Dr. Vernell Bennett has been named the new vice president of Student Affairs.

Bennett named VP of Student Affairs

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

Delta State University President William N. LaForge recently announced the hiring of Dr. Vernell Bennett for the position of vice president of Student Affairs.

Bennett replaces Dr. E.E. “Butch” Caston, who had filled the role on an interim basis following the retirement of Dr. Wayne Blansett, who served the university for four decades.

Bennett will officially take office July 1, pending IHL Board approval, but will begin the transition process on June 15.

I am honored to join Delta State University as the newest member of the great executive team President LaForge has built,” said Bennett. “To say that I’m eager to work with the students the university educates is an understatement. It is truly exciting to join forces with engaged faculty, staff and community members to help Delta State University continue its long legacy of service and excellence.”

In the role, she will serve as the chief student affairs officer for the university. This position is responsible for providing leadership and administrative direction to a comprehensive Student Affairs Division, which complements and supports the academic mission of Delta State.

Bennett arrives at Delta State after previously serving in the same role at Kentucky State University in Frankfort, Kentucky. Her extensive experience at KSU enabled her to foster collaborations between Student Affairs and Academic Affairs, faculty, staff, students, the administration and community. At KSU, Bennett oversaw a personnel and operating budget of $5 million and a scholarship budget of $2.6 million.

Prior to her VP role at KSU, she served as the university’s assistant vice president for diversity and inclusion, the senior advisor to Academic Affairs, and as a presidential liaison.

She holds a doctorate in instruction and administration from the University of Kentucky, received her master’s from Eastern Michigan University and her bachelor’s degree from Fisk University.

Bennett’s professional memberships include: The Council on Student Affairs; The National Association of Student Affairs Professionals; Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated; The Links, Incorporated; and the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education.

Additionally, she has a background in teaching music courses, including voice instruction, elements of music, phonetics and dictation, and more.

President LaForge said he was thrilled to bring Bennett’s leadership to campus.

“I am pleased to welcome Dr. Bennett to Delta State,” said LaForge. “She brings a wealth of talent and experience to the position of vice president for Student Affairs, and I know she will have a terrific impact on our students and our campus culture. I look forward to her contributions to our leadership team.”

A selection committee, chaired by Dr. Temika Simmons, assistant professor of psychology, was formed in order to guide the national search for the position. Finalists recently visited the Delta State campus and spent time meeting with various groups including the President’s Cabinet, Academic Council, division directors and the search committee, along with addressing open forums attended by faculty, staff and students.

Along with Simmons, search committee members included: Michael Lipford, Dr. David Hebert, Marilyn Read, Mike Kinnison, Diana McLemore, Dr. David Breaux, Betsy Elliott, Porter Leftwich, Mikel Sykes (student), Allie Rose Parker (student) and Lisa Giger (ex-officio).

Follow all Delta State University news at www.deltastate.edu.

Fireside Chat: Orientation sessions begin on campus

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Joining President LaForge are Jeanna Wilkes, who is the Delta State Director of Student Life, and students Ashley Blackburn and Madison Ennis, who are both student orientation leaders.

This past week marked the beginning of Orientation sessions on campus as the university welcomes new Delta State students to campus. The university offers an extensive orientation program each summer for new students enrolling for the fall semester, and sessions are broken out for incoming freshmen and transfer students. Delta State also has a number of opportunities for parents of first-time students. The two-day programs feature informational sessions on housing, academics, student life and many other topics.

Parents are encouraged to attend the same session as their student, and the sessions include meals, housing for students and entertainment activities to enable new students to meet current Delta State students and spend time with other new students. Upcoming sessions for freshmen are set for June 2nd and 3rd, June 27th and 28th, and July 7th and 8th. There is a transfer student session today, and upcoming sessions set for June 23rd and July 1st. You can sign up on the Orientation web site, and there is a direct link on our home page www.deltastate.edu.

In other news on campus, today marked the beginning of our first summer school term, and we are pleased to welcome students back to campus. And, in late June, GRAMMY Museum Mississippi will unveil a new exhibit centered on the life of blues musician Stevie Ray Vaughn. We hope that you will make plans to come check it out. For other news, events and activities, visit our web site at www.deltastate.edu.

President William N. LaForge (right) recently visited with Senator Thad Cochran and fellow Mississippi lawmakers in Washington, D.C.

LaForge meets with Mississippi lawmakers in D.C.

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Delta State University President William N. LaForge visited the nation’s capital in late April to touch base with Mississippi’s federal lawmakers.

