Atlantic Summer Institute on “Transforming Environments in Europe and North America: Narratives, Histories, Cultures” is run by the Center of German and European studies. The fellowship runs June 18-29 at the University of Minnesota at Twin Cities. 

“I am beyond thrilled to be given this opportunity,” Verberkmoes said. “Getting to spend two weeks working with a faculty and group of students whose research interests could not be more germane to the concerns that my manuscript takes up will be incredibly enriching for my project.”

The UM creative writing program covers poetry and fiction, featuring both short stories and novels. The program accepts only eight students each year: four poets and four fiction writers. The entire creative writing M.F.A. program has fewer than 25 students, and the sought-after program is ranked among the top 10 in the nation.

Having two poetry students awarded such notable fellowships reflects the level of talent being accepted into the program, as well as the successful approach of the instructors in the M.F.A. program and the English department as a whole, Fisher-Wirth said.

“We really encourage a huge diversity in voices,” she said. “We are giving students the freedom to come up with their own craziest and creative ideas, and then we help our students realize them.”

UM Delves into Ethics to Prepare Students to Debate Society’s Issues

New courses and competitions equip participants to engage in civil discussion

UM Ethics Bowl team member Madison Bandler (second from left), discusses the question, ‘Should the standard of sexual consent be an affirmative verbal yes?’ during the Great Debate of 2018. Photo by Marlee Crawford/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi Department of Philosophy and Religion has created new classes, and conducts an annual Ethics Bowl and a Great Debate with the goal of equipping students to respectfully grapple with some of life’s most pressing questions.

Specialized ethics classes have become more common at universities around the country over the last 20 years against the backdrop of many high-profile scandals that involve unethical behavior. The department has courses on medical, environmental, professional and business ethics, among others.

Deborah Mower, an associate professor of philosophy, came to UM in 2016 and specializes in moral psychology, applied ethics and public policy, and moral education. Unlike many academic subjects that deal only with professional situations, the curriculum can be applied to all aspects of life, said Mower, whose work is supported by the Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Hume Bryant Lectureship in Ethics Endowment. 

“Everything is an ethical issue,” Mower said. 

Films, books, the legal system and other aspects of our culture all have ethical theories imbued in them, so people pick up a variety of beliefs, but they can become a hodgepodge. Those beliefs don’t all fit together nicely, and in some context, one might apply one principle but ignore it in another situation.

This idiosyncrasy is problematic, Mower said.

The value of an ethics class is not just applying what is learned, but also figuring out how some of your beliefs fit into single coherent theories, she said. Seeing students figure this out is always rewarding, Mower said.

“You always get that moment in the semester when you are teaching them some particular theory and they get this ‘aha!’ look on their face where they’ve realized, ‘I’m a Kantian and I never knew it,’ or, ‘I’m a virtue theorist and I never knew it,'” she said.

Mower also praised the students on the first two UM Ethics Bowls teams, which competed in 2017 and 2018. They spent hours each week practicing, which included being questioned about specific topics by experts and applying their teachings to the answers they gave.

The UM Ethics Bowl participants also held a Great Debate of 2018 earlier this semester.

At the Great Debate, two groups handled the topic “Should the standard of sexual consent be an affirmative verbal ‘yes’?” One team spoke in favor of the “affirmative, verbal ‘yes'” while another spoke against it.

Their presentations were followed by judges’ questions and a question-and-answer session with emphasis on how to address specific claims and arguments civilly for a productive conversation. A reception afterward allowed students to discuss the issue further with attendees.

Madison Bandler, a senior biology major from Decatur, Illinois, completed a fellowship last year in which she worked at the UM Medical Center in Jackson. There, she learned about ethical issues surrounding medicine, which led her to begin taking classes under Mower.

Mower urged her to become involved with the Ethics Bowl, but she wasn’t immediately on board.

“I thought, ‘Oh, that sounds really complicated and intense; I don’t know,'” Bandler said. “I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I came to the first practice, but it ended up becoming one of the most influential and inspiring parts of my academic career.”

The team studied issues ranging from quarantines, euthanasia, a ban on Muslims and psychiatrists diagnosing someone with mental illness through television and without seeing them in a clinical setting, which is also known as “the Goldwater rule.” Exploring so many diverse topics with such great depths challenged her.

The coursework and competitions will serve the aspiring physician well, she said.

“I want to go to medical school, so I’ve always had an interest in medicine,” Bandler said. “To mold that with an interest in humanities and ethics is really something I’m passionate about.”

Ethan Davis, a senior philosophy major from Laurel, said he enjoyed the Ethics Bowl and Great Debate for one reason that might sound weird. He believes formal academic debate has grown stale, but the Ethics Bowl offers something new and different.

It is designed to begin a conversation, rather than win an argument. It rewards friendliness and the ability to engage the opposing team’s viewpoint in interesting ways. Ethics Bowl teams can actually agree. 

“You find yourself using your response time to say things like, ‘We completely agree with your position, and here are some elements that we think are important that you didn’t get a chance to speak about. Could you elaborate on them?” Davis said. 

