UM Graduate Student Leads State’s Largest High School Chinese Program

Linfei Yi teaches two classes at Holly Springs High School

Victoria Nabors (left), T’khya Williams, Kelvisha Conner, Fredrekia Campbell and Kennytra Martin, all Chinese 1 students at Holly Spring High School, show off their Asian-themed paper cuttings at the school. UM photo by Linfei Yi

OXFORD, Miss. – When Linfei Yi began teaching Chinese at Holly Springs High School two years ago, the University of Mississippi graduate student had no idea it would quickly become the largest such program in Mississippi.

Besides Holly Springs, three Mississippi schools – Oxford High School and Lafayette High School in Oxford and St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Ridgeland – have Chinese language programs. The UM Department of Modern Languages is involved with the Lafayette and Holly Springs program through its partnership with Alliance for Language Learning and Educational Exchange Foundation.

The alliance works mostly to set up Chinese and Japanese programs within universities, but it also helps recruit graduate students into the university’s Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages programs. Native Chinese speakers are required to teach in one of the high schools while they pursue their degrees.

“It’s a wonderfully innovative way for the university to bring new academic programs to area high schools,” said Daniel O’Sullivan, UM chair and professor of modern languages. “Yi has been a model graduate student in our program and has made a positive impact at Holly Springs.

“She was a finalist last year in the graduate school’s 3MT (Three-Minute Thesis) Competition, and everyone in the department was very proud of her.”

Yi’s students also have traveled to Oxford to participate in the Moon Festival and to watch the Chinese Speech Contest, which was held Chinese New Year. These events and others are observed through the university’s Chinese Language Flagship Program.

“I have seen just how big of an impact Yi has had on her students,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s really inspiring.”

Yi has taught 62 students in two classes at the north Mississippi high school. Since its inception, two graduates have continued their Chinese studies.

Tiffany Nichols, a student in the Chinese language program at Holly Springs High School, writes her first ‘good luck’ poster with the Chinese brush. UM photo by Linfei Yi

“The most rewarding aspect of my teaching experience is always to see my students can speak more and more in Chinese and become more and more interested and curious about the language and the culture,” said Yi, a native of Guilin, China who earned her bachelor’s degree from Guilin University of Technology and her master’s degree from Guangxi Normal University.

Yi said students in her Chinese Level 2 class are the best example of this progress. She recalled how some of them initially wanted to take Spanish rather than Chinese, but couldn’t transfer out of the class.

“The first day of my Chinese 1 class, they were not happy at all,” she said. “But through the first year of learning the language, doing group projects and presentations on Chinese culture and attending events held by the Ole Miss Flagship Chinese program, the students took the initiatives to learn more.

“Now, I don’t have to worry about if they (as Chinese 2 students) will misbehave in the classroom, if they will delay their assignments or if some of them will fail a test because their performance in the class has shown their achievements day by day.”

Yi said she entered the modern languages and liguistics program because she wanted to continue to teach Chinese as a second language to English speakers.

“I wish to continue to work either as a language teacher or to promote cultural exchange between China and the U.S.,” she said.

Several of Yi’s Holly Springs students praised her efforts on their behalf.

“Ms. Yi is a very inspirational person,” said Kuelteria Crane, a senior. “She never gives up on teaching new things and opening our minds to new ideas. She is the greatest teacher and deserves to be recognized greatly.”

‘Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella’ Comes to Ford Center Tuesday

Tony Award-winning show features dazzling costumes and scenes from the classic fairy tale

Featuring dazzling costumes and musical numbers, the national touring production of ‘Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella’ comes to the Ford Center for a performance at 7:30 p.m. April 24. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi’s Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts will host “Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella” for one performance at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday (April 24).

The Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, from the creators of “The Sound of Music,” puts a contemporary twist on the classic fairy tale. Featuring dazzling costumes and scenes, the performance transports viewers back to their childhood through memorable moments, including the pumpkin, the glass slipper and the masked ball.

A live orchestra will perform some of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s most beloved songs, including “In My Own Little Corner” and “Ten Minutes Ago.”

