University Honors Thad Cochran with Mississippi Humanitarian Award

Former senator known as 'The Quiet Persuader' helped shape state as well as his alma mater

The University of Mississippi honored former U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran with its Mississippi Humanitarian Award Saturday at Commencement. Cochran, who was not able to attend, is shown speaking at Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter’s investiture in 2016. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – During its 165th Commencement on Saturday, the University of Mississippi honored former U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran with its Mississippi Humanitarian Award, which is presented only rarely to exceptional figures who have played a major role in shaping the state. 

Cochran, a UM alumnus, was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1972, and in 1978, he began a nearly 40-year career in the U.S. Senate – many of those years serving as the longtime chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, a powerful and coveted post on Capitol Hill.

Time magazine dubbed the Pontotoc native “The Quiet Persuader” for his polite manner and knack for consensus building. He retired April 1 as the 10th longest serving senator in American history. 

“The University of Mississippi is dear to me, and I am humbled by this award,” said the senator, who wasn’t able to attend the ceremony. “It was an honor to serve Mississippi in Washington, and I am proud of our state’s progress to increase opportunities for its citizens.

“I hope future generations will dedicate themselves to doing their part to make Mississippi the best place to live, work and enjoy life.”

Chancellor Jeffrey S. Vitter said he is proud the university had an opportunity to recognize Cochran for his tireless support of its research efforts. 

“Honoring Sen. Cochran with the Mississippi Humanitarian Award is a tremendous opportunity to recognize his outstanding contributions to our university, our state and our nation,” Vitter said. “I’m grateful for the senator’s longstanding efforts to support and grow the university, especially our research enterprise.

“He’s an excellent representative of an Ole Miss graduate and a true statesman.”

This is the fourth time the Mississippi Humanitarian Award has been presented since it was created in 2001. That year, it honored Jim and Sally McDonnell Barksdale. In 2003, former Gov. William Winter and his wife, Elise, were honored. The last winner of the award was Myrle Evers-Willams in 2013. 

Cochran majored in psychology and minored in political science at Ole Miss, and was the head cheerleader and a member of the Phi Kappa Phi honor society. After graduation, he served in the U.S. Navy and later returned to campus to earn his law degree.

In 1978, the young congressman won an election to replace longtime U.S. Sen. James O. Eastland, who had retired. While he served in the Senate, Cochran held many leadership roles and journalists praised him for his focus on getting things done, rather than playing politics.

His record of being re-elected to the Senate, six times, is a testament to the respect constituents had for him, Vitter said. 

Hurricane Katrina, often called the worst natural disaster in American history, hit in 2005 while Cochran was chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He was greatly affected by touring the devastation and vowed after seeing it to get whatever resources needed to help the Gulf Coast recover. 

He shaped the recovery of Mississippi and other devastated Gulf Coast states by using consensus building and bipartisanship to lead an initially hesitant Congress to offer an unprecedented $29 billion relief package. The funds included more than $5 billion in discretionary U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funds for Mississippi to help devastated homeowners.

Those funds helped affected states recover from widespread damage to public and private property, the likes of which the country hadn’t seen before.

Vitter announced the award Saturday in the Grove, just steps from the Thad Cochran Research Center, home of the National Center for Natural Products Research. The senator played a central role in the late 1980s in securing federal funding for NCNPR, and his efforts helped strengthen the university as an international leader in natural products research.

Cochran also has been a strong advocate for numerous other campus research programs, which address many national needs, especially in national defense and agriculture. 

Those programs have helped UM become more competitive in securing research funding and have helped it earn the designation of being a Carnegie R1 Highest Research Activity institution, the highest ranking a university can attain in the Carnegie classification.

It was also announced that the former senator is donating his papers to the university’s Modern Political Archives. Ole Miss is “deeply honored” to receive such an important collection, Vitter said. 

“These records not only document his years of service representing Mississippi in the U.S. House and Senate, they will also offer future researchers insight into matters of local, state and national significance,” Vitter said. 

Cochran’s impressive legacy includes giving Ole Miss students countless opportunities, and he has poised the state for a bright future, the chancellor said. 

“Although he retired in April of this year, his legacy will continue to shape the state of Mississippi for a long time to come,” Vitter said. “Sen. Cochran has been a great champion for the University of Mississippi. 

“We can say without hesitation that he has been one of the key figures in moving Ole Miss from the small stage to the ‘big time’ in terms of our research enterprise and the educational offerings we can provide.”

Alumnus Supports UM McLean Institute

Former student's gift honors work of Vaughn and Sandy Grisham

Lee Anne (left) and Bill Fry (right) visit with Sandy (holding Collette) and Vaughn Grisham in their Oxford home. UM photo by Bill Dabney

OXFORD, Miss. – At her front door, Sandy Grisham embraces Bill and Lee Anne Fry. It’s her standard greeting whenever the Frys visit her and her husband, Vaughn.

At the University of Mississippi in the late 1970s, Bill Fry took several classes under Vaughn Grisham, professor emeritus of sociology. Their relationship has long since moved past that of professor and student to something deeper and more familial.

“Can I pour you some coffee or tea?” Sandy Grisham offers the couple. They’ve just arrived at the Grishams’ Oxford home from New York City, where Bill Fry is a managing director of American Securities, a leading U.S. private equity firm. He asks for water as he walks through the kitchen to give Vaughn Grisham a hug; a time of catching up will inevitably follow.

Admiration for the Grishams recently led the Frys to make a major gift in support of the McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement, housed on the university’s Oxford campus.

“It would be hard to express the enormous generosity of Bill and Lee Anne in making this gift,” said Vaughn Grisham, the McLean Institute’s founding director and leader for more than 25 years. “It’s very, very gratifying.”

Sandy Grisham, a former Ole Miss graduate instructor of American government and sociology and retired instructor of political science at Northwest Community College in Oxford, echoed her husband’s sentiments.

