Theatre Students Make Dresses for Young Girls in Need

Costume design class partnered with St. Peter's Episcopal Church's Little Dresses Ministry

Hannah Bosworth, a freshman theatre arts major from Coronado, California, sews a dress for St. Peter’s Episcopal Church’s Little Dresses Ministry as part of her Introduction to Costumes for the Stage class at UM. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Several University of Mississippi theatre arts students are spending the end of the semester making a difference by sewing dresses that will be distributed to young girls in need.

Donna Buckley, instructional assistant professor of costume technology, has been teaching students the basic techniques of sewing in THEA 272: Introduction to Costumes for the Stage so they learn the process of how to design a costume.

Buckley said she’s always wanted to participate in a sewing outreach program and when she found out about the Little Dresses Ministry at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Oxford, she knew she wanted to get her students involved.

“I saw this as a great opportunity for students to participate in a service project,” Buckley said. “Students tend to get so involved in their own little world, so this allows them to see a need and make a difference for others.”

The Little Dresses Ministry is an ongoing effort of the church to provide clothing to less-fortunate children around the world and in the poorest counties of Mississippi. Buckley heard about the opportunity through Leslie Banahan, UM assistant vice chancellor for student affairs and a member of the church.

“I read about and participated in a similar ministry in Tupelo, and as a lifelong collector of fabric, thought I could put my fabric stash to good use,” Banahan said. “Turns out, many women at St. Peter’s had similar fabric stashes, so we got together and began sewing.”

The church has been making dresses for almost five years and has distributed more than 300 pieces of new clothing to young children.

UM theatre arts students in Donna Buckley’s costume design class sew dresses that will be distributed to young girls in need through St. Peter’s Episcopal Church’s Little Dresses Ministry. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

The sewn dresses, made of cotton or cotton-blend fabric and adorned with embellishments such as ribbons, buttons and lace, go to the Mississippi Delta and several foreign countries, including Honduras, Haiti and Nigeria. Volunteers also make simple shorts for young boys.

“Some of our volunteers have been fortunate to personally deliver the dresses and shorts to children both in Mississippi and abroad,” Banahan said. “The photos show smiling, proud, happy children twirling in their new clothes. This ministry has been a true joy.”

Buckley picked out several fabrics to allow her students an opportunity to add their own design to the effort, which is part of their final project for the course. The class will donate more than 20 dresses to the ministry.

“I strongly feel that it’s beneficial for students to help people in less-fortunate situations,” she said. “It helps them grow as individuals when they can help others.”

Gabrielle Quintana, a freshman theatre arts major from Marietta, Georgia, has enjoyed learning in this course and using her knowledge to help others.

“I think it’s fun and it’s such a wonderful experience to be able to apply what you learn for a good cause,” Quintana said. “We’ve all gotten to know each other better, and my classmates and I have really bonded over this project.”

Buckley encourages anyone who wants donate a half-yard or more of cotton fabric to contact her at She plans to continue this effort with her costume class every semester.

Anyone who would like to become involved in this project can contact Leslie Banahan at

Volunteers Sought to Fight Poverty in Region

North Mississippi VISTA Project accepting applications for terms beginning in February

OXFORD, Miss. – The North Mississippi Volunteers in Service to America Project is recruiting members for a yearlong term of service beginning Feb. 5, 2018.

The VISTA Project, which is led by the McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement at the University of Mississippi, sponsors 13 organizations and has a capacity to host 25 full-year VISTA members serving throughout north Mississippi and the Delta. The McLean Institute, directed by Albert Nylander, UM professor of sociology, has a seven-year relationship with the Corporation for National and Community Service.

VISTA members commit to a year of service where they focus on building sustainable capacity within community-based organizations and delivering a measurable impact on the populations that they serve. VISTAs work to manage and recruit volunteers, create opportunities for low-income youth, build social entrepreneurship, write grants, increase access to higher education and more.

“My service years with VISTA have been some of the most rewarding experiences of my life,” said VISTA leader Edy Dingus. “The opportunities that I’ve been given as a VISTA have allowed me to develop my professional skills, while ensuring that our campus and community partners have sustainable systems to further their missions to alleviate poverty through education.”

The North Mississippi VISTA Project seeks to place members at several community partner organizations, including the Lafayette Literacy Council in Oxford, United Way of Oxford and Lafayette County, Crenshaw Elementary School, DeSoto County Youth Court in Hernando and North Panola High School in Sardis.

Prospective applicants must be motivated, reliable team players who are at least 18 and have earned at least a high school diploma or GED.

