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Charting Our Coastal Future

Fri, 10/09/2020 - 01:39pm | By: Rodney D. Bennett

For more than 110 years, The University of Southern Mississippi has delivered high quality education and research programs that meet the needs of our communities, our state, and our world. And for 73 of those years, our University has included a growing presence on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

I am proud to share the vision, pillars, and initial implementation plan that will no doubt solidify our position as the education and research leader on the Mississippi Gulf Coast – for not only the next 73 years, but the next 110 years, and the next 110 years.

Since The University of Southern Mississippi first offered classes in Biloxi in 1947, our coastal presence has expanded to include major operations at

  • Our Gulf Park Campus in Long Beach;
  • Our Gulf Coast Research Laboratory (GCRL) in Ocean Springs;
  • The Marine Research Center located at the Port of Gulfport; and,
  • The John C. Stennis Space Center in Hancock County;
  • Among multiple other coastal sites.

Today, as the only dual-campus university in the state of Mississippi, we are a significant economic driver across the Coast. Annually, The University of Southern Mississippi infuses more than $115 million into the coastal economy and creates and supports more than 1,200 coastal jobs.

Since my arrival at the University in 2013, our goal has been to work directly with our dynamic Coast community to define the education, business, and industry needs unique to the region, and to do everything in our power to ensure our institution is responsive to this evolving landscape.

Over the past few years, this work has evolved into a new vision and pillars to propel our Coastal Operations far into the future. This framework is grounded in shared governance, market research, and consultation with coastal business and community leadership. I could not be more excited that we have reached this defining moment.

Our vision is for The University of Southern Mississippi’s Coastal Operations to be a national leader addressing issues relevant to people in coastal and maritime settings.

I, along with the University’s Senior Officers, am absolutely committed to achieving this refreshed vision.

Three foundational pillars will support this overarching goal and will guide our work to position our academic and research programs along the Coast for even greater distinction and impact:

  1. Understanding the Ocean and Coasts – which encompasses ocean and coastal ecosystems, from the coastline to the ocean’s surface to its deepest depths;
  1. Improving Coastal Resilience – which encompasses sustainable community development in the face of hazardous weather events, shifting climate conditions, and associated social, economic, health, and ecological impacts; and,
  1. Supporting the Blue Economy – which encompasses the economic conditions and opportunities unique to businesses, industries, and government services that derive economic benefit from ocean and coastal resources.

As we shift to the implementation of these pillars, our next steps will be to enhance the distinctiveness of academic programs and to create a sustainable model for academic programming within our existing resource realities.

This work will not only position our Gulf Park Campus in Long Beach to serve as a hub for academic instruction in key fields, but it will also enhance our work to elevate innovation and research across the entire Mississippi Gulf Coast, from east to west.

Organizationally, the University’s Coastal Operations will be led by a Senior Associate Vice President for Coastal Operations. The search process for this new position will begin immediately, with the goal of identifying a successful candidate as soon as possible. This position will be part of the University’s Senior Leadership Team and will be responsible for overall planning, coordination, and implementation of our Coastal Operations and initiatives.

In addition, a new position of Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs will oversee all coastal recruitment and advising functions and will manage Academic Affairs programs and initiatives that fall outside of specific academic schools.

Finally, the position of Associate Vice President for Research for Coastal Operations will oversee all Coast-based research units and will coordinate all Coast-based research functions. 

Academic programs based on the Coast will be realigned under three academic schools, which will each be led by a faculty director based on the Coast. Those schools will house programs in the fields of business and professional studies, ocean science and engineering, and policy development and humanities, among other areas.

Our focus will be on strengthening existing programs that support local, regional, national and international demand, and on the development of innovative new academic programs to meet the evolving needs of the coastal maritime sector.

Examples of key academic program growth areas we will create or expand on the Coast include ocean engineering, logistics, hydrography, cybersecurity, policy analysis, and an MBA concentration focused on the Blue Economy, among others. The new faculty directors of each school will be instrumental in developing and implementing each of these program plans, which will be tailored to the needs of the Coast.

Academic programs that are specific to the strategic goals of our Coastal Operations, but are currently located in Hattiesburg – like our marine biology program – will be relocated to the Coast. In addition, some programs that no longer have high demand for in-person instruction on the Coast may be converted to fully online formats, delivered on the Coast in executive or hybrid formats, or relocated to the Hattiesburg campus.

I invite you to visit the University’s Charting Our Coastal Future web page for more information. 

When I think about the potential that awaits us on this new horizon, I cannot help but be in awe of how far we have come – and how far I know we still will go to elevate our beloved Mississippi Gulf Coast.

I could not be more excited about this work to advance our Coast-based programs into a future that not only rises to meet the specific needs of coastal business and industry, but that also provides us with a sustainable model in our existing resource realities.

Thank you for continuing to be our partners in this important work. I truly believe that we are only limited by our own imagination and creativity, and I cannot wait to see where this new horizon takes us, as we continue to expand and enhance our impact on the Coast for years to come.

Rodney D. Bennett is the 10th President of The University of Southern Mississippi.