“My breath is just taken away that someone would be that generous,” she said. “To continue the kinds of things that Vaughn has done is an absolute godsend. We’re just awestruck and very humbled by such a gift in our honor.”

Developed by Vaughn Grisham in honor of Tupelo newspaper publisher George McLean – whose mission was to raise the quality of life for all Mississippians – the institute collaborates with students, faculty and staff around volunteerism, service-learning, community-based research, community development and social entrepreneurship. It then works to apply its collective knowledge to solve problems related to poverty in communities across the state.

Under Grisham’s direction, the institute became a national leader in community development.

“I know about the work that Vaughn and Sandy have done and what a difference it’s made for the people who live in those communities,” said Bill Fry, a Memphis native. “I hope this gift will help expand their work to more communities and have an even bigger impact.

“My wife and I just thought that making the gift was the right thing to do to honor Vaughn and Sandy.”

The Frys’ gift is already being used to help support 10 different communities’ entrepreneurial efforts and to teach the residents how to start and maintain businesses.

“Mr. Fry’s financial support is key to community-campus partnerships and for these partnerships to create life-changing opportunities for students most in need,” said Albert Nylander, professor of sociology and the McLean Institute’s director. “Mississippi and Ole Miss would have a much more difficult mountain to climb without these private funds.”

Bill Fry is a 1980 graduate of the UM public administration program. He also earned a master’s degree from Harvard Business School in 1990. Between undergraduate and graduate schools, he spent eight years in the U.S. Navy, last serving as a lieutenant in the Nuclear Propulsion Program.

“I remember looking forward to going to Vaughn’s class because I felt like I got more out of it than most of my other classes,” he said. “His were classes not just about knowledge but about impact on the world, and I saw in his teaching the passion he had for changing lives.”  

He also remembers being active in Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and Navy ROTC, driving cars in the Grove before football games and tutoring student-athletes – a job Vaughn Grisham helped him get.

“He’s simply brilliant,” Vaughn Grisham said. “And he’s not just brilliant, but he’s just a fine human being, too. I make a special effort to try to get to know all of my students well, and there’s no question that Bill was just a special student.”

Fry joined American Securities in 2010. Previously, he was CEO of Oreck Corp. and also helmed several entities owned by various private equity firms and public companies, holding positions as president of the Dixie Group, CEO of Bell Sports and Bell Riddell, and president of Easton Bell Sports.

For almost 15 years, he has served on the UM School of Business Administration advisory board, which recently established a venture capital fund to provide financial support and mentorship to student entrepreneurs.

“In our state, there are things that we can and must do,” Fry said. “We can make our communities great, we can grow our entrepreneurs and we can make our children better educated.

“Those kinds of things will make the state become a better place to live over time, and hopefully the McLean Institute, with its mission, can help.”

The Frys met in Washington, D.C., and have two grown children.

In 2012, the Grishams watched with Lee Anne Fry as her husband was inducted into the Ole Miss Alumni Association Hall of Fame.

“They’re such neat people,” Sandy Grisham said. “As a couple, they’re the kind of people you want your kids to be. They have a sense of humor. They don’t take themselves too seriously.

“They’re both extremely bright and extremely successful in their various fields, and I consider it an absolute blessing to be friends of theirs.”

To support the efforts of the McLean Institute, make a gift by visiting or contact Denson Hollis at 662-915-5092 or

Walter Isaacson Urges UM Grads to Embrace Creativity, Collaboration

Renowned journalist and biographer delivers Commencement address to more than 15,000 in Grove

Walter Isaacson makes a point during his Commencement address Saturday morning at the University of Mississippi. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Under powder blues skies Saturday in the Grove, Walter Isaacson stressed to the University of Mississippi’s graduating class that being smart is only part of success, and that life’s greatest achievements come from collaborating to connect the arts and sciences with humanities and engineering.

Isaacson, acclaimed biographer, professor and historian who also was head of both CNN and Time magazine, spoke to the graduating class of more than 5,300, including more than 1,300 August degree candidates and nearly 700 who finished in December. 

His talk about the need to surround oneself with people from many backgrounds to forge innovation also was peppered with the refrain of “what we forgot to tell you” to impart wisdom he’s acquired since he graduated.

“You are hereby certified by this university as being very smart,” Isaacson said. “That’s the good news. The bad news is that you’re about to find out that smart people are a dime a dozen.

“Here’s what we forgot to tell you. Smart people often don’t amount to much. What really matters is being imaginative, being creative and being innovative and most important of all, just being good.” 

A crowd of more than 15,000 people gathered in the Grove to hear Isaacson, a professor of history at Tulane University in New Orleans, where he grew up. He’s a graduate of Harvard College and also Pembroke College of Oxford University in Oxford, England, where he was a Rhodes scholar.

He began his career at The Sunday Times of London and then the New Orleans Times-Picayune. He joined Time in 1978, working as a political correspondent, national editor and editor of digital media before becoming the magazine’s editor in 1996. In 2001, he became chairman and CEO of CNN, and then president and CEO of the Aspen Institute in 2003.

Besides having headed two of the world’s most important media organizations, Isaacson is a prolific biographer and nonfiction writer. He is the author of the best-seller “Steve Jobs” in 2011, as well as biographies of Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin and Henry Kissinger.

His most recent work, “Leonardo da Vinci” (Simon & Schuster), released in October, offers new discoveries about the artist’s life and work, weaving a narrative that connects his art to his science.

He cited lessons from the figures he’s written about; most prominently that that they all found ways to innovate, not only through a tireless curiosity, but through bridging sciences, humanities and the arts.

Society has forgotten to tell students that creativity comes from working across disciplines, Isaacson said.

Loving everything from art and anatomy to geology and zoology and understanding the patterns across different disciplines of arts, sciences, humanities, social sciences and engineering just as da Vinci did is critical, he said.