Besides yearlong VISTA members, the North Mississippi VISTA Project is also seeking an AmeriCorps VISTA leader to support members and strengthen the program through professional development, performance measurement and building partnerships. This person will be based at the McLean Institute and work closely with VISTAs placed in the program.

To be considered for this position, applicants need to have completed at least one year of VISTA service or one term of full-time service, serving 1,770 hours or more, with either AmeriCorps State and National or Americorps National Civilian Community Corps, or at least one traditional term of Peace Corps service. They should have demonstrated leadership ability to work constructively with community volunteers, supervisors, sponsoring organizations and low-income communities.

Interested individuals are invited to visit for application instructions for both service opportunities. Applications are being accepted.

In the next year and beyond, the North Mississippi VISTA Project will continue to develop host sites around the area, cultivating projects and placing VISTAs with community partners that fight poverty through education. In the 2017-18 program year, the project will bring nearly $600,000 to the region.

Examples of VISTA projects include programmatic and fundraising collaborations for LOU Excel By 5 and many other nonprofits around the community, the Traveling Trunks program at the UM Center for Archaeological Research and a mentoring program connected to the DeSoto County Youth Court.

Many VISTAs have been recent graduates of UM programs, such as the Croft Institute for International Studies and the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.

Denae Bradley, a 2015 Ole Miss graduate who served as a VISTA with the university’s Office of Sustainability, is pursuing a master’s degree in sociology with a focus on race and ethnicity, community development, and poverty.

“I served with NMVP because it felt right,” Bradley said. “Our duty as humans should be to take every opportunity we get to impact the lives of people forgotten within the system. NMVP welcomed me with open arms and made my year of service feel that much more worthwhile.”

Many other VISTAs have followed a similar path, going into graduate programs at Harvard University, New York University, Princeton University, Columbia Teachers College, Stanford University and the University of Georgia.

“Community partnerships inspire the work of the McLean Institute,” said Laura Martin, the institute’s assistant director. “We are thrilled to support VISTA members as they build capacity among our campus and community partners to impact quality of life in Mississippi.”

Nylander, too, said he looks forward to recruiting new members and expanding the program.

“The goals and mission of the North Mississippi VISTA Project and the McLean Institute align perfectly, and we look forward to NMVP’s future growth and continued success,” Nylander said.

For more information on VISTA service opportunities, contact VISTA leaders Edy Dingus and Shannon Curtis at or 662-915-2397.

Professor Sheds Light on Overlooked Artistic Side of Vikings

Nancy Wicker is completing a book about the art and culture of ancient Norsemen

Nancy Wicker, UM professor of art history, is working to shed light on the artwork Vikings made, including pieces like the replica jewelry she is wearing. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Vikings are often portrayed as brutish, violent Norse conquerors, but a University of Mississippi professor wants to shed light on the often-misunderstood peoples’ artistic side that led them to make intricate golden jewelry and impressive wooden carvings on the prows of their ships.

Nancy Wicker, a professor of art history, is involved in projects that aim to broaden what the world knows about the early Scandinavians, who continue to capture the public imagination through TV shows such as “Vikings.” She hopes to shift some of the focus from stereotypical characteristics to the art they made, as well as how they traveled like no group before them.

“I ask people who are interested in Vikings, ‘Do you know about Viking art?'” Wicker said. “They say, ‘Did they have art? They were a bunch of barbarians. Would they have had art?’ Of course they had art. All cultures produce art.”

Her goal is ambitious, given that the public’s basic understanding about the group is often oversimplified or just plain inaccurate. Even the iconic “Viking helmet” with horns protruding from the sides isn’t historically correct. They didn’t wear them. But, misperceptions aside, the public has a longstanding fascination with the Norse warriors and explorers.

“People are fascinated,” Wicker said. “We art historians and museum curators laugh about it. Everyone is interested in Vikings, mummies and dinosaurs. If museums have any of those three, they’re golden.”

During the 2016-17 academic year, Wicker was on sabbatical to write a book about art of the Viking Age. She was a fellow-in-residence at the National Humanities Center at Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. The experience provided her with access to some of the world’s best library collections and also gave her a work site very conducive to writing, she said.

She gave a public lecture there in April about Viking art, but the room full of scholars quickly shifted the discussions back to the darker aspects of folklore.

“The first question I got was, ‘What about the moral compass of the Vikings?'” Wicker said.

She’s committed to broadening understanding of the misunderstood group. Many people have a simplistic view of them that is mostly portrayed as violent.

Yet Vikings even produced art on their ships, which featured impressive carvings in their own distinctive style. They also made metal objects, most of them very small, featuring likenesses of various animals and people.

