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

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

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

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

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

Fortunately, Dickinson’s story has a happy ending.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ten Seniors Named UM Hall of Fame Inductees

Recipients honored for service, achievement and potential for success

The 2018 University of Mississippi Hall of Fame. Photo by by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Ten University of Mississippi seniors have been inducted into the university’s 2017-18 Hall of Fame, one of the highest honors afforded students at Ole Miss.

The inductees were honored Friday afternoon (April 6) in a ceremony at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts. A campus committee chooses Hall of Fame members in accordance with policy developed by the Associated Student Body. Selections are based on outstanding contributions in all aspects of campus life.

This year’s Hall of Fame members are Allen Coon of Petal; Christopher Feazell of Mendenhall; Terrence Johnson of Shuqualak; Jiwon Lee of Oxford; Megan McLeod of Highlands Ranch, Colorado; Savannah Smith of Corinth; Austin Spindler of Savannah, Tennessee; Elizabeth Taylor of Whitesboro, Texas; Jacob Thrasher of Birmingham, Alabama; Ingrid Valbuena of Maracaibo, Venezuela.

“Each of the students selected for Hall of Fame has a record of scholarship and service to the university community and has impacted the Ole Miss campus in a positive way,” said Mindy Sutton Noss, assistant vice chancellor for student affairs and dean of students. “Hall of Fame is a fitting way to recognize the legacy that each of them leaves at the University of Mississippi.”

The 10 students were among 200 seniors recognized for inclusion in Who’s Who Among Students at the University of Mississippi.

“The Hall of Fame is a time-honored process that has identified students who have gone on to make a true difference in the world,” said Noel Wilkin, provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs. “This year’s inductees have made a mark on our institution and have developed abilities that will serve them well in their careers.”

Allen Coon

Pursuing a double major in public policy leadership and African American studies, Coon is a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and the Trent Lott Leadership Institute. As an ASB senator, Coon worked with NAACP student organizers to remove the Mississippi state flag from campus and co-organized the #OccupytheLyceum protest, a spontaneous sit-in demanding an administrative response to campus racism. He previously served as president of UM College Democrats and UM Voters Everywhere. After graduation, he plans to attain both a master’s degree in public policy and a law degree and become a community organizer and civil servant. Coon’s parents are Kay Kolwe Coon and Howard Coon, both of Petal.

Christopher Feazell

Feazell, an accountancy major, is a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. He served in several roles over the course of his education, including vice president of programming for the National Association of Black Accountants, vice president of the Black Student Union, treasurer of the Accountancy ASB, Luckyday Scholar and the Columns Society. Fezell plans to pursue a master’s degree in taxation in the university’s Patterson School of Accountancy, pass the CPA exam and begin a career at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP in Atlanta upon graduation. His parents are Stephanie Berry of Mendenhall and Christopher Eugene Feazell of Mt. Olive.

Terrence Johnson

A journalism major, Johnson has served as president of the Men of Excellence, the largest male minority organization at the university. He also served as public relations director for the Columns Society, anchor for NewsWatch TV, co-president of the UM Association of Black Journalists, an orientation leader and coordinator. After graduation, Johnson plans to pursue a master’s degree in video storytelling and narrative writing at the University of California at Berkeley. His parents are George Lee and Angela Johnson of Shuqualak.

Jiwon Lee

Lee is a music performance major with an emphasis on flute and violin performance. She was drum major for the Pride of the South Marching Band, principal flutist of the Ole Miss Wind Ensemble and ensemble violinist for the LOU Symphony. A member of Phi Kappa Phi honor society, Lee was president of the Korean Student Association and recipient of the Marcus Guinn Spirit Award. She plans to pursue a master’s degree in music education and music performance at the university. Lee’s parents are Jongbok and Aeran Moon Lee of Oxford.

Megan McLeod

McLeod, an economics major with a minor in chemistry, is a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and the Columns Society, and founder of the Hotty Toddy Tutors LLC, a student-run tutoring company. She is founding vice president of the UM chapter of the American Medical Women’s Society, vice president of chapter development for Phi Mu fraternity and recipient of the Trailblazer Award from Fraternal Leadership and Learning. After graduation, McLeod plans to pursue a medical degree at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. Her parents are Bill and Christine McLeod of Highlands Ranch, Colorado.

