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COVID-19 pandemic leads University of Mississippi IMC student to build Blonde Boomerang business

Posted on: March 21st, 2021 by ldrucker

Online shopping has become more popular because of the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s one reason Kylie Cockrell, a junior Integrated Marketing Communications major, launched her online boutique Blonde Boomerang in January.

There, you can find an organized assortment of turtlenecks, sweater vests, corduroy pants, and even a pink metallic puffer coat. While shopping at Blonde Boomerang, you get a sense of what fashion means to Cockrell.

Cockrell, a Madison, Mississippi native, decided to create an online boutique after working at Arco Avenue, a clothing boutique in Ridgeland near her hometown. During the first few years, she worked the floor, styled customers, paid bills and made purchases, later managing the store. After Cockrell learned what it was like to run a small business, she created the online boutique.

Kylie Cockrell

Kylie Cockrell

Cockrell is on the creative team of Square Magazine at the University of Mississippi. Part of her role is to help with planning and designing photo shoots for the website and social media accounts, and to figure out innovative ways to make each photo shoot unique, whether that is the shoot location or the hair and makeup for the models that correlate with a specific article written by the editorial team.

Being able to incorporate what she has learned from her involvement at Square Magazine and through her IMC fashion promotion and merchandising specialization led Cockrell to create the business.

“I didn’t really know anyone else in college who had started a business or who I could turn to for advice,” she said.

Her previous boss, Katie Miller, at Arco Avenue helped.

When it comes to everyday fashion, Cockrell said her go-to outfit is a pair of straight-legged, light washed jeans, a white button-up shirt and a pair of orange Nike Air Force Ones.

“Those are my prized possession,” she said excitedly.

Cockrell used the time at home during the COVID-19 pandemic to pursue her dream. That allowed her to complete all the necessary business tasks. This involved getting sales permits and tax licenses that took many months. Then Cockrell realized she needed a name for her boutique.

“My mom was actually the one to come up with the name,” she said.

In an Australian Aboriginal language, “Kylie” translates to “boomerang.” Cockrell’s mom, Vicki Welch, thought this would be an innovative business name since Cockrell has blonde hair. Before she knew it, Blonde Boomerang was born, and on Jan. 24, Cockrell officially launched her online boutique.

Welch has supported her in creating Blonde Boomerang. She has seen all the hard work Kylie puts into developing her business.

“She did everything,” Welch said.

From making important phone calls to designing the website and choosing inventory, Cockrell took charge. Welch knew customers would fall in love with Cockrell’s unique sense of style.

“Throughout this whole process, I have seen Kylie become so independent,” she said.

Kylie Cockrell and some of her merchandise.

Kylie Cockrell and some of her merchandise.

Welch said this is the perfect time and age to get involved with something you are passionate about, and to not be afraid to fail while doing so.

“I know she has what it takes to make this business go further,” Welch said.

Cockrell said, “There were so many times I second-guessed myself.”

However, she adopted Miller’s motto, “You never know until you just go for it.”

Although Cockrell was nervous about launching her boutique, she was excited when someone from Connecticut purchased an item from Blonde Boomerang.

“It’s the little things like that that remind me of how glad I am to have started my business,” said Cockrell. “It definitely makes my day.”

As a full-time student taking 18 hours of classes, being involved with Square Magazine, and running an online business, Cockrell said it has taken a lot of self-discipline to stay on top of her everyday tasks.

“The business staying up and running relies solely on me,” she said.

If you are a student who aspires to create your own business, it is important to stay confident and true to yourself. Whatever you are passionate about, make it happen, said Cockrell.

“The more work you put into something you are passionate about, the more benefits you will get in return,” she said. “Once you make that commitment to yourself, you are already one step further towards your goal…You can only go up from there.”

Cockrell aspires to open a physical location for Blonde Boomerang.

“Make it from the ground up, and gradually it will become what you want it to be,” she said.

This story was written by Cloi Bryan for Oxford Stories.

Are you a University of Mississippi School of Journalism and New Media student who has created their own business? If so, we want to hear from you. Click this link to share your business story. 

Click this link to learn more about our undergraduate and graduate programs in IMC and Journalism.

What is IMC or Integrated Marketing Communications? Learn more about our bachelor’s and master’s programs

Posted on: March 20th, 2021 by ldrucker

What is Integrated Marketing Communications?

