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Norton receives AEJMC Presidential Award

Posted on: August 11th, 2019 by ldrucker

Humble leaders often avoid the spotlight, but sometimes inevitably find themselves in one because of their effective leadership skills and management approach.

That’s why the University of Mississippi School of Journalism and New Media is proud to announce that our dean, Will Norton Jr., Ph.D., recently received the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication Presidential Award.

Debora Wenger, Ph.D., an assistant dean and professor of journalism at the University of Mississippi, attended the AEJMC conference in Toronto last week during which the award was given. She said Dean Norton humbly credited his accomplishments to the people he has worked with throughout his career.

AEJMC President Marie Hardin, dean of the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications at Pennsylvania State University, presented the award to Norton. Photo by Michael Fagans.

“This award is given rarely, but every person I encountered at the conference seemed to have a story about Will helping them in some way or stepping up when no one else would to get a job done,” Wenger said. “It’s clear he has been a huge asset to journalism education, and many people there applauded him for earning this much-deserved honor.”

AEJMC President Marie Hardin, dean of the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications at Pennsylvania State University, presented the award. She said the AEJMC Presidential Award is designed to pay special tribute to individuals who have, through their leadership and service, made a difference for the organization and field of journalism.

“I’m honored to present this award to someone who has touched many lives in this room,” Hardin said during her speech. “He is a former president of AEJMC, and he is one of the few academic leaders who has also been president of the Association of Schools of Journalism and Mass Communications and vice president of the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications.”

Hardin said Norton is one of the longest-serving deans in journalism and mass communication education and was honored in 2005 as the Scripps Howard Foundation Journalism Administrator of the Year.

“In fact, our honoree has led two great programs: at the University of Nebraska, from 1990 to 2009; and, now, the School of Journalism and New Media at the University of Mississippi,” she said. “He is an exemplar of servant leadership, having been an informal mentor to many of us and a transformational teacher for hundreds of students over the decades.”

Hardin quoted Norton’s friend and longtime AEJMC member Doug Anderson, who described him as an unselfish, dedicated, considerate, respectful, knowledgeable, positive, nurturing and generous contributor to AEJMC.

UM School of Journalism and New Media offers jobs site and career advice

Posted on: August 3rd, 2019 by ldrucker

Landing your first job out of college can be challenging. That’s why the University of Mississippi School of Journalism and New Media has created a jobs website to help, but many people aren’t aware it exists.

Business leaders throughout the state and country are encouraged to submit job, internship, fellowship, scholarship and other opportunities to our site. Students are encouraged to take a look at what’s offered.

“We realized we needed one place to post jobs,” said Assistant Dean Scott Fiene. In the past, faculty members were often told about job opportunities, and if they had a student in mind, they would forward the job to them. “We thought, let’s try to build this thing on our own. It’s very informal, and it’s linked to our school website.”

The school website address is The jobs site address is

Fiene said employers from around the country often send job opportunities to faculty and staff, and they are now posted on the jobs site. He wants to promote the site so more people will become aware of it. Visitors can also subscribe to the site and receive newly posted jobs via email.

Bobby Steele, instructional assistant professor of branding and promotions, said the website is like the school’s own LinkedIn.

“I think the website is very important because I had a professor tell me once that 75 percent of the jobs people got in integrated marketing communications (IMC) are word-of-mouth marketing,” he said. “It gives students an opportunity to see jobs that we are not necessarily recommending, but we are letting them know that they are available.”

Amanda Haley

Atlanta native Amanda Haley is a multimedia journalist for WTVA-Tupelo who graduated from the University of Mississippi School of Journalism and New Media. Haley said it’s important to think broadly when searching for jobs after college.

“It’s important to set long-term goals,” she said, “but don’t limit yourself when job searching right after school. Apply everywhere that might work for you, and never turn down an interview or phone call with potential employers, even if you don’t see yourself working for them. Getting used to answering questions about your career goals, and getting yourself out there professionally will always be beneficial.”

