Music Professor Receives Prestigious International Fellowship

Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship supports George Dor's work with Nigerian university

UM music professor George Worlasi Kwasi Dor will travel to Nigeria in summer 2019 to collaborate with colleagues at the University of Port Harcourt as part of the Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship Program. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – George Worlasi Kwasi Dor, a music professor at the University of Mississippi, has been awarded a fellowship by the Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship Program to work with professors at the University of Port Harcourt in Nigeria.

Dor, a native of Ghana who holds the McDonnell-Barksdale Chair of Ethnomusicology at UM, will travel to Nigeria in the summer of 2019 to collaborate with Adeoluwa Okunade and Marie Agatha Ozah on field research in ethnomusicology, curriculum development, and mentoring of graduate assistants and assistant lecturers.

“The research portion of the project will consider the ways indigenous knowledge in traditional ethnic music stays relevant to contemporary communities in Ghana and Nigeria,” Dor said. “This will build on research Dr. Ozah and I have collaborated on before, and we look forward to using the opportunity to train graduate students in ethnographic field research methods.

“I’ll also be in conversation with Dr. Okunade and the faculty as they refine and develop their ethnomusicology curriculum. Because of my experience in this field, I hope to be a resource for them, but I expect to learn a great deal that could benefit our program, as well.”

Dor’s selection is well-deserved, said Robert Riggs, chair of the UM Department of Music.

“The receipt of this Carnegie fellowship further validates Dr. Dor’s well-established reputation as a leading researcher in the field of ethnomusicology,” Riggs said. “I am confident that both he and his colleagues in Nigeria will benefit greatly from this exciting opportunity to pursue joint scholarly projects.”

Dor’s fellowship is part of a broader initiative that will pair 51 scholars with one of 43 higher education institutions and partners in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda to work together on curriculum co-development, research, graduate teaching, training and mentoring activities.

“Dr. Dor’s collaborative approach to pedagogy, research and performance with Dr. Adeoluwa Okunade and colleagues at the University of Port Harcourt and the University of Mississippi serves as a beacon for others in academe who facilitate understanding of musical traditions within the wider African diaspora,” said Gail Simpson, an Ole Miss doctoral candidate in music education.

Dor’s fellowship was the only one awarded in the area of music. Other visiting fellows will work with their hosts on a wide range of projects that include controlling malaria, strengthening peace and conflict studies, training and mentoring graduate students in criminal justice, archiving African indigenous knowledge, creating low-cost water treatment technologies, building capacity in microbiology and pathogen genomics, and developing a forensic accounting curriculum.

The Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship Program, in its sixth year, is designed to increase the movement of skill and talent to benefit African nations, build capacity at host institutions and develop long-term, mutually beneficial collaborations between universities in Africa and the United States and Canada.

Some 385 African Diaspora Fellowships have been awarded for scholars to travel to Africa since the program’s inception in 2013.

University Recognized for Student Veteran Services, Treatment

Rankings place Ole Miss in top 5 percent nationally for military services

Andrew Newby (left), UM assistant director for veteran and military services, speaks with guests at the opening of the Veterans Resource Center. Newby has implemented several new services that have helped Ole Miss rise in the rankings among public institutions for supporting military veteran students. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi has been recognized as a top institution for military veteran students for 2019 by both Military Times and College Factual.

Military Times ranked Ole Miss among the leaders in student veteran treatment in its annual rankings, with the university coming in at No. 85 nationally among all public institutions.

Ole Miss also finished in the top 5 percent of schools nationally – No. 65 among public universities – for “veteran friendliness” in College Factual’s Best for Vets category for 2019. It is the second straight year that the university has been the best school for veterans in Mississippi on the College Factual list.

“(The rankings) are huge for the university, because we essentially are a new office,” said Andrew Newby, assistant director of veteran and military services. “In 2013, (the university) really began the initiative of putting a priority on veterans. So, we went basically from nonexistence to now being recognized in multiple publications.”

The rankings consider a variety of factors, including veteran affordability, veteran support services and available resources, that combine to form the best educational experience for student veterans. The goal, according to College Factual, is to “help veterans identify colleges that are likely to be supportive of them and their unique needs.”

This approach is important because student veterans face different challenges than traditional students, Newby said.

“This gives us the ability to say to these veterans, ‘If you want a good college experience and you want somebody who understands all the facets of you as a veteran, then this is where you go in Mississippi,'” he said. “We are putting faces and names to that invisible identity of ‘a veteran.'”

The university’s highest categorical ranking was second nationwide for student veterans seeking degrees in health professions, College Factual said.

UM student veterans gather at the opening of the Veterans Resource Center in February. The resource center is among several new services provided to student veterans at Ole Miss that have helped the university improve its ranking among universities in the category of student veteran support. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

Ole Miss has instituted programs that allow student veterans to have their voices heard and to allow individual issues to be addressed, said Evan Ciocci, Student Veterans Association president.

“It is eye-opening to see how much the student veterans program has grown in my time here,” he said. “We’ve improved immensely to change the atmosphere surrounding student veterans in higher education.

“With the Veterans Resource Center and Veteran Treatment Team, resources have been more accessible ranging from academic success to health care.”

The Veterans Resource Center opened in February in the E.F. Yerby Conference Center. The center provides the university’s 1,400 military-connected students with academic resources, test materials and a place to gather and connect.

The Veterans Treatment Team brings together a collection of health care professionals, social workers and academic resources on campus to provide student veterans with a holistic plan to achieve their educational and personal goals.

That hands-on approach with each individual veteran allows the university to separate itself from its peers, Newby said.

“At the end of the day, we are making happy alumni who are successful in the workforce,” he said. “When you come to Ole Miss, I’m going to make sure you can get a job, that you’re going to enjoy your time and that you’re going to have good memories of being an Ole Miss Rebel.”

The needs of veterans are evolving and often, the old traditions of only providing a place for student veterans to gather and trade war stories are not enough for the younger generation of military students, Newby said.

“That’s what today’s vet does not want,” he said. “So, what we went out from there to do was to give them a sense of purpose.

“They all have servant’s hearts. That’s why they joined the military. So why not make the SVA a service organization that actually does things you want to be a part of?”

Newby and others did this by implementing a variety of community and campus service opportunities for student veterans to get involved, including the Ole Miss Wish, a philanthropic effort that works with military families to give children an unforgettable Ole Miss experience.

The Office of Veteran and Military Services staff does not plan to rest on its laurels, and new programs are in the works on campus.

