UM Journalism School Faculty Member Honored with Distinguished Service Award

Award presented to R.J. Morgan for his dedication to young journalists

R.J. Morgan, director of the Mississippi Scholastic Press Association at the University of Mississippi, is the recipient of the Southern Interscholastic Press Association’s Elizabeth B. Dickey Distinguished Service Award. Photo courtesy of Alysia Steele.

COLUMBIA, S.C. – R.J. Morgan, director of the Mississippi Scholastic Press Association at the University of Mississippi, is the recipient of the Southern Interscholastic Press Association’s Elizabeth B. Dickey Distinguished Service Award.

Morgan, who is also an instructional assistant professor of journalism in UM’s Meek School of Journalism and New Media, said he is honored to receive this recognition for doing a job he finds challenging but enormously rewarding.

“I am so grateful to be recognized by SIPA (based at the University of South Carolina’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications) and the rest of my scholastic journalism family,” Morgan said. “Education is a calling, and the task of training a new generation of media-literate, free-speech-loving citizens is not easy work. Nevertheless, I’m proud to serve in this field and to work with so many great institutions.”

Will Norton Jr., dean of the Meek School, applauded Morgan for being an “uncommon faculty member.”

“He is very bright, has a relentless work ethic and is strategic in his thinking,” Norton said. “We are so grateful he is on our faculty.”

The award was presented during the annual advisers’ luncheon held at the recent SIPA convention. Morgan earned praise from his peers and the advisers with whom he regularly works.

“He is an encourager of others, loves students and works well with both students and adults,” said Beth Fitts, former MSPA director. “At the same time, he is a self-starter who gets things done – all with great flair and an engaging sense of humor.”

Morgan, a native of Pearl, Mississippi, received his undergraduate and master’s degrees from Mississippi State University. He lived and taught in Starkville for 11 years before moving to Oxford and joining UM.

He was recognized with the award for providing students with the education and opportunities they need to develop as journalists. But, according to his many supporters, what really sets him apart is his availability and dedication to the students. Whether answering texts or emails, or renting buses to ensure students have the opportunity to make it to the SIPA conventions, he is always available to help.

“He frequently goes above and beyond his normal director duties,” said Diala Chaney, Oxford High School journalism adviser. “He stays in constant communication with the journalism teachers throughout the state. He makes all the arrangements, travel plans and only collects a portion of the cost from the students who are interested in attending [the conventions].”

Morgan leads students and advisers to participate at the state, regional and national levels, said Mandy Mahan, D’Iberville High School yearbook adviser.

“Because of the opportunities that R.J. creates through MSPA, my students have built impressive resumes filled with speaking engagements and awards,” Mahan said. “He truly believes that scholastic journalism should be student-led, so my students have presented at our state conferences and have had the opportunity to submit work and win awards in the numerous competitions that he readily advertises.

“He encourages them to think outside of the box and makes himself available whenever they need him. My broadcast group has even asked him to come down here to be a featured guest on their weekly podcast.”

Morgan is especially deserving of the Distinguished Service Award, said Charles Mitchell, associate dean and associate professor of journalism at the Meek School.

“I was happy to see R.J. earn this award, and I mean earn,” Mitchell said. “He works with true dedication to support high schools and students in and near Mississippi with all their student media efforts.

“He’s both an effective cheerleader and a skilled resource. The Meek School is fortunate to have him teach here, and I am fortunate to have such a strong colleague.”

The recipient of the Distinguished Service Award usually has at least seven years of experience advising one or more award-winning school publication. The honoree also influences scholastic journalism beyond the walls of the school in state, regional and national scholastic press associations and shows leadership at SIPA conventions.

The Southern Interscholastic Press Association is a not-for-profit organization of public schools, including middle, junior and senior high schools, and independent schools. Its purpose is to encourage a high degree of professionalism in scholastic journalism and mass communications in the Southeast. Founded at Washington and Lee University in 1926, SIPA moved to the University of South Carolina in 1972.