Kate Meacham, Ford Center marketing director, said she is excited to bring this funny and romantic Broadway experience to Oxford.

“Cinderella is such a fun story, and this is the same production that won a Tony when it was on Broadway in 2013,” she said. “We are sure that our audiences will enjoy it and have a magical time.”

Tickets are available at the UM Box Office inside the Ford Center or online at

They are $75 for orchestra/parterre and tier 1 box levels, $69 for mezzanine and tier 2 box levels and $63 for the balcony level. A 10 percent discount is available for UM faculty, staff and retirees when tickets are purchased at the box office. UM student tickets are $25 for the orchestra/parterre level and $17 for the mezzanine/balcony level.

Ole Miss Theatre Presents ‘Macbeth’ this Weekend at the Ford Center

Performance is directed by Cynthia White of the Orlando Shakespeare Theater

UM students Riley McManus, as Macbeth, and Karen Ann Patti, as Lady Macbeth, perform in the Ole Miss Theatre production of ‘Macbeth’ this weekend at the Ford Center. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi theater students will bring Shakespeare’s tragedy “Macbeth” to life this weekend with a performance at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts.

The classic Shakespeare tale, set in medieval Scotland, chronicles the rise and fall of the warrior Macbeth and his wife, Lady Macbeth, as they lust for power and grab an easy opportunity to kill the reigning king, leading to a civil war in the kingdom.

The Ole Miss Theatre production opens at 7:30 p.m. Friday (April 20), but there are multiple chances to catch the show throughout the weekend. Performances are also set for 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

The production is led by guest director Cynthia White, from the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, whose expertise in Shakespearean tragedies creates a unique opportunity for both the student actors and audiences. White has directed several Shakespearean plays at regional theatres and universities across the country.

“I think it’s especially great that Ole Miss brought in a woman director for this large production at the Ford Center, since it’s important to give the students the opportunity to work with a wide range of professionals in their field – and after many years in the field, it still seems to be of note that I am a woman director,” White said.

Joe Turner Cantu, Ole Miss professor of theatre arts, taught White many years ago at Southern Methodist University. She has since directed him in two Shakespeare productions, and he recommended her to the department as a guest director because of her extensive knowledge.

“Last year I recommended Cynthia, first, because she is an exceptional director and, second, because I felt it would be great for our students to work with a professional female director,” Cantu said.

White hosted on-campus auditions in January and has cast 21 students in the production. The performance stays true to the story itself, but the design, costumes and lighting are influenced by the HBO drama “Game of Thrones.”

“In Shakespeare’s time, all the actors were men and costumes were basically their everyday Elizabethan clothing,” she said. “For our production, some of the warriors are women because some of the women in the theatre department are very good at working with the period weapons and because our world is more diverse than Shakespeare’s world was.”

White said she is creating a hybrid world that has strong elements of medieval Scotland, including violence, manipulation and immorality, all of which reflect the present day.

“It is nearly impossible to tell the tale of Macbeth without noticing certain similarities with our current world,” she said. “And that’s what makes theatre powerful: we tell old stories that shed light on our contemporary lives.”

Tickets are available at the UM Box Office inside the Ford Center or online at They are $21 for orchestra/parterre and tier 1 box levels, $18 for mezzanine and tier 2 box levels and $15 for the balcony level. A 20 percent discount is available for UM faculty, staff and retirees when tickets are purchased at the box office. All Ole Miss student tickets are $7.

Award-Winning Poet, Essayist to Deliver Earth Day Keynote Address

Camille Dungy to close UM Green Week celebration April 22

Camille Dungy

OXFORD, Miss. – Camille Dungy, award-winning author and poet, is the University of Mississippi’s 2018 Earth Day keynote speaker. She will close the 10th annual UM Green Week celebration with her talk, “It’s All Environmental Writing” at 7 p.m. April 22, Earth Day, in the Overby Center Auditorium.

Dungy will read several of her own poems and excerpts from her essays and then contextualize her work within the framework of contemporary environmental writing. She also plans to elaborate on how the decisions we make when engaging in readings about the environment become statements about our relationships to it.

