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Commissioner of Higher Education visits Mississippi Delta on Listening Tour

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The challenge of recruiting students in an area with declining population and providing the facilities, services and programs students need were discussed on the Delta leg of the Commissioner’s Listening Tour, which made stops last week at Delta State University and Mississippi Valley State University. Dr. Alfred Rankins Jr., Commissioner of Higher Education, learned more about each of these challenges as well as the unique programs offered by the institutions that allow them to stand out among peer institutions.

“These institutions play a critical role in the success of this region and our state,” said Dr. Alfred Rankins Jr., Commissioner of Higher Education. “By providing academic programs that give native Deltans the skills needed to succeed in today’s workplace and expanding their footprint to attract students, and potential residents, to the area, these universities are a vital part of workforce development. I appreciate members of both the Delta State and Valley campus communities sharing their viewpoints with me.”

Dr. Rankins met with students, faculty, staff, administrators, elected officials and community members at the meetings held on the Delta State University campus in Cleveland on Thursday and on the Mississippi Valley State University in Itta Bena on Friday.

“As Dr. Rankins begins his tenure as Commissioner of Higher Education, I very much appreciated his visit to Delta State,” said Delta State University President William N. LaForge. “His day of meetings with our students, faculty, and staff was very productive and mutually beneficial. It was also a terrific way to kick off the new academic year.”

The Delta State University campus community expressed concerns over resources and recruiting both staff and students, while also highlighting signature programs, such as aviation and the Delta Music Institute, that make Delta State stand out among peer institutions. Participants also discussed the nursing program, which serves a key role in improving the health of Delta residents by training students to serve in the healthcare workforce in the region.

“It was indeed a pleasure to host IHL Commissioner Dr. Alfred Rankins, Jr. on the campus of Mississippi Valley State University Friday,” said Dr. Jerryl Briggs Sr., President of Mississippi Valley State University. “It was also great to have IHL Board Trustees Mrs. Jeanne Luckey and Mr. Powell Ogletree on our campus as well. Our university has appreciated Dr. Rankins’ continued support throughout the years, and we look forward to working with him as we move forward in keeping Valley in Motion.”

While at Mississippi Valley State University, concerns over having adequate resources, particularly the loss of Ayers funds in 2022, recruiting faculty and staff, and maintaining facilities were discussed, along with the importance of working with K-12 schools to help prepare students for college. The recently launched Early College initiative was highlighted as part of this effort. Located on MVSU’s campus, the program offers select Greenville Public School District students the opportunity to gain college credit while earning their high school diploma. Other signature MVSU academic programs, such as bioinformatics, were also emphasized.

The next stop on the tour is University of Southern Mississippi on Thursday, August 30 and Friday, August 31. Additional details on the events will be released prior to each tour stop. More information, including a survey on various aspects of the university system, is available online at the following link: www.mississippi.edu/tour.

Named Commissioner of Higher Education on March 23, 2018, Dr. Rankins began serving in this role on July 1, 2018. As Commissioner, Dr. Rankins provides leadership to the university system, including all eight public universities in Mississippi.

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The Mississippi Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning governs the public universities in Mississippi, including Alcorn State University; Delta State University; Jackson State University; Mississippi State University including the Mississippi State University Division of Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine; Mississippi University for Women; Mississippi Valley State University; the University of Mississippi including the University of Mississippi Medical Center; and the University of Southern Mississippi.

Commissioner of Higher Education to launch Listening Tour of campuses

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Commissioner of Higher Education Dr. Al Rankins Jr. will spend his first hundred days in office touring the campuses to gain insights and perspectives on the university system from students, faculty, staff, elected officials and community leaders.

“My objective is to listen and glean insight and information that will inform my work as Commissioner and ensure that we are facilitating progress on each campus,” said Dr. Al Rankins, Commissioner of Higher Education. “On each visit, I hope to meet with small groups of students, faculty, and staff to have productive roundtable discussions, along with open forums and time to meet with alumni, community leaders and elected officials.”

