Investing in Our Academic Future

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By President William N. LaForge

The continued cuts to state funding for public universities in Mississippi present a significant challenge that is felt not only at the university level, but also across the entire state.

Each of the eight public four year universities has a considerable investment in our students, businesses, employees, communities, outreach efforts, and research projects—all of which ripple out to impact the state’s economy and future. All of us as citizens of Mississippi are affected directly or indirectly by higher education outcomes, sometimes in ways we don’t even realize.

Mississippi Today recently reported that between fiscal years 2010 and 2017, state university funding has declined 4.5 percent, and general funding for IHL has declined more than 7 percent. During that same time, system-wide enrollment has increased more than 12 percent, and the number of degrees awarded in this state has increased nearly 14 percent.  The hardest hit budgets have been the universities’ operating budgets that provide funding for maintaining campus operations and paying the salaries of the faculty and staff who educate our students.

State funding is necessary to supplement tuition and other revenue for our universities that, collectively, are one of the best higher education bargains in the country, and which boast reasonable tuition rates that other states and universities envy.

To support the vision of a new Mississippi, the most appropriate view of higher education expenditures by the state is not simply that of an expense item in the budget. It is much more essentially an investment—in our students, in our state, and in our future.

Like our sister public institutions, Delta State manages scarce resources in an environment of competing priorities every day. We strategically focus our attention and spending on programs, initiatives, and educational offerings that bring value to our students and to the state. And, we rely basically on state funding and student tuition to provide the revenue necessary to accomplish our mission. Some ask, ‘How can we measure the outcomes and the return on our investment?’  The answer is in the products we produce—prepared students who are ready to enter the professions and workforce across the state.  All of our state universities are working hard every day to meet that goal through prudent allocation of resources.

One example of smart, targeted spending that produces terrific outcomes at Delta State is our emphasis on improved retention—helping our students stay in school and on the path to graduation.  Between the fall of 2015 and the fall of 2016, we experienced significant increases in retention rates for first-time, full-time, degree-seeking freshmen—5.2 percent; first time, full-time, degree-seeking transfer students—7.8 percent; and, all full-time, degree-seeking undergraduate students—3.7 percent. Simply put, this means more students stayed in school and on the path to graduation—and on the path to being more productive, employable citizens of our state.

But, the retention programs that produce this success cost money. Better said, they beg for our investment of dollars to support a program that will help Mississippi get off the bottom rung of American educational and economic metrics.  We are being asked by the state to continue doing this good work—to continue producing more and better-educated students—with fewer and fewer resources. By any measure, that is an unsustainable pattern.

Here at Delta State University, as at all our public universities, we believe in putting students first, and that quality education should be available to all qualified students in this state. We offer the lowest tuition in the region, and we make the most of our limited resources, while still providing a top-tier education for our students.  But, as long as state funding is severely limited or cut, this model of success will be undermined.

Just as our eight public universities merit the investment of Mississippi tax dollars to support our educational mission, our students individually also need financial assistance to enroll and stay in school.  State research data show that 89 percent of our eligible full-time, degree-seeking students, both undergraduate and graduate, received some form of financial aid during the 2015-16 academic year. These deserving students need our support to help them earn a college degree—a tangible outcome that serves the best interests of our state on so many   levels.

In the rural Delta of Mississippi, Delta State is seen as a beacon of opportunity in a place where opportunity is sometimes lacking. In the fall of 2016, for example, 25 percent of our student body comprised first-generation students. This number is clearly indicative of the urgent need for, and value of, higher education in the Magnolia State. When we educate that first­ generation student, we are lifting up an entire family.

Continuing to cut state funding for higher education puts statewide efforts for student success at dire risk. Future cuts will only produce a steeper uphill battle in the fight to lift this state off the economic bottom. We cannot continue to be expected to produce more graduates, continue our outreach efforts in our communities, and fund vital research with fewer resources.

Let’s continue to educate Mississippians and to make this state a better place to live, work, prosper, and raise our families. Enhanced state funding for higher education—not more budget cuts—is the key to a brighter future for this state.

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STOMP to take BPAC stage Feb. 28

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STOMP, the international percussion sensation, makes its Mississippi Delta premiere at the Bologna Performing Arts Center on Feb. 28 at 7:30 p.m.

From its beginnings as a street performance in the United Kingdom, STOMP has grown into an international sensation over the past 20 years, having performed in more than 50 countries and in front of more than 24 million people.

A unique combination of percussion, movement and visual comedy, STOMP has created its own inimitable, contemporary form of rhythmic expression. Both household and industrial objects find new life as musical instruments in the hands of an idiosyncratic band of body percussionists. It is a journey through sound, a celebration of the everyday, and a comic interplay of characters wordlessly communicating through dance and drum.

Created by Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas, STOMP continues its phenomenal run with four global productions: the ongoing sell-out production at New York’s Orpheum Theatre, a permanent London company, and North American and European tours. Throughout its life, the show has continued to change by creating new material. This year, it will incorporate two new pieces.

An overwhelming success marked by rave reviews, the production has won numerous awards and sell-out engagements. It is the winner of an Olivier Award for Best Choreography (London’s Tony Award), a New York Obie Award, a Drama Desk Award for Unique Theatre Experience, and a Special Citation from Best Plays.

In addition to the stage shows, STOMP has been an overwhelming success marked by an Academy Award nomination, four Emmy nominations and one Emmy Award for their acclaimed HBO special “Stomp Out Loud,” noteworthy TV appearances including the London 2012 Olympic Games closing ceremony, The Academy Awards (produced by Quincy Jones), Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and a series of award-winning international commercials.

“The performers make a rhythm out of anything we can get our hands on that makes a sound,” said Cresswell, co-founder and director.