Savannah Smith

Smith is completing a double major in journalism and public policy leadership. A member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and Trent Lott Leadership Institute scholar, she is Miss Ole Miss, executive director of the Big Event, vice president of the Columns Society, an orientation leader and an executive officer in Chi Omega sorority. After graduation, Smith will attend New York University to pursue a master’s degree in journalism with a magazine emphasis. Her parents are Tim and Tracy Smith of Corinth.

Austin Spindler

Spindler is a public policy leadership major in the Trent Lott Leadership Institute. He has served as assistant director of the Big Event, senior executive assistant to the ASB president, ASB secretary, staffing director of the UM Food Bank and IFC vice president of public relations. Spindler plans to move to Washington, D.C., to pursue a career in consulting. His parents are Richard and Dana Spindler of Savannah, Tennessee.

Elizabeth Taylor

A sociology major, member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and a Ronald E. McNair Scholar, Taylor served as a mentor in the McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement. She also served as a peer educator for Rebels Against Sexual Assault and was the first junior-entry student to receive the Barksdale Award. After graduation, Taylor plans to pursue a doctorate in sociology at the University of Missouri. Her parents are Elizabeth A. Taylor of Sadler, Texas, and the late Marshall Lee Taylor.

Jacob Thrasher

Thrasher, a chemistry major in the biochemistry track, served as president of Omicron Delta Kappa, past president of Rebels Against Sexual Assault and a panelist for the Huffington Post’s Listen to America Tour. An editorial cartoonist for the Daily Mississippian and Oxford Eagle, he received the Society of Professional Journalists’ Mark of Excellence Region 12 Award for best political cartoonist. Thrasher has been accepted to graduate school at Yale University. Where he plans pursue a doctorate in biology and biological sciences. His parents are Christy Branton Thrasher of Birmingham, Alabama, and the late Michael Aaron Thrasher.

Ingrid Valbuena

Valbuena is an integrated marketing communications major and a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. She served as vice president of administration for Alpha Omicron Pi sorority and was an orientation leader and coordinator. A member of the Columns Society, Valbuena also hosted “sad girls, bad girls,” a weekly program on Rebel Radio. Her plans are to earn a master’s degree in IMC and advertising and become a college professor. Valbuena’s parents are Marcos Valbuena and Omarly Acina of Maracaibo, Venezuela.


Honors College Senior Named Rhodes Finalist

Austin Powell interviews Nov. 18-19 for prestigious international fellowship

UM ASB President Austin Powell is a finalist for the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

ASB President Austin Powell is a finalist for the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Austin Powell has long dreamed of winning a Rhodes Scholarship. Now, the University of Mississippi senior is just one step away from achieving that goal.

The Corinth native goes to Birmingham, Alabama, this weekend to interview as a Rhodes finalist and will learn Saturday whether he is selected for one of the prestigious scholarships. A public policy and philosophy double major in the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and the Lott Leadership Institute, Powell said he was excited when he heard the news.

“My ultimate goal is to come back and raise the quality of life for Mississippians by developing an in-depth understanding of the criminology and the criminal justice system, how different entities can become community partners in Mississippi, and how the state can take partial ownership of the solution,” said Powell, son of former state Sen. Eric Powell and Gwen Salters Powell.

“When combined with my interests in correctional systems policies and the offender’s relationship with race, poverty and education, the Rhodes experience will offer professors, like Mary Bosworth, to guide my research on the disconnects that lie between empowering offenders in the entrepreneurial class and the reality of the low post-release employment opportunities.”

The Rhodes Scholarships, the oldest international fellowships, bring outstanding students from many countries to the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. Besides “intellectual distinction,” the selection committee seeks excellence in qualities of mind and of person, which combined offer the promise of effective service to the world in the decades ahead. Rhodes Scholars are elected for two years of study at Oxford University, with the possibility of being renewed for a third year.

Powell’s selection as a finalist is an honor for him and an important distinction for the university, said Douglass Sullivan-Gonzalez, Honors College dean.