The scheduled dates of the tour include:

Tuesday, July 17, 2018 The University of Mississippi Oxford
Wednesday, July 18, 2018 The University of Mississippi Tupelo
Thursday, July 26, 2018 The University of Mississippi Medical Center Jackson
Wednesday, August 1, 2018 Jackson State University  Jackson
Thursday, August 23, 2018 Delta State University Cleveland
Friday, August 24, 2018 Mississippi Valley State University Itta Bena
Thursday, August 30, 2018 University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast
Friday, August 31, 2018 University of Southern Mississippi Hattiesburg
Wednesday, September 26, 2018 Mississippi University for Women Columbus
Thursday, September 27, 2018 Mississippi State University Starkville
Friday, September 28, 2018  Mississippi State University Meridian
Wednesday, October 10, 2018  Alcorn State University Natchez
Thursday, October 11, 2018 Alcorn State University Lorman

Additional details on the events will be released prior to each tour stop. More information, including a survey on various aspects of the university system, is available online at the following link: http://www.mississippi.edu/tour

Named Commissioner of Higher Education on March 23, 2018, Dr. Rankins began serving in this role on July 1, 2018. As Commissioner, Dr. Rankins provides leadership to the university system, including all eight public universities in Mississippi.

Prior to being named Commissioner of Higher Education, Dr. Rankins served as the 19th president of Alcorn State University, the nation’s oldest public land-grant HBCU.

During his four years as president of his alma mater, Dr. Rankins provided leadership that helped the university enroll its largest freshman class in its history and increased the average ACT scores of entering freshmen for three consecutive years. The university achieved its highest ever ranking by College Consensus as the #7 best HBCU and #1 best public HBCU in the nation. The university has established new academic programs and made important discoveries through its research.

He was named President of Alcorn State University on March 4, 2014. Prior to that, Dr. Rankins served as deputy commissioner for the Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL). While serving as deputy commissioner, Dr. Rankins also served as acting president of Mississippi Valley State University.

Prior to his appointment at IHL, Dr. Rankins served on the faculty at Mississippi State University (MSU), where he was a tenured associate professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and extension specialist with the MSU Extension Service.

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The Mississippi Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning governs the public universities in Mississippi, including Alcorn State University; Delta State University; Jackson State University; Mississippi State University including the Mississippi State University Division of Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine; Mississippi University for Women; Mississippi Valley State University; the University of Mississippi including the University of Mississippi Medical Center; and the University of Southern Mississippi.

Board of Trustees appoints Alcorn President as Commissioner of Higher Education

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The Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning appointed Alcorn State University President Alfred Rankins Jr. as Commissioner of Higher Education at a meeting held earlier today in Jackson. He will begin serving as Commissioner on July 1.

“Dr. Rankins has experience at both the system level and as a university president,” said Trustee C.D. Smith, president of the Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning. “In addition, he understands the important role higher education plays in our state and the lives of our students and their families. He also understands the challenges our universities face in today’s higher education landscape. He will provide excellent leadership to the university system.”

Named President of Alcorn State University on March 4, 2014, Dr. Alfred Rankins Jr. is the 19th president of the university.

“It has been an honor and a pleasure to serve as President of my alma mater,” said Dr. Rankins. “Alcorn State University is a special place that transforms lives and opens doors of opportunity for our students and the citizens we serve through research and outreach programs. My experiences at Alcorn will inform my decisions as Commissioner, which will help me to serve all eight public universities in Mississippi as we work together to advance the system and the state.”

Alcorn State University is the nation’s oldest public land-grant HBCU. In addition to the Lorman campus, the university also includes branch locations in Natchez and Vicksburg.

Dr. Rankins previously served as deputy commissioner for the Mississippi Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL), where he served as the IHL system’s chief academic and student affairs officer. While serving as deputy commissioner, Dr. Rankins also served as acting president of Mississippi Valley State University.

Prior to his appointment at IHL, Dr. Rankins served on the faculty at Mississippi State University (MSU), where he was a tenured associate professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and extension specialist with the MSU Extension Service.

Under Dr. Rankins’ leadership, Alcorn has strengthened its academic programs, improved campus infrastructure, initiated and completed major capital projects, increased fundraising, and expanded its

footprint as a premier comprehensive land grant HBCU. This past fall, Alcorn enrolled its largest freshman class in the history of the institution and the university has risen in national rankings. The university has established new academic programs and made important discoveries through its research.

Currently, Dr. Rankins serves on the University Press of Mississippi Board of Directors, Entergy Mississippi Advisory Board, Mississippi Postsecondary Education Financial Assistance Board, and Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission of Colleges Executive Board.

A native of Greenville, Mississippi, Dr. Rankins received a Bachelor of Science degree from Alcorn State University and both Master of Science and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from Mississippi State University.

The Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning will announce plans for the search for the next President of Alcorn State University soon.