“As a woman of color, I find it is particularly important to share my voice on conversations related to environmental concerns because one of the most powerful things about writing is to be able to tell a truth that is yours, but that is likely also shared by other people,” Dungy said. “Good literature makes us carefully and imaginatively pay more attention to the world, meaning I must also pay attention to people and all the ways we interact in the environment around us.”

Dungy is a professor of environmental poetry and English at Colorado State University. She is a poet and essayist whose work focuses on the environment and is also an avid environmentalist.

She is best known for her work as editor of the anthology “Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry” (University of Georgia Press, 2009). “Black Nature” is the first collection of American nature writing that focuses on poetry written by African-Americans, and “it significantly challenges the propagated belief that black people have little or no creatively intellectual connection to the natural world,” Dungy said.

“The key to success is persistence,” she continued. “The struggle to care for the planet and our cohabitants demands persistence.”

Dungy is also the author of four collections of poetry, “Trophic Cascade,” “Smith Blue,” “Suck on the Marrow” and “What to Eat, What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison.” She debuted in prose in 2017 with the release of “Guidebook to Relative Strangers” (W.W. Norton, 2017), and has been featured in “Best American Poetry,” “The 100 Best African American Poems” and nearly 30 other anthologies.

She is the recipient of an American Book Award, two Northern California Book Awards, two NAACP Image Award nominations and a California Book Award silver medal.

“Camille is an electrifying speaker and it is a privilege to bring her to campus as this year’s Green Week keynote speaker,” said Ann Fisher-Wirth, professor of English and director of the UM environmental studies minor. “I know her talk will be challenging and exciting.”

Green Week is a week of events to celebrate the environment and the sustainability efforts in the area and strengthen the presence of sustainability at Ole Miss and in the Oxford community. The week starts Monday (April 16) and ends Sunday (April 22) with the keynote address from Dungy.

The Earth Day Keynote Address is sponsored by the UM environmental studies minor and the Office of Sustainability. It is free and open to the public. For more information about Green Week and this year’s events, go to

For more information about Dungy, visit her website.

Nanomedicine Topic for Semester’s Final UM Science Cafe

Chalet Tan to discuss how nanotechnology is transforming diagnosis, imaging and treatment of diseases

Chalet Tan

OXFORD, Miss. – The use of nanotechnology in the diagnosis, imaging and treatment of human diseases is the topic of the University of Mississippi’s next monthly Science Cafe.

Chalet Tan, associate professor of pharmaceutics and drug delivery and research associate professor in UM’s Research Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, will discuss “NanoMedicine: Less is More” Tuesday (April 24) at the fourth and final Science Cafe of the semester. The meeting is set for 6 p.m. at Lusa Bakery Bistro and Bar, 1120 North Lamar Blvd. Admission is free.

Tan’s 30-minute presentation will explore how nanoscale drug delivery systems can improve the efficacy of anticancer drug therapies while minimizing their detrimental side effects, a research area being pursued in her laboratory.

“Nanomedicine is transforming the detection, diagnosis and treatment of human disease,” she said. “Fifty years ago, physicist and Nobel Laureate Richard P. Feynman proposed the concept of the nanosurgeons and nanodevices, where he urged researchers to develop nanosystems capable of interacting with the body at the cellular and molecular level.

“Today, nanotechnology has become a vital force behind the development of nanomaterials and their applications in medicine.”

Tan’s talk should be most interesting, said Marco Cavaglia, professor of physics and astronomy and organizer of the Science Cafe programs.

“Dr. Tan’s research is timely and engaging,” Cavaglia said. “She is a highly recognized scientist and her research on nanomedicine is published in top journals.

“Dr. Tan enjoys transmitting her research in a way that appeals to the general public. We are going to have fun and I hope that many people come to know her and enjoy her presentation.”

A postdoctoral fellow in cancer biology and therapeutics at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, Tan earned her doctorate in pharmaceutical sciences from the University of Georgia. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy from Shanghai Medical University (now Fudan University) in China.

