Medical Education Building to Be Named in Honor of Gov. Phil Bryant

Move recognizes leadership role and commitment to constructing facility

The new medical education building at the University of Mississippi Medical Center was dedicated in August 2017. UMMC photo by Joe Ellis

OXFORD, Miss – The University of Mississippi has announced the naming of the medical education building at its Medical Center campus in Jackson in honor of Gov. Phil Bryant. The naming of Phil Bryant Medical Education Building became official today (Nov. 16) with approval from the Board of Trustees of Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning.

The new building – a 151,000-square-foot, $76 million state-of-the-art facility – was dedicated Aug. 4, 2017. Working with the Legislature, Gov. Bryant was instrumental in securing funding for the project, including $10 million in federal Community Development Block Grant funding through the Mississippi Development Authority to launch the effort, as well as helping to secure $66 million in state bonds.

Gov. Bryant’s commitment to bringing more physicians to Mississippi and to growing the state’s health care economy extends back to his term as lieutenant governor.

“Gov. Bryant has worked tirelessly over many years to ensure that the new medical education building would become a reality,” said Jeffrey Vitter, UM chancellor. “He recognized the vital need to train additional doctors as well as the tremendous impact this medical school will continue to have upon our state for generations to come.

“The new building and expanded classes will stand as a part of his legacy.”

At roughly 185 doctors per 100,000 residents, Mississippi is the most medically underserved state in the nation. Addressing this issue has been one of the governor’s highest priorities. His commitment to increasing the state’s number of physicians was a focal point of his 2013 State of the State address in which he observed that having more providers will create better health care access for Mississippians, resulting in lower costs.

“This honor is incredibly humbling and unexpected, and I am so grateful,” Gov. Bryant said. “I will continue to serve the university and its medical community in every way possible in order to be deserving of this distinction.

“It is my hope that this wonderful new facility will help grow and sustain our ability to provide the best health care possible for the people of Mississippi.”

Medical school leaders began increasing class sizes several years ago in anticipation of the new building. With the opening of the facility last summer, the entering class size grew from around 145 students to 155 this year, and will eventually top off at approximately 165 – the size considered necessary to meet the goal of 1,000 additional physicians by 2025.

It is projected that the larger class sizes accommodated by the new facility will generate about $1.7 billion in economic impact by 2025 and that the additional physicians trained will support more than 19,000 new jobs by the same year. The economic impact of practicing UMMC-trained physicians is more than $6.3 billion annually, and those physicians are estimated to support more than 60,000 jobs in the state.

Governor Phil Bryant

“Gov. Bryant has been a great champion of the effort to build a new medical education building, which will ultimately lead to more physicians for Mississippi and greater access to health care for more of the state’s residents, particularly those in rural areas,” said Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine. “We are extremely grateful for the governor’s exceptional leadership in helping us achieve our mission of training Mississippians to take care of Mississippians.”

Besides his central role in garnering funding for the new building, Gov. Bryant has more broadly supported medical education efforts in the state. During the 2012 legislative session, Gov. Bryant signed House Bill 317 into law to establish more medical residency programs throughout the state, a move intended to allow more Mississippi-trained physicians to remain in the state.

That same year, Gov. Bryant championed and signed legislation creating Health Care Industry Zones to spur expanded access to health care and grow health care jobs.

Gov. Bryant also has a longstanding history of leadership and advocacy in support of growing Mississippi’s health care economy, including two years of legislation that removed barriers to the full adoption of telehealth as a means of providing patient care. As a result, Mississippi has been recognized by the American Telemedicine Association as one of only nine states with an A-rating as a top state for telehealth.

UMMC also was recently designated one of only two Telehealth Centers of Excellence nationwide by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration.

Gov. Bryant also was instrumental in passing the Health Care Collaboration Act, which will provide new opportunities for UMMC to partner with rural hospitals and others to further expand medical services. During his terms, the governor has also devoted significant support to growing the Mississippi Healthcare Corridor, which includes UMMC as an anchor institution.

Gov. Bryant’s commitment to a healthier Mississippi is shared by first lady Deborah Bryant, whose career in health care spanned more than three decades. Health care is one of the pillars of her platform to improve the quality of life for Mississippians of all ages. 

She is active in a number of health-related causes, including serving as a board member for the Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi, which honored her in 2014 as a recipient of the “Women of Excellence” Award. She is also a frequent volunteer at Batson Children’s Hospital.

Dr. Ford Dye, member of the board of the State Institutions of Higher Learning and an alumnus of the UM School of Medicine, praised Gov. Bryant for his commitment to improving medical education in the state.

When Gov. Bryant first came into office, he set as a top priority the need to increase the physician workforce in our state to provide quality health care for our citizens,” Dye said. “He led the way to obtain necessary funds to build this incredible new building, which will house the School of Medicine at UMMC.

“Without his strong leadership, this new building would not have been completed. We are grateful to Gov. Bryant for his vision and service to the people of this state and are delighted this building will be named in his honor.”

The new medical education building was designed and built to house the School of Medicine, which was originally in the Medical Center complex that opened in July 1955. Over the years, demands for space have grown, and, as the Medical Center expanded, the medical school splintered into a network of disconnected sites, including some makeshift offices and labs.

“Naming the building housing the medical school after Gov. Bryant is a fitting tribute,” said Glenn Boyce, commissioner of higher education. “He has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to improving the health of all Mississippians and has pursued this goal with vision and passion. His vision will change the medical landscape of our state and help generations of Mississippians lead healthier lives.”

The medical education facility includes a cutting-edge simulation training area, which was made possible in part by grants totaling nearly $5 million from the Hearin Foundation. It is also equipped with a mock operating theater – funded by the UMMC Alliance and the Manning Family Fund for a Healthier Mississippi – virtual reality spaces with high-fidelity task trainers, a clinical skills center, flexible-use spaces and more.

Located on the north side of campus, between the Student Union and the Learning Resource Center, the Phil Bryant Medical Education Building will house the educational core of the School of Medicine. The building’s neighbors include the schools of Dentistry, Pharmacy and Health Related Professions, along with the Bower School of Population Health in the new Translational Research Center.

UM Medical Center Partners in Fight to End Child Hunger

Hospital joins Children’s HealthWatch with funding from the Kellogg Foundation

Dr. Justin Davis (center) confers with resident Dr. Eric McDonald in the Pediatric Emergency Department of the UM MEdical Center. Davis, assistant professor of pediatric emergency medicine, is co-investigator of a research project exploring child hunger. UMMC photo by Joe Ellis

JACKSON, Miss. – Come January, some parents of children seen in the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s Pediatric Emergency Department will be asked a revealing, two-pronged question – and given help, depending on their answers.

