ALUMNUS Spring 2022 - Mississippi State University

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THE MOON MSU astronomer works to land telescope camera on lunar surface p. 12

I N S I D E Spring 2022

Science Night returns to MSU p. 03 | Seed funding takes root p. 28 | MSU grads revisit Apollo 13 rescue p. 38




New Start for MSU Hoops

Bulldogs welcome Purcell and Jans to Maroon and White family

23 When Bulldogs Heal

MSU delivers health care to rural communities - Part 2


ABOVE: The Mississippi Bug Blues mobile museum welcomed visitors as part of MSU’s Science Night at the Museums. An educational outreach program developed at MSU, Mississippi Bug Blues has become the state’s leader in invasive species awareness. It was one of many interactive, educational activities available during science night. Photo by Megan Bean

28 Seed Funding Takes Root

Early research support helps Mississippi State land long-term investments

Mississippi State University is an equal opportunity institution. Discrimination in university employment, programs or activities based on race, color, ethnicity, sex, pregnancy, religion, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic information, status as a U.S. veteran, or any other status protected by applicable law is prohibited. Questions about equal opportunity programs or compliance should be directed to the Office of Civil Rights Compliance, 231 Famous Maroon Band Street, P.O. 6044, Mississippi State, MS 39762, (662) 325-5839.

SPRING 2022 | VOL. 99 | NO. 1 PRESIDENT Mark E. Keenum, ’83, ’84, ’88 VICE PRESIDENT FOR DEVELOPMENT AND ALUMNI John P. Rush, ’94, ’02



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WRITERS Vanessa Beeson, ’19 John Burrow Camille Carskadon, ’12 James Carskadon, ’12 Joel Coleman, ’07, ’09 Margaret “Meg” Henderson, ’10 Grace “Ace” Johnson, ’22 Susan Lassetter, ’07 Ashleigh Lee Addie Mayfield Erica Way DESIGNER Heather Rowe

DEPARTMENTS 02 Campus News 08 Discoveries 16 State Snapshot 34 Our People 42 Alumni News 54 Giving Back 64 Class Notes 68 Forever Maroon 70 Back Story


COVER Angelle Tanner, an associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, works with students to ready a telescope at the Howell Observatory at Mississippi State’s South Farm. Photo by Megan Bean


PHOTOGRAPHERS David Ammon Megan Bean Robby Lozano Austin Perryman Kevin Snyder Beth Wynn EDITORIAL OFFICE P.O. Box 5325 Mississippi State, MS 39762 662.325.0630 ADVERTISING Leanna Smith 662.325.3360 Mississippi State University’s Alumnus magazine is published three times a year by the Office of Public Affairs and the Mississippi State University Alumni Association. Send address changes to Alumni Director, P.O. Box AA, Mississippi State, MS 39762-5526. Call 662.325.7000, or email



The MSU Office of Admissions and Scholarships has continued to find ways to showcase MSU during the Covid-19 pandemic, offering virtual visits when necessary and working to keep in-person visits safe. Potential students now have several options to learn about MSU, whether it’s through campus visits, student preview days, Scholars Recognition Day or Academic Insight, a time for admitted students to learn more about specific academic programs. Lori Ball, director of undergraduate admissions and scholarships, encourages alumni with high-school age children to make sure they are receiving information from MSU. Students can find ways to connect with MSU at www.admissions. Ball also emphasized that it is never too early for families and students to start thinking about college. “In school, everything from ninth grade on counts, and that’s something I used to tell my children as well,” Ball said. “That includes grades, service hours and extracurricular activities. A lot of scholarships look at more than just grades. It’s also important to make sure students are following the curriculum from their high school and taking the college prep-courses.” In 2022, students can begin their Bulldog journey a few hours earlier as Hail State @ 8 p.m. Aug. 1 marks the opening of the application portal for students planning to enroll in fall 2023. Hail State @ 8 replaces Maroon at Midnight. Students are encouraged to apply as soon as possible because housing priority is primarily determined by the application timestamp. “We’re attracting students from all over the country now, so 8 p.m. central seemed like a good time, whether you’re on the East Coast, West Coast or inbetween,” Dickerson said. “It should be easier for the families as most of them will be at home and it won’t be too late at night. We can’t wait to welcome the newest Bulldogs.” To add high school or community college students to Mississippi State University's admissions recruitment list, send their contact information, including their school and prospective graduation year, to


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Enrollment growth underscores quality, appeal of MSU experience By James Carskadon


very Bulldog has a point when they decided Mississippi State was the place to start or continue their journey in higher education. For some, attending MSU was a lifelong plan. For others, a specific program, location or happenstance brought them to an MSU classroom. However they arrive, more students than ever are choosing Mississippi State for their education. More than 23,000 students are now enrolled at MSU, a result of seven consecutive years of enrollment growth. The growth comes at a time when the pool of high school graduates is shrinking across the nation, underscoring the enduring appeal and quality of an educational experience that has prepared students for careers for 144 years. “Recruiting students to MSU has been a top-down priority and a total team effort,” said John Dickerson, assistant vice president for enrollment and University Registrar. “We have folks that hit the road to high schools and community colleges who are often the first MSU representatives a student meets. Then there’s our campusvisit program leaders and organizers and the teams that process applications for admission and scholarships. “The MSU Foundation and our alumni have been tremendous in raising scholarship dollars, which is important because cost is critical in the decision of where students go to college,” he continued. MSU remains the top choice for Mississippi high school graduates and in

recent years has become the largest university in the state. With nearly 15,000 Magnolia State students enrolled, Mississippians make up 64% of the student body. In addition to growing in quantity, MSU is attracting high quality students from Mississippi, across the U.S. and countries around the world. The average ACT scores and GPAs for incoming freshman students remain close to record highs, and the university’s Judy and Bobby Shackouls Honors College continues to grow. The fall 2021 freshman class includes 114 valedictorians and 85 salutatorians, as well as 83 former high school student body presidents. True to the university’s land-grant mission of providing educational opportunities for all wishing to better their lives through education, MSU has placed a renewed focus on ensuring students have access to the resources they need to succeed. Additionally, the university has worked to develop clear pathways for community college students to earn a bachelor’s degree. MSU continues to expand its online program offerings, giving students increased flexibility and the opportunity to receive an MSU education from anywhere in the world. “We have a lot of programs and resources that are really designed to meet students where they are, whether they are really strong academically or they need additional support,” Dickerson said. “There’s just so many opportunities here available to students to help them reach their goals and be successful.” n

Science Night at the Museums welcomes the community back to campus By Ace Johnson, Photos by Megan Bean

After a pandemic-induced hiatus, Mississippi State revamped and restarted its annual Science Night at the Museums event with a variety of activities to spark the imagination of all ages and bring the past back to life. Hosted by the university’s Museums and Galleries Committee, the free, February event allowed visitors to learn about archaeology, anthropology, entomology, astronomy and more as they explored educational, hands-on

“Our goal is for people to feel welcome and have the chance to investigate what it means to be a scientist while learning more about the world around us.” ~ Amy Moe-Hoffman exhibits. The faculty and students leading the activities helped make science relatable to everyone, much like the characters in the similarly named Disney movie. Amy Moe-Hoffman, a geology instructor and curator of the Dunn-Seiler Museum, said it was exciting to see families back on campus enjoying the various museum collections and hands-on learning provided by the event. As chair of the Museums and Galleries Committee, she was one of the main organizers of science night. “Our goal is for people to feel welcome and have the chance to investigate what it means to be a scientist while learning more about the world around us,” Moe-Hoffman said. ALUMNUS.MSSTATE.EDU


Campus NEWS

Nearly 1,000 people are estimated to have visited Mississippi State’s Science Night at the Museums, which returned in February after a pandemic-induced hiatus. Hosted by the university’s Museums and Galleries Committee, the event featured dozens of hands-on, interactive educational activities for visitors of all ages. Anthropology graduate student Kathryn “Cassidy” Rayburn, who helped plan the event, said the goal was to make the activities fun for everyone but also educational. “It’s a delicate balance in an event like this because you want to have games that attract people and you want to have an educational element to those games,” Rayburn said. “We tried to strategically place each activity or game close to an educational table so people could understand the scientific concepts behind them.” That careful planning paid off. More than an estimated 900 people filtered through the exhibits that were dispersed through Hilbun Hall, the Cobb Institute of Archaeology and the surrounding grounds. Many activities, like a mock excavation site and the broadcast meteorology training room, offered visitors a chance to be the scientist, while others, like the exploding “trashcano,” demonstrated scientific concepts and inspired awe among audiences. Omini Parks, a science teacher at Starkville's


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Partnership Middle School, and her 6-yearold daughter Gibson were among those who participated in Science Night at the Museums. Parks said she had to practically pull Gibson away from the mock archaeology dig as the first grader was sure she would unearth secrets of the past–plus she just really enjoyed digging for surprises. She said this was their first time to attend science night and it will likely not be their last. As a science teacher, Parks said she understands how events like this are great ways to keep young minds active and engaged with the world around them. “When people think of finding artifacts, they don’t think about the history of Mississippi and the things you can actually find here that are of importance,” Parks said. “It is good to find out what’s in your own backyard.” While the Parks family was exploring and sifting through the dirt for buried artifacts, freshmen Mary Claire Powell and Madeline

Cook discovered more about the insects and arachnids that can be found on the surface. The Anthropology Club members, who hail from the same Alabama high school, said they enjoyed the marvels of chemistry, biology, meteorology and ecology, but it was the entomology exhibits with their socalled “creepy crawlies” that made a lasting impression. While Cook wanted to go back for a second look, Powell declared she’d had her fill and would “just stand outside” like any supportive friend. Powell wouldn’t be completely bug-free outside—that’s where the Mississippi Bug Blues mobile entomology museum was parked with its displays of invasive species. However, there were plenty of other science-based activities outdoors including a powerful telescope, rocket launches sponsored by MSU’s The Idea Shop, and the popular “trashcano,” which erupted periodically to rain Ping-Pong balls onto the crowd—safely under the supervision of geology assistant professor Varun Paul.

HOMEMADE FOSSILS FOR AT-HOME FUN Families don’t have to wait for the next MSU Science Night at the Museums to enjoy learning about and digging for fossils. Homemade salt-dough “fossils” can be a fun way to introduce children to paleontology and archaeology through hands-on learning.


Derek Anderson, an archaeologist and outreach coordinator for the Cobb Institute, was among those who braved the cold night air to witness the trashcan-based eruptions. He said he hoped it would help all the young minds in attendance to understand what knowledge can really do. “You can sit a kid down with a physics or chemistry book but if they can be out on the sidewalk and see a garbage can full of PingPong balls explode, that’s a little different,” Anderson explained. Based on the smiling faces of all ages that were still enjoying science night as it wrapped up at 8 p.m., both Anderson and Paul are hopeful that their science-is-fun message hit its mark. “It’s honestly a really great way to capture students at a young age and guide them to science and engineering and math and all this cool stuff,” Paul said. “So, if you have kids, definitely bring them and maybe they will one day choose Mississippi State for their college career.” n

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2 cups of all-purpose flour

Food coloring (optional)

1 cup of salt 1/2 cup of warm water Various plastic dinosaurs, cookie cutters or other objects to make impressions


1. Mix the flour, salt and water to form a dough. It should be about the consistency of play dough. If it is too sticky, slowly add a small amount of flour. Dough can be divided and dyed with food coloring if desired. 2. Use a small portion of the dough to create a ball and press it flat with the palm of your hand. Refrigerating the dough can make it easier to manipulate. 3. Lightly press your “fossil” object into the dough to leave an impression. 4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 to complete your fossil collection. 5. Gently place the imprinted dough on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake at 250 degrees for 1-2 hours until the dough becomes hard. Leftover dough can be stored in an air-tight container and refrigerated for up to three days. For extra fun, try burying each one in a sandbox or backyard garden. Use paint brushes and garden tools to “excavate” your homemade treasures. ALUMNUS.MSSTATE.EDU


Campus NEWS Christopher B. Robinson, a senior biological engineering major and Shackouls Honors College Presidential Scholar, is MSU’s latest finalist for the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. A first-generation Mississippi State student from Brookhaven, he was the sixth MSU honors student in seven years to receive a prestigious Public Policy and International Affairs Junior Summer Institute Fellowship. He also was named a finalist for the coveted Harry S. Truman Scholarship. Loren W. “Wes” Burger, a W.L. Giles Distinguished Professor of Wildlife Ecology in MSU’s Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture, is the new dean of the university’s College of Forest Resources and director of the Forest and Wildlife Research Center. He had served in these roles on an interim basis since July 2020. Don Zant, Mississippi State University’s vice president for finance and administration, and chief financial officer, is the recipient of a statewide leadership honor given annually by the Mississippi Business Journal. He is among a group of 20 receiving the MBJ’s 2021 Leader in Finance award which recognizes those who have helped in shaping the finance, banking and accounting sectors in the state. Lis Pankl, a longtime educator and librarian with extensive academic leadership experience, is the new dean of libraries at Mississippi State. She comes to MSU from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, where she was professor and dean of Library and Information Services. Renee Clary, an MSU professor in the Department of Geosciences, is the recipient of the National Association of Geoscience


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Dudy Noble Field at Mississippi State, home to the NCAA Baseball National Champion MSU Bulldogs, is the 2021 College/University Field of the Year. Awarded annually by the Sports Turf Management Association, national Field of the Year recognition goes to natural grass fields that exhibit excellent playability and safety, and whose managers utilize innovative solutions, effectively use their budgets, and have implemented a comprehensive agronomic program. More than $2 million in federal grant funding is helping Mississippi State University-Meridian continue its training of public school teachers to fill over 3,000 current vacancies. The Mississippi Teacher Residency (MTR) program, introduced in 2018 and administered by the Mississippi Department of Education, is a free, two-year program designed to recruit underserved college students to work toward their degree in elementary education and Mississippi teacher certification. For the academic year, participants receive full scholarships, testing fees, books and mentor stipends. Teachers’ 2021 Transformation Award, in recognition of her outstanding contributions to geoscience education. She is director of MSU’s Dunn-Seiler Museum as well as director of the 15 Degree Laboratory, the EarthScholars Research Group and co-founder of the GeoViz Laboratory. Qiana Cutts, a Mississippi State assistant professor in the Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology and Foundations, is one of only 27 faculty and administrators nationwide named a fellow in the IAspire Leadership Academy. The program works to help mid-career STEM faculty from underrepresented backgrounds ascend to college and university leadership roles and is part of the Aspire Alliance’s Institutional Change Initiative, led by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and the University of Georgia.

The Mississippi Museum of Art and Mississippi State University announced a new partnership that includes expanded educational opportunities and professional growth for MSU students. Through the new partnership, MSU faculty have the opportunity to extend learning and research beyond the classroom, along with access to MMA archives and education resources. Department of Art Head and Professor Critz Campbell was also named to the museum’s board of trustees. Mississippi State’s Cobb Institute of Archaeology has appointed MSU alumnus and veteran scholar Edmond A. “Tony” Boudreaux III as director of curation, overseeing archaeological collections and cultural resources management.




