Dr. Steven Moser

Guest Contributor Series: Ann Marie Kinnell on the Liberal Arts

Kinnell, Ann MarieBy Ann Marie Kinnell, Chair
Department of Anthropology and Sociology
College of Arts and Letters

If you read the news, either in the general press (NY Times, Washington Post, LA Times) or the academic press (Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed), there is a disconcerting feeling that all is not well with higher education. The cost – and value – of a college education are areas of increasing concern. As a parent of a daughter headed off to college in a little over a year, I understand the worries parents and students have. I admit that I am more than a little concerned about the cost of tuition, not to mention textbooks, art supplies (she’ll be an art major), and room and board. In addition to the general question of the value of college is the more narrow concern about the value of the liberal arts. If students are going to college, and spending a lot of money to do so, what should be their major? Will they be able to support themselves financially if they pursue a liberal arts major rather than a professional or technical major? This conversation is certainly not new. I, myself, when I announced to my parents in my second year of college that I had changed my major to sociology, was asked what are you going to do with that and wouldn’t it be a good idea to also take some business courses? I did, in fact, take some organizational management classes; but, I loved my sociology classes and I love that I can now share those classes with my own students. However, my experience was literally a lifetime ago for my students. Is a degree in anthropology or sociology, or any liberal arts major, still “worth it” in 2015?

In the abstract, the answer is definitely yes. If you look at employer surveys, the skills that employers want are the skills students learn in liberal arts majors. In recent studies[1], a majority of employers have identified the abilities to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems as very important. They also want students who understand and can work with people from diverse backgrounds and cultures. And, they want students who have the ability to apply the knowledge they learn in real world settings. Anthropology and sociology majors learn these skills in spades. Starting with the introductory classes, they are asked what it means to be a part of a group, a culture, a society. They are confronted with complex social problems and asked how they can be addressed. They write and apply what they learn in class to the world around them. They learn specific research skills, conduct their own research, and present that research to their peers and at conferences. They complete internships with local organizations and field schools where they literally get to dig things up.

But in the concrete, as a faculty, we still want to know that we send our students out into the world and that they do well. They find jobs that they love, or at least really like, and they are able to support themselves financially. As a department, we have implemented an alumni survey to find out how our students fare once they graduate. I would like to share a few of their responses:

From an anthropology major (BA 2014) who is now an ESL teacher: “Anthropology helped me to become more aware of the people, cultures, and situations around me. As an ESL teacher I have a classroom filled with diversity and all of the complexities that stem from various cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. The sensitivity and understanding granted to me by the professors within the Anthropology and Sociology department… helps me to maintain an inclusive and compassionate style of teaching.”

From a sociology major (BA 2010) who is working for a nonprofit that coordinates services for the homeless: “I wouldn’t say my degree in sociology has impacted me in such a way others might think. I’m certainly not a sociologist by traditional definitions. But, through my undergraduate studies I found my passion for social justice and gained the tools needed to succeed. Sociology has gifted me a foundation for understanding complex social issues and a curiosity to view the world with a nuanced sociological lens.”

From an anthropology major (BA 2010) who is a trainer for an information technology company: “This degree gave the opportunity to learn about so many different cultures and interact with a larger variety of people than I ever would have on my own. This has made adjusting to a professional position within a worldwide company much easier.”

From a sociology major (BA 2011) who is working as a college enrollment specialist: “I’ve bounced around in a few different jobs until I landed my current one. I love my current job. I work in education helping troubled students figure out what path they want to take for their lives. I work with a very diverse student population, and I think that the different sociology classes I took definitely help me to be more empathetic towards my students despite the fact that I’ve never experienced a lot of things they often go through.”

Our students graduate with both general and technical skills and end up in a variety of different careers. In the liberal arts, there are many paths and many destinations. I would like to conclude with one last quote from a student (Sociology BA 2004) who wrote on her survey, “if you enjoy the classes and are passionate about the subject matter, then go for it. You never know where your degree or your life will lead.” Well said!

 

[1] For more information and links to these studies, go to the AACU website: http://www.aacu.org/leap/public-opinion-research

Jim Coll

Top Stories – March 2015

Each month I share a brief summary of some of the top Southern Miss stories with University leaders for their use as they interact with various stakeholders. The compilation of that short list is always a good reminder for me of all the amazing people and activities taking place on our campuses.

