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Southern Miss President Marks Productive First Year in Office

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Dr. Rodney D. Bennett

With a renewed focus on creating pathways to completion for University of Southern Mississippi students, the institution’s students, faculty and staff have accomplished a great deal during the first year under Rodney D. Bennett’s leadership. Today, Tuesday, April 1, 2014, marks the anniversary of his official start as the University’s 10th president.

Some highlights from the previous 12 months include:

Student Success

Two Southern Miss Students Receive Goldwater Scholarships (April 2013)

University of Southern Mississippi students Michael Sims of Hattiesburg and Hannah Roberts of Mount Olive were awarded prestigious Goldwater Scholarships that recognize the nation’s next generation of top research scientists. Sims is a junior majoring in polymer science and chemistry, while Roberts is a sophomore chemistry major. Southern Miss accounted for two of the three Goldwater Scholarships awarded in 2013 to students from Mississippi universities.

Southern Miss Junior Hersey Wins Prestigious Truman Scholarship (April 2013)

Brandon Hersey of Hattiesburg became the University’s third Truman Scholar to receive the coveted prize. Marie Holowach Federer won in 2011 and Lance Brown, competing in his home state of Alabama, was the first recipient in 1999. Hersey was one of only 62 national finalists chosen for the award and the lone student representing a Mississippi university.

Southern Miss wins Halbrook Award (October 2013)

The University’s student-athletes continue to excel in the classroom as well as in athletic competition. For the second year in a row, the Lady Eagle cross country team finished with the nation’s highest GPA for cross country teams; and for the ninth time in 10 years Southern Miss male athletes captured the Halbrook Award, which honors the program with the highest graduation rates among Mississippi public universities.

Southern Miss Student Chosen as USA Today Correspondent

Wilton Jackson, a junior broadcast journalism major at The University of Southern Mississippi, was selected to participate in the USA Today Collegiate Correspondent Program which runs from Jan. 13 – May 9. The Jackson, Miss., native earned a spot on the 20-person correspondent team after completing two rounds of competitive writing submissions. The program serves as a virtual journalism internship offered in the fall and spring semesters.

Southern Miss Student McCracken Named Truman Finalist (March 2014)

Stephanie McCracken, who is majoring in geography/geographic information systems, joins more than 200 students from across the country vying for the coveted prize. She is the only Truman Finalist selection representing the state of Mississippi.

Organizational Changes

Southern Miss Names Vinzant Vice President for Finance and Administration (May 2013)

Longtime higher education administrator Dr. Douglas Vinzant was named the new Vice President for Finance and Administration. Vinzant came to Southern Miss after serving as Vice President for Finance and Administration at St. Cloud University in Minnesota.

Bill McGillis Named Director of Athletics at Southern Miss (July 2013)

On July 18, Bill McGillis became the University’s new Director of Athletics. McGillis came to Southern Miss from the University of South Florida, where he served as Executive Associate Athletic Director.

Creating Pathways to Completion (January 2014)

The University’s commitment to eliminating structural barriers to collective success as an institution, in Hattiesburg and the Gulf Park campuses, and at teaching and research sites along the Gulf Coast resulted in organizational changes to enhance recruitment and enrollment efforts; student success and progression towards degree completion; and management of a dual campus system.

Those changes include:

  • The integration of recruitment and enrollment processes to maximize use of resources and information sharing while unifying messages to prospective students.
  • Initiation of work toward an implementation plan for committee recommendations to reach students effectively, ensure student success and improve graduation rates.
  • Integration of academic program management, finances, facilities, communications, campus safety and technology to respond to stakeholder needs and to promote clarity, accountability, transparency and cohesiveness.

Faculty Research

NIH Funding Helps Southern Miss Foster Biomedical Research (September 2013)

An $18 million renewal of the Mississippi INBRE grant from the National Institutes of Health will enable the University and partner institutions throughout the state to foster a vision in biomedical research that began a dozen years ago. The funding comes from a national program developed by NIH called IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE).

Southern Miss Research Project Headed for International Space Station (February 2014)

Associate Professor of Marine Science Scott Milroy recently learned that his NASA-funded “Pioneering Mars” project has been selected for payload integration and flight aboard the International Space Station. Milroy’s project is one of only two chosen from the NASA ISS National Laboratory Education Project (NLEP) for transport to the ISS sometime in 2015.