MSU RESEARCH CONTINUES TO REACH NEW HEIGHTS $280 million in R&D expenditures puts MSU at No. 88 nationally By James Carskadon


ississippi State continues to set new records in research and development expenditures, reporting $280.4 million in expenditures in the university’s latest report to the National Science Foundation. With seven consecutive years of research growth, MSU ranks No. 88 nationally in the NSF data reported for fiscal year 2020, up four spots from the previous year. The increase in research funding also creates an increase in opportunities for the university and the state, according to Julie Jordan, MSU vice president for research and economic development. “We’ve seen throughout the history of MSU that our research activity is an economic driver in the region,” Jordan said. “Whether it is supporting our state’s top industries or helping to meet the research needs of major manufacturers located in Mississippi, our capabilities create economic opportunities that might not be there otherwise. “Our research activity also directly employs approximately 4,000 students, faculty and staff. We have about 1,700 people working just in the Thad Cochran Research, Technology and


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Economic Development Park. These are good jobs that attract people to the area and help keep more of our graduates in the state.” In the latest NSF survey, MSU accounts for 55.4% of Mississippi’s total R&D expenditures, $506.6 million. MSU now ranks No. 59 among public universities as it moves toward

“We’ve seen throughout the history of MSU that

our research activity is an economic driver in the

region.” ~ Julie Jordan a long-term goal of being a top 50 public university nationally. MSU’s 6% increase in research expenditures from fiscal 2019 is well above the national average of a 3.3% increase. For fiscal 2020, MSU boasts 32 top 100 rankings in a wide range of fields and subfields, including ranking No. 14 in agriculture, No. 19

in industrial and manufacturing engineering, and No. 19 in social sciences, which leads the SEC for the ninth consecutive year. Mississippi State’s research funding comes from a wide range of sources, including business and industry, trade groups, local governments, state offices and federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Institutes of Health, Federal Aviation Administration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA, National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Defense, among others. MSU researchers are working with students on worldwide challenges such as food security, solutions to human diseases, social and economic disparity, and cybersecurity. The university is home to centers and institutes that are leaders in areas such as aerospace engineering, automotive engineering, unmanned aircraft systems, agriculture, data analytics and social sciences, among other areas. Jordan said MSU’s wide range of research activity provides opportunities for students in every discipline to get involved. “Getting involved in faculty-led research is a great way for students to broaden their horizons and work in an environment that is closer to what they will encounter when they enter their careers,” Jordan said. “Those students are learning soft skills, like how to work as part of a team, while also getting exposed to concepts that are at the forefront of their fields. It’s part of what makes our graduates so desirable for employers.” As MSU works toward its goal of becoming a top-50 public research university, it is continuing to invest in resources that will support campus researchers. For example, MSU is investing $2 million in a high-performance computing system that will be accessible to any university researcher. “Our faculty have so many great ideas for transformational projects,” Jordan said. “Whether we are providing grant writing support or making infrastructure investments, we want to do everything we can to put them in a position to succeed.” n

MAKING CAREER MOVES At MSU, faculty members are the driving force behind a large portion of the university’s research activity. If the accolades of MSU’s current early career faculty are any indication, the future is bright for MSU research. In 2021, seven faculty members were awarded National Science Foundation CAREER Awards. The prestigious grants provide funding for early career faculty to jumpstart their research programs and serve as a recognition of the faculty member’s potential for innovative research. In addition to the seven CAREER awards from 2021, four faculty members received the honor in the first quarter of 2022. “We have never had this many CAREER awards active at one time,” Jordan said. “This success reflects the outstanding young faculty we have on campus. They have tremendous enthusiasm and great ideas that will advance their fields. It’s exciting to know that this group represents the future of teaching and research at MSU.”

Recent recipients of the NSF CAREER Award include:

MATTHEW BALLINGER Assistant professor

Department of Biological Sciences

AMY DAPPER Assistant professor

Department of Biological Sciences

DONG MENG Assistant professor

Dave C. Swalm School of Chemical Engineering

DOYL DICKEL Assistant professor

Department of Mechanical Engineering

JEAN MOHAMMADIARAGH Assistant professor

ALI GURBUZ Assistant professor

Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

BO TANG Assistant professor

Department of Electrical and Computer Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Engineering

MEHMET KURUM Assistant professor

Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

WENMENG TIAN Assistant professor Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering

ANDREW LAWTON Assistant professor

Department of Biological Sciences

MAXWELL YOUNG Assistant professor Department of Computer Science and Engineering




Nature vs. Profit

Conservation easement study looks to increase benefit for all By Meg Henderson, Photo by David Ammon


rotecting and profiting from natural resources does not have to be an eitheror choice. A Mississippi State professor in the College of Forest Resources believes learning from past and present conservation easements can guide improvements for future agreements that will work more favorably for all involved. Changyou “Edwin” Sun, a George L. Switzer Professor of Forestry, has received a $600,000 USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative grant for his study of conservation easements. Collaborating with two economists and a law professor from the University of Georgia, Sun and the research team will scrutinize the legal and economic ramifications of restricting property rights on actively managed forests through conservation easements. A conservation easement is a voluntary, legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or government agency designed to achieve environmental conservation goals by permanently restricting how the owner may use the land. “The major motivations for each stakeholder are different, but they come together to reach an agreement,” Sun said. “For landowners, a conservation easement can provide direct payment or tax benefits. To a conservation institute or government agency, these agreements foster non-market outputs such as carbon sequestration, water conservation or wildlife protection.” For the last three decades, conservation easements have become an innovative, effective, and sometimes controversial, instrument to protect forestland held by private owners. As of 2015, about 1.75%, or 13 million acres, of all forestlands in the U.S. was permanently protected under a conservation easement. Sun estimates the current number to be about 2%. In Mississippi, nearly 400,000 acres are protected under various conservation easements. That acreage amounts to just over 1% of total land area in the state.


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Sun found that past studies have not fully addressed some important economic questions. They have paid little attention to the unique features of working forests, especially irregular and uncertain timber revenues from multiple growth cycles. Likewise, the body of research on conservation easements from a legal standpoint has much room to expand. “The practice of conservation easements has been in place for the last 30 years,” Sun said. “However, studies on the economics

"For landowners, a conservation easement can provide direct payment or tax benefits. To a conservation institute or government agency, these agreements foster non-market outputs such as carbon sequestration, water conservation or wildlife protection." ~ Changyou Sun have lagged behind. That’s why we want to do more research.” MSU’s Forest and Wildlife Research Center, of which Sun is a part, will analyze disputes between landowners and nongovernmental organizations, also known as NGOs. With over 500 legal cases averaging 30 pages per case, there is an extensive amount of existing material to study. Sun and his team will use computational content analysis and manual summarization to identify common legal doctrines in these cases. “While the percentage of legal disputes over conservation easements is small, they still number in the thousands,” Sun said. “We want to determine what has changed in the landowner-agency relationship and how these disputes have been resolved over time.

Computers may not be as accurate as human analysts, but they can deal with large amounts of information.” In addition to examining legal cases, the team will develop a theoretical framework to evaluate the optimal contract length for a geographical region, considering uncertainties in the production of timber and environmental services. “Conservation easements are usually permanent agreements, but a shorter contract may be better for some landowners,” he said. “If it creates difficulty for the future landowner 50 or 80 years later, why not have a termed agreement? We are trying to analyze that to see what is better for stakeholders.” In some cases, perhaps shorter contracts with a greater number of landowners are more beneficial to the environment than a smaller number of permanent contracts. Sun noted, for instance, that newer growth forests sequester more carbon than older growth forests, and newly planted grasses prevent soil erosion better than grasses older than five years. In addition to examining the legal landscape of conservation easements, the team will, using economic models, assess their impact on forest management. Finally, the researchers will examine how conservation easements affect a region economically, looking at the direct and ripple effects of tax incentives and land value of encumbered and adjacent properties. The study’s findings will help the team make recommendations to improve management of existing easement contracts and design of future conservation easements. “Providing better information upfront will prevent pitfalls in these relationships and, consequently, lawsuits down the road,” Sun noted. “We anticipate the application of this knowledge will improve solutions to support forest landowners, improving both environmental conservation and the sustainable growth of forest and rural communities.” n





By John Burrow, Photos by Megan Bean


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The Goldilocks Zone is where planets are just far enough from the stars they orbit to possibly have liquid water.


hen Angelle Tanner shoots for the moon, she literally sets her sights on the lunar surface. An associate professor in MSU’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, she is part of a team working to launch and land a telescope camera on Earth’s moon where it will collect and transmit images of celestial bodies as they traverse our galaxy and beyond. “This project’s main science objective is to study exoplanets, or planets that orbit stars beyond our solar

Placing a telescope in space— specifically on the moon’s surface—is no small feat. Tanner said the planning phase of the project has required intense calculation and consideration of details, such as where the camera will land and how atmospheric conditions may impact the solar-powered instrument. “This project is a first, dare I say small, step toward developing more projects to send to the moon,” Tanner said. “In astronomy, bigger is better, so what we learn from this small,

“This project’s main science objective is to study exoplanets, or planets that orbit stars beyond our solar system. Having this camera on the moon will allow for continuous periods of observation of our targets because the lunar day and night cycle is so much longer than Earth’s, which limits our observation windows.” ~ Angelle Tanner system,” Tanner explained. “Having this camera on the moon will allow for continuous periods of observation of our targets because the lunar day and night cycle is so much longer than Earth’s, which limits our observation windows.” She noted that this telescope camera will also allow for the observation of a large number of asteroids, including some near Earth. Tanner said she has had an interest in extrasolar planets and habitable planets since they were discovered in the 1990s. Her expertise includes imaging planets and stars and their architecture, all of which aids in uncovering how planets form and change over time. As part of a team of scientists, including researchers from Louisiana State University and the SETI Institute, Tanner is working to develop the telescope, as well as its launch, landing and transmission systems. Known as the L-CAM1, the telescope is being developed through a grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation to AstronetX, a Boston, Massachusettsheadquartered corporation that plans to launch the device in 2024.

lunar-based camera will help us build and land bigger telescopes. Ideally, we would like to have a collection of telescopes all over the moon so that we can collect data continuously.” Tanner’s part of the project involves investigating what images from L-CAM1 would look like and determining how to maximize clarity to accurately measure the brightness and position of the stars being studied. The team also must find ways for the solarpowered devices to function even in long periods of darkness and overcome atmospheric complications including dust and changes in temperature. In that way, the development of this project is almost as big a contribution to science as the data captured by the completed telescope will be. “Implementing L-CAM1 on the moon’s surface will be a first step toward larger, long-term scientific goals,” Tanner said. “It serves as a technological demonstration that could lead to further development of lunar-based telescopes. “This could open the door to new and exciting scientific adventures,” Tanner added. n

REACHING FOR THE STARS Angelle Tanner said her fascination with space began at an early age thanks to experiences building rockets, reading science fiction, and stargazing. The latter, in particular, provides the opportunity to see beyond Earth and into the vastness of space.

With personal or publicly available telescopes and the right location, Tanner said it’s possible to reach for the stars. She offers the following advice for those starting out: •

Avoid cheap refracting telescopes, which will lead to frustration. Instead, download a sky app onto a smart device and invest in nice binoculars to get started. Identifying Jupiter and Saturn are great ways to get hooked.

Meteor showers are annual events that can be exciting for beginners. Listen to local weather forecasts or follow astronomers on social media to find out when one might be visible in your area.

If setting up a personal telescope, get away from light pollution—artificial light that obscures the night sky. Try to find the darkest, but safe, area available. Then move the telescope around until you find something interesting.

Look for public viewing opportunities at observatories within driving distance. The Rainwater observatory in French Camp has public events most Fridays, and plans are to restart public events at MSU’s Howell Observatory as pandemic concerns dimmish.

Tanner is excitedly planning outreach events for the 2024 partial solar eclipse. She said now is a good time to start exploring the night sky and planetary movements to be prepared for that big astronomical viewing opportunity. ALUMNUS.MSSTATE.EDU


Discoveries Sandra B. Correa, an assistant professor in the College of Forest Resources, is part of a historic scientific consortium presenting its findings on the Amazon River Basin at the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP26, in Glasgow, United Kingdom. An interdisciplinary team led by Mississippi State researchers is receiving a $1.7 million grant to better equip emergency planners and other stakeholders to reduce the vulnerability of disadvantaged communities to the impacts of wildfires and related cascading hazards such as mudslides, landslides and flooding. Farshid Vahedifard, CEE Advisory Board Endowed Professor in the university’s Richard A. Rula School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, is the lead principal investigator. Reuben Burch, an associate professor of industrial and systems engineering, recently earned the 2021 New Faculty Researcher Award from the Southeast Section of the American Society of Engineering Education. The highly competitive award honors a faculty member who has fewer than six years of teaching or research experience but who has demonstrated excellence in both areas. Gabe H. Miller, an assistant professor of sociology and faculty member in MSU’s African American Studies program, is receiving a prestigious grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to study how political policy affects health outcomes for members of the LGBT community and other marginalized groups. The $248,431 two-year grant is part of the Health Equity Scholars for Action initiative at RWJF. Prashant Singh, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, earned the 2021 Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty


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Mississippi State’s Northern Gulf Institute is partnering with the Mississippi Aquarium to turn the state’s Gulf Coast into an outdoor laboratory, giving local middle and high school students new knowledge and appreciation for their connection with marine life and the environment. Through an innovative program, MSU-SEAS, or Science and Education at Sea, 27 public and homeschooled students recently were the first cohort experiencing a hands-on marine excursion, learning positive behavioral practices that promote sustainable choices in safeguarding the Gulf of Mexico’s marine ecosystem.

A team of researchers led by Dr. Keun Seok Seo, associate professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine’s Department of Comparative Biomedical Sciences, was recognized with an Innovation Award at the TechConnect World Innovation Conference and Expo in Washington, D.C. The group developed a novel method to rapidly test for COVID-19 neutralizing antibodies, providing an affordable and fast method for testing that differentiates between neutralizing and non-neutralizing antibodies. Dr. Joo Youn Park, research professor, and Dr. Nogi Park, postdoctoral associate, also contributed to the invention. Enhancement Award from Oak Ridge Associated Universities. He will receive $10,000 in seed money to support his research through the award program, with the $5,000 grant from ORAU being matched by MSU. Neeraj Rai, Ergon, Inc. Distinguished Professor in MSU’s Dave C. Swalm School of Chemical Engineering, is the principal investigator on an approximately $1 million NSF grant to establish an Institute for Computational Molecular Science Education.

Charles Edwin Webster, professor and associate head of the chemistry department, earned a National Science Foundation award worth $712,000 to support research in reducing greenhouse gases and producing synthetic fuels. Mississippi State’s National Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision has released 4to24, a free app designed to help blind or visually impaired youth with employment outcomes.




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BELLE OF THE BALL: Super Bulldog Weekend 2022 saw the long-awaited return of Belle—Bully’s best friend, MSU women’s sports’ biggest fan and Mississippi State’s sweetheart. The bulldog pair will bring twice the energy to Bulldog sports, doubling the number of events the mascots can visit and entertaining fans of all ages. Photo by Austin Perryman ALUMNUS.MSSTATE.EDU




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Bulldogs welcome Purcell and Jans to Maroon and White Family By Joel Coleman, Photos by Austin Perryman and Kevin Snyder



This spring, Mississippi State Director of Athletics John Cohen had work to do. The end of the MSU men’s and women’s basketball seasons ushered in a pair of openings for Cohen to fill. Both teams were turning the page and looking for new head coaches. Fortunately for the Bulldogs, Cohen was ready—as he always is. He knew exactly what he was looking for. “At Mississippi State, I think one of the most important factors in a hire is the fit, because we are different,” Cohen explained. “I think we’re different in a good way, but somebody has to have an appreciation for who we are.” Inside a short stretch of time in midMarch, Cohen revealed his choices, and it was a pair of men who indeed appear to be the perfect fits to begin exciting new chapters for State’s basketball programs. One of the country’s most decorated assistant coaches, Sam Purcell, was hired from Louisville to take over the Mississippi State women’s team. Chris Jans – among the nation’s most successful sitting head coaches—was brought in after guiding New Mexico State the last five years. Both Purcell and Jans boast impressive resumes. Both are highly respected by their peers. Now both are Bulldogs and both seem poised to lead MSU to new heights.