Here is what I shared for February. SMTTT!

Our commitment to student success and well-being continues…

On March 16, the new Moffitt Health Center opened on the Hattiesburg campus. The Moffitt Health Center replaces the Beedie Smith Health Clinic, a freestanding building that opened on the Hattiesburg campus in 1962. The new center increases the square footage dedicated to Student Health Services by 30 percent, providing much-needed space for more efficient laboratory and X-ray activity, larger health care provider work areas, a more accessible pharmacy and a dental care area.

The clinic was in part funded by $1 million in private donations, including the lead gift from the family of Dr. Virginia Moffitt Crawford, director of Student Health Services.

For more: http://www.usm.edu/news/article/new-moffitt-health-center-southern-miss-opens-monday-march-16

On March 17, we cut ribbons on three facilities on our Gulf Park campus, including a new health center, a fitness center and a new building for our School of Social Work. The facilities will provide high-quality classroom and academic space for social work students and a number of on-campus health and fitness services previously unavailable to Gulf Park students on that campus.

For more: http://www.usm.edu/news/article/southern-miss-holds-ribbon-cutting-renovated-buildings-gulf-park-campus

One of the University’s greatest ambassadors, The Pride, excelled on an international stage…

The Pride of Mississippi Marching Band represented the University and the state of Mississippi well in a trip to Ireland. Select members of the band performed in two parades in Ireland on March 15 and 17, taking top honors in each.

On March 15, The Pride was named overall winner of the International Band Parade in Limerick, Ireland. Twenty-four marching bands featuring 1,100 musicians from across Ireland, Europe and the United States performed in the 45th annual parade.

On March 17, The Pride was named top band in the adult band, 18 and over, category at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin.

About 130 band members traveled to Ireland to march in the parades. The band also marched in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in the late 1990s.

We’re increasing our commitment to researching and understanding the Gulf of Mexico…

University officials, including President Bennett and Vice President for Research Gordon Cannon, as well as members of the media, are on their way to Panama to get a closer look at the research vessel, Point Sur. The University, using funds from a Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality grant, purchased the Point Sur from San Jose State University, last month. The vessel is making its way through the Panama Canal on its way from California to the Port of Gulfport.

The 135-foot Point Sur vessel was built in 1980. It can accommodate 13 researchers and technicians, and a crew of eight. For day cruises, it has a capacity of 40 researchers.

The purchase agreement provides Southern Miss with a vessel that can be utilized by the University and other interested parties to explore the Gulf of Mexico, including further research on the BP oil spill of 2010. The vessel will help Southern Miss enhance education and research opportunities for students and faculty who will have access to Point Sur’s sophisticated technology and equipment.

An event will be held on April 24 on the Gulf Coast so that the general public might tour the vessel and gain a greater understanding of the impact it will have on Gulf research.

Our students continue to excel…

Tanner Shaw, a senior finance major, was awarded the prestigious Orrin W. Swayze Scholarship by the Mississippi Young Bankers Association during the group’s annual conference.

The $5,000 award is presented annually to the top Mississippi university major in banking and finance who best represents the tradition of banking excellence exemplified by Swayze, a senior officer for Trustmark until his retirement in 1967.

A 4.0 student, Shaw is a Southern Miss Presidential Scholar and member of the Honors College.

For more: http://www.usm.edu/news/article/southern-miss-student-wins-prestigious-swayze-scholarship

Jim Coll

A Note of Thanks from a Student to University Police

Earlier this week, University Police Chief Bob Hopkins shared a note with me he received from a student regarding emergency-related communications. The student thanked Chief for keeping the university updated in all situations. “I feel much safer just by being informed,” the student wrote, “and I appreciate the UPD being honest and keeping the faculty, staff and students updated no matter what the situation.”

The note, I believe, is a testament to our crisis communications strategy. To be sure, we know our UPD is extremely effective in limiting crime, but when the time comes as it does on all campuses across the country, we are committed to communicating in a way that is transparent and helpful to the University.

While the communication of unpleasant circumstances on our campuses may result in some short-term negative news coverage and social media criticism, consistent and transparent communication assists in keeping our campuses safe. It requires thick skin from leadership, but is the best long-term public relations strategy as well—and this note helps validate that approach.

I sincerely appreciate Chief Hopkins’ commitment in this area.

Dr. Michael Forster

Scarce resources and poor performance = finger pointing

You hate to see public officials supposedly on the same team taking off after one another.  Last week K-12 state board of education member William Harold Jones blasted the Mississippi legislature as a “hostile environment” for public education, indeed “the worst political environment of education since desegregation.”  John Moore, House Education Committee Chair, retorted that Jones’ comments were “disappointing.”

In the context of discussions over chronically poorly performing schools (about a quarter of Mississippi school districts are rated in bad shape, making us, according to many national education groups, worst in the nation), the criticism looks like so much responsibility shifting.  But the truth is that schools have been chronically underfunded, by any measure, and there’s no denying that resources connect rather directly to quality.  While it’s true that “you can’t solve a problem by throwing money at it,” it’s at least equally true that starving schools of funding is a sure-fire path to failure.

There is, moreover, a pernicious “trickle up” effect on higher education.  Students entering community colleges or universities (also under-resourced, of course) lacking fundamental academic competencies require remediation, often extensive, to give them a decent shot at progressing to a degree and subsequent career.  While a worthwhile investment in students motivated to overcome their deficiencies, remediation is expensive, and a continuous drag on rates of retention and graduation.

When faced with the high cost of educational investment, Mississippi leaders are fond of pleading poverty, and asserting, in effect, that “we’re doing the best we can with what we can afford.”  But what Mississippi certainly cannot afford is to stay on the path of producing public K-12 graduates unprepared for the rigors of advanced learning.

 

Jim Coll

This Week at Southern Miss (February 23-March 1)

Here are some of the top events occurring on University of Southern Mississippi campuses and teaching sites this week.

Monday, February 23rd

Hub UnPlugged- Noon-2 p.m., The Student Activities Hub– Part of “Spring It On Week” hosted by The Southern Miss Activities Council. Students can sign up to play acoustic instruments, sing, or recite poetry at this event. Contact the Office of Student Activities at 601.266.4403.

The Times of Harvey Milk- 12:15-1:30 p.m., Learning Commons at the Gulf Park Library– In an effort to start a Diversity Book Club, the Gulf Coast Library, along with the Alliance for Equality, will present the award-winning documentary, “The Times of Harvey Milk.” Dr. Douglas Chambers of the Department of History will introduce the film by sharing how the 10th anniversary of Milk’s death inspired him to help establish an LGBT alumni association at his alma mater, the University of Virginia.

Eagle Awards- 6 p.m., Trent Lott Center room 103– Featured event celebrating Black History Month. Hosted by the Office of Multicultural Programs. For more information contact Valencia Walls at 601.266.5057.

OLLI Lecture- 6:30 p.m., Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the Peck House– Dr. Henry Nau, an expert on U.S. foreign policy and international politics and former White House senior staffer, will present a special lecture. Nau will discuss his thoughts about current American foreign policy, a partnership between the Department of Philosophy and Religion and Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. The event is free and open to the public. For more information about the John F. Nau Endowment Fund in Philosophy and Religion, contact the Department of Philosophy and Religion by calling 601.266.4521.

 

Tuesday, February 24th

“250 Years: Black Poetry from Phillis Wheatley to the Poets of Southern Miss”- Noon, RC’s Lounge– Featured event celebrating Black History Month. Hosted by the Office of Multicultural Programs. For more information contact Valencia Walls at 601.266.5057.

Spring Career Fair- Noon- 4 p.m., Thad Cochran Center– Students and alumni can network with a large number of employers, present résumés and learn about careers and internship opportunities.  Professional or business casual attire is required for attendance. For information and to view a list of employers attending, visit the Career Services website or call 601.266.4153.

Cirque Du SMAC- 7 p.m., Trent Lott Center– Part of Spring It On Week hosted by The Southern Miss Activities Council. This event will be featuring Crescent Circus. Hosted by Southern Miss Activities Council. For more information call Office of Student Activities at 601.266.4403.

