UM ‘Corpse Flower’ Will Soon Bloom with Smell of Death

School of Pharmacy offering live stream of rare blooming event

A titan arum, a flowering plant known as the ‘corpse flower,’ is soon to bloom at the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy’s Faser Hall. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Just keep watching – that’s the best advice for witnessing the soon-to-blossom, towering titan arum housed in the atrium of the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy’s Faser Hall. The odd-looking plant, which has the largest unbranched flower cluster in the world, is expected to bloom any hour now.

When it does, the 5-foot-tall flowering plant (Amorphophallus titanum) will appear even more otherworldly, with its now-lime-green spathe unfolding to display a dark burgundy. The species also emits a decomposing flesh odor when it blooms, a smell intended to attract pollinators but a putrid smell nonetheless that has earned titan arum the nickname “corpse flower” or “corpse plant.”

Lal Jayaratna, a research and development botanist with the Maynard W. Quimby Medicinal Plant Garden of the National Center for Natural Products Research, where the plant is usually housed, said he believes the plant will blossom Thursday or Friday.

On Thursday morning, a steady stream of onlookers viewed the titan arum in person in the UM School of Pharmacy, some even posing for pictures. A live stream of the titan arum is also available at the Ole Miss Pharmacy YouTube page

The plant, native solely to western Sumatra and western Java in Indonesia, is grown at the garden as a collection and also for research by NCNPR scientists on the chemistry of different parts of the plant. The garden is home to three mature titan arums and a few others.

The blooming of the plant is a rare sight, with the titan arum taking about five or more years to start flowering. It then subsequently blooms infrequently, once in three or four years, and even more rarely in cultivation. In 2014, UM housed two plants that bloomed within weeks of each other.

UM Scientists Work Toward Natural Remedy for Bed Bugs

NCNPR researchers look for safer solution in pest management

Bed bugs are tiny when they hatch, but each insect can grow to one-fourth of an inch in size as it matures.
UM photo by Don F. Stanford

OXFORD, Miss. – It’s a fear for children that monsters reside under the bed. But those monsters could be living on the mattress or in the sheets. They’re called bed bugs.

However, scientists with the National Center for Natural Products Research at the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy are searching for a natural remedy to stop the insect from not only biting, but growing in rapid numbers.

“In the past few years, the number of bed bug infestations has risen, potentially impacting the hospitality industry” said Amar Chittiboyina, NCNPR assistant director. “The resources at the NCNPR make it an ideal research center for the discovery of a natural chemical as an insecticide.”

Funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Defense, the Insect Management Program looks for a natural compound for management of pests affecting soldiers and the public. Finding that solution is easier said than done, as bed bugs are tough to control, much less eradicate.

Junaid Rehman, research scientist in the NCNPR, works closely with two strains of bed bugs: those that are resistant to insecticides and those that haven’t been exposed to insecticides. Rehman is tasked with the challenge of sorting the tiny bed bugs, which grow to less than one-fourth of an inch in size, by age and making sure each gets its weekly fill of rabbit blood to help maintain the colonies.

Researchers use three delivery methods to test the effectiveness of natural compounds on the bed bugs, Rehman said.

The easiest ones to perform are fumigation and residual methods. In fumigation, the bugs are exposed to the vapor form for 24 hours, while the residual method has the treatment placed on filter paper and the insects are released over it.

The toughest is a topical method, which involves Rehman knocking the insects unconscious with carbon dioxide before applying a drop of test article on each adult’s back. This process can take up to five hours with 50-60 bed bugs in each treatment for statistical significance.

“In most cases of severe infestation, the only option to eradicate the insects is to discard the furniture,” Rehman said. “To avoid such an expensive operation, we are probing several methods for effective delivery of potential insecticides.

“At the end of the day, we are looking for natural compounds that are easy to apply in a laboratory setting and in the field. The hardest part is finding a natural compound that will safely and effectively eradicate or control the growth of bed bugs.”

Junaid Rehman, a research scientist in the UM National Center for Natural Products Research, works to separate bed bugs to prepare for testing of potential control agents in the lab. UM photo by Don F. Stanford

Researchers work in a biosafety lab at the Thad Cochran Research Center where special precautions are taken to prevent the escape of any bugs. Though bed bugs are easily contained in the lab, that’s not the case in public areas. Bed bugs hiding in dark corners and crevices of hotel rooms or other spaces can survive as long as three months without food.

