Day in and day out at The University of Southern Mississippi, a group of people work alongside students and faculty to ensure the success of the institution.
Recently, five members of the university’s 1,600-member staff were recognized in five categories for their years of contribution with a 2008 Staff Excellence Award. Recipients included Jami King, Patricia McFarland, Ronnie Williamson, Shannon Davis and Vrita Delaine.
Delaine, assistant to the vice president for Student Affairs, received the highest honor, the Jessie H. Morrison Award, for her 21 years of exhibiting professionalism and making significant contributions to the Southern Miss and Pine Belt community.
“It means a whole lot to me, mostly because I had the opportunity to know Ms. Jessie briefly, but also to have been in a place 20-plus years and know that people feel this way about you and have this level of respect for you, that’s a big compliment,” Delaine said.
The Jessie H. Morrison award honors the longtime Southern Miss staff member who served as an administrative assistant to three university presidents before retiring and donating money for the establishment of the Jessie Morrison endowment.
Delaine is recognized for her contributions as a motivational speaker, workshop leader and adviser to several organizations. She has served as an instructor at the university since 1990 and was chosen by the Institutions of Higher Learning as Outstanding Educator for the state of Mississippi in 1994 for her contributions to the enhancement of diversity at Southern Miss.
"Vrita is the epitome of a service leader," said Dr. Joe Paul, vice president of Student Affairs. "She puts the students first, helps those who have lost loved ones or been in accidents themselves - she handles it all so well."
In 2001, Delaine was chosen by the Miss Mississippi Pageant as Volunteer of the Year for her 14 years of service to the pageant system and for working with young women.
Ronnie Williamson received the excellence award in the Skilled Craft/Technical Category for contributing 18 years of technical expertise toward the betterment of Southern Miss facilities. Williamson, building trades supervisor with the Southern Miss Physical Plant, was nominated for effectively managing his workforce in response to the heavy volume of requests received daily.
Patricia McFarland, custodial foreman with the Physical Plant, received the award for excellence in the Service Maintenance Category award. McFarland was recognized for 11 years of service and contribution toward breast cancer awareness and research. McFarland began collecting loose change with co-worker Mary Griffin each payday in 2006, eventually raising $1,000 to donate toward breast cancer research this year. Her initiative inspired women in her department to conduct their own survey to find out who had received a mammogram, breast exam or would like more information about these procedures.
The award for excellence in the Office Personnel Category went to Shannon Davis, an administrative assistant with the Department of Geography and Geology who has worked at Southern Miss for 12 years. Davis was recognized for going above and beyond the call of duty in her line of work. As one letter of recommendation stated, "Shannon makes her job, our department and the university a part of her life."
First impressions are vital, and professionalism and strong work ethic is everything when it comes to coordinating large events at campus facilities. Jami King, Thad Cochran Center Event Services manager, was received the staff excellence award in the Professional Category for exemplifying these traits.
"The hard working staff, from those who keep the grounds so beautiful to our administrative assistants, are the backbone of this institution," Paul said. "We just wouldn't be who we are without them."
Southern Miss Staff Excellence Award winners are, right to left: Jami King, Thad Cochran Center Event Services manager, Professional Category; Vrita Delaine, assistant to the vice president for student affairs, Jessie H. Morrison Award for 20 or more consecutive years of service; Patricia McFarland, custodial foreman with the Southern Miss Physical Plant, Service Maintenance Category award; Ronnie Williamson, building trades supervisor with the Southern Miss Physical Plant, Skilled Craft/Technical Category award; and Shannon Davis, administrative assistant with the Department of Geography and Geology, Office Personnel Category award. (Southern Miss Public Relations photo by Steve Rouse)
About The University of Southern Mississippi
The University of Southern Mississippi, founded in 1910, is a comprehensive doctoral and research-extensive university fulfilling its mission of being a leading university in engaging and empowering individuals to transform lives and communities. In a tradition of leadership for student development, Southern Miss is educating a 21st century work force providing intellectual capital, cultural enrichment and innovation to Mississippi and the world. Southern Miss is located in Hattiesburg, Miss., with an additional campus and teaching and research sites on the Mississippi Gulf Coast; further information is found at www.usm.edu.