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M Partner: Creating Substantial & Sustainable Results in Mississippi Communities
October 9, 2018

This past summer, I shared a series of blog posts highlighting the pillars in our Flagship Forward strategic plan. Now, I want to dig a little deeper into the plan and share more about our transformative initiatives that underpin the four pillars. Today, I’m starting with M Partner, a powerful and innovative partnership that will help us advance our goal of building healthy and vibrant communities.

As a new community engagement effort for the university, M Partner strives to improve quality of life in Mississippi communities. It’s a lofty goal to make a real difference in individual communities, but we have established a framework for community and university representatives to cultivate mutually beneficial and collaborative partnerships. This blog serves as a call to action. I’m excited to share how you can get involved in this transformative work through connecting academic courses to M Partner priority projects, volunteering at M Partner Community Day on October 13, and attending upcoming business forum events on October 16 and 17.

M Partner Priority Projects

The M Partner approach seeks to foreground the community voice, so I’d like to lead with the priority projects identified by our partner communities of Charleston, Lexington, and New Albany. Since we launched M Partner this past March, the McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement has taken a lead role in identifying community priorities for M Partner through a series of community conversations in each partner town. The goal of these dialogues was to align university courses, research, and programs with community-identified needs. A big thanks to Laura Martin, who serves as Associate Director of the McLean Institute and the M Partner Director. She is leading these efforts and seeking involvement from faculty, staff, and students from all disciplines to champion these community-driven projects.

Some key priority areas that have emerged in the community conversations include community and economic development, education and youth engagement, beautification, and health and well-being. I invite our faculty to view the full project list and consider how to incorporate these projects into existing courses. I’m truly excited about the potential of M Partner to provide sustainable and substantial results in our partner communities, enhance experiential learning for our students, and drive university research and community engagement.

We are also looking forward to a busy few weeks! M Partner Community Day, a day of service taking place in all three partner communities, is coming up on Saturday, October 13. We are thrilled to have three full busloads of students that will head to our partner cities! While we are currently adding names to a waitlist due to the overwhelming response from our students, please add your name by emailing M Partner and we will be sure to inform you of future opportunities and events. You are also invited to join us in Charleston on Tuesday, October 16 and in New Albany on Wednesday, October 17 for business development forums hosted in partnership with the Entrepreneur Center at the Mississippi Development Authority. Transportation and lunch will be provided at the business forums. To register, please email M Partner.

History of M Partner

For a little background information, we’ve got to go all the way back to 2016. During my investiture address, I challenged the university community to “imagine what we can do if we channel the talents of our university — our entire university — to partner with towns and cities — one at a time — to enhance every aspect of community life. Imagine!” At the time, we referred to this initiative as the Big Idea — setting the stage for the transformative opportunities that M Partner would offer!

As M Partner began to take shape, we looked to the Sustainable Cities Initiative at the University of Oregon as a model. And in order to adopt best practices in the field, we have affiliated with Educational Partnerships for Innovation in Communities, known as the EPIC Network — a coalition of institutions of higher learning engaged in partnership with communities to improve quality of life.

In March of this past year, we were excited to announce the pilot phase of M Partner with Charleston (Tallahatchie County), Lexington (Holmes County), and New Albany (Union County). We had a terrific time hosting Entrepreneurial Learning Center in Charleston, StartUp Camp for Young Entrepreneurs, and the third annual McLean Entrepreneurial Leadership Program. Each of these programs was led by students in the McLean Institute’s Catalyzing Entrepreneurship and Economic Development initiative, and engaged youth from each of the M Partner communities to discover how the entrepreneurial mindset can be used to address community challenges. These programs also engaged faculty members from the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Department of Management, School of Law, and the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, as well as community partners including the strong>James C. Kennedy Wellness Center, Mississippi Development Authority – The Entrepreneur Center and the Mississippi Main Street Association.

As we look to maximize the collaborative aspects of M Partner, I’m pleased that the initiative has received support from the North Mississippi VISTA Project, an AmeriCorps program on campus in its 8th year of working to end poverty by promoting educational attainment. We placed summer associates with the Charleston Arts and Revitalization Effort, National Charleston Day Organization, Boys and Girls Club of Lexington, New Albany School District, and Union County School District.

To reiterate a core message from Flagship Forward, in order to truly fulfill the university’s responsibility in building healthy and vibrant communities, it must be a two-way street. We must apply our expertise collaboratively to have a measurable impact upon a community while, at the same time, look to how community perspectives and expertise can better inform our scholarship and curriculum. And M Partner is well on its way to fulfilling this responsibility.

As always, Hotty Toddy!

Jeffrey S. Vitter

Chancellor and Distinguished Professor

Great Gathering of Leaders Exploring the Future of Tech
September 27, 2018

There’s no doubt about it: the beginning of the fall semester is one of our most vibrant times at Ole Miss. It’s not just our student body that’s fired up to be back on campus this time of year. Many of our institutional initiatives are also in full swing.

