Six UM Students Awarded Prestigious Language Scholarships

Prestigious honors allows undergrads to study abroad, prepare for international careers

Trent Small-Towns enjoys a relaxing moment in China, where he will complete his study abroad experience. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – Six University of Mississippi undergraduate students have won prestigious national scholarships to study foreign languages considered critical to U.S. economic, diplomatic and security interests.

The Critical Language Scholarships are given annually by the U.S. Department of State. They are competitive, with undergraduate, master’s, Ph.D. and M.D. students vying for the funds. Recipients of the awards also include students from the Columbia, Georgetown and Harvard universities and the universities of Chicago and California at Berkeley.

“We are tremendously proud of the six Ole Miss recipients of this prestigious, competitive scholarship awards,” Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said. “What a great opportunity for these students to enhance their critical language and cultural skills.

“Their selection for these scholarships is certainly a reflection of their high level of achievement and hard work. It is also a testament to the strength and excellence of the university’s language and international programs.”

Tyler Caple poses on the Great Wall during one of her study abroad trips. Submitted photo

The five UM winners of the Critical Language Scholarships are Meredith Brown, a sophomore Chinese and accountancy major from Oxford; Tyler Caple, a sophomore Chinese and international studies major from Huntsville, Alabama; Mary Frances Holland, a sophomore international studies major with a Russian minor from Lucedale; Trent Small-Towns, a sophomore Chinese and integrated marketing communications major from Atlanta; and Chase Young, a senior international studies and Arabic major from Hattiesburg.

 These students are among about 550 American students at U.S. colleges and universities who received a Critical Language Scholarship in 2017.

Nathaniel Williams, a senior Arabic major from North Hampton, New Hampshire, received a Summer Arabic Language and Media, or SALAM, Scholarship, which is given to students who study Arabic and is hosted by the Sultanate of Oman. Williams will spend six weeks studying Modern Standard Arabic as well as the Gulf Arabic Dialect.

Brown, Caple and Small-Towns are all members of UM’s Chinese Language Flagship Program. Brown is going to study in Dalian, China; Caple is headed to Changchun, China; and Small-Towns is off to Xi’an, China.

Williams will study in Manah, Oman, and Young is headed to Meknes, Morocco. Holland is headed to Nizhny Novgorod, Russia.

Each recipient flies to Washington, D.C., for orientation, where they will meet with students going to other parts of the world to study. Then they will fly to their language sites, where they will have classes for at least four hours a day and excursions to cultural and historical sites.

“Since 2008, 31 UM students, including this year’s five recipients, have earned this prestigious award,” said Daniel

Nathaniel Williams will be studying Arabic in Manah, Oman, for six weeks. Submitted photo

O’Sullivan, interim chair and professor of modern languages. “Our rate of success is higher than most SEC institutions, many of which are much larger than UM, and I think it demonstrates the University of Mississippi is where serious language students enroll.

“Continued student success further testifies to the dedication of our skilled faculty. We are proud of students and professors alike.”

The languages these students will study are considered quite demanding. According to ratings by the Foreign Service Institute, Arabic and Chinese are in the highest category of difficulty for English speakers. Russian is in the next highest category of difficulty.

Each UM student has prepared for their time abroad. Brown is the first female accountancy student to win one of these scholarships to study Chinese. She is also just the fifth accounting student to win a Critical Language Scholarship in the history of the program.

“I was shocked because I knew many people applied and the program is very selective,” said Brown, who will spend the summer studying at the Dalian University of Technology, considered a top university in China. A city of just under 7 million people, Dalian is a major finance and high-tech center in China and home one of Intel’s major chip fabrication plants.

“This summer, I hope I can not only make progress on my goal toward fluency, but also absorb Chinese social customs and cultural differences, which would help me in the future to bridge the gap between Chinese and American professionals.”

Mary Holland will be studying Russian in Nizhyn Novgorod, Russia’s fifth-largest city. Submitted photo

Small-Town said he is looking forward to interacting with peers and strangers who may be different from himself.

“I want to see the terra cotta warrior statues,” he said. “I learned most of my Chinese history from textbooks, so it will be interesting to see it even more contextualized in real life. I’m also really looking forward to all the different types of foods Xi’an has to offer.”

Caple, Holland and Young are all students in the university’s Croft Institute for International Studies. Small-Towns is enrolled in the Meek School of Journalism and New Media.

“Most of my time will be spent taking language classes at the Changchun Northeast Normal University in Changchun, Jilin, China,” Caple said. “Later in life, I would like to work in global health and/or environmental policy.

“I believe that Chinese is a good choice for this kind of policy work, since China and the U.S. are the top carbon emitters of the world, but are also the two largest countries doing the most sustainable energy research.”

Holland said she was doing homework one afternoon when the email notification appeared on her phone. She read over the selection, speechless.

“I had applied for the scholarship the previous year and did not get past the semifinalist round, so this news was wonderful and exciting,” she said. “For the days following, it barely seemed real.”

Meredith Brown enjoys time at a shopping mall during one of her many trips. Submitted photo

She will be studying in Nizhny Novgorod, which is about five hours east of Moscow and is Russia’s fifth-largest city. There Holland will be in intensive Russian classes five days a week, followed by group excursions around the city.

“I am most excited to visit Nizhny Novgorod’s Kremlin, located in the center of the city,” Holland said. “I will also be studying abroad in Moscow during the fall semester.

