Virtual Classrooms Deliver Real Advantage for UM Education Majors

Mixed-reality teaching experience helps students develop skills

UM senior Bre Comley (left) and graduate student Gabby Vogt interact with student avatars through Mursion. Last school year, 800 students in the School of Education practiced with the cutting-edge technology system and are required to use it at least twice as part of their coursework before graduating. Photo by Megan Wolfe/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – Meet Ava and Dev. They are in middle school. Ava is quick-thinking and decisive and likes to be challenged with new ideas and concepts. Dev is a rule-follower who is self-driven with high standards.

Ava and Dev are not your average students. In fact, they are not even real students at all. They are avatars in a virtual classroom at the University of Mississippi School of Education, where education majors are gaining valuable, hands-on teaching experience even before their student teaching.

Mursion, originally called TeachLive, is a cutting-edge technology that delivers customized virtual reality training to provide professional challenges that exist in the job every day.

Developed at the University of Central Florida, Mursion is being used at more than 85 campuses in the United States. Since 2012, Mursion has grown at UM. Last school year, 800 students in the School of Education practiced with the system and are required to use it at least twice as part of their coursework before graduating.

“Through Mursion, the mistakes students used to make in front of real students can now be made in front of avatars,” said Tom Brady, the school’s Mursion coordinator and a clinical associate professor. “This way, a student can watch back for feedback and see themselves teaching for the first time.

“Students are able to see how they miss student avatars falling asleep or on their phone; until this iteration, it may go unnoticed for two or three minutes.”

UM elementary education major Scarlett McCombs interacts with student avatars via Mursion. Photo by Megan Wolfe/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

Mursion is designed so that if a student does not do well, there are no consequences because the avatars just forget and the student can start again. If the teacher does that in the classroom, the kids don’t forget.

Since all the qualities of the virtual classroom are controlled by a faculty member teaching the class, students who feel they did poorly can re-enter the virtual classroom and teach the lesson again without having affected student learning. Depending on the lesson objectives, sessions typically last anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes.

The system works from two ends. From one end, a teacher interacts with a screen showing a classroom with multiple avatar personalities. On the other end, a trained actor candidly speaks through a voice modulator and mimics certain movements through handheld controllers, basing reactions on predetermined personality traits of the Mursion students.

“The actors work very hard on changing their pitch just a little bit, and through the modulator, a 20-year-old woman can sound like a 13-year-old boy,” Brady said.

As of now, two actors provide all the voices. Each session is organic and personal; they are not scripted, but personality descriptions of each avatar are provided for a foundational, yet unique, experience.

Abby Wilson, a senior theatre major from Oxford, learned about Mursion through David Rock, UM education dean, who saw her perform in several high school productions.

Once the Mursion acting job opened up, he reached out to see if Wilson would be interested. She uses her theater background to help her act out as a middle schooler behind the screen. But there is a lot more to the job than just acting, Wilson said.

“The job is way more technical than anything else,” she said. “Before this, I had never even picked up an Xbox controller.”

Much like activating a Kinect or Xbox, the user walks in front of a Kinect cable until the system confirms he or she is identified. The avatars have many controls to react back to the teacher, much like those on an Xbox or Wii controller. Through a wireless connection, the teacher can be heard and seen as he or she interacts with the virtual students on the screen.

Scarlett McCombs, a master’s student in elementary education from Oxford, is another Mursion student actor. While Wilson’s experience covers acting, McCombs’ covers the classroom.

“Many candidates do not have much experience with public speaking or working with children, and the Mursion experience scaffolds them toward success in both of these areas through providing the most authentic virtual experience we can,” McCombs said.

Together, their qualifications and studies make the perfect fit for a realistic and credible student classroom experience.

By having real humans behind the virtual students, the sessions mimic the everyday parts of being a teacher very well. Specifically, student behaviors are designed to challenge the teachers, occasionally even lashing out or acting inappropriately.

Scarlett McCombs interacts with student avatars via Mursion. Photo by Megan Wolfe/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

A new dynamic soon will be introduced to the classroom, when UM faculty will add a student who struggles with dyslexia and a friend who mocks them in class.

“If you see these sorts of things for the first time in a real classroom, you are more likely to crash and burn and let down some real kids, but instead, they are seeing it here first,” Brady said.

