Eight Exceptional UM Students Named 2017 Croft Scholars

Honorees get $4,000 per semester to fund studies, travel

The 2017 UM Croft Scholars are (front, from left) Swetha Manivannan, Susanna Cassisa, Lucy Herron, Lea Dudte and Eli Landes, and (back, from left) Colin Isaacs, Isabel Spafford and Andrew Osman. Submitted photo by Joe Worthem

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi’s Croft Institute for International Studies has announced this year’s winners of eight Croft Scholarships, which pay up to $32,000 over four years, making them among the most valuable and most prestigious on campus.

The Croft Institute selects outstanding incoming freshmen as Croft Scholars each year. Winners receive $4,000 per semester for four years, and the funds can be combined with other scholarships. Croft Scholars retain the funds as long as they stay in the international studies major and maintain a 3.4 GPA both in the major and overall.

“We are proud to welcome these exceptionally talented students as our newest cohort of Croft Scholars,” said Oliver Dinius, executive director of the Croft Institute. “It is a wonderfully diverse group, both in terms of their background and in terms of the foreign languages and regions of the world that they are studying.”

Of the more than 270 applicants to the Croft Institute this year, 110 were admitted, and from that pool the admissions committee selected 25 prospective students to be interviewed for the scholarship. They answered follow-up questions about their application essays and questions about current affairs, their intellectual interests and their motivations for wanting to earn a B.A. in international studies.

The 2017 Croft Scholars are: Susanna Cassisa, Lea Dudte, Lucy Herron, Colin Isaacs, Eli Landes, Swetha Manivannan, Andrew Osman and Isabel Spafford. 

Like all students in the international studies major, they have chosen a foreign language to study throughout their four years in Croft, as well as one of four regions: East Asia, Europe, the Middle East, or Latin America. All eight Croft Scholars are also members of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.

Oxford native Cassisa is a graduate of Oxford High School. Her regional focus is Europe, and she is studying German as her Croft language. 

“It is truly humbling to be chosen as a Croft Scholar from the many accomplished students in my cohort,” Cassisa said. “I am so grateful for the opportunity to continue my education at such a distinguished institution that is allowing me to combine my passion for the German language with my interest in foreign cultures and politics.”

Osman, from Ocean Springs, graduated from Ocean Springs High School. His language is Arabic and he is focusing on the Middle East.

“I was honored to be named a Croft Scholar because I am passionate about international studies, and the Croft Institute has given me the ability to study what I find interesting,” Osman said. “I am surrounded by an incredible group of peers, all of which share the same passion I hold, and I am proud to say I am a member of the Croft Institute for International Studies.”

Also from Ocean Springs, Dudte graduated from Ocean Spring High School. She is focusing on Latin America as her region and has chosen Spanish as her foreign language.

“It was such an honor to simply be accepted into the Croft Institute, so when I received a scholarship from this highly-regarded program, I was very humbled,” Dudte said. “I am so grateful for the opportunities and connections that this institute provides its students with.

“The Croft scholarship is just one example of this. Through this scholarship I am able to further pursue my studies and travels.”

Herron, from Long Beach, graduated from Pass Christian High School. She has chosen East Asia as her region, studying Chinese in the university’s prestigious Chinese Flagship program.

Isaacs is from Dyersburg, Tennessee. A graduate of Dyersburg High School, he also focuses on East Asia, and his language is Korean, which is rather popular this year as a Croft language.

Manivannan is from Collierville, Tennessee, where she graduated from Collierville High School. She is studying Spanish and is deciding between Latin America and Europe for her focus.

From El Dorado, Arkansas, Landes graduated from El Dorado High School. He is learning French and focusing on Europe as his region.

Spafford is from Albuquerque, and is a graduate of Sandia High School. She is studying Arabic and focusing on the Middle East.

Triplets Inducted into Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society

Juniors Ann Weston, Katherine and Will Sistrunk each earned the honor

Triplets Katherine, Will and Ann Weston Sistrunk were inducted into Phi Kappa Phi honor society, Sunday, October 29. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi chapter of Phi Kappa Phi honor society inducted 270 new members Sunday (Oct. 29), including three juniors from the same family.

Ann Weston, Katherine and Will Sistrunk, triplets from Springfield, Missouri, were inducted into the most selective interdisciplinary honor society at the university. All three are members of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.

“The invitation to be a member of Phi Kappa Phi is a great accomplishment and it is especially exciting to be inducted with my siblings, as I owe much of my success to the guidance and support of Katherine and Will,” Ann Weston said.