“I hope this summer experience will help prepare me, linguistically, for long-term study in Russia. I foresee this experience being critical in improving my understanding of Russian culture, necessary for an international business career.”

Chase Young, a senior international studies and Arabic major, defends his senior thesis in the Croft Institute for International Studies. Submitted photo

Williams received a Critical Language Scholarship last summer and studied in Tangiers, Morocco. Although he graduated in May, Williams was still two credits shy of the Arabic requirement for his degree.

“I needed this scholarship or I would have to study abroad and pay out of my own pocket for it,” he said. “This experience will play a vital role in my career path as I move forward working for the United States government in various capacities where I will be using the Arabic language.

“Having both the ability to continue my studies of the Arabic language while simultaneously gaining firsthand knowledge about a new culture will be extremely beneficial.”

“Critical” languages are those that are less commonly taught in U.S. schools but are essential for America’s engagement with the world. Since 2006, the State Department has awarded scholarships to more than 5,200 American students to learn critical languages around the world.

Critical language scholars are among the more than 50,000 academic and professional exchange program participants supported annually by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

For more about the Critical Language Scholarship Program, visit

UM Alumna Takes Comedy on the Road

Kendall Ketchum tours with former 'SNL' cast member Darrell Hammond

Ole Miss alumna Kendall Ketchum performs her comedy routine at KAABOO’s comedy club in Del Mar, California. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi alumna Kendall Ketchum has performed her comedy routines for a decade in New York City, but she’s recently taken her talent from dive bars to a tour with former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Darrell Hammond.

Ketchum, who studied theatre arts at Ole Miss, earned her bachelor’s degree in 2006 and moved to New York shortly after, intent on breaking into comedy.

“It was always going to be New York,” she said. “I always wanted to be on ‘Saturday Night Live.'”

For a girl from Yazoo City, the cultural transition was not as difficult as one might think, thanks to a close network of other Ole Miss graduates. She immediately tried her hand at stand-up comedy.

“I completely bombed,” she said. “I would get up there and it would just be the sound of crickets. It was horrible.”

Ketchum took a break from stand-up to join the Upright Citizens Brigade, an improv group and training ground for comedians that once included such heavyweights as Amy Poehler.

About five years ago after regaining her footing through improv, Ketchum began doing stand-up again. She performed successfully at big-name venues such as Gotham Comedy Club and Caroline’s on Broadway, which eventually became her home base.

The focus of Ketchum’s comedy is not jokes, but storytelling. She is known for her brand of Mississippi-meets-New York humor as she describes cultural differences and how each handles different situations.

Ketchum met Hammond while she was preparing new material for a show at Caroline’s.

“I was sitting in the green room by myself and I felt a presence of someone walk into the room,” she said. “I look up and it’s Darrell. He asks if he could sit with me, and I said, ‘sure,’ but I thought, ‘OK, don’t pester him. Just keep staring at your material.'”

The two ended up talking about New York delis and other random topics when he asked her to watch the show with him. She did, and they sat and whispered about different styles of comedy, including her own unique style.

“I did my set and when I got offstage, he was gone. We didn’t exchange contact information, so I thought that was that.”

Just a few days later, she received a call from Hammond, who had gotten her information from someone at Caroline’s.

“I met with him, and he wanted me to open for his set in New York,” she said. “He was intrigued that I was Southern and that I went to Ole Miss.”

The two began touring in September and have been working together since. Ketchum has performed with Hammond in Del Mar and San Francisco, California; Jacksonville, Florida; Charlotte, North Carolina; Salt Lake City; and Tempe, Arizona.

“Kendall can be anything she wants to be, go anywhere she wants to go,” Hammond said. “Her comedy is appealing to everyone of all ages, Republican and Democrats alike. Being able to strike across the board like that is key.”

Ketchum said Hammond, who has a similar comedic style of storytelling, helps her with writing and ideas.

“It’s just been so great to learn from him, but I always thought my mentor would be someone a few steps ahead of me, not an ‘SNL’ legend,” she said. “He’s the best impressionist, but what people don’t know is he is the nicest person on the planet.”

Ketchum said she is excited to have gotten a break after years of hard work and, sometimes, frustration.

“I had been doing comedy in some not-so-fun places and I’m still performing in the back of dive bars,” she said. “It was nice to be thrown a bone a little bit, even though it felt out of the blue, even now.”

Archive of Theatrical Memorabilia Created in UM Library

New collection honors actress Marian Seldes and the Actors Fund of America

Jennifer Ford (left), head of the Department of Archives and Special Collections, and Cecilia Botero, UM dean of libraries, share an autographed poster from ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ with Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter and his wife, Sharon. The poster is a gift from the Actors Fund of America. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Curators of the Mamie and Ellis Nassour Arts and Entertainment Collection at the University of Mississippi have created a unique archive to honor the late actress Marian Seldes and the Actors Fund of America, the latter for its generous donations of theatrical memorabilia. 

The Marian Seldes/Actors Fund Archive, housed in the J.D. Williams Library’s Department of Archive and Special Collections, includes signed Broadway posters and other materials.