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Purcell was the first of the two new head coaches to become a Bulldog. He was officially named the head coach of the women’s program March 12. “During our search, Sam Purcell routinely emerged as one of the nation’s elite recruiters and more importantly, a terrific fit to lead our program,” Cohen said. "Sam has been an integral part of some of the most successful teams in women’s basketball. He is creative, meticulous and has a proven ability to recruit the nation’s top talent and develop student-athletes. Sam is synonymous with the Mississippi State culture and understands the deep meaning of family. We are confident he will elevate every facet of our program.” Purcell brings with him 19 years of women’s basketball coaching experience. And it’s not just any kind of experience. It’s a track record of tremendous success. In fact, Purcell has come from the NCAA Final Four to Mississippi State. He helped lead Louisville to within two wins of a national title this past season. It was just the latest notch in his belt. Purcell spent nine seasons at Louisville and helped build the Cardinals into one of the country’s premier programs. In the last five years, with Purcell serving as an associate coach, Louisville racked up the third-most wins in the nation behind only Connecticut and Baylor. All told, Purcell and the Cardinals played in the NCAA Tournament every season the event was held and reached two Final Fours, five Elite Eights and six Sweet 16s. Aside from Purcell’s coaching ability, all the winning from his teams was built on a foundation of recruiting and player development. During Purcell’s Louisville tenure, he had 10 players selected in the WNBA Draft. Six were picked from 2019-21, tied for the most draft picks from one school over that stretch. On the recruiting trail, Purcell has a knack for connecting with elite prospects. He’s landed the nation’s top overall recruit on two separate occasions and with two different programs–first in 2013 while at Georgia Tech, then in 2015 at Louisville. With the Cardinals, all nine of the signing classes Purcell helped secure were ranked among the top 15 in the nation by ESPN.

Winning. Development. Recruiting. Purcell appears to be the total package. “He is an elite game planner and he’s an elite Xs and Os coach,” Cohen said. “Sometimes, when you give great compliments to somebody in the area of recruiting, it can be misconstrued as, ‘But they’re not an Xs and Os coach.’ This is an Xs and Os coach who is an elite recruiter as well.” As happy as MSU is to get Purcell, he’s just as happy to have landed in Starkville. Immediately upon getting the job, he began contacting current players and trying to land top-tier talent. His goal? To once again get Mississippi State playing women’s basketball deep into March with the same regularity as was happening only a few years ago. In fact, in the 2018 Final Four, it was MSU that ended Purcell and Louisville’s season. Four years later, Purcell is a proud Bulldog himself. “It’s funny how the good Lord works where I’m playing [against] Mississippi State and look at me now—I’m the head coach,” Purcell said. “I’ll never forget that moment where we’re at the Final Four and [seeing the MSU] fanbase and the alums. As a coach, you’re just trying to get your team right. But to feel that energy on the other side from Mississippi State was impressive. When this opportunity came [to become the head coach at MSU], it was a no-brainer.”




Eight days after Purcell was tabbed as the women’s coach, Jans officially became the new leader of the MSU men. Like Purcell, Jans comes to Mississippi State with a background full of winning. Those wins have come no matter where Jans was coaching. “Everyone we talked to kept coming back to the same things,” Cohen said of discussions about Jans. “Chris is a relentless worker. He holds those in his program accountable. He has a reputation for getting the most out of his players. Then, his resume speaks for itself. He wins. “Chris has won literally everywhere that he’s been,” Cohen continued. “He had success at the junior college level, NAIA and Division III long before he was doing things like taking New Mexico State to the NCAA Tournament three times. He’s been successful all along the way and talking to him, you see why. Chris has a clear vision, and when





you combine that with his ability as a tireless recruiter and his knowledge of the Xs and Os of college basketball, there wasn’t a better fit for Mississippi State than Chris Jans.” Just how much has Jans won? Well more than just about anyone. When his season concluded at New Mexico State, only three other active Division I head coaches in the country had a better winning percentage. But he was racking up triumphs long before the last few years. Working and winning is all he’s done. It’s who he is. Jans won an NJCAA Division II National Championship and National Coach of the Year award at Kirkwood Community College during the 1997-98 season. He later led Chipola Junior College to its first conference title in a decade. There were other stops along Jans’ path–NCAA Division III Elmhurst College and Grande View College of the NAIA among them, along with Independence Community College and Howard College. There might not have been a lot of glitz and glamour at some of those places, but Jans certainly led his teams to glory. Then, in 2007, Jans joined the staff as an assistant at Wichita State, after which the Shockers won like never before. They built the foundation of a team that went to seven straight NCAA Tournaments. They reached the Final Four in 2013. They set an NCAA record with a 35-0 start the following year. By 2014-15, Jans was the head man at Bowling Green. He turned around a team that’d lost 20 games the year prior and went 21-12. That kind of thing is what winners like Jans do. No matter the odds, no matter the past, they find a way. Then, after returning to Wichita State for a couple of seasons as special assistant, Jans went to Las Cruces where he stayed with the New Mexico State Aggies until taking the job at MSU. It’s been quite the journey for Jans. “I’m not sure I’m the blueprint for other coaches to try and emulate my path,” Jans joked. “But it’s been my path, and it’s made me who I am. As I look back, it’s kind of amazing to think about all the stops that I’ve had. It certainly wasn’t by design. It’s just the way it worked out. “It taught me so much,” he continued. “It got me to this point. I’ve been exposed to so much on the basketball court from all the different coaches I’ve worked for and worked with. Certainly, from a scouting perspective, being exposed to so many different leagues,


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I think it’s helped my IQ as a basketball coach. Certainly, I’m a better coach having done all of that.” Jans now sets his sights on continuing his winning ways in Starkville. And it starts with helping the Bulldogs get to a point where they mimic the hard-working personality of their head coach. “It’s important to me that when the fans leave the arena, they’re not kicking the can mumbling under their breath about lack of effort or why aren’t they getting after it on the floor or why aren’t they playing hard,” Jans said. “That’s always a goal of mine, win or lose, to have our fanbase proud of our style. I think we’re going to be a blue-collar team. I think Starkville is a blue-collar city, and we want to make them proud of how we compete.”


It certainly appears as though Mississippi State might’ve found the right guys at the right time to take the reins of MSU basketball. That’s not just the internal thought process either. Those outside of Mississippi State have voiced approval of MSU’s additions of Purcell and Jans. “Mississippi State has landed an up-and-coming star in Sam Purcell,” said Indiana head coach Teri Moren, a former coworker of Purcell’s. “He has a proven track record and work ethic that speaks for itself in building successful women’s basketball players. I am confident he will do tremendous things in Starkville.” Similar praise has poured in for Jans. “Chris Jans is a terrific hire for Mississippi State,” Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports said. “There are certain people who are going to win regardless of the circumstances. That’s Chris Jans. He does not see obstacles; he sees ways to manufacture as many wins as possible.” And maybe the most exciting thing of all is Purcell and Jans are both coaches who want to be at MSU and have hardworking, tenacious personalities that mesh so well with the Bulldog family. It all makes for an incredibly bright Bulldog basketball future. “One of the biggest factors when we’re gathering information is, who is going to have a great appreciation for who Mississippi State is and with these two hires, I think we’ve achieved that,” Cohen said. n


For the 14% of Americans and 52% of Mississippians who live in rural areas, the tradeoff for “country living” often means doing so without access to quality health care, because where wide-open spaces abound, doctor’s offices do not. Chronic disease, injury-related death and mental health issues are more prevalent, but health care providers to treat and manage these conditions are scarce. To combat this discrepancy, Bulldogs across the country are working to improve health outcomes for rural citizens. “When Bulldogs Heal Part 1” sheds a light on how Maroon and White alumni are providing necessary health services to rural communities. Part 2 of this series explores how MSU faculty, staff and students are committed to helping rural Americans overcome the statistics in a quest for better health access and outcomes.




Through the MSU Extension Service’s Rural Medical and Science Scholars program, high school students explore health and science careers through an immersive, hands-on experience. Annually, 15-25 rising high school seniors from Mississippi are selected for the program based on academic achievement, ACT scores and STEM interest. It has produced 459 scholars in its 24-year history. David Buys, an Extension state health specialist and an associate professor in the Department of Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion, says the rural scholars’ program is an important step in minding the rural health care gap. “The program aims to address Mississippi’s overwhelming need for health care providers in rural

live on campus. Scholars engage in activities across the university spending time in the College of Veterinary Medicine, the agricultural and biological engineering and poultry science departments, the Mississippi State Chemical Laboratory, the MSU Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the Shackouls Honors College. They also interact with admissions and the Dr. A. Randle and Marilyn W. White Health Professions Resource Center. Ann Sansing, an Extension instructor, has been with the program for 15 years, serving as its director since 2016. “Observing the scholars in their academic and personal growth and watching them gain clarity about a future career is extremely rewarding,” she said. “The most meaningful aspect is to see the relationships built and networking among scholars, program staff, faculty and industry professionals. These relationships give

“I REALIZE FAMILIES SOMETIMES STRUGGLE TO FIND RESOURCES. MISSISSIPPI NEEDS SEAMLESS STRUCTURES IN PLACE, SO PARENTS CAN ACCESS RESOURCES WITHOUT FRUSTRATION.” ~ CONNIE BAIRD-THOMAS areas,” Buys explained. “Mississippi is one of the most medically underserved states in the nation, with the lowest number of physicians per capita.” Buys said of the 459 participants, 13% are attending or have graduated from medical school. About 40% have pursued overtly health-related careers, while approximately 70% overall have engaged in STEM-related careers. “We broadened the name to Rural Medical and Science Scholars, and tell students there is no pressure to go into medicine,” he said. “We foster an exploratory mindset and count it a success if students realize through this program that medicine isn’t for them. It’s better to learn now before you’ve invested college tuition in pre-med courses.” Buys said the program embodies MSU’s land-grant mission. “This program bridges our service and academic missions by bringing youth in through 4-H and Extension and giving them a chance to earn college credit. We’re also generating scholarly output, publishing papers and engaging students in scholarly activity which fulfills the university’s research mission, too,” he said. “This program is recognized nationally. It is novel for the rest of the country, but not new for us.” Students take a health science college-level course earning three credit hours. They also participate in observational and experiential learning activities, tour the University of Mississippi School of Medicine, earn Junior Master Wellness Volunteer certification, and


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scholars the confidence and motivation to pursue their dreams while helping them decide if a health or STEM career is right for them.”


CAVS Extension equips Mississippi’s health care workers with strategies to improve lives and outcomes. Using the Lean model, a business philosophy that eliminates waste and maximizes efficiency, the CAVS-E Healthcare Lean Certificate program has helped hundreds of health care professionals across Mississippi over the past decade. The program now reaches rural medical centers at no cost thanks to a recent Delta BroadReach Healthcare grant. “Participants learn to plan and launch initiatives that transform health care delivery within their organizations,” said John Moore, senior engineer, who founded the program with Susan Moore, who serves as project coordinator. Classes include administrators, clinicians and support staff. Each participant identifies a workplace problem and designs a solution. “We’ve seen remarkable accomplishments in participants’ projects, which contributed to millions of dollars saved and significant quality and care improvements,” he said. “Great leadership and knowledge occur at all levels of an organization but often these individuals don’t have the power to make change happen. They suffer with inefficiencies and

quality problems all day, every day but can’t improve it. Our course teaches them how to make change happen for the good of patients, hospital and staff.” Nicole Stubbs, vice president of performance improvement at Greenwood-Leflore Hospital, who finished the program in 2021, said her organization is seeing results. “This class resulted in our Building Bridges program, which is aimed at reducing delay in patient transfers,” Stubbs said. “We evaluated and streamlined the patient transfer process and by changing a few roles, we reduced average transfer time from 38 to 7.5 minutes.” Stubbs said the group’s other projects resulted in improved room turnover and improved metrics for pre-authorizing a procedure. A contract review program is currently in the works. “This class allowed us to reduce big processes to scalable tasks,” she said. “During the pandemic, it’s been difficult to make sweeping changes, so this class showed us how to implement small changes that have a big impact.”


One in six children experience developmental delays but identifying and addressing these issues early can help them overcome these obstacles. Early screening is key, which is why the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration has funded Mississippi Thrive! A collaboration between MSU’s Social Science Research Center and the University of Mississippi Medical Center, the program improves developmental and behavioral health for children from birth to age 5. Connie Baird-Thomas, research professor and SSRC associate director, is co-principal investigator on the $14 million project, now in its fifth year.

needed,” Baird-Thomas said. The team provides tools that health care professionals, child care personnel and parents can access to meet children’s developmental and behavioral health needs. Thus far, their efforts have helped increase Mississippi’s developmental screening rate to 31.5%, which is much closer to the current national rate of 36.9%. Baird-Thomas said Mississippi needs a developmental and behavioral road map for providers and parents. “I realize families sometimes struggle to find resources. Mississippi needs seamless structures in place, so parents can access resources without frustration,” she said. Through the virtual platform Project ECHO, Mississippi Thrive! allows UMMC specialists to train rural health care providers and bolster their knowledge about developmental health. It has reached 20 counties so far, and has branched out to include the first Project ECHO pilot project aimed at training child care providers, with 30 participants thus far. Heather Hanna, an SSRC assistant research professor and co-principal investigator for Mississippi Thrive!, said she hopes these methods are used for years to come. “We are trying to build infrastructure that will outlive this project, so Mississippi’s fractured early childhood system becomes cohesive,” Hanna explained. “This will ensure children and families have access to needed resources and support for optimal development.” Hanna said the team, in partnership with the Mississippi State Department of Health, created developmental milestone training that new child care directors must complete. The training is also available as a continuing education course for existing directors and has been distributed to the state’s home visiting

“WE’RE EXCITED ABOUT THE COLLABORATION WE ARE SEEING ACROSS MISSISSIPPI’S EARLY CHILDHOOD SYSTEM. DISPARATE GROUPS ACROSS DIFFERENT FIELDS AND INSTITUTIONS WORK WITH FAMILIES TO COME TOGETHER IN WAYS I HAVEN’T SEEN BEFORE, WHICH HAS BEEN A POSITIVE DEVELOPMENT.” ~ HEATHER HANNA The project, in part, was inspired by Mississippi’s low developmental screening rate. Completed on children ages 9-35 months, these screenings can identify children at risk for cognitive, motor, communication or social-emotional delays. In 2017, the U.S. screening rate was 31% while Mississippi’s rate was only 18.6%. “This project has taught health care providers how to screen children at recommended stages, identify potential delays and provide referrals for services when

centers, which help new parents navigate birth and early childhood. She said the work has improved the system. “Before our project, new child care center directors may not have had developmental or behavioral health training,” she said. “Now obtaining licensure requires attending training and ensures a baseline understanding of children’s developmental and behavioral health needs.” The team also embedded Vroom, a developmental health tool, across Mississippi. ALUMNUS.MSSTATE.EDU


“Vroom uses everyday moments to help build a child’s brain through simple science-based learning parents can do at home, which encourages and promotes developmental health,” she said. The team is also partnering with Mississippi Families for Kids, which caters to older children, sibling groups and children with special needs, especially those in the adoption or foster care systems. “We are working with MFFK to build a state-level model with regional support. The regional level will be hands-on working with families while the statelevel will focus on connecting the functions of state

one-hour sessions, broken down into smaller segments for younger clientele. Ellzey said the program removed two barriers common in accessing mental health services in rural areas: location and cost. “We bridge a physical gap of not having to travel for services. Many clients, if they even have access to services, must travel long distances to an appointment,” he said. “Also, offering the service for free has been impactful. Often, families who don’t qualify for Medicaid or Medicare are priced out of these services because insurance companies don’t cover them.”