The 165th Commencement ceremonies at the University of Mississippi honored a graduating class of more than 5,300, including more than 1,300 August degree candidates and nearly 700 who finished in December. More than 15,000 people gathered in the Grove for the main ceremony. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

The late Steve Jobs, visionary leader of Apple, always ended his project launch presentations with slides of street signs showing the intersections of the liberal arts with technology, or the humanities with engineering. He said at those intersections is where creativity occurs.

“Steve Jobs made the iPod, which was a combination of art, design, beauty and engineering,” Isaacson said. “Whatever they were preaching about knowing STEM subjects, Steve also knew the true essence of creativity, which is that beauty matters.”

Passionate curiosity is a common trait of historical figures such as Jobs, da Vinci and others he’s written about, Isaacson said.

Both Einstein and Da Vinci, some 400 years apart, wrote the same simple question in their notebooks: “Why is the sky blue?” They wondered about it and did experiments to try to figure it out. They both were driven purely out of a sense of wonder.

“That’s what your education is about,” Isaacson said. “It is always remaining like a student, staring at the cosmos and the creation into which we were blessed and graced to live and having that childlike sense of wonder.”

Working with others, especially from diverse groups, is also important. He noted that for many, the university is the most diverse place they’ve ever been. People from many countries and economic backgrounds live and attend classes together, all learning ideas from across the academic spectrum.

He urged students to go about the rest of their lives seeking out opinions and ideas of others who aren’t like them.

“We told you this was a very exclusive place and you got into more and more and more exclusive realms,” Isaacson said. “What we forgot to tell you is it not about exclusivity in the real world. It is about inclusivity. It is about how many people you bring together.”

Graduates are also often told it’s time to “grow up” when they leave college. Not so, Isaacson said. The central point of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” was the benediction he gave the Commencement crowd.

“I want to give you that benediction today and I want you to do it right with humility and do good with wonder and curiosity at all times,” Isaacson said. “May you stay forever young.”

UM Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said it is an honor to welcome Isaacson, who played a major role in the success of the university’s inaugural Tech Summit in 2016, back to campus on such an important day.

Vitter, presiding over his third Ole Miss Commencement, stood before the graduates and paused to snap a panoramic photo of the crowd, which he posted to his Twitter account. It’s a tradition he’s carried on each year since 2016.

He noted the importance of the day to the graduates and wished them well in their future endeavors.

“Today you complete your work as students at the university – you graduate,” Vitter said. “You also begin the next chapter in your lives – you commence. Our collective prayer for each of you is a life filled with joy, good health, successful, meaningful careers and peace.”

The university’s Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College conducted its commissioning ceremony Friday afternoon, and recipients of doctoral degrees were honored at a hooding ceremony that evening, both in the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts.

During Saturday’s ceremony, Ann Monroe, assistant dean and associate professor of education, was introduced as the 2018 recipient of the Elsie M. Hood Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award, the university’s highest campuswide honor for teaching.

Marc Slattery, professor of biomolecular sciences in the School of Pharmacy and research professor in the Research Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, was named the recipient of the university’s 11th Distinguished Research and Creative Achievement Award.

Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter (center, in red) leads administrators and the crowd in applause of Walter Isaacson (left center) after the acclaimed journalist and biographer delivered the university’s Commencement address Saturday in the Grove. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

The university also recognized the winners of this year’s Frist Student Service Awards: Kerri Scott, instructional associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry and associate director of the university’s forensic chemistry program; Leslie Banahan, assistant vice chancellor for student affairs; and Ryan Upshaw, assistant dean for student services in the School of Engineering.

The university also honored former U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran with its Mississippi Humanitarian Award, which is presented only rarely to exceptional figures who have shaped the state. Vitter noted that Cochran, who was unable to attend the ceremony, played a vital role in supporting the university’s research venture and also championed many programs that have improved life for Mississippians.

Bobby Bailess, of Vicksburg, president of the Ole Miss Alumni Association, welcomed the graduates as alumni.

“You will soon know that being an alumnus means being a member of the Ole Miss family,” Bailess said. “This is not just a place where you earned a degree.”

Guy Fortenberry Thornton, UM senior class president, talked about the senior class project, which raised $27,000 for the William Magee Center for Wellness Education as a defining experience for his time at Ole Miss.

He also challenged his fellow graduates to reflect on their own time on campus as they age. He told them that over the years, the wrinkles will come, but it’s nothing to worry about.

“In the wise words of Jimmy Buffet, the singer and songwriter, who once said, ‘Wrinkles will only go where the smiles have once been,’ I know I will have many of these wrinkles from all of the good times and the smiles I’ve had with all of you these past four years,” Thornton said.

Three Liberal Arts Professors Honored for Excellence in Teaching

Award recipients come from fields of classics, public policy leadership and modern languages

Dean Lee Cohen (right), congratulates College of Liberal Arts faculty (from left), Nidhi Vij Mali, Irene Kaufmann and Molly Prasco-Pranger for their outstanding teacher awards. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Three University of Mississippi professors were honored Friday (May 11) by the College of Liberal Arts for their excellence in teaching.

Nidhi Vij Mali, assistant professor of public policy leadership, received the Howell Family Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award. Named after alumni donors Dr. Norris Howell and Lynne Thomas Howell, both of Ripley, the endowment provides funds to recognize the outstanding teacher of the year within the college.

The other two honorees are Irene Kaufmann, lecturer of Spanish, who received the Outstanding Instructor of the Year Award; and Molly Pasco-Pranger, chair and associate professor of classics, who was presented the Cora Lee Graham Award for Outstanding Teaching of Freshmen.

“We commend Ms. Kaufmann, Dr. Pasco-Pranger and Dr. Mali for their outstanding dedication to teaching and service to our students,” said Lee Cohen, UM liberal arts dean. “These awards symbolize the importance of teaching excellence to our college’s mission. It is an honor and a privilege to recognize this year’s recipients.”

