UM Student Broadens Horizon with Year in Japan

Gwenafaye McCormick wraps up studying abroad as Bridging Scholar

UM student Gwenafaye McCormick spent the 2017-18 academic year studying at Waseda University, a private, independent research university in central Tokyo. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – For the past year, University of Mississippi student Gwenafaye McCormick started her school day about 6,600 miles and 14 time zones from Oxford – in Japan.

McCormick, a rising senior international studies major from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, spent the 2017-18 school year studying at Waseda University, a private, independent research university in central Tokyo.

The distance and time from home meant that while McCormick was headed to Friday morning classes, Ole Miss students were gearing up for a Thursday evening.

“I grew up interested in Japan and Japanese culture, so of course I had some idea of what to expect, but getting to see places in real life that I had only ever seen in photos before was almost breathtaking, even for sort of silly things, like lines of vending machines lighting up a neighborhood street at night,” she said.

“Getting to experience everyday life in Japan has been the best part, in my opinion. I’ve made great friends at my university from Japan and from all over the world, and have had so many wonderful experiences with them.”

The “dream-come-true” experience has ended as McCormick’s Japanese school year came to a close. That means McCormick, the inaugural recipient of the Ira Wolf Scholarship from the U.S.-Japan Bridging Foundation, will be home for two weeks of “summer vacation” before UM classes start Aug. 20.

McCormick brought back experiences and memories from her Japanese sojourn that stretch beyond the classroom and her studies, such as eating “real sushi” for the first time on her 20th birthday surrounded by new friends, singing karaoke for the first time and playing games such as Janken, the Japanese version of rock-paper-scissors.

A member of both the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and Croft Institute for International Studies, she even met U.S. Ambassador to Japan William Hagerty IV at the ambassador’s residence, where McCormick represented the U.S.-Japan Bridging Foundation at a reception.

McCormick’s year of Japanese studies came through the foundation, a nonprofit organization created in 1998 at the recommendation of the Japan-US Friendship Commission to strengthen the two countries’ relationship.

Her Ira Wolf Scholarship is named after a U.S. trade representative and, most recently, an employee of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America trade group in Tokyo. Wolf died in January 2016 after spending half his adult life in Japan.

Gwenafaye McCormick’s studies in Japan included several cultural opportunities, such as eating ‘real sushi’ for the first time and visiting Japanese temples and gardens. Submitted photo

“Gwenafaye has a global perspective, similar to Mr. Wolf,” said Jean M. Falvey, deputy director of the U.S.-Japan Bridging Foundation. “Gwenafaye has carried on Mr. Wolf’s legacy with poise, intelligence and humility. She was chosen to represent the Bridging Scholars at a reception that U.S. Ambassador William Hagerty IV hosted at his residence in Tokyo, in honor of the Bridging Foundation’s 20th anniversary.

“Her articulate, grateful remarks were a huge hit among the major donor and government officials in attendance, and exemplified the value of study abroad to building the U.S.’s pipeline of next-generation workforce and global leaders.”

Thankful for the foundation’s encouragement and support, McCormick said it has been “incredibly rewarding to know that established members of the field I am entering see me as an active member as well and want to help me succeed.”

McCormick’s studies at Waseda University were focused on Japanese culture and history. Her courseload in Japan included classes such as one on paternalism and Japanese society, which focused on the differences between and complexities within Western and Japanese business cultures.

“It’s been really exciting to learn about Japanese culture and history from a Japanese perspective, especially since I have some background knowledge on events, given previous research and study I did at Ole Miss,” McCormick said. “In some ways, it’s very similar to what I’ve learned through my international studies classes (at UM) since the department I’m in is international studies/relations-oriented, teaches most of their courses in English and is a magnet for international students coming to Japan.

“But given that most of my teachers have been Japanese, I’ve had the chance to hear a real-life and modern-day Japanese perspective on many issues, which has been such a great opportunity.”

McCormick is the daughter of Paige McCormick, an associate professor of English literature at the Stillman College, and Mark McCormick, Stillman’s vice president of academic affairs. While she briefly visited Switzerland, Paris and London in high school, her love for Japan and Japanese culture arose through watching and reading Japanese cartoons, respectively called anime (animation) and manga (comics).

“I was completely enthralled by their variety of artistic styles and the difference in set storylines, humor and focuses,” she said. “I was always interested in the editor’s notes in the back of my manga volumes, where untranslatable jokes were explained, given that they relied on some knowledge of the kanji (Chinese characters) used to write characters’ names, or how two words sounded similar in Japanese but were written/pronounced differently. I wanted so badly to be able to be in on the joke.

“So I knew I had always wanted to learn Japanese, but it wasn’t until high school when a Japanese-American friend of mine encouraged me after I told her about my interest that I decided to really go for it. I’ve always loved learning languages, and Japanese was no different. I fell completely in love with it and knew I wanted to become fluent, so I pursued it wholeheartedly at Ole Miss.”

McCormick’s extended time living, traveling and studying in Japan provides a much deeper understanding of her target culture than the more typical semester stay, said Noell Wilson, chair of the university’s Arch Dalrymple III Department of History and Croft associate professor of history and international studies. Wilson also serves as McCormick’s senior thesis adviser.

“This more complex engagement with all things Japanese – from pop culture to history to food – will make her scholarly analysis of Japan on return to Oxford both more authoritative and more authentic,” said Wilson, whose background is in East Asian studies.

Following a brief vacation, McCormick will turn to her senior year at UM. Her tentative plans following graduation include entering the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program, a competitive employment opportunity that allows young professionals to live and work in Japan, whether in rural villages or brightly lit metropolises.