To mark its establishment, the Actors Fund donated a framed poster signed by the original cast of Broadway’s longest-running musical, “The Phantom of the Opera.” Representatives of the fund also gave a commemorative Actors Fund 125th anniversary ornament to Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter and his wife, Sharon, for use at Carrier House, the UM chancellor’s residence.

“At the University of Mississippi, our arts and cultural programs are among the best, and one of our most passionate supporters is alumnus Ellis Nassour,” Vitter said. “We are extremely grateful to Ellis and to the Actors Fund for their gifts to Ole Miss.

“These donations enhance our Department of Archives and Special Collections and are a great resource for our students, faculty and staff.”

In celebration of the gift, the Department of Theatre Arts staged a reading with Ole Miss students John Brahan, a senior acting major from Hattiesburg and Ole Miss Hall of Fame inductee, and Rachel Staton, a senior musical theatre major from Atlanta who won and Outstanding performance award from the Kennedy Center’s American College Theatre Festival.

Brahan and Staton performed excerpts from Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee plays in which Seldes starred. The performance was directed by Rory Ledbetter, associate professor of theatre arts.

Co-founded in 1882 by classical actor Edwin Booth, the Actors Fund of America is a nonprofit human services organization that serves professionals in theater, film, television, music, opera and dance through programs that address their unique and essential needs. Joseph Benincasa is president and CEO of the fund, and Tony Award-winning actor Brian Stokes Mitchell is board chair.

With offices in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, the Actors Fund directly serves more than 8,000 entertainment and performing arts professionals, and approximately 300,000 more through web resource programs.

“We were happy to support this archive and the memory of Ms. Seldes, who was an ardent supporter of the Actors Fund,” Benincasa said.

The Actors Fund gifts, which began in 2015, include framed and signed Broadway posters from noteworthy performances and annual Actors Fund all-star fundraising galas.

Joseph Benincasa (right), president and CEO of the Actors Fund of America, and Ellis Nassour with photo of actress Marian Seldes. Submitted photo

Ellis Nassour, a Vicksburg native and member of the Ole Miss Class of 1964, suggested that the archive be named for Seldes, his longtime friend.

“Marian was among the most admired and hardest-working actors on any stage,” Nassour said. “Her 60-year career covered theater, television, film and radio. Her conversational abilities are still legendary. She was indefatigable until the very end.”

Seldes was honored with Tony and Drama Desk awards, as well as numerous nominations. She was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 1995 and presented a Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2010. She died in 2014.

The Mamie and Ellis Nassour Arts and Entertainment Collection, dedicated in 2004, was donated by Ellis Nassour in honor of his parents.

The collection includes posters, bound film and theater scripts, photos, caricatures, circus posters, show souvenir books and theatrical memorabilia. It also includes an impressive assortment of playbills, many of which are autographed, from performances worldwide.

A third of the collection is designated for exhibition display, and another third is archived for research. The most important third, Nassour said, is a growing collection of DVDs of film, opera and dance and CDs, ranging from country and pop to Broadway, classical and opera, that is available for circulation.

“We are extremely grateful to both Mr. Nassour and the Actor’s Fund of America,” said Jennifer Ford, the library’s head of special collections. “Donations such as these help to ensure the outstanding nature of the unique archival collections at the University of Mississippi.”

The collection is an amazing resource, said Ed Meek, an Ole Miss classmate of Nassour, former UM assistant vice chancellor and founder of the Meek School of Journalism and New Media.

“When he was director of social affairs for the Associated Student Body in the ’60s, the innovations he brought to revamping campus entertainment were impressive. He went on to establish a niche in New York among his news and public relations peers.

“This is another first for the university that could only be made possible by an alumnus who loves Ole Miss.”

Nassour points out that he had help from ASB presidents Douglas Abraham, Dick Wilson and Tom Cleveland, volunteers on various committees and the late Tom Hines, dean emeritus of students.

Early in his life, Nassour developed an interest in the performing arts. At UM, he was a contributor to The Daily Mississippian, where his first interview was Bob Hope, who was performing on campus.

Nassour began collecting materials related to the entertainment industry while at The New York Times, where, under the tutelage of Mississippian Turner Catledge – at the time the newspaper’s managing editor – he climbed the ranks.

He later became director of artist relations of MCA Music/Universal Pictures, where he worked with Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber on their landmark studio album “Jesus Christ Superstar,” and artists Elton John, Neil Diamond, The Who, Brenda Lee, Clint Eastwood, Dean Martin, Shirley MacLaine, Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn.

Nassour has written two biographies of Patsy Cline: the first, “Patsy Cline, An Intimate Portrait,” in 1981 and “Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline,” in 1993. The entire spoken portion of the revue “Always, Patsy Cline” is taken from four pages of Nassour’s biography.

Horizons Seeks Support for Wednesday Fundraiser

Innovative summer program at UM boosts achievement among underserved students

Camp Best, a regular volunteer in the Horizons summer program, teaches social skills to elementary school students. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – Members of the Lafayette-Oxford-University community have an important opportunity Wednesday (May 17) to support an innovative summer learning program operating on the University of Mississippi campus.

Horizons, a key initiative in the McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement’s mission to fight poverty through education, is a six-week, full-day summer learning program that provides academics, enrichment and recreation to underserved students from the community.

Horizons aims to raise $20,000 to support its mission to eliminate summer learning loss. The UM affiliate will join other Horizons affiliates across the country Wednesday to raise money to expand existing programs and bring Horizons to more communities nationwide.

