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Ryan Retires from USM after 37 Years of Service as Professor, Administrator

Wed, 01/13/2021 - 16:53pm | By: David Tisdale

Dr. Maureen Ryan

Colleagues and former students are praising Dr. Maureen Ryan for her intelligence, wit and dedication upon her retirement from The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) after a nearly four-decade career as a faculty member and administrator.

Dr. Ryan is a Distinguished Professor of English who also led various colleges and units since first coming to USM in August of 1983 as director of its then Department of English’s Writing Center. She went on to serve as dean of the Honors College, associate provost for Institutional Effectiveness; interim dean of the Graduate School; and dean of the former College of Arts and Letters, after taking on that role in an interim capacity. Recently, as special assistant to the Provost, Dr. Ryan was tasked with helping the university meet objectives related to its Plan for Academic Reorganization, Vision 2020.

She expressed gratitude for the opportunities to teach, conduct research and serve as a leader as she witnessed the University transition into a prominent national research institution over the last 30-plus years.

“Though I didn’t plan things this way, I was able to concentrate, at different periods, on all three aspects of faculty activity,” Dr. Ryan said. “I feel fortunate to have had opportunities to shift my focus among these activities.”

An expert in modern and contemporary American literature, Dr. Ryan's publications include The Other Side of Grief: The Home Front and the Aftermath in American Narratives of the Vietnam War, and Innocence and Estrangement in the Fiction of Jean Stafford. She was chosen for one of USM's highest awards as its sixth Charles W. Moorman Distinguished Professor of the Humanities, as well as for the special honor of serving as grand marshal for USM’s fall 2018 commencement ceremonies.

“Dr. Ryan has not only shared her vast knowledge and expertise with her students over her long career at USM, but her heart, soul, and sincerity,” said USM Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Steven Moser. “Likewise, she generously shared her wisdom and steadfast friendship with her colleagues.

“I feel blessed to know and have worked with an individual of her quality and character.”

In graduate school, Dr. Ryan studied American literature, and read the work of Southern writers; when applying for entry faculty positions all over the country, she knew Mississippi only from the work of William Faulkner and Richard Wright.

“I’d never heard of Hattiesburg or of the University of Southern Mississippi,” Dr. Ryan said. “I initially declined the job offer from USM -- until I interviewed at Auburn University and decided Hattiesburg wouldn’t be so bad, and never expected to stay. And yet, I am now reluctant to say goodbye to USM.

“I’ve worked with wonderful colleagues—faculty, administrators, staff—and taught eager students. It has been a satisfying career.”

USM President Emeritus Dr. Aubrey Lucas described Dr. Ryan as “a delightful colleague” who, with her keen sense of humor, “kept us from getting too serious about issues.”

“She was a very able administrator and superb teacher, and I have always enjoyed her friendship,” Dr. Lucas said.

USM Honors College Dean Dr. Ellen Weinauer said her friend and fellow English program faculty member Dr. Ryan “taught me a great deal about how to be both a dedicated scholar and a committed teacher, how to have true impact on students, and how to be a caring administrator.”

“Maureen served as the dean of the Honors College for 12 years; when I stepped into that role in 2014, I was mindful of her long and impressive shadow,” Dr. Weinauer said. “If I achieve a tenth of what she has in the lives of our students and our campus, I will feel accomplished indeed. Her legacy at Southern Miss is truly extraordinary, and we are all in her debt.”

Claire Gerald Brantley, one of Dr. Ryan’s former students who has maintained a close relationship with her mentor and friend since graduation, said she has “meant more to me than any other teacher I’ve ever had.”

“My mom taught me to read, but Maureen taught me to critically read,” said Brantley, an executive marketing manager for Partner in Publishing. “My elementary teachers taught me to write, but Maureen taught me to write well. I owe her so much. It's no exaggeration to say I would not have the career I have, I would not have the life I have, without her constant support, encouragement, wise counsel, and big heart.

“I'm so excited for her to start this next chapter of her life, but what on earth will USM do without her?”

Asked what’s next for her after leaving USM, Dr. Ryan says she’s “open to suggestions.”

“Frankly, I didn’t want to retire, but it was time,” she said. “And though I wish I could report a fabulous, fascinating retirement plan, I can’t. Post-pandemic, I’ll probably move back to the east coast—near family and old friends—but I like Hattiesburg. You might see me around here for a long time.”

Brantley established a scholarship in honor of Dr. Ryan in 2008. To support this scholarship, contact the USM Foundation at foundation@usm.edu or call 601.266.5210.