She would like a locale a little more rural than the center of Tokyo but is interested in the challenge of teaching her native language in her chosen, learned language, as well as having more of an immersive Japanese language experience.

Still, with a year left at Ole Miss, McCormick said nothing is set.

“I am keeping my mind open to all possibilities,” she said. “I’ve learned that a lot can happen in just one year.”

With Miss Mississippi Crown, UM Student Preps for Miss America Stage

Rising junior, IMC major Asya Branch hopes to use spotlight to promote motivational platform

Miss Tupelo, Asya Branch, reacts to being crowned Miss Mississippi 2018 during the Miss Mississippi Pageant. Photo by Courtland Wells/The Vicksburg Post

OXFORD, Miss. – Last month, Asya Branch was just a young woman with dedication and a dream.

Branch, a rising junior at the University of Mississippi, competed in beauty revues during her teenage years, but wanted to try her luck in the Miss Mississippi scholarship pageant.

“I’m the only one in my family that participates in these competitions and my family was not really connected to the pageant world, so at first I didn’t know how to make that happen,” she said.

After winning her local pageant and competing on the Miss Mississippi stage for the first time in 2016, the Booneville native was hooked.

“I knew I wanted to return and continue to get better until I won, but I just never expected it to happen so soon,” she said.

On the night of June 23 in Vicksburg, Branch’s name was called and her dream became a reality. She is Miss Mississippi 2018.

“When the last three of us finalists were standing there, there was a calmness that came over me,” she said. “We were all there to win, and I knew it would be fine, no matter what the results.”

Branch said time seemed to stand still before that moment.

“It felt like an eternity before the winner’s name was called, but in reality when I watched it over again, it was only about three seconds,” Branch said.

The feeling of getting to represent her home state on the Miss America stage is indescribable, she said.

“It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had in my life,” Branch said. “I’m still trying to wrap my mind around how my dream is now a reality.”

Her new title also gives her a louder voice to discuss her platform “Finding Your Way: Empowering Children of Incarcerated Parents.”

Branch is one of those children. Her father has been in prison since she was 10.

“Being a child with an incarcerated parent takes a negative toll, with the stigmas that surround it,” she said. “There’s emotional distress, financial instability and so many questions about why a parent isn’t there.”

She wants to influence people’s lives by speaking at schools, churches, civic organizations and jails.

“It’s an underdiscussed topic and I hope to bring light to it by sharing my story so others can see that I’m doing something positive,” she said. “It’s perfectly fine to share and embrace the circumstances, because it’s part of who we are and it’s going to shape you. By talking about it, we can take down the gate of judgment.”

Instead of dwelling on the challenges her family has faced, Branch has turned it into her purpose, providing resources for children that she did not have when she was younger.

“There is no reason for these children to be any less successful than their peers,” she said.

Branch’s father remains one of her biggest supporters.

“He has told me to strive to be successful,” she said. “He sees a bright future for me and doesn’t want me to settle. He wants me to achieve my goals.”

Her continued relationship with her father has led to her creating a love letters program, which provides jails with stationery so prisoners can continue to communicate with their families, mending the relationship between parent and child.

Branch is majoring in integrated marketing communications at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media. She stays involved around campus as a member of the Student Activities Association.

“Asya is an incredible person, and an outstanding representative for not only the University of Mississippi, but the state of Mississippi,” said Bradley Baker, director of the Ole Miss Student Union.

Asya Branch (right), speaks at the Serving Children of Incarcerated Parents inaugural meeting. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

“Whether serving as a member of the Student Activities Association Homecoming committee or starting her own student organization, Empowering Children of Incarcerated Parents, Asya possesses all of the skills needed to succeed not only at the Miss America Pageant in September, but in life as well.”

Branch is a gifted speaker and presenter who lights up the screen when she is on camera, said Debora Wenger, associate professor of journalism and assistant dean for innovation and external partnerships at the journalism school.

“With all that, one of the things that impresses me most about Asya is her dedication to improving the lives of children who have parents in jail or in prison,” Wenger said. “She cares deeply about this issue because of her own personal experience and because she is the kind of person who sees possibilities rather than obstacles.”

On campus, Branch always rose to take on whatever obstacle was before her, so her winning the crown comes as no surprise, said Alysia Steele, assistant professor of multiple platform journalism.

“I know I pushed her in class, and she always met the challenge,” Steele said. “Asya has no problem speaking up for things she believes in, so I could always count on her to give her thoughts and opinions about work we were discussing in class.”

She added that through all Branch has accomplished, she remains humble and grounded.

“She has a warm personality that makes it hard to forget her,” Steele said. “I couldn’t be prouder, because I think she represents our university and state with integrity and grace. I can’t wait to see what she does next.”

Branch continues to stay informed on current events and lead a healthy lifestyle to prepare for the Miss America competition.

“I support this organization and all it stands for,” she said “It gives young women the confidence to be successful and thrive in life.”

She said the competition allows women to form bonds with other competitors while simultaneously learning to be more well-rounded individuals.

“There was so much I gained from competing that I didn’t even know was possible,” she said. “I feel like I can conquer the world.”

The Miss America pageant is set for Sept. 5-9 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The final night of the competition will be televised at 8 p.m. on ABC.

Besides Branch, UM journalism alumna Christine Williamson recently was crowned Miss Tennessee and also will compete at Miss America.

“We’re going to just have to hope for an unprecedented tie for the title,” Wenger said. “Either way, you can bet the Meek School’s TVs will be tuned to the Miss America pageant on Sept. 9.”