The verbal queries: “In the last 12 months, have you worried about food in your household running out before you have money to buy more?” And, “Within the past month, did food run out, and you didn’t have money to buy more?”

Their answers will add to a critical pool of data that will be used to gauge food insecurity affecting children treated in the Pediatric ED. Those numbers represent just one factor influencing child health outcomes, and one more area where policy influence is needed to improve their lives.

UMMC has been chosen as a new expansion site for Children’s HealthWatch, a Kellogg Foundation-supported project that collects data – typically in pediatric emergency rooms – to fuel research into factors that shape child health outcomes. Dr. Bettina Beech, professor of population health science and pediatrics and dean of the John D. Bower School of Population Health, and Dr. Justin Davis, assistant professor of pediatric emergency medicine, are co-principal investigators for the local research project.

Being named an expansion site is affirmation of the Medical Center’s research prowess and the Kellogg Foundation’s desire to target its grant dollars where they have the chance to effect change, Beech said.

“Here, we have plenty of opportunities to make a difference,” said Beech, also executive director of the Myrlie Evers-Williams Institute for the Elimination of Health Disparities at the Jackson Medical Mall.

Mississippi ranks last in the nation in child food insecurity, or what the federal government defines as limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, or the inability to get nutritious food because of a lack of transportation, money or sheer availability.

Children’s HealthWatch is a Boston-based nonpartisan network of pediatricians, public health researchers and children’s health and policy experts that gathers data from hospitals in seven cities: Boston; Baltimore; Little Rock, Arkansas; Minneapolis; Philadelphia; and new sites Jackson and Battle Creek, Michigan.

It’s a unique organization focused on improving the health and development of all children, particularly young children who often aren’t included in public policy discussions, said Stephanie Ettinger de Cuba, the nonprofit’s executive director.

“We’re trying to bring together science and policy in an attempt to allay hardships among families,” she said.

UMMC was chosen as an expansion site for multiple reasons, she said.

“We don’t have anyone who focuses on population health like Dr. Beech, and she has an incredible advisory board,” de Cuba said. “And Dr. Davis’ interest in driving more research … They’re a really impressive pair.” 

Stephanie Ettinger de Cuba

Children’s HealthWatch also considered needs in the community, such as not being able to afford food, housing and utilities. Beech and Davis “know the neighborhood disparities,” de Cuba said. “We can hopefully drive some change with the combination of their experience and expertise.”

Trained research assistants will use a random selection process to approach parents in UMMC’s Pediatric Emergency Department and confidentially ask them to join the research cohort, Davis said. The research assistants will complete a minimum 800 interviews annually.

“What’s exciting for us is that we feel like our population in the emergency department will help us better understand social determinants” that relate to hunger, Davis said.

Families coping with food insecurity will receive information on local food banks and other resources, Beech said.

Because UMMC has the state’s only children’s hospital and Pediatric Emergency Department of its type, Davis said, information gleaned will be unique.

“This will give us access to data that we couldn’t get locally,” he said. “It will give us the ability to understand where our children are at, and what we can do to help them.”

Data will be recorded electronically and securely and will be used in different forums, such as policy advocacy and other work that could improve children’s health outcomes, Davis said.

One of the most powerful studies performed by Children’s HealthWatch, Beech said, was development of the trademarked, two-question Hunger Vital Sign screening tool used by all its sites.

“Typically, those questions aren’t asked in a clinical system,” Beech said. “UMMC is moving in a very progressive direction to consider factors not addressed in the usual health care situation so that we can address the factors that affect health outcomes.”

The Hunger Vital Sign screen also is used at UMMC’s Adolescent and Young Adult Health Clinic at the Jackson Medical Mall. The goal: identify social, economic and environmental factors that leave children hungry, sick or continuously unwell, and give the family resources to break that cycle.

Dr. Bettina Beech

UMMC won’t just collect local data for use by Children’s HealthWatch. “We take part in the research as well, and we publish it with the whole Children’s HealthWatch group,” Beech said. “We can also include questions of local interest that other sites might not include.”

“What we’re moving to is a deeper dive on the questions,” de Cuba said. “As Dr. Davis sees a trend in the emergency room, or Dr. Beech sees things in the community, they can generate local data and be able to comment on local issues.”

Beech and Davis are pondering their own questions addressing health literacy and the concept of numeracy, or the ability to reason and apply simple numerical concepts. One example is understanding labels on food or over-the-counter drugs.

“Can you figure out how many calories are in one serving based on the amount of food?” Beech asked. “How much medication should be used for a child of a certain weight?

“It’s not just ‘Can I read?’ but ‘Do I understand very complex information?'” Beech said. “We’ve found that is an independent factor, regardless of someone’s education level.”

Another potential question would gauge perceptions of crime and how it influences behavior in terms of health, Beech said. “If you’re concerned about criminal activity in your neighborhood, will that impact the amount of exercise you get?” she asked.

“We don’t plan to stop there,” Davis said. “We will harness data to help address interventions that we can employ.”

UMMC Earns National Telehealth Center of Excellence Designation

The standard of care and record of leadership at the Center for Telehealth has led to UMMC being named a Telehealth Center of Excellence. UMMC photo by Joe Ellis

JACKSON, Miss. — For 14 years, the Center for Telehealth at the University of Mississippi Medical Center has been a national trailblazer in providing high-quality health care, especially for those with little access to both primary and specialty services.

Its leadership, body of work and mastery of telecommunications technology is being recognized by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration. The Medical Center has been designated one of two Telehealth Centers of Excellence, the agency’s top award given only to programs at public academic medical centers.

“The University of Mississippi Medical Center’s successful program is already a model for national telehealth expansion,” said U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss. “As a Center of Excellence, UMMC will be able to demonstrate to a broader audience how to use telehealth to increase patient access to care and decrease costs.

“Mississippians can be proud that our state’s telehealth investments have set a high standard for improving health care everywhere.”

The recognition from the Health Resources and Services Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, was announced during an Oct. 5 news conference in Washington. It includes an initial $600,000 in funding, with the opportunity for an additional $2 million over two years.

The designation allows UMMC’s Center for Telehealth to serve as a national clearinghouse for telehealth research and resources, including technical assistance to other telehealth providers.

The Center for Telehealth connects patients and caregivers to Medical Center health care providers remotely, in real time, using video calls and interactive tools. More than 500,000 patient visits in 69 of the state’s 82 counties have been recorded since the center began with just three sites, expanding to more than 200 sites today, not including the homes of patients.

