Religion Course Open to LOU Community

Free sessions focus on comparing Christianity and Islam

Professor Mary Thurlkill will open her religion class to community members this fall. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – A University of Mississippi professor is opening her fall religion course to people in the Lafayette-Oxford-University community, inviting them to come learn what both the Bible and the Quran teach on several topics.

The class, REL 300: Comparative World Religions: Bible and Quran, meets from 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays at various religious establishments across Oxford.

The course is divided into four themes: sacred stories, ritual and performance, community and ethics, and death and afterlife. Mary Thurlkill, associate professor of religion, will discuss what both religious texts say about these topics.

This is the first time Thurlkill has opened the course to the community, but she hopes to try this format more in the future.

“It is one of our department’s main goals to encourage the academic study of religion,” Thurlkill said. “I hope such a class will appeal to a wide range of students interested in learning more about Christianity and Islam.”

She also said she wants to provide an opportunity to learn in a community setting, which she does not often get to do as a medieval historian.

“My natural habitat is a library surrounded by old, arcane texts,” she said. “What better ‘service’ to the community might we offer than an opportunity to engage in such dialogue and conversation?”

Besides Thurlkill’s lectures, the course will include videos and guest speakers.

One of those speakers in September is John Kaltner, religion professor at Rhodes College. Kaltner has published several books on introducing the Quran to readers more familiar with the Bible and will present some of his work about what the texts say about Moses, Abraham, Jesus and other notable figures.

The course will follow the semester schedule for students registered through the university, but it will run 12 weeks for nonstudents.

The first and last meetings of the class will be for Ole Miss students only. However, beginning Aug. 29 through Thanksgiving break, community members can attend the course at no charge. At each meeting, a reception from 5:30 to 6 p.m. will serve as a break for students and an opportunity for fellowship for all participants.

“Community engagement plays an important part in our university’s mission,” said Steven Skultety, associate professor and chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religion. “Professor Thurlkill’s innovative class serves as a wonderful example of how faculty in higher education can better serve the citizens of our city and state.”

UM students will complete scholarly readings and assignments as well as design and host an “Interreligious Dialogue Conference” in November, which also will feature guest speakers.

“I have students from a wide range of majors already registered for the class, and I’ve tried to tailor the course a bit to their various skill sets,” she said. “For example, some students will be responsible for marketing and advertising the conference while others will document the sessions and provide podcasts for community groups.”

Space is limited at some of the venues, so community members interested in taking the course should register by contacting Thurlkill at or 662-202-7536.

McLean Institute Hosts Virtual Reality Experience

Public will get a glimpse of technology work conducted in the Delta

Vince Jordan, CEO of Lobaki, works with Clarksdale students to create a technology hub in the Delta. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi’s McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement will host a virtual reality experience for students in the Catalyzing Entrepreneurship and Economic Development program Thursday (Aug. 24) at the Innovation Hub at Insight Park

Vince Jordan, CEO and president of virtual reality production company Lobaki, will join the 15 Innovation Scholars and Innovation Fellows from 5 to 8 p.m. The students will learn from Jordan, a seasoned entrepreneur, about how he is engaging the community in his work.

Lobaki has established The Virtual Reality Center and Academy in downtown Clarksdale as part of the Indigo Impact Initiative. The goal is to revitalize the Delta through technology and entrepreneurism through partnerships with Meraki Cooperative, the Crossroads Cultural Arts Center and the city of Clarksdale, including Clarksdale Public Schools.

“We are excited to see how this new development in Clarksdale can impact entrepreneurship and economic development throughout Mississippi,” said J.R. Love, Catalyzing Entrepreneurship and Economic Development project manager.

Jordan began the program in Clarksdale this summer to get young people interested in technology, hoping to make the town a tech hub for Mississippi.

“We had good success with this program this summer and are looking forward to expanding it during this school year in the community and the region,” Jordan said.

“Virtual reality is where web design was in the early ’90s and smartphones in the early 2000s. It is a great opportunity for entrepreneurs and economic development in Mississippi and beyond.”

The event is open to the public. Formal remarks will be given at 5:30 p.m. by Jordan and Albert Nylander, McLean Institute director and UM professor of sociology.

Jordan also will visit other units at Ole Miss, including the Center of Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the Center for Mathematics and Science Education.