“We are actively working toward more resources to help transition veterans and set them up for success in higher education and into their career fields,” Ciocci said. “I see a bright future for veterans’ services as we continue to grow.”

College Factual provides data analytics to compare more than 2,500 colleges and universities across the nation in a variety of categories. Military Times covers topics relevant to service members at home and abroad.

For more information on UM’s Office of Veteran and Military Services, visit https://vms.olemiss.edu/.

Books and Bears Bids Farewell to Its Father Christmas

Retiring administrator Donald Cole attends his 21st and final toy distribution for employee families

Donald Cole smiles as he takes photographs on his personal camera Friday at the Books and Bears distribution of toys for employees’ families. Cole, who co-founded the event and has emceed for the past 20 years, is retiring in January 2019. Photo by Megan Wolfe / Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – Twenty-one years ago, Donald Cole volunteered to emcee the first Books and Bears program at the University of Mississippi. Each second Friday in December since, the associate provost and associate professor of mathematics has been “Father Christmas” to Facilities Management Department employees gathered to collect free gifts for their children and grandchildren.

The occasion was joyous, as usual, but smiles mingled with tears Friday (Dec. 14) as Cole, who retires Jan. 15, 2019, attended the event for his last time.

Underneath festive lighting and with seasonal music playing in the background, UM employees gathered in Fulton Chapel for the distribution. The floor area in front of the stage was filled with books to the left, bears to the right and toys front and center.

“Standing before this distinguished crowd gives me great pleasure, because they consist of friends and colleagues of a lifetime,” Cole said.

Sponsored by the campus Black Faculty and Staff Organization, the charitable event annually distributes hundreds of new teddy bears, children’s books and toys donated by Ole Miss faculty, staff, students and alumni during the last three weeks of the fall semester. This year, the number of presents donated reached a new record.

Without a doubt, there has been a number of most fulfilling times,” Cole said. “They have occurred when so many others joined the Book and Bears team to make this event happen. They have occurred when a department or unit accepted the challenge to optimize their giving far beyond the normal expectations.

A Black Faculty and Staff Organization volunteer passed dolls to two happy Books and Bears recipients. Photo by Megan Wolfe / Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

“It occurs every time I sit back and watch the final set-up of thousands of dollars of gifts donated in love by hundreds of individuals – many of whom could easily use the gifts themselves.”

Cole, along with Janice Murray, associate dean of liberal arts and professor of art, organized the first Books and Bears in 1997 in response to what they saw as a need to help custodial staff provide Christmas gifts to their children. Spread by word-of-mouth only, the initial response to the call for donations was overwhelming.

“We wanted the staff’s children to have the books for literary development and the bears for nurturing purposes,” Murray said. “People have been responding generously ever since. Somehow, there’s always been enough so no one left empty-handed. It’s truly amazing.”

Cole agreed.

“There has not been one single year in the 20-plus years of Books and Bears there have not been ample gifts donated to accommodate every single attendee of the program,” he said.

Black Faculty and Staff Organization members expressed their appreciation to Cole for his continuing leadership and assistance in obtaining toys and books for the children.

“Dr. Cole has aided the building of generations,” said Jacqueline Certion, assistant director of the FASTrack Program in the College of Liberal Arts. “I cannot thank him enough for his guidance as a professional at the university and as to how to as help better mankind.

“He is the truest example of a servant leader. I thank him for taking me under wings and then trusting me to fly.”

Cole summed up his experience with the program.

“Books and Bears is more than an event – it’s a spirit,” Cole said. “A spirit that will continue long beyond you and me. Its characters will change. Its format will vary. Perhaps its name might be altered, but its spirit will remain.”

The stage in front of Fulton Chapel was loaded with book, bears and toys awaiting new owners during the 21st annual Books and Bears event. Photo by Megan Wolfe / Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

Sharon Nichols Joins Small Business Center as State Director

New leader brings seven years' experience from Oklahoma center

Sharon Nichols

OXFORD, Miss. – The Mississippi Small Business Development Center has hired Sharon Nichols as the organization’s new state director.

The MSBDC state office is housed on the University of Mississippi’s Oxford campus and is administered through a partnership with the School of Business Administration.

“We are thrilled to have Sharon join our team in the SBDC in this leadership role,” said Ken Cyree, dean of the Ole Miss business school. “We have an excellent center with experienced, capable and dedicated staff who fulfill the mission of helping transform Mississippi’s businesses, and Sharon brings experience and passion to help expand the success we have enjoyed.

“I believe the future is bright for the MSBDC under her leadership and I look forward to the impact we will have in the future on Mississippi businesses and the economy.”

Nichols brings more than seven years’ experience with the Oklahoma SBDC, where she served the last three years as assistant state director. She succeeds interim director Judy Forester, who resumes her position as associate state director.

“I am so grateful for the outstanding job Judy Forester did as interim director,” Nichols said. “Her leadership has been invaluable to the program and cannot be overstated.

“I truly believe in the mission of the SBDC, and I’ve witnessed firsthand the impact it can have on people’s lives. Mississippi has such a strong program and I am excited to be part of this team and help prepare our centers for a successful future.”

Nichols received a bachelor’s degree in general studies from the University of Central Oklahoma and an MBA specializing in organizational leadership and change management from Northeastern State University. Her certifications include Economic Development Finance Professional, Professional in Human Resources and Certification in Technology Commercialization.

Funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration, the MSBDC provides services and support at no charge to any Mississippian who wants to start a small business or is looking to grow an existing business.

Comprising seven regional centers across the state, the MSBDC offers a wealth of knowledge and information via trained counselors with backgrounds in banking, finance and business development. For a list of available workshops and counselors in your area, see http://www.mssbdc.org or call 800-725-7232 in Mississippi.

UM Faculty Travel across Southeast for Collaborations

Ten faculty members participate in SEC Faculty Travel Program

OXFORD, Miss. – Ten University of Mississippi faculty members are taking part in the SEC Faculty Travel Program this academic year, joining more than 100 fellow faculty members from other Southeastern Conference institutions.

Established in 2012 by the SEC provosts, the program provides financial assistance from the SEC office that bolters intra-SEC collaboration. Participants travel to other SEC universities to exchange ideas, develop grant proposals, conduct research and deliver lectures or performances. Areas of interest for this year’s Ole Miss class include music, engineering, anthropology and African American studies.

Travel of the UM faculty is made possible partly through a $10,000 award from the SEC.

