-- 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."
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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."
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.
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.
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
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,"
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
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."
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."
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.
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?
else?" Sharp quipped.