“BEING AT RISK OF OR THINKING YOU COULD LOSE THE FAMILY FARM IS VERY DIFFICULT. THERE ARE LEGITIMATE REASONS WHY PEOPLE ARE STRUGGLING IN AGRICULTURE. THROUGH THIS PROGRAM, WE’RE HELPING THOSE WHO WORK IN AGRICULTURE UNDERSTAND HOW TO HELP PEOPLE IN DISTRESS, WHY PEOPLE ARE IN DISTRESS AND HOW TO DESTIGMATIZE BEING IN DISTRESS.” ~ DAVID BUYS agencies and other organizations to make sure a child and family moves seamlessly through the system,” Hanna said. “We’re also making sure parents of children with unique developmental and behavioral needs are a part of our leadership team.” They’ve also trained 15 developmental health fellows, comprised of developmental and behavioral allied health professionals. Hanna said watching goals come to fruition is inspiring. “We’re excited about the collaboration we are seeing across Mississippi’s early childhood system,” she said. “Disparate groups across different fields and institutions work with families to come together in ways I haven’t seen before, which has been a positive development.”


Through funding from a federal relief bill, the MSU Department of Psychology offers free mental telemedicine to Mississippi youth ages 6 to 17, with priority given to those in rural communities, where youth suicide is twice as likely but access to mental health services is lacking. The team, helmed by Michael Nadorff, an associate professor, includes Chris Ellzey and Rebecca Kimbrough as primary clinicians. Since September 2021, 200 Mississippians ages 6 to 17 and their family members have received mental health consultations through the program. The team has helped an additional 200 families connect with other resources. Typically, consultation follows a brief care model of six


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Ellzey is hopeful the team will find alternate funding to continue to fulfill the need once the initial grant runs out. “I think this grant proves you can have a relatively small, targeted response to mental health that’s effective,” Ellzey said. “Compared to a full clinic, this is small. It’s two people fielding most of it, and it shows that with good planning, mental health is scalable. We are reaching clients who otherwise wouldn’t have been served.”


The Department of Psychology and MSU Extension Service also administer mental health first aid training to all MSU Extension agents. Buys said such information is vital, especially in rural communities. He noted that male farmers have the fourth highest suicide rate among men across all industries. Misuse of opioids is also a concern in rural areas. According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, three out of four farmers and farm workers reported they have been directly impacted by opioid abuse. Farm owners, managers and workers also have the highest rate of stress-related diseases like heart disease, high blood pressure and ulcers. “Normalizing the conversation about the stress farmers feel is essential. As a land-grant university, we serve farmers on the technical side. We need to serve them in this capacity, too,” Buys said. He pointed out that farmers face stressors including natural disasters, changing markets and work injuries.

“Being at risk of or thinking you could lose the family farm is very difficult. There are legitimate reasons why people are struggling in agriculture,” Buys said. “Through this program, we’re helping those who work in agriculture understand how to help people in distress, why people are in distress and how to destigmatize being in distress.” The team has also partnered with the Center for Continuing Education to provide youth mental health first aid training as a continuing education course for Mississippi teachers. The course increases understanding of common mental health challenges for 12 to 18 year olds, reviews typical adolescent development and teaches a five-step plan for how to help young people in both crisis and non-crisis situations. So far, more than 500 teachers in the state have been trained.


MSU’s AIM for CHangE—an Extension-based program that stands for advancing, inspiring, motivating for community health—improves quality of life in communities where the obesity rate exceeds 40% by providing better access to healthy foods and opportunities for physical activity. Backed by a $5-million grant, the program has funded nearly 60 projects across eight counties in North Mississippi while also investing considerably with the Mississippi Food Network, the state’s food bank. Karli Gama, who earned a master’s in agribusiness management in 2021, took the lead on several programs for the Mississippi Food Network as part


of her graduate degree requirements. In April 2020, she created an emergency food resource database detailing more than 300 food pantries and six transportation sites across the state. She also created an interactive map to help people find resources in their area. Additionally, she developed a best practices management guide to help food pantry managers with inventory, ordering, pick-up, bagging and distribution. AIM for CHangE also galvanized a coalition in Lexington to create the Lexington Food Pantry, which distributes boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables to upwards of 800 families, feeding about 3,200 people each month.


Health inequity across rural America and the Magnolia State is caused by a multitude of factors including cost, health literacy and access. But through the programs outlined above and others administered through Mississippi State, Bulldog faculty, staff and students are working to systematically breakdown these barriers. Beyond that, the university is producing alumni who go on to serve in the health care industry, filling the gaps in medical coverage for rural residents in Mississippi and beyond. Revisit the winter 2021 issue of Alumnus at for more on how Bulldog graduates are helping communities overcome rural health disparities. n


Bully’s Closet and Pantry: Block by Block Meal Program: AIM for CHangE:


Mississippi Thrive! Vroom: Rural Medical and Science Scholars:


Telemedicine for Youth Mental Health: Mental Health First Aid: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-8255 ALUMNUS.MSSTATE.EDU


SEED FUNDING TAKES ROOT Early research support helps Mississippi State land long-term investments By James Carskadon, Portraits by Beth Wynn


s an institution, Mississippi State University’s total research and development budgets top $280 million annually. Much of that funding comes in the form of large external grants that support specific efforts across the university, but researchers at MSU also are supported by seed funding. Usually less than $50,000, these internally administered grants are designed to take a faculty member’s research to another level, spark student interest, or fill an immediate need for stakeholders in Mississippi and beyond. Julie Jordan, MSU vice president for research and economic development, said while seven-figure grants and other large pieces of funding are critical for advancing university research, MSU’s internal funding programs serve a strategic need for supporting MSU’s mission. “In recent years, we’ve placed a renewed effort on doing everything we can to prepare faculty to go after the funding they need to support their research,” Jordan said. “A big part of that includes assisting faculty as they develop proposals and making strategic infrastructure investments. It also includes finding ways to kick-start an idea that has potential for a big impact. It has been exciting to see so many positive outcomes from smaller, internal research investments.” 28 sP R ING 2022





hen Ben Crider came to Mississippi State as an assistant professor of nuclear physics in 2017, he knew he wanted to continue his research on the structure of atomic nuclei. Building off his work as a postdoctoral fellow at the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory in Michigan, he quickly began to target funding from agencies that would be interested in his drive to understand what causes a nucleus to take different shapes. However, he also had a secondary line of research he wanted to pursue—non-destructive neutron scattering and capture using cadmium isotopes, a topic that has ramifications for nuclear industry safeguards. The research requires very small, enriched isotopes and a high-intensity beam that can be found at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Fortunately for Crider, he joined MSU the same year the College of Arts and Sciences launched a Strategic Research Initiative program to fund projects up to $10,000 in hopes of boosting future opportunities. The new professor jumped at the chance and secured enough funding to purchase the specialized isotopes and travel to New Mexico to conduct the experiments. “There aren’t a whole lot of avenues for research funding that is meant to be developmental,” Crider said. “When you propose something to a funding agency, it has to be


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a fully fleshed-out idea. The funding from the College of Arts and Sciences allowed me to try my idea and see what happens. That kind of support encourages good ideas and good things to happen.” For Crider, there were several good things that came from MSU’s $10,000 investment. Because the cadmium isotopes are being studied in a non-destructive way, they have been used for multiple projects, including dissertation research for two graduate students. Because of the success of his initial work, Crider was able to receive more than $500,000 from the U.S. Department of Defense and Department of Energy for two separate projects. The new projects also take advantage of connections Crider made while carrying out his initial research at Los Alamos. “When a funding agency looks at your proposal, it wants to see that you’re the right person to do the project,” Crider said. “Because I already had data sets on hand and letters of support from people at Los Alamos, I had a much more compelling argument for saying, ‘Yes, I am the right person to do this.’ Statistically, there’s a small chance of getting funded when you go after federal grants, even if it’s a great idea. This seed program really helps to more fully develop an idea and give you a better chance to get bigger funding.”

Assistant professor of nuclear physics Ben Crider, left, used seed funding from the College of Arts and Sciences to conduct experiments using specialized isotopes, leading to new research opportunities for Crider and graduate students like Kofi AssuminGyimah, a doctoral student in engineering from Gaithersburg, Maryland.


Brett Rushing, associate Extension and research professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, uses strategic funding to study the effectiveness of current conservation practices on Mississippi agricultural land.


or some scientists in the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, startup funding is, literally, planting the seeds of research that will benefit Mississippi producers. MAFES administers its own Strategic Research Initiative with two tracks for proposals— one focuses on helping researchers secure external funding, while another is for research that addresses immediate needs in the Mississippi agriculture community. Brett Rushing, an associate Extension and research professor in MSU’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, is using Strategic Research Initiative funding to test an integrated crop-livestock production system on east-central Mississippi soil. At the Coastal Plains Branch Experiment Station in Newton, he is cycling plots of land through growing forage, grazing from beef cattle and then row crops such as soybeans. So far, the system is showing promising results for increasing cattle weight and crop yields. Rushing said conservation practices such as cover cropping systems have grown in recent years, but there is little data on how Mississippi soils respond to the system. As farmers navigate year-to-year credit and financing for their operations, data showing the financial benefits of an integrated production system can help justify the initial financial investment. “When you add an animal to the system through grazing, you get a lot of benefits from a nutrient cycling and pest management standpoint,” Rushing said. “With cover crops and row crops in the same area, you’re helping to increase soil fertility, which in turn produces

higher crop yields. It seems to be a win-win scenario, and we’re getting some really good data out of it.” With the initial data showing promise, Rushing plans to expand the research to different areas in Mississippi to cover the main soil types found in the state. Another MAFES researcher is using the same plots to analyze how the grazing and cropping activities impact microbial communities in the soil. In addition to providing valuable information to share with producers, the SRI funding also has supported graduate student research. “This kind of project is really beneficial for graduate students,” Rushing said. “You get experience in row crops, beef cattle, cover cropping and soil health. You come out of it a very well-rounded student because you’re exposed to so many different elements and ways of collecting data, all within a two-to-three-year period.” An alumnus of MSU’s agronomy master’s and doctoral programs, Rushing also has worked with colleagues to develop and patent a switchgrass variety that is resistant to herbicide and extends the grass’ benefits for soil conservation and restoration. Rushing said whether his research is funded through the state’s agricultural promotion boards or MAFES’ SRI program, he enjoys work that directly correlates with producer needs. “If we can increase a producer’s ability to provide for their family while simultaneously taking care of God’s creation, that’s a great benefit,” Rushing said. “That helps our rural communities be economically and agriculturally sustainable. This project has an opportunity to impact a lot of people, and we’re grateful to be able to do it.” ALUMNUS.MSSTATE.EDU




hile seed funding can help grow a faculty member’s career possibilities, it also opens new opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students. MSU’s Office of Research and Economic Development provides small grants to faculty to incentivize undergraduate involvement in research activity. The program is designed to support research that can lead to a publication or grant proposal. That’s exactly how assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering Chanyeop Park was able to use $2,000 in research funds. In 2020, he used the funding to hire Bobby Calabrese, then a senior electrical engineering major, to conduct research on the dielectric materials that enable soft electronic technologies such as wearable or stretchable sensors. The work Park and Calabrese carried out was then used in a National Science Foundation grant application, ultimately resulting in a $299,874 award. The NSF award is funding three years of Calabrese’s tuition and salary as a doctoral student in the department. “When I started at MSU, I had no idea what I wanted to do,” said Calabrese, a Houlka native. “I was eventually drawn to electrical engineering and started to get the idea of pursuing a Ph.D. Before I made that decision, I knew I wanted to get a feel of what research in this area is all about. Working with Dr. Park gave me an opportunity to gain experience and get my foot in the door.” With the NSF funding, Park and Calabrese are studying liquid metal polymer composites, which have


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shown strong applications in the use of bioelectronic and soft robotics that can function while being stretched or compressed. The researchers aim to fill the knowledge gap on how the materials age over time and what causes them to fail. Park explained that because the composites have shown promise in a wide array of applications, it is important to know their limits and when they may fail. A South Korea native, Park received his doctorate from Georgia Institute of Technology and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the institution before joining MSU as a faculty member in 2019. His research is broadly aimed at securing the future of power engineering, with specific focuses on high voltage applications, dielectrics, applied plasma physics, applied superconductivity and cryogenic power electronics. As a new faculty member, Park said ORED’s funding for undergraduate research has helped grow his group of student researchers. “I wanted to create an ecosystem where I can interact with multiple undergraduate researchers, and then hopefully, at least one or two would end up pursuing a Ph.D. with me or somebody else in the department,” Park said. “After having a successful case like Bobby, I am even more encouraged to keep pursuing that route because it’s a very effective way of hiring talented people into the research and provides an opportunity to get more federal and external grants that can support additional undergraduate researchers.”

A $2,000 undergraduate research investment led to a National Science Foundation-funded project for electrical and computer engineering assistant professor Chanyeop Park (right), which is funding graduate school for Houlka native Bobby Calabrese.

SUPPORTING NEW IDEAS Julie Jordan, Mississippi State’s vice president for research and economic development said the university’s faculty can turn even small amounts of funding into impactful projects with long-term benefits.


SU has continued to pursue new avenues for internal research funding. In recent years, ORED has added a program to support research designed to advance diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as supporting faculty visits to funding agencies. The university’s International Institute sponsors a seed program that helps early and mid-career faculty develop international projects and partnerships. Jordan said seed funding can be a good way to promote collaboration among researchers, connect faculty with

university resources and help get an idea off the ground that may not be ready for a major external proposal. “We have faculty with incredible ideas all over campus,” she said. “We want to give them every resource they need to carry out the vision for their research and help them make an impact in their field and in society. As we’ve seen with our current programs, sometimes a little bit of investment can provide a huge return with the talented faculty we have. I look forward to having more success stories to share as we grow these programs.” n






shland “Coby” Willis knows a thing or two about family. For her, it’s something that stretches beyond those who share her household to include the whole Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. Without that family, she says she might never have become part of MSU’s. “My tribe has done everything to support me,” Willis said. “I’m so thankful for my tribe.” As a new mother in 2009, Willis said her goal was simply to find a job to support her family. That desire led her to an associate degree and into a classroom as an assistant teacher. Then, her extended tribal family did its work. The urging of her principal gave her the idea of going back to school. A chance encounter with the program director of the Choctaw Tribal Scholarship program gave that idea a way forward. Willis soon enrolled in the Division of Education at MSUMeridian with a full scholarship from the Teacher Initiative Program,


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which enabled her to pursue a bachelor’s in elementary education. “The tribe’s teacher initiative is what allowed me to become a teacher, and teaching is my way of giving back to my tribe,” explained Willis, who now has four children with her husband Poncho. “My kids are my reason for doing all of this. And I don’t just mean my biological children, I mean my nieces, nephews, cousins and all my school babies, of course. It’s the kids all around me, in my community and my tribe, they’re my reason for doing everything.” Having earned her degree in 2019, Willis is now a science teacher for fourth through eighth grades at Tucker Elementary School in Philadelphia, the same school where her desire to serve others began years earlier. She explained that having a teacher “just be there” for her really made an impression. “I remember going to school one day and being so upset,” Willis said, explaining that her father—who raised her as a single parent— wasn’t the best at fixing her hair. “My teacher, Karla Russell, saw how upset I was, pulled me aside and fixed my hair how I wanted it. She showed me that she cared and that’s what made me begin to think that I wanted to be of service to others.” Willis said Mississippi State further fueled that passion for service as she moved deeper into her undergraduate education. She said the curriculum’s focus on establishing and maintaining mutual respect with her students was one of the key lessons that stuck with her. Another eye-opening concept was that not every student will learn in the same way or at the same pace and that a teacher needs to accommodate that.

The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians has more than 11,000 members.