For more information, contact Love at

Archaeology Field School Led by UM Professor Gets National Attention

Carter Robinson mound site also to be featured this fall in American Archaeology magazine

UM undergraduate student Ben Davis, American University graduate student Erin Cagney and UM undergrads Conor Foxworth and Emily Warner excavate the burned wall of structure that dates back to the 1300s at the Carter Robinson site in Virginia. Photo by J.C. Burns

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi students participated this summer in a four-week field school excavating the remains of a Native American house at the Carter Robinson Mound site in Ewing, Virginia.

The field school, led by Maureen Meyers, assistant professor of anthropology, returned to a house on the site that was partially excavated in 2007 and 2008.

“We knew from the past work that there were three houses built on top of one another in this location, which is unlike any of the other houses at the site,” Meyers said. “This year, we uncovered about half of the second house.

“To my surprise, we found burned walls and logs in really good preservation. We uncovered these walls, mapped and photographed them, and excavated posts from this house and the house above it.”

The site also will be featured in American Archaeology magazine later this fall.

Archaeologists first identified the site, which is privately owned by the Robinson family, in 1962. Meyers began excavations there in 2006 and held field schools at the site five times over the last decade.

Meyers has identified and partially excavated remains of six houses at the site. To date, more than 90,000 artifacts have been recovered from excavation, including ceramics, lithics, animal bones, botanical remains, building material from burned walls and other smaller items, such as shell beads.

This year, the group recovered ceramic sherds, mostly deer bones, drills, projectile points and flakes from making stone tools.

A collection of drilled items and drills were found at the Carter Robinson site. Submitted photo

“This site is unique because it is located at the edge of the Mississippian cultural world,” she said. “The Mississippian culture and time period is recognized by archaeologists as a time when Native Americans were organized into hierarchical societies known as chiefdoms.

“Their sites generally consist of villages with an earthen mound, a plaza and a village of square houses surrounding the mound and plaza.”

The Mississippian cultural time period, from A.D. 900 to 1550, is located predominately in Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, western North Carolina and southern Kentucky. The Carter Robinson site is one of two Mississippian mounds in southwest Virginia.

“It’s an important site for understanding interaction at cultural frontiers, for understanding craft production in prehistoric societies and understanding the role of craft production and frontiers in the formation of inequality in societies,” Meyers said.

Work at the site has been funded by a UM College of Liberal Arts Summer Research Grant, a National Geographic Society Exploration and Research Grant, a Sigma Xi Grant-in-Aid, a Virginia Academy of Sciences Research grant and a University of Kentucky Dissertation Enhancement Award..

Meyers has published multiple book chapters and articles about the site, including the most recent issue of Southeastern Archaeology. She has trained more than 50 students at the sites over the years through field schools, and three Ole Miss students are working on master’s theses using data from the site.

Dalton Capps, a graduate student in anthropology from Columbus, is building his thesis based on lithic tool productions from the site.

“I am looking at how the different structures that have been excavated at Carter Robinson differ when it comes to lithic production,” Capps said.

He also participated in the field school as an Ole Miss undergraduate student in 2015.

“I have always loved going out into the field, so I jump at any opportunity I get to go out into the field,” he said. “It was nice to be able to concentrate on one house in such detail for an entire field season.

“The most interesting finds for me were the large amount of shell and the few drills that we found. In 2015, we found some very interesting ceramics, including what may have been part of a human effigy.”

Capps also will analyze the finds from this site from previous excavations years in which Meyers has brought students to the field school.

Barbour to Receive Geographic Visionary Award

UM's Mississippi Geographic Alliance to honor former governor Sept. 7

Haley Barbour

OXFORD, Miss. – The Mississippi Geographic Alliance at the University of Mississippi will honor former Gov. Haley Barbour with its MGA Geographic Visionary Award at the fifth annual awards ceremony Sept. 7.

News analyst, White House correspondent and author Ellen Ratner will be the keynote speaker. The event is set for 6 p.m. at the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson.

“Knowing geography is essential to understanding history,” Barbour said. “If you don’t understand history, you are doomed to repeat it.” 

Barbour will join Ambassador John Palmer (2013), George Schloegel (2014), U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran (2015), and William Winter and Leland Speed (2016) as Geographic Visionary award recipients. The award honors a Mississippi business or civic leader who recognizes the importance of global understanding and awareness for Mississippians and/or promotes understanding about Mississippi in other parts of the world.

The Jess McKee Award for Distinguished Service to Geography Education also will be presented at the event to Steven White, a teacher at Pearl High School.

“I am very pleased to congratulate Gov. Barbour on this well-deserved recognition of his leadership,” said UM Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter, who plans to attend the event. “From economic development to disaster preparedness and recovery, Gov. Barbour has had a tremendous impact upon the state of Mississippi.

