The Univeristy of Mississippi’s three-part mission is to teach, conduct research, and serve the State of Mississippi. The College of Liberal Arts contributes to the service part of this mission by lending its expertise beyond the confines of the university.
“Members of the college have always made contributions to our local community and region,” said Stephen Monroe, assistant dean of the College. “Chancellor Jones has reminded us that such efforts are central to our mission. We’re taking this reminder seriously—not just because he’s chancellor—but because we agree with him.”
Jones launched a campuswide campaign promoting service as the central theme of his administration and talked about transformation through service during the week of his inauguration in April.
“Our university has the position of being the flagship liberal arts university for a state that has dramatic needs, so I do want us to clearly focus on what we can and should be doing to not only transform individual lives, but to transform communities, and I mean community in the broad sense of local, state, nation and world,” Jones said.
To expand its service activities, the college of Liberal Arts has been named a host site for the AmeriCorps VISTA program, a national service program designed to fight poverty, Monroe said. A full-time VISTA will be on hand for one year to help UM faculty and students develop service projects in the local community.
“We’re pleased to have received support from AmeriCorps,” Monroe said. “A VISTA in the college will support existing service efforts and facilitate the creation of new projects.”
In this special section of the 2010 View from Ventress,we highlight a few of the many service examples. One type of service is to the K-12 educational system and students. As these following examples demonstrate, many College of Liberal Arts’ faculty members reach out to younger students, their teachers and school administrators.
It’s impossible to see a proton particle with the human eye, and it’s even harder to explain what a proton particle is to high school students, but teachers are learning to do the latter as participants in QuarkNet, offered by the Department of Physics and Astronomy.
QuarkNet is sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy and three of the world’s leading particle physics research facilities: Fermilab near Chicago, SLAC near Palo Alto, Cailf., and the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland. Some 500 teachers are in the summer program at 44 institutions. UM joined the group in 2001, becoming the only QuarkNet center in Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Arkansas. The program is part of a national effort to increase interest among high school students in physics, specifically particle physics, which is the study of the tiny bits that make up all matter.
During the two-day program on March 12-13, teachers and students worked with UM physicists Lucien Cremaldi and James Reidy.
“QuarkNet is the science connection teachers have been waiting for,” said Cremaldi, chair and professor of physics. “It involves high school students, teachers and physicists working together on research projects.”
It also encourages teachers to create physics experiments to use in their classrooms.
“When I was in college, my teachers didn’t discuss physics much,” said Kris Sahu, science teacher at Ridgeland High School. “With QuarkNet, we’re breaking down protons and neutrons and finding particles. We can really learn about particle physics, and I can help my students Understand how these things fit.”
Many scientists responsible for recent particle-physics breakthroughs are nearing retirement, so it is important to encourage a new generation of researchers, said James Reidy, a retired physics professor.
“We also hope to help these teachers feel like they have some ownership in QuarkNet here at UM,” he said. “They’ve worked in our labs and talked with our people so when we report new results on a project, they know what’s going on.”
Working with the researchers helps teachers develop a real passion for physics, which translates into the development of enthusiastic students, Sahu said.
Sharing a Love of Music
Helping precollege students develop an appreciation for and skills in music has become part of the job for UM music faculty.
“Our faculty are especially involved in area public schools and state and regional teaching organizations, making over 150 visits each year to work with middle school and high school band, choir and orchestra programs, and presenting clinics, workshops and master classes,” said Charles Gates, chair and professor of music.
Among its outreach, department faculty organize and direct the Mid-South Honor Band, which invites the best high school band students from Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas and Alabama to a three-day clinic to improve their band skills.
The Summer Piano Discoveries Camp is for students who are entering the 7th to 12th grades and who play at an intermediate level or higher. The weeklong camp includes a private lesson, daily master classes, concerts by guest artists, and student recital at the end of the week.
Julia Aubrey, associate professor of music, created the Youth Music Theatre Workshop in 1997 as an educational outreach for the Ole Miss Opera Theatre Ensemble. Since then 25 to 45 children have participated in the workshop each summer in preparation for a production on the final day.
In lieu of this year’s music theatre workshop, students who successfully auditioned for a part performed in the university’s summer production of “The King and I” at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts.
“The production of ‘The King and I’ offers a new level of experience for the children,” said Aubrey. “They are on stage with professional singers/actors, university students and community members. This gives them the opportunity to learn from more seasoned performers and work with a more diverse cast.
“I believe the arts are a necessary and vital part of a child’s education,” she said. “The experience of making music promotes creative thinking, problem solving and cooperation that children utilize in other intellectual activities. I have seen confidence and self-assurance develop in children’s personalities as they master musical, theatrical and movement skills.