Many students don’t take advantage of resources at the University of Mississippi that may help them land a job. It’s important to ask questions and reach out to faculty members who may be able to put you in touch with individuals or opportunities who can help you achieve your goals.

Haley said connecting with faculty and meeting and communicating with others in your field is an important part of the job search.

“Any conversation is an important one,” she said, “And when it comes time to look for a job, you’ll have some relationships already made, and they can help guide you or refer you to a job.”

School of Journalism and New Media IMC student named finalist out of 170 worldwide entrants in WJEC Paris competition

Posted on: July 19th, 2019 by ldrucker

A University of Mississippi School of Journalism and New Media integrated marketing communications student was named as a finalist in the World Journalism Education Congress “Imagine the Journalism School of Tomorrow” competition.

Out of 170 applications from all over the world, IMC student Chloe Dwyer’s entry was one of 17 selected to advance in the competition that offered five winners a trip to Paris to present their papers about the future of journalism education at the 5th WJEC.

Journalism schools are the windows of the profession tomorrow. Despite facing unprecedented upheavals, they are not only adapting their courses and programs, but also preparing future journalists.

Chloe Dwyer

Dwyer was notified that she will be receiving an official WJEC Paris certificate attesting that she was a finalist in the competition and for her continent, and her ideas contributed to discussions in Paris about the future of journalism education for an audience of more than 500 journalism teachers who attended the WJEC July 9-11. The session was broadcast live on the WJEC internet site and available on replay.

We asked Dwyer, a 21-year-old native of Southlake, Texas, how she became involved in the competition and her thoughts on the future of journalism education.

Q. How the competition came about? Why did you enter?

A. I was taking the web course for Journalism 101 with LaReeca Rucker, and she opened an optional discussion board where we could submit an entry for the competition. The competition was seeking ideas of how we view the future for schools of journalism. The submission could have rewarded you a spot in a conference in Paris, France to present your ideas to a room full of journalism faculty from across the world.

I wanted to enter the competition because I felt this was a topic I could write on so easily, as I’m very passionate about it. I love being an IMC major at Ole Miss because of the many opportunities to learn about such modern forms of business and gain such valuable skills with the excellent resources our academic school provides.

We are very lucky to have Mac desktops fully loaded with the Adobe Creative Suite and Microsoft Office, to have an easily accessible printing room that allows us to create tabloid-sized projects, and to have the ability to rent equipment to create media projects. Having these resources readily available truly helps the students and faculty excel.

I feel so lucky to be in a program that encourages creativity and sets students up for success. I felt it was important to share how our program provides opportunities for students, and to present ideas of ways I think schools and universities can advance their programs.

Q. What were your thoughts the day you received the email and learned you were a finalist?

A. When I received an email from the conference saying I had been one of the 10 percent of applicants pre-selected, I was so surprised. I thought of this as a great opportunity to submit my ideas and bring some light to our university’s excellent program, but I never thought it would get me far into the competition, as I assumed many people applied.

Q. There were many entries in this competition. Why do you think they selected yours?

A. Since I am very passionate about growing in the creative, hands-on areas of journalism, I included many ways schools could create workplaces and provide resources that can help students find their specific niche in such a large department full of many different potential career paths. I believe that within my submission, the ideas I presented must have stood out in such a large pool of applicants.

Q. What are some of the things you said in the application regarding your vision for the Journalism School of Tomorrow? What elements do you think future journalism schools should have?

A. My vision for the Journalism School of Tomorrow includes a lot of hands-on practices that offer space for creativity for students and faculty. I mentioned how beneficial it has been attending a university that provides me with many great resources, such as camera equipment rentals, recording centers, media centers, tabloid-style and 3D printing, and advanced Mac desktops that are set up with the Adobe Creative Suite, Microsoft Office and other creative programming.