Ann Weston is a public policy leadership major and is seeking minors in Spanish and intelligence and security studies. She plans to pursue a career in global health policy upon completion of graduate school.

Also a public policy leadership major and a pre-nursing student, Katherine is minoring in Spanish and society and health. She wants to combine her love for public policy with a career in a health-related field.

Will is majoring in biology and pursuing minors in chemistry and society and health. He plans to attend medical school after graduating from Ole Miss.

“Being nominated for Phi Kappa Phi is an awesome honor and reward for me academically,” Will said. “It also is a reflection of the great opportunities I have had at Ole Miss, from advising in the Honors College to meeting with professors who are always willing to help. I am excited for all that Phi Kappa Phi has to offer.”

To receive an invitation to join Phi Kappa Phi, juniors must have completed at least 72 credit hours and rank in the top 7.5 percent of their class. All three made the cut.

Deb Wenger, Phi Kappa Phi chapter president and assistant dean for partnerships and innovation in the Meek School of Journalism and New Media, said this is the first time she is aware of triplets inducted into any chapter of Phi Kappa Phi.

The Sistrunks come from an Ole Miss family. Their parents, William and Camille Sistrunk, are university alumni and Mississippi natives, and when it came to the three choosing a college, UM was always a consideration.

“As we were considering colleges, we initially had varying ideas on where we wanted to go and what we wanted to study,” Katherine said. “At first, I thought it was a definite possibility that we would end up at different schools. But, as we continued to visit other universities, Ole Miss kept calling us back.

“Ever since we were little, we have called Mississippi our second home. Ole Miss has brought us friendships and memories, and we ultimately chose Ole Miss because it was not only where our family went to school, but because it felt like home.”

UM was where the three siblings felt most comfortable and could each pursue the major of their choice.

“We are all very close but independent and different in our own ways, and it was a great thing that we each decided Ole Miss was the right place for each of us,” Katherine said. “Aside from Ole Miss having so many outstanding academic and extracurricular opportunities in which to participate, choosing Ole Miss was like coming home, and I couldn’t image what my college experience would have been like without my family by my side.”

But it wasn’t just the culture and the legacy aspect that drew them in. The Sistrunks said the scholarships offered through Ole Miss were the most generous of any institution to which they applied.

“Ole Miss has been everything we expected and much more in providing an excellent academic environment in which our kids are thriving, and we are very grateful for that,” the triplets’ father, William, said. “We are excited that they are planting roots in Mississippi.”

The university has since allowed each of them to academically perform to the best of their abilities.

“I am motivated to achieve by the desire to one day be able to be a successful professional and say that I am an alumni of the University of Mississippi, and with that, hopefully give back to the university that has given me so much,” Ann Weston said.

Ultimately, their independent achievements allowing them to come together in Phi Kappa Phi has made the family closer than ever.

“To me, my sisters being at the same college has been a great resource and comfort,” Will said. “I wouldn’t be where I am now without them. However, I know wherever they go, they will succeed.”

Their mother, Camille, agrees.

 “My husband and I are very proud of Ann Weston, Katherine and Will,” she said. “We are very blessed that they are happy and healthy kids and students who have always academically challenged themselves and each other.”

FedEx Founder Fred Smith Issues Challenge at Honors Convocation

Annual fall event also featured Silicon Valley icon Jim Barksdale

Fred Smith, founder and CEO of FedEx, delivers the keynote address Tuesday evening during the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College Fall Convocation in the Ford Center. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Legendary FedEx founder and CEO Frederick W. Smith challenged University of Mississippi honors students Tuesday (Sept. 12) to continue having academic conversations with the aim of developing workable solutions to national and global problems.

Smith was the keynote speaker for the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College’s Fall Convocation at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts. Celebrating the college’s 20th anniversary, the program also featured Silicon Valley icon and Ole Miss alumnus Jim Barksdale, who introduced Smith.

“If this country is to continue being recognized as the leading nation on the global scene, then we must use rational thinking and political compromise to fix our problems,” Smith said. “I think that the answers are going from young minds such as those found in the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.

“Even as students, when you search for good ideas, it can lead to big things.”

Considered one of the world’s most influential entrepreneurs, Smith founded FedEx more than 46 years ago. He recounted how his global corporation began with a paper he wrote as a student at Yale University. Smith’s idea went on to revolutionize the transportation industry and beyond.

“We singlehandedly created the overnight delivery system,” Smith said. “We also invented the ability to track and trace shipments while in transit, pioneered the unique wireless technology to keep in touch with all our service people and spearheaded transportation deregulation, which made it easier for growing companies to get goods and services to market.”

