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USM Year in Review: Historic Milestones Mark Memorable 2022

Wed, 12/21/2022 - 11:15am | By: Van Arnold

From the selection of a new president to success on the athletic field, the year 2022 proved to be exciting and exceptional at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM).

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

University leadership

  • In October, the Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning completed its search for the 11th president of The University of Southern Mississippi by naming Dr. Joseph S. Paul as President. A Southern Miss alumnus, Dr. Paul previously served the university as an administrator in student affairs for more than 40 years. Before becoming vice president for student affairs in February 1993, he held a variety of positions, including assistant director of student activities, assistant vice president and dean of student development. He also held faculty rank in USM’s College of Education and Psychology.
  • In June, longtime USM educator Dr. Steven Moser retired from the University in his role as Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs. Moser had served in this role since 2015, but his leadership USM spanned more than 30 years, from his time as Director of the Pride of Mississippi to his service as Dean of the College of Arts and Letters, as well as his rich scholarship, pedagogy, and mentorship to generations of students as Professor of Music specializing in instrumental conducting.
  • Dr. Gordon C. Cannon took over as Interim Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs on July 1, 2022. Dr. Cannon first joined the University’s faculty in 1987 and led the University’s research enterprise for nearly a decade. Prior to his administrative appointment, Dr. Cannon’s extensive work in biochemistry and microbiology led to his selection as the Thomas Waring Bennett Distinguished Professor in the Sciences and earned the Southern Miss Lifetime Achievement Award from the University Research Council.
  • Dr. Kelly L. Lucas was chosen to serve as Interim Vice President for Research, beginning July 1, 2022. As Associate Vice President for Research, Coastal Operations, Dr. Lucas has been instrumental in enhancing the University’s research portfolio. Prior to her current appointment, Dr. Lucas served as Director of the University’s Thad Cochran Marine Aquaculture Center and was the first chief scientific officer for the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources.

Research and academics

  • The University maintained its distinguished R1 designation following the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education 2021 review process, which was finalized after the public review period ended on Jan. 31. An R1 classification is designated to doctoral universities with very high research activity.
  • Online programs at USM continued to receive impressive national recognition from U.S. News and World Report in its 2022 rankings. USM ranks as the leader for online bachelor’s degree programs in the state and lands at No. 68 nationally among nearly 400 online colleges and universities in the survey. The 2022 national ranking represents a rise from No. 75 last year and an impressive leap from No. 93 two years ago. USM also ranks No. 1 in Mississippi in online bachelor’s degree programs for veterans and business degrees in the state. Those programs are rated No. 44 and No. 51 respectively in the national rankings.
  • In December, USM’s School of Polymer Science and Engineering was named one of the best polymer/plastics engineering programs by Plastics Today. The ABET-accredited program is housed within the Thames Polymer Science Research Center on the Hattiesburg campus. USM is among six university programs recognized in this prestigious plastics industry publication. Over the past 52 years, USM has established itself as one of the premier schools of polymer science and engineering in the world and has been preparing graduates to secure jobs in the industry. Particularly, coatings are a fundamental part of the program, with dedicated coursework, scholarships, and job placement in the coatings industry.
  • In January, The Mississippi Department of Education announced a plan to provide more than $2 million to USM over a two-year period to support Mississippi Teacher Residency in critical shortage areas. USM was 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.
  • In June, The University of Southern Mississippi created a unique plan to combat the nation’s ongoing nursing shortage by offering an accelerated degree pathway through the University’s Gulf Park campus in Long Beach, Miss. This distinctive, accelerated pathway will help eligible students earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree in a shorter time and decrease barriers to admission, while providing benefits to those who have already earned a higher education degree. Students expected to enroll in this degree option will be eligible to bypass some typical BSN requirements because they have already earned a degree. Prospective applicants must have completed a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university.
  • The University’s popular Summer Field Program, located at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory, celebrated its 75th anniversary this year. Operating since 1947, the Summer Field Program is a residential, hands-on summer learning experience that provides undergraduate and graduate students an unrivaled academic experience studying coastal and marine environments. Participating students experience field trips on USM research vessels, research laboratory work, residence hall living, and a variety of coastal activities.
  • Earlier this year, the USM Research Foundation in partnership with SeaAhead Inc. announced the launch of the Gulf Blue(SM) Navigator program for established blue technology startups. This is the first innovation program in the Gulf of Mexico focused on the new blue economy. Applications for the first cohort of startups will open this summer, for a program starting in November 2022. The program is funded by a variety of private and public sponsors, and includes financial support for companies to cover the costs of participation, technical and sector expertise, ability to access testing facilities, and co-working space at the Gulf & Ship Island building in Gulfport, Miss.
  • The distinguished McNair Scholars Program received renewed funding for the next five years, ensuring that underserved students will be prepared to pursue doctoral degrees. The program benefits participants who are from disadvantaged backgrounds and have demonstrated strong academic potential. USM has assisted more than 200 scholars since the program’s inception in 1999.
  • Earlier this summer, the Board of Trustees of Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning approved a proposal from USM’s School of Social Work to form a Center for Human Trafficking Research and Training (CHRT) - the first center of its kind in the state. Pronounced “chart,” the center’s purpose is to chart a new course for Mississippi’s anti-human trafficking policies, legislation, protocols and victim services. Human trafficking is the exploitation of other humans, both youth and adults, of all genders for sex and/or labor. According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, hundreds of cases are reported in Mississippi annually, but due to reporting limitations, researchers at USM believe the numbers are likely even higher than current data suggests.

