College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Special Section: National Award Recipients

Rhodes. Marshall. Truman. Mitchell. Fulbright. Goldwater. Newman. The names are synonymous with the highest levels of academic achievement, and since early in the University of Mississippi’s history, College of Liberal Arts students have sought and received these impressive accolades.

UM’s national award winners have pursued many fields following graduation. They practice medicine and law, serve as corporate executives, and work in public affairs.  They are involved in cutting-edge research and teach at colleges and universities; they manage national and international magazines and newspapers.

This special section of the 2010-11 View from Ventress provides brief updates on some of these distinguished alumni and a more in-depth focus on Julie Grimes Waldorf, Sam Watson, Brandon Russell, Jesse L. White Jr., Samuel “Calvin” Thigpen, C. Damon Moore, and Keyana Mitchell Washington.

Initiated in 1902, Rhodes Scholarships are one of the oldest international fellowships. Rhodes scholars from around the world receive funding to pursue graduate studies at the University of Oxford in England.  Records show that UM has had 25 Rhodes scholars dating back to the early 1900s, placing UM among the top 30 in the nation for scholarship recipients. Recipients include C. Daniel Goodgame (BA 75), who held the position of managing editor of Fortune Small Business magazine for a decade. Marshall Bouldin (BA 82) is a doctor in Jackson. Shad White (BA 08) is working for a gubernatorial candidate in Jackson, with law school  next on his academic radar.

Since 1954, Marshall Scholarships have allowed Americans to seek graduate degrees in the United Kingdom.  Named for US Secretary of State George C Marshall, this program continues to strengthen the relationship between the U.S. and the U.K.  College of Liberal Arts recipients have included J.R. Rigby (BS 03) who attended the University of Oxford and then completed a Ph.D. in civil engineering at Duke and post-doctoral work at the University of North Carolina.  He recently returned to Oxford (Mississippi) to work in a sedimentation lab.

The Fulbright Program is a U.S.-sponsored international exchange program designed to “increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.”  Since 1946, it has enrolled nearly 300,000 participants.  In just the past 10 years, the award has taken UM graduates to South Africa, England, Russia, Germany, Hungary, Croatia and Malaysia.  Bill Sharman (BA 07) joined an organization promoting German-American relations before applying recently to graduate school in Switzerland.  Emily Sindelar (BA 01) and Chris Lamont (BA 02) have been in the fields of education.  Lamont is an Assistant Professor of Politics at the University of Groningen, Netherlands, and Sindelar, after working with English as a second language programs in New York schools, is project manager for developing English and German language curriculum at Telelangue, a language company in Paris.  Fulbright experiences also paved a path back to Mississippi.  James Peden Jr. (BA 66), for example, practices law in Ridgeland.

The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation awards scholarships to college juniors who are committed to careers in government, education or public service to provide support for graduate study.  John Ates (BA 90) and Wynn Shuford (BA 90) became lawyers.  Paul Gilmore (BA 91) is an Associate Professor of English at California State, Long Beach.  Joel Fyke (BA 05) worked at the Washington Office on Latin America before heading to Stanford for law school.  Russell Dallon Jr. (BA 85) is editor-in-chief of the Latin America Herald Tribune.

The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, established in 1986, promotes science, mathematics, and engineering by supporting the education of young scientists to enter these fields of research.  Adel Elsohly (BS 06, BS 07, MS 07) is working on his Ph.D. at Columbia.  Robert Sindelar (BS 03) is teaching chemistry at Far West High School in Oakland, Calif., and Ryan Tomlinson (BS 04) is working in a crime lab in Nashville, Tenn.  Christopher Burkhalter (BS 90) is vice president of an actuarial business in Jackson.

The rest of this special section will give a more in-depth look at where Brandon Russell, Clen Damon Moore, Julie Grimes Waldorf, Samuel “Calvin” Thigpen, Jesse L. White, Jr., Keyana Mitchell Washington, and Sam Watson are now, and links to news articles written at the time of their award.  Click here for a more complete list of national scholarship recipients.  If you have any further updates or additional recipients, please contact libarts@olemiss.edu.

Brandon Russell
After graduating from UM in 2008 with the B.S. in Chemistry, Goldwater award recipient Brandon Russell was accepted for graduate studies at the University of Michigan, Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

“In the end I decided to go to MIT mostly because of how great my experience was when I interned there as an undergraduate,” Russell said. “In the spring of 2009 I was awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship to fund my work for three years.”