“This was an opportunity to visit with the Mississippi congressional delegation and their staffs,” said LaForge. “There are issues that we want them to support or oppose, and we had an opportunity to express our concerns with them.”

LaForge personally spent time with Mississippi Senators Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, and the staffs of Mississippi’s four members of the House of Representatives.

The conversations focused on grants, federal funding and alternative funding sources to support Delta State.

“Government relations and public policy advocacy are necessary in order to keep issues in front of our lawmakers so they know what our interests are, and so that they can vote and act accordingly. It allows us to express our needs and interests to our government.”

“It’s all about directly addressing the issues that are important to us as a constituent institution,” added LaForge. “We are always exploring possibilities for Delta State assistance.”

LaForge is no stranger to Capitol Hill, having spent time in the ‘70s with Congressman David Bowen and in the ‘80s working as Cochran’s chief of staff.

“Senator Cochran is very special to me. We have a unique relationship that goes way back,” said LaForge. “It was great to see my mentor again and have a visit with him. He has a deep interest in education in general, and certainly higher education. He’s a great resource for us at Delta State.”

LaForge also has a connection with Wicker, as the two were law school classmates at the University of Mississippi.

Follow all Delta State University news at www.deltastate.edu



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GRAMMY Museum Mississippi is one of more than 2,000 museums across America to offer free admission to military personnel and their families this summer in collaboration with the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families, and the Department of Defense

CLEVELAND, MS (May 26, 2016) – Today GRAMMY Museum Mississippi announced the launch of Blue Star Museums, a collaboration among the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families, the Department of Defense, and more than 2,000 museums across America to offer free admission to the nation’s active duty military personnel including National Guard and Reserve and their families from Memorial Day through Labor Day 2016. Leadership support for Blue Star Families programming and promotional materials has been provided by MetLife Foundation. The program also provides families an opportunity to enjoy the nation’s cultural heritage and learn more about their new communities after a military move. The complete list of participating museums is available at arts.gov/bluestarmuseums.

“We are excited to participate in this program.  Service members and their families are so important to our communities,” said Emily Havens, Executive Director of GRAMMY Museum Mississippi. “This is a great way for the Museum to honor their service and sacrifice.”

“The Blue Star Museums program is a fun, free activity for military families to enjoy during the summer months,” said NEA Chairman Jane Chu. “The program is also a great way for service member families to connect to their new communities, and it can provide a meaningful way for families to reconnect after deployment. The Blue Star Museums program is also a perfect way for the arts community to say ‘thank you’ to our service members and their families for the sacrifices they make on our behalf, every day.”

“Blue Star Museums has grown into a nationally recognized program that service members and their families look forward to each year,” said Blue Star Families Chief Executive Officer Kathy Roth-Douquet. “It helps bring our local military and civilian communities together, and offers families fun and enriching activities in their home towns. We are thrilled with the continued growth of the program and the unparalleled opportunities it offers.”

This year, more than 2,000 (and counting) museums in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and American Samoa are taking part in the initiative. Museums are welcome to join Blue Star Museums throughout the summer. The effort to recruit museums has involved partnerships with the American Alliance of Museums, the Association of Art Museum Directors, the Association of Children’s Museums, the American Association of State and Local History, and the Association of Science-Technology Centers. This year’s Blue Star Museums represent not just fine arts museums, but also science museums, history museums, nature centers, and dozens of children’s museums. Among this year’s new participants are the Arkansas Arts Center in Little Rock, Arkansas, the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire in Dover, New Hampshire, the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History in Pacific Grove, California, the Rochester Museum & Science Center in Rochester, New York, and El Rancho de las Golondrinas, a living history museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

About Blue Star Museums

Blue Star Museums is a collaboration among the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families, the Department of Defense, and more than 2,000 museums across America. The program runs from Memorial Day, May 30, 2016 through Labor Day, September 5, 2016.

The free admission program is available to any bearer of a Geneva Convention common access card (CAC), a DD Form 1173 ID card (dependent ID), or a DD Form 1173-1 ID card, which includes active duty U.S. military – Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, as well as members of the National Guard and Reserve, U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, NOAA Commissioned Corps – and up to five family members. Some special or limited-time museum exhibits may not be included in this free admission program. For questions on particular exhibits or museums, please contact the museum directly. To find participating museums and plan your trip, visit arts.gov/bluestarmuseums.

All summer long, Blue Star Museums will share stories through social media. Follow Blue Star Museums on Twitter @NEAarts and @BlueStarFamily, #bluestarmuseums, on Facebook, and read the NEA Art Works blog for weekly stories on participating museums and exhibits.