UM Student Earns Summer Internship at Library of Congress

Brandon native among 40 selected for distinguished program

Daniel Baxter

OXFORD, Miss. – A University of Mississippi senior has a prestigious internship this summer as a junior fellow at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Accountancy major Daniel Baxter, of Brandon, was among 40 people chosen as junior fellows out of more than 700 applicants.

“It’s a very honoring and rewarding experience being chosen to be in this very important internship,” Baxter said. “I’m excited to be one of the interns able to represent the state of Mississippi and very excited to represent Ole Miss here at the Library of Congress.”

The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States and extensive materials from around the world on-site and online. Its Junior Fellows Program allows interns to witness the extensive work done at the library.

The program, which runs from May 29 to Aug. 3, gives the students projects across the library’s divisions.

“The junior fellows help bring the Library of Congress’ unparalleled collections and resources to light through projects focused on expanded access,” said Eric Eldritch, program coordinator. “At the same time, they gain exposure to a broad spectrum of library work – preservation, digital initiatives, educational outreach, information management – under the mentorship of expert curators and specialists.”

Baxter is working on projects for the National Book Festival. Some of his job assignments include documenting the history of the festival, producing a video on the importance of the National Book Festival to help promote it and assisting during the festival’s event planning process.

For more information on the Junior Fellows Summer Internship Program at the Library of Congress, call 202-707-0698 or visit https://www.loc.gov/item/internships/junior-fellows-program/.

Arianne Hartono Aces Academics and Athletics

After winning the NCAA singles tennis championship, the Ole Miss graduate is going pro

Arianne Hartono is the ultimate student-athlete, having graduated summa cum laude from Ole Miss this May and won this year’s NCAA women’s singles tennis championship. Photo courtesy of Ole Miss Athletics

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi student-athlete Arianne Hartono has faced such challenges as recuperating from a broken wrist her freshman year and missing as many as three out of five days of classes during the weeks when she had to travel to away matches.

Considering such challenges, Hartono’s accomplishments are all the more impressive – excelling equally in athletics and academics, she won this year’s NCAA women’s singles tennis championship and graduated summa cum laude in May with a major in psychology and minor in business administration.

She is the first women’s tennis player in the Ole Miss program to win the NCAA singles championship (Devin Britton won it in men’s tennis in 2009) and is also the first student-athlete in any sport at Ole Miss to be named a Honda Sports Award winner and the second player in program history to be named to the 2018 ITA Collegiate All-Star Team.

Hartono is philosophical about her success and quite willing to share the glory.

“I think it’s the process of it all,” said Hartono, a native of Meppel, Netherlands. “Obviously, you can’t become a national champion from one day to the other. There’s so much work that went into it.

“I believe that everything happened for a reason, even that injury I had my freshman year. That was part of the road I had to go on to, to be where I am right now. So I think all the work, all the effort, not just from me but everyone else that’s worked with me, worked with the team, has led up to this.”

Everyone else includes professors, administrators, coaches, family, teammates, and tutors and counselors/advisers at the FedEx Student-Athlete Academic Success Center.

“We have a wide range of services available to student-athletes for continued success,” said Derek Cowherd, senior associate athletics director for student-athlete development.

Those services include scheduling of tutorial support for upper-level courses, assisting with four-year graduation plans, monitoring NCAA eligibility and assisting with busy spring travel schedules.

Hartono is a special student-athlete and a credit to Ole Miss, Cowherd said.

“Zvonimir Babic (a player on the men’s tennis team) tweeted that she is an inspiration to all student-athletes across the nation. And she should be,” Cowherd said. “Her demeanor, friendship to her teammates, her grace in which she carries herself, humble but confident nature, her wonderful spirit are all testaments to how her parents raised her … and she can play tennis, too.”

Hartono’s drive to excel comes partly from a sense of responsibility.

“Every year, we come together as a team, and we sit down and set up goals for ourselves,” she said. “… I’m just grateful for everything that’s been given to me, and I want to make the most of it. I think especially this year, knowing it was the last opportunity to represent Ole Miss for one more season, I’m not playing for myself but for this greater entity, so to speak. It just gives you more motivation to push harder.

“Our coaches and advisers, they all tell us that we student-athletes, we’re all leaders, so we have to act like them. We are held accountable for everything that we do. Keeping that in mind, we try to show the best of ourselves.”

As for her classes, Hartono took a no-nonsense approach.

“I just sit down and do the work that needs to be done. At the beginning of the semester, the teachers tell you what the semester is going to look like, and I think that’s like, just listen to the teacher! Just listen to the teacher, and basically you’ll do well.”

Hartono said time management was the greatest challenge in tackling her classes, because she had to miss so many classes due to her tennis schedule that included not only matches but also two hours of practice and one hour of fitness or strength and conditioning each day.

She said she was lucky to have taken classes taught by supportive professors and named three professors in particular as her favorites: Matthew Reysen, associate professor of psychology; Kate Kellum, associate director of institutional effectiveness and assistant professor of psychology; and Scott A. Gustafson, director of the UM Psychological Services Center.

“I’d be falling behind, especially in the spring when we were in season; we’d be traveling so much,” Hartono said. “I’d meet up with Dr. Reysen all the time. He was always willing to help me out. … I liked Dr. Kate’s class (Applied Behavior Analysis) because it was so interactive. … Definitely, one of my other favorite teachers is Dr. G.”

And the feeling is mutual.

