Seven UM Freshmen Named 2018 Stamps Scholars

Students exemplify best of scholarship, community service and leadership

The 2018 cohort of Stamps Scholars at UM is: (front row, from left) Grace Dragna, Grace Marion and Valerie Quach, and (back row) Shahbaz Gul, Jeffrey Wang, Gregory Vance and Richard Springer. Photo by Bill Dabney/UM Foundation

OXFORD, Miss. – Seven members of the 2018 freshman class at the University of Mississippi have the distinction of being Stamps Foundation Scholarship recipients.

The Stamps Scholarships at Ole Miss are the most comprehensive, full scholarship packages for in-state and out-of-state students.

This year’s cohort is: Shahbaz W. Gul and Qihang “Jeffrey” Wang, of Oxford; Gregory Vance, of Jackson; Melvin “Richard” Springer IV, of Biloxi; Grace Louise Dragna, of Mandeville, Louisiana; Grace Elizabeth Marion, of Levittown, Pennsylvania; and Valerie Quach, of Austin, Texas.

“This gifted class of UM Stamps Scholars contributes to our exceptional track record of attracting and retaining the best students from around the state and the nation,” Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said. “We’re very grateful for the generosity of the Stamps Family Charitable Foundation. Our partnership with them provides nationally competitive scholarships and enables extraordinary enrichment opportunities for high-achieving students.”

The 13th class of Stamps Scholars includes 230 top students from across the country at 30 partner universities. Selected from almost 300,000 applications, these scholars have diverse academic interests such as medicine, education, engineering, history, public policy, and visual and performing arts.

With its partner universities, the Stamps Foundation seeks students who demonstrate academic merit, strong leadership potential and exceptional character. Through the foundation, students have access to funding to engage in internships, undergraduate research or other professional development activities.

Potential Stamps scholars are invited to campus for a special weekend visit to get an in-depth look at the university’s academic programs as well as opportunities to interact with campus administrators and students.

An early entry pharmacy major, Gul is a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and the Chancellor’s Leadership Class. His desire is to become a physician and work in pediatrics.

Gul said he is grateful to be considered for the scholarship.

“I plan to use the enrichment funds provided by the Stamps Scholarship to attend scientific conferences, present my research and make connections with others doing similar studies,” Gul said. “I’m really honored and excited to be a part of this program.”

Wang said he sees the Stamps Scholarship at Ole Miss as the perfect balance between a fantastic, focused education and a big public school experience.

“The Stamps Scholarship Program provides big opportunities for networking with other student scholars,” said the biochemistry major and a member of the Honors College, Global Ambassadors and the American Chemical Society. “The Stamps family is very kind, courteous and professional, and I am very appreciative for all they’ve done.”

Wang’s goals include doing research in both analytical chemistry and environmental sciences.

The Stamps Scholarship is an extraordinary opportunity, said Vance, a biomedical engineering major with a possible minor in neuroscience. He is a member of the Honors College and University Choir.

“The Stamps Scholarship is an incredible way to help students see beyond the classroom,” he said. “I know we’ll have experiences here that we may never have again. I’m excited about meeting new people and learning about their cultures, all of which will make me a better person.”

Vance said he plans to pursue either medical school or an advanced biomedical engineering degree after graduation. He particularly would like to help treat children with neurological diseases.

Springer said he appreciated the Stamps family for contributing so much energy and effort to help students further their education and pursue their dreams.

“This phenomenal opportunity really means the world to me,” said the mathematics major who also plays trumpet in the Pride of the South marching band. He is a member of the Honors College, Chancellor’s Leadership Class and the Associated Student Body.

Springer’s goals are to study abroad, observe math education techniques and curricula in other countries and then return to help improve instruction in Mississippi and around the United States.

“I’ve been fortunate to have had great teachers all of my life,” Springer said. “I’m not sure yet if I want to become one, but I most definitely want to contribute in some way to the next generation of student scholars.”

Double majoring in public policy leadership and economics, Dragna is a member of the Honors College, Trent Lott Leadership Institute, Rebels Against Sexual Assault, Big Event and the Associated Student Body. She is grateful for the Stamps Scholarship, which is allowing her to attend the university.

“I was really shocked and excited that the school that I love so much was also interested in me,” Dragna said. “It’s really difficult for me to comprehend all of the opportunities I’ve been presented with this honor.”

Dragna said she is passionate about developing public policy in the area of women’s health care in rural areas She aspires to one day become a public servant with the federal government, making decisions for women’s health issues.

“I never could have gone to college without the generosity afforded me by the Stamps Family Scholarship Program,” said Marion, a journalism major with a minor in Spanish. “I am really excited to have been selected and to study at one of the best universities for journalism in the nation.”

Marion is a member of the Honors College and the Daily Mississippian editorial staff. Her goals include studying abroad, volunteering in the local community and continuing to attend national professional journalism conferences. Following graduation, she plans to either become a journalist or attend law school.

“I wasn’t expecting to get the Stamps Scholarship, and was very shocked and happy when I did,” said Quach, an early entry pharmacy major beginning her pre-med requirements. She is also a member of the Honors College and Chancellor’s Leadership Class. “The Stamps Foundation Scholarship Program forms a big, widespread community of student scholars and alumni, both internally and externally. I’m very honored to have been chosen to join it.”

Quach’s focus is on discovering new medications and/or procedures to improve treatment of Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, dementia and other neurological diseases.

“I’ve always been interested in health care, particularly geriatrics,” Quach said. “It’s my passion and I really enjoy doing it. Hopefully, my research will make a difference.”

Launched in 2006 by Georgia native Roe Stamps and his wife, Penny, the program has grown to include nearly 40 partner schools throughout the country.

To learn more about the Stamps Foundation, visit

Celebrated Dancers, Acclaimed Pianist Return to Ford Center

International artists to perform Sept. 20 at UM Honors Convocation

Alessandra Ferri (left) and Herman Cornejo dance during their previous appearance with Bruce Levingston at the Ford Center. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – Legendary dancer Alessandra Ferri and Herman Cornejo, star principal of American Ballet Theater, return to the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts for the Fall Convocation of the University of Mississippi’s Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.

They will be joined by longtime friend and musical partner Bruce Levingston, acclaimed concert pianist and holder of the prestigious Fant Chair and Chancellor’s Honors College Artist-in-Residence at the university. The performance will reunite three renowned artists for an evening of dance and music.

The performance, open to the public, is set for 7:30 p.m. Sept. 20. Tickets, priced from $25 to $35, can be purchased at the Ole Miss Box Office. Box office hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday.

“Ferri and Cornejo are two of the most amazing and gifted artists on the planet,” Levingston said. “They each bring a depth of communication and artistry to the stage that is extraordinarily rare. It is a distinct honor and joy to perform with them here once more.”

