UM Honors College Dedicates Expanded Facility

Campus, community celebrate program's 20th anniversary with new building

UM alumnus and donor Jim Barksdale (left) is welcomed Thursday by Chancellor Jeffery Vitter during dedication ceremonies for the expanded Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – A line of blustery, threatening weather moving through the area didn’t stop more than 100 University of Mississippi students, faculty, staff, administrators and alumni from celebrating the successes of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College on Thursday (March 30) afternoon.

The crowd squeezed into the Honors College’s great room to dedicate the expanded and renovated building, putting the cap on a two-year project. The ceremony, which was relocated from outdoors because of the weather, also marked the 20th anniversary of the Honors College and was followed by a reception and open house.

“The Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College is an incredible asset to our university,” Chancellor Jeffery Vitter said. “It distinguishes us among peer institutions and allows Ole Miss to offer exceptional personalized opportunities to extremely talented students. I am very excited to be celebrating its expansion and renovation today.”

Others making remarks during the ceremony were Dean Douglass Sullivan-Gonzalez; David Buford, director of risk management for the State Institutions of Higher Learning; Honors College alumni Dr. Marc Walker and Christin Gates Calloway; and Jim Barksdale, who helped launch the Honors College when he and his late wife, Sally McDonnell Barksdale, donated funds to expand the university’s Honors Program in 1997.

Moving into the new space was “a 10-year dream come true,” Sullivan-Gonzalez said.

“The new building represents a great blend of classroom and study space to go deep into conversation with peers on the tough questions of the day,” he said. “We are grateful for the new and renovated space at the SMBHC.”

The $6.9 million project added 15,000 new square feet to the existing building, bringing the total to 32,290 square feet. The renovated section includes seven new classrooms, a new kitchen, study area, a great room, computer lab, three new study rooms and new faculty offices.

UM Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter welcomes the crowd at the dedication of the new and renovated Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

“This is great and I’m so proud of what has been accomplished here during the past 20 years,” Barksdale said. “In life, you always want the chance to do something significant and different.

“This opportunity came along at the right time, the right place and with the right people. What a wonderful return upon our investment.”

Both Calloway and Walker said their Honors College experiences have proven invaluable to their careers.

“My professional path for the past 11 years has been built upon my Freshman Ventures at Weyerhaeuser Paper in Seattle and my medical missions trips to Bolivia, all made possible through the Honors College,” said Walker, a 2006 alumnus who earned his bachelor’s degree in biology with minors in chemistry, religion and philosophy. He earned degrees from both Harvard Medical School and Harvard Business School and is set to become chief resident in plastic and reconstructive surgery at Yale-New Haven Hospital next year.

“I’ve learned that surgery is a lot easier with the right tools and a committed team. That’s exactly what the Honors College offers.”

A Kosciusko native who earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2011, Calloway said the Honors College is where she “grappled with some of the toughest social, educational and political challenges of our time.”

“The Honors College is one of the most unique and enriching opportunities I’ve ever experienced,” said the doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Had I not attended here, I wouldn’t have had the courage, determination and tenacity to continue my education at some of the nation’s most prestigious institutions of higher learning.”

The Honors College has grown tremendously from its humble beginnings. Opening with an initial class of 121 students in 1997, its student body has grown to more than 1,400.

The program annually attracts high-performing students from across the state and country. The average ACT score for incoming scholars last fall was 30.9, and their average high school GPA was 3.92.

For the last two years, more than 400 freshmen have joined the SMBHC each year. To accommodate the growing student body, the Honors College broke ground on its expansion in 2014, and the new addition opened in March 2016. The original building was then renovated, and work was completed in December.

“Our students enjoy deep conversations, and this is a welcoming space that encourages us to take time to engage in meaningful discussion,” Sullivan-Gonzalez said. “This provides the needed infrastructure to assure that this program will be the ‘tip of the spear’ to lead the university’s academic charge for years to come.”

The Barksdales made the idea of an Honors College possible, enabling the purchase and renovation of the Alpha Delta Pi sorority building to house the new program. That first gift also endowed 16 scholarships and provided funding for operating expenses.

Other generous donations include endowments from the Parker estates to fund scholarships, and from Lynda and John Shea to support study abroad fellowships.