All three honorees will be recognized during Commencement exercises Saturday (May 12) in The Pavilion at Ole Miss. Donald L. Dyer, associate dean of faculty and academic affairs for the College of Liberal Arts, praised the exceptional teaching provided by the faculty members.

“Excellence in teaching is at the heart of what we do as an institution of higher learning, something we value and hold in the highest regard,” he said. “The faculty, who receive these annual awards, represent the best the college has to offer in this regard.”

Each of the recipients expressed gratitude for their recognition.

“The award is fuel for encouragement, appreciation and gratitude,” said Mali, who joined the university’s public policy leadership faculty in 2016. “It gives me confidence in what I do every day and grateful that the students appreciate it.

“To have received the award within the second year of my teaching, it has been a very humbling experience.”

Pasco-Pranger said she is “deeply touched and humbled” to have been singled out for this award among the college’s excellent teaching faculty.

“I am flattered and honored to receive this award,” Kaufmann said. “It warms my heart to learn that there were students and/or colleagues who took the time and initiative to nominate me.”

Recipients also shared their philosophies of teaching.

“My students and their words of appreciation for the efforts that we put in as teachers are what are most rewarding for me,” said Mali, who also received the Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award from the Syracuse University Graduate School in 2016 while earning her doctorate.

“Teaching a language is my instrument to help students open their minds to a wider world,” Kaufmann said. “Through learning a new language, students become more curious and respectful of other cultures.

“There is no better feeling than seeing my students at the end of each semester sharing experiences and having conversations in a new language, something many of them had never thought they would be able to do.”

Pasco-Pranger said she loves helping students in their own process of discovery, whether it’s finding a new body of knowledge, or their own interests and talents, or new ways to think about the world around them.

“I am always glad to introduce new students to classics,” she said. “But even more broadly, I think teaching first-year students, being among their first introductions to the life of the university, helping them negotiation the sometimes rocky transition between high school and college, can make a huge difference in their success.”

Nomination letters noted why each recipient deserved her award.

One writer who nominated Mali wrote, “She does more than just go above and beyond. Besides her amazing teaching abilities, Dr. Mali’s personality inspires me and other students to be the best version of ourselves.”

Another of Mali’s nomination letters said, “she made herself available to me 24/7 to get help. She learned more about me as a person and my home life than anyone else at the university.”

“(Ms. Kaufmann) cares about your education, and that shows in how she responds to questions,” wrote an anonymous student. “The professor is amazing and she will help you with whatever you need.”

Another nomination letter praised Pasco-Pranger as “one of the most approachable professors I have had who has had a major impact on my career as a student as well as my development as an individual.”

One of Pasco-Pranger’s former students wrote, “She held me to the highest standards while also providing the support I needed to meet those standards. Now that I’m an alumna, she regularly reaches out to me: to check on my professional progress, to invite me back to events hosted by the classics department and to meet up with me when I’m visiting Oxford.”

University Creates Distinguished Professor Honor

Three faculty named inaugural honorees based on research, teaching excellence and reputation

Ikhlas A. Khan, director of the National Center for Natural Products Research and professor of pharmacognosy, has been appointed as a Distinguished Professor at UM. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Three University of Mississippi faculty members were appointed as Distinguished Professors during the spring faculty meeting Friday (May 11) in Fulton Chapel.

The honorees are John Daigle, director of the Center for Wireless Communications and professor of electrical engineering; Donald Dyer, associate dean for faculty and academic affairs in the College of Liberal Arts and professor of Russian and linguistics; and Ikhlas A. Khan, director of the National Center for Natural Products Research and professor of pharmacognosy.

The Distinguished Professor is a new designation that recognizes the best faculty with sustained excellence at UM. The award was created in response to the university’s strategic initiative to develop a post-professorial recognition.

“I am thrilled that we now have a way to further recognize our most outstanding faculty members,” Provost Noel Wilkin said. “The accomplishments of the university are really the accomplishments of its people.

“This is an outstanding way for us to properly acknowledge the value of excellence and the contributions made by these faculty members to their disciplines and our community of scholars.”

Daigle joined the faculty in 1994 after earning his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Louisiana Tech University in 1968, his master’s in electrical engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in 1969 and his doctorate of engineering science in operations research from Columbia University in 1977.

He was named as an Erskine fellow by the University of Canterbury in New Zealand in 2009, was the 2004 recipient of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Communications Society Technical Committee on Computer Communications Outstanding Service Award and was named an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers fellow in 1993.

Daigle also is a member of Eta Kappa Nu, the honor society of the IEEE; Omega Rho, the international honor society for operations research and management science; and Sigma Xi, an international honor society of science and engineering.

Donald Dyer, associate dean for faculty and academic affairs in the College of Liberal Arts and professor of Russian and linguistics, has been named a Distinguished Professor. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

A professor who has recently taught undergraduate and graduate classes such as local area networks and applied probability modeling, Daigle conducts research into the analysis and design of communication networks and systems.

“Professor John Daigle has an illustrious career that spans more than 46 years, primarily in academia, but also some years in military and high-tech companies,” wrote Ramanarayanan “Vish” Viswanathan, chair and professor of electrical engineering, in his letter of support to Daigle’s appointment. “Professor Daigle has an exemplary research record and has contributed strongly in teaching, student mentorship and service to (his) profession and the university.

“John holds (a) cherished conviction that a student should graduate from the school with sound fundamentals. He also believes that a strong learning ability need not necessarily be gifted at birth or developed in early childhood, but can be acquired through hard work and perseverance. Hence, he advocates greater access to college education and at the same time upholding rigorous requirements for graduation.”

Dyer earned his undergraduate degree in Russian from the University of North Carolina in 1980, and his master’s and doctorate in Slavic linguistics from the University of Chicago, in 1982 and 1990, respectively. He joined the Ole Miss faculty in 1988.

