An Academic Affairs UpdateDear Colleagues

June 2021

Background Image Alternative: Dr. Shaw speaks at graduation

I hope you are having a productive summer, and also taking time to relax and reset before the start of a new academic year in August. Like many of you, we are staying busy in the Division of Academic Affairs, and I’d like to take a few minutes to give you an update.

Crenshaw Named Chief Technology Transformation Officer

Please join me in welcoming Mississippi State alumna Jenni Crenshaw back to campus as our new chief technology transformation officer. All of us have been reminded over and over again of our reliance on technology throughout the pandemic, and while the COVID-19 situation has improved dramatically, we can expect technology’s role in higher education to continue to grow. I believe Jenni has the expertise and experience that will allow us to successfully navigate the challenges we can expect and to identify opportunities moving forward. Read more at

Searches moving forward

I was pleased to join Vice President for Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine Keith Coble just a few weeks ago to announce the details about two very important search committees. Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs Brent Fountain will lead the search committee for the next director of the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station and dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Kent Hoblet, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine, will lead our search for a new dean of the College of Forest Resources, who will also lead the university’s Forest and Wildlife Research Center. I appreciate Dr. Fountain and Dr. Hoblet for leading these committees and thank everyone who has agreed to serve as a member. Additional information is available at and

Applications Open for SEC Visiting Faculty Travel Grant Program

Faculty members are invited to submit applications for the Southeastern Conference Visiting Faculty Travel Grant Program. The program provides opportunities to enhance faculty collaboration that stimulates scholarly initiatives between SEC universities. We can select a maximum of 12 faculty members to receive 2021-2022 travel grants of $850 each for transportation, room, board, etc., to use for travel to another SEC campus. The deadline to submit a completed application is June 25. Additional information about how to apply is posted online at

Wang Garners Department of Energy Early Career Award

I was very pleased to see that a new member of our faculty has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science Early Career Research Program. Kun Wang, an assistant professor with a joint appointment in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and the Department of Chemistry, has been awarded $750,000 in funding for his research exploring nanoscience and technology. He is only one of 51 university-employed scientists from the U.S. to receive DOE early career awards for “mission-critical” research. Read more at

NSF Awards Brown $1.1 Million Grant for Research

It was also exciting to see the news that the National Science Foundation has awarded Matthew Brown, an associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, $1.1 million in funding for his research of the environmental distribution of Amoebozoa. His study will provide a better understanding of where these organisms reside in the environment, how they evolved and what their developmental processes are. It also will generate large amounts of genomic data, providing a much deeper sampling of species than is currently available. Read more at

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 faculty, staff and students in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station who were recently recognized for their dedication and ingenuity: Darrell Sparks, Daniel Chesser, Shien Lu, Shecoya White, Fred Musser, David Buys, Wes Schilling, Yan Campbell, Xue Zhang, Shalyndria Dortch, Jasmine Hendrix, Hunter Hessler, Hannah Holley, Sadie White, Wenjie Shao, Kezia Virellia To, Thu Dinh, Sam Chang, Brian Baldwin, Amanda Stone, Raja Reddy, Beverly Catchot, Charles “Hunt” Walne, and Trevor Garrett. Read more at
  • Kudos to faculty and staff in the College of Forest Resources and the Forest and Wildlife Research Center who have been honored for their teaching, research and outreach: Heidi Renninger, Chad Dacus, Dana Morin, Robert Grala, Joshua Granger, Morgan Herzog, Annice Hill, Mack Fondren, and Angela Hill. Read more at
  • Congratulations to our graduates 2020-21 Leadership Development Program graduates: Doug Bedsaul, Ariel Burks, Austin Dillard, George Dunn, Libby Durst, Doug Gernaat, Robin Graves, Corey Hancock, Timothy Hopkins, Jermaine Jackson, Meredith Nagel, Katie Sisk, Anna Sparks, Stephen Williams, and Nancy Wilson. Read more at
  • Kudos to Catherine Pierce, a professor in the Department of English and the State of Mississippi’s Poet Laureate, who is the winner of the 2021 Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Poetry Award for her book “Danger Days,” a collection of poems addressing the beauty of the world, as well as destruction created by climate change. Read more at
  • Congratulations to Vice President for Student Affairs Regina Young Hyatt, who has been elected to the Woodward Hines Education Foundation Board of Directors. Read more at
  • Kudos to Chuji Wang, a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, who has received a $199,000 grant from the Department of Energy’s Discovery Plasma Science: Measurement Innovation Program to study the effects of plasma in complex settings using a novel method: the cavity ringdown spectroscopy technique. Read more at
  • Congratulations to Brandon Barton, an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, who has received a one-year $113,000 USDA grant for “Sonic Weaponry for Managing Rangeland Grasshoppers and Mormon Crickets” in collaboration with the USDA-APHIS-PPQ-Science and Technology Phoenix Lab Rangeland Unit. Read more at
  • Kudos to Gerhard Lehnerer, director of ITS Information Technology Infrastructure, and Brent Fountain, associate vice president for academic affairs and interim director of the MSU Career Center, both of whom were recently recognized with the Silver Beaver Award, the highest volunteer honor given by the Pushmataha Area Council, Boy Scouts of America. Read more at
  • Congratulations to Sawsan Abutabenjeh, an associate professor in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration, who is co-author of a paper recently published in the Journal of Emergency Management. The article is part of a multi-university collaboration investigating how the government’s pandemic response to assembling and allocating resources was impacted by emergency conditions, existing systemic problems and value conflicts. Read more at
  • Kudos to Dennis Truax, the director of the Richard A. Rula School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, who has been honored by the American Society of Civil Engineers with the prestigious Edmund Friedman Professional Recognition Award and been selected for the ASCE’s Region 5 Wall of Fame. Read more at
  • Congratulations to Haitham El Kadiri, who has been named the new head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Read more at
  • Kudos to this year’s Donald W. Zacharias Distinguished Staff Award recipients: Tim Allison, Donna Beliech, Kamicca Brown-Lott, Darlene Bush, Tracy Craven, Kylie Crosland, Tina Green, Libbi Havelin, Myra Keasler, Kate Sawaya, Alex Shook, and Bonner Whittington.

Final Words

Thank you for reading this month’s letter. I welcome your questions, suggestions, comments, and concerns at

Hail State!


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