“You may have seen the Viking ship woodcarvings,” Wicker said. “They made the jewelry they wore. They had arm rings, neck rings and pendants. … You will see lots of animals, very, very abstracted animals on brooches and pendants that hold clothing together.”

 Metal detecting is very popular and legal in Denmark and the United Kingdom. 

There’s a TV show in the UK called “Detectorists” about hobbyists who hope to find treasure. The show may have boosted the popularity of the avocation.

Metal detecting also has led to new discoveries of Viking art that differs somewhat from what’s traditionally been uncovered in graves.

“In addition to animal art, small figurines are now being found,” Wicker said. “My argument is that the newest discoveries of human figures are changing our view of Viking art. We can’t say it’s all just animal art.”

This small silver pendant, which is around an inch high, found in Sweden, is interpreted as a Valkyrie offering a cup of mead to welcome a fallen warrior to Valhalla, the hall of the slain, according to Norse mythology. Submitted photo by Creative Commons

Besides their artistic endeavors, the great distances Vikings traveled for trade and exploration are worth scholarly treatment. They traveled from Scandinavia to Spain, North Africa and Italy, and in the other direction to Russia, the Black Sea, Istanbul, Greece and Baghdad, among other places, Wicker said.

“There are many theories about why they expanded,” she said. “They were already traveling before the Viking Age – not as far, not to Spain, not to Russia, but certainly across the Baltic and to England.

“They were already on the move, and there was a population boom. What do the second and third sons do when the first son inherits the farm?”

Around the eighth century, just before the beginning of the Viking Age, Scandinavians developed ships that were faster than the vessels that came before them due to use of sails, but they still had a shallow draw. The innovation enabled them to conquer both the seas and rivers with relative ease.

“The new ships were very adaptable, which really allowed them to be on the move and go all around the coast of France and Spain, and across the Atlantic to Greenland, North America and Newfoundland, as well as down the rivers of Russia,” Wicker said. “The development of ships is very important in the eighth century, just on the cusp of the Viking Age.”

Despite their creativity and nautical ingenuity, Vikings suffer from perceptions based on inaccuracies.

Many people who are most fascinated by the idea of pagan Nordic Vikings don’t realize that their world was multicultural. Vikings – both Christian and pagan – were in contact with Christians in Western Europe, Muslims and Jews in Spain, Slavs in Russia and Eastern Europe, and Byzantine leaders in Constantinople, as well as Turkic and Jewish groups in Central Asia.

These people also traveled to Scandinavia to trade and sometimes stay, as indicated by grave finds where Wicker excavated at Birka, in Sweden, for instance, she noted.

“The art of the Viking world fascinates me because it reflects these wide-ranging interactions,” Wicker said. “With my research, I want to show others how these diverse peoples influenced each other’s cultures.”

Wicker is also studying how pre-Viking gold jewelry reveals wear and breakage. She’s lending her expertise in this area to collaborate with Dr. Jason Griggs, associate dean for research in the School of Dentistry and professor and chair of the Department of Biomedical Materials Science at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

Gold is an important metal in dental work because it is sturdy, malleable and noncorrosive.

She made impressions of jewelry breakage at the Swedish History Museum in Stockholm, and Griggs will analyze the fractal geometry of her impressions as part of his analysis of material fatigue and failure.

The department is fortunate to have Wicker, who has achieved national and international recognition, said Virginia Rougon Chavis, chair of the Department of Art and Art History and professor of art.

“To say that Dr. Wicker is actively engaged in scholarly activity would be an understatement,” Chavis said. “Dr. Wicker is not only interested in her own scholarship, but in the advancement of her field as a whole.

“She is well-connected across the globe with other members at the top of her field. She has been an essential collaborator on various projects and is one of the most rigorous of colleagues I have known. She is a truly devoted scholar, and it is an honor to have her as a member of our faculty.”

Music Students, Faculty Stand Out at Regional Competition

UM well-represented in final rounds of the National Associate of Teachers of Singing event

Among the group performing ‘Master Class’ at this year’s NATS competition are (from left) Erik Gudiel, Patricia O’Neill and Sandra Moon of Louisiana State University; Nancy Maria Balach and Amanda Johnston of UM; Susan Ruggiero from the University of Southern Mississippi; and Kyle Davis, a UM alumnus on the faculty at the University of Alabama. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – Several University of Mississippi students fared well in the recent 2017 National Association of Teachers of Singing Southern Regional Competition in Hattiesburg, which draws voice teachers and students from universities, high schools and private studios in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Senior music major Lacey Hindman was a finalist and placed third in her category, Senior Women.

“I felt accomplished,” said Hindman, of Atoka, Tennessee. “Senior Women has always been filled with amazing talent and tough competition.”