He served as chair of the Department of Modern Languages from 2005 to 2017 and was awarded the 2017 Thomas F. Frist Sr. Student Service Award, which recognizes a faculty member for going the extra mile in unwavering dedication and service to students. He is the editor of Balkanistica, a peer-reviewed journal of Balkan studies.

He has served as co-director of the Chinese Language Flagship Program since 2005 and has taught classes such as Freshman Honors II in the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and topics in linguistics. His teaching and research interests include Slavic and Balkan linguistics and language in contact.

“There is no doubt in my mind that Dr. Dyer embodies what we in the College of Liberal Arts have determined (via our guidelines) to merit this award,” wrote Lee M. Cohen, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, in his recommendation letter.

“Dr. Dyer has made a significant positive impact at the University of Mississippi over the past three decades, all the while making a name for himself as one of the most distinguished scholars in his field. His work is creative, impactful and has a wide range of influence.”

John Daigle, director of the Center for Wireless Communications and professor of electrical engineering, is one of three UM faculty members appointed as a Distinguished Professor. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

“Effusive praise of his work comes from the Department of Modern Languages and across the nation, and it rings loudly throughout the international scholarly community,” wrote Daniel O’Sullivan, UM chair and professor of modern languages, in his letter of support.

Khan earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Aligarh Muslim University in India in 1980, a master’s in organic chemistry from Aligarh Muslim University in India in 1982 and his doctorate in pharmacy from the Institute of Pharmaceutical Biology in Germany in 1987.

He has been at Ole Miss since 1992, but worked as a postdoctoral research associate at the university in 1988 and 1989. From 1989 to 1992, Khan worked as a postdoctoral research associate at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.

He also serves as coordinator for Natural Products Research in the Center for Water and Wetland Resources, among other academic and research appointments.

In 2016 Khan received the UM Distinguished Research and Creative Achievement Award, and in 2002 he was awarded the UM School of Pharmacy Faculty Research Award. He is a fellow in the American Institute of Chemists and the Royal Society of Chemistry, and is a member of the American Chemical Society.

Earlier this year he received the AOAC International’s 2018 Harvey W. Wiley Award, which recognizes lifetime scientific achievement.

His research interests include efforts related to medicinal plants, drug discovery and applications of analytical tools in evaluation of quality and safety of dietary supplements.

“Dr. Khan’s career at UM is consistent with the expectations of a Distinguished Professor appointment,” wrote Kristie Willett, chair of the Department of BioMolecular Sciences and professor of pharmacology and environmental toxicology. “He in fact has ‘exemplary accomplishments in research’ and potentially unprecedented amongst UM faculty ‘international recognition in his field.’

“His research productivity and service to the field of pharmacognosy as measured by publications, invited presentations, editorial and advisory boards and international awards are outstanding. Furthermore, he has provided mentorship to nearly 40 graduate students in our department over his career.”

The three professors were officially recognized during the spring faculty meeting.

No more than 5 percent of eligible faculty can be appointed as a Distinguished Professor. Each school and college has their own guidelines for nominating their faculty, but the university requires that nominated faculty have at least six years of service at the highest rank of professor, along with exemplary accomplishments in research and creative achievement, teaching and service.

Also, it is expected that awardees will have achieved a significant degree of national or international recognition.

The recommended appointments are made by a committee of faculty chosen by the Faculty Senate and the provost, and the committee has representatives from across campus.

Persistence Leads to Perseverance

Mary Knight, a friend and colleague, has been a tremendous support in my journey. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

“A failure is not always a mistake, it may simply be the best one can do under the circumstances. The real mistake is to stop trying.” – B.F. Skinner

The inaugural Red and Blue Celebration for graduating faculty and staff is a testament to those who have worked hard to overcome obstacles of balancing life, work and family, all while bettering themselves through education.

For some of us, such as myself, it was a journey filled with many setbacks.

In 2013, I was ready to graduate. I began looking at graduate programs, took the GRE and even joined the Ole Miss Alumni Association. I even have a brick with my name on it in the circle under the Class of 2013. That’s how ready I was to graduate. Then, as it tends to do so, life happened. I ended up lacking one single class and, due to several setbacks, was not able to finish.

Four years would pass before I would finally have a chance to complete my degree.

On Wednesday (May 9), I participated in the inaugural Red and Blue Celebration. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

During my undergraduate years, I was not always the best student. Life tended to get to me, and attempting to balance working 35 hours or more while taking 15 hours of classes was trying on top of other events occurring in my personal life.

I admit I did get lost along the way, briefly, but with time, I grew to understand and learn how to cope with whatever life threw my way. I learned how to better manage my time and how to better cope with circumstances, whatever they maybe.

If college teaches us anything, it is how to adapt to whatever life may have in store. Actually, it teaches us not only to adapt, but never to give up.

I went through every administrative process imaginable during those five years, hoping to finally graduate. Even after the many unsuccessful attempts to finish, I rarely took no for an answer. With the help of an unbelievably gracious friend, I was finally able to take my last class this past fall.

I was so nervous to get back into class after being out for nearly five years and now working a full time job at the university. I knew with the time away, I had been able to reflect on those mistakes and use them as lessons to drive positive change in my life. I was prepared to prove, not only to myself, but everyone, that I am capable.

I am extremely proud to say that in December 2017, I passed my last class with an A to complete my bachelor’s degree in psychology. The lesson here: Being patient and persistent pays off.

I immediately applied for a graduate program, only to be rejected. I made connections and voiced how I knew I would succeed in the program and that my undergraduate time is not a reflection of what I can accomplish. I then reapplied and will be beginning my master’s degree this summer.

Without the support of family, like mine here, many faculty and staff members would not have been able to achieve the success celebrated during the Red and Blue Celebration. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

You cannot simply take rejection as the end-all, be-all. I hold strong to the idea that if one keeps pushing and striving, you can succeed.

