University Accepts Challenge of Alabama Restaurateur

Major gift supports future of Southern Foodways Alliance, honors longtime director

John T. Edge (center) spends time with (from left) UM development officer Nikki Neely, Sharon Vitter, Nick Pihakis and UM Chancellor Jeff Vitter. The university has matched a $1 million pledge by Pihakis to support the work of the Southern Foodways Alliance and honor Edge’s leadership. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi has matched a recent $1 million pledge from Alabama restaurateur Nick Pihakis to the Southern Foodways Alliance as a way to demonstrate mutual appreciation of the alliance’s work and the leadership of longtime director John T. Edge.

Pihakis, cofounder of Jim ‘n Nick’s Bar-B-Q and principal in the Pihakis Investment Group, has been a staunch and generous supporter of the SFA for the past 13 years, believing – like the SFA – that community is built as people cook and share meals together.

The SFA has mentored and educated countless students, staged dozens of symposia, published award-winning podcast episodes and journal issues, collected more than 900 oral histories, and produced more than 100 documentary films.

“I wanted the University of Mississippi to recognize John T.’s significant work throughout his tenure at the SFA, but I also hope my gift will provide income for the recruitment and retention of outstanding leadership going forward and ensure that quality teaching, research and service will be available for future generations of Southern studies students,” Pihakis said.

The Birmingham, Alabama, native said his gift honors Edge’s upcoming 20-year anniversary as director. It also establishes the John T. Edge Director of the Southern Foodways Alliance Endowment, which, when vested, will stand at $2.5 million. The equivalent of $2 million is already in hand; $500,000 remains to be raised.

“We happily accept this funding opportunity and greatly appreciate Nick’s generous gift, his commitment to the SFA and his continued support,” Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said. “John T. and the SFA have worked tirelessly through the years, building a program through the study of food that has made a deeply transformative impact within the UM academic community and within the lives of our students, alumni and friends.”

The SFA operates on a $1.4 million annual budget that will likely reach $1.8 million in three years, and the major part of the budget is contributed by private donors such as Pihakis, a two-time James Beard Award semifinalist and an entrepreneur who has helped grow the careers of chefs and restaurateurs from Birmingham to New Orleans to Charleston, South Carolina, and throughout the South.

To date, the SFA has endowed two positions that contribute directly to Ole Miss students. The SFA raised the majority of endowment funds for the academic position held by Catarina Passidomo, assistant professor of Southern studies and anthropology. Additionally, the SFA raised all the outside funds – $1 million from Pihakis – for the filmmaker and documentary instructor position held by Ava Lowrey.

Edge earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Southern studies from Ole Miss in 1996 and 2002, respectively.

During his tenure as SFA director, Edge also has served as a contributing editor at Garden & Gun and a columnist for the Oxford American. For three years, he wrote the monthly “United Tastes” column for The New York Times. In 2017, Penguin published his latest book, “The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South.”

Edge said he is deeply honored by his friend’s gift and believes it will help support the future of the organization.

“Until now, the SFA has not raised money to endow a position that directly funds our work and positively impacts our budgets,” said Edge, who had made a career documenting, studying and exploring the diverse food cultures of the American South. “That was purposeful. We believed it was important that we contribute, first, to the study of food culture on the University of Mississippi campus.

“Now that the SFA has made those investments in the academic community, and in University of Mississippi students, we turn our attention to SFA leadership.”

The endowment ensures that, in the future, when Edge retires or takes a teaching role, the SFA’s fully-funded leadership position will be called the John T. Edge Director of the Southern Foodways Alliance. When the endowment vests, it will support the salary of the SFA director position occupied by Edge.

“The impact of this generous gift is significant and important,” said Lee Cohen, dean of the College of Liberal Arts. “Endowed positions such as this one are critical as we advance as an R1 institution.

“Specifically, these positions help us attract the strongest possible people to our university and directly contribute to or support the scholarship and teaching of our faculty.”

The John T. Edge Director of the Southern Foodways Alliance Endowment is open to gifts from individuals and organizations who want to contribute to the remaining goal of $500,000.

Checks supporting the SFA may be mailed with the endowment noted to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655. Gifts can also be made online by visiting or by contacting Nikki Neely, development officer for the SFA at 662-915-6678 or

Chemistry Professor Receives Prestigious Honor

Davita L. Watkins named 2018 Young Investigator by division of the American Chemical Society

UM assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry Davita L. Watkins has been named a 2018 Young Investigator by the Polymeric Materials: Science and Engineering Division, a branch of the American Chemical Society. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – A University of Mississippi chemistry professor has been awarded a prestigious national honor for her work in the fields of organic chemistry and materials science.

Davita L. Watkins, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, has been named a 2018 Young Investigator by the Polymeric Materials: Science and Engineering Division, a branch of the American Chemical Society.

PMSE Young Investigators are researchers in the first seven years of their independent career in academia, industry or national laboratories who have made significant contributions to their fields within polymer science and engineering. These scientists and engineers are emerging as leaders in the fields of materials and polymer chemistry through the synthesis, processing, characterization and physics of soft materials and their applications.