While citing the company’s assets and achievements, Smith maintained that its people are the real key to FedEx’s success.

“The FedEx culture is that people plus service equals prosperity,” Smith said. “The Purple Promise of every employee is ‘I will make every FedEx experience outstanding.'”

Barksdale credited Smith with changing traditional business operations from the industrial model into a technological society.

“FedEx has such a stellar reputation because it was led by this man of such great integrity and incredible executive leadership acumen,” he said.

Smith, in turn, praised Barksdale as “one of the great resources of American history.”

“This Honors College is named for one of the greatest philanthropists and advocates for education that I have ever known,” Smith said. “She was a true American hero who lived her life for the betterment of others.”

Smith’s visit represented an extraordinary moment for UM students, Honors College Dean Douglass Sullivan-Gonzalez said.

“Mr. Smith is one this country’s most important and innovative corporate leaders,” Sullivan-Gonzalez said. “I am thrilled that our students had the opportunity to hear and interact with such an impactful figure in his field.”

Sullivan-Gonzalez also praised Barksdale and his family for their contributions to the Honors College.

“Jim is a pioneer and leader in the technology world and a great friend of education and the University of Mississippi,” he said. “A noted alum of our business school, Jim’s career achievements and the commitment of his time, energy, passion and resources to elevating the quality of life in his home state are truly remarkable.”

With an annual income exceeding $60 billion, FedEx employs more than 400,000 workers in 220 countries. With a fleet of 650 cargo aircraft and thousands of delivery trucks, the company delivers more than 13 million shipments daily.

Visiting Professor to Discuss Foods of Slave Trade Thursday at UM

Judith Carney featured speaker of the Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar Program

Judith Carney

OXFORD, Miss. – A geographer from the University of California at Los Angeles will discuss foods grown by African slaves Thursday (Sept. 14) at the University of Mississippi.

Judith Carney begins her lecture, “Seeds of Memory: Food Legacies of the Transatlantic Slave Trade,” at 5:30 p.m. in the Tupelo Room of Barnard Observatory. Her appearance, part of the Phi Beta Kappa honor society’s Visiting Scholar Program, is free and open to the public.

The event is co-sponsored by the College of Liberal Arts and its departments of History and Modern Languages, the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and Center for the Study of Southern Culture.

“Professor Carney’s lecture on the contribution of the transatlantic slave trade to the foodways of the Americas, including the southeastern United States, will give people a new perspective on something very familiar: the food on their plates,” said William Schenck, associate director of UM’s Croft Institute for International Studies and president of the UM chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.

“It will also highlight the agency of enslaved African people, who, using their knowledge about the cultivation of African plants to feed themselves, created a new food culture, with important consequences for what – and how – we eat today.”

Carney’s research centers on African ecology and development, food security and agrarian change and African contributions to New World environmental history. She is the author of “Black Rice: The African Origins of Rice Cultivation in the Americas” (Harvard University Press, 2001) and “In the Shadow of Slavery: Africa’s Botanical Legacy in the Atlantic World” (University of California Press, 2010).

“This talk shifts our usual historical focus from the export crops slaves produced to the foods they planted for their own sustenance,” Carney said. “The lecture emphasizes the role of African foods in provisioning the transatlantic slave trade, the slave ship as a medium for their circulation and the slave food plots where these foods initially appeared.

“In doing so, it underscores the significance of the transatlantic slave trade for the circulation of African plants, animals and natural knowledge in the Atlantic world.”

Founded in 1776, Phi Beta Kappa is the nation’s oldest and most prestigious undergraduate honors organization in the liberal arts. Chartered in 2001, the UM chapter is the second of two in Mississippi and the only one sheltered at a public university in the state.

“An event such as this is the epitome of cultural opportunity available to those living in a college town,” said Sandra Spiroff, associate professor of mathematics and vice president of the chapter.

“The Visiting Scholar Program provides the community free access to presentations by national researchers on a variety of topics and potentially challenges the listener to consider viewpoints other than his or her own. For students of all ages, this is a particular aim of a liberal education.”

Honors College Debuts Exhibit in New Building with ‘America Selfie’

Mississippi native Laura Elkins offers a portrait of America through paintings

Laura Elkins’ ‘America Selfie’ installation debuts Tuesday (Aug. 22) at the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College will debut a site-specific exhibit by painter Laura Elkins this week in some of its renovated space that was dedicated last spring.

The installation, titled “America Selfie,” is a contemporary take on history painting and uses current events, American history, national symbols and both contemporary and art historical imagery to create a portrait of America.