Ferri, one of the world’s most celebrated dancers, holds the rare title of prima ballerina assoluta. She was recently awarded the coveted Olivier Award for a second time in London.

Cornejo, an Argentinian ballet star who, at 16, was the youngest winner of Moscow International Ballet Competition, is a virtuoso dancer in the American Ballet Theatre.

Levingston, who recently performed a sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall, has been hailed by The New Yorker as “a force for new music” and The New York Times for his “mastery of colors and nuance.”

Ferri, Cornejo and Levingston will present a night of choreographed works, and Levingston will perform the music of Chopin, Debussy, Glass, Mozart, Rachmaninoff and Satie. Levingston also will be joined by other musicians from Ole Miss to create a musical ambiance that will highlight these illustrious dancers’ magical art.

The three performers have performed to critical acclaim throughout the world. One critic wrote of their New York City premiere performance together: “The combination of these three great artists is more than the sum of its parts. The Ferri-Cornejo partnership is as full of rapture and poetry as that legendary pairing of Fonteyn and Nureyev.

“For his part, pianist Bruce Levingston was the perfect third to bring in and elevate this into a true concert and dance performance. Levingston’s playing was sublime throughout.”

Ferri, Cornejo and Levingston will perform works together that have been created especially for them by such distinguished choreographers as Russell Maliphant and Wayne McGregor. Cornejo also will perform a tango that he choreographed, and Levingston will play a number of solo works from his most recent recording.

“We are excited and humbled to welcome back to our university Italy’s famed prima ballerina assoluta, Alessandra Ferri, and the great dancer Herman Cornejo, who will perform with our own renowned Honors College Artist-in-Residence, Bruce Levingston,” said Douglass Sullivan-Gonzalez, Honors College dean.

“These splendid artists will engage our students and the Oxford community with their graceful dance and music. Their performance three years ago was breathtaking and kicked off their world tour to famed venues. I expect their return will be a historic performance that will be the talk of the town for years to come.”

Ferri, born in Milan, trained at the school of the Teatro alla Scala opera house and attended the Royal Ballet School in London. Winner of the prestigious Prix de Lausanne in 1980, she joined the Royal Ballet that year and was soon made a principal dancer with the company.

In 1985, she was invited by Mikhail Baryshnikov to join American Ballet Theatre, where she danced as a principal until 2007. She has received numerous international awards, including the Sir Lawrence Oliver Award, the Dance Magazine Award and the Benois de la Danse Prix. She was presented the Cavaliere della Republica Honoris by Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, then-president of the Italian Republic, and holds the title of prima ballerina assoluta.

“We are so pleased to return to Mississippi and the beautiful town of Oxford,” Ferri said. “Performing with Bruce Levingston and Herman Cornejo is always a very special and moving occasion, and we look forward to once again sharing our art with the wonderful audience at the University of Mississippi’s Ford Center.”

Cornejo, a native of Argentina, began his training at Teatro Colon’s Instituto Superior de Arte in Buenos Aires and continued his studies at the School of American Ballet in New York. He performed as a guest artist with numerous ballet companies around the world and in 1997 won the Gold Medal at the VIII International Dance Competition in Moscow.

He joined the American Ballet Theater in 1999 and was promoted to principal dancer in 2003. Considered among the world’s greatest dancers, he has received many awards and distinctions, including the Benois del la Danse Prize and Dancer of the Year by The New York Times.

“Mississippi gave birth to our first magical trio performance,” Cornejo said. “I am so happy to return there and share this magic again with Bruce Levingston and Alessandra Ferri.”

For tickets or more information about the performance, call the Ford Center Box Office at 662-915-7411 or visit

Blair McElroy Named Senior International Officer at UM

Ole Miss alumna brings global perspective, experiences to role

Blair McElroy, UM senior international officer, signs a memorandum of agreement with the National University of Civil Engineering in Vietnam for student and faculty exchanges and research collaborations in May. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – During the 2017-18 academic year at the University of Mississippi, Blair McElroy watched over 877 international students as interim senior international officer.

In that position, she served as an advocate for those students, ensuring their education at UM went as smoothly as possible, while also championing international education on campus by organizing international collaboration agreements, assisting faculty in their teaching-abroad opportunities and creating new partnerships with international universities.

She even served as principal of the North Mississippi Japanese Supplementary School, a UM school where Japanese families and students settled in the area can maintain their education and culture.

This academic year, McElroy will continue her work in international education – while maintaining her concurrent role as director of the Study Abroad Office – but no longer with the interim tag. McElroy, a 2002 graduate of UM’s Croft Institute for International Studies and the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, has been named senior international officer at UM after holding the interim title for about a year.

“I see the Office of Global Engagement as a resource for the university in expanding its already prominent global footprint,” McElroy said. “OGE’s faculty and staff are incredible resources for opportunities such as faculty exchange, student exchange, joint research projects, supporting international students on campus and leading study abroad programs.

“Our forthcoming new website will host opportunities for global engagement for constituents on campus and in the community.”

McElroy joined the Ole Miss staff in November 2006 as a study abroad adviser after graduating from the UM School of Law. She was named director of the Study Abroad Office in July 2015.

Blair McElroy

“Blair brings a wealth of experience and expertise to the position, which has enabled her to be a stabilizing force in the Office of Global Engagement,” Provost Noel Wilkin said. “For many years, she has demonstrated her ability to navigate the issues and advance the initiatives within the office.

“This background and experience prepared her well to work with faculty, staff and students to help us pursue a global Mississippi.”

A native of Jackson, Tennessee, McElroy majored in international studies, minoring in Chinese and French, at UM. She also studied abroad in Beijing for a semester, and at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom.

She also worked in the Study Abroad Office as an undergraduate student worker and while in law school.

Don Dyer, co-director of UM’s Chinese Language Flagship Program and new Arabic Language Flagship Program, has known McElroy for about 15 years and worked with her in several capacities.

“I have great admiration for her as an administrator on this campus,” said Dyer, who also serves as associate dean for faculty and academic affairs in the College of Liberal Arts and distinguished professor of Russian and linguistics. “She is someone who sets her mind to a task and stays with it to its completion.”

In an effort to strengthen UM’s international bonds, McElroy spent two weeks this spring at an International Education Administrators seminar in South Korea. The trip was made possible through a Fulbright award.

While there, McElroy visited 12 South Korean universities on a whirlwind tour, learning about South Korean history and culture. Her visit also boosted the university’s program offerings in Korea by structuring strategic partnerships in academic areas and deepening institutional connections to Korea through meetings with faculty, administrators and government officials.

“It was an amazing experience,” she said. “Not only did I learn more about the Korean culture, history and people, but also how to better support Korean students on our campus. I can also happily and knowledgeably encourage study abroad in Korea.