“It’s very much of a surprise,” said Watkins of the honor. “As a young scientist, I am often narrowly focused on the task that is at hand – be it research, grants, manuscripts, outreach, etc.

“The experience tends to be a very personal one that I genuinely love. In turn, having others in your field acknowledge your hard work, ambition and drive is both humbling and satisfying.”

Watkins and the quality of her science are well deserving of the highly selective recognition, said Greg S. Tschumper, professor and chair of chemistry and biochemistry.

“The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry is extremely proud of Dr. Watkins,” he said. “This type of accolade is a tremendous boon for the research mission of the department and the university. They provide a national stage that highlights some of the outstanding research and researchers at the University of Mississippi.”

Watkins’ research interests include organic and materials chemistry, supramolecular chemistry and other areas, such as exploring the operational efficiency of functional materials. A member of the Ole Miss faculty since 2014, she runs the Watkins Research Group based at UM that addresses challenging problems in materials science and engineering with innovative approaches to molecular design and fabrication.

The group focuses on improving the operational efficiency of functional materials by examining two factors: the nature of the constituting components, and the arrangement of those molecules to yield a useful overall composition, she said.

The goals of the group are to identify the unique building blocks of functional materials and examine how those building blocks behave on a molecular and macromolecular level.

“The new knowledge gained from our research leads to the development of more efficient organic-based materials and devices, thereby advancing the pursuit of technological applications” such as in electronic devices and biomedical implants, Watkins said.

Being named a 2018 Young Investigator is not the first time Watkins has earned acclaim for her research and work during her short tenure at the university.

In 2017, Watkins won a National Science Foundation CAREER Award for her research in advanced functional materials that she develops in her laboratory. Among the most prestigious awards made by the NSF, these honors are extremely competitive. The five-year award is for approximately $500,000.

In 2015, Watkins was awarded the Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award by Oak Ridge Associated Universities. The competitive research award recognizes science and technology faculty members. Watkins received the award to examine noncovalent interactions between organic semiconducting molecules to increase their efficiency in devices used as alternative forms of energy.

“UM is very proud to have Dr. Watkins as a member of our faculty,” said Josh Gladden, interim vice chancellor of the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs. “She has quickly proven herself to be a talented researcher and teacher, which has already resulted in a number of significant and competitive grant awards and recognitions. I’m excited to watch the evolution of her career.”

The 21 Young Investigator recipients will be honored during a symposium at the fall 2018 American Chemical Society National Meeting, set for Aug. 19-23 in Boston. Each honoree will give a 25-minute lecture on his or her recent research advances. The symposium includes special lectures from established leaders in the field of polymer materials science and engineering.

Watkins’ research – understanding how to build better devices from the molecular level – is an overarching theme in modern organic materials research, said Emily Pentzer, assistant professor of chemistry at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and a co-organizer of the symposium.

Watkins was chosen as a Young Investigator both for her current research and her future work.

“The awardees have also established that they will continue to significantly contribute to the field over the rest of their career,” Pentzer said.

Watkins said her symposium lecture will discuss the development of noninvasive functional materials for rapid diagnosis and treatment of acute trauma. After almost four years in development, Watkins said she’s excited to share her research with the scientific community at the symposium.

“I aim to be a teacher-scholar – an exemplary researcher and role model,” she said. “In turn, I am always conscious of the fact that my accomplishments are not my own. Being at UM, I am surrounded by intelligent, supportive people, including mentors, colleagues and students.

“My colleagues and collaborators, as well as amazingly hard-working students, are the ones who make these achievements possible.”

Conservator Completes Work on Three Marble Busts at UM Museum

Amy Jones Abbe's weeklong residency also included lectures and public presentations

Conservator Amy Jones Abbe gives the Bust of an Unknown Roman a careful cleaning as part of her residency at University Museum. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Amy Jones Abbe, one of the country’s most respected conservators of Greek and Roman sculpture, enjoyed a brief residency at the University of Mississippi Museum last week.

The Athens, Georgia, resident divided her time between restoring three busts in the museum’s David M. Robinson Greek and Roman Antiquities Collection and speaking about her work to inquisitive Ole Miss and local elementary school students.

“This has been a real pleasure for me,” Abbe said, taking a brief break from cleaning the Bust of an Unknown Roman, a marble head dating to 90-120 A.D. in Tivoli, Italy. “I love working on ancient antiquities, and was thrilled when I was extended the invitation to come here.

“The Robinson Collection has a lot of great pieces. I don’t find many such collections in the South, so this makes me very happy.”

With a lighted magnifying glass mounted to her own head and small vials containing various cleaning solutions nearby, Abbe gave painstakingly slow and meticulous care to the bust as it laid on a gurney in the museum’s Mary Buie Gallery. She explained the conservation treatment process.

“I begin with a surface cleaning, followed by testing a range of cleaning options, choosing the mildest and most effective one,” Abbe said. “I vacuum, dust and use a water-based solution that is slightly alkaline. If the conservation merits something stronger, I use an ammonium nitrate solution.”

Depending on a variety of factors, such as the quality of the stone, contaminants and their combinations, she may use soft vinyl erasers at some point in the process.

“It’s rare for anything to be uniformly soiled,” she said. “Environmental pollution is often acidic and can etch the marble over time. These pieces are not too dirty at all.”