With the death of Sally McDonnell Barksdale in December 2003, the Honors College was renamed in her memory in spring 2004.

“The University of Mississippi and, indeed, all of the state’s citizens are indebted to the Barksdales for their continued and transformative support,” Vitter said. “For 20 years now, the impact of the Honors College has been far-reaching, helping create a vibrant legacy of attracting the best and brightest to Ole Miss.”

For more information on the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, go to http://www.honors.olemiss.edu.

PLATO Offers Students Personalized Learning

Program tailors lessons based on individual student needs

The PLATO program allows students in large lecture classes to get a personalized learning experience. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi’s College of Liberal Arts is implementing a method of personalized learning for students in large courses.

The Personalized Learning and Adaptive Teaching Opportunities Program, or PLATO, uses adaptive and interactive lessons to personally engage students in classes such as biology, chemistry, writing and rhetoric, and mathematics, all of which generally have high enrollment.

PLATO is funded by a $515,000 grant awarded by the Association of Public Land-grant Universities and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which will oversee the initiative.

Through adaptive learning, instructors incorporate online lessons with class lectures. Coursework through the online system recognizes student responses and provides follow-up assignments based on each student’s answers.

Kerri Scott, instructional associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, began using online homework in her Chemistry 101 sections in 2008. As the classes grew to more than 200 students, she sought ways to expand learning methods.

“I am always on the lookout for new and better ways to communicate with students, and technology that adapts to their needs is ideal,” Scott said. “It allows us to tailor the assignments based on the needs of the student.

“Instead of me standing in front of a chalkboard telling 200 students to solve the problem a certain way, now they’re getting targeted with their own individual assignments and study plans.”

Additionally, modules include content basics of the course as well as assessments, so class time can be used for deeper discussion of the material or active practice. The courseware also gives instructors additional data on student performance on assignments beyond a single grade, allowing them to identify students who are struggling with the material before the first high-stakes exam.

This strategic use of technology improves traditional learning and strengthens the general education curriculum, said Stephen Monroe, assistant dean of the College of Liberal Arts.

“We are grateful to the APLU and the Gates Foundation for their support,” Monroe said. “Our project is succeeding because of our wonderful faculty and Patti O’Sullivan’s leadership.

“Our students will be the ultimate beneficiaries. Adaptive courseware personalizes learning for our students, who can receive customized pathways through their homework assignments and then arrive to class better prepared for lectures and activities.”

Six other Ole Miss faculty members are piloting the program this semester: biology professor Tamar Goulet and instructor Carla Carr, college algebra instructor Michael Azlin, trigonometry instructor Jon-Michael Wimberly and statistics lecturer Lanzhen Song and instructor Cody Harville.

Carr is using the LearnSmart technology of the courseware, which offers students an active reading experience.

Before each topic, students are assigned text to read in their eBook for the course. The adaptive courseware provides questions for students to answer as they read, making class preparation an assignment.

“Hopefully, the students are now gaining comprehension of what they’re reading, which will enhance lectures, rather than arriving to class unprepared,” Carr said.

Azlin is piloting the ALEKS adaptive courseware system in two sections of college algebra this semester. ALEKS provides an initial knowledge check that allows an individualized pathway through the homework goals of the course for each student.

“This initial knowledge check also allows me to see where each student, as well as the class as a whole, stands on each topic in the course,” Azlin said.

The grant will allow PLATO to expand across other sections of Chemistry 101 and writing and rhetoric courses in the fall semester.

UM Student Wins Phi Beta Kappa Writing Internship

Kathryn James will submit articles for academic honor society's online newsletter

Triple major Kathryn James is a 2017 Phi Beta Kappa writing intern. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Kathryn James may not make a penny on any of the articles she writes for The Key Reporter, Phi Beta Kappa’s online newsletter, but the University of Mississippi student is grateful to have been awarded a writing internship from the prestigious academic honor society.

“I was surprised, as I didn’t know the position existed, honored that Dr. (John) Samonds thought of me to represent the university in the competition, and humbled to be chosen,” said James, a senior triple majoring in public policy leadership, economics and Southern studies from Mandeville, Louisiana.

“While I do not endeavor to write professionally, earning this position testifies to my ability to engage with other nationally recognized undergraduates.”