“I would love to host information sessions focusing on study in Korea throughout the academic year and reach out to our Korean students. Having met many of their advisers during our visits, the connections will hopefully help them feel more at home here at UM.”

As director of the Study Abroad Office, McElroy oversees the recruitment of outgoing and incoming study abroad and exchange students – a task that includes being a risk and crisis manager, which can lead to some restless nights.

UM sent 685 students overseas in the 2017-18 academic year through its study abroad programs, a 22 percent increase from the previous year.

With so many students overseas – either for a year, a semester or a summer – crises arise, whether it is students eating bad street food or natural disasters or political unrest. Through it all, the Study Abroad Office is there for students.

Difficulties aside, the experience of studying overseas is invaluable, McElroy said.

“The things you learn about another country, another culture and yourself still resonate even 20 years later,” she said. “I still remember the uncertainty and excitement of traveling to another country for an extended period of time, and I want to make the transition to another country smooth, enjoyable and educational for our students.

“Having been an international student myself in China and the United Kingdom, I remember how it feels to know no one and learn to be resourceful and independent. But I also remember the kindness of people abroad who were hospitable and helpful, and I hope that we are fostering that kind of environment here on our campus for our international students.”

So McElroy’s advice when it comes to studying overseas? Do it.

The real world following graduation might not afford many opportunities for travel, and UM offers several programs for study abroad, she said. Plus, scholarships and financial aid apply, so students can often find a program that fits their budget and academic needs.

And if students cannot go abroad, opportunities are plentiful on campus to engage with international students through the Office of Global Engagement or by participating in UM’s International Education Week activities in early November.

“Regardless of how a student interacts with people from other cultures, the opportunity to do so creates global citizens, people who understand that there exists a world community and know their place within it,” McElroy said.

“People who use the tools they have learned by ‘walking in other people’s shoes’ to become more empathetic, learn intercultural communication skills, learn what they value and can contribute positively to a local, national and global community, and the effects of their experience resonate forever.”

Croft Institute Marks Two Decades of Preparing State for the World

More than 500 graduates have launched successful global careers

A degree from the Croft Institute for International Studies serves as a passport into the world economy. Here, the 2018 class celebrates its graduation. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – Since its first class graduated in 2001, the Croft Institute for International Studies at the University of Mississippi has sent hundreds of students into the world.

A Croft Institute degree serves as a passport, a stamp of approval recognizable in the global marketplace of a student who is prepared for a career on the worldwide stage.

The first cohort entered Croft in 1998, and as of May, 520 UM students have graduated from the institute, going on to work in global fields with international expertise, working alongside people from various backgrounds.

Just as remarkable is what the institute has done at home – both on the Ole Miss campus and in the state of Mississippi. It has been at the forefront of internationalizing the university and the state. The institute, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this fall, is both raising the profile of the state through outreach programs and helping UM attract new initiatives.

“A major reason for the creation of the Croft Institute was to help bring an international outlook to the state of Mississippi,” said Oliver Dinius, Croft executive director and associate professor of history. “Part of that agenda was to offer outreach programs, especially for teachers at high schools, which would strengthen their ability to teach on international topics and to recruit talented students from the state of Mississippi for the Croft Institute, where they could receive the education to become global leaders.”

Besides offering outreach programs for Mississippi’s kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers (such as its National Consortium for Teaching about Asia-funded workshops), Croft has stimulated the internationalization of the state and university through study abroad for Ole Miss students, partnerships with the Department of Modern Languages and more.

Each of these initiatives tells a story of how Croft has moved beyond the walls of its beautifully restored Y Building home on campus and helped usher the university and Mississippi onto the global scene.

Douglass Sullivan-González, dean of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, served on the organizing team for the Croft Institute. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

When UM and the Joseph C. Bancroft Charitable and Educational Fund announced in September 1997 the $60 million donation from the fund that would create the institute, decisions were already being made on the focus of the international studies major offered at Croft.

The interdisciplinary major offered under the College of Liberal Arts would focus on politics, economics and culture in one of three regional concentrations – East Asia, Europe and Latin America – along with language courses every semester related to the regional concentration.

Students also were expected to study abroad – either for a semester or a whole year – in a country whose language they had been studying.

“The three regions were selected because of their dominance in Mississippi’s international trade,” said Michael Metcalf, who served as Croft’s executive director from 1998 to 2007. “The university had relative strength in European and Latin American studies, so the first new Croft faculty hires were made in 1998 and 1999 to initiate instruction in Chinese language and to start to build strength in East Asian history, society and religion.

“The importance of studying these three regions was for students who might work there with Mississippi firms to learn about their social, political and cultural backgrounds and thus be more effective.”

Choosing Latin America as one of the three initial regional concentrations was an opportunity to redefine what the South is and reshape it as a “global South,” said Douglass Sullivan-González, dean of the UM Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.

In 1998, Sullivan-González was an assistant professor of history selected to teach in Croft and serve on the institute’s organizing team. Sullivan-González first became interested in Latin American studies as a freshman at Samford University during a trip to rural northern Mexico working on a water project.

He was part of a group of history professors who pushed for the inclusion of Latin America as a regional concentration.

“That conviction was: We know there is a growing immigration wave of people who are speaking Spanish who are coming from Mexico and Central America, and it is going to affect the culture,” he said. “It did. We’ve seen the change.”

During that first academic year of Croft, in 1998-99, Sullivan-González also taught a course that included a trip to Queretaro, Mexico – one of the early study abroad opportunities through Croft.

Since its first graduating class in 2001, 520 students have graduated from the Croft Institute for International Studies. Photo by Nathan Latil/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

“(Students) have to see how the questions that haunt us here come alive there,” he said. “You see how the questions come alive in Latin America and all of a sudden, you realize: They’re struggling with the same things we are, but it’s a very different path and a very different history, and it enriches the conversation today to look at which groups have made better strides, which groups have made weaker strides, and compare and contrast that.”

Other early study abroad opportunities included students visiting Europe and East Asia.

The benefits of studying abroad are numerous, said Kees Gispen, who served as executive director of Croft from 2007 to 2016. Gispen has taught in Croft since its inception.

“When students study (abroad), they become aware,” he said. “And when they live in it, when they study abroad, they see how it functions. They come back and more often than not, it helps them come up with new ideas of how to improve our own situation.

“Different cultures have different ways of doing things.”

While Croft students were heading abroad, the institute was quickly making a difference within Mississippi; for example, through early outreach programs such as the National Consortium for Teaching about Asia, which looks to increase teaching and learning about East Asia in elementary and secondary schools.