Of more than 50 competitors in Hindman’s category, only 19 advanced to the semifinals and only five qualified for the finals.

“I cannot express the amount of support I have from the amazing music faculty,” Hindman said, crediting associate professors Nancy Maria Balach and Amanda Johnston with preparing her for the performance.

Balach noted how hard-working and dedicated Hindman is to her craft, saying that Hindman is the “whole package” when it comes to musical talent.

Six other music majors were semifinalists in their respective categories. They are: master’s students Melanie Culhane, from Cordova, Tennessee, and Caitlin Richardson, from Mahomet, Illinois, in the Younger Advanced Women category; Madilyn Morris, a freshman majoring in music from Pheba, Freshman Women category; Lawson Marchetti, a freshman music major from Jackson, Freshman Men category; Carley Wilemon, a sophomore music major from Aberdeen; Sophomore Women category; and Jocelyn Sanabria, a senior music major from Atoka, Tennessee, Senior Women and Upper College Music Theatre Women categories.

Lacey Hindman, a senior music major at UM, was a finalist in her division, Senior Women, and placed third overall at the 2017 NATS Southern Regional Competition. Submitted photo

Besides several student competitors, Ole Miss had three faculty members from the Department of Music serve as judges: Balach, Brad Robinson and Jos Milton, all associate professors. Cynthia Linton, an emerita faculty member, also helped judge the competition, and Johnston served as a collaborative pianist for the competition.

The competition provides many opportunities for the student performers, Balach said. They get to see how they stack up against other singers at their level, receive feedback from other teachers and get an opportunity to network.

“I am extremely proud of all of our students. They represented themselves and our university with great artistry, confidence and poise,” Balach said.

Several UM faculty members, students and alumni also were invited to perform the Tony Award-winning play “Master Class” at this year’s NATS competition. This production was a collaborative effort with Sandra Moon and Patt O’Neill, faculty members from Louisiana State University; Susan Ruggiero, a faculty member at the University of Southern Mississippi; and Kyle Davis, a UM alumnus who is on the faculty at the University of Alabama.

The show featured Balach and Johnston, along with student performers Culhane, Hindman and Sanabria.

The play was selected as a showcase event for this year’s competition after its October 2016 production with LSU and Theater Baton Rouge. It was produced by Ole Miss’ Living Music Resource, an effort to produce an online library of interviews and music, led by Balach and partially funded by a Southeastern Conference Travel Grant.

UM Launches New Bachelor of Economics Degree

University is the sole state institution to offer program

Thomas Garrett, associate professor of economics, is the director of the new Bachelor of Science in Economics program at the University of Mississippi. Staff photo by Nathan Latil/Ole Miss Communications.

OXFORD, Miss. – Two years in the making, a new Bachelor of Science in Economics degree program is being offered at the University of Mississippi.

The only one of its kind in Mississippi, the program was approved recently by the Board of Trustees of Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning. Expected to enroll a minimum of 90 students over a six-year period, the program uses existing economics and mathematics courses, with the former being designated as requirements for the B.S. rather than as electives for the Bachelor of Arts degree.

Thomas Garrett, associate professor of economics and program coordinator, said he was “quite pleased” when he received news of the IHL approval.

“Only four other universities in the SEC offer the B.S. in economics,” Garrett said. “Now, the University of Mississippi will be in a position to compete for the best students looking to pursue a technical degree in economics.

“The program will enhance the reputation of the Department of Economics and the College of Liberal Arts.”

The approval process involved establishing a curriculum that will provide students with a technically comprehensive background that will both increase their probability of acceptance into graduate school as well as successfully completing a graduate degree in economics. Completion of the program will require 120 credit hours and involve all faculty teaching existing courses.

No additional cost is associated with the program and funding will come from enrollment revenue.

The new degree program is a welcome addition to the department, said John Moen, chair and professor of economics.

“The new degree will give technically advanced students the chance to display their skills,” Moen said. “It will help those students who want to go to graduate school in economics or seek employment in high-tech industries.”

The new degree program is definitely an asset to the College of Liberal Arts, Dean Lee Cohen said.

“We are pleased to be able to offer our students interested in the field of economics a new degree option,” Cohen said. “As the only B.S. degree housed in a social science department at the University of Mississippi and the only B.S. degree in economics in Mississippi, this program will help to prepare future professionals and leaders who possess a strong foundation in the sciences and mathematics.

“Given the greater quantitative emphasis of the B.S. degree, I believe this path will better prepare our students who wish to pursue graduate training in the field.”

