College of Arts and Sciences

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Fighting Okra Records to finalize artist search

By | Academics, College of Arts and Sciences, Delta Music Institute, Students | No Comments

Fighting Okra Records, a student-run record label at Delta State University, continued its search to find a new artist for the 2015-16 academic year by holding a performance showcase on Nov. 3 at the Delta Music Institute.

The event was held to review the five finalists competing to sign with FOR. The showcase was closed to the public, and the live performances were viewed by label members in order to give the artists a more realistic experience in dealing with record label executives.

FOR’s artist and repertoire team served as judges for the live performances and conducted the interviews that followed on Nov. 10. The artists were asked to perform two songs, one of which was included in the artist’s video submission.

An announcement of this year’s winner will be made following Thanksgiving break.

“We are excited about all the talent that came out to audition,” said Mic Hargrove, vice president of the label’s A&R team. “This is definitely going to be a hard decision.”

The interview portion of the competition served as a final step in the selection process. The interviews allowed the label members to determine which artist was the total package.

FOR is the driving component of the DMI’s Record Label Practicum course. The mission of FOR is to provide a practical, real-world music industry experience to the students and to provide a variety of independent artists with professional quality music industry services in an effort to expose their name in recordings to the broadest possible audience.

The Delta Music Institute is an independent center of study under the College of Arts & Sciences of Delta State University. The focus of the DMI is to provide students with a broad and thorough education in the technological, creative and business areas of the music and entertainment industry. For more information, contact Fighting Okra Records at 662-846-4579 or


International Museum of Muslim Cultures to present in gallery

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Delta State University’s Fielding Wright Art Center Gallery is currently hosting “Muslim/American, American/Muslim,” an exhibition by New York photographer Robert E. Gerhardt. The exhibit explores the Muslim experience in America.

In the spirit of Gerhardt’s project, the Department of Art and the Quality Enhancement Plan have partnered to present a series of events that provide a forum for dialogue. The series, free and open to the public, continues Nov. 19 at 5 p.m. with a presentation by Emad Al-Turk and Okolo Rashid, founders of the International Museum of Muslim Cultures in Jackson, Mississippi. The duo will speak about the history and mission of the institution.

The museum was founded in 2000 by a group of Jackson-area Muslims who identified the need to educate the public about Islamic history and culture, and the contributions of Muslims to world civilization. The museum’s mission is to dispel misconceptions about Muslim cultures and promote mutual respect and understanding. The program was developed by a team of national and international scholars, experts and community members.

The museum’s exhibitions have sought to highlight the diversity of Muslim cultures with exhibitions on American mosques, Moorish Spain and its legacy in Europe and the West, and the literary tradition of Timbuktu.

The International Museum of Muslim Cultures is open to the public Tuesday-Friday, as well as by appointment. It offers personalized tours for schools and private groups.

Al-Turk, who holds master’s degrees in civil engineering and business administration, worked as an entrepreneur and executive in the engineering and construction business. He has a long career in civic service, serving on the boards of a number of non-profit organizations.

The final installment of the series is a public screening of the film “Arranged,” which centers on the unlikely friendship between an Orthodox Jew and Muslim teacher in New York. The screening will be held at the FWACG beginning at 5 p.m.

The FWACG is open Monday-Thursday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Fridays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The gallery is closed weekends, holidays and during semester breaks.

For more information on the department of art, visit contact 662-846-4720. For updates and announcements of upcoming events, follow Delta State Art Department on Facebook, or join the email list.

Jenni Owen '15, right, participated in the new Prison-to-College Pipeline Program at the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman, Miss., thanks to a connection Dr. Chuck Westmoreland, assistant professor of history, had with the program's leaders.

Graduate participates in groundbreaking Parchman program

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One recent Delta State graduate shined brightly last summer while working with imprisoned students at the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman.

Jenni Owen, who completed her Liberal Studies Master of Arts in English with a focus on criminology in May of 2015, had the unique opportunity of participating in the groundbreaking Prison-to-College Pipeline Program at Parchman.

Owen became the program’s instructional associate through the help of Dr. Chuck Westmoreland, assistant professor of history at Delta State. Westmoreland put her in touch with the program’s leaders, Dr. Otis Pickett, assistant professor of history at Mississippi College, and Dr. Patrick Elliot Alexander, assistant professor of English and African American studies at the University of Mississippi.

The two professors were leading the new 10-week course on the civil rights movement to a group of students imprisoned at Parchman. During the course, students learned about a number of civil rights leaders, including Fannie Lou Hammer, who is remembered for her roots in nearby Ruleville.

The course also provided essential guidance in the rehabilitation and assimilation of imprisoned students into the general civilian population once their sentences are served.

Dr. Otis Pickett (l to r), Owen and Dr. Patrick Elliot Alexander.

Dr. Otis Pickett (left), Owen and Dr. Patrick Elliot Alexander.

“It was amazing getting to know the gentlemen in the facility,” said Owen. “Many of them had a strong passion for education, and I was grateful for the opportunity to get to know the men as individuals.

