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Southern Miss Division of External Affairs Announces New Hires

Wed, 06/19/2024 - 08:42am | By: Nicole Ruhnke

The Division of External Affairs at The University of Southern Mississippi is pleased to announce the creation of two new positions. Joe Benigno has been named Director of Advancement Technology Services and Samantha McCain Alexander, APR, has been named Director of Strategic Communications for Advancement.

“As we look to the future of our great institution and intentionally prepare for the next season of building connections with the Southern Miss family, I am proud of the bold steps we have taken to streamline the work of our organizations while enhancing our work to advance the University,” said Vice President for External Affairs Chad Driskell. The Southern Miss Alumni Association, led by Jerry DeFatta, and the USM Foundation, led by Stace Mercier, will continue to operate as the cornerstones of our outreach efforts. Under their leadership, we have made great strides in working with partners across campus to make our efforts more efficient. I look forward to Joe and Samantha bringing a wealth of knowledge and leadership to Southern Miss.”  

Division of External Affairs

Joe Benigno

As the Director of Advancement Technology Services, Benigno will provide strategic leadership and vision for the day-to-day operations of the advancement community’s technology ecosystem and support the implementation and evolution of related systems.

“It is paramount to have a technology ecosystem in place that supports the needs of our alumni and friends, the day-to-day operations of our advancement community and the ambitious goals of our University,” said Mercier. “I am thrilled that we will have a dedicated team of professionals focused on transforming our operational capabilities using modern technology. Joe brings a wealth of experience in this area, and we are overjoyed that he will lead this team.”

Benigno is a technology-focused leader with more than 25 years of experience in managing digital transformations, enhancing enterprise security and leading cross-functional projects to enhance business operations. He comes to Southern Miss from Horne LLP where he served for 15 years as Senior Project Manager, Director of Technology Solutions and Chief Information Officer. Prior to Horne LLP, Benigno worked at Triton Systems, Terayon Communications and Com21. He holds computing engineering and electrical engineering degrees from Mississippi State University and a master’s degree in technology management from Pepperdine University.

“The Foundation has a successful track record facilitating the philanthropic needs of the University with consistent growth. That growth requires the implementation of more effective technology, and I’m grateful for the chance to lead this effort for our institution,” said Benigno. "Helping organizations continue their success through enhanced technology has been a key focus in my career, and I'm excited for the future.”

Division of External Affairs

Samantha McCain Alexander

As the Director of Strategic Communications for Advancement, Alexander will direct and oversee comprehensive and effective communication initiatives on behalf of the Alumni Association and the USM Foundation – working with a team to engage and strengthen connections with alumni, donors and friends of the University.

"Merging the communication needs for advancement under one umbrella is a bold opportunity to engage more people connected to Southern Miss," said Alexander. "The excitement around our institution's trajectory is palpable, and I'm thrilled to share the inspiring stories of our donors, alumni and friends."

Alexander is an accredited communications professional with 15 years of experience spanning public service, non-profit and advertising industries. She comes to Southern Miss from the City of Hattiesburg, where she served as Chief Communication Officer for seven years. Prior to serving the city, Alexander worked at The Children’s Center for Communication and Development at Southern Miss, The Focus Group Advertising Agency, Hattiesburg Clinic and American Red Cross of Mississippi. She holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree in journalism/public relations from The University of Southern Mississippi, along with a certificate in persuasive communication from Harvard Kennedy School of Executive Education.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to build a team of communications professionals who will ensure the communication to our external audiences is both collaborative and cohesive,” said DeFatta. “Samantha has a long history of success in both building communication plans and working to share information with stakeholders on a wide variety of levels. She was a logical choice for this unique role, and we are excited for her to join the team.”