PBK’s writing internship program is primarily for juniors and seniors majoring in liberal arts or sciences who attend institutions where chapters are sheltered. Interns must make a five-month commitment to the program and prepare a minimum of six publishable articles for The Key Reporter.

Interns write and conduct research from their home campuses. Besides being good writers, interns need to be able to work independently and meet deadlines with a minimum of oversight and supervision. They must accept assigned topics and/or pitch their stories to the editor for approval before a completed article is submitted.

“I submitted my first piece on March 1 and have submitted two more since,” James said. “My writing has, thus far, profiled members of Phi Beta Kappa who break barriers in their membership, scholarship and/or professional lives.

“I have profiled the first African-American woman to gain membership in Phi Beta Kappa, a recent graduate and national scholarship winner – Truman and Mitchell scholarships – working in racial opportunity gaps, and a woman pioneer of computing language.”

James’ first published article is available at http://www.keyreporter.org/PbkNews/PbkNews/Details/2202.html.

The organization does not guarantee that every submitted article will be published. But even with no pay or guarantee of publication, it is an honor for James to have been chosen as an intern, said Luanne Buchanan, UM instructional associate professor of Spanish and secretary-treasurer of the campus PBK chapter.

“Kathryn earned the honor,” Buchanan said. “Dr. (Sandra) Spiroff encouraged her to apply for it.”

Spiroff, associate professor of mathematics and chapter vice president, was made aware of James’ writing talents by John Samonds, associate dean of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.

“After she expressed interest in the internship, I solicited writing samples from her, offered some small critiques and put her name forward to the society,” Spiroff said. “I was very impressed with Kathryn’s writing ability.

“I was hopeful that she would receive the internship since I have rarely seen a student write so well, engaging the interest of the reader.”

Each intern receives full credit for his/her work. Those who complete the program receive a formal certificate from Phi Beta Kappa and may request a letter of recommendation from the program.

“I see this opportunity as an extension of the honor that is Phi Beta Kappa,” James said. “It speaks to the confidence my university community has in my academic ability.”

For more information about the Phi Beta Kappa writing internship program, visit http://keyreporter.org/PbkNews/PbkNews/Details/912.html or email Spiroff at spiroff@olemiss.edu. The next deadline for applications is April 21 and the chapter is seeking interested students.

Two Honors College Students Receive Barksdale Awards

John Chappell and Elizabeth Taylor each given $5,000 to fulfill dream projects

Barksdale Award winners (from left) Elizabeth Taylor and John Chappell are congratulated by Dean Douglass Sullivan-Gonzales during the Sally McDonell Barksdale Honors College’s annual spring convocation. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – With $5,000 awards to support separate creative projects, two students in the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College at the University of Mississippi students have been named 2017 Barksdale Award winners.

John Chappell, a sophomore Arabic and international studies major from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Elizabeth Taylor, a junior sociology major from Sherman, Texas, were presented the awards during the Honors College’s annual spring convocation earlier this month.

The Barksdale Awards were established in 2005 to encourage students to test themselves in environments beyond the classroom, teaching lab or library. Chappell and Taylor are the 21st and 22nd recipients of the honor.

“I am very proud of these two citizen scholars,” said Douglass Sullivan-Gonzalez, dean of the Honors College. “They demonstrate what is possible when you confront a question with both mind and heart, and a willingness to risk failure. Good for both of them. We can’t wait to see what comes from their efforts.”

Chappell is planning a comparative study of local water politics in Morocco and New Mexico. Taylor will spend a month in Dublin, Ireland, in association with Ruhama, a nongovernmental organization that has been successful working with those affected by sex trafficking and prostitution.

“I suspect that the water politics or irrigation systems in both Morocco and New Mexico show the influence of Arab institutions,” said Chappell, who expects to graduate in May 2019 with a focus in Middle East and international governance and politics. “I hope to test this hypothesis and also to learn more about the socio-political structures at work in water-scarce environments in general.”

A Croft Scholar and the winner of UM’s 2016 Arabic Language Award, Chappell spent last summer in Morocco. There, he used his Arabic to communicate with Moroccan artisans in arranging for high-quality, fair trade art for sale internationally.