 

Wednesday, February 25th

Hump Day/ Clothesline Exhibition Project- 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Shoemaker Square/Weathersby Lawn– Part of “Spring It On Week” hosted by the Southern Miss Activities Council. Contact Office of Student Activities at 601.266.4403.

By the Way, Meet Vera Stark- 7:30 p.m., Tatum Theatre– Presented by the Theatre Department. Reserved Seats: $14 adults; $12 faculty, staff, seniors, military; $8 students. For more information contact the Theatre Department at 601.266.4994.

Shattering Violence featuring Aaron Boe- 7 p.m., Thad Cochran Center– Part of “Spring It On Week” hosted by the Southern Miss Activities Council. Contact the Office of Student Activities at 601.266.4403.

 

Thursday, February 26th

The Mississippi Academy of Sciences Annual Meeting- 3:30 p.m., Thad Cochran Center– More than 1,000 researchers, students and professors from across the state will convene at the Thad Cochran Center on Feb. 26-27 for the Mississippi Academy of Sciences’ Annual Meeting. University President Rodney D. Bennett will present the keynote Dodgen Lecture – “USM Research: Transforming Everyday Life into Infinite Possibilities.” The Dodgen Lecture  will conclude with an awards ceremony to acknowledge research being done throughout the state. The Dodgen Lecture is free and open to the public.

Campus Crawl- 5 p.m., various location on Hattiesburg Campus– Part of Spring It On Week hosted by The Southern Miss Activities Council. Contact Office of Student Activities at 601.266.4403.

“Trials, Tribulations, and How We Overcome Them”- 7 p.m., Owings-McQaugge Hall, room 105– This event will be featuring Dr. Joseph K. Byrd of Xavier University. Hosted by the Office of Multicultural Programs. For more information contact Valencia Walls at 601.266.5057.

Men’s Basketball vs UTSA– 7 p.m. Reed Green Coliseum

By the Way, Meet Vera Stark- 7:30 p.m., Tatum Theatre– Presented by the Theatre Department. Reserved Seats: $14 adults; $12 faculty, staff, seniors, military; $8 students. For more information contact the Theatre Department at 601.266.4994.

Mary Poppins- 7:30 p.m., Mannoni Performing Arts Center– To purchase tickets contact the Southern Miss Ticket Office 601.266.5418 or southernmisstickets.com.

 

Friday, February 27th
The Mississippi Academy of Sciences Annual Meeting- Thad Cochran Center– More than 1,000 researchers, students and professors from across the state will convene at the Thad Cochran Center on Feb. 26-27 for the Mississippi Academy of Sciences’ Annual Meeting.

Softball vs. University of Incarnate Word– 4:30 p.m. Gulfport, Miss.

Frozen at the Fountain- 6 p.m., Centennial Lawn– An event a part of “Spring It On Week” hosted by the Southern Miss Activities Council. Contact the Office of Student Activities at 601.266.4403.

By the Way, Meet Vera Stark- 7:30 p.m., Tatum Theatre– Presented by the Theatre Department. Reserved Seats: $14 adults; $12 faculty, staff, seniors, military; $8 students. For more information contact the Theatre Department at 601.266.4994.

 

Saturday, February 28th

Mary Poppins- 2 p.m., Mannoni Performing Arts Center– To purchase tickets contact the Southern Miss Ticket Office 601.266.5418 or southernmisstickets.com

Softball vs. Jackson State University– 3 p.m. Gulfport, Miss.

Men’s Basketball vs. UTEP– 7 p.m. Reed Green Coliseum

By the Way, Meet Vera Stark- 7:30 p.m., Tatum Theatre– Presented by the Theatre Department. Reserved Seats: $14 adults; $12 faculty, staff, seniors, military; $8 students. For more information contact the Theatre Department at 601.266.4994.

Mary Poppins- 7:30 p.m., Mannoni Performing Arts Center– To purchase tickets contact the Southern Miss Ticket Office 601.266.5418 or southernmisstickets.com

Softball vs. Nicholls State– 8 p.m. Gulfport, Miss.

 

Sunday, March 1st

Mary Poppins- 2 p.m., Mannoni Performing Arts Center– To purchase tickets contact the Southern Miss Ticket Office 601.266.5418 or southernmisstickets.com