Once the sculpture was clean, Abbe addressed areas that needed retouching.

“The trick is to maintain the piece after it has been treated,” she said. “The more regularly conservation is done, the less likely there will be preservation issues.”

Besides working on the busts, Abbe made several presentations to Ole Miss faculty and students, as well as Oxford elementary school students. She spoke to UM Roman archaeology and art history classes and the Vasari Society, a campus art history club, and ended her time in Oxford with a public talk about her work Friday afternoon at the museum.

UM faculty members who attended Abbe’s presentations gave rave reviews for them and her work.

Several marble busts are among the more than 2,000 items in the Robinson Greek and Roman Antiquities Collection in the University Museum. Submitted photo

“I’m thrilled that my students got a chance to see this work in action because conservators are always behind what people see when they go to museums,” said Jacqueline Dibiase, assistant professor of classics. “Hopefully, this experience has given them a deeper appreciation for the antiquities collection here at the University Museum. Perhaps some of them might even consider becoming conservators themselves one day.”

Aileen Ajootian, professor of classics and art, said Abbe’s work has been “remarkable and inspiring.”

“The role of a conservator is critical to any museum,” she said. “The university has a lot of wonderful antiquities that have not seen attention for a long time.

“What Ms. Abbe has done already has been remarkable. And for the students to see a conservator in action has been really inspiring.”

Students seemed likewise impressed with Abbe and her work.

“I thought she was really great,” said Hunter Myers, a senior classics major from Mountain Home, Arkansas. “Until today, I wasn’t aware of how many important pieces, particularly the Head of Aeschines, the museum had.

“Being a classics major, seeing these sculptures and hearing about how they are preserved has definitely made me think differently about a lot of things.”

Oxford resident Virginia Parson said Abbe’s talk was “really cool.”

“What she discussed matched perfectly with what I’ve been studying,” said the junior anthropology and biology major, who also is pursuing a minor in classics. “Seeing the intersection of art history, fine art and chemistry involved in being a conservator has made me consider it as a career possibility after I finish graduate school.”

Abbe was particularly enthusiastic about speaking to students, both young and older.

“I want the children to discover that conservation exists and how important it is to keeping the statues they see in good condition,” she said. “I’m glad to be a part of broadening their perspectives and letting them see the enormous varieties of experiences the world has to offer.”

As for the university students, Abbe remembered her own undergraduate exposure, which eventually led to her present occupation.

“I really discovered my love of sculpture in college while taking a classics course as an elective,” Abbe said. “I was a pre-med major at the time, but after taking that course, I switched to classics. I participated in an actual excavation and really loved it.”

By the time she finished her degree at New York University, Abbe knew she wanted a career in classical antiquities, but not as an academic.

“I moved to Washington, D.C., and began working in museums,” she recalled. “That led to me earning my graduate degree at the University of North Carolina (at) Chapel Hill and becoming a conservator.”

This is the first conservation work performed on the museum’s collection in more than 20 years, said Melanie Munns, antiquities collections manager. Hopefully, it will not be the last.

“The University Museum is only able to conserve objects as funding permits,” Munns said. “We started a conservation fund dedicated to the Robinson Collection five years ago with an initial donation gifted by the Daughters of Penelope, Memphis chapter.

“It is with their accrued donations, funds from the Robinson Reinstallation Project and the Friends of the Museum that we are able to conduct this conservation work.”

The Friends of the Museum has pledged further funding for conservation that should allow work to be performed on another piece, possibly more, in coming months, Munns said.

“We hope to perform annual conservation work,” she said. “With over 2,000 objects in the Robinson Collection, we foresee this type of programming could continue for many years to come.”

Abbe is also cleaning two Greek vases from the UM collection at her Georgia studio. If the conservation efforts continue, she would gladly return to campus.

“Oxford is a lovely place,” she said. “Coming back here to do more of what I love doing would be a dream come true.”

For more information, call University Museum at 662-915-7028.

UM Student Discovers Potentially New Tarantula Species

Andrew Snyder makes find during research trip to Guyana

It is believed that the blue tarantula, discovered by UM doctoral student Andrew Snyder in Guyana, is an undescribed species. Submitted photo by Andrew Snyder

OXFORD, Miss. – A shiny cobalt blue gleamed in the beam of a flashlight sweeping through the evening darkness of the tangled rainforest in Guyana.

Holding the flashlight, University of Mississippi doctoral student Andrew Snyder walked closer to this brilliant blue source, lured by the curiosity twinkling from a small hole in a rotting tree stump.

What the biology major discovered is perhaps a new species of tarantula, one whose hairy legs and body are speckled with streaks of metallic-looking blue.

“Many jungle organisms give off eye shine, caused by the reflection of your beam of light off of a membrane in the eye, and typically with a characteristic color depending on the organism,” Snyder said. “The blue that my light beam illuminated in fact was not the eye shine of a spider, but rather the forelimbs of a small tarantula.

“I have spent years conducting surveys in Guyana and have always paid close attention to the tarantula species. I immediately knew that this one was unlike any species I have encountered before.”