He is former president and founder of Rebels for Global Opportunity, an international advocacy group focusing on U.S.-international development policy. He is also president and board member of Rebel Global Connections, which seeks to introduce elementary students to world cultures through intercultural events in schools.

Chappell has worked as a research assistant to Vivian Ibrahim, Croft associate professor of history and international studies.

“John possesses proven research, language and interpersonal skills,” Ibrahim wrote in a letter of recommendation. “He is dynamic. More than that, he is genuinely inquisitive.”

The first person to receive a Barksdale Award through the Honors College’s junior entry program, Taylor transferred to Ole Miss after completing her associate’s degree from Grayson College in Denison, Texas, graduating summa cum laude. She was president of the Grayson Honors College, a delegate to Model UN, a Phi Theta Kappa International Honors Scholar and a District Two Hall of Honor member.

Taylor was also an All-USA Scholar, Pierce Scholar, Guistwhite Scholar and a New Century Scholar.

“By creating an organizational ethnography of Ruhama, I want to figure out how to create similar nonjudgmental social, psychological and infrastructure support in the U.S.,” she said.

Taylor understands firsthand about food pantries, being hungry and surviving sexual assault.

“By the age of 9, I had lost my father and both grandmothers to cancer,” she said. “My mother, who struggled with drug addiction, was in and out of prison before being diagnosed with leukemia.”

Defying the odds, Taylor continues to achieve at the highest levels. At UM, she is involved with both McLean Mentors and Rebels Against Sexual Assault. She was also 2015-16 Phi Theta Kappa International vice president of Division ll.

Taylor also worked with James Thomas, assistant professor of sociology and anthropology, in exploring how water policy is formulated and how it impacts disadvantaged communities.

“Elizabeth’s proposal is bold, ambitious and has the potential to shape important social policies at the national and international levels,” Thomas wrote in a letter of recommendation. “When Elizabeth sets her mind to something, the sky is the limit for her.”

For more information about the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, visit http://www.honors.olemiss.edu/.

UM English Major Wins Prize at Southern Literary Festival

Junior Page Lagarde took top honor in nonfiction category

Page Lagarde recently won the nonfiction category at the Southern Literary Festival. Submitted Photo

OXFORD, Miss. – Page Lagarde has always aspired to write professionally. Still, the University of Mississippi junior wasn’t expecting her first entry in a prestigious regional competition to win first place.

An English and French major from Winchester, Virginia, Lagarde won in the nonfiction category at the Southern Literary Festival. Besides receiving a cash prize, she will read her story at the event, set for March 30-April 1 at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith.

“I was so surprised,” she said. “I found out via email while studying with friends, and they can tell you that I gasped very audibly. It was very exciting!”

Lagarde won for a story titled “To Thaw.” In the piece, the fledgling author reflects upon an Outward Bound dogsledding experience she had.

“It’s a story about faith and surrender when we’re pushed to our limits,” she said. “This is the first writing contest I’ve ever entered, so this one is particularly exciting because I want to eventually be a published writer.”

Lagarde deserves the recognition, said Ivo Kamps, UM professor and chair of English.

“Page’s win is a testament to her talents, and we like to think that the instruction she received in her English and creative writing classes also played a role,” Kamps said. “Thanks to Beth Spencer, lecturer in English, the English department has had robust student participation in the Southern Literary Festival in recent years.

“Each year, Ms. Spencer mentors some of our fine young writers and takes them to the festival, where they can meet their peers as well as a group of impressive professional writers.”

While Lagarde is still processing this honor, she already has her sights set on even bigger achievements.

“After graduation, I hope to pursue an MFA in fiction writing,” she said. “After that, I want to continue writing and also teach.”

As for her publishing dreams, Lagarde said she remains hopeful.

“Creative writing is a fairly new endeavor for me, and I know that it’s so hard to be successful in this field,” she said. “This was really encouraging.”

The Southern Literary Festival is an organization of Southern colleges and schools founded in 1937 to promote Southern literature. For more about the event, go to http://www.southernliteraryfestival.com/.

For more information about the UM Department of English, visit http://english.olemiss.edu.