Faculty and Staff Achievement

Southern Miss Instructor Named Outstanding Educator by CPA Group (July 2013)

Patricia Munn, an instructor in the School of Accountancy, was named the 2013 Outstanding Educator by the Mississippi Society of Certified Public Accountants (MSCPA).

Munn is the eighth instructor from Southern Miss to be honored by the MSCPA since the award began in 1988.

Catledge Named Board of Nursing President (November 2013)

Sharon Catledge, family nurse practitioner in Student Health Services, was elected president of the Mississippi Board of Nursing. Catledge, who lives in Hattiesburg, has spent the past two years working in Student Health Services at Southern Miss. Before that she served as a nursing instructor at Itawamba Community College.

Southern Miss Professor Receives International Education Award (December 2013)

Dr. Mark Miller, professor in the Department of Geography and Geology, was selected as the recipient of the Mississippi World Trade Center’s (MSWTC) 2013 “Excellence in International Education Award.”

The selection was based on Miller’s “long-standing history of active participation and support of the organization’s mission, programs and services.”

Southern Miss Professor Buchanan Named Chemist of the Year (November 2013)

Dr. J. Paige Buchanan, associate professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, was been named Chemist of the Year by the Mississippi Section of the American Chemical Society.

Buchanan has eight issued patents, authored 38 refereed publications and is author or coauthor of more than 100 presentations at local, national and international forums. 

Documentary Airs Based Upon Southern Miss Professor’s Book (March 2014)

The world premier of a film about an American military unit in the Vietnam War includes expert consultation from distinguished professor of history Dr. Andrew Wiest. Wiest, founding director of the University’s Dale Center for the Study of War and Society, was contacted more than three years ago by Lou Reda productions to serve as a consultant on the documentary “Brothers in War” which is based on Wiest’s book “The Boys of ’67: Charlie Company’s War in Vietnam.” The documentary debuted on the National Geographic Channel on Wednesday, March 26.

Campus Construction

Southern Miss Celebrates Elizabeth Hall Renovation with Ribbon Cutting Ceremony (August 2013)

The University’s Gulf Park campus hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of Elizabeth Hall, the final of five building projects that was completed following the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Elizabeth Hall, which houses the College of Arts and Letters, was the final building to complete renovations after all five buildings broke ground in 2011.

Groundbreaking Held for New Student Housing Complex (September 2013)

The University officially broke ground on Tuesday, Sept. 17, on a monumental student housing project that will transform the venerable Hattiesburg campus. Century Park South will bring state-of-the art residence halls to Southern Miss, providing 954 beds for freshmen and other scholarship students. The $55.6 million project will feature three buildings, with five floors in each structure. The project is being supported in part by private funds from the Luckyday Foundation, $4 million toward what will be called Luckyday Citizenship Hall, and the Moffitt family to assist in the construction of the Moffitt Health Center.

Armstrong-Branch Pedestrian Plaza Dedicated (September 2013)

Nearly 50 years ago, Gwendolyn Elaine Armstrong Chamberlain and Raylawni Branch showed up for class in the fall of 1965 at The University of Southern Mississippi as the school’s first African-American students. On Friday, Sept. 6, the two returned to be honored for their important place in the institution’s history with the dedication of Armstrong-Branch Plaza, located between the Liberal Arts Building and Joseph Greene Hall on the Hattiesburg campus.

Ribbon-cutting Held for Renovated College Hall (September 2013)

The School of Mass Communication and Journalism was officially welcomed into its new home during a ribbon-cutting ceremony held Friday, Oct. 25, at renovated College Hall on the Hattiesburg campus. The University’s radio station WUSM-FM and The Student Printz student newspaper also call College Hall home after being housed in Southern Hall for several decades.

Southern Miss Dedicates Golden Eagle Statues on Campuses (October 2013)

On Thursday, Oct. 24, Southern Miss alumnus Chuck Scianna and his wife, Rita, joined University officials, alumni and friends for the dedications of two golden eagle sculptures on the Hattiesburg campus and Gulf Park campus in Long Beach. Named “Lofty Return,” the sculptures symbolically tie the campuses together while welcoming graduates back to their alma mater. Scianna funded the design, construction and implementation of the sculptures.