The avatars act on three levels. The first level requires student avatars to act relatively obedient; if they “goof-off” and are disciplined by the teacher, they will immediately listen and get back on task.

The second level generates pushback, and avatars may speak inappropriately to the teacher. They may fall asleep, play on their phones or “air-drum” on their desks when they are not interested in what the teacher has to say.

The hardest level generates the kids to not let the teacher get anything done; it is not used in either section for the Ole Miss classes.

Larry Christman, aka “Mr. C,” is a retired Oxford Elementary School principal and the Mursion lab facilitator. Christman is usually in the room with the students as a coach and evaluator.

Christman began facilitating Mursion about seven years ago and has dealt with many nervous students over the years.

“Most of my students have never taught a lesson or even stood before a group of peers and made any kind of public speaking,” he said. “I tell them it’s normal to feel some anxiety. That, hopefully, it will help them when they go to student teach.”

There is no such thing as perfect performance in a Mursion session. Christman said his role is to help students learn to be adaptable in the sometimes unpredictable profession of teaching.

“Several years ago, I had a young lady who got up to teach her lesson and started crying,” Christman said. “She just froze up! My graduate assistant and I took her out in the hallway. We consoled her.

“I told her to go back in the room and complete her lesson. She then did a wonderful job!”

Mursion is required for all students, but it is not graded. It is used for feedback. This helps create a more realistic and calm environment for students to develop into teachers.

“I learned a lot from the two TeachLive sessions that I completed,” said Lizzy Sloan, a senior elementary education major from New Canaan, Connecticut. “They were both very meaningful experiences. I learned that it is normal to feel nervous before teaching students, especially for the first time, and to work through those feelings.

“TeachLive helped me feel more confident with regards to my teaching abilities because I was able to receive immediate feedback from Mr. C.”

The university is helping Mursion grow across state lines, too, specifically to Alabama. Jan Miller, dean of the College of Education at the University of West Alabama, was thrilled to incorporate Mursion into the curriculum after hearing from Ole Miss users.

“Integrating Mursion into our educator preparation program helps to provide opportunities to start teaching on day one with more proficiency in classroom management and more confidence in the pedagogy of teaching,” Miller said.

Using Mursion early in the education program ensures candidates will be better prepared for future professional experiences, she said. With the help of UWA, UM is continuing to push Mursion expansion efforts across the country.

UM graduate student Gabby Vogt interacts with student avatars via Mursion. Photos by Megan Wolfe / Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

Mursion also has room to grow at UM. Rooms are available for off-site locations such as Southaven and Tupelo, using the actors in Oxford.

“We can do more … there is room to expand to offering sessions all week long,” Brady said.

Last year, UM faculty added a counseling session with virtual parents. This “parent-teacher meeting” will act as a new dynamic for the students, because teaching not only involves children, but also their parents. This will allow students to learn to deal with many different kinds of parent personalities.

“Students are trained on communication strategies they might use for 11 difficult parent types they might encounter in the TeachLive simulation,” said Sara Platt, UM clinical assistant professor of special education. “These parents might be helicopter parents, disengaged parents, intimidating or threatening parents, or parents who are not concerned with school at all.”

Platt and Debbie Chessin, retired associate professor of education, worked on this course for to give Ole Miss students opportunities to apply data evaluation and communication skills.

“This is the time for (students) to make the mistakes and receive guidance, so they should have no fear,” Platt said.

A 2018 evaluation from the School of Education found that almost 90 percent of Ole Miss education students believe the Mursion simulation feels like a real classroom and that they are more confident to teach real students after their experience. Additionally, more than 90 percent of students say they would recommend the Mursion experience to peers who want to be teachers.

“I tell the students that nothing will take the place of flesh-and-blood students, but Mursion is a close second,” Christman said.

School of Education Hosts Guyton Fall Festival

UM students plan family-friendly event for Oct. 26

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi School of Education and student organization Teachers of Tomorrow are sponsoring the 2018 Guyton Fall Festival from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Friday (Oct. 26).

Free and open to the public, the festival in Guyton Hall will feature a variety of educational games and activities for children. Children are encouraged to wear their Halloween costumes and bring trick-or-treat baskets to collect candy during the event.

Student organizers ask attendees to bring new or used books to donate to the Lafayette Literacy Council.