“UM’s Horizons program is creating summer learning opportunities for students in Oxford and Lafayette County school districts who otherwise might not have it,” said Albert Nylander, director of the McLean Institute and executive director for Horizons. “For six weeks, students are afforded an opportunity to be Ole Miss students on campus.

“UM students are also making a difference in the lives of these schoolchildren through their volunteer efforts in the program.”

Horizons offers a quality learning experience outside the traditional school year that supports academic achievement and healthy youth development.

Children who begin Horizons after kindergarten are invited back every summer for at least nine years. This long-term commitment means that children in Horizons will accumulate learning gains that will prepare them for success in college and their careers.

“Research shows that students not reading at grade level by third grade are unlikely to graduate from high school, and low-income students enter kindergarten already behind in literacy skills due to disparities in opportunity, vocabulary and nutrition,” said Laura Martin, assistant director of the McLean Institute.

First-grade teacher Raven King helps Horizons program students with their reading skills. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

“Summer learning loss compounds over time, so without programs like Horizons, students who experience summer learning loss can be as much as three years behind by the fifth grade. Horizons exists to eliminate summer learning loss and, over time, close the achievement gap in our community.”

Horizons will host 90 kindergarten-to-fifth-grade students from the Lafayette County and Oxford school districts this summer. On average, students who participated in the previous four summers started the school year at or above where they ended the previous year.

Horizons is a community-based program with a number of campus and community partners contributing students’ success.

For Horizons Giving Day, all Horizons’ staff, board members, partners, alumni, volunteers, donors, corporate partners, sponsors and supporters will come together for a friendly, yet competitive, race to raise $1 million for Horizons programs across the nation, with all money raised locally remaining with the local affiliate.

This one-day fundraising event has the potential to bring crucial resources to the children served by Horizons at UM. For more information, go to or like Horizons on Facebook at

Three Receive UM College of Liberal Arts Teaching Honors

Faculty members lauded for excellence in challenging and guiding students

Lee Cohen (second from left), dean of the UM College of Liberal Arts, congratulates (from left) Matt Long, Carey Bernini Dowling and Steven Davis on their teaching honors announced Friday. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The College of Liberal Arts at the University of Mississippi recognized three faculty members Friday (May 13) for their excellence in teaching.

The Liberal Arts Outstanding Teacher of the Year award went to Matt Long, associate professor of art. Steven Davis, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, was given the Cora Lee Graham Award for Outstanding Teaching of Freshmen. The Liberal Arts Outstanding Instructor of the Year honor was presented to Carey Bernini Dowling, instructional assistant professor of psychology.

The recipients were recognized at the university’s spring faculty meeting. They also will be honored Saturday at the university’s 164th Commencement. They each receive a plaque and $1,000, and their names are added to award plaques in the dean’s office.

“The recipients of this year’s outstanding teaching awards join the cadre of past honorees recognized as the best and most accomplished faculty within the University of Mississippi,” said Lee Cohen, dean of liberal arts. “We commend each of them for dedication, excellence and service to our students and their educational pursuits.”

Each recipient reflected upon the meaning of his selection for the prestigious honors.

“Clearly, I was more than flattered to be even nominated for such an award,” said Long, who completed his Master of Fine Arts at Ohio University. “What a wonderful feeling to be told by your colleagues and students that what your doing is worthy of recognition. I am honored!”

Long, who has worked at UM for 12 years, received the University Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching and Mentoring last year.

Davis said he is pleased and honored that his students and the college have chosen to recognize his commitment to teaching.

“It is a great honor to be included in the list of awardees,” said Davis, who received his doctorate from the University of Virginia and has been on the UM faculty for 28 years. “I really enjoy working with freshman students as they adjust to college and begin their academic training here.

“Ultimately, I hope my students view my class as gaining skills to be used throughout their careers, not just as a grade to move onto the next class in their majors.”

Winning the teaching award makes Dowling, who joined the faculty five years ago, feel gratified.

“It is difficult to express how much this nomination and award mean to me,” said Dowling, who earned her doctorate from Stony Brook University of State University of New York. “To receive recognition for something I care so deeply about is truly an honor.”

Criteria for Teacher and Instructor of the Year awards include excellence of class instruction, intellectual stimulation of students and concern for students’ welfare.

Established 30 years ago by Cora Lee Graham of Union City, Tennessee, the Graham award aims to help retain better professors who teach freshman classes in the College of Liberal Arts. Criteria for this annual award also include excellence of class instruction, intellectual stimulation of students, and concern for students’ welfare.

Administrators said all the honorees are worthy of the recognition.

“Matt is one of those teachers that makes such an impression, students take one class with him and then change their major,” said Virginia Rougon Chavis, chair and professor of art. “He is one of those teachers who is informative in the classroom and raises the bar without the students realizing they are working.

“He is recognized at the top of his field by his contemporaries with celebrity-like status and is sought after by institutions across the country to have him lecture or give a workshop.”

Greg Tschumper, chair and professor of chemistry and biochemistry, said Davis is one of the most enthusiastic and dedicated teachers he’s ever worked with.

“He has become one of the department’s most effective instructors for our first-year general chemistry sequence, aka Freshman Chemistry,” Tschumper said.