“Austin Powell is a citizen scholar, actively seeking solutions for racial injustice and inequality,” he said. “The Rhodes Scholarship will allow him to continue his development at the University of Oxford as a leader and a scholar. He is investing his talents into his home state and tackling economic and justice issues with broad implications.”

Powell has put together a long list of accomplishments during his four years at UM. He is Associated Student Body president, was assistant director for the Ole Miss Big Event, social chair for the Columns Society and co-philanthropy chair and tribune for Sigma Chi fraternity. Powell is also a member of Omicron Delta Kappa, a McLean Innovation Scholar, a Trent Lott Institute Scholar and a Coca-Cola Scholar.

While teaching entrepreneurial and leadership development at the Marshall County Correctional Facility, Powell gained insights for the subject of his honors thesis, being directed by Jody Holland, UM assistant professor of public policy leadership.

“I have not met another student who has impressed me as much as Austin has in combining creativity, hard work, initiative and courage,” Holland said.

Associate Dean of Students Valeria Ross agreed.

“Austin is a rare find,” she said. “There is a genteel goodness about Austin that allows him to get things done and at the end of the day, the entire team is still intact and the relationships are stronger. He finds the good in whatever has taken place, and he never takes the easy way out.”

Powell begins a two-day interview process Friday (Nov. 18) before the District 7 selection committee. Finalists are chosen from each state to interview by district, and District 7 includes Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. This process leads to the selection of 32 scholars nationally, from roughly 900 applications.

To prepare for the interview, Powell said he has been reading The New York Times and listening to National Public Radio every day, researching correctional education and poverty studies, and mapping out answers to probable questions.

UM’s last Rhodes Scholar was Shad White, selected in the 2008 competition.

Powell has a healthy outlook about the interview process.

“I’m humbled and excited at the potential chance to represent Ole Miss and the state of Mississippi,” Powell said. “I know many people don’t have this opportunity, so I want to enjoy this experience and the interview process.”

Six Freshmen Honored for Leadership, Academic Excellence

Omicron Delta Kappa honor society presents annual awards

(Left to Right) Olivia Dear, Christopher Feazell, Dillon Hall, Alexis Smith, Loden Snell

This year’s honorees include (left to right) Olivia Dear, Christopher Feazell, Dillon Hall, Alexis Smith and Loden Snell.

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi chapter of Omicron Delta Kappa Honor Society has honored six students for their academic performance, leadership and community involvement.

This year’s recipients of ODK Freshman Leader Awards are Olivia Dear of Madison, Seth Dickinson of Mantachie, Christopher Feazell of Mendenhall, Dillon Hall of Saltillo, Alexis Smith of Picayune and Loden Snell of Ridgeland.

“These six students are among many outstanding freshmen here at the university,” said Ryan Upshaw, ODK adviser and assistant dean for student services in the School of Engineering. “Our society is excited to be able to recognize their outstanding contributions during their first year on campus. We also look forward to their potential membership in our society later in their college career.”

Dear, a graduate of Madison Central High School, is president of ASB Freshman Council and serves on the Chi Omega sorority philanthropy committee. A member of Lambda Sigma honor society, she is a Provost Scholar and on the Chancellor’s Honor Roll. An English and journalism major, she volunteers with Leap Frog, Hermitage Gardens and the Oxford Humane Society.

“I’m really grateful to receive the ODK Freshman Leader Award,” Dear said. “It was a really motivating award to get, and now I am excited to spend the next three years engaging in activities that serve the student body even more.”

Dickinson attended Mendenhall High School. He is a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and Trent Lott Leadership Institute and is an Honors College Freshman Senator. A public policy leadership major, he is a recipient of a Lott Scholarship and is an Ole Miss Ambassador, member of Delta Psi fraternity and on the Dean’s Honor Roll. He volunteers with Brookdale Oxford retirement community.

Seth Dickinson

Seth Dickinson

Feazell, an accountancy major, attended Mendenhall High School. He is a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, Luckyday Success Program, National Association of Black Accountants, Undergraduate Black Law Students Association and Lambda Sigma honors society. He is a LuckyDay Scholar, on the Chancellor’s Honor Roll, a Rebel Quest counselor and a volunteer tutor for business calculus.

