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College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Recent UM Graduate Ryan Parsons Named Prestigious Portz Scholar

… Parsons to present paper to National Collegiate Honors Council

Recent University of Mississippi graduate Ryan Parsons has been named one of three 2011 Portz Scholars by the National Collegiate Honors Council.

As a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and the Croft Institute for International Studies at UM, Parsons graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in international studies and Chinese.

Each year, honors colleges nationwide are invited to submit outstanding research/creative papers written by their students; from those submissions, three scholars are selected. Parson’s winning paper was his honors and Croft thesis about public policy concerning migrant workers and the education of migrant children in contemporary China.

“I researched how well migrant workers are treated in these areas, focusing on education and economic opportunities,” said Parsons, a member of the Chinese Language Flagship Program at UM. He said he chose the program because he wanted to challenge himself and get involved in a culture that is completely different from the one he experienced while growing up.

Parsons, a Hattiesburg native, plans to travel to Phoenix to present a summary of his thesis Oct. 22 at the National Collegiate Honors Council Conference.

His adviser, Joshua Howard, said it was a delight to work with Parsons because he is hard-working and always goes the extra mile to improve his work.

“Ryan tackled a very important and topical issue for his senior thesis, and skillfully wielded a number of theories on citizenship with solid empirical work that was based on copious reading of Chinese sources gleaned from the press, official documents and websites,” said Howard, a Croft associate professor of history. “Of the dozen theses I’ve supervised or been a second reader for, Ryan’s thesis was exemplary in his use of Chinese language sources. He was able to explain complex concepts without getting bogged down in social science jargon and demonstrates much empathy toward the migrant workers he documents.”

Parsons is the university’s third Portz Scholar. In 2002, Amanda Guth, a psychology and biology major, won the award for her thesis, which was directed by Ken Sufka. In 2006, Heather Carrillo, a classics and art history major, won the award for her thesis, which was directed by Aileen Ajootian.

Having an honors student receive a Portz is important because only three students are selected nationwide, said SMBHC associate dean John Samonds.

“It shows that our students can compete with anyone in the country,” Samonds said. “Among the many outstanding graduates we had in 2011, Ryan Parsons was a stellar honors student. His ability to grapple with a complex subject using a number of theories is the epitome of what we want in an honors student.”

Parsons spent this summer working in Beijing with the ROTC’s Project Go, a summer language study program for ROTC students from around the country. The program is run by Zhu Yongping, UM professor of modern languages, who taught Parsons at UM.

Parsons was in China when he got the news he had won the Portz scholarship.

“One day I woke up to a half-dozen emails that the faculty of the Honors College and others had sent during the night, and it took me a minute to realize what had happened, but it was a pleasant surprise,” he said.

Next month, Parsons begins the master’s program in development studies at the University of Cambridge. He is the son of Chris and Barbara Parsons of Hattiesburg.

The Portz Scholars program was created through the Portz Fund in honor of Dr. John Portz, the first director of the University Honors Program at the University of Maryland at College Park, and his wife, Edythe Portz. For more information on the program, go to

For more information, visit the UM Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.