Two Honors College Students Receive Barksdale Awards

Bethany Fitts and Gabrielle Schust each given $5,000 to fulfill dream projects

Gabrielle Schust (left) and Bethany Fitts are congratulated by Dean Douglass Sullivan-González after receiving Barksdale Awards during the Honors College’s annual spring convocation. Photo by Thomas Graning/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 have been named 2018 Barksdale Award winners.

Bethany Fitts, a junior English and history major from Tupelo, and Gabrielle Schust, a junior international studies and Spanish major from Columbia, Missouri, were presented the awards during the Honors College’s annual spring convocation Tuesday (Feb. 20).

The Barksdale Awards were established in 2005 to encourage students to test themselves in environments beyond the classroom, teaching lab or library. Fitts and Schust are the 23rd and 24th recipients of the honor.

“Our Barksdale Award winners have proposed tasks that will help them help us push our understanding of being human and being in this world,” said Douglas Sullivan-González, dean of the Honors College. “Bethany and Gabrielle are each taking on both a troubled past and a troubled present, seeking the connections that give hope and ways forward. I am proud that the Barksdale Award can fund such visions.”

Fitts will spend time in Washington state and in Hawaii, gaining ground-level experience with several kindred topics: poetry publication, conservation and W.S. Merwin, two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry and a founder of a conservancy housing more than 400 species of endangered palm trees.

In Washington, with the well-respected Copper Canyon Press, she will gain hands-on experience with everything about poetry publication, from helping to organize community events to editing and marketing. At the Merwin Conservancy in Maui, Fitts will work in its education program and alongside the conservancy’s gardener. As a follow-up, she hopes to promote similar poetry/ecology work in all 50 states and to write her own collection of poems drawn from her experiences.

“As a writer and lover of words, I have always been curious about the ways in which literature, particularly poetry, intersects with real people and the world’s concerns,” said Fitts, who expects to graduate in May 2020. “Many people view poetry as separate from the world, and while this view does not necessarily diminish poetry’s value, I simply think that it is wrong. I think that, now more than ever, our country and our world must wake up to the political, social and environmental concerns that we have allowed to develop, and one way to engage with this waking process is poetry.”

Fitts serves as editorial assistant for the Ole Miss Alumni Review and as creative content editor for the undergraduate Populi Magazine. Last year, she won the English department’s Campbell Award. Fitts volunteers with Mississippi Votes and, last summer, was an intern with the Sunflower County Freedom Project, where she taught literacy, gardening and creative writing to students. Her questions have to do with the poet’s role in today’s chaotic society, and her own identity as a poet in that world and in Mississippi as it exists today.

Fitts has worked with Daniel Stout, associate professor of British literature.

“Bethany is a student of particular academic gifts, but her truly distinguishing quality is the depth and energy of her commitment to an interdisciplinary life of the mind,” Stout wrote in a letter of recommendation. “She is the true model of the citizen scholar, interested in how literature helps people interact with their surroundings, in literature as a form of social enrichment.”

Schust will travel to England to collect oral histories of older women in religious orders whose charitable works in the 1960s and early 1970s (pre-National Health Service) focused on medical care for the poor, especially for women or children. She has already contacted three such orders and arranged interviews with eight sisters, the eldest of whom is now 103.

By collecting their stories, Schust hopes to gain insights into any changes over the past 70 years in how women in religious life had provided social services for the poor. She plans to capture the interviews on camera and create a mini-documentary, so that there will be a “window into the world of these women and the communities in which they worked.”

During an academic year in Lima, Peru, next year, Schust will conduct research into similar work being conducted in the Andes by women in religious orders.

The statistics about poverty, maternal/fetal mortality rates and life expectancy in today’s Andes and England before the National Health Service are “striking,” Schust said. She hopes to determine how today’s efforts compare and provide an assessment for how the Andean practices might be improved upon.

Schust has volunteered as an ACT Prep Class instructor and with the Oxford Film Festival, as well as for various local and national political campaigns. She is a member of Model UN and involved with UM’s Ghostlight Repertory Theatre and participates in youth and community theatre at home in Missouri.

Schust spent a summer in Bolivia in the field school of Kate Centellas, Croft associate professor of sociology and anthropology.

“I remember Gabrielle sitting and talking with her host family for hours, as she heard their stories and learned more about them and their perspectives,” Centellas said. “That time helped her understand the power of oral histories in the context of social science research. Her project is timely and innovative, and it needs doing.”

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

Fisk University Singers Coming to UM for Black History Month Concert

Thursday performance at Ford Center free to the public

The Fisk Jubilee Singers perform Feb. 22 for the first time at UM for the 2018 Black History Month Concert at the Ford Center. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi Department of Music is bringing the world-renowned Fisk Jubilee Singers to campus this week for the university’s 2018 Black History Month Concert.

The performance is set for 7:30 p.m. Thursday (Feb. 22) at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts. Admission is free and open to the public.