“Arianne was one of those students that only come along every five to 10 years in a professor’s career,” said Gustafson, who taught Hartono in two advanced psychology classes. “She clearly had prepared for her classes and asked questions based on her readings that would be more expected in an advanced graduate seminar than an undergraduate lecture hall.

“On a personal level, Arianne is one of those students that made me, as a professor, feel like my job was rewarding. Rather than being a passive part of the crowd, her interest and competency and hard work made me look forward to the classes she was in, because I felt like I was making a difference.”

Reysen agreed that Hartono is bright, personable and a pleasure to have in his Cognitive Psychology class.

“Arianne was an outstanding student who was always able to maintain a high level of academic excellence despite the numerous obligations that came with being a student-athlete,” he said.

Hartono did a good job of using the skills she learned in class to make the atmosphere around her more fun, Kellum added.

“Her ability to take what she was learning in class out into the world was really good,” she said.

Classes, studying and tennis took up most of Hartono’s time, but she did manage to be on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, composed of two or three representatives from each team on the Ole Miss campus.

“Our job was basically to keep up with NCAA rules, with regulations, whatnot, but also about student-athlete development, any areas that we could improve. … Another thing we were concerned with was community service. That’s one of the things I really enjoy doing because I believe it’s so important to give back for everything that we’ve been given here.”

Because she completed a lot of her classes and requirements in her freshman and sophomore years, Hartono had time in her last semester to do something else she truly loves.

“I love to bake, and especially knowing that I have a team of seven hungry athletes, it’s easy to get rid of stuff,” Hartono said. “Before a trip, I’d hop on the bus and have brownies, or Oreo balls and all this other stuff. They appreciate it, and it just makes me happy, and it’s relaxing at the same time.”

Path to the Win

Arianne Hartono

Hartono remembers a pivotal conversation she had when she was about 6 years old. She and her mom had stopped to pick up her 9-year-old brother, Adriaan, who was finishing his tennis practice, and she helped pick up the tennis balls.

“So, what do you do? What are you into?” her brother’s coach asked her.

“Well, I’m a ballet dancer,” answered Hartono, having just left a ballet lesson.

“Ballet? That’s nothing. Why don’t you try to play tennis?” the coach said.

And so she did, with support from her parents, Lieke and Okki Hartono, who had moved from Indonesia to the Netherlands in the 1990s. (Hartono speaks fluent Indonesian, Dutch and English, and took Chinese while at Ole Miss, reaching the conversational level. She also took French and German in high school.)

“(My parents) always told me, ‘As long as you love to play, we’ll support you in whatever you want to do,'” Hartono said. “With all the successes, they came to realize, ‘Oh, she’s actually good. She could be successful at it.'”

A love for tennis runs in Hartono’s family. Her uncle Deddy Tedjamukti and aunt Lukky Tedjamukti from Indonesia played professional tennis, and cousin Nadia Ravita played for the University of Kentucky women’s tennis team.

Hartono said her brother still enjoys tennis and is very supportive of her, though she has surpassed him in skill.

“I mean, he’s good, but he chose to focus more on his education instead, so he wasn’t practicing as intensely as I was. He would practice like twice a week, whereas I would practice four or five times a week. We were basically known as the Hartono tennis players around the region where we played. … I remember when I was younger, I tried so hard because I wanted to beat him so badly. But he’s a good sport, he can handle it,” she laughed.

Until college, Hartono trained at small clubs rather than tennis academies. She said she struggled to find sparring partners until she came to Ole Miss, where she suddenly had eight other women who were as good, if not better than her.

“I wouldn’t be where I am if it weren’t for them,” Hartono said. “When you spend so much time with a group like them, they become family.”

Mark Beyers, Ole Miss women’s tennis head coach, who is also from the Netherlands, recruited her, Hartono said.

“He watched me play, and one of his former players – she was from the same hometown as I was, and so we kind of got in touch that way. That’s one of the main reasons I chose Ole Miss. I just loved the campus. I loved the team, just the entire atmosphere.”

Trying to win tennis matches in the NCAA, where all players are top-notch, is pressure-filled, but Hartono remembers a key moment that helped her de-stress.

“Grant Roberts, our assistant coach, was on my court most of the time whenever I was playing. … In times of trouble, so to speak, we’d sit down on the break, and he’d come and we’d talk about strategies or whatever, but for me it was important to keep things simple. I tend to overthink or make things overcomplicated for myself, and that’s not necessary.

“In the finals, (Grant) would ask me, ‘So, what is our one word this tournament?’

“Fun” is the word that popped up.

“Because at the end of the day, I’ll play my best tennis when I’m having fun, when I’m enjoying the challenge. And so I think that’s the most important thing that happened, not winning the national championship. Of course, that’s great. I’m not complaining,” she laughed. “But I think that was the result of me enjoying what I was doing.

“That’s a great achievement for myself. I was able to put winning and the result aside, for me to know I was doing what I love. In anything anyone does, I think that’s just so important because, otherwise, why are you doing it? And to know that I can succeed at that is mind-blowing, unbelievable and amazing.”

Arianne Hartono is the first Honda Sports Award winner in Ole Miss history. With a record of 37-6 this season, she finished the year winning 17 straight matches. Photo courtesy of Ole Miss Athletics

What’s Next?

Hartono is going pro. After graduation, she went back to the Netherlands for a short while to spend time with her family and enjoy her mom’s cooking. She was scheduled to play her first professional match in Portugal and one in Indonesia, where she also planned to visit family.

She said as long as she loves to play, she’ll keep at it.

“If not, then I’ll find something else to do. That’s why I have a college degree,” she laughed.