“This course is the source of much anxiety for many freshman students. Yet Dr. Davis has consistently been able to maintain a perfect balance between maintaining high standards and still making some challenging material very accessible to the university’s newest family members.”

Similar praises for Dowling came from Rebekah Smith, chair and professor of psychology.

“Dr. Dowling provides intellectual challenges and meaningful contributions to supporting student success in the classroom and beyond,” Smith said. “Dr. Dowling is an ideal instructor who takes teaching very seriously and is always exploring ways to build upon her already superior performance.”

Six Inaugural Stamps Scholars Reflect Upon UM Experience

Grateful recipients ready for graduation and chance to change the world

The university’s inaugural Stamps Scholars recently gathered to re-create their class photo from four years ago. They are (front, from left) Madeleine Achgill, Kate Prendergast and Eloise Tyner, and (back, from left) Dylan Ritter, Kathryn James and Ben Branson. Photo by Bill Dabney

OXFORD, Miss. – Four seniors graduating Saturday (May 13) from the University of Mississippi have the distinction of being among the first six UM students to have benefitted from the prestigious Stamps Scholars program.

Funded by the Stamps Family Charitable Foundation, the awards are the university’s most comprehensive, full scholarship packages for in-state and out-of-state students. Each package covers the full cost of attendance, along with a generous stipend for unique educational pursuits, including study abroad, research internships and academic conferences.

Inaugural Stamps Scholars graduating this weekend are Madeleine Elena Achgill, a Mandarin Chinese and international studies major from Indianapolis; Kathryn Elsa James, a public policy leadership, economics and Southern studies major from Mandeville, Louisiana; Dylan James Ritter, a chemistry major from Somerset, New Jersey; and Eloise Wright Tyner, a public policy leadership and Arabic major from Oxford.

The two other inaugural Stamps Scholars will receive UM degrees at later dates. They are Kate Louise Prendergast, a psychology and theater arts major from Luling, Louisiana, on track to graduate in December; and Benjamin Carter Branson, a mechanical engineering major from Madison scheduled to graduate in spring 2018. All six are members of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.

“Our first generation of Stamps Scholars has set a high bar with their scholastic achievements and their ethic of excellence,” said Douglass Sullivan-Gonzalez, dean of the Honors College. “They created a spirit of collegiality and they pushed each other to excel, to imagine and to push through to the conclusion. We could not be luckier to have landed such an outstanding group for our first cohort of Stamps Scholars.”

UM Chancellor Jeffrey S. Vitter also praised the exceptional seniors.

“With the graduation of our inaugural cohort of Stamps Scholars, we are so pleased to be seeing the first fruition of our tremendous partnership with the Stamps Family Charitable Foundation,” Vitter said. “These gifted, talented students have spent the last four years leaving their mark of excellence on our campus and in our community.

“We are proud to call them Ole Miss Rebels and send them out into the world so that they can continue to impact lives and communities, from across the street to around the globe.”

Grateful and optimistic, each of the scholars reflected upon his/her most memorable experience and shared future plans.

Achgill came to UM to become fluent in two foreign languages by the time she graduated college. Her Spanish and Chinese scores show that she is highly professionally proficient in both languages.

The university’s 18th David L. Boren Scholar, Achgill will attend Nanjing University in China this fall, followed by an internship in a Tier 1 city next spring. Due to Capstone and Boren requirements that she remain a degree-seeking student until the completion of her China program, Achgill will not receive her diploma until August 2018.

“Because of my interests in China and Latin America relations, I’m hoping to intern with a Chinese company with business, cultural or research ties to Latin America,” she said. “After the year in China, I hope to fulfill the Boren federal government service requirement through a job that combines my interests, perhaps through the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.”

The inaugural cohort of Stamps Scholars at UM entered as 2013 freshmen. They are (from left) Madeline Achgill, Dylan Ritter, Kate Prendergast, Kathryn James, Eloise Tyner and Benjamin Branson. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

James said she found her niche in education working with Mississippi First, a nonprofit organization specializing in education policy research and advocacy, during her freshman year. Her commitment was reaffirmed while teaching with the Sunflower County Freedom Project in the Mississippi Delta after her junior year.

Her plans are to ultimately work in education policy, deconstructing opportunity gaps so that all students are equipped to achieve.

“My most transformative moments in college – working for Mississippi First, Mississippi’s leading education advocacy group, teaching at a nonprofit in the Delta, experiencing public conceptions of religion in Europe and traveling through eastern and southeastern Asia – have all been supported by the Stamps enrichment fund,” said James, who will join the Mississippi Teachers Corps this fall to begin work on a UM master’s degree in curriculum and instruction.

“Attending Ole Miss, and having the flexibility Stamps provides, has been absolutely pivotal to my career path. I came to UM planning to work in international development, but quickly learned about the educational inequity present in Mississippi, which led me to learn about opportunity and achievement gaps in this and every state.”

Since enrolling at Ole Miss, Ritter has spent summers conducting research at both Texas A&M University and in Ireland for five weeks at a pharmaceutical lab, where his performance earned an opportunity to perform independent research for the multinational company. He worked last summer in a lab associated with the University of California at Davis that integrated his earlier research from Texas A&M.

“Getting to travel to Texas A&M during my freshman and sophomore summers gave me a great chance to see a new career path in the sciences,” he said. “During those summers, I realized how much I enjoyed research.