She said her goal is to help them feel support for their dreams “It helped me understand a lot about how kids learn and that I and academic pursuits. But she also wants them to feel supported need to take that into account when planning my lessons,” Willis emotionally. Willis said she believes that, ultimately, the key to having said. “It also helped me learn about myself, like if I don’t understand a successful classroom is showing the students that you care about this, then I can’t help my kids understand it either. them both in school and away. “My MSU courses also taught me to be flexible within my “I have a wall in my room where my students classroom,” Willis continued. write important dates to them,” Willis explained. She explained that teaching at a tribal "THE TRIBE’S TEACHER INITIATIVE IS “If it’s an event that I’m able to attend, I do and that school means many of the students come WHAT ALLOWED ME TO BECOME A has built the rapport between my kids and me.” from homes where the Choctaw language is Willis is currently working toward a master’s what’s spoken, which can make switching to TEACHER, AND TEACHING IS MY WAY OF in counselor education at MSU-Meridian—a English for school challenging. Willis said GIVING BACK TO MY TRIBE. MY KIDS ARE natural step in her desire to positively impact she sometimes has to explain things in both languages to get the concept across, but no her students’ lives. Already an active member in MY REASON FOR DOING ALL OF THIS. her community as president of both the Tucker matter how she has to teach it, it’s rewarding when a student who has been struggling begins AND I DON’T JUST MEAN MY BIOLOGICAL Development Club and the Tucker Elementary to understand. School Parent-Teacher Organization, she said she CHILDREN, I MEAN MY NIECES, NEPHEWS, believes studying school counseling only furthers “Mississippi State prepared me to her ability to relate to her students and better recognize that my students are all different COUSINS AND ALL MY SCHOOL BABIES, serve her community. types of learners who need to be taught in Willis said her background already resonates different ways,” Willis said. “I think that’s OF COURSE. IT’S THE KIDS ALL AROUND with her students because it is so like what what has helped my success as a teacher and ME, IN MY COMMUNITY AND MY TRIBE, her students are experiencing. By becoming a getting my students to be great learners.” counselor, she hopes to reach even more children Willis works to get her students excited THEY’RE MY REASON FOR DOING and be a positive force in their lives. about learning and the world. At the end of EVERYTHING." - ASHLAND WILLIS “I just want to be that someone for them. That every class, she pulls up Google Maps, with person who has also been through it, and can its street-view capabilities, and lets students show them it will be OK,” Willis said. “I want to help them and let pick a place they want to explore. In 2020, she earned a $5,000 grant them know that they’re not alone. They can see that, ‘Hey, Mrs. Coby from the Society for Science that allowed her to provide each student went through that too, and look at how far she’s come.’ And they can with hands-on science activities while they learned from home do it, too. I always say, it’s their turn to be even better than me.” n during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ashland “Coby” Willis, who teaches fourth through eighth grade science at Tucker Elementary, credits her MSU studies for improving her understanding of children’s learning styles.






By Joel Coleman, Photos Submitted


e’s been around the globe–from sea to shining sea and beyond. But no matter where Lennie Day goes, Mississippi State goes with him. A mathematics alumnus who is now a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Coast Guard, Day has a solid maroon and white foundation supporting him as he serves the red, white and blue. “I have Mississippi State in my office,” Day said. “I wear Mississippi State hats every day in the spring and summer to work. I represent Mississippi State all the time. It’s part of what I do.” Day graduated from State in 2004. Before that, he spent five years as a student-athlete with the Bulldog football program. A self-professed lover of basketball who aspired to one day play in the NBA, Day’s size and speed instead earned the Mobile, Alabama, native a football scholarship in Starkville. He started off as a tight end and fullback, but soon changed positions and landed on the Bulldogs’ defensive line.


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"If I were to frame it, one of the memories was my senior year–the players were able to vote for team captain and I got voted as a team captain, which was a big deal to me. That means your peers are looking up to you and feel like you’re a leader. As I moved into the military, I kind of used that to draw from all I learned from Jackie Sherrill and our coaching staff and the leadership I learned working with the players to do what I do now." - Lennie Day

The Coast Guard was founded Aug. 4, 1790 after Congress commissioned 10 ships to enforce federal tariffs and prevent smuggling.

Playing under then-head coach Jackie Sherrill is a time Day said he still frequently reflects on. “Our team was not as flashy as others, but (our opponents) knew that when you came to Starkville you were going to get beat up,” Day said, proud of his group’s toughness. That hard-nosed, teamwide mentality allowed Day to experience firsthand a couple of MSU’s most memorable seasons. Day redshirted in 1999 but he got to be a part of a Bulldog squad that finished 10-2 including a Peach Bowl victory over Clemson. “We won a lot of games by just grit,” Day said. “We were winning games with field goals–three points or less. That happened a lot in 1999.” Five times to be exact. Half of MSU’s wins that season were decided by three points or fewer. Despite the adrenaline of those close contests, Day said his clearest Bulldog memory came the following season. “The first thing that comes to mind is the Snow Bowl,” Day said. “I think everyone remembers the Snow Bowl. It’s amazing how it turned out.” Now legendary among Bulldog faithful, that 2000 Independence Bowl earned it’s nickname when an unexpected snowstorm turned Shreveport, Louisiana, into a winter wonderland. MSU earned the 4341 win in overtime against Texas A&M. Still, Day says Mississippi State means so much more than football. His time at the university helped set him on his way. “What I enjoyed the most, I was a part of Fellowship of Christian Athletes,” Day said. “I made a lot of great friends there and it kind of molded me and prepared me for my life now. I think being part of that organization was extremely helpful. Of course, my football teammates were helpful in pushing me and driving me. When you play college football, you’re in a realm where everyone is superior at what they do and now you have to prove yourself. Those daily competitions on the practice field and in games drove me to be the best I could be at my position.” Day maintains that drive today as he continually progresses up the ladder in his military career. A member of the Coast Guard for 16 years, he originally joined after a conversation with his Mississippi-native father, who served in the branch for 30 years himself. “Initially, he was like, ‘Just get in, stay in four years, get job training, then get out,’” Day recalled. “That was my plan. Then slowly but surely,

I realized there were more opportunities for leadership, which I really liked. I could advance in the service, work with great people, serve the nation–which is the ultimate privilege–then kind of move forward in my career.” Day has done precisely that over the last decade and a half. He started his military journey as an information systems technician before attending Officer Candidate School, which has allowed him to serve in leadership roles for the last 11 years. Recently, Day had the honor of commissioning and commanding the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Benjamin Bottoms. He was the Californiabased vessel’s first commanding officer. Then, in January 2021, Day was promoted to the rank of lieutenant commander. Now living in Boston, Massachusetts, Day is the enforcement team leader for the Coast Guard’s First District. He handles general law enforcement, fishery law enforcement and more from Maine to New York. Day said he is the leader he always wanted to be, using tools he learned in Starkville. “If I were to frame it, one of the memories was my senior year–the players were able to vote for team captain and I got voted as a team captain, which was a big deal to me,” Day recalled. “That means your peers are looking up to you and feel like you’re a leader. As I moved into the military, I kind of used that to draw from all I learned from Jackie Sherrill and our coaching staff and the leadership I learned working with the players to do what I do now. “One of the biggest things for the military is the expectation of perfection to protect the American people,” he continued. “When I’m in charge, I’m looking to be as formidable and close to perfection as possible to make sure we’re doing everything we can to keep Americans safe at home.” As Day serves and protects, he said he’ll continue to do so while proudly carrying the banner for Mississippi State. For proof, look no further than Day’s wife and biggest supporter, Monica. “I won’t say I convinced my wife to be a Bulldog, but she ended up getting her undergraduate degree from Mississippi State at a time when we were living in Puerto Rico,” Day said. “She did the distance learning program and that was great. We actually flew into the States and went to graduation. That was her first time on campus. That was a really great experience. So, we have Bulldog blood running through this house.” n

A former Bulldog football team captain under head coach Jackie Sherrill, Lennie Day now serves as the lead enforcement officer for the Coast Guard’s first district.




LOOKING BACK MSU engineering grads contributed to safe return of Apollo 13 astronauts By James Carskadon Photos from archive, NASA


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n the summer of 1969, the world was captivated by the successful Apollo 11 mission that put the first man on the moon. By April 1970, America was focused on another Apollo mission, this time watching with unease as an onboard explosion in the command module put the Apollo 13 crew’s safe return to Earth in jeopardy. At both points, the public was seeing the results of dedicated work from Mississippi State University graduates. Alumni Ed Smylie and Gilroy Chow were among the Bulldogs that took part in the all-hands-on-deck effort to safely return the three Apollo 13 astronauts to Earth. Smylie and Chow shared their stories as part of a new documentary from the MSU Television Center, “XIII.” Chow came to MSU from New York in 1958 due to family connections in the Mississippi Delta. After graduating with a degree in industrial engineering in 1962,

Gilroy Chow

“You could sense the importance of what was happening. We were going to the moon, and we were going to get it done.” ~ Gilroy Chow he returned to New York to work for Grumman Aircraft. The company was selected as the contractor to build the lunar module used in the Apollo program, giving Chow an opportunity to work on the project at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. “You could sense the importance of what was happening,” Chow recalled. “We were going to the moon, and we were going to get it done.” After Apollo 11 and 12 successfully sent astronauts to the moon without any major incidents, Apollo 13 turned out to be different. Chow received a call from his manager shortly after the explosion caused a drastic drop in oxygen in the command module. He soon reported to Kennedy Space Center. Smylie was in his home, located just down the street from astronaut Fred Haise’s house, when he learned of a major problem onboard Apollo 13 as the news broke on television. Working as the acting chief of the crew systems division in NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, Texas, the two-time mechanical engineering graduate and Crystal Springs native quickly put his team to work addressing a key challenge that emerged in the aftermath of the explosion.

Ed Smylie



Our PEOPLE It became clear that the astronauts would need to use the lunar module for the rest of the mission. However, the lunar module did not contain enough of the round canisters used to absorb carbon dioxide, which would eventually leave the astronauts out of oxygen. There were additional canisters in the command module, but they were square. If the astronauts were going to get sufficient oxygen, they needed a way to fit a square peg in a round hole. Chow and Smylie, working separately with teams in Florida and Texas, looked closely at the list of every item onboard the spacecraft and noticed one item in particular that could help solve the puzzle.

“We had a problem. We would look for solutions until we found the one that worked and we implemented it. Once you identify a problem, no matter what size it was, you had to find a solution.” ~ Ed Smylie “If you’re a Southern boy, you know that if it moves and it’s not supposed to, you use duct tape,” Smylie said. “If it doesn’t move and it’s supposed to, you use WD-40. We had duct tape, so we had to tape it in a way that we could hook up the environmental control system hose up to the command module canister.” A prototype was developed using duct tape, plastic bags and cardboard from the flight plans. After testing confirmed that the improvised contraption would work and keep the oxygen flowing, instructions for building them were relayed to the astronauts via mission control. Astronaut Jack Swigert put the improvised device together. Following the astronauts’ return to Earth, Smylie was called out by named in a speech by President Richard Nixon as an example of the quick thinking on the ground that allowed the astronauts to return safely. “We had a problem. We would look for solutions until we found the one that worked and we implemented it,” Smylie said. “Once you identify a problem, no matter what size it was, you had to find a solution.” Both Chow and Smylie would continue their successful careers long after the historic Apollo missions. Chow continued his work for Grumman and eventually returned to the Mississippi Delta. Smylie worked at NASA for 20 years in total and later worked at Grumman. While he did gain some notoriety for his role in Apollo 13, Smylie notes that the mission was just four days of a decades-long career.


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“I’m pretty proud of the things we were able to accomplish, and I always say ‘we,’” Smylie said. “It wasn’t just me on any of it. It was always us.” For many MSU students like Smylie and Chow that earned their degrees in the 1950s and 1960s, their careers would give them a role in historic moments in space exploration. This generation of Bulldogs went from strategizing how to make the most of a meal in Perry Cafeteria to strategizing how to safely send humans to the moon and back. “I must have been kind of naïve as a student,” Chow said. “I spent time studying and going to classes, figuring out where to eat the next meal. I was not thinking about how I would change the world. I did not have a vision of changing the world, but it turns out I was a part of the group that opened many eyes to what technology could accomplish.” To view the University Television Center documentary “XIII,” scan the QR code or visit n Scan Me

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MSU Alumni Association announces inaugural class of Reveille 25 honorees The Mississippi State University Alumni Association is proud to honor 25 outstanding young alumni as the inaugural recipients of The Reveille 25 award. Launched last fall, The Reveille 25 seeks to highlight the remarkable accomplishments of the university’s growing number of young alumni. The familiar name of the program derives from MSU’s former yearbook, The Reveille, and pays tribute to the university’s foundational military history. Accordingly, the program will annually honor 25 high achieving, young alumni who are answering the call of the university’s mission for excellence and inspiring others through the positive impact they are making in their communities and professions. The 25 honorees, chosen from among 340 applicants, were recognized during a banquet in March.

The 2022 Reveille 25 class JAMEL ALEXANDER of Huntsville, Alabama He is a two-time MSU mechanical engineering graduate, earning master’s and doctoral degrees in 2013 and 2017, respectively. The New Orleans, Louisiana native also holds a bachelor’s degree from Xavier University and a master’s degree from the University of New Orleans. He currently serves as a general engineer for the U.S. Department of Defense. MORGAN ALEXANDER of Starkville A native of Jackson, Alexander earned a bachelor’s degree in wildlife, fisheries and aquaculture in 2020 and now serves as a Mississippi State admissions counselor for the Mississippi Delta and Jackson Public Schools.


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SHELBY BALDWIN of Starkville The Ridgeland native earned a Bachelor of Business Administration in marketing in 2019 and is the co-founder and chief operating officer of Rocketing Systems Inc. BRIAN BARNES of Saltillo A native of Tremont, Barnes earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 2009 and is pursuing a master’s degree from Mississippi State’s Bagley College of Engineering. He serves as an engineering manager for the Tennessee Valley Authority.

JOSEPH “JOJO” DODD of Jackson The 2016 MSU economics graduate and Picayune native continued his education at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, where he earned a master’s degree in biomedical sciences and is currently a fourth-year medical student. Dodd also is chairman of the board and chief operations officer for the Jackson Free Clinic. MATTHEW DOUDE of Huntsville, Alabama As program manager for Dynetics Inc., Doude is a three-time MSU graduate. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering in 2007 and 2014, respectively, followed by a doctoral degree in industrial and systems engineering in 2020. JEFFERY ELLIS of Biloxi He earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 2006 and serves as an engineering manager for Ingalls Shipbuilding. MICHAEL FERRIL of Broomfield, Colorado The 2012 business administration graduate is CEO of Rosy Rings Inc. ELLIOTT FLAGGS of Jackson He earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial and systems engineering from MSU in 2007. Flaggs later earned a Juris Doctor from the University of Mississippi School of Law and currently serves as a vice president at Cornerstone Government Affairs’ Jackson office. DARVIN GRIFFIN of Salem, New Hampshire The Shuqualak native earned a bachelor’s degree in biological engineering from MSU in 2009. He went on to earn master’s and doctoral degrees from Cornell University and serves as director of clinical development in medical aesthetics for Irvine, California-based AbbVie Inc. CODY HARDIN of Eupora The 2008 aerospace engineering graduate is a lead manufacturing engineer for Aurora Flight Services, a Boeing Company. A native of Batesville, he also holds a master’s degree from Arkansas State University. SEANICAA EDWARDS HERRON of Clarksburg, Maryland She earned a bachelor’s degree in agribusiness in 2004 and a master’s degree in agricultural economics in 2008. The Hernando native is cofounder and executive director of Freedmen Heirs Foundation Inc.