She also plans to return to Ole Miss in the fall to visit with the tennis team and friends.

“I can never say goodbye to Ole Miss. We (she and her teammates) always tell each other, ‘Once a Rebel, always a Rebel.’ I truly believe that.”

Whatever successes and challenges lie ahead for Hartono, she can always look back at her college days and feel joy.

“At the end of the day, it’s not just about winning or losing,” she said. “It’s not just about holding that trophy. I got to spend four years of my life doing what I love.”

UM Graduate Receives Leadership Award for RebelTHON Efforts

Hailey Cooper devoted three years at Ole Miss to raising funds for children's hospital

Hailey Cooper has been awarded the Miracle Dance Network Marathon Distinguished Leadership Award for her work with RebelTHON. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi graduate Hailey Cooper has been named a recipient of the 2018 Miracle Network Dance Marathon Distinguished Leadership Award.

Cooper, a Madison native who earned her bachelor’s degree in English in May, served as the 2017-18 president of RebelTHON, a dance marathon and fundraiser held each year in Oxford to benefit Batson Children’s Hospital at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. She is among 20 recipients of the award selected from 300 colleges and universities across the U.S. and Canada that participate in a Miracle Network Dance Marathon.

She was involved in RebelTHON at Ole Miss for three years and personally raised more than $3,500 for the cause. Under Cooper’s leadership, RebelTHON surpassed its goal in February by more than $40,000 and raised more than $265,000 for children receiving treatment at Batson. This fundraiser directly supports the university’s transformative initiative of building stronger and more vibrant communities.

“It was an absolutely wonderful experience, and I’ve met some of the most incredible students in the nation through MNDM,” Cooper said. “This generation is often painted as selfish and dispassionate, but I would challenge those with that belief to attend a dance marathon.

“We are this generation fighting for the next, and we won’t stop until every child has the opportunity to be an Ole Miss Rebel. To be recognized by an organization as passionate and hardworking as Dance Marathon is such an honor, and I hope to have done the movement proud through my work these past couple of years.”

Cooper became involved in RebelTHON to help children who are facing difficult battles.

“After developing personal relationships with families directly affected by donations to CMN hospitals, I see firsthand the impact that even a dollar has on a tired, terrified family,” she said.

Hailey Cooper served as president of RebelTHON this past year. The dance marathon event raised more than $265,000 for Batson Children’s Hospital at UMMC. Submitted photo

The recipient hospitals use these funds not only for patient care but also to make this time easier on the families. The funds raised in 2017 helped provide an entire hospital floor with sleeper sofas so parents can stay with their children.

Cooper said she did not realize the impact of the contribution until she read a blog post by a tired mother who had not slept in almost a week, yet finally got a night’s rest on the new sofa.

“To think that I was able to help provide a night of sleep for a tired mother changed my entire perspective, and it renewed my efforts to fundraise for the 2018 year,” she said. “To contribute to such a deserving cause and be a part of something bigger than ourselves is amazing, and I would encourage anyone who is able to contribute to their local children’s hospital.”

After being a part of RebelTHON, Cooper said she would like to pursue a career in the nonprofit sector.

“My own growth, in addition to the growth I have witnessed in my peers, has convinced me that this movement changes more lives than those for whom we fundraise, and I would encourage anyone who wants to make a difference to become involved in it,” she said.

Andrew Russell, Children’s Miracle Network coordinator at Batson Hospital, said he had a great experience working with Cooper, who was very enthusiastic about leading RebelTHON.

“Throughout the entire experience, Hailey kept her focus on improving the lives of the sick and injured kids of Mississippi,” Russell said. “She is the type of leader that people want to follow. She led with a contagious passion for the cause and is most deserving of this award.”

New UM Program Funds Summer Undergraduate Research

23 students to conduct mentored summer research projects

Twenty-three University of Mississippi students are involved with the Ole Miss Summer Undergraduate Research Experience, an inaugural program to expand and enhance undergraduate research and creative achievement at UM.Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Twenty-three University of Mississippi undergraduate students are participating in the Ole Miss Summer Undergraduate Research Experience, an inaugural program to expand and enhance undergraduate research and creative achievement.

In May, the UM Office of Research and Sponsored Programs announced that 15 Undergraduate Research Grants, including two Faculty Group Grants and 13 Individual Student Grants, were being awarded from among 45 competing proposals submitted this spring by faculty and students. The grants, totaling $51,000, will provide funding for student living stipends, faculty mentorship stipends, travel, lab materials and other costs associated with these student research projects.

The 15 grants are being funded by the Office of the Provost with assistance from several other schools and departments.

“Undergraduate students can use these research experiences to help really make sense of what they are learning in their different classes and help them put it all together,” said Jason Ritchie, who is an undergraduate research development fellow in the Office of Research. He also serves as an associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry.

“Getting them involved in research early is fantastic for the students, and I think they’ll get a lot more out of their undergraduate experience when they are very integrated into their department and integrated into their discipline and working one-on-one with faculty members. They get just a much richer experience out of this.”

Each of the two Faculty Group Grants funds up to five faculty-mentored undergraduate research projects within a disciplinary theme proposed by a faculty team. They are titled “Undergraduate Research in Data Science” and “Decision Making in the Delta: An Investigation of Community Resilience, Nutrition and Health for a Brighter Future.”

These Faculty Group Grants are intended not only to give students a quality summer research experience but also to give faculty experience running a summer student research program – an experience they can leverage in submitting proposals to funding agencies such as the National Science Foundation. The NSF’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates program, for instance, supports active research participation by undergraduate students in any of the areas of research funded by the foundation.