Learning About East Asia
For the past 10 years, history professors have conducted workshops around the state to educate secondary-school teachers about East Asia and help them to integrate these topics into their curricula. They have taught the workshops through the National Consortium for Teaching about Asia (NCTA), a multiyear initiative funded by the Freeman Foundation to encourage and facilitate teaching and learning about Asia in world history, geography, social studies and literature courses. UM’s professors have reached some 200 teachers through this effort.
“To me, the program is essential,” said Peter Frost, visiting professor of history and international studies. “We simply cannot prosper as a nation unless we know more about the vibrant culture, enormous economic power and strategic importance of this area.”
Noelle Wilson, an assistant professor of history said that creating a lifelong awareness of the importance of East Asia to the lives of Mississippians should begin not in a university but at the secondary-school level.
“Providing primary, middle and high school students a fundamental understanding of the culture and history of China, Japan and Korea during the critical, impressionable, early years will allow faculty at the university level to explore these world regions with greater nuance and sophistication in their classrooms,” Wilson said.
Sherry Donald, a fourth-and fifth-grade teacher in Oxford, recently returned from a trip to China with the NCTA program. While there, she visited elementary and middle schools and learned new information in incorporate into her classroom this fall, including books about China, art supplies and games.
“It’s important to give kids exposure to other cultures. It’s good for them to know about life outside of Oxford and for them to be aware of the global community,” said Donald, who has taught for 40 years. “The program expanded my personal horizons and brought new elements to my teaching.”
John Young, assistant professor of psychology, developed the Behavioral Vital Signs (BVS) project in partnership with the nonprofit agency Mississippi Children’s Home Services (MCHS). The BVS is designed to screen Mississippi schoolchildren for behavioral health concerns including anxiety, depression, loneliness and externalizing behaviors. The screening is administered anonymously to children in schools, therefore, results cannot be linked to particular individuals.
“The project is designed to give more of a system-level view to administrators and parents such that they can understand challenges and strengths of their school and community.” Young said. “Often we’re able to do that in comparison to surrounding counties, not just national averages based on previous, published scientific research. What we’ve learned, overwhelmingly, through this research over the last couple of years, is that national norms are very rarely our norms. Life is different here and not generally reflected in previous scientific examinations.”
“Mississippi children are subject to high levels of poverty, abuse, neglect and, in some areas, collective trauma brought on by recent natural disaster,” he said.
“We’re seeing more and more of these children come to school with higher level of difficulty, and there is a strong body of research to suggest that this negatively impacts their educational attainment.”
The project meets the requirements of Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) At-Risk funding expenditures and the state’s Response to Intervention (RTI) initiative. Approximately 20,000 youths from 100 different schools have participated to date, with more enrolling for next year.
“We approach schools and outline the areas of assessment for children and adolescents, describe the benefits of obtaining this information and then promise them a rapid turnaround time,” Young said. “Most state surveys or independent research collected in schools have a very long feedback lag or may provide no feedback at all. We generally provide summary feedback to schools within about two weeks of assessment so that they can use this information in the present.”
Young said that school administrators often are shocked by the statistics that are derived from the screenings. For example, he said it is fairly common for 40 percent of a student body to have engaged in self-harmful behavior at some point.
“Rare is the principal who would guess that as many as half of his/her kids have engaged in self-harm,” Young said. “Feedback is individually tailored to each school to provide information about its most pressing conditions. We have often been invited back into schools to do expanded talks or series of talks on various topics as well. It is an explicit goal of mine to integrate this kind of training into teachers’ ongoing education. They spend more time with Mississippi’s kids than almost anyone else and [are] in the unique position of being able to observe when things are different for a given child in comparison to peers.”
MCHS firmly believes that emotional and behavioral needs tie directly to academic attainment, and those needs are under-identified and going unmet in the school setting, said Laurie Heiden, division director of education services at MCHS and co-director of the BVS project.
“Mississippi, through this project, has the means of setting [itself] apart from other states in addressing proactively these unmet needs in Mississippi’s students, thereby increasing graduation rates and educational achievement, decreasing suicide rates and decreasing truancy,” Heiden said. “Having the information the BVS project provides is a step in the right direction for moving Mississippi forward in becoming a healthier state—emotionally and physically.”
Other Service Examples
- The Mud Daubers, a group of advanced student ceramists, donated 1,000 bowls this year for the Empty Bowls Luncheon, a fundraiser that raised $15,000 for the Oxford Food Pantry.
- A member of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry serves on the Renewable Energy Subcommittee of the Mississippi Energy Policy Institute, which promotes a long-term coherent strategy for developing energy resources in the state.
- Graduate students and faculty in the Department of English have taught writing classes at the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchmen.
- Anthropology faculty and graduate students conduct fieldwork and research for the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Mississippi Department of Transportation, Mississippi National Guard and Mississippi State Crime Lab.