WHITNEY LIPSCOMB of Ridgeland The Gulfport native earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from MSU in 2009 and went on to complete a Juris Doctor at the University of Mississippi School of Law. She is a deputy attorney general for the Mississippi Attorney General’s office. DAVID MACIAS of Vienna, Virginia The New Orleans, Louisiana, native is a 2004 biological engineering graduate of MSU. He completed a Doctor of Medicine at the University of Mississippi School of Medicine and is an orthopedic surgeon at OrthoVirginia. LYNDSEY MILLER of Starkville She earned a 2005 bachelor’s degree in human sciences with an emphasis in interior design, followed by a 2007 master’s degree in architecture. Miller is an associate professor in MSU’s interior design program and director of Starkville’s Academy of Competitive and Performing Arts APEX Dance Company. ALPHAKA MOORE of Natchez A native of Laurel, she earned a bachelor’s degree in technology teacher education from MSU in 2009 and later earned a master’s degree in educational administration from the University of Southern Mississippi. Moore serves as athletic director for the Natchez Adams School District and head coach for the Natchez High School girls basketball team. MATTHEW PRIDDY of Starkville He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from MSU in 2008 and 2010, respectively. The Columbus native also completed a doctoral degree in mechanical engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Priddy is an assistant professor in MSU’s Bagley College of Engineering. STEPHEN REICHLEY of Starkville He earned a doctoral degree in veterinary medical science from MSU in 2017. Reichley earlier completed his bachelor’s degree in biology at the University of Findlay and a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at Ohio State University. A native of Stow, Ohio, he serves as an assistant clinical professor and the associate director of the Global Center for Aquatic Health and Food Security in MSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine.



ALUMNI News ALIVIA ROBERTS of Washington, D.C. She graduated in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in communication and a minor in political science. The Shannon native also holds a master’s degree from George Washington University and a certificate in entrepreneurial leadership from the University of Oxford. Roberts is special assistant to the director of public affairs for the U.S. Department of Justice. NASHLIE SEPHUS of Atlanta, Georgia A 2007 MSU computer engineering graduate, she also holds master’s and doctoral degrees from the Georgia Institute of Technology. The Jackson native is an artificial intelligence tech evangelist for Amazon and the founder and CEO of The Bean Path. ZECHARIAH SMITH of Memphis, Tennessee The Starkville native earned a bachelor’s degree in biological engineering in 2010. He serves as project engineering manager for Integra LifeSciences and is pursuing an MBA from Delta State University. ADAM TELLE of Washington, D.C. He is a 2005 double-major, holding bachelor’s degrees in both computer science and communication. A native of Northport, Alabama, Telle is chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Bill Hagerty of Tennessee.


CRYSTAL VINCENT of Wylie, Texas She earned a Bachelor of Business Administration in marketing from MSU in 2005, followed by an MBA from the University of North Alabama. She is president and CEO of both K Kaz Transport Inc. and Prestige Quality Consulting LLC, and is the product success manager for ServiceNow. ASHLEY WYNNE of Reidville, South Carolina She earned a master’s degree in chemical engineering in 2012 and an MBA in 2018. The Coventry, Rhode Island, native also holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and is a principal product development engineer for Sealed Air Corporation. JENNIFER SLOAN ZIEGLER of Ridgeland A three-time MSU graduate, she earned bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in civil engineering in 2010, 2012 and 2013, respectively. The Sturgis native later earned a master’s certificate in coastal engineering from the University of New Orleans and is a project manager and engineer for Cypress Environment and Infrastructure.

For more information about The Reveille 25 program and to learn more about the accomplishments of each of the honorees, visit S PR ING 2022

To be considered for the Reveille 25, alumni may apply or be nominated. Nominations will be accepted July 11Oct. 1. Whether nominated or applying, each individual must complete an application which will be available July 11-Oct. 15. Candidates for the award must have earned an undergraduate or graduate degree from Mississippi State and be under the age of 40 at the time the honorees are announced in spring 2023. To apply, nominate an outstanding alumnus or learn more about the program, visit




2022 BLACK ALUMNI WEEKEND The Mississippi State University Alumni Association proudly welcomed alumni back to campus in February for Black Alumni Weekend 2022. More than 500 participants came together for a weekend of educational and social events. The weekend’s “50 Years of Athletic Inclusion” theme honored the legacy upheld by African American student athletes at MSU since Frank Dowsing Jr. and Robert Bell made history as the university’s first Black student athletes some five decades ago. In addition to promoting alumni involvement, the event also served as a meaningful way to build support for student scholarships. Although the Black Alumni Weekend 2020 event was postponed, collective efforts from the 2020 and 2022 celebrations resulted in more than $53,500 in support for the Black Alumni Advisory Council Annual Scholarship award. For more information on this event and other MSU Alumni Association events, visit


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MSU freshman wins ‘free’ tuition drawing for spring semester Russell S. Young, a freshman from Pensacola, Florida, is the winner of the Mississippi State University Alumni Association’s 16th tuition drawing. The mechanical engineering major in the James Worth Bagley College of Engineering received free, full-time tuition for the 2022 spring semester. “It’s such a nice surprise to have the winning ticket,” said Young, who plans to enlist in the Marines following his graduation. “This will help me tremendously with student debt. I feel like a great stress is lifted off my shoulders as I continue my education here at State.” Young’s ticket, purchased by his parents, Nancy and Charles Young, was one of more than 3,500 tickets sold by the Alumni Delegates, the association’s student organization. Each ticket offers MSU students a chance to win 12 credit hours of free in-state tuition. Eligible students include

Tuition drawing winner Russell S. Young (center) of Pensacola, Florida, surrounded by members of the MSU Alumni Delegates organization. Photo by Megan Bean any undergraduate student enrolled full time at the university. During the fall 2021 semester, the Alumni Delegates raised more than $20,000 from tickets purchased by the parents of eligible students. The Alumni Association is proud of the tradition it has built in the past eight years as it aims to connect parents and students with MSU and the association. “The tuition drawing strengthens bonds between our university, students, parents and alumni,” said Jeff Davis, executive director of the Alumni Association. “We can positively

affect the student experience while fostering a spirit of support and generosity. The additional funds raised go to support scholarship and priority programs within our association.” Founded in 1980, the Alumni Delegates is a diverse group of students who serve as liaisons between the 144-year-old institution and its more than 155,000 living graduates. Members assist with organizational programs and activities on behalf of the association, such as football tailgate gatherings, class reunions and the association’s annual awards banquet and leadership conference.

RING CEREMONY The MSU Alumni Association hosts The Ring at MSU, a timehonored tradition for the presentation of the university’s official class rings purchased prior to each spring and fall commencement. More than 60 Bulldogs received rings, presented by MSU President Mark E. Keenum, during the December 2021 ceremony. Lifelong educator and head of MSU’s Department of Curriculum, Instruction and Special Education Janice Nicholson was recognized by the Alumni Association as the fall ring honoree. As one of the university’s most loyal supporters, Nicholson received a special class ring for her outstanding service and dedication. Nicholson earned


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master’s and doctoral degrees in elementary education from MSU’s College of Education in 1967 and 1977, respectively. She completed her undergraduate studies at Blue Mountain College and also holds an education specialist degree from Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education. Named MSU’s 2021 Alumna of the Year, Nicholson was honored as the College of Education Alumna of the Year in 2018 and as an Alumni Fellow in 2013. She has served on the MSU Foundation board of directors and presently is a member of the MSU Bulldog Club board of directors. For more information on official MSU class rings, visit

MSU Alumni Association announces student delegate officers The Mississippi State University Alumni Association is announcing four new leaders of its student organization known as the Alumni Delegates. Officers for this year include: Sophie Jones of Birmingham, Alabama, president, a junior biomedical engineering major; Logan Strietelmeier of Collierville, Tennessee, vice president of member education, a sophomore mechanical engineering major; Lauren Nichols of Vestavia Hills, Alabama, vice president of public relations, a junior anthropology major; and William “Will” Baumhauer of Pascagoula, secretary, a junior accounting major. Founded in 1980, the Alumni Delegates organization helps the university and the Alumni Association maintain strong ties with MSU students and the more than 155,000 living graduates of the land-grant institution.

MSU Alumni Delegates officers, from left: William “Will” Baumhauer of Pascagoula, secretary; Lauren Nichols of Vestavia Hills, Alabama, vice president of public relations; Logan Strietelmeier of Collierville, Tennessee, vice president of member education; and Sophie Jones of Birmingham, Alabama, president. Photo by Robby Lozano The 53-member group is often the first point of contact for graduates, friends and other special campus guests. The group also assists with tailgate gatherings, class reunions, graduation ring presentations and senior celebrations, among other events. For the past seven years, the group has distributed more than $75,000 generated

through ticket sales for a semesterly “free tuition" raffle. Members also created the MSU Alumni Delegates Endowed Scholarship in 2015, which benefits entering freshmen or transfer students. To learn more about MSU Alumni Delegates and see a complete list of current members, visit

FORMER NATIONAL PRESIDENTS Former national presidents of the MSU Alumni Association gathered in the Hunter Henry Center’s lobby as part of Former National Presidents Day on March 25. The group is collectively recognized biennially for their loyal service. Those former national presidents in attendance included: FRONT L-R:, Camille Young, Charles Cascio, Sherri Carr Smith, Karen Dugard Lawler, A.D. Hunt, William “Buddy” Twitty, and Clay McWilliams; MIDDLE L-R: Patrick White, national Alumni Association President; Jackie Ford, Joe Bryan, Steve Taylor, Lamar Conerly, Walter Becker Jr., John Correro , Executive Director Emeritus; and Robby Gathings; BACK L-R: David Jones, Gary Blair, Jeff Davis, the association’s Executive Director; Tommy Roberson, Ronnie Walton, and Brad Reeves. ALUMNUS.MSSTATE.EDU


EMBARK ON AN ADVENTURE Traveling Bulldog 2023 Trips 52

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The MSU Alumni Association annually sponsors trips across the globe through the Traveling Bulldogs program. Itineraries are booked through 2023. Explore our website for more details at or contact the Alumni Association at 662.325.7000.

Now Booking Trips for 2023* JANUARY Antarctica Discovery Dazzling Down Under Taste of the Caribbean and Panama Canal FEBRUARY The Wolves and Wildlife of Yellowstone The Galapagos Islands Tahiti and French Polynesia Under Sail

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MARCH Victory in the Pacific Great Trains and Grand Canyons Egypt and the Eternal Nile Hawaii Three Island Adventure Portrait of Italy APRIL Dutch Waterways European Coastal Civilizations Historical Baseball MAY The Kentucky Derby Cruise the Heart of Europe Easy Company Village Life Dordogne Flavors of Northern Italy JUNE Stunning Scenery of Alaska: SEC Conference Cruise National Parks and Lodges of the Old West Great Journey Through Europe JULY Kenya Safari: The Big 5 Discover the Canadian Rockies by Rail AUGUST Discover Southeast Alaska SEPTEMBER Flavors of Sicily Passions and Pursuits River Cruise: Southern France Insider’s Japan OCTOBER Landscapes and Lighthouses of Coastal Maine Gladiators to Gondolas Greek Isles and Turkish Riviera Operation Home Front at the National WWII Museum

*All trips and dates are subject to change. Visit our website for the most current information.

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CHANGING TOMORROW Alumna creates scholarship focusing on mental health By Ashleigh Lee, Photos Submitted


ndrea Pierson wants to change the perception of mental health on college campuses and around the world. Coming to Mississippi State University after graduating from the University of Toledo with a bachelor’s in recreational therapy, Pierson knew that she wanted to combine her love of helping people and athletics. Joining the sports administration master’s program, she worked as an academic adviser with men’s basketball, softball and football student-athletes. “I love working with students and helping them figure out life,” Pierson said. “We always see people helping studentathletes with their physical well-being, but it’s important for us to also help with their mental well-being. People don’t get to see what these athletes’ lives are like after a game or competition. Working as an academic adviser allows me to be a person for my students to come to whenever they are off the field or court.” After graduating in 2017 with a master’s degree, the Troy, Ohio, native accepted a job at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque as an academic adviser for its football, softball and women’s golf studentathletes. Here, she found her calling—a career she loved through which she could work long term to affect more significant change in the lives of others. As she met and began developing connections with student-athletes from different backgrounds and with different skill sets, she could see the drive and determination they all had to do well. However, as more and more student-athletes began coming into her office to talk with her about their struggles, she realized their mental health was being overshadowed by


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All proceeds from the sale of Tomorrow Needs You merchandise go toward the Tomorrow Needs You Scholarship. Items include T-shirts, hoodies and stickers.

A University of New Mexico student athlete that Andrea Pierson worked with as an academic adviser. the flashy personas many expect from the world of college sports. “I’ve always been drawn to students who needed someone to believe in them,” Pierson said. “I felt like I was the only one who cared about these students and was seeing what was going on with them. Others noticed but no one talked about it or even addressed it. The students had to go out of their way to ask for resources because it was so taboo to talk about it.” In February 2019, Pierson received news that one of her former football students had taken his own life. “He was like everyone’s big brother and was always willing to show someone around or talk to others about their problems,” she said of the student. Pierson, who had been working with the student during his transition to post-graduation life, said she was shocked and confused, but as she processed the information, she noticed the shift it created among other student-athletes. Several began opening up and speaking out about their own ideations and personal struggles with mental health. Nine months later—in November 2019— another of Pierson’s students died by suicide. She had worked with the student since his freshman year of college, helping him find his place in the world. She said she knew there was always something he seemed to be holding back but never imagined the worst. “I knew that this couldn’t happen again,” Pierson said. “Two students in a year were two

too many. I knew that we needed to be talking about mental health more. I knew that we had to break the athlete mentality and the toughness and the guards they put up. We aren’t talking about this enough, and there are not enough resources for our students.” In the following weeks, Pierson noticed that the conversations that started in the aftermath had become quiet. There was an emphasis on mental health following the tragedies but the discussions eventually stopped. Actions no longer aligned with what people were saying, and Pierson said she began wondering about prevention and advocacy. That’s when Tomorrow Needs You was born. Tomorrow Needs You is an initiative started by Pierson and her friend Latisha Flanders. It focuses on providing support for individuals struggling with mental health. The initiative

“I love working with students and helping them figure out life. We always see people helping student-athletes on their physical well-being, but it’s important for us to also help with their mental well-being . . . Working as an academic adviser allows me to be a person for my students to come to whenever they are off the field or court.” ~ Andrea Pierson also seeks to provide financial support for students who aspire to make a difference in the mental health field. As a result, the Tomorrow Needs You Scholarship was established at the University of New Mexico. In an effort to extend the reach and support of Tomorrow Needs You, Pierson and Flanders recently made a commitment to establish a second scholarship at Mississippi State University. The Tomorrow Needs You Scholarship is awarded to MSU juniors or seniors with a minimum GPA of 2.5. Candidates must also be pursuing a career in the mental health industry or volunteering in the community to promote mental health. “I’d often ask myself, ‘What can I do to make the world a better place?’” Pierson said. “Tomorrow Needs You is a two-way street that people can use to share their stories and remind people that they matter. We need to

Tomorrow Needs You founders Latisha Flanders and Andrea Pierson. Photo by Dalton Padilla support people and be willing to get involved and help others when needed. Talking about mental health is incredibly important because this could happen to anyone. It takes away the stigma and helps others be able to share, heal and know that they are not alone.” Pierson encourages everyone to share their stories with those around them. She and Flanders hope to grow support for the initiative and scholarship program to create similar awards at high schools and colleges across the country. “You don’t have to solve the world’s problems but you do have to respond to them. This is us responding,” Pierson said. “We’re creating resources and helping people be more willing to talk about their own struggles. All the little things create change and all the little pieces add up to a lot.” For more information about annual scholarships and how to support the Tomorrow Needs You Scholarship at MSU, contact Mary Beth Baldwin, associate director of annual giving for the MSU Foundation, at 662.325.6770 or mbaldwin@foundation. Additional information about Tomorrow Needs You is available online at If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.8255 or text HOME to 741741 for free crisis counseling from the Crisis Text Line. Additional information and resources can be found at the National Alliance on Mental Illness at n ALUMNUS.MSSTATE.EDU



Gordon joins MSU Foundation fundraising team The MSU Foundation welcomed Lacey Gordon to the fundraising staff in December 2021. The Saltillo native is the new assistant director of development for Mississippi State University Extension and College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. In addition to MSU-Extension and CALS, Gordon’s role will also encompass fundraising and development duties for the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station. A third-generation Bulldog, Gordon earned a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology with an emphasis in sports studies and a


Maroon & White! minor in journalism from MSU in 2018. As a student, she served as an orientation leader, assisted with athletic media relations and was a member of the MSU Diamond Girls. She worked in the furniture industry prior to joining the MSU Foundation development staff. Gordon can be contacted at 662.325.6312 or

DIVISION FILLS KEY POSITIONS Jessica Inmon, who previously served for more than 10 years as a development research analyst for the MSU Foundation, now serves as donor relations coordinator. The Maben native earned a bachelor’s degree from MSU in 2011. She previously served as a student worker for the Foundation’s research team for five years. The division has also welcomed two new faces to its staff. Connor Simmons joined the Foundation’s business office as an accountant. A native of Jackson, Tennessee, he holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Richard C. Adkerson School of Accountancy in MSU’s College


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of Business. Simmons obtained his CPA designation in 2018 and spent the first three years of his career with Ernst & Young in Nashville, Tennessee. Kristen Skinner assumed duties as the division’s newest stewardship coordinator in January. Born in Florida and raised in Corinth, Skinner graduated from MSU’s Department of Kinesiology with a bachelor’s degree in 2008 and went on to become a certified dental hygienist. She later returned to MSU to serve as an administrative assistant in the dean’s office of the College of Business, a position she has held since 2019. For more on the work of the Division of Development and Alumni, visit devalumni.