Snyder, who is finishing his doctorate at Ole Miss this spring, had been trudging through the rainforest of the Potaro Plateau that evening in the spring of 2014. He had been conducting a survey of nocturnal amphibians and reptiles as the herpetologist for a joint conservation research team through Global Wildlife Conservation and World Wildlife Fund-Guianas.

Then the tarantula captured his eye. And there were more. The tree stump was pockmarked with holes, and several, if not all, housed a tarantula, each seemingly tolerating a neighboring tarantula.

“When I sent the images of the tarantula to an expert who specializes in neotropical tarantulas, he ecstatically proclaimed that this was 99 percent likely to be an undescribed species,” Snyder said.

An individual tarantula was collected and sent to experts for verification. The creature is awaiting its formal description, and the process might require a follow-up trip to the region to try to collect a few more samples. The tarantula’s discovery could be publicized only recently.

UM doctoral student Andrew Snyder has made 10 trips to Guyana for various research and conservation efforts. Submitted photo by Liz Condo

“For a species description, it is crucial to have multiple individuals, ideally both males and females, and across different age classes to account for sexual dimorphism and phenotypic variability (normal variability in external appearance within the same species),” Snyder said.

A return trip to Guyana, which hugs the North Atlantic coast of South America and contains some of the continent’s largest unspoiled rainforests, would not be unusual for Snyder. He’s been there 10 times.

The Baltimore native first journeyed to Guyana during the summer of 2011, weeks before he started graduate school at Ole Miss. He received his bachelor’s degree in biology with a concentration in ecology and evolution from the University of Maryland.

Snyder’s scientific work in Guyana is as a herpetologist, a biologist who studies amphibians and reptiles, and his work is related to his doctoral research through collecting specimens and DNA samples. He’s also visited the country, which is slightly smaller than Idaho, on personal research trips, training programs and conferences.

He was last in Guyana in November to participate in a press release for the results of the Potaro expedition.

Snyder, who describes himself as a Ph.D. candidate, photographer, conservationist and naturalist, also served as an expedition photographer on the Guyana trips.

“While the data collected on these expeditions were valuable to my Ph.D. research, these expeditions were conservation expeditions,” he said. “We were exploring and surveying areas in Guyana that were lacking biodiversity data and facing certain conservation threats: logging, mining, etc.

“(My photography) documents the biodiversity, habitats and conservation threats, and communicates the research that we are doing throughout the country.”

The Potaro River in Guyana flows 140 miles before flowing into the Essequibo River, Guyana’s largest river. The blue tarantula was discovered in the Potaro Plateau area. Submitted photo by Andrew Snyder

After earning his Ph.D., Snyder hopes to continue his conservation research and photography, perhaps with a group such as the World Wildlife Fund or Global Wildlife Conservation. He wants to continue to contribute to science and conservation, and further public awareness of biodiversity and conservation efforts with his images.

Snyder’s passion for herpetology extends back to his childhood in Maryland; his parents allowed him certain exotic pets such as amphibians and reptiles. After receiving his bachelor’s, he spent two-and-a-half summers conducting amphibian and reptile surveys in Cusuco National Park in Honduras with the conservation group Operation Wallacea.

He credits the University of Mississippi and his professors and labmates for making him “an all-around better scientist and biologist.”

“Perhaps most importantly, I began to see the forest for the trees, if you will (while at UM),” he said. “I really began to understand the bigger picture of the work that I was doing or could do. My time at the University of Mississippi also led to so many valuable opportunities and collaborations that otherwise would have never happened.

“My labmates, the other graduate students specifically in the Noonan Lab with me, have been very instrumental in my development.”

The Noonan Lab at UM is headed by Brice Noonan, associate professor of biology and Snyder’s Ph.D. supervisor. 

Snyder’s area of research is phylogeography, the study of the geographic distribution of lineages of species or closely related species and the processes responsible for shaping them. Snyder credits Noonan for his interest in phylogeography and his interest in performing research in Guyana.

After Snyder’s initial trip to Guyana, he and Noonan brainstormed projects while scanning through Google Earth to find areas for research, which is why Snyder has spent considerable time surveying the Kanuku Mountains in Guyana.

Guyana has one of the highest levels of biodiversity in the world, including several species of snake, such as the venomous Bushmaster. Submitted photo by Andrew Snyder

“Having focused much of my own graduate work in the Guianas I was elated to bring in a student with Andrew’s field experience and a genuine interest in exploring this poorly understood, yet remarkably intact region of the neotropics,” Noonan said. “Andrew has quickly become one of the foremost experts of the region’s reptiles and amphibians, and his extensive fieldwork in the region has greatly enhanced our understanding of all aspects of the area’s biodiversity, as evidenced by this tarantula discovery.”

The partnership between Noonan and Snyder at UM is not unique.

“Andrew Snyder is one of our talented Ph.D. students who work to discover new populations and new species,” said Gregg Roman, UM chair of and professor in biology. “The biology department at the University of Mississippi has many strengths in biodiversity and conservation research. Our graduate students work closely with their major professors and undertake expeditions around the world to learn the science and techniques of surveying and analyzing biodiversity.

“The identification of this new and blue tarantula within tree hollows will help conservationists draw attention to overlooked habitats within the forests.”

