An Academic Affairs UpdateDear Colleagues

February 2021

I want to start my letter this month by saying thank you for the many thoughts and prayers as my wife and I have been recovering from COVID-19. I’m also grateful for the support of everyone in my office as I’ve been working from home. Sherri and I are getting better, and I look forward to returning to campus in the next few days. In the meantime, please let me share an update from the Division of Academic Affairs with you.

Gathings Returns to MSU with Strategic Planning and Implementation Focus

In January, we welcomed Cedric Gathings back to campus as the new director of strategic planning and implementation. In this role, he will be providing assistance to me and other senior leaders, as well as building partnerships and collaborating to integrate best practices into institutional programming. Among his primary duties will be engaging stakeholders to develop, implement, operationalize and measure the university’s strategic plan, vision, and related goals. As I stated in the news release announcing his return to MSU, Cedric brings incredible insight and a deep understanding of the university and our values. Read more about this here

Bourgeois Serving as Interim Associate VP for Student Success

We’ve also welcomed Thomas Bourgeois, our dean of students, to the Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President to serve as interim associate vice president for student success. As I explained in the initial announcement, the Student Success Task Force, led by Vice President for Student Affairs Regina Hyatt, developed some impactful recommendations on how MSU can effectively improve student success -- which is vital to the university’s core mission. We recognized that student success depended on a new level of partnership between Academic Affairs and Student Affairs. One cannot be successful without the other. Dean Bourgeois is ideally suited to serve in this capacity, and I have great confidence in his ability to demonstrably bridge these two important divisions. Read more about this here

MSU Again Leads Mississippi’s Research Universities

Congratulations to Vice President for Research and Economic Development Julie Jordan, the Office of Research and Economic Development team, and all of our faculty, staff, and student researchers who have contributed to the university’s high rankings in the latest National Science Foundation Higher Education Research and Development Survey. As a former chief research officer, I know that research and the funding environment for it have never been more competitive, and so it is very good to see how well our research enterprise is competing with the very best. Read more about this here

Spring General Faculty Meeting

Due to COVID-19, I was unable to participate in the spring meeting of the General Faculty on February 9. I’m grateful to President Mark Keenum for sharing a few Academic Affairs highlights in his remarks. Specifically, he noted the task forces that have been assessing how we’re operating throughout Academic Affairs and across the university as whole. A number of the task forces have completed their work, and we are beginning the implementation phase for their recommendations. Read more about this here

Black History Month Events

While COVID-19 has changed how the university is able to observe Black History Month this February, Vice President for Access, Diversity and Inclusion Ra’Sheda Forbes and her team have put together a series of meaningful and informative virtual lectures and panel discussions, exhibits, and other physically-distanced activities. I encourage you to participate, and you can learn more about this here

Nominations Sought for University Academic Advising Awards

My office is now accepting nominations for the 2021 University Academic Advising Awards. These include the Irvin Atly Jefcoat Excellence in Advising Awards, which honor both a full-time MSU faculty advisor and a full-time staff advisor for contributions to student advising; the Wes Ammon Outstanding New Staff Advisor Award; and the Foil-Wyatt Outstanding New Faculty Advisor Award. Interested faculty and staff must submit an application in PDF form to Nancy Fultz at by 5 p.m. on March 22. Additional information and forms are available here

Kudos and congratulations

Every month, I look forward to sharing faculty and staff success stories with you, and here are a few that have crossed my desk recently:

  • Congratulations to Keith Coble, who has been named the new vice president for the Division of Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine. It was an honor to chair this search committee, and I appreciate those of you who served on the committee and all of you who provided feedback during the search. I’m looking forward to working with Dr. Coble in his new leadership role. I also thank Reuben Moore for his outstanding service as interim VP. DAFVM is set for even greater success because of Dr. Moore’s leadership and Dr. Coble’s vision for its future. Read more about this here
  • Kudos to Andrew Lang, an associate professor in the Department of History, who recently received a starred review in Library Journal for his newest publication, “A Contest of Civilizations: Exposing the Crisis of American Exceptionalism in the Civil War Era,” described by the periodical as a “brilliant book” that depicts how “the Civil War-era generation struggled to give form and force” to American ideas of liberty. Read more about this here
  • Congratulations to School of Architecture Director Emeritus Michael A. Berk, the Fred Carl Jr. Small Town Center, and Associate Professor Hans C. Herrmann for being honored with awards during the virtually-held 2020 AIA Mississippi Celebrates Architecture Awards Ceremony. Read more about this here
  • Kudos to our faculty in the College of Architecture, Art and Design, and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences who led the MSU Community Garden project. “Cultivating the Future: Enabling, Designing, Constructing and Managing a Didactic Garden” is being honored with the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture’s Collaborative Practice Award. Read more about this here
  • Congratulations to Scott Willard, interim dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, who has been recognized by Phi Kappa Phi with a Love of Learning Award. Read more about this here
  • Kudos to Ganesh Karunakaran, a Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station assistant research professor, who is principal investigator for a three-year, $1 million grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Sea Grant College Program. Read more about this here
  • And a welcome to Amanda Tullos, the new director of the Partnership Middle School and educational liaison. Read more about this here

Final Words

Thank you for reading this month’s letter. I welcome your questions, suggestions, comments, and concerns at and would remind you that COVID-19 resources are available here

Hail State!


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