For more information about purchasing a Mississippi State University car tag, visit our website:

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Clevelands’ gift builds opportunity in a meaningful place


andy and Nina Cleveland were married in 1983, just before Randy’s last semester at Mississippi State. The newlyweds moved into University Village,the former campus housing for students with families, and began their new life together at MSU. Nina, who grew up in Demopolis, Alabama, attended the University of Alabama prior to their move to MSU. She went to work in the office of Roy Ruby, who was MSU’s vice president of student affairs, while Randy completed his coursework. During her time there, she quickly grew to love MSU and has been a True Maroon Bulldog supporter ever since. As a petroleum engineering student, Randy spent much of his time in Carpenter Hall. Conveniently located near Nina's office in Lee Hall, it gave Randy the chance to visit her between classes. The path he frequented to see his new bride was primarily marked by sidewalks along the Drill Field, however, just steps away stood a historic building that would eventually come to mean much more to the couple. Tucked between McCain Hall and the Walker Engineering building, the former Materials Testing Laboratory is one of the oldest buildings on campus. Built in 1909, it has served various purposes over the years, including functioning as a high-bay workshop. It is designated a Mississippi Landmark by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History and has been an unoccupied storage facility for several years. Thanks to a generous commitment from the Clevelands, the building will once again benefit engineering students at MSU as a state-of-the-art student services center. Support from the Fort Worth, Texas, couple will enable a complete renovation of the building, now known as the Randy J. Cleveland Engineering Student Center. Upon completion, the facility will serve as a modernized space to advance collaboration and successful learning experiences among the


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By Addie Mayfield, Photo by Robby Lozano James Worth Bagley College of Engineering’s students, faculty and staff. “In business and engineering worlds, there are so many things that enable success that aren’t necessarily taught in a classroom, like the ability to communicate effectively and work with others as part of a team,” Randy said. “MSU is unique in many regards, but especially in the hometown feel that is embodied across campus. That environment

“When I step back and think about my time on campus, I realize what I gained at MSU was so much more than just an education—it was the building blocks of how to be truly successful.” ~ Randy Cleveland encourages collaboration and networking, which translates well into the professional industry," he continued. "This building will provide space to further opportunities for students to grow those critical interpersonal skills.” Having many fond memories of gathering with classmates to study and work on projects at their small village apartment, Randy is proud to support the establishment of a center dedicated to such engagements. The location of the building is also a point of pride as it is both convenient for engineering students to visit between classes and, as the mid-point between Engineering Row and Lee Hall, is a sweet reminder of the Clevelands’ newlywed life on campus. When the opportunity was presented to invest in the transformation of the former laboratory, Randy and Nina knew it was meant to be. “It was truly a perfect opportunity,” Randy said. “Not only did it provide a unique chance for us to turn a historical landmark into a worldclass facility that students and faculty can be proud of and make their own memories in, but it’s also central to a lot of great memories that Nina and I share of our time here.”

Randy graduated from MSU in 1983 and began working for Exxon Company, U.S.A. the following year. The Newton County native spent more than 35 years in the oil and gas industry, serving the company in a diverse range of progressive leadership roles at locations across the United States and abroad. After coordinating the 2010 merger of XTO Energy, Inc. into ExxonMobil Corp., Randy became president of XTO headquartered in Fort Worth. He was later named vice president Americas for ExxonMobil Production Co., a position he held until his retirement from the company in 2019. Throughout his career, Randy has maintained strong connections with MSU and was instrumental in the 2014 reestablishment of the university’s petroleum engineering program. He is a member of the MSU Foundation board of directors and also serves on the dean’s advisory council for the Bagley College of Engineering. For his dedicated service and support, Randy was named the university’s 2022 National Alumnus of the Year. He was also recognized as a Distinguished Engineering Fellow for the Bagley College in 2008 and as the college’s Alumnus of the Year in 2019. Together, Randy and Nina have invested in areas across campus over the years. In addition to establishing the Randy and Nina Cleveland Endowed Professorship in petroleum engineering in 2015, they also have made generous commitments for the Bagley College, undergraduate research and scholarships—including an endowed scholarship—among other areas. “When I step back and think about my time on campus, I realize what I gained at MSU was so much more than just an education—it was the building blocks of how to be truly successful,” Randy said. “It’s always been important to us to give back in support and recognition of those things that helped us be successful.” n

“It was truly a perfect opportunity. Not only did it provide a unique chance for us to turn a historical landmark into a world-class facility that students and faculty can be proud of and make their own memories in, but it’s also central to a lot of great memories that Nina and I share of our time here.” ~ Randy Cleveland




MSU Foundation Announces

2022 OFFICERS, INCOMING MEMBERS The Mississippi State University Foundation has announced the 2022 leaders and incoming members for the board of directors that guides the fundraising arm of the 144-year-old land-grant institution. Incoming officers with new one-year terms that began Jan. 1 include three alumni: Anthony L. Wilson of Gulfport as chair; Rodger L. Johnson of Atlanta, Georgia, as vice chair; and Paul J. Karre of Pawleys Island, South Carolina, as treasurer. A Mississippi native of D’Iberville, Wilson is a loyal member of the MSU Foundation board who earlier served as vice chair for three terms. He earned an electrical engineering degree from MSU in 1987 and also holds an MBA from the University of Southern Mississippi. He serves as chairman, president and CEO of Mississippi Power. Prior to assuming his current role, he served as executive vice president of customer service and operations for Georgia Power. Johnson is a 1971 civil engineering graduate of MSU. He also earned an MBA from Georgia State University in 1982. A native of Greenwood, he currently serves as president and CEO of JKC Holdings, Inc. Karre is the retired senior vice president of human resources and communications for International Paper. He earned a Bachelor of Business Administration in management from MSU in 1974. The Natchez native is a current member and past president of the executive advisory board for the College of Business. Rounding out the remaining board officers are MSU personnel. They are John P. Rush, vice president for development and alumni, serving as the board’s president and CEO; Janet H. Carraway, executive director of finance, as chief financial officer; and Jack McCarty, executive director of development, as board secretary. All are MSU graduates.

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than two decades in progressive leadership roles in sales at IBM. R. Patrick White of Spring, Texas ~ A 1990 communication graduate of MSU, White serves as an account executive for LSI Industries. At MSU, he also leads the National Alumni Association board of directors as president. Albert J. “Al” Williams of Humble, Texas ~ He is vice president of corporate affairs for Chevron and holds a 1990 electrical engineering degree from MSU, as well as a 1998 MBA from Tulane University. Williams also is a member of MSU’s electrical and computer engineering advisory board and Bagley College of Engineering diversity advisory board. EIGHT MEMBERS RETURNING TO THE BOARD ARE: Mary Childs of Ripley ~ She is president, CEO, chief operating officer and vice chairman of The Peoples Bank and a 1980 banking and finance graduate of MSU. Timothy S. “Tim” Duncan of Kingwood, Texas ~ A 1995 petroleum engineering graduate of MSU, Duncan is president and CEO of Talos Energy LLC. David B. Hall of Meridian ~ President and CEO of Hall Timberlands, Hall earned a bachelor’s degree in forestry in 1999 and an MBA in 2002, both from MSU. Malcolm B. Lightsey Sr. of Ridgeland ~ He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics from MSU in 1961 and 1969, respectively, and is the retired president and CEO of SunTech Inc. Mike M. McDaniel of Houston, Texas ~ He earned a mechanical engineering degree in 1979 from MSU and is the retired president of Saber Power Services LLC.


Jay Pryor of Houston, Texas ~ A 1979 petroleum engineering graduate of MSU, Pryor is vice president of business development for Chevron.

J. Michael “Mike” McIlwain of Kildeer, Illinois ~ A 1987 accounting graduate of MSU, he is the CEO of Applied Technical Services. At MSU, McIlwain serves on the advisory board for the Adkerson School of Accountancy. He also holds a Master of Taxation from the University of Alabama.

Leo W. Seal III of Bay Saint Louis ~ He earned a bachelor’s degree in geosciences in 2000 from MSU and is president of the Leo Seal Family Foundation. Turner A. Wingo of Collierville, Tennessee ~ A 1967 business graduate of MSU, he is a retired real estate developer and the former owner of Sherry’s Hallmark.

Becky E. Murphy of Dallas, Texas ~ A 1983 home economics graduate of MSU, she retired from Sirius Computer Solutions Inc. as senior vice president of sales in 2019. Before joining Sirius, Murphy served for more

Chartered in 1962, the MSU Foundation administers most of Mississippi State’s campus-based fundraising activities and endowment funds. More information is available at www. and @MSUFoundation. n








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Alumni By Age

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(Age Unknown Total: 13) 31,753










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ADVERTISE WITH THE MSU ALUMNI ASSOCIATION For more information, contact Leanna Smith, Assistant Director of Alumni Partnerships & Business Development, at or 662-325-3360.


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WAYS TO PARTNER The Mississippi State University Alumni Association hosts events and offers programs and services which are directly supported by our partnerships. We can create a customized package to help your organization maximize its resources and strategic goals.

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The late Thomas Coleman (M.S. electrical engineering, ’64; Ph.D. biomedical engineering, ’67) was posthumously awarded the 2021 Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s School of Graduate Studies. Coleman, who died in February 2021, was a 45-year faculty member of the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at UMMC. His wife, Peggy Coleman, a longtime faculty member of the School of Health Related Professions, received the award on behalf of her husband.


Dennis Truax (M.S. civil engineering, ‘78; Ph.D. civil engineering, ’86) is now president of the American Society of Civil Engineers. He is a professor emeritus of MSU’s Richard A. Rula School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, from which he recently retired as professor, director and the James T. White endowed chair. He also retired from the directorship of the Mississippi Transportation Research Institute to serve ASCE full time. Tommy Glenn (B.A. psychology, ’79) has been selected as president elect of the Fort Worth Chapter of Entrepreneurs’ Organization board of directors. Glenn is founder and CEO of Essential Lending LLC. He previously served as president of NetBank Payment Systems Inc. and founder and CEO of its predecessor Financial Technologies Inc. Howard Haygood (B.S. social studies education, ‘79) has retired after 42 years with the Meridian Public School District.


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His final day was June 30, 2021. He began his career teaching ninth grade Mississippi history and civics at Kate Griffin Junior High School. He was a classroom teacher for 25 years and a district administrator for 17 years, serving as principal, dean of students and director of the district’s behavioral interventions program.

member chosen as the most impactful teacher. Brown is vice president and partner with Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Associates in Flowood and Madison. He previously served as an associate professor and a program director in the UMMC School of Dentistry and has been part-time clinical faculty since 2016.


James R. Crockett (Ph.D. accounting, ’98) has released a new book “Rulers of the SEC: Ole Miss and Mississippi State, 19591966,” which recounts how the two Magnolia State universities won 10 of 24 championships during that time. It is the latest of his four books available through the University Press of Mississippi. Crockett is a professor emeritus at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Marvin Adams (B.S. nuclear engineering, ’81) was named to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. A nuclear engineer at Texas A&M University, he is considered one of the nation’s foremost university-based experts on maintaining the nuclear stockpile. David Garrett (B.A. communication, ’82) has earned certification as a patient experience professional from the Patient Experience Institute and the Beryl Institute. The credential recognizes health care professionals' commitment to improving the patient experience. Garrett is the director of patient experience for North Mississippi Health Services. He is on the Mississippi Hospital Association’s Health Care Quality Society board and is chair of the MHA Patient Experience Forum.


Dr. Jeffrey Brown (B.S. biological sciences, ’95) was honored with a development fund in his honor by the University of Mississippi Medical Center School of Dentistry. The Outstanding Faculty Award in recognition of Drs. Jeffrey Brown, Stephen Gandy, George May and Daniel Quon will be awarded annually to a full-time faculty

Cashenna McCullough Cross (B.S. political science, ’98) was elected mayor of Glenarden, Maryland. Developed in 1919, the city lies just outside of Washington D.C. Cross retired from the Air Force after 20 years of service before joining the Department of Defense. During her career, she has accumulated more than 30 years of experience in government, planning and project management, and philanthropy. Dr. Sarah Fratesi (B.S. microbiology, ‘99) received the 2021 Dr. David Sullins Jr. InfantSEE Award. The honor is presented annually by the American Optometric Association’s InfantSEE and Children’s Vision Committee to an optometrist who makes a significant professional contribution to their community. Fratesi is an optometrist with Starkville’s Crigler Family Vision Clinic. She is a member of the Starkville Rotary Club and is an active community volunteer,

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including participating in the Excel by 5 program and the 3rd Grade Reading Initiative by providing free eye exams and glasses to children in need. Amy Jones (B.A. English, ’99) recently self-published a Christian children’s book, “Ethel the Paper Cup: A Parable.” It is available at the Good News Shoppe in Kentucky and on Amazon.


Nathan Moore (B.S. political science, ’02; M.S. public policy and administration, ’09) has been named an assistant to the president of the University of Georgia where he recently completed a doctoral degree. His work focuses on executive communications, research and innovation, regional reaccreditation, and strategic planning. Before moving to Georgia, he began his career in higher education at Mississippi State as an admissions counselor before serving as director of corporate and Foundation relations and director of development for the College of Architecture, Art and Design. Reggie Kelly (B.S. industrial technology, ’03) was named to the Forbes Next 1,000 list that recognizes entrepreneurs and small business owners who are “redefining the American dream.” He is the owner of Georgia-based Kyvan Foods, a line of natural, top-quality products available through Amazon, Kroger, Walmart and Sysco. A former NFL player, Kelly launched the company in 2008 after receiving rave reviews for the family dishes he would serve during volunteer football camps.

Lauren Hays (B.S. geosciences, ’07) is now CEO of the Louisville, Kentuckybased nonprofit Day Spring, which provides residential services and opportunities for people with developmental disabilities. She most recently served as executive director of the Memphis Oral School for the Deaf in Germantown, Tennessee, and has more than a decade of experience in broadcasting.

