An Academic Affairs UpdateDear Colleagues

April 2020

Thank you, thank you, thank you! I can’t thank you enough for all that you are doing to ensure that we continue to carry out our essential work. I have never been more proud to be a part of Mississippi State University, and to have you as colleagues and friends. Working together, I believe we are navigating the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19 far better than many of us thought possible just a few short weeks ago. At every turn, our students, faculty, and staff have risen to the challenge. I appreciate your commitment to our students and to the communities we serve. Please let me take a few minutes of your time for an update from the Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President.

Spring commencement will be offered online, and graduates also invited to December commencement

One of the most difficult aspects of my position in the last few weeks has been to face the reality that we cannot conduct a normal commencement exercise this spring. It is such a time of celebration for students, their families, and our faculty, and is one of my favorite activities of the university. We are committed to conducting a very memorable occasion in a virtual environment on May 1 at 2 p.m. CDT, so that graduates and their families can celebrate when President Keenum announces, “Congratulations college graduates!” As he said in a message to the Mississippi State family last week, “I feel the deep disappointment our graduates feel. This is not what any of us could have envisioned for the end of the Spring 2020 semester and the completion of an important time in the lives of our graduating class. But we are committed to celebrating our graduates and their accomplishments and wishing them well as they begin careers and assume leadership roles in the world that will make us all proud.” I’d encourage you to read his message, which is available online at

I would also encourage every Spring 2020 graduate to make plans now to attend the December commencement ceremony too. We want them to be able to participate in the in-person event that they, and their families and friends, have been looking forward to experiencing together. Read more at

Grading changes for the Spring 2020 semester

We have had many questions from our students, their parents, and others about possible changes to our grading system with the move to online instruction and other changes necessitated by COVID-19 and the governor’s Executive Order No. 1466 to shelter in place. This week, we announced that we’ll be offering students a pass/fail option for the Spring 2020 semester. We came to this decision after much debate and with input from the Robert Holland Faculty Senate and Student Association leadership, and other members of our campus community. I believe the process we have developed gives our students the options they need to successfully complete this semester and continue to make academic progress toward earning a degree. It is crucial that we communicate these changes effectively to our students, and I ask you to review necessary steps, deadlines, and consequences of these temporary changes at

In addition to grading changes, we’ve also received many questions from students and parents about refunds for the spring semester. I’m pleased to report that this information is now available at

Summer classes to be held online, with more options available

Offering all summer school classes online this year is also another way I believe we can help our students continue to make academic progress. Hopefully, campus will be back to some sense of normalcy this summer, but announcing that summer school will be offered exclusively online gives faculty and staff time to create more robust content and to have time to move more courses online. Through the enhanced offerings, and from wherever our students are, they will be able to take as much as an entire semester during three summer sessions. This approach will provide flexibility, high-quality instruction, student-centered curricula, interactive learning and collaborative study activities. In addition, we are sensitive to the financial demands on our students, and have discounted the tuition rate of summer school. Read more at

MSU honored for excellence in transfer student support

It was very gratifying to see that Mississippi State is again included in Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society’s Transfer Honor Roll for developing transfer pathways leading to excellence and success among community college transfer students. I very much appreciate Assistant Vice President for Enrollment John Dickerson and his team’s dedication to supporting our transfer students. These students comprise more than a third of our enrollment, and more than 2,300 transfer students are enrolled this academic year. We also set transfer enrollment records the last three out of five years. Read more at

Building Construction Science degree program earns accreditation

It was also great to see that our innovative Building Construction Science degree program in the College of Architecture, Art and Design has received initial five-year accreditation from the American Council for Construction Education (ACCE). This program is an excellent example of how we are working with industry and other stakeholders to meet a need for talented, creative, and well prepared graduates who are ready to succeed and be leaders in their fields. My thanks to all who contributed to the successful ACCE accreditation process. Read more at

Kudos and congratulations

While COVID-19 is dominating our actions and thoughts, I think it’s important to remember that our teaching, research, and service continues, and that our colleagues are reaching milestones and garnering recognition for their achievements. Here are a few that have come to my attention recently:

* Congratulations to Renee Clary, a professor in the Department of Geosciences and the director of the Dunn-Seiler Museum, who has been honored with a 2020 Southeastern Conference Faculty Achievement Award. Dr. Clary’s research, teaching, and service demonstrate extraordinary achievements within national and international communities. An MSU faculty member since 2006, she works to improve public geoliteracy and broaden participation of underrepresented groups. Her research has led to optimized teaching in online, informal and traditional environments. Read more at

* Kudos to the outstanding faculty and staff who have worked with junior biochemistry student Hannah Scheaffer – the university’s 18th Goldwater Scholar. The prestigious undergraduate award encourages top students to pursue research careers in the natural sciences, engineering, and mathematics. I think it’s worth noting that in the Office of Public Affairs news release about winning a Goldwater Scholarship, she said opportunities to conduct undergraduate research at an institution with a very high level of research activity is part of what originally drew her to MSU. I appreciate all of you who provide research opportunities for our students, and I think you’ll agree that they are worth the effort. Read more at

