Five years ago Hurricane Katrina virtually washed away The University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Park campus in Long Beach.
Today, the rebirth continues under the ambitious leadership of Dr. Frances Lucas, who was named vice president and campus executive officer of the Gulf Coast facility in April. Lucas, daughter of University of Southern Mississippi President Emeritus Aubrey Lucas, officially began her administrative duties last month.
Lucas says she is “thrilled to be in the high tempo of a research university” and considers her No. 1 priority to be the restoration of Hardy, Lloyd and Elizabeth Halls which were destroyed by Katrina’s high winds and massive storm surge. Additionally, Lucas said plans call for renovation of the former Recreation Center to hold the university’s Physical Plant which will, in turn, house nursing. A new science building is also part of the restoration efforts.
“My goal is to break ground on all six building projects in the next 12 months,” said Lucas. “In summary, the top goal is to rebuild and enhance the Gulf Park campus to get all of us back together.”
Following a 10-year presidency at Millsaps College in Jackson, Lucas brings 31 years of executive experience to Southern Miss. She also served at Emory University, Baldwin-Wallace College, Mississippi State University and the University of Alabama. She succeeded Dr. Pat Joachim, associate provost, who retired after leading the university’s Gulf Coast operations since 2005.
While focusing on construction and structural objectives, Lucas has not forgotten the importance of addressing student needs. She said another key priority is to re-engineer the enrollment and registration process “to make it far simpler and much more student-friendly.”
When asked why students and their parents should choose Southern Miss Gulf Coast, Lucas said, “because we have the best and most accomplished faculty in the region. If you want to learn from the best, come here.”