“UMMC’s selection as a national Telehealth Center of Excellence is affirmation of our mission and responsibility to bring high-quality health care to all Mississippians, especially those in rural, underserved areas,” said Dr. LouAnn Woodward, UMMC vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine.

“We look forward to using our experience to help advance best practices for this increasingly vital service.  I’m grateful for Senator Cochran’s support of our application.”

The Medical University of South Carolina was also selected as a Telehealth Center of Excellence.

Mississippians will directly benefit from the honor, said Michael Adcock, the Center for Telehealth’s executive director who joined the operation in 2015. The designation “sets us apart. We were selected because we have one of the most comprehensive telehealth programs in the country.”

Adcock said the designation allows the center to focus on four work areas: assessing the impact of telehealth on health care spending; creating new and/or refining payment methods; improving physician and patient awareness; and expanding its overall research portfolio.

“While our center has been able to show some impressive outcomes, we have not had the staff to focus on researching telehealth delivery models and outcome comparisons,” Adcock said.

“That is vital work that needs to be done, and we are well positioned to do it.  This funding and designation will allow us to build on our comprehensive program and develop the research to support further changes in models of delivery.”

The Telehealth Center of Excellence honor brings with it the responsibility to create a new knowledge base for telehealth through research, said Dr. Richard Summers, UMMC professor of emergency medicine and associate vice chancellor for research. 

The grant funding “will help UMMC to build the infrastructure for research in telehealth and allow us to bring a national leadership to this emerging special area of medical practice,” he said.

The Center for Telehealth provides remote, on-site access to caregivers in more than 35 specialties, including urgent care, trauma, mental health, dermatology, cardiology, infectious diseases, and Alzheimer’s and dementia care.  Pediatric telehealth specialties include remote concussion evaluation, cardiology, neurology, psychiatry, genetics and urology.

Telehealth nurse practitioners are stationed in the emergency departments of 17 rural Mississippi hospitals to treat patients via a multidisciplinary team that includes a certified emergency medicine physician on the UMMC campus.

And, the center recently debuted its “UMMC 2 You” online minor medical care program offered throughout Mississippi to those who are on the state employee insurance plan and their families. It’s also offered through select schools and companies.

“Our drive to address health care challenges with innovation is what has allowed us to be recognized as a leader in telehealth, nationally and internationally,” Adcock said.

Annual Awards Program Honors UM Faculty and Students

HEADWAE recognizes academic achievement, contributions to higher learning

Austin Powell, UM Associated Student Body president, and John Czarnetzky, Ole Miss professor of law, were among those honored at the 30th annual Higher Education Appreciation Day- Working for Academic Excellence program in Jackson. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi students and faculty were among the honorees at the 30th annual Higher Education Appreciation Day-Working for Academic Excellence, or HEADWAE, awards program Feb. 21 in Jackson.

Austin Powell, a senior from Corinth majoring in public policy leadership and philosophy, and Ben Carroll, a member of the UM School of Medicine class of 2017, were the university’s student honorees. John Czarnetzky, professor of law, and Dr. David Norris, associate professor of family medicine at the UM Medical Center, were the faculty representatives on the awards program.

“I am surprised and honored,” said Powell, the Associated Student Body president. “I think receiving this honor is a testament for everyone who has believed and supported me because I could not have done any of this by myself.”

Carroll, also a 2016 Gold Humanism Honor Society inductee from Jackson, said it is a great honor to be recognized for his commitment not only to the content of his own education, but also to the future of all students at the UM Medical Center.

“I was excited to meet with students and faculty from around Mississippi who share a similar passion for helping our state’s higher learning communities reach for greater and greater heights,” Carroll said.

Czarnetzky is a four-time professor of the year honoree and the 2016 recipient of the Elsie Hood Award, which is the highest award received for teaching at the university.

“To be invited to participate with similar awardees from higher education institutions throughout Mississippi is an honor and great privilege,” Czarnetzky said.

Norris, a Gold Key Honor Society member, said it is gratifying to have his efforts rewarded.

“For me, this award is a double honor because it comes from my fellow faculty and the administration, and it is always a pleasure to have your peers notice your hard work,” he said.

HEADWAE was established by legislative resolution to honor students and faculty from the state’s public and private institutions of higher learning who have made outstanding contributions in promoting academic excellence.

The UM and UMMC honorees were among 62 others from Mississippi’s 34 public and private universities and colleges.

The winners were welcomed by Gov. Phil Bryant at the state Capitol and given a tour of the historic building. They also attended an awards luncheon where Rod Paige, interim president of Jackson State University, gave a keynote address.

UM Professors Receive IHL Excellence in Diversity Awards

Sociologist Willa Johnson and health clinician Hamed Benghuzzi lauded at ceremonies in Jackson

Willa Johnson (center), UM associate professor of sociology, receives the IHL Excellence in Diversity Award. She is congratulated by (from left) IHL trustee Shane Hooper and Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – Faculty members at the University of Mississippi and the university’s Medical Center have been honored with diversity awards by the Mississippi Board of Trustees of the State Institutions of Higher Learning.

Willa Johnson, associate professor of sociology, and Hamed Benghuzzi, professor and chair of clinical health sciences, were recognized at the IHL’s Excellence in Diversity Awards ceremony Feb. 16 in Jackson. Each was presented a plaque by Shane Hooper, IHL trustee and chair of the Diversity Committee.

“Dr. Johnson and Dr. Benghuzzi make a profound difference on the students at the University of Mississippi and the University of Mississippi Medical Center,” Hooper said. “They are committed to ensuring that all students are welcomed and provided every opportunity to succeed. Their dedication creates a better campus climate for all students, faculty and visitors.”

Both Johnson and Benghuzzi said they were humbled by their recognitions.

“I was surprised by the news,” Johnson said. “It is a wonderful honor. None of what has been done would be possible without the stalwart support of my department chair, Dr. Kirsten Dellinger, and my friends and colleagues in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, who are always willing to do whatever they can to further the work of awareness and learning about diversity and inclusion.”

“I was extremely surprised and had no idea who nominated me,” Benghuzzi said. “I am so humbled and thankful to all who nominated me and to the UMMC leadership for allowing me to be part of a team that promotes diversity and inclusion.”

Each IHL member institution, as well as UMMC and Mississippi State University Division of Agricultural, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine, submitted one nomination for consideration to the board of trustees Diversity Committee. Nominees were evaluated based on positive contributions to the campus and the state and advancing diversity among their respective institutions.