I said schools could start implementing media labs in their journalism schools. This space could include many computers that come with all the useful programs installed, such as the entire Adobe Creative Suite, Microsoft Office, and other programs that benefit journalism,  such as graphic design and digital design. This space could also include iPad Pros with Apple Pencils, or Surface tablets that allow students to create advanced pieces by hand digitally.

I’m sure there are many other devices that could help students create advanced pieces of journalism that I am unaware of, or even that will exist in the future. I think universities could start putting some of their funds towards more forward-thinking machinery that could place their journalism schools far ahead other institutions.

I see this as a way to make journalism schools think about the future. With the rate that all media mediums are evolving around us, there is no reason our nation’s journalism schools should not be striving towards the same goal. I am aware that creating spaces, such as the ones I have mentioned, is an expensive improvement. However, I believe with the right motivation and creativity, it can be done.

Q. What is your vision for the UM School of Journalism and New Media? How do you think it will change in the next decade, or what would you like to see change?

A. It’s hard to say where I see our academic school heading in the next decade, simply because new media is constantly changing and taking us to such unpredictable advancements. However, I feel confident Ole Miss will continue to stay in tune with the most modern forms of journalism and business, and it continues to foster an environment that sets students up for success and prepares them for excellent careers.

Q. You were one of only a few students out of a class of 200 who chose to submit an entry for this competition. And you were named as a finalist out of 170 entrants from all over the world. What advice would you give other students about putting themselves out there,  entering some of the contests and opportunities, and applying for fellowships, scholarships, jobs, etc.?

A. I was shocked to only see two other submissions from students in my class for this competition. I am such an advocate for taking advantage of the amazing opportunities Ole Miss provides, especially within the School of Journalism and New Media.

Whether it’s signing up to have a 15-minute meeting with a market researcher of a major company or attending a session to hear how the Oxford Police Department has branded themselves on Twitter so well… these resources are free to us as students and can help you grow in your field of study far more than you may realize.

Along with those resources, many professors will keep you updated on internships, job opportunities, or even involvement on campus that they see could be beneficial for you. Always take advantage of these, because you never know what the outcome might be. In hindsight, I have always found these resources beneficial and will continue to take advantage of them while I can.

Q. What are your plans for the future? What is your dream job?

A. I would love to attend graduate school for IMC or advertising. My dream job would be working on the creative team for advertising campaigns for any major company.


To learn more about our journalism or IMC program, email

UM School of Journalism and New Media trains three new drone pilots

Posted on: May 27th, 2019 by ldrucker

The University of Mississippi School of Journalism and New Media has trained three new certified drone pilots.

Professors Iveta Imre, Ph.D., Bobby Steele and Michael Fagans all took professor Ji Hoon Heo’s class, then passed the test to become certified drone pilots.

Heo said UM has trained around 30 to 40 drone pilots who have passed certification. That number will likely increase to 50 after the last class completes the test, he said.

“When I first developed the course, I wanted to teach it the way I wanted to learn,” Heo said. “When I first studied for the test, I had to read 300 plus pages of the study guide that the Federal Aviation Administration had put out. It was dry. So I lecture half the class, and the other times, we go out in groups of three or four in the intramural field, and we practice flying.

“We do cone drills to develop their flying skills and also learn the types of shots you can use with a drone. We take a lot of practice quizzes and tests to get them ready for the FAA Part 107 test, which is what you need to get the certification.”

Imre, who completed Heo’s last class, is an assistant professor of visual storytelling at the UM School of Journalism and New Media.

“I wanted to become a drone pilot because I think having that skill can be very useful for teaching my broadcast journalism classes,” she said. “It was also a challenging goal I set for myself, and the more I got into studying for the exam, the more I actually enjoyed the process and flying drones. I think footage you can capture using drones can be extremely useful and can provide a unique visual perspective. “

Imre said having a license to professionally fly drones will allow her to work with students on visually compelling stories.

“The students will be able to fly drones under my supervision, get the experience and create amazing stories for their portfolios,” she said.