“As a group of future educators, we love welcoming in families to our little piece of campus,” said Ashley Berry, TOT president. “It is a fun, safe and free event, which is open to all families. We are also hoping to give back to the community further through the book drive.”

The event will include a face painting station, bowling lane, photo booth and several game booths, such as a “witch hat toss.” Snacks, including popcorn and cotton candy, will be provided.

“We look forward to this event each year,” said Alicia Stapp, assistant professor of health and physical education and the group’s faculty adviser. “It is a wonderful way for our future teachers to serve and interact with the community as hundreds of families come through Guyton Hall on the night of the event.”

The UM Museum will sponsor arts and crafts and other activities, and the Center for Mathematics and Science Education is setting up a science experiment for children.

“We’re so excited for this great event, and we hope everyone can make it out on Oct. 26th,” Berry said.



COPE Clinic Relocates to South Oxford Center

Move to larger space allows UM facility to better serve Oxford and campus community

COPE offers counseling services for the LOU Community at the South Oxford Center. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services.

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi’s Counselor Education Clinic for Outreach and Personal Enrichment has moved to a new location at UM’s South Oxford Center.

Previously housed at the university’s Insight Park, COPE moved to the former Baptist Medical Center-North Mississippi facility because of a need for more space. Part of the UM School of Education, COPE offers mental health counseling services for children, adolescents, college students and adults.

COPE is open noon to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays.

“It’s as though the space was built for us”, said Alexandria Kerwin, COPE clinic coordinator and assistant professor of counselor education. “In addition to serving UM students, we also provide services to the community. The location makes us more accessible to the public.”

The clinic also trains master’s and doctoral students enrolled in the university’s counselor education program.

“We are excited about COPE’s new location,” said Mandy Perryman, associate professor and coordinator of counselor education. “As our students become counselors-in-training, they have a wonderful facility to use.

“There are several spacious counseling rooms and play rooms, as well as offices and a conference room. Clients can easily find us and park without any trouble.”

COPE has grown significantly in scope since opening in 2015 and recently experienced an influx of referrals. The clinic serves for the benefit and convenience of the community and sets its fees on a sliding scale, based on income. Ole Miss students can use the clinic free of charge.

“With the sliding scale fee system, COPE is able to serve a variety of clients, many with limited resources,” Perryman said. “This helps us meet the counseling needs of our community, while training our students to be effective within a diverse society.”

Parking at the new location is free. An on-demand van service is available by calling 662-915-7235 at least 30 minutes before one’s pickup time.

Pickup takes place on the south side of the South Oxford Center, under the canopy. The drop-off and pickup point on campus will be at Kennon Observatory. The service runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.

For more information, visit or contact the clinic at 662-915-7197 or by email at

Nominations Sought for 2019 Common Reading Experience

Community encouraged to recommend books for upcoming freshman class

Orientation leaders pass out copies of a Common Reading Experience selection, ‘The A Game.’ Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi is asking community members to help select the book that will be read by the Class of 2023 for the Common Reading Experience.

Anyone in the Oxford-Ole Miss community – students, faculty, staff, alumni or residents – can submit nominations.

The Common Reading Experience project started in 2011 as a way to cultivate community and learning among the freshman class. The selected book will be provided to all entering freshmen and transfer students, and they will be required to read it before the 2019 fall semester begins.

“Reading and the exchange of ideas are at the heart of learning, especially in higher education,” said Leslie Banahan, assistant vice chancellor for student affairs and committee co-chair. “The Common Reading Experience provides opportunities for students, faculty and staff to engage in discussions about one book and one author.

“The experience strengthens the overall academic atmosphere of the university, connects students to peers and instructors, and provides a variety of programs and events that are linked to the selected book. It’s one of many efforts to enrich new students’ first year at the university.”

The CRE selection subcommittee will meet weekly from Oct. 10 to Nov. 14, and again on Jan. 23. Nominations can be made via the online form at through Nov. 6.

Community members are urged to participate in the nomination process to help assure suggestions come from a diverse group. The key aspects of the book are that it be less than 400 pages, written by a living author, available in paperback, published within the last five years and accessible to students and others in the community.

Nobel Prize-winning author and UM alumnus William Faulkner’s short stories are the focus of the 2018 Common Reading Experience. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

This was the first year that the book selected for the Common Reading Experience was authored by someone who is no longer living, but this was a unique situation because the author is William Faulkner.

