New York Attorney Richard Burke Honored for Mentoring UM Students

Law school alumnus spends 50-year career opening doors of opportunity for others

UM law student LaKeith Faulkner (left) spends time with Richard Burke in his New York law office, where Faulkner interned between his junior and senior undergraduate years. Faulkner credits his internship with Burke as a major factor in leading him to law school. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss.­­­ – Since his graduation from the University of Mississippi School of Law in 1966, Richard A. Burke has had a heart for helping others achieve the American dream, whether it’s Ole Miss undergraduates searching out future career avenues or international students looking for professional futures in the United States.

Recently, Burke was honored with the inaugural Outstanding Partner Award from the UM Internship Experience Program, reflecting his dedication to providing meaningful career experiences for numerous Ole Miss undergraduate students over the past 10 years.

“He has been an amazing mentor for UM students and a continuous supporter of the opportunities this program provides,” said Laura Antonow, director of the Internship Experience Program. “He was one of the first in the tri-state New York City area that was onboard for accepting undergraduate interns, and he has been actively involved with the program ever since.”

Second-year UM law student LaKeith Faulkner, of Holly Springs, worked as an intern in Burke’s New York law office in the summer of 2012. His work there was an invaluable learning experience, he said.

“My internship with Mr. Burke was the highlight of my undergraduate career,” Faulkner said. “It helped me confirm that I was on the right path in my chosen profession. It was an honor to have the opportunity to learn from a truly respectable and kind person.”

Faulkner recalled that Burke’s way of paying attention to his clients stood out to him during his time in the office.

“The first thing he did was listen closely to each client,” Faulkner said. “He wanted to understand their needs first and foremost. I saw how he worked to humanize and personalize each case.”

Burke graduated from City College of New York with his bachelor’s degree in 1963. Having never actually set foot in the South before arriving in Oxford, he credits his father with encouraging him to apply to law school. Everything going on at the university during that time had piqued his curiosity, he said.

“I guess you could say James Meredith and my desire to help people played a part in the allure of Ole Miss for me,” Burke said.

Being from a different part of the country, he felt a little out of place at Ole Miss but quickly made friends with international graduate students who had come to the school to complete advanced degrees.

“I took to a group of students from India who became my lifelong friends,” Burke said. “It was the happiest two-and-a-half years of my life. I met a number of great people.”

After he graduated from law school and returned to New York, some of his friends from Ole Miss contacted him to inquire about his knowledge of immigration laws.

“There was no such thing as immigration law back then,” Burke recalled. “My friends assumed that since I had graduated law school, I must be knowledgeable about those laws.

Laura Antonow (right), director of the UM Internship Experience Program, presents New York attorney Richard Burke with a plaque honoring him as the program’s inaugural Outstanding Partner. Burke, a 1966 graduate of the UM School of Law, has provided internship opportunities for Ole Miss undergraduate students over the past 10 years. Submitted photo

Forty years later, the law firm of Burke, Burke and Burke consists of four attorneys and five legal assistants who have helped thousands of clients from all over the world obtain their permanent residence and United States citizenship.

“I feel that my whole practice fell into place because of the people I met at Ole Miss,” Burke said. “I have always felt a debt of gratitude to the university for my positive experiences there.”

An avid world traveler, Burke has journeyed to 216 countries, with the goal of visiting every country in the world.

“There is no substitute for getting to know people from other cultures and different parts of the world,” Burke said. “I like the idea that the students in my office learn how to work with a variety of people from all walks of life.

“I think this kind of opens up their eyes to understand that there are all types of people in the world that may have different cultures than they are used to.”

One of the traits that makes an intern successful in his law office is curiosity; not necessarily about law, but about how you can be of assistance to people, Burke said.

“Going that extra step for our clients is what we encourage,” he said. “The students who do well in this internship are those who want to understand why we do things, or how to best provide for our clients.”

Being kind and disciplined is something Faulkner credits Burke with instilling in him during his internship.

“He has such a genuine spirit and wanted me to feel accepted and valued as an intern in his office,” Faulkner said. “He also helped me learn more about conducting myself in a business environment.”

Antonow said that it was only fitting that Burke receive the Outstanding Partner Award at its inception.