The concert is billed as “Be a Harmonizing Voice for Diversity” and also will feature the UM Concert Singers in a joint performance on the closing numbers. The Ole Miss African Drum and Dance Ensemble will perform as stage warmers before the show. The event is coordinated by George W.K. Dor, UM professor of music and the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Chair of Ethnomusicology.

“We use the Black History Month Concert to promote and celebrate diversity,” Dor said.

“The concert will feature two ensembles, one from a predominantly black institution and the other from a predominantly white university. The optics of symbolic interaction can send a powerful message of the determination of these two universities, taking their diversity projects to another level.”

Paul Kwami, Fisk University professor and the director of the choral group, will present “The History of the Fisk Jubilee Singers,” at 1 p.m. in Nutt Auditorium. This lecture is free and open to the public.

Established in 1871, the Fisk Jubilee Singers are credited for popularizing “Negro spiritual” music in the United States and Europe. In the late 19th century, the group traveled all over the Northeast and ventured to England, Germany and other European nations, performing this unique American genre to help raise funds to prevent Fisk University’s closure.

By the end of the group’s tours, it had raised enough money to guarantee the school’s survival and build Jubilee Hall, the university’s first academic building.

Fisk University, founded in 1866, is a historically black university in Nashville, Tennessee, and was a leader in ensuring education for African-Americans following the Civil War. Notable alumni include sociologist and civil rights activist W.E.B. Dubois, former U.S. Secretary of Energy Hazel O’Leary, U.S. Rep. John Lewis and acclaimed pianist Matthew Kennedy.

Karen Davidson Smith, UM clinical assistant professor of curriculum and instruction, attended Fisk University and was a member of the Jubilee Singers from 1990 to ’94. The Oxford native said she is excited “beyond words” to have the celebrated choral group at Ole Miss.

More than 150 years after the group’s founding, “the Jubilee Singers are still spreading magic through music that is both enchanting and thrilling,” Davidson Smith said.

“As a graduate of an historically black college who now teaches at a predominantly white institution, I have often felt that no one here is really interested that my culture is in full existence,” Davidson Smith said. “I am excited that both majority and diverse students have an opportunity to learn about the rich history of the Jubilee Singers and Fisk University.”

Applied Sciences Welcomes Inaugural Visiting Research Scholar

Cecile Guin to provide expert grant and publication counsel, mentorship to faculty

Cecile Guin

OXFORD, Miss. – Cecile Guin, director of the Office of Social Service Research and Development at Louisiana State University’s School of Social Work, will serve as the inaugural visiting research scholar for the School of Applied Sciences.

The school launched the Visiting Research Scholars Forum this academic year to help enhance research productivity, bringing meritorious research scholars to campus to facilitate discussion on best practices in research publication and grantsmanship. Renowned for their presentations, strong research publication record and national competitive grant award record, these scholars will provide lectures, small-group discussions and individual meetings for any interested faculty.

Guin will be on campus Feb. 26-27. After presenting a session on “Writing Grants to Support Your Research Agenda” to a universitywide audience and a lecture on “Pathway to Funding: Finding Support for Your Research Career” to the School of Applied Sciences faculty, the visiting scholar will lead a panel discussion, hold individualized mentorship sessions with faculty and meet with doctoral students.

“Dr. Guin has an impressive publication and grantsmanship record,” said Daphne Cain, the school’s interim associate dean. “She is nationally recognized for her teaching, her history of high-impact publications and her extramural funding. We are thrilled to have her share her experience and advice with our faculty.”

Guin began working for LSU in 1995 as a funding consultant and associate professor of research. Before moving to Baton Rouge in 1996, she operated a private business that provided grant writing, evaluation and consultation to nonprofit and governmental agencies.

As director of the LSU Office of Social Service Research and Development, Guin focuses heavily upon external fund development and actively solicits opportunities for various grants and contracts that address many of the social problems inherent to Louisiana. In particular, she develops programs and seeks funding aimed at interrupting the pathway to delinquency, crime and other forms of nonproductivity that claim many Louisiana children and youth, especially those considered “at-risk.”

Additionally, she has become an expert in truancy and death penalty mitigation and is court-qualified in the areas of adult criminality, development of a criminal personality, juvenile delinquency social work and poverty.

Office of Social Service Research and Development also continues to engage in the acute post-Katrina and Rita problems of those with behavioral health problems. Guin is the lead author for the recent publication “Health Care and Disaster Planning: Understanding the Impact of Disasters on the Medical Community.”

While she has served as the office’s director, it has obtained more than $50 million in grants and contracts for the school, LSU and the agency partners of the School of Social Work. All the grants deal with some aspect of social problems faced by Louisiana’s citizens.

“We are so pleased that our first visiting research scholar will benefit such a broad constituency of researchers in our school and across campus,” said Teresa Carithers, UM interim dean of applied sciences. “I truly believe she can spark ideas of interdisciplinary and interprofessional investigation, which is a large part of our research mission.”