It will not always go according to plan, but being able to quickly and effectively adapt to what life has to offer is a valuable lesson all its own. If you’re willing to accept help and know that you are never alone in your journey, there is a tremendous support system here at the university, and at home with family and with friends.

I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to participate with others in such an outstanding celebration of our hard work. It was the perfect closing to this chapter in my life. It’s also the beginning of bigger and better things.

The one thing my family, friends and colleagues have learned from my experience is to believe in yourself, keep pushing and always be patient and persistent.


Army ROTC Cadet, Engineering Senior Receives National Recognition

UM student Donald Lorbecke selected for Society of American Military Engineers Award of Merit

Army ROTC Cadet Donald Lorbecke (right), receives the Society of American Military Engineers Award of Merit presented by Lt. Com. Joshua Taylor. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Most military personnel are honored after having engaged in active combat, but one University of Mississippi Army ROTC cadet is being nationally recognized before even being commissioned.

CDT Donald Lorbecke, a fifth-year senior majoring in mechanical engineering with a minor in military science from Madison, Alabama, has been selected to receive the Society of American Military Engineers ROTC Award of Merit.

Awardees must be in the top 25 percent of their engineering class and in the top 25 percent of their Reserve Officers’ Training Corps class. Recipients are selected through a central military service board for the Army, Navy and Air Force ROTC programs.

“It is a fairly select award that is competitive among all service branches commissioning programs,” said Lt. Commander Joshua Taylor, chair of the university’s Army ROTC and professor of military science. “With over 5,000 cadets per cohort nationwide in Army ROTC alone, it is quite an honor for him.”

Lorbecke, who receives his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering Saturday at Commencement, will be commissioned in the Mississippi Army National Guard as a 2nd Lieutenant Engineer Officer. He said he is humbled by his recognition.

“I was very honored to learn the selection process for this award,” he said. “Sometimes, I forget that I am doing more than people expect. I think it is because I am doing what I love: military and engineering.”

Taylor said Lorbecke is “unmatched by his peers in terms of his character, competence and commitment to duty.”

“I have watched Cadet Lorbecke grow as a leader and embrace a sense of stewardship for the profession,” he said. “He is completely selfless in all actions and commits more time toward giving back to our program.

“He is a genuine leader and will excel in all that he does. It was a privilege to have him in our program.”

Lorbecke and his sister, Margo Lorbecke, were raised by their aunt and uncle, Jean and Jeff Downs of Madison. The Downs, both Ole Miss alumni, influenced Lorbecke’s decision to attend the university.

“My aunt did 20 years in the Army and my uncle is a mechanical engineer,” he said. “One cousin is also a mechanical engineer. Another one is a geological engineer and served in the Army as well.”

Lorbecke said he is grateful for professors in both the mechanical engineering department and Army ROTC program.

Donald Lorbecke speaks during the recent Cadet ‘Change of Command’ ceremony. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

“Dr. (Erik) Hurlen (instructional assistant professor of mechanical engineering) and Dr. Raj (Arunachalam Rajendran, chair and professor of mechanical engineering) are very smart and supportive professors,” he said. “Both these men should never leave this university because of the impact they make here.”

As for his ROTC instructors, Lorbecke lists Capt. Joseph Gooch, operations officer and MS III instructor, and Maj. Ronald Rogers, MSARNG recruiting BN, Program XO and MS I instructor, as having been his most influential.

“They showed you how a great leader should act and take care of soldiers,” he said. “Capt. Gooch prepared us for our advanced camp summer evaluations last year. Without him, I would not have received the Distinguished Military Graduate Award.

“Maj. Rogers was the assistant professor of military science and the National Guard Simultaneous Membership Program instructor. His presence would give you this feeling that he truly did care for the development in others and the program.”

Rajendran commended Lorbecke upon his recognition.

“I’ve always admired Don’s attitude and demeanor towards all activities during throughout his undergraduate education here at the Ole Miss,” he said.

Army ROTC Lt. Com. Joshua Taylor (left) and Marni Kendricks, assistant dean of engineering, congratulate Donald Lorbecke for winning the Society of American Military Engineers Award of Merit. Submitted photo

Rajendran interacted with Lorbecke during the 2018 American Society of Mechanical Engineers robot design competition. Lorbecke was a member on one of the two teams that participated in the competitions at Pennsylvania State University at State College, Pennsylvania.

“Don and his team designed the robot with enormous passion and hard work,” Rajendran said. “He has been a rising star as an ROTC cadet. Winning the SAME award further confirms Dons’ well-rounded accomplishments.”

Engineering school Dean Alex Cheng agreed.

“Donald is a remarkable young man with excellent leadership, strong determination and true integrity,” Cheng said. “He is well-deserving of this award and I believe he will soon distinguish himself in his very promising military and engineering career. We are proud to claim him as an Ole Miss engineering alum.”

The SAME Award of Merit, a bronze medal with bronze key replica, was authorized in 1948 to be awarded annually to outstanding junior and senior engineering students in the ROTC program. A central military service board selects outstanding students for the awards from nominations submitted by the professors of military science and technology, naval science and aerospace studies.

Students and Faculty Spend the Night on Rowan Oak Grounds

Joseph McGill, founder of the Slave Dwelling Project, leads group in discussion and reflection

UM students and faculty participate in a discussion of slavery, segregation and racism on the grounds of Rowan Oak before staying overnight in the old kitchen, behind the house. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Ten University of Mississippi students and two professors spent a night recently in sleeping bags in the old kitchen behind Rowan Oak, home of Nobel Prize-winning author William Faulkner, as part of the Slave Dwelling Project.

The project’s founder, Joseph McGill, has worked for nearly a decade to identify and assist property owners, government agencies and organizations to preserve existing slave dwellings.