“He has shared so much knowledge and so many opportunities with Ole Miss students over the years,” she said. “He cares about the students and that they have good experiences in his office. He wants them to learn how to be successful in a professional setting.”

For more information about the UM Internship Experience Program or – if you are an Ole Miss alumnus in Atlanta, New York City, or Washington, D.C. – for ways to support the program, visit

Students Starting Careers with Help from Internship Experience Program

Program supports students interning in Atlanta, D.C., and New York

UM students participating in the Internship Experience Program this summer in Washington, D.C., are (from left) senior public policy and political science major Jarrius Adams, of Hattiesburg, who worked with the Congressional Black Caucus in U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson’s office; senior public policy and journalism major Hailey McKee, of Dyersburg, Tenn., who interned at the Newseum and U.S. Rep. David Kustoff’s office; Justin Cowling, a political science major from Yazoo City, who worked at the Washington Intern Student Housing organization; and Sheranidan Burton, an accounting and criminal justice major from Gulfport who worked at the United States bankruptcy court clerk’s office. Photo by Gabby Coggin/Division of Outreach and Continuing Education

OXFORD, Miss.­­­ – Life changing.” “Incredible.” “Eye-opening.” “Extraordinary.” A group of University of Mississippi students recently used these words to describe the unique experiences they had this summer that not only enhanced their career skills but also opened doors for their future.

Last month, students met with UM administration, faculty and staff to discuss their experiences as participants in the Internship Experience Program, a special program that prepares and organizes cohorts of Ole Miss students to participate in career internships in Atlanta, New York and Washington, D.C.

Sara “Cookie” White, a senior integrated marketing communications major from Houston, Texas, was among the students who presented at the event.

“This program taught me how to create my own path,” White said. “I feel like I gained a lot of confidence in myself. It really pushed me to be my best and learn on my feet.”

The UM Internship Experience Program offers Ole Miss juniors and seniors an opportunity to gain professional work experience in these major cities while earning academic credit in their fields of study. Students work, with the assistance of university staff, to secure an internship that will give them important professional experience for future job opportunities.

“We envision these programs as a two-way pipeline between these amazing cities and the University of Mississippi,” said Laura Antonow, director of college programs in the Division of Outreach and Continuing Education. “This is a way to aid our students in their transition into successful professional careers after college.”

Students interested in learning about internship opportunities for summer 2019 can stop by an information session anytime between noon and 2 p.m. Wednesday (Oct. 31) at the UM Career Center in Martindale Hall.

In summer 2018, 12 students were selected to participate in the program, with two going to New York, four interning in Washington and six working in Atlanta.

“We start by selecting students that we believe are going to be competitive in these fast-paced cities, those who have a good combination of work experience, academic success and then extracurricular and leadership experience,” Antonow said.

White said she wanted to go to New York to try something new and feel the specialness of the city. As an intern with Allied Integrating Marketing, she got to help major motion picture studios promote upcoming films through screenings and special events.

“I had so many interesting projects and tasks,” White said. “I knew my IMC classes were preparing me for the future.

“When I started the summer, I felt like I had all of this knowledge, but I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it yet. Participating in this internship was a great way for me to apply everything that I have been learning during my time at Ole Miss.”

Shelby McElwain, of Corinth, is a senior art history major who interned this summer with nAscent Art in New York. She was able to help the company research art buys and designs for some of the country’s newest hotels.

“I felt like I was making a difference in the projects that my employer was pursuing this summer,” McElwain said. “They wanted my assistance and opinion. I learned so much.”

Jarrius Adams, a senior public policy and political science major from Hattiesburg, interned with the Congressional Black Caucus in U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson’s Washington office.

“My time in D.C. changed my perspective going forward,” Adams said. “I learned a lot. I know that I love politics, but I think I can make a greater impact in my community by participating more at the local level. I saw how local politicians make the laws that really affect everyday lives.”

Sara ‘Cookie’ White, a UM senior from Houston, Texas, takes in the Manhattan skyline while taking part in the Internship Experience Program with Allied Integrated Marketing. Students interested in learning about internship opportunities for summer 2019 can stop by an information session anytime between noon and 2 p.m. Wednesday (Oct. 31) at the UM Career Center in Martindale Hall. Photo by Gabby Coggin/Division of Outreach and Continuing Education

Hailey McKee, of Dyersburg, Tennessee, is a senior public policy and journalism major who had positions in two different offices this summer in Washington, serving as an intern at the Newseum and with U.S. Rep. David Kustoff of Tennessee.