For more information about the Visiting Research Scholars Forum, visit

Honors College Spring Convocation to Focus on Human Trafficking

Freedom for All founder Katie Ford to speak at Tuesday evening event at UM

Katie Ford, founder and CEO of the anti-human trafficking foundation Freedom for All, is the featured speaker for the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College Spring Convocation at 7 p.m. Tuesday (Feb. 20) at the Ford Center. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The issue of human trafficking will take center stage at this year’s Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College Spring Convocation as Katie Ford, the legendary former CEO of the iconic Ford Models Inc. modeling agency, is the guest speaker.

Ford, founder and CEO of the anti-human trafficking foundation Freedom for All, will be joined onstage by Shandra Woworuntu, a survivor of human trafficking who is another leader in the fight against human trafficking around the world.

All members of the University of Mississippi and Oxford community are invited to attend this free program at 7 p.m. Tuesday (Feb. 20) at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts.

Human trafficking touches the lives of millions of people around the globe and is one of the most lucrative illegal industries. Nearly 46 million people are in slavery, more than at any other time in history, according the 2016 Global Slavery Index. Human trafficking also generates $150 billion in global profits, and is listed as the second-most profitable criminal industry after drug trafficking, according to information on the Freedom for All website.

Ford became more familiar with the issues surrounding human trafficking during her longtime involvement in the modeling and fashion industries.

“As CEO of Ford Models, I brought models from over 50 countries to the United States,” Ford noted in information posted to her Freedom for All website. “Because most were foreign and young, they were potentially vulnerable.

“Ford Models had a history of protecting young women and men by producing housing, shelter, food and medical care if needed. The work I do to fight human trafficking and forced labor is inspired and informed by my previous work.”

Ford said she is pleased to have the opportunity to continue this conversation on the Ole Miss campus.

“I am very much looking forward to speaking at the University of Mississippi and discussing these important issues with students from the Honors College,” she said.

After selling Ford Models in 2007, Ford chose to further develop her philanthropic interests, including founding Freedom for All. The foundation creates programs and media campaigns to combat human trafficking in all its forms, including sex trafficking, debt bondage, forced labor and child labor.

For her anti-human trafficking work, Ford has received numerous honors, including the Women Together Award at the United Nations and the Changing the Game Award from the Advertising Women of New York, both in 2010. She has served as a member of the UN Give Women Leaders’ Council and sits on the board of directors of Verite, the leading international business adviser on forced labor.

Ford holds a bachelor’s degree from Sarah Lawrence College and an MBA from Columbia University.

Freedom for All partners with a variety of other organizations that are making long-term, systematic changes to end slavery in their respective justice and penal systems in countries around the world, including the United States. They also rehabilitate, educate, and provide job training and shelter to survivors, and help establish community prevention programs.

One of the organizations Freedom for All works closely with is the Mentari Human Trafficking Survivor Empowerment Program Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps survivors reintegrate back into the society and live independently. Mentari was founded in 2014 by Woworuntu after her own harrowing experience as a victim of human trafficking.

Human trafficking survivor Shandra Woworuntu joins Katie Ford onstage at the Honors College Spring Convocation. Photo courtesy Leslie Menocal Photography

Woworuntu, who has a bachelor’s degree in finance and banking management, worked in Indonesia as a financial analyst and treasury manager before political turbulence and religious persecution convinced her to find a new job in the United States.

She traveled to the U.S. in 2001 to pursue what she believed would be a job opportunity with a major hotel in Chicago. However, after arriving in New York, Woworuntu was sold into the underground sex business by an international human trafficking organization.

Eventually she was able to escape, and she worked closely with the New York Police Department to prosecute her traffickers. Safe Horizon New York, a nonprofit organization, assisted Woworuntu with her efforts to stay legally in the U.S.

Her experience inspired Woworuntu to become an advocate against human trafficking and violations of women and children’s rights. In 2011, she co-founded a survivor leadership program called Voices of Hope, facilitated by Safe Horizon. Three years later, she was instrumental in establishing Mentari.

“We are trying to raise awareness of the risks of coming to the U.S. among people who still see this country as some kind of dream land,” Woworuntu told the BBC in 2016. “Every year, 17,000 to 19,000 people are brought to the U.S. to be trafficked.

“Not all victims of trafficking are poor. Some, like me, have college degrees. I have helped a doctor and a teacher from the Philippines. I have also helped men who were trafficked, not only women, and one person who was 65 years old.”

Woworuntu was appointed by former President Barack Obama to the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking. She has lectured at colleges about human trafficking as well as at symposiums and conferences around the world. A New York resident, she was named a L’Oréal Paris Women of Worth honoree in 2017.

“We are absolutely honored to have the chance to hear these two influential and courageous women,” said Douglass Sullivan-Gonzalez, dean of the Honors College. “We invite the UM community to join us as they tell their personal stories about how their lives were changed and how they have changed lives regarding one of the most important issues of our day.”

In connection with the topic of this year’s Spring Convocation, the Honors College offered a course on Human Trafficking–Law and Policy that is being taught by Michele Alexandre.