“Being a member of the SEC means more than being in an athletic conference,” UM Provost Noel Wilkin said. “This faculty travel program brings together faculty from across the SEC to explore collaborative projects that might otherwise be difficult to initiate or fund.

“We value our SEC partners and our collaborations with other SEC universities.”

Participants from UM for the 2018-19 academic year are:

  • Graham Bodie, professor of integrated marketing communication, visiting Auburn University
  • Elizabeth Ervin, associate professor of civil engineering, visiting the University of Arkansas
  • Micah Everett, associate professor of music, visiting the University of South Carolina
  • Selim Giray, assistant professor of music and orchestra director, visiting the University of Tennessee
  • Samuel Lisi, assistant professor of mathematics, visiting the University of Arkansas
  • Maureen Meyers, assistant professor of anthropology, visiting the University of Tennessee
  • Adrienne Park, instructor in music, visiting the University of Tennessee
  • Charles Ross, director of African American studies and professor of history, visiting the University of Alabama
  • Michael Rowlett, associate professor of music, visiting the University of Tennessee
  • Hakan Yasarer, assistant professor of civil engineering, visiting Auburn University

The SEC Faculty Travel Program is one of several academic endeavors designed to support the teaching, research, service and economic development focus of the SEC’s 14 member universities. Past program participants have been invited to present their research at conferences, been awarded competitive grants and secured publications in leading journals.

“The SEC Faculty Travel Program provides faculty at all SEC universities the opportunity to broaden their network of scholars and professionals,” UM Associate Provost Donna Strum said. “This opportunity often leads to collaboration on intercollegiate teaching and research projects, which advance our mission. We appreciate the SECs support and look forward to the 2018-19 program.”

Several additional Ole Miss faculty members also completed trips to SEC institutions earlier this year:

  • Shennette Monique Garrett-Scott, assistant professor of history and African American studies, visited the University of Tennessee
  • Robert Cummings, executive director of academic innovation and associate professor of writing and rhetoric, visited the University of Georgia
  • Dinorah Sapp, lecturer in intensive English, visited the University of Kentucky.

Lengthy Pretrial Incarceration Continues in Mississippi Jails

Database creators urge Legislature to establish uniform system of reporting lockup data

The Mississippi office of the MacArthur Justice Center is housed in the UM School of Law. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – The vast majority of the 5,534 men and women detained in local Mississippi jails are not serving sentences for criminal convictions but instead are awaiting their day in court to face charges, and nearly half the detainees have been in jail for more than 90 days.

Those are among the findings made available to the public by the MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Mississippi School of Law. The updated version of the center’s comprehensive database identifies the 5,534 detainees in Mississippi’s county and regional jails and can be accessed at https://msjaildata.com/.

The initial version of the database, released in April 2018, identified 7,193 such detainees. Besides the names of those held in jail, the database provides dates of arrest, charges against each detainee, the amount of time each person has been in jail, average length of detention in each Mississippi county and a comparison of the April and November databases. The information used to create the database was obtained directly from “jail lists” produced by Mississippi sheriffs pursuant to court rules.

Cliff Johnson, director of the MacArthur Justice Center’s Mississippi office, expressed continued concern regarding lengthy pretrial incarceration.

“Our database confirms that long-term pretrial incarceration of poor Mississippians, attributable primarily to improper and illegal use of the money bail system, continues to be a significant problem that costs counties millions of dollars.” Johnson said. “Our estimate is that Mississippi counties collectively are paying between $80 million and $100 million each year to lock up people who have not yet been convicted of any crime.”

A search of the database reveals that more than 2,600 people have been detained in local jails for longer than 90 days. Of those, 1,603 have been held for longer than 180 days, 1,035 for longer than 270 days, and 675 for longer than a year.

Johnson explained that lengthy periods of pretrial incarceration is of particular concern in Mississippi and is due, at least in part, to a combination of factors unique to the state.

“In addition to the widespread illegal and improper use of money bail, other significant factors are that grand juries meet infrequently in Mississippi’s many rural counties, and that prosecutors across the state, for a variety of reasons, often are slow to present cases to the grand jury,” Johnson said.

“There is no limit in Mississippi on how long a person can be held prior to indictment, so detainees can wait up to a year or more before even being formally charged with a crime. They wait months after that for their trial date.”

The MacArthur Justice Center has asked the Mississippi Supreme Court to adopt a rule limiting the amount of time a person can be held in jail before indictment, but the court has declined to do so.

While the updated database shows a 24 percent decrease in the jail population since the April report, there is no clear explanation for the change.

“I believe the decrease is attributable, at least in part, to our public disclosure of information regarding the people locked up in our jails coupled with recent litigation in Mississippi reminding judges and other participants in the criminal justice system of what the law says about the proper use of money bail and the illegality of incarcerating poor folks for unpaid fines and fees,” Johnson said.

“I also credit the new Mississippi Rules of Criminal Procedure adopted by the Mississippi Supreme Court last year.”

The new data show that several counties have reduced their jail population since the center’s first report. Among those are:

  • Desoto – from 519 to 219
  • Harrison – from 1,106 to 882
  • Lauderdale – from 245 to 140
  • Lincoln – from 150 to 65

Despite the downward trend, the jail population in some counties increased over the same period. Those include:

  • Hancock – from 124 to 185
  • Hinds – from 625 to 667
  • Leflore – from 86 to 136

The available data does not show whether detainees are awaiting trial, have yet to be indicted, are waiting for mental health evaluation or treatment, or have been convicted and are waiting to be transported to a state prison, Johnson emphasized.

“At this point, we can only provide limited ‘snapshots’ of Mississippi’s jail population at different points in time,” he said. “We urge the Mississippi Legislature to require the implementation of a uniform statewide system of reporting jail data that is available to the public and provides comprehensive real-time information about who is in our county jails and why.

“This tool would enable judges, lawyers, legislators, politicians and the public to make informed decisions regarding how best to make certain that our criminal justice system is efficient and fair.”

“Jail data available to everyone is a valuable tool in our struggle to reform the criminal justice system,” said Andre DeGruy, state defender for Mississippi. “Research shows that people who are in jail pretrial are more likely to get convicted and receive longer sentences for the same crimes as those who are not incarcerated pretrial.

“They are also more likely to need the services of a public defender than the person who can get out and go to work while awaiting trial. Excessive pretrial detention strains every part of the system.