A graduate of Saltillo High School, Hall is a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, Center for Manufacturing Excellence, Engineering Student Body Leadership Council, Engineers Without Borders Design Committee, American Society of Mechanical Engineers and Delta Psi fraternity. A mechanical engineering major, he is a CME ambassador and a volunteer with Green Grove Initiative and Oxford City Market.

Smith, a graduate of Picayune Memorial High School, is a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and the Croft Institute for International Studies, and is an Honors College Freshman Senator and community service co-chair for International Justice Mission. She is a recipient of an Honors College scholarship and a member of the Chi Omega scholarship committee. An international studies major, she is a writer for the Daily Mississippian and a volunteer with Oxford Humane Society and More than a Meal.

A graduate of Saint Joseph Catholic School, Snell is a public policy leadership major in the Trent Lott Leadership Institute and recipient of a Lott Scholarship. He is also a member of ASB Freshman Council, Residence Hall Association, College Republicans and the Chancellor’s Leadership Class, an ASB senator and Stockard Hall Council President. He volunteers with the Big Event and Green Grove Recycling.

Omicron Delta Kappa is a 100-year old leadership honor society that has initiated more than 300,000 members at since its founding. The society has more than 285 active chapters at colleges and universities across the United States.

Ten Outstanding Seniors Awarded Hall of Fame Distinction

Recipients honored for academic achievement, community service and potential for success

Ten University of Mississippi students were inducted into this year's Hall of Fame in a ceremony at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts on Friday afternoon. Photo by Kevin Bain.

Ten University of Mississippi students were inducted into this year’s Hall of Fame in a ceremony at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts on Friday afternoon. Photo by Kevin Bain.

OXFORD, Miss. – Ten University of Mississippi seniors have earned membership in the school’s 2014-15 Hall of Fame, one of the university’s highest honors.

The Hall of Fame inductees were honored Jan. 30 in a ceremony at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts. Recipients are chosen by a committee in accordance with ASB policy, with selections based on a student’s academic achievement, community service and potential for future success.

New Hall of Fame members are Rob Barber of Hernando, Marcus Daniels of Brandon, Christine Dickason of Collierville, Tennessee, Channing Lansdell of Nettleton, Briana O’Neil of Brandon, Davis Rogers of Jackson, Ashley Saulsberry of Nesbit, Anna Kathryn Suggs of Kingwood, Texas, Phillip Waller of Madison and Emily Wikle of Fishers, Indiana.

“If you go to the Ole Miss Union and look at the photos of the previous inductees hanging on the wall, you quickly realize that today’s Hall of Fame honorees will join those that came before them as major contributors to our state, our country and our world,” said Brandi Hephner LaBanc, vice chancellor for student affairs. “Simply put, these are students who will become trailblazers. They have contributed to our campus community in meaningful and bountiful ways.

“They are The University of Mississippi’s triple threat – they have excelled in the classroom, they are committed to service and they effectively lead others. I know, with great confidence, that they will take that spirit, commitment and initiative beyond our campus and make significant contributions.”

The 10 students, along with 156 other Ole Miss seniors, were also recognized for inclusion in Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges. They are to be listed in the national publication’s 2015 edition.

Barber, a public policy leadership major, was selected as the university’s 2014-15 Mr. Ole Miss. He is a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and served as sophomore student senator and student director. He served as an orientation leader, an Ole Miss Ambassador and a Columns Society member, a group of 24 students who serve as official hosts to the university. Barber held several leadership positions within the Associated Student Body, including a senator from the College of Liberal Arts and the director of outreach. He is a member of the Ole Miss Model United Nations team, Mississippi First, College Democrats and active in Reformed University Fellowship and Delta Psi fraternity. Barber is a founding member of RebelTHON, a 12-hour dance marathon that raises funds for LeBonheur Children’s Hospital, and serves as director of social media for the event. He participates in UM’s Big Event community service project and volunteers as an English as a Second Language conversation partner. After graduation, he plans to attend medical school with an interest in psychiatry. His parents are Bob and Karol Barber.