“The experience was so rewarding and fulfilling that it shifted my post-undergraduate plans from medical school to graduate school.”

Ritter’s post-graduation plans include going to Ireland to visit a host family from high school and to travel around.

“The Stamps Scholarship has given me the financial freedom to plan trips like this in order to see new perspectives in the world and learn about different ways of living,” he said. “Long term, I will be going to Vanderbilt University for a Ph.D. in the biomedical sciences as part of their interdisciplinary graduate program.”

Tyner’s service projects have included a Cherokee mission trip and work with the Oxford Food Pantry and Operation Christmas Child.

“I spent four months in Amman, Jordan, working on proficiency in Arabic and returned for an action-packed summer with the Sunflower County Freedom Project in Mississippi,” Tyner said. “My time abroad and work in the state enabled me to pursue my thesis interest in racial reconciliation.”

Prendergast said her most fulfilling experience as a Stamps Scholar has been serving on the leadership team at the Ole Miss Wesley Foundation, the campus ministry of the United Methodist Church.

“The Stamps Scholarship has afforded me the opportunity to engage in clinical psychology research at Ole Miss, focusing generally on the mechanisms of anxiety and disgust reduction, and the presentation of psychiatric symptoms in pregnant women,” she said. “These experiences have led to my passion and excitement to work in this field and tap into the resources it offers for improving mental health care.”

Prendergast’s short-term plans include conducting research with a clinical psychologist at the University of Hawaii this summer, working at a mental health clinic and applying for doctoral programs in clinical psychology. Her long-term plan is to complete a Ph.D. and work in a university medical center where she can research, teach and see patients.

A student in the Haley Barbour Center for Manufacturing Excellence, Branson led a Capstone design team throughout the year designing, prototyping and manufacturing wooden sunglasses. He continued his work with Outward Bound during a January expedition in the Florida Keys.

“This summer, I will be leading sailing expeditions in coastal Maine for (Hurricane Island Outward Bound School) and performing thesis research there as well,” Branson said. “For my thesis, I’m thinking of taking what we learn in the CME about efficiency and manufacturing and organization and applying it to the sailing base, to see if I can’t make it more efficient and easier to understand.”

The partnership with the Stamps Family Charitable Foundation was established in 2012, when Ole Miss alumnus William Dunlap of McLean, Virginia, brought his alma mater to the Stamps family’s attention. After reviewing a proposal, the foundation chose to partner with the university.

For 2016-17, 12 incoming UM freshmen were selected as Stamps scholars, making the university one of only four to award more than 10 Stamps Scholarships to incoming students.

“We couldn’t be more proud of our first class of graduating Stamps Scholars at Ole Miss,” said Roe Stamps, founder of the Stamps Family Charitable Foundation. “These amazing young men and women have proven to be well-equipped to continue making a positive impact in their communities and abroad, and I am confident they will achieve true greatness as Stamps Scholar alumni.”

The foundation supports more than 400 Stamps Scholars through partnerships at more than 40 outstanding universities and colleges. As one of the country’s most prestigious awards for high school seniors, the Stamps Scholarship typically provides four years of generous support, with additional funding available for enrichment experiences.

The awards are made on the basis of leadership, scholarship, perseverance, innovation and service.

For more information about the Stamps Scholars program at Ole Miss, visit To learn more about the Stamps Foundation, visit

English Professor Awarded ACLS Fellowship

Caroline Wigginton will spend the next year completing her second monograph

English Professor Caroline Wigginton will begin her ACLS Fellowship this July. Submitted Photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The American Council of Learned Societies awarded a 2017 fellowship to Caroline Wigginton, assistant professor of English at the University of Mississippi.

Wigginton is among 71 recipients chosen from nearly 1,200 applicants in the national competition, open to scholars from the humanities and related social sciences. She will begin her fellowship July 1 from Oxford and will work on her second monograph, titled “Indigenuity: Native Craftwork and the Material of Early American Books.”

One of the university’s most accomplished young professors, she has already completed one monograph and is deeply involved in research on her second book, said Ivo Kamps, UM chair of English.

“The highly competitive ACLS Fellowship will give her a year of uninterrupted research and writing, and puts her on a path to make good progress on her next book-length project,” Kamps said. “The English department’s Ph.D. program shot up 16 spots to No. 40 among public universities in 2017 U.S. News & World Report’s national rankings, and the innovative work done by Professor Wigginton and her colleagues is a big reason for that.”

Wigginton said the fellowship, valued at $40,000, means her research is important to other scholars and worthy of support. Additionally, the ACLS designated her as the first Carl and Betty Pforzheimer Fellow, named after philanthropists and activists for the humanities.

“I’m pleased to have their names attached to my fellowship,” she said. “I see my teaching and research as emphasizing the importance of understanding our histories and cultures and, as an educator, producing creative and critical readers and thinkers.”

Wigginton has spent most of her time conducting research in special collections and archives around the country, including Huntington Library in San Marino, California, Newberry Library in Chicago and Winterthur Museum in Delaware. She plans to spend the bulk of her yearlong fellowship writing the book and presenting her research at conferences.

“The fellowship provides me with the ability do research full time while also staying based in Oxford,” she said. “I love teaching and value service, the other two components of my professorship, but I’m excited about being able to devote myself to writing this book during the next academic year.”