Johnson serves on the Chancellor’s Committee on the Status of Women and in other university capacities. However, she considers her diversity-related work as a natural extension of her research and teaching.

Dr. Hamed Benghuzzi (second from right), professor and chair of clinical health sciences at UMMC, receives the IHL Excellence in Diversity Award. He is congratulated by (from left) Shane Hooper, IHL trustee; Dr. Ralph Didlake, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs; and UM Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter. Submitted photo

She teaches courses on Judaism, the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, disability, racism and religion, and also mentors students and faculty on the UM campus and at other universities. She utilizes every opportunity to champion equality and equal rights.

“In other words, this is not a ‘me’ award; it is a campuswide award,” Johnson said. “We live in a space that has a painful racial history, but as folks who have inherited that history we are focused on making a positive difference in the state of Mississippi.

“I simply try to cobble together different groups of campus partners and outside funders to work on issues of mutual concern.”

Benghuzzi’s achievements in diversity include serving as adviser to more than 40 Ph.D. students, a mentor to Jackson-area high school students in UMMC’s Base Pair program and a mentor for Jackson State University’s Bridges to the Baccalaureate program. He also was a mentor for a National Science Foundation-funded biomedical science program for minority high school students.

“I have always believed diversity constitutes strength in the academic setting,” Benghuzzi said. “I have received many national and state awards throughout my career, but this award is most meaningful because I was nominated by people who believe I have demonstrated that all people, regardless of their social status, gender, race or religion, should be treated equally.”

The Board of Trustees voted unanimously to name the Community Service Award in memory of trustee Karen Cummins in recognition that Cummins’ life epitomized what the award is all about: helping to improve Mississippi’s communities with a welcoming and inclusive spirit. Cummins was appointed to the Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning in 2012 by Gov. Phil Bryant and served with commitment and dedication until her recent death.

Johnson was nominated by Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter and Don Cole, assistant to the chancellor for multicultural affairs. Benghuzzi was nominated by Ralph Didlake, UMMC associate vice chancellor for academic affairs, and LouAnn Woodward, UMMC vice chancellor for health affairs.

For more information on diversity and inclusion efforts at UM, go to For more information about the IHL, contact Caron Blanton at


RebelTHON Team Sets High Goal for Weekend Fundraiser

Annual event benefits Batson Children's Hospital; portion to help renovate cancer center

RebelTHON 2017 begins at 3 p.m. Saturday (Feb. 18) at the Turner Center. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – With last year’s RebelTHON fundraising event at the University of Mississippi almost doubling its goal, the bar is set high for the 2017 dance marathon to benefit the Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital at the UM Medical Center.

This year’s event begins at 3 p.m. Saturday (Feb. 18) at the Turner Center. The entertainment will be similar to last year’s event, but some details are being kept secret in hopes of surprising the dancers and families.

“This year, we really wanted to get our name out to the students and faculty even more, which I think we accomplished through various events like bar nights, percentage nights and union tables on campus,” said Marianna Schmidt, a UM senior from Houston, Texas, and executive director of RebelTHON.

RebelTHON organizers have set a goal to raise $150,000 by the end of the 12-hour dance marathon.

“To build up anticipation since the dance is so close, we have taken down our thermometer showing our fundraising progress on the donor drive,” said Schmidt, a business management major.

The organizers to do something a little different with part of their donations this year. They will be giving some of the final total directly to help fund renovation of the hospital’s Children’s Cancer Center.

“It will provide a more comforting area for kids that sometimes spend days in the center,” Schmidt said. “The Cancer Clinic lobby hasn’t changed much since the ’90s, so it will be great for it to receive a facelift.”

The event is a major boost each year for the hospital, said Jennifer Hospodor, director of Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and community-based fundraising for the UM Medical Center.

“RebelTHON is an enormous inspiration to our team, and more importantly, it inspires our patients,” Hospodor said. “To see this group of college students work together like they do, with different personalities and backgrounds, all for the sake of our patients, is extraordinary. And then to see how their hard work pays off in such a big way makes their efforts truly astounding.

“We are all so grateful for these students and the countless hours of hard work they put in for the kids. Inspiring may not cover it.”

 Anyone interested in attending the event should visit and click “Register.” Participants can sign up until the day of the event, but each person must raise $100 in order to attend. For those who cannot attend the full dance marathon, a community block party is set for 6-9 p.m., when any student or member of the L-O-U community can pay $5 to see what RebelTHON is all about.

Anyone interested in donating to RebelTHON can go to the website and click “Donate.” The site allows donors to designate a specific dancer or give to the event in general. Donations will be accepted throughout the event until one hour before the final reveal.

Chili’s will host a RebelTHON percentage night tonight (Feb 15) at the restaurant on West Jackson Avenue. A flyer will be posted on social media that participants must show in order for RebelTHON to get a percentage of purchases.

“We would love to see people there getting ready for the dance,” Schmidt said.

To learn more about RebelTHON, go to To view a YouTube video from the 2016 Ole Miss RebelTHON, visit

Dental Community Remembers Couples Lost in Crash

Oxford dentists left behind families, legacy of caring service

dental_memorial_top_artJACKSON, Miss. – Just before noon on Aug. 14, Mississippi’s dental community suffered a great loss. Six University of Mississippi alumni on their way home from a dentistry continuing education event in Florida were killed in a plane crash in Alabama. Four were graduates of the School of Dentistry.

On board were Drs. Jason and Lea Farese, Dr. Austin and Angie Poole, and Dr. Michael and Kim Perry, all of Oxford. They leave behind multiple practices, hundreds of patients, colleagues, friends and family. Most heartbreaking is the loss suffered by their combined 11 children.

The dental community has rallied together in an attempt to fill the void left by these special lives. Fellow alumni have stepped in to keep practices open and staff employed, and a fund has been started to provide for the children’s care and education.

Drs. Jason and Lea Farese

Drs. Jason and Lea Farese

Drs. Jason and Lea Farese

Jason and Lea Farese met in dental school and were married in 2002. He was a Vanderbilt graduate, captain of the baseball team his senior year, and she graduated from Belhaven University. The two were a perfect pair – of contrasts.

“He was like the fiery guy, and she was like the calming of the waters,” said Dr. David Duncan, professor emeritus in the Department of Care Planning and Restorative Sciences. “They just meshed together really well.”

Duncan recalls Jason coming to him during dental school for some personal advice. “He was wringing his hands, and he said, ‘I just don’t know. I’m thinking about asking Lea to marry me.’ And I said, ‘Duh! Yeah! Y’all are perfect for each other.'”

