Dr. Joe Paul serves as the vice president for student affairs at The University of Southern Mississippi. Paul, a Southern Miss alumnus, has been employed at the university in various capacities for almost 35 years. Recently, Paul took a few moments to reflect on his current responsibilities and outside interests in a question-and-answer format.
Q: Where did you grow up and how did you end up attending Southern Miss?
A: I attended school at Bay High in Bay St. Louis, Miss. I was likely headed to Pearl River Community College when I received a call from the Southern Miss Honors College Dean Wallace Kay, inviting me to come to campus to interview for the Honors College. That visit sealed the deal for me.
Q: What are your fondest memories of those days as a college student?
A: I have so many of my undergraduate days. Great faculty, challenging classes, participation in every intramural sport offered, making friendships that have lasted a lifetime. Working on the Student Printz, Yearbook and at the radio station, Sigma Nu fraternity. I also worked 30 hours a week for locally owned Hattiesburg retail operations. I started downtown with Fine Brothers Matison and Mississippi Britches; then moved to the “brand new” Cloverleaf Mall with those operations. One thing I miss from those days is my 1967 Mustang. I never should have gotten rid of that car!
Q: How long have you been here now and what compelled you to stay in one place so long?
A: I began work at Southern Miss just 18 months after receiving my bachelor’s degree in Communications in an entry level student activities job at the tender age of 22. My first day of work was the opening of the then brand-new R.C. Cook University Union in the fall of 1976. I will complete 35 years of service this August. I have been fortunate along the way to receive promotion opportunities, becoming Dean of Students in 1984 and Vice President of Students Affairs in 1992. I am blessed to have meaningful work, great students to support and a deep affinity for this place.
Q: What are the best and toughest parts of your job?
A: The best part of my work is engaging earnest, bright, forward looking students and on occasion being able to help them along the way a bit. It is gratifying to develop those relationships and then watch as they go on to do great things in their work and communities. The toughest part is dealing with student tragedy; the loss of a parent or sibling, the death of a student or a calamity.
Q: How often have you been kidded in your lifetime about having two first names?
A: Forever! Especially being here in the Deep South, where often folk have two first names. I have frequently been asked Joe Paul, what is your last name? There is just not a regular sir name in my family; as my mother’s maiden name is Scott. Go figure.
Q:hat do you see as the biggest change in the university over the past 35 years?
A: We have evolved tremendously from a really good regional teaching institution to a comprehensive research extensive nationally prominent university. The growth and progress is really remarkable. We now compete for the very best students, have state-of-the-art facilities, successful major college athletics and yet we have been able to retain that caring, personalized, student centered culture that was a part of Southern Miss from the first day I set foot on this campus.
Q: What’s the best advice you ever received?
A: The best advice I have received to guide my work was that the only constant in higher education is change. You never get there, or figure it all out, because your students and their needs are constantly changing. It is imperative to meet each student, and each generation of students, where they are without judgment.
Q: When did you latch onto the slogan: “Leave it Better Than You Found it”?
A: We began focusing on recruiting student leaders about 15 years ago. We wanted students who would be engaged at Southern Miss as load bearing members of an academic community. We have learned that students develop the deepest affinity for Southern Miss not so much through what is provided to them, but through what they give to the University community and their fellow students. So about a decade ago, I started challenging students at Preview and virtually every opportunity I had to speak with them to leave Southern Miss better than they found it. The rhetoric has caught on and our students are truly engaged in moving us “To the Top!”
Q: What animal best describes your personality and why?
A:My friends would probably say chimpanzee; but I prefer golden eagle for obvious reasons.
Q: If you had not forged a career in education, where do you think you might have landed?
A: Probably in community and economic development work, but my fantasy job would be working in public relations or management for a professional sports franchise.