“We as a nation like to preserve buildings, especially antebellum buildings,” McGill said. “People aren’t as interested in preserving the buildings that housed slaves because they take us out of our comfort zones.

“When the buildings exist, it is harder to deny the existence of the people who once inhabited them.”

McGill hopes that by bringing awareness to these dwellings and partnering with historians, students, faculty and the general public, a more complete story of history, one that includes African-Americans, can be told.

A descendent of slaves himself, McGill has stayed overnight at more than 100 slave dwellings in 16 states to create a conversation and try to imagine what life was like for the enslaved people living on plantations across the country.

“The most valuable and powerful part of these sleepovers is the conversation about slavery and the legacy left today on this nation,” he said.

The students and faculty began their evening in Adirondack chairs set in a circle to discuss racial problems in the U.S., segregation and racism.

“A lot of schools don’t talk about these topics and though we’ve come so far as a nation, there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done,” said Akim Powell, sophomore journalism major from Long Beach. “I’d like to see more projects like these to educate the public about what others have been through.”

The group stayed in the old kitchen in sleeping bags on the floor as the temperature dropped into the mid-40s overnight and all elements of nature awaited just outside a layer of brick.

Joseph McGill (center), founder of the Slave Dwelling Project, and UM students and faculty prepare to spend the night in the old kitchen behind Rowan Oak. McGill’s mission is to help preserve the structure to add to the historic narrative of enslaved people. UM photo by Christina Steube

Powell developed an interest in the experiences of enslaved people when he worked on a project for a history course, “The Rise and Fall of American Slavery, 1619-1877.” The project involved looking through census records of his ancestors.

“It only inspired me to learn more,” he said. “These slaves were strong people. I don’t know that I could’ve personally survived living in these conditions for a long period of time.”

The sleepover offered students an opportunity to engage in meaningful conversation around slavery and its legacy, said Anne Twitty, an associate professor of history who participated in the activity.

“It was really inspiring to watch my students share their experiences as white and black Southerners so respectfully,” Twitty said. “Although white Americans tend to think that conversations about slavery and race are necessarily uncomfortable, the reality is that a willingness to listen goes a long way.

“Being able to acknowledge the extent to which slavery and enslaved people made our state and our nation is absolutely vital to the process of moving forward together in a productive way. We can’t do that unless we’re honest, and being honest entails speaking frankly about the damage that was done by slavery, slaveholders and white supremacy.”

The UM Slavery Research Group collaborated with other departments on campus, including the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, to bring McGill to campus. The research group is working to identify enslaved people in north Mississippi to discover more about their daily lives.

Last year, Ole Miss anthropology students excavated part of the grounds at Rowan Oak near the plantation’s pre-Faulkner slave dwelling, known as the old kitchen.

For more information about the UM Slavery Research Group, visit To learn more about the Slave Dwelling Project, visit

Walk of a Champion: Stricken Student Gets Second Chance, Earns Degree

An aneurysm almost ended his life, but Seth Dickinson graduates Saturday at UM

Seth Dickinson (left), a graduating senior in public policy leadership, and Ryan Upshaw, an assistant dean in the UM School of Engineering, plan to remain friends after Commencement. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Three years ago, Seth Dickinson was just another University of Mississippi freshman enjoying time off for spring break. That is, until an unexpected hemorrhagic stroke left him comatose on his bedroom floor.

When Dickinson awoke from his coma nine days later, the Mantachie native was paralyzed and mute. Gone were his ability to read, write, speak and walk. Worst of all was being told that he would no longer be able to pursue his education at the university.

Fortunately, Dickinson’s story has a happy ending.

Through his own determination and with strong encouragement from a supportive university staff member, he recovered, returned to school and will be walking across the platform Saturday (May 12) in The Pavilion at Ole Miss to receive his degree in public policy leadership.

“I knew I was going to get back,” said Dickinson, who also will deliver the address at the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College commissioning ceremony at 4 p.m. Friday (May 11) in the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts. After Dickinson was nominated by his peers, all four Honors College deans agreed he is the best person to deliver the address.

“I’m differently abled in a way that I am recovering still, but for the rest of my life I will never take the moniker of ‘disabled,'” Dickinson said.

Dickinson is the first person in his immediate family to attend and graduate from a four-year college or university. His decision to attend the university was a direct result of his initial meeting with Ryan Upshaw, assistant dean of student services in the School of Engineering.

As a high school senior, Dickinson participated in a Lott Leadership Institute summer program, and Upshaw traveled to Washington, D.C., with the group.

“I knew he was the type of student we needed here at the university,” said Upshaw, one of two staff recipients of this year’s Thomas A. Frist Award, which recognizes faculty and staff members for outstanding service to Ole Miss students.

“I was instantly drawn to Ryan,” Dickinson said. “He was the biggest salesman for the university I chose to call home.”

The transition from small high school to university life was difficult, Dickinson said.

“I remember one night in particular where I sat, crying, in my dorm because I thought I would never adjust,” he said. “Then it hit me: Ryan cares. So, I sent a text that just said, ‘Help Me.'”

Within minutes, Upshaw responded with a phone call that resulted in what seemed to be Dickinson’s clear path to student success.

“Thanks to Ryan Upshaw, I became heavily involved in applying for clubs and organizations,” he said. “With his help and encouragement, I became a member of ASB, Freshman Council, Ambassadors, the Honors Senate, Delta Psi fraternity and, eventually, the Columns Society,” Dickinson said. “It was a whirlwind of joy and happiness. Life was beautiful.”

Dickinson said Upshaw was his “ray of sunlight and hope” after the storm of his affliction.

“I’ll never forget what it was like to wake up from a coma in a hospital bed, surrounded by my parents, doctors and nurses, and none other than Ryan Upshaw,” he said. “Seeing him, a peace fell over me instantly.”