Student and faculty achievements

  • In January, four USM undergraduate students were awarded the renowned Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarshipto study or intern abroad. The congressionally funded Gilman Program broadens the U.S. student population studying and interning abroad by providing scholarships of up to $5,000 to outstanding collegiate students. The recipients of this prestigious scholarship are American undergraduate students representing more than 300 colleges and universities across the United States.
  • In May, three students in the School of Performing and Visual Arts at were among the awardees at the 2022 National Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival Awards. Petron Brown, MFA in Theatre Performance candidate from The Bahamas, received the John Cauble Award; Mason Baria, BFA in Theatre Design and Technology candidate from Gautier, Miss., received the Distinguished Achievement for the National Costume Design Award; and Allison Bucher, BFA in Theatre Design and Technology candidate from Metairie, La., received the National Sound Design Award.
  • Six graduate students in the College of Arts and Sciences were awarded the prestigious NASA-Mississippi Space Grant Consortium’s Graduate Research Fellowship for the 2022-23 academic year. These fellowship awards support STEM graduate students who are engaged in K-12 outreach, as one of the goals of the fellowship is to have graduate students work with K-12 schools to improve the STEM experience and inspire younger students to pursue careers in STEM fields.
  • Andy Welch, a junior from Greenwood Springs, made history as the first undergraduate student to serve on the national board of directors for his fraternity – Delta Tau Delta. An honors college student majoring in finance, Welch serves as president of Delta Tau Delta’s Zeta Chi chapter at USM. As the first student director on the fraternity’s national board, he will be tasked with conveying the wishes and needs of the undergraduate body to fellow board members while also chairing the Undergraduate Council, a committee that includes members of the undergraduate body. His two-year term begins in March 2023.
  • Xiaodan Gu, Assistant Professor in the School of Polymer Science and Engineering, earned one of only fifteen $45,000 Nontenured Faculty Awards presented by the 3M Corporation. Dr. Gu’s research focuses on soft electronic devices for health and energy applications as well as clean water and capturing carbon from the atmosphere. His team combines data science, advanced morphological characterization tools, chemical synthesis, and processing, to improve the performance of next-generation soft electronics and membranes.
  • Zhe Qiang, Assistant Professor in the School of Polymer Science and Engineering, was named to Forbes Magazine’s 30 Under 30 Science list for 2022. Dr. Qiang is developing sustainable solutions for plastic waste and trying to find ways to improve chemical circularity through addressing several urgent environmental challenges, such as plastic waste management, water pollution, and climate change.