A biological science major and a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, Daniels held leadership positions with the Columns Society, Associated Student Body, Lambda Sigma and the Black Student Union. He is a member of several service organizations, including the UM Big Event. He also volunteers for More than a Meal and MANNA, two organizations that feed needy people in the Oxford community. Daniels held a summer research internship with the University of Mississippi Medical Center Health Disparities unit, conducting research on stress and the immune system. He was a part of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Summer of Learning and Research Internship studying cystic fibrosis. After graduation, Daniels plans to attend medical school. His parents are Michael and Glenda Daniels from Brandon.

Dickason is a public policy leadership major and a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. A Taylor medalist and Truman Scholarship finalist, she was on the Chancellor’s Honor Roll every semester. She was a research assistant and wrote opinion pieces and columns for The Daily Mississippian. Dickason held leadership roles with the Associated Student Body, Ole Miss College Democrats and Mississippi First, and served as the student director and chair of staffing for the UM Food Bank, which helps those in need within the university family. She is completing an internship in Washington, D.C., this semester. After graduation, she plans to pursue a master’s degree in public policy. Her parents are David and Karen Dickason. As a part of her senior thesis for the Honors College, Dickason made a documentary film about education and college preparation in public schools in Mississippi. The film, “The Way I See It,” will be a part of the Oxford Film Festival Feb. 26-Mar. 1.

Lansdell is an accountancy major, a member of Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and a Luckyday Scholar. He held leadership roles in Omicron Delta Kappa and Lambda Sigma honor societies. He served on the Associated Student Body and the University Judicial Council and is active in his fraternity, Delta Psi. His numerous service projects include participating in a trip to New York City with the Honors College to help organize the annual “Aid for AIDS” fundraiser. Lansdell is completing a tax internship in real estate and asset management with KPMG in New York this semester. After graduation, he plans to attend law school. He is the son of Bill Lansdell.

A public policy leadership major, O’Neil is a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, a Trent Lott Leadership Scholar, a member of Phi Kappa Phi honor society and on the Chancellor’s and Dean’s lists. She served as an Ole Miss Ambassador, orientation leader and a member of the Columns Society. O’Neil is an active member of the Black Student Union, having served as the organization’s president. She played an instrumental role on the Black Leadership Council and on the Black History Month Planning Committee and the Black History Month Gala. O’Neil is involved with a number of community service initiatives, including Relay for Life, Leapfrog and Habitat for Humanity. She also served as the director of volunteer recruitment for the Big Event, UM’s largest community service effort. After graduation, O’Neil plans to attend law school and pursue a career as a trial attorney. Her parents are James and Quanya O’Neil of Brandon.

Rogers is a physics major and recipient of a Taylor Medal. He is this year’s Associated Student Body president and also has served as a senator, a freshman focus member and director of academic affairs on the ASB executive cabinet. He is a member of the Columns Society and active in his fraternity, Sigma Nu, serving in numerous leadership positions within the organization. After graduation, Rogers plans to attend medical school. His parents are Jonathan and Dara Rogers of Jackson.

Saulsberry, a biology major, is a first generation college student. She is a member of the Columns Society, a Luckyday Scholar and a member of IMAGE: Increasing Minority Access to Graduate Education. She active in her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, serving in numerous leadership roles, and also held leadership positions with the National Pan-Hellenic Council, Omega Phi Alpha service organization and the Big Event. Saulsberry is an Ole Miss Ambassador, an orientation leader and part of the Ole Miss FasTrack program, which helps first-year students transition from high school to college in a supportive environment. After graduation, she plans to attend graduate school and dental school and pursue a career in pediatric dentistry. Her parents are Cubby and Cheryl Saulsberry of Nesbit.

Suggs is public policy leadership major. She is president of Mortar Board Senior Honor Society, a member of Phi Kappa Phi and on the Chancellor’s Honor Roll. Suggs is active in Moneythink, a financial literacy program, having served as a mentor, vice president of recruitment and vice president of external relations. She serves a tutor on campus at the FedEx Student Athlete Success Center and in the community at LeapFrog, an after-school tutoring program serving at-risk students. Having served as the campus campaign coordinator for Teach for America, Suggs plans to spend two years with Teach for America after graduation in the Mississippi Delta. She is the daughter of Alvin and Anita Suggs.