When the Common Reading Experience was created, the founders envisioned focusing on a Faulkner work one year, and 2018 was selected as that year. Faulkner’s “Collected Stories” was the designated Common Reading Experience book for Ole Miss students starting this fall.

Past readings include “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson (2017), “Ten Little Indians” by Sherman Alexie (2016), “The Education of a Lifetime” by Robert Khayat (2015), “The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Won World War II” by Denise Kiernan (2014), “The Unforgiving Minute: A Soldier’s Education” by Craig Mullaney (2013), “Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter” by Tom Franklin (2012) and “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot (2011).

Everyone in the Ole Miss community is encouraged to read the CRE book.

“There are a thousand ways for students to learn, from downloads to blogs, but books will always be the cornerstone of their college experience,” said Kirk A. Johnson, associate professor of sociology and African American studies and co-chair of the Common Reading Experience selection subcommittee.

“And by assembling a diverse group of interested parties from across the campus, we’re guaranteed to select a memorable book with broad appeal.”

Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program Admits 28 Freshmen

One-of-a kind scholarship program designed to stimulate quality education in the state

The METP 2018 cohort is (front row, from left) Natallie Noel, Katlin Third, Anndee Huskey, Evelyn Smith, Margaret Massengill, Caroline Underwood, Georgia McGahee and Julianne May; (middle row) SeLane Ruggiero, Katherine ‘Grace’ Mobley, London Smith, Kathryn Spiers, Hannah Witherspoon, Anna Kate Broussard, Julia Alexander, Madeleine Biddle, Olivia Arnold and Modena ‘Mae’ Edwards; and (back row) Matthew Bailey, Lilian Null, Hannah Saizan, Parker Connell, Kaylee ‘Rene’ Dupree, Victoria Bamburg, Margaret ‘Maeve’ Lewis, Kate Stalcup, Natalee Dixon and Austyn Jones. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – The sixth cohort of the Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program at the University of Mississippi consists of 28 outstanding freshman from 11 states with an average high school grade-point average of 3.88 and ACT score of 29.4.

Originally designed to recruit secondary education majors, METP includes elementary and special education students and is financially supported by the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation of Jackson. One of the nation’s most valuable teaching scholarships, METP provides up to four years of tuition, housing, living expenses, a study abroad experience and more.

“We accept high-performing students to teach in our schools in Mississippi,” said Ryan Niemeyer, METP director. “It’s a big win for the School of Education and the students, but it’s even a bigger win for our state to have these future teachers in our classrooms.

“It’s all about looking at education from a broader picture in our state.”

A joint effort with Mississippi State University, which recruits a partner cohort each year, METP was established in 2012 with a $12.9 million investment from the Hearin Foundation. The scholarship was renewed in 2016 with a second investment of more than $28 million, which will fund the program through 2021.

The program is designed to help stimulate Mississippi’s economy by creating a pipeline of top-performing students into the state’s education workforce.

The incoming freshman are: Julia Alexander of Union; Olivia Arnold of Vancleave; Matthew Bailey of Sedalia, Missouri; Victoria Bamburg of Haughton, Louisiana; Madeleine Biddle of Brandon; Anna Kate Broussard of Covington, Louisiana; Parker Connell of San Antonio, Texas; Natalee Dixon of Hudson, Wisconsin; Kaylee Dupree of Tampa Florida; Modena Edwards of Hernando; Andee Huskey of Ridgeland; Austyn Jones of Jackson; Margaret Lewis of Lake Forest, Illinois; Margaret Massengill of Brookhaven; Julianne May of Memphis, Tennessee; Georgia McGahee of Little Rock, Arkansas; Katherine Mobley of Coppell, Texas; Natallie Noel of Biloxi; Lilian Null of Corinth; SeLane Ruggiero of Southhaven; Hannah Saizan of Pass Christian; Evelyn Smith of Oxford; London Smith of Wildwood, Missouri; Kathryn Spiers of Picayune; Kate Stalcup of Overland Park, Kansas; Katlin Third of Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida; Caroline Underwood of Birmingham, Alabama; and Hannah Witherspoon of Southaven.

After graduation, METP graduates must teach in a public school in Mississippi for five years. However, this may be postponed for up to three years if graduates wish to pursue a graduate degree.

