An Academic Affairs UpdateDear Colleagues

October 2021

Background Image Alternative: Dr. Shaw speaks at graduation

I hope you had a chance to enjoy Fall Break earlier this month. It’s hard to believe that we’ve reached the mid-point of the semester and that Thanksgiving is only about five weeks away. I know how busy all of you are, but I’d like to take a few minutes of your time for a quick update from the Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President.

COVID-19 case numbers and vaccination rates are encouraging

We are continuing to closely monitor COVID-19 cases on campus and in the community, and it’s been very good to see these numbers falling. It is also good to see vaccination rates climbing, and we will continue to promote vaccination as the best defense against the coronavirus. We are also in ongoing discussions with the Mississippi State Department of Health and  Institutions of Higher Learning about what is happening here at MSU and in the state as a whole as we evaluate our existing and future pandemic protocols. The university’s leadership team and the Office of General Counsel are also working with IHL to determine the impact of the recent Executive Order from the White House requiring vaccination for covered federal contractors and subcontractors. We expect more guidance concerning this situation soon. As always, I welcome your comments and questions about our COVID-19 mitigation efforts at

Pankl named new dean of MSU Libraries

We were excited to announce on October 13 that Lis Pankl will be joining us as the new dean of MSU Libraries. Dr. Pankl will be starting her new role here at MSU on January 1, 2022, and is coming to us from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, where she is a professor and the dean of Library and Information Services. I am looking forward to working with her and excited about the future of our University Libraries as they continue to serve as a valuable resource, a cultural hub, and a center of scholarship for our students, faculty, and staff. I’d also like to thank Interim Dean Tommy Anderson for his leadership during this transition, as well as Associate Dean Stephen Cunetto. Read more at

CALS/MAFES and CFR/FWRC dean searches going well

Our searches for the next director of the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station and dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and for the new dean of the College of Forest Resources, who will also lead the university’s Forest and Wildlife Research Center, are well underway and making great progress. We are expecting to have on-campus interviews soon, and you can learn more about theses searches at and

MSU receives 2021 Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award

It was very gratifying to see that Mississippi State’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion is being recognized with a 2021 Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award from INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine. We are the only university in the state and one of only three in the Southeastern Conference to attain this honor. It is a fitting tribute to so many of you who have worked so hard to ensure that our campus is welcoming to all. Read more at

Asphalt Art Initiative grant to Fred Carl Jr. Small Town Center

The Fred Carl Jr. Small Town Center in the College of Architecture, Art and Design has been awarded a $25,000 grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies as part of its Asphalt Art Initiative. The center will use this funding for its University Drive Corridor Connections project that will connect the one-mile stretch between downtown Starkville and our campus at nine key intersections on University Drive. Each intersection will be painted with designs to progressively lead pedestrians along the corridor, creating a safe and attractive means of connecting Downtown, Midtown, and the Cotton District with our campus. This project is a terrific example of the center’s work to enhance our state’s small towns. 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:

* Kudos to Charlie Waggoner, the director emeritus of the Institute for Clean Energy Technology, who was recently honored by the U.S. Department of Energy with a Distinguished Career Service Award. This prestigious award recognizes Dr. Waggoner’s work to evaluate and improve high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters that are used to contain nuclear materials. Read more at

* Congratulations to Qiana Cutts, an assistant professor in the Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology and Foundations, who is one of only 27 faculty and administrators nationwide named a fellow in the IAspire Leadership Academy, which is part of the Aspire Alliance’s Institutional Change Initiative, led by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and the University of Georgia. Read more at

* Kudos to Cindy Bethel, a professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, who has been invited to serve on the Government Affairs Committee for the Computing Research Association (CRA). This group provides guidance on congressional legislation related to computing. Dr. Bethel also serves on CRA’s national board of directors. Read more at

* Congratulations to Ebenezer Nyadjro, an associate research professor with the Northern Gulf Institute and the Department of Geosciences, who is one of only eight recipients nationwide this year to earn a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine Gulf Research Program Early-Career Research Fellowship. Read more at

* Kudos to Dennis Truax, who retired this past summer as the James T. White endowed chair, head, and professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and was recently installed as president of ASCE during the organization’s annual meeting. Read more at

* Congratulations to Bo Tang, an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, who has earned a $500,000 Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award from the National Science Foundation for his research into the lifelong learning capabilities of artificial intelligence systems. Read more at

* Kudos to Neeraj Rai, the Ergon, Inc. Distinguished Professor in the Swalm School of Chemical Engineering, who is the principal investigator for a $1 million NSF grant to establish an Institute for Computational Molecular Science Education. Read more at

* Congratulations to Charles Webster, professor and associate head of the Department of Chemistry, who has been awarded a $712,000 NSF grant for his research to reduce greenhouse gasses and produce synthetic fuels by capturing energy from sunlight. Read more at

Final Words

Last Friday, the Robert Holland Faculty Senate approved a new student course survey, which we’ll be implementing this semester. The new survey is the result of a thorough and deliberative process, and I have great confidence in what we have developed. I believe it will serve as a valuable resource as we gauge the effectiveness of teaching in our classrooms, and I want to thank everyone who contributed to crafting it.

Hail State!


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