Museums that wish to participate in Blue Star Museums may contact bluestarmuseums@arts.gov, or Wendy Clark at 202-682-5451.

This is the latest NEA program to bring quality arts programs to the military, veterans, and their families. Other NEA programs for the military have included the NEA Military Healing Arts Partnership; Great American Voices Military Base Tour; and Shakespeare in American Communities Military Base Tour.

About GRAMMY Museum Mississippi

Built and operated by the Cleveland Music Foundation — a non-profit organization developed in 2011 — the 28,000-square-foot GRAMMY Museum Mississippi is housed near the campus of Delta State University, home of the Delta Music Institute’s Entertainment Industry Studies program, which features the most unique audio recording facilities in the South. Similar to its sister Museum — the GRAMMY Museum® at L.A. LIVE — GRAMMY Museum Mississippi is dedicated to exploring the past, present and future of music, and the cultural context from which it emerges, while casting a focused spotlight on the deep musical roots of Mississippi. The Museum features a dynamic combination of public events, educational programming, engaging multimedia presentations, and interactive permanent and traveling exhibits, including a Mississippi-centric area that introduces visitors to the impact of Mississippi’s songwriters, producers and musicians on the traditional and modern music landscape.  For more information about GRAMMY Museum Mississippi, visit www.grammymuseumms.org. For breaking news and exclusive content, follow @GRAMMYMuseumMS on Twitter and Instagram, and like “GRAMMY Museum Mississippi” on Facebook.

About Blue Star Families

Blue Star Families is a national, nonprofit network of military spouses, children, parents and friends, as well as service members, veterans and civilians, dedicated to supporting, connecting and empowering military families. With our partners, Blue Star Families leverages data-driven insights to curate resources for military families, including career development tools, local community events for families, and caregiver support. Since its inception in 2009, Blue Star Families has engaged tens of thousands of volunteers and serves more than 1.5 million military family members annually. Blue Star Families also works directly with the Department of Defense and senior members of local, State and Federal government to bring the most important military family issues to light. With Blue Star Families, military families can find answers to their challenges anywhere they are. Visit bluestarfam.org for more information.

About the National Endowment for the Arts

Established by Congress in 1965, the NEA is the independent federal agency whose funding and support gives Americans the opportunity to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations, and develop their creative capacities. Through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector, the NEA supports arts learning, affirms and celebrates America’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, and extends its work to promote equal access to the arts in every community across America. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the National Endowment for the Arts and the agency is celebrating this milestone with events and activities through September 2016.

Members of the 2016 MDNHA Board of Directors and staff

Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area promotes region’s cultural heritage

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The Board of Directors for the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area recently held its May meeting at Delta Council headquarters in Stoneville, Mississippi. The board, chaired by Dr. Myrtis Tabb, welcomed new board members and discussed various partnership opportunities that will continue to promote the Mississippi Delta’s rich cultural heritage.

“I am pleased to work with the Board of Directors of MDNHA,” said Dr. Tabb. “We are excited to welcome our new members and continue moving into the implementation phase of a comprehensive management plan developed by a thorough process of meetings with groups and stakeholders throughout the region. Our goal is to empower as many voices as possible so that the story of the Delta is told by a chorus, rather than a few.”

The 15-member board includes representatives from Mississippi Valley State, Alcorn State and Delta State University, as well as the Delta Foundation, Smith Robertson Museum, Delta Council, Mississippi Arts Commission, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, and Mississippi Humanities Council. In addition, the governor and counties falling within five Delta districts appoint representatives to the board.

“Our board and our staff continue to work together, building the Mississippi Delta’s capacity to fulfill the MDNHA’s management plan through diverse partnerships,” said Dr. Rolando Herts, director of of The Delta Center for Culture and Learning, which serves as the management entity for the MDNHA. “Regional initiatives like the Delta Jewels Oral History Partnership, the Passport to Your National Parks Program, GRAMMY Museum Mississippi’s ‘Top 40 Places to Visit in the Mississippi Delta’ website, and the MDNHA Grants Program represent creative and inclusive ways that we are fulfilling the plan.”

In November 2015, Herts was invited to represent the MDNHA and The Delta Center in a panel discussion at the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 2015 PastForward Conference in Washington, D.C. The conference launched a year-long celebration of the National Historic Preservation Act’s 50th anniversary, attracting hundreds of historic preservation scholars, policymakers, experts and activists from around the nation. The panel discussion was part of the preservationVOICES Learning Lab presentation track organized by the National Trust in partnership with the National Park Service and the Kellogg Foundation. The session, “Recognizing Our Shared History,” focused on how the National Park Service works to tell inclusive stories of all Americans.