Peter Frost, who served as Croft’s interim director in 1997 and ’98, had been involved with the consortium’s director before coming to UM. Once at Ole Miss, Frost had offered NCTA workshops to Mississippi teachers even before Croft was started.

Understanding Asia is a crucial part of understanding the world, both for cultural understanding and politics, Frost said.

“NCTA aims to help K-12 teachers enrich their (often required) world history courses, develop the imagination and cultural understanding of younger students, and helps give older students and adults a better grasp of the many issues surrounding our relations with Asia,” he said. “Teachers enjoyed getting educational materials and references, educational credits, learning more and developing lesson plans with other teachers.”

Besides summer workshops and online continuing education units and professional development opportunities in East Asia, through courses such as “Sake, Sushi and Soft Power” and “Korea in the Modern World,” the Croft Institute during its first two decades also has offered outreach programs to Mississippi teachers in Latin American and European studies.

Oliver Dinius is executive director of the Croft Institute and an associate professor of history. Photo by Nathan Latil/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

With students going into the world, and Mississippi teachers coming to UM to learn more about the world, strengthening the opportunity for the study of foreign languages became an early mission of Croft, too, Dinius said.

“The institute made high levels of oral proficiency in at least one foreign language a requirement for the international studies major, and it supplemented the resources available in the Department of Modern Languages with three faculty positions: in Chinese, Spanish and Japanese,” he said. “The focus remained on the so-called critical languages, and Dr. Metcalf was instrumental in securing a grant to bring a Chinese Language Flagship Program to the university.”

Started in 2002, The Language Flagship programs are a federal initiative to graduate students who have a superior fluency level in foreign languages deemed critical to U.S. interests.

Work on attracting a Flagship program to Ole Miss began in 2000, Metcalf said, with the Croft Institute and Department of Modern Languages working in tandem to land a program in Chinese. UM received its Chinese Language Flagship Program in 2003.

The program is a tremendous resource for students who wish to become highly proficient in Chinese and pursue careers in such fields as business, government and journalism in which they will use Chinese to give themselves and their employers a professional advantage, Metcalf said.

Croft and the modern languages department also worked together to attract a second Language Flagship program, in Arabic, which was awarded in August. The department’s work on building a prestigious program in Arabic also enabled the Croft Institute to add the Middle East as a fourth geographical concentration, adding two Middle East faculty positions, when Gispen served as executive director.

“This is an area where we are constantly involved,” he said. “This is an area we can’t afford to ignore.”

Even as Croft has internationalized the Ole Miss campus and Mississippi, the institute’s purpose has remained the same: to give students the best possible preparation to launch successful global careers.

“I’ve always thought the strongest part of the Croft Institute was its really good students … and a good curriculum, a good plan,” Gispen said. “The core strength is these high-achieving students whom we can attract from all over the country who can make a real contribution.”

University Endowment Builds to All-time High of $715 Million

Strong investment returns, generosity of alumni and friends spurs growth

The University of Mississippi’s permanent endowment grew in its latest fiscal year to an all-time high, thanks to generous support from private donors. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi’s permanent endowment grew in its latest fiscal year to an all-time high of $715 million, thanks in part to the seventh consecutive year of new gifts of $100 million or more.

Private support totaled more than $115.8 million from 30,332 donors, giving the university essential resources to continue providing exceptional experiences for students, faculty, researchers, health care patients and providers, citizens served by outreach efforts, and visitors to all its campuses.

“Private investments are essential to fuel the work of our flagship university,” Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said.

“The generosity of our alumni and friends ensures the university has resources needed to sustain and expand nationally prominent programs, and it enables us to deliver on our Flagship Forward strategic plan to improve learning, health and the quality of life in Mississippi. We remain grateful and inspired by their support.”

Total private giving to the Oxford campus grew by 6.5 percent over the previous year. Private support for academics increased more than 10 percent. 

Eighty-seven percent of the private giving will provide current funding for donor-directed areas or directly affect those areas, while the remaining 13 percent was added to the university’s endowment, which also grew through returns on its investment strategies.

State support as a percentage of total revenues available for the university’s operations was 12.4 percent, making private support all the more crucial.

“Ole Miss alumni and friends are making major investments that transform students’ lives and continually enhance the quality of our programs,” said Charlotte Parks, vice chancellor for development. “Gifts to higher education also have a far-reaching impact on the economy of Mississippi and beyond, and the resources ultimately improve the quality of life for everyone.”

Healthy growth of the university’s endowment reflected the increase in funds invested and managed for the university, said Wendell Weakley, president and CEO of the UM Foundation. The endowment benefited from a 10 percent return on its investments.

Private giving helps UM maintain margins of excellence in a range of fields across all its campuses. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

“The endowment has now reached the historic high of $715 million, and we are on our way to realizing our long-range goal of a $1 billion endowment,” Weakley said. “We are extremely grateful to our donors who provide this permanent stable funding that can be counted on year after year and will advance the university’s mission for generations to come.”

Some of the largest gifts included: $5 million for the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College; $4.25 million for several programs including Bridge STEM, Catalyzing Entrepreneurship and Economic Development Initiative, College Ready Literacy, Center for Mathematics and Science Education, First Generation Scholars, Principal Corps, Upstart in the School of Dentistry and more; $4 million for new endowed chairs in geriatrics and palliative care at the Medical Center; $2 million for the College of Liberal Arts‘ departments of mathematics and sciences; $2 million for professorships in surgery and pulmonology at the Medical Center; $1.5 million for expansion of pediatric care at the Medical Center; and gifts of $1 million or more for a faculty chair in the Patterson School of Accountancy, the Flagship Constellations, Southern Foodways Alliance and the Forward Together campaign for Ole Miss athletics.

Likewise, the Medical Center’s Campaign for Children’s Hospital campaign enjoyed a third successful year with $10 million raised, which brings the total giving in the campaign to more than $66 million toward its ambitious $100 million goal. This campaign supports the construction and renovation of facilities and recruitment of 30-40 doctors and researchers.

Work has begun on a new seven-story, 340,000-square-foot tower adjacent to Batson Children’s Hospital that will also house the Children’s Heart Center.

Gifts to the campaign represent “an outpouring of love and support that runs deep and wide across all of Mississippi,” said Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine. “We have outstanding physicians and the best staff, and they have a passion for caring for patients. What we need now are the facilities to match that quality of care.”

Financial resources provided by alumni and friends of the university ensure students will have the tools necessary to be successful. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

Ole Miss athletics also enjoyed a successful FY 2018 both on the field and in investments made by alumni and friends. Cash gifts exceeded $30 million for the fourth consecutive year. The Forward Together campaign stands at $176 million, with plans to complete this $200 million campaign in FY 2019.