The Honors College will host an opening reception for the exhibit from 3 to 4 p.m. Tuesday (Aug. 22). The installation also will be a location stop later that evening on the monthly Oxford Art Crawl, from 6 to 8 p.m. The installation, which also will be a stop on the Sept. 26 Art Crawl, runs through Sept. 29.

Debra Young, associate dean of the Honors College, had enjoyed Elkins’ monograph of paintings “Summer in the City,” which she said made her think through gender, power, history and friendship all at once.

This edginess of Elkins’ work matched up with Dean Douglass Sullivan-Gonzalez’s plan to use space in the new Honors College to provide a place for interaction and lively discussion. This exhibit demands both, Young said.

“The SMBHC concept of ‘citizen scholar’ has always accommodated the notion of ‘citizen artist’ as one of the manifestations of thoughtful, informed, courageous response and leadership,” Young said. “The artistic talent, linked to this urge to prod and probe – an introduction to Dean Sullivan-Gonzalez’s and his consequent invitation to do something for our new building – was a no-brainer.”

The artist’s monograph “Summer in the City” was published by Enlightening Press in 2015. Upshur Street Books in Washington, D.C. and Square Books in Oxford hosted signings and exhibitions in 2016.

Soon after the signing, Sullivan-Gonzalez invited Elkins to speak to Honors College students as part of a series titled “From the Edge of Inside,” inspired by an editorial in the New York Times by David Brooks. From there, the idea of creating an exhibit that reflects current and historic issues was born.

“These are things that have always been part of America, so I’m looking at the whole picture while using current and art historical imagery,” Elkins said. “I wanted to create a portrait of this bizarre place we live.”

Elkins, an Oxford native, began painting as a child while attending Saturday morning classes at the University Museum and the UM Department of Art. She returned to Oxford after earning a degree in architecture from the University of Virginia to paint full-time.

She was mentored by visionary painter and Mississippian Theora Hamblett and spent time in the acclaimed folk artist’s home and studio. Later, Elkins would share Hamblett’s earlier patronage with renowned art dealer Betty Parsons, who exhibited Elkins’s work in 1980.

Elkins’ recent exhibitions in New York include a 15-year retrospective of “The White House Collection” paintings, “First, She’s a Lady” at Tikhonova & Winter. Allen Frame, in the Creative Independent called it “one of the best shows of 2015.”

Other shows in New York include “Fabrications: Constructing Female Identity” at Dixon Place, and an exhibition and benefit auction for the Film-makers Coop at Next to Nothing Gallery that opens Thursday (Aug. 24).

Elkins lives in Washington, D.C., where 39th Street Gallery will exhibit “America Selfie” in January 2018. Her other exhibitions in the D.C. metropolitan area include “Portraits of US” at Montpelier Arts Center, “United in Passion and Pride” at 39th Street Gallery, “Portrait of Self as Other” at Studio Gallery and three solo shows at The Fridge.

For more information about Elkins, visit http://lauraelkinsartist.com/. Follow her on Instagram at @LauraElkins and on Facebook to see more of her work.

UM Recognizes Three Employees with Frist Service Awards

Honorees are modern languages and political science professors and admissions director

Robert Brown, who teaches in the Department of Political Science and the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, shares this year’s Frist Award for UM faculty. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Following glowing letters of recommendation from students, fellow faculty members and parents, three University of Mississippi employees have been chosen to receive prestigious honors for their exceptional service.

The Thomas Frist Student Service Awards are presented annually to Ole Miss faculty and staff members who have “gone the extra mile” in unwavering dedication and service to students.

Two faculty recipients share this year’s honor: Donald Dyer, associate dean for faculty and academic affairs in the College of Liberal Arts and professor of Russian and linguistics, and Robert Brown, professor of political science. Whitman Smith, director of admissions, is the staff award recipient.

“The Ole Miss family is fortunate to have so many outstanding individuals who go above and beyond to serve our students,” Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said. “All three of this year’s Frist Award recipients exemplify this core value.

“We applaud their unwavering commitment to student engagement and exceptional level of personal attention to student success. These three are very deserving of this special honor.”

Examples of exemplary service include student guidance and mentorship above and beyond those expected of faculty and staff as part of their job responsibilities. Any full-time faculty or staff member, except previous winners, is eligible for the award, which includes a $1,000 prize and a plaque. The winners also are acknowledged during the university’s overall Commencement ceremony.

Each recipient said he was surprised to receive news of his honor.

“I was also humbled and a little bit embarrassed by it,” Smith said. “I am honored to be recognized as someone who serves students. I have nothing I can compare it to.”