To learn more about Freedom for All, visit To learn more about Mentari, visit

Mississippi Governor Proclaims April 9 as ‘Bruce Levingston Day’

UM artist-in-residence to celebrate honor with concert at Carnegie Hall

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant has proclaimed April 9, 2018, as ‘Bruce Levingston Day’ in Mississippi. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – As a result of his celebrated performances in some of the world’s most renowned concert halls, his series of critically-acclaimed albums and a lifelong commitment as a supporter of the arts, Delta-born classical pianist Bruce Levingston has enhanced Mississippi’s international reputation as a cultural center.

In recognition of Levingston’s artistic contributions to the culture and people of the state, Gov. Phil Bryant has proclaimed April 9, 2018, as “Bruce Levingston Day” in Mississippi.

“Bruce Levingston has been our greatest ambassador for the arts in Mississippi,” Bryant said. “He has reached the pinnacle of the classical music world and has represented the best of Mississippi all over the globe. I am honored to recognize Bruce’s many achievements with this deserving proclamation.”

Levingston, the Chancellor’s Artist-in-Residence of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College at the University of Mississippi and the inaugural holder of the university’s Lester Glenn Fant Chair, will observe the day with a performance at Carnegie Hall in New York City.

This April 9 concert will feature Levingston performing the world premiere of new works of music he commissioned in honor of the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and the Mississippi Museum of History and in celebration of the state’s bicentennial. He introduced a brief portion of this music last month when he performed at an opening ceremony for the two new museums in Jackson.

“I am humbled and touched by this honor,” Levingston said. “I love my home state of Mississippi and I am moved beyond words to be recognized in such a way. I want to thank Gov. Bryant and the wonderful people of our state for their longtime support of our work in the arts.

“I am grateful to have been born in a place so rich in cultural history that produced writers like William Faulkner and Eudora Welty, musicians like Leontyne Price, Muddy Waters and B.B. King, and painters like Theora Hamblett and Marie Hull.”

The announcement about the “Bruce Levingston Day” proclamation comes as Levingston releases his seventh solo album, “Windows.” Levingston’s focus for this recording, available Friday (Jan. 26), is on works which, he writes, “reflect a myriad of overlapping artistic influences” and feature compositions that are influenced by painting, poetry and nature.

On the same day the album is released, tickets go on sale for Levingston’s Carnegie Hall concert. Centerpieces of the concert will include the world premiere performances of the new works celebrating the bicentennial of Mississippi by composers David T. Little and Mississippi-born Price Walden.

These upcoming projects are among the latest highlights of Levingston’s multifaceted career that already contains numerous accomplishments, many of which are mentioned in the governor’s proclamation.

For instance, the proclamation notes that while he was born in Greenville and raised in Cleveland, Levingston studied at notable universities in the United States as well as in Sion, Switzerland, and The Royal Conservatory of Toronto as a Rotary International Fellow. He regularly performs in prestigious venues such as the Royal Opera House of London, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and the United Nations in New York, the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., the Teatro Reggio in Italy, Teatro del Lago in Chile, Theatre de Croissette in Cannes, France, and in music festivals throughout the world.

Even though Levingston’s artistic abilities have taken him around the world and earned him international acclaim, he continues to devote much of his time, energy and talent to promoting the culture and people of Mississippi.

He is the author of “Bright Fields,” the biography and survey of the works of famed Mississippi artist Marie Hull, and he served as the curator of the largest exhibition ever assembled of Hull’s works at the Mississippi Museum of Art. He received the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts in 2006 and was inducted into the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame in 2017.

Despite an intense schedule, Levingston continues to perform throughout the state, including giving a concert in Tupelo earlier this week. As the Honors College artist-in-residence and Fant chair, he teaches seminars and classes at Ole Miss, mentors numerous students and plays an instrumental role in bringing prominent guest speakers and performers to campus.

Eleanor Anthony, an Honors College graduate who is finishing her law degree at Stanford University School of Law, said of her experience as Levingston’s student:

“Bruce has been an invaluable mentor to me and countless other Mississippi students. His unique perspective, incredible talent and dedication to teaching are outstanding, as is his commitment to introducing students to some of the most important artists, thinkers and leaders today. Whether Bruce is on a stage or in the classroom, he remains an advocate for his students, sharing his successes with them as he empowers them to seek their own.”

Designating April 9 as “Bruce Levingston Day” is a well-deserved honor for someone so devoted to his home state and Ole Miss, Chancellor Jeffery Vitter said.

“This proclamation is an outstanding way to recognize and honor Bruce for his phenomenal talent and steadfast commitment to raising the profile of the arts in Mississippi,” Vitter said. “We are particularly grateful that Bruce is a vital member of our University of Mississippi community.

“Beyond his tremendous stature as an internationally-renowned artist, he is also well known for excellence in teaching and for the exceptional opportunities he brings to our community and state. This distinction is further recognition that Bruce’s name is rightfully included among the cultural greats of Mississippi and our nation.” 

