Ann Blackwell serves as dean of the College of Education and Psychology at The University of Southern Mississippi. A Southern Miss alumna, Blackwell taught in the Hattiesburg Public School System before taking on her current role. She took a few moments recently to reflect on her current responsibilities and outside interests in a question-and-answer format.
Q: What is your hometown and educational background?
A: I actually grew up in Hattiesburg, graduated from Hattiesburg High School and earned my B.S. from Southern Miss. My graduate degrees were also earned in Mississippi (M.S. from Mississippi State and Ph.D. from Ole Miss).
Q: How many different places have you taught? Reflect on those experiences a little.
A: My career began at Lillie Burney Junior High in Hattiesburg where I taught science. At times I actually yearn to be in the junior high classroom again. I enjoyed the fact that you see your students every day over a 10-month period, and there is time to know them well and to develop meaningful relationships with them. There are multiple opportunities to offer guidance, celebrate their growth and feel that you are having a significant impact. I still stay in touch with a number of my students from Lillie Burney.
Q: How did you end up at Southern Miss?
A: I moved to Southern Miss from Lillie Burney as an adjunct instructor when my husband and I started our family. I remember telling him when I got home from my first college class as an instructor, “It was amazing; I didn’t have to tell one person to sit down!”
Q: What are the biggest challenges facing your department?
A: Our biggest challenges are not unlike the ones that face most colleges and universities. Several years of budget cuts have left us with fewer and fewer people and resources to do the work of a college, yet, the demands continue to grow because our student data reflect increases each semester in the number of students enrolled and the number of student credit hours generated. We are committed to delivering quality academic programs for our students in the most efficient manner possible.
Q: What are your thoughts about Southern Miss’ legacy as a teacher’s college?
A: Our mission at Southern Miss is firmly grounded in our roots as a teacher’s college. I am motivated as a dean to do everything I can to honor that legacy and to provide citizens of Mississippi with the best trained teachers and school leaders in the region. I am motivated because the teaching profession has such an impact on the future. Other than parents, teachers and school leaders exert more influence on the future of each individual, our state and our nation than any other group. As a society, I believe it behooves us to acknowledge the impact of teachers and to invest in them appropriately.
Q: How many teacher candidates are graduating from Southern Miss each year?
A: According to data from the past six years, an average of 275 teacher candidates graduate from Southern Miss each year. We hope to increase that number to 350 over the next few years.
Q: How do we get more people interested in teaching?
A: We are working on an aggressive recruiting plan that actually starts in junior high and senior high classes. We intend to focus on the positive aspects of teaching and the rewards that one experiences in the classroom.
Q: When you’re not busy as a college dean, how do you like to spend your free time?
A: My husband and I have been blessed with four children, two grandchildren and a large extended family. There is nothing I like more than to spend time with them whenever I can. As an educator, I also love reading and read a lot at night. Right now I’m averaging a book a week.
Q: Who is your all-time favorite teacher/teachers and why?
A: I have been blessed with some marvelous teachers over the years, but I have often said my all-time favorite teacher is my first-grade teacher, Mrs. Frances Ogletree. As you know, she actually has strong Southern Miss connections. Of course, I don’t remember all the details, but I definitely remember that as a first-grader I knew she cared about and believed in me. She was always very positive and expected all of her students to do well. As a result, I left the first grade on track in terms of reading, writing and math. Perhaps, even more important, I loved school and I loved learning because of Mrs. Ogletree’s influence. My hope is that every child can begin his or her formal education with a teacher like her.
Q: If you had not gone into this particular career field, what else might you have chosen?
A: I honestly never considered anything else.
Q: Did you ever receive any apples from students?
A: Definitely. I received lots of real apples over the years and also lots of replicas. And I appreciated every single one of them.