Tan’s primary research interest in her laboratory focuses on the synthesis and evaluation of novel long-circulating nanocarriers for the delivery of microRNAs and small-molecule anticancer drugs. By combining approaches in pharmaceutical sciences and cancer biology, she aims to construct robust nano-sized drug delivery systems with broad applicability to improve the efficacy of anticancer agents.

For more information about Oxford Science Cafe programs, go to For more information about the Department of Physics and Astronomy, visit or call 662-915-7046.

University Sets STEM Fest for Weekend

Multiple open houses, demonstrations and lectures planned for Friday and Saturday

OXFORD, Miss. – In celebration of scientific investigation and its benefits and in support for publicly funded science, the University of Mississippi is hosting a two-day focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics this weekend.

The university’s STEM Fest, scheduled for Friday (April 20) on the Oxford campus and Saturday (April 21) at the UM Field Station, is co-sponsored by several STEM entities on campus, the College of Liberal Arts, the Meek School of Journalism and New Media and the Office of the Chancellor. All events are free to the public.

“The promotion of STEM education is at the forefront of plans for the future at the University of Mississippi,” said Marco Cavaglia, professor of physics and astronomy and one of the co-organizers of the weekend.

“This festival will celebrate achievements in all areas of STEM,” said Jan Murray, professor of art and another festival co-organizer. “The Oxford community and K-12 families are especially welcome.”

Scheduled activities begin at 2 p.m. Friday with a panel discussion on opioids at the Overby Center Auditorium. That will be followed by open houses at the department of Physics and Astronomy, Mathematics, and Chemistry and Biochemistry; the School of Engineering; the National Center for Physical Acoustics; and Kennon Observatory.

The Society of Physics and Astronomy Students will showcase the “physics of baseball” from 3 to 5 p.m. at Swayze Field, before the evening Ole Miss vs. Georgia game. The presentation will include explanations of why curve balls curve, how to hit a perfect home run and more.

A screening of the movie “Hidden Figures” with an introduction by the UM Women in Physics group begins at 5 p.m. at the Overby Center Auditorium.

An astronomy open house concludes the day’s activities from 8 to 10 p.m. at Kennon Observatory. Faculty members from the Department of Physics and Astronomy will host viewings of the moon, Jupiter and interesting celestial objects, weather permitting.

Events scheduled Saturday at the field station include a science research conference with talks, poster presentations and more demonstrations. Tom Marshall, professor of physics and astronomy, will discuss his lightning research at 10:40 a.m., and science demonstrations are scheduled for 2:30-3:30 p.m.

University Museum will present a self-guided tour of the Millington-Barnard Collection of Scientific Instruments both days from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The weekend’s events are designed to promote the core values and benefits of science.

“My hope is that people with similar interests will discuss possible areas of common interests and potential collaboration,” said Marjorie Holland, professor of biology and one of the organizers of Saturday’s events. “Anyone who is interested in learning what research is conducted at the field station is invited to attend.”

For more information and updates, visit

Group Brings Discussions of Slavery, Historic Preservation to UM

Several events set for students, faculty, staff and community members

The UM Slavery Research Group is hosting Joseph McGill to talk about the preservation of slave dwellings. McGill will host an overnight stay in the old kitchen behind Rowan Oak for select students and faculty members. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi Slavery Research Group will host several events April 18-22 that explore the stories of enslaved people in north Mississippi.

“Slave Dwellings: Rediscovering the Enslaved in North Mississippi” aims to discuss the narratives of the lives of enslaved people and the houses in which they lived.

“The goal of these events is to bring attention to the issue of slavery as it relates to the history of our campus,” said Jeffrey Jackson, UMSRG co-chair and associate professor of sociology. “We also hope to emphasize the importance of historical preservation and the need to preserve existing slave houses in the area.”

Jobie Hill, historic preservation architect, will deliver a lecture during a brown bag lunch on saving slave houses. Hill has conducted research to examine the homes of American slaves and started a database in 2012 to protect these structures and the information they provide to historians.

Slave Dwelling Project founder Joseph McGill also will deliver a presentation. The project’s mission is to raise awareness of these dwellings and assist with their preservation.

McGill, a descendant of slaves, had traveled to nearly 100 historic sites in more than 18 states to give lectures and spend the night in the slave dwellings.