The Guiana Shield – a geological formation in northeast South America that underlies Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana, most of Venezuela, as well as parts of Colombia and Brazil – is a special place for its phylogeographic value, Snyder said. An upland region leading up to the Guyanese border with Venezuela and Brazil, the Potaro Plateau is between the lowlands of the eastern Guiana Shield and the famed Guiana Highlands.

“The region is incredibly old and unique in just how much area is still unexplored and not affected by human impacts,” Snyder said. “From a research perspective, this allows for inferences to be made that are not influenced by human interaction as they are in other tropical areas where the habitats have been affected by deforestation.”

A developing country, Guyana has an abundant biodiversity that is challenged by the country’s richness of natural resources. A delicate balance needs to be struck between conservation and access to and extraction of the country’s natural resources with minimal environmental impact, Snyder said.

Discoveries such as the blue tarantula reinforce the importance of creating and maintaining that balance, said Leeanne E. Alonso, associate conservation scientist with Global Wildlife Conservation.

During a spring 2014 expedition to Guyana, UM doctoral student Andrew Snyder happened upon a cobalt-blue tarantula, which is believed to be an undescribed species. Submitted photo by Andrew Snyder

“Guyana has an amazing range of habitats and high diversity of species, especially for such a small country,” said Alonso, who has worked with Snyder for five years. “Discoveries such as this tarantula help us highlight that there’s so much rich diversity in Guyana, much of it still undiscovered, and all of it contributing to keeping the planet healthy. This tarantula helps to remind us all of the beauty of nature, and that we share this planet with so many interesting creatures.

“It’s intriguing to think about why these tarantulas are blue. Perhaps the color helps them startle predators or blend into the leaf litter. Such large predators must have an important role in the food web of the tropical forest.”

The blue tarantula, with its stunning color, also causes people to take another look at invertebrates and realize the importance of conserving them, Snyder said.

“Since this discovery, the amount of people who have commented, ‘I hate spiders, but this one is beautiful!’ is really telling,” he said. “Conservation starts with awareness.

“The fact that this tarantula is making people aware of the stunning biodiversity of this area is key. Guyana was so proud of this discovery that they actually painted a large mural of it on one of their walls at the Georgetown Zoo.”

Alumnus Ryan Upshaw Reflects on BSU’s Legacy of Service

Time in organization helped him develop leadership skills

Ryan Upshaw, pictured here receiving the Lift Every Voice Award in 2016, remains an active alumnus of the UM Black Student Union. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – When he was a freshman at the University of Mississippi in 2002, Ryan Upshaw saw a flyer about the Black Student Union and decided to join with some other classmates. Little did he know, this decision would greatly shape his life. 

Upshaw, a Moss Point native who earned his undergraduate degree in psychology in 2006 and a master’s higher education in 2008, is assistant dean of student services for the UM School of Engineering. He was named the BSU’s Outstanding Faculty/Staff Award winner in 2015 and has remained an involved BSU alumnus. 

He said he found a strong network within BSU during his undergraduate years, made lifelong friendships and developed his leadership skills. He also became more service-minded. 

“Having a student organization that the university looked to regarding the issues black students faced was key for me and many other students and likely why we got involved,” Upshaw said. “There was just a support system within BSU that one couldn’t really find anywhere else.

“Being in BSU, I felt empowered to become a part of other organizations, like the Associated Student Body, Ole Miss Ambassadors and orientation leaders.”

The university’s BSU, founded in 1968, celebrates its 50th anniversary with events throughout the 2017-18 academic year. The group’s golden birthday will culminate with a gala in February. 

Throughout the period of celebration, past presidents, former members and current students will be profiled on the BSU website and on the UM website. Special anniversary content on social media can also be found using the hashtag #UMBSU50.

While Upshaw was a student, LaToya Coleman, Brianna O’Neal and Brian Haynes were all BSU presidents whom he admired for being strong advocates for minority students. Their dedication made them role models to Upshaw and many other students. 

Haynes, who was BSU president during the 2002-03 academic year, remembers the freshman Upshaw as being committed to the group’s mission, but also very personable. 

“Ryan’s outgoing personality and desire to promote diversity and inclusion across the Ole Miss campus was very beneficial in assisting the Black Student Union fulfill its mission – a mission that is attentive to a sense of community and inclusion among all students at the university,” Haynes said. “The Black Student Union nurtured Ryan’s growth sociably and assisted in the development of skills that crafted his path toward his collegiate and career goals.”

The BSU’s “Turn Your Back on Hate” campaign during Upshaw’s undergraduate years inspired him. At the time, it was a new approach to confronting controversial speakers on campus. Students lined up in large numbers to protest, but instead of yelling or holding signs, they peacefully turned their backs to the speaker.

“It was sort of my first introduction to activism on a college campus,” Upshaw said. “It also helped to show me that I could have a voice. I am certain that it has definitely been an influence given the climate of our campus today.”

Upshaw credits administrators Val Ross, Donald Cole and Thomas Wallace as being great advocates for students of color during his time as a student. BSU also played a major role in serving those students.