“He understands that success in the modern world depends upon being able to work globally. His leadership has enhanced Mississippi’s global stature and positioned our state to compete for and win important economic development projects.”

As governor, Barbour helped connect Mississippi to the world through his work in recruiting major international companies, including Toyota, and by investing in manufacturing. He was nationally recognized for his swift response during Hurricane Katrina, and he received the Thomas Jefferson Freedom Award and the Gulf Guardian Award for his work in helping to rebuild Gulf of Mexico ecosystems.

“His national and international reach along with his long history of supporting education, make him an excellent fit for the Geographic Visionary award,” said Carley Lovorn, assistant director of the Mississippi Geographic Alliance.

“Exports support tens of thousands of jobs in Mississippi. As foreign investment continues to increase in our state, it is more important than ever that we recognize Mississippi leaders who help connect us with the global economy. The MGA Geographic Visionary Award does just that.”

White, a National Geographic Certified Educator and MGA teacher consultant, has held numerous education leadership positions in the state, including officer positions in the Mississippi Council for the Social Studies and the Mississippi Geographic Alliance. He was Rosa Scott High School’s Teacher of the Year 2012-13, the Mississippi Council for the Social Studies Teacher of the Year 2003-04 and winner of the Jesse Palmer Award for Mississippi Social Studies Educator of the Year in 2015.

In recent years, he has served on staff for the Pre-Service Geography Conference, a geography education conference for education students around the state. He has also served as a judge and scorekeeper for the state-level National Geographic Bee and is a three-time winner of educational and technology grants for enhancing classroom geography education.

He is past president and assistant director of the Mississippi Council for the Social Studies and team leader for public policy for the Mississippi Geographic Alliance. In 2013 he was one of eight in the nation to receive the Distinguished Teaching Award for K-12 educators at the National Conference on Geographic Education.

Mississippians interact with people, companies and governments around the world. The state exports billions of dollars in products to more than 100 countries each year.

The Mississippi Geographic Alliance, part of National Geographic Society’s Alliance Network, helps prepare Mississippians to interact with the world by increasing geographic literacy through geography education services including outreach to civic leaders and policymakers, awareness raising among the general public, and professional development for K-12 educators.

All proceeds from the MGA Geographic Visionary Awards will go directly toward funding MGA programs in the state, including giant map programs for students and professional development for K-12 teachers.

Sponsorships at multiple levels are available. For more information on sponsorships and registration, go to or call the MGA office at 662-915-3776.

About the Mississippi Geographic Alliance: The Mississippi Geographic Alliance at the University of Mississippi works to strengthen geographic literacy in the state of Mississippi. A member of the nationwide network of state alliances sponsored by the National Geographic Society, MGA uses workshops, online resources and other programs to help educators prepare students to embrace a diverse world, succeed in the global economy and steward the planet’s resources. For more information, visit, or contact Carley Lovorn at or 662-915-3776.

Ralph Eubanks to Serve as Visiting Professor at UM

Alumnus and author will teach courses in Southern studies and English

Ralph Eubanks

OXFORD, Miss. – Author and journalist Ralph Eubanks returns to the University of Mississippi this fall, this time as a visiting professor. The Mount Olive native will teach a Southern studies course this fall and an English course during the spring semester.

His Southern studies course, SST 598: Special Topics, examines the American South through the art of photography as well as through the work of writers who have found their inspiration in photography. James Agee and Walker Evans’ “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” will serve as a foundational work to examine ways the visual record of the American South is tied to writing about the region, including novels, poetry and journalism, particularly magazine journalism of the 1960s in magazines such as Life and Look.

What connects the reading for this course – and will be the focus of class discussions – is how authors turn to photographs as a way to tie together the region’s visual and verbal traditions, Eubanks said.

“I spoke at the center last year about the work of Walker Evans and James Agee and the impact it was having on my own writing about the Mississippi Delta,” he said. “At the time, I was teaching a class of photography and literature at Millsaps College, but I realized at the end of the class that I spent a great deal of time focused on the South.

“So when I was asked to teach at Ole Miss, I decided to adapt that class to focus exclusively on the South.”

Eubanks said he hopes students will learn how history is embedded in visual images, as well as how to read a photograph.

“Photographs are time capsules of history and can tell us a great deal about how the people and places captured in them,” Eubanks said. “Also, I hope they will see how photographs can be a testament to the relentless melting of time.

“As Susan Sontag said, all photographs are ‘memento mori’ (a Latin phrase meaning ‘remember that you have to die’). A photograph captures another person’s – or a place’s – mortality, vulnerability and mutability.

