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Payne Foundation Supports Projects in the Arts and Sciences: Advancement of Women in STEM, Sociology Peer Mentoring Program

Thu, 08/05/2021 - 12:54pm | By: Ivonne Kawas

The College of Arts and Sciences at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) has received grants from the Jimmy A. Payne Foundation that will fund campus initiatives aimed to advance the representation of Women in STEM and enhance student success through a Sociology Peer Mentoring program. The funds are part of a larger grant of $571,000 supporting many areas of the University made through the USM Foundation.

“The grants awarded by the Jimmy A. Payne Foundation will positively impact approaches that both address the underrepresentation of Women in STEM and enhance student success,” said Dr. Chris Winstead, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “Very importantly, these faculty-led initiatives can serve as models and be extended to additional disciplines across campus.  We have been and continue to be very appreciative of the Payne Foundation’s support.”

A native of Newton, Miss., the late Jimmy A. Payne served in the U.S. Army National Guard before attending USM, where he was a member of Kappa Sigma Fraternity. Payne graduated in 1964 with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, then began working for Proctor & Gamble. He later earned a Master of Business Administration from Mississippi College and went on to form UAD Laboratories, where he served as president and CEO until its merger with Forest Laboratories in 1989.

Payne was inducted into the Southern Miss Alumni Hall of Fame in 1990 and was also a member of the Mississippi Business Journal’s Business Hall of Fame. Since his passing in 2015, his children, Jonathan Payne and April Payne Nall, have continued their father’s philanthropic legacy by overseeing the foundation he created.

Advancing Women in STEM

The project, Advancement of Women in Natural Sciences, which received $80K with the potential for continued funding next year, aims to improve recruitment and retention of both female students and faculty at USM.

Dr. Janet Donaldson, professor in the School of Biological, Environmental, and Earth Sciences and associate dean for research and graduate education in the College of Arts and Sciences, is leading the initiative and emphasizes how it will advance women in STEM and impact next generation students.

“Our program will be focused on improving retention and recruitment of women in STEM tenure-track positions,” said Dr. Donaldson. “This will help alleviate the significant underrepresentation of women in STEM, as this further hinders the advancement of our next generation students to pursue advanced careers in these disciplines, primarily due to a lack of role models and mentorship, especially in academics.”

Enhancing Student Success: Sociology Peer Mentoring program

The project, Sociology Peer Mentoring program, which received $28.8K over a four-year period, aims to recruit two undergraduate Sociology majors who will serve as mentees to facilitate student-faculty engagement for students in a crucial General Education Curriculum (GEC 05) service course — Introduction to Sociology (SOC 101). Mentees will foster effective study habits and behaviors, help fellow peers on acclimating to the USM campus environment, and support new students in accessing campus resources.

As a significant portion of USM students enrolled in SOC 101 are first year freshman, transfer, and/or first-generation students, Dr. Michelle McLeese, assistant teaching professor in the School of Social Science and Global Studies and leading the initiative, highlights the value of having students interact with someone that they can relate to as a fellow peer.

“The many students enrolled in our SOC 101 courses will benefit academically by being exposed to successful academic peers who have recently taken the same course and done exceptionally well,” said Dr. McLeese. “This will also enable them to build connections and network with peers that they can relate to and draw on when needing advice.”

“At the same time, our Peer Mentors will learn crucial leadership, organization, and communication skills that will not only help them succeed within the major, but also in their chosen career,” Dr. McLeese added.

For information about the USM College of Arts and Sciences and its programs, visit