The insect is not known to transfer diseases, but when an infestation is severe, the bites can cause health concerns. Finding a solution for this problem is at the forefront of the NCNPR’s goals.

“We have such unique resources at the NCNPR that we can optimize and convert the knowledge we have into finding a safer solution, as there is currently no easy way to get rid of these bed bugs,” said Ikhlas Khan, NCNPR director. “Having this funding from the USDA helps us to work toward our overall goals.”

As Bed Bug Awareness Week (June 3-9) rolls on and as many people prepare to travel for summer vacations, Khan acknowledged that public awareness and preemptive measures help in bed bug cases. NCNPR researchers will continue working to make bed bug nightmares a thing of the past.

“If we can come up with a natural compound that inhibits the bed bugs’ growth or alters its life cycle, and the natural compound has a safety profile needed for approval by the EPA as an insecticide, then we achieved our goals,” Chittiboyina said.

This work is supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, under agreement no. 58-6066-6-043. Any opinions, findings, conclusion or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Pharmacy Administration Graduate Student Receives Fellowship

Ashley Crumby will continue her dissertation research on mentor relationships

Ashley Crumby

OXFORD, Miss. – Ashley Crumby, a graduate student in the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy, was named a recipient of the Pre-Doctoral Fellowship in Pharmaceutical Sciences given by the American Foundation for Pharmaceutical Education.

Crumby will use her fellowship to continue research for her dissertation on “Valuation of mentorship in pharmacy education and the impact of perceived involvement,” as she measures the value student pharmacists place on mentorship.

“This opportunity will help support the importance of mentorship research,” Crumby said. “I would love to continue this type of research in my future career and apply it to a position in which I could potentially develop and implement mentorship programs at schools.”

A native of Chapel Hill, Tennessee, Crumby earned her Pharm.D. from Ole Miss in 2009. No stranger to mentorship in her own career, Crumby said she has been blessed with many great advisers, including Alicia Bouldin, associate dean of outcomes assessment and learning advancement at the School of Pharmacy.

“I am so thankful that AFPE is rewarding Ashley’s commitment in this area,” Bouldin said. “She truly has a passion for mentoring in pharmacy education and is excited about the chance to deploy her research talents to explore this area.

“I have no doubt that many will benefit from any further understanding she is able to glean on this topic, which is becoming increasingly important in the changing health care landscape.”

In 2013, American Pharmacists Association recognized Crumby for her work with pediatric infectious diseases and commitment to student mentorships by naming her a Distinguished New Practitioner. Her dedication to improving the pharmacy profession and lives of others shows why John Bentley, chair and professor of pharmacy administration, calls Crumby a well-rounded graduate student and individual.

“Two of the most significant factors that determine success in graduate school are motivation and perseverance,” Bentley said. “There is no shortage of either when it comes to Ashley. She typically goes above and beyond the call of duty in all of her endeavors.

“She has high levels of motivation to succeed, but more importantly, she has an extraordinary motivation to learn.”

Pharmacy Graduate Student Earns Student Exchange Award

Ann Fairly Barnett will research pollution effects on oysters in Ocean Springs

Ann Fairly Barnett presents her research on the effects of pollution on Mississippi oysters at the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry’s Young Environmental Scientists meeting in March. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – Ann Fairly Barnett, a University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy graduate student, has received the Student Training Exchange Opportunity award from the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.

The award will allow Barnett to conduct research in the Shoemaker Toxicology Laboratory at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory in Ocean Springs this summer. She will work under the guidance of Joe Griffitt, chair of the USM Division of Coastal Sciences and associate director of its School of Ocean Science and Technology.

Her research examines the effects of ocean acidification and tributyltin, a compound formerly found in painted boat hulls, on the Eastern oyster, as well as how to restore Mississippi Gulf Coast oyster reefs in future climate change scenarios.

Barnett, who earned her Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology from USM in 2016, is working toward her master’s in environmental toxicology at the School of Pharmacy. The Jackson native is a graduate research assistant for Deborah Gochfeld, principal scientist in the National Center for Natural Products Research and research professor of environmental toxicology in the Department of BioMolecular Sciences.

Ann Fairly Barnett dives off Grand Cayman Island as part of her research on marine sponges. Submitted photo

“Since childhood, I have been deeply interested in the ocean and all it has to offer us,” Barnett said. “A friend told me about the opportunity at the University of Mississippi to work on a project involving oyster reef restoration on the Mississippi Gulf Coast under Dr. Gochfeld’s advisement.