During the presentation, she shared more about some of the more interesting events, hearings, and tasks she participated in over the summer.

“I looked up, and I was taking notes during a Senate hearing about putting American boots on the ground on Mars by 2030,” McKee explained. “There were astronauts in the room who have left the Earth. It was surreal.”

She said she was awestruck passing the Supreme Court and Library of Congress each day on her way to work.

“I wanted to appreciate all the history and significance of the places I was around daily.”

Ryan Granger, a senior IMC major from Pearl, said he chose to intern this summer in Atlanta because of the big city feel that wasn’t too far out of his comfort zone.

As an intern with the Atlanta International Fashion Week organization, he had the chance to help roll out a new collaboration between AIFW and Microsoft Corp. that is providing educational opportunities for Atlanta youth.

“I was working on press releases, preparing media kits and event planning,” he said. “It was cool to get all this real-world exposure to activities that I’ll be doing in my field.

“I learned so much about being able to adapt to the world around me and correctly adjust to whatever I needed to do.”

Granger is hoping that his summer internship will turn into a full-time job after graduation in May.

“Working in this industry would be a great pathway that could open a lot of career opportunities for me,” he said.

Granger said one of his favorite parts of the program was getting to know Ole Miss alumni in the area.

“It was great to hear their perspectives of living in Atlanta versus living in Oxford and appreciating the differences,” he said. “They helped us students see that living in this major city is definitely manageable when you learn the ropes.”

Antonow said the UM Internship Experience program is a special way for alumni to stay connected or to get more connected to the university.

“We’ve been steadily building our relationships with alumni and employers in these cities, and now we are receiving phone calls from past employers asking us when the new batch of Ole Miss interns will be selected,” she said.

The priority application deadline is Nov. 9 for juniors and seniors who are interested in being a part of the summer 2019 cohort of Internship Experience participants.

For more information or to start an online application, visit

Powerful Conversations, Emotions Shared at UM Event on Hazing

Families of Max Gruver and Tim Piazza share stories of sons' deaths, call for change in culture

Audience members watch a video as Evelyn Piazza (left), Rae Ann Gruver and Steve Gruver share their sons’ stories. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – Painful memories and brutal facts were revealed Tuesday (Oct. 9) at the University of Mississippif     as the parents of Max Gruver and Tim Piazza detailed how their sons died from binge drinking during separate fraternity hazing incidents in 2017.

More than 1,000 people from the community filled the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts for “Family Matters: A Community Conversation on Hazing.” The audience listened intently as Steve and Rae Ann Gruver and Evelyn Piazza spoke frankly about the trauma surrounding the two tragic fatalities that were among four separate pledge deaths across the country last year.

The trio also called upon student leaders to join campus administrators in effecting a “no-hazing” culture on campus.

“This hazing has to stop,” Evelyn Piazza said. “It has no place on college campuses. It’s time to end hazing and to save lives.”

On Feb. 3, 2017, Piazza’s son, who attended Pennsylvania State University, was served 18 drinks in roughly an hour-and-a-half during a Beta Theta Pi fraternity pledge initiation called “The Gauntlet.” The 19-year-old fell several times, including down a flight of stairs, causing numerous traumatic injuries.

Members didn’t get him medical attention until the next morning. He died Feb. 4, 2017.

During an initiation called “Bible Study,” senior Phi Delta Theta fraternity members at Louisiana State University instructed Gruver, 18, and other pledges to chug 190-proof Diesel liquor. He died Sept. 14 with a blood-alcohol level of .496, more than six times the state’s legal driving limit.

“Max was made to drink Diesel, which is the highest-potency alcohol there is,” Rae Ann Gruver said. “No one tried to save him by calling 911. Can you really call this a brotherhood – subjecting pledges to life-threatening activities?”

Steve Gruver shared how hazing is a misdemeanor in Mississippi punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 and six months in jail. In states where hazing is a felony, those convicted have permanent criminal records.