If you are interested in learning how the UM School of Journalism and New Media can help you become a certified drone pilot, email our school at

Faculty Profile: Burson teaches students to find their passion

Posted on: May 25th, 2019 by ldrucker

Mark Burson began teaching at the University of Mississippi Jan. 27, 2016, but not before spending 43 years in California.

“My only regret is that it took me so long to discover Oxford, Mississippi,” he said. “I wish I had done it 30 years ago.”

Growing up, Burson had no desire to teach. He wanted to play baseball.

“I went to a private school,” he said, “and I was the first freshman to start all four years. I made all-league those four years as well. So by the time I was a senior, I thought I was really good.”

With no collegiate offers to play ball, Burson decided to walk on at the University of Southern California. At the time, USC had a freshman team and a junior varsity team that held open tryouts for walk-on athletes. He made the team.

“I spent two weeks on that team,” he said, “and I was amazed at how good everybody else was. I soon realized that I had never seen a real curveball before. I had never seen athletes who were so fast and could jump so high.”

Reality began to set in, so he talked with the coach, asking when was the last time that someone from the freshman team made it to JV or varsity? “The coach said, ‘Oh that’s easy. Fred Lynn.’”

Fred Lynn is a former center-fielder who had an impressive career in the Major Leagues. Burson said he then realized he had to do something else with his life.

While studying art history, only because he registered late for classes, Burson discovered he really enjoyed it. “It was through art history that I developed this appreciation of just looking at the world, and then being able to tell stories about what I saw,” he said. “And while I didn’t know it at the time, that was the business that I would end up in.”

Burson graduated from USC in 1977, but decided to stick around for graduate school. He earned his master’s degree in public relations in 1979.

If you’re in the public relations business, you’ve probably heard of Harold Burson, his father, who co-founded Burson-Marsteller in 1952.

“I had no intention of ever working for my father’s company, and that happened just through serendipity,” he said.

Burson joined the Santa Monica-based firm in 1985, but left in 1997 to run the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library for seven years before returning to Burson-Marsteller.

“Through accident of birth, I was born into a PR family,” Burson said. “I didn’t have a choice; it just happened. Because of that, I’ve had a unique ringside seat to the growth of this business.”

Burson said the business that has only been around for about 100 years has changed a lot. If you’re an integrated marketing communications major at the University of Mississippi’s School of Journalism and New Media, you may have an idea of this change.

“This business used to be about relationships between the agency and the client,” Burson said, “and when I first started, that’s what really appealed to me, because you could develop, not only business relationships with the client, but also real friendships.”

Burson feels the industry has moved past these relationships and is now in a more “What can you do for me today?” state of mind. He said the things he loved most about the business has been slowly vanishing and transitioning into what he calls PR or publicity stunts – doing a random act to attract the public’s attention.

“That’s not what I signed up for,” Burson said.

With the nature of the business changing, Burson said he knew he wasn’t going to be able to do the things he really liked doing, so he developed an interest in endurance competitive cycling. After competing in several signature events, Burson thought about starting a company that would help promote those events, but nothing took off.

It wasn’t until a friend invited him to guest lecture a course at USC Annenberg School of Communications, Burson thought: “Wow. This is a pretty cool gig.”

With two of his children out of the house and the third about to graduate high school, Burson began to consider teaching. When his daughter graduated high school, she decided to attend the University of Mississippi because she heard about it through Burson’s father, Harold Burson, who earned his degree from UM.

Burson moved his daughter to Oxford and said, “I just fell in love with Oxford and the university and inquired about how to get a teaching job here in the school of journalism, and what would I teach,” he said. “The subject that I knew most about was how to put together a campaign from start to finish, and then build an environment within that team that would optimize success. So that’s what I teach here and why I’m here.”

Burson doesn’t just teach a class; he makes connections with each student, and he builds relationships that last. Anessa Guess, who took a class under Burson, said he is a wonderful teacher whose aim is to positively impact student lives.