While summer undergraduate research has existed on the UM campus for years, the Ole Miss Summer Undergraduate Research Experience is a new, organized program.

“Undergraduate research experiences add an important dimension to the undergraduate curriculum for many majors,” said Josh Gladden, UM interim vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs. “These projects give students practical experience and the chance to work through the details of a problem related to their chosen discipline. These experiences are increasingly important for both prospective employers and admissions for graduate and professional schools.”

Adam Jones, an assistant professor of computer and information science at the University of Mississippi, talks to students and faculty involved in the Ole Miss Summer Undergraduate Research Experience. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

The 13 Individual Student Grants fund student-proposed, faculty-mentored research by students in majors ranging from exercise science and international studies to geology and physics. The projects are intended for each undergraduate student to work closely on his or her research with a faculty member over the summer.

“Research and creative achievement are critical elements of our mission,” Provost Noel Wilkin said. “Undergraduate students gain tremendous experience and intellectual benefits by working with faculty to discover, create and expand knowledge. This should be an opportunity afforded to undergraduate students by every discipline on campus.”

All of the grants are expected to result in a student-led creative product, such as a manuscript submitted to a peer-reviewed scientific journal, a student presentation at an academic conference or even a creative performance.

To enable these outcomes, the program also includes travel grants to help undergraduate students who have completed research to present their work at regional or national conferences. Applications from students are accepted year-round for these grants.

“Every discipline has scholarship expectations, and there are opportunities for students to be involved in undergraduate research and scholarship in their discipline,” Ritchie said. “I think we are establishing undergraduate research and scholarship experiences during the summer as a normal and desirable thing for students to want to participate in, and hoping to stimulate those opportunities across campus.”

The projects were selected by committees that include research fellows in the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs and various other members of the UM research community.

Baseline funding for the Ole Miss Summer Undergraduate Research Experience has been provided by the Office of the Provost. Year one co-funding is being provided by the College of Liberal Arts, the schools of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and the departments of Computer and Information Science, Geology and Geological Engineering, Chemistry and Biochemistry, Physics and Astronomy, and Biology.

UM-DeSoto Student Recognized for Volunteer Work

Ismail named child advocacy center's Volunteer of the Year, nominated for governor's award

Nazha Ismail

SOUTHAVEN, Miss. – For Nazha Ismail, one class project led to fulfilling holiday wishes for 65 DeSoto County foster children. That effort has resulted in a Volunteer of the Year award and an acknowledgement from the Mississippi governor’s office.

Hailing from Brooklyn, New York, Ismail is a senior general studies major at the University of Mississippi at DeSoto Center-Southaven. After receiving her associate degree in business from Northwest Mississippi Community College, she enrolled at UM-DeSoto in fall 2016.

Ismail, who minors in business, psychology and sociology, was initially looking for a place to volunteer for a class assignment. A friend suggested that she contact Healing Hearts Child Advocacy Center in Southaven.

HHCAC serves children and families in DeSoto and Tate counties. The nonprofit’s mission is to “respond to child abuse with a supportive team approach that reduces trauma through advocacy, treatment, education and prevention.”

“I wanted something close to home and something with longevity,” Ismail said. “I called and spoke to Mrs. Darlene Cunningham (the center’s family advocate) and I’ve been volunteering there since.”

Ismail thought she would be asked to help with typical office work, but Cunningham gave her a more meaningful task.

“It was a fundraiser where they gather wish lists from children in the foster care system and make sure they experience and have a Christmas,” Ismail said. “I asked if I can take on some of the children’s wish lists and after all was done, I ended up with 65 kids.

“I had never met any of the kids, but what mattered was I needed to make sure their wish lists were met. Many people helped me do that.”

Ismail began asking local businesses if they would consider donating to the project. She received toys, gift cards and monetary donations. She was able to fulfill all the children’s requests.

Ismail was recognized as Healing Heart’s Volunteer of the Year on May 5at the center’s Race to Heal Hearts fundraising event.

Nazha Ismail collected toys, gift cards and monetary donations to help fulfill the Christmas wishes of 65 children in the DeSoto County foster care system as a volunteer for Healing Hearts Child Advocacy Center. Submitted photo

“Nazha worked all fall to organize donations for the kids,” said Cheryl Beene, president of Healing Heart’s board of directors. “The photos of donations don’t even do justice to the amount of work she put in – she even got Southeastern Truck Lines to transport the gifts for us.

“All that said, we were thrilled to honor her as our Volunteer of the Year.”

Not only was Ismail named the center’s Volunteer of the Year, but she was also nominated for Mississippi’s 2018 Governor’s Initiative for Volunteer Excellence Award. As a nominee, she received a certificate of appreciation from Volunteer Mississippi and Mississippi’s first lady, Deborah Bryant.

“I personally didn’t feel I did enough, but these recognitions were very humbling and I am thankful for them,” Ismail said.

Ismail is still finalizing her plans for what she will do after graduation, but one thing is certain.

“I do wish to continue with Healing Hearts and any other organization that needs help,” she said. “I really feel that every person that wants to volunteer needs to visit one of many organizations and do it.

“Many people out there want to help but don’t know who to ask or where to start. All I can say is, just do it.”

For more information about the UM regional campus at DeSoto Center-Southaven, visit http://olemiss.edu/desoto.