For more information about the April 9 concert at Carnegie Hall, visit For more information about Levingston’s latest album, visit

UM Honors College Welcomes 15 Scholarship Recipients this Fall

Freshmen awarded some of the university's most prestigious scholarships

Fifteen freshmen in the UM Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College have received a total of $466,000 from five of the university’s most distinguished scholarships. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – One is an award-winning poet. Another is an archer with a love of biology. And one is a violinist who also runs cross country.

These are just three of the 15 freshmen this fall at the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College at the University of Mississippi who received a total of $466,000 from five 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, two were honored with Annexstad Family Foundation Leaders for Tomorrow Scholarships and one was presented with an Everett-Williams Memorial Scholarship.

“These citizen scholars represent some of the best and brightest students not only at the University of Mississippi but also in the country,” said Douglass Sullivan-González, Honors College dean. “We can’t wait to see what they will accomplish.”

Those students receiving McDonnell Barksdale Scholarships are Anahita Behrouz of Ridgeland, William Ray Bradford of Tupelo, Lawson David Marchetti of Jackson and Robert Cade Slaughter of Hattiesburg.

Doris Raymond Honors Scholarship recipients are Ainsley Parker Ash of Meridian; Nathan Lancaster of Ridgeland; Madeleine Louise McCracken of Austin, Texas; Tyler Jesse Moore of Little Falls, Minnesota; Kylie Elizabeth Rogers of Texarkana, Texas; and Alexander Lawrence Watts of Columbia.

Receiving Harold Parker Memorial Scholarships are Margaret Lee Baldwin of Birmingham, Alabama; and Sarah Marie Peterson of Fenton, Missouri.

Laurel Ashley Lee of Canton and Gloma Marie Milner of Boaz, Alabama, are recipients of Annexstad Family Foundation Leaders for Tomorrow Scholarships.

Receiving the Everett-Williams Memorial Scholarship is Yasmine Malone of Clarksdale.

Ash is a graduate of West Lauderdale High School, where she was president of the student council (and four-year member of the council) and received awards in AP biology, Spanish and personal finance while being named to the National Honor Society. She also graduated from Leadership Lauderdale Youth and the Mississippi Governor’s School, and was an all-district cross country runner. She is majoring in psychology.

A graduate of Spain Park High School, Baldwin was a National Merit Semifinalist; National Honor Society president; member of Mu Alpha Theta, Rho Kappa and National Spanish Society; and earned awards in English, chemistry, algebra, pre-calculus and U.S. history. She also volunteered at Children’s of Alabama hospital and the Birmingham Zoo, and was a math tutor. She is majoring in biochemistry.

Behrouz is a graduate of Saint Andrew’s Episcopal School. She was a member of the National Honor Society and received summa cum laude and maxima cum laude honors on the National Latin Exam. She is an archer, and she served as a youth ambassador at the Mississippi Children’s Museum and as an educator at the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science. She is majoring in biology.

Bradford, a graduate of Tupelo High School, was the valedictorian of his class and also president of the student body. He was a National Merit Semifinalist, an AP Scholar with distinction, twice chosen as student of the year and a member of the National Honor Society, which he served as vice president. A violinist, Baldwin also participated in cross country and track and field. He is majoring in biology.

Lancaster graduated from Saint Joseph Catholic School, where he was a member of the National Honor Society, National English Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta and twice earned summa cum laude on the National Latin Exam. A Questbridge Finalist and Scholar, he was a member of the varsity football and bowling teams, along with the Gaming Club and the Astronomy Club. He is majoring in civil engineering.

Lee won awards in Mississippi studies, Spanish, geometry, zoology, world history, human anatomy and physiology, chemistry, nutrition and wellness, and algebra during high school. She also was a member of the All A’s Honor Roll for four years, was captain of the Germantown High School dance team, and was a member of the Beta Club, Spanish Club and Art Club. She is majoring in biology.

A Clarksdale High School graduate, Malone was a member of the school’s marching/concert band, student council and newspaper, and sang in her school and church choir while serving on the principal’s advisory committee. She also was a member of the National Honor Society, National English Honor Society and Mu Alpha Theta. She was on the Delta Innovative Youth Council. She is majoring in political science.

Marchetti, an Eagle Scout, is a graduate of Jackson Preparatory School, where he was a member of the National Honor Society, Cum Laude Society and Mu Alpha Theta, and served as Patriot Man, the school’s mascot. A poet, he was a Poetry Out Loud state finalist and Poetry Out Loud state champion, earning a national honorable mention. He co-founded the Jackson Prep Film Club. He is majoring in music.

A Veritas Academy graduate, McCracken was a member of the National Honor Society and earned multiple awards in English and Latin, maxima cum laude honors on the National Latin Exam and was selected as an AP Scholar. She was a member of the Veritas Academy Speech and Debate Team, where she was a state finalist. She also played on the varsity soccer and tennis teams. She is majoring in classics.