“I was very interested and excited for the opportunity to conduct research aimed at working toward a healthier coastline in my home state, while also learning the ropes of environmental toxicology.”

Barnett was working on a project in the Cayman Islands involving marine sponges while preparing her application materials, which she said was akin to writing a small grant proposal.

“Ann Fairly is an enthusiastic young scientist who has jumped in and taken the initiative to learn as much for her research on oysters as possible,” Gochfeld said. “This training exchange award will enable her to make use of the recently-built, state-of-the-art environmental toxicology facility at the GCRL to jump-start her master’s thesis research.”

Pharmacy Professor Selected for Nelson Order

Scott Malinowski was one of 20 inductees chosen for the UMMC honor

Scott Malinowski (left), clinical assistant professor of pharmacy practice, is welcomed into the Nelson Order by Rob Rockhold, deputy chief academic officer at the UM Medical Center, during ceremonies at the medical center. Photo by Joe Ellis/UMMC Photography

JACKSON, Miss. – Scott Malinowski, clinical assistant professor of pharmacy practice at the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy, has been inducted into the Norman C. Nelson Order of Teaching Excellence at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.

Named for Norman C. Nelson, who served as UMMC’s vice chancellor for health affairs for 21 years, the award honors faculty members from each of UMMC’s six schools. Awardees are selected based on their dedication to students through innovative teaching, engagement, mentorship and setting expectations for professional behavior.

 “This is truly a great honor,” Malinowski said. “It is very special to be selected by students and colleagues in recognition of my teaching contributions.

“The existence of the Nelson Order shows just how committed the Medical Center is to teaching excellence. I am proud to be considered one of its members.”

Nominees for the Nelson Order were inducted at a luncheon where each received a stole from LouAnn Woodward, UM vice chancellor for health affairs, that they will wear Friday (May 25) during the Medical Center’s commencement ceremony.

“This is a significant achievement and well-deserved recognition of Dr. Malinowski’s many contributions to education on the UMMC campus,” said Seena Haines, chair of the Department of Pharmacy Practice. “He has demonstrated commitment to excellence in teaching and engaging students and residents in their clinical and professional growth.”

Leigh Ann Ross, associate dean for clinical affairs at the pharmacy school’s UMMC campus, said she is “thrilled” about Malinowski’s induction.

“In all practice environments, he has precepted pharmacy students and served as a role model,” Ross said. “Scott provides quality educational opportunities for our students by leading courses and serving as a facilitator in our problem-based learning curriculum.”

Ross went on to say that Malinowski’s long-term involvement in heart failure management in the ambulatory clinic, providing nutrition support in the inpatient setting and participating in the Community-Based Research Program shows his desire for student success.

“I am passionate about teaching because I enjoy helping students realize that they can successfully learn this vast amount of material that they are confronted with and use it to help others,” Malinowski said. “It is amazing to watch them grow into confident health care professionals.”

UM Pharmacy Places First in Formulations Competition

Ole Miss team places sixth overall in national Student Pharmacist Compounding Competition

Emily Lewis (left), Mary O’Keefe and Alexandria Gochenauer, all third-year student pharmacists at UM, placed first in the formulations portion of the eighth annual National Student Pharmacist Compounding Competition and sixth overall. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – A team of three students from the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy placed first in the formulations portion of the eighth annual National Student Pharmacist Compounding Competition and sixth overall, in what was Ole Miss’ first-ever appearance in the competition in Aventura, Florida.

The team consisted of third-year student pharmacists Alexandria Gochenauer, of Republic, Missouri; Mary O’Keefe, of Edwardsville, Illinois; and Emily Lewis, of Valley Park, Missouri.

“This is outstanding, especially for our first competition,” said David D. Allen, UM pharmacy dean. “I’m very proud of these students’ drive to excel in compounding, which is such a vital part of pharmacy.”

For the formulating part of the contest, the team came up with a recipe to create two prescriptions selected for them by the competition. The three students determined the appropriate amounts of each ingredient, wrote out the process for combining them and provided information about the chemicals they were using.

Gochenauer organized a regional competition beforehand to engage other students in learning more about compounding. Even with that experience, the team acknowledged that they didn’t have much of an idea of what to expect from the national competition.

“Having never done it before, and having no previous pharmacy students to ask, our team tried to prepare as best we could by looking at how the regional competition went and ways we could have improved there,” O’Keefe said.

As part of the national competition, the team also came up with an innovative pharmacy idea and answered pharmacy-related questions in a game show-like challenge, all of which contributed to the team’s sixth-place finish out of 17 teams.

“This competition opened my eyes to the impact a pharmacist can make in the world of compounding,” Lewis said. “It definitely increased my ability to think creatively on my feet and confirmed my passion for compounding.”

Each student agreed that they appreciated the opportunity to network with other students and faculty members, as well as work in a state-of-the-art compounding lab.

“I believe this competition gave me a revitalized view of how compounding can be integrated into the practice of pharmacy and produce patient-specific, and sometimes hard-to-find, medications,” O’Keefe said.

Erin Holmes, an associate professor of pharmacy administration, helped the team prepare for the competition, but said the students took the lead on every aspect of planning and practicing.

“I was impressed by the initiative and interest they took in the competition, as well as how dedicated they were to the time and travel involved during a busy semester,” Holmes said. “I am so proud, but not at all surprised, to see how well they placed in the national competition.”

Pharmacy Students Earn Pharmacists Mutual Scholarships

Alex Gochenauer and Erin Hoevelmann plan to practice pharmacy in community settings

Alex Gochenauer

OXFORD, Miss. – Two University of Mississippi pharmacy students have been named recipients of the exclusive Pharmacists Mutual Community Pharmacy Scholarship.

Alex Gochenauer and Erin Hoevelmann were selected based on their interest in practicing pharmacy in an independent setting, a community setting or in an underserved community. The scholarship is given to just 20 recipients nationwide each year.

“Offering clinical services in the community setting is of particular interest to me, as this gives pharmacists the opportunity to be more involved in providing health care to patients,” Hoevelmann said.

In her second professional year, Hoevelmann has gained insight into community pharmacy through research and volunteering. The St. Louis native recently presented her thesis for the UM Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College on pharmacists’ willingness to offer rapid diagnostic testing as a research poster at the American Pharmacists Association annual meeting.

Hoevelmann also is active in the community through service projects with the pharmacy student group Prescription for Service and nonprofit organization More than a Meal.

Third-year student Gochenauer hopes to one day work in an independent compounding pharmacy that focuses on veterinary pharmacy practice.

Erin Hoevelmann

Originally from Republic, Missouri, Gochenauer has served in leadership roles in the student chapters of the American College of Veterinary Pharmacists and National Community Pharmacists Association. She also recently earned scholarships from NCPA and American College of Apothecaries.

“During my first year in pharmacy school, we had an assembly from the Professional Compounding Centers of America, which prompted my interest in compounding and led to my taking compounding courses,” Gochenauer said.

David D. Allen, dean of the School of Pharmacy, said the school is “very proud” of Hoevelmann and Gochenauer.

“Erin and Alex are two of our consistently high-performing and service-minded student pharmacists,” Allen said. “They demonstrate the drive to learn and the compassion for patients that every great pharmacist possesses.”

Pharmacy Early Entry Student Wins Allstate Sugar Bowl Scholarship

Cameron Hammers' essay on perseverance produces $10,000 prize

Sugar Bowl president Rod West (right) presents Cameron Hammers, an incoming UM freshman in the Early Entry pharmacy program, with a $10,000 Allstate Sugar Bowl Scholarship. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – Cameron Hammers, an incoming freshman in the Early Entry program at the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy, has won a $10,000 Allstate Sugar Bowl Scholarship from the Allstate Sugar Bowl Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame.

Archie Manning, the foundation’s national chairman, honored 36 high school football players from the New Orleans area for their academic and athletic achievements. Hammers was among six of these students who were then chosen to receive a $10,000 scholarship based on essays they submitted.

A senior at Pope John Paul II High School in Slidell, Louisiana, Hammers wrote his winning essay about his past struggles and personal philosophies that have helped him learn to work hard and succeed. He credits his parents with encouraging him to never give up.

“My reaction was one of excitement and disbelief, and I was happy to be honored with the scholarship,” Hammers said.

Hammers accepted a spot in pharmacy school’s competitive Early Entry program earlier this spring. Upon earning his Doctor of Pharmacy degree, Hammers hopes to make an impact on the problem of over-prescription of opioids and antidepressants, and he plans to pursue nuclear pharmacy.

“Balancing both sports and academics is a feat in itself, but doing both well takes heart and determination,” Hammers said. “I have learned through this process that if the will to succeed is strong, then nothing can stop you from achieving greatness.”

