Life at The University of Southern Mississippi has been nothing short of golden bliss for longtime employee Ann Billings.
Come June 30, Billings, who is currently the interim dean of admissions and enrollment management in the Office of Admissions, will say farewell to her only employer after dedicating 33 years of service to the University’s Gulf Park campus in Long Beach.
A two-time graduate of Southern Miss, Billings started work in 1984 as a student employee while pursuing her degree in elementary education. Assisting in clerical duties and serving as a backup to the switchboard operator, Billings was promoted to the latter position two years later. It wasn’t until 1988 when she was hired as the first academic advisor on the Gulf Park campus for the College of Education and Psychology that she realized her career interests were in higher education.
“Because I had just gone through the education program, and they were looking to hire someone in education, I applied for the job and became the first academic advisor on this campus,” she said. “So I never did teach school.”
Led in a new direction, Billings began her journey to the Office of Admissions by earning her master’s in education in 1994 and gradually working her way up, serving in various roles including: academic advisor for the College of Business; supervisor for the Division of Student Affairs; associate dean of enrollment operations; and now, interim dean of admissions and enrollment management.
Although Admissions wasn’t her original plan, Billings states that assisting prospective and current students with reaching their educational goals has been a worthwhile experience.
“It’s been very rewarding because I’ve been able to help students who have been afraid of taking the next step. A lot of our students – particularly here on the Gulf Park campus – are nontraditional students so there is a lot of unknown, fear and ‘if it’s the right decision,’” she said. “I feel like I was able to help a lot of those students transition through that process and help them understand how special the Gulf Park campus truly is.”
Dr. Casey Maugh Funderburk, associate provost for the Gulf Park campus, said that Billings has always provided strong support and leadership to the University.
“I have known Ann Billings for eight years and have always appreciated working with her because of her consummate professionalism and her commitment to Southern Miss' excellence. She has served the University in a wide variety of roles centered around serving our students,” said Maugh Funderburk.
In her primary role as associate dean of enrollment operations, Billings has had an integral part in organizing and implementing the University’s Gulf Park campus’ fall and spring commencements since the first ceremony in 1996. She has also been instrumental in recruitment efforts such as Showcase, an open house event that informs prospective students about all the programs, services and resources available on the Gulf Park campus.
According to Susan Scott, colleague and interim director of admissions, Billings is the epitome of what a professional should be: kind, reliable and compassionate.
“Whether she’s taking care of a problem, project or a student, she treats people with respect and works as hard as she can to find solutions that benefit everyone,” said Scott. “She loves this University and believes deeply in what we can offer students, so much so, that she’s built an entire career around it. She’s never lost sight of making improvements that are for the benefit of students because those, ultimately, are the improvements that benefit the University.”
Billings plans to enjoy her retirement by visiting family, traveling and participating in more ministries at her church, First Baptist Church of Gulfport. However, she hopes her fellow colleagues will “always remember to take care of the students first, for the campus community to support each other, and when you take care of others first, everything else will fall into place.”