Honors College to Mark 25th with Silver Gala

Event to celebrate quarter-century of growth, Barksdale family's contributions to success

The Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College dedicated its expanded home in March 2017. The building was renovated and enlarged to ensure that it continues to meet the needs of a growing student body at the university. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – The Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College at the University of Mississippi is celebrating its 25th anniversary this academic year, with a silver gala planned for March 4 on campus.

Tickets to the event are $125 apiece or $1,250 per table of 10, with a portion of the proceeds directed to the Honors College’s endowment. Event sponsorships with benefits are available at the following levels: $10,000, presenting; $5,000, platinum; $2,500, gold; $1,000, silver; and $500, bronze.

Doors will open at 5:30 p.m. for the 6 p.m. dinner in the Gertrude C. Ford Ballroom at The Inn at Ole Miss. The program features a special presentation to the Jim Barksdale family for its generosity in supporting the Honors College, a video on the its history and comments by three accomplished alumni.

“The Honors College has helped us recruit some of the brightest minds from across the world,” said Ethel Young Scurlock, the college’s dean. “We have been able to provide a space for students to advance their critical-thinking skills, learn in small classrooms that encourage creativity and independent thought, and financially support student research and travel.

Honors College Dean Ethel Young Scurlock greets students at the Chancellor’s Scholars Day in 2022. Scurlock became the college’s dean in 2022. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

“The Honors College is helping our students gain the experiences they need to be accepted into top graduate and professional programs. As we celebrate our 25th anniversary, we also remain wholly committed to our mission of preparing citizen scholars so they can make a difference in their communities.”

Jim Barksdale and the late Sally Barksdale worked with Chancellor Emeritus Robert Khayat and the late Provost Carolyn Ellis Staton to establish the Honors College in 1997 with their largest gift ever to the university. When Sally Barksdale died in 2003, the Honors College was renamed in her memory.

Jim Barksdale’s gifts to the Honors College total more than $37 million. He also has provided support for numerous other programs on campus and at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

The Office of National Scholarship Advisement, housed in the Honors College, helps students apply for nationally prestigious scholarships. Honors College students have won Fulbright, Truman, Goldwater and Rhodes scholarships in the last three years, putting UM on par with the nation’s best institutions.

The gala will be memorable, said Brady Bramlett, associate director of development for the Honors College.

“We have much to be grateful for and celebrate over our 25 years, including private support, enrollment and scholarship growth,” he said. “This evening will be a time to come together and reflect on the amazing achievements we have realized while we recommit ourselves to continually strengthening the Honors College for future generations.”

Students study for final exams on a porch at the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

The Honors College offers an increasing number of in-depth courses, opportunities for experiential learning in the U.S. and abroad, and avenues for effective engagement with community concerns.

The 2022-23 academic year saw 1,636 students accepted in the Honors College. This number includes 463 freshmen, 270, or 58%, of whom are Mississippi residents. The freshman class posted an average ACT of 30.5 and an average high school GPA of 3.97.

Students in the Honors College come from 38 states and represent 84 majors that span the university’s academic offerings. The most popular majors among its students are biology, accountancy, international studies, chemistry – including biochemistry and forensic chemistry – and public policy leadership.

The Honors College awarded more than 20 scholarships to its entering freshmen for the 2022-23 academic year, continuing a 25-year tradition of supporting students with new and established scholarships. More than $600,000 was awarded to these scholars who hail from Mississippi to Nepal.

“Top-tier students do more than add vibrancy to our community; they are vital in helping us advance our reputation as one of the best honors colleges in the country,” Scurlock said. “This year’s incoming class of scholarship recipients is one of the most diverse and intellectually accomplished classes we have welcomed to the SMBHC.

“We are extremely grateful for the generous private support that enables us to provide these scholarship opportunities.”

An associate professor of English and African American studies who previously served as senior fellow of the Luckyday Residential College and chair of the Department of African American Studies, Scurlock was named Honors College dean in 2022. Among her many accolades, she was named the College of Liberal Arts Outstanding Teacher of the Year and UM Humanities Teacher of the Year in 2003 and received the Elsie M. Hood Outstanding Teacher Award in 2011.

Scurlock said she is grateful to inherit the Honors College, thanks to the leadership of founding director Elizabeth Payne and the vision of Douglass Sullivan-González, who served as dean for almost 19 years.

At the fall Honors Convocation, benefactors Jim and Donna Barksdale (second and third from right) visit with Honors College students (from left) DeShauna Lee Vaughn, of McCalla, Alabama; Sepp Cecil, of Olive Branch; and Jorge ‘Andy’ Flores, of Ocean Springs. Photo by Mary Knight/UM Development

Already this year, the fall Honors Convocation featured three successful SMBHC alumni celebrating the 25th anniversary. Former NASA engineer and Boeing leader Markeeva Morgan, of Frisco, Texas; Nisolo founder-CEO Patrick Woodyard, of Nashville, Tennessee; and poet and teacher Sarah Barch-Gill, of Little Rock, Arkansas; were speakers for the event, along with five Honors College students.

Individuals and organizations can purchase tickets or sponsorships online at https://olemissalumniassociation. regfox.com/honors-college-25th-anniversary-silver-gala or make checks payable to the UM Foundation, with the event written in the memo line, and mail to 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655.

A block of rooms at The Inn at Ole Miss is available for reservation for those attending the gala. Call 888-486-7666 for room reservations.

The Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College Endowment is open to accept gifts from individuals and organizations by sending a check, with the endowment’s name written in the memo line, to the UM Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655; or give online here.

For more information on the gala or supporting the Honors College, contact Brady Bramlett, associate director of development, at bradyb@olemiss.edu or 662-915-3081.