New UM Graduates Begin Tenure-track Appointments Across the South

Health, Exercise Science and Recreation Management sends six students into faculty positions

The 2018 doctoral graduates from the UM Department of Health, Exercise Science and Recreation Management include (from left) J. Grant Mouser, Samuel Buckner, Matthew Jessee, Kevin Mattox, Robert Davis, Sam Wilson, Charles Caleb Williams and Vokay Addoh. UM photo by Sarah Sapp

OXFORD, Miss. – During Commencement ceremonies earlier this month at the University of Mississippi, the Department of Health, Exercise Science and Recreation Management celebrated a record number of health and kinesiology doctoral students walking across the graduation stage directly into full-time, tenure-track appointments across the South.

“We had a remarkable group of nine doctoral students hooded this year,” said Allison Ford-Wade, professor and graduate program coordinator. “Of those, seven of the nine have accepted tenure-track faculty positions and one is pursuing a second doctoral program.”

Vokay Addoh, of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, was invited to join UM’s own faculty. Samuel Buckner, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, will join the faculty of the University of South Florida. Matt Jessee, of Claremont, North Carolina, accepted a position at the University of Southern Mississippi.

J. Grant Mouser, of Norman, Oklahoma, will begin his new appointment at Troy University in August. Charles Caleb Williams, of Lake Butler, Florida, will join the faculty at LaGrange College in Georgia. Sam Wilson, of Senatobia, will begin his tenure at Georgia Southern University.

Finally, Robert Davis, a December graduate, joined the University of Arkansas as an assistant professor of public health in January.

When you ask these students what attracted them to Ole Miss, their answers have a common thread: a talented, dedicated faculty and administration, the beautiful campus and all the resources that come along with studying at a flagship research university with Carnegie R1 status, indicating the highest research activity.

For Addoh, the prevalent health disparities in Mississippi and the need for health care professionals were another important aspect of his decision to join the program. His dissertation examined a potential method to enhance the positive experience of exercise, an area of health behavior research with potential ramifications for physical activity promotion.

“Moving forward, I intend to extend my inquiry on methods to enhance the experience of exercise and to further contribute to the science on physical activity translational research,” Addoh said.

Addoh credits Paul Loprinzi, associate professor of health, exercise science and recreation management, for his mentorship throughout the doctoral program.

Loprinzi not only is highly regarded by students for his caring mentorship, but he is one of the department’s most prolific publishers. Having published 73 peer-reviewed papers in 2017 alone, Loprinzi’s work has been cited more than 5,000 times since 2011.

Under Loprinzi’s direction, Addoh added 26 scholarly articles to his list of published works.

The potential to work alongside an intensely productive researcher drew Buckner, Jessee and Mouser to Ole Miss as well, specifically to study skeletal muscle adaptations to resistance exercise with Jeremy Loenneke, assistant professor of health, exercise science and recreation management and director of the Kevser Ermin Applied Physiology Laboratory, affectionately called the Ole Miss Muscle lab.

Jessee, who accrued 40 publications while at UM, explained that it was Loenneke’s passion for science and ability to prepare students for success that drew him to stay for his Ph.D.

“I felt that I could learn so much more from him than going elsewhere, because he is always pushing people to think critically and not just align with the status quo,” said Jessee, who will continue studying skeletal muscle health and function in his new research faculty role. He will be searching for new ways to attenuate muscle function loss due to aging and immobilization or injury.

While Mouser counts producing one of the largest published studies on blood flow following exercise as his most exciting project to date, Buckner found his passion in exploring the relationship between changes in muscle size and changes in muscle strength.

“The work we have done here is changing the way people think about skeletal muscle and how it adapts to resistance exercise,” said Buckner.

Loenneke also advised spring doctoral graduate Kevin Mattox of Pittsburgh, who is interviewing for assistant professor positions at a variety of institutions.

“I am both excited and sad to see these students graduate and move on with their careers,” Loenneke said. “All of them have done tremendous research here at the University of Mississippi, and it has been really special to work with each of them over the past three to four years. Their futures are bright.”

Martha Bass, associate professor and former graduate program coordinator, advised Williams’ research examining changes in bat swing kinematics in different areas of the strike zone among collegiate baseball and softball players. She also directed Wilson’s dissertation, where he found his true research interest.

“Our lab’s findings in this dissertation included novel aspects of possible roles of the neuromuscular system in the slip recovery process,” said Wilson, who plans to expand this research, examining older adults and special populations in his new role at Georgia Southern. “We hope we can translate these findings into effective ways of mitigating fall-related injuries and mortality.”

Minsoo Kang, chair of the Department of Health, Exercise Science and Recreation Management, congratulates Xi Jin at the 2018 Commencement exercises for the UM School of Applied Sciences. Jin will begin her second doctoral program in nutrition and hospitality management this fall. UM photo by Sarah Sapp

Xi Jin of Harbin, China, also a May graduate, will expand her research base by pursuing a second doctoral degree in nutrition and hospitality management in the UM School of Applied Sciences while assisting Teresa Carithers, interim dean, with the new undergraduate applied gerontology program.

Each of the graduates pointed to the outstanding professional and academic values of their fellow graduate student cohort, indicating the quality of their experience directly related to the academic profile and camaraderie of this particular group.

Davis, who is conducting studies focusing on substance use behavior and its association with mental health concerns since starting his career at the University of Arkansas, explained that it wasn’t only the talented faculty mentors, such as Bass, who helped pave his way to success.

“I am immensely thankful to have studied with the group of grad students,” Davis said. “I was fortunate enough to come through the HESRM department at a time of immense progress concerning scientific exploration and rigor.