“In just a short time, he inspired a classroom full of hopefuls to go beyond the normal realm of dreaming and tear down the veil to seek limitless dreaming with a sturdy foundation to start with,” she said. “He is a teacher capable of so many things, and the most important is instilling hope, grounding, diligence, and character in the youth of tomorrow with tools learned from the past.”

Audrey Ryan, who was also enrolled in a class Burson taught, said he is her favorite instructor. “His enthusiasm for not only IMC, but teaching is inspiring,” she said. “He is interested in each individual’s path and wants to learn about every student he teaches.

“You can tell his passion is teaching just by the way he interacts with his students, and the way he can build a bond with each student, and always have a way to relate to them. He is phenomenal at what he does, and as a person.”

Burson has found his passion, and he teaches students to never give up searching for what you’re passionate about. Take chances. Live life. Do what makes you happy, no matter where it might take you.

This story was written by Brandon Hancock for To learn more about our program, email

Never Dimming Her Light: Thornton excels and overcomes obstacles to graduate

Posted on: May 15th, 2019 by ldrucker

The obstacles in the way of pursuing a college education began well before Lasherica Thornton stepped foot on the campus of the University of Mississippi.

A Type 1 diabetic and mother of two before she graduated from Bruce High School at the top of her class, Thornton was never a stranger to adversity.

“My mother passed away when I was 2 years old,” Thornton said. “She was killed in a car accident. I was dealing with that as I was growing up, and I had the typical behavioral problems that go with it.”

Thornton had her first child, Naomi, when she was 13. She had her second daughter, Aubrey, when she was in high school.

“Honestly, (Naomi) changed my life for the better,” Thornton said. “I just don’t know where I would be if it was not for her. (Aubrey) further helped me become the person I am today.”

Lasherica Thornton was named one of the Who’s Who students at the University of Mississippi Class of 2018-19. Thornton said her daughters Aubrey, left, and Naomi, middle, keep her motivated.

When it came time to pick a college, Thornton decided it was best to stay close to home and attended UM on a variety of scholarships.

“We moved to Oxford and they loved it just as much as I did,” she said.

Thornton found her calling early in life when an adviser recommended she join her high school newspaper.

“From the first moment of writing that first story, I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” she said.

Thornton hit the ground running at Ole Miss, excelling in her classwork and joining a variety of organizations. But obstacles continued. Her diabetes caused health issues, putting her in intensive care twice. Another health scare occurred when Thornton was a freshman.

“Naomi had a seizure and I had to rush her to the hospital,” she said. “When I got her home, I still had a final exam to take. I had to get her situated, get to campus and take a final. It was moments like that (that were the biggest obstacles).”

Thornton said she would not have made it through her three-and-a-half years at Ole Miss and gotten her job at The Jackson Sun, a daily newspaper in Jackson, Tennessee, without her professors, particularly Jennifer Simmons, assistant dean for student services in the School of Journalism and New Media, and Alysia Burton Steele, assistant professor of journalism.

Thornton is the education reporter at The Jackson Sun, a daily newspaper in Jackson, Tennessee.

“I owe Ole Miss so much and all of the professors so much for that,” she said.

Thornton said she looks forward to Commencement.

“I worked really hard for this,” she said. “I’m not a person who gives up, so I was never giving up, but it was about getting through those tough moments.

“More than anything, it’s about breaking statistics and letting my children be able to see that mama did this with two kids. They saw mama graduate high school as valedictorian, but mama went beyond that and got her bachelor’s.”

She said Ole Miss has taught her to strive for her goals, no matter the twists and turns it takes to get there.

“I got my first B in college,” she said. “I cried about that. Some people may have thought that was silly, but don’t let anybody stop you from crying about the things that you are passionate about.

“This university showed me (that you) don’t ever dim your light for anybody. Always be dedicated and determined to do what you want to do.”

This story was written by Justin Whitmore of University Marketing Communications. For more information about our programs, email

UM School of Journalism and New Media professor’s work featured on American Heritage Magazine website

Posted on: May 15th, 2019 by ldrucker

An excerpt from a University of Mississippi School of Journalism and New Media professor’s book has been featured on the American Heritage Magazine website.

