January 21, 2019  

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Southern Miss Honors, Students, Faculty, Staff at Founders’ Day Ceremony

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Lacey Blankenship, right, receives the "Leave it Better Than You Found it" Award from Southern Miss President Martha Saunders during Founders Day festivities March 30.

The dedication, hard work, loyalty and achievement of students and employees of The University of Southern Mississippiwere celebrated Wednesday as the school held its annual Founders’ Day ceremony at historic Bennett Auditorium on the Hattiesburg campus.

Students, faculty and staff were the recipients of several awards and honors as the university marked the 101st anniversary of its legislative founding.

Southern Miss Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Joe Paul praised the undergraduates honored at the event, whose collective accomplishments he described as “awe-inspiring.” “They will truly leave Southern Miss better than they found it,” Paul said.

Southern Miss President Martha Saunders announced that the university’s Centennial Scholarship Campaign surpassed its goal of $1 million, bringing in a total of approximately $4.3 million. The campaign began two years ago and was supported by more than 2,100 donors.

The Centennial Scholarship will help all Southern Miss students; including freshmen and transfer students as well as those currently enrolled who need extra assistance with expenses. “In challenging economic times, student scholarships are more important than ever,” Saunders said.

Founders’ Day Student honorees and categories of recognition include:

·         Most Outstanding Freshmen: Tyler Dwight Brown of Biloxi, Miss., Most Outstanding Freshman Male; and Dana Elaine Diesi of Lafayette, La., Most Outstanding Freshman Female

·         Best Citizens: Maley Morris of New Orleans, La., Best Female Citizen; and Robert Hamrick of Moselle, Miss., Best Male Citizen.

·         “Leave it Better Than You Found It” Award: Lacey Blankenship of St. Stephens, Ala.

·         Student Hall of Fame: Andrew Dickinson Brown of Madison, Miss.; Austin Phil Davis of Meridian, Miss.; Brett Parker Haro of New Orleans, La.; Stephanie Renee Latza of Nesbit, Miss.; Kasey Charlene Mitchell of Picayune, Miss.; Kyle Cordero Nixon of Picayune, Miss.; Lauren Elizabeth Richards of Ridgeland, Miss.; and Jennie Hope Thomas of Hazlehurst, Miss.

The winners of the prestigious R.J. Bishop Award and the Phi Kappa Silver Bowl Award were Breanne Hartfield of Purvis, Miss. and Jennie Hope Thomas, respectively. Thomas was also inducted into the Student Hall of Fame.

In addition, Dr. Saunders paid special recognition to Tori Bowie, a member of the Southern Miss Track and Field Team who recently earned the university’s first NCAA National Championship when she won the Indoor Long Jump competition. She followed that by being named the Conference USA Indoor Field Athlete of the Year.

Blankenship confessed she was not aware of the existence of the “Leave It Better Than You Found It” until she found out she had won it. “It’s really amazing to think I won something with such as important message,” she said. “From the day I first got here, I fully intended to make a difference at Southern Miss and I gave it everything I had.

“Now I look forward to coming back as a proud alumnus and contributing in as many ways as possible.”

·         Recipients of faculty and staff awards and honors and their categories announced at Founders’ Day included Staff Excellence Award recipients; Distinguished Professor; Higher Education Appreciation Day- Working for Academic Excellence (HEADWAE); Faculty Excellence Awards; IHL Black History Month Educator of the Year; and the Aubrey Keith and Ella Ginn Lucas Endowment for Excellence Awards. Faculty and staff with 10, 20 and 30 years of service to the university were also recognized.


The event concluded with the inauguration of the newly elected Student Government Association (SGA) executive officers, including:


·         President Erick Brown, a junior from Columbus, Miss.;

·         Vice President Jeffery McClendon, a sophomore from Greenville, Miss.;

·         Attorney General Rebecca Masters of Ellisville, Miss.;

·         Election Commissioner Jessica Dominguez of New Orleans, La.;

·         Treasurer Davontae Washington of Hattiesburg.


Outgoing SGA President Kasey Mitchell challenged the new officers to continue SGA’s tradition of focusing on meeting the needs of Southern Miss students to help them succeed and make their experience at the university rewarding.


Brown, a Presidential Scholar and Honors Collegestudent, said he welcomes the challenge to lead SGA, and pointed to the first Founders’ Day Ceremony he attended as providing him the hunger to continue striving to achieve.

“I remember I was nominated for Outstanding Freshman, but didn’t get it,” Brown said. “Then I saw all those students who won so many different awards at Founders’ Day, and it was then I was determined to get more involved and make a difference here. I’m truly blessed today and look forward to servingmy fellow students as SGA president.” 

Dr. Paul expressed his confidence in Brown’s ability to lead Southern Miss students to new heights. “In my career here at the university I’ve worked with 33 different student government presidents, and Erick is right up there with the very best of that group,” he said.