“I’d like my students to think about how the visual image of the South has evolved over time and reveals time’s impact on the landscape as well as how visual images both crush – and reinforce – Southern myths.”

Second-year Southern studies master’s student Holly Robinson enrolled in the course because she thought it would be a good way to brush up on her image-analysis skills ahead of her thesis research.

“I’m a popular culturist, so I enjoy looking at visual imagery more than books because there’s a lot more to say about an image, and things aren’t as concrete, so you can be really speculative in your analysis, which always leads you to a more interesting idea-place,” Robinson said.

Eubanks’ class for the English department is “Civil Rights and Activism in Literature,” which is slightly different from a class he taught at Millsaps. It will examine works of literature that turn their focus on the image, life and reality of black life during the civil rights movement as well as in today’s second wave of activism.

“One change this time is that I am teaching Richard Wright’s ‘Native Son,'” Eubanks said. “I believe that Richard Wright’s work, particularly the social realism of his work, deserves a re-examination.”

Eubanks is the author of “Ever Is a Long Time: A Journey Into Mississippi’s Dark Past” (Basic Books, 2003), which Washington Post book critic Jonathan Yardley named as one of the best nonfiction books of the year. He has contributed articles to the Washington Post Outlook and Style sections, the Chicago Tribune, Preservation and National Public Radio.

He is a recipient of a 2007 Guggenheim Fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation and has been a fellow at the New America Foundation. He is the former editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review at the University of Virginia and served as director of publishing at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. from 1995 to 2013.

Last year, he was the Eudora Welty Visiting Scholar in Southern Studies at Millsaps College in Jackson.

Eubanks, who received his bachelor’s degree at UM before earning a master’s degree in English language and literature at the University of Michigan, is looking forward to spending an extended amount of time on the Ole Miss campus.

“Although I spend a great deal of time in Oxford, it is different being a resident of the university community and being a visitor,” he said. “I’m looking forward to being a part of the community for a while.

“Plus, this academic year is exactly 40 years after my senior year at Ole Miss, which was the last time I spent an extended amount of time on campus. It’s good to come full circle.”

McLean Institute ELC Program Helps Students Improve Communities

Entrepreneurial leadership classes taught in three Mississippi counties

Charleston middle school students got information on starting a business and healthy living, mentoring and even free book bags as part of the Entrepreneurial Learning Center program this summer. The traveling program was sponsored by the UM McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – Nearly 60 elementary and middle school students in Mississippi have been exposed to entrepreneurial leadership skills this summer, thanks to a traveling program sponsored by the McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement at the University of Mississippi.

The Entrepreneurial Learning Center began meeting in Charleston in late May. It moved to Marks in June and to Vardaman for mid-July and August. Sessions lasted about four hours a day for four weeks in each location.

Rising sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders in Charleston were introduced to various health care topics at the request of Dr. Catherine Woodyard, executive director of the local James C. Kennedy Wellness Center.

“Dr. Woodyard, who has worked with the McLean Institute for several years, asked us if we would consider coming to Charleston,” said J.R. Love, project manager for McLean’s Catalyzing Entrepreneurship and Economic Development, or CEED, program. “We’re touching on everything from exercise to diseases, and what it looks like to get into the health care profession as a doctor or nurse.”

Community partners from local health care-related enterprises, including a pharmacist and business owner, served as guest presenters. The goal is that students are continuously learning, developing healthy habits and participating in experiences that build an entrepreneurial mindset.

“The goals of ELC were to provide a transformative experience for our participants and increase knowledge on the concepts of entrepreneurship,” said Robert Patterson, a CEED Innovation Fellow and graduate student from Como. “I believe that this program did successfully meet its goals in promoting entrepreneurship and establishing community development.”

Allison Ford-Wade, UM professor of health, exercise science and recreation management, described the inaugural ELC as “a wonderful experience.”

The local students said that they learned a lot during the program.

“I learned a lot about health and starting a business, “said Terrance Marco, of Charleston.

Robert Patterson, standing, engages Charleston students in a discussion about the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle and community as part of the inaugural Entrepreneurial Learning Center program. Submitted photo

The Mississippi Development Authority assisted Nash Nunnery, project manager at MDA’s Entrepreneur Center, with providing valuable tools for the students in Charleston and Marks. One of the guests, Allen Kurr, vice president of the Oxford-Lafayette County Economic Development Foundation, shared with students in Vardaman about the importance of building your brand in business.

Danna Johnson, program coordinator of Catholic Charities in Vardaman, said the ELC-Vardaman “Victory Project” is exciting.