 

UM Museum Readies Major Exhibition Honoring Kate Freeman Clark

Curators hope to broaden awareness of painter's works and raise support for conservation

University Museum workers hang a portrait for the ‘Lasting Impressions: Restoring Kate Freeman Clark’ exhibit, set to open March 28. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The largest exhibit in more than two decades featuring works by acclaimed Mississippi painter Kate Freeman Clark is set to debut March 28 at the University of Mississippi Museum.

“Lasting Impressions: Restoring Kate Freeman Clark” includes more than 70 paintings from the Kate Freeman Clark Art Gallery and several artifacts from the Marshall County Historical Museum to illustrate different times and aspects of the artist’s life.

The exhibition was developed by Guest Curators James G. Thomas Jr., associate director for publications at the university’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture, and Annette Trefzer, UM associate professor of English.

“The fact that there was an accomplished and prolific female artist in our neighborhood whose name I had never heard before was the magnet that drew me first to the Holly Springs museum,” said Trefzer, also owner of Bozarts Gallery in Water Valley.

“And visiting there, I was overwhelmed by the quality and depth of her work: hundreds of canvases of landscapes, portraits and still lifes reside in the little museum. What a treasure and what a story!”

The exhibition is a major event for the University Museum and for art lovers across north Mississippi, said Robert Saarnio, museum director.

“The University Museum is honored and thrilled to have developed this major exhibition of the work of Kate Freeman Clark, in partnership with our guest curators, the Holly Springs lending institutions and our donors who so graciously provided the required funding,” Saarnio said.

“The compelling story of this exceptional artist and the beauty of her work will captivate audiences and inspire a renewed appreciation for one of Mississippi’s artistic treasures.”

A colorful garden scene from the ‘Lasting Impressions: Restoring Kate Freeman Clark’ exhibit, set to open March 28 at the University Museum. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

A Holly Springs native, Clark spent many years in New York City, where she studied under teacher, mentor and well-known American impressionist William Merritt Chase. She produced hundreds of paintings and had major exhibits at the Boston Art Club, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Corcoran Gallery, Carnegie Institute, New York School of Art, National Academy of Design and the Society of American Artists.

After 27 years of painting and following the deaths of Chase and her mother and grandmother, Clark stored her entire collection in a New York City warehouse in 1923 and returned to Holly Springs, where she remained until her death in 1957. She left her collection and estate to the city.

“I was first drawn to Kate Freeman Clark’s fascinating life story, and as I examined her vast body of work, she became all the more intriguing to me,” Thomas said. “How could a person with such great talent and obvious drive to create, and who had achieved a not inconsiderable measure of success, suddenly abandon her passion?”

An opening reception is set for 6 p.m. March 28 in conjunction with the Oxford Arts Crawl. The city’s double-decker busses will stop at the museum every 20 minutes for guest convenience. The event is free and open to the public.

A landscape from the ‘Lasting Impressions: Restoring Kate Freeman Clark’ exhibit, set to open March 28 at the University Museum. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

“The main concept of our show is to highlight her work as that of a woman artist,” Trefzer said. “We also want to show the variety of work in terms of styles, themes and media that she created as a student. We call the show ‘Lasting Impressions’ because we want the viewer to confront her ‘impressions’ of the world around her, a domestic life largely dominated by her mother and grandmother, and her love of the landscapes, both cultivated and natural, that she painted.”

Only a fraction of Clark’s paintings have been exhibited for many years, so the exhibit represents a rare opportunity for art lovers to view the works, Thomas said.

Both Thomas and Trefzer expressed special thanks to Walter Webb, director of the gallery in Holly Springs, for his assistance in developing the exhibit. They also hope the showing will boost support for continued conservation of the artist’s works, Trefzer said.

“These canvases have lasted more than 120 years, and we hope that with ongoing restoration efforts, more of them will be preserved for the future,” she said. “This is why we are also showing unrestored work. We want to make the public aware of this woman’s tremendously accomplished work so worth preserving and of her unique story that should be included in books of art history.”

A panel discussion on “The Art of Kate Freeman Clark” is slated for 1:30 p.m. March 30 at the museum, as part of the Oxford Conference for the Book. A reception will follow the discussion.