During his internship he has worked with Professor Peter Dedon on nitric oxide, a toxin that the immune system creates to fight off infections.

“There’s been evidence for a while that having a long-term infection predisposes a person to cancer in the infected part of the body, but the reason for that link still isn’t clear,” Russell said. ‘The hypothesis I was working on was that chronically high levels of nitric oxide can damage DNA in healthy cells and cause mutations that lead to cancer. My work showed that there was almost no DNA damage in human cells exposed to nitric oxide, even at very high doses.”

Similar findings by others in the Dedon lab eventually led them to look at other biological molecules for a possible link, and that’s what Russell found when he returned to MIT for graduate school.

“I joined Pete’s lab officially and started working on a project looking at the changes in RNA that take place during infection,” Russell said. “The eventual goal is to develop new targets for antibiotic development and/or for diagnostic tests for infections.”

The best part, he believes, is that he is working on tropical diseases that are a major public health concern. His goal is to find novel therapeutic approaches to diseases that are difficult to combat with traditional pharmaceuticals.

Russell also finds inspiration from the people he works with.

“Working on global/public health issues gives me the opportunity to work with people who have unique career paths in industry, government and public policy that I find fascinating,” said Russell. “My project also gives me the opportunity to do work in Singapore through the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART), which is an incredible opportunity. I traveled to Singapore for the first time this past January for a conference and am currently planning to return next January for a six-month research trip using clinical samples from the National University Hospital.”

Russell loves MIT. He has wanted to attend MIT since he was very young, and his parents talked about it as a “dream school.”

“The campus, the research, the classes, the classmates, the professors—everything about the school is just phenomenal,” he said. “The move from Mississippi to Massachusetts was quite the change and involved a pretty big reworking of my wardrobe, but I’ve loved it so far.”

Russell is considering multiple avenues for his next career step, including a master’s in public health or medical school.

Click here for a news release on Brandon Russell’s Goldwater award.

Clen Damon M. Moore
Rhodes Scholar Clen Damon M. Moore, a 1986 summa cum laude graduate with a B.A. in English, describes himself as a “small town boy who is living my dream.”

He might also be described as a Renaissance man.  In addition to working as a community pediatrician in Virginia, he lifts weights, writes poetry and actively supports nonprofit organizations ranging from the Make-A-Wish Foundation Board of Directors to the Adopt-A-Highway cleanup program sponsored by the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Moore, who sang with the UM Concert Singers, has performed for three seasons with the Master Singers of Virginia.  More related to the medical field, he recently served as a governor-appointed member of the State of Virginia Child Fatality Review Team and facilitates a group for expectant fathers at Inova Loudoun Hospital.  He would put “family man” high on his list of accomplishments.  He is married to Susan Swayze, Ph.D., who is an assistant professor at George Washington University, and the couple has two children, Lara, 7 and Jacob, 4.

Moore received a B.A. and an M.A. from Oxford University before attending the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. He completed his residency in general pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital and Medical Center in Seattle. Then he returned to Mississippi from 1995-97 to work at the Northeast Mississippi Family Health Center in Byhalia.

Since 1997, he has been in practice with Pediatric Healthcare in Loudon County, Virginia, where he is now managing partner.

“I chose pediatrics because at one point it became clear to me if you can make a difference in the life of a child—yours or someone else’s—that is one of the greatest things you can do,” Moore said.

Recently he was awarded a grant from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Community Access to Child Health program.

“My proposal is to provide sports physicals for underserved adolescents in Loudoun County (VA),” Moore said.  “We’re excited about this grant and what it is going to mean to adolescents in our community.”

Moore is also concerned about how violence affects youth and was appointed to the 1997-98 AAP Task Force on Violence after the completion of his general pediatrics residency.

“During a series of meetings throughout the year, I had the opportunity to learn first-hand from the group of talented and experienced experts as we crafted the Academy’s policy,” Moore said.

Moore considers two honors to be among the biggest of his professional career to date.  The first was serving as a groomsman for one of his former patients.  The other was participating in an Air Force Commissioning Ceremony earlier this month at Virginia Tech, in which he helped pin the rank of second lieutenant on his graduating godson, also a former patient.