He credits BSU for driving recent moves such as the university’s creation the Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement and its hiring of Katrina Caldwell as the first-ever vice chancellor for diversity and community engagement. 

Looking back on his time with the BSU, Upshaw is proud of the group’s longstanding legacy of service. 

“We weren’t just thinking of ourselves,” he said. “We wanted to give back to the campus and the larger community.”

Black History Month Opening Ceremony Inspires, Challenges

Sociology professor Brian Foster delivered keynote address on resilience of black culture

The UM Gospel Choir performs furing the university’s Black History Month opening ceremony Feb. 1 in Fulton Chapel. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi’s opening ceremony for Black History Month included several speakers, riveting performances by the UM Gospel Choir and the presentation of the 2018 Lift Every Voice Awards.

The Thursday (Feb. 1) celebration in Fulton Chapel featured key messages about the university’s progress in fostering a welcoming and inclusive environment, as well as the need to continue the focus and commitment to diversity.

Brian Foster, UM assistant professor of Southern studies and sociology, delivered the keynote address on “Some Things Never Change, and I’m Glad About It.” Foster was introduced by Nekkita Beans, president of the university’s Black Student Union.

“There’s beauty in the shared and timeless culture of black folks – the ways that contemporary musicians, singers and rappers sample music from the ’80s, ’70s and ’50s,” Foster said. “There are things that my parents said to me that their parents said to them that are recognizable by black folks from Mississippi to Miami to Chicago to Philadelphia.”

Foster called upon the audience – especially black students in attendance – to remember that “the challenges that have seemingly always confronted black American livelihood are no match for our will to endure, create and overcome.”

“Black folks have always been a people of seekers, makers and doers,” he said. “That is the legacy that we have blazed through this campus, state and nation, and I want black UM students to know it is up to them to keep that legacy bright.”

The program began with a welcome from Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter.

Southern studies and sociology professor Brian Foster delivers the keynote address for the UM Black History Month opening ceremony. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

“Black History Month is important throughout the nation, but perhaps especially important at the University of Mississippi,” Vitter said. “We have a unique responsibility to learn from our history. We have taken many positive steps to recognize our past, embrace progressive attitudes and support inclusion and diversity.

“While Black History month is only one month long, it is my sincere hope that all members of our community will keep the values of diversity and inclusion at the forefront throughout the year.”

Shawnboda Mead, director of the Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement, extended greetings before presentation of a historical perspective on the importance of this monthlong celebration by Terrence Johnson, president of the Men of Excellence, a student group for African-American males.

Donald Cole, assistant provost and professor of mathematics, presented the “Lift Every Voice” awards, created by the UM Black Faculty and Staff Organization to recognize individuals, groups or entities that have contributed to the betterment of human relationships on campus. Emphasis is given to the areas of diversity, multiculturalism and inclusion.

Recipients of this year’s awards were Charles Hussey, associate dean for research and graduate education in the College of Liberal Arts and professor of chemistry and biochemistry; Jan Murray, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and professor of art and art history; James Thomas, assistant professor of sociology and anthropology; and the School of Law Diversity Committee.

For a full list of Black History Month sponsors and calendar of events, visit

University Wins NSF Award for Electron Microscope

State-of-the-art instrument will be among the nation's most advanced

Members of several UM departments collaborated to secure a new field-emission scanning electron microscope that will benefit multiple disciplines. The team includes (from left) Vijayasankar Raman, Brenda Hutton-Prager, Soumyajit Majumdar, Jennifer Gifford and Kevin Lewellyn. UM photo by Sydney Slotkin DuPriest

OXFORD, Miss. – A collaborative effort by researchers from multiple schools and departments earned the University of Mississippi a $346,641 Major Research Instrumentation award from the National Science Foundation for the acquisition of a new field-emission scanning electron microscope.

The state-of-the-art microscope will enhance research capabilities for the School of Pharmacy, the School of Engineering and the College of Liberal Arts. Expected to arrive in October, the instrument will be housed in the School of Pharmacy, a convenient location for many of the departments involved.

“It was a great accomplishment by the whole group,” said Soumyajit Majumdar, principal investigator for the award, professor in the Department of Pharmaceutics and Drug Delivery and the School of Pharmacy’s associate dean for research and graduate programs. “Getting extramural funding is a challenge, and this is even more exciting because it is a universitywide achievement.

“The microscope is going to exponentially improve the capabilities and visibility of the university, and will positively impact the training and education of our graduate and undergraduate students.”

Scanning electron microscopes focus beams of electrons onto an object’s surface to create images with high magnification and resolution. The instruments can be used to assemble microchips, conduct genetic testing and test new medicines.

This will be the most advanced electron microscope at Ole Miss, replacing the existing device that has supported research programs over the past 17 years.

Vijayasankar Raman, a research scientist in the National Center for Natural Products Research, serves as a co-principal investigator for the grant along with Brenda Hutton-Prager, assistant professor of chemical engineering, Jennifer Gifford, assistant professor of geology and geological engineering, and Amala Dass, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry. Raman has overseen UM’s existing scanning electron microscope facility since 2011.

“This award will be a game changer in the research outcomes and publications from UM,” Raman said. “The acquisition of a modern SEM puts UM on par with top-notch universities in the U.S. and around the world.”