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The Mississippi Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning governs the public universities in Mississippi, including Alcorn State University; Delta State University; Jackson State University; Mississippi State University including the Mississippi State University Division of Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine; Mississippi University for Women; Mississippi Valley State University; the University of Mississippi including the University of Mississippi Medical Center; and the University of Southern Mississippi.

Posters in the Rotunda event to showcase university student research

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Students from all eight of Mississippi’s public universities will share their research and creative activities on topics ranging from healthcare to cultural heritage to social issues with legislators and state leaders at Posters in the Rotunda, which will be held in the Rotunda of the State Capitol on March 20. The students will show how their research solves some of Mississippi’s most pressing problems and benefits the citizens of the state.

The event provides opportunities for legislators to visit with students from their districts, allows students to network with each other as they learn about work on other campuses, and showcases the cutting-edge research conducted by undergraduates that benefits the residents of Mississippi.

“The work being done by undergraduates with their mentors at the eight state universities is quite impressive.  This event will help legislators appreciate the contributions that the students are making to the state in so many areas, including economics, health care, and education,” said Dr. Marie Danforth, Chair of the Steering Committee for the Drapeau Center for Undergraduate Research at The University of Southern Mississippi and coordinator of the event.

Modeled after the Posters on the Hill event in which students from across the country share their work in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Mississippi’s Posters in the Rotunda event is similar to ones held in 17 other states.  The posters will be on display in the Rotunda of the State Capitol from 8:30 a.m. until 10:00 a.m.

The scheduled speaker is Dr. Gordon Cannon, Vice President for Research at The University of Southern Mississippi. Remarks will be given at 9:30 a.m.

A resolution proclaiming March 20 as Undergraduate Research Day in Mississippi has been passed by both chambers in House Resolution No. 54 and Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 632.

The students participating in the Posters in the Rotunda event and the titles of the research projects include:

  • Hayley Allen (University of Southern Mississippi) Biomedical Research at Southern Miss: Investigation of Small  Molecules as Inhibitors of Cell Proliferation in Cancer 
  • Brittany Brown (University of Mississippi) The Latino South: Migration, Identity, and Foodways
  • Amber Coats (University of Southern Mississippi) Evaluating the Effects of Cell Membrane Lipid Composition on the Resistance to Bile-Induced Damage in Avirulent Strains of Listeria monocygenes.
  • Eric Davis (Jackson State University) Developing an Android App to Read the DS1620 Temperature Measurements
  • Shelley Edwards (INBRE/Millsaps College) Sex-Dependent Effects of Novel Kappa Agonist, Nalfurafine, on the Analgesic Quality and Abuse Liability of Oxycodone
  • Omar Elsabrouty (Jackson State University) Developing an Android App to Read the DS1620 Temperature Measurements
  • Lilian Ernest (Jackson State University) Developing an Android App to Read the DS1620 Temperature Measurements
  • Aysha Evans (Alcorn State University) Plasmonic Gold Nanostructure for Biological Sensing 
  • JaBreann Evans (Alcorn State University) Personal, Social and Emotional factors influencing Body Weight in First Year College Students
  • Abigail Garrett (University of Mississippi) Creation of a Full Stack Breast Cancer Database
  • Uday Gella (Alcorn State University) Radiation Studies on Mississippi River Sediments
  • Rebecca Hamilton (Delta State University) The Deception of Contraception
  • Cella Hayes (University of Mississippi) Therapeutic Treatments for Cognitive Disorders    Associated with Age-related Loss of Insulin Growth Factor-1
  • Quincy Jones (Jackson State University) Developing an Android App to Read the DS1620 Temperature Measurements
  • Kendra Keesee (Mississippi University for Women) Music Therapy Co-Treatment
  • Marisa Laudadio (Mississippi State University) Using Publicly Available Comments on Facebook to Ascertain Public Opinion of International Adoption
  • Mallory Malone (Mississippi University for Women) Music Therapy Co-Treatment
  • Lindsey Miller (University of Mississippi) Finding the Dimerization Interface of Skp1 from Dictyostelium
  • Erin O’Quinn (Mississippi State University) Defining Factors of Socioeconomic Status As It Predicts ADHD Risk
  • Subrina Oswalt (Mississippi University for Women) Money, Trust, and Affective Polarization
  • Jermarlius Rushing (Mississippi Valley State University) “That’s Fake News”: Using Campus Radio to Emphasize the Importance of Historical Research Skills
  • Madison Savoy (University of Mississippi) The Impact of Verb Transitivity on Pronoun Inter-pretation in Adults with Intellectual Disabilities
  • Stephon Simpson (Mississippi Valley State University) Role of Melatonin in Water-Stressed Soybean Plants
  • Danielle Stamps (University of Southern Mississippi) The Effects of Skin Tone on the Perception of Discrimination in Young African American Women
  • Landrie Tchakoua (Jackson State University) Developing an Android App to Read the DS1620 Temperature Measurements
  • Georgette-Vanelle Wandji (Mississippi Valley State University) Interaction of Modified and Unmodified Biodegradable Nanoparticles with Bovine Serum Albumin (BSA)
  • Alexandra Wedderstrand (Mississippi State University) Emotion Regulation Difficulties and Placement Stability: Exploring Interventions
  • Arian Williams (Mississippi Valley State University) Bedside Manner Experience Development
  • Egypt Williams (Mississippi Valley State University) “That’s Fake News”: Using Campus Radio to Emphasize the Importance of Historical Research Skills
  • Jasmine Williams (Alcorn State University) Wellness Programming: A Worthy Investment for Positive Student Educational Outcomes