Julie Grimes Waldorf
Julie Grimes Waldorf earned her B.A. in Philosophy and French in 1990, topping a string of academic success at UM including being the first female Newman Scholar at UM, a Truman Scholar and being selected by Glamour magazine as one of the nation’s the Top Ten College Women in international affairs and race relations.  She then attended Harvard Law School, where she was deputy editor-in-chief of the Harvard International Law Journal.

After graduating from Harvard in 1995, Waldorf clerked on the Fifth Circuit, then practiced corporate law for three years at a major international law firm, Pillsbury Winthrop, in New York City.  She then founded TravelCharts, a travel media company.  She has also worked for the U.S. Trade Representative in the Office of Europe and the Mediterranean, USAID in the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance and the NATO Information Office.  Other career highlights include serving as general counsel of The Vitamin Shoppe and as corporate counsel for Ford Models, the top international model management company.

Today Waldorf, who lives in New York City with her husband, Michael, is a busy mother to two sons. When interviewed recently for this article, she has just returned from the National Elementary Chess Championship in Dallas where the team of her older son won the K-3 championship.

“I guess I’m a chess mom now,” said Waldorf. “My older son goes to a gifted and talented public school in Manhattan where they start chess in kindergarten. A lot of schools in Manhattan and elsewhere are teaching chess, and research shows that it helps kids academically.”

Waldorf is on the board of directors of the China Institute, where she and her children take classes in Mandarin Chinese. Both of her sons have a leg up on her, though—they speak Mandarin better than she does.

“Our two sons are fluent in Mandarin,” Waldorf said. “I’m trying to learn it, but it’s more difficult as an adult. Young kids pick it up like a sponge. The China Institute was founded in 1926 to improve understanding between the U.S. and China, and that is more important now than ever as China is becoming more developed. The U.S. needs to have good relations with them.”

The Waldorfs also recently built a house in Fulton that they visit regularly.

“We have the best spot in all of Fulton because it’s right across the street from grandma,” Waldorf said. “The boys love it. It is wonderful being in Manhattan, which has so many opportunities. However, we live on the 28th floor and have no backyard. The boys love coming to Fulton and running and playing in the yard.”

The Waldorfs have also donated money to build a children’s park in Fulton that has a brought people back to the downtown with giant art sculptures, a pavilion, a children’s water park and playgrounds.

The Waldorfs have also given their time and money to the University.  Besides donating to the Ventress Order in support of the College of Liberal Arts, the Waldorfs have endowed two Ole Miss Women’s Council Scholarships, which provide scholarships, leadership training, and mentorship to students.  One scholarship is dedicated to Waldorf’s mother, Julia Grimes, and the other is named for Dr. Louis Pojman, formerly with the Department of Philosophy and Religion.  Waldorf is also a member of the Ole Miss Women’s Council.

Click here for a April 6, 1990, Daily Mississippian clipping about Julie Grimes Waldorf’s Truman award.  Click here for a  Daily Mississippian clipping about her Newman Award.

Samuel “Calvin” Thigpen
Samuel “Calvin” Thigpen was named a Rhodes Scholar in 1998, and in 1999 the four-time letterman in cross country and track and field received the NCAA’s top scholar-athlete award, the Walter Byers Award.

After graduating from UM with a B.S. in Chemistry, Thigpen lived in England for two years while earning a B.A. in philosophy and psychology at Oxford University.  He then went on to attend medical school at the UM Medical Center (UMMC) where he was elected president of his medical school class for three years and was named Medical Student of the Year.

He became a M.D. in 2005 and was a chief resident in internal medicine in 2008-09 at UMMC.  Then in 2009, he began his fellowship in hematology and oncology at UMMC.  During that year, his athletic side came out again as he joined the leadership board of the Mississippi Chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and completed his first marathon.

At the end of his first year of fellowship, Thigpen was named Fellow of the Year by the Department of Medicine.  In his second year of fellowship, he has led the UMC Residents’ Quality Council for quality patient care.

Thigpen gives a lot of credit to the people—family members, teachers, coaches, friends, colleagues and students – who influenced him and gave him opportunities and experiences that otherwise would not have been possible.

“Regarding any success I’ve been fortunate enough to experience, none of that would have been possible without some incredible role models and friends in nearly every aspect of my life,” Thigpen said. “They have made me who I am today.”

Collegiate athletics was a learning experience he values right up there along with academics.

“Competing against the athletes in the SEC was extraordinarily humbling, and having many times to fight just to stay in the race taught me lessons that were as valuable as the ones I learned from reading and studying in college, medical school and residency,” Thigpen said.

Thigpen believes the biggest challenge in practicing medicine today is one that many people in other lines of work also likely struggle with: always believing the best of other people and of himself.

“Helping patients, colleagues, nurses, staff and students see the potential for how things could be, letting them help me see the same and working together to reach that potential are daily challenges that will never go away,” Thigpen said. “The rewards are in taking each step towards that potential—a patient getting closer to remission, a colleague improving someone’s life, a student putting all the pieces together for the first time.”

Thigpen is married to Lee Ann Coppenbarger, and the couple has two sons, Emery and Willis.  They are members of the First Baptist Church of Jackson and plan on remaining in Jackson at the completion of his fellowship.

Click here for a Daily Mississippian press clipping from December 7, 1998, about Thigpen’s award.

Jesse L. White, Jr.
Jesse L. White Jr., class of 1966, was the first Marshall Scholar from the University of Mississippi.  After receiving his B.A. in political science and history, the Marshall helped fund his master’s degree in international relations from the University of Sussex, U.K.  He then earned a Ph.D. in political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

White recently retired from a 30-year career in regional economic development.  During that time, he worked at the Southern Growth Policies Board as its executive director for eight years (1982-90), was a private consultant for four years, headed up the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) for nine years as its federal co-chairman (1994-2003), and created and directed the University of North Carolina’s Office of Economic and Business Development from 2004 until Jan. 1 of this year.

“Heading up the ARC was one of the highlights of my career,” White said. “After being appointed by President Clinton and confirmed by the Senate, we launched a year-long assessment of and strategic plan for the region. The plan resulted in a greater emphasis on entrepreneurship and human resource development and was so well received by Congress that the agency was fully reauthorized for the first time in almost twenty years. We also received a record level of funding.”

One of his proudest achievements was leading a multi-year effort to create the Delta Regional Authority (DRA), based on the ARC model. The original proposal was for the two agencies to be housed together. However, Congress voted to create the DRA as a separate commission based on the ARC statute.

Upon his return to Chapel Hill, he joined the UNC School of Government as an adjunct professor to help create training curricula for state and local government officials.  After a year, he was asked by the Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development to create the Office of Economic and Business Development.

“Our office facilitated the connections between our faculty and students and the community economic development community in North Carolina,” White said. “We did so by creating the Carolina Economic Revitalization Corps, sponsoring research on economic issues facing the state and holding a monthly university-wide seminar on economic development. This job combined my lifetime interests in post-secondary education and economic development. I have always felt that colleges and universities are tremendously underutilized resources in Southern development because of our transition from a ‘brawn’ to a ‘brain’ economy.”

White’s career further benefitted Mississippi, both in the legislature and with Governor Winter.  He was elected secretary of the Mississippi Senate under his mentor, Lt. Gov. William Winter, and he managed Winter’s successful campaign for governor in 1979.

“Together we worked on the seminal 1986 Commission on the Future of the South report, “Halfway Home and a Long Way to Go,” White said.

More recently, UM Professor Emeritus of Sociology Vaughn Grisham – a colleague of White’s for 25 years – invited White to serve on the McLean Institute for Community Development’s advisory board.  White visited Oxford this spring with the board to discuss the future of the institute.

Click here for a 1966 Daily Mississippian press clipping about Jesse White receiving the Marshall Scholarship.  Click here for a Daily Mississippian clipping about him returning to UM for Honors Day, April 2, 1990.

Keyana Mitchell Washington
Keyana Mitchell Washington received the Harry S. Truman Scholarship in 2001 and graduated summa cum laude with the B.S. in Biological Sciences from UM in 2002.  She moved to Atlanta to attend the Emory University School of Medicine, and during her third year there she decided that she wanted to gain a different perspective on the issues and challenges that face the healthcare system, so she decided to pursue a dual degree.

“I subsequently enrolled at the Emory University Rollins School of Public Health where I earned a Masters in Public Health,” Washington said. “After completing that coursework I returned to medical school to complete my medical degree. I decided to stay in Atlanta to complete my pediatric residency at Emory. I finished residency in June 2010 then joined Gwinnett Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine (GPAM), a pediatric group in Lawrenceville, a suburb of Atlanta.”

