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Important Message from President Rob Pearigen

Dear Members of the Millsaps Community,

I am writing to you at the beginning of a new calendar year and a new semester to bring you up to date on important developments at Millsaps and to share a few highlights from campus. As I mentioned in my message to the Millsaps community last May, we are moving forward in new and meaningful ways on a number of fronts, and the future is exciting and promising.

Within the academic program, the following developments are especially noteworthy:

  • Our soon to be launched Pathways program will provide focused curricular and co-curricular tracks for students' professional and career development. Pathways connects students with academic areas of interest and provides each incoming student with an immediate cohort of mentors, advisors, and peers who share similar goals. Pathways also connects students to professional communities in and beyond the capital city of Jackson. This new program is an organizing framework for the student experience that does not replace majors but aligns interests, skills, and outcomes with a variety of majors. Specific Pathways currently envisioned are:
    • Arts, Culture, & Communication
    • Business
    • Exploratory (for students who initially need more career path guidance)
    • Health
    • Law & Public Service
    • STEM & Data Science
  • A restructured and robust music major was approved by the faculty in November, building on the College's long and treasured history in music. The new major offers rigorous focused instruction to music students, including private applied lessons, top-notch ensembles, diverse course topics taught  on an accessible rotation, and supervised professional development opportunities. Faculty staffing remains consistent with historic levels and is sufficient to sustain the major for our students progressing toward professional careers in music and support the College's commitment to providing meaningful collegiate musical experiences for all Millsaps students.
  • The faculty also approved in December a new dual major in government & politics and religious studies. This new major allows students to earn academic certification in both of these important fields and to explore their intersection. In essence, it provides a culturally rich version of a government and politics program and a politically sophisticated version of a religious studies program. The new major compliments existing dual majors in philosophy and religious studies and religious studies and sociology-anthropology, and fits well into the emerging Pathways program.
  • In the past six months, several new academic partnerships have been established with public and private institutions to enable our students to both secure a Millsaps degree and advance their academic and careers interests to the next level. These partnerships include:
    • Teacher Education. In partnership with William Carey University, Millsaps graduates can earn teacher licensure in Mississippi immediately following their four-year Millsaps career and already have a jump-start on their MAT from William Carey, which they can complete while continuing to teach full time.
    • Engineering. New agreements with both Mississippi State University and the University of Mississippi allow Millsaps students to earn both a degree from Millsaps and an ABET-accredited degree from Ole Miss and MSU in a number of engineering areas. We continue to support similar programs with the Auburn University and Columbia University.
    • Nursing. Early entry into nursing school or dual degree programs are now possible at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, Vanderbilt University, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
    • Pharmacy. Millsaps' pre-pharmacy students with high academic performance are now offered preferred admission to the School of Pharmacy at the University of Mississippi and at William Carey University.
  • A new minor in exercise science has been approved by the faculty. This minor will fill a niche at Millsaps in an area that is increasing in popularity nationally. It will allow students interested in sports and health from a performance, therapeutic, or educational perspective to pursue promising professional opportunities directly and be well-positioned for graduate and professional school.
  • The Else School of Management has developed a new certificate in data analytics that will begin this spring. This on-line certificate program provides foundational knowledge in data analytics, including data management, statistics, visualization, and collecting, storing, and retrieving data. Select courses will also be available to our advanced undergraduates.

From programs now to bricks and mortar, we have recently celebrated the completion of the Selby & Richard McRae Christian Center, the Windgate Visual Arts Center, and a new West Street entrance.

  • Following two years of renovation, the iconic Christian Center at Millsaps College was officially re-dedicated on October 16, 2019, as the Selby & Richard McRae Christian Center. An audience of more than 100 donors, alumni, students, faculty, and staff gathered in the new Yates Chapel to celebrate the building's rebirth as the home of our humanities departments and, in the Wesleyan tradition of our Methodist roots, the spiritual and reflective space for faith traditions at Millsaps. The building includes state of the art classrooms, seminar spaces, the restored Lathem Lobby, the new Freeman Commons, and the Madeleine and James McMullan Lecture Hall.
  • In September, donors and community leaders joined art and art history faculty and students to celebrate the new Windgate Visual Arts Center. A challenge grant from the Arkansas-based Windgate Foundation was the initial driving force behind the building. A major gift from the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust helped spur additional gifts from individual donors. The 17,600 square foot building includes studios for painting, drawing, ceramics, printing and papermaking, woodworking, and sculpting (with an adjacent foundry) as well as a digital arts lab, an art history classroom, student studios, and the Hall Gallery.
  • The Windgate Center is located on the west side of campus, a location chosen in part to open access to the campus from West Street for students and visitors. A new gate house, driveway, pedestrian gate, and sidewalk help connect the College to the Midtown community where programs and partnerships continue to grow.