The salutatorian of her class at Albertville High School, Milner was a National Merit Commended Scholar, AP Scholar and a member of the National Honor Society and Mu Alpha Theta. An Alabama All-State Chorus participant and member of the show choir, serving as president and section leader, Milner also was a member of the Math Team and captain of the Scholars Bowl team. She is majoring in pharmaceutical sciences.

Moore graduated from Little Falls Community High School, where he was valedictorian and a member of the National Honor Society. He earned academic all-state honors in cross country and track and field – also serving as captain of the teams – and was twice named the St. Cloud Times Runner of the Year. He also played in the school’s jazz band and brass quintet. Moore is majoring in engineering.

Peterson is a graduate of Rockwood Summit High School, where she was a member of the National Honor Society and a Gold Scholar. Captain of her varsity golf team, Peterson earned all-conference and all-district honors in the sport while being a state golf qualifier her senior year. She also served as a counselor at Camp Rainbow, an overnight camp for children with cancer. She is majoring in biochemistry.

Rogers is a graduate of Pleasant Grove High School, where she was the salutatorian and an AP Scholar, while also being a University Interscholastic League Prose and Poetry Medalist and Literary Criticism Medalist. She was a member of the National Honor Society, Quill and Scroll Society, Science Club, student council and yearbook staff. She also was a varsity soccer player, serving as captain. She is majoring in English.

The valedictorian at Sacred Heart Catholic High School, Slaughter was a member of the National Honor Society, Beta Club, Mu Alpha Theta, Future Business Leaders of America and Hattiesburg’s Dream Youth Leadership Council. He also was a member of the yearbook staff and student council, serving as president his senior year, and played on the school’s varsity tennis team. He is majoring in public policy leadership.

A graduate of Presbyterian Christian High School, Watts was a member of the Key Club and Mu Alpha Theta, and was a district and state winner at the Academic Betterment Competition. He also participated in the show choir and in drama, and was a member of the annual staff, chemistry club and Beta Club. He played in the Mississippi Baptist All-State Youth Choir and Orchestra. He is majoring in public policy leadership.

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

Ten UM Freshmen Named 2017 Stamps Scholars

Students exemplify best of scholarship, community service and leadership

Stamps freshmen 2017 are, from left: Tyler Yarbrough, Madeline Cook, Robert Wasson, Tori Gallegos, Eleanor Schmid, Matthew Travers, J.R. Riojas, Kennedy Cohn, Harrison McKinnis and Chinwe Udemgba. Photo by Bill Dabney/UM Foundation.

OXFORD, Miss. – Ten members of the 2017 freshman class at the University of Mississippi’s Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College have the distinction of being Stamps Scholarship recipients.

This year’s cohort consists of Kennedy Cohn of Incline Village, Nevada, Madeline Cook of Flowood, Victoria “Tori” Gallegos of Chicago, Harrison McKinnis of Madison, J.R. Riojas of the Wool Market community of Harrison County, Eleanor Schmid of Cincinnati, Matthew Travers of St. Louis, Chinwe Udemgba of Natchez, Robert Wasson of Jackson and Tyler Yarbrough of Clarksdale.

For a second straight year, UM was among only four universities to award 10 or more Stamps Scholarships to incoming students. The Stamps Scholarships at Ole Miss have become the most comprehensive, full scholarship packages for in-state and out-of-state students.

“We are so pleased to be welcoming another tremendously gifted cohort of Stamps Scholars to the University of Mississippi,” Chancellor Jeffrey S. Vitter said. “Through our partnership with the Stamps Family Charitable Foundation, we are able to attract truly remarkable students from Mississippi and all over the country.

“We look for great things from our Stamps Scholars as they pursue unique and exciting educational opportunities and contribute to the academic excellence on our campus.”

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.

“As a Stamps Scholar, I felt like I would have the ability to fully take advantage of my education by pursuing educational opportunities outside of the classroom,” said Cohn, a double major in international studies and Spanish who also is working on pre-med requirements. She is also a member of Global Brigades, Freshman Council and the Chancellor’s Leadership Class.

“I think that one of the best ways to learn is through travel because it’s such an immersive, hands-on learning experience,” she said. “With the Stamps Scholarship, I would love to study abroad and possibly do an internship overseas.”

Cohn’s focus on global health through the Croft Institute gives her a better understanding of how health care works in other countries.

“I would love to use part of my enrichment fund to shadow a doctor in another country,” Cohn said. “I am hoping to apply to medical school after I graduate and eventually work with an organization like Doctors without Borders.”

Stamps Scholars are ambitious and goal-oriented, with leadership skills and hefty visions, but who, above all, love learning and doing extraordinary things with confidence, Cook said.

“I love being in a community of confident, incredibly capable and smart students, who all have big plans and small egos,” said the international studies, sociology and Spanish major who has concentrations in global health and Latin America. Cook also is a member of Mississippi Votes, College Democrats, Global Ambassadors and Rebels Against Sexual Assault, and is an announcer for Rebel Radio.