 More information on the Posters in the Rotunda event is available on the website:  http://postersintherotundams.org.

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The Mississippi Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning governs the public universities in Mississippi, including Alcorn State University; Delta State University; Jackson State University; Mississippi State University including the Mississippi State University Division of Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine; Mississippi University for Women; Mississippi Valley State University; the University of Mississippi including the University of Mississippi Medical Center; and the University of Southern Mississippi.

Mississippi Public Universities provide research, education to advance energy, forestry sectors

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Mississippi’s natural resources help build and power our communities by providing lumber and abundant energy at an affordable cost. In fact, in its 2016 Global Petroleum Survey, the Fraser Institute ranked Mississippi eighth among the most attractive jurisdictions for upstream petroleum investment.

Protecting these resources and utilizing them in the most efficient and effective manner requires research and education. Mississippi Public Universities are stepping up to the plate to provide both.

The College of Forest Resources at Mississippi State University provides the only 4-year degree programs in forestry, natural resource and environmental conservation, sustainable bioproducts, and wildlife, fisheries and aquaculture. The award-winning student body includes the MSU student chapter of the Society of American Foresters, a professional student organization that has been ranked in the top three nationally for the last 18 years. Other student organizations that continually receive top ratings include the MSU student chapter of The Wildlife Society, Ducks Unlimited Bulldog Chapter, the number one collegiate chapter in the state for the last four years, and one of the top ranked Bass Fishing Clubs in the nation.

Students in the College of Forest Resources conduct research and participate in professional experience. Each year, MSU students are selected to participate in the William A. Demmer Scholars Program, a program that provides internships and work with federal agencies and non-governmental organizations that focus on natural resources. The College of Forest Resources alumni serve throughout the nation as heads of corporations and leaders in state and federal government agencies. Tony Tooke, the new U.S. Forest Chief is an alumnus of the MSU College of Forest Resources.

Offering one of a few hands-on field experiences for students, the College of Forest Resources has over 23,619 of forestland in the MSU Bulldog Forest for teaching, research and demonstration. This land is located in 28 properties throughout the state of Mississippi.

The Forest and Wildlife Research Center is the research arm of the College of Forest Resources. The Forest and Wildlife Research Center (FWRC) expands through research the fundamental and applied knowledge upon which forestry, forest products and wildlife and fisheries disciplines are based.  The FWRC assists in conserving, developing and utilizing the forest, forest products, wildlife and fisheries resources of Mississippi and the world. The FWRC is the only natural resources research program in the state of Mississippi and serves as the research arm for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.  Mississippi’s forest and forest products industries are a $12.79 billion dollar industry. Timber is the second largest commodity in the state.  Providing relevant and timely research to address the needs of landowners, biologists and industry is a priority within the Forest and Wildlife Research Center. Research funding in the FWRC supports 47 scientists working on an average of 300 projects annually.

In forestry, scientists have expanded forest-based industry through the development of forest inventory software. FWRC scientists were the first in the nation to develop a comprehensive, spatially-explicit inventory of forest resources in the state. A forest products/bio-energy mill location and decision support system based on county-level forest inventory and geo-spatial information has been developed and used by numerous industries desiring to locate to Mississippi. Mississippi is rich in natural resources and companies choose to locate to the state based on the availability of these abundant resources.