Rae Ann Gruver (left) listens as her husband, Steve, warns Ole Miss students about the dangers and damage of hazing. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

“You’re guilty of hazing even if you’re a bystander,” Gruver said. “If you see someone in distress or in need of medical attention and don’t call for help, you can be charged and convicted of involuntary manslaughter.”

Using video and photo stills, the Gruvers and Piazza shared pertinent information about the manners and types of hazing, number of campus hazing deaths nationally since 2005 and actions that can be taken to counter hazing.

“The destruction caused by hazing is far-ranging and forever,” Piazza said. “Consider the consequences. Don’t think it won’t happen here, because it can and it does. Please listen to us. Don’t haze.”

Arthur Doctor Jr., UM director of fraternal leadership and learning, and student Brittany Brown served as moderators for the event. Ann Weston Sistrunk, College Panhellenic president, gave a welcome; Randon Hill, National Pan-Hellenic Council president, introduced the presenters; and Bennett Wilfong, Interfraternity Council representative, gave closing words to those in attendance.

“Hazing should have no place on our campus if we will all live by the words of the UM Creed,” Wilfong said. “Speaking up will not be easy, but it’s the right thing to do.

“Let’s care for one another, get involved, make the right decisions and spread this message: hazing isn’t allowed here.”

For a second year, Ole Miss administrators addressed high-risk behaviors on campus in an open letter to the campus in September. Other steps taken include:

  • Mandatory prospective new member education regarding alcohol/drugs and violence prevention/sexual assault
  • Launch of the Livesafe app
  • Updates to the event registration process to address safety and help curb high-risk behavior
  • Recruitment visits and assessments by National Interfraternity Council representatives.

To report any concerning behavior, complete the Hazing Report Form at

Anchorage to Oxford: Student Travels 4,500 Miles for Graduate School

Son, father drive eight days to begin Ole Miss IMC program

Chris Lawrence saw stunning scenery, such as Destruction Bay, Yukon, during his drive to Oxford. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – Chris Lawrence and his father spent eight days on the road from Anchorage, Alaska, to Oxford, going through a CD case full of classic rock, telling stories and taking in diverse landscapes on a 4,500-mile adventure to start a new journey as a graduate student at the University of Mississippi.

At the end of the voyage, Chris Lawrence enrolled this fall as an integrated marketing communications graduate student at Ole Miss. Jay Lawrence got to see the town before heading back to Alaska by plane.

“I was able to show him Oxford and Ole Miss a little bit, and that meant a whole lot,” Chris said.

After Chris earned his undergraduate degree in journalism and public communications at the University of Alaska at Anchorage, he decided he would go to graduate school and continue his education in Mississippi. His mother, Kelly Lawrence, lives in Amory, and growing up, he spent summers in the Magnolia State with her.

“I thought, well, why not see what Mississippi has to offer so I could be close to my mom while continuing my education,” he said. “I did a little research and discovered Ole Miss had a great IMC program, and decided it was for me.”

Once the decision was made to enroll at Ole Miss, the daunting 600-mile-a-day, eight-day trip lay ahead of the father-and-son team. They stuffed Chris’ Dodge Caliber full of moving essentials and mementos and drove in five-hour shifts each day.

Jay enjoyed the long trip with his son and the ability to spend so much bonding time with him.

“We had a good time,” Jay said. “It was an opportunity to spend more time with him.”

The many different types of landscapes and wildlife between Anchorage and Oxford served as the main source of entertainment for the pair.

“We unfortunately didn’t spend a lot of time at places, but we definitely took in the sights and wonders of nature,” Chris said. “Just to be able to have a piece of a place and kind of know a little about what it’s like was nice.”

Some of the places the two stayed were the Canadian cities of Destruction Bay, Yukon; Fort Nelson, British Columbia; and Edmonton, Alberta. Cities in the United States included Bozeman, Montana; Scottsbluff, Nebraska; St. Joseph, Missouri; and Forrest City, Arkansas.

Lethbridge, Alberta, was a particular favorite.

Kelly, Chris and Jay Lawrence take a picture with the statue of William Faulkner upon their arrival to Oxford. Submitted photo

“We drove through there and saw a 100-year-old steel viaduct and rolling hills all around town,” Chris said. “Lethbridge seemed runner- and biker-friendly, too. It was really, really cool.”

Bozeman, Montana, on the other hand, was bustling with tourists there to take in Yellowstone National Park. Besides the traffic and crowds there, Montana was lovely.