“Eric Williams from Orange Theory Fitness in Oxford was invited to the camp and made a presentation to the students about health and wellness,” she said.

CEED students worked in Marks this summer to establish an Entrepreneurial Learning Center and will continue to work this fall with community members and students in Quitman County. There, County Administrator Velma Wilson worked with CEED students on economic development projects, such as the upcoming Amtrak stop in Marks.

The ELC idea and model were created by the CEED initiative. CEED students are funded through a financial gift from the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation.

“We are fortunate to have financial support from the Hearin foundation in allowing UM students to connect their desire to see jobs created in Mississippi at the local and state level,” said Albert Nylander, McLean Institute director and professor of sociology.

“Community development, economic development and education were the guiding principles that each of the ELCs was built upon,” Love said. “All of this connects to the work of George McLean, the late owner of the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal who started the CREATE Foundation, and Vaughn Grisham, the founding director of the McLean Institute in 1984.”

Prison-to-College Pipeline Program Helps Participants Build Futures

UM-Mississippi College partnership supports pursuit of college education at correctional facilities

Co-directors Otis Pickett (back row, left) and Patrick Alexander (back row, right) with 16 graduates of the summer 2016 Prison-to-College Pipeline course at the Mississippi State Penitentiary. Submitted photo/Mississippi Department of Corrections

OXFORD, Miss. – A partnership between the University of Mississippi and Mississippi College is promoting higher education in prison and helping incarcerated men and women transform their lives as they earn credits toward a college education.

The Prison-to-College Pipeline Program began in summer 2014 with 17 students at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman. Since then, 61 men have completed a PTCPP course at the facility. Twenty of those have earned English credits from Ole Miss and several have received history credits from Mississippi College.

“Working with men who have been participants in and graduates of the Prison-to-College Pipeline Program has been one of the greatest joys of my life,” said Patrick Alexander, UM assistant professor of English and African American studies. “To have the opportunity to play a small role in encouraging and advancing the very large educational goals, intellectual curiosities, and college and post-college dreams of men of all ages who are serving time at Parchman in particular has been an unprecedented honor.”

Alexander, who has taught African-American literature courses in prison systems in North Carolina and Mississippi for the past decade, partnered with Otis Pickett, Mississippi College assistant professor of history, to create the program. Pickett said it has been the singular greatest experience of his career.

“To have the opportunity to address a social justice issue through my profession and as part of my teaching role is a unique opportunity and one that I am incredibly proud of,” he said. “I thought I was coming to teach these students, but they are the ones teaching me.”

Last summer, the program expanded to the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility for women in Pearl. Pickett and Stephanie Rolph, associate professor of history at Millsaps College, team-taught a course there on “Turning Oppression into Opportunity.”

Eighteen students completed that for-credit college course, which was likely the first one taught at a women’s prison by Mississippi university faculty members.

Co-teachers Otis Pickett (back row, left) and Stephanie Rolph (back row, second from right) with the 18 graduates of the summer 2016 Prison-to-College Pipeline course at Central Mississippi Correctional Facility. Submitted photo/Mississippi Department of Corrections.

“The most valuable part of this experience for me has been the enthusiasm with which these women participate,” Rolph said. “You don’t have to explain to them why history matters; they already know. As an instructor, that is one of the most satisfying experiences I can hope for.”

In fall 2016, the PTCPP offered its first-ever course during the regular academic calendar at Parchman. The course, titled “Freedom: Literature and Creative Writing,” was team-taught by Alexander and Ann Fisher-Wirth, UM professor of English and director of the environmental studies minor who won the 2014 Elsie M. Hood Outstanding Teacher Award.

“I have been very moved by my experience teaching in the PTCP program and I am so proud of the students in this class, many of whom had not really studied poetry before, but all of whom approached it with interest and curiosity,” she said.

Each of Fisher-Wirth’s 11 PTCPP students had an original poem or prose work included in the Parchman Portfolio, which she edited for the online journal About Place.

“Their work has been read by thousands of people,” she said. “In my 40 years of college-level teaching, I’ve never had a teaching experience that meant more to me.”

Comments from anonymous students about the program have been equally positive.

“I took the first course with Dr. Alexander and Dr. Pickett, which was an awesome experience, and this course (with Alexander/Fisher-Wirth) was awesome as well. The professors actually care about teaching us.”

Another student reported that the course “exceeded my expectations because I gained enormous skills that were hidden deep within me.”

“Your time and dedication to the service of men, who many people feel aren’t deserving of this level of education, shows that there are genuinely good people still in this world,” another student said. “The lessons I’ve learned are invaluable.