Traditional researchers won’t be the only ones to enjoy the microscope. With 10 UM departments involved in its proposal, at least 14 existing undergraduate and graduate courses will use the instrument, allowing more than 500 students to access the microscope for their own research purposes.

The university also plans to involve neighboring institutions, high school and community college students, and K-12 students and teachers through outreach programs.

Funds for the microscope are provided by grant number 1726880 from the National Science Foundation.

TEDxUniversityofMississippi Brings ‘Ideas Worth Spreading’ to UM Feb. 3

Seven speakers set for this year's program

UMi hosts its third TEDxUniversityofMississippi conference Feb. 3 at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi will host its third TEDxUniversity of Mississippi conference Feb. 3 at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts with seven speakers to give brief, thought-provoking lectures on the theme of “MomentUM.”

This year’s lineup includes faculty members, a graduate student, a law student and others who will discuss a variety of topics, including how substance abuse is treated by the criminal justice system, lessening the dependence on foods that come from slaughterhouses and forming your worldview. 

The series is completely organized and designed by Ole Miss students with the original theme ‘MomentUM,’ which celebrates the diversity of people and ideas that are collectively moving our world forward, said Marvin King, associate professor of political science and African American studies, who serves as TEDx faculty adviser. 

“We are thrilled to invite the community to what will be the best TEDx event we have hosted here in Oxford since its founding,” King said. “The ‘MomentUM’ talk series is designed to embody the spirit of both the university and of TEDx, so we are excited for a full lineup of great talks that reflect that.”

King said he’s proud of the energy the Student Planning Committee brought to getting the event together. 

“They are selecting the speakers, designing the artwork and stage presence,” King said. “They’re all in. Each year we produce a better event, and this year will be no exception.

“We’re very excited to bring TEDx back to Ole Miss for a third time. We think it’ll be a fun and engaging show, complete with a live music intermission.”

Will Tribble, a junior mechanical engineering major from Charlottesville, Virginia, and one of the event’s coordinators, said that inviting students to speak was important to the committee this year. 

“Our speaker selection process was intended to reflect the nature of our event: showcasing the best of Mississippi while introducing new perspectives as well,” Tribble said. “As a student-run event, we made it our goal this year to showcase students for the first time.

“Due to the overwhelming enthusiasm for this opportunity, we were able to select multiple students to speak.”

TEDx uses the widely popular TED Talks conference format, which brings together lecturers and other participants in a global set of conferences under the slogan “Ideas worth spreading.” TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience.

For the first time in the event’s history, students will be among the speakers taking the stage to share their ideas worth spreading. Besides the headlining speakers, the event will also feature a talk from a local middle school student with the Lafayette Middle School TED-Ed club.

The professional speakers headlining this year’s event represent Mississippi, Southern California and Brooklyn, New York. Their talks will highlight topics ranging from the interpretive power of storytelling to the future of global food production.

General admission tickets are $20, and student tickets are $10. Doors will open at noon, and the event begins at 1 p.m. Tickets and more information are available here. 

Speakers for this year’s event are: 

  • Jandel Crutchfield, a UM assistant professor of social work, who will ask the audience, “What is your worldview? And what experiences have helped you develop it? Before engaging in a debate of any kind, what if individuals truly understood their answers to these two questions? Communicating a worldview as one single number compels us to not only look outward, but inward.”
  • Brian Foster, a UM professor of sociology and Southern studies, who will talk about the “interpretive power of missing stories – the absence of an entire demographic group from certain spaces, the desire of an individual to repress or ‘move on from’ certain memories, the quiet pauses of conversation – that teaches us about ourselves, each other and how societies change – or don’t.”
  • Emily Frith, an Ole Miss graduate student, who will talk about the complex process of creative thinking, where the goal is not merely to be creative, but to produce a solution that has value, either on a personal level or on a broad scale. She will explore how society can learn to problem-solve and problem-find using trainable creativity tactics. The implications could be instrumental in this modern age of excellence in education and innovation.
  • Josh Horton, a UM law student, who will talk about his conviction that addiction should not be treated as a stigmatized moral failure, and that society should start re-integrating those who have been pushed to the fringes. From inmate to advocate, Horton’s journey from a substance abuser with a criminal rap sheet to a magna cum laude J.D. influences his passion to advocate for restorative communities and legal processes for recovering addicts nationwide.
  • Janet McCarty, who will talk about how being introduced to simple, instinctual behaviors from an unconventional mentor can transform the human perspective and the way we pursue goals and dreams. She will introduce a few simple behaviors she learned from her mentor and applied to her life. Putting these behaviors into practice gave McCarty a unique perspective on life, allowing her to achieve her dream of becoming an entrepreneur.
  • Leena Patel, who will address “Gamulation,” the practice of using games and simulation to improve teaching and learning, specifically in the workplace. She will answer the question, “Wouldn’t work be a better place for most of us if we were having more fun?”
  • Jacy Reese, who will talk about “clean meat,” which refers to real meat made from animal cells without animal slaughter. He will focus on social solutions informed by breakthroughs and historical successes will eventually allow for an ethical and efficient food system where slaughterhouses are obsolete.

