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Year in Review: USM Marks Achievements in Research, Student Success

Wed, 12/22/2021 - 09:43am | By: Van Arnold

From innovative research partnerships to significant student achievements, the year 2021 proved to be dynamic and memorable at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM).

Paring the list of noteworthy accomplishments to a concise list is difficult at best. Listed below are some of the more distinguished highlights from the past year.

Research activity

  • The Air Force Research Lab awarded a $6.3 million contract to USM and Florida State University to study multifunctional composites to meet the aerospace application needs of the U.S. Air Force and Department of Defense. The grant period is two years, and the funding will be split equally between the two universities. Researchers from the School of Polymer Science and Engineering at USM will partner with the High-Performance Materials Institute associated with the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering , the joint engineering educational and research institution for Florida A&M and Florida State universities, to study, design, and test large lightweight sample panels capable of scale-up manufacturing to provide multifunctional performance for aerospace applications.

  • Imagine a cellphone so soft, so pliable that you can fold it like a man’s wallet. Inside the laboratory of polymer science Professor Xiaodan Gu, a research team is working diligently to make the unthinkable possible. Gu, an assistant professor at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM), received a $593,505 National Science Foundation CAREER Awardee grant to help further his research. The five-year award from the NSF Division of Material Research Polymers Program will fund Gu’s proposal: “Thermomechanical Property Control of Confined Conjugated Polymeric Thin Films.”

Student success

  • Three USM undergraduate students were recognized for their research efforts as recipients for the prestigious Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship. USM is the only Mississippi college or university to have three Goldwater Scholars this year. This year's recipients bring the total number of USM Goldwater Scholarship recipients to a state-leading total of 27. This marks the second time in three years, USM has produced three honorees.

  • The School of Ocean Science and Engineering recorded a historic milestone earlier this month as the first students from the University’s ocean engineering program received their undergraduate degrees. Sydni N. Crain, from Poplarville, Miss., and Andrew P. Smith, from Madison, Miss., became the first students to complete the rigorous program, which was launched in the fall of 2017. USM’s School of Ocean Science and Engineering offers the only bachelor’s degree in ocean engineering degree in the State of Mississippi and one of only 10 such programs in the nation.

Teacher residency program

  • The Mississippi Department of Education will provide over $2 million to USM over a two-year period to support Mississippi Teacher Residency in critical shortage areas. USM has been awarded the largest grant in the $9.8 million program that will cover tuition and expenses at five Mississippi universities for up to 240 individuals seeking a graduate degree in elementary and secondary education.

Campus upgrades

  • From a pedestrian pathway to additional parking, USM launched a series of construction projects earlier this summer that will provide even greater accessibility and mobility to its Hattiesburg campus. Dr. Chris Crenshaw, senior vice president for facilities planning and management, stressed that the projects are part of a long-term bike and pedestrian master plan developed by a USM committee in conjunction with outside engineers.

  • Getting around the USM Gulf Park campus in Long Beach has gotten much easier, thanks to funding from the Mississippi Department of Transportation’s Transportation Alternatives Program. The University’s Physical Plant has been updating the sidewalks and other outdoor areas across campus for several months, which includes wider sidewalks, walkways that are Americans with Disabilities Act accessible, directional signage, and new lighting. Future work will include a dedicated viewing area for the famed Friendship Oak.

Economy and workplace

  • USM’s annual economic impact on the state of Mississippi has increased to more than $663 million, representing a 10 percent increase since the previous study in 2016. The study, conducted by subject matter experts from the Trent Lott National Center for Excellence in Economic Development and Entrepreneurship and independently verified by IMPLAN Inc., shows that the University’s annual economic impact has grown — a previous study found the University’s annual impact to be $603 million.

  • USM has been rated as the sixth-best employer in Mississippi and No. 1 statewide in the education industry in recent rankings released by Forbes magazine. In its annual “America’s Best Employers By State,” Forbes seeks to demonstrate how perceptions of companies differ from state-to-state based on local leadership and economies.

Best for Vets Ranking

  • A relentless drive to provide the best support and services to military-students vaulted USM to an impressive No. 3 national ranking by the prestigious resource guide Military Times. USM is also rated No. 1 in the Southeast by Military Times in its “Best for Vets: Colleges 2021 Rankings.” The newest position represents a significant leap for USM, which held a No. 9 national ranking the past two years.

Gulf Blue, infrastructure

  • Earlier this summer USM, in conjunction with partner organizations across the Mississippi Gulf Coast, announced an initiative to place Mississippi on the global stage for blue economy-related work. This initiative – Gulf Blue – is poised to bring “Big Ideas Out of the Blue” capitalizing on the region’s geography and maritime resources and positioning the Mississippi Gulf Coast to lead the development of world-changing innovation. Gulf Blue pools the knowledge of research scientists, federal agencies, industry partners and entrepreneurs to further develop the region as a global leader in ocean- and maritime-related technologies.

  • The University was awarded $7 million in state funding to support infrastructure associated with the Roger F. Wicker Center for Ocean Enterprise (RFWCOE). This appropriated money from both capital expense funds and the Mississippi Development Authority’s Gulf Coast Restoration Fund, brings the total to $21 million in appropriated monies to USM since 2019 for RFWCOE, infrastructure, and programming.

Coastal leadership

  • In February, USM selected Dr. Shannon Campbell, a leading strategic planning and economic development professional, as the new Senior Associate Vice President for Coastal Operations. In this new position, Campbell serves as the lead administrative officer for the University’s Coastal Operations and will be part of USM’s senior leadership team.

  • Two longtime educators and marine scientists were named to top leadership positions within the University’s Coastal Operations. Jill Hendon became the permanent Director of the Center for Fisheries Research and Development (CFRD) after serving as interim director. Dr. Gregory Carter became the Director of the Gulf Coast Geospatial Center (GCGC).

  • In January, Dr. Joseph R. (Read) Hendon, longtime marine researcher at USM, was appointed Director of the University’s renowned Gulf Coast Research Laboratory (GCRL). Hendon has been a research scientist at USM for the past 22 years, serving most of that time in a variety of roles with the Center for Fisheries Research and Development, including as its director.