It features part of the book Delta Epiphany: Robert F. Kennedy in Mississippi written by professor Ellen B. Meacham.

The book places Kennedy’s visit to Mississippi into the context of the times, “including an examination of the War on Poverty and the evolution of the civil rights movement to a focus on economic issues,” Meacham said in a book description featured on her website.

“Senator Robert F. Kennedy, a son of America’s promise, power, and privilege, knelt in a crumbling shack in 1967 Mississippi, trying to coax a response from a child listless from hunger,” the American Heritage excerpt begins. “After several minutes with little response, the senator, profoundly moved, walked out the back door to speak with reporters. He told them that America had to do better. What he was seeing, as he privately told an aide and a reporter, was worse than anything he had seen before in this country.”

Click the link below to read more.

School of Journalism and New Media professor named Chair of the Americas at University of Rennes

Posted on: May 9th, 2019 by ldrucker

University of Mississippi journalism professor Kathleen Wickham served as Chair of the Americas/Chair of the Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Rennes in Brittany, France, while on sabbatical this spring.

It was Wickham’s second trip to France to teach. In 2016, while researching her book We Believed We Were Immortal: Twelve Reporters Who Covered the 1962 Integration Crisis at Ole Miss, about the killing of French journalist Paul Guihard in Oxford, she gave lectures at the Pantheon Sorbonne University and the University of Rennes 2.

“Paul Guihard serves as the link between Brittany and Ole Miss,” Wickham said. “He is the only reporter killed during the civil rights era. The fact that it occurred on our campus is a shame, but it also creates an opportunity today to let the world know we are not the same campus that we were in 1962.”

UM journalism professor Kathleen Wickham (standing) talks with students in her media ethics class. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

After that visit in 2016, Wickham learned of the Chair of the Americas position, applied and was approved to go this spring.

Wickham lectured on a variety of topics related to media coverage of civil rights and media ethics, specifically on “fake news” and the status of American media. She is also working to further relations between Ole Miss and the University of Rennes by serving as a link between the two universities to develop a student exchange program.

“Our Office of Global Engagement is working with their Rennes’ counterparts,” Wickham said. “The goal is to start a one-on-one student exchange and then expand as interest develops.”

Wickham said she always wanted to work abroad and has been grateful for the opportunity to do so this semester.

“The administration, faculty and students have been supportive, welcoming and engaging,” she said. “We have shared stories of academic life, discussed research and world affairs. Student issues are universal; faculty life similar with research, service responsibilities and committee work.”

Wickham believes her students also have benefitted.

“For most, it was the first time they have interacted with an American,” she said. “I am an animated teacher who asks students questions to generate a discussion.

“They all follow American politics and know far more about American culture than, I expect, American students know about France. I hope they viewed me as a good ambassador of the U.S. and Ole Miss.”

Her future Ole Miss students will benefit from her experiences in France, as well.

“I am going to add more international examples to my ethics casebook to expand the worldviews of my students. I also plan on developing a course on ‘fake news’ based on the course I taught in France.

“The issue is universal, and news organizations are now staffing desks with personnel whose task it is to ascertain the accuracy of facts, photographs and sources.”

UM integrated marketing communication professor wins Outstanding Scholar in Communication Theory Award

Posted on: May 9th, 2019 by ldrucker

The Southern States Communication Association (SSCA) awarded the Outstanding Scholar in Communication Theory Award to University of Mississippi integrated marketing communication professor Graham Bodie, Ph.D., at their convention in Montgomery, Alabama April 5.

“Dr. Bodie’s extensive history of exceptionally high quality scholarship on interpersonal communication, specifically that focusing on the affective, cognitive, and behavioral processes people engage in when attending to others and listening during interaction makes him a worthy recipient of the award,” said Michael Kotowski, chair of the Communication Theory Division within SSCA.