Samantha Priest, a senior philosophy and psychology major from New Albany, said the Ethics Bowl taught her the importance of listening to other people’s opinions with a charitable mind, with the goal of finding the strongest, most rational interpretation of a speaker’s argument.

“It is not civil to ignore the strong points in another’s argument and focus on the weak points,” Priest said. “Focusing there only causes negative discourse, but being charitable allows for a positive discussion among people who disagree.” 

It also drove home the importance of knowing that she not only needs to look at an issue from all perspectives, but also to consider solutions, she said. 

“It is not enough to voice an opinion about an issue if the goal is progress,” Priest said. “Progress takes solutions, and the best way to get to progress is start by not only talking about the issues, but figuring out how to solve the issue in the most ethical way possible.”

UM Introduces Online Graduate Program in Educational Leadership

New curriculum designed for working K-12 teachers

Dennis Bunch coordinates the UM educational leadership program, which has the state’s highest first-time pass rate on the School Leaders Licensure Assessment. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi School of Education is offering a new online graduate program in K-12 educational leadership to offer working teachers throughout Mississippi an opportunity to advance their careers in school leadership.

The online, 18-month program provides teachers a chance to earn either a Master of Education or Specialist in Education degree and will feature a rolling admissions policy, allowing new graduate students to begin their course of study in the fall, spring or summer.

“Ideal candidates would include those teachers with at least three years of classroom experience and the desire to improve education in the state of Mississippi,” said Dennis Bunch, associate professor and coordinator of the program. “The flexibility of the program will allow candidates previously unable to fit the program in to their schedule to enter the program and progress at their pace.”

The school plans to admit 20 new teachers in the program each semester.

“Future K-12 administrators in our state deserve training from highly qualified and experienced educational leaders and professors,” said John Crutchfield, UM assistant professor of educational leadership. “They should also have the chance to network and collaborate with highly impactful peers while completing their degree.

“What we are now doing is adding the ability to access these professors and networks online, regardless of where you live in the state of Mississippi.”

Teachers who graduate from the program and pass the School Leaders Licensure Assessment exam will qualify to apply for an advanced school administrator’s license from the Mississippi Department of Education.

More than 80 percent of graduates from UM’s educational leadership program pass the SLLA exam on the first try, and 98 percent of accepted graduate students finish the program, according to UM data.

The university is keeping its established, face-to-face option in K-12 leadership; however, the expansion into the online market will allow teachers from all corners of the state – and beyond – to enroll in the graduate program.

The 30-credit program is designed to be completed in 18 months. Applicants must hold a current teaching license, have three years of full-time teaching experience and have two letters of recommendation.

Students are required to complete at least two courses per semester throughout the program.

Many Ole Miss educational leadership graduates go directly in to principal or assistant principal positions after graduation. The program places a high priority on accepting teachers who have demonstrated leadership potential and the support of their school administration.

“We want to help the best teachers make that transition into becoming strong school leaders,” said Ryan Niemeyer, chair of the UM Department of Leadership and Counselor Education “Schools play a vital role in the economic development of our state.

“With that in mind, we are developing a program that will help future school leaders make positive changes in their schools no matter where they are.”

For more information about the program, visit

UM Graduate Student Receives Fulbright Award

Higher education major Maria Mulrooney to teach in South Africa

Maria Mulrooney

OXFORD, Miss. – Maria Mulrooney, a University of Mississippi graduate student in higher education, has been selected for the prestigious Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program to serve as an English teaching assistant in South Africa next year.

Mulrooney is among more than 800 students chosen for the program nationwide. The Palm City, Florida, native was selected based on her essay and academic achievements, as well as a record of service and leadership in education.

“I will teach English to either high school or college students for 25 hours a week and help the teachers with instruction and supplemental materials,” she said. “I can also meet with students after class and help them with language development.

“Then, in my spare time I can volunteer through other organizations.”

Mulrooney will learn exactly where she will teach in during a weeklong orientation in June in Washington, D.C. She plans to move to South Africa in January 2019 to begin the yearlong program.

“I’ve worked with Maria in two classes,” said John Holleman, director of graduate studies at the UM School of Education. “I think the class that created her awareness of the Fulbright program was Cultural Context in Education. She contributed a lot to the class. She’s a wonderful student.”

Mulrooney has a lifelong interest in teaching. As an undergraduate at the University of Central Florida, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in secondary education, she taught English as a second language to international students at a local community college.

“It was fun to work with people who were learning English and help them develop language skills,” she said. “So, that made me interested in going abroad, but I knew I wanted to go into higher education, too, so I wanted to get my master’s first.

“The whole time I’ve been attending Ole Miss, I’ve been looking at different teaching abroad programs.”

The Fulbright program was established in 1946 by the U.S. State Department with the intentions of building lasting connections between the people of the United States and other countries. The Fulbright Program has given more than 380,000 students, scholars, teachers, artists and scientists opportunities to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.

Mulrooney plans to teach in K-12 schools in Florida when she returns from South Africa.

“Learning about different cultures and people’s lives is something I love to do,” Mulrooney said. It’s only a year, so I think it’s just the perfect time to learn about a whole new culture that I have never experienced.”