“Now that I have the attention of the public by sleeping in extant slave dwellings, it is time to wake up and deliver the message that the people who lived in these structures were not a footnote in American history,” he said.

McGill will host an overnight stay for 12 Ole Miss history, sociology and anthropology students and faculty members in the old kitchen behind Rowan Oak.

“We hope that students who will be sleeping over with Joseph McGill will develop a deeper appreciation of what life was like for the enslaved and that this event will help us remember the legacies of slavery for our campus and our nation,” Jackson said.

This will be McGill’s fifth visit to the UM campus.

“He is looking forward to the opportunity to discuss preserving structures where slaves lived,” said Chuck Ross, UMSRG co-chair and director of African American studies. “His visits to these locations are helping to facilitate discussions about the institution of slavery, more importantly and specifically about the lives of the slaves themselves.”

The Slavery Research Group also will conduct a campus tour, detailing the history of slavery on campus.

The UMSRG has also partnered with the city of Holly Springs for this year’s “Behind the Big House” programming. The preservation initiative is aimed at interpreting the legacy of slavery through educational efforts and examination of historic sites.

This year’s focus is the Hugh Craft House, its slave quarters and kitchen on Memphis Street in Holly Springs. McGill will return to the site to spend the night in the structures.

Carolyn Freiwald, assistant professor of anthropology, will take students to the site to conduct an excavation of the slave quarters and kitchen area. A table exhibit of past finds at the site will be on display for the public.

The events are sponsored by the UM Slavery Research Group, Center for the Study of Southern Culture, Preserve Marshall County, Holly Springs Inc. and the Whiting Foundation.

Here is a full schedule of events that are free and open to the public:

Wednesday (April 18)

Saving Slave Houses – Noon, Barnard Observatory Tupelo Room

Slavery on Campus History Tour – 2 p.m., meet at the Department of Archives and Special Collections on the third floor of the J.D. Williams Library

The Slave Dwelling Project – 4 p.m., Barnard Observatory Tupelo Room

Friday (April 20)

Slavery in Antebellum North Mississippi – 4 p.m., Holly Springs Depot, 540 Van Dorn Ave., Holly Springs. Max Grivno, University of Southern Mississippi professor and historian, will deliver a lecture on his research.

For more information, visit

Documentary About UM Professor Premiering at Tribeca Film Festival

Filmmaker V. Scott Balcerek screening 'Satan & Adam' after two decades of work

Adam Gussow

OXFORD, Miss. – The film industry is achieving big things as this year’s 17th annual Tribeca Film Festival is set to premiere 75 new films. Adam Gussow, University of Mississippi associate professor of English and Southern studies, is among the stars of the festival and will attend the Friday (April 20) premiere of “Satan & Adam,” a documentary about his longtime blues duo, in New York City.

“Satan & Adam” is the story of two emerging musicians who not only found each other, but their passion for blues, on the streets of Harlem. After 23 years of closely following the lives of Gussow and Sterling “Mr. Satan” Magee, filmmaker V. Scott Balcerek has finally finished the story of the acclaimed blues duo.

“It’s remarkable,” Gussow said. “I think it’s a film about a lot of things. First, I think it shows the potential of someone who looks old and broken down. It’s obviously about New York and the racial strife of the 1980s and ’90s.

“And in the end, I think it’s testifying to what Dr. King called ‘beloved community’: the ‘true interrelatedness’ of the human family.”

Gussow began his musical career when he picked up the harmonica at age 16, and he continued to play through his adolescence and into his college years. As a young white harmonica player, a Princeton graduate and Columbia graduate school dropout, Gussow was driving through the streets of Harlem in 1986 when he found “Satan,” an African-American guitarist and local legend.

The two men bonded over their love of music and immediately found their rhythm as a blues duo. They began as street musicians in Harlem in 1986 before taking their talents further as a touring act, playing at clubs across New York, until they were finally “discovered” in 1991.

They issued their first album, “Harlem Blues,” which was nominated for a W.C. Handy Award for traditional blues album, in 1991.