Panelists include writer, editor and scholar Carolyn Brown, who published award-winning biographies of Eudora Welty and Margaret Walker, as well as “The Artist’s Sketch: A Biography of Painter Kate Freeman Clark” (University Press of Mississippi, 2017). She will sign copies of the book at the reception.

Other panelists are Thomas, Trefzer and Beth Batton, an art historian and executive director of The Oaks House Museum in Jackson.

Funding for the exhibition was provided by Lester and Susan Fant III, Tim and Lisa Liddy, David B. Person, the Bank of Holly Springs, Ellis Stubbs State Farm Insurance, First State Bank and Tyson Drugs Inc.

The museum, at Fifth Street and University Avenue, is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Admission is free. For more information, visit http://museum.olemiss.edu/.

UM Liberal Arts Graduate Programs Jump in Rankings

English, history and political science doctoral programs named among nation's best

Several programs in the UM College of Liberal Arts, headquartered in Ventress Hall, have risen in the latest rankings of graduate programs by U.S. News & World Report. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – On the heels of achieving the university’s highest-ever standing in the 2017 U.S. News & World Report annual rankings of Best (Undergraduate) Colleges and Universities, the publication’s most recent graduate academic program rankings confirm the university’s commitment to academic excellence.

Doctoral programs in English, history and political science all made significant strides in the 2018 graduate program rankings, indication of the growing strength and upward trend for UM’s graduate programs in social sciences and humanities.

The U.S. News & World Report graduate rankings for the three programs were last updated in 2013.

“We are proud of the faculty who have worked hard to distinguish our graduate programs, and these new rankings clearly indicate that they are gaining recognition for their efforts,” said Noel Wilkin, UM interim provost and executive vice chancellor. “We have encouraged each of our programs to pursue excellence and I am pleased that this pursuit is bringing recognition to our faculty, our university and our state.”

The English doctoral program demonstrated the biggest jump as it improved 16 spots, where it tied for No. 40 in the nation among public universities with fellow Southeastern Conference institutions the universities of Florida and Missouri.

A Ph.D. in history from the university has never been more valued, as the graduate program cracked the Top 40 for the first time. UM tied for No. 37 in the category – up nine spots from 2013 – and shares the position with fellow SEC and Carnegie R1 research universities Texas A&M and Kentucky.

The political science graduate program entered the rankings for the first time and tied for No. 58 among public institutions.

Lee Cohen, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, says the rankings are a testament to the university’s strong faculty, staff and students.

“These rankings demonstrate what we have believed for some time: that we have strong, competitive doctoral programs on our campus that are well-respected at the national level,” Cohen said. “Of course, without the hard work of our faculty, staff and students, and the support of university administration, none of this would be attainable.”

The rankings are based on data collected last fall via surveys sent to administrators or faculty members at schools that granted five or more doctorates in each discipline from 2011 to 2015.

“Graduate education is increasingly important and valued in today’s competitive global marketplace,” Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said. “A UM graduate degree marks someone as a leader who will exceed employer expectations and be a real-world change maker.

“In order to continue the rise of our graduate programs, we are committed to enhancing our R1 standing as well as faculty excellence, research and scholarship.”

Donors Underwrite Southern Foodways Alliance’s ‘Gravy’

Major gift will allow UM center to continue telling stories of the region through its food

Brook and Pam Smith at Castle & Key Distillery, where the couple are partners, outside Frankfort, Kentucky. Photo by Steven Freeman

OXFORD, Miss. – Knowing the unifying qualities of food, Brook and Pam Smith of Louisville, Kentucky, have pledged $1 million to support “Gravy,” a podcast produced by the Southern Foodways Alliance at the University of Mississippi.

“Folks in different places appreciate when someone from one cultural segment takes the time to dine with others from a different cultural segment,” Brook Smith said. “It’s a show of respect and appreciation for a culture that may be different from their own, and that’s what we seem to be missing in our country today.”

Whenever the Smiths travel, they try to meet members of the Southern Foodways Alliance along the way. A member-supported nonprofit institute of the UM Center for the Study of Southern Culture, the SFA sponsors scholarships, mentors students, stages symposia, collects and shares oral histories, and produces and publishes books, podcasts and films.

On a recent trip to visit Pam’s family in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, the Smiths detoured to Hemingway, South Carolina, where Scott’s Bar-B-Q, praised by The New York Times, attracts customers from hundreds of miles away.