David D. Allen, dean of the Ole Miss School of Pharmacy, said he is “incredibly proud” of Hammers.

“This scholarship honors perseverance and dedication, two attributes that help make an incredible pharmacist,” Allen said. “I am very much looking forward to seeing what Cameron accomplishes at Ole Miss and at the School of Pharmacy.”

Marc Slattery Receives Top UM Research Award

Researcher known for work with marine ecosystems, from coral reefs to Antarctica

Josh Gladden (left), UM interim vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs, presents the2018 Distinguished Research and Creative Achievement Award to Marc Slattery during the university’s Commencement ceremony Saturday morning in the Grove. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Marc Slattery was a little conflicted about being honored for his research achievement at the University of Mississippi.

Slattery, a professor of biomolecular sciences in the School of Pharmacy and research professor in the Research Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, was named the 2018 recipient of the Distinguished Research and Creative Achievement Award during the university’s 165th Commencement ceremonies Saturday (May 12) in the Grove.

“It came as a shock, a very pleasant surprise,” Slattery said. “I’m incredibly honored to be amongst the group of past honorees – there are tremendous scientists there.

“When I think about my colleagues here who have never won this award, I have to wonder, ‘What brings me above them?’ There are so many solid scientists here, so it was a very pleasant surprise.”

Created in 2008, the annual honor recognizes a faculty member who has shown outstanding accomplishment in research, scholarship and creative activity. Applicants are nominated by peers and reviewed by a committee of past recipients.

Winning the award is not a solo endeavor, however, Slattery said. Science is interdisciplinary and collaborative, and he has “tremendous collaborators and colleagues (at UM), within the School of Pharmacy and across campus.”

“I also work with several (people) off-campus at different universities who collaborate with me on grants and papers,” he said. “In many ways, I hope that people recognize that this honor is really for a team. I’m lucky enough to stand up for that.

“Everybody has really contributed to my being able to successfully do the work that I’ve done.”

Slattery said that in the broadest sense, he’s a marine biologist, but further efforts to pigeonhole him would be difficult as he has many interests, including a focus on coral reef ecology. His research interests also include pursuing drug discovery efforts in marine invertebrates, algae and microbes.

Slattery’s research has included work in extreme environments, from deep-sea reefs and marine caves to polar ecosystems in Antarctica and kelp forests off the coast of California.

He also said he’s interested in ecosystems and their processes, along with how resources in these ecosystems might ultimately become the next drug and with the conservation of these ecosystems.

Marc Slattery

“Dr. Slattery is an international leader in the fields of environmental ecology and marine biotechnology,” said Josh Gladden, UM interim vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs, when presenting the award. “While artfully balancing his teaching, research and service responsibilities, he’s contributed to many discoveries in his field, brought recognition to the university and created fantastic opportunities for our students.”

Slattery earned his bachelor’s degree in biology from Loyola Marymount University in 1981, a master’s degree in marine biology from San Jose State University in 1987 and his doctorate in biological sciences from the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 1994. He joined the Ole Miss faculty in 1995.

While at UM, Slattery has served as executive director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Institute for Undersea Science and Technology and as research coordinator for the university’s Environmental Toxicology Research Program. He has authored or co-authored more than 100 peer-reviewed publications, and has two patent applications and a book chapter in review.

He also has given close to 200 invited presentations, including presentations before the United Nations and U.S. Senate. He was among 10 faculty members selected to participate in the university’s first TEDx conference.

“Marc is a dynamic scientist, not only because of the groundbreaking research he contributes to, but because he truly embodies the ‘creative’ element of this award,” said David D. Allen, UM pharmacy dean. “Many of his students go on to conduct their own influential research, attesting to the enthusiasm and dedication he brings to his work.

“The School of Pharmacy is home to some incredible scientists and faculty, many of whom are preeminent in their fields. We are fortunate to be home to five winners of this award, and are thrilled that this honor recognizes the breadth, caliber and originality of the some of the research coming out of our school.”

Slattery has received more than $30 million in funding from a range of federal agencies as either a principal investigator or co-principal investigator, and has been recognized with several honors, including serving as president of the American Academy of Underwater Sciences, earning the Cumberland Pharmaceuticals Inc. Faculty Research Award at UM in 2010 and serving as chief scientist on four NOAA research cruises.

He has advised or served on thesis or dissertation committees for 27 Ph.D. students, 25 master’s students and eight Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College students.