Promising young filmmaker V. Scott Balcerek found the duo in the fall of 1995 and instantly had the idea to make them the subject of his newest project. Balcerek’s other projects include the short documentary “Street Songs,” which received a Student Academy Award, and the acclaimed LeBron James documentary “More Than a Game.”

“Satan & Adam” was initially going to be filmed over the span of a few years, following the duo as they trailblazed their way through the New York music scene.

Although Balcerek started filming the musicians in the ’90s, he begins the documentary with original footage of the two men from the mid-’80s, in a moment when New York was rippling with racial tension and musical expression. More than two decades later, Balcerek’s efforts are complete.

“We’re all incredibly excited to be going up to New York,” Gussow said. “We’ll be there for the screenings at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 20 and 21 – they’re all sold out, too. We’re really hoping for the best-case scenario with it.”

The Tribeca Film Festival, founded in 2001 by Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal and Craig Hatkoff, has evolved into a cultural event that brings together visionaries across industries and diverse audiences. It celebrates the power of storytelling in a variety of forms.

As a platform for creative expression, independent filmmaking, and immersive entertainment, Tribeca champions emerging and established voices, discovers award-winning filmmakers and creators, curates innovative experiences, and introduces new technology and ideas through premieres, exhibitions, talks and live performances. This year’s festival runs April 18-29.

See for a list of showings.

UM Departments Help Quitman County Schools Host Career and Health Fair

Students and faculty provide health assessments for Marks community

Marta Dees (right), a food and nutrition services graduate student from Oxford, discusses several of the health posters on display with Quitman County High School students at a career and health fair hosted by the University of Mississippi and the Quitman County Career and Technical Center. Photo by Michaela Cooper

OXFORD, Miss. – Faculty and students from the University of Mississippi recently helped coordinate and host the Quitman County Career and Health Fair to educate Marks-area high school students and community members on career opportunities and healthy living.

The career and health fair stemmed from the university’s partnership with the Marks Project, a nonprofit, community-based outreach program launched in 2016 that focuses on improving the overall quality of life for citizens of this struggling Delta community – a project supported by numerous, interdisciplinary faculty delegates from Ole Miss.

Kegi Wells, Quitman County curriculum coordinator and member of the Marks Project, expressed a need for a career fair to help inspire high school students. With the imminent opening of a community fitness center, where UM volunteers will help conduct regular health assessments, the group decided to expand the career fair to include a health component.

“Our students, along with student volunteers from the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, were trained at the University of Mississippi Medical Center to collect blood glucose samples and blood pressure readings, as well as calculate body-mass index,” said Georgianna Mann, assistant professor of nutrition and hospitality management.

“We want to get a baseline indication of what health looks like in Marks, so our students can know what to expect when they begin helping at the fitness center.”

Besides gathering data, this event was meant to help Quitman County students become aware of all the opportunities available to them and to help the Marks community become better connected to outside communities, Mann said.

Kymberle Gordon, of Canandaigua, New York, works with the Marks Project and is earning her doctorate in nutrition and hospitality management. She finds the community to be a welcoming place to conduct research and knows the importance of understanding its culture while researching.

“You can come into a community and assume that people think a certain way,” Gordon said. “But until you actually get feedback from the community members, you don’t really know what they think is important.”

At the event, Gordon gathered data to better understand the food environment and level of physical activity in Quitman County by conducting a food access and physical activity survey.

Dria Price, a senior Spanish, nutrition and international studies major from Oxford, attended the event to begin observing fellow student researchers in preparation for her upcoming project examining food insecurity in Quitman County.

“I think any research going on in the Marks community is really great, because I know the research won’t just be published and die,” Price said. “The people that are invested in this community will be able to use the research to help make it better, and that’s what I am excited about.”

Connor Ball (left), a senior pre-med biology student from Madison, talks with Quitman County High School students about the importance of hydration and healthy snacking. Photo by Michaela Cooper

Anne Cafer, assistant professor of sociology and anthropology, regularly works with the Marks Project and helped organize the student-led effort.

This project is just one component of the university’s larger effort to meet needs that communities have through outreach and engagement, Cafer said. The projects she has students complete are based on the needs of communities.