“Being able to see who’s in jail and how long they have been serving allows us to shine a light on the dark places in our system and can facilitate error correction, whether that means getting the person moved to state custody, a mental health facility or back home.”

Gipsy Escobar, director of research at Measures for Justice in Rochester, New York, has reviewed the new database. Measures for Justice works across the country to develop a data-driven set of performance measures to assess and compare the criminal justice process from arrest to post-conviction on a county-by-county basis.

“The MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Mississippi School of Law has done tremendous work to collect jail data, literally by hand,” Escobar said. “Absent any other information about jails in Mississippi, this is the best we have.

“However, as MJC acknowledges, the data may not be uniformly collected or defined. Thus this terrific effort brings to the fore the urgent need for collecting uniform jail and local criminal justice data in Mississippi in pursuit of ever more reliable measurement.”

The Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review, known as the PEER Committee, recently issued a report addressing the lack of comprehensive jail data in Mississippi and recommending that the Legislature create a uniform statewide system of reporting jail data.

The report, referring extensively to the efforts of the MacArthur Justice Center, concluded that such information would assist policymakers in making economic decisions regarding incarceration.

“The extended imprisonment of thousands of Mississippians who have not been convicted of a crime is unacceptable,” Johnson said. “Rarely is any effort made to determine whether the release of these pretrial detainees would actually put the public at risk, and current pretrial incarceration practices cost Mississippi counties a fortune.

“We must reform this system that forces Americans to pay cash for their freedom and permits the government to lock people up for months before being formally charged with a crime and getting their day in court.”

The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center is a public interest law firm with offices in Chicago at Northwestern Law School, St. Louis, New Orleans, Washington, D.C., and Oxford at the UM School of Law. The MacArthur Justice Center litigates a wide range of civil rights cases, with particular emphasis in the area of criminal justice. For more information, go to https://www.macarthurjustice.org/.

Military Student Works with Nonprofit to Raise Money for UM Veterans

Walkers for Warriors group gives back to Ole Miss through 'Walking Dead' cosplay enterprise

Nicholas Roylance is a theatre arts major at the University of Mississippi, a disabled military veteran and a member of Walkers for Warriors, a nonprofit organization that raises money for military veteran students at Ole Miss. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – Four years ago, University of Mississippi student Nicholas Roylance was injured in training exercises during his time as an active duty member of the United States Army. That accident during drills left Roylance wounded, angry and searching for his path in life.

Roylance eventually found his place at Ole Miss, pursuing a career in acting while using his talents, in partnership with a start-up nonprofit, to help raise money for veterans like himself.

“I signed up for the military because I wanted to do my part for the country, but I also wanted to live after that,” Roylance said. “I found my (outlet) in my art: acting. I want to change the stigma surrounding veterans, that they can be seen as humans and seen as artists.”

Roylance, originally from San Francisco, generally sports long black hair, usually topped by a black baseball cap. He often carries a smattering of facial hair and wears a black leather jacket.

Fans of the AMC series “Walking Dead” can paint a perfect mental image of Roylance by picturing the character Daryl Dixon.

Nicholas Roylance (left) and Gene Russell (right) have a photo taken with a fan at a ‘Walking Dead’ cosplay convention. Roylance, a UM theatre arts major, and Russell are members of Walkers for Warriors, a nonprofit that raises money for military veteran causes. Submitted photo

Roylance is one of the “team leaders” of Walkers for Warriors, a nonprofit that raises money at “Walking Dead” cosplay conventions to help fund services that benefit veterans at the university. The Walker Stalker cosplay conventions are hosted in cities around the world to give fans opportunities to interact with cast members as well as costume experts, such as Roylance, who are adept at portraying characters from the acclaimed show.

Walkers for Warriors’ first major donation to the university was for last month’s Ole Miss Wish. The organization gave $7,500 to the family of Ole Miss Wish Kid Benjamin Clark to go to Disney World.

Clark, son of Mississippi Air National Guard 172nd Airlift Wing chaplain Maj. Caleb Clark, is in remission from B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Roylance’s story does not include a trip overseas and a return home with medals signifying valor in combat.

“My service is very tragic,” he said. “I got hurt and a lot of people had to take over and deploy for me.”

Roylance’s consideration of soldiers and their lives after service led to his eventual involvement with Walkers for Warriors, an organization that allows him to give back to fellow veterans while taking advantage of his natural appearance and his acting ability.

But Roylance didn’t set out to be a cosplay star; instead, he wished to become a TV and film actor. That dream started when he was young, but it grew intense as an adult as he tried to find an outlet for his post-service frustrations.

“When I came out of the military, I was angry at everybody,” he said. “I had nothing to do and no one to yell at, and then acting and cosplay gave me a purpose.”

Roylance, who has appeared in a couple of movies, is majoring in theatre arts at Ole Miss. Acting created a natural outlet for Roylance to get into cosplay, he said.

“I love acting because I get to be somebody else,” Roylance said. “Cosplay was a cheap and easy way to start acting while putting smiles on people’s faces.

“As an actor, I want people to enjoy my work, but if you’re telling me I can just dress up in costume and make someone smile? Sign me up.”

It was at a “Walking Dead” cosplay convention in Atlanta in February 2018 where fate would have Roylance meet his future Walkers for Warriors partner Gene Russell.

Roylance, who portrays Daryl Dixon, and Russell, who is a spitting image of character Negan, had both wrapped up appearances as their respective characters when they happened to share a table and start talking. They began working together at conventions, and Russell told Roylance that he had created a nonprofit for wounded veterans, but it had never really gotten off the ground.

“The idea sat dormant, but when Nick and I first met, he explained that he was a disabled veteran,” said Russell, an insurance adjuster from Atlanta. “I said, ‘I have this nonprofit for disabled veterans; why don’t we start gearing (cosplay) for the benefit of veterans?'”

“The fact that we even found each other and said, ‘hello’ is remarkable,” Roylance said.

Gene Russell (left) and Nicholas Roylance raise money for the nonprofit Walkers for Warriors by portraying ‘Walking Dead’ characters Negan and Daryl Dixon, respectively. Roylance is an Ole Miss student majoring in theatre arts. Photo by David Yerby

Roylance and Russell felt that veterans organizations around the country could do more to directly help those they serve.

The two began working with Mary Loveland, director of Walkers for Warriors, and daughter Grace Loveland, president. The nonprofit gives money it raises to veterans services, with the sole beneficiary being Ole Miss.

The group raises money through interaction with fans, who come to meet the celebrity look-a-likes, have photos taken and purchase prints and other merchandise.