If you are trying to decide on an educational career path, why not choose a versatile major that is important in every field of business?

Experience the dynamic field of IMC at the University of Mississippi School of Journalism and New Media. It’s where marketing meets creativity in a future-focused, real-world curriculum.

IMC is about crafting communication across all forms of media to shape brands and influence behaviors.

You can earn a bachelor’s degree and/or a master’s degree in IMC at UM.

Click here to learn more about the IMC bachelor’s degree program, and to apply.

Click here to learn more about the IMC master’s degree program, and to apply.

Rather than focus on one thing, why not choose a major that allows you to do everything?


A picture of different forms of media

A picture of different forms of media


University of Mississippi journalism graduate adds flavor to the world as cookbook author

Posted on: March 19th, 2021 by ldrucker

Working with prominent New Orleans restaurant owner, GW Fins, Susan Puckett, the author of many books on food has enriched her perspective on seafood.

“The entire process took about two years. It was an overall positive experience. Most of the words were all mine and pretty much all the organization and layout was Susan,” Tenney Flynn, GW Fins owner said.

Puckett, a University of Mississippi journalism graduate, and Flynn collaborated on The Deep End of Flavor: Recipes and Stories From New Orleans’ Premier Seafood.

Starting her food writing career with, A Cook’s Tour of Mississippi,  Puckett has now found her passion in food writing and is currently working on her 12th cookbook.

Click the link to read her Alumni Story.


Susan Puckett: Food Writer, Alumni Stories, Read about this University of Mississippi graduate on our Alumni Stories page

Susan Puckett: Food Writer, Alumni Stories, Read about this University of Mississippi graduate on our Alumni Stories page

University of Mississippi journalism team studies Climate Change in Mississippi

Posted on: March 15th, 2021 by ldrucker

Climate Change in Mississippi

Nationally and globally, much of the conversation about climate change has been territorial and political.

In Mississippi, state leaders have spoken of it rarely, if ever. However, the state’s science, industrial, agricultural and energy sectors have been working to address change and devise strategies.

A desire to explore the issue more in-depth led University of Mississippi School of Journalism and New Media professors and students to study the topic within the state. The result is the project Climate Change in Mississippi that focuses on what is, not what if. Practices, not policy.

Jared Poland, left, and Jacob Meyers launch a drone for video of the Steele Bayou Control Structure while working on the Climate Change in Mississippi project.
Jared Poland, left, and Jacob Meyers launch a drone for video of the Steele Bayou Control Structure while working on the Climate Change in Mississippi project.

Journalist and Professor Charlie Mitchell, who helped lead the Climate Change in Mississippi project, said the premise was that too many people have formed opinions about climate change without seeing how it relates to their daily lives. The project aims to report this relevance as a factual resource among political chatter. 

 “Climate change is a super-broad topic and much reporting is along political lines or appeals to emotion,” he said. “The students worked to identify front-line people in Mississippi dealing with change directly or indirectly and tell their stories about what’s happening, what’s being researched and what’s expected. The point was to deal with fact, not speculation or opinion.”

Anderson Jones, left, was interviewed by Climate Change in Mississippi project member Jared Poland about repetitive flooding of Jones' home in the lower Mississippi Delta.
Anderson Jones, left, was interviewed by Climate Change in Mississippi student reporter Jared Poland about repetitive flooding of Jones' home in the lower Mississippi Delta.

Jared Poland, a senior integrated marketing communications major from Chattanooga, plans to work in public relations after graduation at an agency, non-profit, or for a political action committee.

“I saw this class as an opportunity to use my public relations skills to shed light on the effects of climate change felt by everyday Mississippians,” he said. “The depth reporting class gave me the opportunity to spend time creating a series of stories that describe at length the 2019 floods in the Mississippi Delta and how the backwater flooding related to climate change and affected individuals.”

Poland said he immersed himself in the issue, traveling to the Delta twice and spoke with community leaders, locals, a climatologist, and other knowledgeable individuals about the floods and the pumps.

“I was able to see firsthand the hardships they had faced due to the flooding and was able to speak with them about the proposed pump project that almost everyone believed was the solution to the floods,” he said. “I also learned about their lives, their families, their passions and their hardships caused by the floods.”