In keeping with the PastForward Conference presentation, the MDNHA manages the Delta Jewels Oral History Partnership. The partnership has engaged over 800 Mississippi Delta residents and visitors through programs that raise awareness about the educational and cultural value of capturing community stories. The programs are offered to Mississippi organizations and communities in collaboration with Alysia Burton Steele, University of Mississippi journalism professor and author of “Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother’s Wisdom.” Oral history presentations about the book have been held in several MDNHA communities including Clarksdale, Charleston, Indianola, Yazoo City, Ruleville, Mound Bayou, Cleveland, Vicksburg and Itta Bena. Programs also have been held outside the MDNHA at Jackson State University, Alcorn State University and the University of Southern Mississippi.

In March 2016, to commemorate Women’s History Month and the National Park Service Centennial, the Delta Jewels Oral History Partnership presented at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum in Washington, D.C. The program featured 92-year-old Annyce Campbell of Mound Bayou, who graces the cover of “Delta Jewels,” and Reena Evers, daughter of civil rights icons Medgar Evers and Myrlie Evers-Williams. Campbell also visited the White House.

The MDNHA manages the Passport to Your National Parks program which features passport stations in each of the region’s 18 counties. The Delta Center serves as the program headquarters, welcoming passport collectors traveling the region and directing them to passport locations throughout the MDNHA, including the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in Sunflower County, tourism visitor centers in Coahoma, Tunica, Yazoo and Warren counties, and courthouses in Carroll, Holmes, Quitman, Sharkey, Tallahatchie and Tate counties.

Members of the National Park Travelers Club have toured the MDNHA collecting National Park Service passport stamps as a way to celebrate the 2016 National Park Service Centennial.

“We would not have known about all of the interesting places to visit in the Delta had it not been for this program,” said Leland Warzala, a club member from Illinois. “We knew that we had to visit all of the counties here, because we wanted to get all of the stamps. We had no idea that there are so many great things to see and do along the way, like the Crossroads sign [in Clarksdale], Dockery Farms and all of the Blues Trail markers.”

GRAMMY Museum® Mississippi opened its doors to the region, the nation, and the world this year. As part of the grand opening celebration, the museum partnered with the MDNHA to launch the “Top 40 Places to Visit in the Mississippi Delta” website.

The website features cultural heritage attractions throughout the Mississippi Delta that tell the region’s diverse stories. The site underscores the museum and MDNHA’s shared interest in promoting the entire 18-county Mississippi Delta region as an educational cultural heritage destination of which its residents should be proud.

“As GRAMMY Museum Mississippi, we explore and celebrate the enduring legacies of all forms of music, and we’re also telling the story of the cradle of America’s music right here in Cleveland, the heart of the Mississippi Delta,” said Emily Havens, executive director of the museum. “Our area’s rich musical legacy is a source of pride for Delta residents. We want to encourage everyone to explore and learn about our entire region, from local school groups to travelers from around the globe.”

In April 2016, The Delta Center hosted a group of Swedish music tourists. In addition to experiencing the GRAMMY Museum, the group visited several attractions included on the Top 40 list including Dockery Farms and Mississippi Blues Trail markers throughout the MDNHA. The group also experienced an African American church service in Clarksdale, a tribute to the MDNHA’s cultural heritage theme celebrating the region as a “Wellspring of Creativity.”

For these and various other programmatic successes, The Delta Center was presented the 2016 Georgene Clark Diversity Champion Award at Delta State University’s Winning the Race Conference.

“Through the Heritage Area partnership, the Mississippi Delta region can come together to take pride in our diverse culture and history,” said Herts. “Our stories surrounding issues of race, social injustice, civil rights, identity and expressions of faith have shaped and reflect the American experience.”

At the May meeting, the MDNHA selected inaugural recipients of the organization’s grant program. Grant programs are created and managed by many National Heritage Areas across the U.S. to support local organizations’ cultural heritage education, interpretation, and promotion efforts.

“We have recently completed the first round of a formal grants program,” explained Tabb. “The management plan calls for us to create a program to fund seed projects that meet the heritage area’s goals. Many worthwhile proposals were submitted for this round from agencies and organizations throughout the Delta. Even though we were unable to fund them all, we were excited to see the work already taking place in the region. We look forward to continuing the grants program and partnering with others celebrating our diverse Delta heritage.”

The next deadline for grant proposals is July 5. Those awarded grants will be notified at the end of August. To find out more about the grants, or the MDNHA, visit www.msdeltaheritage.com.