The partnership between Walkers for Warriors and the university allows services to be provided to student veterans on the “ground floor,” said Andrew Newby, UM assistant director of veteran and military services.

“Walkers for Warriors does wonderful things that deliver tangible results immediately, as opposed to other larger groups that provide things for nameless, faceless veterans,” Newby said. “Walkers for Warriors benefits real veterans in our community, on our campus and in the Ole Miss family.”

The link between the nonprofit and Ole Miss was an obvious one, according to its founders.

“The partnership with the University of Mississippi seemed like a perfect fit,” Mary Loveland said. “Nicholas, being a student veteran, was clearly the impetus for the relationship and has continued to work diligently to develop and enhance the partnership.

“The SVA program at University of Mississippi is extraordinary and, in my opinion, should be emulated throughout the university level in this country.”

Eventually, Walkers for Warriors may expand its benefactors to other universities or organizations, but for now, its sights are set on even bigger impacts for Ole Miss, Roylance said.

“Right now, we are working on compiling thousands of dollars, because the next donation we want to be super-substantial,” Roylance said. “We want to give Andrew enough money to say, ‘Wow, I can do anything I need.'”

Newby said he already has plans in mind.

“We are hopeful that as we gain more space on campus in the future, we will be able to partner with Walkers for Warriors in outfitting a dedicated one-stop-shop for our military-connected students,” he said. “As we see growth in terms of veterans coming to campus, we will need more space and personnel to accommodate these wonderful students, and the partnership with Walkers for Warriors will make this vision a reality.”

For Roylance himself, the goal remains an acting career. He hopes to continue his studies at Ole Miss and eventually move back to his home state of California to pursue a serious film and television career.

Anyone interested in supporting Walkers for Warriors can visit https://www.walkersforwarriors.com/. There, guests can contact members of the nonprofit to find information on cosplay convention schedules or donate.

Biomedical Engineering Program Soaring

Three new professors join faculty as student enrollment steadily climbs

A group of chemical engineering majors compare data collections from an experiment in their chemical engineering lab. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – With the addition of three faculty members and growing student enrollment, the new biomedical engineering program at the University of Mississippi continues its impressive rise.

In its second year, the program has 105 students and three new full-time faculty positions. David Puleo, who became dean of the School of Engineering in August, is also a biomedical engineer.

“The rapid growth of our biomedical engineering program demonstrates the desire for this discipline in Mississippi,” Puleo said. “With a greying population and increasing life expectancy in the U.S., the application of engineering principles to drive discovery of new knowledge in the life sciences and development of advanced biomedical technologies is increasingly important.”

The Bachelor of Science program offers students a choice of three tracks: bioinformatics, biomedical systems and biomolecular.

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

The goal is to enhance the state’s biomedical workforce with top-notch students, Puleo said. Graduates will be able to pursue employment in biomedical or related industries, graduate studies in biomedical engineering or related disciplines, and professional careers in medicine, dentistry, pharmacy or patent law.

“The collaborative nature of the disciple will also promote interaction between departments within the school, across the Oxford campus and with the Medical Center in Jackson,” he said. “We have great expectations for the new Ole Miss biomedical engineering program.”

Catherine Klaire (center) and Lauren Hale work together on a chemical engineering lab project. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

Dana Nicole “Nikki” Reinemann-Goss, Thomas Werfel and Glenn Walker joined the university’s faculty this fall to bolster the program. Reinemann-Goss is an assistant professor of biomedical engineering and chemical engineering. Werfel is an assistant professor of chemical engineering and biomolecular sciences in the School of Pharmacy. Walker is an associate professor of biomedical engineering and electrical engineering.

All three bring years of research experience and teaching to their positions.

Werfel earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from Murray State University, and his master’s and doctoral degrees in biomedical engineering, both from Vanderbilt University. Werfel, who teaches Biomaterials, Immunoengineering and Drug and Gene Delivery, said he hopes to develop more electives for upperclassmen and graduate students over the next few years.

Before joining the Ole Miss faculty in July 2018, Walker helped establish the biomedical engineering program at North Carolina State University, when he began his academic tenure in 2004.

Reinemann-Goss earned bachelor’s degrees in chemical engineering and chemistry from UM in 2013 and her doctorate in chemical and biomolecular engineering from Vanderbilt University in May.

Other administrators in the School of Engineering applauded the hires.

“Dr. Werfel brings some exciting research, which dovetails nicely with that done by Dr. Adam Smith,” said John O’Haver, chair and professor of chemical engineering. “Their collaborations should prove very productive and raise their national visibility.”

The university is particularly fortunate to have a senior-level researcher such as Walker for the biomedical engineering program, said Dwight Waddell, program director.

“Dr. Walker brings years of experience as both a veteran researcher and a highly skilled educator. A new program like biomedical engineering strongly benefits from the addition of such a senior-level faculty member.”

Hiring Reinemann-Goss was also a “rare opportunity,” Waddell said.

“Not only is she incredibly qualified, having graduated with her Ph.D. from a prestigious biomedical engineering program at Vanderbilt, she comes to us already attuned to life at Ole Miss and Oxford,” he said.

“Dr. Reinemann-Goss has expertise in biomolecular engineering, which will be immediately put to use through a shared research agenda with multiple departments on campus, including biochemistry, biomolecular sciences in the School of Pharmacy, as well as chemical engineering. We are thrilled to have her back, and we hope it still feels like home.”

For more information about the UM biomedical engineering program, visit https://engineering.olemiss.edu/biomedical/.

Don Cole Retires after Storied History at Ole Miss

Longtime mathematics professor, administrator credited with leaving lasting legacy at UM

Don Cole retires from the University of Mississippi and his longtime responsibilities in the Lyceum on Jan. 15. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – When Donald Cole was a graduate student at the University of Mississippi in the 1980s, he and a faculty member would walk over to the Union to get coffee together. Cole would walk so fast, his companion would have to hold onto his shoulder to keep up.

As a champion of education, Cole has outpaced others ever since, but he’s retiring officially Jan. 15, and the many people who love and admire him are feeling the loss. A retirement reception will be hosted from 3 to 5 p.m. Dec. 12 in the Gertrude C. Ford Ballroom at The Inn at Ole Miss.

“He’s retiring, and it’s hitting home,” said Demetria Hereford, associate director of the Ronald E. McNair Program, who has worked with the assistant provost and associate professor of mathematics for 21 years. “Dr. Cole’s voice is one that people listen to because he’s fair to all people. People respect and appreciate fairness and compromise, thus gravitate towards him.”