A journalism and public policy leadership major, Waller is a member of the Lott Leadership Institute, the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and a Taylor Medal recipient. His academic, leadership and service organizations include the UM Big Event, the university’s largest community service project, Relay for Life and Mortar Board, holding leadership positions in each organization. Waller is a contributor to The Daily Mississippian and editor-in-chief of the Ole Miss yearbook, previously serving as photography editor. His work earned him an award for the Best Non-Fiction Magazine Article and first place in the On-Site News Photography Competition at the Southeast Journalism Conference. After graduation, Waller is considering law school and graduate school in Washington, D.C. His parents are Ronald and Deborah Waller.

Wikle is an elementary and special education major and the university’s 2014-15 Miss Ole Miss. She is a member of a number of honor societies. Her volunteer service includes the UM Big Event, the university’s largest community service project, Habitat for Humanity and coaching a special needs cheer team at the North Mississippi Regional Center. Wikle is an active member of Alpha Omicron Pi sorority. She was an orientation leader and a member of the Columns Society. Inspired by a child with leukemia in her hometown, Wikle founded the Columns Society’s philanthropy, Rhythm Pax, which coordinates delivery of therapeutic instruments to patients at Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital in Jackson. President of the Ole Miss Running Club, Wikle participates in races in support of leukemia patients and raises funds for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society through the Team in Training program. After graduation, she plans to pursue a career in special education and possibly attend graduate school. Her parents are Brian and Connie Wikle.

Public Policy Leadership Students Invited to Present at Conferences

Four UM juniors preparing to share their research, conclusions at national meetings

Alexandra Pena

Alexandra Pena

OXFORD, Miss. – Dynamic teachers and students who stretch their minds beyond their comfort zones are a winning combination at the University of Mississippi.

Such a match has produced four public policy leadership majors who have been invited to present papers at national conferences this spring. The papers were required writing last semester in the class PPL 300: Ethics and Public Policy, taught by award-winning faculty member Eric T. Weber.

Enrolled in the Lott Leadership Institute, the high-performing students are juniors in the College of Liberal Arts. They are Christine Dickason of Collierville, Tenn., Alexandra Pena of Washington, D.C., Rob Pillow of Madison and Will Reynolds of Ozark, Mo.

Dickason and Reynolds are slated for Eastern Michigan University’s fourth annual Undergraduate Conference in Philosophy, set for March 8-9, and Pena and

Rob Pillow

Rob Pillow

Pillow will present April 12 at the University of Central Oklahoma’s Undergraduate Conference.

Weber, associate professor of public policy leadership, says he’s not surprised when one or two of his students receive this kind of recognition, but four from the same course is unusually exciting.

“They’re great students, first of all, and they worked through an ‘intro-project’ process, in which they were tasked with planning their papers and getting feedback at an early stage,” he said. “They also picked practical and important topics to which our material clearly connected.”

Provost Morris Stocks applauded both Weber and his students for their success.

“I congratulate these outstanding students for their excellence and the national recognition they have achieved for themselves and the University of Mississippi,” Stocks said. “I also commend Dr. Weber for his enthusiasm and passion for teaching, a combination that empowers and inspires students to reach beyond the norm. This is truly another example of excellence at this university.”

Will Reynolds

Will Reynolds

Glenn Hopkins, dean of liberal arts, agreed.

“We are always pleased when the combined efforts of our faculty and students put the University of Mississippi on the national stage,” Hopkins said. “I congratulate Dr. Weber for guiding these exceptional students to this academic opportunity, and I have no doubt that they will be impressive representatives for us all.”

Pena’s research examined the federal public policy debate, including philosophical issues, related to the legalization of marijuana, defending her view that legalization is unethical. She credits her professor’s teaching style for helping her produce a paper worthy of recognition.

“It was a difficult class where you definitely needed to try hard, but Dr. Weber was always there to offer support,” she said. “His intro-project approach to writing was one example of a challenge, but I learned a new way to think and write about public policy.”

Christine Dickason

Christine Dickason

Each of these students has the potential for “great careers as writers, commentators and/or policy analysts and advocates,” Weber said.

