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Year in Review: USM Celebrates Milestones in Academics, Research, and Student Achievement

Thu, 12/19/2019 - 14:30pm | By: Van Arnold

An historic research classification, major investments in The University of Southern Mississippi (USM)’s operations on the Gulf Coast, and significant advancements in support for student-veterans, are among the top 12 USM stories of 2019, as selected by staff members in the University’s Office of University Communications.

In no particular order, some of USM’s biggest and best news includes the following stories.

1. USM Ranks Among the Nation’s Leading Research Institutions

In January, USM was recognized as one of the nation's leading research institutions by the prestigious Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, the pre-eminent classification of top doctoral research universities. USM's inclusion in the “R1: Doctoral Universities – Very high research activity” category places the University in the distinguished company of institutions like Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Johns Hopkins, and others. Only 131 institutions in the nation are classified as R1, which represents the highest level of research activity for universities. The number of doctoral degrees granted, research expenditures and research activity are among the factors contributing to USM's new classification.

2. Advancing Research on the Gulf Coast

In November, the National Science Foundation announced that a Gulf Coast civil rights icon was being honored as the namesake of a new, $100 million oceanographic research ship, to be operated by the Gulf – Caribbean Oceanographic Consortium, led by USM and the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium. NSF officials have informed the National Science Board that the ship, which is under construction and will have dual homeports at the Port of Gulfport and Houma, LA, will be named Research Vessel (R/V) Gilbert R. Mason. For decades until his death in 2006, Dr. Gilbert Rutledge Mason Sr. was a pioneering Civil Rights leader and physician to the mariner community along the Gulf Coast.

Also in November, Gov. Phil Bryant along with U.S. Senator Roger Wicker and U.S. Congressman Steven Palazzo, in conjunction with the Mississippi State Port Authority and USM, celebrated the groundbreaking of the Roger F. Wicker Center for Ocean Enterprise located at the Port of Gulfport. The facility will serve as the centerpiece of research and development in the Gulf, further establishing the initiatives of the Governor’s Ocean Task Force and creating a unique maritime technology environment on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

In May, a discovery in Alabama showed evidence that a team of researchers from USM’s School of Ocean Science and Engineering located the Clotilda, America's last slave ship.

In June, a team of USM researchers began working to advance the state of Mississippi's scientific understanding and the public's comprehension of the effects of the re-opening of Bonnet Carré Spillway on the Mississippi Sound.

3. USM Hosts Renowned Speakers, High-Profile Events

In September, legendary war correspondent and TV anchor Dan Rather delivered the Lt. Col. John H. Dale Lecture in International Security and Global Policy at Hattiesburg’s Saenger Theatre.

The acclaimed University Forum Series featured an outstanding Fall 2019 lineup of speakers. In September, Parkland, Fla., shooting survivor Samantha Fuentes shared her experience in a riveting address on the Hattiesburg campus, while October’s forum featured Grammy-winning producer, entrepreneur and Southern Miss alumna Tena Clark. The series concluded in November with a presentation by Sonia Shah, an investigative journalist who writes about science, human rights, and international politics. Her work has been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Scientific American, and Foreign Affairs.

Kathleen N. Cleaver, a prominent and influential figure in the American Civil Rights Movement who continues to fight for social justice across the country and around the world, was the keynote speaker for the 2019 Armstrong-Branch Distinguished Lecture Series in February. Cleaver's fight for human rights spans seven decades, ventures across national and international borders, and includes service with notable public interest organizations.

Esteemed biophysicist, DNA scientist, and Southern Miss alumna Dr. Michelle Wang was the featured speaker for the Fourth Annual Rayborn Lecture Series in Physics and Astronomy in November on USM’s Hattiesburg campus. Dr. Wang is a professor and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator at Cornell University.

The University also hosted a number of important events on the Hattiesburg campus during 2019. Chief among those were a televised debate between gubernatorial candidates Tate Reeves and Jim Hood held in October; a naturalization ceremony for 50 people seeing U.S. citizenship also in October; and, the Mississippi High School state football championships for classes 1A-6A in December.

4. National Scholarship Winners

For the first time since 1995 USM saw three students earn Goldwater Scholarships in the same year. No other Mississippi college or university had more than one winner for 2019. This year's trio brings the total number of USM Goldwater Scholarship recipients to a state-leading total of 24. The winners included: Erin Crater, of Laurel, Miss., a junior with a double major in polymer science and chemistry; Michael Sandoz, of Long Beach, Miss., a junior polymer science major; and Clara Ellis, of Hattiesburg, Miss., a sophomore ACS Chemistry major.

5. Ellie Jewel Davis Dahmer Presented Honorary Doctorate

Esteemed Civil Rights activist and lifelong educator Mrs. Ellie Jewel Davis Dahmer, of Forrest County, Miss., was awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, during USM’s Fall 2019 Commencement ceremony. Largely recognized for her work alongside her late husband, voting rights icon Mr. Vernon F. Dahmer Sr. Dr. Dahmer was honored for her contributions to the American Civil Rights Movement and her advocacy for literacy and academic achievement.

6. Excellence in Nursing, Teacher Education

In June, USM’s College of Nursing and Health Professions received renewal of a federal grant worth $2.8 million over four years as part of the Advanced Nursing Education Workforce (ANEW) Program. The ANEW Program provides funding to support innovative academic-practice partnerships to prepare primary care advanced practice registered nursing students to practice in rural and underserved settings through academic and clinical training.