* Congratulations to Brett Harvey, MSU’s director of Title IX and EEO Programs who also serves as the MSU Speech and Debate Council’s debate coach, for the team’s top 10 International Public Debate Association overall ranking. Our students finished eighth in the country out of 128 teams – the highest final ranking in MSU Speech and Debate Council’s five years of existence. Additionally, freshman political science student Mia Robertson was named overall season-long national champion in her IPDA division out of 305 qualified debaters from 84 schools – the university’s first individual national championship in debate. Well done! Read more at

* Kudos to Cindy Bethel, a professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering who is currently serving as an assistant vice president intern in the Office of Research and Economic Development, for being elected to a three-year term on the Computing Research Association (CRA) Board of Directors. Read more at

* Congratulations to Yucheng Liu, a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering who holds the Jack Hatcher Chair in Engineering Entrepreneurship in the Bagley College of Engineering, who has been honored with the 2020 Forest R. McFarland Award from SAE International. The McFarland Award is presented annually to SAE members who have made outstanding contributions to SAE Engineering events. Read more at

* Kudos to Raja Reddy, a research professor in my own home department – Plant and Soil Sciences – who was recently recognized by the Mississippi Academy of Sciences for three decades of scientific discoveries. The MAS presented Dr. Reddy with the Outstanding Contribution to Science Award during its annual meeting in late February. Read more at

* Congratulations to Mark Clark, an associate professor in the Department of Classical and Modern Languages and Literatures, and to Jim Giesen, an associate professor in the Department of History, who have been recognized by the Mississippi Humanities Council for their outstanding work. Dr. Clark is our winner of the 2020 Humanities Teacher of the Year Award. Dr. Giesen is the recipient of MHC’s 2020 Humanities Scholar Award. Read more at

* Kudos to Michael Nadorff, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology and director of the clinical Ph.D. program, who recently received a five-year $624,385 grant, titled “Drug Free Starkville Collaboration,” from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. SAMHSA also is funding a three-year, $305,000 grant for suicide prevention work at MSU. Read more at

* Congratulations to Donna Pierce, an associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, who is part of a collaborative project with colleagues from Auburn and Ole Miss to conduct research on comets. They are the recipients of a 2019-2020 SEC Faculty Travel Grant, which enables faculty from an SEC institution to travel to another SEC institution for collaboration on topics of mutual interest. Read more at

* Kudos to Donald Shaffer, an associate professor in the Department of English and director of the African American Studies program, and LaShan Thompson, an associate professor in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, who were each recognized by the Mississippi Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning with a 2020 Diversity Award in February. Read more at

* Congratulations to Ann Sansing, an MSU Extension community health coordinator and instructor in the Department of Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion, who is one of 48 business and community leaders in the Mississippi Economic Council’s 2020 Leadership Mississippi program. Read more at

* Kudos to Becky Hagenston, a professor in the Department of English, whose short story, “Hi Ho Cherry-O,” has been honored with a 2020 Pushcart Prize. The Pushcart Prize series has been hailed by Publishers Weekly as “one of the most important publishing projects in American history.” Read more at

* Kudos to our students, as well as the faculty and staff who teach, mentor, and support them, who were recently recognized with awards in the Mississippi Press Association Education Foundation’s Better Newspaper Contest, the National Electronic Media Association’s National Undergraduate Student Electronic Media Competition, and the Southeast Journalism Conference’s Best of the South Collegiate Journalism Competition. Read more at

* Congratulations to Kari Babski-Reeves, associate dean for research and graduate studies in the Bagley College of Engineering, who has been selected as the new head of the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering – the first female head for the department. She has served as interim department head since July 2019, and is a three-time graduate of Industrial and Systems Engineering at MSU. Read more at

* Welcome to Samee Khan, the new head of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. He comes to our campus from North Dakota State University, where he served as professor of electrical and computer engineering. From July 2016, he has been on leave from NDSU to serve at the National Science Foundation as program director and lead for the Computer Systems Research Cluster within the Division of Computer and Network Systems. Read more at

* And welcome back to Alex Thomasson, the new head of the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering. Dr. Thomasson returns to MSU from Texas A&M, where he held an endowed chair in Cotton Engineering, Ginning and Mechanization. He was a member of the Ag and Bio faculty here from 1997-2004, and also served as agricultural research coordinator for the then Remote Sensing Technologies Center, now the Geosystems Research Institute, a unit of the High Performance Computing Collaboratory. Read more at

Final words

Thank you for taking the time to read this month’s letter. Please feel free to contact me at if you have any questions, suggestions, or concerns, and remember to check and your email for COVID-19 updates. I’d also remind you that this remains an incredibly stressful time for our students. The uncertainty about the situation can best be eased through frequent and encouraging contact from individual faculty to your students. Please be sure and communicate with them, both proactively and in response to their questions and concerns.

Hail State,


Dr. David R. Shaw is Provost and Executive Vice President at Mississippi State University. His email address is