“My whole life has been barbecue,” said pitmaster Rodney Scott, who just opened his own barbecue restaurant in nearby Charleston, South Carolina. “I grew up doing it, hanging around it and hanging around other people that do it. And there’s just no other way to bring people in quicker. It’s like a beacon sign; it just draws them right in there.”

That spirit drew in the Smiths. So did the storytelling work of the SFA.

“‘Gravy,’ which was awarded publication of the year in 2015 by the prestigious James Beard Foundation, shares stories of the changing American South through the foods we eat,” said John T. Edge, SFA director. “‘Gravy’ showcases a South that is constantly evolving.

“We use food as a means to complicate stereotypes, document new dynamics and give voice to the often unsung folk who grow, cook and serve our daily meals.”

Edge is grateful for the Smiths’ generous gift.

“This sort of long-term commitment offers funding stability so that the SFA can take risks to tell stories in new and bold ways,” Edge said. “At a moment when ‘Gravy’ recently delivered its 1 millionth download, Brook and Pam have invested deeply in our most scalable and sharable effort.

“They are long-time members of the organization who know and respect the role that food plays in the cultural life of our nation.”

Smith found success in the surety bonding business. He’s also a wine and distillery owner as well as a philanthropist with an interest in organizations that focus on improving life for young people and those like the SFA, which inspires communities to invest in their culinary customs and, in so doing, establishes lasting, cross-cultural relationships.

Smith also has an ongoing commitment to Appalachian Kentucky and recently established a private philanthropic fund focused on economic development in the region that includes an interest in development driven by local mountain food traditions and small-scale farming.

He and Pam have three sons: Reed, 21; Mac, 18; and Grayson, 16.

Before establishing the Smith Family Gravy Boat Fund, the Smiths donated $250,000 in 2014 to support the SFA’s Smith Symposium Fellows program, which invites individuals whose work promises a positive impact on the South to be guests at the SFA’s fall symposium.

Brook Smith trusts his gift will boost operating funds, enabling the organization to better document, study and explore the diverse food cultures of the American South.

“Food starts conversations,” he said “You get into who makes it and where the products come from. It’s an ice breaker.

“People talk about the weather, but talking about barbecue is a lot more interesting.”

Private gifts are crucial to the university’s well-being and especially to programs such as the SFA, which depend on donor support to operate, UM Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said.

“We are tremendously grateful to receive generous donations, especially from such passionate supporters as the Smiths,” Vitter said. “It speaks to the impact of our university programs, not just in the state, but across the country and around the world.

“The Smiths’ gift will ensure that many more people will be enriched by the SFA for years to come. These kinds of contributions are a vital part of our university’s sustained growth, reach, impact and success.”

Individuals and organizations can make gifts to support the Southern Foodways Alliance or the Center for the Study of Southern Culture by mailing a check with the endowment noted to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655; visiting http://www.umfoundation.com/makeagift or contacting Nikki Neely Davis, development officer for the CSSC at 662-915-6678 or nlneely@olemiss.edu.

Download “Gravy” for free from the iTunes store and the SFA website. For more information, visit http://www.southernfoodways.org and follow on Twitter @Potlikker.

Asian Art Expert to Discuss Significance of UM Museum Photo Exhibit

Angela Howard to lecture Tuesday on Dunhuang exhibit

The inside of a cave in Dunhuang, China, displays intricate paintings and a Buddha statue. Photo courtesy Angela Howard

OXFORD, Miss. – An expert on the Buddhist art of China will discuss what we can learn about the evolution of religion and culture of Central Asia through photographs of the intricate cave paintings of Dunhuang, China, during a lecture Tuesday (March 21) at the University of Mississippi Museum.

Angela Howard, professor of Asian art at Rutgers University, will speak at 5 p.m. in the museum’s Speaker’s Gallery. The event, held in conjunction with the museum’s “Dunhuang through the Lens of James and Lucy Lo,” is free and open to the public.

“The University Museum is very pleased to offer this lecture by such a distinguished international scholar,” said Robert Saarnio, the museum’s director. “Professor Howard’s teaching spans Chinese and Japanese art and has focused primarily on the development of Buddhist art in China, making her a perfect speaker to accompany this exceptional Silk Road photography exhibition.”