“We don’t come to communities and say, ‘This is what we want to do,'” Cafer said. “We come to them and ask what things we can help with. Each semester, the projects my students work on are projects the community has told me they want help with.”

Connor Ball, a senior pre-med biology student from Madison, reached out to Cafer when searching for a research project based in health and nutrition to help with his medical school application. He joined other UM students in hosting a poster session that explained to participants the importance of hydration, dental hygiene, drug and alcohol awareness, portion control, and smart snacking.

“We study what the issues are, where they come from and what kind of solutions we can create for the future to produce a steady incline in the health and nutrition status here,” Ball said.

One of the group’s goals is to increase citizens’ knowledge of health and how to treat themselves, Ball said, explaining that collecting data allows the team to find trends and detect specific issues.

“Maybe blood sugar is really high,” he said. “We can consider it an issue, and we can tackle it. We can go in and change people’s diet and their understanding of what causes blood sugar to surge.”

The Quitman County School District and its Career and Technical Center coordinated the event. Partnering with the university and adding a health component offered students a range of valuable information, said Cynthia Washington, the district’s career technical education director.

“We want our students to see all of the avenues and opportunities available to them through this partnership with Ole Miss,” Washington said. “The health component is vital for our students to know that along with having careers, they also need to be healthy.”

For more information on the Marks Project, visit For more information about UM programs in nutrition and hospitality management, visit

Professor Establishes Plantinga Reading Group at UM

Funding from Society of Christian Philosophers runs through end of April

Neil A. Manson, UM professor of philosophy, has established a reading group on the works of Alvin Plantinga, one of the world’s most influential philosophers of religion. Photo courtesy of Neil A. Manson

OXFORD, Miss. – Neil A. Manson, University of Mississippi professor of philosophy, has used a grant from the Society of Christian Philosophers to establish a reading group on the works of one of the world’s most influential philosophers of religion. 

In 2017, Alvin Plantinga, professor emeritus at Calvin College, won the prestigious Templeton Prize, which came with a $1.4 million award. Past winners of the prize, which honors a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, include Mother Teresa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama.

In honor of Plantinga’s achievement, the Society of Christian Philosophers awarded 25 colleges and universities $3,000 grants for 2017-18 for undergraduate reading groups on his works. The fund covers books, food and expenses. 

Manson applied for and received one of the grants to establish an Ole Miss reading group, which convened last fall and will continue through April.

“Alvin Plantinga is perhaps the most influential living philosopher of religion,” Manson said. “The offer of a chance to read Plantinga’s works elicited a tremendous and enthusiastic response, with nearly 30 students across the University of Mississippi signing up.”

Select graduate students and other community members were allowed to participate in the group.

The group began with Plantinga’s “Warranted Christian Belief.” Manson said the book is Plantinga’s most thorough statement of the position that has come to be called “Reformed epistemology.” In October, the group also had lunch with Christopher Weaver, assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Illinois, who discussed some central objections to Plantinga’s position.

Neil Manson

This semester, the group is reading “Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism,” in which Plantinga argues, contrary to popular conceptions, that it is atheism, not theism, that is at odds with modern science. 

“The Plantinga reading group has been incredibly informative, thought-provoking and fun,” said Aaron Graham, a recent graduate of the philosophy master’s program from Jackson. “We have enjoyed a guided tour of some of the principal arguments against the rationality of theistic belief, and against theistic belief’s compatibility with science.

“At each turn, Plantinga gave powerful rejoinders to those arguments.”

Manson agrees with Graham’s assessment and added that the university is fortunate to be able to have the experience with Plantinga’s works, thanks to the grant. 

“Alvin Plantinga is a bold and brilliant thinker, a trenchant writer, an impeccable practitioner of analytic philosophy and one of the kindest people I have ever met,” Manson said. “He provides a model for how to address profound religious and philosophical disagreements in a civil manner. Reading his work is always enriching and enlightening.”

The reading group will conclude its work at the end of the month. Unused funds will go toward getting students additional books on related topics in the philosophy of religion, Manson said.