An Academic Affairs UpdateDear Colleagues

March 2021

In my monthly letter to you in March 2020, I wrote, “While we face great uncertainty, I have the utmost confidence that Mississippi State University collectively is doing the very best we can in light of this unprecedented situation.” And throughout this past year, I believe we as a community have continued to do the very best we can to face the many challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. While we are making extraordinary progress, it’s imperative that we continue to follow the public health and safety protocols that have gotten us here. As President Keenum said earlier this month, “While great progress has been made and our numbers are trending substantially down, we are not yet past this public health threat. We believe that it is prudent to keep basic safety protocols in place through the end of this semester.” And we are so close to the conclusion of a highly successful spring semester. Please let me take a few minutes of your time for an update from the Division of Academic Affairs.

In-Person Commencement Ceremonies Set for April 29-30

After hosting four in-person commencement ceremonies for our Fall 2020 graduates in one day this past November, we announced plans last week for a more typical schedule for our spring graduates and their families. I applaud Assistant Vice President John Dickerson, his team in the Registrar’s Office, and the members of the Commencement Committee for developing this plan, which will see two ceremonies on April 29 and two on April 30. Additionally, MSU-Meridian will host a ceremony at the MSU Riley Center on May 3 and the College of Veterinary Medicine has scheduled commencement for its DVM graduates on May 5. Additional information is available here and here

Jayroe Named College of Education Dean

After a successful national search, we were pleased to name Terry Jayroe as the new dean of the College of Education this month. As I stated in the announcement, Dr. Jayroe has served our university faithfully and I know she will continue to provide strong leadership and a visionary path forward for the college. I appreciate Dean Angi Bourgeois of the College of Architecture, Art and Design for leading the search and all who served as a member of the search committee and to those of you who provided feedback during the search process. Read more about this here

Dean of MSU Libraries Search Progressing

I am also pleased to report to you that we have narrowed the field for the MSU Libraries dean to two finalists, and I’m excited to have arrived at this stage of the search process. Campus interviews have been planned for the week of March 29. We will be releasing additional information about the finalists soon — so please be looking out for it.

Snyder Returning to Faculty This Summer

As most of you have probably read, Chris Snyder will be stepping away from his role as dean of the Shackouls Honors College and returning to the faculty in the Department of History this summer. Over the course of the past decade, Dr. Snyder has been an exceptional founding dean. Our students and university community have greatly benefitted from his leadership and scholarship, and I know he will continue to be a leading teacher and researcher. I appreciate Tommy Anderson, a Shackouls Honors College professor of English, for agreeing to serve as interim dean during this leadership transition. Read more about this here

Online Education Task Force Shares Recommendations

In late February, members of the Online Education Task Force completed their final report and shared their recommendations with me. That report is available here and I’d encourage you to review their findings and share your feedback as we move forward with discussions about next steps and implementation. I appreciate chair Brent Fountain for leading the group and thank everyone who served as a task force member.

Tian Receives $515K NSF CAREER Award to Support Research

Congratulations to Wenmeng “Meg” Tian, an assistant professor in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, who recently received a $515,000 National Science Foundation CAREER award to support her research aimed at strengthening additive manufacturing processes for small and medium sized manufacturers while protecting confidential design information. The award also will support course development for related classes she teaches and K-12 outreach to encourage women and minorities to pursue careers in engineering. An NSF CAREER award is one of the most prestigious honors an early career faculty member can receive, and I know that all of you join me in congratulating Dr. Tian for this significant achievement. Read more about this here

REMINDER: Nominations Sought for University Academic Advising Awards

As I mentioned last month, 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

Number of University Teaching Awards Increases

And speaking of awards, I was pleased to be able to announce recently that we have increased the number of university-wide teaching awards. Sufficient funds are now available to make up to three John Grisham Master Teacher Awards, which was the original intent of the program. The Mississippi State University Alumni Association has agreed to fund up to two awards for Outstanding Graduate Teaching. The Donald W. Zacharias Endowment will fund three to four awards for Early Career Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching. Criteria for these awards have not changed, and all current nominees will be considered for the available awards this year. The annual award cycle will continue, with nominations sought campus-wide in the fall semester and awards announced during the spring semester. Read more about this 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 Steve Grice, who has been named executive director of MSU’s National Strategic Planning and Analysis Research Center after having led NSPARC as interim most recently, and to Dan Reynolds, who has been named associate vice president for international programs and executive director of the International Institute after serving as interim in these roles. Read more respectively here and here
  • Kudos to Qiana Cutts, an assistant professor in the Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology and Foundations, and Derris Devost-Burnett, an assistant professor in the Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences, who were recognized by the Mississippi Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning with 2021 Diversity and Inclusion Awards. Read more about this here
  • Congratulations to DeeDee Baldwin, an MSU Libraries assistant professor, who has been honored with the 2021 Reference and User Services Association’s History Section’s Genealogy/History Achievement Award.
  • Kudos to Joseph Witt, an associate professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion, and senior philosophy major Hallie Green, who are representing the university as 2021 William Winter Scholars. Read more about this here
  • Congratulations to Athena Owen Nagel, an assistant clinical professor in the Department of Geosciences, who is the recipient of the University Professional and Continuing Education Association’s 2021 UPCEA Excellence in Teaching Award. Read more about this here
  • Kudos to Adrian Lazaro-Lobo, a biological sciences doctoral candidate; Gary Ervin, a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences; and Kristine Evans, an assistant professor in the Forest and Wildlife Research Center, who have been recognized for Outstanding Paper by the Weed Science Society of America. Read more about this here

Final Words

The university has announced that COVID-19 vaccinations will be available for eligible MSU employees at a drive-thru site in the parking lot behind the Longest Student Health Center, beginning March 16. If you meet eligibility criteria, I would encourage you to consider getting the vaccine here on campus or from any authorized provider. You can learn more about campus vaccine distribution here and here

Hail State!


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