“Climate change is a super-broad topic and much reporting is along political lines or appeals to emotion,” he said. “The students worked to identify front-line people in Mississippi dealing with change directly or indirectly and tell their stories about what's happening, what's being researched and what's expected. The point was to deal with fact, not speculation or opinion.”
Charlie Mitchell
Journalist and Professor

Students honed their research, interviewing and writing skills and worked to become better at identifying relevant facts and sources, then weaved the information into a understandable and compelling narrative.

Mitchell said the school has a history of producing relevant depth reports on national and international topics ranging from the emerging economy in post-war Sri Lanka to the intersection of good food and poor health in the Mississippi Delta.

“Former Dean Norton identified this topic as crucial, and it was decided students here and students at the University of Nebraska would tackle the topic simultaneously,” he said.

The UM student reporting team included Danielle Angelo, Anne Florence Brown, Lydia Cates, Will Corley, Abbey Edmondson, Cody Farris, Jacob Meyers, Eliza Noe, Jared Poland, Billy Schuerman, Tamara Tyes and Lauren Wilson.

Team advisers included John Baker, Michael Fagans, Charles Mitchell, Will Norton Jr., Darren Sanefski and Hannah Vines.

Jared Poland
Jared Poland

Poland said the most interesting part is it’s an issue that has affected Delta residents since the early 1900s.

“The project that is believed to be the solution to the floods was originally proposed in 1941,” he said. “I was able to speak with individuals who have spent their entire life dealing with floods and fighting for solutions to prevent them.

“As someone deeply interested in politics, I was fascinated by the pumps project and the political discourse and conflicts that have unfolded surrounding it, including the EPA’s veto of the project in 2008. It has been a heavily contested political issue and remains one today.”

Poland said others who take the course should use it as an opportunity to deeply explore the topic.

“It was the first project of this size I have ever taken on, but with the help of my instructors, it truly was one of my favorite experiences during my time at Ole Miss,” he said.

William Schumerman
William Schumerman

William Schuerman is a senior journalism major with a print emphasis and an environmental studies minor.

“I enrolled in the class because, after I heard about the project, I knew there would be an opportunity to produce content about a subject I am very passionate about,” he said.

Schuerman, who hopes to work as a photojournalist and be published in National Geographic someday, said the class was different from other classes. He traveled across the state helping other students create multimedia.

“Projects like this are where I have learned the most in my time at the University of Mississippi, so it was a logical step forward for me,” he said. “… I feel that I always learn more when working in the field than purely sitting in the classroom.”

Professor Michael Fagans, a project adviser, said he tried to ask questions to get students thinking about how to better cover their story area and how to tell it with infographics, photos or illustrations.

“As with many of our ‘outside the classroom’ reporting opportunities, students learn valuable lessons when they get out into Mississippi and meet, interview and tell the stories of our residents,” he said.

Providing feedback and encouragement leads to growth, Fagans said.

“I hope that our students were able to gain insight into how to be better journalists, what kind of effort can go into a project and the value of getting out ‘into the field,’ sometimes, quite literally,” he said.

“I hope that, because of this project, people recognize that climate change is real and it is causing real repercussions, even in Mississippi. Mississippi is rural and not nearly as populated as other areas of the country that are experiencing major effects of climate change. So I feel like it often gets overlooked in the big picture of climate change."
Abby Edmonson
Abby Edmonson
Abby Edmonson
Abbey Edmonson

Abbey Edmonson, a senior journalism major with minors in English and creative writing and an emphasis in social media, said she was curious about the effects of climate change in our state.

Her focus was on saltwater aquaculture on the Gulf Coast, where she traveled with Fagans and Schuerman.

“Throughout the trip, we interviewed several people who are involved in the commercial fishing industry, specifically the oyster industry,” she said. “We toured the last oyster-shucking house in Mississippi, watched how oysters are bred, and rode a boat out to an oyster farm. That trip is something I’ll hold onto forever because we got to interact firsthand with people who are experiencing real issues as a direct result of climate change.”

Climate Change Website
Climate Report Website

She said students also interviewed people about possible solutions in the works, which “added a bright spot to an otherwise disheartening situation.”

“I hope that, because of this project, people recognize that climate change is real, and it is causing real repercussions, even in Mississippi,” she said. “Mississippi is rural and not nearly as populated as other areas of the country that are experiencing major effects of climate change. So I feel like it often gets overlooked in the big picture of climate change.

