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Released April 19, 2004



By Christopher Mapp

HATTIESBURG - Dr. Shelby Thames insists he never set out to become president of The University of Southern Mississippi. In fact, he did not plan many of the accomplishments in his illustrious career.

However, through focus, hard work and sheer determination, Thames said he has been able to meet every challenge in his 38-year career as a student, scientist, educator and administrator.

"I never thought I'd be president," Thames told a standing-room-only crowd Wednesday during the Hattiesburg Clinic's 2003 Lecture Series in the Sciences. "Actually, I never planned anything. I just went from one thing to the other. But one thing I always tried was to do the best I could with what's at hand."

He added, "If you do that, you'll be successful."

A native of Richburg, a small community about five miles outside of Hattiesburg, Thames began his career at Southern Miss, where he earned bachelor of science and master of science degrees in chemistry and organic chemistry, respectively.

Originally, Thames had set out to become a medical doctor, he said, but his inability to pay for medical school put him on the first of many different career paths.

"I had no money, so I went into chemistry," he said. Venturing outside of the Pine Belt for the first time, Thames moved with his wife and two children to the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. There he earned a doctorate in organic chemistry.

After returning to Southern Miss to teach, Thames soon identified the necessity for a new branch of chemical science that would address industries' need for well-trained students entering the work force.

That discipline involved polymers, and by 1970 he had become the sole faculty member of the newly created Department of Polymer Science.

"I figured if I could train students in school for the things they'd need rather than the industry having to train them for two years when they entered the job market, then they'd come to Hattiesburg knocking the doors down for our graduates," Thames said.

By 1996, Thames had made good on his promise. U.S. News and World Report named the university's polymer science program the nation's third best, and since then, it has remained in the top 10 nationally. Renamed the School of Polymers and High Performance Materials in 1999, the program was the first in the United States to offer bachelor's, master's and doctoral polymer science degrees.

Also the first engineering program at Southern Miss, it is the only Mississippi university to have a program ranked nationally in the top 10.

Emphasizing economic development and job opportunities for polymer graduates, Thames said he wants to make Mississippi the "polymer capital of the world."

"I don't want our students to have to leave the state to find jobs that they can find here," he said.

As dean of the College of Science, Thames secured funds from the State Legislature to construct the Bobby Chain Technology Building. Thames said, "I never planned on being an administrator, either, but there I could look after the new program."

In 1998, Thames oversaw the completion of a new 100,000-square-foot polymer science center named in his honor. Thames' research team also was instrumental in the creation of American Pride paint, marketed by Southern Diversified Products in partnership with Southern Miss. American Pride is an agricultural-based paint developed by Southern Miss's School of Polymers and High Performance Materials that some have called the top recent innovation in the industry.

Thames said that is just one example of the type of economic rewards Southern Miss can produce. "Universities in Mississippi are the best economic machines we have, full of intelligent, creative minds," he said. "During my tenure, I'd like to see 10 millionaires from the faculty created through their research and hard work."

In addition to teaching and research, Thames served as vice-president for administration and regional campuses, and executive vice-president. He became the eighth president of Southern Miss in 2002.

Likening the creation of the polymer science department and his rise to the university's top post, Thames said, "From humble beginnings, things will turn out right if you keep your focus."


OCEAN SPRINGS -- Award-winning wildlife photographer Tom Ulrich will lead two photographic events at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory on Wednesday, March 10.

He will present a nature photography workshop from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and then a talk and slide show called "Wildlife Images 2003" at 7 p.m., both at The University of Southern Mississippi GCRL.

Admission to the evening event is free and will be held in the Caylor Auditorium at GCRL. The veteran photographer will feature photos from his 2003 photographic safaris abroad and in North America. He will answer questions and sign his books during the reception following his slide show.

The registration fee for the all-day workshop is $50 per person, payable to GCRL. Registration includes a continental breakfast, light lunch and snacks. Participation is limited to 20. Though the workshop is geared toward beginners, Ulrich tailors the experience to meet needs for all degrees of skill.

"The beginners will definitely benefit from the workshop, but I always help the more advanced get something out of it also," Ulrich said. "I lead many photo trips and always find a wide range of levels."

Ulrich said participants do not need to bring their photographic equipment unless they need an explanation about some aspect of their equipment.

Topics include a brief review of the principles of photography, relationships between shutter and aperture settings, fundamental elements of composition, use and timing of fill-in flash, digital versus film photography, techniques of close-up photography, and a brief discussion of slide etiquette, the photography business and marketing.

Ulrich grew up in South Chicago, graduated with a degree in biology from Southern Illinois University and taught for four years before launching his career as a freelance photographer. He has supported himself with nature photography for the past 29 years.

His library of more than 300,000 transparencies includes birds and mammals from all over the world. His photographs have been featured in publications such as National Wildlife, Audubon, National Geographic, Montana Outdoors and Life.

He has published six nature books, including Mammals of the Rockies, Birds of the Northern Rockies, Once Upon a Frame and his 2002 release, Photo Pantanal. Dr. William E. Hawkins, GCRL executive director, said Ulrich brings the scientific and artistic worlds together.

"Tom earns his living photographing wildlife all over the world," Hawkins sad. "He is an outstanding observer and a biologist. His approach to photography is to capture his subjects exhibiting their natural behavior."

The GCRL is home to the university's Department of Coastal Sciences, the Center for Fisheries Research and Development, and the Gulf Coast Geospatial Center. The J.L. Scott Marine Education Center and Aquarium is also a unit of the laboratory. The GCRL is part of the Southern Miss College of Science and Technology. For more information, call the laboratory at (228) 872-4200.


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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM