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College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Public Policy, Southern Studies Graduate Plans Service Career in Nonprofit Sector

Katie Watson is known as the “travel agent” among her friends. As a University of Mississippi student, she has traveled frequently, including two trips abroad. But her true passion lies much closer to home.


The Louisville native, who graduates Saturday (May 14) with a Bachelor of Arts degree with majors in public policy leadership and Southern studies, plans to head to Arlington, Va., soon to work for the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation. The foundation primarily supports research and education programs that analyze the impact of free societies, in particular how they advance the well-being of mankind.

Watson plans to work four days a week, then take classes in nonprofit management training on Fridays.

The honors student said her career at UM has prepared her well for the challenges ahead. She decided to attend the university after a campus visit.

“You can’t beat having the wide range of quality programs that Ole Miss offers, and that sold me on the school,” Watson said. As a freshman, she was chosen for a Lott Leadership Scholarship, which goes to exceptional students based on their leadership ability, academic performance and record of community service.

“Public policy leadership was the major that I declared at first, because I was always interested in politics and governing,” she said. “But for me, public policy showed the more practical side of governing.”

A class during her second semester quickly narrowed her focus.

“I was taking a Southern studies class with Dr. Katie McKee, and I think about three weeks in, I knew I wanted to declare it as my second major,” Watson said. “That just speaks to how interesting her teaching is, and the quality of the program. It’s always been my ‘fun’ major, but it has turned into more than that. I love it; it’s a great program and I think I’ve developed a passion for writing through it.”

Watson said that one of the most important things she has learned during her time in the program is that there is an ever-evolving definition of the South.

“It’s a question we always tackled in every class I’ve ever taken,” she said. “We are discussing first of all, is there even a South? Should we be studying the South? (All of) which is interesting because when I tell people outside of the South that it’s one of my majors, they kind of look at me funny. But it’s eye-opening to realize the South is much more than people think, even people who live in it and have lived here all their lives.”

Watson’s curiosity is one of her greatest strengths as a student, said McKee, the university’s McMullan associate professor of Southern studies and associate professor of English.

“Katie always wants to know more, and she recognizes that increasing her knowledge leads her to ask more questions,” McKee said. “She is one of the few undergraduate students I have known who is completely comfortable doing original, archival research, digging without a map for clues. The pairing of her Southern studies major and her public policy leadership major is a perfect example of her desire to know more about the place that she comes from and about the complexities of life in that place, not just historically, but today, and with an eye toward involving herself in the region’s future.”

Watson is also a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, which is how her “travel agent” nickname came about. During her Freshman Ventures trip, she went to Denver with four classmates.

“I was the group leader, and I kind of took the helm and planned the trip and booked the travel. It was great exposure,” Watson said. She continued her travel in summer 2008, when she studied abroad at Konkuk University in South Korea, and last summer when she went to Germany. Interaction with students from other countries leads to a better understanding of a nation other than our own, she said.

While at UM, Watson’s other honors include membership in Phi Beta Kappa, Alpha Lambda Delta and Gamma Beta Phi honor societies. An Ole Miss First Scholar, she participated in the Chancellor’s Leadership Class and was selected for Who’s Who, Watson said one thing she will miss most about UM is the people.

“I was making a list of the people I need to write thank you notes to for guiding me along during my time here, and the list was half-a-page long,” she said. “It was the staff members in the Lott Institute, my thesis committee members, my thesis advisers and other adults in the Oxford community. I developed relationships with many people on campus, and people in the community. You can’t find that anywhere else, and I think that’s going to be something that I really am going to miss when I am away.”