The 68-year-young Cole has tried to help all students as a math professor or mentor, but he likely has done more than anyone at the university to help underrepresented students achieve academically through leading such initiatives as the Louis Stokes Mississippi Alliance for Minority Participation’s IMAGE, or Increasing Minority Access to Graduate Education, and summer Bridge STEM programs and the McNair program, which recruits 29 low-income, first-generation and underrepresented students each year and prepares them for doctoral studies.

“Dr. Cole is the most giving and kind person,” said Andie Cooper, who has worked as Cole’s executive assistant for the past three years. “His smile is contagious, and his faith is visible through his actions as he works diligently on many committees throughout campus. He truly has the heart of a servant.”

While giving a campus tour to visitors, Don Cole stops by the James Meredith statue situated between the Lyceum and the J.D. Williams Library. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

Always ready to laugh but thoughtful when he speaks, Cole reflects on the prospect of retiring after a history with the university that goes back to 1968.

“It’s going to be the people and places that I miss,” Cole said. “I’ll be coming up on weekends and looking around, so the building part I can do something about.

“Some of the people I’ll naturally run into in the community. But I’m going to miss a lot of aspects because I put my life off into it.”

Besides his roles as program director, grant writer, mentor and mathematics professor, Cole is also an administrator. Under Robert Khayat, chancellor from 1995 to 2009, he was named assistant to the chancellor for multicultural affairs.

He chaired the Chancellor’s Standing Committee on Sensitivity and Respect until last year; co-chaired the Extended Sensitivity and Respect Committee in 2013, which was initiated after a post-election incident on campus in 2012; and co-chaired the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on History and Context the last couple of years.

Cole said he believes the university has come a long way in becoming a welcoming place for all.

“I’m always the half-full guy,” Cole said. “And so I see that the university has come a tremendous way. I remember getting here as a freshman (in 1968). I remember how uncomfortable I was, and I remember some of the incidents that made me uncomfortable. And the university’s just a far cry from that today.

“Yes, we have a long ways to go. Sometimes when we ‘fix something,’ we need to be reminded that it doesn’t stay fixed, that as new groups of students, faculty and staff come in (every year), that we have to be vigilant, we have to be conscious and not rest on any laurels. We have to cover some of the same ground, remembering that we’re covering the same ground with different people.”

Cole’s colleagues attest to the powerful effect of his presence on the university.

“From the outset, it was clear that he would be a team player but would never compromise his values and beliefs,” Khayat said. “He was loyal to the university, to his students, his colleagues and his faith.”

Provost Noel Wilkin added, “The advice and guidance that Don has provided around issues of race and diversity have been incredibly valuable. These are grounded in his steadfast pursuit of affording all students who come to our university an opportunity to be successful.”

There and Back Again

Cole grew up in Jackson, living with his parents and seven siblings, and entered Ole Miss as a freshman engineering major in 1968. He was a member of the Black Student Union, which presented the UM administration with a list of demands, asking for an end to overt racism, more opportunities for black students and staff, and the hiring of black faculty.

In 1970, Cole took part in a protest at an Up with People concert on campus and was expelled from the university along with seven other students. He spent two nights in the Oxford jail.

“Virtually every one of the 27 demands have been made a reality on this campus,” said Charles Ross, UM professor of history and director of the African American studies program, which he said exists only because of the courage Cole and others displayed as students. “Today, many individuals on our campus take for granted the opportunities that were created by the sacrifice made by Don and others.”

James Donald (left), Lawrence Anderson, Donald Cole, Edwin Scott and Kenneth Mayfield catch up at a UM Black Student Reunion. Submitted photo

Kenneth Mayfield is another of the students who were expelled in 1970. He and Cole have been best friends since, and Cole even introduced him to his wife. Mayfield did not return to Ole Miss, but he persuaded his daughter, Dominique, to enroll there.

“My daughter graduated from Ole Miss (with a degree in political science),” said Mayfield, senior attorney at the Mayfield Law Firm in Tupelo. “I really wanted her to finish there because I was unable to finish there, and it would give me some sense of completion.”

Cole arranged it so that he would present his best friend’s daughter with her degree.

“It was like I finally got to graduate from there,” Mayfield said. “She’s practicing law with me now.” 

After unsuccessfully trying to re-enter Ole Miss a year after their expulsion, Cole and Mayfield were accepted to Tougaloo College, where they received their bachelor’s degrees.

Mayfield went on to receive a law degree from the University of Michigan. Cole earned master’s degrees in mathematics from both the State University of New York and the University of Michigan, and returned to Ole Miss and completed a Ph.D. in mathematics in 1985.

After graduating from Ole Miss, Cole worked in Fort Worth, Texas, in the aerospace industry. He later accepted an offer to work as a mathematics professor at Florida A&M, and then was asked to join Ole Miss as assistant dean in the Graduate School and associate professor of mathematics. He returned in 1993.

So, why did Cole return to Ole Miss after being kicked out as an undergraduate?

“I’m often asked that question, and I have never been able to truly give a good answer, even to myself,” he said. “I had not truly failed at anything, and I had come here to get a degree and I had failed to get a degree.

“I had left in disgrace, left with a jail certificate, and I had come here, not by myself, but come here representing so many others, and I suspect that I had feelings about letting so many other folk down, and maybe this gave me another shot at redeeming myself, and that’s the nearest that I can answer.”

Don Cole has helped carry on what James Meredith (left) accomplished when he became the first black student to enroll at Ole Miss in 1962. Submitted photo

Returning to the university after the way he was treated is probably one of the biggest contributions Cole could make, said Brandi Hephner LaBanc, UM vice chancellor for student affairs.

“I feel like he truly is a role model,” Hephner LaBanc said. “He was able to forgive what happened to him, not forget.

“There have been many others he’s linked arms with, but I think he was the forerunner. He allowed us to come behind him and be brave.”

Cole has helped carry on what James Meredith accomplished when he became the first black student to enroll at Ole Miss, said Judy Meredith, a retired assistant professor at Jackson State University and wife of James Meredith.

“James Meredith opened that door, and God put Don Cole there to keep that door open,” she said.

The Merediths said Cole has always made them feel welcome during their visits to campus.

“I’ve been to Ole Miss a lot of times. Nobody has done more and better for me than Dr. Donald Cole,” James Meredith said. “I’ve never known anyone in education that I’ve had greater respect for, and I’ve known a lot of people in education who have helped me through the years.”