Dickason, a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and a finalist for the national Truman Scholars program, already is making her mark as a published writer. She has had more than 10 opinion pieces published in UM’s The Daily Mississippian, and one of her articles appeared in the online magazine CampusProgress and was republished in The Nation national magazine.

In her PPL class paper, titled “America’s Schools: Separate and Unequal,” Dickason concludes that “the government must intervene to ensure that America’s children attend school together.”

“I explored theories about the individual, justice and democracy from influential philosophers, such as Dewey, Kant and Aristotle, to determine if racial integration in public schools is a moral necessity,” she said.

Pillow’s research also considers the public education dilemma.

“My paper is about the moral consequences of a segregated school system and its effects on the learning process,” he said. “Basically, years later (since integration) we still have segregated schools, only it’s not enforced by man’s law but rather by natural and economic laws. I cite many philosophical and ethical theories in an attempt to present the problem in a new light.”

Reynolds chose to research moral theories about liberty, basing his study on the “harm principle,” a political theory attributed to John Stuart Mill, a 19th-century British philosopher, economist and moral and political theorist. The theory is relevant to topics such as former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s policy proposal to ban the sale of many sweetened drinks.

“Mill outlined that the acceptable use of government coercion should be only to prevent harm to others, which has come to be known as the harm principle,” Reynolds said. “I chose this topic because the principle provides the basis of much of libertarian philosophy, and I am very much interested in the workings of libertarianism.”

Reynolds said he is “extremely excited” at having been chosen to present his paper at the conference and considers the experience as another step in his career preparation.

“I am hoping to one day work in the government relations department of a private company,” he said. “Ole Miss has consistently provided a high-quality education that is necessary for me to achieve my career goals.”

Dickason, too, expects her conference exposition to boost her career expectations.

“It will be an incredible opportunity for me to network with peers and learn from the critiques that I will receive from scholars at the conference,” she said.

Following graduation in spring 2015, Dickason plans to complete a master’s degree in public policy.

“I hope to be able to craft and influence education policy on a national scale that will work to remedy the inequality perpetuated within the existing education system,” she said.

A member of the Honors College, Pena also hopes to make a difference on a broad scale. Her long-term goal is to move back to D.C. and work for the government to help shape agriculture policy as it relates to food and nutrition and healthy lifestyles.

“It’s an awesome confidence booster that my paper has been chosen for presentation,” she said. “I have dyslexia, and school has never been easy, but this really shows me that if you try hard and work at it, you can be just as good as anyone else.”

Pillow said he is “honored and excited” to be an invited conference speaker, an opportunity that takes him closer to his long-term career goal. He hopes to become an economic adviser to address social and economic problems at the grass-roots level, including struggling towns in the Mississippi Delta.

Weber, who joined UM in 2007, received the College of Liberal Arts Cora Lee Graham Outstanding Teacher of Freshmen Award in 2011, followed in 2012 by the prestigious, campuswide Frist Student Service Award. He has published three books, with a fourth under way, and he is executive director of the Society for Philosophers in America, among numerous other achievements.

For more information, visit http://www.olemiss.edu/depts/leadership/.

UM Student Tackles Sales Tax Issue

Madison Coburn credits Honors College, Lott Institute with teaching her to think critically

Madison Coburn

OXFORD, Miss. – Ask any student what he or she finds interesting, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find one who answers with the field of tax litigation. But with many Mississippi cities pushing for an increase in sales tax to improve crumbling infrastructure, young people like Ridgeland native Madison Coburn understand that knowledge of the field is critical to tackling such complex issues.

“Specifically, my honors thesis focuses on federal and state policies that would enable states to collect sales tax from online purchases,” said Coburn, a senior majoring in public policy leadership at the University of Mississippi. “Having researched for my thesis for over a year now, I have learned that I find the area of taxation particularly interesting and believe I would be interested in tax litigation.”

Coburn is researching the legislation, officially called the Marketplace Fairness Act, that would allow states to require Internet sellers to collect state sales taxes just like physical retail stores.

“The Marketplace Fairness Act is an incredibly important topic to study, given the changing nature of interstate commerce,” said Eric Weber, UM associate professor of public policy leadership. “Companies like Amazon have changed the way we do business, but they have also had the advantage of avoiding sales taxes, which local retailers and booksellers have reasonably found unfair.