Both Dyer and Brown expressed similar feelings.

“When he (Vitter) gave me the news about the Frist Award, I felt incredibly honored … and humbled,” Dyer said. “This (honor) means that my interaction over the years with students has positively influenced someone.

“The success of the students I have been privileged to teach and to advise has always been as important to me or more important than anything else I have achieved as a professor.”

Brown said he is grateful to know students who have made him want to be a better teacher and better person.

Whitman Smith, UM director of admissions, is this year’s staff honoree for the Frist Award. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

“This award is a reminder of how lucky I am to be a teacher, and to work with and care about the students I teach,” Brown said. “They have given me so much, and I am glad to be able to give back to them if I can.”

The decision to choose a faculty recipient was difficult due to the stellar praises expressed for each in the nomination letters, said Luca Bombelli and Anne McCauley, both previous Frist winners and co-chairs of the selection committee.

“Reviewing nomination letters for the Frist Award is an inspiring and uplifting task because all the letters express heartfelt gratitude for faculty and staff members who have really made a difference in a student’s life,” said McCauley, assistant director of the Office of Sustainability.

“Both were so equally deserving that selecting one over the other would have involved a degree of arbitrariness that most did not feel comfortable with,” said Bombelli, chair and professor of physics and astronomy. “Therefore, we made the unusual move to recognize both of them.”

Brown, who has been nominated for the award in previous years, teaches in both the Department of Political Science and at the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.

In a nomination letter for him, one student wrote, “He has gone above and beyond as a professor, his dedication to his students shining every step of the way. Dr. Brown has visited sick students in their hometowns, gifted books to other students just because he thought they would enjoy, and has become a faithful campus voice outspoken against sexual assault.”

Don Dyer, professor of Russian and linguistics, is a faculty recipient of a 2017 Frist Award. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

When the student had doubts about her career path, “He sat with me and compiled a list of possible majors, helped me schedule appointments with deans and professors in each department, showing up to introduce me to each of them.”

Dyer, who had multiple nomination letters written by both students and faculty, was commended by a colleague for “having taken the language and linguistics programs to exceptional heights.

“He has always been supportive of new ideas and innovations in teaching languages, including less commonly taught languages, such as Russian, Chinese, Japanese and Arabic. Thanks to his hard work, professional and personal skills, the Department of Modern Languages has achieved great success, national and international recognition and respect.”

A student wrote that Dyer’s service has included funding graduate students’ trips to conferences in Idaho and New Mexico, teaching more than his required number of courses when necessary and even teaching a much-needed summer course for free as a gesture of good will.

“Dr. Dyer leads by example; he is ready to do what is best for the students and the university,” the student wrote.

In a nomination letter for Smith, written by the parents of a UM student, he was praised for having “rewritten the playbook” for the role of admissions director.

“Whitman went well beyond introducing students to the university and helping them acclimate to the college environment,” they wrote. “He built a relationship with (our son). Had it not been for Whitman and his ceaseless encouragement and open door, he may not be graduating in May.

“Whitman’s voice of reason and understanding encouraged him when it seemed nobody else could.”

The parents noted Smith has “a deep passion” for working with Ole Miss students.

“More than once, we have phoned Whitman at home and on his cell number after office hours. Whitman consistently goes beyond the role of a director of admissions, providing guidance and mentorship that serve students like our son every single day.”

All three recipients said they plan to give their stipends back to the university.

“I will donate half to the Larry Ridgeway scholarship fund and half to the Max Miller scholarship fund,” Smith said.

“I plan to give it to the Department of Modern Languages to help students in need of financial support to study abroad,” Dyer said.

“Half will go to the Department of Political Science and half will go to the Honors College to use for student projects and development,” Brown said.

The Frist Student Service Awards were established with a $50,000 gift from the late Dr. Thomas F. Frist of Nashville, a 1930 UM graduate. Past winners of the Frist Award include faculty members Brett Cantrell, Denis Goulet, Aileen Ajootian, Don Cole, Charles Eagles, Ellen Meacham, Terry Panhorst, Ken Sufka and Eric Weber, and staff members Lindsey Bartlett Mosvick, Carol Forsythe, Thelma Curry, Dewey Knight, Valeria Ross, Marc Showalter and Linda Spargo.

UM Honors College Dedicates Expanded Facility

Campus, community celebrate program's 20th anniversary with new building

UM alumnus and donor Jim Barksdale (left) is welcomed Thursday by Chancellor Jeffery Vitter during dedication ceremonies for the expanded Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – A line of blustery, threatening weather moving through the area didn’t stop more than 100 University of Mississippi students, faculty, staff, administrators and alumni from celebrating the successes of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College on Thursday (March 30) afternoon.