Her goals are to complete a language immersion program in Spain and volunteer with the Mississippi Immigrants’ Rights Alliance in Jackson.

The 2017 freshman class of UM Stamps Scholars explore a river during their ‘bonding excursion’ last summer in Ecuador. The group includes (front, from left) Tyler Yarbrough, Chinwe Udemgba, Tori Gallegos and Kennedy Cohn; (middle) Matthew Travers, Harrison McKinnis and J.R. Riojas; and (back) Eleanor Schmid and Robert Wasson. Submitted photo

“I’m extremely interested in the intersection of human and labor rights and public health, and in the future, I’d like to do work with NGOs in Chile, Bolivia or Argentina doing research on indigenous rights-justice movements and access to health care,” Cook said. “I can see myself working full-time for some kind of social rights and justice-oriented nonprofit or policy coalition, or an analyst for the State Department or even (as) a Foreign Service officer in Latin America.”

The Stamps Scholarship is an amazing opportunity, said Gallegos, who is majoring in international studies with a Russian minor. She is a member of the Associated Student Body Freshman Forum, Delta Gamma sorority and Russian Club.

“Everyone is unique and has a story to tell,” she said. “The additional enrichment funds allow me to pursue research and travel outside the classroom without adding financial burdens.”

Gallegos said she plans to study in Russia multiple times, as well as in France and Latin America.

A chemical engineering major, McKinnis is a member of the Chancellor’s Leadership Class. He also participates in the Haley Barbour Center for Manufacturing Excellence.

McKinnis said he was grateful to be considered for the scholarship.

“I felt that every candidate was worthy of the scholarship, and I was shocked to find out I was chosen,” he said. “At that point, my college decision process ended, and I knew that I had found my new home, one that wants to support me just as I want to support it.”

McKinnis hopes to participate in a co-op or internship with an engineering firm at some point in his undergraduate education to gain experience and knowledge to become a professional engineer.

Riojas 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 most important part of being a Stamps Scholar is the community I am surrounded with,” said the public policy major who is a member of the debate team, ASB Freshman Council and the mock trial team. “I am surrounded by the best of the best, and this pushes me to be the best that I can be.”

Riojas’ goals are to learn the policies of the world, graduate from law school and become an international lawyer.

“Stamps will help me because the scholarship helps fund trips all around the world, allowing me to study the judicial systems of foreign countries,” he said. “It will also connect me with people who can help me in the future.”

An international studies major who is minoring in Russian, Schmid is a member of the university’s debate team and a sorority, as well as the Associated Student Body’s freshman forum. Her goals include studying abroad at least twice in Russia, France and Spain.

Following either graduate or law school, she hopes to serve her country by working in the Department of State or another governmental agency.

“Being offered the Stamps Scholarship signaled to me that Ole Miss saw potential in me, and wanted to invest in my education to the greatest extent,” Schmid said. “Furthermore, being a Stamps Scholar brings me an amazing community of peers who also have great aspirations to change the world.”

Travers, pursuing a double major in international studies and Chinese, is a student of the Croft Institute for International Studies and the Chinese Language Flagship Program. He also is on the Diversity Recruitment Committee for RebelTHON, a peer educator for Rebels Against Sexual Assault, a UM Flagship Ambassador, a Chinese tutor and member of the Black Student Union and the Swahili Club.

Eleanor Schmid (left) and Tyler Yarbrough, both members of the 2017 freshman class of Stamps Scholars at the University of Mississippi, prepare to try zip lining during a ‘bonding excursion’ in Ecuador before beginning the fall semester of college. Submitted photo

“To me, being a Stamps Scholar means looking toward the future like a blank canvas, brush in hand, and with all the colors waiting at my fingertips,” Travers said. “The Stamps Scholarship gives me the incredible opportunity to learn for the sake of learning, to study what piques my interest, not what will necessarily secure a good job.

“With all the opportunities and attention given to me, I can’t help but feel like one of the most fortunate students on campus.”

Travers plans to return to China to study next summer. After that, he hopes to travel to Tanzania or another African country on a mission trip and practice the Swahili he is learning in the classroom.

A chemical engineering major, Wasson also was excited to learn that he had been awarded a Stamps Scholarship and ready to take advantage of the unique opportunities it offers.

“When I learned of my selection as a Stamps Scholar, I was deeply humbled and honored to be chosen out of such a competitive field full of great applicants,” he said. “I then realized the tremendous charge I had been given to do great things with such an amazing opportunity.”

Wasson hopes to take full advantage of the opportunities available via the scholarship and plans to attend medical school after graduation.

Udemgba is a graduate of the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science. Her major is chemistry with an emphasis in biochemistry. She is part of IMAGE, Student Members of the American Chemical Society, Minority Association of Pre-Med Students and Campus Catholic Ministries.

“Being a Stamp Scholar makes me feel as if I should take advantage of the opportunities given to me,” Udemgba said. “I have no excuse to be anything but an exceptional student with exciting experiences.

“Being a Stamps Scholar opens me up to so many connections to people in different colleges across the nation. Stamps is more than just a full ride to college; it is a community of students with the common goal of succeeding and pushing each other forward.”

Udemgba’s short-term plans include study abroad, conducting research and pursuing other opportunities presented. Her long-term plan involves graduating from higher education and working in a lab.

A public policy leadership major, Yarbrough is a member of the Debate Team, ASB Freshman Forum and Mississippi Votes. He’s also an advocate with the Mississippi Youth Council, an organization advocating for comprehensive sex education in public schools.

“I had great interest in Ole Miss after attending the Trent Lott Institute for High School Students summer program,” he said. “The Stamps Scholarship’s enrichment fund ultimately led me to attend Ole Miss.

“The generous scholarship package will allow me to pursue internships and travel, which will enhance my learning experience while at the university.”

Yarbrough’s plans include getting students registered to vote in Oxford, bringing a voting precinct to campus and engaging students in the push for comprehensive sex education in public schools.

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 with more than 1,600 current and alumni scholars.

To learn more about the Stamps Foundation, visit

Volunteers Sought to Fight Poverty in Region

North Mississippi VISTA Project accepting applications for terms beginning in February

OXFORD, Miss. – The North Mississippi Volunteers in Service to America Project is recruiting members for a yearlong term of service beginning Feb. 5, 2018.

The VISTA Project, which is led by the McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement at the University of Mississippi, sponsors 13 organizations and has a capacity to host 25 full-year VISTA members serving throughout north Mississippi and the Delta. The McLean Institute, directed by Albert Nylander, UM professor of sociology, has a seven-year relationship with the Corporation for National and Community Service.

VISTA members commit to a year of service where they focus on building sustainable capacity within community-based organizations and delivering a measurable impact on the populations that they serve. VISTAs work to manage and recruit volunteers, create opportunities for low-income youth, build social entrepreneurship, write grants, increase access to higher education and more.

“My service years with VISTA have been some of the most rewarding experiences of my life,” said VISTA leader Edy Dingus. “The opportunities that I’ve been given as a VISTA have allowed me to develop my professional skills, while ensuring that our campus and community partners have sustainable systems to further their missions to alleviate poverty through education.”

The North Mississippi VISTA Project seeks to place members at several community partner organizations, including the Lafayette Literacy Council in Oxford, United Way of Oxford and Lafayette County, Crenshaw Elementary School, DeSoto County Youth Court in Hernando and North Panola High School in Sardis.

Prospective applicants must be motivated, reliable team players who are at least 18 and have earned at least a high school diploma or GED.

Besides yearlong VISTA members, the North Mississippi VISTA Project is also seeking an AmeriCorps VISTA leader to support members and strengthen the program through professional development, performance measurement and building partnerships. This person will be based at the McLean Institute and work closely with VISTAs placed in the program.

To be considered for this position, applicants need to have completed at least one year of VISTA service or one term of full-time service, serving 1,770 hours or more, with either AmeriCorps State and National or Americorps National Civilian Community Corps, or at least one traditional term of Peace Corps service. They should have demonstrated leadership ability to work constructively with community volunteers, supervisors, sponsoring organizations and low-income communities.

Interested individuals are invited to visit for application instructions for both service opportunities. Applications are being accepted.

In the next year and beyond, the North Mississippi VISTA Project will continue to develop host sites around the area, cultivating projects and placing VISTAs with community partners that fight poverty through education. In the 2017-18 program year, the project will bring nearly $600,000 to the region.

Examples of VISTA projects include programmatic and fundraising collaborations for LOU Excel By 5 and many other nonprofits around the community, the Traveling Trunks program at the UM Center for Archaeological Research and a mentoring program connected to the DeSoto County Youth Court.

Many VISTAs have been recent graduates of UM programs, such as the Croft Institute for International Studies and the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.

Denae Bradley, a 2015 Ole Miss graduate who served as a VISTA with the university’s Office of Sustainability, is pursuing a master’s degree in sociology with a focus on race and ethnicity, community development, and poverty.

“I served with NMVP because it felt right,” Bradley said. “Our duty as humans should be to take every opportunity we get to impact the lives of people forgotten within the system. NMVP welcomed me with open arms and made my year of service feel that much more worthwhile.”

Many other VISTAs have followed a similar path, going into graduate programs at Harvard University, New York University, Princeton University, Columbia Teachers College, Stanford University and the University of Georgia.

“Community partnerships inspire the work of the McLean Institute,” said Laura Martin, the institute’s assistant director. “We are thrilled to support VISTA members as they build capacity among our campus and community partners to impact quality of life in Mississippi.”

Nylander, too, said he looks forward to recruiting new members and expanding the program.

“The goals and mission of the North Mississippi VISTA Project and the McLean Institute align perfectly, and we look forward to NMVP’s future growth and continued success,” Nylander said.

For more information on VISTA service opportunities, contact VISTA leaders Edy Dingus and Shannon Curtis at or 662-915-2397.

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.”