“At the University of Mississippi, we greatly value and emphasize excellence in scientific discoveries and scholarly research,” Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said. “This award recognizes those who curate bold ideas and foster collaborative and innovative approaches. As this year’s recipient, Marc Slattery lives up to the exceptional standard we’ve come to expect of honorees.”

Born in California, Slattery moved to Jamaica at age 5 and lived there for about a decade. Fascinated with the outdoors from an early age, Slattery remembers going to the beach in Jamaica, throwing on his diving mask and exploring the vibrant turquoise waters until being hauled out of the water by his parents, who instilled in him a passion for learning and exploring his interests.

In turn, Slattery has spent his career inspiring his students to investigate their interests to the fullest.

“You have to do what you’re passionate about,” said Slattery, who is married to Deborah Gochfeld, a principal scientist in the university’s National Center for Natural Products Research and a research professor of environmental toxicology.

“A career is a long time. You have to work hard and when you are in school, you have to study hard. There are a lot of people competing for the same jobs, but if you are doing what you love, it makes it so much easier.”

This year’s Distinguished Research and Creative Achievement Award was sponsored by GlobalStar, a Covington, Louisiana-based company that is a leading provider of mobile satellite voice and data services. The sponsorship is just one example of several collaborations between UM and GlobalStar, including an agreement to establish a second-generation ground station on campus, which will give Ole Miss students and faculty unique learning and research experiences.

Previous winners of the award are Sam Wang, Larry Walker, Charles Reagan Wilson, Dale Flesher, Atef Elsherbeni, Mahmoud ElSohly, Robert Van Ness, Charles Hussey, Ikhlas Khan and Alice Clark.

Walter Isaacson Urges UM Grads to Embrace Creativity, Collaboration

Renowned journalist and biographer delivers Commencement address to more than 15,000 in Grove

Walter Isaacson makes a point during his Commencement address Saturday morning at the University of Mississippi. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Under powder blues skies Saturday in the Grove, Walter Isaacson stressed to the University of Mississippi’s graduating class that being smart is only part of success, and that life’s greatest achievements come from collaborating to connect the arts and sciences with humanities and engineering.

Isaacson, acclaimed biographer, professor and historian who also was head of both CNN and Time magazine, spoke to the graduating class of more than 5,300, including more than 1,300 August degree candidates and nearly 700 who finished in December. 

His talk about the need to surround oneself with people from many backgrounds to forge innovation also was peppered with the refrain of “what we forgot to tell you” to impart wisdom he’s acquired since he graduated.

“You are hereby certified by this university as being very smart,” Isaacson said. “That’s the good news. The bad news is that you’re about to find out that smart people are a dime a dozen.

“Here’s what we forgot to tell you. Smart people often don’t amount to much. What really matters is being imaginative, being creative and being innovative and most important of all, just being good.” 

A crowd of more than 15,000 people gathered in the Grove to hear Isaacson, a professor of history at Tulane University in New Orleans, where he grew up. He’s a graduate of Harvard College and also Pembroke College of Oxford University in Oxford, England, where he was a Rhodes scholar.

He began his career at The Sunday Times of London and then the New Orleans Times-Picayune. He joined Time in 1978, working as a political correspondent, national editor and editor of digital media before becoming the magazine’s editor in 1996. In 2001, he became chairman and CEO of CNN, and then president and CEO of the Aspen Institute in 2003.


Besides having headed two of the world’s most important media organizations, Isaacson is a prolific biographer and nonfiction writer. He is the author of the best-seller “Steve Jobs” in 2011, as well as biographies of Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin and Henry Kissinger.

His most recent work, “Leonardo da Vinci” (Simon & Schuster), released in October, offers new discoveries about the artist’s life and work, weaving a narrative that connects his art to his science.

He cited lessons from the figures he’s written about; most prominently that that they all found ways to innovate, not only through a tireless curiosity, but through bridging sciences, humanities and the arts.

Society has forgotten to tell students that creativity comes from working across disciplines, Isaacson said.

Loving everything from art and anatomy to geology and zoology and understanding the patterns across different disciplines of arts, sciences, humanities, social sciences and engineering just as da Vinci did is critical, he said.

The 165th Commencement ceremonies at the University of Mississippi honored a graduating class of more than 5,300, including more than 1,300 August degree candidates and nearly 700 who finished in December. More than 15,000 people gathered in the Grove for the main ceremony. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

The late Steve Jobs, visionary leader of Apple, always ended his project launch presentations with slides of street signs showing the intersections of the liberal arts with technology, or the humanities with engineering. He said at those intersections is where creativity occurs.