Her research traces how early American books appropriated and propagated Native American knowledge about indigenous natural resources. Wigginton analyzes both Native and Euro-American artifacts along with travel narratives to argue that Native knowledge is present in the material of early American books.

“Here, the material of books is taken to be both imaginative and physical,” she said. “In other words, books are both repositories of instruction and also – in their incorporation of natural dyes, plant fibers and bespoke bindings – examples of that instruction being put to use.

“Still connected in their materiality to their Native roots, early American books retain indigeneity and are coextensive with a Native archive of texts and artifacts.”

Modern Languages Department Offers New Doctoral Program

Degree will prepare graduates to work in industry or run higher education programs

The University of Mississippi’s Department of Modern Languages will offer a new Ph.D. in second language studies this fall. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Beginning this fall, the University of Mississippi’s Department of Modern Languages will offer a doctorate in second language studies. 

The degree is designed to educate professionals who can provide second language training for firms that conduct business globally and need workers who can speak Spanish and other languages. The program also will train future modern language administrators for universities and other institutions.

“We aim to train language professionals to meet certain needs today in education and in the private sector,” said Daniel O’Sullivan, professor of French and interim chair of modern languages. “There is an increasing need for people to administer language programs. Also, companies with international business require a cadre of language professionals to help them train their workers.”

The degree program has two tracks. One is in applied linguistics, which is geared toward understanding empirical data about languages, the evolution of languages and various dialects in the media and across the nation, among other aspects.

The second track is in Spanish. It focuses on meeting the growing demand for professionals and academics who understand the language and culture of Spanish-speaking communities, O’Sullivan said. 

Many different faculty members from the department, which teaches 11 languages, will be involved in the new classes. The goal is to have a cohort of five people enter the program per year. 

“It’s the first new Ph.D. in the College of Liberal Arts in a very long time, and we’re very proud of that,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s going to highlight the achievements of the faculty, who are very active in research.

“We’re going to build a name for ourselves for developing language programs to train those who run programs at other universities and institutions.”

The degree will prepare students to be leaders locally, regionally, nationally and internationally, said Felice Coles, the program’s graduate coordinator and professor of modern languages.

“The emphases in applied linguistics and Spanish will give students a greater understanding of how to learn, teach and work with speakers of many languages around the world,” Coles said. “Using their valuable and marketable skills, our Ph.D. graduates will happily find jobs in education, government and industry.”

The program represents a big step in the continued growth of modern languages at the university, said Donald Dyer, associate dean for faculty and academic affairs in the College of Liberal Arts and professor of Russian and linguistics. 

“With the development of certain areas of research and teaching focus, the Department of Modern Languages has worked for nearly a decade to develop a unique doctoral program in second language studies and applied linguistics, a program which will provide training for future foreign language educators in academic positions at universities throughout the country,” Dyer said.

UM, Georgia Music Professors Team Up for Teaching, Performance

Joint saxophone event funded by SEC travel grant

Adam Estes

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi saxophone studio traveled to the University of Georgia last month for a joint event that included a teacher swap, master class and collaborative concert.

Adam Estes, UM assistant professor of music, traveled with seven of his students to Athens, Georgia, where they worked alongside Connie Frigo, associate professor of saxophone at Georgia, and her students. The event was funded by a travel grant from the Southeastern Conference as part of its academic initiative.

“Our goal was to create as much student-to-student interaction as possible throughout this event,” Estes said. “We were delighted and inspired by the quality of work that our students completed.”

Estes and Frigo, who met while in graduate school at the University of South Carolina, proposed the idea last spring to gather students from both institutions for a joint event.

Generally, SEC travel grants are used for faculty support. Estes has previously used the program to travel with a pianist to various SEC schools and provide master classes to students there.

The board liked the idea that Estes and Frigo’s proposal was not only faculty-centric, but focused on student as well, Estes said. The grant had funded student travel expenses for the collaboration, which was structured differently from other events.

The event included Estes and Frigo teaching saxophone fundamentals and helping students improve their sight-reading skills. Students then engaged in peer-to-peer coaching under the supervision of both instructors. In addition, both instructors conducted a formal faculty master class, working with selected students from each studio in front of the entire class.

Finally, the combined students performed a large ensemble of a piece titled “Three Images.”

“Learning how to break the ice with people from other places is an invaluable tool and will serve me well in my future as I network with peers, colleagues and pedagogues from other universities,” said Ryne Anderson, a UM sophomore from Purvis who is majoring in history and music.

“The students weren’t simply the audience here but also the participators and the teachers in certain sessions. It was an interactive setting, making it tremendously more engaging for all of the students involved.”

Estes and Frigo agreed that the event has potential to grow. They are both open to expanding it in the future and inviting other SEC universities to participate.

“As always, the feasibility of these events relies almost exclusively upon funding, and we are grateful for the funding that is supporting us to create a special event like this that brings together our two studios,” Frigo said. 

UM Recognizes Three Employees with Frist Service Awards

Honorees are modern languages and political science professors and admissions director

Robert Brown, who teaches in the Department of Political Science and the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, shares this year’s Frist Award for UM faculty. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Following glowing letters of recommendation from students, fellow faculty members and parents, three University of Mississippi employees have been chosen to receive prestigious honors for their exceptional service.

The Thomas Frist Student Service Awards are presented annually to Ole Miss faculty and staff members who have “gone the extra mile” in unwavering dedication and service to students.