Daniel Roberts Reflects Upon His Days with UM Black Student Union

Organization provided support, fellowship and opportunities for many African-American students

Daniel Curtis Roberts, a 2014 UM public policy graduate from Moss Point, now works as an account executive for Edelman, the world’s largest communications marketing firm,in New York. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – While others may have questioned Daniel Roberts’ decision to enroll at the University of Mississippi, the Moss Point native felt no apprehension about being on campus. And any doubts about whether he belonged soon disappeared, thanks to his involvement in the Black Student Union.

Black Student Union was a safe space for black students,” said Roberts, who graduated in 2014 with a degree in public policy leadership and a minor in political science. “It provided a place to talk about the challenges we saw on campus and strategize ways to address them.

“BSU allowed us to be ourselves and stay in touch with the culture that we experienced growing up, while navigating a predominantly white university. It taught us about the different hues of blackness and the varied experiences many of us have.”

Most importantly, the organization, which celebrates its 50th year in 2018, helped African-American students maneuver through campus while being unapologetically black, said Roberts, who lives in New York City.

“I appreciate BSU for that,” he said. “I continue supporting the university by playing an active role in the internship program. I work with the staff twice a year to speak with students who are interning in my city and help connect them with professionals in their fields of interest.”

Roberts said he had always told himself if he didn’t go to college on the East Coast, he’d go to the best school in Mississippi: Ole Miss. After being accepted to the university’s Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and Trent Lott Leadership Institute and receiving a full scholarship, it was a no brainer.

“I didn’t have any apprehension, but there were a lot of people who questioned my decision because of the university’s history involving integration,” Roberts said.

Roberts is remembered by UM staff members as a leader who worked with purpose.

“Daniel was personally motivated to make a difference for the active students in the Black Student Union,” said Valeria Ross, associate dean of students and director of the Office of Leadership and Advocacy. “He wanted to contribute however he could.

“What I remember most about Daniel was the intentionality with which he approached his support for the Black Student Union. He was very creative and he helped students pursue, oftentimes, unique opportunities … definitely ones that many times the student had not considered.”

Roberts pushed the importance of networking, internships and planning for the next step beyond the undergraduate experience with members of the Black Student Union, Ross said.

“He was one of the Black Student Union leaders who I remember passionately pushing study abroad, summer internships, connecting with alumni, all in an effort to encourage intentionality in charting the student leader journey so that it would connect to the student’s overall future career and/or graduate school plans,” she said.

As a student, Roberts served as chief of staff to BSU President Quadray Kohlhiem.

“My most memorable moment in BSU was during the university’s 50th year of integration,” Roberts said. “Our school received a great deal of international media coverage – noting the progress we made – and brought monumental speakers including Attorney General Eric Holder and civil rights leader Harry Belafonte.

“During this time, BSU leaders played a huge role in sharing stories of progress, while pointing out areas that still needed addressing.”

An account executive at Edelman, the world’s largest communications marketing firm, Roberts’ work includes doing a mix of public relations such as crisis management, executive visibility and celebrity engagement for several major brands.

“Ole Miss prepared me for this path by providing me countless opportunities to engage in global thinking through studying abroad three times (Ecuador, Germany and South Africa) and interning with first lady Michelle Obama at the White House,” he said. “Those experiences led to me securing a full-time role at the White House where I worked in communications and legislative affairs before starting my current role.”

Roberts’ parents, Ruben and Debra Roberts, and sister, Rachael Roberts, still reside in Moss Point.

UM Launches Flagship Constellations to Tackle ‘Grand Challenges’

Multidisciplinary teams seek significant and innovative solutions

Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter explains the UM Flagship Constellation initiative at its debut Nov. 17 at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi unveiled its Flagship Constellations initiative, which includes multidisciplinary teams with the goal of creating solutions in the areas of big data, brain wellness, community wellbeing and disaster resilience, on Friday (Nov. 17).

Each team consists of faculty, staff and students through a collaborative effort to explore and solve complex issues through the diversity of ideas. The constellations also will include subthemes, allowing groups to work on multiple projects at once.

“These four constellations are made up of brilliant individual stars, yes, but it’s together that they can make their legendary impact,” Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said. “By working together, we can address compelling challenges where no single discipline has all the answers and where only deep insights from multiple points of view will discover solutions.”

Vitter also announced a donation of $1 million in support of this effort by Tommy and Jim Duff to create the Ernest R. Duff Flagship Constellation Fund, in honor of their father.

“With this gift, they are commemorating their late father’s love for Ole Miss, his alma mater,” he said. “This support will allow us to truly maximize and launch the potential of the Flagship Constellations.”

Big Data Team to Pursue Best Ways to Compile and Secure Data

The team will pursue the development of more creative and useful ways to analyze and visualize data to gain new insights and drive innovative research. Its work will encompass many industries, including medicine and health, engineering, security, business, policy and education.