“Rebel Nation represents one of the most loyal fan bases in college sports,” said Keith Carter, deputy athletics director for development and resource acquisition. “The support shown year in and year out allows us to enhance our facilities to help our student-athletes compete at the highest level, while also providing a high-quality experience for our fans.

“We express our thanks to loyal donors and fans, and we look forward to the upcoming year as we close out the Forward Together campaign and begin new endeavors.”

To make gifts to the university, go to for academics, for the UM Medical Center or for Ole Miss athletics.

Honors College Welcomes 14 Freshman Scholars

Recipients awarded prestigious scholarships from numerous sources

Douglass Sullivan-Gonzalez (right), dean of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, meets with Honors scholars (from left) Autumn Fortenberry, Britney Ngo, Ella Endorf, Ivy Li, deYampert Brame Garner II, Kayci Kimmons, Ajah Singleton, Emily Wright, Samuel Starr, Arabella Hamm, Kaden Spellmann, Hayden Williamson and Andrew Gardner. Photo by Thomas Graning/UM Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – One is a wedding violinist. Another is an award-winning broadcaster with a love of journalism. And one was a star lacrosse player.

These are just three of the 14 freshmen this fall at the University of Mississippi’s Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College who received a total of $434,000 from four of the university’s most distinguished scholarships.

Four of the freshmen earned McDonnell-Barksdale Scholarships, six were recipients of Doris Raymond Honors Scholarships, two were awarded Harold Parker Memorial Scholarships and two were honored with Annexstad Family Foundation Leaders for Tomorrow Scholarships.

“We are very proud of our students who have been awarded one of our prestigious SMBHC scholarships,” said Douglass Sullivan-González, Honors College dean. “These students have already lived the model of citizen and scholar at their high school, and bring this engaged ethic to our campus, and to the Honors College in particular.

“We look forward to their impressive track record, both academically and in our community. What an exciting year awaits us with these first-year SMBHC scholarship winners.”

Students receiving McDonnell-Barksdale Scholarships are Qing Yun Li, of Oxford; Kayci Bearden Kimmons, of Batesville; Britney V. Ngo, of Ridgeland; and Emily Christine Wright, of Gulfport.

Doris Raymond Honors Scholarship recipients are Martha Peyton Ford, of Brownsville, Tennessee; Ella Rose Endorf, of North Bend, Nebraska; Autumn Elizabeth Fortenberry, of Magnolia; Andrew Stephens Gardner, of Oxford; Samuel Patrick Starr, of St. Jacob, Illinois; and Claudia Hayden Williamson, of Ocean Springs.

Receiving Harold Parker Memorial Scholarships are deYampert Brame Garner II, of Batesville, and Lilly Arabella Hamm, of Germantown, Tennessee.

Kaden Seth Spellmann, of Amarillo, Texas, and Ajah Tiyanna Singleton, of Edwards, are recipients of Annexstad Family Foundation Leaders for Tomorrow Scholarships.

Li is a graduate of Oxford High School, where she was concert master of the OHS Orchestra, which she played in for four years, and received awards in AP chemistry, geography, and anatomy and physiology while being named to the National Honor Society, Beta Club, Anchor Club and LOU Orchestra. She also made the Principal’s List Honor Roll all four years and was a volunteer with the Oxford-Lafayette Humane Society, Oxford-Lafayette County Library and Memory Makers. She is majoring in chemistry.

A graduate of Mississippi School for Math and Science, Kimmons was a Regional Science Fair finalist; member of the marching band, Student Council, National Honor Society, Student Government Association and Technology Student Association (regional/state winner); and earned awards in Spanish, regional spelling bee, Honor Roll-All A’s, Beta Club (regional/state winner) and second-highest average. She also volunteered at the Boys and Girls Club and the Convoy of Hope and was a chemistry tutor. She is majoring in chemistry.

Ngo is a graduate of Ridgeland High School. An AP Scholar and STAR Student, she was a member of the National Honor Society and received highest average awards in AP calculus and language and composition. She is a percussionist, and she served as a volunteer at Grace Place Soup Kitchen, Salvation Army Angel Tree and as donor-director at the high school blood drive. She is majoring in pharmaceutical sciences.

Wright graduated from Harrison Central High School, where she had the highest average in AP chemistry, English II and English language. The student council president, her memberships included the National Honor Society (president), Spanish Honor Society, National Beta Club, Mu Alpha Theta (president) and Key Club International (Dist. 14B Lt. Gov.). A Mississippi Governor’s School and Trent Lott Leadership Institute for High School Students participant, she was a member of the varsity soccer team, along with the Interact Club and Students Against Destructive Decisions. She is majoring in biomedical engineering.

Ford, a graduate of Washington Lee High School, was in the Haywood County Schools Prodigy Program for Gifted Students for eight years and also made Academic First Honor Roll (all A’s over entire school career). She won a silver medal on the National Classical Etymology Exam and was chosen to represent Tennessee public schools at Washington Journalism and Media Conference. Her major is journalism.

A senior class vice president, Endorf set a record for the highest ACT score at North Bend Central High School. Her awards include Nebraska Academic All-State, National Society for High School Scholars, Nebraska representative at the Hugh O’Brien Youth World Leadership Conference and Pinnacle Bank Outstanding High School Leadership Award. She is majoring in public policy leadership.

Fortenberry won awards in Mississippi studies, AP Honors English, algebra, world geography, biology and economics during high school. She also was a member of the concert and marching band for three years and was president of the student council and DECA. She is majoring in public policy leadership.

An Oxford High School graduate, Gardner was a member of the school’s theater program, student council and broadcast program, and sang in his school and church choir. He also was a member of the National Honor Society, Beta Club and Oxford Young Life. He was a guitarist and wedding violinist for hire. He is majoring in integrated marketing communications.

Starr is a graduate of Triad High School, where he was a member of the National Honor Society, Student Government, Model United Nations and Madison County Youth Board. He was an Illinois State Scholar and won numerous awards at the University of McKendree Model United Nations. He is majoring in international studies.

An Ocean Springs High School graduate, Williamson was president of the Ocean Springs Mayor’s Youth Council, co-founder and secretary of the OSHS Debate Club, committee chair at the Mississippi Youth and Government’s Youth Legislature and chief justice at the Model UN. A National Honor Society member, she was on the principal’s list, 30+ ACT Club, American Legion Auxiliary’s Magnolia Girls State and Palazzo Youth Leadership Summit. She is majoring in international studies.

President of the Mu Alpha Theta chapter at South Panola High School, Garner was a member of the National Honor Society, National Technical Honor Society, Beta Club and Technology Student Association. A football statistician and videographer, he also served as basketball manager-statistician. Garner also had the highest averages in AP physics, construction, U.S. history and dual-enrollment biology. He is majoring in accountancy.