Adam Sisco (B.S. geosciences, ’16) has joined the Coastal and Hydraulics Laboratory’s Hydrologic Systems Branch of the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center in Vicksburg. He will be working with both civil works and military engineering projects, researching weatherinformed hydrologic predictions, reservoir operations and decision support.


Taylor Cagle (B.S. civil engineering, ‘19) has joined the Hydrologic Systems Branch of the Coastal and Hydraulics Laboratory at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center in Vicksburg. A native of Madison, her main areas of interest include hydrology and hydraulics modeling and ecological modeling.

Lee Thorne (B.A. political science, ‘10) is now general counsel for First South Farm Credit, the largest member-owned land and agricultural financing cooperative in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. He previously spent five years at Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation as deputy general counsel and public policy coordinator and was elected prosecuting attorney for Tishomingo County while practicing law in Iuka. He served as an intern for the John C. Stennis Institute of Government and for Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker.


Valerie Moss Andrews (B.A. English, ’12) is now an associate in the New Orleans office of the regional law firm Chaffe McCall. She began her law career in the Mississippi Pine Belt and previously worked at the Capital Defense Project of Southeast Louisiana representing indigent clients. Sarah McEwen (B.S. civil engineering, ’13) was named to the ENR Texas and Louisiana’s 2022 class of Top Young Professionals. She is a water resource manager with AECOM in Jackson. She was one of 20 honorees who were selected based on their experience and education, career and industry leadership, and community service and involvement.

Wrap them in Maroon and White early with a Future Bulldog Certificate from the Alumni Association and enroll them into the Legacy Program. legacyprogram OR CALL US AT 662.325.7000 ALUMNUS.MSSTATE.EDU


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Affinity Programs Offer Additional Ways for Bulldog Alumni and Friends to Support MSU Exciting news! The MSU Alumni Association has entered a partnership with Commerce Bank® to offer alumni and supporters the official MSU Visa Signature® Card. “Our Bulldog Family always asks how they can support MSU, and this program is another great opportunity to do so,” said Jeff Davis, MSU Alumni Association executive director. “We are especially excited about the MSU Visa Signature® Card program, as alumni and friends can loyally participate in the program and support MSU at no cost to them.” The partnership with Commerce Bank® enables the Alumni Association to specifically offer the MSU Visa Signature® Card to the Bulldog family. It will give cardholders the opportunity to show their pride by carrying the MSU-branded card, while supporting MSU, benefiting the Alumni Association and earning Cash Back1 rewards with each purchase. For more information on the MSU Visa Signature® Card, visit

1. A Cash Back redemption is applied as a statement credit. The statement credit will reduce your balance, but you are still required to make at least your minimum payment. Values for non-cash back redemption items, such as merchandise, gift cards and travel may vary. See for full details.

IMPACT by Ironwood Program The MSU Alumni Association and the Bulldog Club recently partnered with Ironwood to offer the MSU IMPACT program that can benefit Bulldogs and friends who own their own businesses.

Whether a retail store front, e-commerce business, wholesaler, or a regional or community bank, the IMPACT by Ironwood program can be of benefit. Ironwood is known as an industry leader in merchant solutions. The way IMPACT works is simple. Every time a participating business accepts a credit or debit card payment, IMPACT gives a portion of its processing revenue to support MSU. By simply running a debit or credit card payment through IMPACT, alumni and friends are supporting MSU without costs to the business. For more information on the MSU IMPACT by Ironwood program visit Ironwood is a registered ISO/MSP with Fifth Third Bank, N.A., Cincinnati, OH, Merrick Bank, South Jordan, UT, and Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., Concord, CA. ALUMNUS.MSSTATE.EDU


Forever MAROON Donna Pettit Blair (retired staff ) 66, Columbus – A native of Bruce, she worked at Mississippi State for 29 years in the Department of Communication where she was not only the business manager but a kind and supportive presence for generations of Bulldog students. — Oct. 31, 2021

the Bronze Star, the Air Medal with 16 oak leaf clusters, the Meritorious Service Medal with one oak leaf cluster and the Air Force Commendation Medal. He held an MBA from Auburn and was a distinguished graduate of the Air Command and Staff College and Air War College. — Jan. 11, 2022

Lung-Hua Chen (retired faculty) 81, Irvine, California – A native of Taiwan, he was a professor emeritus in Mississippi State’s Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering. An endowed scholarship at MSU was established in honor of Chen and his wife Liza. — Jan. 19, 2022

Joe Lee Dunn (former athletics staff ) 75, Columbus, Georgia – Known as an innovative defensive coordinator, Dunn served on the Bulldogs’ coaching staff under Jackie Sherrill from 1996-2002, helping MSU post four straight winning seasons. In 1999, he was a finalist for the Broyles Award, given to the best assistant coach in the nation. In addition to serving as MSU’s defensive coordinator, he also held the position at Arkansas, Memphis, South Carolina and Ole Miss, where he also served a year as head coach. — Oct. 26, 2021

Col. Leslie R. “Bobby” Drane Jr. (B.S. chemical engineering, ’58) 85, Mayhew – A Starkville High School graduate, Drane served in the Air Force ROTC while at State. He was cadet colonel and president of Kappa Sigma fraternity. He served in the Air Force for 28 years, achieving the rank of colonel. He flew 260 F-100 combat missions in Vietnam and earned numerous awards and recognitions, including the distinguished Flying Cross,

Barbara Mitchell Goodnite (B.S., M.S., Ph.D. elementary education; ’57; ’84; ’89) 86, Starkville – Born with a love of music, Goodnite earned a voice scholarship to the Mississippi University for Women. She later

transferred to Mississippi State University to study elementary education. While at State she was chosen as part of Who’s Who Among Students in American Colleges and Universities and was a member of Cardinal Key National Honor Society and the Chi Omega sorority. She began her career teaching at Starkville-area elementary schools before deciding she wanted to share her passion and experience with college students who wanted to become educators. After earning her master’s and doctoral degrees at State, where she was a member of Phi Delta Kappa, the Delta Kappa Gamma Society International and Phi Lambda Theta, she began a 20-year career on the faculty at Delta State University and the University of North Alabama. — Dec. 12, 2021 Allen T. Johnson (B.S. business education, ’56; M.S. educational psychology, ’63) 92, Morrow – Born in Maben, he was a charter member of the Forest Park Kiwanis Club and a deacon of First Baptist Church of Forest Park. He served on the Clayton County school board and the Clayton County grand jury. — Oct. 12, 2021

In Memory of USAF Brigadier General Troy Tolbert Mississippi State alumnus and U.S. Air Force retired Brig. Gen. William Troy Tolbert, a Hollandale native who had an innate calling to become a pilot and serve his country, died Sept. 16, 2021, in Valdosta, Georgia. He was 87. Enrolling at MSU in 1951, Tolbert began his college career on a football scholarship, but after only one year with the team he turned his focus to the ROTC. In his 2019 self-published autobiography “From Dirt to Duty,” he said he realized joining the ROTC could lead to a commission as an officer in the Air Force and pilot training. What he didn’t realize at the time, was just how far it could take him. Tolbert said of his first visit to MSU’s ROTC building where pictures of combat planes and generals hung, “The feeling of patriotism I remembered men having as they left for the Army at the beginning of WWII came over me in that hallway. It was very emotional.” After graduating in 1955 with an MSU bachelor’s degree in accounting, he was commissioned in the Air Force as a second


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lieutenant, completing pilot training and serving as an instructor at Webb Air Force Base in Texas until 1960. Afterward came stints at two different bases as a weapons controller, flight examiner and wing standardization and evaluation officer. After serving as aide-de-camp to commanders at Florida’s Tyndall Air Force Base and Pakistan’s Military Assistance Advisory Group in the early 1960s, Tolbert then entered combat crew training in the Sunshine State for F-4 jet fighters, flying 255 combat missions in Southeast Asia. A short time later, he was assigned to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina, holding several positions before commanding the 335th Fighter Squadron and being awarded “Top Gun.” In the mid 1970s, Tolbert was assigned to fighter-operations leadership positions at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia and then was named director of operations at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina. Upon his retirement, he was the only officer to have led three of the country’s

premier fighter wings. In 1978, he took command of the 347th at Georgia’s Moody Air Force Base, the 388th in 1979 at Utah’s Hill Air Force Base and Langley’s 1st in 1980. His promotion to brigadier general came on Sept. 8, 1980.

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Martha Christine Mangrum (M.Ed. adult education, ’77; retired Extension agent) 85, Decatur – A native of Laurel, Mangrum earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern Mississippi before enrolling at State. Following her graduation, she joined the Newton County Extension office where she remained until her retirement. She was an active 4-H leader and was selected to judge many competitions including those at the Neshoba County Fair. — Jan. 8, 2022 Theodore “Ted” William Preuss (B.S. animal science, ’60; retired Extension agent), 82, Monticello – A native of Kentucky, he later moved to Jackson and graduated from Provine High School where he was part of the 4-H program. He was part of the animal beef judging team that was the first from Mississippi to win national honors. At Mississippi State he was a member of the Block and Bridle fraternity and was again part of an awardwinning livestock judging team. He was named a Patron of Excellence by MSU for his support of its agricultural and athletic units. Following his MSU graduation, he pursued his lifelong dream of working with 4-Hers as an Extension agent in Lawrence County. He also owned River Road Ranch, a well-known Angus farm, and was known for his hybridized daylilies which are sold all over the world. — Oct. 5, 2021 Jackie E. Roberson (B.S. education, ’57; M.Ed. education, ’64) 85, Meridian – Following a year of coaching and teaching at Meehan, he served as coach, teacher and administrator at Clarksdale. In 1972, he became assistant superintendent and then superintendent of education of Lauderdale County schools, where he retired in 1987. He was a member of the board of directors of Meridian Mutual Federal Credit Union for 40 years. He served as deacon at New Hope Baptist Church and Poplar Springs Drive Baptist Church. — Aug. 29, 2021 Betty Ruth Tullos (retired Extension agent) 79, Florence – A native of Florence, she graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi and taught home economics at Raleigh High School and Mize High School. She later joined the Smith County Extension office where she worked until her retirement. — Jan. 8, 2022


James “Jim” Knox Ashford

Mississippi State’s 1996 National Alumnus of the Year James “Jim” Knox Ashford, who served on the MSU Foundation’s national board of directors, died Sept. 20, 2021. He was 84. A native of Starkville, he earned a bachelor’s in accounting in 1958 from Mississippi State, where he was a member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity and the naval reserve. He would later complete the Harvard University Advanced Management program in 1976. Following his MSU graduation, he joined Walker Manufacturing, division of Tenneco, in Aberdeen. Ashford then moved through various managerial positions within the company. In 1978 he became president of Monroe Auto Equipment, a Tenneco division based in Michigan, and in 1982 he became president and CEO of Tenneco Automotive in Chicago. He transitioned to president and CEO of Wisconsin-based

Case IH in 1987 and held the position until his retirement in 1991. He was also owner of the investment and management firm The Ashford Group and CEO of AP Parts International Inc. In recognition of his career achievements, Ashford was named to the Automotive Hall of Fame. He was also named Outstanding Business Leader by the Northwood Institute and received the Distinguished Eagle Scout award. He earned the 1986 MSU Adkerson School of Accountancy Outstanding Alumnus Award and the College of Business Alumnus of the Year in 1995.

In Memory of Roy Vernon Scott Roy Vernon Scott, a noted historian and professor emeritus of history at Mississippi State University, died Aug. 24, 2021. He was 93. Named a Distinguished Professor of History and part of the inaugural class of Giles Distinguished Professors in 1978, Scott’s Mississippi State career spanned 38 years until his retirement in 1998. Scott authored or co-authored 11 books, as well as many articles and book reviews. Many of his works still withstand the test of time and serve as the standard for their subjects. Over the course of his career, he served as president of the Agricultural History Society, of which he was named a Fellow, and the Mississippi Historical Society. He also served on the university’s graduate council and as chairman of the MSU Promotion and Tenure Committee. A native of Illinois, Scott was a veteran

of the U.S. Air Force. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Iowa State University in 1952 before attending the University of Illinois where he earned master’s and doctoral degrees in 1953 and 1957, respectively. ALUMNUS.MSSTATE.EDU


Back STORY WITH GADDIS HUNT Securing George H.W. Bush as commencement speaker for Mississippi State’s May 1989 graduation was an exciting feat. But how did we pull off an outdoor graduation featuring a sitting U.S. President? It took a lot of behind-the-scenes planning. As facilities use coordinator, I had a front row seat for the preparation and the opportunity to collaborate with remarkably talented people. A hundred White House staffers and Secret Service agents spent early May in Mississippi to coordinate with the graduation planning committee. Together they made a major decision: the ceremony, which was traditionally held indoors at Humphrey Coliseum, would take place at Davis Wade Stadium in anticipation of a much larger than normal crowd. We looked to friends of MSU for help in making everything possible. Peavey of Meridian supplied large speakers and equipment to drive the sound. Georgia Pacific of Louisville furnished lumber to build the stages. Area law enforcement agencies were called in to work with campus police and the Secret Service. The U.S. Navy Seabees from Gulfport constructed a path of aluminum matting to protect the football field’s irrigation from the 6-ton presidential limousine and Secret Service vehicle that had to remain close to the commander-in-chief. The MSU Physical Plant erected metal scaffolding to support the 20-foot backdrops for the main stage and two side stages, while the presidential stage boasted a special split backdrop to allow easy access to the presidential limo in case of emergency. Creating floral arrangements befitting the occasion presented a creative opportunity for MSU. The University Florist, horticulturalists and landscapers designed a maroon and white garden of several thousand live plants, trees and cuttings. A white, covered archway was constructed for the two presidents’—Bush and MSU’s Donald Zacharias—entrance to the stadium from the fieldhouse. Bulldog students helped build the stages, arrange the greenery and flowers, run cables, and sew bunting and backdrops. Roadrunners and Orientation Leaders worked as ushers. And that’s not to mention the trumpet soloist who powerfully performed the national anthem.


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Security for the president was a primary focus. Secret Service and police were stationed on top of the stadium and surrounding rooftops, but the federal agents were concerned about sightlines—especially from the roofline of the Herzer building. The solution? The gray covering used to protect the coliseum’s floor during non-athletic events and a rope strung from the field house to the stadium. Metal detectors, bag inspections upon entry and custodial staff on the lookout for anything unusual while performing their jobs helped round out the security. In this pre-internet era, some 100 members of the national media filed their news reports in the auditorium and offices of Memorial Hall, which was equipped with more than 25 telephones and connections to the University Television Center’s new satellite truck— allowing the world to see Mississippi State host a successful and impressive event. When May 13 finally arrived, a crowd of 17,000 guests, graduates and their families and friends waited in the drizzling rain to welcome the 41st president. But just as the state climatologist, who was also an MSU professor, predicted the rain stopped just as the president stepped on the field proving to everyone that we couldn’t have planned it any better. Gaddis Hunt began his career at Mississippi State in 1966 as program director of the Colvard Union. During the more than 40 years of service that followed, he served in numerous director positions including facilities use, Humphrey Coliseum, support services and physical resources. He later was named associate vice president of business affairs and retired in

2006 as Mississippi State’s chief administrative officer. He earned a bachelor’s in political science from MSU in 1965 and later added a bachelor’s in management and a master’s in counselor education. The food court in the Colvard Student Union—The Gaddis Hunt Commons—bears his name to recognize his years of service and contributions to the university.

This photo from the University Archives shows Scott Field at Davis Wade Stadium during the 1989 spring commencement which featured President George H.W. Bush as speaker. Share your memories of this or other MSU graduation ceremonies by submitting them to Alumnus magazine. Please include your name, major(s) and graduation year(s) as some responses might be featured in print or online with the next issue. | Alumnus Magazine P.O. Box 5325 Mississippi State, MS 39762 ALUMNUS.MSSTATE.EDU



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