Two faculty recipients share this year’s honor: Donald Dyer, associate dean for faculty and academic affairs in the College of Liberal Arts and professor of Russian and linguistics, and Robert Brown, professor of political science. Whitman Smith, director of admissions, is the staff award recipient.

“The Ole Miss family is fortunate to have so many outstanding individuals who go above and beyond to serve our students,” Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said. “All three of this year’s Frist Award recipients exemplify this core value.

“We applaud their unwavering commitment to student engagement and exceptional level of personal attention to student success. These three are very deserving of this special honor.”

Examples of exemplary service include student guidance and mentorship above and beyond those expected of faculty and staff as part of their job responsibilities. Any full-time faculty or staff member, except previous winners, is eligible for the award, which includes a $1,000 prize and a plaque. The winners also are acknowledged during the university’s overall Commencement ceremony.

Each recipient said he was surprised to receive news of his honor.

“I was also humbled and a little bit embarrassed by it,” Smith said. “I am honored to be recognized as someone who serves students. I have nothing I can compare it to.”

Both Dyer and Brown expressed similar feelings.

“When he (Vitter) gave me the news about the Frist Award, I felt incredibly honored … and humbled,” Dyer said. “This (honor) means that my interaction over the years with students has positively influenced someone.

“The success of the students I have been privileged to teach and to advise has always been as important to me or more important than anything else I have achieved as a professor.”

Brown said he is grateful to know students who have made him want to be a better teacher and better person.

Whitman Smith, UM director of admissions, is this year’s staff honoree for the Frist Award. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

“This award is a reminder of how lucky I am to be a teacher, and to work with and care about the students I teach,” Brown said. “They have given me so much, and I am glad to be able to give back to them if I can.”

The decision to choose a faculty recipient was difficult due to the stellar praises expressed for each in the nomination letters, said Luca Bombelli and Anne McCauley, both previous Frist winners and co-chairs of the selection committee.

“Reviewing nomination letters for the Frist Award is an inspiring and uplifting task because all the letters express heartfelt gratitude for faculty and staff members who have really made a difference in a student’s life,” said McCauley, assistant director of the Office of Sustainability.

“Both were so equally deserving that selecting one over the other would have involved a degree of arbitrariness that most did not feel comfortable with,” said Bombelli, chair and professor of physics and astronomy. “Therefore, we made the unusual move to recognize both of them.”

Brown, who has been nominated for the award in previous years, teaches in both the Department of Political Science and at the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.

In a nomination letter for him, one student wrote, “He has gone above and beyond as a professor, his dedication to his students shining every step of the way. Dr. Brown has visited sick students in their hometowns, gifted books to other students just because he thought they would enjoy, and has become a faithful campus voice outspoken against sexual assault.”

Don Dyer, professor of Russian and linguistics, is a faculty recipient of a 2017 Frist Award. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

When the student had doubts about her career path, “He sat with me and compiled a list of possible majors, helped me schedule appointments with deans and professors in each department, showing up to introduce me to each of them.”

Dyer, who had multiple nomination letters written by both students and faculty, was commended by a colleague for “having taken the language and linguistics programs to exceptional heights.

“He has always been supportive of new ideas and innovations in teaching languages, including less commonly taught languages, such as Russian, Chinese, Japanese and Arabic. Thanks to his hard work, professional and personal skills, the Department of Modern Languages has achieved great success, national and international recognition and respect.”

A student wrote that Dyer’s service has included funding graduate students’ trips to conferences in Idaho and New Mexico, teaching more than his required number of courses when necessary and even teaching a much-needed summer course for free as a gesture of good will.

“Dr. Dyer leads by example; he is ready to do what is best for the students and the university,” the student wrote.

In a nomination letter for Smith, written by the parents of a UM student, he was praised for having “rewritten the playbook” for the role of admissions director.

“Whitman went well beyond introducing students to the university and helping them acclimate to the college environment,” they wrote. “He built a relationship with (our son). Had it not been for Whitman and his ceaseless encouragement and open door, he may not be graduating in May.

“Whitman’s voice of reason and understanding encouraged him when it seemed nobody else could.”

The parents noted Smith has “a deep passion” for working with Ole Miss students.

“More than once, we have phoned Whitman at home and on his cell number after office hours. Whitman consistently goes beyond the role of a director of admissions, providing guidance and mentorship that serve students like our son every single day.”

All three recipients said they plan to give their stipends back to the university.

“I will donate half to the Larry Ridgeway scholarship fund and half to the Max Miller scholarship fund,” Smith said.

“I plan to give it to the Department of Modern Languages to help students in need of financial support to study abroad,” Dyer said.

“Half will go to the Department of Political Science and half will go to the Honors College to use for student projects and development,” Brown said.

The Frist Student Service Awards were established with a $50,000 gift from the late Dr. Thomas F. Frist of Nashville, a 1930 UM graduate. Past winners of the Frist Award include faculty members Brett Cantrell, Denis Goulet, Aileen Ajootian, Don Cole, Charles Eagles, Ellen Meacham, Terry Panhorst, Ken Sufka and Eric Weber, and staff members Lindsey Bartlett Mosvick, Carol Forsythe, Thelma Curry, Dewey Knight, Valeria Ross, Marc Showalter and Linda Spargo.