The use of electronic medical records have already provided health care professionals with more information than ever, but there is more to health than what those records say, said Dr. Richard Summers, Billy S. Guyton Professor and professor of emergency medicine, physiology and biophysics at the UM Medical Center.

“The myriad of social and economic factors that impact patient’s disease states and general well-being are just now coming into focus,” Summers said. “It is possible that your health risks may be more associated with the numbers of your ZIP code than even the measures of your cholesterol.

“So a multidisciplinary approach to understanding and managing diseases in our populations is required in a way that draws on information from many varied sources.”

The Meek School of Journalism and New Media hosts Data Day each year to emphasize the importance of learning to apply data in both market research and the spread of information. The group is already engaged in several studies using big data, including the impact of Twitter on the political process.

Dr. Richard Summers (left) and Dawn Wilkins describe the efforts of the Big Data teams at the debut of the UM Flagship Constellations initiative. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

“This Flagship Constellation provides opportunities for collaboration among content creators, those with deep backgrounds in data science and others with broad technological expertise to make assessments about the information people in our state are consuming and to find ways to ensure that they have what they need to make informed choices,” said Deb Wenger, assistant dean and associate professor of journalism.

Mark Wilder, dean of the Patterson School of Accountancy, explained how the digital revolution has opened opportunities for individuals and companies that can identify creative new products or services.

“A recent Forbes article predicts the data analytics market to exceed $200 billion by the year 2020, creating great opportunities for businesses in Mississippi and beyond,” Wilder said.

From a student perspective, learning about data can increase job prospects upon graduation, but it doesn’t mean everyone needs to major in computer science.

“It does mean that in most jobs, across a wide range of disciplines, employers are looking for employees who have some technical abilities and experience working with big data,” said Dawn Wilkins, professor and chair of computer science.

“A new minor in digital media studies, or DMS, was recently created on the Oxford campus for exactly this purpose. The minor allows for an emphasis in computing, digital communications or digital arts.”

Brain Wellness Team Seeks Understanding of Brain Function and Impairment

The academically diverse team will engage in population-based research, clinical care, education and basic research to develop technologies and practices help prevent and promote recovery of brain impairment.

“As neuroscientists, we hope to not only understand the normal functions of the brain, but also what goes wrong in brain disease and after nervous system injury,” said Michael Lehman, professor and chair of neurobiology and anatomical sciences at UMMC. “With this knowledge, we hope to ultimately prevent and reverse the human suffering caused by conditions such as stroke, spinal cord injury, addiction and autism.”

This year, more than 41,000 Mississippians will suffer strokes, and 12,000 of those people will experience permanent disabilities as a result. The cost to the state for this care exceeds $1 billion.

“The brain wellness constellation positions the University of Mississippi to be at the forefront of ending this epidemic,” said Dr. Chad Washington, UMMC assistant professor of neurosurgery. “In fact, we are doing this already.

“Whether it is discovering new drugs to help prevent or treat strokes, improving recovery through novel methods in rehabilitation or making use of UMMC’s Telehealth network, we are improving the lives of Mississippians every day.”

The initial focus on the study of addiction will concentrate on the opioid epidemic, but the team hopes to ultimately understand addiction and drug abuse from a broader perspective.

Community Wellbeing Team to Foster Stronger and More Vibrant Communities

Rural communities, especially in Mississippi, face many challenges to their economies, personal and environmental health, food security, housing and infrastructure. Members of this constellation will work in communities to identify factors that are impeding upon quality of life and implement new programs and methods to foster stronger and more vibrant communities.

Major concerns both in the United States and around the world are lifestyle and behavior health issues causing premature births, fetal origins of adult diseases, obesity, heart disease, diabetes and disability.

“These issues don’t stand alone,” said Kate Centellas, Croft associate professor of anthropology. “They are very often coupled with limited access to appropriate and local care.

“Many of them disproportionately impact the poor and people of color. That means we not only face a health care crisis; we’re also facing a crisis of equality and lost potential.”

The central goal is to develop innovative methods in addressing these issues. The constellation is already working to implement telemedicine in Bolivia, along with two projects in Mississippi: one to help residents of the Mississippi Delta improve water safety, and another to help premature and low-birth weight children and mothers attempting to breast-feed these children.

“Working with the most vulnerable babies and offering state-of-the-art support to their families, the insights from this work will help to inform new models of care that span across the rural-urban continuum,” said Dr. Josh Mann, chair of preventative medicine at UMMC.