Lea worked in public health for a few years while Jason worked on getting a private practice started. They joined in practice as Farese Family Dentistry in Oxford. They were members of the Tri Lakes Dental Study Club, which includes a coverage group to provide clinic coverage for members who are injured or ill and unable to practice for a time.

Both Lea and Jason had participated in helping cover two other dental practices since the group was formed, said Dr. Thomas Hodge, a 1995 graduate of the School of Dentistry. Now it was time for the group to give back to the Fareses, the first time the group has covered for a death in the dental community, Hodge said.

“We tried to get in there and keep their normal business hours going, keep the staff in place until the family could sell the practice,” he said.

However, the person who traveled the farthest to help out was not a member of the Tri Lakes group. Dr. Lauren Timmons, who graduated in 2002 with Jason Farese and Austin Poole, traveled from his practice in Ocean Springs to help keep the practice going.

“I really felt like God spoke to me when I heard it happened. I knew, in that minute,” said Timmons, who received the call while driving back from Orlando, where he had attended the same conference from which the three couples were returning when their plane crashed.

“The second thought that was in my head was do it for the kids. I knew this was their retirement. The value of the practice would slip away quickly if people didn’t step in.”

The Fareses had one of the most technologically advanced practices in Mississippi. Attending the seminar in Florida was a testament to their commitment to staying on the cutting edge of dentistry.

However, Timmons said the group skipped one day of classes to take in the sights at Universal Studios.

“I didn’t want to skip class,” he said. “I am kind of glad now that they did, not knowing it was going to be one of their last few days.”

Timmons said that he talked to Jason on the day before the crash. “Farese just came and sat down beside me before this class started,” Timmons said. “He talked to me for just a little bit, which was kind of unusual, I thought. He’s always busy, somewhere to go and something to do.”

John Green, a family friend of all three couples who lives in Oxford, described Jason as the little brother he’d never had.

“I’ve known Jason since the time he was born,” he said. “His older brother and I were best friends.

“Jason was a consummate perfectionist in everything he did – academically, professionally and even spiritually. You could say that about all of them. They donated a lot of their time and did a lot of pro bono work for people who couldn’t afford it.”

Lea was great with children who came into the clinic, Green said.

“She was kind of Jason’s alter ego, if you will,” he said. “She was a great mom and a great mentor to a lot of children. She was always at Jason’s side and always at the children’s side.”

“They were not just good dentists – and they were very good dentists – but they were good people,” Hodge said. “They were people whom you’d want your families to be around. They are going to be missed by many, many, many people.”

The Fareses leave behind three children: Luke, Alexa and Layla.

Dr. Austin and Angie Poole

Dr. Austin and Angie Poole

Dr. Austin and Angie Poole

Austin and Angie Poole met later in life. Austin worked his way through college to a degree from Delta State University. Angie was an Ole Miss alumna. Theirs was a second marriage for both, and together they parented five children: Katie, Walker, Kingsley, Wesley and Jack. As a family, they enjoyed spending time outdoors.

“They spent a ton of time outdoors with all their children,” Green said. “They were outdoors all the time.”

Austin is remembered for his Delta roots by many. Dr. Neva Penton Eklund wrote in the Mississippi Dental Association publication MDA Insider about Austin wearing his hunting boots to class “because he had either just come from hunting that morning or was headed that way as soon as he could after the afternoon lab class.”

Former chair of periodontics and preventive services at the School of Dentistry, Dr. Frank Serio remembers the stories Austin told of time spent in the woods, hunting and fishing.

“I loved talking to Austin because he was just a country boy, no question about it,” Serio said. “He would rather spend time out in the woods chasing hogs or hunting deer than just about anything else in his life. He was also a really good fisherman. He taught me a few things about fishing. I really enjoyed his company.”

Angie and Austin spent their days together. As office manager, she ran his practice in Clarksdale. Together, they drove an hour each way from Oxford to Clarksdale to provide care to patients in the underserved, rural area.

Often Poole treated patients regardless of their ability to pay, Duncan said.

“Angie was just kindhearted,” Green said. “She was very confident and constantly involved in all of their children’s lives. She was a great mom, very welcoming. Her house was open to everyone.

“They’d take in total strangers. Austin and Angie were just great to everyone they knew. They never met strangers.”

Timmons said that Austin was one of the nicest people he had ever known.

“Austin Poole would, literally – if it was during finals, if there was a war going on, if the building was on fire – he would stop and help somebody,” he said. “He would sacrifice his time.”

Timmons summed up the way many friends and colleagues are feeling.

“It’s really sad and tragic,” he said. “It is a tremendous loss to the dental community.

“Jason was way ahead of his time in dentistry with technology. That was a great loss. Michael Perry did so much for the community, as you know, and so did all of them, really. They were just an inspiration to live our lives that way.”

Dr. Michael and Kim Perry

Dr. Michael and Kim Perry

Dr. Michael and Kim Perry

Michael Perry and Kim Westerfield grew up together in Brandon. They started dating when he was in ninth grade and she was in the eighth. They both attended UM after high school.

She received a degree in nursing. After receiving a math degree in Oxford, he went on to attend the School of Dentistry and then completed postdoctorate training in periodontics at Baylor College of Dentistry while Kim earned a master’s degree from Texas Woman’s University and post-master’s degree as a family nurse practitioner from Mississippi University for Women.

The high school sweethearts married in 1997. They settled in Oxford, Michael to establish a periodontal practice and Kim as a nurse practitioner at the UM Health Center.

Kim was a committed wife, mother and health care provider, Green said.

“She spent her entire adult life taking care of others,” he said. “That’s common with all of them. They were all just very giving people.”

Michael’s brother, Robert Perry, said that his brother was passionate about his work, his patients and his staff. More than one person described him as driven. He grew five practices in north Mississippi and the Memphis area, and his staff followed him to each location to provide care.

“People say that he ran 90 miles an hour everywhere he went,” Robert Perry said. “He wanted to cover as much of an area as possible and see as many patients as possible.”

He also went the extra mile to show how much he cared for his patients.

“I’ve received a lot of letters – the whole family has – about how Michael would call his patients after he had seen them that day,” Robert said. It was the first time most patients had ever received a telephone call from a doctor or a dentist checking on them, and it meant a lot. “He really did care.”

He showed his caring in other ways as well. Inspired by Serio, Perry traveled with him to the Dominican Republic to provide care to the less fortunate. Perry took his oldest children along to nurture in them an appreciation for helping others.

Robert said that his brother’s legacy will be the 73-acre Oxford-Lafayette Sports Plex he built with his own money.