“We went over a bunch of rivers,” he said. “There was also a lot of open areas where you could see nothing but the sky. You could see for miles and miles.”

He enjoyed Montana and British Columbia for the scenery that the two places offered.

“British Columbia had a lot of open views,” he said. “You could see the gorgeous trees, rivers and lakes, so that was really awesome and majestic. We saw six black bears on the side of the road alone through B.C., and about 10 wild horses in Montana.”

To pass the time during the trip to Ole Miss, Chris and his father had conversations about past times and what lies ahead, while jamming out to rock bands such as Pearl Jam and Tom Petty.

Luck was also on their side. The two encountered few problems that slowed them down along the journey. They even said they were always ahead of bad weather.

“Surprisingly, we only saw two or three accidents the entire way so that was good traffic didn’t hold us up,” he said. “I’d say we drove through only 60 minutes of rain combined along the way.”

Once they reached Forrest City, they knew they were close to their final destination. The food was a dead giveaway.

“I had catfish with the bone-in, slaw and baked beans,” Chris said. “So I definitely knew I was home in the South.”

Chris Lawrence stands at mile 0 of the Alaska Highway (ALCAN Highway) in Dawson Creek, British Columbia. Submitted photo

The father-son team was relieved to get to Oxford after that. Before Jay flew back to Anchorage, Chris and his mom showed Jay around Oxford and Ole Miss, which was special to all of them.

Chris is familiar with Oxford because he used to visit the town with his mom during summers.

“I always really liked it,” he said. “I thought it was a beautiful place.”

His mom was relieved the trip went well, and she was elated to see her son.

“When he got here, I was so happy to see him and am so excited knowing he’s at Ole Miss now,” she said.

The Lawrences made unforgettable memories over those 4,500 miles.

“It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences saying you could do a cross-country trek like that,” Chris said. “It was the end of my Alaska chapter and the beginning of my chapter here in Mississippi.”

Study Abroad Gives Croft Students Experience of a Lifetime

Semester, year overseas creates global citizens out of institute's students

Since its first graduating class in 2001, the Croft Institute for International Studies has graduated some 520 students. Photo by Nathan Latil/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – Since its beginning in 1998, the Croft Institute for International Studies at the University of Mississippi has supplied students with the tools to become global citizens.

Chief among these tools are acquiring a high level of proficiency in a foreign language and studying abroad, for either a semester or a whole year, in a country whose language they have been studying.

Immersing oneself in the culture, history, language and day-to-day existence of a foreign land while studying abroad has proven to be a highlight of a student’s undergraduate career and aptly prepared Croft students for their future careers, either at home or elsewhere.

“Any study abroad experience gives the student a newfound appreciation for a different country and its culture,” said Oliver Dinius, Croft executive director and associate professor of history. “What is special about the semester or year abroad for Croft is that students will see firsthand how the language skill and the regional knowledge allow them to gain a much deeper understanding of their temporary home.

“It reinforces the hard work students have invested in the classroom during their first two years at Croft – and it adds that practical application that makes it all worthwhile. It provides the student with the confidence that she or he can actually do it: live and work in a different language and culture.”

As the institute celebrates its 20th anniversary this fall, it has sent hundreds of students to countries around the globe for their study abroad adventure. During the 2017-18 academic year, 43 Croft students studied abroad for either a semester or year.

Those students return to campus changed: more independent, more adept at tackling global challenges and more skilled at charting a career path in the world.

Dinius studied abroad twice: first as an exchange student from Germany at the University of Oregon and at Harvard University, where he earned his doctorate, and later when conducting 18 months of field research in Brazil.

Those diverse exploits helped him master foreign languages, be comfortable in different cultural environments and develop key skills to be a resident of the world.

Here are what a few current Croft students remember about their study abroad experience and how that time affected their lives.

Caroline Bass, senior

An international studies and Spanish major from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Bass spent spring 2018 studying in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, at the Instituto Filosofico Pedro Francisco Bonó.

Senior international studies and Spanish major Caroline Bass spent the spring of 2018 studying in the Dominican Republic as part of her Croft Institute studies. Submitted photo

While there, she took a variety of literature and history classes for her major – with all of the classes in Spanish. In the streets of Santo Domingo and around the Caribbean country, Bass also said she heard very little English, so the experience greatly improved her language skills.