“I wanted to learn more about it, because I honestly didn’t know much about it to begin with. I also wanted to be able to tell people about the changes that are visibly happening and, I think, are underrepresented in the media. Everything is so interconnected, and it’s important to recognize that when one area gets affected by climate change, other areas will follow.”

To learn more about the project and read student work, visit the Climate Change in Mississippi website.

UM School of Journalism and New Media student continues media work with Coca-Cola campus job

Posted on: March 11th, 2021 by ldrucker

Meagan Harkins, the face of Coca-Cola on campus, is using her undergraduate years to prepare for a career in creative media.

Harkins was named Coca-Cola campus ambassador after a friend thought she would be perfect for the position and told her about the opportunity.

The job entails sampling events, product drops, attending monthly webinars, bringing products to groups on campus, and running advertisements and information through her own social media account.

Meagan Harkins

Meagan Harkins

“One of my main responsibilities is to bring brand love,” Harkins said.

Read more of Ava Jahner’s story about Harkins on

Holland inspires University of Mississippi Association of Black Journalists students

Posted on: March 8th, 2021 by ldrucker

“There are few professions where you can make a difference and be guaranteed immortality. Journalism is one of them. Which is why you have to be so careful about what you put your name behind.”

That was just one of the memorable pieces of advice from journalism alumnus Jesse J. Holland to members of the University of Mississippi Association of Black Journalists at their March virtual meeting. Holland was one of the founders of the campus UMABJ chapter when he was a student in the early 1990s.

Jesse Holland Jr.

Holland shared anecdotes about his new book — “Black Panther: Tales of Wakanda” — and his experiences as a journalist, author, educator and comics strip creator. The new Black Panther book is an anthology of short stories from acclaimed writers like poet Nikki Giovanni, who wrote her first piece of fiction for the anthology. Holland edited the book and wrote one of the stories. It is scheduled for release on March 9.

“I truly enjoyed the session,” said AJ Norwood, broadcast journalism major and UMABJ president. “From the very beginning, I could tell that he is an absolutely amazing storyteller. The insight that he was able to provide to not only myself, but to other students that attended was so valuable.

“One of the main things that I learned from Mr. Holland was that you should utilize all of your resources and find mentors who are already doing what you’re doing. If you’re able to do that, learn from their mistakes because you shouldn’t have to make the same mistakes that they have made.  It was an honor to moderate an event with someone with the credibility and grace of Jesse Holland.”

Jesse Holland

Jesse Holland

When he was a student at UM, Holland was a multiple-platform journalist long before it was embraced as something every journalist and communications specialist should be. He was Daily Mississippian editor-in-chief — only the second African-American editor in the student newspaper’s history. He hosted two Rebel Radio shows – one was The Night Train, a rap show that aired at midnight – and worked for the TV newscast and the yearbook. He and two student editor friends created a comic strip called Hippie and the Black Guy.

After he graduated, Holland was a writer for the Associated Press for 25 years. He covered the statehouse in South Carolina, the U.S. Supreme Court, Congress and the White House, and he was on AP’s national race & ethnicity reporting team. He hosts the Saturday edition of C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, and was recently named assistant professor of journalism at George Washington University.

He is the author of two nonfiction books, but he is perhaps best known for writing two novels tied to Star Wars and Black Panther. His first Black Panther book was nominated for a national NAACP Image Award for best fiction in 2019.

“The publishing industry loves journalists because journalists know how to write, and journalists know and respect deadlines,” Holland said.

Jesse Holland

Jesse Holland

Holland’s conversation with the students lasted more than 90 minutes. He spoke at length about his work ethic – just one example: His C-SPAN gig requires him to get up at 3:30 a.m. on Saturday mornings for a show that begins broadcasting at 7 a.m. – and how he fell in love with journalism after he figured out it was “the best way to meet interesting people, go interesting places and do interesting things.”

He talked about how UM students are lucky to benefit from the passionate “fraternity and sorority” of journalism graduates all across the nation who can help them, and he told detailed and sometimes amusing stories about a few who helped him along the way.

“There’s only one job you can do and you’re literally writing history on a daily basis,” he said. “…Years from now, when people read about the donations of Rosa Parks’ archives to the Library of Congress, they’re going to read that the person who discovered Rosa Parks’ material in a warehouse in New York where it had been languishing for 15 years was a guy named Jesse J. Holland. Years and years and years from now, when historians go back and read the stories from Ferguson, Missouri, and ask who was Michael Brown and what happened, the story they’re going to pull up was written by a guy named Jesse J. Holland.”