The crowd squeezed into the Honors College’s great room to dedicate the expanded and renovated building, putting the cap on a two-year project. The ceremony, which was relocated from outdoors because of the weather, also marked the 20th anniversary of the Honors College and was followed by a reception and open house.

“The Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College is an incredible asset to our university,” Chancellor Jeffery Vitter said. “It distinguishes us among peer institutions and allows Ole Miss to offer exceptional personalized opportunities to extremely talented students. I am very excited to be celebrating its expansion and renovation today.”

Others making remarks during the ceremony were Dean Douglass Sullivan-Gonzalez; David Buford, director of risk management for the State Institutions of Higher Learning; Honors College alumni Dr. Marc Walker and Christin Gates Calloway; and Jim Barksdale, who helped launch the Honors College when he and his late wife, Sally McDonnell Barksdale, donated funds to expand the university’s Honors Program in 1997.

Moving into the new space was “a 10-year dream come true,” Sullivan-Gonzalez said.

“The new building represents a great blend of classroom and study space to go deep into conversation with peers on the tough questions of the day,” he said. “We are grateful for the new and renovated space at the SMBHC.”

The $6.9 million project added 15,000 new square feet to the existing building, bringing the total to 32,290 square feet. The renovated section includes seven new classrooms, a new kitchen, study area, a great room, computer lab, three new study rooms and new faculty offices.

UM Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter welcomes the crowd at the dedication of the new and renovated Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

“This is great and I’m so proud of what has been accomplished here during the past 20 years,” Barksdale said. “In life, you always want the chance to do something significant and different.

“This opportunity came along at the right time, the right place and with the right people. What a wonderful return upon our investment.”

Both Calloway and Walker said their Honors College experiences have proven invaluable to their careers.

“My professional path for the past 11 years has been built upon my Freshman Ventures at Weyerhaeuser Paper in Seattle and my medical missions trips to Bolivia, all made possible through the Honors College,” said Walker, a 2006 alumnus who earned his bachelor’s degree in biology with minors in chemistry, religion and philosophy. He earned degrees from both Harvard Medical School and Harvard Business School and is set to become chief resident in plastic and reconstructive surgery at Yale-New Haven Hospital next year.

“I’ve learned that surgery is a lot easier with the right tools and a committed team. That’s exactly what the Honors College offers.”

A Kosciusko native who earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2011, Calloway said the Honors College is where she “grappled with some of the toughest social, educational and political challenges of our time.”

“The Honors College is one of the most unique and enriching opportunities I’ve ever experienced,” said the doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Had I not attended here, I wouldn’t have had the courage, determination and tenacity to continue my education at some of the nation’s most prestigious institutions of higher learning.”

The Honors College has grown tremendously from its humble beginnings. Opening with an initial class of 121 students in 1997, its student body has grown to more than 1,400.

The program annually attracts high-performing students from across the state and country. The average ACT score for incoming scholars last fall was 30.9, and their average high school GPA was 3.92.

For the last two years, more than 400 freshmen have joined the SMBHC each year. To accommodate the growing student body, the Honors College broke ground on its expansion in 2014, and the new addition opened in March 2016. The original building was then renovated, and work was completed in December.

“Our students enjoy deep conversations, and this is a welcoming space that encourages us to take time to engage in meaningful discussion,” Sullivan-Gonzalez said. “This provides the needed infrastructure to assure that this program will be the ‘tip of the spear’ to lead the university’s academic charge for years to come.”

The Barksdales made the idea of an Honors College possible, enabling the purchase and renovation of the Alpha Delta Pi sorority building to house the new program. That first gift also endowed 16 scholarships and provided funding for operating expenses.

Other generous donations include endowments from the Parker estates to fund scholarships, and from Lynda and John Shea to support study abroad fellowships.

With the death of Sally McDonnell Barksdale in December 2003, the Honors College was renamed in her memory in spring 2004.

“The University of Mississippi and, indeed, all of the state’s citizens are indebted to the Barksdales for their continued and transformative support,” Vitter said. “For 20 years now, the impact of the Honors College has been far-reaching, helping create a vibrant legacy of attracting the best and brightest to Ole Miss.”

For more information on the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, go to http://www.honors.olemiss.edu.