“The quality of students who came through the program with me should be admired. These are some of the finest minds that I have had the pleasure of encountering. As great as the faculty I studied under are, I can say that I would not be the scientist I am without the advice, challenge and leadership exhibited in these friends.”

This progress in scientific exploration is exhibited not only in the success of this graduating doctoral class, but in the sheer number of peer-reviewed publications produced by the department. Faculty, with the help of these doctoral students, published 134 unique publications in 2017.

On average, faculty members in the field publish 3.6 peer-reviewed papers a year, said Minsoo Kang, HESRM chair, citing data from the 2015 National Academy of Kinesiology Doctoral Program Review. The Ole Miss department’s score of 9.57 publications is much higher than the national average.

“Considering that the top 25 percent of doctoral programs published only 5.52 publications per faculty per year, we just had a remarkable year in 2017,” Kang said. “We could potentially be ranked No. 1 in the nation in the number of publications category.”

The department’s research productivity exemplifies the teacher-scholar model, preparing students to lead their own research teams in an R1 environment, Carithers said.

For more information about the UM Department of Health, Exercise Science and Recreation Management, visit http://hesrm.olemiss.edu/.

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.”

Two Grandmothers Receive University’s Highest Academic Honor

From 'I can't go back to school' to earning Taylor Medals, new graduates aim to make a difference

Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter and Lori Fain. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Lori Fain, of Sherman, and Brenda Raper, of Nettleton, are both busy mothers and grandmothers who not only spend time investing in their families but are beginning careers that also will allow them to invest in the lives of others in their community.

As students at the University of Mississippi at Tupelo, both ladies’ efforts are being honored this spring as recipients of 2018-19 Marcus Elvis Taylor Memorial Medals.

Only the top 1 percent of all students enrolled at the university receives this award each year. Recipients must have at least a 3.90 grade-point average to be considered and receive nominations from UM faculty.

“Brenda is truly one of those students I will never forget,” said Svjetlana Curcic UM associate professor of education. “We tend to assign a label of a ‘nontraditional student’ to those who enroll in college at a later day.

“In Brenda’s case, she has been a teacher of not only her own children, but other children in our community for years and by going back to school later in life, she has proven that she wants to become the best teacher she can be.”

Upon graduating from Itawamba Agricultural High School in 1980, Raper married and started working as a clerk at the Lee County Tax Collector’s office in Tupelo. She and her husband, Danny Samuel Raper, started a family and soon added three children to their home.

While raising children, she taught everything from 4-year old pre-K through fifth-grade classes in the private school housed at the Tupelo Children’s Mansion for 11 years. At the end of the 2012 academic year, the school program had to lay off employees, and Raper found herself at a crossroads.

Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter and Brenda Raper. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

“My husband encouraged me to go back to school and get my degree,” Raper said. “I told him that I didn’t think I could do that, but he was very supportive and encouraged me until I finally decided to try.”

So, in 2014 at age 52, she enrolled at Itawamba Community College and started her college career.

“I was very nervous, but on the first day everyone treated me kindly and like one of the other students,” she said. “I really enjoyed my classes and realized more and more that I was doing the right thing by going back to school.”

After excelling at ICC, Raper transferred to start her junior year of classes on the UM-Tupelo campus. During her time there, she stayed involved in student organizations and worked to maintain her 4.0 GPA.

This spring she served as a student teacher in a third-grade classroom at Rankin Elementary School in Tupelo.

“I just love seeing the students learn and grow,” Raper said. “It’s a special job that I feel I was made for.”

Fain attended East Union High School before getting married and moving to Washington in 1990. A few years later, she returned home to Sherman and earned her GED at ICC in 1993.

Her family soon began expanding with the addition of her four children. Throughout this time, she worked as a phlebotomist with United Blood Services and later as an office manager with a local dentist.

After a divorce and unexpected job loss, Fain began to experience financial issues.

Lori Fain celebrates winning a Taylor Medal, the highest academic honor at UM, with sons Adrian and Carson Hester. Submitted photo

“I lost everything,” she said. “I lost my house, my car, and had to move home with my mother. I had my pity party for about a year, until I decided I had to do something so I might as well get ahead.”

That’s when she decided to work toward earning her bachelor’s degree in social work.

Fain said she decided to major in social work because she wanted to help people who might find themselves in the same situations she had struggled with.

“People can get lost,” Fain said. “I want to help other people who may be going through some hard times just like I did.

“If I had known about some of the resources that were available to me, I might could have stayed in my house. I want to help people when they need it the most.”

During her senior year, Fain helped to organize a “Kids Fest” event at Ballard Park in Tupelo. The event had free games and prizes for children while raising awareness for child abuse prevention.

“Not only did Lori excel academically, she was a leader with peers,” said Shane Robbins, a social work instructor at the regional campus. “Her passion to help others and be a leader in this field has been evident throughout her time at UM.”

Brenda Raper (center, seated) celebrates winning a Taylor Medal, the highest academic honor at UM, with her family. Submitted photo

Because of Fain’s life experiences, she demonstrated a unique ability to problem-solve in real-world scenarios, said Jandel Crutchfield, an assistant professor of social work at UM-Tupelo.

“We need more social workers like Lori, who can use critical thinking to create the most effective interventions possible for their clients,” Crutchfield said. “I believe she will make an important impact in this field.”

Fain said she has learned so much about herself throughout her time at Ole Miss.

“Even though when I started college I knew I wanted to help people, through my studies and my internship experiences, I have learned a better way to look at myself and how to empathize with other people,” she said. “I’ve learned how to step out of my place and into someone else’s situation to work toward the best solution to meet their needs.”