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Released October 28, 2003

SOUTHERN MISS PRESIDENT SELLS STUDENTS ON SCIENCE

HATTIESBURG - Before University of Southern Mississippi President Dr. Shelby Thames' presentation at Biloxi High Wednesday, senior Viet Nguyen had never considered a career in polymer science.

After listening to the former professor-turned-president talk about the numerous applications and career opportunities in the emerging field, Nguyen was sold.

"I didn't really know anything about polymer science before today," said Nguyen, 17, an AP Calculus student at Biloxi High. "It's very interesting, and Dr. Thames explained it very well. It seems like everything is made out of polymers."

Speaking to about 150 math, science and physics students, Dr. Thames used the opportunity to showcase Southern Miss and its polymer science program, ranked consistently in the nation's top 10. The lecture was the first stop on Dr. Thames' tour of three Mississippi high schools. Up next are stops at Gulfport High School on Friday, Nov. 14, and Jackson Prep on Monday, Nov. 24. An unconfirmed date is being arranged with the Mississippi School for Math & Science, tentatively set for Monday, Nov. 17.

The founder of Southern Miss' polymer science program, Dr. Thames said he relishes the chance to reach out to students and interest them in science.

"As you know, teaching is the love of my life," Dr. Thames said. "You can see the excitement of these young people. They're delightful, bright and aggressive, and they look like fine prospective Southern Miss students."

Speaking in the high school's lecture hall, Dr. Thames gave a slide presentation about polymers, their characteristics and uses, and their benefit to society. He explained that polymers - which mean literally "many single units" - are manufactured in laboratories but also exist in nature in the form of rubber, cellulose, proteins and wax. "Polymer science is an enticing field because you get to make things that are useful products. It's not just all theoretical," Dr. Thames said.

It seems that you can take the university president out of the classroom, but you can't take the classroom out of the president. At least that was the impression of one Biloxi High official who attended the lecture. "You'd think he still teaches this subject every day," said Annette Matherne, director of the Career Center at Biloxi High. "It's like he's never even left the classroom."

Biloxi School Board President Rick Stewart said having someone with Dr. Thames' renowned scientific background addressing the school's students was a great opportunity to interest them in careers in science.

"His talking about polymer science helps the students make that connection between what they're learning in the classroom and how that can translate into jobs in the field," Stewart said. "I hope it will convince the best science students that making good grades and studying hard will open doors to college and beyond."

Theresa Dinh, 16, a junior trigonometry student, said she'd previously heard of the work with polymers being done at Southern Miss. "My dentist told me her sister was studying polymers. It sounds exciting," Dinh said.

At the end of the lecture, Dr. Thames was presented with a gift bag on behalf of the Biloxi High faculty and student body. Pulling several of the items from the bag, Dr. Thames furthered the point of his lecture, displaying a ceramic cup, a cellulose bag, a plastic coffee mug - all made from the same thing. "Who knows what all these are made of? Polymers," he told the audience, flashing a smile.

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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM

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