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Southern Miss Honors Graduate Named to USA TODAY Academic Team PDF Print E-mail
Friday, May 15, 2009
Contact Jan May, 601.266.4533   

No stranger to honors and awards, Jessica Shackleford, a recent chemistry and Honors College graduate, has added another coup to her long list of academic accomplishments.

Shackleford has been named to the USA Today 2009 All-USA College Academic third team, the only student from a Mississippi university or college to be named to any place on the team, ranking her among its top 60 college students in the United States.

Shackleford, who earned an honorable mention for the team last year, is only the third Southern Miss student to be named to the team. Her placement marks the first time in more than a decade a Southern Miss student has been named to the team.
Peggy Varnado, a former national scholarship officer at Southern Miss who has worked with Shackleford on several scholarship and graduate school applications, said “Jessica’s passion for science has fueled her scholarly achievements, but she is also a humanitarian and down-to-earth young woman.”

In 2008, Shackleford was named a finalist for the prestigious Truman Scholarship, an award conferred upon high-achieving college juniors who show commitment to public service and potential to continue that service beyond graduation. To qualify, Shackleford wrote a proposal for a statewide college prep program in high school based on a local high school program that she founded.                                               

Among Shackleford’s additional awards is the Barry Goldwater Scholarship, which she won in 2007 when she was a sophomore. The highest honor given to undergraduate students in science in the country, the Goldwater is usually awarded to college juniors.

As part of the Goldwater application process, Shackleford wrote an essay about research in her field, “Mechanistic Studies of Free Radical Azidation,” a topic which she had been researching as a member of Dr. Doug Masterson’s organic chemistry research group. Masterson has served as Shackleford’s mentor.

Not only did the research project play a significant role in Shackleford’s Goldwater nomination, but the study was published in an article coauthored by Shackleford and Masterson in the scholarly chemistry journal “Synlett.”

Shackleford says one of the things that gave her an edge in academic competitions is the support from the faculty in the chemistry department and from the Honors College staff, particularly the scholarship officers.

“Peggy Varnado was my campus mom from the time I stepped foot in her office,” said Shackleford. “She has done absolutely everything with me from scholarship to graduate school applications to bringing me soup when I was sick.

“Robyn Curtis, the new national scholarship officer, is an excellent successor to the office pioneered by Peggy Varnado. She pulled several all-nighters with me this past year doing applications, and she never once hesitated to revise my applications no matter how many times we already had revised,” said Shackleford.

The USA Today All-USA College Academic Team ranking recognizes undergraduates who not only excel in scholarship but also extend their intellectual abilities beyond the classroom to benefit society. Criteria include grades, academic rigor, leadership, activities and the student's essay describing his or her most outstanding intellectual endeavor during college.

The Office of National Scholarships is housed in the Honors College, and the scholarship officer will assist any Southern Miss student interested in making application for national scholarships. For more information, call 601.266.4263.

Jessica Shackleford

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

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