The USM Master's in Nursing program made a significant leap in Best Graduate Schools rankings for 2020 by U.S. News & World Report. The USM program climbed from No. 136 in the 2019 rankings to a new position of No. 111. According to the report, USM's Master's in Nursing is Mississippi's top-ranked program.

And seven years after its inception, USM’s Nurse Anesthesia Program has grown into one of the institution's premier professional healthcare training regimens. The prestigious program, administered through USM's College of Nursing and Health Professions, was launched in January, 2013 with 20 students. Since the first graduating class in 2015, the program has produced 74 graduates. The demanding program includes 36 months of study and concludes with the awarding of a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree. Graduates are then eligible to take the applicable exam to become a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist.

In December, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards ranked The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) 11th in the nation and first in Mississippi in producing new National Board Certified Teachers in 2019 with 997 teachers certified.

7. Leadership Transition, Alumni Come Home

In January, Allyson Easterwood assumed the role of Vice President for Finance and Administration. Easterwood had served as interim vice president since April of 2017.

On April 8, Jeremy McClain was introduced as the University's new athletics director at a news conference on the Hattiesburg campus. McClain returned to the University after serving as the Director of Athletics at Troy University since August of 2015. He served as the Deputy Director of Athletics at Southern Miss for three years prior to his departure to Troy.

And on April 18, former Southern Miss student-athlete and 1988 graduate Jay Ladner was introduced as the school's new head men's basketball coach. Ladner, a member of the 1987 NIT championship team, previously served five years at the helm for Southeastern Louisiana, guiding the team to the 2017-18 Southland Conference regular-season title.

In July, the University announced that Southern Miss alumnus Dr. John “Bret” Becton had been selected as the new dean of the College of Business and Economic Development. Becton was previously the dean of the B.I. Moody III College of Business Administration at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

In October, Sirena Cantrell was named Associate Vice President and Dean of Students, succeeding Dr. Eddie Holloway, who retired from USM on June 30 after 40 years of service to the institution. Before coming to USM, she served as Dean of Students at Mississippi University for Women.

8. Military Milestones

In November, the USM Foundation announced a $2.4 million fundraising initiative to construct a new home for the Center for Military Veterans, Service Members and Families on the Hattiesburg campus. Quinlan-Hammond Hall of Honor’s tentative completion date is Fall of 2021. The new 5,200 square-foot facility will include a conference room, study space for small groups or individual work, a library with adjoining lounge and study, as well as other meeting areas and staff office space. The building project is 100-percent privately funded.

In August, USM and the Mississippi National Guard announced the Golden Eagle Free Tuition Program, a joint initiative that will provide members of the Mississippi Army and Air National Guards the opportunity to graduate, tuition-free.

The University continued to be recognized for its commitment to student-veterans and their families with a pair of lofty national rankings by military publications. In its 2019-20 rankings, VIQTORY listed USM at No. 3 nationwide among research institutions who have earned the Military Friendly® designation. For the third straight year, USM earned gold status – the highest ranking handed out by VIQTORY. In addition, Military Times ranked USM at No. 9 nationally for services provided to military students, marking the University’s first entry into the Top-10 by that publication.

9. Symphony’s Centennial

USM’s Symphony Orchestra kicked off its 100th anniversary celebration in September with a spectacular gala “Casablanca.” The gala featured musical performances by the USM Symphony Orchestra and Jazz Bands, as well as a cirque artist, costumed characters and more. The celebration will continue through 2020.

10. Hattiesburg Campus Enhancements

In August, some units in USM’s College of Education and Human Sciences began occupying a new home in Joseph Greene Hall, following major renovation work at the facility located on the west side of the Hattiesburg campus.

At the conclusion of 2019, the University was also nearing completion of the Wellness Center, a 28,000-square-foot facility on the Hattiesburg campus. The center will serve as the home to USM’s volleyball program and will also include a training room, weight room, locker rooms, classrooms, administrative offices and additional meeting space.

11. Free Speech Rating Rises to Highest Level

The University of Southern Mississippi revised its speech policies to join an elite group of just 47 colleges and universities nationwide that earn the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education's highest rating (Green Light) for free speech.

12. White House Visits

In September, USM School of Psychology Associate Professor Dr. Mike Anestis was invited to the White House to give direct feedback on a suicide prevention strategy proposal to be presented to President Donald Trump next year. The task force aims to create a national strategy that can help prevent suicide more broadly as well. Anestis is a nationally recognized expert on firearms and suicide.

In November, Dr. Monty Graham, Associate Vice President for Research, Coastal Operations, participated in a White House Summit on Partnerships in Ocean Science and Technology. Graham joined about 100 national leaders with ocean science expertise and interests in the nation’s capital for the summit. The summit brought together the private sector, academia, philanthropies, and the Federal government to discuss opportunities for building and sustaining partnerships in ocean-related research and promote technologies and investments.

And finally, Southern Miss alumnus Brian Dozier joined his Washington Nationals teammates at the White House following theif World Series victory in October. Dozier, a member of the 2009 College World Series team has been a Major League Baseball All-Star, a Gold Glove Winner, and now, World Series Champion.