“When I become a published author, I will be certain to put the names of Dr. Fisher-Wirth and Dr. Alexander at the top of my acknowledgement page.”

Since the program’s inception, Alexander and Pickett have continued to teach their inaugural course, titled “Justice Everywhere.” Its original content, which focused on speeches and/or writings of Martin Luther King Jr., Fannie Lou Hamer and Barack Obama, has expanded to include Ida B. Wells and Maya Angelou.

“I am so thankful for the support of the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Mississippi, to Mississippi College and to the Mississippi Humanities Council for funding this work,” Pickett said. “I am also thankful for Parchman and Central Mississippi Correctional, who have allowed us to come in, offer courses and to teach students.

“My greatest thanks go to the students, whose hard work in the most difficult of conditions proves what the human spirit is capable of.”

CSI Camp Creates Forensic Summer Fun

Students use real-life tools, techniques on imaginary case for learning experience

High school students (from left) Blake Howard, Caroline Sturgis, Peyton Jolley and Annija Westfall conduct a gunshot residue test during the third annual CSI Camp. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – A dead body, blood spatter, guns, bullets and DNA samples – all fake – offered plenty of opportunities for gifted middle and high school students to test their forensic skills recently at the University of Mississippi.

Thirty-five seventh- through 12th-graders visited Ole Miss as part of a weeklong camp on forensic science. Sponsored by the American Academy of Forensic Science, the UM Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and Division of Outreach and Continuing Education, the event drew students from Mississippi, Alabama, California, Illinois, Louisiana, Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio, Texas and the District of Columbia.

Led by Murrell Godfrey, the university’s forensic chemistry program director, and his students, the group spent time honing detective skills while examining “evidence” throughout classrooms and labs in Coulter Hall.

“The students participated in daily labs where they participated in analyzing the crime scene evidence using high-tech instrumentation and techniques used in a real crime laboratory, including gas chromatography/mass spectrometry, infrared spectroscopy, liquid chromatography, comparison microscope, DNA analysis and gunshot residue analysis,” Godfrey said.

“The students then must defend their data and results as expert witnesses in a mock trial held on the last day of the camp.”

Ole Miss graduate student Caroline Spencer assisted with instruction, and undergraduate students Zachara Catchings and Ebone McCowan served as camp counselors. Cass Dodgen, project manager for summer programs, coordinated transportation, housing and meals.

Participants observed as Godfrey and others demonstrated the proper procedures for analysis of the staged evidence recovered from the mock crime scene.

Some of the hands-on activities include DNA, fingerprint, gunshot residue, bullet and drug analyses using the same high-tech analytical and physical techniques used in crime laboratories.

Forensic scientists who delivered lectures on different aspects of investigation included Darrell Davis, a retired DEA director from Dallas; DeMia P. Pressley, of the DEA Diversion Control Division in Washington, D.C.; Deedra Hughes, Mississippi Forensics Laboratory assistant director and DNA technical leader from Jackson; and Jennifer Tuten, a DEA forensic chemist from Dallas.

“It was such a great experience to be able to share what I do and participate in such a wonderful event,” Tuten said. “The students were even more interested and excited to learn than I could have imagined.

“I would have jumped on an opportunity like this one when I was in high school.”

A mock trial on the last day of the camp tests students’ knowledge on the various topics and labs.

“The students must serve as expert witnesses, prosecutors, defense attorneys, suspect and so forth,” Godfrey said. “The expert witnesses must defend their analysis of the different pieces of evidence found at the crime scene. A jury will then render a final decision in the case.”

Divided into smaller groups, the students rotated daily between labs in the chemistry department and stations for DNA collection, presumptive tests, ballistics and gunshot residue, fingerprints, and analytical chemistry and forensics. At each station, students analyzed their samples and collected data.

A double-decker bus tour of campus and the university’s Maynard W. Quimby Medicinal Plant Garden was arranged by Don Stanford, assistant director of UM’s Research Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences.

This was the third forensics summer camp hosted at the university.

“This was our best CSI Camp yet,” Godfrey said. “We had 35 campers representing 11 states. Our goal is always to encourage these gifted young minds to become STEM majors once they enter college.”

Several students said they’ve learned a great deal through their experience.

“I expected to learn a lot about solving crimes,” said De’Monica Dumas, a ninth-grader from Shreveport, Louisiana. “During the week, I met some cool experts and learned what goes on behind closed doors when solving a crime.”

Senior Kayla Masari agreed.

