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Released March 6, 2003

By Phil Hearn

HATTIESBURG - Martin Loicano attributes his newly won $18,000-a-year fellowship to pursue doctoral studies at a prestigious Ivy League school to his experience as an enthusiastic participant in The University of Southern Mississippi's Vietnam Studies Program.

The 28-year-year-old native of Fort Worth, Texas, and New Orleans – who earned a master of arts degree in history from Southern Miss last summer – just received a five-year Sage Fellowship for work on a doctorate in Asian studies at Cornell University starting next fall.

Loicano attributed his success to three straight years of participating in Southern Miss' popular Vietnam Studies Program, which earlier this year won a Andrew Heiskell Award for Innovation in International Education. The program, he said, changed the course of his life.

After finishing New Orleans' St. Martin's school, Loicano traveled and worked at odd jobs before entering Southern Miss, where he began studying history under the tutelage of professors Andy Wiest, Bradley Bond and Orazio Ciccarelli, among others. He left Southern Miss to earn a bachelor's degree in history from Louisiana State University in 1999, but returned to Southern Miss later that year to enter graduate school.

"Early in graduate school, I knew I very much wanted to spend my life studying history, but I had not yet focused that interest," he said. "In 2000, I had the opportunity to take Dr. Wiest's Vietnam War course, one of Southern Miss's best in my opinion... In Dr. Wiest's class, I discovered a subject that fascinated me, taught by a man whose extraordinary enthusiasm and talent were infectious."

Wiest, a Hattiesburg native and authority on military history, said he remembered Loicano as a former Southern Miss freshman from "zillions of years ago" who got "turned on to history."

"After spending time working at a car dealership, Martin came here for his M.A.," said Wiest. "He didn't really know what he wanted to do – but got involved in the very first Vietnam study-abroad experience in 2000. I think that it is safe to say the experience changed his life. He came back from Vietnam with direction and passion.

"He also came back from Vietnam with marketable skills and an experience that set him apart on the job and in the graduate school market," added the professor, noting that Loicano also participated in the study-abroad trips to Vietnam in 2001 and 2002, and plans to return this year.

Loicano said his initial interest in coming up with the $4,000 cost of the study-abroad program was further perked by the presentations of John Young – a Vietnam veteran from Picayune, a victim of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder stemming from three combat tours, and a regular participant in Wiest's annual class on the war and on the trips to Vietnam.

"The decision to make a lifetime study of Vietnamese history came directly from my first experience in Vietnam in 2000," said Loicano. "Anyone who has been to Vietnam can tell you it is a truly remarkable place.

"Almost as soon as we got off the plane at Tan Son Nhut airport in Saigon, I knew this place would remain a fascination of mine for life," he continued. "The people, the very land itself are so incredibly alive, so resilient. By creating this program, John, Dr. Wiest and all those involved have transformed my life."

Dr. Charles Bolton, professor and Southern Miss history chair, noted Loicano is the second student of Wiest in the past few years to continue their studies at an Ivy League School. Mary Kathryn Barber, a 1999 Southern Miss doctoral graduate, received the John M. Odin Post-doctoral Fellowship in Military History at Yale University.

"This certainly reflects well on Andy and on the military history program in our department," said Bolton.

"Our program is seen by professionals in the field as a model of a university on the rise," added Wiest.

Loicano taught world history courses at Southern Miss and at Dillard University in New Orleans, and Wiest said his three successive years of travel to Vietnam helped him land a job as a history instructor at the University of New Orleans while still working on his M.A. at Southern Miss. His master's thesis, added the professor, detailed the relationship between U.S. advisers and the South Vietnamese military – a topic described by Wiest as "under-researched."

"Without doubt, Martin's experience in Vietnam once again set him apart from the crowd of applicants at Cornell," Wiest maintained. "How many other applicants to Cornell's prestigious Asian Studies Program could say that they had studied in Vietnam three times?"

Loicano said he looking forward to his doctoral work at Cornell and eventually hopes to find a job teaching history and Asian studies "somewhere like Southern Miss, where I can try my best to create opportunities like the ones that the History Department at Southern Miss created for me."



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July 16, 2003 9:35 AM