The new class brings the number of METP scholarship recipients at Ole Miss to 132. With the second cohort graduating last May, 93 percent of program graduates are teaching in Mississippi public school districts, with the remainder pursuing graduate degrees.

Along with many other benefits, the program also includes at least two meaningful trips for the students.

METP Program Coordinator Blake Adams speaks to new METP students during orientation. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

Sophomores travel to Washington, D.C., each spring to study American education through a policy perspective. And each summer, rising seniors travel out of the country to experience education through different perspectives, with past trips to Finland, Sweden and Canada.

The new cohort comprises 10 elementary education majors, seven English education majors, five math education majors, three science education majors and three special education majors.

“My favorite thing about METP so far has been meeting my class and getting to know them,” METP freshman cohort member Julianne May said. “The small groups that we have and our shared interest of being great teachers makes it easier for us to connect with each other, but at the same time our group is diverse and different people are doing such different majors so we can learn from each other.”

METP is unique in that it allows members to begin classroom observations in September of their freshman year – an entire year before traditional education students begin observation.

“Being able to go into classrooms already as a freshman is really neat,” METP freshman cohort member Natalie Dixon said. “No one else except for METP gets to do that.

“The METP program really makes you think about how important it is to be a teacher and what the best ways of teaching are. It makes me appreciate my future profession more.”

For more information about METP, go to

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

Strong investment returns, generosity of alumni and friends spurs growth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Storeys Aim to Inspire with Scholarship Gift

UM alumna honors parents in naming Women's Council fund

James and Sarah Powell (left) share a moment with their daughter, Beth Powell Storey, and son-in-law, Barry Storey. Photo courtesy Beth Storey

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi alumna Beth Powell Storey, along with her husband Barry Storey, both of Augusta, Georgia, hope a scholarship they established will honor her parents and inspire others to give back to Ole Miss.

With a recent $250,000 gift, the Storeys established the Sarah and James Powell Ole Miss Women’s Council Scholarship Endowment. The scholarship honors in perpetuity Beth Storey’s late father, James Powell, a longtime production control manager for Rockwell International in Grenada, and her mother, Sarah Powell, a homemaker.

Beth Storey and her siblings – Ole Miss alumni Sharon Powell Boler, Belinda Powell Levy and James H. Powell III – were raised in Duck Hill.

“My parents worked hard,” she said. “We were raised in a very loving home, but we did not enjoy the luxury of having lots of money. All four of us were able to attend Ole Miss. It just seemed appropriate to honor my parents in a meaningful way for the many sacrifices they made for us along the way.

“My husband, Barry, and I feel very strongly about supporting our respective alma maters and hope our gift will encourage other families to do the same. There are so many opportunities to support Ole Miss through giving of one’s talents, time or monetary resources.”

The endowment is designated for entering first-year students from Mississippi who seek a degree in the School of Education. Recipients will be chosen based on demonstrated academic ability, service, leadership potential, financial need and other criteria set forth by the OMWC.

Besides students’ academic pursuits, they will be expected to participate in leadership development and a mentoring program sponsored by the council.

“I’m excited that this gift will provide an opportunity for young people to realize their dreams of attending college,” said Beth Storey, who graduated from Ole Miss in 1983 with a bachelor’s degree in education. “It is my hope that the recipients will have a passion for education and a love of learning they can instill in others.”

The youngest of the four Powell children, Beth Storey received financial assistance to help continue her education after high school.

“Without the combination of my parents’ support and the E.H. Sumner grant, I would not have been able to attend college,” she said. “Ole Miss was one of the best experiences of my life, at an age when we begin to prepare ourselves for the real world.

“I’m very grateful for the opportunities that college afforded me and the friendships that I made.”

A Delta Gamma, Beth Storey credits her sorority for supporting a campaign for her to become homecoming queen her senior year, a memorable experience.

After graduation, she became a flight attendant and was based in Atlanta. There, she met her future husband, Barry Storey, and began teaching special needs children in the public school system in Atlanta; she continued to teach in public schools for seven years after a move to Chattanooga, Tennessee.

The couple resides in Barry Storey’s hometown of Augusta, where they have lived for the past 26 years. Barry Storey is principal of BLS Holdings Group LLC. The couple has two grown children, Shelby Storey Blackburn and Barry L. “Lang” Storey Jr.