Disaster Resilience Team to Develop Technology and Tools to Reduce Impact of Catastrophies

The impact of disasters can be detrimental to a community or area. For example, Hurricane Katrina caused more than 1,800 deaths and an economic damage exceeding $200 billion in 2005. In the last decade, disasters cost $1.4 trillion worldwide and have affected 1.7 billion people.

“In our state, we are at increased risk for experiencing natural disasters,” said Stefan Schulenberg, professor of psychology. “We mark time by whether events occurred before Katrina or after, whether they occurred before Camille or after. We know natural disasters very well. They are part of our culture.”

The disaster resilience team will combine research from environmental and legal disciplines with material sciences, information technology and public health. Its aim is to develop the technology and tools to reduce the impact of natural, manmade and environmental disasters and to increase the sustainability of affected communities.

“Given our place and capacities, the University of Mississippi can be a test bed for studying disaster management and prevention,” said Richard Forgette, associate provost. “We are a diverse and critical mass of experts, research centers and support infrastructure centered on advancing knowledge in disaster resilience.”

The team hopes to mitigate all types of disasters by understanding and addressing vulnerabilities.

Provost Noel Wilkin said he is excited about the energy Ole Miss faculty and staff have brought to the Flagship Constellations initiative.

“This collaborative initiative has the ability to advance our standing as an academic institution, to magnify the influence of our research on solving major challenges faced by society and to contribute knowledge that will changes the lives of people,” Wilkin said.

“I also hope that it will rekindle your confidence that our faculty and researchers have incredible potential to change the lives of others through their research. I look forward to the meaningful work that will be done and this difference we’re going to make in society.”

For more information about these collaborations, visit

UM Professor Lectures on African Music at University of Georgia

George Dor invited as fall speaker for the Institute for African Studies

George Dor works to promote diversity through music research and education. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – George W.K. Dor, professor of music at the University of Mississippi, recently delivered the fall lecture for the University of Georgia’s Institute for African Studies.

Dor was invited as guest lecturer by Akinloye Ojo, the institute’s director. The institute highlights a different discipline each year for the lecture series, and this year’s focus was music.

“African studies is highly multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary,” Dor said. “I gave a lecture that emphasized the interplay between music and other domains of culture and disciplines.”

His talk covered a multitude of related themes, including diversity in African indigenous music cultures, how historical evidence can be derived from music, and the common features across different genres of African music despite their differences. It touched on links between music and diverse fields such as history, politics, religion, gender and ecology.

Dor, who also is the UM McDonnell-Barksdale Chair of Ethnomusicology, is known throughout the community as founder and director of the Ole Miss African Drum and Dance Ensemble.

Increasing awareness of cultural diversity is the focus of Dor’s creative works. He initiated and coordinated the Black History Month concert at UM, even composing music for it.

Widely known in his home country of Ghana as a composer, performer and teacher of Ghanaian music, Dor has composed more than 60 choral pieces, a symphonic suite and five one-movement orchestral works.

Dor said he was “honored, but humbled” to be invited to lecture at Georgia, and while on campus, he also was interviewed as part the Athens public radio station’s 20th anniversary of its “African Perspectives” program.

“Our music department has been honored by George Dor’s invitation to be the guest speaker for the University of Georgia’s Institute of African Studies fall lecture,” said Robert Riggs, chair of the UM Department of Music. “He is one of our many outstanding researchers, and I am confident that he made an inspiring presentation.”

Eight Exceptional UM Students Named 2017 Croft Scholars

Honorees get $4,000 per semester to fund studies, travel

The 2017 UM Croft Scholars are (front, from left) Swetha Manivannan, Susanna Cassisa, Lucy Herron, Lea Dudte and Eli Landes, and (back, from left) Colin Isaacs, Isabel Spafford and Andrew Osman. Submitted photo by Joe Worthem

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi’s Croft Institute for International Studies has announced this year’s winners of eight Croft Scholarships, which pay up to $32,000 over four years, making them among the most valuable and most prestigious on campus.

The Croft Institute selects outstanding incoming freshmen as Croft Scholars each year. Winners receive $4,000 per semester for four years, and the funds can be combined with other scholarships. Croft Scholars retain the funds as long as they stay in the international studies major and maintain a 3.4 GPA both in the major and overall.

“We are proud to welcome these exceptionally talented students as our newest cohort of Croft Scholars,” said Oliver Dinius, executive director of the Croft Institute. “It is a wonderfully diverse group, both in terms of their background and in terms of the foreign languages and regions of the world that they are studying.”

Of the more than 270 applicants to the Croft Institute this year, 110 were admitted, and from that pool the admissions committee selected 25 prospective students to be interviewed for the scholarship. They answered follow-up questions about their application essays and questions about current affairs, their intellectual interests and their motivations for wanting to earn a B.A. in international studies.