Teacher and Mentor

Cole has taught one math course, ranging from geometry to calculus, every semester since he’s been at Ole Miss. His interest in mathematics started in elementary school.

“I loved me some Caroline Sue,” said Cole, referencing a grade school classmate. “I devised a great scheme to get Caroline Sue to like me. She wasn’t good in math, so I took our math workbook and did the whole workbook, so that whenever Caroline Sue had a question, I had the answer right there.

“The instructor was impressed because they kind of used my book as a key. I didn’t care about that; I cared about Caroline Sue. She ended up dating my friend.”

Over the years, Cole has helped hundreds of Ole Miss students understand math, even those who thought they never could, such as Scott Coopwood, of Cleveland, Mississippi.

“I had one last class to take in order to graduate in August of ’84, and I was worried that I might not pass it because math has never been one of my strong points,” said Coopwood, founder and owner of Coopwood Communications, which includes Delta Magazine and the Delta Business Journal.

Don Cole and IHL President Shane Hooper celebrate UM Commencement in 2016. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

“The class was Statistics, and the first day I walked into the room I saw a young guy sitting on the edge of his desk looking through some papers, and it was Don. As everyone was pouring into the room, I walked up to him and said, ‘I’m awful at math and I’m concerned that I might not be able to pass this class, and if I don’t, I won’t graduate.’

“Don put his hand on my shoulder and in a very positive manner, he said, ‘Don’t worry, regardless of your math skills, if it comes to it, I’ll work with you after class every day, and I don’t care how long it takes. … You’re going to pass this course, and you’re going to graduate on time.’ He hadn’t known me more than two minutes.

“Don was a great teacher in every way. He went slow and explained everything extremely well. I spent a lot of time with him when I was taking that course. I can’t recall many teachers who had faith in me or in fact even encouraged me. But Don certainly did. Thirty-four years later and I have never forgotten the impact he had on my life in the summer of 1984.”

Other students sing Cole’s praises as a mentor, as well.

“As a freshman majoring in mathematics, I knew that he would be someone who could serve as a resource and mentor throughout my undergraduate tenure,” said Skylyn Irby, who met Cole during the summer before her freshman year and participated in the Bridge STEM program, which serves underrepresented incoming freshman STEM majors, and McNair program.

“He was someone who overcame the adversities that many underrepresented people of color encounter in STEM-related career fields. More specifically, he was a mathematician and someone who gave me the confidence to pursue a degree in mathematics.”

Cole has had a profound impact on undergraduate and graduate education at the university, said James Reid, UM chair and professor of mathematics.

“It was noted in that June/July 2009 issue of the Notices of the American Mathematical Society that over one-third of the African-Americans who received Ph.D.s nationally that year had graduated from this university in 2006,” Reid said. “Dr. Cole was an essential contributor to this effort and recruited and mentored many of these students. He is a remarkable member of the Ole Miss family.”

Cole, who won the university’s Frist Student Service Award in 2001 and Award for Excellence in Promoting Inclusiveness in Graduate Education in 2004, said the LSMAMP IMAGE and summer Bridge STEM programs and McNair program are dear to his heart.

“They have been pivotal programs that have absolutely changed the lives of many, many individuals who have participated,” Cole said. “They have been programs that have highlighted us as an institution far beyond our walls and borders.”

Family Man

So, with all the work Cole has done for the university, has he had time to be a caring husband and father and all-around good person? The answer is yes, said Marcia Cole, his wife of 38 years and UM lecturer of applied gerontology.

The Cole family at home: Donald II (left), Marcia, Donald Sr., Mariah and William. Submitted photo

“I think he is the kindest, most patient, caring individual that I know,” she said. “He just genuinely cares about people, and he will do everything within his power and use any resource available to him to be of some help, even to his detriment.”

The Coles have three grown children: Don II, 35; Mariah, 32; and William, 31. Marcia Cole said her husband wanted to be a father from day one. He watched his children play sports and taught them how to swim and build a fire. He made sure his daughter knew how to bass fish, catch a ball, change a tire, do yardwork and fix the plumbing.

“He’s a big kid at heart,” Marcia Cole said. “At the house, if I heard something happen, I wasn’t calling the kids. I called him.”

Upon retirement, Don Cole said he’ll continue to devote time to his favorite hobby, photography, and around the house he plans to set up a couple of aquariums, garden and “fix” things. In addition, he’ll continue serving his community through work with civic and humanitarian organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church.

From faculty to students to administrators, Cole’s impact at the university and across the state will be felt for generations to come.

“Cole is a selfless, supporting role model,” said Victoria Robinson, who participated in the Bridge STEM program, IMAGE and the McNair program. “Without him, I would not be as successful as I have been in my undergraduate career. I’ll miss him more than he knows.”

Don Cole plays on the swings during an Oxford Housing Authority community project to rebuild a playground. Photo by Patrick Perry

Virtual Classrooms Deliver Real Advantage for UM Education Majors

Mixed-reality teaching experience helps students develop skills

UM senior Bre Comley (left) and graduate student Gabby Vogt interact with student avatars through Mursion. Last school year, 800 students in the School of Education practiced with the cutting-edge technology system and are required to use it at least twice as part of their coursework before graduating. Photo by Megan Wolfe/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – Meet Ava and Dev. They are in middle school. Ava is quick-thinking and decisive and likes to be challenged with new ideas and concepts. Dev is a rule-follower who is self-driven with high standards.

Ava and Dev are not your average students. In fact, they are not even real students at all. They are avatars in a virtual classroom at the University of Mississippi School of Education, where education majors are gaining valuable, hands-on teaching experience even before their student teaching.

Mursion, originally called TeachLive, is a cutting-edge technology that delivers customized virtual reality training to provide professional challenges that exist in the job every day.

Developed at the University of Central Florida, Mursion is being used at more than 85 campuses in the United States. Since 2012, Mursion has grown at UM. Last school year, 800 students in the School of Education practiced with the system and are required to use it at least twice as part of their coursework before graduating.

“Through Mursion, the mistakes students used to make in front of real students can now be made in front of avatars,” said Tom Brady, the school’s Mursion coordinator and a clinical associate professor. “This way, a student can watch back for feedback and see themselves teaching for the first time.

“Students are able to see how they miss student avatars falling asleep or on their phone; until this iteration, it may go unnoticed for two or three minutes.”