“Michael always knew how important sports were growing up and how there were role models in coaches and good support in youth sports,” Robert said.

“They were very motivated for the youth in this town. They took care of people who couldn’t financially take care of themselves.”

Serio said that Michael was not just tireless for himself but for everyone around him.

“He and Kim really did so much for the Oxford community,” Serio said. “Any way that Michael touched people was just tremendous, and of course Kim was right by his side the whole time.”

The Perrys leave behind three children: Sarah McConnell, John West and Anna Reed.

Our Oxford Family

Green has formed a memorial fund to help the children of all three families.

“Our Oxford Family was set up to take care of the short- and long-term needs which should arise for the children who were left when their parents passed away,” he said. “Short- and long-term needs include education or basic needs going forward.”

Those who wish to contribute may visit the Our Oxford Family website.

Cochlear Implant Enhances Adult Patient’s Quality of Life

Medical Center team helps people rejoin world of hearing

Lindsey Edmondson gets lots of support from husband Brad as she transitions to life with a cochlear implant, allowing her to hear well for the first time in her life.

Lindsey Edmondson gets lots of support from husband Brad as she transitions to life with a cochlear implant, allowing her to hear well for the first time in her life.

JACKSON, Miss. – When pondering two of her biggest life decisions, Lindsey Edmondson didn’t waste time and didn’t look back.

The first: She met husband Brad Edmondson in February 2003 when they were students at East Central Community College, went on a horseback-riding date in March, got engaged in May and tied the knot in August.

The second: Lindsey, who’d coped with progressive hearing loss since toddlerhood, was evaluated for a left-ear cochlear implant in May 2014 by Dr. Tom Eby, professor of otolaryngology and communicative sciences at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. A whirlwind of tests later, she was able to fast-track the surgery to that July 25.

About a month later, Lindsey and Brad returned to the Medical Center and sat next to Dr. Vicki Gonzalez, chief of audiology and assistant professor of otolaryngology and communicative sciences, as Gonzalez pushed the keys on a computer that turned on the half dollar-sized implant for the first time.

Lindsey went from reading lips with her eyes to reading sounds with her brain.

At age 32, after years of muffled hearing at best, “I could hear the air blowing through the vent,” Lindsey said.

“She said, ‘Do y’all hear that?'” remembered Brad, 37, a Mississippi Highway Patrol trooper and National Guard member. “We spent three or four minutes trying to figure out what she was talking about.”

Dr. Vicki Gonzalez, left, observes as Edmonson demonstrates positioning her cochlear implant.

Dr. Vicki Gonzalez, left, observes as Edmonson demonstrates positioning her cochlear implant.

Over the next few months, Lindsey – one of the Medical Center’s 205 adult cochlear implant patients – patiently trained herself to lean on the implant for sound, even when what she heard wasn’t her idea of normal. At work as an X-ray technician, she wore her implant in addition to a hearing aid for her right ear.

“As soon as I got home, I forced myself to take out the hearing aid,” the Union resident said. “Your brain needs to learn how to process the sounds. There were a lot of frustrating moments. But, it finally clicked.”

As the hearing in her left ear grew from just 7 percent speech understanding to 91 percent, she heard birds chirping. Her husband driving up in his truck. “Plucking my eyebrows. I can actually hear the clicking,” Lindsey said.

She could hear their two children whisper.

Lindsey’s parents didn’t know she was losing her hearing until she was 3. “A friend asked them: ‘Doesn’t she pay attention?’ My parents thought I was just hard-headed,” she said.

She immediately began speech therapy. “They didn’t want me to learn sign language. They wanted me to read lips,” Lindsey said. And her parents wondered – correctly – if Lindsey’s deafness was related to that suffered by her grandfather, who despite his disability was a successful teacher and coach.

Lindsey excelled, reading lips to make up for her limited hearing and refusing to let it define her.

Her grandfather received a cochlear implant in 1987, when the device was in its infancy. Lindsey took note and gave it some thought as she grew into an adult.

The big difference between cochlear implants in adults and very young children is that adult candidates are longtime hearing aid users, Eby said.

“They’ve experienced living with hearing loss,” he said. “The usual story is that, over time, the hearing gets worse and hearing aids are no longer useful.”

He looks for their ability to discriminate words. “Hearing aids help to a point, but there’s a cutoff we use for whether hearing aids, or an implant, is the better option. If you can understand 50 percent of words with a hearing aid, you’re better off with that. But if it’s less, that’s not the best option.”

At age 30, after the birth of her two children, Lindsey had an epiphany. She and Brad were living in Columbus due to his job in the National Guard.

“I met a patient in his 50s who had one,” she said. “I was getting frustrated with my communication boundaries. This man said he’d had one for six months, and he didn’t know how he’d made it without it.”

About the time Lindsey decided to pursue the surgery, Brad had a routine health assessment required by the Guard. It included a hearing test. “My audiologist suggested we go to UMMC,” he said.

Lindsey got an appointment with Eby.

“I’d been told it would be several months before we’d know if I’d be a candidate,” Lindsey said. “Dr. Eby said I looked like a good candidate, but he needed to follow it through with tests. I said, ‘Can we get them all done today?”’

She did – a hearing evaluation, CT scan and full audiology workup. “God definitely opened all the doors that day,” Lindsey said.

The outpatient surgery comes at a price, but one many profoundly deaf adults are happy to pay. The ear getting the implant generally loses any hearing it previously had.

“You’re terrified, because you could lose it all,” Gonzalez said. “When Lindsey decided to commit, she did it all the way.”

Lindsey Edmondson examines the model of cochlear implant that she received to restore her hearing.

Lindsey Edmondson examines the model of cochlear implant that she received to restore her hearing.

An external device that hooks behind Lindsey’s ear, much like a hearing aid, is the processor. A wire attached to a magnet aligns the internal device with the external device.

Gonzalez explains to her patients that when she activates their implant, they won’t immediately have perfect hearing, or perhaps even a magical moment. “For some people, their expectations going in are too high,” she said. “It’s not a fit-and-go. It’s a process.

“Some of them think that they have superhuman hearing, and sometimes they say it sounds like Mickey Mouse or a cartoon character,” she said. “For some people, that’s more than they’ve ever had.”

Patients literally must train their brains to interpret the new sounds. “There are some days where patients get frustrated,” Gonzalez said. “But, it will become more and more natural with time.”

And so it’s been with Lindsey. “It’s so much clearer,” she said. “When I don’t have my cochlear implant on and just my hearing aid on, I can hardly hear anything.”

Not exactly following doctors’ orders, Lindsey returned to work in a week. The 2001 Miss Neshoba County Fair made it to her reunion of fellow crown-holders just three days after surgery.

