Martha Dunagin Saunders (2007-2012)

Dr. Martha Dunagin Saunders Dr. Martha Dunagin Saunders began her presidency May 21, 2007.

She became the university's first female president and ninth president overall. A Hattiesburg native and Southern Miss alumna, Saunders returned to her Mississippi roots from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

Early in her tenure, Dr. Saunders instituted planning efforts to establish strategic university priorities. With these priorities as a solid foundation, Dr. Saunders led the university to new heights with record enrollment, new facilities, campus improvements and an enhanced university presence on the national stage.

The University was ranked among the nation’s top 20 Most Popular Universities by U.S. News & World Report in 2011, and was recognized as one of only two Green Colleges in the state by the Princeton Review. In addition, over the course of her presidency more than $250 million in facility improvements were realized or had entered the planning stages.

Dr. Saunders also positioned the University to better address the needs of the state, region and country. While programs in polymer science, marine science and education continued to attract the best and brightest minds to Southern Miss, the University’s College of Business was ranked among the nation’s top 15 percent of business schools for two consecutive years by U.S. News & World Report.

The college also was poised for greater success with the start of construction of Scianna Hall, a $33-million facility on the Hattiesburg campus.

With Dr. Saunders’ backing, the profile of the University’s School of Nursing also received a boost, when plans to elevate its status to a degree-granting college were approved by the IHL Board.

Dr. Saunders stepped down July 1, 2012, and was replaced by Dr. Aubrey Keith Lucas as interim president.