Hamm graduated from St. Agnes Academy, where she was a member of the National Honor Society. She earned academic honors in world history, U.S. history and English, and was named “Most Valuable Player” of the varsity lacrosse team and editor of the yearbook. Hamm is majoring in integrated marketing communications and economics.

An Eagle Scout, Spellmann is a graduate of Amarillo High School, where he was a member of the National Honor Society and a Superintendent’s Scholar. Captain of his mock trial team, Spellmann served on the United Way Youth Cabinet, student council, Upwards Basketball, UIL Academics Speaking Events and Snak Pak 4 Kids. He is majoring in economics.

Singleton is a graduate of Raymond High School, where she made the principal’s list, honor roll and held the highest average in world history, U.S. history, physical science, algebra II, English II and Madrigals. She is majoring in biomedical engineering.

For more information about the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, visit

Whitwells Support Ole Miss Students

Oxford couple makes major commitment to Magee Center

Ginger and Quentin Whitwell, of Oxford, are supporting their alma mater and future Ole Miss students through a gift to the William Magee Center for Wellness Education. Photo by Bill Dabney/UM Foundation

OXFORD, Miss. – Ginger and Quentin Whitwell have found that living in Oxford, home of the University of Mississippi, gives them an opportunity to see the needs of college students “up close and personal,” inspiring their major support of the William Magee Center for Wellness Education.

“It’s personal,” Ginger Whitwell said. “The University of Mississippi is part of who we are.”

The Whitwells’ $100,000 gift will build on the endowment for the new William Magee Center for Wellness Education, which is intended to heighten the focus on drug and alcohol education and prevention. Opening in early 2019, the center will be housed in the university’s new South Campus Recreation Facility.

The two donors join other alumni, student organizations, friends, faculty, staff, a foundation, a corporation and a church congregation that have collectively given almost $1.3 million in an 18-month period to establish the Magee Center, with the hopes of making a difference in the lives of young people who struggle with substance misuse.

Reaching and exceeding a $1.5 million minimum endowment goal will undergird the center’s programming and operations for years to come.

The Magee Center is named for William Magee, a 23-year-old Ole Miss alumnus and former Sally McDOnnell Barksdale Honors College student who lost his life to an overdose in 2013. His parents, Kent and David Magee, of Oxford, are devoting efforts toward sharing their family’s experiences in order to help others and attract support for the center.

“Kent and David are longtime friends, and we think the world of them,” said Quentin Whitwell. “When we reconnected with them after several years, we were touched by William’s story and how they are working to make sure other individuals don’t end up faced with the same circumstances.

“We admire the Magees because they have found a powerful purpose despite their tragedy. Ginger and I are in the position to help support the Magee Center and efforts to provide more support to Ole Miss students, and we are pleased to do so.”

College students across the nation are using substances to fit in, manage anxiety, manage stress and help with sleep. Among the goals of the Magee Center is increasing students’ knowledge and skills related to responsible consumption of alcohol and medicines using harm-reduction approaches.

“Kent and I expected that sharing our son’s story would be received with empathy because almost everyone knows or loves someone who faces the challenge of addiction,” David Magee said. “However, we have been overwhelmed by the positive responses to the Magee Center and are grateful to Quentin and Ginger for this very generous gift.

“The Whitwells are deeply committed to seeing the Oxford-University community thrive and thus have embraced this center as a means of helping students.”

The center also will seek to engage students, faculty, staff, parents, alumni and the Oxford community in alcohol- and drug-related issues and concerns – a goal the Whitwells embrace.

“The development of the Magee Center makes me proud of our university – that leadership would take a stand and address issues head on,” said Quentin Whitwell, a founding partner of the law firm Harper Whitwell PLLC and a government affairs operative. He and a partner formed The Talon Group, a lobbying firm, and Whitwell also served on the Jackson City Council, representing northeast Jackson as Ward I councilman, before moving his family to Oxford, which is also his hometown.

The gift will affect students on several fronts, said Brandi Hephner LaBanc, UM vice chancellor of student affairs.

“As we approach a new academic year, our efforts to re-educate students about the risks of alcohol and other drugs will be front and center,” she said. “Wellness education is never-ending and is deeply rooted in student success.

“I deeply appreciate the Whitwells generosity – their gift will help us educate students and serve those in need. Above all, this couple’s support will help us elevate William Magee’s story so other students can make healthy decisions and excel academically.”

The Whitwells each enjoyed their undergraduate experience at Ole Miss, where Ginger Whitwell, a native of Forest, was an Ole Miss Ambassador, active on the Student Alumni Council and a member of Phi Mu sorority. Quentin Whitwell was Associated Student Body president, a Student Hall of Fame inductee and Sigma Nu fraternity member – like William and David Magee.

After graduation, Ginger earned a master’s degree in education from the University of Southern Mississippi, and Quentin earned a Juris Doctor from the UM School of Law.

“Ginger and I hope to see the Magee Center become a model for other universities and other college towns to mirror,” Quentin Whitwell said. “We are very pleased that student organizations at Ole Miss, and particularly our own sorority and fraternity, are participating in funding the Magee Center and helping address the seriousness of abuse and addiction.”

To honor their support, a large wellness classroom in the new South Campus Recreation Facility will be named for the Whitwells. Ginger Whitwell has a vision for what she wants the wellness classroom to provide.

“I hope it will be a safe place for students, a place where they feel comfortable talking about the issues they face and know those issues are important,” she said. “So many times, young people think they are going to be judged and keep problems to themselves.”

It’s natural for the Whitwells to be concerned about support to students, as they are the parents of daughter Davis, 18, who is a freshman this fall at the College of Charleston. Their son Gordon, 15, is a student and athlete at the Smith Stearns Tennis Academy in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.

“We talk forthrightly to our children about the issues of drugs and alcohol,” Quentin Whitwell said. “Our daughter recognizes the importance as a female leader of the need to be in control of situations that involve her.

“Our son spends so much time on fitness and understands the negative impact of drugs and alcohol on the body.”

Although the center has not opened, in-depth planning and curriculum development is underway as part of the initiative, and efforts continue to seek additional financial support to sustain the program, said Brett Barefoot, development officer for parent and family leadership.

“William’s Story” can be found at

The William Magee Center for Wellness Education is open to receive gifts from individuals and organizations by mailing a check with the center’s name in the memo line to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655; or online at

For more information contact Brett Barefoot, development director, at or 662-915-2711.

UM Graduate Earns Top Recognition for Editorial Cartoons

Jake Thrasher won first place in SPJ's Mark of Excellence Competition

Jake Thrasher, a 2018 UM graduate and Hall of Fame inductee, won first place in the Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence competition for his editorial cartoons in The Daily Mississippian. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – Many people have diverse interests, but to be highly skilled in several areas is a rarer quality.

