Founders’ Day on The University of Southern Mississippi Hattiesburg campus April 1 was a celebration of the institution’s past, its future and the people who have made it what it is today.
It was also the first day of the presidency of Dr. Rodney Bennett, the University’s 10th executive officer. Bennett welcomed those in attendance at Bennett Auditorium (named for the University’s second president Claude Bennett) to the event that included honors and recognition for the achievements of students, faculty and staff.
Bennett has already spent time at Southern Miss prior to his official start date, becoming acquainted with its constituents and engaged in the recovery of the Hattiesburg campus from the Feb. 10 tornado that struck the Pine Belt.
“It’s my great honor and privilege to serve as the University’s 10th president,” Bennett said, adding that the people who make up the school are “testament to the vibrancy and quality of this institution over the past 103 years.”
“Since coming to I have been inspired by the spirit, quality and tenacity of the Southern Miss students, faculty and staff that I have encountered so far,” he said.
Honors and awards at the event include the following:
*During the university’s 2010 Centennial Celebration, a Centennial Legacy Circle was created to honor current and former members of the Southern Miss faculty and staff with at least 40 years of service. Those honored April 1 included Dr. Frances Karnes, Distinguished Professor and director of the Karnes Center for Gifted Studies; and Mary Ann Schaub, assistant professor for the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences.
More than 100 other employees were recognized for 30, 20 and 10 years of service.
*Bailee Alexander of Purvis, Miss. was named Most Outstanding Freshman Female and and Jeffrey George of Covington, La. was named Most Outstanding Male.
*Mary Catherine Price of Gulfport, Miss. and Benjamin Knaus of Kevil, Ky. were named Best Female and Male Citizens, respectively.
*Outstanding Freshman honorees included Austin Allen, Preston Bell, Kacey Breaux, Johnny Le, Meridith McPhail, Jeremy Moore, Kyle Moore, Jordan Nettles, Sarah “Lizzy” Rhett, Sarah Selph, Jessica Thompson and Aleke Vehos.
*Tim Wells, a senior from Hurley, Miss. received the “Leave it Better Than You Found It” Award. This award, established by the Division of Student Affairs, is given to a student who exemplifies the title of the award with his or her efforts to leave the university better than they found it.
*The recipient of the Barbara Ross Gold Leaf Scholarship was Mohammed Ismail, a senior from Cairo, Egypt. The award is named for longtime Southern Miss employee Barbara Ross, who served as director of the R.C. Cook Student Union. The award was established by the Gold Leaf Society. It is given to a student who is a member of a Greek organization, has a passion for the university and potential to be an active alumni leader.
*Inductees into the Student Hall of Fame included Ashley Nicole Barnes of Hattiesburg; Lauren Jane Barrios of Westwego, La.; Cally Elizabeth Biagini of Gulfport, Miss.; Jazymne Butler of Vicksburg, Miss.; Claire Dulaney of St. Cloud, Fla.; Austin Jackson of Clinton, Miss.; Benjamin Chad Lyman of Mobile, Ala.; and Jordan Rex Matthews of Biloxi, Miss.
*Student Government officers were also sworn in at the event by outgoing SGA Attorney General Donald Holmes. The new officers include Anne Marie Chilcutt, president; Owen Patrick Terry, vice president; Christopher Glenn Brewer, attorney general; Allen Moore, election commissioner; and Crystal Johnson, treasurer.
Top student honors included the Phi Kappa Silver Bowl and the Judge R. J. Bishop Award, presented to seniors Blakely Owens of Hattiesburg and Kristen Mechanic of Biloxi, respectively.
The Phi Kappa Silver Bowl is awarded to a student who maintains a perfect 4.0 grade point average. Named in honor of the late Judge R.J. Bishop, the Bishop Award goes to a student who is a native Mississippian and has overcome adversity in pursuit of their degree.
“I’m honored,” said Owens, a student in the university’s prestigious Honors College and a National Merit Presidential Scholar. “It’s been a challenging experience, but very rewarding. We have exemplary professors here at Southern Miss.”
“I’m just overwhelmed,” Mechanic said. “This means so much to me. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be a student here.”