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Honors College Marking 40th Anniversary with Gala Sept. 9

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The University of Southern Mississippi Honors College will celebrate four decades of providing unique and challenging academic experiences for students at its 40th anniversary gala Friday, Sept. 9. The event will be held at The Venue in The Bakery Building, located at 127 Buschman St. in historic downtown Hattiesburg.

Hosted by the Honors College and the USM Foundation, with additional support from a variety of community sponsors including Gulf States Scientific Services, the gala will not only mark the college’s 40th year at USM but also serve as a fundraiser for the study-abroad opportunities it provides.

Dr. Peggy Prenshaw, who served as dean of the college from 1985-1991, will be the guest speaker for the event. Prenshaw is currently the Millsaps College Humanities Scholar in Residence and is retired (emerita) Fred C. Frey chair of Southern Studies at Louisiana State University (1991-2004). Former Southern Miss Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Joe Paul, a 1975 USM honors program graduate, will also share his perspectives as a former student.

Founded in 1976, the Southern Miss Honors College is the oldest of its kind among the state’s universities and its establishment followed Honors programming first offered at USM in 1965. The college currently enrolls nearly 600 students with demonstrated ability for exceptional academic achievement and leadership. Small classes, active learning experiences, cutting-edge research, study abroad and assistance with national scholarship applications are among its many benefits.

“Early on, the university recognized the importance of providing a program for high-achieving students, and committed to that in a meaningful way when it established the Honors College,” said Dr. Ellen Weinauer, professor of English and current dean of the college. “Forty years later, it continues to be an important part of what we do as an institution of higher education.”   

Former Honors College deans Dr. Maureen Ryan, who now serves as dean of the USM College of Arts and Letters; and Dr. David Davies, who is director of the University’s School of Mass Communications and Journalism and British Studies program, agree that the college continues as a point of pride for the university.

“The Honors College changes lives. The university faculty and staff who work with students through the College's programs provide invaluable mentorship to our students, and these efforts are founded in the University’s culture that puts students first,” said Davies, who served as dean of the college from 2007-2014.

“In my time in British Studies, I've seen how transformative studying abroad can be,” Davies said. “Increased donor support will expand those opportunities to future generations of scholars, and will be pivotal to the Honors College's continued success and growth.” 

“I’m proud to have served as dean of the Southern Miss Honors College; privileged to have recruited and nurtured such bright, engaged undergraduates and to have worked with dedicated Honors faculty,” said Ryan, dean of the college from 1991-2003. “In later years, I’ve watched proudly as those eager students, with all their potential, have grown into accomplished adults with important, successful careers. I have no doubt that the foundational work they did as Honors College undergraduates, which included its Colloquium sequence, senior thesis, study abroad and more contributed directly to their ongoing development.”

A transformational, global education built on inspiration and achievement

Current students and alumni often agree the Honors College transformed them on many levels, not just academically but in how they relate to and view the world they live and work in.

Hattiesburg attorney Kimberly-Joy Lockley said her the Honors College curriculum provided a smooth transition to law school. Completing her honors thesis emphasized for her that passion for one’s interests is the key to success beyond what one can ordinarily achieve.

“The Honors College exposed me to diverse people, thoughts and beliefs which gave me experience interacting with and truly appreciating individuals from all walks of life, which is a tool I am fortunate to use in my law practice on a daily basis,” Lockley said.

Honors College students Nathan Barron, Lakelyn Taylor and Michael McDonald say choosing USM and its Honors College has advanced their education and college experience in ways they never expected.

Barron, a senior political science major from Olive Branch, Miss. studied abroad in Havana, Cuba for two weeks in May 2015 with support and advisement from the Honors College. Arriving in Havana before the United States had even re-opened its embassy, he and his history classmates experienced a culture separated from their own for more than 50 years.

“At Southern Miss, and especially in the Honors College, I’m proud that we make study abroad a priority to make experiential learning abroad accessible to students. My trip to Cuba was truly a life-changing experience, one that has and will continue to shape the way I connect to new people, new places, and new ideas,” Barron said.

“From late night strolls down the Malecon while listening to the local musicians, to enjoying an incredibly impressive cuisine, our study abroad group was able to immerse ourselves into a culture to better understand its history and its present--an experience unattainable from pages in a book.”

McDonald, a junior from Lucedale, Miss. studying anthropology and paralegal studies with a minor in Spanish, said the Honors College’s active-learning classes featuring interactive, small group discussions have given him a more well-rounded education of topics. This element of the honors curriculum afforded him the opportunity to visit a Buddhist Monastery outside Oxford, Miss. to study and observe the faith for his Honors World Religions Course.

“Overall, the Honors College has equipped and prepared me to take on the world with substantial knowledge and tackle even the biggest problems,” he said.

Taylor, a senior from Long Beach, Miss. working on a double major in communication studies and Spanish with a minor in political science, said the Honors College has enhanced her experience at USM “tenfold.”

With encouragement from Weinauer, Taylor became a member of the Phi Kappa Phi honors society through which she received a select study abroad scholarship to Italy; and her relationship with Department of Communication Studies associate professor and chair Dr. Wendy Atkins-Sayre and Honors College Assistant to the Dean Paula Mathis inspired her to develop a thesis “boot camp” for the college’s Keystone Students

“There is no other institution like the Honors College that could give me the chance to be my own person, challenge me to analyze the status quo and thrive in order to reach new heights,” Taylor said.

Weinauer believes students and alumni like these exemplify the Honors College motto – ‘Discover, Experience, Thrive.’ “It’s my hope that the 40th anniversary celebration will not only recognize the Honors College’s rich past, but also open up more opportunities for students in the future,” she said.  

For more information about the Honors College’s 40th anniversary gala, visit https://www.usm.edu/honors/40th-anniversary-gala; or call 601.266.4533.