Posted by Wes Brooks on Oct 14, 2019
Mark Killingsworth presided over today’s meeting in the absence of Steve Utroska. Mark provided today’s invocation and Bill MacLauchlan led us in the Pledge of Allegiance. Sean Priebe and Mark Killingsworth served as our greeters today.
Brandon Hodges sat in for Mike McPhail and introduced our visitor. Anna Rush is a guest of Katie Anthony. Katie then introduced today’s guest speaker, Dr. Rodney Bennett, chief executive officer and principal educational officer of the University of Southern Mississippi. Dr. Bennett has a 30-year history of working in higher education.
Dr. Bennett says higher education is at a critical junction in our nation. Their job is to offer quality programs to students in areas where higher education needs exist. Those needs are constantly evolving and require adjustments in university educational programs. There are eight public universities in Mississippi serving 80,000 students. Currently the top educational programs in Mississippi are Business, Biology, Kinesiology, Accounting and Psychology. More than one billion dollars of student financial aid is provided each year.
The cost of public higher education in our state is about $26,000 annually. Family savings, scholarships, grants and borrowing are the ways most of the expenses are paid. University graduates earn about one million more in their lifetime than someone with just a high school diploma. Graduates are less likely to be unemployed in their lifetime. Dr. Bennett says USM students don’t just get a quality education, they also experience growth and development, learn critical thinking and obtain a strong work ethic.
USM was founded in 1910, and according to Dr. Bennett remains relevant nationally. There are approximately 14,500 USM students. The student population is diverse and comes from every county in Mississippi, from all fifty states and from several foreign countries. USM’s goal has never been to be the largest public university in the state but rather to have an educational program that attracts quality students who can graduate in four years.
USM recently obtained a R1 Designation from the Carnegie Foundation. Dr. Bennett says we are only one of 130 universities across the nation who have that designation. He says we obtained the designation because of the depth and breadth of the university’s research programs. He says USM research focuses on being relevant. Because of some of that research Mississippians can drink water and know it has been tested and is safe. We can eat food and know that it is safe. Mississippians also have new materials that make their life easier through the university’s polymer science work.
USM is a major contributor to this area’s economic development. Dr. Bennett says USM has a $600,000,000 economic impact on our state.
USM is currently focused on what the university should do with the gulf coast footprint. They begun a new teacher education program working with community colleges to help get their students in and out of the university in a timely manner. They have established partnerships with the Army and Navy. USM is creating the Center for Veterans, offering free tuition to national and air guard service members. USM has accepted the Governor’s challenge to help develop the blue economy that is available in our state.
Looking to the future, USM will focus on the Eagle Maker Hub with 3-D printing. The Hub will create new opportunities in teaching math, education and pedagogy. USM has been able to produce oyster larvae in the lab then turn the larvae over to the Department of Marine Science where they continue to grow then and then transplant them into favorable growth areas in the Gulf. A USM professor has developed a new medical device that will revolutionize hospital patient care.
Dr. Bennett says the university’s greatest days are still ahead of us and that USM will continue to provide high quality educational programs and research.
With no other business, Mark then thanked Dr. Bennett and those who attended today and adjourned the meeting with our motto, Service Above Self.