“Madison is evaluating the policy options available to Mississippi for making the wisest decision for our state.”

Read the story …

Speaker’s Edge Competition Helps Hone Presentation Skills

Annual event challenges students to prepare, think and state their case before judges

Speaker's Edge graduate level winner, Phillip Clothiaux

OXFORD, Miss. – In today’s world, college graduates entering the workforce with well-developed speaking skills have a huge advantage. University of Mississippi students recently got an opportunity to hone their public speaking skills and vie for a championship during the 11th annual Speaker’s Edge Competition.

The program culminated in a two-day competition, where students present three different presentations before a panel of judges loaded with industry business leaders.

The program is open to graduate accountancy students enrolled in Accountancy 503, MBA students enrolled in MBA 603 and undergraduates in engineering, journalism and the Center for Manufacturing Excellence enrolled in Speech 105. In these courses, students spend a week-and-a-half working with communication coaches, who provide early preparation and a point person to answer questions and guide the students through the process.

Graduate student winners included Phillip Clothiaux, of Rogersville, Mo., who was named overall Speaker’s Edge champion; Julian Sanchez and Victoria Ragland, both of Jonesboro, Ark., who were first-place winners in the ethical dilemma and marketplace pitch categories, respectively; and Chris Conley, of Bradenton, Fla., who took first place in the informative category.

Read the story …

Timothy Abram Hopes to Help Solve State’s Problems

UM student leader addresses teacher shortage, joins Teach For America

Timothy Abram

OXFORD, Miss – With many Mississippi schools struggling to attract effective teachers, Timothy Abram of Horn Lake has decided to take an alternate route into the teaching profession after graduation from the University of Mississippi.

A senior majoring in public policy leadership, Abram plans to enter the Teach For America program when he completes his degree in May. He is among many high-achieving University of Mississippi students who are willing to forgo the traditional trajectory of their chosen career to serve as educators in the state.

These students, who take an alternate route into the teaching profession, are recruited into the TFA program and trained for placement in high-poverty schools.

“I fervently believe that educational inequity is the paramount issue we must solve as a society going forward,” Abram said. “Teach For America affords me the opportunity to play a direct role in that effort by teaching underprivileged youth, many of whom look like me.”

Like many Mississippi residents, Abram wants to see his home state improve in tackling issues such as poverty, obesity, health and educational deficiencies.

“Improving our education system is way in which we can indirectly affect each of these ills that plague Mississippi,” he said. “I hope to play a role in a movement aimed at eradicating these problems.”

After growing to more than 550 teachers in 50-plus Delta-region districts in 2012, Teach for America expanded to launch Teach For America-Mississippi in 2013, focusing on deeply impacting the state independently.

Read the story …

Foundation Honors Warner and Kay Alford with Scholarship

Former athletics, alumni director continues to attract private funding for alma mater

Kay and Warner Alford are pictured during their college days in 1960 and now as longtime contributors to the life of Ole Miss. The University of Mississippi Foundation Board has established a scholarship endowment in their names, and alumni and friends are encouraged to contribute. The endowment’s annual income will support Ole Miss Opportunity, which assists students with financial need. Photo by: Jay Leviton - Atlanta

OXFORD, Miss – A full-page photo in a September 1960 issue of Sports Illustrated – accompanying an article on the University of Mississippi and its upcoming football season – captured a beautiful Kay Swayze and the handsome Warner Alford walking hand-in-hand as students. It turned out to be a magical year, as Alford co-captained that SEC and national championship football team.

The couple went on to marry, raise a family and weave their lives into the tapestry of Ole Miss. Alford served in two high-profile leadership positions at his alma mater: athletics director and executive director of alumni affairs. He continues to propel the university forward by helping attract private gifts for academic programs and scholarships, with wife Kay sharing his commitment.

To honor the Alfords’ longtime service and lasting contributions, the University of Mississippi Foundation has created the Warner and Kay Alford Ole Miss Opportunity Endowment with a $50,000 gift and invites alumni and friends to help build the fund. Annual income from the endowment will provide Ole Miss Opportunity scholarships to academically deserving students from lower income families in Mississippi.

Read the story …