“During the week, the experiences I have made have been life-changing,” said Masari, from Dumont, New Jersey. “It has proved to me that it is what I want to be. In addition to that, it has also made the University of Mississippi a top school on my list, and I definitely intend to apply to the forensic chemistry program.”

Other students were Meredith Archer of Tupelo; Alyssa Bencel of Nacogdoches, Texas; Grace Bennett of Waggaman, Louisiana; Nia Binning of Richmond, Georgia; Autumn Bishop of Pell City, Alabama; Amelia Block of Purvis; Katelyn Brooks of Saltillo; Terrell Caldwell of Stockbridge, Georgia; Lauren Colbert of Murphy, Texas; Lindsey Coulon of Bunkie, Louisiana; Kayla Fowler of Conroe, Texas; Axel Gonzalez of Mercedes, Texas; Rachel Harris of Belden; Darby Hesson of Westerville, Ohio; Blake Howard of Cedar Park, Texas; Leah Hughes of Brandon; Peyton Jolley of Bartonville, Texas; Nia Jones of Chicago; Lana Lauer of Beverly Hills, California; Alyshia Moore of Vicksburg; Francisco Munoz of Pharr, Texas; Heaven Ratcliff of Houston, Texas; Gesselle Sanchez of Welasco, Texas; Sydney Sanchez of Spring, Texas; Earline Saunders of Washington, D.C.; Shaelyn Simoneau of Kathleen, Georgia; Caroline Sturgis of Huntsville, Alabama; Isaac Trevino of Donna, Texas; Marija Westfall and Annija Westfall, both of Orange, California; John Wilkins of Bowie, Maryland; Sophia Williams of San Diego; and Tyler Williams of Oxford.

For more information about the forensic chemistry program within the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, visit

UM Professor and Student Collaborate to Shed Light on Disorder

Team studied disruptions in sense of smell in schizophrenia patients

This figure from Ikuta and Kiparizoska’s paper shows parts of the brain that exhibit less symphony with the anterior piriform cortex, the region of the brain associated with the sense of smell. The main region, seen in the three larger images, is the nucleus accumbens, which has been indicated in previous studies to be associated with auditory hallucinations. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – A study conducted by a University of Mississippi professor and one of his former students may lead to a better understanding of schizophrenia.

Toshikazu “Tossi” Ikuta, assistant professor of communication sciences and disorders, teamed with Sara Kiparizoska, a 2016 biochemistry graduate from Laurel, to examine how the sense of smell is affected in patients with the disorder.

Their article, “Disrupted Olfactory Integration in Schizophrenia: Functional Connectivity Study,” will appear in the upcoming edition of the International Journal for Neuropsychopharmacology.

“Olfaction, the ability to sense, distinguish and recognize odors, has been known to be affected in schizophrenia, but little has been studied,” Ikutu said. “These studies showed olfactory deficits, or diminished smelling abilities, in schizophrenia patients.”

For their study, Ikuta and Kiparizoska examined the brain regions responsible for olfaction and compared 84 individuals with schizophrenia and 90 individuals without the disorder. Although Ikuta has studied schizophrenia for more than a decade, he credited Kiparizoska with bringing this particular study idea to him.

“Usually, scientific studies have good reason and thick history to do ‘the study,'” he said. “Sara found a gap where almost nobody did intensive brain study. The biggest credit in this study is that Sara discovered that olfactory deficits in schizophrenia is not well-studied.”

A graduate of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, Kiparizoska helped conduct the research for her honors thesis. She was referred to Ikuta by Lainy Day, an associate professor of biology, because Day knew of her interest in imaging, mental illness, psychology and human studies.

“When I first met Dr. Ikuta, he was very excited for new ideas and willing to help me with my research,” Kiparizoska said. “Our study was an image analysis of the integration of sensory information in these patients.

“Our findings were very exciting because this type of research had not been conducted before.”

Sara Kiparizoska (left), a 2016 UM biochemistry graduate, and Tossi Ikuta, assistant professor of communication sciences and disorders, show off a poster detailing their research at the National Society for Neuroscience Convention in San Diego. Submitted photo

Using MRI images from the Center for Biomedical Research Excellence in Brain Function and Mental Illness at the University of New Mexico, the duo compared the inner nasal cavities and tissues that connect them to the brain in individuals with schizophrenia and those without it. The results showed that the nasal passages of schizophrenic patients have less integrated symphony, or connectivity, with brain regions that are responsible for other senses, such as vision and hearing.

“Although we only found that olfactory processing is affected in schizophrenia in this study, it leaves the possibility that examining olfaction may be a potential future target for easier detection of schizophrenia,” Ikuta said.