McManus helps make University of Mississippi one of the most beautiful campuses in the country

Posted on: March 4th, 2021 by ldrucker

The University of Mississippi campus is known as one of the most beautiful college campuses in the nation. Ben Oliver, a junior majoring in public policy leadership, wrote this story for JOUR 102 Introduction to Multimedia Writing about the man who leads Landscape Services at UM.

Make no mistake, the University of Mississippi’s Oxford campus is one of the most beautiful in the nation. That can be attributed to the climate, to the weather, to any number of things, but many attribute the beauty to Jeff McManus, director of Landscape Services.

“Sixty-two percent of prospective college students will make their decision to attend a college or university in the first few minutes of a campus visit,” McManus said. “We regularly hear from parents, students, and faculty how the look and feel of the Ole Miss campus connected with them.”

McManus is known not only for his knowledge of landscaping but also for his talent as a leader. One man cannot keep an entire campus beautiful. He recognized this, so when he was hired in 2000, he made it his mission to develop his leadership skills.

Twenty-one years ago, Chancellor Robert Khayat recruited McManus. He was struck by the fact that Khayat had “started believing in Ole Miss before Ole Miss believed in herself. He knew that Ole Miss could be different.”

In one of their first meetings, they took a walk through the campus. While pointing out the different academic buildings and dorms, Khayat suddenly stopped. He reached down and pulled up a weed.

Jeff McManus

Jeff McManus

“What are you doing?” McManus asked.

“I am weeding by example,” Khayat said.

McManus believes that Khayat was a one-of-a-kind leader. He had a vision and was able to motivate people with ease. The former chancellor retired in 2009, but McManus said he continues to use what he learned from Khayat to motivate his landscaping team.

“The relationships McManus has fostered with his employees are a testament to his effective communication skills,” said Rosie Vassallo, director of Retiree Attraction for the Oxford-Lafayette County Economic Development Foundation. “He demonstrates how a team effort can reach great heights, as they have won national awards in landscaping.”

Five years ago, Vassallo came to McManus to work with the Economic Development Foundation to hold a Landscaping Camp. The camp showcases the work of the landscaping team, and the fourth camp will be on May 28-29 this year.

His speaking skills, as well as the many accomplishments of his team, have attracted visitors from states including Texas, Kentucky, California, Georgia, Maryland, Wisconsin, Tennessee, and Alabama to join those from Mississippi.

He is a leader, Denise Hill, retired superintendent of Landscaping Services, reportedly told John Touloupis of “The Daily Mississippian”.

Hill arrived at Ole Miss in 2000 as well, just a few months before McManus. She was on the landscaping crew, working one of the gas-powered trimmers. McManus quickly saw her potential.

After a few months, McManus offered her the opportunity to be a supervisor. Instead of accepting, she turned it down. However, after a short while, she accepted.

A few years later, McManus came to her again, only this time to offer the job of landscaping superintendent. Again, she still wasn’t sure she wanted to make the step up, but McManus was persistent.

After learning the ropes, she did wonderfully, and according to McManus, she “ran the campus” up until her retirement.

It may seem like McManus was born to be the director of Landscape Services, but his career almost took a different path.

Raised in the small town of Douglasville, Ga., McManus planned on a career in marketing. After meeting a professor who inspired his love of plants, he switched to horticulture.

He said he still thinks about that professor, Dr. Harry Ponder, today.

“After weeks in the class, even though he knew all the plant names, the thing that stood out the most to me was he knew my name and every student’s name in the class,” McManus said.

Dr. Ponder was an inspiration to McManus by being knowledgeable and displaying exemplary leadership skills.

McManus earned his Bachelor of Science in Landscape and Ornamental Horticulture from Auburn University and is a certified arborist.

Since his arrival, Ole Miss has won five national landscaping championships for Most Beautiful Campus by organizations such as “Newsweek” and The Princeton Review. The university twice won the National Professional Grounds Maintenance Society Best Maintained Campus Award.

“It’s easy for someone to say, after meeting Jeff, that he loves his job and is proud of the natural beauty that can be found on the Ole Miss campus,” Vassallo said.

McManus has been married since 1994 to his wife, Suzanne. They have four children, named Sam, Nathan, Joshua, and Mark.

