Top Ole Miss News Stories of 2021

Relive a year of accolades and achievements at the university

OXFORD, Miss. – Just one year after a season of lockdowns, virtual classes and uncertainty, the University of Mississippi rebounded in 2021 to enjoy a return to achievement, growth and celebration.

Here is a look back at some of the most fun and engaging Ole Miss news stories from a remarkable year.

Explosive Growth in Freshman Class Boosts UM Enrollment

The university enrolled 21,856 students across its seven campuses for fall 2021, nearly a 1% increase over fall 2020 enrollment. This year’s numbers include 3,584 students in the freshman class – an 18% increase over 2020 and the largest jump in the number of incoming freshmen from one fall to the next in university history. The university’s retention rate, the percentage of first-time students who came back this fall for a second year, hit 88.2%, a new UM record and 15 percentage points higher than the national average.


Ole Miss Launches $1.5 Billion Campaign

In November, the university launched Now & Ever: The Campaign for Ole Miss, an effort to raise $1.5 billion in private support and increase the endowment to $1 billion. The largest comprehensive campaign in Mississippi history is securing philanthropic support for efforts across the university from student scholarships and faculty research to campus facilities and athletics. Already, $1 billion has been secured during the silent phase of the campaign, and at the close of the fiscal year, June 30, the combined university endowment reached $859 million. The campaign ends June 30, 2025.


University Jumps in National Rankings

UM jumped 10 spots in the most recent “Best Colleges rankings from U.S. News & World Report, ranking No. 67 nationally. U.S. News also ranked Ole Miss No. 31 among public institutions nationally for Best Value. Additionally, the university was cited nationally among public universities for its support of military-connected students with U.S. News ranking the university No. 64 and Military Times ranking UM No. 21.


UM Breaks Ground on Duff Center for Science and Technology Innovation

University officials and supporters gathered in October to break ground on the Jim and Thomas Duff Center for Science and Technology Innovation, the largest single construction project ever on the Oxford campus. Projected to be among the nation’s top student-centered learning environments for STEM education, the 202,000-square-foot building is expected to cost $175 million to build and equip. Hattiesburg brothers Jim and Thomas Duff, who committed $26 million to the project, spoke of the long-term impact the facility promises to make on the state’s educational and economic environments during the ceremonial groundbreaking.


University Hosts Commencement Ceremonies for Classes of 2020 and 2021

After having to postpone its annual Commencement activities in 2020 because of COVID-19, the university hosted two graduation ceremonies in 2021 on consecutive weekends in May. First, Jonathan T.M. Reckford, chief executive officer of Habitat for Humanity International, addressed some 10,000 people in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium for the university’s 168th Commencement, which featured more than 5,000 graduates. The following weekend, Ole Miss alumnus and NFL legend Patrick Willis welcomed the Class of 2020 back to campus for the 167th Commencement at the stadium, praising the graduates for their resilience and dedication.


Martindale, Cole Celebrate Renaming of Student Services Center

A large crowd gathered in September in front of the Martindale-Cole Student Services Center to watch longtime UM professor and administrator Don Cole and alumnus Larry Martindale cut the ribbon on the renamed facility. The lawn, sidewalks and flower beds between the Student Services Center and the J.D. Williams Library were packed with faculty, students, administrators, staff, and longtime friends and colleagues of Cole, including James Meredith and Chancellor Emeritus Robert Khayat. The change, requested by Martindale, a former Ole Miss basketball player and longtime university supporter, is a meaningful reflection of what the university represents today.


Researchers Investigate Geological History of Nation’s Capital

Researchers and graduate students from the university’s Mississippi Mineral Resources Institute spent two weeks this summer in Washington, D.C., studying the geological structure and faults in the area. The team used several instruments to image the subsurface at the various field sites throughout downtown Washington, including the grounds of the Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the JFK Hockey Fields and Potomac Park. The primary goals were to collect data that characterizes what lies beneath the surface and see if the Adams Mill Fault’s location could be determined.