OMWC chair Mary Susan Clinton said she appreciates Beth Storey’s desire to help students achieve their higher education goals.

“As members of the Ole Miss Women’s Council, it’s our great responsibility and privilege to see our outstanding young men and women excel in college and ultimately in life,” Clinton said. “We believe the Sarah and James Powell Endowment will play a central role in helping us encourage and mentor our students.

“We hope that, one day, these students will all be able to credit their Ole Miss education for positioning them so that they are able to give back as Beth has chosen to do.”

The OMWC is an innovative program that provides scholarships and counsel for students destined to be leaders. Helmed by an accomplished cadre of female leaders and philanthropists, the OMWC provides scholarships for tuition and books for young men and women as well as guidance and training in leadership skills, career development and personal growth throughout the students’ tenure at the university.

Scholars are guided by career mentors and sitting members of the OMWC and participate in leadership training, community service projects, cultural enrichment activities and alumni networking.

“What the Women’s Council is offering is so valuable,” Beth Storey said. “My parents instilled in us the importance of working and contributing, so I worked all four years of college.

“I would have loved to have had a mentor to offer advice and encouragement while trying to balance classes, work and, of course, a social life!”

The Sarah and James Powell Ole Miss Women’s Council Scholarship Endowment is open to gifts from individuals and organizations. To contribute, send checks with the endowment name noted in the memo line to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., University, MS 38655; or visit

For more information on the OMWC, click here.

UM Faculty Help Mississippi Students ‘Fuel to Learn’

Pilot curriculum integrates nutrition knowledge into math and language arts

Thirteen fourth-grade teachers from north Mississippi are taking part in UM’s Fuel to Learn pilot program, which integrates nutrition with mathematics and English language arts. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – Several north Mississippi fourth-grade teachers are taking part in a University of Mississippi study that aims to help children learn more about nutrition while also learning mathematics and English language arts.

Called “Fuel to Learn,” the project is funded by a grant from the Mississippi Center for Obesity Research at the UM Medical Center in Jackson and led by Ole Miss faculty, including Melinda Valliant and Kathy Knight of the School of Applied Sciences, and Alicia Stapp of the School of Education.

“The vision is that this will become a statewide curriculum,” said Stapp, an assistant professor of health and physical education. “We are starting this very, very small, which is how we want to start, but we hope to have a regional presence and then a statewide presence.

“We see no reason why there can’t be a curriculum for the whole state.”

Thirteen teachers are participating in the pilot program. In each lesson, students will learn a math or English language arts skill while also learning about healthy eating. For example, one lesson requires students to measure the grams of sugar in multiple beverages and then break that number down into milligrams.

The lessons are centered on five “key messages”: hydration, portion size, fruits and vegetables, dairy, and healthy snacks.

“These five key messages are the big things that can have a snowball effect and make a big difference,” said Valliant, an associate professor of nutrition. “This is an outstanding curriculum, and I think it will really help children have a better understanding of what a healthy diet looks like.”

During a meeting July 24 at Ole Miss, Knight, Stapp, Valliant and recent UM graduate Sarah Howell trained the teachers – who hail from Myrtle, New Albany and Potts Camp – to implement the curriculum, which provides ready-to-go lesson plans.

The pilot curriculum includes 10 lessons in math and 10 in English language arts. Each teacher received a kit of teaching materials for their classrooms, as well.

Each lesson is aligned with Mississippi College and Career Readiness Standards as well as learning objectives in individual subject areas. Developers hope that besides helping students learn, an increased literacy in nutrition will improve long-term educational outcomes.

“The relationship between academic performance and diet cannot be understated,” said Knight, an associate professor of nutrition. “Most of the beginning research in this area started in the ’60s and ’70s and showed that children who were malnourished did not learn as well (as children who were).”

During the event, Knight also explained that research concerning school breakfast programs show that children who eat full breakfasts perform better academically.

From September through January, the 13 teachers will implement the pilot with a pacing guide that requires them to use a minimum of two lesson plans per month in their classrooms and upload their results to an online portal.

“I think it’s great because it fits into the curriculum that I already teach and goes right along with state assessment,” said Kristi Cox of Myrtle Attendance Center.

Between lessons, the teachers took “Brain Breaks,” where they got to know one other better and participated in active movement exercises, which they can use in their own classrooms. The teachers also got a tour of the Olivia and Archie Manning Athletics Performance Center.