The exhibit features photographs taken of the caves in the 1940s by the Los. The nearly 500 caves are in the northwestern area of China, along the ancient Silk Road, and are a major Buddhist pilgrimage site. Each one features intricately painted artwork, dating to between the fourth and 14th centuries.

Joshua Howard, UM Croft associate professor of history and international studies and Angela Howard’s son, approached the museum staff about partnering for this event in conjunction with the exhibit of the Los’ photographs.

“Dr. Angela Howard is an authority on the Buddhist art of China and Central Asia, and she happens to be my mother,” Joshua Howard said. “When the University Museum was able to borrow the photographic exhibit on Dunhuang caves, which was facilitated by my mother’s contacts at Princeton University, I reached out to my mother to present a talk.

“Dunhuang is very much on her mind these days as she’ll also be teaching an on-site workshop there this summer sponsored by the Woodenfish Foundation.”

Angela Howard specializes in the Buddhist art of China and Central Asia and has studied the culture and area extensively. She said she plans to discuss “how the photos of the Dunhuang caves’ architecture and paintings enable us to reconstruct the type of Buddhism practiced at Dunhuang, a Chinese transformation of Indian and Central Asian traditions.”

The “Dunhuang through the Lens of James and Lucy Lo” exhibit is on display through April 29.

The museum, at the corner of University Avenue and Fifth Street, is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Admission is free. For more information about museum exhibits and events, visit http://museum.olemiss.edu/.

Physics of the Sun Topic of March Science Cafe

Sabrina Savage of NASA Marshall Space Flight Center is third lecturer of spring semester

NASA astrophysicist Sabrina L. Savage will discuss ‘The Physics of the Sun’ March 21 at Lusa Bakery Bistro and Bar. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The sun and solar flares are the topic for a monthly public science forum organized by the University of Mississippi Department of Physics and Astronomy.

The spring semester’s third meeting of the Oxford Science Cafe is set for 6 p.m. March 21 at Lusa Bakery Bistro and Bar, 1120 North Lamar Blvd. Sabrina L. Savage, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, will discuss “The Physics of the Sun.” Admission is free.

“Because the Earth resides in the atmosphere of our nearest stellar neighbor, events occurring on the sun’s surface directly affect us by interfering with satellite operations and communications, astronaut safety and, in extreme circumstances, power grid stability,” Savage said.

“I will walk through our current understanding of why flares occur, show several examples of these fantastic explosions and describe the technology and instrumentation being developed at Marshall Space Flight Center to observe these phenomena.”

Savage’s 30-minute presentation will include why solar flares, the most energetic events in our solar system, are a substantial source of hazardous space weather affecting our increasingly technology- dependent society.

“While flares have been observed using ground-based telescopes for over 150 years, modern space-borne observatories have provided nearly continuous multiwavelength flare coverage that cannot be obtained from the ground,” she said. “We can now probe the origins and evolution of flares by tracking particle acceleration, changes in ionized plasma and the reorganization of magnetic fields.”

UM administrators and professors said Savage’s appearance should be most interesting.

“Dr. Savage shares fascinating yet understandable knowledge gained from her research at NASA,” said Marco Cavaglia, associate professor of physics and astronomy. “Her discussion of solar flares and their effects upon the Earth should be most enlightening.”

This colorful graph depicts the many levels of solar radiation and flares emitted by the sun. Submitted photo

A native of Mobile, Alabama, Savage received her bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of South Alabama. She participated in the University of Wyoming’s Summer Undergraduate Research Assistantship Program, where she worked with the Red Buttes and  Wyoming Infrared observatories before receiving her master’s degree in Physics from UW in 2005.

Savage earned her Ph.D. in Physics from Montana State University as part of MSU’s internationally renowned solar physics research group. She then worked as a NASA post-doctoral fellow at Goddard Space Flight Center outside Washington, D.C., before assuming her current duties at Marshall Space Flight Center.

For more information about Oxford Science Cafe programs, go to http://www.phy.olemiss.edu/oxfordsciencecafe. For more information about the Department of Physics and Astronomy, visit http://www.olemiss.edu/depts/physics_and_astronomy or call 662-915-7046.