Both Ikuta and Kiparizoska said they were excited to learn that their article had been accepted for publication.

“We are fascinated by our research and findings and are very thankful that others will be able to learn about it and also use it to establish better treatments or diagnosis methods for these patients,” said Kiparizoska, who recently completed her first year as a medical student at the UM Medical Center.

This experience helped nurture her love for research. Kiparizoska is involved in research in the adult congenital heart program with Dr. Michael McMullan, professor of medicine and director of the program at UMMC.

“I hope to become a physician scientist that integrates research with medicine in order to give my future patients the best care possible,” she said. “Dr. Ikuta was very helpful in helping me create my first paper, and I am so thankful.”

Ikuta said he doesn’t know why an olfaction test has not been utilized, or at least more heavily studied, in patients with schizophrenia.

“As we found, olfaction is related to other pathologies that are known and well-recognized,” he said. “We were able to show this in brain images and we hope give stronger messages to scientists and physicians.”

To read an abstract of Ikuta and Kiparizoska’s article, visit

MOST Conference Provides Resources, Guidance for Potential Students

More than 400 rising high school seniors attended the annual UM recruiting and empowerment event

Participants enjoy a pep rally presented by Ole Miss athletics during the 2017 MOST Conference. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – More than 400 students attended the 2017 Mississippi Outreach to Scholastic Talent Conference, a three-day annual event that offers leadership activities, academic and campus resources, and guidance from faculty, staff and student leaders for prospective African-American students.

A partnership between the university’s Office of Admissions and the Center for Inclusion & Cross Cultural Engagement, the conference was made possible through the support of the Office of the Provost, FedEx, Ole Miss Department of Intercollegiate Athletics, FASTtrack and the LuckyDay Scholars Program.

The conference provides a positive influence for prospective students, said Brandi Hephner LaBanc, vice chancellor for student affairs.

“As I interact with the students that attend MOST, I frequently hear them say, ‘I wasn’t even looking at Ole Miss, but now I plan to attend,'” she said. “MOST gives these students a chance to see what our campus is all about and leaves them interested in being a part of that experience.”

This year, 426 prospective students gathered on campus for the conference, said Shawnboda Mead, director of the Center for Inclusion & Cross Cultural Engagement.

“They were paired with mentors who will remain connected with them through the senior year, helping with the college admission process, and throughout their freshmen year when they enroll at the University of Mississippi,” Mead said.

Among the keynote speakers during the conference were Ethel Young-Scurlock, associate professor of English and African American studies and senior fellow of the Luckyday Residential College; and Brian Foster, assistant professor of sociology and Southern studies.

Several participants said that the conference was an enormously positive experience.

Alvin Edney, a senior from Brandon, worried about negative stereotypes before attending the event.

“I’ve learned that Ole Miss has a lot to offer and that people here really are like a family,” he said. “I truly believe that the mentors I met and friends I made here will remain whether I attend here or not.”

Conference mentors said they understood why some students may have had reservations about coming to campus and volunteered because they wanted to help alleviate those anxieties.

“I came to the 2015 MOST Conference and had a great experience because of my mentor,” said Michael Bennett, a junior pre-pharmacy major from Jackson. “My mentor helped me prepare my college application and motivated me to excel before and after my arrival.

“I decided to become a mentor myself because I wanted to pass along what I’d experienced to others.”

The attention of MOST mentors was appreciated by their mentees and has provided helpful information for students as they begin their college search and selection process.

“Since I’ve been here, Ole Miss has definitely moved up on my list,” said Mariah Beckom, a senior from Columbus. “The mentors helped us a lot by letting us ask questions and giving us real answers. I’m planning to stay in touch with mine all while I’m in my senior year of high school.”

Activities during the event included informational sessions, panel discussions, a talent show, presentations by Greek and campus organization, small group meetings, team-building games led by the Department of Campus Recreation, a faculty-staff networking dinner and Ole Miss athletics pep rally.

During the closing ceremonies, Assistant Provost Donald Cole assured the high school participants that UM is a challenging, but nurturing, place for students who want to pursue higher education.

“The University of Mississippi is ready to assist you with a diverse faculty, staff and student body,” Cole said. “Receiving your education here won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.”

A MOST Conference reunion is scheduled for Nov. 14, and students said they are already planning to attend that meeting as well.

“This has truly been a wonderful experience that I would recommend to anybody,” said Jordan Harper, a senior from Jackson. “They opened more than just their facilities to us. They opened their hearts and let us know we are wanted and welcomed here.”