More learning came from outside of the classroom as Bass said the semester in the Dominican Republic made her “a more open-minded and curious student” that will affect how she studies and learns at UM.

“Living and studying in another country provides insight and perspective that you cannot attain in Oxford,” she said. “It showed me that there are countless things in the world that are more important than my life and ideas. It is a humbling experience that all students can benefit from and has given me a passion for the world, but has also given me a new understanding and love for Mississippi.”

“My study abroad experience was very meaningful and forced me out of my comfort zone. I met a lot of wonderful people and experienced new things that I never would have if I stayed in Oxford.”

Lauren Burns, senior

How much does Burns enjoy studying abroad? Enough that the Gulfport native has made three separate study abroad trips.

The international studies and Arabic major first studied at the Modern Arabic Language International Center in Amman, Jordan, in summer 2016 and then returned the following summer. This spring, she returned to Amman for an internship with CET Academic Programs, a study abroad organization.

Croft Institute senior Lauren Burns has journeyed to Jordan three times for study abroad. Her trips have allowed her to immerse herself in Jordanian culture, including trips to places such as Jerash. Submitted photo

At the center, Burns studied Modern Standard Arabic along with a Jordanian dialect of the language. This spring, she again studied Modern Standard Arabic and dialect for a semester in addition to taking a course on the refugee crisis in Jordan and interning twice a week with Partners-Jordan, a democratic and civil society organization.

“Besides the obvious benefit of improving my foreign language skills, I really got to immerse myself in Jordanian culture,” Burns said. “By living and studying there for a total of eight months over the past three years, I truly came to understand the phrase ‘you had to be there.’

“I’d read tons of articles and books for class about the refugee crises in the Middle East, but seeing the conflicts and their effects firsthand and befriending Syrian, Palestinian and Iraqi refugees really put things into perspective.”

Tyler Caple, senior

Caple, an international studies and Chinese major minoring in environmental studies, also has made three study abroad trips – all to China.

Senior Tyler Caple, an international studies and Chinese major minoring in environmental studies, has made three study abroad trips to China while a student at the Croft Institute. Submitted photo

The Huntsville, Alabama, native first studied abroad in Shanghai for an intensive language program in summer 2016. The following summer, she went to Changchun on a Critical Language Scholarship and took intensive Chinese classes again.

This past summer, she interned with a social enterprise called Women in Leadership League in Shanghai, thanks to a substantial grant from the Freeman Foundation in Stowe, Vermont.

With each trip, she was prepared because of her Croft studies.

“The Croft program does an amazing job of preparing students for study abroad,” she said. “Even before my first summer in China, I possessed a strong background knowledge of Chinese history and culture that helped me navigate potentially awkward conversations. Croft professors also encourage students to be constant learners, which inspired me to seek out opportunities to learn about my host country while abroad.”

As a three-time study abroad student, Caple has some simple advice for students – Croft or not – considering going abroad to study: Go for it.

“Even if you think it might not relate to your studies, go ahead and seek out information because you never know what kind of programs or interdisciplinary fields are out there,” she said.

Madeline Cook, sophomore

“An amazing adventure” is how Cook, an international studies major minoring in sociology, describes her study abroad trip to Spain this June.

Cook, of Flowood, studied Spanish culture and history, and the Spanish language at Universidad de Alcalá in Alcalá de Henares, Spain, about 20 minutes outside Madrid.

Croft Institute sophomore Madeline Cook studied Spanish culture, history and language while at Universidad de Alcalá in Spain this summer. Submitted photo

The suburb was once a Roman settlement, then a prominent medieval town with a rich literary history. Now, it is “a bustling, working Spanish metropolis with a quaint old town and a lot of history,” she said.

“I learned an incredible amount in a city that really epitomized Spain as the intersection between ancient and modern,” said Cook, a 2017 Stamps Scholarship recipient.

Well-prepared for speaking Spanish because of her Croft studies, Cook said the experience of living in Spain for a month made her more confident in her Spanish-speaking ability.

“I understand that language learning comes in waves – some days were difficult just saying something nuanced while others were brilliant, and that’s something every language learner must remember and accept,” she said. “I was very lucky to have many, many kind strangers start conversations with me and give their time to me.