He has written two books: “Pruning Like a Pro” in 2015, and his latest: “Growing Weeders Into Leaders” in 2017.

“Everyone who works with Jeff takes great pride in their work product and that speaks volumes in regard to his leadership skills,” said Dr. Dennis Tosh, retired professor in the School of Business.

“It’s crucial to recognize every person is valuable and should have a voice and a seat at the table,” McManus said. “Giving people a voice, giving them some ownership of what’s happening, makes a tremendous amount of difference.”

Here’s what The Princeton Review says about the University of Mississippi.

University of Mississippi journalism instructor pens book about Mississippi songwriter Jim Weatherly

Posted on: March 3rd, 2021 by ldrucker

The late Jim Weatherly, who passed away Feb. 3 at his home in Brentwood, Tennessee at age 77, was part of Mississippi and American music history. A new University of Mississippi scholarship has been established in his honor.

The Pontotoc native, who later became a quarterback at the University of Mississippi, chose to pursue a music career over football and went on to write songs for 50 years. His best known song was “Midnight Train to Georgia” recorded by Gladys Knight & the Pips. Other artists who have recorded Weatherly’s songs include Glen Campbell, Kenny Rogers, Neil Diamond, Kenny Chesney and Garth Brooks.

Jeffrey Roberson, a journalism instructor with the University of Mississippi School of Journalism and New Media, is Weatherly’s first cousin and  author of “Midnight Train,” a book produced by Yoknapatawpha Press in conjunction with the School of Journalism and New Media that chronicles the life of the Hall of Fame songwriter.

We asked Roberson a few questions about Weatherly and his legacy.

Q. How long had you known Jim Weatherly?

A. My father, now 95, and Jim’s late mother were siblings. So I had known him all my life. He was 16 years older, and I was only 5 when he completed his Ole Miss football years. He lived in California until I was in my mid-20s, and we would see him twice a year during those years. Then, in the late-1980s, he moved to Nashville, and we saw him a lot more.

Q. How would you describe him?

A. Jim loved his hometown of Pontotoc and his home state of Mississippi, and much of his music reflected that love and passion. When he received a Governor’s Award for Excellence in Music in Jackson a few years ago, he told the audience, “I’ve lived in California, and I’ve lived in Tennessee, but I’ve never considered myself anything but a Mississippian.”

He loved football, especially Ole Miss football. He loved his family. His wife, Cynthia, and their children, Brighton and Zack, were so important to him and brought him so much joy. He began reading biographies and autobiographies later in life, and he realized he might have a story to tell, and certainly he did. The book “Midnight Train” is his life story.

Jim Weatherly

Jim Weatherly

Q. What do you think his contributions in the music world meant to Mississippi?

A. Jim liked to say he was born in Pontotoc, between Oxford and Tupelo, between Faulkner and Elvis. So he always said that he had a head start on being a songwriter. While his music and his football resonated with Mississippians and Southerners, who can be passionate about both, I think it was the worldwide attention his music received that proved people everywhere could relate. He was overwhelmed by the news in 2014 that he was to be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in New York. It was a significant moment that brought attention to the state of Mississippi and gave his music even more worldwide acclaim.

Q. How do you think his legacy will live on?

A. His songs have been recorded by so many people and groups from different walks, from Neil Diamond to Widespread Panic, from Garth Brooks to Dean Martin, Aretha Franklin, the Oak Ridge Boys, Glen Campbell, Kenny Rogers, Charley Pride, and many, many more. Country Music Hall of Famer Ray Price recorded an astounding 38 of Jim’s songs.

But it was Gladys Knight and the Pips who sent his music to the top. They recorded 13 of his songs. The National Endowment for the Arts and the Recording Industry Association of America chose 365 significant songs of the 20th century. Jim’s “Midnight Train to Georgia” was No. 29.

Gladys Knight Tweeted (after his death), “I’m missing Jim Weatherly already. He was about life and love. . . .I’m gonna miss him terribly and love him always.”

Last summer in a televised show called “Global Goal: Unite for Our Future,” Jennifer Hudson sang the opening song, which was one of Jim’s classics – “Where Peaceful Waters Flow.” His legacy lives on through his music.

Click this link to learn more about the University of Mississippi Scholarship that has been established in Weatherly’s honor. 

