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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

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

Dr. Steven Moser

John Green and David Levithan at Southern Miss

Continuing our guest blog series, I’m pleased to present a contribution by Eric Tribunella, Chair of the Department of English.  Dr.  Tribunella has taught a variety of undergraduate and graduate courses on such topics as the Golden Age of children’s literature, young adult literature, British children’s literature, trauma theory and children’s literature, children’s literature before 1865, and lesbian and gay literature. He also frequently teaches courses on literary criticism and theory.

He has published aricles in such journals as Children’s Literature Annual, Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, The Lion and the Unicorn: A Critical Journal of Children’s Literature, and Children’s Literature in Education. His recent article “Between Boys: Edward Stevenson’s Left to Themselves (1891) and the Birth of Gay Children’s Literature” received the Children’s Literature Association Article Award in 2014. His essay on sexuality in children’s and young adult literature was recently published in the Cambridge History of Lesbian and Gay Literature (Cambridge UP, 2014).

Steven R. Moser, Dean


John Green and David Levithan at Southern Miss

By Eric L. Tribunella, Chair
Department of English
College of Arts and Letters

When I speak to prospective students at recruitment events, one fact about Southern Miss that almost always excites future English majors is that we are home to the original manuscripts of John Green, the award-winning author of young adult (YA) fiction. Known for novels such as Looking for Alaska (2005) and The Fault in Our Stars (2012), Green won the 2006 Printz Award, given yearly to the best work of fiction for young adults, and his books now routinely top bestseller lists upon publication.

Green donated his papers, including drafts of his book manuscripts, to the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection at Southern Miss after visiting campus in 2009 for the Kaigler Children’s Book Festival. One of the largest archives of children’s literature in North America, the de Grummond Collection holds over 160,000 books, the earliest of which dates to the year 1530, as well as manuscripts and illustrations from over 1,300 writers and artists. Undergraduate and graduate students from the English department are able to make use of this extraordinary resource, and we have students who come to Southern Miss specifically to study children’s and young adult literature. On February 10, a group of English students and faculty visited the de Grummond Collection to examine the Green manuscripts and talk about the research opportunities they present.

IMG_5362

Ellen Ruffin, de Grummond curator (left) Eric Tribunela, English (2nd from left)

The de Grummond curator, Ellen Ruffin, shared with us the manuscript for Green’s novel Will Grayson, Will Grayson (2010), which was co-written with David Levithan, another major figure in YA literature known for books such as Boy Meets Boy (2003) and Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2006). Will Grayson, Will Grayson is a YA novel about two teenagers who share a name, one straight and one gay, and how their lives intersect through their relationship with a boy named Tiny. Since the book was co-authored, its manuscript is especially interesting in terms of how the alternate chapters contributed by Green and Levithan fit together to form a coherent whole. The comments from Green’s editor at Dutton Books, Julie Strauss-Gabel, can be found in the margins of the manuscript, and reading the drafts alongside the published novel can shed light on Green and Levithan’s collaboration and writing process.

As students and scholars of literature, we are interested in how works are composed and take shape. Members of the English department at USM, where we also have a strong emphasis in creative writing, are especially attuned to the issue of craft, and having access to a writer’s manuscripts makes it possible for us to study how a book moves through the drafting process. This kind of archival research can be particularly productive for children’s and YA literature scholars, since some people wrongly assume that writing for youth lacks complexity or artistry. Studying manuscripts like Green and Levithan’s provides a unique opportunity to correct this misperception and contribute to the field of literary knowledge.

It is exciting for students to be able to hold original manuscripts in their hands. English doctoral student Paige Gray noted that “it is honor for USM to house Green’s papers, since he is such a major figure in the publishing world.” Gray added that “it is especially exciting that Southern Miss students can be among the first scholars to study Green’s manuscripts and drafts. Doing so will provide an important insight into young adult literature and culture in the early decades of the twenty-first century.” The group discussed the many possible research projects that could be undertaken with the manuscripts. For instance, we spent time talking about how Green’s editor helped the authors craft the voice of their characters and sequence the events of the narrative. Dr. Alexandra Valint, the English department’s Victorian literature specialist, studies multi-narrator novels and also teaches children’s and YA literature. She compared the editor’s comments on the Will Grayson manuscript to the kind of feedback nineteenth-century readers offered in response to serialized installments of literary works.

David Levithan will be visiting campus this semester to speak at the Kaigler Book Festival on April 10, and students and faculty are looking forward to the opportunity to hear directly from Green’s co-author on Will Grayson. Scholars travel from around the world to visit the de Grummond Collection, but students who attend Southern Miss simply have to walk over to McCain Library to take advantage of its amazing holdings and guest lecturers.