“It’s the interactions like this on a daily level, seeing how things work up close, that really fascinates and teaches.”

Zac Herring, senior

Zac Herring, a senior at the Croft Institute majoring in international studies, German and economics, visited the Berlin Wall during his studies this year at the University of Cologne in Germany. Submitted photo

Herring had heard that the study abroad experience is often called a unique semester in the life of a college student. After studying three months this spring at the University of Cologne in Cologne, Germany, Herring understands why.

“I had a wonderful and exciting time,” said Herring, from Olive Branch.

The international studies, German and economics major studied German and participated in the Global Study Program, where he studied several different topics, most notably European Union economic law, EU development policy and the effect of globalization on European political discourse.

While his time abroad this spring helped with his language skills, he really discovered how to solve problems and address challenges he hadn’t faced in the U.S.

“You get to spend a great deal of time with people who are very different than you, and it really gives you a sense for how vast the world actually can be,” he said. “I think I have a much better understanding of what life is like in an entirely different political climate, with a radically different political history.”

Herring also offers some advice: “Make sure to find out as much as you can about what you need to do” before heading abroad, especially if you are responsible for your housing.

David Pfaehler, junior

A native of Independence, Kentucky, Pfaehler did not have the typical study abroad experience.

Thanks to a substantial grant from the Freeman Foundation in Stowe, Vermont, Pfaehler spent June and July of this year not studying at a university, but at the Vietnam National Children’s Hospital in Hanoi.

A recipient of a Freeman Foundation grant, David Pfaehler visits a mountain in the Ninh Binh Province, about an hour south of Hanoi, while interning this summer at the Vietnam National Children’s Hospital as part of his Croft Institute study abroad experience. Submitted photo

“I observed surgery and studied congenital anomalies in three different departments: plastic and craniofacial surgery, cardiovascular surgery and orthopedic surgery,” said Pfaehler, who is majoring in international studies and French along with minors in Spanish and chemistry.

Pfaehler spent about 45 hours a week shadowing and assisting doctors at the hospital.

“I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Vietnam and I believe that the Croft Institute prepared me for this experience by opening my mind to trying different things, whether it be learning new languages, talking to complete strangers or exploring the lesser-known parts of the world,” he said.

The trip was a motivating and humbling experience, one that reminded him that “there are still so many differences to be made in this world to make life easier and happier for all people.”

“My internship in Vietnam expanded my knowledge and love for medicine, allowing me to make a difference in the lives of young children born into very disadvantaged situations,” he said.

Emily Wang, junior

Wang, a native of Randolph, New Jersey, has enjoyed her study abroad experiences so much that she is still overseas, studying at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco, this semester.

Emily Wang, a junior in the Croft Institute, visits the ancient city of Petra while completing an intensive language institute program in Amman, Jordan, this summer. Submitted photo

Her latest studies are part of a whirlwind study abroad journey that started in Meknes, Morocco, at the Arab American Language Institute studying intensive Arabic in summer 2017.

After a year at UM, this summer she completed an intensive language institute program with the U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarship Program in Amman, Jordan. She also briefly studied Moroccan Arabic dialect in Rabat, Morocco, before starting her fall at Al Akhawayn University.

“The Croft Institute has afforded me incomparable opportunities to accumulate exposure, appreciation and understanding in unfamiliar cultural contexts,” said Wang, an international studies, Chinese and Arabic major. She also is pre-medicine, minoring in chemistry.

“Study abroad creates student ambassadors who will mature into world leaders that comprehend various cultural sensitivities and offer bridges over potential miscommunication.”

Her pre-medical studies are following an unconventional path, she said, but that’s intentional, as cultural understanding and study abroad help individuals develop greater empathy.

“Through close collaborations with the UM’s intensive Chinese and Arabic programs, Croft has been able to offer me an extraordinary program to holistically study the world,” she said.

For the last 20 years, Croft students have had opportunities to experience a foreign culture during their semester or year abroad. With the institute’s 21st academic year underway, another cohort of Croft students will be heading abroad, and while they may go to the same countries and programs as in years past, the individual experience always will be unique.

Student Pharmacist Begins Journey to Dream Career

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ole Miss Esports Ushers University into Video Game Competition World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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