University of Mississippi journalism professor helps judge prestigious Pictures of the Year International contest

Posted on: March 2nd, 2021 by ldrucker

A University of Mississippi School of Journalism and New Media professor recently served as a live judge for the Pictures of the Year International contest.

Alysia Steele, associate professor of journalism, has been virtually judging competition entries for the contest known by some as the oldest, most prestigious photo contest in the world. It started in 1943-44 and is held at the University of Missouri.

This year, Steele said there are 28 judges divided into groups of four, and the contest will continue through March 7.

“This contest is incredibly important because it acknowledges and celebrates the tremendous physical and emotional work that photojournalists do every day,” said Steele, “because it’s their life’s calling and passion, and it’s not easy work.

“Photographers risk their lives to document history – to make public what’s happening around the world, and I don’t think many people realize the dangers they and their loved ones also face. Not just about the physicality of the work in dangerous situations, but also the stress and worry their loved ones go through when they are in the field, or the support they give when the photographer works long hours and misses precious family moments. That’s real.”

In our ever-changing technological world, Steele said we don’t always see what’s happening, but the contest is one way to acknowledge and honor the work photographers contribute to the world.

“Photographs have helped change international policies and bring light to human causes,” she said. “We are not ‘just’ photographers – we are visual storytellers, who report, who also find stories, and who dedicate an immense amount of time to our work.”

Alysia Steele

Alysia Steele

Steele said she teaches that captions are just as important as visuals.

“Oftentimes photographers are still at an event or situation reporting by themselves,” she said. “They arrive early and stay late. They pay attention to details, they’re thinking about composition, moments, light, and so many other technical factors that go into creating an image, but they’re also thinking about their surroundings and the reporting of what they see and hear. Their accuracy, honesty and transparency are incredibly important to journalism, and this esteemed and well-respected competition honors the work.”

Steele said being asked to help judge the competition was one of the greatest honors she’s ever been given.

“When I read the email initially inviting me, I had to re-read it, to make sure I understood what was being asked of me – I was being asked to judge,” she said. “OMG was my response. It is a chance to collaborate, debate and provide perspective with esteemed peers, who also provide their insight.

“The conversations we had were thoughtful, respectful and in-depth. No decision was ever made lightly. We worked together for a common goal – to honor what we collectively thought was the best representation in the four categories we judged, which were Spot News, Daily Life, COVID-19 Picture Story and Local Photographer of the Year (one of the most premiere categories of photographers all over the world documenting their communities).”

Steele said they had two weeks to individually review thousands of photos and narrow down what they individually thought are the best of the best. Images that received two out of the four votes from their team made it to the next round.

“From there, we narrowed it down by additional rounds,” she said. “I think one category of finalists alone took us three hours on live stream. For example, one category had over 2,000 entries, and we narrowed the top winners and awards of excellence down to, I think, five entries.

“There is a tremendous amount of integrity in this competition, and to be asked to provide my humble professional opinion, and for this organization to see value in my small contribution, is just one way that helps justify the decision I made to become a visual storyteller in the first place. To be included in the ever-growing and long line of prolific judges, is a nod that I did something right in my career.”

Students can tune into the competition to learn more about storytelling, composition, moments, theory, ethics, newsworthiness, and how to articulate and defend photo choices. Visit to learn more.

To see a list of judges:




A number of UM School of Journalism and New Media professors judge or have judged national competitions.

  • Professor Graham Bodie, Ph.D. will soon be judging the International English Public Speaking Competition.
  • Professor Michael Fagans has judged some categories in the Evangelical Press Association competition. He also helped judge the Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar’s Photo Competition pre-COVID-19.
  • Professor Debbie Hall will be serving as a judge for the American Marketing Association collegiate competition in April.
  • Professor Samir Husni, Ph.D. will be judging the Best Use of Print category for the International News Media Association Global Media Awards. There are 50 entries he will be judging from all over the world.
  • Professor Iveta Imre, Ph.D. will be judging the Broadcast Education Association documentary entries for the Festival of Media Arts.
  • Professor R. J. Morgan, Ph.D., has served as a judge for many state organizations, as well as the National Scholastic Press Association, Columbia Scholastic Press Association, Journalism Education Association, and Society of Professional Journalists Foundation.
  • Professor LaReeca Rucker has served as a judge for the Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence Awards that honors the best in collegiate journalism.
  • Professor Marquita Smith, Ed.D., just finished judging the The Robin Turner Program, or Toner Prizes, in Political Reporting at the Newhouse School of Syracuse University.
  • Professor Patricia Thompson judges several national competitions annually. She recently served once again as a juror for The Robin Turner Program, or Toner Prizes, at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University.
  • Professor Kathleen Wickham, Ed.D, will be judging the National Headliner Journalism Awards for the 11th year. The contest, founded in 1934, is one of the oldest journalism contests and the only competition to judge across all media platforms: print, broadcast, photography, magazines, radio, digital and online journalism. This year, the number of submissions topped 1,000, Wickham said. More than 3,000 medallions have been presented since the contest was created by the Press Club of Atlantic City.