“They are not just giving us the lesson plans; they are teaching us how to integrate these lessons into what we are already doing,” said Farrah Speck of New Albany Middle School. “This is really valuable to me as a teacher.”

Willie Price Lab School Earns National Accreditation

UM pre-K facility recognized among best in the nation

Parents and children work together at Willie Price’s Learning Garden. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – Willie Price Lab School at the University of Mississippi has been accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, a prestigious designation that recognizes top standards in early childhood education.

To earn NAEYC accreditation, Willie Price, which serves local 3- and 4-year-old children, went through an extensive self-study and quality-improvement process, followed by an on-site visit by accessors. The renewable accreditation lasts five years.

“Earning this accreditation takes away any blurred lines about what is best for children,” said Sarah Langley, Willie Price director. “When you go through this process, and you have to do everything the right way, it means that you are doing what’s best for children at the very highest level.”

Less than 10 percent of programs nationwide  – roughly 7,000 institutions – hold this accreditation, according NAEYC data. In Mississippi, 24 programs are accredited.

To earn the accreditation, schools must meet 10 research-based standards, which range from instructional techniques to safety, nutrition, staffing and community engagement. Throughout the process, Willie Price staff worked to meet and document hundreds of criteria within these standards and received support from the university’s Graduate Center for the Study of Early Learning to work with an accreditation consultant.

“We literally had to break down our school into pieces and build it back stronger,” said Alyce Krouse, Willie Price assistant director. “We sometimes get referred to as a ‘day care,’ but we are so much more than that. We are an accredited school for young children.”

One result from this process is that Willie Price staff began keeping an individual portfolio to assess and document the development of each child. The school serves more than 70 children.

In-depth assessments of children’s work provide not only a window into the developing minds of children, but can help educators and parents identify needs for enrichment or intervention earlier than before.

“There are two monthly samples of work in each portfolio,” Langley explained. “This might include a name-writing sample and an illustration.

Learning centers at Willie Price are aligned with developmental standards. Submitted Photo

“By the end of the year, you can see scribbles start to look like letters and then next thing you know, there are uppercase letters at the front of their names. It’s a nice way to observe the development and celebrate with parents.”

Staff at Willie Price meet with parents at least three times a year to go over children’s portfolios. After leaving Willie Price, portfolios can later be handed off parents and/or a kindergarten program.

As part of the accreditation process, parents from Willie Price also completed surveys and provided feedback to staff on the school’s performance and offerings.

Learning centers at Willie Price also were aligned with best practices for early learning and are put on a rotation throughout classrooms. All lessons taught by Willie Price teachers fit into a strategic curriculum that supports developmental learning standards.

The layout of Willie Price classrooms are designed to promote optimal learning for all children. Instead of providing traditional whole-group activities, classrooms are designed to let children self-select different learning centers.

Research shows this method of teaching young children allows for greater independence and engagement in a structured learning environment.

Willie Price also serves as a learning facility for education majors at the UM School of Education, allowing Ole Miss undergraduates to gain hands-on experience in an accredited school.

“We want our students to go to a school that is accredited to see best practices,” said Kenya Wolff, UM assistant professor of early childhood education. “This allows our students to be able to go out into the world and know the right way to do things.

“We’re confident that we can send students to Willie Price and they will see and learn what’s best for young children.”

Willie Price operates 10 months per year on the Ole Miss campus. For more information about enrollment and the school’s curriculum visit

Professor Studies Public Education’s YouTube Portrayal

Study of video-sharing site finds negative depiction of public education

Burhanettin Keskin, UM associate professor of early childhood education, has published a paper examining how public education is portrayed on YouTube. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – YouTube is the second most popular website in the world, nestled right behind Google and ahead of sites such as Facebook, Baidu (a Chinese language internet search engine) and Wikipedia.

The video-sharing site states it has more than a billion users worldwide – almost one-third of all people on the internet – and every day those users watch a billion hours of video.

But what exactly is all that video watching telling viewers about the world, specifically when it comes to public education? That’s a topic recently explored by Burhanettin Keskin, a University of Mississippi associate professor of early childhood education. The result is his paper, “What Do YouTube Videos Say About Public Education?” which was published as an Editor’s Choice article in SAGE, a leading independent, academic and professional publisher of innovative, high-quality content.