Washington chose to become a pediatrician because she loves children.

“I love the possibilities they present, the hope in their eyes, their resilience,” she said. “I considered becoming an obstetrician because I really enjoyed delivering babies, but I found that once the baby was delivered, I gravitated towards the warmer where the infant was instead of staying with the mother.”

She finds one of the biggest challenges of being a pediatrician today is dealing with a lot of the misinformation that parents have when they come to the office.  Technology and the great expansion of media have been wonderful in so many ways, but there is a lot of erroneous but convincing information out there.

“The notion that vaccines cause autism is just one example of how misinformation can not only make it difficult to care for pediatric patients, but can even harm them,” Washington said.

She finds the biggest rewards of the profession include seeing a child recover from an illness, watching a child grow from their first newborn visit in the office to their 18-month visit when they are walking around trying to talk, and seeing the relieved look on parents’ faces when their children are better.

While being a pediatrician is very important to her, Washington says her family comes first.  She is married to Cedric Washington, who is also a UM graduate.

“We love to travel and have enjoyed the freedom that comes with being done with residency,” she said. “I am also an avid cook and somewhat of a foodie. I enjoy trying new recipes and restaurants in my free time.  In addition, since living in Atlanta, I have had the opportunity to learn to dance salsa and really love it.”

Other awards include being named a Boisfeuillet Jones Scholar at the Emory University School of Public Health 2005, an International Achievement Summit Student Scholar in 2004, and a National Medical Association Emerging Scholar in 2003.  Washington’s research experience includes Mississippi Interpregnancy Care Project: An Evaluation of Knowledge, Attitudes, and Psychosocial Factors Affecting Preterm and Low Birthweight Births, in 2008-2009, and a study of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) reduction in four Georgia hospitals in 2005-2006.

Click here for an article in a 2002 College of Liberal Arts newsletter about Keyana Mitchell Washington’s Truman Award.

Sam Watson
Sam Watson, who graduated from UM in 2009 with a BA in Classics and BS in Mathematics and Physics, went to the University of Cambridge courtesy of a Gates Cambridge Fellowship before going on this year to a prestigious National Science Foundation fellowship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Watson also received a Goldwater Scholarship in 2006.

At Cambridge he completed a master’s in mathematics.

“I took several courses in probability, ranging from introductory graduate-level courses to specialized research-oriented seminars,” Watson said. “The courses provided a solid foundation for further study, and the experience enabled me to connect with professors and students from all over the world. Also, I greatly enjoyed the town of Cambridge and its pastoral landscape. Every day felt a bit magical as I biked to class across the river Cam through the Fens, where cows graze freely.”

During the spring term at MIT, his main research has been on a topic in percolation. Percolation is a simple probabilistic model that gives a good flavor of what much of modern probability theory is about.

“Imagine you have a large rectangular honeycomb, and you fill each hexagonal cell with honey uniformly at random,” Watson said. “What is the probability that there will be a connected path of honey-filled cells from one side of the rectangle to the other? This turns out to be a difficult question, and it was just solved in the last few years by Stanislav Smirnov, a mathematician in Switzerland. My research involves sharpening Smirnov’s result by saying how good the approximations are.”

This summer he will do research with his advisor, Scott Sheffield, in addition to working for a month at Microsoft Research in Redmond, Wash. Microsoft has a group of elite mathematicians working on a range of problems in theoretical probability.

His advisor’s main research interest is in Liouville Quantum Gravity (LQG), which is a canonical model of a random two-dimensional surface (imagine a landscape in which all the peaks and valleys are somehow chosen randomly). LQG was motivated by ideas in quantum field theory, and Watson said they anticipate that understanding LQG mathematically will provide physicists with valuable tools for making their analysis more rigorous and providing new insights.

Modern probability plays an increasingly important role in today’s world.

“As our social, financial and economic systems become increasingly large and complex, it is important to analyze large-scale probabilistic phenomena (such as risk) in an effective way,” Watson said. “For example, understanding in detail the mathematical errors made by the financial firms whose poor decisions caused the financial crisis of 2008 is an important step toward limiting our exposure to such debacles in the future. Similarly, extracting meaningful information from mountains of genetic data has become an important part of advancing our understanding of disease.”

Click here for a news release and video about Sam Watson’s Gates-Cambridge award.