“Steve Jobs made the iPod, which was a combination of art, design, beauty and engineering,” Isaacson said. “Whatever they were preaching about knowing STEM subjects, Steve also knew the true essence of creativity, which is that beauty matters.”

Passionate curiosity is a common trait of historical figures such as Jobs, da Vinci and others he’s written about, Isaacson said.

Both Einstein and Da Vinci, some 400 years apart, wrote the same simple question in their notebooks: “Why is the sky blue?” They wondered about it and did experiments to try to figure it out. They both were driven purely out of a sense of wonder.

“That’s what your education is about,” Isaacson said. “It is always remaining like a student, staring at the cosmos and the creation into which we were blessed and graced to live and having that childlike sense of wonder.”

Working with others, especially from diverse groups, is also important. He noted that for many, the university is the most diverse place they’ve ever been. People from many countries and economic backgrounds live and attend classes together, all learning ideas from across the academic spectrum.

He urged students to go about the rest of their lives seeking out opinions and ideas of others who aren’t like them.

“We told you this was a very exclusive place and you got into more and more and more exclusive realms,” Isaacson said. “What we forgot to tell you is it not about exclusivity in the real world. It is about inclusivity. It is about how many people you bring together.”

Graduates are also often told it’s time to “grow up” when they leave college. Not so, Isaacson said. The central point of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” was the benediction he gave the Commencement crowd.

“I want to give you that benediction today and I want you to do it right with humility and do good with wonder and curiosity at all times,” Isaacson said. “May you stay forever young.”

UM Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said it is an honor to welcome Isaacson, who played a major role in the success of the university’s inaugural Tech Summit in 2016, back to campus on such an important day.

Vitter, presiding over his third Ole Miss Commencement, stood before the graduates and paused to snap a panoramic photo of the crowd, which he posted to his Twitter account. It’s a tradition he’s carried on each year since 2016.

He noted the importance of the day to the graduates and wished them well in their future endeavors.

“Today you complete your work as students at the university – you graduate,” Vitter said. “You also begin the next chapter in your lives – you commence. Our collective prayer for each of you is a life filled with joy, good health, successful, meaningful careers and peace.”

The university’s Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College conducted its commissioning ceremony Friday afternoon, and recipients of doctoral degrees were honored at a hooding ceremony that evening, both in the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts.

During Saturday’s ceremony, Ann Monroe, assistant dean and associate professor of education, was introduced as the 2018 recipient of the Elsie M. Hood Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award, the university’s highest campuswide honor for teaching.

Marc Slattery, professor of biomolecular sciences in the School of Pharmacy and research professor in the Research Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, was named the recipient of the university’s 11th Distinguished Research and Creative Achievement Award.

Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter (center, in red) leads administrators and the crowd in applause of Walter Isaacson (left center) after the acclaimed journalist and biographer delivered the university’s Commencement address Saturday in the Grove. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

The university also recognized the winners of this year’s Frist Student Service Awards: Kerri Scott, instructional associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry and associate director of the university’s forensic chemistry program; Leslie Banahan, assistant vice chancellor for student affairs; and Ryan Upshaw, assistant dean for student services in the School of Engineering.

The university also honored former U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran with its Mississippi Humanitarian Award, which is presented only rarely to exceptional figures who have shaped the state. Vitter noted that Cochran, who was unable to attend the ceremony, played a vital role in supporting the university’s research venture and also championed many programs that have improved life for Mississippians.

Bobby Bailess, of Vicksburg, president of the Ole Miss Alumni Association, welcomed the graduates as alumni.

“You will soon know that being an alumnus means being a member of the Ole Miss family,” Bailess said. “This is not just a place where you earned a degree.”

Guy Fortenberry Thornton, UM senior class president, talked about the senior class project, which raised $27,000 for the William Magee Center for Wellness Education as a defining experience for his time at Ole Miss.

He also challenged his fellow graduates to reflect on their own time on campus as they age. He told them that over the years, the wrinkles will come, but it’s nothing to worry about.

“In the wise words of Jimmy Buffet, the singer and songwriter, who once said, ‘Wrinkles will only go where the smiles have once been,’ I know I will have many of these wrinkles from all of the good times and the smiles I’ve had with all of you these past four years,” Thornton said.