UM elementary education major Scarlett McCombs interacts with student avatars via Mursion. Photo by Megan Wolfe/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

Mursion is designed so that if a student does not do well, there are no consequences because the avatars just forget and the student can start again. If the teacher does that in the classroom, the kids don’t forget.

Since all the qualities of the virtual classroom are controlled by a faculty member teaching the class, students who feel they did poorly can re-enter the virtual classroom and teach the lesson again without having affected student learning. Depending on the lesson objectives, sessions typically last anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes.

The system works from two ends. From one end, a teacher interacts with a screen showing a classroom with multiple avatar personalities. On the other end, a trained actor candidly speaks through a voice modulator and mimics certain movements through handheld controllers, basing reactions on predetermined personality traits of the Mursion students.

“The actors work very hard on changing their pitch just a little bit, and through the modulator, a 20-year-old woman can sound like a 13-year-old boy,” Brady said.

As of now, two actors provide all the voices. Each session is organic and personal; they are not scripted, but personality descriptions of each avatar are provided for a foundational, yet unique, experience.

Abby Wilson, a senior theatre major from Oxford, learned about Mursion through David Rock, UM education dean, who saw her perform in several high school productions.

Once the Mursion acting job opened up, he reached out to see if Wilson would be interested. She uses her theater background to help her act out as a middle schooler behind the screen. But there is a lot more to the job than just acting, Wilson said.

“The job is way more technical than anything else,” she said. “Before this, I had never even picked up an Xbox controller.”

Much like activating a Kinect or Xbox, the user walks in front of a Kinect cable until the system confirms he or she is identified. The avatars have many controls to react back to the teacher, much like those on an Xbox or Wii controller. Through a wireless connection, the teacher can be heard and seen as he or she interacts with the virtual students on the screen.

Scarlett McCombs, a master’s student in elementary education from Oxford, is another Mursion student actor. While Wilson’s experience covers acting, McCombs’ covers the classroom.

“Many candidates do not have much experience with public speaking or working with children, and the Mursion experience scaffolds them toward success in both of these areas through providing the most authentic virtual experience we can,” McCombs said.

Together, their qualifications and studies make the perfect fit for a realistic and credible student classroom experience.

By having real humans behind the virtual students, the sessions mimic the everyday parts of being a teacher very well. Specifically, student behaviors are designed to challenge the teachers, occasionally even lashing out or acting inappropriately.

Scarlett McCombs interacts with student avatars via Mursion. Photo by Megan Wolfe/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

A new dynamic soon will be introduced to the classroom, when UM faculty will add a student who struggles with dyslexia and a friend who mocks them in class.

“If you see these sorts of things for the first time in a real classroom, you are more likely to crash and burn and let down some real kids, but instead, they are seeing it here first,” Brady said.

The avatars act on three levels. The first level requires student avatars to act relatively obedient; if they “goof-off” and are disciplined by the teacher, they will immediately listen and get back on task.

The second level generates pushback, and avatars may speak inappropriately to the teacher. They may fall asleep, play on their phones or “air-drum” on their desks when they are not interested in what the teacher has to say.

The hardest level generates the kids to not let the teacher get anything done; it is not used in either section for the Ole Miss classes.

Larry Christman, aka “Mr. C,” is a retired Oxford Elementary School principal and the Mursion lab facilitator. Christman is usually in the room with the students as a coach and evaluator.

Christman began facilitating Mursion about seven years ago and has dealt with many nervous students over the years.

“Most of my students have never taught a lesson or even stood before a group of peers and made any kind of public speaking,” he said. “I tell them it’s normal to feel some anxiety. That, hopefully, it will help them when they go to student teach.”

There is no such thing as perfect performance in a Mursion session. Christman said his role is to help students learn to be adaptable in the sometimes unpredictable profession of teaching.

“Several years ago, I had a young lady who got up to teach her lesson and started crying,” Christman said. “She just froze up! My graduate assistant and I took her out in the hallway. We consoled her.

“I told her to go back in the room and complete her lesson. She then did a wonderful job!”

Mursion is required for all students, but it is not graded. It is used for feedback. This helps create a more realistic and calm environment for students to develop into teachers.

“I learned a lot from the two TeachLive sessions that I completed,” said Lizzy Sloan, a senior elementary education major from New Canaan, Connecticut. “They were both very meaningful experiences. I learned that it is normal to feel nervous before teaching students, especially for the first time, and to work through those feelings.

“TeachLive helped me feel more confident with regards to my teaching abilities because I was able to receive immediate feedback from Mr. C.”

The university is helping Mursion grow across state lines, too, specifically to Alabama. Jan Miller, dean of the College of Education at the University of West Alabama, was thrilled to incorporate Mursion into the curriculum after hearing from Ole Miss users.

“Integrating Mursion into our educator preparation program helps to provide opportunities to start teaching on day one with more proficiency in classroom management and more confidence in the pedagogy of teaching,” Miller said.

Using Mursion early in the education program ensures candidates will be better prepared for future professional experiences, she said. With the help of UWA, UM is continuing to push Mursion expansion efforts across the country.

UM graduate student Gabby Vogt interacts with student avatars via Mursion. Photos by Megan Wolfe / Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

Mursion also has room to grow at UM. Rooms are available for off-site locations such as Southaven and Tupelo, using the actors in Oxford.

“We can do more … there is room to expand to offering sessions all week long,” Brady said.

Last year, UM faculty added a counseling session with virtual parents. This “parent-teacher meeting” will act as a new dynamic for the students, because teaching not only involves children, but also their parents. This will allow students to learn to deal with many different kinds of parent personalities.

“Students are trained on communication strategies they might use for 11 difficult parent types they might encounter in the TeachLive simulation,” said Sara Platt, UM clinical assistant professor of special education. “These parents might be helicopter parents, disengaged parents, intimidating or threatening parents, or parents who are not concerned with school at all.”

Platt and Debbie Chessin, retired associate professor of education, worked on this course for to give Ole Miss students opportunities to apply data evaluation and communication skills.

“This is the time for (students) to make the mistakes and receive guidance, so they should have no fear,” Platt said.

A 2018 evaluation from the School of Education found that almost 90 percent of Ole Miss education students believe the Mursion simulation feels like a real classroom and that they are more confident to teach real students after their experience. Additionally, more than 90 percent of students say they would recommend the Mursion experience to peers who want to be teachers.

“I tell the students that nothing will take the place of flesh-and-blood students, but Mursion is a close second,” Christman said.