The third annual UM Tech Summit offered a perfect example of the dynamic environment that our leaders and faculty have cultivated at Ole Miss. The Summit, which drew a standing-room-only crowd to the Inn at Ole Miss, also underscored the university’s commitment to becoming a national leader in STEM education and to building upon our status as a Carnegie R-1 highest research activity university.

So what’s the UM Tech Summit? It’s a gathering of thought leaders from government, industry, and education that explored the future of technology in contemporary society: the challenges we must address, the opportunities before us, and how to work together most effectively. Like a great chemistry experiment, the Summit offers a platform to combine different elements and provide a catalyst for reaction. It was also a venue to showcase a really cool, really big drone, thanks to the folks at AT&T who generously let us borrow it!

We were honored to host a slew of national leaders. U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, who envisioned the original Summit, was our guest of honor and shared remarks. As chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation and the Internet, Sen. Wicker is one of our nation’s foremost leaders in technology-related public policy. He’s also an Ole Miss Rebel! We’re extremely fortunate to have Sen. Wicker as an advocate in Washington, including his championing of our Tech Summit.

Rob Carter, chief information officer at FedEx, was the Summit’s keynote speaker. Rob has more than 35 years of systems development and implementation experience — an interview in Forbes Online described him as being “on the short list of the finest CIOs in history anywhere.” Rob shared stories about the long road of innovation at FedEx, explaining the ways FedEx developed groundbreaking tools that spurred America’s culture of continuous innovation. I especially loved his description about how the world becomes a better place when you connect people and possibilities. We really appreciated Rob joining us — FedEx has been a great partner to the university, and it is home to quite a few Ole Miss alums!

We were also pleased to hear from Michael Kratsios, deputy assistant to the President in the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Michael advises the President on a broad range of technology policy issues and drives U.S. technology priorities and strategic initiatives. His remarks provided insight into current policy and offered an optimistic outlook for the future of American innovation.

The roster for the entire event was truly impressive, and I encourage you to check out the bios of all participants. We were especially honored to have distinguished moderators leading three very stimulating panel discussions. Former Gov. Haley Barbour led a thought-provoking discussion on how best to prepare students to succeed in tomorrow’s workforce — and how to excite them about pursuing careers in industry and government. Jim Barksdale — tech pioneer, Ole Miss alum, and noted philanthropist — used his sharp wit, intelligence, and knowledge to moderate our “Future Opportunities and Challenges in Tech” panel. Fun fact: Jim will soon be depicted by Bradley Whitford of The West Wing in a new television show, Valley of the Boom! And Allyson Best, director of UM’s Office of Technology Commercialization, facilitated the “Technology Applications in Government and Industry” panel, which covered recent technology applications and the process of moving discoveries into action effectively.

As a new feature at this year’s summit, we heard three-minute talks from seven stellar Ole Miss students representing various programs on our campus, including the McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement, the Arabic Flagship Program, the Haley Barbour Center for Manufacturing Excellence, and more. These students spoke with insight and passion about the ways technology has benefited their studies and other pursuits. One of them, Elena Bauer, described using virtual reality tools to give Mississippi high school students opportunities to learn about other cultures — providing experiences they might not have otherwise. Watching our Ole Miss undergraduates speak gave me such pride as chancellor. Who wouldn’t feel optimistic about the future of tech after seeing such bright, enthusiastic, dedicated young people?

All of the Tech Summit attendees and participants not only brought a vast array of experiences, but also brought an amazing energy and a collaborative approach about how we can work in tandem to find solutions and discover smart ways to reach our goals. I am tremendously proud of the university’s role in preparing our students for a tech-driven future and the countless ways Ole Miss is maximizing our resources and talents to make a powerful impact in our state and beyond. Stay tuned as we continue building upon the great momentum from this outstanding event!

As always, Hotty Toddy!

Jeffrey S. Vitter

Chancellor and Distinguished Professor

Athletics Excellence: Enhancing Our Growth & Visibility
July 5, 2018

Time for the fourth and final blog in my series on our new strategic plan Flagship Forward. This blog is all about our pillar of athletics excellence and the important role athletics plays at Ole Miss in growth and increased visibility. If you haven’t had a chance to read my blogs about the other three pillars — academic excellence, building healthy and vibrant communities, and people, places, and resources — I encourage you to add them to your summer reading list. Nothing is more riveting than the ways our extraordinary university is excelling!

People, Places, and Resources: Enabling Our Success
May 31, 2018

Welcome back to my blog series on our strategic plan Flagship Forward! My previous blogs focused upon two of the plan’s pillars: academic excellence and building healthy and vibrant communities. Today I am writing about a pillar that makes all our success possible: What we achieve, we achieve through our people, places, and resources.

Building Healthy & Vibrant Communities: From Across the Street to Around the Globe
May 10, 2018

Welcome to the second blog in the series about the four pillars that form the foundation of our new strategic plan Flagship Forward, namely,

Academic Excellence: It’s All Around Us
May 2, 2018

I feel confident that by now most of the Ole Miss family has heard about our new strategic plan, Flagship Forward. I’m eager to share our excitement about the roadmap it lays out for our bold path to ever-increasing excellence.