The 2017 Croft Scholars are: Susanna Cassisa, Lea Dudte, Lucy Herron, Colin Isaacs, Eli Landes, Swetha Manivannan, Andrew Osman and Isabel Spafford. 

Like all students in the international studies major, they have chosen a foreign language to study throughout their four years in Croft, as well as one of four regions: East Asia, Europe, the Middle East, or Latin America. All eight Croft Scholars are also members of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.

Oxford native Cassisa is a graduate of Oxford High School. Her regional focus is Europe, and she is studying German as her Croft language. 

“It is truly humbling to be chosen as a Croft Scholar from the many accomplished students in my cohort,” Cassisa said. “I am so grateful for the opportunity to continue my education at such a distinguished institution that is allowing me to combine my passion for the German language with my interest in foreign cultures and politics.”

Osman, from Ocean Springs, graduated from Ocean Springs High School. His language is Arabic and he is focusing on the Middle East.

“I was honored to be named a Croft Scholar because I am passionate about international studies, and the Croft Institute has given me the ability to study what I find interesting,” Osman said. “I am surrounded by an incredible group of peers, all of which share the same passion I hold, and I am proud to say I am a member of the Croft Institute for International Studies.”

Also from Ocean Springs, Dudte graduated from Ocean Spring High School. She is focusing on Latin America as her region and has chosen Spanish as her foreign language.

“It was such an honor to simply be accepted into the Croft Institute, so when I received a scholarship from this highly-regarded program, I was very humbled,” Dudte said. “I am so grateful for the opportunities and connections that this institute provides its students with.

“The Croft scholarship is just one example of this. Through this scholarship I am able to further pursue my studies and travels.”

Herron, from Long Beach, graduated from Pass Christian High School. She has chosen East Asia as her region, studying Chinese in the university’s prestigious Chinese Flagship program.

Isaacs is from Dyersburg, Tennessee. A graduate of Dyersburg High School, he also focuses on East Asia, and his language is Korean, which is rather popular this year as a Croft language.

Manivannan is from Collierville, Tennessee, where she graduated from Collierville High School. She is studying Spanish and is deciding between Latin America and Europe for her focus.

From El Dorado, Arkansas, Landes graduated from El Dorado High School. He is learning French and focusing on Europe as his region.

Spafford is from Albuquerque, and is a graduate of Sandia High School. She is studying Arabic and focusing on the Middle East.

UM Music Majors Fare Well in Statewide Competition

Christopher Scott won his category at the Mississippi Music Teachers National Association Competition

Adam Estes (left) congratulates Christopher Scott on Scott’s win in the Young Artist Solo Woodwind category at the Mississippi MTNA Competition. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – Several University of Mississippi music majors competed at the annual Mississippi Music Teachers National Association Competition recently at Millsaps College in Jackson, with one student taking top honors in his category.

Christopher Scott, a senior music major, won the Young Artist Solo Woodwind Performance category. This win advances him to compete in the Southern Division MTNA Young Artist Woodwind Competition representing Ole Miss in January at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.

“I’m extremely excited to represent myself, the University of Mississippi music department and the state of Mississippi in a positive light,” said Scott, a New Albany native. “Winning the Young Artist Solo Woodwind Performance portion proved to me that hard work, consistency and determination does indeed pay off, and that is something that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.”

Scott performed four pieces during his winning performance, including works by Giovanni Benedetto Platti and Takashi Yoshimatsu.

“Every member of the music faculty here at the University of Mississippi has been valuable to helping me prepare for this audition,” Scott said. He particularly credited Adam Estes, assistant professor of music, and Stacy Rodgers, associate professor of music, with being significant in his growth and maturation as a musician.

Other institutions competing at the event were the University of Southern Mississippi, Mississippi State University and Jones County Junior College.

Besides Scott’s win, the Ole Miss Saxophone Quartet received an Honorable Mention in the Woodwind Chamber Music Competition, and Austin Brooks earned an Honorable Mention in the Senior Woodwind Solo Performance.

Estes said he believes that Scott and Brooks both peaked in their competition performances, and that the rest of the Ole Miss students who performed represented themselves and the university well.

“I am proud of all the students who competed, both those who received placings and those who did not,” Estes said. “For the students, receiving medals and honors help validate the work that they are doing.

“The goal of every competition is to win, but in my opinion, the process of preparing a full program of music: the day-in and day-out work of developing skills, score study, becoming a better ensemble mate, exploring and trying out new interpretive ideas, and learning more effective strategies in rehearsing with collaborators – this is the goal.”