Synchronized stiff-bristle brooms become a sweeping orchestra; eight Zippo lighters flip open and closed to create a fiery fugue; and wooden poles thump and clack in a rhythmic explosion. STOMP uses everything but conventional percussion instruments — dustbins, tea chests, radiator hoses, boots, hub caps — to fill the stage with a compelling and unique act that is often imitated but never duplicated.

Tickets are available at the Bologna Performing Arts Center Ticket Office, open Monday–Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., by calling 662-846-4626, or going online to www.bolognapac.com.

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Matsy Wynn Richards tabbed for Howorth Woman of Achievement Award

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The public is invited to attend the 2017 Lucy Somerville Howorth Woman of Achievement Award on April 2 at 2 p.m. at the Charles W. Capps Jr. Archives and Museum Building at Delta State.

The Awards Committee recently announced this year’s recipient as the late Martha “Matsy” Wynn Richards.

Richards was born Martha Kinman Wynn in 1888 in Friars Point, Mississippi. She moved to Greenville with her parents at a young age, where she lived until attending school in Nashville, Tennessee. In 1918, she read an article in the Christian Science Monitor that steered her to pursue a career in photography.

“Matsy was a successful woman in a time where women were unlikely to be,” said Daniel Shemwell, recipient of the 2016-17 Lucy Somerville Howorth Fellowship. “Matsy broke free of perpetuated norms in the south in 1918 when she went in search of an education in photography. Forging a career out of something she was both deeply passionate about and skilled at, her work became so successful, she attracted attention from giants like Vogue Magazine and Fox Studios. She lived life to the fullest. Matsy was an inspiration to many in the field of photography and is still talked about and studied today.”

Following the award ceremony, a new exhibit featuring Richards’s life work and accomplishments will open in the main gallery.

“Since beginning my work with Matsy when I received the fellowship in the fall of 2016, I have had the unique opportunity of working with some of her living relatives who knew her,” added Shemwell. “Her family offered me a real life connection to the woman whose works are in boxes in the archives. This project has focused my historical interest and I hope others will enjoy seeing her life’s work as I have.”

Emily Jones, university archivist, said she is looking forward to honoring another worthy recipient.

“Women of the Delta have made significant contributions to not only the social and cultural landscape of the region, but have been in the unique position to serve as ambassadors of the Delta to the rest of the world,” said Jones. “I am proud that Judge Lucy chose this awards program to bear her name and support as a lasting legacy.”

Previous recipients of the award include:
• Emma Knowlton Humphreys Lytle-2000
• Keith Dockery McLean- 2003
• Mae Bertha Carter- 2005
• Franke Keating- 2007
• LePoint Cassibry Smith- 2009
• Fannie Lou Hamer- 2012
• Dorothy Shawhan- 2015

For more information, contact archives@deltastate.edu.

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Students prep trees for Arbor Day

By | Academics, College of Arts and Sciences, Community, Faculty/Staff, Students | No Comments

To help celebrate Arbor Day each year, the Natural Resource Conservation Service in Cleveland gives trees to local residents to plant at their residences or throughout the community.

On Feb. 7, Teressa Oakes with the NRCS in Cleveland, allowed Dr. Baghai-Riding’s Foundation of Environmental Science class to help with this year’s effort. Oakes brought several hundred tree saplings to the loading dock area of Caylor Hall where students dipped the tree roots in water to keep them moist, then placed them into plastic bags for distribution. Several students also took a few trees to plant in their yards.

Specimens included river birch, sawtooth oak, water oak, crepe myrtle, flowering dogwood and bald cypress.

The trees were given out at the NRCS office on Feb. 10. Oakes thanked Baghai-Riding’s class for making fast work of this task and is making plans for Delta State students to help with next year’s event.

Contact Baghai-Riding at nbaghai@deltastate.edu to learn more about the environmental science program at Delta State University.

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Women’s Conference scheduled for March 2-3

By | Community, Faculty/Staff, Students | No Comments

The Office of Student Affairs will present the 2017 Women’s Conference titled ““I Am My Sister’s Keeper” on March 2-3 at Delta State University.

Under the direction of Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Vernell Bennett, the conference will be a celebration of female excellence on campus.

“It will also be a means to increase student engagement, foster a culture of students supporting one another, endorse a healthy mind, body and spirit, participate in community service, networking and finally, recognize regional stewardship,” said Bennett.women's conference

Students are asked to register online for the event at www.deltastate.edu/womens-conference. The schedule of events will be provided free to students, and the first 100 registrants will receive a free T-shirt.

Featured guests will include Dr. Myrtis Tabb, Judge Linda Coleman, Rochelle Owsley, Christy Pickering, and more.

The schedule kicks off at 11 a.m. on March 2 with a luncheon on the second floor of the Student Union (free to the first 100 registrants) and a discussion about HIV awareness. Participants are asked to wear red shoes to be entered into a prize raffle.

The Lady Statesman Spa & Health and Wellness Fair will feature health agencies from the region, and local vendors and exhibitors. All activities, including massages and pedicures, will be free of charge.

Later that evening, the red carpet will be rolled out for the Lady Statesman Emerald Awards of Excellence.

The schedule continues March 3 with a day of service throughout Cleveland, followed by a flash mob performance on campus, a convocation speech by Pickering, the United in Green women’s empowerment panel, and a film screening of “A League of Their Own” at 6 p.m. to round out the conference.

“I hope the biggest takeaway for the students is that they’ll enjoy being actively engaged in a number of different capacities,” said Bennett. “We want the young ladies to come out and learn about the resources and support systems on campus and in the community. We want them to enjoy the experience, and then go back and get more young ladies involved.”

Bennett added that a men’s conference would be planned for the fall semester.

For more information, contact 662-846-4150.