Throughout her journey, Brad has been by her side, even if only in spirit.

“We were married for seven years before I had six consecutive months at home,” he said. “I was in the middle of a deployment when we got married. She was strong enough, and willing enough, to keep a flawless house through all that. She treated her hearing loss like it was nothing.”

There isn’t a hard-and-fast age parameter for adults who have the surgery, Gonzalez said. “I have a patient who is 96 with a cochlear implant, and doing fantastic. Retirees do it for quality of life.”

But many younger patients, like Lindsey, opt for an implant because they want to continue an active lifestyle and be better able to communicate at home and in the workplace. Insurance often covers a good bit, but the procedure and post-op rehabilitation is expensive, costing upward of $40,000, the American Speech-Language Hearing Association estimates.

Fifty percent of those receiving one implant go on to have the second. That’s Lindsey’s plan. She understands about 47 percent of speech in her right ear.

Lindsey said her grandfather did well with his implant at first, but now, “he doesn’t wear it except on Sundays for church. He doesn’t hear himself. He definitely has communication issues.”

Maximum benefit from an implant “comes more naturally to people who are social,” Eby said. “My elderly women do better than my elderly men because they have their own social circles, and they converse. A lot of my elderly men are very solitary.”

Brad puts his life on the line as a state trooper and member of the Guard. “The real hero is her,” he says of his wife.

“The world is a noisy place,” Lindsey said. “I’ve been frustrated sometimes because there’s a lot of sound in a big crowd. But I’m just glad I can hear it. I want to experience this 100 percent of the time.”

$1.9 Million NIH Grant to Fund Children’s Health Research

Medical Center will use award to build infrastructure, expand pediatric clinical trials

The team of medical experts involved in the National Institutes of Health ECHO grant to UMMC includes, from left, Dr. Richard Summers, Dr. Norma Ojeda, Dr. Rob Annett, Dr. Rick Barr and Dr. Whitney Herring.

The team of medical experts involved in the National Institutes of Health ECHO grant to UMMC includes, from left, Dr. Richard Summers, Dr. Norma Ojeda, Dr. Rob Annett, Dr. Rick Barr and Dr. Whitney Herring.

JACKSON, Miss. – The University of Mississippi Medical Center has received a National Institutes of Health grant for more than $1.9 million to support research into how environmental factors from conception through early childhood influence the health of children and adolescents.

The funds, from the NIH Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes, or ECHO, program, will be distributed over four years to create a research infrastructure at UMMC, opening the door to increasing pediatric clinical trials in Mississippi, particularly among traditionally underserved populations.

“This will help children’s research in Mississippi step up to a new level,” said Dr. Robert Annett, professor of pediatrics and director for research and education at UMMC’s Center for the Advancement of Youth. “This will ultimately help pediatric clinical research have a positive impact upon the health of children across the country.”

The grant to UMMC is part of $157 million awarded this year for the seven-year ECHO program, which focuses on the effects of exposure to certain environmental factors – including physical, chemical, biological, social, behavioral, natural and built environments – on child health and development. The studies will target four key pediatric outcomes that have a high public health impact: upper and lower airway health; obesity; pre-, peri- and post-natal outcomes; and neurodevelopment.

Annett and Dr. Rick Barr, the Medical Center’s Suzan B. Thames professor and chair of pediatrics, are principal investigators in the project, which brings together a team of pediatric clinical researchers to address those four focus areas.

“Mississippi has many health care challenges, and they can all have a profound impact upon our children,” Barr said. “Through research, we seek to improve children’s health from the womb to adulthood, meaning future generations will have the care they need to reach their greatest potential.”

Co-investigators include Annett in neurodevelopment; Dr. Norma Ojeda, associate professor of pediatrics; Dr. Mark Majure, professor of pediatric pulmonology; and Dr. Whitney Herring, an assistant professor of pediatrics specializing in childhood obesity.

Advisory committees for the effort include, within UMMC, Dr. Richard Summers, associate vice chancellor for research; Dr. Bettina Beech, dean of the John D. Bower School of Population Health; Dr. Michael Griswold, director of the Center of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics; Dr. Dan Jones, director of clinical and population sciences for the Mississippi Center for Obesity Research; Dr. Joshua Mann, Preventative Medicine chair; Dr. Gailen Marshall, Allergy and Immunology chair; Jane Reckelhoff, Women’s Health Research Center director; and Dr. James Shwayder, chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

External advisers include Dr. Mary Currier, Mississippi state health officer; David Dzielak, Mississippi Division of Medicaid executive director; Theresa Hanna, Center for Mississippi Health Policy CEO; Dr. Juantina Johnson, Choctaw Health Center chief medical officer; Dr. Joe Olmi, University of Southern Mississippi psychology chair; Linda Southward, Mississippi Health Policy Research Center research scientist; and Dr. David Kimberlin, chair of pediatric diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“We are bringing together the best minds and are embracing experts from around the state,” said Annett, noting that UMMC will also be collaborating with other institutions to share data and findings.

ECHO will create a pediatric clinical trials network, leveraging existing infrastructure to address gaps in access to health care for rural children. Children’s of Mississippi pediatric clinics around the state would be a part of that system, helping connect clinical trials with children and families, Annett said.

Children’s of Mississippi is an umbrella organization that includes Batson Children’s Hospital and all UMMC pediatric care.

The program seeks to promote best practices for children’s health.

“Every baby should have the best opportunity to remain healthy and thrive throughout childhood,” said Dr. Francis S. Collins, NIH director. “ECHO will help us better understand the factors that contribute to optimal health in children.”

Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, sees pediatric research as central to the Medical Center’s mission.

“What could be more important than researching how children can lead healthier lives?” she said. “Studies that can be life-changing are at the heart of our purpose, and we thank the National Institutes of Health for supporting the work of our researchers.”

Summers sees the role of pediatric clinical research as central to a healthier population.

“The National Institutes of Health ECHO grant will help us gain insights through research that will ultimately allow children and families everywhere to live healthier lives,” he said. “Through this funding, we will create the collaborative network needed for Mississippi to progress in pediatric clinical research.”

UM Welcomes Most Accomplished Freshmen Class Ever

State's flagship university celebrates record enrollment as it builds for future

Students head to class at the University of Mississippi, which has experienced record enrollment again this year. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

Students head to class at the University of Mississippi, which has experienced record enrollment again this year. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi has recorded its 22nd consecutive year of rising enrollment, registering its largest and most academically qualified freshman class ever.