I reported in my May 2019 letter that over 50 members of our faculty and staff were engaged in strategic initiatives working groups examining new ways of thinking and acting related to student recruitment, career preparation, revenue generation, community engagement, and more. In their reports in August, the seven working groups submitted over 100 recommendations, both large and small in scope. I'm pleased to report that many of the recommendations have been implemented or are in the process of implementation. Others continue to be studied.

One large-scale recommendation was that we merge our undergraduate and graduate career services programs into a comprehensive Center for Career Readiness and Executive Education. This new structure will combine all career counseling, education, and leadership development programs and services of the college. It will also enhance access to the many job and career resources available to our students and alumni. This new Center will play a key role in the Pathways program described above.

Another major recommendation was that we review and enhance our recruitment, marketing and communications efforts and seek new ways to articulate and promote the Millsaps story.  Still another recommendation was to leverage better campus events and facilities so as to gain greater participation in and publicity for events and to generate revenue by better facility utilization.

I am deeply grateful for the enormous amount of time, thought, and energy that was invested by these working groups, and I look forward to continued development of many of their ideas, including those that will be woven into our current strategic planning process.

I recently announced several important changes in senior leadership at Millsaps:

  • Annie Schott Mitchell, current vice president of marketing and communications at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., has been named to the newly created position of vice president of marketing and communications. In this role, Annie will be responsible for Millsaps' brand stewardship, marketing and communication strategy, social media management, public and media relations, editorial content and telling the College's story through photography, the website and all digital marketing efforts. Annie comes to Millsaps with over 25 years of experience in higher education marketing, communications and public and media relations. During her six-year tenure at Wofford, she developed and implemented the college's first coordinated marketing program, overhauled the college's website, brought all creative service functions in-house, and successfully supported the college's enrollment and fundraising marketing objectives.
  • Whitney Emrich has been promoted to vice president of finance and administration (VPFA). Whitney joined Millsaps as controller in December 2015, and has served as a valuable member of the Executive Staff during the past 18 months as interim VPFA. In her new role, Whitney will provide leadership and oversight to financial and business affairs, including human resources, facilities, campus security, and auxiliary services.  She will also be the College's liaison to the board of trustee committees on finance, investments, audit, and campus facilities & environment.
  • Aaron Pelch has been named as director of athletics. In this role Aaron will provide leadership, strategic planning, and policy development for the athletics program, work with our Institutional Advancement Office to raise funds for athletic programs, and recruit and supervise the coaching staff. Aaron came to Millsaps in 2010 as head football coach following a career that included coaching positions in the NFL and NCAA Divisions II and III. During his years as head coach at Millsaps, Aaron won two conference championships, was the recipient of the SAA Coach of the Year Award, and saw numerous players on his team recognized for both academic and athletic achievement.
  • Rob Alexander, vice president for enrollment and communication, will be leaving Millsaps following the spring semester to serve as dean of admissions, financial aid, and enrollment management at the University of Rochester. Plans will soon be announced for the next phase of leadership in enrollment management at Millsaps. Meantime, our admissions staff is working hard to recruit the new students for this coming fall. Their recruitment efforts are being greatly supported by our faculty and staff, our alumni office, and the president of the Millsaps Alumni Association, Robika Mylroie, who is helping organize admissions event in a dozen cities in the Southeast.

Spotlights on Just a Few of Our Outstanding Programs:

  • Student: Jenna Mitchell, '21, was one of four Millsaps students to intern with the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty (SHECP) last summer. SHECP's mission is to help college students study poverty as a complex social problem by providing educational opportunities in a wide range of disciplines and career trajectories. As a pre-medical student, Jenna sought and was assigned to a position in health care at So Others Might Eat (SOME) in Washington D.C., an interfaith, community-based organization seeking to break the cycle of poverty and homelessness. Jenna worked at SOME's medical clinic, helping to meet the immediate daily needs of those they serve by providing food, clothing and healthcare.
  • Faculty: Dr. Nicolas Brunet, assistant professor of neuroscience, has been awarded an NIH-funded grant through the Mississippi IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) to conduct a three-year study that aims to use eye movements as a biomarker to diagnose concussions. Prior to Millsaps, Dr. Brunet was trained in New York by world-renowned experts in eye movements. Working with six student research assistants, he will be testing subjects, including Millsaps athletes, to evaluate how eye movements resulting from normal brain function differ from those of a concussed subject. Ultimately, Brunet hopes to develop a smartphone app that will monitor miniscule eye movements, and allow immediate detection of a concussion on the sidelines of a sporting event.
  • Chaplaincy:  Under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Joey Shelton, '82, chaplain and director of church relations, our Major Methodist initiatives have grown significantly and several new programs are underway.  Two examples:
    • The Youth Theological Academy (YTA), a joint project between the Office of the Chaplain and the Center for Ministry, will offer high school juniors and seniors an opportunity to learn and practice their faith in new creative and intellectual ways. Students who participate in the YTA will attend lectures by Christian scholars, engage with others on critical justice issues, and build relationships with mentors. They will also explore Millsaps and see how faith and education can grow together. The inaugural YTA is scheduled for June 2020.
    • In support of the Center for Ministry, Millsaps recently received a $1 million grant to establish a new, ecumenical program to support clergywomen. The program is part of Lilly Endowment Inc.'s Thriving in Ministry, an initiative that supports religious organizations as their clergy seek to address leadership challenges in congregational ministry. Rev. Paige Swaim-Presley, director of the Center for Ministry and associate chaplain at Millsaps, leads our program that focuses on southern clergywomen entering a new phase in their parish ministry.
  • Athletics:  Our spring semester varsity sports teams are up and running. Both the women's and men's basketball teams are doing well in conference competition and our softball, baseball, track, and tennis teams (including Grace Gaskins, '21, who has a pre-season ranking in the Atlantic South region) are preparing to play. I encourage you to take in some of the competition, either here in Jackson or wherever our teams play.  Please click here for a full schedule of Majors' athletic events.
  • Institutional Advancement: Last fiscal year saw a record in Annual Fund giving to the College with over $1.85 million provided by our alumni and friends. We are grateful for this level of giving as it supports every feature of the Millsaps experience—from scholarship aid for students and professional development funds for faculty and staff to financial support of athletics, community service, and sorority and fraternity activity.  Our Annual Fund goal for the current year is $1.9 million, and we hope our alumni and friends will continue their generosity. As I say in every possible setting, "Millsaps deserves and sincerely appreciates your support."

Thank you and an invitation: Thank you for making your way through this lengthy update. I hope you've found the material interesting and useful. I invite you to email me at president@millsaps.edu if you have questions, comments, or suggestions.

Our claim and our strengths: I'll close by sharing three paragraphs from a longer document that I sent to the campus community in August.  The document, Millsaps College: Version 2025, discussed our distinctive strengths, described our value proposition, and laid out various elements of a renewed version of Millsaps. You'll hear more about this in the future. In the meantime, I hope the following overarching statement about Millsaps and our strengths speaks to both your past experience and your future hopes for the College.

  • Millsaps College sharpens our students' raw talent and earned accomplishment for a life of purpose and responsibility. Academic excellence and a sense of belonging drive the educational mission as our students pair classroom and real life experiences—all in pursuit of career and life preparation that is infused with personal fulfillment and civic responsibility.
  • At the heart of Millsaps is our commitment to graduating well-prepared citizen-scholars. Our faculty are dedicated teachers/scholars/mentors who create learning opportunities for our students that go beyond lecture, examination, and content mastery. Our graduates complete their degrees within a multidisciplinary context, making them versatile job candidates with a breadth of knowledge and experiences.
  • An excellent, rigorous academic program is fundamental to the Millsaps education, but what makes Millsaps distinctive is our personal mentoring by faculty, staff, and administration and our robust opportunities to learn by experience. We provide a holistic approach to education and community-building within our campus, across the street, and around the globe. We help initiate a personal network of colleagues and mentors that tie our students into a vibrant ecosystem of community partners, future employers, and alumni who care deeply about their success. We promote collaborative learning through active participation that knits our students into the fabric of Millsaps and carries Millsaps into the local community—a community whose progress we are, by mission, dedicated to supporting—as well as communities around the nation and world.

Ad Excellentiam!

Rob Pearigen
President and Professor of Government and Politics
24 January 2020

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