Westbrook creates new scholarship program for IMC students at UM School of Journalism and New Media

Posted on: February 26th, 2021 by ldrucker

A champion for IMC

One never truly graduates from Ole Miss, as the alumni saying goes. Leslie Westbrook, class of 1968, has proven the truth of that statement, coming back to the university after several years of success as a consumer market specialist to work with students getting the B.S. in Integrated Marketing Communications. Now, Westbrook has donated $435,000 to the School of Journalism and New Media to create a scholarship program for eligible IMC students.

Leslie Westbrook
Henrik Syse

“I love IMC,” Westbrook said. “I believe in it. I think it’s an amazing curriculum and degree for students to be able to achieve.”

The scholarship is being offered to the program’s sophomores and juniors who have committed to the IMC program and plan on graduating with the degree. The application is also open to graduating seniors who have been accepted into the IMC master’s program within the School of Journalism and New Media. The first awards will be made for the 2021-2022 academic year.

“Leslie Westbrook is a champion of our program and loves helping our students,” said Assistant Dean and Associate Professor Scott Fiene. “She’s a frequent guest speaker in some of our classes, makes time to meet one-on-one with students to talk about careers and has helped them land jobs.”

Westbrook earned an education degree at the University of Mississippi with plans to teach high school and marry her college sweetheart, but she felt she was being pulled elsewhere. She left behind her education degree and moved to Cincinnati to pursue a career with industry giant Procter & Gamble.

Westbrook said this first job offered her a “Ph.D. in life,” taking her all across the country to perform consumer research with a field team. She had to learn how to be independent and explore the country, while also learning about her career and what it meant to be in the business world.

She eventually started her own business, Leslie M. Westbrook & Associates, where she counted a number of Fortune 500 companies among her clients.

“I was so blown away that students can learn what I learned in 50 years of a career. They can get a four-year degree and even a graduate degree.”
Leslie Westbrook
Leslie Westbrook

In 2012, at the invitation of Fiene, Westbrook returned to the university to sit on a careers-focused panel for graduating IMC students. It was this panel that opened Westbrook’s eyes to the IMC degree and inspired her to work with students.

“I was so blown away that students can learn what I learned in 50 years of a career,” she said. “They can get a four-year degree and even a graduate degree.”

Throughout her career, Westbrook had several mentors instrumental in her growth within the industry. They inspired her to “pass it forward” and support IMC students.

One of these mentors is Jim Burke, CEO of Johnson & Johnson, who Westbrook says became her “hero” during the 1982 Tylenol crisis. You can read a Q & A with Westbrook about it here.

It is because of people like Burke that Westbrook is so passionate about students and their success, as well as connecting them with people within the IMC world who may help them in their endeavors.

Westbrook, who had two scholarships, one loan and worked three jobs to put herself through college, personally understands the benefits a scholarship can offer students working hard in school and in a supplemental job.

She wants to focus on underserved students who show interest and potential in a career within the IMC field.

“This scholarship is so important to our school,” Interim Dean and professor Deb Wenger said. “We have some extraordinary IMC applicants who just cannot afford our program. Leslie has now helped put the advantage of a college education in the hands of some of those students. We are so grateful for her generosity.”

“This scholarship is one more way that she will make a difference, and it reiterates her commitment to our students and her belief in the IMC profession,” said Fiene.

Westbrook hopes to use the scholarship to connect with the recipients and assist them in further endeavors.

“I want them to express why IMC is important and what they believe it will mean to their lives and their future, not just work and not just your career,” she said.

To learn more about the School of Journalism & New Media’s Bachelor of Science degree in IMC or the Leslie M. Westbrook Integrated Marketing Communications Scholarship, please visit or email