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Released July 1, 2004

SOUTHERN MISS ALUMNUS MAKES GOOD
ON DECADES-OLD PREDICTION
By Christopher Mapp

HATTIESBURG -- The University of Southern Mississippi has always felt like home to Kip Sharp. That's because for most of his life, it has been.

The son of a professor, Sharp was first introduced to college life not after leaving home, like most students, but instead shortly after leaving the hospital's maternity ward.

With his mother's office in what was then the School of Home Economics, Sharp found a convenient home in the nearby Southern Miss Infant Development Center. Six weeks after he was born, a picture of Sharp being weighed by student caregivers at the center appeared in his hometown paper, the "Hattiesburg American." Dated April 14, 1976, the picture ran with the caption "Future alumnus."

Although he could not even walk when the picture was taken, Sharp would one day fulfill the paper's prophecy by walking across the stage to receive his degree from Southern Miss - not once, but twice. Now 28, Sharp was hooded this spring after he earned his doctorate in polymer science, punctuating his lifelong educational association with the university.

"It's been a great experience, all 28 years of it," said Sharp, whose wife - also a polymer science student at Southern Miss - gave birth to the couple's first child in May.

"Growing up on campus the way I did, visiting different professors and people, I was always known as the 'tagalong' because they knew my mom and dad. That made it feel more like home, more like family, knowing so many people who knew me too," Sharp said.

Sharp wasn't alone when he first arrived at the Infant Development Center. There were several others, all cared for by students taking child development and family courses. It was a convenient situation for Sharp's parents - especially his mother, who could drop by several times a day and look in on her son. Because she knew the students personally and even taught some of them, it helped allay a first-time mother's fears.

"Even though it was a learning center where students would go over and observe so many hours a day, I was never afraid of leaving Kip there because I knew he was in good hands," said Sue Sharp, who recently retired as a clothing and textiles professor.

Former Infant Development Center director Lynell Rogers, who is now retired, remembers Sharp as a "tall, blond-headed boy" who was "real cooperative and easy to teach."

"I had the privilege of watching him grow up during his time (in the program)," Rogers said. "I remember his dad was responsible for picking him up a lot." Rogers said she was friends with Sharp's mother and watched Sue Sharp's two subsequent children, Thad and Lynley, go through the same infant development program. They, too, both graduated from Southern Miss.

After outgrowing the Infant Development Center, Sharp began the toddler program, then the kindergarten program and finally the preschool. When it was time for Sharp to enter first grade, it was his first foray outside the campus confines.

"He went through all the programs at Southern Miss, all the way to first grade. But I had a feeling one day he'd be back," said Sharp's father, Merv Sharp.

And come back he did. After finishing at Hattiesburg High, Sharp returned to his home away from home, where he majored in polymer science. After earning his undergraduate degree, Sharp started looking for graduate schools.

"The only other place I could go to study what I was interested in - coatings research - was North Dakota, and that's too cold," Sharp said. "There are some schools in Ohio and Massachusetts, but they didn't do the stuff I wanted to do."

In the end, though he looked both far and wide for a graduate school, the logical answer turned up under his nose. "I went and visited some other chemistry programs, but you just don't get as much bang for your buck as you do here. Southern Miss was always my number one choice," he said.

Back at his old stomping grounds, Sharp entered the doctorate program in 1998. He taught undergraduate classes and worked in the Thames Research Group, which he credited for expanding his knowledge and work ethic tremendously.

Southern Miss President Dr. Shelby Thames said he always appreciated Sharp's positive attitude. "He has always been able to work with any research group in polymer science and get cooperation and support from everyone," Thames said. "It takes that kind of interpersonal skills to get the job done in the most effective way. Kip is a true asset to our program and to Southern Miss."

Sharp said he learned a great deal his first year, then hit a learning curve in the lab his second year. The third year was easier, Sharp said, and "by the time you get done (with the program), people are coming to ask you for answers where once you were asking others."

Currently employed in Lake Charles, La., by the South African chemical company Sasol, Sharp has moved on from the university he grew up around and into the private commercial sector. But his heart, he says, will forever remain at Southern Miss.

"I think for now I'll stay in the commercial sector a while and make some contacts in the industry and learn more about what they do. But I would love to teach someday," he said.

Does that mean another return trip to Southern Miss one day?

"Where else?" Sharp quipped.

-30-

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July 16, 2004 2:11 PM

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