At fall convocation Wednesday, University of Southern Mississippi President Dr. Martha Saunders called on the campus community to rely on its core strengths to achieve the school’s goals and surmount any obstacles in its path.
In her “state of the university” address at the event, Saunders laid out the vision for the future of the school established through a series of campus dialogues over the last year, while also citing the need to identify new sources of financial support to buffer against shrinking state dollars and an uncertain national economy.
“Our accomplishments have been hard won, and our goals for the future will challenge us,” she said. “But I have faith in the creativity, the boldness and the determination of the people of Southern Miss.”
The campus dialogues have given Southern Miss “a compass and a guide” as it moves forward to achieve its mission of serving the state and region as the premier research university for the Gulf South, she said. Through these dialogues, four strategic areas of interest were identified, including creation of a climate for academic success; better connections with the university; a positive national image; and a culture of healthy minds, bodies and campuses.
She noted that the university had “much to celebrate” with recent developments that include the largest freshman class in school history, which boasts a record number of Presidential Scholars who have an average of ACT score of 31; the largest enrollment in the history of the university’s Gulf Park campus, signifying steady recovery from Hurricane Katrina; and accreditation renewal of programs in psychology and business, among many other achievements.
Saunders also announced the university would re-establish the School of Graduate Studies under the administration of an academic dean, and establish university clubs for both the Hattiesburg and Gulf Coast operations.
Although dwindling state and federal financial resources present challenges to the university, Saunders, who described herself as an optimist of the “old school,” expressed confidence Southern Miss would remain as resilient as ever.
“I believe our fortunes have and will continue to be determined by the courage we continue to display in the face of scarce resources,” she said.
Fred Varnado, director of the Office of Professional Development and Educational Outreach, said he appreciated Saunders reiterating the university’s strengths – creativity, boldness and determination. “It’s critical for our people here on campus as well as the university’s stakeholders to embody those qualities to help us move the university forward,” he said.
Wynde Fitts, director of the university’s Office of the First Year Experience, said she continues to be motivated by Saunders’ leadership. “She always inspires me to want to work even harder to help our students, and to make this place that we all love even better,” she said.
Southern Miss President Martha Saunders addresses the audience during the fall 2008 convocation. (Marketing and Public Relations photo by Steve Rouse)
2. Wednesday’s fall convocation was Webcast by the university. (Marketing and Public Relations photo by Steve Rouse)
President Martha Saunders visits with faculty, staff and students following her address Wednesday at the fall 2008 convocation. (Marketing and 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.
Fall 2008 Convocation Address
Dr. Martha Saunders, President
The University of Southern Mississippi
Sept. 24, 2008
Greetings and congratulations on a great start this academic year.
The author, Mary South, could have been describing me when she wrote:
“I’d better start by admitting I am an optimist – not your run-of-the-mill, happy-face Pollyanna-type. I’m Old School – an extreme optimist of the sort that went out of style around the time of Don Quixote.”
Now that you know how I view this university, let me start by greeting all our newcomers. This year, we have welcomed 92 new faculty members, 57 new staff members since August, three new deans and two vice presidents. What a wonderful difference this infusion of new blood has made.
We have much to celebrate today:
This past year, we had three staff members chosen to participate in “Leadership Mississippi.” “Leadership Mississippi” is a well-known, statewide leadership program that helps prepare the future leaders of Mississippi.
The Staff Council has been hosting an orientation for new staff as they begin their careers here at Southern Miss. This orientation session helps officially welcome our new staff members to the Southern Miss family, and it also helps introduce them to the many traditions and values that make up Southern Miss.
Southern Miss is well represented on the local, state and national level of the Association of Office Professionals. Pam Posey is currently serving as president elect for the National Association of Educational Office Professionals and Melissa Carpenter is the Southeast Director.
Academic Affairs continues to thrive.
The Honors College welcomed 57 Presidential Scholars with an average ACT score of 31.
College of Science and Technology’s Justin Poelma, a senior polymer science major from Ocean Springs, was named the 17th Goldwater Scholar in USM’s history. He was the only Goldwater Scholar named in the state of Mississippi this year. The Barry M. Goldwater and Excellence in Education Program was established by the United States Congress to provide a continuing source of highly qualified scientists, mathematicians and engineers by awarding scholarships to college students who intend to pursue careers in these fields. Competition for the scholarship is exceedingly intense. As a result, the scholarship is widely considered the most prestigious award in the U.S. conferred upon undergraduates studying the sciences. USM has had more Goldwater Scholars than any other university in Mississippi.
The College of Education and Psychology received nationally fully accredited status again with NCATE and both School and Clinical Psychology received APA re-accreditation.
From Arts and Letters, six vocal performance majors have won roles with the Operafestival di Roma Company for performances in Italy. The six are among only 50 students from around the world chosen by audition to participate.
From the College of Health, we continue to graduate the highest number of nurses in the state and will soon be granting the Doctor of Nursing practice degree.
The College of Business received Reaffirmation of Accreditation by AACSB International and recently became the only university in the state and one of only a handful of universities in the Southeast to offer a degree in healthcare marketing.
At the conclusion of this academic year, the School of Library and Information Sciences will host the 41st Children’s Book Festival. This year’s honoree will be children’s book author, Judy Blume.
From the Office of International Students, I note that our British Studies Program is still one of the largest programs of its kind operated by a U.S. university in London, with 150-200 students, 10-15 faculty, myriad British lecturers and 10-15 courses annually.
Planning is under way for the new Southern Miss Gulf Coast campus at Cross Creek and a master planning committee has begun its work.
Administrative Affairs and Budgets
The CFO’s report consists of 10 words: “The bills are paid and there’s money in the bank.” That’s good news during these difficult times, but we must not forget that the country and state is facing serious economic challenges. We will work hard to secure our fair share of state resources but the size of the pie appears to be shrinking. We will need to focus our efforts on other sources of funding and efficiencies.
Toward that end, the Division of Business and Finance is working with the Office of the Provost to develop a new resource allocation process to align with the University’s planning process. An Office of Sustainability has been set up within the division.
University Advancement has undergone an organizational renaissance. The bringing together of our three departments (Development, Alumni and Marketing and PR) that touch the lives of our alumni, friends and greater public allows that division to position itself as an organization poised to add value and integrate our strategic values. The Southern Miss Foundation has focused its attention on developing a fundraising program that will incorporate the three tenets of fundraising – annual giving, major gift fundraising and planned giving. The Alumni Association is focusing on increasing our family size through its 20,000 by 2010 initiative. And, Marketing and Public Relations is focusing on building a true University Communications plan that will incorporate our strategic vision.
Southern Miss Athletics is celebrating the completion of the renovations and additions to M. M. Roberts Stadium and Reed Green Coliseum. The new South End Zone luxury suites and Touchdown Club area have been very well received by our fans and other visitors.
Southern Miss student-athletes continue to graduate at a high rate of 77 percent for the men and 78 percent for the women. The men's rate is the highest among Mississippi universities.
Southern Miss Athletics will continue to focus on improving facilities and supporting our athletes as we strive to excel. Twelve new tennis courts are under construction and will be completed next spring, and a new softball club house, seating area and press box will begin in December and be ready for the 2010 season.
Research and Economic Development
Funding for the completion of the Trent Lott Center for Economic Development and Entrepreneurship is in place and the fabulous structure should open during the coming year. This building will serve as the cornerstone for an economic development renaissance in the Gulf South.
This past fiscal year, the University secured roughly $91 million for research and sponsored programs. Although Congressionally-directed funding is becoming more difficult to obtain, we are encouraged by the quality and size of our competitive awards that included those from both NSF and NIH. To put this into perspective, I note that our sponsored research dollars far exceed that of Texas Tech (48.7 million) and the University of Alabama (at 68.9 million).
During this fiscal year, the focus of research and economic development is to continue to build our capacity across all colleges for securing competitive awards and to launch operation of the Innovation and Commercialization Park as a key element in community and economic development.
This fall’s freshman class stands to be the largest in school history (1,650 total freshmen) and represents just over a 10 percent increase from a year ago. This outstanding class also reflects great quality with over 50 Presidential scholars, nine National Merit scholars and 50 members of the Honors College. Our great folks in Admissions, with the able assistance of financial aid, residence life and all the faculty who entertained campus visitors last year, are working smarter and harder than ever, and creating great results. I note that enrollment on the Gulf Park campus is the highest ever in its history.