“While he is a student, I consider him a friend,” Upshaw said. “Two of my proudest moments with Seth were watching him be recognized with Who’s Who honors and seeing him be named ‘Greek Man of the Year.'”

Upshaw had been to the hospital numerous times, had painted signs for Dickinson with his friends and family, and consoled his distraught mother as she regretfully had to have her son de-enrolled.

“Ryan knew the pain it caused her and cared enough to be a part of the comforting process,” Dickinson said. “He also became part of my healing process.”

Upshaw continued to visit Dickinson in the hospital numerous times, bringing him well-wishes and reminders that his home was in Oxford.

“It was this encouragement that led me to fight so hard to recover,” Dickinson said. “Ryan was the first person I called to cry to after I was told that I would never walk again. He said, ‘It’s gonna be hard to get across the Grove if you aren’t walking. I know you can do it.'”

Upshaw’s words lit a fire within Dickinson. He entered physical therapy and gradually fought his way back to mobility.

“Ryan was the first person I requested my family send a video of me taking my first steps,” Dickinson said. “Because of him, I decided not to give up.”

The combined experiences of the past three years have reshaped Dickinson’s original life plans. Before the tragedy, he aspired to become “future governor of Mississippi.” While he still plans to go to law school, Dickinson’s goal has changed to become a “health care administrator in Mississippi.”

Before the stroke, he did not consider himself a champion of disability rights.

“I always had friends who were disabled, and I would think to myself, ‘Oh, poor them,” without thinking of the perspective, ‘What if that were me?'”

Now, Dickinson thinks of himself as someone who is, if not a champion of disability rights, someone “who is giving his damnedest.”

“Diversity to me, in this regard, is not just making sure everyone gathers at the same table, but everyone has a way to get to the same table,” Dickinson said. “That’s my mantra moving forward: giving everyone equal opportunity to have a voice.”

Upshaw said Dickinson is an inspiration to him and to many others.

“He set a goal of returning to this university after his stroke, and he came back stronger than ever,” Upshaw said. “He distinguished himself as a student leader through involvement in ASB, the Honors College, the McLean Institute and other groups.

“Anyone who knows him can sense the pride he has in the University of Mississippi. I am glad that he plans to stick around to attend law school here.”

Dickinson is the youngest son of Itawamba County Sheriff Chris Dickinson and Teresa Dickinson of Mantachie. His older brother is Chris Dickinson Jr., also of Mantachie.

Honors College Student Awarded Fulbright UK Summer Institute Grant

Freshman Ainsley Ash is first from UM to receive competitive honor

Ainsley Ash

OXFORD, Miss – Ainsley Ash has never been to Ireland, but the University of Mississippi freshman soon will be on her way there, thanks to a 2018 Fulbright Summer Institute grant to the U.K.

While dozens of Ole Miss students and faculty have received Fulbright Scholarships and Fellowships over the years, Ash, a psychology and public policy leadership major from Meridian, is the first from UM to receive this type of Fulbright grant. The highly selective program chooses college freshmen or sophomores from the U.S. to study for a summer at select colleges in the United Kingdom.

In a monthlong seminar called “Education for Transformation at Queen’s College in Belfast, Northern Ireland,” Ash will engage in lectures, seminars and study visits to examine methods of driving educational change.

“Ainsley invested many hours writing and revising her application,” said Tim Dolan, director of the university’s Office of National Scholarship Advisement. “She chose a seminar that will provide her with useful tools that will allow her to do comparative studies of education in Ireland to help her better understand the needs of students in Mississippi.

“I’m happy that the Fulbright commission recognized her as the dynamic student leader and change-agent that she is.”

Students in this Summer Institute will learn about Northern Ireland in terms of its political, economic and cultural relationships within the U.K., and with the Irish Republic and the world. UNESCO leaders facilitate sessions on curriculum in divided and conflict-affected societies, engaging participants with controversial political issues, models for promoting intercultural education and maximizing intergroup contact through schools in divided societies.

Ash vividly recalls how she received notification of her award.

“A few days after my interview, I checked my emails in bed after waking up,” she said. “The first email I clicked on was from Fulbright saying I had been selected to participate in a Fulbright Summer Institute.

“That woke me up. I was not expecting to find out so soon! I couldn’t believe it.”

Ash serves as an ambassador to the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and is involved with the Wise Women of Oxford, College Democrats and the International American Student Alliance. In March, she helped organize a student-led trip to Washington, D.C., for the March for Our Lives.

This summer, she will also be attending the N.E.W. Leadership program with politically diverse young women across the state at Mississippi University for Women.

“Just as Mississippi continues to recover from its painful history of race relations, Northern Ireland works to mend the divisions that arose from The Troubles,” Ash said. “By studying this parallel, I hope to gain a deeper understanding of the role that equitable education can play in the peace-building process. This exposure will be incredibly beneficial to conversations in and outside of the classroom.”

Ash plans on a career working on education policy in Mississippi.

“As an honor student in a foreign language class, Ainsley has demonstrated a true passion and curiosity towards foreign cultures,” said Irene Kaufmann, UM Spanish instructor. “She brought to the class a high level of talent, creativity and dedication.”

Ash’s mother is Michelle Ash of Meridian.

“We are extremely happy for Ainsley,” said Douglass Sullivan-Gonzalez, dean of the Honors College. “We know that the Fulbright U.K. Summer Institute grant will open her to some incredible experiences in the U.K.”

Established in 1946, the Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. The primary source of funding for the Fulbright Program is an annual appropriation made by the U.S. Congress to the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Recipients of Fulbright grants are selected on the basis of academic or professional achievement, as well as demonstrated leadership potential in their fields.

Studying abroad is one way the university honors its commitment to educating and engaging global citizens and supporting experiential learning, two core established in the university’s new strategic plan, Flagship Forward.

Students interested in applying for Fulbright and other competitive awards that fund study abroad are encouraged to contact Tim Dolan in the Office of National Scholarship Advancement at