May 25, 2019  

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USM Produces Seven Straight Years of Phi Kappa Phi Fellowships

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Recent Southern Miss graduate Stephanie McCracken, shown here with University President Rodney D. Bennett, earned a Truman Scholarship and a Phi Kappa Phi national fellowship among other honors during her academic career at USM. (Photo by Charmaine Williams Schmermund)

The University of Southern Mississippi is on a seven-year roll when it comes to producing Phi Kappa Phi National Fellows. And with the steady influx of high-achieving Honors College students, the trend shows no signs of slowing down.

The seven-year streak began with Justin Poelma in 2009 and continued this year with Stephanie McCracken’s selection. Phi Kappa Phi National Fellows are chosen based on the applicants' evidence of graduate potential, undergraduate academic achievement, service and leadership experience, letters of recommendation, personal statement of educational perspective and career goals, and acceptance at an approved graduate or professional program.

Each year, the national organization of Phi Kappa Phi awards 51 fellowships of $5,000 each and six at $15,000 each to members entering the first year of graduate or professional study. Each of the 300-plus chapters of Phi Kappa Phi across the nation is allowed to nominate one student for these fellowships.

“Membership in Phi Kappa Phi is the highest mark of academic distinction students can receive at USM,” said Robyn Curtis, Officer of National Scholarships and Fellowships at Southern Miss. “Each chapter can nominate only one student to compete for a national fellowship. To have had our chapter’s nominee selected for each of the last seven years is an amazing testament to the caliber of students who are members of Phi Kappa Phi at USM.”

The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi was established in 1897 to recognize and encourage superior scholarship without restriction as to area of study and to promote the “unity and democracy of education.” Phi Kappa Phi is the oldest and largest all-discipline honor society in the United States.

Membership is by invitation only, by an established campus chapter, and is restricted to students with integrity and high ethical standards and who are ranked scholastically in the top of their class, regardless of field of study.

Each of the Southern Miss students who earned PKP national fellowships over the previous seven years graduated with highest honors (summa cum laude) from the University's prestigious Honors College. They include the following:

2009: Justin Poelma
Poelma graduated from USM in 2009 with a Bachelor of Science in Polymer Science and minors in Chemistry, Math and Religious Studies. He was a Goldwater Scholar, a Marshall Scholar Finalist and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow. He completed his doctorate in Materials Science at the University of California, Santa Barbara in November 2014 and is currently employed as a Research Scientist at Carbon3D, Inc.

2010: Jeff Guillot
Guillot graduated from USM in 2010 with a Bachelor of Arts in History and Foreign Languages. He used his PKP Fellowship to work on a Master of Arts in History at Emory University. He is currently employed in financial services/management for a major international hotel chain.

2011: Nicolas Treat
Treat graduated from USM in 2011 with a Bachelor of Science in Polymer Science. He was a Goldwater Scholar and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow. He is currently in his fifth year of doctoral study at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is pursuing a doctorate in Materials Science.

2012: Matthew Planchard
Planchard graduated from USM in 2012 with degrees in Biology and Chemistry/Biochemistry. While at USM he presented his research through the national Center for Undergraduate Research’s Posters on the Hill Program. He used his PKP Fellowship to obtain a masters in Biochemistry also at USM. He is currently employed as a software engineer by Ihiji, a company specializing in remote network monitoring solutions.

2013: Dylan Harris
Harris graduated from USM in 2012 with degrees in Political Science and Religion. While at USM he was a Freeman Indonesia Non-Profit Intern. He received a PKP Love of Learning award which he used to do independent research in Bolivia during a year off before beginning graduate study. Harris used his PKP Fellowship to obtain a masters in Environment and Development from the London School of Economics. He is continuing his studies this fall in a fully funded doctoral program in Geography at Clark University.

2014: Tyler Brown
Brown graduated from USM in 2014 with a Bachelor of Science in Polymer Science. While at USM he received five national awards including the Goldwater Scholarship, the Amgen Scholar program and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. He has just begun his second year in a Biomolecular Science and Engineering doctoral program at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

2015: Stephanie McCracken
McCracken earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Geography from Southern Miss in December 2014. As a Phi Kappa Phi Fellow, she will pursue a Master of Public Health from the University of Michigan. In 2014, McCracken was selected as a recipient of the Truman Scholarship, the only student chosen from a Mississippi institution that year. McCracken was also among 17 Southern Miss Gulf Park campus students selected for the 2014-2015 Who’s Who among Students in American Universities and Colleges.

Dr. Eric Platt, assistant professor of Educational Studies and Research at Southern Miss, has served as the University’s Phi Kappa Phi Chapter 99 president for the past six months. He notes that the seven-year streak of national fellows should come as no surprise to anyone who follows the University’s academic track record.

“This is illustrative of the academic competency of USM Honors College students and their commitment to pursue advanced educational experiences,” said Platt. As well, such a litany of success demonstrates an often unseen, but very important component that supports student success – the tremendous efforts of the USM Honors College staff.”

Seven straight years’ worth of tireless, coordinated efforts. And counting.

To learn more about the award programs offered by The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi, visit

To learn more about applying for Phi Kappa Phi Fellowships or other nationally competitive awards at Southern Miss, contact Robyn Curtis at 601.266.4263 or

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