UM Student Wins Phi Beta Kappa Writing Internship

Kathryn James will submit articles for academic honor society's online newsletter

Triple major Kathryn James is a 2017 Phi Beta Kappa writing intern. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Kathryn James may not make a penny on any of the articles she writes for The Key Reporter, Phi Beta Kappa’s online newsletter, but the University of Mississippi student is grateful to have been awarded a writing internship from the prestigious academic honor society.

“I was surprised, as I didn’t know the position existed, honored that Dr. (John) Samonds thought of me to represent the university in the competition, and humbled to be chosen,” said James, a senior triple majoring in public policy leadership, economics and Southern studies from Mandeville, Louisiana.

“While I do not endeavor to write professionally, earning this position testifies to my ability to engage with other nationally recognized undergraduates.”

PBK’s writing internship program is primarily for juniors and seniors majoring in liberal arts or sciences who attend institutions where chapters are sheltered. Interns must make a five-month commitment to the program and prepare a minimum of six publishable articles for The Key Reporter.

Interns write and conduct research from their home campuses. Besides being good writers, interns need to be able to work independently and meet deadlines with a minimum of oversight and supervision. They must accept assigned topics and/or pitch their stories to the editor for approval before a completed article is submitted.

“I submitted my first piece on March 1 and have submitted two more since,” James said. “My writing has, thus far, profiled members of Phi Beta Kappa who break barriers in their membership, scholarship and/or professional lives.

“I have profiled the first African-American woman to gain membership in Phi Beta Kappa, a recent graduate and national scholarship winner – Truman and Mitchell scholarships – working in racial opportunity gaps, and a woman pioneer of computing language.”

James’ first published article is available at http://www.keyreporter.org/PbkNews/PbkNews/Details/2202.html.

The organization does not guarantee that every submitted article will be published. But even with no pay or guarantee of publication, it is an honor for James to have been chosen as an intern, said Luanne Buchanan, UM instructional associate professor of Spanish and secretary-treasurer of the campus PBK chapter.

“Kathryn earned the honor,” Buchanan said. “Dr. (Sandra) Spiroff encouraged her to apply for it.”

Spiroff, associate professor of mathematics and chapter vice president, was made aware of James’ writing talents by John Samonds, associate dean of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.

“After she expressed interest in the internship, I solicited writing samples from her, offered some small critiques and put her name forward to the society,” Spiroff said. “I was very impressed with Kathryn’s writing ability.

“I was hopeful that she would receive the internship since I have rarely seen a student write so well, engaging the interest of the reader.”

Each intern receives full credit for his/her work. Those who complete the program receive a formal certificate from Phi Beta Kappa and may request a letter of recommendation from the program.

“I see this opportunity as an extension of the honor that is Phi Beta Kappa,” James said. “It speaks to the confidence my university community has in my academic ability.”

For more information about the Phi Beta Kappa writing internship program, visit http://keyreporter.org/PbkNews/PbkNews/Details/912.html or email Spiroff at spiroff@olemiss.edu. The next deadline for applications is April 21 and the chapter is seeking interested students.

UM Honors College to Dedicate Expanded Building Thursday

Project added classrooms, study areas and space to 'dive deep' into discussions

UM officials will dedicate the expanded and renovated Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College during ceremonies Thursday afternoon. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Students, faculty and administrators will gather Thursday afternoon (March 30) at the University of Mississippi to celebrate the dedication of the expanded and renovated home of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.

The ceremony, set for 3 p.m. in the building’s great room just inside the west entrance, officially concludes a project that doubled the size of the Honors College’s physical space and renovated the existing structure.

The expansion added 15,000 square feet, including new classrooms, study areas, offices and student lounges. Moving into the new space was “a 10-year dream come true,” said Douglass Sullivan-Gonzalez, Honors College dean.

“The gift of the new and renovated building provides extraordinary public spaces for our students to dive deep into the questions that challenge us all,” Sullivan-Gonzalez said. “Our students enjoy deep conversations, and this is a welcoming space that encourages us to take time to engage in the thorny issues of the day.”

The ceremony is to feature remarks by Marcus Thompson, chief administrative officer and chief of staff for the State Institutions of Higher Learning; Honors College alumni Dr. Marc Walker and Christin Gates Calloway; and Jim Barksdale, who helped launch the Honors College when he and his late wife, Sally McDonnell Barksdale, agreed to invest $5.4 million to expand the university’s Honors Program in 1997.

A public reception follows the program, and student ambassadors will conduct tours of the facility.

The program has grown tremendously from its initial class of 121 students in 1997 to a student body of more than 1,400 this year. The Honors College annually attracts high-performing students from across the state and country; the average ACT score for incoming scholars last fall was 30.9, and the average high school GPA was 3.97.