Mississippi is ranked as one of the top five places in the U.S. for biomass by Forbes magazine. Scientists continue to expand the software to include socio-economic factors, growth and drain estimates, ownership patterns and a transportation network.  The Department of Forestry conducts research to sustainably manage and utilize forest resources.  This includes developing new practices to expand the growth of timber resources. The department actively works with the Mississippi Forestry Commission, U.S. Forest Service, forest industry, and other universities to reduce risk of insect, disease, and natural disasters. The department also studies the effect of timberlands on carbon sequestration, water quality, alternative plantings, and wildlife habitat.

In wildlife and fisheries, scientists are tackling the growing human-wildlife conflict and economic impact of wildlife damage. In the U.S., wild pigs are non-native, invasive pests that pose a significant threat to agriculture, forestry, ecosystems, watersheds, native plant and animal communities and human health. Economic impacts of wild hog damage in the U.S. have been estimated at $1.5 billion/year. Wild pigs are host to at least 7 economically important livestock diseases and vectors of 9 zoonotic diseases of human health concern. Research is ongoing to quantify rate of range expansion, economic impacts and effective control methods to educate landowners, natural resource professionals and policymakers on the negative impact of wild pigs and inform local, state and national policy.

As the research arm of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, FWRC scientists monitor the state’s wildlife and fisheries populations. As issues arise, scientists offer solutions to sustain populations or in some cases, scientists recommend changes in hunting to deter some invasive species. The goal of FWRC scientists is to manage wildlife and fishery resources for the betterment of the state, region and nation.  Scientists in the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture have an international reputation for expertise on a variety of game species including white-tailed deer, turkey and bobwhite quail. Research is also conducted on game and nongame species; ecology; wildlife diseases; endangered species conservation; ecological restoration; invasive species management; habitat reclamation, restoration, and management; conservation education; human dimensions; geospatial technologies in wildlife and fisheries sciences; landscape ecology; and wildlife and fish recreation.

In sustainable bioproducts, scientists are finding new uses for wood resources including small-diameter wood from first thinnings of pine plantations. From environmental mats to composite lumber, scientists are finding new uses for wood which expand its service life and improve economic opportunities for Mississippi landowners.  FWRC scientists are leaders in the development of bio-fuel from wood products. The FWRC is working to develop a marketable transportation fuel from blends of upgraded bio-oil and petroleum fuels.  Scientists are working on a southern yellow pine strength and stiffness project to increase the use of southern yellow pine in building construction. Scientists are also working on the use of timber in large construction projects and southern climatic stresses on these products.

At the University of Mississippi Field Station, faculty members conduct a broad range of studies related to Mississippi’s forests and wetlands, from the potential healing properties of plants to turkey behavior, fish growth and reproduction, controlling invasive insect species and mitigating pesticide run-off from farm fields. The 740-acre facility includes wetlands, grasslands and closed-canopy forests. The forested stands are mixtures of shortleaf pine and oaks with loblolly pine, sweetgum, red maple, winged elms and black gum. An aviary for study of wild turkeys is located in a remote area. More than 200 experimental ponds provide opportunities for controlled experiments and large-scale projects.

Jackson State University and the University of Mississippi are two members of a consortium of four universities recently awarded a National Science Foundation EPSCoR Track II grant. Jackson State serves as the lead institution for the four-year project, with the University of Delaware and the University of Wyoming rounding out the four participating universities. The project seeks novel and cost-effective approaches to mitigate climate change, improve energy efficiency and reduce pollutants in water and air, which are among the most significant challenges facing the world.

Delta State University encourages stewardship through the student chapter of The Wildlife Society, an international organization serving wildlife professionals in all areas of wildlife conservation and resource management that was founded in 1937. With a goal of excellence in wildlife stewardship through science and education, Dr. Ali Reza, advisor for the Environmental Science Wildlife Management Concentration, and students in the Environmental Science/Wildlife major worked to establish a student chapter of the society on the campus in Cleveland. The DSU student chapter of the Wildlife Society was approved on April 26, 2013 by the Southeastern Section of The Wildlife Society.

Video on the College of Forest Resources at Mississippi State University: https://youtu.be/QHlNTL7BlVc

More information on the University of Mississippi Field Station:  http://fieldstation.olemiss.edu

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The Mississippi Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning governs the public universities in Mississippi, including Alcorn State University; Delta State University; Jackson State University; Mississippi State University including the Mississippi State University Division of Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine; Mississippi University for Women; Mississippi Valley State University; the University of Mississippi including the University of Mississippi Medical Center; and the University of Southern Mississippi.