The Outstanding Scholar in Communication Theory Award is given each year to a communication scholar who, in the opinion of the Communication Theory Division leadership, has made a major contribution to the study and advancement of communication theory.

Recipients of this award exhibit a highly productive and exceptional research program that advances the fundamental and theoretical knowledge of basic processes of human communication.

“I am so honored to accept this award, to be recognized among colleagues I admire so deeply,” said Bodie. “When you publish something, you hope that others read it and that it has an impact. Awards like this help you know you’re doing something right.”

In addition to his work at the university, Bodie also serves as Chief Listening Officer at Listen First Project, an organization that encourages conversations that prioritize understanding to bridge divides and mend our frayed social fabric.

“Listening is so fundamental to everything we do as humans, whether in our close, personal relationships or in our more transactional exchanges,” said Bodie. “What shocked me when I entered graduate school was how little we actually know about this important life skill. So, I set out to change that.”

Bodie has changed the field of listening and is recognized as one of the most prolific scholars of communication. He has published over 90 monographs, book chapters, and encyclopedia entries, many of which are considered essential readings in classrooms around the country.

In his most recent project, funded by the National Science Foundation, Bodie aims to study what types of listener behaviors help people continue to express their thoughts and feelings during a stressful interaction.

As a recipient of this award, Bodie will have the opportunity to deliver a spotlight presentation on his program of research that lead him to receive this award at the 2020 Southern States Communication Association Convention in Frisco, Texas.

SSCA’s purpose is to promote the study, criticism, research, teaching, and application of the artistic, humanistic, and scientific principles of communication. SSCA, a not-for-profit organization, exists for educational, scientific, and literary purposes only.

UM School of Journalism and New Media professor wins Vicki Mahan Ally of the Year Award

Posted on: May 8th, 2019 by ldrucker

A University of Mississippi School of Journalism and New Media professor has been recognized for her work to make UM more inclusive for all students.

Alysia Burton Steele, assistant professor of journalism, has been named the recipient of the Vicki Mahan Ally of the Year Award. The award recognizes individuals who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to make the university a welcoming, accepting, and inclusive place for LGBTQ students, faculty and staff.

We asked Steele a few questions about the award.


Q. How did you feel when you were named as a winner of the award?

I was surprised and excited by the awards. Kevin Cozart, Deb Wenger, Bobby Steele and Brittany Brown created a fake reason for me to come on campus that day, and I came because I thought Brittany was receiving an award. So, they lied to me – but for a good reason. I had no idea I was nominated, and it’s quite an honor.

Q. For those who don’t know, what is the award?

The Vicki Mahan Ally of the Year Award is an award where faculty members are honored for their contributions and dedication to inclusiveness regarding the LGBTQ community. It appears a former student from five years ago, Sha Simpson, nominated me for helping her stay focused with her studies, and I encouraged her to get counseling. I assured her there was nothing wrong with getting help, and I wanted her to know that I was always going to be there for her.

When her family cut ties with her after she came out, it broke my heart to see her struggling, and after all these years, I can’t believe Sha wrote to Kevin Cozart and nominated me. When I heard Kevin reading her letter, I thought it sounded like Sha, but I wasn’t sure. At that point, I didn’t know the award was for me. I burst into tears when my name was called because the letter was touching, and well, I love Sha like a daughter.

Q. Why were you told you won the award?

I am a big supporter of people being true to themselves – no matter how they identify. I do not judge people based on sexual orientation, race, religion, ethnicity – everything that comes with diversity, I am supporting it. I am biracial, and come from a very welcoming, loving family.

From childhood, my mother Stella Duncan always instilled me in me to accept people for who they are – that we have no reason to judge. I want every student to know that my office is a safe space, and I am always willing to help. That is just who I am as a person, but I’m honored to be recognized for that.

Diversity is in everything I do, so no matter what class I teach, what scholarship I create, what service I pledge, I will always include diversity – it’s what makes this world a better place. So, I’m just going to keep being me.