“The highlight of my experience was when I was able to work with the men one-on-one and assist them with their writing, or help tailor solutions to their specific needs,” she added. “For example, there was one student who had a hard time seeing words when reading, so I tried to write notes for him in a larger font so he could read the documents more easily.

“There was another student interested in writing poetry, so I brought Natasha Trethewey’s ‘Native Guard’ to share with him. Also, after my first session, I saw the eagerness of the men to learn, so I asked friends and family for donations and we were able to purchase a book for the gentlemen to continue reading once the course was through.”

Owen, who now works as an adjunct instructor of English at Holmes Community College in Yazoo City completed her undergraduate internship at the Stark County Sheriff’s Office in Ohio and wrote her thesis on officer communication in domestic violence situations. Thus began her interest in the criminal justice system.

When she began her studies at Delta State, she learned about bibliotherapy or therapeutic reading programs. Owen, with her criminology background, focused on how literature can help rehabilitate those who are incarcerated. This interest made her a qualified candidate to help with the Parchman program.

“The Prison-to-College program taught me to have more confidence in myself and my abilities,” said Owen. “The students were so grateful that I was there. At first I was a bit intimidated to be working with such respected professors, and was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to bring anything to the class, but by being genuinely me, I found that I could contribute and help the students.

“I also learned about some of the real struggles the students were going through. They were taking a college level class during the hottest months of the year, but they were still doing their best to complete their reading and writing assignments. The students put in so much effort to be able to participate in the class. Their dedication was amazing.”

Westmoreland said Owen’s commitment to the criminal justice system is just one of her strong points.

“Jenni has a strong commitment to helping others, and because of that, we are very proud of her work with the Prison-to-College Pipeline Program,” said Westmoreland. “As a student in the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program, Jenni approached her work with a clear sense of mission and purpose. She wanted to integrate her passion for literature and the English language with a desire to help incarcerated people. Thanks to the wide variety of graduate courses offered in English and criminology, she was very prepared to work with the students in the pipeline program.

“She has done great work and will continue to make a positive impact on people who are too often forgotten in our society,” he added.

As the program continues to grow, Owen fully intends to remain involved.

“I’m currently planning on participating in the program at Parchman again this coming summer with Dr. Alexander and Dr. Pickett,” she said. “I look forward to assisting more with the educational aspect of the program and helping the students increase their writing skills.”

Owen said she will also help as the program plans to expand to the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl under the leadership of Pickett and Dr. Stephanie R. Rolph, assistant professor of history at Millsaps College.

Upright Citizens Brigade Touring Company will host a free performance of sketch comedy and improv Nov. 13 at 7:30 p.m. in Jobe Hall Auditorium. Photo by Francine Daveta Photography.

Upright Citizens Brigade TourCo coming to Jobe

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Founded by Amy Poehler (Saturday Night Live, Parks and Recreation), Upright Citizens Brigade Touring Company will perform a night of provocative sketch comedy and absurd improv Nov. 13 at 7:30 p.m. in Jobe Hall Auditorium.

The event, free and open to the public, is sponsored by The Delta Players and The Union Program Council.

UCB TourCo is a veritable incubation lab for comedy talent, and its cast is hand-picked from the best improv comedians in the country. It has previously featured such luminaries as Jack McBrayer (30 Rock), Horatio Sanz (SNL), Ed Helms (The Hangover, Cedar Rapids), Ellie Kemper (The Office, Bridesmaids), Rob Corddry (The Daily Show), Rob Riggle (SNL, The Daily Show), and Adam McKay (Anchorman, Funny or Die), among many others.

As The Onion writes, “Catch the next generation of comedy superstars before they all sell out to [lousy] sitcoms and VH1 list shows.”

Don Allan Mitchell, associate professor of English, said the event promises to make the audience chuckle. download-2

“We need more laughter on this campus. After all, laughter is the best medicine,” said Mitchell. “The UCB’s sense of humor is definitely aimed at the college-aged crowd, but I think faculty, staff and community folks will also be interested in what cutting-edge improv comedy is all about. If you have ever been entertained by the likes of Dan Ackroyd, John Belushi or Chevy Chase, or more recent comedic stars like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, then you will be seeing their direct descendants. The Upright Citizens Brigade Touring Company is the next generation of comedic talent, and the show will be completely created on the spot. Be prepared to laugh, and laugh often.”

Dr. Stuart Rockoff (right), director of the Mississippi Humanities Council, presents Dr. Michaela Merryday, associate professor of art history, with the 2015 Humanities Teacher Award.

Merryday honored as Humanities Teacher of the Year

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The Mississippi Humanities Council celebrates each October by awarding one humanities faculty member at each state institution with the Humanities Teacher Award. This year, from Delta State University’s Department of Art, Dr. Michaela Merryday was selected by faculty for the award.

Merryday accepted the award Monday in Holcombe-Norwood Hall, where she also presented on her publication “Westward Route 66 Takes Its Way: Ed Ruscha and the Promised Land.”

Merryday completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Vienna, Austria, and earned a doctorate in art history from Florida State University. Her research also focuses on contemporary public and political art practices.