Jake Thrasher, of Birmingham, Alabama, graduated from the University of Mississippi in May with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, but he recently earned national honors in an entirely different field: editorial cartooning. He won first place in the Society of Professional Journalists’ Mark of Excellence competition.

Thrasher has always been interested in art. He attended high school at Shades Valley Visual Arts Academy, which gave students preparation for creative problem-solving in visual art for those interested in pursuing a creative career. He began working for The Daily Mississippian as a freshman at Ole Miss.

“I’d always created what would be considered fine art and I was always interested in making something meaningful,” he said.

While at a social event, an editor approached him to ask that he begin drawing editorial cartoons.

“I had never created cartoons before and I wasn’t big into politics, but I immediately fell in love with it,” he said.

It quickly became more than just art for Thrasher and developed meaning.

“I realized early on as an editorial cartoonist that I’d been given a position that gave me a platform to speak out,” he said. “It would be irresponsible of me to not use that platform to change the state, the nation and our campus for the better.”

Thrasher drew his inspiration from political and social issues. He created two or three originals cartoons each week for The Daily Mississippian during his undergraduate career.

“I tried to stay constantly up to date politically, socially and on current campus issues,” he said.

Each cartoon took Thrasher a minimum of four to five hours to complete for a more simplistic drawing, or up to eight or 10 hours for a detailed drawing that involved the use of watercolor and other elements.

Patricia Thompson, assistant dean for student media at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media, said Thrasher’s work for The Daily Mississippian has been “nothing short of stunning.”

“The quality of his editorial cartoons rivals that from top professionals,” she said. “He has the ability to zone in on important issues and capture the essence of his opinion in artistic ways. His illustrations gracing the DM’s pages were creative, eye-catching and beautifully drawn.”

Thompson said he also went above and beyond his role by hiring and helping develop the skills of younger cartoonists and staying involved with student media.

“He wasn’t required to attend daily news meetings, but he often did so to learn what stories the staff was pursuing so he could make his work more timely and relevant,” she said.

Thrasher submitted three drawings to the competition, and the one featured on the SPJ website is titled “GOP Operation,” which is a satire of the children’s board game that also combines several issues.

“I’d have to say that was one of my favorites,” he said. “I spent a long time on that cartoon and it was one of my last drawings for the DM during my fall semester. I was happy to see it featured.”

Thrasher has a passion for helping others, and he served as president of Rebels Against Sexual Assault during his undergraduate career. He plans to attend Yale University this fall to pursue a doctorate in biology and biological sciences while conducting cancer and HIV research.

This spring, he was among 10 students inducted into the university’s 2017-18 Hall of Fame, one of the highest honors afforded Ole Miss students. He was also a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.

“Jake exemplifies what it means to be citizen scholar for the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College,” Dean Douglas Sullivan-González said. “He took the challenges and the risks to explore both the arts and the sciences during his tenure, and these national awards represent an acknowledgement of his great risks to live the answers to the tough questions of the day. We are proud of Jake.”

UM Student Broadens Horizon with Year in Japan

Gwenafaye McCormick wraps up studying abroad as Bridging Scholar

UM student Gwenafaye McCormick spent the 2017-18 academic year studying at Waseda University, a private, independent research university in central Tokyo. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – For the past year, University of Mississippi student Gwenafaye McCormick started her school day about 6,600 miles and 14 time zones from Oxford – in Japan.

McCormick, a rising senior international studies major from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, spent the 2017-18 school year studying at Waseda University, a private, independent research university in central Tokyo.

The distance and time from home meant that while McCormick was headed to Friday morning classes, Ole Miss students were gearing up for a Thursday evening.

“I grew up interested in Japan and Japanese culture, so of course I had some idea of what to expect, but getting to see places in real life that I had only ever seen in photos before was almost breathtaking, even for sort of silly things, like lines of vending machines lighting up a neighborhood street at night,” she said.

“Getting to experience everyday life in Japan has been the best part, in my opinion. I’ve made great friends at my university from Japan and from all over the world, and have had so many wonderful experiences with them.”

The “dream-come-true” experience has ended as McCormick’s Japanese school year came to a close. That means McCormick, the inaugural recipient of the Ira Wolf Scholarship from the U.S.-Japan Bridging Foundation, will be home for two weeks of “summer vacation” before UM classes start Aug. 20.

McCormick brought back experiences and memories from her Japanese sojourn that stretch beyond the classroom and her studies, such as eating “real sushi” for the first time on her 20th birthday surrounded by new friends, singing karaoke for the first time and playing games such as Janken, the Japanese version of rock-paper-scissors.

A member of both the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and Croft Institute for International Studies, she even met U.S. Ambassador to Japan William Hagerty IV at the ambassador’s residence, where McCormick represented the U.S.-Japan Bridging Foundation at a reception.

McCormick’s year of Japanese studies came through the foundation, a nonprofit organization created in 1998 at the recommendation of the Japan-US Friendship Commission to strengthen the two countries’ relationship.

Her Ira Wolf Scholarship is named after a U.S. trade representative and, most recently, an employee of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America trade group in Tokyo. Wolf died in January 2016 after spending half his adult life in Japan.

Gwenafaye McCormick’s studies in Japan included several cultural opportunities, such as eating ‘real sushi’ for the first time and visiting Japanese temples and gardens. Submitted photo

“Gwenafaye has a global perspective, similar to Mr. Wolf,” said Jean M. Falvey, deputy director of the U.S.-Japan Bridging Foundation. “Gwenafaye has carried on Mr. Wolf’s legacy with poise, intelligence and humility. She was chosen to represent the Bridging Scholars at a reception that U.S. Ambassador William Hagerty IV hosted at his residence in Tokyo, in honor of the Bridging Foundation’s 20th anniversary.

“Her articulate, grateful remarks were a huge hit among the major donor and government officials in attendance, and exemplified the value of study abroad to building the U.S.’s pipeline of next-generation workforce and global leaders.”

Thankful for the foundation’s encouragement and support, McCormick said it has been “incredibly rewarding to know that established members of the field I am entering see me as an active member as well and want to help me succeed.”

McCormick’s studies at Waseda University were focused on Japanese culture and history. Her courseload in Japan included classes such as one on paternalism and Japanese society, which focused on the differences between and complexities within Western and Japanese business cultures.

“It’s been really exciting to learn about Japanese culture and history from a Japanese perspective, especially since I have some background knowledge on events, given previous research and study I did at Ole Miss,” McCormick said. “In some ways, it’s very similar to what I’ve learned through my international studies classes (at UM) since the department I’m in is international studies/relations-oriented, teaches most of their courses in English and is a magnet for international students coming to Japan.