Enrollment at the state’s flagship university hit 24,250 across all campuses, largest in the state, according to preliminary data. The freshman class of 3,982 students posted an average ACT score of 25.2, surpassing the UM record of 24.7, set last year.

“Students and families across the state and nation are noticing that great things are happening here at the University of Mississippi,” Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said. “They recognize the academic excellence and outstanding college experience we offer and continue to join us in record numbers.

“Our faculty and staff work very hard to deliver the very best academic programs at a competitive price, providing all qualified Mississippi students the educational opportunities to transform their lives and our communities. It’s gratifying to see those efforts acknowledged by a growing Ole Miss family.”

Total enrollment is up 412 students, or 1.7 percent, from last fall.

This year’s first-time students include 87 class valedictorians, 54 salutatorians, 94 student body presidents, 92 Eagle Scouts and 13 Girl Scouts who achieved the Gold Award, the organization’s highest youth honor.

“Our university has a long history of attracting and developing student leaders,” Vitter said. “We offer them valuable experiences and help them hone their talents.

“I look forward to seeing what this talented group of freshmen can accomplish. I fully expect them to have a tremendous impact on our local and global communities during their time here and beyond.”

The high school GPA of incoming freshmen also increased, growing from 3.54 last year to 3.57, another university record.

The group bucked declines in average ACT scores both nationally and on the state level. Among new freshmen from Mississippi, this year’s average was 24.8, up from last fall’s 24.4.

The progress in freshman ACT scores actually has been maintained over the past nine years, growing 2.5 points over that span. Several factors have contributed to that success, Provost Morris Stocks said.

“We offer more and more outstanding programs for excellent students,” Stocks said. “For example, the Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program is now admitting 30 students per year. These are honors-quality students planning to be teachers, and they have committed to teach in Mississippi upon graduation.

“Then there’s the Center for Manufacturing Excellence, which brings in 60 top-level freshmen each year who are interested in the intersection of engineering, business and accounting. And over at the School of Accountancy, we’re admitting more students with ACT scores over 30 than we’ve ever had, and a lot of that stems from the school being ranked in the Top 10 for several years in a row now.”

Stocks also cited the university’s Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, Croft Institute for International Studies, Chinese Language Flagship Program and the Arabic language and Provost’s Scholars programs for helping attract more high-achieving students. The university also offers more top-level scholarships, such as the Stamps Leadership Scholarships, than in the past, he said.

“We’re now competing against the best universities in the country for the best students in the country,” Stocks said. “At the same time, we remain committed to educating the people of Mississippi and giving all qualified Mississippi students a chance to succeed and make better lives for themselves and their families.”

The university’s efforts to help new students adjust to college life and be successful – including FASTrack and the Freshman Year Experience program – also continue to pay dividends. Student retention remained near record levels, with 85.3 percent of last year’s freshmen returning to campus to continue their studies this fall.

The majority, 59.4 percent, of Ole Miss students are from Mississippi, including students from all the state’s 82 counties. The university also attracts students from around the nation and world. Overall, the student body includes representatives from every state, the District of Columbia and 90 foreign countries.

Minority enrollment totaled 5,548 students, or 22.9 percent. African-American enrollment is 3,166 students, or 13.0 percent of overall enrollment.

With a newly expanded building, the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College continues to grow, enrolling 1,420 students this fall, more than doubling over the past 10 years. It received 1,484 applications for this fall, up 15 percent from last year’s 1,293 submissions. The Honors College has a record 474 incoming freshmen, with 59 percent being Mississippi residents.

Once it settles into its new space and completes renovations on the existing facility, the Honors College has a target enrollment around 1,500 students. The new space allows faculty to broaden the challenges and opportunities for its students, Dean Douglass Sullivan-Gonzalez said.

“It gives us the physical capacity to go deep into conversation in public space,” Sullivan-Gonzalez said. “At a time when civil discourse is so lacking in America, we want to create a space where we can model civil debate on ideas, even ones that appear threatening.”

While many of the university’s schools and programs experienced growth, its accounting and journalism schools enjoyed the largest increases.

Enrollment in the Patterson School of Accountancy grew 9 percent, to 1,380 students this fall, compared to 1,261 last year. The school has been a mainstay in the Top 10 rankings for several years, and all three of its programs are again in the top eight this fall.

In the Meek School of Journalism and New Media, undergraduate enrollment increased 8 percent, growing from 1,375 students in fall 2015 to 1,486 this year. Founded in 2009, the school has benefited from being on a beautiful campus, with economical tuition, excellence in athletics and an exceptionally effective Office of Admissions, Dean Will Norton said.

“We have a program that focuses on preparing graduates for media careers in the modern world, not for 20 years ago, and we have a faculty who held significant positions in the media, many just within the last few years,” Norton said. “Because of this, many of them also are well-versed in social media, and they can help students master those areas.”

The school offers opportunities for students that are rare among journalism programs, he said.

“Not many places offer students a chance to do documentaries or depth reporting courses, or campaigns for companies throughout the region, but we offer all that here,” Norton said. “Our international projects also have been exceptional.”

Fall enrollment at the university’s Medical Center remained nearly level, largely because of space constraints.

“We are near or at capacity in all of our programs, with the exception of some of our online offerings,” said Dr. Ralph Didlake, UMMC associate vice chancellor for academic affairs.

Areas enjoying growth include the School of Medicine, from 563 students to 577; the Medical Center’s residency and fellowship programs, from 626 to 640; and the School of Dentistry, from 143 to 148.

The increase should accelerate with a new 151,000-square-foot, $74 million School of Medicine building set to open in fall 2017, Didlake said. The new building “is not only going to allow the School of Medicine enrollment to increase, but it will decrease pressure on other teaching space, allowing our other programs to grow.”

Enrollment should rise dramatically in the future, including the addition of a new School of Population Health, the seventh school on the medical campus. It opens to students in fall 2017.

To help accommodate the growing student population in Oxford, the university has opened two new five-story residence halls on the former site of Guess Hall, adding housing space for 603 students.

The university has launched a three-year project to expand and modernize the Student Union and is working on a new recreation center and transportation hub, a $32 million project on the south end of campus. Work also has begun on a $20 million renovation to Garland, Hedleston and Mayes halls, providing space for the School of Applied Sciences.

The university’s new STEM building, which will add 200,000 square feet of education and research space in the Science District for an estimated $135 million, will boost the university’s capacity to address workforce needs and enhance UM’s status as a Carnegie R-1 Highest Research Activity institution.

For more information on enrollment and programs at UM, go to

Ruth Cummins of the UM Medical Center contributed to this report.