University Announces Five-Year Diversity Plan at Summit

UM officials shared an institutional commitment to strengthening a diverse and equitable learning and working environment in January with the official launch of the university’s new Pathways to Equity five-year strategic plan. At the highest level, the plan’s goals are to advance the institutional capacity for equity, cultivate a diverse and equitable community, and foster an inclusive campus climate. The three overarching goals, coupled with individual college/school- and division-level Equity in Action Plans, provide a road map for building on existing work, promoting inclusivity at all levels for all members of the UM community and advancing a more equitable environment.


UM Receives $1M to Study Evidence-Based Policing, Reform

Actor Morgan Freeman and criminal justice and legal studies professor Linda Keena donated $1 million this summer to establish the Center for Evidence-Based Policing and Reform at the university. After months of planning with the Department of Criminal Justice and Legal Studies’ leadership and other academic leaders, the two donors have set out to position UM as a pioneer in this field, preparing police and other law officers with specialized training to promote effective, positive responses. The center is one of only a few of its kind in the nation.


UM Ranks Top in State for Getting a Job After Graduation

For the fifth consecutive year, UM students have been named the state’s best at finding employment and keeping it, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education compiled in a new ranking from, a career expert website. Zippia ranked colleges in each state with the highest listed job placement 10 years after graduation. The data showed an employment rate of 91.42% for Ole Miss graduates.


UMMC Research Breaks Funding Record

The University of Mississippi Medical Center had a record year for research and sponsored programs funding, receiving $123.5 million from 392 separate grants, awards and contracts during fiscal year 2021. The fiscal year smashed the previous records of $85 million from 2011 and 347 awards from 2020. The funding includes grants to continue the work of major, long-term projects on cardiovascular disease, as well as new avenues of inquiry, such as the use of cold platelets in trauma medicine, ear development and injuries, and computer-based modeling of hypertension risk.


Athletics Programs Soar to All-Around Success

For the first time, all 18 Ole Miss varsity teams have advanced to the postseason in a single calendar year. Ole Miss women’s golf brought home the 2021 NCAA Championship with a victory over Oklahoma State in the finals in Arizona, becoming the first Ole Miss women’s team to capture an NCAA championship in any sport. And, football won 10 regular-season games for the first time ever and the Rebels are preparing to play Baylor in the 2022 Allstate Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day in New Orleans.


Launching the Future of Biomedical Engineering Education

In November, the university unveiled its sparkling new biomedical engineering expansion that will better prepare students for careers in a pioneering field that combines technology with medicine. The roughly 6,500-square-foot space, on the third floor of Brevard Hall, also is expected to nurture innovative research and advance the technological and economic development of the state and region.


Helping Farms Be in Harmony with Nature

Biology professor Jason Hoeksema is using an Environmental Protection Agency grant to explore the potential benefits of holding runoff water on agricultural landscapes after crops are harvested. The move could reduce the pollution of downstream waterways, improve soil health and crop yields, provide crucial food and habitat for migratory birds, reduce pumping of groundwater, and retain soil in agricultural fields. The nearly $1 million grant from the EPA through its Farmer to Farmer grant funding program is based on four different farms in the Sunflower River watershed of the Mississippi Delta.


University Continues Tradition of World-Class Scholars

The university has a tradition of students winning national and international scholarships and honors, and UM added to that list of accolades in 2021. Junior chemistry majors Qing Ivy Li and Austin Wallace became the university’s 17th and 18th students to receive Barry M. Goldwater Scholarships. Seven students – William Bradford, Brantley Dawson, Jordan Evans, Ivy Gerrell, Miller Greene, Ella Lawson and Isabel Spafford – all won prestigious David L. Boren Scholarships to study in such far-flung locales as Morocco, Tanzania and Taiwan. And two Ole Miss seniors, Lennis Barlow and Matthew Travers, are the university’s first two recipients of the Yenching fellowship, which provides two years of study in Beijing with scholars from around the world/ Congratulations!


Relive the Year’s Images and Achievements

Want even more 2021 moments from across our campuses? Take a stroll down memory lane with our university photographers as they highlight the best photos from the year in the Ole Miss Year in Review: 2021 or visit the chancellor’s “2021 Year in Review.”