“But given that most of my teachers have been Japanese, I’ve had the chance to hear a real-life and modern-day Japanese perspective on many issues, which has been such a great opportunity.”

McCormick is the daughter of Paige McCormick, an associate professor of English literature at the Stillman College, and Mark McCormick, Stillman’s vice president of academic affairs. While she briefly visited Switzerland, Paris and London in high school, her love for Japan and Japanese culture arose through watching and reading Japanese cartoons, respectively called anime (animation) and manga (comics).

“I was completely enthralled by their variety of artistic styles and the difference in set storylines, humor and focuses,” she said. “I was always interested in the editor’s notes in the back of my manga volumes, where untranslatable jokes were explained, given that they relied on some knowledge of the kanji (Chinese characters) used to write characters’ names, or how two words sounded similar in Japanese but were written/pronounced differently. I wanted so badly to be able to be in on the joke.

“So I knew I had always wanted to learn Japanese, but it wasn’t until high school when a Japanese-American friend of mine encouraged me after I told her about my interest that I decided to really go for it. I’ve always loved learning languages, and Japanese was no different. I fell completely in love with it and knew I wanted to become fluent, so I pursued it wholeheartedly at Ole Miss.”

McCormick’s extended time living, traveling and studying in Japan provides a much deeper understanding of her target culture than the more typical semester stay, said Noell Wilson, chair of the university’s Arch Dalrymple III Department of History and Croft associate professor of history and international studies. Wilson also serves as McCormick’s senior thesis adviser.

“This more complex engagement with all things Japanese – from pop culture to history to food – will make her scholarly analysis of Japan on return to Oxford both more authoritative and more authentic,” said Wilson, whose background is in East Asian studies.

Following a brief vacation, McCormick will turn to her senior year at UM. Her tentative plans following graduation include entering the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program, a competitive employment opportunity that allows young professionals to live and work in Japan, whether in rural villages or brightly lit metropolises.

She would like a locale a little more rural than the center of Tokyo but is interested in the challenge of teaching her native language in her chosen, learned language, as well as having more of an immersive Japanese language experience.

Still, with a year left at Ole Miss, McCormick said nothing is set.

“I am keeping my mind open to all possibilities,” she said. “I’ve learned that a lot can happen in just one year.”

Four UM Students Awarded Scholarships by U.S. State Department

Students majoring in international studies and modern languages studying abroad this summer

Biloxi native Olivia George is studying the Korean language and culture this summer in South Korea. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – Four University of Mississippi students are spending their summer overseas immersed in a variety of cultures and languages.

These students will put their linguistic knowledge to the test across the globe after being awarded the 2018 Critical Language Scholarship by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs.

International studies majors Olivia George, a rising junior from Biloxi; Paul Hunt, a rising senior from Madison, Alabama; Isabel Spafford, a rising sophomore from Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Emily Wang, a rising junior from Randolph, New Jersey, each received the award to study critical languages this summer. All four are members of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and the Croft Institute of International Studies.

“I cannot begin to describe what an amazing opportunity it is to be a part of the CLS Korean program this summer,” said George, who is studying Korean in Gwangju, South Korea. “Studying Korean at Ole Miss and interacting with the Korean exchange community there has taught me so much about cultural exchange, a process in which you learn not only about the world you live in but also about yourself – your aspirations, your values and even your limits.”

The Critical Language Scholarship program gives undergraduate and graduate students an opportunity to study and master one of 14 critical languages: Arabic, Azerbaijani, Bangla, Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Punjabi, Russian, Swahili, Turkish or Urdu. These languages are not taught as often in U.S. schools as some other languages.

Emily Wang is spending the summer in Amman, Jordan, studying the Arabic language as part of the Critical Language Scholarship Program. Submitted photo

More than 550 students across the country received the scholarship this year. The goal of the program is to encourage U.S. citizens to learn critical foreign languages and to prepare students for a globalized workforce, ultimately allowing them to contribute to U.S. economic competitiveness and national security.

Each student spends eight to 10 weeks in the country of his or her chosen language living with host families. The program includes intensive language instruction combined with cultural enrichment activities to provide students with opportunities to master the language.

Hunt is spending the summer in Lucknow, India, learning Urdu; Spafford is traveling to Ibri, Oman, to study Arabic; and Wang is learning learn Arabic in Amman, Jordan.

George hopes to use these language skills to work with Korean companies or organization and conduct research about Korean society in the future.

“Through this program, I hope that I can improve my language skills and better my understanding of Korean culture,” she said.

Wang hopes to improve in Arabic through the program.

“Language learning is a means to gain new perspectives and eyes upon the world, so I am very ecstatic and honored to have received the CLS award in Jordan,” Wang said. “Since intensive and immersive language-learning goes hand-in-hand with linguistic success, more time I can spend immersing myself abroad will correlate with my success.”

Spafford is excited to study Arabic in a country where the language is spoken.

“Being able to see how Arabic is used by those who think and dream in it adds a dynamic to my studies that deepens both my ability and my desire to learn the language,” Spafford said. “In addition, learning alongside intelligent, like-minded students from across the country affords me connections that will be valuable to me across my career and friendships that make this this intense program a joy.

“I hope to use Arabic to work with refugees, ideally through the foreign service.”

Paul Hunt

Although this program does not require any previous language experience, nearly all Ole Miss students who receive the scholarship are committed to their chosen language and have studied it for several semesters or years, said Tim Dolan, director of the Office of National Scholarship Advisement. The ONSA office is housed in the Honors College but works with all Ole Miss students.

“CLS builds upon the students’ prior language skills and gives them an unparalleled immersion in and exposure to the nuances of culture that can only come from living with native speakers and exploring places with historical and cultural significance,” Dolan said.

Faculty in the Department of Modern Languages, Croft Institute for International Studies, Chinese Language Flagship Program and the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College all work to recruit and prepare students to be competitive in education and the work force.

Isabel Spafford is studying Arabic this summer in Ibri, Oman, as a Critical Language Scholarship recipient from the U.S. Department of State. Submitted photo

“The CLS program takes the best and the brightest of young people and helps them achieve a high degree of linguistic and cultural competence in areas of the world that are vital for our country’s political and economic future,” said Dan O’Sullivan, chair and professor of modern languages. “We couldn’t be prouder of the University of Mississippi students that have been accepted into the program.”

The university has a reputation of attracting students who are serious about studying another language, which provides the program with many qualified candidates, Dolan said.

“The Critical Language Scholarship program encourages students from diverse backgrounds and from a wide range of majors to apply,” he said. “It is a great opportunity for science, engineering, math and computer science students to learn a vital language and explore professional opportunities abroad.”

The CLS program began in 2006 and has awarded scholarships to more than 5,700 American students. Students interested in learning more about the program or other national scholarships should contact Dolan at