Praised as one of the nation’s best honors programs, the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College attracts acclaim for its blend of academic rigor, experiential learning and opportunities for community action.

“The Honors College is an example of the extraordinary personalized opportunities available to students at the University of Mississippi,” Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said. “Across our campus, faculty and staff are dedicated to transforming lives through education and service to the community, and this program helps us attract the ‘best and the brightest’ to Ole Miss.”

The $6.9 million expansion and renovation project positions the Honors College to continue its leadership role on campus and across the region, Sullivan-Gonzalez said.

“This provides the needed infrastructure to assure that this program will be the ‘tip of the spear’ to lead the university’s academic charge for years to come,” he said.

For more information on the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, go to http://www.honors.olemiss.edu/.

Two Honors College Students Receive Barksdale Awards

John Chappell and Elizabeth Taylor each given $5,000 to fulfill dream projects

Barksdale Award winners (from left) Elizabeth Taylor and John Chappell are congratulated by Dean Douglass Sullivan-Gonzales during the Sally McDonell Barksdale Honors College’s annual spring convocation. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – With $5,000 awards to support separate creative projects, two students in the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College at the University of Mississippi students have been named 2017 Barksdale Award winners.

John Chappell, a sophomore Arabic and international studies major from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Elizabeth Taylor, a junior sociology major from Sherman, Texas, were presented the awards during the Honors College’s annual spring convocation earlier this month.

The Barksdale Awards were established in 2005 to encourage students to test themselves in environments beyond the classroom, teaching lab or library. Chappell and Taylor are the 21st and 22nd recipients of the honor.

“I am very proud of these two citizen scholars,” said Douglass Sullivan-Gonzalez, dean of the Honors College. “They demonstrate what is possible when you confront a question with both mind and heart, and a willingness to risk failure. Good for both of them. We can’t wait to see what comes from their efforts.”

Chappell is planning a comparative study of local water politics in Morocco and New Mexico. Taylor will spend a month in Dublin, Ireland, in association with Ruhama, a nongovernmental organization that has been successful working with those affected by sex trafficking and prostitution.

“I suspect that the water politics or irrigation systems in both Morocco and New Mexico show the influence of Arab institutions,” said Chappell, who expects to graduate in May 2019 with a focus in Middle East and international governance and politics. “I hope to test this hypothesis and also to learn more about the socio-political structures at work in water-scarce environments in general.”

A Croft Scholar and the winner of UM’s 2016 Arabic Language Award, Chappell spent last summer in Morocco. There, he used his Arabic to communicate with Moroccan artisans in arranging for high-quality, fair trade art for sale internationally.

He is former president and founder of Rebels for Global Opportunity, an international advocacy group focusing on U.S.-international development policy. He is also president and board member of Rebel Global Connections, which seeks to introduce elementary students to world cultures through intercultural events in schools.

Chappell has worked as a research assistant to Vivian Ibrahim, Croft associate professor of history and international studies.

“John possesses proven research, language and interpersonal skills,” Ibrahim wrote in a letter of recommendation. “He is dynamic. More than that, he is genuinely inquisitive.”

The first person to receive a Barksdale Award through the Honors College’s junior entry program, Taylor transferred to Ole Miss after completing her associate’s degree from Grayson College in Denison, Texas, graduating summa cum laude. She was president of the Grayson Honors College, a delegate to Model UN, a Phi Theta Kappa International Honors Scholar and a District Two Hall of Honor member.

Taylor was also an All-USA Scholar, Pierce Scholar, Guistwhite Scholar and a New Century Scholar.

“By creating an organizational ethnography of Ruhama, I want to figure out how to create similar nonjudgmental social, psychological and infrastructure support in the U.S.,” she said.

Taylor understands firsthand about food pantries, being hungry and surviving sexual assault.

“By the age of 9, I had lost my father and both grandmothers to cancer,” she said. “My mother, who struggled with drug addiction, was in and out of prison before being diagnosed with leukemia.”

Defying the odds, Taylor continues to achieve at the highest levels. At UM, she is involved with both McLean Mentors and Rebels Against Sexual Assault. She was also 2015-16 Phi Theta Kappa International vice president of Division ll.

Taylor also worked with James Thomas, assistant professor of sociology and anthropology, in exploring how water policy is formulated and how it impacts disadvantaged communities.

“Elizabeth’s proposal is bold, ambitious and has the potential to shape important social policies at the national and international levels,” Thomas wrote in a letter of recommendation. “When Elizabeth sets her mind to something, the sky is the limit for her.”

For more information about the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, visit http://www.honors.olemiss.edu/.