Keskin’s study shows that the content of selected, English-language YouTube videos examined portray public education in a mostly negative light.

“As an educator, I’m worried about the future of public education and how it is portrayed in media,” he said. “Oftentimes I see blunt attacks on public education. I will be the first to say that public education is not perfect. I will say that, but I think it is something we need to protect.”

For his study, Keskin typed the term “public education” into the YouTube search bar and analyzed the top 60 search results provided by the site. (YouTube uses a non-disclosed algorithm to display its user-generated content.)

Keskin and a graduate student then independently coded the videos (59 were evaluated because one video repeated itself in the search results) as portraying public education as negative, neutral or positive. The videos were coded on the thumbnail cover image, title and content, which involved Keskin watching enough YouTube videos to give him “dreams at night of YouTube.”

When Keskin and the graduate student disagreed on nine videos, an opinion from a third coder – a professor from another university – was obtained.

The study showed that 67.8 percent of the selected videos’ content portrayed public education negatively, 22 percent of the cover images portrayed public education negatively (64.4 percent were found neutral) and 45.8 percent of the titles were negative (44.1 percent were neutral).

“I was troubled by the findings of Dr. Keskin’s research,” said Susan McClelland, UM chair of teacher education. “Public perception is important to any career as it often reflects the level of respect and value the public places on that career.

“Today, public education is under an increasing amount of public scrutiny, which places educational systems in a position to create effective school public relations campaigns. … I do believe positive perceptions begin at the local level, and teachers and administrators must learn to be action-oriented in sharing positive information about themselves, the successes of all children and the impact education is having on their communities – a role perhaps we have not been comfortable doing.”

Some of the titles from Keskin’s May 31, 2016, search (8.2 million videos were found) were bluntly, if not outrageously negative, of public education, with titles such as “Public ‘Education’ Has Become Indoctrination and Distraction” and “Common Core: UN Agenda 21, Communitarianism & The Public Education Plan to Destroy America.”

While some videos only had a few thousand views, others had been viewed more than a million times.

“Perception in recent years regarding public education is down,” said David Rock, dean of the School of Education. “Unfortunately, negative stories fuel strong sentiment, especially on social media and therefore seem to be heard like a roar. This fire can spread into an ugly fight at times on social media.

“Positive successes are shared but seem to be heard like a normal, friendly conversation. We seem to be more likely to share positive news in a friendly manner.”

With many educators using YouTube in their classrooms, Keskin points out that the danger is that both reputable and impartial sources, and untrustworthy and biased sources share the same platform with YouTube. Also, anyone can upload videos to YouTube, and some of the unreliable videos are professionally rendered, which is confusing to children and teens, who are a large YouTube audience.

A May survey from the Pew Research Center on teens, social media and technology reports that 85 percent of U.S. teens ages 13 to 17 say they use YouTube, more than Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.

Since YouTube is a teaching tool in today’s classrooms, young children might think all YouTube videos are credible, especially subjective material placed at the top of search results.

“Pretty much anyone can post anything,” said Keskin, who joined the UM faculty in 2013. “Some academics, some doctors, some professionals can post it. So can someone who has some really bad intentions. They can just post it and bend truths.

“The danger is (YouTube) is a mixture of things. For a young mind, it might be really hard to distinguish if this is reputable, especially if you are not very good with media.”

Even after viewing the results of his research, though, Keskin, who has a personal YouTube cooking channel called KeskinCookin, said YouTube can be a valuable teaching tool. Others agree.

“I certainly believe YouTube videos are an effective tool for teaching,” said McClelland, who also serves as an associate professor of leadership and counselor education. “You can learn to do just about anything by watching a YouTube video – from tying a bow tie to changing a tire to improving your writing skills, YouTube has videos on how to be successful.

“YouTube is a powerful source of information – all the more reason we need images and videos reflecting the positive, innovative and successful work public school educators are doing.”

The study also reinforces the importance of teaching critical thinking, especially when it comes to social media, Keskin said.

“When you teach critical thinking to students – young students or college students or the general public – then you have a better chance of not falling into the hands of the people who are posting very negative, false information out there,” he said. “Informed citizens is what we want. Who can think for themselves. Who can look for things to find out if the information is true or not.”