Classics Professor Receives Humanities Fellowship to Greece

Brad Cook to study origins, meanings of two ancient Greek inscriptions from university's collection

Brad Cook

OXFORD, Miss. – Brad Cook, an associate professor of classics at the University of Mississippi, will spend the spring in Athens, Greece, researching two ancient inscriptions that are part of the David M. Robinson Memorial Collection of Greek and Roman Antiquities at the University Museum.

Cook has received a $21,000 National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship to fund the research for five months at the American School of Classical Studies. The two Greek inscriptions he will study aren’t made of marble, like others in UM’s collection, but rather made of gold and bronze.

The gold inscription records terms of a treaty made in 202 B.C. between the king of Macedon and the city of Lysimachia, the most strategic location on the Dardanelles. The bronze inscription records the freeing of a slave woman named Philista in northwestern Greece at about the same time.

“If my research in Athens bears out my current interpretations, the gold inscription looks to have been the personal, epitomized copy of this strategic treaty made for Philip V, king of Macedon from 220 to 179 BC, as a memento of his incessant efforts to control as much of the Greek world as possible,” Cook said. “The bronze inscription was very likely the personal copy of Philista’s manumission, her ‘free papers’, a guarantee of her freedom in 111 grams of bronze.”

Several inscriptions in the Robinson collection are stone, and all those have been the subject of published works over the last 80 years. The two inscriptions Cook will study, both about the size of the palm of your hand and only a few millimeters thick, have not been in published papers. Both inscriptions are completely legible, Cook said. 

The two items are part of more than 2,000 artifacts in the Robinson collection, which is considered to be the best of its kind in the South.  Besides the extensive collection of Greek vases of all periods, Greek and Roman sculpture, bronzes, terra cottas, inscriptions, coins, oil lamps and household objects, there are collections of potsherds dating from the Neolithic Age to the Late Roman Empire.

The collection is available to students for research and study. Many of the artifacts in the collection need further study, and students are encouraged to make use of these collections in classwork and research. 

The collection is named for the former Ole Miss professor David Moore Robinson, and it came to the university at the bequests and gifts of him and his widow, Helen Tudor Robinson. The majority of the collection was purchased from the estate of Mrs. Robinson by Mr. and Mrs. Frank S. Peddle Jr., of Oxford, who generously gave it to the university. 

Molly Pasco-Pranger, chair and associate professor of classics, said she and her colleagues are proud of Cook for receiving the fellowship.

“His project will bring a pair of inscriptions in our own University Museum’s collection to international attention and contribute to our understanding of these two very different, but similarly small-scale and personal inscriptions,” Pasco-Pranger said. “This is a much deserved honor for Dr. Cook, and I am excited and proud to see a colleague who demonstrates his excellence as a teacher and scholar regularly here on our campus also receive national recognition and support for his research.”

Conservator Visiting UM Museum to Examine Marble Sculpture Collection

Amy Jones Abbe to assess selected pieces and advise staff on their preservation

Several marble busts are among the more than 2,000 items in the Robinson Greek and Roman Antiquities Collection in the University Museum. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – One of the country’s most respected conservators of Greek and Roman sculpture is visiting the University of Mississippi Museum this week to review its collection and share her expertise.

Amy Jones Abbe of Athens, Georgia, will be on campus through Friday (Jan. 30-Feb. 2) to work on ancient marble sculptures from the David M. Robinson Collection of Greek and Roman Antiquities. This is the first conservation work done on the museum collection in more than 20 years.

“Amy Abbe will begin with the three sculptures we have installed in the first gallery of the Mary Buie building,” said Melanie Munns, the museum’s antiquities collections manager. “She will first examine these sculptures to determine where past repairs were made and how by performing tests in small areas.

“It’s possible that two of these sculptures will just need cleanings and touch ups with paint. The third, the Head of Aeschines, may need further assessment to determine the approach to its added coarse plaster nose.”

During the week, Abbe also is scheduled to speak to UM students enrolled in anthropology, classics and Roman archaeology classes, as well as to groups of local elementary school students in the Museum Art Zone program.

Abbe will give a brief talk in the Museum’s Speakers Gallery at 4:30 p.m. Friday (Feb. 2). The free, public event will be followed by light refreshments.

Amy Jones Abbe

“The University Museum is only able to conserve objects as funding permits,” Munns said. “We started a conservation fund dedicated to the Robinson Collection five years ago with an initial donation gifted by the Daughters of Penelope, Memphis chapter.

“It is with their accrued donations, funds from the Robinson Reinstallation Project and the Friends of the Museum that we are able to conduct this conservation work.”

The Friends of the Museum have pledged further funding for conservation that should allow work to be performed on another piece, possibly more, in coming months, Munns said.

“We hope to perform annual conservation work,” she said. “With over 2,000 objects in the Robinson Collection, we foresee this type of programming could continue for many years to come.”

Before launching her own art conservation studio in 2011, Abbe was a conservator at museums in Florence, Italy; New York City; Washington, D.C.; Cambridge, Massachusetts; and Baltimore. She earned her degrees from New York University and the University of North Carolina.

For more information, call University Museum at 662-915-7028.