Philanthropic milestones

  • In March, USM launched the public phase of its largest fundraising campaign in University history with a special event at The Rock. With a $150 million goal, USM is working to raise funds in support of academics and athletics, including student scholarships, faculty support and facilities. Give Wing: The Campaign for Southern Miss rests on three priority pillars: student success, academic excellence, and innovation and discovery. Campaign goals include increasing undergraduate scholarships, programmatic support and facilities for students, endowed faculty professorship and director positions, as well as elevating USM’s robust research enterprise. Campaign funds will also enhance the campuses with new and upgraded facilities, like Quinlan-Hammond Hall of Honor, the new home for the Center for Military Veterans, Service Members and Families, Pete Taylor Park, and multiple other athletic facilities.
  • Through the support of private philanthropy of more than 2,800 USM alumni and friends, gifts made through the USM Foundation totaled more than $16.9 million in FY 2022, including approximately $16.3 million in outright gifts and pledges and more than $680,000 in planned gifts. More than $12 million was disbursed to the University through the USM Foundation to support various scholarships and academic programs, including nearly 2,200 scholarships awarded, totaling approximately $4.9 million.
  • A faithful supporter of the University for more than 20 years, the Luckyday Foundation of Ridgeland, Miss., made an additional commitment of more than $9.6 million through the USM Foundation to support the Luckyday Scholars Program at USM. To date, the Luckyday Foundation has provided significant financial and programmatic support, impacting more than 2,200 students, making it USM’s most generous benefactor. Founded by the late Frank Rogers Day of Jackson, Miss., the Luckyday Foundation funds scholarships for Mississippi high school seniors who are exemplary students and display strong leadership skills and community engagement.
  • In February, USM cut the ribbon on Quinlan-Hammond Hall of Honor, the new home of the Center for Military Veterans, Service Members and Families. More than 1,700 military students will have unique access to the distinctive facility. Named in honor of lead benefactor and USM alumnus, Joe Quinlan ’73, and the Center’s founding director, Maj. Gen. Jeff Hammond (US Army, Retired) ’79, ’86, the 5,500-square-foot facility will further allow Southern Miss to holistically care for and meet the needs and interests of the military student community. The privately-funded Quinlan-Hammond Hall features study spaces for small groups or individual work, a student lounge and study, a conference room and other meeting areas and staff office space.

Successful teamwork

  • Frank Gore Jr. ran for an NCAA bowl-record 329 yards and accounted for three touchdowns to help Southern Miss hold off Rice 38-24 in the LendingTree Bowl, played Dec. 17 in Mobile, Ala. Gore, who had 21 carries, broke the mark of 317 yards set by Appalachian State's Camerun Peoplesin the 2020 Myrtle Beach Bowl against North Texas. Gore broke the Southern Miss record of 304 by Sam Dejarnette against Florida State in 1982. The Golden Eagles, under the direction of Coach Will Hall, finished the 2022 season with a 7-6 overall record. USM’s win over Rice marked the team’s first bowl appearance in three years and the Golden Eagles’ first bowl win since 2016.
  • The USM baseball team captured its second NCAA regional title in school history – this time at Pete Taylor Park. The Golden Eagles then hosted their first Super Regional, falling two games short of reaching the College World Series. The team won 47 times – tied for second most in school history - which included a school-record 15-straight wins from the end of March until halfway through April. In the midst of these victories, Scott Berry became the school's all-time leader for wins for the baseball program, surpassing both Corky Palmer (458) and Hill Denson (468) when his team captured a 9-6 triumph at UAB, May 1. The Golden Eagles now hold six-straight, 40-win seasons to their credit for the longest such streak of any Division I baseball program while also enjoying an overall total of 14, 40-win seasons. Attendance ballooned to an all-time high in 2022, as 182,810 fans attended Golden Eagle baseball games at Pete Taylor Park for an average of 4,687 fans per contest. Southern Miss baseball also set an all-time high in season ticket sales with 2,677 season passes sold. The team earned a No. 18 preseason ranking for 2023 by Collegiate Baseball in an announcement by the publication in late December. USM finished the 2022 campaign with a No. 15 ranking by Collegiate Baseball.
  • The men’s basketball team, under the direction of Coach Jay Ladner, raced to an 11-1 start midway through December, marking the third time in history that the team began a season with that record.
  • The women’s volleyball team, under the direction of Coach Jenny Hazelwood, reached the Final Four of the National Invitational Volleyball Championship before falling to Boston College in four games. The NIVC marked the first postseason appearance of any kind in program history. The Lady Eagles finished the season with a 21-12 record.
  • Just two years after its formation, USM’s Eagle Esports program secured its first national championship after its Rainbow 6 Team defeated Carthage University in the final for the National Esports Collegiate Conference’s (NECC) Emergent League title. In a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in the national semifinal for the Challengers League title, Eagle Esports’ Overwatch Team fell to Champlain College, but finished in the top four in the country.