The student counseling center and dean of students have created a campus CARES program for students in distress and a Critical Incident Response Team for managing campus crises that are cutting-edge and position us well to deal with the challenges before us. The Eagle Alert text messaging system has been implemented as one of the campus safety initiatives.
Our Office of Community Service Learning program was recognized earlier this year as the IHL Best Practice in Student Affairs and with the silver medal from NASPA. Our Division of Student Affairs has won the IHL Best practice recognition two out of the three years it has been in existence.
The Division of Student Affairs is focused on major initiatives in the areas of campus safety and civility, wellness, growing the enrollment through recruitment and retention, and building the infrastructure for students. Our strategic enrollment plan will be ready for implementation by January, and our new freshman residence hall complex, housing 900 students, will begin coming out of the ground early next semester, with opening targeted for the fall of 2010.
The Coming Year
Our new strategic plan has given us a compass and a guide. The work of the past year has generated a slightly revamped vision for the university and four areas of strategic interest. We see ourselves emerging as the premier research university of the Gulf South, engaging and empowering individuals to transform lives and communities. Over the next few years, we will be spending time, attention and resources on creating at Southern Miss a climate for academic success, better connections with the community, a positive national mage, and a culture of healthy minds, bodies and campuses.
We will be measuring our success, in part, through
• the numbers of baccalaureate degrees we award
• square footage of new or substantially renovated facilities
• student satisfaction surveys
• peer-reviewed publications and creative endeavors
• external research funding
• total endowment
I encourage you to check the Southern Miss homepage and follow the progression of our strategic planning. Please know this has been as inclusive a process as we could muster, but the real work will involve every single member of this university. Join me as we seek ways to meet our goals. I am in this for the long haul and there will be plenty of opportunity for input and adjustment.
An important indicator of our commitment to academic quality came from the provost during the past week. He has asked me to announce his intention to re-establish the school of graduate studies to be administered under an academic dean.
As we renew our commitment to campus community, I hope you will be pleased to learn we will be establishing University Clubs in Hattiesburg and the Gulf Coast. This will give us a place for fellowship and inspiration throughout the week. I will shortly appoint planning committees to visualize and guide the establishment of these structures.
We are renewing our commitment to the external community and, toward that end, I ask you to donate to worthy causes and share with each other. In other words, it is my great hope that Southern Miss will become known as a caring campus. Look around and note that every day we benefit from the largesse of others through scholarships, buildings, programs, labs, donations to foundations and faculty development opportunities.
As you seek out opportunities to give back, consider the average salary of all Southern Miss employees is 50 percent higher than the average salary of all Mississippians. (The average salary of all Mississippians is around $30,000 and the average salary for a Southern Miss employee is around $45,000.)
Please give to your community through the charity of your choice. A good start would be to donate to the United Way. I do, as do the members of my executive cabinet. Not only does our community benefit from the United Way Fund, but this campus does as well. Our goal on the Hattiesburg campus is $100,000. Last year, the United Way contributed more than $300,000 to DuBard School for Language Disorders, Children’s Center for Communication and Development, and the Shafer Center for Crisis Intervention. You can see we receive each year far more than we give.
I signed Presidents’ Campus Climate Commitment earlier this year. That has resulted in an immediate commitment to environmentally sound construction, a solid waste reduction/mitigation programming, and a greenhouse gases emissions inventory to be completed in 2009 (led by Rex Gandy, dean of the College of Science and Technology.) We have established an Office of Sustainability to guide our efforts and hope to become a model for other universities in this region.
Over the coming year, my personal priorities will focus on increasing student retention, raising employee salaries, developing the new Gulf Coast campus and planning for our Centennial celebration.
Our accomplishments of the past have been hard won, and our goals for the future will challenge us. But I have faith in the creativity, the boldness and the determination of the people of Southern Miss. In The Aeneid (book 10, line 284), Virgil wrote: Fortes fortuna adiuvat
“Fortune favors the brave.” I believe our fortunes have and will continue to be determined by the courage we continue to display in the face of scarce resources.
I’ll close by congratulating you again for all you have achieved and will achieve this year. When we adjourn, I invite you to enjoy refreshments on the lawn and continue our conversations.
As we prepare to sing the alma mater, please stand and take a moment to shake your neighbor’s hand, look him/her in the eye and repeat after me: “You’re doing a great job … let me know if I can help.”